Part of why I’m interested in this claim of Conor Friedersdorf’s that
Nick happens to be one of the best people I know. Even though I don’t have faith in the same things that he does, I see how his faith makes him a better person. I see how he makes the world a better place, and how his belief system drives him to do it. And whenever I think about Nick, I think to myself, you know, I disagree with the Catholic faith on a lot of particulars, but there must be nuggets of truth within it if it inspires people like Nick to be this good.
is because I want to figure out how he gets there. I want to see if we can find a persuasive chain of reasoning, or if he’s just describing a feeling or hunch or intuition or association that he hasn’t thought about carefully enough – a bit of fast thinking with no follow-up slow thinking.
Minow offered one such chain.
There is no doubt that a disproportionately large number of religious people dedicate their lives to good works without expectation of any material reward. I think that you are more likely to do that if an institution exists that will help manage it (the church) and if you believe that good is a real and necessary part of the universe, rather than just a philosophical position or a utilitarian benefit. And religion takes you there.
One problem with that is that Friedersdorf said the Catholic faith, not religion in general. I would love to know what he meant – which specifically Catholic nuggets he has in mind.
But put that aside for now. What about the claim that you’re more likely to devote your life to good works if you believe that good is a real and necessary part of the universe, rather than just a philosophical position or a utilitarian benefit? Is that right? Is it persuasive?
I’m not sure. It seems to me it makes just as much sense, or maybe more, the other way around. I don’t think that “good” (which is a human label or category or construct) is a real and necessary part of the universe; on the contrary. The reality on this planet at least is that terror and pain are part of daily life for most sentient animals, so it would make more sense to claim that “bad” is a real and necessary part of the universe. I don’t think that’s true either, but I would certainly say that suffering and agony are a necessary result of natural selection and that there’s nothing good about that fact.
So if we want to cause the world (we can’t do much about the universe, let’s face it) to have more good in it, we have to make it ourselves. Why wouldn’t that make us more likely to devote our lives to good works than a belief that good is already part of the fabric of everything?