Atheism as manifest in the West is an odd phenomenon – in many ways, it’s very much an off-shoot of Christianity. It’s essentially the result of taking Christ out of Christianity and trying to hang onto the rest if it. So we see widespread support for the “loving your neighbour as yourself” commandment, but a willful disregard for its other half (loving God with your all). There is plenty of acknowledgement of Jesus as a teacher, but not as Lord. “He said some good things, but he’s was just this guy, you know?”
The best description that I’ve heard for this condition is “cut-flower morality”. We think that we can remove the teachings and the wisdom from the divine root and still enjoy their beauty. We deny that humans are made by God, and still expect that humans have intrinsic value.
I’ve heard the phrase “lucky mud” used to describe humans – it’s a description born from a rigidly materialist mindset that sees us as the current phase of a random and unguided evolutionary process. But the “lucky” part still acknowledges that there is value in human life, and yet the materialist worldview has no place for such value. If we are arbitrary evolutionary byproducts then we are no more special than the coal that we use to heat our homes or the rocks that we crush to make roads. Being alive has no value in such a mindset: how can it? Life is just a temporary arrangement of some chemical elements which displays certain unusual properties.
To quote Dr Manhattan, “A live human body and a deceased human body have the same number of particles. Structurally there’s no difference.”
Of course, this causes conflict. To actually deny the value of human life is quite literally psychopathic, so instead we try to justify the value of human life from a materialist worldview. So we see silly ideas from people like Richard Dawkins (in The Selfish Gene, for instance), claiming that we have a moral imperative to fight against evolution, even though evolution is the only thing that Dawkins seems to hold sacred. Despite the fact that all of humanity (other than the truly psychopathic) accept the existence of good and evil, in a materialistic worldview these words are meaningless.
King David, writing in about 1000BC, asked:
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4, NIV)
In a materialist worldview, there is no answer to the first question. But the missing piece is hinted at in the second part: in Jesus, God became man to reconcile us to Him. The title “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself, and it strongly emphasises the unique place that we have in God’s creation.
There is value in an artistic work because it was created with purpose. We too were made purposefully, and our continual and universal acknowledgement of our worth bears a powerful testimony to our Creator’s handiwork.