“I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth.”
Leah Libresco. “This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal.”Unequally Yoked blog: June 18, 2012.
As an ex-Pentecostal nontheist Quaker, I find the weird turns that religion takes in people’s lives endlessly fascinating. I started out as a fundamentalist preacher’s kid who believed in Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth end-times theology quite literally up until I was 19 years old, when in an act of youthful rebellion, I came to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t going to rapture the believers before the Great Tribulation, but after. Very major doctrinal slippage there!
As I grew up and decided that Pentecostalism was too anti-intellectual and socially conservative for me, I migrated to the Mennonite Church, which supported my Christian pacifism. I even took the radical step of moving my wife and infant daughter over 1000 miles from Dallas, TX. to Evanston, IL. to live with a Mennonite commune! I’d been influenced by the Jesus Movement in the early 70s by the idea of communes and was sure that this was the best way to follow Jesus in opposition to the vast evils of capitalism and militarism.
Today, as I mentioned, I’m a nontheist Quaker, which keeps me in the “peace church” tradition, but their doctrinal diversity allows me to pursue a basically free-thinking agenda. I love studying political and social philosophy, and, as regular readers of my blog know, consider myself a Communist, just like Jesus, who I consider as no more divine than any other human being. I am also pursuing long-delayed educational goals, which I intend to culminate in earning a degree in theology at a progressive seminary. My career shift from lay minister and family man to full-time radical Quaker minister is breathing new life into my world in lots of ways.
So, why I am blogging about Leah Libresco’s conversion from Atheism to Catholicism? Follow the link below the opening quote if you want to know more about her journey. Personally, I am still waiting for a more complete description of her search, since what she has given us since the bombshell dropped that she was leaving atheism has been fairly piecemeal so far.
My interest centers on her challenge to nontheists to face the unsatisfying conclusion most of us have reached that ethics is relative, not absolute. She became a Catholic at the very point that she decided that only a personal loving perfect God could satisfy her desire that morality be objective and real. It may very well be the case that Libresco will continue forward on her path as a Catholic for the rest of her life. I do regret that we may be losing an lgbtq ally, and she is quite aware that at the moment she is on the edges of the Church’s teachings in her identification as bisexual. She claims that she can live with just being in relationships with men, presumably properly married, for the rest of her life. I don’t exactly doubt this, since she doesn’t explicitly identify as polyamorous.
More than this worry of mine about the power of the Catholic church to erode her culturally progressive viewpoint, I am reading her blog and trying to get a sense of her convictions in order to ask myself why I do seem to have an objective morality. The easy answer is that I was raised with the Christian moral system of an absolute lawgiver. However, I have come to accept a great deal of moral relativism nevertheless.
I’ve blogged about divinity and theism before, but this time I’m going to revisit one of my favorite theologians, Henry Nelson Wieman. My favorite quote from Wieman is this,
“Whatever else the word God may mean, it is a term used to designate that Something upon which human life is most dependent for its security, welfare and increasing abundance. That there is such a Something cannot be doubted. The mere fact that life happens, and continues to happen, proves that this Something, however unknown, does certainly exist.”
This view of God has been tremendously helpful as I try to navigate the religious cultures of my family and fellow Quakers. When they say, “God” I can translate that into “the ultimate source of Good.”
I see this Good as one of the impersonal processes of evolution and the universe. In fact, I can extend this view that good is an evolutionary process that depends on more neutral physical systems to the speculation that our universe is just one among an infinite number of universes. In some number of these universes, perhaps most of them, this process of evolving good happens. This means that good is literally infinite, even if it isn’t infinitely large. Good, including my favorite of all goods – LOVE – is infinitely blossoming across the cosmos in a nearly infinite number of worlds.
Libresco is somewhat skeptical of evolutionary morality. She wants something more certain, more incorrigible. I do, too, sometimes, maybe most of the time. The world we live in – that she believes was created by a perfect God – is full of a great deal of human suffering. Poverty was especially hated by Jesus, if you take the gospels seriously, like a good Communist. When I imagine what it must be like to be God, watching – NO, as an omniscient being – feeling infinitely the suffering of every single child who dies of starvation and doing nothing to save them, I simply can’t accept that as the reality of our universe.
I think my finite, fragile, but endless cosmically re-birthing process of love is a more believable picture of the way things are. I don’t have to defend an Omnipotent being against the charge that his purposeful inaction dooms millions of children to starvation. I can argue that rather, LOVE is still evolving towards some indeterminate future, where it may issue in a transhumanist utopia of love, or not. That it could so evolve only requires that somehow human beings embrace this loving possibility. I am an optimist in some fundamental sense, so I believe that humanity may very well dodge the threat of extinction from nukes or climate catastrophe and figure out just how to pull off building the “Kingdom/Queendom of Heaven on Earth.”
Or not. I wish I could guarantee the optimal outcome, but I can’t, I can only keep advancing the possibility with all my strength.
I don’t believe that morality loves me. I believe that I love LOVE as a fragile, wonderful gift from the impersonal cosmic evolution that has brought us all into being. We can become purposeful agents of love for the sake of the world, fulfilling a possibility that isn’t inevitable, but still yet, compellingly desirable.