The Case for Morality and God

GodAndMoralityThumbby Glenn Fairman
While moderating a website that has a preponderance of Conservatives and Christians posting, I came upon a post by a fellow I shall refer to as Captain X. The Gentleman stated that he was a commissioned West Point officer who had served overseas and had now returned to civilian life. Captain X had taken offense to a group of people who had been discussing the topic of atheism and firmly disagreed with the prevailing group by expounding that non-believers could be virtuous, brave and patriotic. Adamant that the adage, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” was fallacious, Captain X, in a passionate but reasoned manner, made his thesis that his morality was independent of God and that he had served to the best of his abilities without the promptings of a Divine Overlord.

His thoughtful words and some less than gracious comments by believers caused me to think about the relationship between morality and God. As the concepts are not mutually exclusive, I considered what the relationship was between the moral “ought” and the divine command. I asked myself if ethical duties grow organically from civilizations or regimes or are they somehow embedded a priori in our collective consciousness. Finally, are such constraints ultimately matters of unyielding obligation or just ethical suggestions more indicative of taste, fashion, or personal will? Can one be good without God, or does the meaning of goodness in a Post Modern Age ultimately dissolve existentially as a child’s tears in a freezing rain?[pullquote]I asked myself if ethical duties grow organically from civilizations or regimes or are they somehow embedded a priori in our collective consciousness. [/pullquote]

The argument for Captain X to consider is this: Since stating that he is indeed patriotic and has made strong contributions to his nation (which I firmly believe he has–my own son is a West Point commissioned officer), why does he categorically believe that the very concepts of patriotism, nobility, and service to one’s people are necessarily a good thing–since those qualities in a similarly educated Nazi officer are equally compelling? If there is no outside objective standard to measure both competing claims against, then the value of these claims are mere opinion—and therein the life devoted to pleasure or racial world domination is commensurate with the life devoted to freedom and selfless service. The honorable Nazi, then, is he who manifests Hitler’s will and your patriotic service to America’s ideal is qualitatively no better or worse than his.

More fully, we must consider Aristotle’s distinction that a Good Man is not necessarily a Good Citizen. If there is no God, then morality is normative–it is dependent upon inclination, convention and agreement. If this relativism is true, then the Good Nazi and the Good Man are identical. The theist (believer) however, would hold to an objective moral law that informs us that an SS officer who machine guns innocent children or herds them into extermination camps by sole virtue of their race is guilty of an unspeakable evil and therein is by no means a Good Man. Conversely, an SS Officer who saved such children and violated the normative morality of Nazism would be a traitor to his regime’s morality. He would be immoral by the conventional yardstick of that society and indeed be worthy of derision. His Goodness as a Man would render him a Bad Citizen of National Socialism—but only if there is an all-encompassing moral standard that stands outside us. As Dostoevsky so succinctly put it: “If there is no God, then all is permitted.” In a godless world, justice then lies within the interest of the stronger.[pullquote]In a godless world, justice then lies within the interest of the stronger.[/pullquote]

Without an Archimedean objective moral law to measure our actions against, we cannot justify Good and Evil because they lie wholly in the world of nomos—opinion and consensus. If there is, however, an unwavering objective moral law, then there must be a moral lawgiver to promulgate such law and we are obligated to observe it. We cannot, however, owe such an obligation to an impersonal force–only to a monumental Personality that can will such law. Without Him, the entire moral edifice collapses in upon itself and we are left to languish in an ethical abyss where morality and law are ultimately utilitarian and capricious. Fortunately, most atheists will not travel the road this far, since the full ramifications of this raw atheism renders their considered judgments and ethics internally incoherent. Everyone who has ever been the victim of injustice expressly understands in the marrow of their beings when they has been wronged. Such a moral compass seems to be written into our very beings; and try as we might, its demands upon us are overtly compelling – unless we manage to silence its voice within us by descending into a realm beneath our own nature.

Please don’t misunderstand me here: I am not saying that atheists cannot be moral. In fact, I know many principled atheists who lead exemplary lives—some more so than Christians. What I am saying is that atheists cannot foundationally justify their moral structure other than as a matter of personal or aggregate opinion. And whether or not the reader will agree, the consequences that ultimately arise from such a distinction are monumental in the grand scheme of human interaction.[pullquote]If there is, however, an unwavering objective moral law, then there must be a moral lawgiver to promulgate such law and we are obligated to observe it. We cannot, however, owe such an obligation to an impersonal force–only to a monumental Personality that can will such law.[/pullquote]

