A friend recommends to us the web site of the devotees of a religion which calls itself Universism. On their Main page the Universists ask a series of provocative questions:
We don't have the space to say everything about this that we would like, so we'll just pick out a few items to critique. The Universists ask:
What if there was a religion announcing no universal religious truth exists? The meaning of your existence is yours to determine.
The Universists are off to an inauspicious start with this question. In addition to having selected for their name an exceedingly difficult word to pronounce, the implied answer to the question they pose is self-refuting. The claim that there are no universal truths about religion purports to be itself a universal truth about religion. So, if it's true then it's false.
Beyond that, if each of us is the sole author of the meaning of our existence then there really is no meaning, not in any but the most ephemeral sense. We live, we suffer, we die and when we die whatever we did in life makes no difference whatsoever. Eventually, the human race will die out, as will the earth and the sun, and no one's existence will have mattered at all. A human life has no more "meaning" or significance in a universe without God than does the life of an ant. Billions of years of time and an unimaginably vast cosmos render our lives and our achievements vanishingly quick and paltry.
What if there was a religion generating respect among all humanity by making us equals in the most important questions we will ever face?
Well, actually there is such a religion. It's called Christianity. Christianity has been virtually the sole engine for human equality throughout the last two thousand years of history. Racial and gender equality may have been slow in coming, but they have only come at all because of the convictions of Christian people in predominantly Christian nations. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the American ideal of political and legal equality derived from the Christian notion that all men are equal in the eyes of God. People who believed that we are all equal in the eyes of God, he wrote, could hardly deny equality to some in the eyes of the state.
What if there was a religion announcing no moral authority exists, religious or secular?
If there is no moral authority beyond ourselves then each of us is free to construct our own idea of right and wrong. Thus, whatever I decide to be right, no one else can say is wrong. Morality is purely subjective. All the great criminals and tyrants of history believed this very idea, of course, and it is a prescription for chaos and oppression.
We celebrate faith in reason, inspiration in nature, and hope in progress.
It is unclear what their faith in reason leads them to conclude about the world. Universists place their trust in reason to do what, exactly? To lead them to truth? What do they base this trust upon? If all of our cognitive functions are reducible, as the universist no doubt believes they are, to non-rational chemical reactions in the brain, what warrant does he have for believing that these non-rational processes reliably produce truth?
In order to justify his faith in reason the universist has to construct some sort of argument to show that reason is trustworthy, but arguments rely upon reason. Thus he has to use reason to demonstrate the trustworthiness of reason. He has to assume that reason is reliable which is the very thing he's trying to demonstrate. this, unfortunately, is irrational. In other words, faith in reason is no more rational, and perhaps less so, than faith in God.
In what sense, moreover, does nature inspire? Everything about nature that fills one with awe points away from the universist belief that nature is all there is. To be inspired is to be moved to express some feeling or sentiment. What feeling or sentiment is a universist moved to express? Awe? Wonder? At what, exactly? Our insignificance? The incredible complexity, intricacy, and order of the world? The beauty of the world? The first of these pretty much cancels out any hope for meaning to life, and the others point to a creative Mind behind nature.
The inspiration Universists experience as they contemplate the glories of the world and of life is fundamentally at odds with their basic assumption that the world is just the product of mindless, purposeless forces which, purely by accident and random coincidence, somehow brought it into being. This may be astonishing, but it's hardly inspiring.
What ground, finally, does the Universist have for hope in progress. Whatever moral progress man has made in his history has been largely the result of Judeo-Christian belief. It has likewise been frequently argued that our technological progress was also the fruit of the Christian worldview which prevailed in Europe and which saw creation as the product of a rational God. The physical and biological worlds were seen, therefore, as not only worthy of study but also spheres of mystery whose secrets would yield to rational inquiry.
But setting that aside, technological progress in a world where everyone determines their own morality and no one has any basis for choosing one moral opinion over another except their own preferences and biases means that technological achievements, if they can be sustained, will fall into the hands of the most ruthless, egoistic, and powerful among us. We can be assured that such men will not use the fruits of progress to benefit mankind. There's not much reason to exult in a "hope in progress" in such a world.