Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure that you're acutely aware of the rioting that recently took place in the city of Baltimore. And I'm sure that you're aware that this rioting was a response to yet another alleged instance of police brutality against an African American individual. Every major news outlet has been reporting on this almost unceasingly for the past week. There have been memes, videos, and blog articles related to these events shared on Facebook and other social media websites ad nauseum.
I'd like to address the greater issues of racism, police brutality and rioting for a moment from two totally different angles. I think this is important.
Let's first of all consider these issues from the standpoint of brute naturalism. This is the belief that there is no reality beyond the natural world. There is no God. There is no heaven or hell. There is no metaphysical force or entity that determines truth in some kind of absolute way.
In light of brute materialism, let's consider a few questions:
On what basis can we argue that racism is absolutely wrong or immoral?
Most of us are indignant when racism is expressed. But why?
We're told that morality is subjective and that every individual has the right to determine his/her own moral truth. Women have the right to abort their own babies, right? Two men have the right to engage in homosexual relations, right? We're constantly being told, "Don't push your values on me." If this reasoning is really valid, then not only CAN'T we condemn the racist beliefs of others, we can't even argue in any objective manner that their racist beliefs are inferior to our non-racist beliefs.
Is racism wrong because it demeans our fellow man? If this is your argument, please explain why it is absolutely wrong to demean our fellow man? Because you don't want to be demeaned? So you're advocating compassion and empathy? Great. Now please prove from nature that compassion and empathy are superior to harshness and selfishness. Lions eat their young. Wolves will fight with other packs over territorial rights and food. Sure, there are examples in nature of what we call 'moral' behaviors, but there are also examples in nature of harsh and selfish behaviors? What makes the former better than the latter? Why can we appeal to the positive examples to make moral claims but not the negative examples?
The point is, there is no argument from nature - from brute materialism - that we can make to justify or condemn racism. If this worldview is true, then morality is totally subjective, and there is not a single logical argument that we can make to condemn racist behavior.
On what basis can we condemn police brutality?
Atheists often argue that morality is determined by our culture and/or government. If this is true, how can police brutality be condemned at all? If it's true that "might makes right," how can we condemn the "might?" We can't have it both ways.
Along these same lines, how can we condemn the slave culture that was prevalent in this country until the mid 1800s? If that was the culture then, then it was right and moral for them! And if morality is determined by culture, wouldn't this make the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement as well as the LBGT movement all inherently immoral? After all, these were all counter-cultural movements of the time.
Another approach - seeing through the lens of Christianity...
Christians contend that there is a supreme Creator who defines truth by His very character as well as the declaration of His will. Because this Creator is higher than us and over us all, His truth is objective and absolute.
Regarding racism, our God is diametrically opposed to it:
"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth..." (Acts 17:26)
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation...and that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father." (Ephesians 2:14-17)
Christians can explain why racism and brutality are absolutely wrong. We've all made made in the image of God. We're all His offspring. And even though there are national, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic barriers that divide us, through Jesus, those barriers are broken down and unity is achieved through Him.
So not only can we explain why racism, brutality and rioting are wrong, we can offer a real solution. At the foundational level, we can make an appeal to commonality through the gospel.
Atheists can disagree with our standard all they want, but the fact is, we can make a logical appeal to a standard of moral truth that offers an analysis of the real problem as well as a solution.
The cries of atheists and even political and social leaders who demand change (without appealing to God as a standard) will continue to ring hollow and prove ineffective. The problem of racism will never be solved and riots like the one that took place in Baltimore this week will continue to happen as long as we leave God out of the picture. This is because they're only holding other people accountable to their own subjective reasoning. "Who are you to tell me what to do?"
But also, we might ask why, apart from an absolute standard of morality and social justice, so many people feel so outraged at racism and brutality? These feelings cannot be merely traced to personal views, family traditions or cultural beliefs, because these are all subjective standards. What is it that cries out within us that these things are absolutely wrong?
I believe it is because we know - we inherently know - that "all men are created equal."
Our appeal to an absolute standard, our inherent indignation, and our pleas for equality and brotherly love are all explained by the gospel.
Jesus is the answer.