CNN recently published an op-ed piece by physicist Lawrence Krauss on the heartbreaking murders that took place at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT. It may at first seem strange that a physicist would be called upon to address the topic of the Newtown tragedy, but Dr. Krauss is not your average physicist.
Krauss is a very vocal atheist, and one that I would classify as more of a hatetheist than an atheist. Krauss’ CNN article expressed dismay primarily at the fact that, at times of great tragedies such as at Sandy Hook Elementary, the nation as a whole (including government officials and the media) turns to faith and God for comfort.
Krauss writes, “But the question that needs to be asked is why, as a nation, do we have to institutionalize the notion that religion must play a central role at such times, with the president as the clergyman-in-chief? Since this tragedy, cable TV networks have been flooded with calls to faith and have turned to numerous clergy as if, as a matter of principle, they have something special or caring to offer.”
Is there really no difference between the answers and sympathy an atheist like Krauss brings to such appalling events like Newtown versus those who believe in God?
Recognizing & Acknowledging Evil
Let’s start to answer this question by clearing up some confusion that oftentimes accompanies discussions that focus on morality and recognizing good and evil. Krauss says, “We don’t need faith to empathize with the grieving in Newtown.”
Christianity has never argued that a person needs to be a Christian to initially recognize evil or sympathize with those who are the victims of it. What theologians have said is that there is no way to ground objective moral values and duties apart from God. All that an unbeliever has is basically a philosophical evolutionary approach to morals that primarily rests on emotive majority opinion.
Can an atheist understand right/wrong, call out evil, and commiserate with the parents, relatives, and friends who lost loved ones in Newtown? Absolutely. But does the atheist have any objective standards or measure that can ground their moral pronouncements without borrowing from the Christian moral framework? Not at all.
This assertion typically enrages some atheists, but it shouldn’t. A number of key spokespersons for the atheist worldview down through history have clearly admitted this fact, including thinkers such as Nietzsche and Richard Dawkins.
Unfortunately, once a person has arrived at that point, it doesn’t take much to go further and declare that literally all moral actions are simple a matter of preference and that real right and wrong do not exist.
As an example, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tells the story of engaging a young nihilist/atheist at one university who had followed his philosophy (like Nietzsche and Dawkins) to its logical end and declared that objective right and wrong didn’t exist. Ravi asked the man if he would think it “wrong” if he (Ravi) stabbed an innocent baby to death. The man shuffled his feet, then said—to the gasps and moans of those around them—that he would not like it, but could not say it was wrong.
Two Ways to Grieve
Although the focus of his article is on Newtown, Krauss does his best to keep God in his crosshairs of disgust, calling Him among other things a “fickle and pompous deity”. It’s more than a tad amusing that hatetheists like Krauss—who say there is no God—seem to spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing Him. Doug Wilson, who debated hatetheist Christopher Hitchens multiple times, said that people like Krauss typically have two declarations: (1) There is no God; (2) I hate Him.
But let’s return to Krauss’ primary objection that faith/religion has “nothing special” to offer those grieving in Newtown or anywhere that evil visits.
I disagree. Christianity has one big thing to offer: hope.
When Paul discusses death with the church at Thessalonica, he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13; emphasis added). Both Christians and non-Christians grieve, but there is indeed a big difference between those who grieve with God and those who mourn without Him.
Lawrence Krauss cannot offer any hope to those at Newtown where the loss of loved ones are concerned. His materialistic worldview grants no life beyond the grave. No chance to see those who died again. No possibility of a joyous reunion.
Christianity, however, provides the hope of a life beyond this one. When King David lost a child, he grieved knowing that his baby wouldn’t return to him in this life. But he also had the hope and comfort that death wouldn’t have the final say where the eternal relationship with his child was concerned and said, “I will go to him” (2 Samuel 12:23). He, like Paul, could look death and tragedy in the face and ask, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting (1 Corinthians 15:55; Hosea 13:14)?
Krauss also pleads for humankind to “stop this madness” of violence that exists in culture, but what possible hope does he put forward that any such change will ever occur? If anything, carnage and human depravity seems to be getting worse, with the 20th century being the bloodiest on record so far.
By contrast, Christianity supplies hope of a true cessation of sin, sickness, and evil; faith offers a life where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelations 21:4).
Lastly, Krauss’ atheistic worldview possesses no hope of true justice where evil committed in this life is concerned. Adam Lanza, the shooter who devastated so many, escaped punishment in this world for his crime by taking his own life as have many other criminals (e.g. Hitler).
As the great philosopher Immanuel Kant noted, evil people get away with many of their crimes in this life. For true justice to be realized, Kant said there must be a life beyond this one where all crimes are prosecuted by a Judge who knows all the facts of every case and metes out judgment in a righteous manner.
This framework of justice is found in the Christian faith. An omniscient, righteous, and just God exists who “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:7).
So, as can be clearly seen, Krauss is quite mistaken that faith or religion supplies “nothing special” to those grieving in times of tragedy and death. Atheism delivers only despair in death, uncertainty in regard to the future, and no promise of true justice, while Christianity provides real hope that can sustain the sorrowful.
But at this point, atheists will oftentimes try to argue that the hope conveyed in the pages of the Bible is not a true hope, but instead is nothing more than a bedtime story for people who can’t cope with the trials that occur in this life. They nod in agreement with Stephen Hawking who said, “Heaven is a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark”.
There’s no question that offering and embracing false hope is no way to live, and, in fact, it plays perfectly into the hands of Sigmund Freud who called the hopes offered by religion “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind…we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification”.
But the hope delivered by Christianity defies Freud’s definition in that it offers hope backed by verification. That’s because, in Christianity, hope is a Person.
The Bible is clear on what the hope described in Christianity is predicated upon: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which occurred in space/time history. Where death and tragedy are concerned, if Jesus wasn’t truly raised from the dead, then Paul says our faith “is worthless” (1 Corinthians 15:17) and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
But what if Jesus truly did rise from the dead? That’s a game changer. That single event lends credibility and confidence to hopeful statements that Jesus made such as: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Jesus resurrection was the sine qua non event in a pattern seen throughout His life where Christ provided verifiable and miraculous acts that confirmed statements of hope He made that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. This is what the writer of Hebrews was aiming at when he defined faith as “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
In the end, atheists like Krauss, Hawking, and others are simply wrong in saying that their worldview and Christianity are on the same playing field where offering comfort in times of tragedy is concerned. It just isn’t true. Christianity supplies a real and living hope to people who grieve with faith in Jesus.
This is because, in Christianity, hope is a Person: “Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).