Sunday, January 14, 2007

Religion and the right

There has been a minor controversy among conservatives set of by an article by Manhattan Institute scholar Heather McDonald in the American Conservative. Ms. McDonald has done some great work and is a respected commentator. In the American Conservative, she proclaimed her atheism and expressed some discomfort with the religiousity of her colleagues on the right. She elaborates here, expressing the view that conservativism should be based on reason and logic and that one need not be religious to be moral or even, it seems, to hold rather traditional moral values.

Ms. MCDonald's criticisms of religion are neither novel or very insightful, resting largely on the way in which some people misuse, or express childlike views, of their faith. If you believe that the Lord is going to bring you a Mercedes Benz or that God will ensure that the good (or your version of the good)will always triumph, you have some more theology to study.

On the other hand, I am not troubled, as Heather apparently is, that people bring their neediness before God through petitionary prayer or that they express gratitude toward the Almighty when things go well. There is, for her, an illogic in asking for what you know you cannot always have or being thankful for that which you just as easily could have been denied. I can understand that God's creation is not run for my personal benefit and yet bring my desires before God if for no other reason than to express and acknowledge that I am a part of that creation. I can be thankful - when I am able - for being part of that creation even when I know that it will sometimes entail things that I do not want and will not like.

I agree with her, however, that even those on the religious right (of which I think I am an auxilliary member) need to be able to make arguments that may appeal to those who do not share their faith presuppostions. But we do.

I also agree that one can have a morality - even a traditional one - without being religious. On the other hand, morality cannot be based solely on reason and logic since these require first principles to which we cannot reason. These first principles have to come from somewhere and often people who are say that their "first principle" are not religious are simply standing on the foundation applied by our Judeo-Christian tradition.


Anonymous said...

"...and often people who are say that their "first principle" are not religious are simply standing on the foundation applied by our Judeo-Christian tradition."

So the ancient Greeks were incapable of morality?

Hindus, too?

Rick Esenberg said...

No, that's not what I said. Hindus and ancient Greeks have and had their own sources of first principles. In fact, Christianity was itself influenced by the Greeks in its interpretation and application of revelation so the "Judeo-Christian" tradition is not completely separate from the ancient greeks. But, in the west, that is the foundation that most of us - even atheists and agnostics - stand on.

Dad29 said...


Those Hindu and Greek sources are collectively known as the "conscience," which was formed in Adam & Eve and remains common to all man.

Anonymous said...

There was no Adam and Eve as stated in the Abrahamic traditions. And as for Rick's posting, he admits that Judaism and Christianity were influenced by different cultures and religions. In that case, the term Western heritage would be more accurate than Judeo-Christian.