Ultimately, the dwindling theory that order and obligation has, through some blind necessity, bootstrapped itself into existence from first, non-being, and then, disorder, is a granite-hard nut for the philosophical materialist to crack. Especially when their very tools of reason, language and argumentation are derived from what is (to them) the unexplainable systematic coherency of a mute and freezing Universe. If one would only learn to read the Book of Nature with new eyes, they would find that the enigmas of: mathematics, physical laws, ineffable complexity, magnitudes of order, and coded information bear the myriad fingerprints of immaculate design. The more fully we delve into the cosmic dance of quarks and black holes – to say nothing of the deep mystery of sacrificial love, we find that the cosmos and what men call life are indeed as every thoughtful mind perceives them to be—the miraculous products of an Elegant and Magnificent Mind.
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Glenn Fairman writes from Southern California. He can be contacted at arete5000@dslextreme.com for feats of sophistry.
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9 Responses to The Case for Morality and God

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The problem is that even believers in God don’t always agree on moral codes, as can be seen by comparing Islam to Christianity. On the other hand, the non-theistic and especially non-judgmental approach leads to college students who can’t condemn the Holocaust because the Nazis might have had a good reason for it (which, in fact, they did — a demented reason, but it sure sounded good to them).

    • griffonn says:

      If you accept the relativist point of view, then they don’t need a reason.

      Simply “I wanted to” is as good as anything.

      The only sin in such a worldview is to judge or interfere with people who are doing what they want to do.

  2. Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

    Yes, Islam and Christianity surely do not agree on their moralities, but what niggling thing within a common man (that is, a man not residing in a culture permeated with gross ethical pathologies that cloud his perception) allows him to differentiate and judge that a martyr who allows himself to be immolated for his testimony and a martyr who straps explosives on himself to blow up children in a pizza parlor are not commensurate? Moralities and worldviews have concrete consequences in the fruit they bear in the tactile world and the Reason we employ in judging the value of that fruit must lie outside our fishbowl.

    If I say that the moral structure of Christianity is superior to Islam, am I not using a standard that is altogether beyond the entities I am measuring? Even a little child knows an injustice when it is leveled against him, but how does his conception of right and wrong pass into being from a dumb and unanswering universe? Why do the mass of men respect benevolent order at all and not the universal rule of nature: relations red in tooth and claw – identical for both man and beast?

    Within the purview of the Neo-Darwinist apologetic, why does the Decalogue move us to act with altruism when what we view as a higher morality should surely be as colors and sound to the blind and deaf? Why order rather than disorder, and how should we even understand the difference?

    As many a moral philosopher has noted: Horrible religions and philosophies produce horrible societies and civilizations. But without the objective penumbra that emanates from Natural Right, to say nothing of Revelation, those distinctions are moot…..and we should be no more than flies of a season.

  3. Kurt NY says:

    As a Christian, I agree with the statement, ” atheists cannot foundationally justify their moral structure other than as a matter of personal or aggregate opinion.” But, in fairness I would note that an atheist could reply that, seeing as how there is no objective proof that a) there is a God, and b) that supreme being is who we believe Him to be, my moral tenets based on the commands of my God are every bit as much a matter of opinion and belief. If one rejects the concept of God, then it stands to reason that those activities and attitudes adopted by the religious in response to what they believe to be the commandments of their God are founded on nothing either.

    But what I think is being missed is continuity. I have no doubt that many atheists or believers in religions other than my own are fully capable of high standards of morality and personal conduct. And that all believers of whatever persuasion are fallible and capable of great evil and folly as well as great good and wisdom. But what religion does is formalize codes of conduct which can be and are handed down over generations, laying the foundation for societal morality. The atheist’s morality dies with him. But religion remains and provides cultural and historical context and meaning. And, being aspirational, calls the believer to surpass his nature to be the best he can be.

  4. Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

    It is my opinion, and that of other Christian theologians, that it serves the purpose of God to remain hidden. His presence must be inferred by using the Kalaam Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Design, the Ontological argument, or any number of others. But these alone will never serve to sway the man who places Will at the center of his autonomous universe–who believes that he alone serves as the master of his own vessel. C.S. Lewis’ Moral Argument held that if we can think of one thing that is always wrong at all times, then this is the proof of an objective morality. But men are mendacious. I could posit that the raping and murder of innocent babies fits the bill, but some moral vagabond will never fail to claim that such acts too are conventional. Self delusion is strong in the untethered mind which finds it preferable to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.

    Perhaps the simple question I am working on now is the most enlightening: Why is there something rather than nothing? Science tells us that the universe had a beginning at the Big Bang, but the second before matter, time, and space came into being ex nihilo, there was literally nothing—no primordial vacuum—-we cannot even imagine what such a state would appear to be. But one thing we can infer: matter, time, space, and ultimately life bootstrapped into being from a place that was timeless, immaterial, and unchanging. The cause of this creative singularity is of vital importance to we who would answer this eternal why and more fully, solve the teleological riddle — for what purpose?

