Re: On the Theory of Divine Law (Actual Work)
Apparently, my previous attempt to post my open letter to Mr. Werner was unsuccessful. Permit me to make one more attempt.\n\nDear Mr. Werner,\n \nI agree with much of what you said, and would just like to offer some of my own commentary on the subject. After reading your composition, I was reminded of Alister McGrath, the Christian theologian; he debated Christopher Hitchens, the atheist and anti-religious writer, here at Georgetown last fall. What struck me about that debate was that Dr. McGrath was unable to prove the existence of the divine, nor offer any plausible theory for it, which was seemingly his role in the debate in opposing Mr. Hitchens, who presented various examples that he argued showed God as an illogical construct (though I will not go as far as Mr. Hitchens did and claim that priests and others deliberately lie to children). Instead, Dr. McGrath focused on the benefits that religious belief brings to an individual: health (from decreased stress), happiness and security (in knowing that heaven awaits the true believer), etc.\n \nThis, I think, is significant: one might even say that religion's importance lies in its personal benefits (and perhaps in its unifying capabilities, which I will refrain from addressing). In addition to its physical and emotional benefits, as you noted, religion also removes tortuous, troubling life puzzles by giving people easily-understood answers. If what society classifies as right conduct and divine guidance coincide, then this only fits in with the purpose I have proposed for religion. For whatever reason, people are willing to follow certain precepts; if some of them need a superhuman or divine guide to do so, that is still of benefit to society, regardless of how illogical it might seem to structure one's conduct along the guidelines of a being on high.\n \nThis is not to say that an atheist is unable to have good health or feel happy and secure; that person would simply accomplish those in a different manner, without the (depending on perspective) asset or crutch of religion. There are also simple answers to the questions you mentioned that religion answered for an atheist: an atheist is moral insofar as morals are constructed by society because otherwise, there is retribution in the here and now (considering that morality is often reflected by legality).\n \nI think a problem with your query, though, is that it does not posit whether or not there is a divine being of some sort. I understand your intent; to do so is incredibly divisive and leads to rhetorical flourishes without substance in the manner that Hitchens and McGrath resorted to. However, the answer to whether divine law is actually irrational depends very much on whether one is a believer in the divine or not. If one begins the query with the assumption that there is something beyond the realm of human comprehension, then it becomes clear that divine law is rational, considering this all-powerful being both controls reason and is wholly good, making our actions taken in his or her service good and therefore rational (assuming that we strive for the good, realizing the destruction that occurs through resorting solely to the bad). If one does not begin with the assumption that there is a god or there are multiple gods, as you did, then one obviously feels that divine law is irrational; after all, as you pointed out, it becomes a circular argument or an argument that calls into question the ultimate moral authority of the divine.\n \nI think the ultimate question here is, what is rationality or reasonability? To use the logic of Old Scratch (speaking about the human soul) in The Devil and Daniel Webster, we cannot actively perceive these faculties that the classic philosophers so eloquently praise as we would a physical object. Thus, do these subjects become relative depending on the person who is considering pursuing a certain action or answer? Those same philosophers argue that rationality is absolute, yet who or what is the determinant of which actions are rational and which are irrational? Is "rational" that which is good for the individual, the society, what accords with the mind, etc.? What makes something, in the words of Princeton’s WordNet, "the state of having good sense and sound judgment": approval of others? approval of one’s own conscience? approval by a book?\n \nI am curious to see what others make of this.\n \nSincerely yours,\nOhm J. Gore
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