The future of western values

This post is going be rather short since my objective here is to stimulate debate rather than provide analysis.

The late American philosopher Arthur Danto rejected Hume’s fact/value dichotomy by persuasively arguing that a society’s morals beliefs were indeed predicated on their factual beliefs. He articulated this view in the broader context of Asian cultures being largely incompatible with Western culture. He argued that the moral beliefs of the Orient and Occident were grounded upon a series of factual beliefs that were mutually exclusive to each other and hence Asian cultures wouldn’t be accessible to Westerners.

Consider the following values enshrined in the Declaration :

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…

A lot of this is straight out of John Locke’s book. This part: “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is basically a variation of Locke’s natural rights. But the aforementioned values are predicated on a single factual belief: the existence of God. The Creator is not only the source of life, but also liberty. The classical liberal philosophers believed that freedom wasn’t merely doing what one desired, but it was also freedom from intrusive government. They believed that there was an inverse relationship between government power and individual autonomy (unless I’ve read them incorrectly).

If the value of Liberty is based on the existence of God, what happens when society loses it’s belief in God? What then sustains this value? If He doesn’t exist, why does freedom matter? We might argue that freedom is good, but why? I’ve discussed this matter with Bay Area Guy and while both of us are non religious, we both nevertheless believe that the idea of God is a force for good in society.  If we remove God, morality dies along with Him. As Dostoyevsky said:  If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” Atheism leads to one dead end: Social Darwinism.

If God is dead, why bother being moral? Why not let nature take its course and let the big fish dominate all the smaller fish? Furthermore, if liberty is based on the existence of God, and as God is gradually killed off by post-modern society, could this then explain the disturbing erosion of our freedoms? Is this why NSA surveillance is on the rise? Is the State destined to replace God as the omnipresent apparition of observation and judgement?

Do any of you agree with my assessments or do you think I’ve grossly misread Atheism and just about everything? You’re comments are welcome and greatly appreciated as always.

 

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10 Responses to The future of western values

  1. Emblematic says:

    Social Darwinism happens anyway, whatever you do.
    Evolution is always bigger than us.

  2. CountZero says:

    > we both nevertheless believe that the idea of God is a force for good in society. If we remove God, morality dies along with Him.

    Richard Dawkins discusses these issues at length in ‘The God Delusion’ (and put my own vague ideas on this in precise shape). Taking up the second implication first, psychology research has shown that moral values are ‘built-in’ mechanisms, are basically equal across cultures and societies (and it takes a lot of effort to negate them: ask a Wehrmacht veteran of the eastern front, a bolshevik revolutionary or a 1970s 1st wave RAF terrorist in former West Germany. The principal idea is always to rid the ‘enemy’ of their status as fellow human beings. That is a big effort, but the road to vile and immoral acts is wide open once this is established…).

    Concerning God as a force for good in society, “when they claim the necessity for God, most people really mean the necessity of a police.” (quoted from memory out of Dawkins’ book).

    I can only recommend reading and reflecting on Dawkins’ original text on this.

    (Smartass LitCrit remark on the side: The everything is permitted quote is not Dostoevsky’s, but that of fictional character and patricidal madman Ivan Fyodorovich Karamasov’s IIRC 🙂 ).

    • Dota says:

      Concerning God as a force for good in society, “when they claim the necessity for God, most people really mean the necessity of a police.” (quoted from memory out of Dawkins’ book).

      Totalitarian power inspires obedience, but not reverence. God has inspired great works of literature, art, philosophy, and in short: civilization. God inspires love.

      • Todd Lewis says:

        “God has inspired great works of literature, art, philosophy, and in short: civilization. God inspires love.”

        Well said. Where are atheisms’, liberalisms’ and communisms’ Shakespeare’s, Plato’s and Isidore of Miletus’? Or for that matter their Wilberfource’s, Mother Teresa’s and Dirk Willem’s?

    • Todd Lewis says:

      “Taking up the second implication first, psychology research has shown that moral values are ‘built-in’ mechanisms, are basically equal across cultures and societies ”

      That is merely begging the question, who built it in. I sense a genetic fallacy underlying your answer since an appeal to evolutionary pyschology neither proves nor disproves anything. It is a fallacy to prove or disprove a thing by describing its origins.

  3. RD Sultan says:

    If you read Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689),” he argues that Atheists have no right to be tolerated by the state because the existence of the state depends on a contract, and the obligation of that contract depends on divine law.

    He also argued that Muslims and Catholics should be denied toleration since the former pledged allegiance to the ummah, and the latter to the Pope. Interestingly, Locke was accused by his detractors of being a secret Muslim since his unitarian religious views were in line with Islam.

  4. Todd Lewis says:

    “Do any of you agree with my assessments or do you think I’ve grossly misread Atheism and just about everything? You’re comments are welcome and greatly appreciated as always.”

    I think your and BAG are right on the issue of lose of faith in God and the rise of totalitarianism. For example throughout the first 200 hundred years of the existence of the US school shootings were unheard of. By the 20th and 21st centuries they were endemic. It’s also no surprise that Klebold and Harris were both atheist social-darwinists. Columbine is a great example of the moral quandary you present.

    The only objection I have is can one create a society based on faith people such as yourself and BAG do not believe in God? It sounds rather much like Voltaire: ” If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” and a little cynical don’t you think? I’m not sure that would work.

    • Dota says:

      I think BAG is agnostic whereas I most certainly believe in God (the Abrahamic God). I just don’t subscribe to religion any longer. I do think that religion is a force for good and a positive conduit through which society can channel its faith. While BAG and myself are non religious, we both acknowledge that belief in God is vital for a healthy society. Protestant Christianity is the foundation of our ethics and even concepts about freedom and individualism.

      While the both of us are non religious, Occident Invicta is a safe and welcoming space for Christians of all denominations.

      • Todd Lewis says:

        Thanks for the comments/clarifications.

        “While the both of us are non religious, Occident Invicta is a safe and welcoming space for Christians of all denominations.”

        You are a pretty tolerant bunch, pardon the now ruined word.

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