Can a civilization survive without faith? It’s a question many Americans are considering as a wave of secularism sweeps the nation.
There are those that push back against the idea that faith and religion should be involved in the political process. They point to the establishment clause in the Constitution that prevents the government from establishing a religion as evidence the Founders wanted to keep religion separate from the apparatus of state.
Eric Metaxas, a Christian author and host of “The Eric Metaxas Show,” disagrees.
“I think that the Founders knew that a robust faith was at the very heart of keeping the republic. There was no question about that,” Metaxas says. “I think the misunderstanding that we’ve been living with for decades now, that somehow we’re supposed to keep our faith out of the public square, is utterly preposterous.”
Metaxas joins the show to discuss the role of faith in society and whether America can survive if she loses her faith heritage.
We also cover these stories:
- President Joe Biden says he isn’t worried about a possible Chinese response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan.
- Greg McMichael and his son Travis McMichael are sentenced to life in prison on federal hate crime charges for the death of Ahmaud Arbery.
- New York City Mayor Eric Adams calls for federal aid to deal with ongoing busloads of illegal immigrants from Texas.
- American author and historian David McCullough dies.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Doug Blair:My guest today is Eric Metaxas, a Christian author and host of “The Eric Metaxas Show.” Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric Metaxas: Thanks for having me.
Blair:[Friedrich] Nietzsche famously said that God is dead. However, your book “Is Atheism Dead?” seems to say the opposite.
Metaxas: Time magazine, in 1966, obviously springboarding off of Nietzsche, asked the question on the cover of Time magazine “Is God Dead?” I thought, based on the really astonishing evidence from science and other things, now the question has to be, is atheism dead?
As I say, the evidence is just dramatic, but most people don’t know it, which is why I wrote the book. I said, “We’ve got to be aware of the fact that, essentially, atheism is no longer tenable.” I think that that’s an honest assessment. If people want to be agnostics, you can do what you want, but to say there’s no God has become, intellectually, genuinely untenable.
Blair: What is some of the evidence for God’s existence?
Metaxas:Well, from the world of science, it’s almost funny how—I wasn’t planning to write a book about this, but over the years, when I came to faith, I started looking into what people call apologetics, and whether science pushes against the idea of the Bible or faith, or not. I kept discovering that, on the contrary, that that’s not the case. But it wasn’t until recently that I began to get really serious about it.
Christopher Hitchens was asked, “What is the best argument from the God side?” He had debated all of these people of faith—Muslims, Jews, Christians. He said, “Oh, without any question, it’s the fine-tuned argument, the idea that there are innumerable things in the universe that we’ve discovered with science that appear to be fine-tuned.”
In other words, that if they were one hair in this direction or one hair in the other direction, the universe wouldn’t exist or there wouldn’t be life on Earth or any of these things. He conceded that and he said, almost comically, “All of my colleagues on the atheist side would concur that that’s the most serious argument. It takes a bit of working out.”
What I find comical, as I say, is that it is not something that you can work out. It is a stymying reality. Fifty years ago, you couldn’t say it, but as science has itself advanced, ironically, it has pointed to the inevitable existence of some creator who fine-tuned every detail, the laws of physics, the details of chemistry, the position of the planets. Everywhere you look, you see a level of design that is so astonishing.
The biggest news, really, is that most of us don’t know it, but when you look at it, it stops you dead, and you think, “This doesn’t make any sense.”
We’ve all grown up in a world that says either faith and science are enemies or they exist in different silos; but the reality is that, in recent decades, evidence from science has been pointing very dramatically to the existence of an intelligent creator. It has mounted up so extraordinarily that I said, “I’ve got to put this in a book because most people aren’t even aware of this.”
The fine-tuned argument is probably the main one. There are also two other arguments from science that I put in the book. There are many, but the three basic ones are the fine-tuned argument, the story of the Big Bang and how that was a tremendous challenge to secularists who wanted to believe in a steady-state universe, who wanted to say that, “We don’t want to acknowledge a beginning. That makes us uncomfortable. It sounds very religious.”
