Interestingly secular historian Tom Holland came out a few days ago in the New Statesman to say that he’s increasingly realising how much of our western ethical thinking is still grounded in Christianity. Of course, he’s just slowly repeating what many others have said before him (as we all do), though at least Nietzsche tried to be consistent and rid himself of the Christian morality:
“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.”
Whether we can rid ourselves of such a moral basis and still have an “ought” behind our morals? It’s been a great philosophical question in recent decades.
By that I suggest we mean we want to call evil wrong. But why is evil wrong and good right? Well it ought to be so. We can try and define evil by harm caused or injustice or inequality but we’ll always face to annoying two-year-old master question “why?”. Why is injustice or harm wrong? I know it is in virtually every culture. But what if we all have it wrong?
And in my mind such questions have never been answered sufficiently since we moved on from deontological frameworks (where morals are rooted in divine being), though the intuitionist may want to argue. And I’m not talking about poorly formed divine command theories (of which most we were given at undergraduate level were straw men!).
I’ll happily listen to someone who’ll give us a moral basis outside of a divine being, but for now, I see it being necessary if we’re going to be able to call ISIS evil in any proper way. Time won’t allow take us the full way to seeing whether that being is a Christian divine being or not. Perhaps for later…