Objective Morality – 5

So far, we have argued that:

1.  There is such a thing as objective morality.

Objective morality is a matter of ontology, though it is often revealed by epistemology.

2.  Humans have a moral sense which delivers knowledge about objective morality.

In this way, the good may be likened to light; we know that light exists because we can see it.  Just so, we know the good exists because we can detect it.

3.  One cannot deny objective morality then insist that we take his moral judgments seriously.

Anyone who does this is like a person who has declared there is no such thing as light, then complains that the sun is too bright.

4.  The denial of objective morality requires us to accept propositions which are almost universally rejected.

Eg. That there is no difference between genocide and mowing the lawn.

It is worth saying something at this point, before we continue.  While this series has been on my mind for some time, the impetus is a particular situation in which one person (she) wishes to persuade another (he) of a point about morality and God.  Speaking to that situation:

Our man, so far as I know, agrees with us so far.  We have not had to persuade him of anything yet.

In fact, it was our lady’s confusion on God and morality which prompted me to start!

I discovered from he that she insisted on the following:  Atheists cannot be moral without God.  Now, this is a (rookie) mistake, and one we can correct with the terms we have been establishing.

First, what is her claim?

She seems to be claiming that, without God, a person either cannot know or cannot do what is good (perhaps both).  Now, whether a person will do the right thing is a consequence of knowing what the right thing is, and it is further dependent on the will.  It is obvious that even Christians often will to do what is wrong, rather than what is right (or we wouldn’t require the forgiveness of sins).

If we leave the will out of it, then the claim truly has to do with knowing – that is, moral epistemology.  Properly framed, the claim is that somehow, as a result of a lack of belief in God*, the atheist cannot know the good.

This is important, because this atheist is not denying moral objectivity.  He is not denying that there is some ontology which grounds our moral knowledge.  He is simply denying that moral ontology concludes with God.

Nor have we, yet, concluded with God.  But we have come far enough to sort out this confusion.

After all, we are saying that there is a moral sense which delivers true moral knowledge to us.  It is by this sense that we establish the existence of moral objectivity, much as we establish the objective reality of light by our sense of vision.

So the real question is – does one’s belief affect his senses?  Does the atheist lose his sense of sight when he loses his faith?  Is there any belief at all which would cause a person to lose any of his senses as a direct consequence of that belief?**

It is true that the atheist could deny objective morality as a result of his atheism, but that does not (directly) mean he loses the moral sense.  That does not render him incapable of making moral decisions, though it does make him liable to hypocrisy.

Our “he” in question, though, is not such a hypocrite.  Objective morality is real for him; things are really right and wrong, in his eyes.  In this discussion, we will not trouble him by questioning his moral epistemology.

Our challenge to him concerns moral ontology.


*Or positive belief that God does not exist.

**I mean the belief itself, and not the things such a belief might lead someone to do.  Remember our illustration from before:  The blind man did not lose his sight when he denied the existence of light.  He blinded himself, to reinforce the belief.

Objective Morality – 4

Our approach so far has been fairly catechetical – we’re building a foundation of knowledge about morality.  Let us apply some of that knowledge, and have a little fun besides.

Generally speaking, atheists break themselves off into a few different groups with respect to morality.*

First, one has the intelligent, reflective atheist – here is one who recognizes that something needs to be said about morality, who further realizes it is not a matter of proving that individual atheists can be good people.  He wants to maintain that objective morality is real, and he’s trying to figure out how.  For him, I have respect.

Second, one has the intelligent, reflective atheist who concedes there can be no objective morality without God.  One finds an example in Nietzsche, among others.  The intellectual integrity of such people, I respect; their prescriptions for human behavior cause me to tremble.

Third, you have your atheist who declares that belief in God is not necessary to be good, because…well, look at him, the atheist.  He’s a good person!  Plus, evolution.  Here is one who is confused and proud of it, and we will deal with him later.

Fourth, you have your atheist who both denies objective morality, then tells you how terrible Christians are.  And God.  God is the worst.  But seriously, if Christians would just stop doing X, Y, and Z, they’d be good people, too, and everyone would be better off.


Let’s have fun with the fourth atheist.  Bearing in mind our illustration from last time, consider this:

Imagine you are in a dark room with a blind man.  You know that you have sight, and you know that light exists, but at the moment you can’t see any.

