Tuesday, October 07, 2008

God Save the King: Why we need both government and religion

[King Edward VII]

I think most of us understand intuitively the need for government. In places where government is absent, such as Somalia today, Baghdad in April, 2003 or Berlin in May, 1945, conditions are generally not very good. The concept of the Noble Savage seems to be merely a myth, so therefore to rely upon people’s conscience or instincts to regulate behavior would seem to be a risky strategy. In order for people to defend themselves against each other a system of laws, courts and law enforcement officers is necessary.

The question is: Is government enough?

First of all, law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time. Even with close to a million law enforcement officers, state of the art methods at their disposal and a vast prison system locking up millions of people, we still have quite a bit crime in the United States.

Another problem is: Who governs the government? In other words, what is to prevent the government itself from becoming oppressive or tyrannical? What is to stop the stronger members of society from oppressing the weaker, the majority from oppressing a minority or a big country from attacking a small one? Even democracy is no guarantee of fairness. Take for example Germany in January, 1933 – the Nazi government, surely one of the most evil in history, came to power by basically democratic means.

This is where religion is essential. Belief in God and in a humanitarian God given law can influence people’s behavior even when they know they won’t be seen by anyone. Religion can insure that the government itself is honest and humane. Just like no government-less society has ever been a very pleasant place to live, likewise no God-less society has ever been a very pleasant place to live. It’s true some religions are worse than others, just as some governments are worse than others, however just as anarchy is a nightmare so is atheism when practiced by an entire community. As Abraham expressed it succinctly (Genesis 20:11): Because I thought: Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

I sometimes marvel at atheists – what do they really think the world would look like if tomorrow everyone actually listened to them and would become an atheist? If it would actually be so perfect, why don’t any American or British atheists seem anxious to move to countries like North Korea, or perhaps Vietnam or Russia, which are far more atheistic? I would love to live in a country based on Talmudic law if it would exist anywhere.

Without a belief in a transcendent moral authority, it would seem likely that mankind would not last more than a century. One half would kill the other half, the survivors would not bother to have children and that would be the end of that.


jewemp said...

Though I think the view you present is a bit simplistic, I agree that belief in a transcendental moral authority is helpful (overall) to the moral nature of mankind. Nevertheless, this is an argument from consequences against atheists. And I think most atheists that you encounter oppose religion qua extreme ideologies (which also occur among atheists, such as Communists and Fascists), not just religion qua religion.

One also must remember that Hitler was probably voted for by a lot of people who believed in God (i.e. Christians), so belief in God does not necessarily mean that no evil shall be done. I will grant you, though, that on average it may lead to a more moral society.

jewish philosopher said...

"this is an argument from consequences against atheists"

This article is not trying to prove atheism is false, merely that it will destroy the world.

Many atheists seem to be bitterly opposed to the existence of religion in and of itself, claiming that it encourages hatred, discourages, science, etc. etc. See recent popular books such as "God is Not Great" and "The God Delusion".

I am not a big fan of Christianity really, however I don't think that a devoutly Christian country has or would produce something as murderous as Nazism. Correct me if I am wrong, however I don't believe that Hitler himself or anyone in the Nazi leadership ever prayed as an adult, even in the last few days of the Reich when their destruction was clearly immeminent. Whatever they may have believed in it (Darwinism, mysticism, astroglogy, racism), it was not a personal God.

jewemp said...

I agree with the gist of your response, and I personally think Hitchens and Dawkins are morons with respect to religion. But I would like to point out that you are forgetting things like the Crusades (look up on Wikipedia) the one against the Cathars). And don't forget the Inquisition.

DrJ said...

It is an endless debate regarding whether religion has a net positive or negative effect on the world. One can certainly come up with plenty of examples in history when religion was used malevolently. But its not necessarily the religion itself that is the source of the violence, but rather the tribalism that accompanies it, along with human nature.
Personally I think that it is a source of strength and spirituality, but we always have to be on guard that its not abused.

jewish philosopher said...

As I take pains to point out, there are bad religions just like there are bad governments. However atheism is the equivalent of anarchy, which I think most people agree is not a good thing.

lars shalom said...

we do??

Leisha Camden said...

How come, if only religion makes us moral as you claim, that in the US, which is very religious, the rates of murder and basically all other violent crime are much much higher than in my country, which is one of the most secular nations in the world?

No need to answer, I hope I will never return to your blog again, so you'll be wasting your breath.

jewish philosopher said...

The high rates of crime in the United States are caused by a high level of Negro and Hispanic citizens.

Sections of the United States, for example Utah, which have a low number of Negros and Hispanics also have lower levels of crime. Utah also has a high level of church attendence.

Garnel Ironheart said...

The duality between government and religion also has a basis in Jewish history. Although Jewish learning is generally gemara-centric so we learn about how the Sanhedrin did things, there was also a strong emphasis on law-keeping by the kingdom during the Second Temple. Did you ever wonder what happened to all the obvious murderers who would always get off with the Sanhedrin on some minor technicality? The kingdom inevitably re-arrested them and executed them with their version of due process.
In that way, a great symbiosis could be preserved. The rabbonim could go through with trials that exactly fit their specifications and know that when they let the murderer off, they'd followed the Torah's strict rules. But they could be safe in knowing that there was a backup system to prevent the murderer from actually getting away with his crime.

Anonymous said...

I understand that crime rates are going up all over secular western Europe. I read recently that the murder rate in secular England is sdo high that mudereres are allowed to walk free because there is no room for them in prison.

Anonymous said...

Attributing high crime rates only on certain minorities is a very predudiced remark. While certain groups may commit more crimes than others, you need to look more closely at demographics - where they live (inner cities), level of education, and the peer pressure and status obtained when committing a crime. Actually, I know of several Mexicans that are law abiding and very hard workers.

Re/ your article. Would you have cared to live in Afganistan when it was rulled by the Taliban, who killed anyone who played any music? Or cut hands off of a petty thief? Where a male could legally kill a woman if he sees her holding hands with a boy-friend in public? They claimed this was strict Islamic law as they interpretated it.

jewish philosopher said...

"Attributing high crime rates only on certain minorities is a very predudiced remark."

But accurate.

"Would you have cared to live in Afghanistan"

Compared to an atheistic country like North Korea, yes.