  5. MarkW says:

    Everybody has a moral code that they live by. Religious people have their moral code dictated by their God. Atheists pick and choose the moral code on their own.
    This is the source of the confusion your West Point friend suffers from. He has a moral code, and it is an admirable one. But nothing compelled him to select it, and if he chooses, he can abandon it and adopt another. There is nothing to stop him, and nothing to tell him such action is wrong.
    A different atheist can adopt a completely different moral code, and be just as self justified in doing so. Even if his moral code is the polar opposite of the one adopted by your friend.
    That’s the difference between the religious and the atheistic. The religious have a fixed moral code that is predefined. The atheists get to pick a moral code that feels right to them, after all in their world view, there is no one to tell them that they are wrong in doing so.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Okay, I’ll take my crack at this subject.

    It’s complicated. It’s so complicated, with so many side-issues, I don’t think a thick three-volume series of books could encapsulate it. We are, after all, talking about the biggest and most inexplicable thing we know about: existence.

    Much, if not most, of the talk about this remarkable fact is mired at the level of humanity’s social and political outlooks. To some extent, organized religion is this. But it is also more than this.

    Islam, for example, has little to do with honoring the idea of a Creator. It’s a political/social/religious/economic system of quite worldly conquest. It’s a supremacist ideology completely consistent with fascism. But does God really hate Jews?

    And, frankly, much of Christianity is about little more than the worldly. I’m constantly creeped out by people who approach me as if they had walked right out of the movie, “The Wicker Man,” and ask me if I’ve heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it’s not for me to judge, but most of these people strike me as being off on a tangent of a cult-like belief, infused with easy-pleasy emotion (although most are harmless). But nevertheless, I can’t help but think they have partially lost their minds, not gained communion with God. And I can’t and won’t go to a cult-like way of thinking and being.

    For God to mean something, it has to be for me something more than just what some group of people agree it means. Glenn said that “It is my opinion, and that of other Christian theologians, that it serves the purpose of God to remain hidden.”, and that might well be the case. But it’s not unreasonable to suppose the Creator of the universe — if there is some overall plan — should make it plain.

    But clearly, at least to me, God instead works in mysterious ways. We don’t know. We might have faith. But we don’t know. And as for the case of morality and God, we have to try, no matter how difficult this is, to distinguish between morals that seem embedded into the fabric of reality and those which are simply the product of consensus, even if that consensus specifically says that the consensus is not arbitrary.

    As I said, this is a complicated subject and I’ll not likely solve it. But what I will say about the opposite — moral relativism — is that it is a belief system grounded in simply a different type of dogma. It is inherently dishonest because its specific morality is that there is no specific morality. And they base this conclusion on nothing, which is an oxymoron in itself and is surely why so many of the “moral relativism” arguments are usually fuzzy and incoherent. But one thing we do know (and is the only reason we can have a thought at all) is that there is such thing as coherence. We do not live in just an incoherent chaotic void.

    And I insist that “moral relativism” is simply a different dogma in dishonest (or at least incoherent) clothing. Again, it comes back to the time I was astonished when this one “Progressive” scientist fellow that I know exclaimed to me that there was no such thing as truth. But he couldn’t see that he himself had just dogmatically forwarded his own truth proposition. And this truth proposition (like that of gay marriage) is anchored in nothing more than fad and fashion. It’s truth via proclamation of the “They” who say they know best.

    It’s thus a very difficult topic for the religious to forward the idea (at least to me) of “Because God said so” or “Because the Bible says so.” But at least Christians acknowledge that there is a context larger than themselves, than fad, than fashion, than fancy, or just dumb culture. And the Bible is much more than “Because God says so.” It is also the amalgamation of wisdom, experience, and good practices. Whether or not the Revelation aspect of it is true, I don’t know. But it is far more anchored in reality than the fashion-based morals of moral relevance, as it is called.

    But “moral relevance” isn’t really that. Its principles do not remain fuzzy, unanchored, and, well, relative. They arise from the zeitgeist of liberal-“Progressive”-socialist conceits grounded firmly in the political or social realm of the regressive ideas of Cultural Marxism. All Leftist ideology is a rejection of any higher authority, much like a petulant child rejects the authority of his parents. The Left’s morals are therefore based on psychology and little else which is why, last century, Leftist governments killed over one hundred million of their own people and why Leftists today celebrate the killing of the unborn.

