Lazy Sentimental christianity: Part 2, christian

One of the most interesting things about non-theistic and humanistic reflections about morality and ethics is just how uninteresting they are.

For example, you read some non-theistic author trying to give a naturalistic account of morality. A common move in this genre is to discuss how human evolution isn't wholly competitive, Nature red in tooth and claw. We're social, cooperative creatures, it is argued. Consequently, working cooperatively together is adaptive and leads to human flourishing. We've evolved to be good.

Other accounts don't go this evolutionary route, they follow Kant and articulate some rational ground for goodness. The work of John Rawls' veil of ignorance is an example.

The journey you're taken on in these accounts--goodness rooted in evolution, reason, or whatever--can be quite varied, but they all dump out in the same location, the Judeo-Christian consensus of the West. That's what makes these books and arguments so uninteresting. Before we even start the book we've already read the last chapter. We know where this train is heading.

By Judeo-Christian consensus I mean the moral vision bequeathed to the West by the Old and New Testaments, some key features being:

  1. The created world is intrinsically good, and humanity is to be a good steward of this gift.
  2. Human beings are created in the Image of God, each person possessing inviolable dignity, worth, and value.
  3. The Ten Commandments
  4. We must pursue justice and care for the victims and the vulnerable, for "the least of these" in our world.
  5. Giving and receiving love is the surest path to a rich and meaningful life.
To be clear, for the unthinking reader, and there will be many, the issue here isn't about adherence, past or present. The issue is about the content of this moral vision, and its roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West.

Basically, it's a striking feature of non-theistic moral reflections that they rarely point toward anything new, morally speaking, than the Judeo-Christian consensus. The chain of reasoning non-theists and humanists use to reach the Judeo-Christian consensus varies considerably, but the outcomes they produce don't deviate sharply from the consensus. By and large, secular moral systems are broadly and functionally christian.

Yes, there are exceptions, like the work of Peter Singer. But what's interesting about Singer is how his work is publicly appropriated. Singer's controversial claims are universally rejected by the public, because they break so sharply with the Judeo-Christian consensus. Singer's work is only approvingly featured in think pieces when his ethics converge upon the the Judeo-Christian consensus, like his work on effective altruism. The public only listens to Singer when he's in a christian lane.

And it's curious sight to see people like the New Atheists, and their followers online, spend so much effort arguing that you don't need God to be good. Curious for two reasons. First, why this strong desire to be good? And second, why is your vision of the good just a warmed over version of Christianity?

Basically, why are atheists and humanists always passionately describing and defending themselves as christian? It's always some argument like this: "Look, I'm good! I also follow the Golden Rule! Just not for the same reasons you do."

I get the argument that you don't need God to be good. But what's so predictable is the vision of the good being described.

In short, secular, humanistic, non-theistic accounts of the good are not Christian in a strong metaphysical sense, but they are, broadly speaking, christian in their moral content.

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