You come to find out – because he told you so – that this man does not believe in the existence of light.  In fact, he used to have vision, but when he realized that light was just an illusion, he blotted out his own eyes, so that he would not get confused about whether there was any light.

This seems rather drastic to you, but he is strangely proud of the fact.  So proud that he wants to convince you that there is no such thing as light, too.


Blind man:  Well yes, of course there’s no light.

You:  Uh…

Blind man:  Oh, you’ve been duped, too?  Not completely your fault; your parents probably taught you there’s such a thing as light.  Well, we now know there is no such thing.

You:  Why do you think that?

Blind man:  Light is an illusion!  Go ahead – prove to me that light exists.

You:  But you’re blind.

Blind man:  No, I see perfectly that there is no light!  Can’t prove it, then?

You:  Well- I mean, you just see light.  That’s how you know it’s there.  It’s obvious.

Blind man:  Ah, but Science has shown us that this is just an illusion, just as I’ve been telling you.  You only think you can see light because you have not been enlightened yet.


You let some time pass.  How did you end up in this room, anyway?  Maybe there’s a door here somewhere…


Blind man:  Excuse me, could you step to the side, please?

You:  I’m sorry?

Blind man:  Yes, could you step to the side?  I can’t see.

You:  (speechless)

Blind man:  Well?

You:  Listen, that doesn’t even make sense.

Blind man:  You’re a Christian, I bet.  Still believe in bronze-aged myths and a sky daddy?

You:  What does that-

Blind man:  Look, your body is opaque, you can’t help that, and for the most part you’ve stayed out of my line of sight.  But now your shadows are kinda bothering me.  If you would just take one step to the side, I would be grateful, and I think we’d get along splendidly.

You:  (Well, what would you say?)


This is just the sort of absurd thing our fourth atheist is doing.  He wants to deny there is objective morality (in the story, “light”), and finds some irrelevant way to dismiss it.  How could you prove to him that there is objective morality if, when you point to it, he dismisses it as an illusion?

That’s one thing.  To say there is no objective morality is to say that there is no moral difference between genocide and mowing the lawn.  Some people swallow that pill, and they usually experience bottomless despair as a result.

But our rather stupid fourth atheist goes one further, as he is wont to do.**

He now has the unmitigated temerity to correct your morality, though he denies objective morality.  He thinks that if Christians would just give a little ground on, say, abortion, that would be a step in the right direction.  Then they would be better people, morally.

This is just absurd, and beyond absurd.  It is like denying there is such a thing as light – effectively declaring oneself blind, unable to see because there is nothing to see – and then being critical of someone else’s shadows.

There is no expression of incredulity, not even the Internet classic “WTF?”, which would address this criticism with adequate disdain.  One is rightly moved to violence; and rightly restrictive of the impulse.  After all, there is such a thing as objective morality.

And don’t forget…he is the enlightened one.  Best to leave him alone, in the company of his only intellectual peer.


*This is how I have fun, anyway.  Oh, that?  Of course one may have fun with atheists!

**If the allusion is missed, it should not be lost.  Also, this seems to be a quintessential demonstration of stupidity, and I intend the word precisely, not as mere mud-slinging.

Objective Morality – 3

In the last post, we distinguished between the concepts of moral ontology and epistemology.  I now propose a leap, and an illustration.  If you will make the leap with me, we will come back around and see how and why it is made.

I want to suggest that our knowledge of morality comes from a moral sense.

And the illustration:  This is a sense much like our other senses.  Sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell…and moral cognition.

How can we do this?  Consider one of the examples of an action I gave last time:

I walk down the street at 4.5 miles per hour.  Is this right or wrong, morally?

Well, is it right or wrong?  Naturally, the answer is that it is neither.  When we consider the mere act of walking at a normal speed, we do not detect any moral quality in this action, neither good nor ill.  This is a perfectly rational conclusion if we have a moral sense.

Now consider:

I walk down the street at 2 miles per hour, helping an elderly man to his car.

Is this morally good, or wrong?  Naturally, it is good – I have assisted someone in his frailty, so that he may avoid pain and suffering as the result of a fall.  Here, we detect some quality of the action which was not present in the first example, which we judge to be “good.”

In the same way, our eyes detect light.  We can discern between a brighter room and a darker room, even between wavelengths in the spectrum of light, because of our vision.  A person who is blind has no such ability, of course.   The room may be brilliantly lit, or the lights may be off, and our blind friend would not have the first idea which it was.

These senses both deliver knowledge to us.  Our eyes deliver knowledge which no other sense can deliver, and without which we would have no concept of light; and it is just so with the moral sense.  None of our other senses or faculties could deliver moral knowledge, and without that sense, we would be toward morality like the blind man is toward light.

Good so far?

Now let’s turn the thing over and look at it another way, which will advance our study.  Consider that, if there were no such thing as light, we could not make any sense of our eyes.  The very reality of light is a pre-requisite for vision to exist, much less to comport with our experience of having eyes.  There wouldn’t be any eyes, one imagines.

Light, then, is an objective reality.  It is something which exists independent of us, independent of our thoughts and feelings about it.  And we might even distinguish between visual ontology and visual epistemology.

Visual ontology would be the study of light itself, the existence and foundation of light.  (One may want to know why light exists at all, or if it was necessary for light to exist in any possible Universe).

Visual epistemology would be the study of our understanding of light.  We start from our senses, which deliver immediate knowledge about light (maybe it’s bright, or green, or distant), and we apply our other faculties (namely, our reason) to advance our knowledge (red-shifts in the stars, the wave-particle nature of light, the wavelengths of the different colors).

We want to say something similar about morality.  Most of the time, we wrestle with moral epistemology:  What is the right thing to do here?  How should a person conduct her life?  What general principles may we follow, and how can we sharpen our understanding of them?

Yet all of our moral deliberations rest on that which we examine less frequently – that is, moral ontology.  And just as our vision is grounded by the reality of light, our morality must also be grounded by some objective reality.

This objective reality has, across the world and over the centuries, been referred to as “the good.”

Next time, we’ll examine the folly of rejecting objective morality (and why so few do it).  Then we’ll begin to examine our options regarding this good upon which our morality rests.

Objective Morality – 2

We kicked off the morality parade in the last post, promising to deal with ontology and epistemology in this one.  Let it be so.

Morality, we said, is a system of beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.  Elementary, no?  Yet, for our purposes, we must make some hay out of this simple assertion.

What, after all, does it mean for an action to be “right”?  And “wrong”?  Right or wrong with respect to what?

A few examples will make the point:

I walk down the street at 4.5 miles per hour.  Is this right or wrong, morally?

My child had her lunch money stolen.  I give her money for lunch, but no consolation.  Is this right or wrong, morally?  Relative to what standard?

I declare that cold-blooded murder is morally good.  Am I correct, or incorrect?

On the one hand, these are not challenging questions.  I suppose very few people would have any difficulty answering them, and that there would be a wide consensus on those answers.  More on this next time.

On the other hand, as any sophomore philosophy student will tell you, they are not as straight-forward as they seem.  The second question in the second example (Relative to what standard?) points to this, and the fact that I’ve asked questions about seemingly obvious situations is also suggestive.

The sophomore will want to contextualize the first example: Are you walking toward something?  Away from something?  Are you shirking your duties, or avoiding a conflict?  (Note that I meant merely the act of walking, apart from any context).

The example about praising cold-blooded murder as morally good is probably easiest to answer – but why?  How do we know that cold-blooded murder is wrong?  Are you sure?  (Freshman ethics courses are fraught with such questions).

To some extent, all we have done here is obfuscate the issues with hypothetical information.  The sophomore is just being difficult.

Yet, not merely difficult.  After all, it’s exactly when the context changes that our moral judgments are challenged.  But if the choice is easy in the first case, and difficult when the context changes, how are we to resolve this difficulty?

We require the moral standard itself.  What is “the good” against which we compare all moral actions?  When we have two choices, against what are they weighed in order to decide which is a morally better decision?

This is moral ontology, to investigate the nature of the good.

And how is it that we come to know the good?  When we are caught in a moral dilemma, how is it that we decide which action to take?  How can we be confident we know the good?

This is moral epistemology, the study of our knowledge of the good.

Many discussions of morality seem to bounce back and forth between moral epistemology and ontology, often without the speaker seeming to realize it.  I dare to say it’s a more subtle distinction that we’re used to.  We’ll get into this more in the next post.

Objective Morality – 1

The subject of objective morality is a troubled one.  Bring it up, even clearly and with care, and one is nevertheless met with some flavor of righteous indignation or a general misanthropy leaving us morally inferior to the apes.

