from an editorial column in the Sunday Telegraph, referenced by Ravi Zacharias in “Creedal Affirmation in Search of Commitment, Part One” [http://www.rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/creedal-affirmation-in-search-of-commitment/].
What is true at this time in our history is that we are moving into uncharted territory. Since the French revolution, many influential intellectuals have rejected religion. But it is only now that religious ideas are ceasing to underpin general morality. Because these ideas have prevailed for so long, people tend to assume that the morality which goes with them is somehow obvious and common-sensical and will continue. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is widely believed to be a moral imperative which everyone can accept and try to follow without religious faith as if it were a belief which came naturally to man. But this is a terrible error.
No moral doctrine comes naturally. As the derivation of the word doctrine implies, it has to be taught. It can only be taught if enough people understand the theories on which it rests and have the means of instilling their consequences into the popular mind. We have entered a period in which this is no longer so and we are beginning to see the results…
(He talks about the diminishing value of manking and the increasing value of the animal world, almost now set on par.) Most of those who fight to stop hunts killing foxes would think nothing of having abortions. If members of the animal liberation front had been in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday, they would have been far too worried about the fate of the donkey on which Christ entered Jerusalem to mind that He was being crucified before their eyes.
With this loss of a truly human morality comes paradoxically a greater emphasis on the importance of human gratification. As human beings no longer believe that they have a unique standing in the order of divine creation, they turn inwards. The great modern crime is to prevent people doing whatever it is they want to do. On the right, this tends to mean complete freedom to make and sell whatever people want to buy. On the left, it tends to mean giving government money to anyone who asks for it and arguing that any sexual taste or way of life is equally valid.
Being yourself is the thing to be, as if your self was automatically interesting and good. The consequence of this is that what was once called selfishness is now called fulfillment. The word “love” is used just as much as it ever was, but it means something else. For a Christian, the measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it. For the post-Christian, love is the most exciting state of the ego. The social consequences are more greed, more crime, more family breakdown, and more violence and an extreme restlessness which makes contentment almost as outdated a word as crinoline.
And although many nonbelievers dislike these trends just as much as Christians, they are almost powerless to do anything about them for religion has an extraordinary and unique capacity to keep sublime concepts of beauty and truth and the principles of conduct derived from them in the minds of ordinary people. Without religion, few know what to think, and into the vacuum created pour superstition and fanaticism and pure brutishness.
To all of this, the atheist will answer, “You may be right about the social consequences of the loss of faith, but that is simply the pain that results from people discovering that they have been living a lie. Our duty is to develop a new way of living based on the truth.” This may be an honorable position, but another possibility presents itself. It is that our moral beliefs will decay if they are cut off from their source, just as a stream will become a stagnant pool if it is no longer fed by its spring. This is what is happening in the West today.
The injunction to “love thy neighbour” is not a statement of the obvious. It is a commandment, and one which only makes sense because it flows from the first commandment “love thy God”. We must obey it because it is true, and we know it is true because of the event which this day, Easter, commemorates.