The myth of morality without faith
Acton Institute Powerblog

The myth of morality without faith

A flap over religion in schools developed last week at Newark High School in Delaware. According to reports, “The principal of a public high school apologized to parents for allowing a Christian-themed assembly that featured two Philadelphia Eagles players, saying he was misled about what the presentation would cover.”

“Principal Emmanuel Caulk of Newark High School wrote in a letter that he expected the talk by players Tra Thomas and Thomas Tapeh to focus on ‘values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society.'”

But apparently the players were to talk about such topics without any reference to their own experience…since that experience is Christian. Caulk claimed to be ignorant of the fact that Tra Thomas is a founder and spokesman for Athletes United for Christ.

“What we’re trying to do is to help the kids make better decisions in life. I guess I understand,” why some people objected,” said Thomas, “because you have other religions there. But we’re not preaching to the kids.”

He continued, “I’m just trying to get them to identify with me, the person, rather than just Tra Thomas, the football player, so we can relate to each other better. And my Christianity is a big part of what I am.” What might have been an acceptable post-modern claim to individuality in other circumstances is not acceptable for a Christian, apparently.

The requisite outrage from the ACLU was reflected in a statement by Drewry Fennell, executive director of the of the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union: “Organizations like this one across the country are gaining access to schools through the famous people and entertainment value and then using those opportunities to proselytize.”

The critical error of events like this in public schools rests on the assumption that you can have a morality based purely on secular humanism. And this further assumes that such a position is not reflective of any particular “faith” or “belief system.” All morality is founded on a belief system of some kind or another. To expect that Christians can talk about, in the principal’s words, “values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society,” without reference to Christianity is patently absurd.

Scottish theologian John Baillie insightfully relates the following: “The progress of modern thought seems every day to be making it clearer that between religion and naturalism there is no final resting-place in humanism. As regards anything we are in ourselves naturalism is true, and ‘a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast’. When man ceases to be rooted in God, he relapses inevitably into the sub-human.” The final choice can only be made between naturalism or religion (supernaturalism).

Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck discusses the necessity for a supernatural foundation for a coherent system of morality. He writes,

The only true alternative to the recognition of the supernatural, accordingly, is not a rationalistic deism but naturalism, i.e., the belief that there is no other higher power but that which is immanent in the present natural order and reveals itself [there]. But then one loses all warrant for believing in the triumph of the good, the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God, in the power of the moral world order. For the good, the true, the moral world order, and the kingdom of God are matters that have no power to realize themselves on their own. The hope is that human beings will bring supremacy and yield to the power of truth is daily dashed by disappointments. Their triumph is assured only if God is a personal omnipotent being who, in the face of all opposition, can lead the entire creation to the goal he has in mind for it. Religion, morality, the acknowledgement of a destiny for humankind and for the world, belief in the triumph of the good, a theistic worldview, and belief in a personal God are all inseparably bound up with supernaturalism.

The secular humanist myth of morality without religion, supernaturalism, or faith of some kind is exposed for what it is in instances like this one. The sad part is, of course, that these children desperately need to be taught moral truths, but the public school system is increasingly unable and unqualified to do so, because of institutional, legal, and personal barriers.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.