Friday, December 15, 2006

The Other White Meat

A Jeff Jacoby column on entitled 'The Atheists' Bleak Alternative' concludes:

"What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones.

The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy."

Actually, these days, Jacoby falls short on one alternative. He didn't mention an alternative reality possible with an Islamic America.


The probligo said...

Steve, there are innumerable moots that can be drawn from this. There was a discussion that started from a similar point a couple years back, and to which I contributed (will very little impact).

That contribution was very close to your first conclusion, that the world in which right and wrong becomes a matter of opinion may already exist. The consequences of such a change might already be apparent.

Instance 1 - the debates and polarisations that exist in the US (and other western Judeo-Christian nations) over the use and display of Christian emblems in public places. There is an instance (that has upset me mightily just this weekend) in our local hospital where the cross that was mounted on the wall of the "retreat room" has been removed "in order to not cause offence to people of other faiths".

Instance 2 - the introduction of religious polarisations into political standings, and into national governance. Examples must include Israel, Iran, and the US. The same polarisations are obvious in France, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Instance 3 - the geographical aggregation of religio-political groups. This is a weak one (where my earlier contribution fell over) as the instance is predictive rather than extant. But if you want an instance, think Iraq again, or the increasing popularity of states such as Montana, Texas and California for people of particular political and religious leanings.

Your final paragraph that "we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves" is truly how I see myself right now. I live in a society where the rules are generally acceptable to me and how I wish to live. It is my responsibility to live by and within those rules. If there are rules that are unacceptable then I have three options - getting the rules changed so that they are acceptable; or accepting that I shall have to live with and by the unacceptable rule; or finding another society where the rules are more acceptable and fitting to my desired lifestyle.

Given the (general) mobility of populations in these times, the latter alternative is much easier than it was say 150 years ago when it was a primary motive for colonialisation of proto-nations such as New Zealand.

It needs to be recognised that that mobility need not be inter-nation. It might, for example, be inter-state in a nation such as the US, or even inter-conurbation.

Steve said...

Howdy, Probligo, I hope that all is well for you down there in NZ.

The consequences of this change indeed are apparent, but their continuation are not to be considered a historical necessity.