left biblioblography: Christian Currency And Moral Borrowing

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Christian Currency And Moral Borrowing

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!jesusandmomorality

"Nothing is rarer among moralists and saints than integrity; perhaps they say the opposite, perhaps they even believe it. For when faith is more useful, effective, convincing than conscious hypocrisy, hypocrisy instinctively and forthwith becomes innocent. . ."- Nietzsche.

One of the more irritating of aspects of cutting the Gordian Knot of religious belief, is that atheists get bombarded with all sorts of sophistic noise. As if the divorce from the supernatural entails a complete atavism, and a materialistic viewpoint reduces one to become nothing more than a dribbling reduction of nerve-endings.

Case in point: this fellow regurgitates that hoariest of old chestnuts, the ‘borrowed morality’ which he loosely bases on this specific bit of rubbish  - and really, there’s all sorts of wrong on multiple levels. Let’s itemize:

A. Christianity doesn’t have exclusive ‘rights’ to morality. Morality developed independently of it thousands of years a priori. In fact, if we were to explore that simile, it would be that that particular belief system ‘borrowed’ copiously from various sources. One need only scan historical events to see that this brand of religion took an incredibly long time to develop anything vaguely resembling morals in the first place.

B. You can’t ‘borrow’ morals (which is why I use sarcastic quotes) – these set of rules are learned, primarily from the environment and interaction with other human beings. You can’t ‘return’ morals, they aren’t some kind of coin one can charge interest on in lieu of the ‘loan’. And in the case of definition number 2, which states 2.a = ‘to appropriate for one’s own use” and 2.b “Derive; adopt” – it’s what humans do. Either way, this is some sort of reification. You can’t store up a metaphysical abstract. Shoring up “moral capital” is the mistake of a philosophical amateur.

C. This is one of those weak efforts to defenestrate the opposition: “You can’t use our rules to criticize our system – they’re OUR rules, you can’t have ‘em!”

D. I call contextomy. In the link provided above, it quotes Nietzsche as saying:

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.

Which appears to be quite damning. However, if you read it in its entirety you find that Nietzsche is first quoting G. Eliot:

G. Eliot. — They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. That is an English consistency; we do not wish to hold it against little moralistic females √† la Eliot. In England one must rehabilitate oneself after every little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritably awe-inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there.

So with the inserted forward, it changes this entire paragraph’s meaning.

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God is the truth — it stands and falls with faith in God.

And with the following, the entire paragraph is obviously a criticism of England and the handling of materialism by the English philosophers, not a sweeping incrimination of atheist morality at all:

When the English actually believe that they know "intuitively" what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.

A gentle reminder for those of you who haven’t been keeping up: Nietzsche was German. If you read the numbered sequences of SKIRMISHES OF AN UNTIMELY MAN in the link provided, you’ll find numbered criticisms of George Sand, Renan, etc.

E. This is a strawman caricature employing a broad generalization and simplistic reductionism. The strawman (which I’ve exposed as such) relies on reducing Nietzsche’s complex philosophical outlook to something quite simple, and then applying it across the entire spectrum of atheistic thought. We are not all moral relativists, there’s metaphysical materialism, atheistic existentialism, non-reductionist materialism, materialistic determinism – the isms go on almost interminably.

F. In the link that started it all, the other author resorts to the childish tactic of simulation what he might think Freddy’s attitude towards Richard Dawkins might be, by providing a non-quote.

So, in a nutshell: since this nonsense isn’t representative of good old Freddy at all, and Freddy wasn’t even representing atheists in toto, both of these philosophical puff pieces have no intellectual legs whatsoever.

So…the old Shakespeare quote “Neither a lender nor a borrower be”  applies here – atheism is still a simple matter of non-belief, and morals are a communal value, not a capitalist value to be collected on.

Till the next post, then.

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