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In today’s episode, let us see this question. Bill Maher says, Western ideals came from atheism. Is this true?
Excellent question. American comedian and HBO television host Bill Maher recently gave a strong defense of the Western Civilization. He said the following,
“For all the progressives and academics who refer to Israel as an outpost of Western civilization like it’s a bad thing, please note, Western civilization is what gave the world pretty much every goddamn liberal precept that liberals are supposed to adore. Individual liberty, scientific inquiry, rule of law, religious freedom, women’s rights, human rights, democracy, trial by jury, freedom of speech. Please, somebody stop us before we enlighten again. And since one can find all these concepts in today’s Israel and virtually nowhere else in the Middle East, if anything, the world would be a better place if it had more Israels. Of course, this message falls on deaf ears to the current crop who reduce everything to being only victims or victimizers, so Israel is lumped in as the toxic fruit of the victimizing West. The irony being that all marginalized people live better today because of Western ideals, not in spite of them.
Martin Luther King used Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Civil Disobedience to help shape the civil rights movement. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights owes its core to Rousseau and Voltaire. Cleisthenes never showed up for a sexual harassment seminar. But without him, there’s no democracy. The cop who murdered George Floyd got 21 years for violating his Fourth Amendment rights, an idea we got directly from John Locke, who no one in college would ever study anymore because he’s so old, and so White, and so dead. Yes, that’s how simple the woke are, it’s never about ideas. If it was, would they be cheering on Hamas for their liberation? Liberation? To do what? More freely preside over a country where there are no laws against sexual harassment, spousal rape, domestic violence, homophobia, honor killings, or child marriage. This is who liberals think you should stand with? Women there should be so lucky as to get colonized by anybody else. And for the record, the Jews didn’t colonize Israel or anywhere ever, except maybe Boca Raton.
But it was the Western Enlightenment that gave rise to the notion that the law of the jungle should be curbed. Henry David Thoreau, John Stuart Mill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Three named dudes. It was all about three-named dudes. Three-named dudes like that were the OG social justice warriors. The ideas that came through Athens, Rome, London, Paris, and yes, Philadelphia are what make life good for most people in free societies today. That the individuals have value, and even the powers that be must submit to the rule of law. That punishment should not be cruel and unusual. The accused get people get a trial. That there is such a thing as a war crime.”
Western civilization is what gave the world pretty much every (blank) liberal precept that liberals are supposed to adore. Individual liberty, scientific inquiry, rule of law, religious freedom, women’s rights, human rights, democracy, trial by jury, freedom of speech.
Bill Maher first gave us the list of good things the Western Civilization gave us: Individual liberty, scientific inquiry, rule of law, religious freedom, women’s rights, human rights, democracy, trial by jury, freedom of speech. Then he said they all came to us from secularism and atheism. As he called them, the three-named dudes, Henry David Thoreau, John Stuart Mill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau etc gave us these values. Really?
Actually they did not give us those values. If they did, we would be in big trouble. Because human beings cannot invent human rights. We are so subjective and pliable. Individual liberty is a belief. It is not a scientific truth. Similarly, equality is a belief. It is not a scientific truth. All human beings are equal. That is only a belief. It is not an empirical fact. This universal value came to us from God of the Bible.
Going forward from the foundation
The foundation came first and then the values. God is the foundation. His nature and his moral laws formed the foundation of our values. For example, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. It starts with the words, ‘The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
The human rights we have of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are endowed by our Creator God. They are not given to us by our government or by our forefathers or by Henry David Thoreau. As I said before, human beings cannot be the source of human rights. It is like a wine tasting program. If you go to a wine tasting program, you would see over 200 bottles of wine on tables. Then people go and start tasting them.
One guy takes a bottle, tastes the wine and says, ‘this is the best wine in the world’. Another guy takes the same bottle, tastes the wine and says, ‘this is the worst wine in the world’. One girl tastes a wine and says, ‘this is good’. Another girl tastes the same wine and says, ‘this is bad’. Human beings cannot be relied upon to define what is good and what is bad. Only God can tell us what is good and what is bad. So, only God can be the source of objective, universal moral values. We cannot be the source of objective, universal moral values. The West is not the source of objective, universal moral values. The West is not monolithic. America gave us both Martin Luther King Jr and Klu Klux Klan. If God does not exist, we cannot say Martin Luther King Jr was objectively good and Klu Klux Klan is objectively evil. Some Americans admire Martin Luther King Jr. Some Americans also admire the Klu Klux Klan. Some Europeans admire Hitler. Some Europeans detest Hilter. So, the West is not the source of these values.
The Greeks and Romans did many great things. But they did not believe in universal human equality. Their equality was limited. Only Greeks were equal among each other. Only Romans were equal among each other. They did not believe all human beings all over the world were equal to one another. Similarly in Hinduism, equality is limited to the caste system. You are equal to members of your caste, not to the members of other castes.
The Greeks had democracy but it was limited only to the rich and powerful. Christianity helped to universalize democracy. The Romans had a rule of law, but it was limited to Roman citizens. Christianity universalized the rule of law.
So, in Christian worldview, God is the foundation. He created one couple, Adam and Eve and we are all their children. He created us in His image. All those great values Mr.Maher cited came from this Judeo-Christian worldview.
Atheists like Mr.Maher try hard to put these values on an atheistic foundation. The problem is, Darwinism does not teach equality. It does not teach us to be color blind. There is no justification for human equality in Darwinism.
Thankfully, not every atheist was like Mr.Bill Maher. Some atheists wrote scholarly books emphasizing the role of Christianity in giving us human equality and other great Western ideals. Let me give you two authors.
Frederick Nietzsche and John Gray. In books like Gay Science and Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche passionately wanted us to destroy God because he was the source of human dignity. Nietzsche’s ideology gave birth to postmodernism, which gave birth to wokism. Also, read John Gray’s book Seven types of Atheism. This atheist scholar describes how Christianity was the source of great Western ideals. He describes how atheists take Christian ideals, then secularize them and make them stand on Darwinian foundations.
Bill Maher is doing the same. He says Martin Luther King Jr followed Henry David Thoreau. He conveniently forgets that Martin Luther King Jr was a Baptist preacher who would quote a Bible verse or a biblical metaphor in almost every speech. Bill Maher mentioned John Locke. Remember John Locke was inspired by the Bible. Read his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Books I and II. God was the foundation of his thought and ideology.
Not everyone has bought into this myth. Contrast Mr.Bill Maher with Ayan Hirsi Ali. She was a Somalia born Muslim woman. After facing so much oppression she left Islam and became an atheist. She was called a child of secular Enlightenment. But after much study and insight, she realized that Christian faith is the true foundation of every great ideal that came from the West. Now, she says she is a Christian.
So, my answer to your question is, Bill Maher is right when he defended the ideals of the Western Civilization but he is wrong when he traced them to secularism.