A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Dennis Prager's recent column on why the natural world including other animals have no intrinsic value purports to tell the Judeo-Christian view of things but in fact such a view has little to do with either the monotheism of the bible or the western religious tradition. According to Prager, "Nature has been created for man's use; and on its own, without man, it has no meaning." This sounds like a pernicious form of humanism.

Why? Because it locates value soley within the mind of humans, as if there was no relationship determined by the environment. If I like ice cream it's not simply me imposing this on the food, it's because there are particular ingredients such as chocolate that is agreeable. If it was made of sludge it'd be awful and no amount of imposition by my mind could change this. There are elements in the valued and the valuer, which make up value.

Also Prager looks to human beings and our valuations to determine the importance of others, using human utility as the standard. Monotheism looks to God to determine the importance of any one thing not human likes or dislikes. Augustine's example is that of a spider. Humans find little use for such a creature, many kinds of spiders are poisonous and at best they are a nuisance for us.

But the spider's ultimate value is not determined by human likes or dislikes. Rather the spider's value is in relation to God and God's aims in the world including the whole complex eco-system of which the spider plays it's part. That is God is concerned with the good of the whole and sometimes that may or may not be agreeable to humans. But monotheism pushes us to think of the whole to move beyond our likings to a greater vision of the good.

But Prager would have us forgo this believing that the cosmos was created for human beings. But that's an odd reading of Genesis where God declares the creation good well before humans were created. And in Romans 8:21-22, Paul writes of the salvation story as including the whole universe, not just humans. And the evolutionary account precludes such a human centric reading of our standing in the cosmos.

I highlight this piece because it's important to not confuse right wing politics with orthodoxy. In an effort to move us away from environmentalism Prager has opted for forms of argumentation which give no evidence of monotheism and every evidence of a form of humanism that treats humans as the standard and the be all of creation. If there's any purpose in religion it's to stop such hubris, to remind us of something greater than ourselves.

11 Comments:

At 10:08 AM , Blogger Joe G. said...

I appreciate the way that you point out the fundamental humanism of Prager's claims (that is, humanity is the center of understanding & the valuation of things in the world - as opposed to Divine Providence). This is, of course, ironic, given the supposed utter rejection of humanism by conservatives (particularly of the theocratic type).

 
At 11:14 AM , Blogger Karen said...

It's not only humanist, it's supremely rationalist as well. Prager seems to have lifted his thesis right out of Descartes.

 
At 4:29 PM , Blogger CK said...

I agree with both comments. The neo-cons and psuedo-orthodox conservatives are damaging the far wider claims of Christianity. I think they would do well to look back to the pluralism in place in Paul's day and to his response in the New Testament. While positing the supremacy of God's revelation in Christ, I don't recall a movement to incarnate God within government--rather he accepted the incarnation within a man viewed as marginal, weak and humble.

 
At 8:42 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

It's all a big food-chain. No worms => no birds => hungry Israelites in the desert.

For that reason alone, a division between "animals" and "humans" seems rather arbitrary.

 
At 9:26 AM , Blogger Rob said...

I'm reading the Bible from cover to cover (in digital form - I guess it doesn't have a cover).

Didn't anyone ever read about the care of the land in the OT? God's rather specific on that!

 
At 9:26 AM , Anonymous J-Tron said...

I appreciate these thoughts. I have to say that I do believe that there is an intrinsic difference between the way that God relates to humanity and the way God relates to the rest of creation. And that's wrapped up in free will.

Nevertheless, I think your observations are highly accurate. The value of creation in nature is in how it relates to God, not how it relates to other created beings like ourselves.

 
At 9:17 AM , Anonymous kaspit said...

Perhaps Prager should read the first chapter. God says that animals (etc) are good, which signifies intrinsic value. Granted, humans beings have a greater value. But midrash teaches us that humans were created last, after the mosquito et alia, to teach us some humility.

 
At 12:01 PM , Blogger gratefulbear said...

Prager and others like him are concerned only with promoting their conservative political agenda. Previous commenters here are correct: their worldview is very humanistic, very Cartesian, and not at all Biblical.

 
At 12:55 PM , Blogger John said...

I suggest Dennis read Holmes Rolston III

http://lamar.colostate.edu/~rolston/bionote.htm

 
At 2:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a african food site. It pretty much covers african food related stuff. Check it out if you get time :-)

 
At 4:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather than bash Mr. Prager and his arguments here on a pointless blog; why don't you call Dennis on his radio show and debate him? That way America can hear the foolishness of your arguments and we can all get a good laugh at your expense.

 

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