Here's the latest from the Node Your Homework department. This essay was written for my Political Science class in response to the prompt "Do we need religious faith to overcome estrangement?". Most of the ideas presented here are direct responses to questions and situations posed by Glenn Tinder in his book "Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions". Estrangement is simply the author's idea of a disconnected and shiftless existence. I strongly recommend the book as good fodder for honing one's essay writing skills.
The fundamental question posed here, is one of how man addresses morality. There are three different camps as Glenn Tinder presents the issue in Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions. There are the secular humanists, the followers Plato's belief in a divine "Good", and the Christians. The primary issue in question seems to be whether human beings are ends unto themselves. The humanists hold that they are. Plato's followers contend that they may make such of themselves. The Christians assert that they are not. Can a person achieve understanding and morality on their own? Is there an absolute morality which people must aspire to? Or must they be redeemed by divine intervention? Each of these arguments has its weaknesses, however the positions of Plato and the Christians are the most beset with them.
The fundamental flaw in Plato's reasoning is a belief in a divine absolute. As a theoretical position, absolute morality, absolute "Good", is admirable in its simplicity, perhaps even desirable. Certainly, it would make life a good deal easier. Man need only follow this code of conduct to live a happy, fulfilling life. As a practical matter, however, the concept of an absolute good fails utterly. At present, simple human existence is fraught with moral ambiguities and great suffering. Are the values of the absolute good simply not known in our modern world? After millennia of philosophical introspection and good, old-fashioned experience, have people yet to learn how to live in blissful harmony with their environment, their fellow human beings and themselves? By now, surely, the cat would be long out of the bag and everyone would be leading a carefree existence. There is simply no absolute to which people can aspire, no matter how they may wish it. People are fundamentally different across the world. What may be a black and white question of good versus evil to one man may be nothing but a continuum of grey to his neighbour. How can one man hold one opinion and the next man another? If there were an absolute, surely it would be apparent to all as the most effective and rewarding means of existence? Cannot both men be moral and disagree at the same time? If all people conformed to a uniform moral existence, there would be nothing to live for. There would be no causes to fight for, no need for original thought, no conflict, for good or ill. Life would be bleached of all color and purpose.
The Christian conception of ultimate morality is equally flawed. As orthodox Christian theory would have it, people are fundamentally corrupt and sinful. Their only hope of salvation is through God's direct involvement. Original sin will forever blanket everyone's existence, until they are redeemed by God. People cannot live in such a condition. They are forever guilty of the sin of pride. How can a person lead a happy and satisfying existence knowing that they are still fundamentally immoral with no hope of redemption through their own action? Only God's will can make a person pure. It is not something they can earn. Without God's sanction, they remain unclean. This trivializes man's existence. It destroys accountability. It negates the idea of free will. If it is impossible to lead a moral existence without God's explicit blessing, then why try? For that matter, how is it possible to try? Is one not already corrupt? There is an inherent contradiction at work here. How can people aspire to morality if they are fundamentally immoral? This view, removes most of the meaning from life.
The secular humanist view grants meaning to the life of man. While orthodox Christianity views pride as a sin, to the humanist view, it is an absolute necessity. Existence is what the humanist makes of it. Their happiness requires no external validation. If they lead a happy existence, it is because they have a code of morality and live by it. This view lends color to existence. It assures the rights of the individual. This is essential, for in personal freedom lies the secret to happiness. If people have the ability to choose their own path, they will remain content. The alternative is stultifying uniformity. With the humanist viewpoint there will always be differences, always be causes to fight for, always be refreshing conflict in life. This is, after all, what life is all about.
Man need not have a deeply felt religious faith in order to lead a fulfilling existence. In fact, many religions actively stand in the way of the happiness of their followers. Those who follow a humanist philosophy have the freedom to discover their own morality, one that meets their own requirements for happiness and allows them to peacefully coexist with their fellow man. People are more than capable of discovering a moral existence on their own. This view is far more satisfying and internally consistent.