In which I attempt to advance my English writing skills from poor to mediocre.
While I was working out in the great basin, I overheard some Christians talking about a professor of theirs. They were going on about what a great professor he was, how nice he was, how understanding he was, and so on and so forth. One of them mentioned that the professor is an atheist. Dead silence followed. They were shocked (shocked!) that anyone so nice could be an atheist. One person remarked "Why would he be considerate if he didn't think he would go to hell otherwise?" The conversation moved on to how it was surprising that any atheists weren't criminals - why not lie, cheat, steal, and kill, if you're not going to be punished by eternal damnation? I didn't think much of the incident at the time. After all, every group its unthinkers, even now, centuries after the age of reason.

Last year, when I took a job in Hill Country, I ran into the same attitude again. This time, it was from somebody who really should have known better: a youth group leader, educated in one of the nation's leading universities, who had years of experience working with "troubled teens". He tried to convert me by asking me two questions. "Don't you think that the universe is too complex to have happened by chance?" and "Without god, how can you say that anything is right or wrong?" How is it possible that a liberal arts graduate of one of American's elite schools is not only not familiar with any philosophy from plato to rawls, but not even aware that there is such a thing as ethics outside of religion?

Nowadays, I run into people like that every other day. Perhaps my exposure to a high dosage of unthinkers has made me allergic. Maybe the existence of even trace amounts of unthinking moral conviction causes my moral indignation to swell up, now. It can't be that the number of unthinkers is increasing. Not now.

Oddly, all of these people that I run into are well educated (whatever that means). Those that are derided as having wagon-train morality have some reason for believing what they do; there is a deeper moral system there, and it is understood. The people that "know better than that" are the ones that I worry about. What if they come under the spell of a charismatic religions leader? What will they do if they lose their faith? I'm glad that the religious are so often of "a discoursing tong, and a factious harte". The idea of a religious monoculture scares me, now.

on May 14, 2004
Ever hear of a guy named Nietzsche, he would have agreed with you...
on May 15, 2004
Unlike him, I don't think that slave morality is the inevitable result of christianity.
on May 15, 2004
I agree with you. Although religion does (or should) give people a good idea of what it is to be moral, that isn't where morality comes from. Aren't people forgetting Hamurabbi (sp?) who made the first code of law before Christianity or Judaism? Atheists do good for the good of mankind, not so they can go to heaven. Christians (well, good Christians who aren't hypocritical or anything) do it for the good of people as well, while hoping that someday they will be eternally rewarded.

on May 15, 2004
Thank you for this well written and very thoughtful post.

One of my favorite quotations neatly summarizes my initial position on the issue of morality, reason, religion, and all of that. "I am draw to those who seek the truth, but I flee from those who have found it." I carved an inscription in this hunk of wizard wood that found me in the forest one day: "Seek your truth, even though you can never find it, and recognize that the quickest way to abort the journey is to believe that you have arrived at your destination."

"Schrodinger's Cat" is the best descriptor I can think of regarding the cosmos, and our understanding of it---yes and no simultaneously, mystery and certainly commingled in a paradoxical hilarity that we can only begin to unravel, the edges of understanding always tempting us to imagine we have actually peeled the universal onion down to its core.

So saying, and recognizing the hideous and gargantuan horror that religiosity and fundamentalism hold in store for humanity---and with less and less cohesive to check such monstrous manifestations of self-immolation---a wise counselor once told me that, whether God exists or not is immaterial and unknowable, but that "people's psyches work better with God in them," something to which I can attest over and over again. Another paradox, no doubt, albeit one that I have come to straddle pretty easily, working in the South and having to balance "prayer partners" who love me with fascist 'fundy's' whose hot hatred would just as soon assign me my place in hell now as later.

The World Social Forum identified Fundamentalism as one of three things, I think, that most threaten human survival. What's a boy to do? The only thing that occurs to me is network like hell and listen to the Dalai Lama while I'm trying to move into a social democratic imagination in spite of the visceral distaste for said same of the ilk who are, as you say, "well educated" and willfully ignorant in America.
on Dec 22, 2004
I'm also constantly amazed that ideologues don't see that a world where our primary responsibilities are to eachother, not to some external ruling being, will be inherently more 'moral' than one in which people are trying to be good to eachother just to save their own post-mortem asses.

I'm a currently a BIG fan of Richard Rorty and his book 'Philosophy and Social Hope' and would highly reccommend it to anyone interested in more extensive arguments on how this 'wagon train' morality really is our best hope for a conflict-free society. It might give you a few more things to say to the Christians who deny morality of outside religion or even Metaphysicians who deny morality outside of a vision of an absolute and definible 'reality'.

on Dec 22, 2004
Far from denying morality outside of Christianity, the very fact that morality exists and even thrives outside of Christianity (and outside of all religions to boot) proves that there is a moral law written in our hearts, a law that we ourselves did not write. (If we wrote it ourselves it would not be the same wherever you go.) It's called many different things.

Succintly I refer to it as the Tao. If you speak outside the Tao or act outside of it, you are behaving immorally. If you are acting/speaking from within, you are behaving morally. This thought pervades all major moral thinking... Aristotle ("The aim of education is to make a pupil like and dislike what he ought." OUGHT is the operative word implying universal moral), Traherne ("Can you be righteous unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem. All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value"), St. Augustine (who defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded the kind a degree of love which is approriate to it), Plato (It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusing, and hateful, "The Good is beyond existance"), Hindus (Rta -- Righteousness, correctness, order -- "The gods themselves are born of the Rta and obey it"), Wordsworth ("Through virtue the stars are strong") and the Chinese (the Tao -- the greatest thing, reality beyond all predicates.) (I refer to Lewis's *The Abolition of Man* and you may as well.)

Christians nor any other person should be surprised by the pervasivness nor the solid reality of Goodness that seeps into everything 100% of the time. This is the highest evidence of a creator and what the Psalms meant by the creation bearing witness to His glory and existance. You can't help but notice it, right?! Moral law or Tao or Rta or whatever you want to call it -- it IS however the antithesis of "Post-Modernism" and "subjective morality" -- is written all over us and our hearts and our world. There's a certain way we must behave no one can seem to behave that way. (see Lewis's *Mere Christianity* for more on this topic.)

The only difference in what the world has found and what the Jews and thus Christians have found is that the Jews were selected by this Creator to safeguard a very special message that would tell the whole world specifics on errors and the way home. That's it. We ALL have the Tao in our hearts. It directs us to His truth.

As far as our primary responsibililites, Ruby, "Love God with all you have" and then "Love your neighbor as yourself" pretty much sums it up. It's not an either/or situation. It's a both kinda thing. You don't love yourself to escape punishment. And that's not why I love others either.