September 18, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, September 18, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll find out why atheists don’t trust other atheists, we’ll remember the summer of love and the cultural revolution 50 years later, and we will be reminded on the 50th anniversary of the song by the Beatles that love, when misunderstood, is actually not all you need.
Why atheists don’t trust other atheists and what this reveals about moral intuition
It’s really important as Christians that we make arguments in the right way. So for example, we are often told that the argument is wrongly made that atheists can’t be moral, and, actually, that’s a legitimate criticism. We should not argue that atheists cannot be moral persons — that means in terms of corresponding with a conventional morality, doing what we consider as a society to be more right than more wrong, living as decent, upright human beings just in terms of the conventional morality — we should not argue that to be an atheist is to be immoral in that sense. But we ought to learn how to make the argument in the right way, and that is that atheism cannot support morality.
The distinction between those is really important because the second statement — the correct way of putting the argument — points to the fact that we’re talking about the fact that the worldview of atheism is insufficient to sustain any form of moral argument or long-term moral judgment. As a matter fact, it effectively undermines any possibility of objective morality in toto, but when it comes to that first argument, the wrong argument, saying that to be an atheist is to be immoral is to miss the point — a very important worldview analysis point — that most human beings lived quite inconsistent lives in terms of their worldview; they simply fail to live up with consistency.Show Full Transcript
That’s one of the things we’re concerned about in terms of The Briefing. We want to make certain that as Christians we are ever more consistently Christian in terms of applying the biblical worldview to our lives making sure that we are, in the words of Scripture, bringing everything captive to Christ — every thought, every issue every question. But, thankfully we should say, atheists do not always or even usually without the moral and worldview implications of their atheism. That’s a good thing, and we should note a recent rather spectacular set of research that tells us something about morality and atheism and the intuition of the fact that atheism cannot sustain morality. That has to do with the fact that as The Guardian of London said in its headline,
“Atheists Tend to be Seen as Immoral.”
Now that’s the first part of the headline, that’s not all that surprising, but listen to the full headline,
“Atheists Tend to be Seen as Immoral – Even by Other Atheists,”
according to the study. The research is summarized by the French Press Agency in Paris and reported in The Guardian, we read,
“Atheists are more easily suspected of evil deeds than Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists – even by fellow atheists, according to the authors of a new study.
[Their findings suggest] that in an increasingly secular world,”
says The Guardian,
“many – including some atheists – still hold the view that people will do bad things unless they fear punishment from all-seeing gods.”
According to the journal, nature, human behavior,
“the results of the study ‘show that across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct.’”
And it furthermore revealed,
“atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous.”
Now we’ve tried to make that distinction in the two arguments clear, but what’s also clear in this article is that atheists continue, at least in terms of a generalized category, to be held in moral suspension. Again that’s not really news. The big news is the fact that even atheists hold fellow atheists as atheists in terms of moral suspension. The research made its way across the Atlantic as reported in the New York Times, Benedict Carey wrote in the lede to their article,
“Most people around the world, whether religious or not, presume that serial killers are more likely to be atheists than believers in any god, suggests a new study, which counters the common assumption that increasingly secular societies are equally tolerant of nonbelievers.”
The next words,
“Avowed atheists exhibited the same bias.”
Will Gervais, one of the professors at the center the research, he’s a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, he said,
“I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms. Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular,” he said, “people still seem to intuitively hold on to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard.”
Now once again I think that’s fairly easy to understand, but the big thing here in terms of worldview is the fact that what’s acknowledged here is what we often talk about on The Briefing, but doesn’t often make its way into the secular conversation. That is not just moral judgment, but moral intuition. Time and again the word intuition comes up in this article. I’ve often pointed out that most human beings, most of the time, make most moral decisions by means of moral intuition rather than conscious, intellectual calculation or consideration. That’s not to say that human beings, virtually all human beings, are incapable of that kind of intellectual activity, it is to say that most of us operate by intuition far more than we recognize, and what this article makes very clear is that there is an intuition, even amongst atheists, that indicates that there’s something morally suspect about atheists.
Now once again, looking at how we should frame the argument, it should not be so much about atheists as atheism. It is the worldview of atheism that actually is incapable of sustaining objective morality or long-term rightful moral judgment, and that’s because atheism by its very existence denies an objective source of morality. It denies the very existence of God, who would be the very source of objective moral judgment, and of the very sensibility about morality in the first place.
