I heard about two minutes of an interview with Richard Dawkins yesterday on NPR. It was on Fresh Air, with Terry Gross of the wonderfully comforting voice. Dawkins sounded eminently reasonable and smart, and I always sigh when I hear very hard-line atheists on these programs, because being me, I am always swayed by (as a friend put it) a good argument. And, being Dawkins, of course he had a good argument.
Except I wasn't swayed so much this time. (Perhaps all this time praying through my faith doldrums is helping?)
His argument is that the reason religious people have to be moral is either a) because they think it's God's will, and/or b) because they're afraid of Him punishing them if they're not moral. Which, he says, is not very noble, because it's only being moral because someone is watching us. Much more noble, Dawkins argues, is being moral when you think we're alone in the universe, because then you're doing it for the right reasons--the morality itself.
Except when I thought about it, I don't think he's right.
Dawkins' argument assumes that each of us is this independent, wholly other being that can be separated completely out of the web of interconnectedness that binds us to other people (and I would argue, God). Because morality is, after all, about relationship, is it not? So how can you be "independent" in your morality? I think that's ridiculous. In other words, even the most hard-core atheist considers the opinions and interests of his loved ones (or just the neighbors) when he's deciding whether or not to be moral or not. Which makes his or her morality no more "noble" than anyone else's.
What is morality, anyway, if you take relationship out of the equation? Some kind of cold, scientific decision made in the privacy of our minds? No, it's an acknowledgement of our connectedness to others--our shared humanity, or life, in the case of animals or plants, or the earth. I think were in relationship to God, as well as our neighbors, and so have to weigh His (or Her) opinion and interest just as we weigh others' interests. Because if God is the creator of all of us--he's hardly disinterested. To make an analogy: if someone is mean to Lucy, it affects me, too. It pains me. Just as God is affected by our immorality.
And that idea of us all being independent actors, atomized and separate from everyone around us? I'm tired of that idea. I think it's ridiculous. And vain, and selfish, and probably ridiculous, if we're honest with ourselves. I think this idea is largely a construction of our time, that would seem incomprehensible to most other cultures and times. And I think it is going to be less and less useful as our society runs into the limitations we've been ignoring so long (like depleted water, oil, and natural resources).
So there you go, Richard Dawkins. I think you are a very smart, articulate person, but I heartily disagree with you. Although your accent is pretty sweet.