Sunday 30 June 2013

Losing Christian faith *entails* abandoning Christian morality


England's Chief (Orthodox) Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks writes (I have added the emphases): 


...You cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.

Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality.

No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power. No more ‘Thou shalt not’; instead people would live by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. ‘An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be “unjust” as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.

This had nothing to do with him personally and everything to do with the logic of Europe losing its Christian ethic...


Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.

Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster.

But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer.

They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it.


I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing. Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral.

But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other.

A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.


James A. Donald said...

I don't recall stammering.

Humans succeeded by working together, in large part by working together to kill other humans.

Knowing right from wrong is essential to working together.

Bruce Charlton said...

ivvenalis has left a new comment on your post "Losing Christian faith *entails* abandoning Christ...":

It's ironic (I know you think that it is purposive) that our current elite, for whom multiculturalism etc are so ostensibly important, have such a narrow worldview. The fact that knowledge of pre-Christian morality (Classical paganism) is now purely an antiquarian interest rather than a standard part of elite education could be made up for in theory by increased knowledge of contemporary non-Christian belief systems. But it isn't. Such knowledge is often shallow, rarely accompanied by even a passing familiarity with the original language, and carefully administered so as to prevent unfavorable comparisons to Western/Christian norms.

Of course this maleducation is often cynically manipulated by foreign organizations with knowledge of it... [snip]

Bruce Charlton said...

@JAD - I think the Chief Rabbi may be speaking to your condition.

imnobody said...

This is so obvious that it doesn't need to be said. But a sign of decadent times is that the most obvious truths are considered absurd while the most obvious absurdities are accepted as self-evident truths.

Thank you for sharing

Asher said...

Nietzsche pointed this out almost 150 years ago and, in fact, a very significant amount of his body of predictions have come true. He may have made some grave errors (or simply be misread or cryptic) but ya gotta give the man credit, when due.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Asher - partly prediction by Nietzsche, partly the influence of Nietzsche. But people were smarter in those days, and it was so clear to them that you could not have Christian morality without Christian faith that they didn't see much need to argue it. We are now in the position of having abandoned the faith and inverting the morality - but somehow arguing that this has not really happened, and nothing has really changed and modern morality is merely a more perfect form of the traditional morality... Modern secular culture is Nietzschian, but unlike Nietzsche it denies the fact - the worst of both worlds! But then, Nietzsche's truthfulness was only a residue of his Christianity, and inevitably was also destroyed by the 'death of God'.