Godlessness Fails, Again

"Our experiment of godless society has failed. We have tried to run our government by godless policies. We taught our children a godless worldview. Our biggest mistake was subjecting hundreds of millions of people to this failed experiment for so long, without recognizing or correcting its failures."

A failed experiment. Godless society does not work. Does that sound close to home?

Several of my atheist colleagues argued this point 23 years ago as we met in Moscow, then still the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I was pleasantly surprised by their wisdom. We were together organizing a timely research project on values changes, to record what would happen to Russians' beliefs and behaviors as the oppression of atheism was gradually being lifted. All these research colleagues had PhDs, all had been steeped in atheist ideology, and all were now honest about official atheism's many failures – including personal, family, social, economic and spiritual failures.

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Those same ideological failures seemed suddenly to be very close at hand as we saw the unspeakably sad saga unfold of the massacre of tiny children and their teachers at a school a short 60 miles northeast of New York City, my town. Horrifying school house massacres are a relatively new form of murder, and tragically they are markedly increasing in frequency. In interpreting our social breakdown, though, our American commentators are presently far less spiritually sagacious than my atheist colleagues were in Moscow, newly under glasnost. "Fix the gun laws" is the best advice that most pundits are able to offer as a means to stem this tide of terrifying tragedy in America.

Our hearts go out to all the people in Newtown, Connecticut. We pray earnestly for them, for children and teachers everywhere, and for our country. The massacre of those 20 children and their teachers is such malignant evil, we all are deeply grieving, beyond words. And as proper, we are asking why such horrific tragedies have increased in recent years – and what we can do to stop them. The most vocal voices interviewed in the media are concentrating on the need for changes both in gun laws and in security policies at schools. Good for them. The external, legal constraints must be improved, for everyone's benefit. There are no partisan differences here.

But external, legal constraints will never be enough. Ever. Let us not kid ourselves; wishful thinking will not help us. The murderous intentions of any person even of mere average intelligence can certainly find a way around the most stringent gun regulations. In this recent Newtown horror, the shooter stole legal guns from his mother, in a state enforcing intensely strict gun regulations already. More constraints may be needed, perhaps even in terms of whether there are potential sociopaths in the same home, but regulations without internal human constraints remain powerless.

Internal constraints help people to control their malignant desires – and help others also to discern the potentially murderous character traits in some people around them. These internal constraints enable people to find and receive the timely spiritual assistance, mental therapy, and even legal constraints that they need. Here my former scholarly colleagues in Moscow were exactly right. Even though they regrettably remained atheist themselves at that time, some deeply desired to believe in God. Nevertheless, everyone on our Moscow team was firmly convinced that Godly belief strengthens positive moral fiber for all citizens and for all leaders. Belief matters.

As I try to imagine the behaviors and beliefs of the Newtown mass-murderer, based upon what we know, perhaps nothing quite compares to the Nazis and the Communists conducting massacres of Jews and Christians during the last century. Also, the hijackers who flew the airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11 in 2001 must have had tragically little internal moral-spiritual fiber. How else could their souls to be bought so cheaply by their Imam's hellish lies about eternal bliss with 72 virgins?

May I humbly suggest that we also consider discontinuing the failed American experiment with godless policies and teaching? How can we sustain and brutally enforce public health policies –such as requiring employers to facilitate abortion pills – that directly violate long-established Godly consciences? In our schools and public celebrations and monuments, how can we reinvent Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, suppressing all reference to his being a pastor, being ordained, achieving several degrees in theology, and his overtly making all is powerful leadership Bible-based and Christ-centered. And even in natural science, of course we do not reference spiritual reality within scientific data, but if we tell the truth about historic scientific discovery we will teach our students the powerful place of prayer, divine visions, and God-inspired drives for knowledge. Alongside teaching the information from science, we should teach some of its thrilling history. Cutting public prayer and Bible-reading out of our schools was part of a larger godless, American ideology. Will we call it a failure now?

External constraints have essential roles. Now it is high time also to acknowledge that the internal constraints, including our moral-spiritual fiber, matter at least as much as the external ones. Our children and future generations will all thank us if we coach, "disciple" and model the internal eternal attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that should guide us, by God's amazing grace, into a more whole, healthier, happier and safer future. Time to try this God-centered approach –since the alternative is obviously failing.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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