Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why doctrine matters - to being a good person

Why Kant was wrong to drive a wedge between religious doctrine and ethics/practice/being a good person. Love - willing the good of the other as other - as participation in God's way of being. Rights, freedom, dignity and inherent worth of every person rest on the Christian doctrine of God as love - they did not exist in the classical world of antiquity nor in the atheist anti-Christian societies of the 20th century. (On the revolutionary nature of Christianity in this respect and its profound historical implications, see David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions.)

Fr. Barron talks about how our very notions of what being good entails for individuals and society are related to religious teachings that we hold or have absorbed culturally even if we are unaware of their religious foundations.  An interesting indicator of how our beliefs affect our behavior is found in the research on charitable giving.  A key behavioral difference between the earliest Christians and the pagans around them was the extent and selflessness of the Christians' caring for each other and their neighbors, even nursing them during plagues as well as feeding the hungry and other works of mercy (Stark, Rise of Christianity; Triumph of Christianity).  This difference persists today, where all the research (Brooks) shows that by every measure religious believers are more charitable, in terms of giving their time, treasure, and talent not only to religiously sponsored but also secular charities.  (As Lupton shows - see my review below - not all this effort is wisely deployed, but that is another matter.)

Of particular relevance to the question of whether what you believe matters, is the finding that even among church attendees, those who believe that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are a good person are in practice less generous with their time, treasure, and talent than those who believe doctrine matters (Brooks).

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