Notes on the new moral system

-Is secular morality a one-source account of moral authority? If your only authority is reason, then you’ve ipso facto ruled out all spiritual-temporal divisions of moral authority, whether Medieval integrationalism or the Enlightenment separation of Church and State. So is the idea to be rational like Calvin’s Geneva was Scriptural? But it’s just this sort of mono-authority that proved unsustainable. The Reformation was, in retrospect, a brief transition from Medieval integralism to our contemporary Church-State separation.

-Church-State separation is largely over and it’s unclear what we are going to replace it with. The old separation doctrine was something like the State telling religion “You stop excommunicating us or putting us under interdict, and start preaching how everyone should love their nation and see prosperity as a sign of God’s favor, and we’ll use the power of the sword to enforce a 10 Commandments morality, keep commerce flowing, and never act like the 1523 Zurich city council, The English Monarchs from Mary to Charles, or Louis revoking the edict of Nantes. Okay?”

This balance of Church-State power dates at least to the Dutch in the late 16th Century, but it’s been severely weakened the US since the late 60’s and in Europe since 1945. As a consequence, both religious and secular power have lost credibility and prestige.

-Both religion and state in their old sense have vanished into ceremony and sentimentality. We can be Spaniards for the World Cup or the Olympics or Catholics for Saint Patrick’s Day, but neither identity is allowed to inform the world of our daily life.

-“The Church needs to listen to the voice of the Laity!” Well, isn’t state power wielded by lay persons who can summon grand juries, sue and fine the Church, or throw Churchmen in prison? “No, I don’t mean those lay persons, but the ones without state power!” Oh, you mean those that have no access to networks of spiritual or temporal power. We used to call them peasants. Don’t be surprised when they’re never around when the power gets handed out. Scroll through this list with an eye at the outcomes, especially in the Western world.

-If you define religion as irrational and make reason your principle of order, or if you make naturalism a principle of social order and define it (as most do) as the rejection of the supernatural, it’s hard to see how religion falls under some sort of toleration. We might tolerate a lot of different parties or state-structures in the USA, but not an anti-republican or monarchist party, and a Methodist university might tolerate some number of non-Methodists, but it would be irrational for them to tolerate anti-Methodists.

-So how will Secular morality divide itself into different spheres of authority? Is the idea that we won’t need any dynamic tension of powers if everyone agrees to seek happiness in consumer goods? But isn’t that agreement irrational

-If history is any guide sola scientia will be no more successful than the sola scriptura.  Haven’t we been proposing rational moralities as alternatives to religious ones since the Stoic revival of the 16th Century, though the Rationalists, Empiricists, Kantians, the Economic theories from Smith to Marx, Utilitarians, Post-Modernists, etc? Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, or Stefan Molyneux might be thrilled at the idea of science giving us the definitive, believable morality, but (a) we don’t know what this means and (b) as soon as we make it clear, the claim will be the same sort of thing as late 19th Century Protestants thinking that the Social Gospel will be the definitive exegesis of sola scriptura. Maybe so, but I’m not holding my breath.




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