Monday, December 10, 2007

Freedom requires religion

I'll chalk it up to being sleep deprived due to the newborn baby, to muddling through the argument below. Fortunately the New York Post makes the succinct argument for me: (via The Corner)

We'd concede it may be possible in theory for a society to be both free of religion and politically free, but it has not happened any time in history that we are aware of, certainly not in contemporary Europe. The highest-profile attempts at religion-free societies, revolutionary France and Bolshevik Russia, both resulted in paroxysms of violence that trampled both political and religious freedoms. When the great editor of the Wall Street Journal, Robert Bartley, made a trip to the Soviet Union, he concluded that the great flaw in its system was its official atheism.

No one is suggesting that all religious societies are politically free; Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan under the Taliban are cases in point. Nor are we suggesting that the American government should establish one religion over another, or that atheists or agnostics cannot be good citizens. There are countless examples to prove otherwise. But belief in a higher power is so fundamental to the development of civilization and is such a ubiquitous, deep, and abiding feature of such huge numbers of civilized people that it is impossible, by definition, to exclude religion without destroying liberty for all.

If Mr. Romney left some of these particulars unsaid, perhaps he felt the point had been already made by the man after whom the Washington Post was named. In his 1796 farewell address, the first president said: "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

If George Washington said it, it carries weight with me.


Sirocco said...

I don't know all that much about Bolshevik Russia ... but I know a very great deal about Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, enough to know that, at least for that example, the author is talking out of his ass.

Just as the author isn't suggesting "that atheists or agnostics cannot be good citizens" (and it's not clear from his speech Romney would agree with that sentiment - rather the opposite, in fact), I am not suggesting religion is inherently bad.

I _am_ suggesting freedom does not _require_ religion, which the author actually concedes in his opening line. Of course it's not practical now - as the author notes, religious belief is "ubiquitous, deep, and abiding feature of such huge numbers of civilized people".

Where the author and I differ is in his conclusion. There are clearly an increasing number of people in our culture willing to exclude religion from their life, and (at least so far) "liberty for all" has yet to be destroyed.

x4mr said...

An enjoyable exchange at the prior thread, and I won't repeat what has been said.

I've posted content clearly asserting that there is a very legitimate and solid set of "material" supporting that the human equation includes spirituality and spiritual expression. How this spirituality is developed and expressed varies by culture, different interpretations and languages addresses what I would argue is the same glimpse of something higher and beyond, and the possibility of a path that enhances and deepens one's experience of the sacred and transcendental.

I think the trouble starts, as it inevitably does, when people start considering their experience "right" and that of others "wrong."

Jumping to the fanatics, they are "chosen" and the rest are "evil."

Suppressing expression of human spirituality is pathological. Let people find their truth. If that truth excludes Dieties or religious concepts, so what?

My spiritual practice involves two meetings a week and efforts on a daily basis. No religion is involved. Romney would classify me in the same group as Sirocco because what I do is entirely invisible to him.

The founding fathers said, "Let people do what they want."

The trouble, ironically, starts when the people professing to follow Christ violate one of his most fundamental teachings:

Do not judge.

Make no mistake. Romney's speech judged secularism.

Anonymous said...

Paranoia will destroy ya.

exdeadhead said...

John Adams was being quoted by Senior Romney. Adams' was (and is) that our constitution was drafted for a religious people (which "we" were at the time, and continue to be in many quarters), because the constitution granted such incredible, unprecedented freedom, freedom that could only survive among those morally restrained by their religion. Thus freedom requires religion.

Is this not true? Freedom without religion becomes anarchy, as those not restrained by a personal sense of morality will behave as Israel durng the time of their Judges, doing as they please.

Sirocco said...

Religion does not have a monopoly on morality. One might ask the question: is someone who commits a "moral" deed solely for religious reasons rather than moral ones (for example, they do something not because it is right, but rather solely because they are afraid they will go to hell) truly engaging in a moral act?

exdeadhead said...

In a society of interacting and interconnecting people, right is right, regardless of motivation. Eternity can take care of itself.

How does a person learn the difference between right and wrong? Is this knowledge from within? If so, this is not obvious from observing the behavior of young children. If learned, then from where, from whom? Right thinking behavior in this country cannot be separated from our religious roots, even when exhibited by those who do not "believe".

The freedom we enjoy under our constitution and laws disappears when people become unrestrained, because authorities must act to maintain order. Hence the refrain, "There ought to be a law." And so the law has grown to fill volumes and volumes, diminishing freedom. Self restraint is better than legal restraint.

Maintenance of freedom depends upon right thinking behavior, with USA origins in religion.

Sirocco said...

I fully agree the freedoms in our country are maintained by law. However, while that law may be base don religious precepts, that's by no means a requirement.

Self restraint IS better than legal restraint, but again, that restraint can most certainly be exercised without religion.

I'm not debating that within the US (and any other country I can think of) the roots of right thinking behavior lie in religion ... but those standards are applicable whether denoted by religion or not.

Killing someone for no reason is morally wrong, regardless of whether Christianity (or any religion) dictates it to be so - I.e., the morality of the act is divorced from any religious basis.

A consequentialist can certainly argue motivations don't matter, but this is by no means a consensus belief.

Anonymous said...

What makes it moral? Nothing is "moral" unless it's measured against a standard. The standard is provided by religion. It doesn't just pop into the air.

Sirocco said...

I'm sorry, but morality in no means requires religion.

Don't get me wrong - it's unquestionable religion has played, and will continue to play, a huge role in developing people's behavior.

Philosopher James Rachel noted morals tend to develop through a path of kin altruism to group altruism to widespread altruism. The first, kin altruism, is by far the strongest - and tends to develop without influence from any religious viewpoint.

Where religion does have a notable effect is in generalizing this altruism to a wider set of people, people who are not direct relatives or part of a close social group.

Religion definitely can help propagate moral views, but by no means is religion required for morality to develop.

Anonymous said...

Give me one example where "altruistic" moral behavior developed without religion.