By Valerie Tarico
When Bill O’Reilly recently tried to pin America’s spree of mass shootings on atheism rather than guns or mental illness, he hoped to tap a specific set of beliefs that are common among Bible believers— that morality derives from religion; that Born Again Christians are a light unto the world while atheists (who lack any basis for ethics or morality) spend their empty lives in pursuit of money and sex; that when Christians get raptured or otherwise lose the upper hand, America will descend into the orgy of sex, violence, and anarchy depicted in the Left Behind books and movie.
This view feeds both righteous superiority and genuine anxiety among conservative Christians. One Facebook commenter named Georgia spelled it out:
Atheists shake with contempt at the thought of love and decency. Their whole lives are dedicated to nothingness, to the gaping void of pain that nihilism defines. Indeed, atheists love pain. They love pain in their sexual rituals, in their drug addictions and in their secret globalist power schemes. Why do we have war? It’s the atheists who spread contempt of God and invite such reckless notions of communism and Islam.
Ordinary believers don’t make this stuff up. Calvinists and other fundamentalist theologians teach that humanity is “utterly depraved,” and that the only hope for our fallen world and for fallen individuals is the saving blood of Jesus. In the words of mega-minister Mark Driscoll, “If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are guns to shoot, there are people to shoot, there are parties to be had, there are women to be had.”
In this worldview, the architects of America’s much lamented moral decay are godless atheists, and the growth of secularism means the growth of moral bankruptcy. Modernity is a grim slide into an end-times world where everybody lies, cheats, and takes whatever they can get. And here in America, this dark tide can be held back only by Christians in high places.
But this common wisdom is being challenged by the public behavior of both the godly and the godless—by atheists who publically embrace humanity’s moral core and spiritual quest; and by Christian leaders who keep getting caught, literally or metaphorically, with their pants down. The combination paints a picture that more than anything reveals our shared humanity—that the godless have their share of moral leaders and inspiring spiritual values, and the godly have their share of scoundrels.
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