Conversations: Moderates and Morality

Even if a belief in God had a reliable, positive effect upon human behaviour, this would not offer a reason to believe in God. One can believe in God only if one thinks that God actually exists.

Good point. Even if atheism led straight to moral chaos, this would not suggest that the doctrine of Christianity is true. Islam might be true, in that case. Or all religions might function like placebos. As descriptions of the universe, they could be utterly false but, nevertheless, useful. The evidence suggests, however, that they are not only false but dangerous.

Slow down! Most Christians, Jews, Muslims, et cetera, cannot be categorized as fundamentalists. In fact, when talking about the good consequences that religious beliefs have on human morality, most people of faith follow the example of religious liberals and religious moderates. Consider Christians the world over, rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, or because the miracles recounted in the Gospels are convincing, liberals and moderates tend to talk in terms of the good consequences of believing as they do. Such believers often say that they believe in God because this “gives their lives meaning.”

Interesting point! Let’s explore it further. When a tsunami killed a few hundred thousand people on the day after Christmas, 2004, many conservative Christians viewed the cataclysm as evidence of God’s wrath. God was apparently sending another coded message about the evils of abortion, idolatry, and homosexuality. While we as intelligent young women – I think it’s fair to say – consider this interpretation of events to be utterly repellent, it at least has the virtue of being reasonable, given a certain set of assumptions.

Given a certain set of mad assumptions, certainly. Liberals and moderates, on the other hand, refuse to draw any conclusions whatsoever about God from his works. To them, God remains an absolute mystery, a mere source of consolation that is compatible with the most desolating evil.

Ah, this is the old fallacy in which only positive phenomena are ascribed to a higher power, right? “My daughter is going to college, praise Jesus!” versus “Every minute of every day, four children die of hunger, God moves in mysterious ways.”

Indeed. In the wake of the Asian tsunami, liberals and moderates admonished one another to look for God “not in the power that moved the wave, but in the human response to the wave.” I think we can probably agree that it is human benevolence on display—not God’s—whenever the bloated bodies of the dead are dragged from the sea.

That is why, on a day when over one hundred thousand children were simultaneously torn from their mothers’ arms and casually drowned, liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is: the sheerest of mortal pretences.

Then it would be fair to say that the theology of wrath has far more intellectual merit?

However odd that sounds, yes. If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable. The only thing that is inscrutable here is the fact that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think that is the height of moral wisdom.

(Based on: Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 16)

See other: Philosophical Conversations

1 thought on “Conversations: Moderates and Morality

  1. “… they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true”

    Interestingly, many, if not most of those prophecies were written well after the events they attempt to predict. It wouldn’t be difficult for me, today, to predict that John Kennedy would be assassinated in 1963, if it were possible for me to make people believe I wrote my work in 1940.

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