In reference to my last post on Hart’s book, when speaking of the failures of the Church in the past or even present, there is one remaining factor here that needs to be addressed. Let’s put aside for the moment that much of the criticism atheists bring in these areas are faulty simply due to historical ignorance. More importantly, to criticize the Church one has to adopt an ethical/moral vocabulary and framework. Most modern westerners adopt a moral vocabulary that is, whether they realize it or not, drawn from the Biblical well and mined from Gospel ore. In other words, if the argument is that what the Church believes about morality is true, and the criticism is that the Church has/is not living up to that morality, then, yes, guilty on all counts and such is a valid criticism and one will find just such a critique within the Church itself. We have a word for the recognition of our faults and attempts to face them: Repentance.
However, if the materialist/atheist tells us he believes all morality to be only subjective different choices with no ultimate meaning or grounding—just pure acts of will—only different, then one must ask why in the world he would even care what the Church did or did not do. After all if good and evil change with time and culture, then clearly the majority during the early modern period, both secular and religious, thought witchcraft to be evil and thus acted accordingly. The atheist should not fault them or label it “intolerant;” he should simply note they made different choices and labeled certain practices as evil, whereas we moderns have made other choices and labels. Since there is nothing inherently good or evil, these choices are all on the same plane, none higher or lower, all equal, just different. According to this view we may decide to burn witches again one day if a majority decided to label such behavior as “evil” and it would be evil only because it was thus labeled. In other words, he tells us, murder is not evil; we have simply labeled a certain act with a word–our labeling is what makes the act evil–not the act. The act is simply a choice, a decision, a matter of will–it is neither here nor there, good nor evil, it simply is.
Why work up a lather then because someone made a different choice of no true difference, fundamentally, than any other? Why get all flustered because people label things differently? It is pointless to speak of “intolerance” when one lacks a philosophical framework or vocabulary for even asserting what should be “tolerable” or “intolerable.” Is it too obvious to note how the air goes out of the balloon when one tells us he believes the universe to be a pointless accident with no meaning, populated by matter in motion, organisms who are also pointless accidents, but, by the way, I think such is (whatever such might be) “intolerant?”
Here is how the atheist/materialist proceeds: “I don’t believe in your moral views, in fact I think all such assertions (mine included!) to be subjective illusory projections based in pure will or nothing, but I will now with righteous indignation use that very moral vocabulary to berate you for what I believe ultimately makes no difference whatsoever.” One can hardly imagine a less serious or absurd criticism.