Atheist Agonistes in the Postmodern World

There is an outstanding OP-ED in today’s New York Times declaring the bankruptcy of the Enlightenment and the atheism it spawned. In “Atheist Agonistes” Richard Schweder writes:

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the “dark ages,” finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe.

As people opened their eyes, religion (equated with ignorance and superstition) gave way to science (equated with fact and reason). Parochialism and tribal allegiances gave way to ecumenism, cosmopolitanism and individualism. Top-down command systems gave way to the separation of church from state, of politics from science. The story provides a blueprint for how to remake and better the world in the image and interests of the West’s secular elites.

Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion.

This is spoken like a true post-modernist. Schweder correctly identifies and critiques the vain pretensions of Enlightenment naturalism and its legacy in the 20th century. But like so many secular analyses of culture, this one is good at identifying a sickness but not so good at identifying a cure. Schweder suggests that atheism poisons just societies and that some sort of theism is the antidote. Whether it be Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam, Schweder recommends a dose of religion as the cure for what ails the body politic.

Christians can agree with Schweder in his critique of the Enlightenment and the atheistic naturalism that has come from it. But Christians cannot endorse his “all-religions-are-equal” approach to the making of just societies. Christians know that this ultimately is not the case, despite evidence that a little theism slows down cultural decay in the short term.

The world is indeed sick, but its cure won’t come from the Buddha or from Islam. The ultimate hope of the world is the hope that must be proclaimed in the present. And that hope focuses on the revelation of God in Christ who is reconciling this broken world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is Christ who will deliver this age not only from the carnage of modernity, but also from the damning relativism of post-modernity.

One Response to Atheist Agonistes in the Postmodern World

  1. Debbie November 28, 2006 at 6:51 pm #

    I get on the On Faith Blog. There are some very heated discussions on Christianity, Islam and Athiesm. One that was interesting is ‘What Are Non-Believers Thankful For?’

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