Similar headlines reporting the research appeared all over the media landscape. Jason Daley writing for Smithsonian Magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution ran a story with the headline,
“Survey Finds Most People Are Biased Against Atheists, Including Atheists.”
The headline of the actual academic study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour is even more interesting. The headline
“Global Evidence of Extreme Intuitive Moral Prejudice Against Atheists.”
Now look at the words there; this is in an academic journal.
“Evidence of Extreme Intuitive Moral Prejudice.”
Of course the big question here is why is this so? Where does this intuition come from? We remind ourselves of the argument made by one of the researchers Will Gervais at the University of Kentucky who said that it must be rooted in, I’ll use his words,
“the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms.”
But arguing against that is the fact that this particular pattern of moral intuition turns out to be continuing, at least in some form, even in relatively secular societies. I think that points to something even deeper, and that is that this intuition is based not only in entrenched, pro-religious norms, but in our consciousness as human beings, which after all, according to the biblical worldview, we believe cannot but testify both to the existence of God and to the reality of objective moral judgment. The fact is we know that we are known, we sense that we are watched, and we feel convicted by and accountable to moral judgments that do not come merely from our fellow human beings.
There’s a certain irony embedded in this story, of course, and a certain frustration evident as well. It has to be very frustrating to atheists that there continues to be a moral intuition that atheists are morally suspect found even among atheists. Of course the biblical worldview reminds us fundamentally that every single human being, just by being a thinking human being — and that would include every single atheist — actually knows truths that cannot be not known. And that’s based on more than intuition, but intuition inevitably follows.
Looking back on the Summer of Love and the cultural revolution, 50 years later
Next, as the summer of 2017 winds to an end, we need to remember what took place in the summer 50 years ago — the so-called “summer of love.” And that was a major turning point in American society, Andrew Ferguson writing a cover story for the Weekly Standard reminds us from San Francisco,
“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to check out the trams at the airport. They’re done up in psychedelic colors. And over by the gates you can have your picture taken in a mock-up of an old VW bus like the hippies used to drive, also decorated psychedelically. Wearing flowers in your hair is strictly optional.”
Then he goes on to say,
“When you get into the city proper, passing several psychedelic billboards, you’ll find it jumping with events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Having come to an end half a century ago, the Summer of Love,”
“is one of those events San Francisco has never quite got over, like the gold rush and those two earthquakes. The summer of 1967 is considered by people who like to consider such things to be the high-water mark of the hippies, the climax of the counterculture, the Camelot moment when all that was lovely and innocent about the sixties blossomed fleetingly from the potential to the actual.”
Well, Ferguson waxes quite prosaic there, as he thinks about the Summer of Love, but from a Christian worldview perspective what’s most important for us to recognize that we are living 50 years later with the cultural, moral, and philosophical legacy of the Summer of Love all around us. The attractions of San Francisco in the Summer of Love to the counterculture were all too evident. Zoë Corbyn, writing at The Chronicle of Higher Education, reminds us,
“In the summer of 1967, tens of thousands of young people converged [in San Francisco drawn by sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and the promise of a new way to live.”
Now by the way, Corbyn is writing about the fact that, of course, a conference, an academic conference, on the Summer of Love was held over the summer in San Francisco. It was known as,
“Revisiting the Summer of Love, Rethinking the Counterculture.”
But before we take a closer look at an academic conference, we need to go back 50 years and remind ourselves what the so-called Summer of Love was all about. It was a massive act of the counterculture, a moral revolution in the midst of the 1960s. At the center of it was the hippies and the hippies’ demand for a complete overthrow of conventional morality, the acceptance of alternative lifestyles, and of course, central to that lifestyle is not only rock ‘n roll but drugs. Drugs in general, marijuana is one of those drugs, but in the longest lasting legacy of the drug use of the counterculture, it was LSD, celebrated as a way to gain a psychedelic trip, a way to escape reality into a higher form of consciousness.
