Mr. Right was taking on all comers yesterday, determined to deflect blame from corporate greed for the economic crisis while accusing his antagonists of denying "the greed of government." It was a rare admission from him that there was such a thing as greed, and after things subsided a bit, he challenged me: "If you're so concerned about greed, would you object to teaching morality and character formation in the schools?"
"It all depends on what they teach about the origins of morality," I answered, knowing his views on the matter, "Because if you're going to have them say something's moral because God says so, I can't go along with it."
"Why, where do you think morality comes from?"
"From people reasoning together, I hope. Otherwise, if it's just whatever God says, it's pretty arbitrary."
"Well, that's a matter of faith or lack of faith, don't you think? When you see it in faith, it isn't arbitrary."
I understood his point: God, as his worshippers understand him, is the organizing principle of the universe. Nothing about him can be "arbitrary," no matter what you make of his antics in the early books of the Old Testament. God's moral pronouncements can be no more arbitrary than the scientific laws that are also his handiwork. That's how faith sees it. But can you make people who lack faith admit it? Must they be told in the public school classroom that right and wrong are dictated by an omnipotent being with the power to torture people after death?
As far as Mr. Right was concerned, it was a moot point. The dreaded teachers' unions, he complained, block every attempt to teach morality in schools. At the very least, they teach no morality that he acknowledges, so long as they don't credit it to God. Yet somehow, one presumes, the majority of public school students turn out moral, or at least don't come out criminals. Apparently they don't need the fear of Hell to steer them the right way. But what about those who believe?...