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A Modern Irony: “Nature” is Relative – The Impossibility of Purely Natural Morality

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Published on: October 14, 2015

There are many atheist philosophers and psychologists like Sartre, Nietzsche, and Freud who seem to have strong recommendations about how human beings should live.  This implies that, in spite of being atheists, they are not post-structuralists.  They do not believe that experience is entirely shaped by the language we may create or otherwise use as we please, but instead imagine that our language, if not their language, can be corrected by their limited and relative experience.  Human experience, they must be thinking, is organized objectively; it is lawful in a certain way whether or not we apprehend it.  They just happen, by their lights, to apprehend it better than others.  There is no point in doing philosophy or psychology if there is no structure to describe.  And in this regard these supposedly revolutionary philosophers and psychologists are really quite conventional in their premises and their goals. 

These secular advocates analyze the human psyche as if it is structured in a fashion which makes some of its behavior good and some of it bad.  This is essentially an account of rationality and authenticity.  

Nietzsche, Freud’s muse, claims that “master morality” is better than Christian “slave morality” resulting in more nobility.  Since both forms of morality are possible, with slave morality being far more popular, Nietzsche cannot claim that master morality is more natural on empirical grounds.  His analysis suddenly becomes supernatural, super experiential, in supposing that bad faith is involved.  But why would nature alone impel us to veil our jealousy and envy?  Why would there be anything to be ashamed of in any moral condition if each and every one of them is natural?  The structure, the natural order, of human consciousness, makes moral choices possible, but each one of them is equally valid in the face of absurdity (there being no explanation of the world). 

If God does not exist and is therefore not recommending either slave or master morality, why would we put Freud or Sartre or Nietzsche in His place as the moral expert?  All the secular structuralist can plausibly claim to do is describe the natural structure of human consciousness.  How does he transform this descriptive project into anything prescriptive?  How do structural facts about human consciousness become normative standards?  How does the is become an ought?

One way in which most people would agree that we can relate structural facts about human consciousness to moral goals, to conclusions about good and bad psychic behavior, is to ask God.  God, by adding authoritative goals and functions (purposes) to our view of human life, is endorsing some natural outcomes and rejecting others which express the structure He Himself has put in place.  He tells us which structurally possible outcomes are good and which are evil, and makes morality something which transcends nature — the structure which we may describe but not otherwise deduce any prescriptions from.  

Without God Himself relating the structure of human consciousness to His goals for us, identifying which of its possibilities is to be sought out, how does the atheist identify which outcomes “ought” to be pursued?  The description of the structure, the operations, of human consciousness, all by itself, does not seem to imply that any of its outcomes are to be recommended over any other.  This seems to be true even if there are outcomes which lead to more happiness than others.  All the atheist may claim, which is of minimal interest, is that it is just a psychological fact that one or another behavior will lead to one or another condition such as happiness, or a sense of nobility, or a sense of meaning.  He might say, like the Utilitarians, that it is just a natural fact (a given structure) that some behaviors will lead to happiness and others to pain. 

But there is no agreement even among atheists that their description of the structures of human consciousness, of human experience, imply that happiness or pleasure is the end which ought to be adopted.  Pedophiles, narcissists, sodomites, Nazis, gluttons, fornicators, atheists, Christians and so on demonstrate that the natural structures of human consciousness, all by themselves, allow for radically different behaviors leading to some sense of pleasure, satisfaction, accomplishment or even nobility.  Many people feel noble as a result of adopting the “slave morality” of Christianity, while others achieve this by following Nietzsche into “master morality.”  Many people are at peace with sexual purity, while others claim they cannot live without promiscuity.  Whether or not a form of mental behavior, as a part of a moral syndrome, is natural or unnatural seems to be entirely relative.  In order to deal with the constant falsification of descriptions of nature by demonstrations such as this, the only thing which the atheist, as the one who lays claim to an objectively true description of nature, can do, is assert that those who deny the universality, and therefore the naturality, of his claims are taking advantage of still another natural possibility.  They are embracing bad faith, dishonesty with themselves.  Sartre, Nietzsche, and Freud are famous for this claim.  But it has no rational foundation.  The claim is logically identical with asserting that their analysis of nature cannot be wrong and therefore contradictory evidence cannot be real. 

