20 April 2005

Be careful What you Wish for...

Sitting on a plane, I engaged in an interesting dialogue. Usually discussions with athiests, agnostics, objectivists, etc. are pointless for me because our foundational precepts are complete juxtaposed. During this particular conversation the following points intrigued me. The premise went something like this:
Religion is one of the most serious problems of humanity. When someone accepts a deity as more important than his or her life then they will see others as less important. Human life becomes secondary to the belief system,which is where the issues begin. The belief that there are higher beauties than human life is a mistake common not only to religion but also to nationalism and most ideologies such as communism and even extreme environmentalism. In all of these systems a follower becomes willing to sacrifice human life for some higher value.
Before anyone who knows me thinks I've slipped off my rocker, let me be clear I don't really agree with this. After all, the human spirit houses a dynamism capable of carrying any idea to its logical conclusion. The previous premise doesn't reach a sound conclusion. It doesn't allow for the transcendance of life, the effects of altruism or even our basic survival instincts. This is not to say I don't apply proper weight to the fundamental question that premise attempts to answer.

Can it be reasonable for someone to profess that they put freedom first while also binding themselves to a system of theological notions about where we come from, what we are, and how we ought to live? It is precisely this quandry that has motivated many liberals to regard religion with intense suspicion, if not outright hostility.

What I found insightful is that this is such an age-old debate and yet I continue to be surprised by the twists and turns it may take. Locke viewed the law of reason, a moral law that he regarded as both universal and objective, as an expression of God’s eternal order. He argued that religion, no less than reason, taught toleration. Alexis de Tocqueville contended liberal democracy in America was dependant on the strength of the nations religious faith. Hegel offered that a liberal state is Christianity realized in secular and political form.

How many movies have we seen where the moral espoused by the protagonist is that life is only worth living for things that are being than ourselves? Prosaic and naive, but endearing because of a basic affinity with our own thoughts. In some way, we all want to believe in the bigger and better. The higher calling, the moral compass. At our most human we strive to fight against the influence of our own freewill via the exercise of our conscience. That self-imposed check and balance system where we consider the inherent rightness of a thing, the of our actions with the world around us.

Why must those who struggle with their belief in something outside themselves, also pull so completely away from this most basic facet of human distinction? Why give up even a part of your humanity in a desperate bid to ensure your independance? The end result of independance is isolation and loneliness. If you find yourself truly free, will you suddenly realize how little you actually wanted freedom?

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