    When the Bible says “Thou shall not murder,” we can hear the undertones of the Eternal. But the Left — the moral relativists — simply listen to the tinny vibraphone of socially-cliched beliefs based in human conceit and narcissistic attitudes. And with enough conceit and bad faith, you can easily come to believe that killing the unborn is actually a good thing.

    So there is a difference. There is a distinct difference between those who ground their morals in fashion and those who, however fallibly, ground them in something more, including reason, experience, wisdom, and (very importantly) with an eye to reaching outside the human ego which has no problem putting six million Jews into gas ovens, or tens of millions into gulags, blinded from even a sense of right and wrong by the glorification of their own wills.

  7. Glenn Fairman Glenn Fairman says:

    When I say God is Hidden, I mean that in the sense that he wants to be seen with our spiritual faculties. He certainly could pull back the curtain of time and space and reveal Himself, as He will one day do. But in a realm of 4 dimensions, how are we to really see a being that transcends all that we can possibly imagine? How would a one dimensional dot understand a two dimensional line, or the line a cube? Physicists and quantum geeks say that there is an excess of 10 dimensions to reality….such a thing could be right in front of us and we would never comprehend it.

    But in a meaningful and real way, if you believe the Christian teaching, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and ransomed us back to Himself. By giving ourselves back to Him through our own volition, he places in our hearts through His Holy Spirit a communion that is more than an external morality…..it is a reconciled relationship. God apparently wants something more than obedience motivated through terror or fear. The Israelites in the desert followed a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night- and still their hearts were hardened. God desires that transformation that only He can effect through time and perhaps suffering on the proving grounds of Earth. Why is it so? For His loving Good pleasure and because we cannot find true rest or happiness anywhere except in the bosom of He who we were made for. I suppose that is enough for me.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Glenn, I appreciate what you’re saying. And note that if you hit the “Reply” link that is just underneath the post that you are replying to, then your reply post will be indented underneath it and the stream of consciousness will be preserved. 😉

      Regarding God Almighty, I’m either blessed or cursed with being born in Missouri, the “Show me” state….even though I wasn’t born there (that I know of). That’s sort of how God is with me.

      But allow me to speak honestly, which is not typically what one will get on this subject. As a conservative, whether the Redemption of mankind is true or not, I view Christianity as the only widespread organized force for good that has any chance of beating back the Left which is a force for evil. When choosing sides, I’ve already chosen my side even if I don’t attend to all the rituals.

      That said, much of Christianity, and nearly all of Judaism, has been given over to Leftism to some degree or another. As I think Dennis Prager rightly observes, many have simply replaced their traditional values and beliefs for Leftist ones.

      I wouldn’t be an overt church-goer even in the best of circumstances. I will be honest about that as well and will not just erect a bunch of excuses. But whatever disinclination for actual church-going exists is reinforced by so much of Christianity given over to Cultural Marxism. As I quip to some of my non-religious friends, “Stay right where you are and you will get closer to Jesus than many of the overtly religious are.”

      As the actual belief system of Christianity moves Left, this can’t help but be the case in relation to those decent and hardworking (but non-religious) conservative friends that I have. They simply need stay where they are…and compared to some of these loons on the Christian Left, they’re practically St. Thomas.

      That is the trend. So I make no apologies for believing that God — if a personal, loving God is real — must be embedded in something deeper than mere fashion, fad, or human psychology (or politics). Remember, we’re talking about God Almighty, and I doubt that such a God is driven by “diversity” or “social justice.” But many good Christians and Catholics believe just that.

      So I’ll let this God question be settled between him and me. I am a peculiar sort in that fashion. Nor do I (any more) sneer at the idea of God because my life has sometimes been hard, as so many Leftists and atheists do. It is my contention that what motivates an atheist (or probably many agnostics) isn’t a doubt about some amazing and transcendent Creator for all that is. The world is prima facie evidence for that.

      Instead, I believe that atheism is about taking one’s unhappiness or sense of alienation and making sure that no one else is happy too. Atheism is an organizing principle for grievance. And that is why most atheists are cranky. If they are unhappy, they do not like it when they see others (particularly Christians) who are happy and at peace. One of the truisms of those on the Left is that they want to spread their misery.

      This is not my malady, obviously. But it is for many atheists and Leftists. I therefore understand the importance for a life not to be based upon grievance, alienation, or revenge. That, in truth, is the organizing poison of the Left. And it is obviously why a belief in a Redemptive and loving God is the antidote to that.

      But I am not (I hope) aggrieved from God. I just ask for a higher level of proof . Or I simply understand that God, as you have said, is so far beyond us that any hope of the kind of comprehension that I seek is not likely to happen. But who knows?

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