New Atheists Are the New Pharisees
Are the new atheists the new Pharisees? When I say ‘new atheists,’ I am referring to the latest crop of atheists on the scene today (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and those who follow them), and when I refer to the Pharisees, I’m speaking about the strictest and most religious group of Jewish believers in Jesus’ day. Could those of the new atheist persuasion be rightly described as making the same moves as the Pharisees of the past? Isn’t such a suggest preposterous, seeing that atheists claim to have to no belief in God and to not be religious? Well, here’s why I think the New Atheists might rightly be described in at least one way as making the same moves of the Pharisees of the past.
PHARISEES of the PAST
The Pharisees were the most strict and religious of all the Jewish believers in Jesus’ time. They fasted regularly. They tithed to the extreme (even out of their mint leaves). They sought to obey every single Law of the OT. They also created a bunch of extra rules of their own to live by and judge others by. This set of extra man-made rules allowed them to criticize others (even Jesus and his disciples) and to have the appearance of being righteous (really a self-righteousness). It is this act of creating rules, and judging/condemning others where the Pharisees made the biggest mistake. They missed the point of God’s Law–loving God and loving neighbor and putting your faith in God’s mercy and grace to save–and instead they created their own laws, by which they patted themselves on the back. It was because of this that Christ had the strongest words against the Pharisees (see the woes in Matthew 23).
God is the source of what is right and wrong and we are not to add to His law, nor are we to give self-righteous judgement on others. Doing this is prideful, arrogant and unloving (Matt 7:1-5). Yet, I think this is what the new atheists are doing–creating laws and looking down others.
NEW ATHEISTS MAKING THE SAME MISTAKE AS THE PHARISEES
Over the past couple years I’ve have become friends with several who would fit within the new atheist mold. They profess no belief in God, they love the New Atheist writers (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris–but no mention of old atheists like Neitchze), and they have STRONG moral denunciations of others. Frequently I hear fever-level pitch judgments of “religious” people who have committed atrocities in the name of their ‘supposed’ god. Judgment is declared: those who hold to religious views are backward, ignorant, even immoral. Yet there is an unstated assumption held: there can be moral values to judge others even without a transcendent standard by which all humans are accountable to. Yet is this coherent?
The reality is this: if there is no God, there is no transcendent moral standard by which we can judge anyone, and all of our moral judgements are mere moral perferences/tastes based on relativistic circumstances. Here’s two helpful posts that explain this in more depth: themelios article; anderson post. Thus, every moral law and judgment–if atheism is true–is man-made. And to judge others by a man-made law and then look down on them, is making the same mistake as the Pharisees. Thus, ironically, the new atheists turn out to be the New Pharisees! (I’m not saying that Christians and other religions don’t fall into the Pharisee error of making extra man-made rules and judging others by them, but just pointing out that the new atheists are not immune to this tendency too).
A BETTER WAY
The sin underneath Pharisee-ism (creating laws and self-righteously judging others) is pride: thinking too highly of ourselves (in this case, thinking we are more righteous than others). There is a better way. Christ calls us to recognize that all of us have broken God’s laws–there is no place for self-righteousness. Christ calls us to see that all of God’s Law points to Him (Matt 5:17-20), and that Christ himself died on the cross for our sins. He is the sinless one died for the sinful. He restores us to God and leads us away from the error of the Pharisees.