Thursday, September 27, 2007

Open Letter to Christopher Hitchens

In the Washington Post, Hitchens wanted to hear a response to the following:

Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.
Below is my response to him:

I don't doubt that unbelievers can make moral statements that match in excellence any moral statement made by a believer. But what is the point?

Can believers make statements that are morally bad or do morally bad things? Yes. Can non-believers make statements and do things that are morally bad? Yes.

My morality is based on a religious foundation, but I would not argue that one can have excellent moral beliefs or live a life of virtue only on the basis of religion.

I judge moral beliefs and actions on their own merit not by what their philosophical or religious basis is.

All moral beliefs rest on some set of assumptions, but good morality does not necessarily require reference to God, but it may.

I am a religious person but seldom find myself included in your objections to religion. I don't believe much of what you condemn. I am a liberal Baptist Protestant theologian, just for the record. A survey of your latest book contained no reference to any modern Christian theologian I read in seminary or ever put on any of my reading lists for courses I taught for forty years, although I found a few references to Popes and to Protestant fundamentalists.

Do you condemn all religion or just bad religion? If the latter, I am on your side and have argued against bad religion for half a century. If the former, you and I have a difference.

Kenneth Cauthen

1 comment:

Micah Tillman said...

Well said. I teach my students that there are four fundamental questions:

(1) What exists?
(2) How do we know?
(3) What should we do about it?
(4) Why?

If Hitchens (Dawkins, etc.) holds that only non-religious answers to Question (4) [value theory] can avoid producing evil answers to Question (3) [ethics], I'd be interested to study his argument.

As it is, however, I see nothing in the natural structure of religious value theory (qua religious) that necessitates unethical behavior.