I have yet to read Ronald Dworkin’s book, Religion Without God, but I go into in with three observations. First, as a matter of ordinary usage, our understanding of religion does not require a belief in a transcendent God. If it did, Buddhism as ordinarily understood would not count as a religion. Second, it makes no sense to me to offer legal protection to those who are motivated by religion to live in a certain way, but not to those who as a matter of moral conscience (free of any religious tradition) feel obligated to live their life in a certain way. Third, it is likely that Dworkin’s perspective may offer the most challenging alternative to a theological perspective I find persuasive.
Hans Kung and Charles Taylor argue that it is a reasonable for an agnostic or a person with doubts to act on the assumption that God exists. Given a choice it is better to believe that the universe is meaningful rather than meaningless, that we are part of something larger than ourselves, that our life has a purpose rather than one simply chosen, that we are disciples of a loving God. In his book, Dworkin argues that there is a moral reality and that human life has objective meaning and importance. He also maintains that the universe is of intrinsic awe and wonder. He contends that these beliefs are central to religion and to secular humanists. He believed that recognition of this should dampen the culture wars between the religious and the humanists.
In the book, Dworkin makes a point he made in his earlier Justice for Hedgehogs. Morality reality is independent of God and cannot be changed by God. If God decreed that the gratuitous torture of babies was not immoral, God would be wrong. I agree, and Dworkin uses the point to strengthen the ties between the religious and the humanists.
Going into the book, however, I remain a follower of Kung and Taylor. I think my own life goes better if I try to act as if a loving God (not an angry hell-threatening God) exists that I am called to follow, if I work within a religious tradition in which thinkers over the ages have addressed life issues from a moral perspective (though I would not say this of all religious traditions), and if I encounter others who inspire me in the ways they try to live religious lives (not that there are no humanists to be inspired by).
At least the pull of a religious tradition is significant for me. In any event, I look forward to reading Dworkin’s last book.