For my part, I am as earnest as I am ambitious, and even troubled waters will not keep me from putting out to sea once more.*

First, what do we mean by objective morality?

Webster works well enough, and I paraphrase thus:  Morality is a doctrine or system of beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.

There is nothing foreign about this.  We pass moral judgments all the time, even without realizing it.  When someone speeds recklessly down the highway, flying past your own vehicle, you judge that this person is going much faster than is safe.  You further judge that they are deficient in their duties to the other drivers on the road, lacking in a value which can only be defined in terms of right and wrong.

Now, objective morality connotes a system of beliefs which is true independent of what anyone may think about it.

An example of an objective truth (which is not a moral truth) is that 9 x 9 = 81.  Even if the United Nations decided tomorrow that all of the world should answer that 9 x 9 = Porridge, it would remain true that 9 x 9 = 81, no matter what we say about it.

An example of an objective moral truth is that “Rape is wrong.”  If all the world should decide tomorrow that rape is morally neutral, or even morally praiseworthy, it would nevertheless remain true (according to the concept of objective morality) that rape is actually still wrong, no matter what we think about it.

Now – if you ask me, the first question we should ask in any discussion of right and wrong is whether there is an objective morality.

If there is not, then the discussion is drained of meaning.  We are now talking about personal preferences; even baser – we are talking about mere appetites.  There can be no moral objections, because there is no real meaning behind morality.  (More soon)

If there is, then we have some discerning to do.  How is it that we discover what is morally right and morally wrong?  According to what standard are these things judged?  This distinction is between moral epistemology and moral ontology, and we’ll discuss that next time.


*As before, in this space.

Salvation by Grace – 3

The first and second posts in this series introduce us to the layman level of the Justification divide:  Before considering the arguments from authority (those of Scripture, and those meaning to interpret Scripture), how is the layman confronted by the issue?

Here I attempt an analogy to suggest how the layman ought to approach the issue.  That the analogy, itself, has a basis in Scripture is both unintentional and telling.

One commonality between Protestants and Catholics – and I can’t say I’ve heard any objection to this – is that believers ought to become mature in the faith.  So who is it, in an ordinary sense, who is new to life and for whom we wish maturity?

And who is it, ideally, who provides the means to this maturity?

We have a child and a parent, respectively.  Permit me to guide a meditation on this…

From the very first moment, a human being is utterly dependent on his mother.  There is nothing that child could do for himself, except that he benefits from the many good and necessary things his mother’s womb provides for him.  He benefits – more basically, he survives - because of her good graces.

The child is born and remains, it is readily seen, utterly dependent on grace; but now he has reflexes which are his own, which have developed because of prior grace on the part of the mother.  He will suckle if something is put in his mouth, he will cry to express his needs.

Now this initial “adoption” of the child, even a biological child, is akin to Justification.  In a natural sense, the child has not merited the grace of his parents.  There is nothing he has done – there is nothing he could do – except to receive and cooperate with their grace.  It is they who have first loved him.

From the start, the mother and father wish for their child to become a mature human being.  The child should ultimately walk on his own, think clearly and speak deliberately, and become productive to the point that he will have grace to spare for others.  This maturation process is analogous to Sanctification.  The child cooperates more and more fully with the will of his parents.

This fuller sense of cooperation begins when the child develops a sense of autonomy, a period known as toddlerhood.  Now the child can (and does) choose not to cooperate with the will of his parents, even when that will is most obviously in his best interest.  But when he understands why he ought to cooperate, and does, then he grows.

The grace continues to flow.  The parents continue to feed the child, shelter and clothe him, provide for his education and his recreation, and dispense wisdom.  And, ideally, the child finds himself less and less dependent on these graces, as he becomes stronger, wiser, and more skillful.

The ultimate goal of the parents, I say, is to bring the child up so that he can survive on his own; better, so that he can prosper, be upright, and give grace to others, including his own children.

The Baptist in our previous post wants the child to mature in this way, but such maturation is secondary.  The Catholic sees salvation as on-going, as requiring works only because they are part and parcel of the maturation process.  You do a good work because that is the way you grow.

