At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Atheism and the Problem of Morality

posted by Jack Kerwick

Where was God when Adam Lanza went on a shooting spree at an elementary school in Newtown,Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead? 

Atheists assume that if there is evil in the world, then there can be no God. What they need to realize, however, is that if there is no God, then there can be no morality. This is what Dostoyevsky meant when he noted that if there is no God, then anything is possible.

Morality is objective.  It consists of norms that are held to be independent of human will.  Morality is not about what we do, or what we want to do.  It is about what we ought to do—whether we want to do it or not.  

But if there is no God, the Supreme Law Giver and Goodness Itself, then morality loses the only objective ground available to it—and, hence, itself.


Not so, many have retorted.  Morality is rooted in reason, or human nature, or biology.

None of this will do. Reason, human nature, and biology may very well have a role to play in the moral life, but only if they are somehow ordained by God.

Reason is fickle.  Over the centuries, distinguished thinkers—from Burke and De Maistre to Hobbes and Hume to Montaigne and Pascal—representing a variety of philosophical traditions have recognized this.  Adolph Hitler and Osama bin Laden (and Adam Lanza, for that matter) acted no less rationally in the pursuit of their goals than did Mother Teresa and Gandhi act in the pursuit of theirs.  Reason is all too easily, and frequently, subverted by the simplest of things, whether passion, impulse, fear, or sickness.


Those who would attempt to use reason as the foundation upon which to lay morality are like a man who tries to build a house on quicksand.

And what is true of reason is just as true of human nature and biology.

Human nature has its angels, for sure, but it also has its demons.  Any human being who has dared to look honestly at himself will be compelled to acknowledge this stone cold fact. As we all say: No one is perfect.  

Biology is even less eligible of a candidate for a basis of morality.  Biology gives us instincts and impulses, needs and inclinations—in short, causes of various sorts.  Yet it cannot supply reasons.  Biology compels.  Morality, in stark contrast, presupposes the freedom to make choices.


If there is no God, then there is no spirit.  And if there is no spirit, then all is matter: reason and human nature boil down to human biology, and biology, in turn, becomes nothing more or less than the latest product of a resolutely non-purposeful mechanical process billions of years in the happening.

If there is no God, then anything is possible.

It isn’t just Dostoyevsky, a Christian, who recognized this.  Some of the most astute and staunchest of atheists have as well.

Of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche said that he regarded it “as the most fatal and seductive lie that has ever yet existed—as the greatest and most impious lie.”  Yet Nietzsche viewed Christianity as the ground zero of the “campaign against morality” that he openly waged, the prototype of just the notion of objective morality that he so despised. 


Thus, when Nietzsche declared “the death of God,” it was the death of moral objectivity, of moral absolutes, that he celebrated.

Human beings had nothing to go on but their own “Will to Power.”  They alone are the creators of value.

Jean Paul Sartre was even clearer on this score.

Though an atheist, he scoffed at those atheists who held that we could preserve such traditional moral ideals as honesty, compassion, and justice while doing away with belief in God.  Rather, he admitted to finding it “very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with him [.]”  If there is no God, then there are “no values or commands,” no principles or ideals, that “legitimize our conduct.”


Sartre’s verdict is as haunting as it is inescapable. If there is no God, then we “are alone, with no excuses.”

The response of believer and unbeliever alike to Adam Lanza’s shooting spree in Connecticutis unmistakably moral in character.  Yet unless God exists, there is no basis for our conviction that it was an act of evil. 

And unless the atheist, in his own peculiar way, needed God as much as anyone else, he wouldn’t feel compelled to look beyond his world of material causes and cosmic insignificance to blame Him for not existing.      






Adam Lanza: Knowing Evil from Illness

posted by Jack Kerwick

Courtesy of mass murderer Adam Lanza, Sandy Hook School in Newtown,Connecticut has been deprived of 26 members of its community, six adults and twenty children between the ages of five and ten.   

Our hearts break—as they should. Unfortunately, to judge from the endless commentary on this matter, it would appear that our heads are just as fragmented.

The demand for better “mental health” treatment is a classic case in point.  Yet this focus on mental health reflects, not just massive intellectual confusion, but equally massive moral confusion. 