Most Americans, of course, don’t even remember the Summer of Love. Ferguson points out that it took place 50 years ago, well before 60 percent of the population of the United States was born. Infamous Harvard professor Timothy Leary, at the time a proponent of LSD use, invited young people to come to San Francisco to drop in and to drop out. But it also turns out that there was in 1967 in the Summer of Love what was declared to be not just a drop in, but what was defined as a human be-in. It was a recurrence of the utopian stream that often seems to pass through American culture, and it was explicitly hedonistic based upon free love, as it was claimed, and an overthrow of conventional sexual morality then, and specifically Christian sexual morality. Andrew Ferguson gets it exactly right when he tells us,
“Historians of the Summer of Love keep [the] tradition alive. Most of them are [actually] evangelists,” he argues, “rather than historians.”
“You will read that hippies ‘experimented with sexual liberation,’ as though,” he said, “they were dressed in lab coats like Masters and Johnson, when,”
in his words,
“all it really means is that they were having a lot of sex.”
Ferguson points out that when it was said that the hippies were,
“exploring the frontiers of consciousness,”
it meant that they were taking drugs and getting high. When they called for,
it actually meant that they were simply stealing. To say that the Summer of Love did not meet its expectations and promises is to state the obvious, that was stated pretty clearly by one of the Beatles George Harrison, who went there with his wife. He said,
“I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs.”
In his cover story in the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson makes the point, the very important point, that as we look at today’s moral landscape we need to recognize we can trace so much of it back to the hippies and to the Summer of Love in 1967. He says the obvious,
“Without the hippies’ belief in free love, there’d be no gay marriage.”
He went on to say,
“Many of the things that thrill a millennial heart sprouted in the Summer of Love. With no hippies, we’d have no hipsters. Think of it.”
Speaking of that academic conference marking the 50th anniversary in San Francisco, one of the academics cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education pointed once again to the fact that the counterculture has become the dominant culture in so many ways, morally speaking. He said,
“It has become the water to the fish, the air to the birds. We take it for granted. We move around in it, and we are not sure where it came from.”
So much of it came from San Francisco 1967 in the Summer of Love.
Speaking of some of the lighter and heavier elements of the inheritance from the Summer of Love, Zoë Corbyn goes back to the conference telling us,
“[Amongst] the hippie hangovers that the scholars identify, some are obvious: yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices; vegetarianism and organic food; the return of midwifery … Others,”
“Others are more opaque: the liberalization of dress codes; changes in sexual mores,”
she goes on to say,
“the softening of attitudes toward marijuana ([that was] obscured, [she says,] by the 1980s war on drugs).”
Those who look back wistfully on the Summer of Love as it was called, especially the hippies again, looking back, they describe it as a failed experiment because it was simply shut down by the prevailing culture. There’s more to the story, of course, and no one got that better than Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle who described the Summer of Love as,
“a utopian movement,”
that was in his words, very telling words,
“undermined by the reality of the human species.”
Frankly, I couldn’t say it better.
Were The Beatles right, is love really all you need?
But finally, even as we are thinking about the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and all that took place in the summer of 1967, we also need to think about the impact of particular music in terms of the intersection of music and morality and worldview. Connected with that call for a new higher consciousness in the 1960s came secular proponents of a new secular morality and a new form of secular love, none more famous than the Beatles in 1967. In that very summer they released their song, “All You Need is Love.”
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney writing in the Financial Times reminds us,
“Fifty years ago The Beatles debuted “All You Need Is Love” on television, in the same month that Israel went to war with neighbouring Arab states, China tested its first hydrogen bomb and almost 500,000 American troops were stationed in Vietnam. The foursome wore colourful outfits and played seated amid an entourage holding signs saying the song’s title in different languages. Paul McCartney had a flower behind his ear. John Lennon, the song’s writer, phrased his utopian lyrical message with circular logic: “All you need is love, love is all you need.”
On and on. In one most hilarious lines in this article we find out that another of The Beatles George Harrison, who heard the song first when John Lennon played it to his fellow band members said,
“Well, it’s certainly repetitive.”
But beyond the repetition, what it really revealed was the fact that there were many Americans, certainly younger Americans, looking for some alternative message; a message that would undergird a reality they continued to define as love. This was the very love they declared to have freed in the sexual liberation of free love; it’s the very love they wanted to sing about and to be sung to about by the Beatles and others.
The big lesson of “All You Need Is Love” and the year 1967, looking back now 50 years, is that while it is true that love is one of the most powerful words in the English language, and Christians understand why, when that word is detached from all context and objective meaning, it turns out that love is not all you need.