Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More on Moral Values

Since I riffed on my fellow community columnist Dean Mundy's column on moral values, I thought I'd do the same with my boy Dale Reich's most recent column suggesting that atheism is linked to immorality. Dale has drawn criticism from at least one liberal blogger, Jay Bullock (am I mentioning that guy again?)and I am sure many others disagree strongly with his piece.

I wouldn't have written what Dale did - at least not the way he did - because I know lots of people of no apparent religious sensibility who comport themselves in a way that is quite consistent with Christian values. But as a caution against what can happen when a society cuts itself loose from transcendent values, he's got a point.

Jay is not merely dismissive, but responds to Dale's argument, writing:

Reich wonders why we irreligious would bother to help stranded motorists, for example, since helping others is not "seeking personal pleasure, procreating [or] dying." He neglects that many of us find being nice, kind, generous, or charitable in itself a pleasurable activity, even if we believe the good works bring little more than temporary satisfaction. In fact, a key principal of evolutionary biology is the idea of altruism; helping other members of the species ultimately benefits our own chances of survival, and those of our offspring. I look at it more from the angle of Peter Parker's Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility." This giant frontal lobe of mine--and the attendant consciousness and reason--endows me and all of the rest of us with a responsibility to take care of each other and the world we live in. There's a reason why those noted non-Christians, Native Americans, practiced a "seventh-generation" philosophy; it's not that they wanted to do and be good to please God, but rather to ensure that their descendants would survive and inherit a society worth living in.

But, I wonder, if someone helps others because it is "in itself a pleasurable activity," what happens when, as is so often the case, it is not? If altruism is rooted in benefiting our own chance of survival (I'll refrain, for now, from considering the circularity of attributing every damn thing to evolution), what do we do when it doesn't do that? If great responsibility comes with that giant frontal lobe and if we are to do as those non-Christian (but not non-religious) Native Americans did, why not exercise it to build a Master Race or, at the very least, rid ourselves of the weak?

I'm not saying that any individual can't find some source of values that he or she regards as non-religious, although I think they will often be rooted in some religious tradition now abandoned. (There is a reason we generally believe in the equal worth of all human lives in the West; this is not a universal human value.)My sense is that the abandonment of some source of transcendent value tends to result in utilitarianism and utilitarianism tends to result in slaughter.

1 comment:

elliot said...

Here we go again!