Tuesday, June 27, 2006

God, Authority, and Moral Agency

Brunner, Buber, Barth, Neibuhr, Bultmann and others like them: The only genuine or adequate basis for morality is a religion that acknowledges the sovereignty of the Lord found in the prophetic religions. Many non-religious people behave morally, but without a belief in God and God's law, there is no ground or reason for being moral. The moral relativism, skepticism, and nihilism rampant in our age is due to the weakening of religious belief by the rise of science. Without God there can be no objective foundation for our moral beliefs. Only a believer perceives that the God recognized in faith, is the only God, and all that is otherwise called good cannot lay claim to this title in its ultimate sense. The Good is always doing what God wills at any perticular moment. Moreover, this moral Good can only be attained by our unconditional obedience to God, the ground of our being. Without God life would have no point andmorality would have no basis. Without religious belief, without the living God, there could be no adequate answer to the persistently gnawing questions: What should I do? How should I live?

Nielsen: But is being willed by God the, or even a, basic criterion for believing that whatever is willed by God is morally good or is something that ought to be done?

Is being willed by God the only or the only adequate criterion for believing that whatever is willed by God is morally good or is something that ought to be done?

The criterion for the goodness of an action or attitude is some measure or test for deciding which actions or attitudes are good or desirable, or at least are the least undesirable of the alternate actions or attitudes open to us. A moral criterion is the standard we use for determining the value of an action, principle, rule, or attitude. We have such a standard when we have relevant considerations for deciding whether something is what it is claimed to be. A basic moral criterion is a test for judging the legitimacy of moral rules or acts or attitudes, and a test that one would give up last if one were reasoning morally.

Also, in asking about the authority for our moral beliefs, we're not asking how we came to have them. Many people get their beliefs from parents, teachers, peers, and so on. They are beliefs which we have been conditioned to accept. But the validity or soundness of a belief is independent of its origin. When someone is asked where they got their moral beliefs, they are probably not asking how they came to believe them, but on that authority they hold those beliefs or for what good reasons or justification they hold them.

They cannot hold them on any authority. Many of us turn to people for moral advice in moral issues, but if we do what we do only because some authority says to, we cannot be reasoning and acting as moral agents. Because to respond as a moral agent, one's moral principle must be one's own deliberate decision and it must be something for which one is prepared to give reasons.

Hence, the fact that God has commanded, willed, or ordained something cannot be a criterion for claiming that whatever is commanded, will, or ordained ought to be done.


While I do not agree with Bultmann et al, a problem I notice about Nielsen's criticism against them is that it implies there is some supervisory obligation or "ought" about about the criterion for obligation itself, which begs the question all over again, as if we "ought" to construe "ought" in a certain way, and let's not mention the construance obligation itself.

Once again: What about that statement itself? "Ought" we believe IT?