One of the projects I’ve been meaning to work on is to post some comments on Dennis Prager’s article called “If There Is No God,” which he published last summer on townhall.com. (Note 1.) In general, I do not consider the point-by-point rebuttal of religious claims to be a particularly fruitful method of combating mysticism, but every now and then the exercise may be a good vehicle to reach honest minds. I’ve found Mr. Prager to be more thoughtful and philosophical than the typical religious conservative, and in his brief article he manages to squeeze in many ideas that I believe represent mainstream religious thought. Judging by the level of his discourse, he seems to treat his opponents respectfully, so I think he deserves the same.
My main goal here is to dash the notion that there are only two choices in the realm of morality: either to be religious or to reject morality outright. I sympathize somewhat with the people who fly to religion in order to escape the ruinous subjectivism of modern intellectuals. The so-called “liberals” - the cultural and political “left” - sneer at the notion of a “black and white” world, regard the acceptance of absolutes as “naive” and lacking "nuance," and consider good and evil to be mere social conventions. The dominance of these ideas accounts for much of the deterioration in the western world today.
However, the fact that the subjectivists are wrong does not absolve the religionists from their own errors.
It is vital to identify our nature as human beings, and to recognize that as thinking, free-willed individuals, morality is literally a matter of life and death. To affix the validity of morality upon a supernatural God - to cast an anchor into fog, to tie one’s lifeline to a ghost - is to commit a grievous error as bad as or worse than that of the subjectivists. I understand the desire to defend ethics, but if the religious are hoping to place morality beyond the reach of attack by basing it on God, they end up achieving just the opposite; they lay bare the bankruptcy of their arguments.
As bad as the assault on values by the intellectual left is in America today, I think morality is far more threatened by religious conservatives. The subjectivists attack; religionists betray. An enemy who is an avowed antagonist is usually less dangerous than an enemy who claims to be an ally. And to make matters worse, the religionists hold a near monopoly in the realm of values; morals and religion are practically synonymous.
If America and the West is to be saved, we must rescue morality from religion.
The choice to either accept religion or reject morality altogether is a false dichotomy. Neither is correct. (In fact, the two viewpoints have more in common with each other than subjectivists or religionists would probably care to admit, a point that I’ll make in Part 1 of this series.) To have these two moral viewpoints as the only dominant choices in the world is a disaster. The one dismisses morality altogether; the other recognizes morality, but derives it from a fairy tale.
In Mr. Prager’s essay, he enumerates fourteen consequences of there being no God. My plan is to comment on each of these in turn in the coming weeks. (At the rate I’ve been writing lately, those weeks will likely turn into months, unfortunately.) In the broadest sense, the same answer applies to most of Prager’s points; namely, Prager’s assertions are arbitrary and may be dismissed accordingly without further consideration. However, this simple rejection is not likely to be convincing or helpful to a religious person who is honestly trying to come to conclusions that are consonant with reality. I am convinced that some religious people hold religion rather loosely - only as a matter of habit, or as I indicated above, perhaps because they are revolted by modern “liberalism.” It is for them that I submit these ideas. Perhaps some will see that religion does not provide the unassailable foundation that they thought it did. But happily, an objective view of reality does provide a means – the only means – of comprehending the universe, and it also provides a framework for objectively-derived values.
(Note: The next installment in the series may be found here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god