Thursday 4 August 2011

An open letter to Mark Steyn.

Dear Mr Steyn,

One topic you've come back to a lot over the last few years is that of Christianity and whether a post-Christian society can survive without it. You raise a lot of good points, but I find it interesting that you have discussed the benefits and advantages of believing in God so thoroughly without ever touching on the matter of whether God exists.

I agree with you that the problem with Islam isn't Islam: it's the fact that Western cultures have abandoned their self-belief, leaving the door open for any strong culture to replace them, because people want to be part of strong self-confident cultures. If Islam hadn't highlighted this problem, something else would have. I agree that Judeo-Christian culture provides an excellent moral underpinning for strong free societies. I don't agree that atheism necessarily doesn't, but the sad fact is that most atheists are so damn stupid that they insist on rejecting everything any religion has ever done, including the foundations of the society that allows them the freedom to be openly atheist in the first place. I agree that a strongly Christian society would avoid a lot of the ills facing European post-Christian societies, especially the endemic self-absorption.

But here's the problem.

As it happens, I'm an atheist. This isn't some political stand; I just don't believe that God exists. Neither do a lot of our leaders (and I don't just mean the politicians).

Now, you certainly could argue — and I think you have — that religion provides the most effective means of ordering a functioning civilisation. You could argue further that our leaders therefore have a duty to promote religion over atheism, to the extent of hiding their own beliefs and going to church and pretending to be religious for the good of the nation. There is a strong case to be made that a civilisation led by people who actively promote Christianity would be a more successful and longer-lasting civilisation than the one we currently have, in which there is no dominant belief system to tie people together and indeed the very idea of common values is considered rather gauche.

Now, if I were an authoritarian, that would be a fine idea. But I'm not. I object — as do you — to having our cultural elites foist their ideas onto the rest of us. Most of the time, they do this with ideas they really believe in, and that's bad enough. I can't see that having them cynically promote what they regard as fairy tales for the masses would be an improvement. What they should be doing is leaving us the hell alone to get on with our lives. I'm not going to promote Christianity for the sake of convenience when I am sure that its key metaphysical claims are false. I suspect Oriana Fallaci faced a similar conundrum: in the end, she may have begun to see the point of Christianity from a strategic point of view, but I very much doubt she suddenly changed her mind about the existence of God.

I suspect that you have had a similar train of thought and that that is why you've never addressed the matter of whether Christianity is actually right, rather than merely good. But there are a lot of us atheists out here who want to see Western civilisation last forever, and we need a better solution than being asked to proselytize something we believe to be false.

I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Kynaston Reeves

I will of course be letting you all know if he replies.


Mark Steyn has very graciously placed a link to this letter on his very front page, implying, I hope, that he intends to reply at some point, which would be nice.

In the meantime, I have responded to some of your responses here.