There is a group out there that decided long ago that the shortest path to become an “intellectual” is to be an atheist. Some of them are inexplicably politically Conservative. How can a person be Conservative and yet not believe in normative values or a higher order is something hard to conceive. Yet one of those geniuses here slaps the whole community of believers labeling them schizophrenics (see second quote below.) This is a good moment to quote one of the basic principles of Conservatism:
Real progress consists in the movement of mankind toward the understanding of norms, and toward conformity to norms. Real decadence consists in the movement of mankind away from the understanding of norms, and away from obedience to norms. Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969
After the luminous definition by Russell Kirk let us hear what one of those “atheist Conservatives” has to say:
“Also, someone who believes in a creator will also only trust his own conscience, because he believes his god is always speaking to him. Therefore, if he thinks something is okay, regardless of the action’s moral or ethical value, then he believes it is his god’s decision. Basically, it’s like putting a schizophrenic person into office. One that is very obedient to his imaginary friends and alternate personalities.”
Let me explain this in the simplest terms. Regardless of the bad uses of religion, or the capacity some people have to live up to decent moral standards in spite of their disbelief in God, gods, or almighty forces in nature, etc. Regardless of all that there are simple people in our society whose brains are not up to the task of the philosophical challenge of connecting ethics with their everyday behavior.
The simple come in two flavors, those who are mostly naturally good and those who have bad inclinations (incest, self destructive habits, theft, killing for pleasure, and worse.) General mores emanating from the belief in the all-seeing eye of God may deter some of the bad ones but not all. Some will bet that God exists perhaps and choose not to act on their bad desires.
There is no harm to anyone in (at least) make believe that not raping a four-year-old is better than actually doing it because our laws have a divine origin, or at least carry some divine permission. The opposite–in the mind of the simple–means that if the police is not looking and I can get away with it… hey! Why not? You see, we have transferred the moral roots of our law from an ideal entity (God) to the force and power of a real entity (The Police, distinct from merely the police.)
The belief in God, as a real person or as an archetype or sublimation of society’s most desirable virtues, is an admission that there are norms for our own good that supersede our own personal desires. In that scenario the state is a servant of the common good and does not dictate what is the common good. It is left up to you to decide if God is a useful concept or a moral reality.
If you are an Atheist and decide to live your life accordingly but you are also a philosopher, and what we call a decent law-abiding citizen, then God does not add nor detract from your moral conduct. Yet you should think of the simple living among us, and of those who are as intelligent as you are and yet believe in God as a source of all goodness and justice.
Remember this: if tomorrow we were to prove to the whole world beyond any doubt that God does not exist and never existed, the result would be obvious within minutes. Nothing would prevent me from acting as I please. We would all be gods knowing good and evil. There will be no stopping anyone from following his basest instincts. Even if the majority remains civilized there is going to be a sizable minority that can only be brought under control by continuous overwhelming force. I do not think that is your wish (or anyone’s.)
Don’t give me the same boilerplate answer. Just think about it in your own mind. Run the different scenarios and you will see what I mean. By the way, this is not my original thought. Check Plato, Aristotle (especially the Ethics) and even more ancient philosophers. This has been proposed many times before. Only in this dark age there are those so dimwitted to think that we can run a society without rules or rulers, without a moral reference point, with no more ideals that what our fractured human nature can propose through the ballot box.
Another atheist added this curious point of view:
“Most atheists are good patriotic neighbors, even conservative sometimes (like me), but the only atheists the public sees are the few loudmouth Christian hating jerks filing lawsuits against Santa Claus.”
You are not mistaken it is the atheists who bring lawsuits against crosses, mangers, Christmas, and baby Jesus. A belief that is afraid of an object (a Cross, a Christmas tree) is –in my humble opinion– comparable to animism of the lowest variety. Especially when it is difficult to establish a civilized dialog with its defenders without them foaming at the mouth insulting their intellectual adversaries in righteous indignation (Hawkings, Hitchens, etc.)
Christianity is not only the local Pentecostal preacher, or Jeremiah Wright. Don’t they tell us all the time that Islam is not only Osama Bin Laden?
Christianity’s highest ideas come from people like Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Sir Isaac Newton, or if you wish the more recent thinkers like George Lemaitre. Hardly a bunch of schizophrenic morons I daresay. Christian thinkers have left a legacy of unimpeachable thought and science for all of us.
The legacy of atheist thinkers still has a long way to go before it matches the legacy of Christian believers.
Published 20 June 2011.