Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Godless Morality - first glance

A while ago, I read Richard Holloway's excellent book, Godless Morality. I hope in time to address it in more depth. It is, very boldly, an argument that even without setting aside their god-belief, people who believe in a god can benefit from developing a moral system that does not depend on that god's commands or instructions.

This is a valuable argument to make, not just as a personal philosophical exercise, but also as a window on how we can all - believers in all different religious ideas as well as non-believers - construct and build on common ground in our efforts to live harmoniously alongside one another.

Until I can get to a more thorough review, let me share with you what I think is basically the core of the book - a quote from the first chapter ("Ethical Jazz"): (p31 - emphasis added)
Today, authority has to earn respect by the intrinsic value of what it says, not by the force of its imposition. There is a loss in this situation, of course, because power transitions are always dangerously unstable periods in human history, but there is unlikely to be a wholesale return to the past and its values unless we are overtaken by a mass religious movement that obliterates the radically plural nature of contemporary society. Barring that unlikely eventuality, we must do what we can to construct moral agreements that will have the authority of our reason and the discipline of our consent.

5 comments:

  1. Godless Morality is a funny book; I read it when it first came out. I remember disagreeing with very little of it, but being rather unconvinced that it would sway anyone very much. He has a tendency at times to sound very much like a teacher trying to get down with the kids. I should read it again though.

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  2. I agree. For me, his attention to the particular concerns of theists (spending time on how important god-belief is to them, and how that is fully compatible with a secular morality) made me feel less like I was being addressed and engaged - more like I was watching a discussion from the sidelines.

    And I've talked to at least one religious person who didn't feel like he was part of the target audience either, because he was quite happy thankyou with a godful morality.

    So, for the book as a whole, I wonder how wide the middle-ground audience is that he truly addresses.

    However, there were some points - like the bit I quoted above - that really shone out for me.

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  3. IIRC there's a copy of this in our library. Might have to dig it out. After Dennett... and another Dawkins... and Hawking... and Hitchens...

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  4. Oh the irony

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  5. The chaplaincy library has a copy (for use in the chaplaincy only, of course). You can borrow mine if you like, when you have time. ;)

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