Thursday, March 27, 2003

Today Dennis Prager, during the third hour of his broadcast, hit on the topic I most emphatically disagree with him on. As usual the disagreement occured while Prager was discussing a concrete issue with which I do tend to agree. Somewhere in a Quaker elementary school in Pennsylvania, second graders were asked by their teachers to write letters to the President calling for an end to the war in Iraq. I completely concur with Prager's point that this propagandizing to young children is wrong. Children at that age should be taught primarily reading, writing, and arithmetic. If they ask a question, the teacher should certainly answer it honestly, but the teacher should not assign letter writing based on political points of view the children may or may not understand.

Prager's second point about this letter writing assignment was the fact that Jesus and Christianity were used as arguments against the war. Prager asked Christians to call in to give their views as to whether such an interpretation of Christianity was justified. The Christians who did call in argued that individuals using Christianity and Jesus in opposition to war were engaging in a rather selective reading of the New Testament, and several cited sections of the New Testament that do lend support to governments engaging in wars to root out evil. Prager added that they were completely ignoring pro-war sentiments expressed in the Old Testament.

It was during a call by a Christian expressing his frustration with "humanist" opponents of war and other issues that Prager made a comment to which I am utterly opposed. The caller described situations in which policy issues were discussed with secular people and whenever the Christian would offer his faith as a justification for the policy, the secular side would argue that they would only accept secular arguments and any policy arguments backed by faith are by that very fact invalid. To this Prager responded that all moral evaluations whether secular or religious are based on faith.

It is to this last statement I have to respond. Let's take this seriously for a moment. Prager claims that all moral evaluations are based on faith. Faith is basically belief in the absence of evidence. This means that faith is the feeling that something is right without any rational reason to support it. And how is the feeling that war is right to be justified? How can any appeal to feeling be justified? It cannot. Not if feelings are claimed to be the fundamental basis our moral judgements and on which all our subsequents argument for or against an issue are depend. Imagine any argument of a high level of complexity. The argument begins with both sides making the case rationally but according to Prager necessarily ends with both sides reaching their fundamental feelings on the matter about which they cannot argue at all. So basically the secular Pragmatists like Dewey and Peirce who argued that moral pronouncements amount to emotional ejaculations are correct. I thought Prager's reason for support of religion over secularism was that religion provides an objective basis for moral values. But clearly Prager has now entirely conceded the case to the moral relativists. Their positions are based just as much on feelings as Prager's faith. Who's to say who's right? I do feel Prager is right most of the time but others feel differently. Why are some people's feelings better than others? Is there no way in which feelings can be judged rationally?

Make no mistake about it, this is precisely the reason why our culture is in the mess that it is. The religious and the secular, despite some vigorous denials to the contrary primarily from the religious side, agree entirely with the statement that Prager made which basically means: There is no rational, objective, scientific basis for morality. There are only faith and feelings. Faith that God's pronouncements are correct, the feelings of the majority or the feelings of the individual. This is the great myth of the present culture. Only the remnants of the Enlightenment ideas of the founding of this country are keeping it from turning into the moral wasteland of Europe. The fact is that it is possible to base morality on something other than faith. And this fact has been known since the publication of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in 1957 where Ayn Rand first offered her Objectivist ethics, the first truly objective, rational, and scientific morality in history, to the world. I will not attempt to reconstruct her argument for it here. In the early sixties Ayn Rand published an essay called Introduction to Objectivist Ethics, in which the argument is clearly presented. The essay is reprinted in her book Virtue of Selfishness. In addition Leonard Peikoff in his 1991 book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand gives a complete and thorough presentation based partly on a lecture course authorized by Ayn Rand that he gave in the seventies. Tara Smith's Viable Values published in 2000 gives a detailed academic presentation of the metaethics of Objectivism with some important criticisms of non-Objectivist alternatives. Finally, Craig Biddle's Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It published in 2002 gives a complete, easy to read, presentation of Objectivist ethics for the educated layman and demolishes the false alternative of religion vs. relativism.

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