Sometime back, I read an article titled, Good Minus God, written by Louise M. Antony, Professor of Philosophy. I found it on the New York Times site, The Stone. The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless. Professor Antony’s theme was, is God necessary for goodness.
It brought to mind, Archibald MacLeish and his poetic drama, J.B. In it Mr. Nickles, a circus vendor put a finer point on this issue. He says, “If God is God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God. In other words, if the one we call God is truly in charge, his tolerance of unmerited suffering proves that he could not possibly be in charge of such a topsy turvy sadism.”
I want to share thoughts on two distinct elements of this issue: The first is the existence of God. As I’ve written before, I believe this argument is wasted on mortals. Neither the theists nor the atheists can ground their arguments on anything but human reasoning shaped by theory-dependent knowledge structures; i.e. human theories.
The second and the topic of this column is the fear that without God we are morally lost because we need a foundation from which to judge right from wrong. I don’t think I can remember a time when the issue of morality was more topical. And I know I can’t remember a time when there was a more confused national narrative about right and wrong.
Much of the confusion is cloaked in religious differences. Some of it in the competition for the highest moral ground; believers over non-believers; my religion over yours.
If it’s not the Catholic Bishops suing the president, it’s the Fundamentalist Pastors demonizing those who disagree with their world views. But the “topsy-turvyness” in J.B bespeaks the reason for our confusion. Dr. Tony Campolo offers an important insight here, “ A movement can exist without a god, but never without a devil. There must be something to be destroyed.”
Sound familiar? Our national ethos gives rise to a topsy-turvy morality within which we need to create a devil and declare war on it. For instance in politics, to the extreme right, the devil is President Obama. To the extreme left, the devil is the moneyed corporate elite.
But what gets lost in our confusion is the “true God.” I’m not referring to the iconic god with white beard and flowing robes. I’m referring to the good that the idea of God represents in most human cultures. It is the good of the God, in the worship and religious practices of vast numbers of sincere believers. It is the good, without God, in the beliefs and practices of the vast majority of sincere atheists.
At this point, you might say, “wait a minute. You said the existence of God is an unprovable variable.” Yes, that’s what I believe. But I’m talking about the concept that that God represents. It’s the deeper desires of millions of good people who find solace and comfort in their beliefs and traditions and never make demons of anyone. These are the people who use their religious principles or their personal moral standards as guideposts to live good lives. These are the silent majority in the churches, synagogues and mosques who truly believe that their God is a God of love and not condemnation. These are the millions of non-believers who take responsibility for their own morality and forgo a need for organized religion.
When we make our devils the topic of our morality, we lose this “good God” represented in the hearts and minds of these sincere believers and non-believers. But as Dr. Campolo says above, a movement can exist without a god as long as it has a devil to be destroyed.
So I wonder what would happen to our wars on evils if we instead focused on the “good and the God” in our real selves and others. In other words, if we asked what is good about the other person or his world view instead of judging him for his failings.
What could happen to our moral confusion if we focused on gods rather than devils? They might both be imaginary, but I’ll put my money on the gods for making this a better world.