Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Reflection On Morality #1

Anyone following my blog will already know of the large swath of atheist literature in the intellectual marketplace these days. I personally find that quite exciting because I don't think the Christian life can be lived out without thoughtfully considering philosophies that oppose it. A person who never encounters philosophical objections to their Christian faith does not have a blind faith so much as a blind knowledge and crippled ability to relate to those of different worldviews.

Undertaking to read as much of the New Atheist's literature as I can during the 2009 year has resulted, quite logically, in many difficult challenges to what I believe. In some cases, what I believe has been altered dramatically. For example, I used to believe that a person could not be truly moral in any ontological sense if they lacked belief in God. I don't believe that any longer for the simple reason that it is empirically demonstrable that our social inclinations as a species demands a pre-existing moral framework, belief or not. Hence there are a good many atheists who are morally upstanding individuals, and many Christians with the moral leanings of sociopaths.

If such is the case, Christians do not have an ethical high-ground whereby their religious views trump the moral efforts, reflections, inquiries, and formulations of non-believers and secularists. We're on level ground if we admit that morality is innate to the human species, whether a person believes or not. What a Christian does have is a presupposed grounds for the origins of morality: the Holy Trinity. Whereas the atheist, secularist, or anti-theist may presuppose morality in light of social Darwinism and the organising practices that necessarily come about to maintain a community, or nation; in effect, morality is an accretion of social contracts meant to ensure the survival of the species.

Despite the claims of the New Atheists that faith is a "mind-virus" (a term coined by Richard Dawkins), if we're on level ground to examine moral action, at what point is there any reason why atheists and Christians cannot work together to effect a more harmonious existence with each other? What logical reason is there then for someone like, say, Sam Harris to call for the eradication of religion, to attack it vehemently in an effort to help religion "slide into obsolescence" (The End of Faith, p. 14)? How does the eradication of one spectrum of human existence justify the continuance of another spectrum of human continuance? In other words, how does the destruction of religious worldviews justify the on-going disbelief in atheistic philosophy? What moral harmony is accomplished, what help to the surival of our species is acheived through obliterating faith, and religious hope?

*Thanks to Parenting Beyond Belief for the picture.


Anonymous said...

How refreshing to hear a fellow follower of Christ say: "Christians do not have an ethical high-ground whereby their religious views trump the moral efforts, reflections, inquiries, and formulations of non-believers and secularists. We're on level ground if we admit that morality is innate to the human species, whether a person believes or not."
I have come to believe that if humanity is created after the image (character, personality) of God, then it would logically follow that we, believer and non-believer, will reflect that image whether we are aware of our moral origins or not. Of course, the social-Darwinist would not agree with my supposition of our common moral origins, but we could agree on humanity's innate moral leanings. That much is, as you say, empirically demonstrable.
Do you think some of the confusion surrounding this arises from the assumption throughout mainstream Christian history that true morality comes only when a person experiences salvation and thus becomes "enlightened"? I once believed this, but the fact that there are Christians (Christ-like ones) with the moral leanings of sociopaths, would suggest that morality is not inherited through a spiritual experience, but perhaps has the potential to be reinforced through the experience of connecting with the originator our moral foundation.
I appreciate your comments on atheists and Christians finding a level ground from which to examine moral action. It might be as challenging as getting Israel and Palestine to sit at the same table without wanting to bomb each other. It can be done, though.
Good topic.

Dr. V said...

Hi Chris,

I've just been taking a few minutes to browse (and enjoy) your blog. Concerning the present post, I think that you're right about the level playing field with respect to morals. And I agree with Wyatt that this is basically due to all of us being made in God's image, whether we acknowledge God or not. All people have intrinsic moral value, and it very much seems that we can all recognize this too. C.S. Lewis's appendix in his book Abolition of Man helpfully sets out the world's various moral codes which look like they reflect the aforementioned value.

I think that the God explanation makes good sense of this value, whereas the no-God explanations tend to run amok.

In chapter two of my 2004 PhD dissertation I argued that people, whether Christian or not, do have intrinsic moral worth and that we know this. I did my PhD at a secular school and so I had many opportunites to address objections from people who didn't share my Christian faith. The result is that the argument is pretty good. (Sorry, I'm not trying to toot my own horn here; rather, I'm merely pointing out that having one's arguments tested by those who disagree tends to leave only the good arguments standing.) In case anyone might find my work useful, my dissertation is available at the University of Waterloo library.

Keep up the fine blogging!

Best regards,

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure anyone is reading along, but perhaps at some point here as Chris encouraged that to carry on.
I have never believed that morality belonged only to Christians; in fact, my husband's sister was one of the most moral people I knew (moral as in compassionate and the kind of person who was looking out for others, not putting herself first). I wondered how she would ever feel a need for a relationship with God, but amazingly, she did.
I think sometimes people confuse morality with religiosity or legalism. And I know that morality looks different in different cultures, although there is a morality in relationships that Jesus held up above all cultural norms.
I do believe we see the image of God reflected in people, and not always best reflected in believers -- as one might hope.
I have also come to realize that you may have a head knowledge of who Jesus Christ is without having a growing relationship (and transformation in that relationship).
I have been there myself and have learned that.
So, I do not claim a higher morality just because I am a believer. In fact, I do not claim a higher morality that others around me, although I see some things -- values -- in the lives of others that I do not hold to. I value different things because of my relationship with the Lord.
Do you think morality reflects what you value?