This is a second draft of an essay I am hoping to include as a supplement to Value and Representation (an early draft of which is offered below), possibly to publish the two together.
My earlier work, Choice and Action, left some matters insufficiently elaborated to my way of thinking, at least it appears to me to be so in retrospect, and it now seems important to plug those gaps. Value and Representation, when completed, will address the question of how valuing works as a necessary feature of our kind of cognitive capacities (which produce a life of using and relying on reasons), an explanation to which I alluded all too briefly in that earlier book.
This essay addresses the other gap I left: the question of how religion qua the spiritual project in human culture provides a basis for arriving at and defending our moral judgments. Most in the modern world think it important to divest moral or ethical questions of specifically religious concerns and this has led to much sturm und drang in philosophy since, bereft of some metaphysical justification, moral judgments seem to hang loosely in a kind of cognitive limbo. We cannot find consensus on whether they are rationally derivable from the rules of reason itself (Kant) or are merely the feelings we have or learn in our lives, converted by some linguistic legerdemain into fake propositions (emotive expressions masquerading as cognitively significant thoughts). Since arguing that moral claims are intuitively established fails (we obviously don't all share the same intuitions even if many of us share some) because of the need for them to be arguable if they are to work as advertised, and since religious claims are inherently contentious with no obvious linkage to moral matters other than the fact that many moral beliefs in human history appear to rest on religious belief, we are left with a lack of support for our moral judgments as moral judgments.
But if there is nothing underlying them, moral judgments must seem to be no more than a kind of fakery, and then anything pretty much goes. But clearly THAT is not how we live our lives. This essay, therefore, aims to revisit the possibility of lodging moral claims in the spiritual dimension of human experience.
Without arguing for any particular religious point of view, I want to make the case that there is a commonality in the many expressions within human cultures of the religious enterprise and that that commonality is precisely where the moral question comes to rest. I want to make the point, further, that religion is not just some has-been project of the human experience but that, whatever the successes or failures of its particular expressions in the history of our species, it remains a continuing and vital aspect of human life.