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Friday, September 05, 2014

Secular reason leads to the same moral law as Judeo-Christianity, but most people need Judeo-Christian help to get there

Atheism is an odd category of belief. I can understand thinking that it is irrational to believe, not just that an omnipotent and moral God might exist, but that a loving God does exist. Belief that god does exist implies certainty about something we have little or no direct evidence for one way or the other. That's why I rate myself "agnostic." Atheists agree with me that it is irrational to be certain that there is a god, but then they turn around and pronounce themselves certain that there is not a god.

Wait, what? I thought you just agreed with me that certainty about things we have no direct evidence for is irrational...

So I'm always wary about atheists, not that they must have a screw loose (any more than religious believers must), but that maybe they haven't thought things through very well, or don't know as much as they think they know. So I wasn't surprised last week to come across a self-proclaimed atheist claiming something very naive: that religious morality is based on appeals to authority, not on moral reason, which he regards as exclusively "secular" (or atheist). Here is Robert Tracinski, writing at The Federalist:
Every atheist has heard the old saw that it’s impossible to rely on a secular foundation for morality because if people are left to act on their own judgment, they will disagree about what is right and wrong and it will all be subjective. So we supposedly need a religious authority to settle the matter. 
Wrong. Christianity does not rely on any appeal to authority. What the founders of this nation meant by "natural law" was what could be determined by clear reason to be necessarily right, and they believed that these basic elements of right existed for us to discern because they are the product of a moral and rational god, some of whose ways we can discern thanks to our god-given brains (brains that, according to Genesis, are made in God's image).

The idea that believing Christians do not have rational foundations for their moral beliefs, but merely accept them on authority, comes from the non-religious, and it completely misunderstands Christianity. "Faith comes through the word of God," said Paul in Romans 10:17. That word is first and foremost the commandment of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself. (See also Galatians 5:6: "faith worketh by love.")

The "law of love" is a call to account all value, to see the world as God would see it, loving everything there is to love, which is also the essence of moral rationality. It doesn't mean you don't give more priority to your own life than the lives of others. It means that you value everything there is to value and see where that takes you.

People who hear this word and practice its meaning find that this is right, that it is the way to approach life, and this is where faith comes from: a person's individual experience of the correctness of the word of Christ. Faith in the word isn't taken on authority but is found in the compelling substance of the word and in where it leads the mind, and this is the beginning of natural law. If you account all value, what can you say with certainty about what must necessarily be right?

This is why, in spite of being agnostic as to whether or not the God of the Bible even exists, I still call myself a Christian. Hey, the dude got the moral law absolutely 100% right. I call myself a Millian because I adhere to the several key points of moral reason that John Stewart Mill got right, and I'm not going to make up a new term and call myself a Jesusian just because I am not certain that Jesus was the divine Christ. I'm also not sure he wasn't, and I am glad to take the label that expresses the moral understanding I share with my fellow Christians.

The problem with atheists is that, after shunning the world's great fount of moral rationality on the false grounds that Christians accept moral rules on authority without moral understanding, few atheists are able through their own devices to find the moral rationality that Christianity espouses. Few are able to achieve communion with the law of love.

Some do, and Paul acknowledged this possibility in Romans 2:14-16, allowing that some who have never heard the word of Jesus may still "show the work of the law written in their hearts," and he says that these will be judged "by Jesus," meaning by the word (the law of love) that Jesus laid down. If without hearing this word some nevertheless find the morality within themselves to follow it, they according to Paul they will still be raised up by God on judgment day.

Even for those who hear the word, there is a strong case to be made that Christianity is not asking for belief in God, or belief that Jesus is the only begotten son of God, or faith that Jesus is God. Paul's criterion for salvation is by belief in "the faith of Jesus" (Romans 3:22): not belief in Jesus himself but belief in what Jesus had faith in, which on my reading is the law of love. Others see Jesus as having faith, first of all, in the promise of resurrection, but I think that has to be secondary. That is a self-centered thought while the central message of Christianity is to account all value.