The ever perceptive writer Ilana Mercer was among the first to recognize this.  Just hours after the Newtown shooting, legions of commentators—“self-serving tele-experts, twits of psychology and psychiatry,” as Mercer refers to them—stormed the airwaves to “diagnose” the shooter.  But as Mercer was quick to note, the diagnosis of evil doers can only lead to the denial of evil itself.


“Adam Lanza,” she declares, is “evil, not ill.”

And she is right.

The language of “evil,” like that of “good,” is the language of morality.  The language of “mental health” and “sickness,” on the other hand, is the idiom of science (whether pseudo-science or not is beside the point).  Mental illness is as incompatible with moral judgment as is physical illness.  Neither Asperger’s syndrome nor cancer has anything to say regarding the moral worth of Lanza’s character or actions.

Adam Lanza, the man who shot up a school murdering 20 little boys and girls and six of the adults who tried to protect them, was evil, not ill.

The sick deserve our compassion.  The wicked deserve our condemnation.  Do you see the inconsistency between describing Lanza as both “ill” and “evil?” If it is some mental “illness” that compelled him to commit mass murder, then he no more warrants blame than he would if it was some physical illness like cancer that compelled him to vomit uncontrollably or suffer a dramatic weight loss. 


The great conservative Edmund Burke had famously declared that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  Yet good men cannot do a thing about evil unless they are able to recognize it for what it is—and what it is not.  In fact, in the absence of this ability, men can’t hope to be good at all.   

So, point one: lest we know this elementary difference between evil and illness, we will render ourselves incapable of making pronouncements concerning either.

This conflation of illness and evil gives rise to an even greater problem, however: far more evil promises to be done in the name of “mental health treatment” than would ever be done in the name of justice.

C.S. Lewis is among those who took note of this nearly 60 years ago.  Lewis wrote that when “the idea of mending tails off into that of healing or curing,” then the healers are likely to “act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants.”  Indeed, “in some respects,” they could “act even worse,” for “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive” of all tyrannies.  The therapists will “torment us without end” because they have “the approval of their own conscience.”


Lewis makes another crucial observation.  The language of good and evil affirms the moral agency of men and women—even human monsters who would deliberately harm children.  The language of mental illness, in contrast, deprives us of it.

“To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Yet when punishment, even capital punishment, is visited upon a person because he is believed to deserve it, the subject in question is “treated as a human person made in God’s image.”      

Those of us who are resolved to combat evil must be just as resolved to differentiate it from illness.





The “Root Causes” of the Newtown Shooting

posted by Jack Kerwick

No sooner had the word of the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter in Newtown,Connecticut broke than the search for “root causes” was well under way.  Not unexpectedly, topping the list was the “root cause” par excellence, the alleged lack of “gun control.”

Unsurprisingly, none of the following “root causes” made the cut.

For nearly forty years, abortion has been the law of our land.  Forget for the moment whether the aborted is a “person,” “child,” or “fetus,” or whether or not it has a “right to life.”  What no one can deny is that it is its mother’s posterity, her begotten.  It is her child.

But in allowing mothers, of all people, to destroy their own children, can anyone doubt that we make minced meat of the idea that children, being the most vulnerable among us, are to be protected at all costs? 


Maybe it is exactly because the abortion culture had taken its toll upon mass murderer Adam Lanza’s psyche that he had no regard for innocent children.

Capital punishment, or, more precisely, the infrequency with which it is implemented, may also explain Lanza’s murderous actions. 

Far from undermining the sanctity of human life, there is no other institution that affirms it more resoundingly than that of the death penalty.  Inasmuch as the latter expunges from the midst of the living those who would commit such unthinkable crimes as that of which Adam Lanza is guilty, capital punishment is the clearest expression of a people’s regard for the life and well being of its members. 

However, the death penalty is rarely exercised with any measure of regularity where it remains on the books, and in places like Connecticut particularly, it is scarcely exercised at all.  Since 1976, only one person had been executed in the state, and earlier this year,Connecticut repealed the ultimate punishment.


The sanctity of human life is thus eroded further.  Lanza may have gotten the memo.

Manza’s race and gender could have played a huge role in accounting for his rampage.  Consider that Manza was a young white man, that is, a member of just that group, and only that group, that is derided and mistreated as a matter of policy. 

