What is "the common good"?
Glenn Beck says "the common good" leads to death camps. I've seen too many quotes taken out of context, so I tried to find out what he was talking about when he made this statement. Apparently, he was urging his audience to put God, not political philosophy, first.
OK, but this still leaves a huge disconnect. Whose God is he talking about? Could God possibly work for anything other than the good of all? And what about the atheist? A deep and abiding concern for one's fellow man can be found in people with no religious belief what so ever.
Sam Harris is an atheist and has proclaimed his nonbelief in a number of publications, including "The End of Faith" and "A Letter to a Christian Nation" In his latest book, "The Moral Landscape" Harris says we need a code of behavior that embraces the well-being of all conscious beings.
I'm not an atheist, and I find Harris' book rather verbose. It shouldn't take almost 300 pages to proclaim
the maxim found in almost every religion, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." However, he believes that science, not religion, should be the judge in matters of morality, and to that end, he makes a reasonable case.
Harris attacks belief itself because in his mind belief stands in opposition to reason. I'm not sure I buy into this, but let's return to the original question: What constitutes the common good, or to restate the question in Harris' terms, how do we create a moral landscape based on the well-being of sentient creatures?
We live in a conflicted society. On one hand, we are a religious people. A majority of Americans say religion is "very important" in their lives. In the South, that figure is as high as 85 percent. However, we are far from being a moral people. We have too many children in poverty, too great a gap between a wealthy elite and the average citizen, too many people strung out on drugs, and too much violence in our media and on our streets to make that claim.
We can do better. We‘ve just come through a very divisive election. Power is shifting, but where is the moral high ground? Religion can't provide it as long individual denominations claim theirs is only true path to God. Tolerance and diversity won't help as long as one man's opinion is considered as good as another.
A civil society must have its laws as well as it mores. There must be a code of right and wrong, and behind the code, the law and the culture, there must be a political philosophy that brings us back to the common good.
Does the "common good" mean certain individuals must be sacrificed for the sake of society as a whole? Historically, the Aztecs appeased God through human sacrifice. They believed the shedding of blood was necessary for balance and peace in the world around them. Today, we're horrified at the thought, yet we send our young men and woman to die in foreign countries believing that their sacrifice will bring peace and security to our world.
Since we must have a political philosophy, and both religion and "the common good" are filled with pitfalls, I'm ready to consider Harris' proposition. Let base our law and social interaction on well-being for all. Not corporate well-being, not well-being for a select group, not even the well-being of science or the religious community.
When sworn into office, both the president and the Congress take oaths in which they promise to defend the Constitution of the United States against it enemies. Good enough, but shouldn't they also swear to defend the well-being of its citizens against its enemies: corporate greed, the abuse of power, and the excesses of the super rich?
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.