Not too long ago I wrote about the American Humanist Association’s new ad campaign promoting humanism. In the ads biblical quotes are presented alongside the views of humanism in order to point out the contrast between modern values and biblical values.
Now comes the backlash. Conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby has written on his boston.com blog:
…[I]t will take more than a few grim verses plucked out of context to substantiate the core message of the American Humanist Association’s ad campaign: that God and the Judeo-Christian tradition are not necessary for the preservation of moral values and that human reason is a better guide to goodness than Bible-based religion.
Plucked out of context?! My critique of the campaign is that there were so many more abhorrent verses that they could have chosen. Jacoby’s claims about biblical morality are fairly consistent with the two classes of people who believe in “biblical values.” The first is the fundamentalists who honestly believe that we should return to such values. The second is comprised of all the people who have never studied (or even read) the bible, but just “know” that its values are critically important.
Can people be decent and moral without believing in a God who commands us to be good? Sure. There have always been kind and ethical nonbelievers. But how many of them reason their way to kindness and ethics, and how many simply reflect the moral expectations of the society in which they were raised?
In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. “We know that you can be good without God,’’ [AHA head Roy] Speckhardt tells CNN.
He can be confident of that only because he lives in a society so steeped in Judeo-Christian values that he takes those values for granted. But a society bereft of that religious heritage is one not even Speckhardt would want to live in.
For in a world without God, there is no obvious difference between good and evil. There is no way to prove that murder is wrong if there is no Creator who decrees “Thou shalt not murder.’’ It certainly cannot be proved wrong by reason alone. One might reason instead — as Lenin and Stalin and Mao reasoned — that there is nothing wrong with murdering human beings by the millions if doing so advances the Marxist cause. Or one might reason from observing nature that the way of the world is for the strong to devour the weak — or that natural selection favors the survival of the fittest by any means necessary, including the killing of the less fit.
Where do I even begin? “Thou shalt not murder”? Again, Jacoby, read the damn book. There’s murder and wholesale slaughter everywhere in the text. In her brilliant one-woman show, Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney says that when she finally did let go she was attacked by the thought, “What’s gonna keep me from just going out and MURDERING people?” Then she remembered:
…I had to walk myself through it. Why are we ethical? Well, because we have to be. I mean we’re social animals, extremely complex social animals. And we evolved this moral sense, like an aversion to murder in order for communities to exist.
Surely it doesn’t take much for a Jacoby to figure that out. As for Lenin, Stalin and Mao, I suggest Jacoby read up on these folks. They were anything but humanists. They may not have believed in a supernatural god but they created fanatical dogmas of their own that were no more rational than those found in religion. For more on this he could read Hitchens. Or just open a history book.
As for the reference to natural selection. Well, I’ll just be kind and say that perhaps he doesn’t quite understand the principle and how it relates to human, as opposed to bear or shark evolution.
This need that conservatives have to constantly bow at the altar of religious authority is disturbing. It demonstrates the hypocrisy of a movement supposedly dedicated to liberty and individualism, while at the same time it offers a blind obeisance to anything uttered by a “Judeo-Christian” authority. That’s how Republicans started teaming up with fundamentalists in the first place.