Problems of Belief Systems – What is the theoretical basis of democracy generally, and the idea of equality under the law specifically? For Christians, it is that we are all made in the image of God and so intrinsically valuable.
Another foundation is St. Augustine’s idea of the two cities: The City of God and the City of the World. In his Literal Commentary on Genesis, Augustine writes that what makes us citizens of the City of God is our commitment to the common good, while we are citizens of the City of the World in virtue of our selfishness. Clearly, much that is wrong in the U.S. at the moment is due to the fact that many politicians are more concerned about self interest than the common good. That is what allows lobbyists to have such power.
A point of concern here is that Henry Sidgwick, viewed by many to be the most rational of all the classic utilitarianisms, admitted, with some regret, that he could find no rational reason to recommend the common interest over self interest. So, how are atheists to promote the primacy of the common good, and with it, the foundations of a successful republic?
What brings this to mind is Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. In it he discusses the golden triangle as a founding idea of the republic. It is this: 1. Freedom requires virtue. If most citizens are not adequately self governing, excessive policing is required and that is antithetical to freedom. 2. Virtue requires faith. (I have argued in other posts that faith is commitment, not to a set of dogmas, but to love.) As I just pointed out, utilitarian ethics seems incapable of providing a rational basis for choosing the common good over self interest, while the Abrahamic faiths, especially Christianity, do. Note that I am not saying atheists cannot be virtuous. They can be and many are, just as many Christians are riddled with vice. The question is not who is virtuous, but what belief systems provide a theoretic ground for promoting the common good. 3, Faith requires freedom. A lack of freedom makes it difficult to follow one’s conscience. The use of “requires" here is not logical, but political. It is a statement of sound policy, not necessary conditions.
So, again, the question is, how does atheism justify moral equality and choosing the common good over self-interest?
1Edit I am a neo-orthodox Muslim and the idea of City of God and City of the World resonates with me because we have a concept of Abode of Surrender to God (dar al islam) and Abode of Faithlessness and Apostasy (dar al kufr) based on whether God de facto rules a political entity or Satan. In the Abode of Surrender, God’s rights and human rights are concomitant, based on last words of Ishmaelite Prophet Muhammad(s) on his deathbed to take special care of obligatory prayers or duties towards God, and of subordinates or duties towards creation. But that does not mean God expects us to become robotically altruistic monks, as Quran discourages monasticism(rahbaniya), rather He also teaches us not to neglect our selves. The context of rights of self was that a holy companion decided to pray all night thus he ignored the right of body to sleep, he decided to ignore his wife thus he ignored the right of body to have intimacy and permissible gratification, and he decided to fast all year thus he ignored the right of body to food. So, Augustine’s false dichotomy is simplistic which leads to heresy of secularism the pinnacle of which is atheism. So, Christendom has committed a spiritual suicide into the supposed death of God, through some serious errors like anti-unitarianism, antinomianism and monasticism.