My conservative grandfather thinks I’m a conservative too (probably because of the past couple of summers I’ve spent interning at libertarian organizations), so a few weeks ago he gave me conservative talk radio show host Mark Levin’s book Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.  I’ve been flipping through it, and because I spend most of my time engaged with more liberal political thought, it’s been nice to get a rundown of the basic conservative perspective on a variety of topics.  I agree with almost nothing in the book so far, but one passage in particular stood out to me as egregiously misguided:

Is it possible that there is no Natural Law and man can know moral order and unalienable rights from his own reasoning, unaided by the supernatural God?  There are, of course, those who argue this case– including the Atheist and others who attempt to distinguish Natural Law from Divine Providence…. This position would, it seems, lead man to arbitrarily create his own morality and rights, or create his own arbitrary morality and rights– right and wrong, just and unjust, good and bad, would be relative concepts susceptible to circumstantial application.

The view that that morality cannot exist without religion seems pretty widespread.  Last semester, I took an honors moral philosophy seminar in which we read Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Hobbes, Nietzsche, and a slew of more contemporary philosophers writing from a wide variety of perspectives.  But even though some (or maybe even most) of the authors we read were religious in their personal lives, for none of them did religion play a role in their moral philosophy.  In fact, I think that one would be hard pressed to name any significant works in the entire canon of moral philosophy from the past few centuries that depend on religion to ground morality.  So not only is it true that there are numerous moral systems that do not depend whatsoever on religion, it is also the case that those who study morality almost universally view it as completely independent from religion.  Morality is not dependent on religion, and saying that it is does little more than demonstrate that you’re a few hundred years behind the times.

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