HT to Josh Benton for these two pieces
Two comments on these two piece:
1. Where is the connection between atheism and the moral project found in nearly all Western atheist agendas? It is as if they imagine that women’s rights, marriage equality, etc. all somehow spring out of a lack of God. Some atheists repeat the minimalist definition of atheism and loudly state “we just believe there isn’t a god, nothing else”, then why do they all seem to have the same moral agenda?
2. This reminds me of the insight of Luc Ferry of a fundamental change brought to the world by classical Greek thinking, that humanity is hierarchical. Patriarchy, the latest source of blame for the misery of women is of course part and parcel of that world. Ferry works this through.
The Greek world was fundamentally an aristocratic world, a universe organised as a hierarchy in which those most endowed by nature should in principle be ‘at the top’, while the less endowed saw themselves occupying inferior ranks. And we should not forget that the Greek city-state was founded on slavery. In direct contradiction, Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men were equal in dignity – an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance. But this notion of equality did not come from nowhere.
To explain further: the Greek world is an aristocratic world, one which rests entirely upon the conviction that there exists a natural hierarchy, of organs of sight, of plants, or of animals, but also of men: some men are born to command , others to obey, which is why Greek political life accommodates itself easily to the notion of slavery.
For Christians, this belief in a natural hierarchy has no legitimacy. To speak of a ‘virtuous’ eye no longer makes any sense, because the gifts received at birth are unequally distributed among men; some men are much stronger or more intelligent than others, just as there exist in nature sharper eyes and less sharp eyes. These inequalities have no bearing on morals. Here all that counts is how we use the qualities with which we have been endowed, not the qualities themselves. What counts as moral or immoral is the act of choice, what philosophers began to call ‘free will’. This may seem self-evident, but it was literally unheard-of at the time, and it turned an entire world-order upside down. To summarise: we exit an aristocratic universe and we enter a ‘meritocratic’ universe, a world which first and foremost values not natural or inherited qualities, but the merit which each of us displays in making use of them. We leave behind a natural order of inequality and enter a constructed order (in the sense that it is devised by us) of equality; human dignity is the same for everyone, whatever their actual inequalities, because it is connected to our freedom to choose how to act, not upon our innate endowments.
Ferry, Luc (2011-12-27). A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (p. 72). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.