“How can you have judgment if you have no faith? How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?” — Newt Gingrich, Republican Presidential Debate, Las Vegas Navada
This is political pandering of the worst sort, and yet again shows what a tool Newt Gingrich is. There’s nothing quite like demonizing a group to score political points with your base, though I suppose it isn’t much of a surprise coming from Newt. The ironic thing is that the statement is coming from Gingrich, and I doubt that many of his supporters would ask a similar question of him: “Newt, you claim to have faith and pray, yet you’re an adulterer who’s on his third marriage – how can we trust you???”
I have a Christian friend who said the following concerning the statement: “I actually agree with him. If you aren’t following some higher moral code that supersedes that of humans, how could anyone trust you? There has to be some guiding force other than the individual. Otherwise, how could anyone have any idea what you might do in the future? There is no ‘atheist value system’.” Doing most of the typing on my phone, and knowing that Facebook isn’t always the best place for discussions like this to develop (I actually prefer them face-to-face), I thought it might be a good idea to attempt to alleviate some of the concerns raised in greater detail in this forum, as this is a common issue raised by theists of all stripes.
1. If you aren’t following some higher moral code that supersedes that of humans, how could anyone trust you? — The short answer is that there is no higher moral code that supersedes humans, and that all moral codes within the varied religious texts are all of human origin. The obvious objection to this by any Christian is gong to be that the Bible really is the “Word of God.” I would then raise objections to this claim by providing evidence that the Bible cannot be trusted on the grounds of inconsistencies and contradictions within itself, its obvious lack of moral standing (God condoning things like: slavery, genocide, and rape), as well as the scientific evidence that shows the Bible to be wrong on issues of the natural world (the incorrect ordering in the formation of the universe, and our solar system in Genesis for example). The issue is then brought down to a matter of faith in accepting the Bible as an inspired text, with faith as the evidence of things hoped for, and the proof of things not seen. If faith is to be accepted as evidence however, it has to be acceptable evidence for all claims made, and obviously this isn’t the case. Just because one person, or many believe something to be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true. Ultimately, all people, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, or Skeptic, should be judged by their actions and the content of their character, and not by a label.
2. There has to be some guiding force other than the individual. Otherwise, how could anyone have any idea what you might do in the future? — I addressed this issue in my initial comments, but I’ll expand a bit here. Present labels or beliefs are not a good indicator of future behavior. The examples I used specifically were Ted Haggard and the Catholic Pope. Both have a guiding force and religious belief system that they claim guides them, yet Ted Haggard cheated on his wife with a male prostitute and did crystal meth, while the Pope shuffled child molesters around to different churches enabling them to continue to sexually assault children. Newt Gingrich himself has had issues with infidelity and is now on his third marriage, yet he wants the trust of 315,000,000 Americans when he can’t even hold the trust of one woman. Humans are humans and are prone to error, but if someone claims a label as a “person of faith,” and says that somehow gives them the moral high ground, they’re just plain wrong. Examples like these are on the extreme side, but negative behavior as a whole isn’t an exception to the rule among believers. Both believers and non-believers do things that are ethically and morally wrong. The only difference is that a believer prays to seek forgiveness from what they view as the author of their moral system, while the unbeliever does not.
3. “There is no ‘atheist value system'” — Absolutely correct, and the reason is that atheists only share a non-belief in something. That’s why it’s important to judge people by who they are and what they stand for, as opposed to what they don’t believe in. Everyone is an atheist in some respect, even Christians. A Christian is an atheist to the thousands of other gods in human history, while the total atheist just went one god further. As social primates, humans as a whole tend to have similar views of morality based on our evolution in areas like: attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group (Shermer, Michael, The Science of Good and Evil. New York: Times Books. pp. 16). Chimpanzees who we share a common ancestor with, also display morality in similar ways, though their morality isn’t quite as developed as ours. If these behaviors had not developed in human beings, we would not have survived as a species.
In the United States, our society is based upon the rule of law as laid out in the US Constitution — not the Bible, Koran, or a religious or theocratic frame work. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution states the following: “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” As President of the United States, Newt Gingrich would be sworn to uphold and defend the US Constitution (an oath he’s already taken as a congressman), which is an oath he would likely take with his hand on Bible. However, if the candidate Newt Gingrich is already more than happy to not defend, but instead assault the Constitution, how could he ever be trusted as the President?