We face two deep and fundamental threats to psychological and social stability: religious fundamentalism (on the right, essentially) and moral relativism/nihilism (on the left). To buttress ourselves in a somewhat permanent manner against those threats, we require the development of value system grounded in something non-arbitrary—something real.
The domain of real is the factual domain: factual as defined by science. We can begin with the most basic and necessary of facts. Lives differ in their quality. Some lives are self-evidently bad. Such lives are composed primarily of privation and subjugation to tyranny. They are nasty, brutal and short (to paraphrase the philosopher Hobbes). Other lives are comparatively good. The people living them are not materially deprived in any vital sense, and have a range of opportunities for living meaningful and productive lives in front of them. We can all agree that the bad life is bad and the good life is good.
We can foster well-being (Harris’s term for the primary aspect of the good life) and help people flourish. We can and should inform the idea of well-being and flourishing with empirical data.
This does not mean, however, that all spiritual ideas are without grounding. But we need to dispense with the dogma within which they are ensconced, as it tends toward a counterproductive fundamentalism.
We do not need to be connected to stories (ancient stories, in particularly) to thrive. Furthermore, the ancient stories that we cling to are:
- Too-frequently pathological in their conceptualization and harmful in their details;
- Dangerously outdated, now, even if useful in the past;
- Dangerous insofar as they pose a threat to science and enlightenment values, which are the true saviors of humanity;
- Subject to too many potential interpretations for any modern usage to be reliably derived (through interpretation as metaphor, for example);
- Susceptible to interpretations which confer upon the interpreter a sense of and then a claim to revealed truth.
In conclusion: It is facts, not stories, that constitute the ground for the proper science of well being.