Pinker is right that abortion and infanticide are quite common in world history. The reason that they have been forbidden for centuries in the West is because Western values were shaped by Christianity. Ben Wiker makes the point that “the laws against abortion and infanticide in the West are only intelligible as a result of its Christianization, and the repeal of those same laws is only intelligible in light of its de-Christianization.” If America were a purely secular society, there would be no moral debate about child killing. So one reason that Pinker and so many others attack Christianity so bitterly is precisely to remove its moral influence and make society hospitable for abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

It may seem strange to see all this callousness toward human life in a society whose primary social value is compassion. But the paradox is resolved when you see that it is precisely because we are so awful in our private lives that we need to pretend to be virtuous in our public lives. People who do things that are morally disgusting, like cheating on their spouses and killing their offspring, cannot escape the pang of conscience. Thus it is of the highest importance to deflect that conscience, not only to give other people the impression that we are kind and wonderful, but also to convince ourselves of the same. For the person who has just slept with his business associate, it is morally imperative that he make a sizable contribution to the United Way.

My conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it is a moral revolt. Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. This is something we can all identify with. It is a temptation even for believers. We want to be saved as long as we are not saved from our sins. We are quite willing to be saved from awhole host of social evils, from poverty to disease to war. But we want to leave untouched the personal evils, such as selfishness and lechery and pride. We need spiritual healing, but we do not want it. Like a supervisory parent, God gets in our way. This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgment by getting rid ofthe judge.