Godless priests are, in my lexicon, those who find themselves to be intelligent and rational enough to see through organized religion, yet cannot stomach the thought of the masses running wild without, “It’s bad because (I) God says so,” taming them. It’s about public control for them, keeping the stupid and shameless reined in. Their public pronouncements about what is right and wrong, which they have very rational reasons for, feel weak and powerless to them unless they can underline them with God.
Michael Gerson writes an op-ed in today’s Washington Post which operates entirely from this premise. To him, whether or not God exists is secondary to what the people need to be told.
So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.
Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.”
Well, as long as whatever they please doesn’t involve treading on their neighbor, it is perfectly rational. Gerson, however, is intent on a cartoonish picture of atheism, ethics, and morality. If you remove “God sez so!” then suddenly people can’t figure out why rape is wrong? If we’re not magical creatures that just skip over into an eternal fantasy land after dying, then the universe, all its workings, and our one chance at life, are meaningless? No fractal expansion of eternal principles such as truth, beauty, harmony, etc. over the course of billions of years into a world where creatures such as ourselves can understand and embody such things, eh, Gerson? Even a strong sense of spiritual, energetic power in tune with the universe can’t guide a person towards a morality that makes sense?
Of course, not. The human as a beast to be controlled is the fundamental guiding principle of any godless priest. God is Truth, but the truth to him is, what to do with mankind? Ultimately, he is a far more base and bestial creature than most atheists.
One must then ask, who determines what it is that “God” says? Jerry Falwell? A religiously chosen monarch? A council of guys like Gerson? What happens when they prove to be wrong about slavery or homosexuality or what patch of damned land they think God promised them? How do you control the person inflamed to commit evil by “God,” who’ll hear nothing else?
Perhaps Gerson will one day achieve this epiphany: this desire for a harmonious society filled with people at the highest levels of personal evolution pervades us all. It exists with or without a belief in a God who kindly tells us what to do. And if you’ve sunken to using God as a blunt instrument to keep others in line, you’ve earned little right to place yourself or your beliefs above that of any atheist, or any other person whose sense of spirituality lacks a central disciplinarian. Such a view of morality is superficial and far flimsier than the answers of philosophers and ethicists.