Reason (and, Therefore, God) Affects Morality as an Action in Itself
Those who agree with the view, cited by David Brooks, that “moral thinking is more like aesthetics” should ponder whether they’re missing a connection between this:
Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.
Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.
In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, “The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.”
Mr. Haidt’s metaphor may be memorable, but I wouldn’t declare it accurate. Emotions are the materials that we must use in building our temple, but the structure we build according to blueprints described in a tradition of reason. Statements of principle well argued become actions in their own right. They affect the culture that we imbibe as our individual personalities and moral senses develop.
Think of the powerful people influenced by Socrates, those who’ve built on his logic and who’ve put its consequences into policies. Think of the cultural markers and influences — those that set the moral instinct that we attempt to guide through our own reason — that have developed over the millennia following Jesus Christ. For ourselves, we may tend to find emotions too strong for reason — its master, even — but that proves only that moral reasoning has a delayed effect as it works its way into our collective intuition.
I’d go one step further, although non-theists needn’t follow. This process is indicative of the manner in which God acts in the world: through us. A moral person might find a profound responsibility in that.