And that battle, which we’ve largely forgotten about because now everybody knows that the universe started 13.8 billion years ago, that story is the first chapter in the book “Is Atheism Dead?” It’s very funny in a way, because you realize, at the time, secularists, materialists were freaking out about the idea of an expanding universe.
The third part has to do with what’s called abiogenesis, the idea that life emerged from non-life through random accident, which, of all of these, is almost the most preposterous.
In seven decades since the famous Miller-Urey experiment of 1952, people have been working day and night in figuring out how you go from no life to single-celled organisms. The more we know from science, the more we know that simply cannot happen. It’s infinitely complex. The idea of DNA inventing itself randomly, it just doesn’t make any sense.
You have three really strong arguments and I think most people are not aware of them. I wrote the book “Is Atheism Dead?” because I said, “People are going to be blown away. You’re not reading about this in newspapers, but this has been mounting up over the decades, and it’s time we assessed it honestly.”
Blair:Are religion and faith necessary for a society to function?
Metaxas:Are religion and faith necessary for a society to function? That’s a complex question. I’ll give you a simple answer. Yes, because religion and faith, first of all, come in infinity of forms.
When the Aztecs murdered people and believed in human sacrifice, as did many civilizations, those were religious acts. It speaks to an ordering of society. The question is, what is the religion? Is the religion an evil, inhuman, cruel, irrational religion, or is it a religion based on reason and truth, on the dignity of the human person? Is it a religion which will abolish slavery? Is it a religion which will work against injustice, will work to pull people out of poverty?
The question simply is what kind of religion we’re talking about, I think, but societies have always been ordered by one religion or another. Atheism and radical atheism is, of course, a kind of religion. It’s a philosophy built on, really, nothing. But it’s inevitable that a society will have to deal with some kind of organizing principle, and usually we call that some kind of religion or some kind of faith, even if it’s not one of the standard models.
Blair:Now, people of faith have been self-aware of making faith part of their policy platforms and the separation between church and state has been part of American culture for a very long time. Should people of faith be more concerned with putting faith-based policy into their platforms?
Metaxas:Well, it all depends what we mean. The Founders wanted people of faith to bring their faith into public life. We were never meant to have a naked public square, to quote Father Richard John Neuhaus. We were never meant to have a secular culture. That’s preposterous. It’s antithetical to the Founders’ vision. It’s antithetical to the separation of church and state. It’s antithetical to the no establishment clause. That’s not what was meant.
What was meant was that the government cannot put its thumb on the scales and come out for one thing or the other. It cannot force people to be atheist, cannot force people to be Catholics. It has to be agnostic. Same thing, of course, with the market. The government has to let people be free in the free market of ideas.
These things have to be preserved as much as possible. The idea that you can have policies that are somehow devoid of value, it’s—we have a Constitution that prevents everybody from putting in some kind of law that is antithetical to the basics of what we’ve always believed and that would undermine the whole society.
I think people of faith—I think the Founders and lovers of freedom understand that religion and faith are supposed to be brought into how we govern ourselves. The only question is, what are the boundaries of that?
I think that the Founders knew that a robust faith was at the very heart of keeping the republic. There was no question about that. They only said that we have to be careful never to go that next step, where we establish a religion for everyone. We have to let that be voluntary. We have to let that be free because we believe if it is free and uncoerced, then people will own it themselves and they will live out their faith; and when they live out their faith, they will do all the things that Burke’s little platoons do, that this is basically how freedom operates. So we need faith, but we can’t coerce faith.
I think the misunderstanding that we’ve been living with, really, gosh, for decades now, that somehow we’re supposed to keep our faith out of the public square, is utterly preposterous. William Wilberforce led the battle against the slave trade precisely because of his faith and the God of the Bible that said slavery is evil.
I think that anytime we believe in anything, if I believe in the sanctity of the unborn, there’s no way for me to say, “Well, that’s separate. That doesn’t involve politics. It’s a religious belief.” At some point, we have to decide whether we’re talking about reality.