Christianity explains why nature is so radically relative, why the modern concept of nature has turned out to be so very abstract and useless.  In a universe created by God, those who follow Him and those who run from Him may, in fact, live in very different states of nature.  God builds His Kingdom on earth as in Heaven, and does so without regard to what may or may not be natural for those outside of His Kingdom.  Nature does not govern God nor His people.  They govern it.  Nature, in the Kingdom, is what is redeemed, not what is in control.  Christianity may not deny that sodomites are under the complete control of nature, and are therefore not a part of the Kingdom.  Christians need to remember that the concept of nature we have in western culture today is a secular invention.  The Christian concept of nature is quite different.  It is the concept of something which cannot dictate what is Good, and cannot exist on its own.  The Kingdom of God, redeeming nature in the experience of the church, may be wholly alien to the lost; they cannot even conceive of our experience as believers.  They are outside of it.  They have no explanation of what they cannot experience.  The arbitrary dogmatism of the secular analysis of nature is that everyone is subject to it in exactly the same ways.  There is no evidence for this premise.  In the meantime the secular analysts simply reject arbitrarily any evidence of the transcendence of nature as they know it.  Take miracles, for example.    

The relativity of nature simpliciter, without God, contributes to the impossibility of a purely naturalistic morality.  (1) People illustrate what we might call opposed behavior (e.g. slave morality versus master morality) and still claim to derive the same moral state from it (e.g. the feeling of nobility).  This suggests that any purely scientific or philosophical description of the natural structure of human consciousness is so abstract that it cannot even predict let alone recommend moral outcomes.  (2) Any attempt to overcome this blatant relativism by reducing it to “bad faith” (to lies), destroys the objectivity of any analysis.  The analyst himself becomes vulnerable to this accusation in his attempt to protect his moral leadership, his will to power.  Why, how, does Nietzsche’s, or Sartre’s, or Freud’s will to power result in a more objective analysis than their tradition-based competitors?

Ironically, the modern concept of what is “natural” turns out to be radically relative.  The concept of the Good in the western religious tradition transcends what is natural.  Only a religious conception of the Good as something which guides what is purely natural, but is not itself purely natural, can avoid the complete relativism of the naturalistic description of human consciousness.  Without the Spirit, the Flesh has no clear moral direction.  Goodness is what fulfills nature, but is more than natural.  It is a goal, a function, a purpose, which nature by itself, does not supply.  There is no such thing as a purely natural morality.  If there is no God, then anything is permitted; everything is natural. 

Contemporary naturalism is what has led to the acceptance of sodomy.  Christians appeal to much more than nature in their judgment of sodomy.  They appeal to the authority of God.  God provides goals which are more than natural — heterosexual monogamy and families — and teaches us to make nature conform to this goal.  He has structured nature to be compatible with His goals, but not identical with them.  Nature itself does not imply these goals.  The natural is not necessarily the Good.  What Christianity teaches us about our nature is that we will not be fulfilled until we are more than natural.  Our natures have been made compatible with this truth, not identical with it.   The atheist claims that our natures, and therefore our experience, are opposed to this claim.  But this is very obviously not the case.  Millions of people falsify this claim daily by being joyful and exalted in their transcendence of nature.  And yet Christianity is not about another world.  It is about this world being more than natural, and existing eternally as a world which is more than natural.  Nietzsche was completely wrong in asserting that Christianity was a kind of Platonic rejection of the natural, real world.  Christianity embraces and redeems the natural world, making it eternal; it is the resurrection of the body by transcendent purposes. 

In summary, the absurd project of philosophers and psychologists like Nietzsche, Sartre, and Freud, is based on two ideas which are patently false in the experience of many if not most other people:

a.     It is possible to describe the structure of human consciousness objectively, without preconceptions which shape it into a form which serves prephilosophical goals.

b.    A description of human consciousness, without reference to any tradition, presents us with its universal goals, with a conception of what is good.

The secular analyst’s description of the structure of moral consciousness is just one description among many.  There are competing descriptions based on competing experience and competing traditions.  There is no such thing as one natural human experience.  God is interfering with human experience.  He is changing it for believers. 

The notion that there is just one set of natural, irresistible human goals is disconfirmed by human experience.  The notion that this, in turn, is just a manifestation of bad faith turns the analysis into ideology, the suicide of reason.  Instead, different competing traditions have always demonstrated that nature, in and of itself, is comfortable with a wide range of competing ends.  The modern notion that the modern concept of nature is a source of social order is dead both philosophically and historically in this increasingly revolutionary and disorderly age. 

Nature, and its supposedly objective analysis, is just one more modern myth which has failed us.

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