Sunday, October 12, 2008

Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion, edited by Dale McGowan

Heard about this one on one of those podcasts I’ve been spending so much of my time listening to, and decided that I would buy it and start reading it right away. Before I took my son to his first Cub Scouts den meeting I had hoped, but I wasn’t able to get it done that quickly. And, as it turns out, that wasn’t much of a problem, because I didn’t find it to be all that it was advertised to be on the podcast.

It is a collection of essays from a variety of authors all more or less related to the topic of raising ethical, caring kids without religion, but it has very little practical advice on how exactly to do that, or how to deal with the inevitable philosophical and practical collisions between the world’s religions and a secular worldview. But despite that, it was an interesting read and there were a few good tidbits. Like this bit about Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue:

In that dialogue Socrates asks what the holy is. After several failed efforts to answer the question, Euthyphro offers the suggestion that the holy is doing what the gods love. Socrates then asks, “Is it holy becaue the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is holy?”

We can translate Socrates’s famous question into the theology of monotheism by asking, “Is it morally right (for example) to tell the truth simply because God commands it (‘Do not bear false witness!”), or does God command us to tell the truth because that is the morally right thing to do?” If we say it is right simply because God commands it, we leave open the possibility that moral rightness could be a mere matter of divine whim. For most religious believers, that doesn’t seem right. But, if we say that God commands us to be truthful because that is the morally right thing to do, then it seems we should be able to understand what is morally required of us independently of the fact that God commands it.

Indeed. We should, in fact, be able to tell if God is moral in the first place. The God of the Bible condones slavery. Is that morally right? If we say no, what does that tell us about moral truth and God’s role in determining what it is?