Happy Monday to you! In today’s Must Read, Emory University Professor Frans De Waal writes in The New York Times that human morality wasn’t born in religion. But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever be free of God.
(F)emale chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community. I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society?
I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good. Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.
The idea that our animal nature is good as well as bad has to be revolutionary. The concept certainly kicks over the apple cart of Original Sin.I also find the idea of the stickiness of God to be interesting, and after a moment’s thought, unsurprising.
If we judge the necessity of a concept by its longevity, then religion and a God or divinity of some sort may be as necessary to our survival as oxygen. Something in the human heart — or in the hearts of many humans throughout many thousands of years — has called out for religion. Some need is being met. What happens if we exorcise God from society? Atheists see nothing but good coming from such a surgery, yet I wonder. What harm might accidentally be created? What unintended blowback would occur?
Would the moral ground suddenly disappear from beneath our feet? Would concepts of right and wrong vanish? Would good and the pursuit of goodness disappear? If de Waal is right, then we don’t need to worry about such a horrific world. But I’m serious about this question: What would vanish if belief in God were suddenly to end? Not just for one person, but for all. What does belief provide the believer?
Hat tips to Kay and Nancy for pointing me to de Waal’s essay.