British scientist Richard Dawkins may be the world’s most famous atheist. And he has garnered his fame from, and used his fame for attacks on God and his people. To that end he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and, five years later, hired Sean Faircloth to be the Foundation’s Director of Strategy and Policy.
Like his mentor, Faircloth is aggressively anti-Christian in his perspective. In 2012 he authored a book (with a foreword by Dawkins) called Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All—and What We Can Do About It. The anti-Christian agenda Faircloth proposes is both monstrous and unsurprising. There is nothing original in the book, and that is why it is worth a closer examination – the vision Faircloth shares is one we have heard in bits and pieces for some time now. There are lessons to be learned from responding to his points.
1. Don’t assume the attack has any basis
To lay some groundwork for his agenda, Faircloth tries to discredit the Bible by claiming it was written during a time in history “when guys could simply hit or rape any women who dared to talk back.” He then continues: “Don’t believe that was the case? The Bible tells us such acts are A-OK.”
Of course, the Bible nowhere says it’s “A-OK” for men to rape and hit women. Faircloth just made that up.
He then proceeds to attack Christians themselves, insisting that the Christian mindset leads its adherents to steal things, and to hurt other people. According to Faircloth, Christians are prone to anti-social behavior because their religion causes them to reason in the following manner:
You can hurt others – and terribly so – and be forgiven for that sin simply by asking a supernatural being for forgiveness. With the “forgiven” card, it’s so much easier to say to oneself, “I will grab this food now. I will grab this money now. I will grab and grab and grab.” Concern yourself with long-term consequences later. You can always be forgiven—and then you live forever! A convenient belief system indeed.
If you missed hearing that preached off the pulpit you aren’t alone. Notably, Faircloth does not cite any sources to support his claim that Christians think that way. It’s very important to remember that when a critic attacks the Bible we shouldn’t simply assume their attack has credibility. As Faircloth’s attack illustrates, sometimes the critic is so desperate to slam Christianity that he’s willing to make things up.
2. Turn the tables
Faircloth claims that in recent years religion has acquired special legal privileges that are harmful to American society. Allowing churches and other religious organizations to hire people who share their beliefs and lifestyles is one of these special privileges that he wants to eliminate. When he argues this point he does so in a particularly twisted way. In his view,
…religions enjoy legal privileges that corrode our most basic American values. In most states, religious groups can say in one of their child-care centers: “You’re a Jew? You’re fired.” Similarly, in one of their charitable organizations, they can say to the administrative assistant or janitor: “You’re gay? You’re fired”
True, religious groups that run child-care centers or charitable organizations often only hire people from within their own group. It is a basic principle of freedom of association and freedom of religion that religious organizations select employees based on their own principles. Christian schools want to hire Christian teachers, for example. They don’t say, “You’re a Jew? You’re fired,” as Faircloth puts it. There are Jewish organizations that hire exclusively Jewish employees. Why would a Jewish school hire a Christian teacher? Should it be forced by the government to hire non-Jewish teachers?
In Faircloth’s world there may be situations where it would. His solution is for the government to prohibit such “discrimination.” As a result, the employee qualifications for Christian organizations would be determined by the government. Allowing religious organizations to hire only people who share their beliefs is, in Faircloth’s words, a legal privilege that corrodes “our most basic American values.”
But turnabout is fair play. If Faircloth thinks it discrimination to have a religious test for Christian schools, then what about his own employer, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science? Surely, in the name of tolerance, they should then be required to hire their share of Christians and maybe a creationist or two?
We don’t need to be mind readers to know how Faircloth would respond to our suggestion. He would find a reason of some sort, very quickly, to explain that discrimination isn’t wrong in every circumstance, and, in fact, is sometimes the only reasonable course.
3. Highlight the conflict
Faircloth is also very upset that Christian pharmacists are not compelled by the government to provide abortifacient drugs for women who want them. As he puts it, in the US:
…fundamentalist pharmacists in several states get special permission from state legislatures to ignore their professional duties and to even deny rape victims emergency contraception.
