Odd how this coincidence business keeps recurring! I have been pondering, and if that summons up a vision of me retiring to a darkened room in which to engage in deep thinking let me assure you that most of what passes for thinking in my head takes place in those few precious moments between my head hitting the pillow and the sound of snores ascending. The problem with that mode of intellectual effort(?) is that the next morning I can't remember what the hell it was I was thinking about! Where was I ... oh yes, pondering.
I have been pondering on what it is that keeps a moral sense alive when all the main religions are either crumbling away inch by inch or in some cases landsliding to oblivion. In this modern age, God has been well and truly crucified like his Son, and the likes of Nietzsche and Dawkins have played the part of Roman soldiers thrusting spears in His side to make sure He's well and truly dead. Fair enough, I suppose, because there is no intellectually satisfying argument to support the existence of God and even the most passionate and eloquent of Christian theists are reduced to admitting, albeit proudly, that their belief is founded on emotion. So in the absence, or non-existence, of the Almighty, where-in lies the authority thought to be necessary for the maintainance of morality? And almost instantaneously a further question arises, how is that morality continues at all?
That brings me to the coincidence that began this tedious tale. In his superb book, Full Circle, Ferdinand Mount touches upon all those puzzling questions which have delayed my nightly slumbers by at least half a minute! He points out that despite the catastrophic fall in religious attendence, there are waiting lists for C of E schools and, in an irony that has me whinnying with pleasure, some parents lie and cheat in order to gain entry for their kiddie-winkies to schools which will teach Christian values. He goes on to remind us of the sad demise of Jade Goody, a British 'sleb' famous for nothing much except for loud-mouthed, incontinent, sluttish behaviour who died of cancer at the age of 28. Given her background and upbringing it is no surprise that her behaviour was the way it was, and yet ... and yet ... one sensed that buried in her somewhere, somehow, there was a moral streak. She apologised for her frequent bouts of bad behaviour - and surely an apology is but another version of confession. Even more extraordinary, as Ferdinand Mount recalls, was her behaviour shortly before her death:
As she was dying, Jade Goody said, "I know I'm ignorant but I'm going to make sure my boys get the best education. I'm going to pay for their education for the rest of their lives because that'll give them the best chance in life.'" By "chance in life", she di not simply mean 'chance to make money'. After all, she herself had managed to do that, despite suffering the worst start in life you can imagine. What she meant was something lareger, such as a vision of the right way to lead one's life. A fortnight before she died, she had herself and her two sons baptized at the chapel of the Royal Marsden Hospital where she was being treated for cancer.
Of course, the more cynical will instantly riposte that no-one repents faster than when they are on their death-bed, and by doing so they will miss the point - this fundamentally non-religious woman was not just pre-occupied with her own state of grace, she wanted her sons to be baptized into Christianity. She saw, she sensed, she felt, that somehow in the ethos of Christian morality there was a sensible, one might almost say an intelligent, way to lead your life. I would hesitate to speak for her but somehow, I guess that she did not necessarily believe entirely in the existence of a God even if she could have comprehended and encapsulated (as most of us cannot) the enormous concept of a God. Even so, she knew there was a moral life that could be lived as an alternative to an immoral life and so she acted as if there was a God.
The notion of conducting one's life as if there was a God is a point Mount emphasises in the final chapter of his book. He points out that the 'Darwinistas' in their intemperate attacks on theistic religion and their non-stop hallelujahs in favour of their religion of choice, Darwinism, have failed to apply evolutionary studies to the development of beliefs in God. However, Mount draws attention to:
Robin Wright's new book called "The Evolution of God" made such a stir when it came out in 2008. Kant would undoubtedly have applauded the enterprise. He would have seen the evolutionary approach as the best possible way of showing the different ways in which men and women have chosen to live as if God existed. [My emphasis]
I must express my genuine gratitude to Mount for expressing this as if notion of God. It has cleared out an irritating pebble in my mental shoe. And perhaps now I shall nod off even faster than usual at nights!