Lazy Sentimental christianity: Part 3, Sentimental

Last post we observed that the content of our modern, secular, non-theistic, and humanistic moral consensus is borrowed from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In our moral sensibilities the West is christian. Small c christian as the West is, metaphysically, post-Christian. The metaphysical beliefs of Christianity are slowly eroding, leaving behind a moral residue.

Which raises the question. Can the moral vision of the West hold once it has been separated from the metaphysical worldview that justified and undergirded it?

That's a live question right now. As I pointed out in the last post, much of the humanistic and atheistic moral project in modernity has been to show that the Judeo-Christian moral consensus can be supported, nurtured, and sustained with a non-theistic structure.  Others--Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and the Marquis de Sade come to mind--disagree. Strip away the metaphysics and there's nothing supporting the moral vision of the West.

For my part, I'm with Nietzsche on this. The moral consensus of the secular, humanistic, post-Christian world persists because of inertia. We're not anti-Christian, not yet at least. We're post-Christian, still haunted by Christ.

But without the underlying metaphysical commitments, the moral consensus of the West stands upon nothing solid. The humanistic and non-theistic moral vision is fundamentally sentimental, dependent only upon a broadly shared feeling that human beings, every one, possess inviolate dignity and worth. But that notion, without any metaphysical and ontological warrant, can only be asserted, and rallied to by appealing to fellow-feeling. In short, our most cherished ethical commitment, the linchpin of secular, humanistic morality stands upon nothing more substantial than feelings. Broadly shared feelings, yes, but feelings nonetheless.

A great read on the sentimental nature of modern, humanistic morality is Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue.

Again, Nietzsche saw all this very, very clearly. So did Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment. Kick out the metaphysics and the moral vision of the West becomes fundamentally sentimental, reliant upon emotional appeals for good will. Non-theistic morality is entirely a game of feelings:

Sentimental christianity.

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