It’s always figuring out the boundaries of these things, not whether we ought to be bringing faith into public life. Of course, we should. It’s why we abolished slavery in the 19th century. A lot of people aren’t familiar with that and they have some misunderstandings.
Blair:As religion seems to have gone down in the country, especially amongst young people, there seems to have been a secular religion that some might call wokeism that has replaced it. Is that an accurate assessment, since we’ve lost faith in the God of the Bible or the God of Abraham, that we now have this secular religion taking its place?
Metaxas: Well, in effect, yes, but I’m really hopeful because, first of all, we’re dealing with this thing called reality. Wokeism, which is effectively cultural Marxism, is fundamentally atheistic, and as I just said, I think the atheist proposition is now dead. I don’t think you can take that seriously.
The idea that you can order a culture along culturally Marxist lines is simply preposterous. It will lead to the bloodbath of the French Revolution. It will lead to the gulag of the Soviet Union. It will lead to the Uyghur death camps in China. If you don’t believe in God, then where do you get your values from? If everybody agrees that, “Oh, we’re going to kill the people who disagree with us,” you no longer live in a free society.
We have to understand that wokeism is fundamentally atheist Marxism. It purports to be able to structure a society in a way that is going to be humane, but it never has done so in history. …
I write about this at the end of my book “Is Atheism Dead?” The record in history, which we now have, we didn’t have maybe in the 1930s, it is unbelievable. The level of cruelty and inhumanity perpetrated by regimes that have been Marxist is so monstrous, so horrifying, that when you look at it, you say whatever they believe has led to just unprecedentedly historical evils. We need to be honest about that.
When you take God out of the equation—now, listen, every generation is fooled afresh into thinking this might work. It has never worked. By definition, you can’t even say that racism is wrong. If you don’t believe in God, where do you get the idea that racism is wrong?
If somebody says, “Well, I just believe that we evolved out of the primordial soup and some people evolved higher than others. Maybe I have power and maybe I will enforce my power and subjugate people beneath me. Maybe your religion says that’s wrong. I don’t have any religion. I believe in might makes right.”
We have to be honest that cultural Marxism is the enemy of freedom. It’s the enemy of human beings of every kind. If you believe in fairness and justice and all these things that most people purport to believe in, you have to understand at some point that what we’re calling wokeism is cultural Marxism. It’s atheism writ large. It’s a utopianist scheme that will lead to violence and evil. We’ve seen it in the past and we need to be honest about it.
Blair:Final question. How do we get more people to come to the faith if we start to recognize that it should exist in public life? How do we bring them into it?
Metaxas: Well, I don’t think we should worry too much about it. I think that our job is to speak the truth in love, to try to reason with people. If somebody doesn’t want to be reasoned with, you can’t force them to accept something. You can’t even force someone to accept one plus one equals two if they don’t feel like it. They can just say, “Shut up. I’m not interested.” I think we have to live out our faith.
My largest criticism of the church in America—I have a book coming out called “Letter to the American Church” in September. In that book, my biggest criticism of the church is that we have not lived out our faith.
If you do not live out your faith in a courageous way, where people can look at you and say, “You know what, he really believes that. He seems even to be willing to die or to suffer for what he believes is true,” that is compelling to people. That is cool. That is interesting.
If you think by being relevant it means not bringing up what the faith teaches, most people know that you’re just trying to be relevant and that you don’t really believe anything.
The Bible sets out a view of humanity, of what a person is, of God’s design for sexuality and for family. The reason you put those things forward is not just because you feel, “Well, this is what my religion teaches,” because you believe this is how people will be blessed. If they don’t want to be, that’s on them, but I think we have a duty to speak these truths in love.
I think when times are tough, which they are now, people are a little bit more open-minded to new things and to new ideas. I think that we have to understand, ultimately, people’s salvation, those things are in God’s hands. We pray and we do our best, and we leave the results in God’s hands. We should never be anxious about anything, much less dragging somebody over into believing what we do.
Blair:That was Eric Metaxas, a Christian author and host of “The Eric Metaxas Show.” Thank you so much for your time, Eric. I very much appreciate it.
Metaxas:My privilege. Thank you.
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