As I have shared before, I have been spending considerable time of late on Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project website, discussing how to take our country back and return it to a constitutional republic. Far too much time and effort is being wasted debating religious issues, which I reckon have nothing to do with good governance. While I have freely acknowledge that I am godless, for the most part I have avoided those discussions for the distraction they are. My mission has been more to help them understand that those on the Secular Right are not card carrying members of the ACLU, and actually share most of their principles and values.
A frequently recurring theme there is for Christians to question the notion that morality can exist without a source, which they posit is their god. In Paglia’s latest column, she does a superb job of answering this challenge in the following exchange with a reader:
I’m confused. You say you are an atheist. It seems to me that if there is no God, then we are all simply pieces of animated dirt. To pieces of animated dirt, on what basis can something be considered right or wrong, ethical or unethical? Of what value is life except that which animated pieces of dirt place on it? What would it matter if some place absolutely no value on life?
Abortion is “murder”? That has moral connotations. What is wrong with the “murder of a child”? All pieces of animated dirt eventually become lifeless. What does it matter when or how? Morality is just an invention of animated dirt. What if humans managed to destroy all life on earth? What would it matter? Surely, some other form of animated dirt would evolve to replace us. I certainly don’t know there is a God, but I choose to believe there is, because, for one, I don’t want to believe that I am just animated dirt.
The ancient Greeks, whose art and thought deeply influenced me in my youth, created ethics as a branch of secular philosophy, detached from religion and its moral imperatives. Like artworks, codes of law and ethics are uniquely human constructs — conceptual environments that separate us from animals, who are governed by biological instinct. It is rational to debate and define the rules by which any society exists. As a cultural relativist and atheist, I believe that values change over time and that there is no transcendent God who generates and enforces them. But societies have a right to require reasonable compliance from those who enjoy their material benefits.
Your vast panorama of “animated dirt” rising and sinking is actually closer to the Buddhist view of the cosmos — which I also find inspiring for its contemplative acceptance of things as they are. The operations of the life force have inherent majesty. Human consciousness, when fully expanded, is for me the ultimate value. As Heracleitus said, “All things flow.” To demand permanence or personal survival beyond death seems to me a tragically doomed quest. But by power of imagination, we each have the right to live in our own universe. All gods exist — because thinking makes it so.
Wow! I have seen this challenge answered a thousand different ways, but never so eloquently.
BTW, the rest of her column is worth the read as usual. She has become my favorite Lefty, because she will not swallow all their Kool-Aid, and calls them like she sees them. Obama won’t enjoy this one as much as I did. 🙂 ◄Dave►