In his view, Christian pharmacists should be compelled, against their conscience, by the state to provide such “emergency contraception.” This is justified because “Pharmacists work in the health-care profession, not in a church.”
While little could be said to change Faircloth’s mind, we can, with a few pointed questions, highlight the severity of what he proposes.
- Will he let Christians who won’t violate their conscience have jobs? He wants us out of pharmacology, but what of the many other businesses where Christians’ conscience claims run up against other’s wishes? Would he want us out of the bakery business, wedding catering and photography, and bed and breakfast inns? What of Christian doctors and nurses who don’t want to be involved in euthanasia? And printers and T-shirt makers who want to refuse some jobs? Should they all be shown the door?
- Would the country be better or worse off if Christians were run out of these positions?
We may not be able to change someone like Faircloth’s mind, but we can at least highlight his hatred, making it plain for even the most clueless to see.
4. Use the science
Faircloth is further outraged by the fact that US foreign aid given to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) cannot be used to provide abortions or to advocate for or counsel abortion. Faircloth calls this prohibition on counseling abortion a “gag rule” and says it prevents women from receiving needed medical advice. In his view:
Neither Congress nor the president should deny women accurate medical information. To impose a gag rule is to mandate a particular religious bias and to promote religious propaganda based on the views of specially privileged religious groups – and to use tax dollars to do so.
Faircloth says the US government’s position is being based on “religious propaganda” and in one sense it is. The only reason the US has this overseas pro-life position is because of Christian voter’s influence.
But God’s truth isn’t limited to the Bible. When we examine life’s beginning then we find the science backing up the biblical position: we find that the only real beginning we can talk about is conception. That’s when a new human life – genetically distinct from both parents – is started. It is smaller life, and with fewer abilities than adults, yes, but no less valuable because, as even an angry atheist knows, we don’t measure people’s worth by their size or ability.
5. Turn the tables again
Christian schools constitute another problem for Faircloth. He objects to the Biblical Christian view that males and females have somewhat different roles. He claims such a perspective makes women subservient, and then asks,
Why should even one child be taught that women should be subservient? Children make no adult choice to attend a sexist school. It violates their human rights to impose such views on them.
Here we can, once again, turn the tables on this attack.
God does call on a woman to submit to her husband (though not men in general) but is that the same thing as being subservient? Faircloth has to submit to the decisions of his employer, Richard Dawkins – would he equate submission with subservience in his case too? Does his submission to his boss mean he is less than his boss? I think Faircloth would agree, submission is very different from subservience.
But let’s take this further. Christians know that whether male and female, we are all made in God’s Image. We know why women are equal. But on what basis would an atheist make that case? In a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest understanding, why would he view the generally weaker and smaller gender as being of equal worth?
6. Whence comes morality?
Among other things, Faircloth is also against the corporal punishment of children in Christian schools. Interestingly, Faircloth acknowledges that all law is based on morality. As he puts it,
You’ve heard the phrase “you can’t legislate morality.” In fact, the only thing you can legislate is morality. Legislative decisions embody the moral choices of a society.
At last Faircloth gets something right. He understands that the policies he supports amount to an imposition of his morality on society through law. Yet he objects to Christian schools imposing their morality on students.
But on what basis does an atheist speak of morality? Christians know that the moral code has its origins in the very character of God. Atheists dispute this but disputing is easy; coming up with a godless basis for an objective, applies-to-everyone moral code is difficult. Sometimes an appeal is made to consensus, as if morals are simply what we as a society agree is moral. But by that reasoning racism is only recently wrong, and a convincing PR campaign could make any evil good. When an atheist makes use of words such as “morality” and “right” and “wrong” we should demand from them the basis of their own supposedly superior moral code.
Sean Faircloth’s attacks on God’s people are unfair and unremarkable and far from unusual. We should expect to seem more like this in the years ahead. That’s why, for the glory of God and for the encouragement of his people, we should equip ourselves to offer a ready response.