We are – I believe and confess – unable to perfect ourselves.  That is the purpose of grace, just as it is for the infant who is unable to care for himself.  Adoption (we Catholics consider this to be Baptism) brings us under His direct care, but He does not force His grace on us.  We must cooperate in order to remain, just as a child must cooperate with his parents in order to receive their care (he cannot be fed if he won’t eat; he cannot be taught if he won’t learn).

From the outset, though, I admitted this is only an illustration; if Scripture refuted it clearly and soundly, the illustration would fail.  However, as a Catholic, I have never seen Scripture as an altogether foreign entity.  It welled up through the geology of the human race; it is the water of everlasting life, but it carries the sediment of human history.  The illustration, then, might serve as a means to interpret the very same Scripture.  Indeed, this is how it seems to me.

Much like faith and reason, Scripture and the human experience are not at odds.  But that’s for another series.

Salvation by Grace – 2

When I brought fingers to keyboard to write the last post, I only expected our subject to require one post.  But it now appears two or three are in order.

This is because I did not appreciate two things:  One, that the subject could explode into a thesis at any moment, and probably would.  Two, that a large share of readers might not fall into the “familiar” crowd, and so there’s a lot of background one must state explicitly, rather than simply allude to.

Fortunately, I do not want this to go on any longer than is truly necessary, and so my efforts here will be tempered.

The conflict, writ small:  Protestants say Justification is by grace, through faith (full stop).  Catholics – so it goes – say Justification is by grace, faith, and works.  And some Protestants would emphasize the works, because doing so seems easily contradicted in Scripture.

But I have to say, as a virtually life-long Catholic, that I have never imagined I could earn my own salvation.  It has always been presented to me as an impossible task, akin to taking flight on my own power, or jumping up and landing on the Moon.  Something else would have to come to my aid to make these things possible.

At the same time, I have always understood that good works are vitally important.  It really matters, to God, that I feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  One could not simply go to church and think that was enough.  In fact, it seemed to me, that might be the worst place anyone could be.

Think of it – if works do matter, if they are critically important in some way to salvation, then the worst thing a person could do is assume he was saved, and not take any further action to produce good works.

So what is going on here?  If we’re going to work around the edge of Scripture, and just deal with this practically – how do we address the problem?  I propose we do so with a dialogue I have imagined from time to time…


Me:  I would like to convert to your church.

Protestant, let’s say Baptist:  Great!  Simply declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe it with all of your heart, and you will be saved.

Me:  Jesus Christ is Lord!  Done.

Baptist:  Alleluia!  Now, here is when we have worship, and here is your small group, and here are the ministries-

Me:  I’m sorry, what?  I said I was done.

Baptist:  Done?

Me:  Yes.  Am I not saved?

Baptist:  Oh, you are! But-

Me:  Then what is all of this?  Why should I bother with church or small groups or ministries?

Baptist:  Well, now comes the process of growing in the Lord, what we call “Sanctification.”

Me:  Ok, but if I die right now, I’m going to Heaven, right?

Baptist:  Absolutely!

Me:  And if I die in 30 years, without ever participating in a church, I’ll still go to Heaven, right?

Baptist:  Of course – once saved, always saved.

Me:  Then I’d say I’m done.


Naturally, this is a bit of a parody, and I’m actually sympathetic to the Baptist here.  I think he is fundamentally right – a believer should be involved in her church, especially a new believer.  But this conviction is motivated by a premise contrary to the Baptist’s:  A person is not once-saved, always saved.  We ought to see some authentication of this salvation…

To this point, I’ve been rather abstract, and the unfamiliar among us might feel lost; they may already have clicked away from the page.  (I’m sure they really will find true love/weight loss secrets/how to impress their boss on that other site.)  In the next post I propose my analogy, which is about as down-to-earth as I can imagine.


Salvation by Grace – 1

Believe it or not, I do not often listen to the Catholic radio station in Chicago.  My dial is more often tuned to Moody Bible Radio than Relevant Radio, though it is most often tuned to “OFF”.

Light treason notwithstanding, Moody offers a steady diet of reasons why Catholicism is wrong, served both hot and cold, sparingly or in spades, depending on the speaker.  I suppose this might annoy other Catholics, but I cannot get enough.  The reason is that it engages my mind all over again, setting it to work in the background, coming up with arguments and responses.

Or sometimes, I just enjoy a good laugh, as when one host confessed that he did not believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, while acknowledging that all of the early Church Fathers did so believe.  His solution?  They were all wrong!