From “affirmative action” to massive Third World immigration, from media depictions of white men as either ignoramuses or crazed “racists” to the incessant barrage of giddy proclamations of an ever diminishing white America, the assault on white men is comprehensive.   

Is it impossible to believe that a young white man like Manza, who has been exposed to this systematic abuse his entire life, may not have been consumed with both self-hatred and rage?  For that matter, may not this cultural animus toward whites have figured in Manza’s choice to leave a trail (judging from news photos) of mostly white bodies?


Then there is the matter of Manza’s ethnicity.  “Manza” is an Italian surname, and Italians and Italian-Americans are routinely portrayed as Mafioso and other violent thugs in the popular media. 

Maybe Manza incorporated this image into his own self-understanding.  Maybe this is why he chose to go on a shooting spree.

Almost as unrelenting as their campaign against white men is that which the Politically Correct storm troopers have prosecuted against religion.

Traditional Christian theism has been mocked and ridiculed while atheism has been promoted as “cool” and “hip.”  But, as hardened atheists from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jean Paul Sartre have noted, if there is no God then there is no objective morality: man is free—condemned to be free, Sartre insisted—to create his own values.  In fact, he has no option but to create his values, for there are no values otherwise.


Is it inconceivable to think that this message just may have crept into Lanza’s consciousness over the span of his life?

Now for the punch line: I don’t for a moment believe that any of the foregoing “root causes” are in the least relevant to Adam Lanza’s decision to gun down 20 little kids and six adults.  Yet they have at least as much as to do with it as does the lack of “gun control” on which scores of leftists rushed to hang this abomination.

Lanza was an evil man responsible for perpetrating an evil deed.  As long as there are evil people in the world, evil will be with us.

Maybe it is to the “root causes” of why our generation fails to come to terms with this timeless fact that we need to turn our attention.







Evil and Outrage, not Illness and Tragedy, in Connecticut

posted by Jack Kerwick

As of the time of this writing, just hours after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 27 people are dead.

Courtesy of mass murderer Adam Lanza, twenty children between the ages of five and ten are forever gone from this world. 

For the victims and their loved ones, we are helpless to do anything but pray.  But while our hearts break, we should see to it to prevent our heads from doing the same.

Thus far, we are not off to a good start.  Well, at least some of us aren’t.

As is typically the case, the ever perceptive writer Ilana Mercer is an exception to this rule. The legions of commentators who haven’t wasted a moment to grace the country’s airwaves with their sage analyses of the Newtown rampage Ilana refers to as a bunch of “self-serving tele-experts, twits of psychology and psychiatry” whose obsession with “diagnosing” the purveyors of evil in our midst results, and can only result, in the denial of evil itself.


Ilana’s verdict is blunt and decisive: “Adam Lanza,” she declares, is “evil, not ill.”

And she is right.

Clarity precludes confusion, but talk of Lanza that simultaneously oscillates between references to his “mental health” and references to the “evil” of his deeds—and this includes virtually all such talk to date—is nothing if not confused, both morally and intellectually.

The language of “evil,” like that of “good,” is the language of morality.  The language of “mental health” and “sickness,” on the other hand, is the idiom of science (whether pseudo-science or not is beside the point).  It is just as incoherent to conscript a scientific idiom in the service of rendering moral judgments as it would be meaningless to describe the law of gravity as unethical.


If Lanza is—or was—“sick,” then he is as much deserving of our compassion as is a child born with leukemia. 

So, point one: lest we know this elementary difference between evil and illness, we will render ourselves incapable of making pronouncements concerning either.

Moral thought runs into another snag, though, when we insist upon describing episodes like today’s shooting as a “tragedy.”  The language of tragedy, unlike that of “sickness,” does indeed belong to moral discourse.  But it does not belong to a description of the events of the sort that unfolded inNewtown.

A tsunami that decimates a human population is a tragedy.  However, Adam Lanza is not the author of a tragedy. He is an abominable punk—a “waste of sperm,” my late father would have said—who is responsible for an outrage. 

Edmund Burke had famously said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  The good men (and women) of our generation who wish to confront evil can start by responding to it by recognizing it for the outrage that it is.




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