Sorry that this has to come as a post: but, it would appear that due to WordPress’s most excellent latest updates, my response to POD’s comment is too long to post as a comment.
I guess I am just a little bit too verbose…but I hate being misunderstood, so I had to reply in some length.
The comment by Peter O’Donnel is here.
My reply is below:
Thank you, Peter, for the long and well thought out reply.
Let me take things in order:
It seems to me that Christianity stopped committing atrocities whenever it became separated from actual real, hands-on political power. I suspect that this will be true of all religions, secular (non-theistic) as well as theistic: it is the real-world power combined with a firm and unshakable belief that one is not just correct, but ‘absolutely right’ that produces tyranny.
Since this piece focuses on Christians forming what they hope will be a religious terrorist organization, I naturally focused on Christianity. That, plus Christianity martyred more of my family than any other doctrine – so it’s personal. Of course Communism and Islam are greater threats now than Christianity has been in the 20th century, but my point was that regardless of which religion it is, it can and will be used by some to usurp power over others. If we let them.
As for Jesus whispering similar things to people – I understand your belief in this, but there have been many wars between Christian sects all of whom truly and honestly believed to have Jesus’s true message while the other guys were idiots who were wrong. Just consider the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals on the topic of evolution: Catholics assert it is the means through which the various species were created by God while Evangelicals claim it is Devil’s teachings…
Solzhenitsyn: good book, the Gulag Archipelago. However, Solzhenitsyn himself longed for a totalitarian state himself – he just wanted the tyrant to be the Russian Orthodox Church instead of the Bolsheviks…which is really much the same thing.
As for Buddha: he was not so much enlightened as cowardly. He was in the perfect position to alleviate the suffering of the common folk, being a crown prince and all that. Instead he went and sulked in a cave….and had the nerve to accept food from the poorest of the poor, who thought it was their duty to feed him even if it meant their own children starved. Yeah, great spiritual enlightening there!
And before you go on about the accomplishments of monks who meditate: please consider their diet and that their ‘enlightened meditation’ perfectly fits the symptoms of brain damage due to malnutrition.
I would not go looking for spiritual advice there!
As for God being the foundation of morality. I did not intend to say that since God does not exist, it cannot be the foundation of morality.
I do not know whether god(s) exist or not or how we would define them. I suppose I am very much an ignostic. As such, I would need a clear definition, because different people mean different things when they say ‘God’ – and without knowing what they mean, I cannot possibly hold an opinion, much less knowledge, regarding their existence. (Having said this, I find little to no evidence that supports the existence of Bible-definined deity, and consider monotheism to be the least credible of all the theological positions – but that is not the point here.)
What I was referring to is the continued assertion by Christian apologists that morality is whatever their God defines it to be. So, if God commands genocide, then genocide is the moral thing to do. If selling your daughter to her rapist for 40 silver pieces is what God says is the moral thing to do, then that is indeed the ‘moral’ thing to do.
In other words, many Christians argue that without God, there can be no morality.
Because ‘morality’ is obeying anything and everything that God commands.
I hold the diametrically opposite view: ‘obedience’ to morality dictated from the outside (be it from a parent or God or teapot or whatever else) is exactly that. Obedience.
And obedience, in my never-humble-opinion, precludes morality.
Morality is making decisions about what is right and wrong, what is good, bad or evil. Weighing the consequences of one’s actions – then choosing what to do and living with it. Morality is reasoning from the first principle of self-ownership and deriving the least incorrect course of action therefrom.
Morality is choosing one’s actions and accepting the responsibilities thereof.
Without this decision making process, without internal locust of decision-making, there is no ‘morality’ – only obedience.
After all, how can you be held responsible for following someone else’s rules?
So, to my way of thinking, ‘obeying the word of God’ is abdicating ‘morality’ in favour of ‘obedience’.
Because doing the right thing for the wrong reason does not make you ‘moral’….it makes you, at best, ‘accidentally right’. Because you did not make the choice as to what the moral course of action would be – you simply obeyed the what somebody else decided is the moral course of action.
Sorry to go into this in so much detail, but as I did not make my position clear in the original post, I want to make sure to be more clear in my reply.
To recap: I am not saying that morality cannot come from God since God does not exist: I am saying that obeying somebody else’s rules about what is or is not moral is not morality itself, it is simply obedience because the locust of decision-making about what is or is not moral is external to one-self. And I am perfectly aware that many religious people consider ‘morality’ to be ‘obeying God’s commands’ because they believe they are owned by God (in one manner or another). I acknowledge their belief, but disagree with them. Obedience is not ‘morality’ – or every puppy would be the most ‘moral’ creature in the world!
Which brings me to Mother effing Theresa.
Just this past weekend, I had a huge fight with a self-defined Christian apologist about Mother effing Theresa!
He had driven her around Montreal for a week and thought the sun shone from her behind!
Of course, being a fact-focused person, I know better than to buy in to the hollow propaganda about this profoundly evil person, who fetishized the suffering of others and maximized it in order to bring about her own salvation. Her clinics did not differentiate between curable and incurable patients and used unsterilized needles for all…as well as denying even child-patients life-saving medical care and all painkillers….’cause, suffering would bring them closer to Jesus!
If the evil bitch Agnes (self-called Mother Theresa, which in itself should be a hint as she was NOT a mother and it is deeply immoral of her to usurp that noble title) is your example of the good things Jesus whispers to people, then you confirm my suspicion that all religions are, at their core, evil incarnate. And that to get good people to commit evil deeds, all you need is religion….