One of the recurring issues is the matter of Justification.  For those unfamiliar, Justification is simply “that which saves us from our sins and brings us to life everlasting.”  (I didn’t leave out a citation – I’m quoting myself, circa 10 seconds ago).

Those familiar will understand the understatement:  This is kind of a big deal.  In fact, an atheist friend of mine asked a very interesting question about “non-denominational Christians,” and I treated him to a 15 minute lecture on Justification.  I apologized for my verbosity, though he pardoned and encouraged me.

The issue is usually shaken down to this:  Protestants believe in Justification by grace alone, through faith alone.  Catholics – if we are to believe Moody Bible Radio – believe in Justification by grace, by faith, but also works.

You remember I said this was a big deal?  I have shrunk a principal force of the Reformation down to one short paragraph.  At the cracking open of a Bible, one could find dozens of passages which seem to support either view, and we would be on our way to several centuries’ worth of debates.

I am not about to, nor do I even imagine that I am about to, settle that debate.  Recent efforts have been made toward consensus, and they are more sophisticated by an order of magnitude.  For me, only a humble illustration.

The principal problem facing our Moody Bible Radio speakers, as I see it, is that there is no urgent and incumbent responsibility on the believer to become a better person.  Now before any monks come nailing theses to my door, let me make the distinction clearer.

Plenty of Protestants are mature, fruitful believers.  I am not saying they can’t be.

Protestants will often point to the doctrine of Sanctification, or “the on-going process of becoming mature Christians, by the grace of the Holy Spirit.”  (Same source as before).  I’m not saying they don’t know how to be.

What I am saying is that, strictly, according to the distilled version of the argument, it is not necessary that a believer become a better person in order to be saved (justified).  Belief alone is sufficient, because it opens the door to grace alone, and that’s the ticket to Heaven.

This, I think, is simply an error.  I would say it is a scriptural error, but I do not intend to make that argument here; I would also say it is an error against our intuition, against the way life works, and that is the argument I wish to make.

But we’ll have to get a little verbose first.  Grab a beverage, and join me for Part 2.

False Pattern

Ladies and Gentlemen, Jesus Toast:

                                Taste and see.

This serving of crispy-chewy-cheesy goodness gets a mention in the “Cosmos” series starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, in the context of today’s subject:  Pattern recognition.  Namely, the human tendency to perceive false patterns.

I would have let it go, except that this silly mantra has been trotted out ad nauseum as a way of dismissing belief in God.  The thinking goes that much of belief is perceiving divine intervention where there is none.

Now, it won’t do any good to interject, because the cynic is about to pontificate:  Naturally, pattern recognition has been a great boon for humans.  This ability enables us to recognize friends and foes, to classify good foods and harmful foods, to distinguish a predator from the background noises of nature.

Just as naturally, our capacity for pattern recognition is bound to produce false positives:  You think there is someone in the room with you, but you come to find you are alone.  You get a string of green lights on the way to work, and you imagine some intelligent agent has cleared the way for you.  You notice a large – what is that, a bear? – in the forest, but upon closer inspection, it is a hallowed out tree.

It is the same way, the cynic wants to say, with religion:  We are universally prone to this flaw in our thinking, and so a great many of us have been led to believe there is some kind of divine agency where there is none.  It is like seeing a ghost, which is to say, there’s no such thing.

The cynic intends for the conversation to be over at this point.  You ought now to be humble enough to admit that your brain is faulty, and so these beliefs of yours cannot possibly be true.  And yet, we resist the cynic’s conclusion.

A bit of pedantry first:  The claim is often that we perceive a pattern where there is none.  But this is a perfect error.  We perceive a pattern because there is one, not because there isn’t one.

That is, when you think you’re seeing a bear in the forest, that’s because the proportions and features are such that they really do resemble a bear.  They exhibit the same pattern a bear might, up until you reach a certain level of clarity.  Once you realize that it was a log, and not a bear, you don’t deny that you actually recognized a pattern; you deny that it was actually a bear.

The stronger version of the cynic’s claim, then, is that we perceive false patterns when we imagine that “God” or any other divinity has intervened in our lives.  No such thing has happened.

This conclusion does seem odd, doesn’t it?  After all – like a great deal of the cynic’s claims – it simply assumes atheism is true.  If atheism is true, then it follows that there is no divine intervention.

