Thursday, December 10, 2009

Honor and Respect: A Matter of Making-Believe?

An atheist blogger wrote: “What if we could explain love scientifically [exclusively in terms of biology] — would that change our attitude towards it? Would the knowledge that this transcendent feeling is generated by the presence of a particular chemical in our brain detract from the transcendence? And if we were forced to admit that the concepts of ‘soulmates’ or ‘true’ love are nonsensical, would we love less deeply?

If love is just a matter of bio-chemical reactions, what then is the basis for speaking truth in love, faithfulness in love, integrity and honesty in love, honoring and respecting the other in love – the grit of relationship? Sometimes we have to act out love, even when we don’t feel love, because there are considerations higher than our bio-chemistry or even pragmatic considerations.

In fact, leading marriage counselors have gravitated away from the emphasis upon fulfilling one’s own needs to the necessity of putting the other’s needs and respect first. For instance, marriage therapist John Gottman writes:

“Without the fundamental belief that your spouse is worthy of honor and respect, where is the basis for any kind of rewarding relationship?” (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, 65)

However, it’s hard to derive these concepts of “honor and respect” from naturalism and materialism alone. Pragmatism will just not take us there! We can always make-believe that we “honor and respect,” but if we are doing this just because of the benefits we will derive, eventually our hypocritical ruse will be exposed.

Materialism/naturalism isn’t adequate to support truly and persistently loving relationships. We all want to believe in things like the “Bill of Rights” or even respect and equality. Psycho-therapists have also learned that they must treat their clients with respect and dignity if the therapeutic relationship is going to go anywhere. However, if we regard one another in a materialistic and superficial way, we should grant some respect and some disrespect, according to their contributions. Materialism can’t support concepts of essential equality and dignity of humanity. It can support only distinctions according to the way we see things.

After all, some people contribute greatly to society and our own lives, while others represent a tremendous expense. Therefore, if we regard the latter from a strictly materialistic perspective, its “truth” would require that we treat them with disdain and disrespect. This conclusion is inevitable, although it might seem strange. However, society takes something like “equal rights for all” for granted because our thinking is still largely conditioned by our Christian heritage – however bad we might be, we are still created in the image of God, and must be treated accordingly.

However, as we continue to loose this understanding, society will unveil horrors of which we’ve seen only a foretaste in communist/atheist nations.

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