It is easy to be lulled into the notion that the USA has reached a transcendent state of modernism; a place where people have come to adopt pluralism and tolerance. When you drive along the highways and fly the skyways of the USA, when you navigate the streets lined with familiar businesses and institutions there is this comforting though superficial vibe that you are in an advanced culture that is fairly progressive and forward thinking.

American culture has produced some of the most stunning changes in the history of life on earth.  Electricity, drug design, advanced materials, aerospace, computers, semiconductors, and on and on. Yet, there is this underlying ache, a subterranean twinge out there that is disturbing in it’s potential.

While I cannot accept the cosmology of supernatural beings or the physics of miracles, I have been known to attend a meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) on a social basis. It is soothing to sit in silence and meditate in a group setting with highly civilized people like the Quakers. I remember some years ago at a Friends Meeting in Boulder, CO, listening to Kenneth Boulding (now deceased) make a comment during the meeting.  It was in another context, but the thrust of it is relevant nonetheless.  He pointed out that a few miles below the serenity of the nearby mountains there exists magma that, if given the chance, will flow to the surface and erupt. He observed that below the surface people also have raw and violent forces that sometimes escape. His point was more of a lyrical acceptance of this human frailty than one of condemnation. Examples of this condition are too numerous to count.

I was reminded of this comment of Boulding when I encountered some commentary on a recent editorial from the Wall Street Journal.  I can’t afford to subscribe to the WJS- I found it in the popular blog Pharyngula. The author of this exceptional blog has added commentary and I won’t spoil it for the reader. It is worth linking over there to read it.  Beneath the surface of consciousness of many, many people is the need to strike out at those have a different view of things. 

Few points of view will evoke as vigorous a negative response as atheism does from believers in the Big 3 religions that originated in the middle east.  To these people, atheism is a kind of poke in the eye. The very presence of atheism seems to be a kind of pestilence or a corrosive influence on society itself. Believers in a supernatural being are convinced that without a diety, there can be no moral frame of reference. 

It is much like the number line with its positive numbers, it’s negative numbers, and, importantly, zero.  To theists, God is the zero of the moral number line. It represents the demarcation of the positive and the negative realms.  As the theists would assert, without a frame of reference anchored from a higher plane, man is hopelessly absent a moral compass. 

One thing is certain. I’m not going to solve this matter tonight.  I do know that civilization is one millimeter thick and there are plenty of places on earth where it has worn off to reveal the troubled underlayment of our species. This week, in the land of Nebukanezzar and the gardens of Babylon, many good people have died for no good reason.