Either way, the moral law that Christians are asked to follow is fully rational, and it is accepted on a morally rational grounds: by witnessing and comprehending its rightness and goodness in practice. The idea that Christian morality is embraced on irrational grounds is a product of ignorant imagination. I do not see grounds either to believe or disbelieve that Jesus was the Son of God / Son of Man, proclaimed by the Bible but I do have faith in the word, as Jesus spoke it (or as the Bible says he spoke it). That word--the Christian law of love--is the very core of moral rationality. It is not the starting point, but it is the central discovery.

The starting point is just the rationality of husbanding and following one's discoveries of where value lies and then in one's pursuit of value accounting each bit of discovered value wherever it is enough at stake to be worth accounting, as far as one is able. That secular foundation leads directly to the law of love because the big discovery, when we husband and follow our discoveries of what there is to value in the world, is that all men have this same moral capacity.

Like me, you are an engine for discovering and acting for value in the world and that moral nature, that bit of god-like substance in you, is what makes me love my generic neighbor as my self. We are all moral agents whose moral agency must be empowered. That is why liberty works, that is why gun rights work, because the great majority of un-stunted individuals have grown to maturity alert to value in its myriad forms and are driven to act for it, to bring it to market, to rescue it, to create it.

People can arrive at this moral development without religion. They just need to be instinctively rational, husbanding and following evidence of value until the world of value opens up to their mind's eye. Or they can arrive at it through the word of Jesus, to love thy neighbor as thyself, which is also in the Old Testament book of Leviticus (19:18).

Without that Judeo-Christian guidance the central tendency of atheism has been towards totalitarianism. The one epic-scale atheistic mass movement in history is communism, and to a lesser degree this same preference for government imposed solutions is strongly associated with what is today the the less-religious, less-Christian side of our political divide: Democrats are the party of big government, and this correlation between illiberal policy preferences and rejection of Judeo-Christianity is easy to understand.

Sure these illiberals think they are helping their neighbors. They know a thousand ways that their neighbors need to be forced to behave in order to live worthwhile lives. What they don't get is the priority of liberty, which stems from liberty's empowerment of moral agency. Judeo-Christians get this immediately. It is the animating spirit of the law of love, the reason you love your neighbors: because they are made in God's image, giving divine sanction to the empowerment of moral agency. Those who are made in god's image must be free, unless and until they freely choose to commit evils for which they must be locked away or put to death.

This is solidified by living according to law of love. When you look for what value there is to account in your neighbors you learn to recognize and love their moral agency. They are engines for the discovery and pursuit of value which should therefore be empowered, or free to act.

Judeo-Christian belief that man is made in God's image is what drove the Reformation and it is what ended slavery. It is a big central actor in the history of the Judeo-Christian world, affecting whole populations, while to grasp the fundamental importance of the empowerment of individual moral agency purely in moral theoretic terms is extraordinarily rare. There is probably not one moral philosopher per university who gets it, and there's not much indication that Tracinski gets it either:
For those of us who don’t believe in a deity or supernatural power, the way we try to settle arguments is by pointing to observable facts. Do human beings flourish better under capitalism or socialism? Let’s look at the history of the two systems and see how they turned out. 
That's better than nothing, but the lack of principled understanding creates a strong urge to slip a Judeo-Christian ladder under those dangling feet.

Of course not all religions are created equal. You're not going to find any law of love in Islam, which instead commands a law of hate: that Muslims are to love their Muslim neighbors but are to hate everyone else. Koran 48.29:
Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves.
Not a morally rational religion to say the least, but Christianity is the world history's greatest fount of moral rationality and America today is worse-off for the large fraction of its citizens who no longer understand this.

UPDATE:  A good example from the Washington Post of the idiocies that the anti-religious are prone to. This was in the comments on a story about the San Diego black man, Douglas McAuthur McCain becoming "the first American to die fighting for the Islamic State," where one John Cunliffe had this to say about Islam:

To which I replied:
Yes, lots of Christians beheading non-Christians. You see it all over the world. And that Christian law of love, the second commandment of Jesus, to love your neighbor as yourself, expressly extended to all mankind via the parable of the good Samaritan? Exactly the same as the Muslim law of hate: that Muslims are to love each other but are to hate everyone else. Koran verse 48.29: "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves."

