Abolition of Slavery in French Colonies, 1848....

How important was Christianity's role in bringing about the abolition of slavery? Image via Wikipedia

I’ve recently read four interesting articles online.

  • In Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me, UCC Minister Lillian Daniel takes aim at those who reject traditional religious affiliation but who retain a sense of themselves as “spiritual” beings. She sees such a position as shallow and narcissistic, and suggests that such persons find themselves more “fascinating” than ancient religions, but in truth such self-centered thinking is ultimately “bland.”
  • In response, Religious Studies professor Kate Blanchard wrote Spiritual But Not Religious? Come Talk to Me, in which she assails traditional Sunday-morning religion for being, well, boring. She understands that S.B.N.R. persons often must show great courage to disaffiliate from patriarchal, abusive, or otherwise controlling forms of religious communities, and basically implies that “bland” liberal churches need to do something more than just criticize those who identify as S.B.N.R. if they want to win them over.

So what do you think, dear readers? Are spiritual-but-not-religious people bland, or is it the churches they left behind that are truly bland?

Now for the second set of articles I’ve recently read:

  • In Confessions of an Ex-Moralist, atheist philosopher Joel Marks argues that too much atheist thinking about morality and ethics remains influenced by religious and metaphysical thinking, and that a truly secular ethics needs to be free of any appeal to some sort of transcendental principle like “goodness” or “rightness.” Instead, Marks declares that what drives the moral and ethical views of most people is nothing more than their own preferences and desires.
  • Catholic apologist Mark Shea responses to Marks in his article Fool Says in His Heart There is No God. Shea gives Marks props for taking his atheist beliefs to their logical conclusion, but then insists that any kind of ethical or moral system totally divorced from religion or belief in God will eventually devolve into “might makes right,” with the desires of the stronger inevitably trumping the wants of the weaker. Shea insists that, for example, only belief in God led to the abolition of slavery — implying that, in a fully secular society, sooner or later slavery will make a comeback.

Even though I am hardly a secularist, I don’t think Shea makes a very convincing argument, and this is because I know that Christian thinkers have for most of the church’s history defended slavery as much as they’ve attacked it — just as, even today, some Christians vigorously support the death penalty while others oppose it. So Shea’s argument seems to be pretty much a straw man. But what do you think? Is a truly secular ethics possible? Or is it doomed to collapse under the inherent injustice of what Christians call “fallen human nature”?