Jesus himself: perhaps we can leave discussion of the Nazarene and his teachings for another day…
As for giving God a chance: I rather like Thor…and Tyr…and Hospodin and Baba Maja. Have you given them a chance?
March 20, 2015 at 14:15
Most of the commentary above with regard to Buddha is neither here nor there since my point was simply that liberal Christians who do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ are in a similar position to Buddhists who have a quasi-religious but essentially philosophical world view based on a spiritual leader who was more philosopher than divine entity. At least that’s what I tend to think from the outside (of both movements, I am neither a Buddhist nor a liberal Christian). Your critique of Buddha may indeed be 100% on the money, I had more charitable views of him mostly along the lines of having inspired almost a billion Asians not to set out on too many murderous rampages against other folk. That seemed like a bit of an accomplishment in my mind anyway. Now I’m aware that some Buddhists will argue that Buddha (and the various successors like the Dalai Lama) are divine figures and frankly I don’t accept that but I am sure that won’t put them off their chanting or various other activities about which I know probably much less than most people given the extreme interest in all things Himalayan in my generation. I find that poking around in that part of the world tends to get you buried in avalanches or frozen to death near summits of mountains that are a bit too high really. This is also a very good critique of my generation, a bit too high really.
Going back to the Mother Teresa question, I simply dropped her name into the conversation as a possible example of a Christian who had gone off to do good works rather than inflicting a form of jihad, but apparently she didn’t do as well as I had supposed (once again, from a rather incomplete survey of her activities, apparently). But that doesn’t change the point I was trying to make that we can easily find people around us in the world who are taking their Christian faith and using that as the foundation for doing good works that help the poor and the suffering. I could name some examples but they are small people who have no widespread public recognition factor.
As to giving Thor and those other chaps or maidens a chance, maybe I did, I don’t have perfect recall of my youth at this vast distance. Anyway, as you may find one day, the spiritual search works both ways, it is not always the believer who finds the deity so to speak. The real ones are not just sitting around waiting for people to show up at their temple.
Anyway, the main and most interesting part of your original essay and this follow-up would seem to be this — can our morality be independent of God, or is that morality based on God’s teaching whether we accept that or not? From talking to you in the past, I know that your sense of right and wrong is very similar to that of Christians whom I know. So how do we explain that, did you independently form these values from first principles without any reference to God? If so, what were those first principles? Where did they come from? Aha, you don’t know and neither do I. Maybe God got them at source as well and all we really disagree about is whether we are following them because God taught them or because we happened to hear about them in a religious setting and you discovered them in the formation of your own intellect and free will.
But the problem that I seen in the world quite frequently is that humans will tend to formulate sets of morality that are vastly different from those that we now seem to associate with God or that we argue are valid from first principles. Blowing up train stations, gunning down crowds at museums, etc, does not strike me as being the moral teaching of God nor something that a rationalist would think about doing either. But a Bolshevik might conceive of doing something similar with a moral explanation, and no reference to any God higher in the pantheon than Lenin (who is maybe higher than Thor, with all due respect to the thundering idiot and you can guess which one I meant).
I think we will have to conclude that there are two incompatible world views here, one that says God probably does exist and seems to be the foundation of all good and hope, and one that says that God probably does not exist but that good and hope can exist without Him (and yes I believe that part too, there is no end to the specific nature of my faith, I am wide open to becoming a Mormon at this rate).
March 20, 2015 at 14:31
I didn’t address the subject of different Christian beliefs. From one end of the spectrum to the other, Christians of different denominations tend to explain this in terms of there being only one essentially valid interpretation of their faith (their own, naturally, excapt that Anglicans are notoriously open to surrendering before being challenged). Logically speaking this must be true except that all could be wrong too. Obviously all cannot be right if they believe incompatible versions of truth. What I personally believe is probably irrelevant to this discussion. The philosophical truth involved, I would submit, is that for Christianity to be the “right answer” to the Big Theological Question (and not Islam, Judaism, or various other contenders), then there must be an actual, divine Jesus Christ somewhere (most of us believe that to be Heaven at this moment in time) and that He must have the answers to all these questions. He might also be merciful enough to be generally tolerant of errors in belief. My perception of our Lord and Saviour (as we call Him within the walls) is that He is not going to send evangelicals to Hell if they are wrong about the six thousand year timetable or any slight variant of that, nor is He going to send Catholics to Hell if the Pope is indeed nowhere near infallible (which is my guess especially since John Paul II passed).
The whole problem with arguments about the weakness of theology based on human fallibility is that they miss the obvious factor that human fallibility is the main reason we need theology. If humans were infallible they would all be Gods (not just gods) and this discussion would indeed be pointless.
But you are quite correct that in many ways Christian believers demonstrate on a vast daily basis that there must be something wrong with theology. That does not mean that there is no Jesus there about whom a theology would be appropriate. It just means that our discovery process is somewhat akin to the six blind men and the elephant, only where we aren’t even allowed to touch the elephant. Maybe that’s more appropriate to a discussion of Buddhism, gurus on elephants etc.
March 24, 2015 at 16:38
Well, that cleared the room pretty effectively. Against all the odds, it seems that a debate on religion between your good self and my good self holds almost no interest for the public at large. I can’t begin to tell you how surprised that leaves me.
March 26, 2015 at 17:05
Sorry it took me so long to get back: I’m beginning to suspect the bad headache I’ve had for a week won’t go away until I see a dentist. I’d do some more do-it-yourself dentistry (the way our Ontario medicare has taught me to do with minor surgery), but it is a front tooth…