After I reblogged IS COMMONSENSE ENOUGH?, I got the following comment from sklyjd. I posted my reply here.
What is clear is that sklyjd doesn’t see any practical difference between secular universal values and Christian values. He thinks government and laws create order; he doesn’t seem to understand how much it helps when people want to do the right thing in the first place. Since sklyjd‘s attitude is not unusual, I decided to expand upon IS COMMONSENSE ENOUGH? and my reply to his comment.
What follows is sort of amusing. So please be patient.
Consider this brief explanation of one of Voltaire‘s famous quotes.
- “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.”
- Translation: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
- Simple: If God did not exist, we would have to invent him
- What it means: Voltaire believes in God, but if someone proved God didn’t exist, people would have to invent God.
- (from here)
Why did Voltaire believe we would need to invent God? Well, let’s consider some of the commentary on that quote.
Here is the view of a noted Atheist.
Though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of God is the problem to begin with. —Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (from here (rationalwiki.org))
Here is the view of a philosophy enthusiast.
Voltaire is often thought of as an atheist, although he did in fact take part in religious activities and even built a chapel at his estate at Ferney. The chief source for the misconception is a line from one of his poems (called “Epistle to the author of the book, The Three Impostors”) which is usually translated as: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him”. Many commentators have argued that this is an ironical way of saying that it does not matter whether God exists or not, although others claim that it is clear from the rest of the poem that any criticism was more focused towards the actions of organized religion, rather than towards the concept of religion itself. (from here (philosophybasics.com))
Here is what Wikipedia offers on the quote.
Voltaire is also known for many memorable aphorisms, such as “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” (“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”), contained in a verse epistle from 1768, addressed to the anonymous author of a controversial work on The Three Impostors. But far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to atheistic opponents such as d’Holbach, Grimm, and others. He has had his detractors among his later colleagues. The Scottish Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle argued that “Voltaire read history, not with the eye of devout seer or even critic, but through a pair of mere anti-catholic spectacles.” (from here (en.wikipedia.org))
Here is something from a random commenter. It is more to the point.
This statement by Voltaire was written in 1768, in response to a controversial work, The Three Impostors.
This essentially reiterates the importance of the concept of God for the society’s well being. He considered that a belief in God entails a belief in afterlife, that can be considered to be a deterrent for anti-social forces that elude capture and punishment in the mortal life.
Voltaire develops the idea that the existence of God (or the belief therein) helps establish social order.
So, yes. The statement by Voltaire does mean what you think it does. (from here (english.stackexchange.com))
Suffice to say Voltaire “confused” some people, but he did believe in God. Even though he was something of a rascal and hardly perfect, he was a somewhat honorable rascal. Did belief in God deter Voltaire’s behavior? Is belief in God a deterrent to bad behavior? Well, the “experts” think so.
As is common practice in evolutionary science, Mercier and his colleagues distinguish between ultimate and proximate causes. An ultimate cause explains how a behavior evolved in the first place, while a proximate cause outlines the conditions in which that evolved behavior will be performed. Consider, for example, birds flying south for the winter. The ultimate cause of bird migration is the increase in survival and reproduction experienced by those who seasonally moved to warmer climates where food was plentiful. In contrast, the proximate cause is the decrease in daylight hours, serving as a trigger that it’s time to head south.
Religious belief of some sort is a nearly universal feature of humanity, so there’s quite likely some ultimate evolutionary cause that explains it. At the same time, not all people are religious, and furthermore the forms of belief among the religious range widely, so we need to understand the proximate causes for this variation. In their article, Mercier and colleagues outline several ultimate and proximate causes for religious belief. (from here (psychologytoday.com))
Belief in God was an evolutionary advantage? Who would have thought such a thing?
Why Do We Have Religion Anyway? (psychologicalscience.org) actually provides “scientific proof” that people who believe in God have more self control, but the experimenters can’t figure out why.
It’s not entirely clear what cognitive mechanism is at work in religion’s influence on self-control. One possibility is that religion makes people mindful of an ever watchful God, and thus encourages more self-monitoring. Or religious priming may activate concerns of supernatural punishment. A more secular explanation is that religious priming makes people more concerned about their reputation in the community, leading to more careful self-monitoring. Notably, almost a third of the volunteers in these studies were self-defined atheists or agnostics, suggesting that these robust effects have little or nothing to do with the suggestibility of the most devout. (from here (psychologicalscience.org))
Adam Smith wrote about the formation of the mature conscience (see FOR THOSE WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED). When we do the right thing when no one is watching, except God, our fellows can trust us. Doesn’t our society need people who can be trusted? Of course, we do.
Anyway, here is the stanza from which Voltaire’s quote was taken.
If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,
Could ever cease to attest to his being,
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.
Kings, if you oppress me, if your eminencies disdain
The tears of the innocent that you cause to flow,
My avenger is in the heavens: learn to tremble.
Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed.
(from here (whitman.edu))
Voltaire may have had little use for organized religion, but he had even less use for Atheism. So Atheists are not especially fond of his works or of the memory of him.
So why that picture at the beginning of this post? Here is another excerpt.
Voltaire’s legacy in our present debates about religious toleration remains potent. Hardly a week passes without an article in the press quoting ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ This rallying cry of tolerant multiculturalism is so potent, that if Voltaire hadn’t said it, we would have had to invent it. Which is what happened – the expression was invented, by an Englishwoman in 1906. No matter – it expresses a truth which is fundamentally important to our culture, so we have adopted the phrase and decided that Voltaire said it. Voltaire’s name has become synonymous with a set of liberal values: freedom of speech, rejection of bigotry and superstition, belief in reason and tolerance. It is a unique and precious legacy. (from here (theschooloflife.com))
Let the skeptics argue about evolution and the plain evidence of God’s existence. If we don’t want our government to secularize the education of our children, we need to wrest control of their education from so-called “liberal” government officials.
What are the “secular universal values” is the writer really saying the US would be ruled by a communist or socialist ideological type of government, a dictatorship or similar?
Laws are laid down by the government regardless of being a religiously based government or a secular one. So if there was no government and no enforced laws you would get lots of crime, just as has happened throughout history where crime is committed by people of all beliefs, people with Christian values and heritage are not excluded and commit exactly the same crimes.