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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Religion Without God

Friend Pat just told me that Law and Ethics Professor Dworkin has just published (alas posthumously) a new book called Religion Without God an excerpt of which appears in the New York Review. Having read this I eagerly intend to read the book. It expresses beautifully much of what I have been trying to argue in my Ethics of Integrity including its relation to God.

There are a few things that I say differently. I adopt Dewey's distinction between religion and the religious. The "religious" of Dewey is pretty much the same as Dworkin's "religious attitude,"the experience of awe, mysterium tremendum, and a sense of faith, which is also a commitment, in beauty, goodness, and the infinity of knowledge (Deutsch) or truth. Religion for Dewey is the formulation of the religious experience or of the morality to which a child has been socialized--the expressions in stories, rules, rituals, beliefs of the gods.

Dworkin identifies having a religious attitude with having a religion so that Einstein can have a religion (be religious) without a god (be an atheist). I think both D & D would say that religion itself is fairly universal, either being a factor of ubiquitous culture or an expression of religious attitude.

Dwokin's main distinction is between fact and value. The existence of a god is a fact that can be explored by science. But science itself, as well as all human endeavors (including religion and theology?), rests on a transcendent value which is not objective and therefore not discoverable by science.

He rejects naturalism (nothing is real except that which can be studied by science) in all its forms. I don't think he means to accept supernaturalism as an objective religious world above the natural world; but he does accept the world of transcendent value beyond the facts of whether or not there is a god or other beliefs of a particular religion. That transcendent value is not a matter of science, but a matter of faith.

He quotes William James: religion adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or logically deduced from anything else. That enchantment, says Dworkin, is "the discovery of the transcendental value in what seems otherwise transient and dead."

And here (as I have argued at length earlier) I differ with Dworkin. That enchantment, I say, is the discovery not of "transcendent value" but of the value of transcendence which is a dimension of our personal and communal human nature. I do not separate the world of facts from the world of values as he does following Hume. Dworkin says that values are as real as trees and stones and microbes and neurons and black holes. Yes, I agree, and they are "discoverable" through reflective, thoughtful living and experience. And they can be affirmed in our evolving and evolved human nature which is accessible through science.

For me, the distinction is between facts of science and what philosophers call the facticity of human existence, both of which are accessible through rational inquiry, none of which are absolute or unchanging for all time and space and community. And this is why I can assert universal truth and value and deny absolutes, how I can affirm a universal ethic among a multitude of moralities and religions. But this probably makes no sense to someone who has not followed my previous arguments for an Ethics of Integrity.

I really appreciate Dworkin's thoughtful work to show the unity of the good tough-minded atheists like Einstein and Dawkins with the good tender-minded theists like Christians, Jews, and Muslims in an ethic of good behavior. Indeed that is my intent as well. There are many belief systems with many or no gods and rituals but human nature can collaborate without a single belief system, but with common values that are based on the transcendent and universal dimension of human nature and existence which impels science, religion, art, economics, politics and all human endeavors.