Thursday, August 10, 2017

The metaphysics of morals

The Bible is primarily about salvation history, the idea that it God loves us, that nevertheless we are very very flawed because our wills are out of line with those of God, that God cares about even people on the bottom of the totem pole and that there is no human refuse. Humans are not good the way they are, and they need to be changed by God in order to keep them from turning an eternal existence into something hellish. I trust the Bible's revelation of metaphysical reality. Humans are capable of great goodness, but they also can turn virtually into devils with the wrong ideas in their heads. I know some religious ideas have done harm, for example the alliance of some forms of Christianity with the spirit of capitalism, or the idea that we can and ought to pursue and burn witches, or that suicide attacks are justified under Islam. But this is nothing compared to what happened with the bastardized Nietzscheanism of Hitler (and no, there's nothing Christian about the idea that Jews, by race, are evil and have to be eliminated. Christianity teaches that the Incarnate God was Jewish by race), or the adaptation by Lenin of the idea of the vanguard of the proletariat, putting the Party in absolute power in Russia and China. The most harmful ideas of recent history are secular, not religious. The death toll of these ideas dwarfs 9/11 and Salem many times over.
It is always easier to defend the Bible relative to the historical situation in which it is developed, than it is to defend the Bible as a rubber stamp carrying the same practices on in the present day. That is, I don't think you can expect women to be silent in church today without at least asking what in the situation of the time could have prompted Paul to say such a thing. I understand the force of the response "God's omnipotent, he could have done better." But once the metaphysics is in place, the question becomes "How shall we then live?" And different times and cultural situations may require different responses, as in the case of women.
Modern materialism not only removes God, it also removes the metaphysical trappings that make ethical systems like Plato, or Aristotle, or Buddhism, work. You don't need to be a theist to think of the universe as fundamentally a moral universe, though I think Christianity is the best developed version of the idea of a moral universe. But the polytheistic universe of the ancient world has this similarity to modern materialism, and that is that it says that the universe is, at bottom, amoral. You either have a gang of amoral gods bickering, or you have blind matter that, in the last analysis, does not consider what is good when the basic particles go where they go.

1 comment:

Mortal said...

Over the past several weeks, I have been reading through the First Letter of John - line by line and sometimes word by word. I finished it last night, and I must say that I have been totally blown away by its wisdom. (Until now, I had never payed that much attention to it. There were so many other parts of Scripture that seemed more important.) There are 4 or 5 major themes in the letter, but the one relevant here is that knowledge of God cannot be confined to the simply intellectual. It has to be lived. In fact, John goes so far as to say that knowledge of God is impossible without living in accordance to the truth, and that such living is actually the means by which we come to know Him in the first place. An "immoral" person cannot know God, and if he says he does, John pulls no punches - he calls him a liar.