The orgasm has become today’s secular sacrament. This is not because we are living in an age of sensuality but because, in a world of material things that perish, it gives people a momentary taste of eternity. In this context I cannot resist a personal story. I once met a monk who admitted to me that he fasts regularly and sometimes even beats his legs with a small whip to “mortify my body for the love of Christ.” I was quite shocked to hear this, but the fellow had an interesting response. The same people who laugh at monks for mortifying their bodies for spiritual purposes think nothing of undergoing painful surgeries to produce cosmetic improvements. Nor do they shrink from the most punishing physical regimens in order to lose weight and tone their bodies for sex.

If sex is unhooked from the old moral restraints, there are going to be unwanted pregnancies. Here we get to atheism’s second sacrament, which is abortion. The real horror of abortion is not that a woman kills an unborn child but that a woman kills her own unborn child. The guilt in doing this, for all morally healthy persons, can only be tremen- dous. So it is necessary for atheism to pave the way for abortion with a clear conscience. The first step is to get rid of God, because then there is no spirit of the dead child to disturb the conscience, no hell to pay for violating the commandment against the deliberate taking of life. The second step is to define the fetus as not really human. As Sam Harris puts it in The End of Faith, “Many of us consider human fetuses in the first trimester to be more or less like rabbits” who do not deserve “full status in our moral community.”Bioethicist Peter Singer invokes Darwinism to make the point that there is a continuum, not a clear separation, between humans and animals. Therefore animals should be given some of the rights that are now given only to humans. Singer also argues that humans should be denied some of the protections they now have on the grounds that they are not fundamentally different from animals. If man is the product of evolution rather than special creation, Singer contends, then the whole structure of Judeo-Christian morality has been discredited. Indeed we cannot continue to speak in hushed tones about the sanctity of life. Therefore abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide all become permissible and in some situations even desirable. In Singer’s work we see echoes of both Darwin and Nietzsche; indeed, Darwin becomes the weapon with which to strike down Christian belief and clear the ground for Nietzschean immoralism.

In a now famous article in the New York Times, Steven Pinker invoked the logic of evolution to explain why it’s really not such a big deal for mothers to kill their newborn children, even after they are out of the womb. Pinker’s article was written in the wake of some disturbing news reports, including one about a teenage girl who gave birth to a baby at a school dance and then dumped the newborn in the trash. Pinker sought to reassure the American public, noting that “a capacity for neonaticide is built into the biological design of our parental emotions,” thus encouraging parents, if a “newborn is sickly or if its survival is not promising,” to “cut their losses and favor the healthiest in the litter or try again later on.” Pinker added that many cultural practices are “designed to distance people’s emotions from a newborn” precisely so that the child may be killed without too many qualms. “The problem with Homo sapiens may not be that we have too little morality,” Pinker writes in The Blank Slate. “The problem may be that we have too much.”