Myths to Live By
The newest issue of Free Inquiry and they had a piece by Richard Dawkins and in this he presents a question: why not appeal to universal morality rather than the Bible to mediate morality?
It's odd to read about universal morality, because it's something that is progressive for Dawkins. This vision is being negotiated over time, but always in a better state than before. I'm not sure where the evidence for this can be found, except in isolated cases.
From genocide to slavery our atrocities as humans continues. And if the cases for improvement are isolated, than have we reached a universal morality? I can grant that life is better for gays now than 3o years ago in a few places. And Dawkins appeals to this issue.
But in most of the world, this is *not* the case. Witness Nigeria's consideration of legislation which bans any gays from meeting with each other, supporting organizations, etc. So isn't the universal really some modern liberal sensibilities that Dawkins holds?
I hold them as well. But such ideas have a history and connect little with most of the globe, so what makes them universal? The other question is if we are negotiating these moral standards, why close off resources, including thousands of years of tradition?
Why not look at the Bible, the Qur'an, Homer, Plato as well as the best minds and resources of today in wrestling with the question: how shall we live? We may find something objectionable in these texts, but that's no different than finding things wrong with current thought.
There is no pure standpoint (universal morality) to judge ancient texts. There is nothing higher to appeal to evaluate ancient and current moral understandings. So all we have is us, our history, our tradition, and the resulting engagement of these things.
And in the end, where do we learn these things but by stories/myths, whether it's the myth of Genesis or the myth of progressive development? We're story tellers and listeners of stories. Not abstract philosophic treatises but stories capture the mind.
I'm not sure what Dawkins replaces this with but it may be that the limits of modern atheism is the lack of a good story and the means to communicate that story in an engaging fashion so as to build communities, raise children, and communicate values.
That is, atheism is really bad at perpetuating memes.