Does Belief in the Self Require Belief in God? And Can Western Morality Exist Without Either?

March 3 2020

John Cottingham’s recent book making the case for theism, In Search of the Soul, did not make a believer of the philosopher John Gray, but it did convince him that its arguments are worth taking seriously. Gray writes in his review:

[Cottingham’s] approach is to argue that theism is suggested by the fact that we experience ourselves as unified, conscious beings—in other words, as having a soul. Not necessarily an immaterial entity, the soul is the part of us that strives to realize what is best in our nature. We do not come to know the soul through any special revelation. We know it by considering the kind of creature we find ourselves to be—a thinking being inhabiting a lifeworld that seems to reflect a mind greater than our own. Once we realize we have a soul, theism becomes a credible way of thinking.

Modestly described as an essay, Cottingham’s short study explores fundamental questions more fully than many much longer volumes, [and] it is forceful and compelling in arguing that the idea of selfhood taken for granted in secular societies makes sense only in the context of a theistic worldview.

Where Cottingham’s arguments have greatest resonance, argues Gray, is in questions of morality:

Our revulsion at the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome does not come from any inbuilt repugnance at the spectacle of human suffering and violent death. There is no sign that those who watched the games felt any such revulsion. Nor is there much evidence from that era that slavery was felt to be inherently wrong. The repugnance we feel for these practices is an inheritance from Jewish and Christian ideas of human dignity and equality.

In this and other cases, what liberal humanists believe to be universal values are relics of particular religious traditions. . . . Without theism, or some Platonic spiritual realm, these supposed objective values are left hanging in the void.

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Read more at New Statesman

More about: Atheism, Christianity, Judaism, Morality, Religion

 

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy