Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Virtuous vs. Moral

Andrew Sullivan continues his debate with Sam Harris over the nature of religion as I noted before. Now Andrew posts a comment from a reader that points to a potentially critical distinction between Sullivan and Harris. Namely, what gives our lives meaning? I assume that Andrew would say that the meaning from his life comes from God, but I wonder where Sam attributes the meaning to his life or even if he believes that his life has meaning at all. I hope these to writers touch on the subject in future posts.

If I was going to be an Atheist, I would intimately link the meaning in my life to virtue - fully realizing myself as a great man. I am pretty sure that I would not tie the meaning in my life, as Andrew's atheist reader does, to making things just a little bit better for others. Come on how lame is that? If you are going to be an atheist you have to dream big and live large. What other meaning could you see in life other than exercising your will on the grandest scale possible? Isn't this what ancients Greeks and Romans aspired to achieve? What would Nietzsche think of an atheist who aspired to nothing more than making the world just a little bit better for those around him? I bet Nietzsche would say that that person had been cowed into abandoning his larger dreams by the prevailing Christian culture.

Though I certainly feel this call to virtue, I have to temper it with Christian morality, which comes from God and represents a universal truth. I resist the temptation to treat others as objects out of love, based on Jesus's example. What else, besides following Jesus's example, could motivate a person to give up his selfish desires and to love others instead. I think that Kant formalizes a way of thinking about this, but ultimately his philosophy crumbles unless its foundation is a universal law of love.

When atheists attack Christianity and the bible for the former's dogma and the later's internal contradictions, they miss the key point. They miss that God is love. They miss that creation, even, perhaps especially even, if it happened through the process of evolution was an expression of love. They miss that Jesus's life and especially his death was an expression of love. And they miss that every act of Christian worship ought to respond to that love. That framework gives meaning to my life. The tension that I feel between the urge to exercise my will and the call to love helps to prove to me that God exists more than any proof or even a momentary religious experience ever could.

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