A conversion to the “blindingly obvious”

October 15, 2010

Theologian David B. Hart discusses philosopher Joel Marks’s “conversion” to amoralism—that there really is no such thing as right or wrong in any objective sense. Marks has always been an atheist, but he realizes now, apparently, that apart from God, there is no foundation for morality. Marks is happy to keep on acting morally, but he does so hedonistically. It pleases him, for example, to oppose child molestation and animal vivisection.

Not to be completely subjective about it, but Marks’s point of view kind of grosses me out.

Hart isn’t convinced that, deep down, Marks really feels that way; and to his credit, Marks at least wishes that there were some objective truth. He’s glad that, culturally at least, we are programmed to be averse to much of what the Church calls sin and evil.

Anyway, I’m glad that Hart’s essay puts the atheist position in such sharp relief. In my discussions with atheists, I try to show them that the moral high ground on which they stand is nothing but air. It seems like an obvious point to me, at least. Atheists are often the most sentimental hypocrites.

Hart writes,

Anyway, you can read the piece for yourself if you wish. For myself, I am not entirely sure how to react to it. The more uncharitable side of my nature wants simply to remark that a conversion to the blindingly obvious does not really constitute one of the more momentous events in intellectual history (even if it does constitute an important psychological episode in the life of Joel Marks).

Why does it seem like justice and right and wrong are objectively meaningful? Why do people like Marks, who ought to reject this meaning, find it so hard to do so? If someone believes that justice and ethics—not to mention love, beauty, and relationships—are meaningful, why wouldn’t this count as evidence for believing in God? The alternative, which even the most hardened atheist is reluctant to face, is nihilism.

Please note, as Hart does, that this discussion has nothing to do with the question of whether atheists or irreligious people can be good, moral people. Of course they can! But what’s their foundation for that morality?

One person in the comment section calls atheism a “sinful luxury that freeloads on the moral wealth bought at often great price by the Faithful.” I couldn’t agree more.

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