Law of love, law of hate, "what difference, at this point, does it make?" To people like John Cunliffe, who have a moral IQ of zero, it makes absolutely no difference at all. If this guy is the next American to show up fighting for ISIS, who could be surprised? He has NO moral compass.
Cunliffe's anti-religiosity suggests that he is probably an atheist instead of an agnostic, and the great majority of atheists almost certainly are anti-religious. Otherwise atheism is just illogical, as discussed in my opening paragraph. If a person rejects religious belief on the grounds that it is illogical to believe in (be certain about) what is unknowable, how can they turn around and believe in the equally unknowable proposition that there is no god? But anti-religiousity accounts for this logical contradiction. Atheists aren't being logical. They are just anti-religion, and Cunliffe manifests the likely outcome. He is totally ignorant about religious belief.

When Cunliffe says Christianity and Islam are the same, it is probably because he ignorantly thinks that Christians are supposed to accept Christianity on authority, making it as irrationally founded as Islam. Of course that still would not make them the same. Accepting the Christian law of love on authority and accepting the Muslim law of hate on authority are still polar opposites. But this is the problem with Atheism. Once someone like Cunliffe assumes that all religions are irrational, that's all he thinks he needs to know so he doesn't look any further, and never learns a) that Christianity is highly rational, and b) that it is opposite in almost every way to Islam.

Cunliffe cannot actually be ignorant of the vast difference between Islam and Christianity. He is just a willfully blind a$$hole who hates Christians more than genocidal jihadists because Christians are his domestic political opposition and the only thing he really cares about is political victory for "his side." The jihadists are slaughtering Christians across the entire Middle East? In his view that would be, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." He hates Christians so who cares? Better they be slaughtered over there than be allowed to come over here and vote Republican.

Tracinski doesn't share that politics so he is not aggressively ignorant about Christianity the way Cunliffe is, but he is still hugely ignorant. Like Cunliffe he assumes that Christianity, being religious, is a species of irrationality, and that is probably why he has never looked far enough into Christianity to understand how thoroughly it already incorporates "secular reason," which Christians understand to be god-given. His own secular reason, on the other hand, suffers from not availing itself of the moral understanding attained by Christianity.

I have a different criticism of Christianity: that its tendency to over-focus on salvation and resurrection (the alternative reading of "the faith of Jesus") makes it much too solipsistic. Jesus said to Pilate "I am here to be a witness for truth." If Christians are to follow Jesus, he is telling us here the method. The law of love is the substance that the method of truth arrives at. Trust in truth, husband and follow all evidenced of value, and you will find your own moral agency, and see the same moral agency in your fellow men, and arrive at the law of love.

Christianity today largely ignores the method that Jesus laid down for his followers. All of our society's information industries are today dominated by Democratic Party operatives who practice maximal dishonesty as they apply the maximum pro-Democrat anti-Republic spin that they can get away with on every issue. It is all demagoguery all the time. THIS war on truth ought to be the primary focus of Christians today. They should be exposing it at every turn with all their effort, but instead most Christian religious focus is on achieving salvation and eternal life.

When Christian proselytizers come to my door I always talk to them. I find out what they are focused on, which always turns out to be salvation, and I try to direct them to what they should be focused on, which is the method of truth and the war on truth that is being fought every day. "But we are fighting for the truth about salvation" they sometimes argue. "But that is not where truth is being attacked" I answer.

The most religious Christians have tremendous difficulty escaping the solipsistic inward focus that our churches are teaching. They need to turn their focus outwards and get into the daily fight for truth, but their apparent self-neuterization may not actually be self-directed. It is a fully predictable consequence of IRS rules that grant churches tax-exempt status only on the condition that they refrain from political speech. This tax law is a direct attack on the very core of what Christianity is supposed to be.

Rational thought would be that the physical constants of the universe are moral constants.
The Mind of Christ would be synesthesia, very rare in the modern world.
That would be like learning of lot of science while wandering around and watching the metaphors and parables come alive in the world.
Equations on a blackboard, and animal stories.
Mostly does not happen enough, these days.
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