Otherwise – if we don’t all assume atheism is true – it is quite an intrusion into a person’s interior life.  And if the claim is to be taken seriously, it is quite an intrusion into the interior life of every single religious person in the world.  The cynic would do well to have some Jesus Toast and mind his manners.

And what about Jesus Toast?  Well, one can see how the image kinda looks like Jesus.  So what?

(Cynic, take note…)

What does it matter to you, or to me, or to Neil deGrasse Tyson if a person finds some significance in that pattern?  Or if they think God sent them five green lights in a row?  Are you sure He didn’t?  (Please, enlighten us!)

These things are not the substance of Christianity (or any religion that I’m aware of), so if the plausibility of religion or the question of God’s existence are at issue, we will certainly dispense with Jesus Toast.  But then the cynic should also dispense with fried bread in general when he wants to make his case for atheism.

At the Sunday School BBQ, on the other hand, the best Jesus Toast gets a blue ribbon.

Secularism and Right of Conscience – 3

In a previous post I commented on secularism as a worthwhile agreement in a pluralistic society, a guiding principle by which we can assure liberty and justice for all…or something like that.

To wit:  Secularism, I claimed, is the agreement not to impose any particular worldview on a nation.  Rather, we should work toward the common understanding of the common good, and protect the freedom to authentically express and exercise a sincerely held worldview.

We saw in the last post how one cannot even begin to develop a basic health care package (BHCP) without immediately imposing upon certain worldviews.  This, of course, does not rule out that there might be some BHCP which would serve us well, perhaps well enough to garner the support of most everyone.

But it shows, first of all, that the way is difficult.  Witness:  Twenty questions asked in the course of the post which are variously controversial and perhaps unanswerable in a perfectly disinterested way.

If our aim is to honor the agreement of secularism, then the situation only becomes more challenging for the BHCP.

That is, notice that the very notion of a BHCP, which would be the right of all citizens, requires the justification of some worldview in order to succeed.  In other words, the exercise of developing a BHCP just assumes this is a good thing.  But is it?

If you think it is, then you must tell us why it is a good thing.  For example:


BHCP Advocate:  It is good because people have a right to affordable health care.

Questioner:  Why think that?

BHCP Advocate:  Well, we know good health is a major contributor to happiness, since it is a critical component in one’s quality of life.

Questioner:  Why is that a good thing?

BHCP Advocate:  Happiness?  Because it just is!

Questioner:  Is that so?*


What seems fundamentally true to you – e.g. happiness just is a good thing – may not seem fundamentally true to others.

Thus, in order to fully honor secularism, it would seem that protecting the right of conscience is the way to go.  This avoids any grievous imposition on some for the purported benefit of others, and it still gets you some form of BHCP for all.

Notice a further point, though:  If you opposed the HL decision on the grounds that no one should impose their beliefs on other people, you must come to grips with the reality that, by supporting the ACA (for example), you are already imposing.  Yours – whoever you are – is not the default worldview in a secular society.  Either you must give up the notion of secularism (in which case, it is fair game to impose on you, after all), or you must protect the principle of secularism against attacks and encroachments, both explicit and implicit, even when you disagree with the particulars.

This leads to a kind of stalemate between the principle of secularism, on the one hand, and what rights are granted to citizens on the other.  Of course, many have noticed this conflict; we are only exploring some of the background principles and assumptions.**

Now, if all of this is intolerable, and you are sure that a BHCP is fundamental right, and you don’t care what the nihilists think (or don’t think) – that’s fine.  And you might be right.  But you must, at the very least, admit that you would want to install a “your-worldview-ocracy.”  You can’t hide behind the charge that people shouldn’t impose on other people when that’s precisely what you’re doing.  There’s a word for that.

Virtually any decision about a particular in the real world means that some worldview is being preferred to another.  Secularism is the attempt to manage that dynamic so that no particular worldview is unduly imposing; conversely, various forms of “-ocracy” represent the attempt of one worldview to rule the others.


Post script –  This concludes this series on the principle of Secularism as it relates to the HL decision (unless I am provoked!).  I plan to continue with a series on a “most just” society, which, like this series, will very much be the thoughts of an untutored amateur, but has been fun for me nonetheless.


*A nod to the Buddhists.

**I might suggest that not many have noticed the role that Secularism plays, at least in the form I’ve described.