It’s been a while since I’ve posted.
The absence has not been due to disinterest; quite the contrary. The absence has been due to an overabundance of interest!
Reading, writing, reflecting…hospital visits, counseling…
But here and now, it’s time to post again. And the topic at hand is a fun one, I think.
Or more precisely, the promise of utopias. I love utopian promises almost as much as I love tacks in my socks and splinters in my finger nails.
And this is a promise that I hear from both theists and atheists alike.
An acquaintance of mine once said, “I feel sorry for those who haven’t accepted Christ in their life. The world would be a better place for it.” And, while I don’t necessarily disagree with the words she put forth, I think we’d disagree over the intention.
I have no illusions over the corrupted and corruptible nature of humanity. It does not fill me with despair, mind you. It just is. So, would the world be “better”? Depends what you mean by better. I think the Middle Ages tried pretty hard to have the “known world” (leaving out entire continents, of course) under a banner that displayed a cross…erroneously…and that didn’t seem to go so well.
In even more stringent circles you have Darby-ists trying to create perfect heifers and advocating for all people of Jewish heritage to make it back to the “promised land” (a land that had been subsequently promised to the Palestinians, but then un-promised later on) in the hopes that somehow this will start some kind of cosmic clock to kick off a bloody Armageddon.
On the atheist side I find much the same argument. The trick one must do is insert the word “science” or “reason” where the fanatical theist might insert the word “God” or “faith”.
In Sam Harris’s new book The Moral Landscape he actually begins to chomp at the utopian dream, believing that “science” and “reason” (always by his own definitions) will lead us to begin to make moral decisions. Because, afterall, everything has to do with the chemical make-up of the brain. Once that is mastered, once controlling and identifying those aspects are mastered, we’ll actually begin to discern what is moral and immoral not using ethical systems, but using science and brain chemistry as the plumb-line.
It sounds nice.
The problem is, we’ve tried it…with disastrous consequences. Eugenics promised something akin to what Harris describes; how he misses the similarities is beyond me. It ended with shame we still haven’t apologized for and atrocious smoke stacks full of humus, not to mention Pol Pot and other genocidal experiments.
One of my favorite sections of Harris’s frustrating book is his commentary on “Psychopathy” where he advocates for identifying the brain development of children early in order to identify them at the outset. He writes:
“Unlike others who suffer from mental illness or mood disorders, psychopaths generally do not feel that anything is wrong with them. They also meet the legal definition of sanity, in that they possess an intellectual understanding of the difference between right and wrong…for the purposes of this discussion…it seems sufficient to point out that we are beginning to understand the kinds of brain pathologies that lead to the most extreme forms of human evil. And just as some people have obvious moral deficits, others must possess moral talent, moral expertise, and even moral genius. As with any human ability, these gradations must be expressed at the level of the brain.” (The Moral Landscape, 98-99)
What’s so scary about that? Take it one step further. Do we allow those with “moral deficits” (by Harris’s definition) to exist alongside us “moral geniuses” (and I do suspect that that wording is correct…how many of you will place yourself under the “moral deficit” banner)?
Harris is not unusual in this line of thinking. I’ve read a similar line in almost all of the New Atheist writings I’ve read. And if you wonder if Harris is actually suggesting that we weed out “morally deficient” individuals, simply look at his writings on Islam and the solution to Islamic terrorism (hint: it includes the phrase “preemptive strike” and has lots of explosions).
But are these two positions really any different? The fanatical theist wants to usher in the end of all things to expose the stupidity of those who don’t believe; the fanatical atheist wants to usher in the supremacy of science on the belief that it will expose the morally deficient and reform humanity.
The problem with both of these convictions is the absence of “competing truths.”
Can science usher in peace? No. Last time we tried that as a society we created a bomb that would destroy everything.
Can religion usher in peace? No. Not as long as we refuse to accept that when we say the phrase “I believe…” we also, simultaneously are saying, “but I could be wrong…”
Utopias aren’t possible; humans haven’t the ability. Heaven requires Divine intervention…something one side is trying to force while the other side is trying to prove is impossible, while claiming itself as divine.
And I’m a reluctant Christian because too often evangelism has turned into this sort of practice: ushering in utopia. Instead its just made suburbs pop up around big-box churches.
Perhaps Einstein was right when he said, “I know not what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
We have a dystopia. It’s cause is Sin. Are we capable of better? Somewhat. Are we willing? No…
It seems we still haven’t found what we’re looking for…but we’ll probably kill ourselves, one another, and the Earth, trying to prove we have.
Very true commentary echoing what Timothy Keller articulates in his book “The Reason for God.” I would highly recommend this read given what you have posted here.
Thanks. I’ve read Keller’s book and found it to be a pretty good read. I think he overstates the argument sometimes, but all in all a smart commentary on the landscape.