Posted by: Dan | October 21, 2007

Why Non-Theism is a More Moral Alternative

Why There Really Is No God – On the podcast Point of Inquiry, a half-hour interview with Edward Tabash. Edward Tabash is a constitutional and civil rights lawyer, and explains himself as one who grew up theistic. Growing up, he says he quickly realized that (for various reasons that he mentions in the interview) the God of the Bible relies on suspension of disbelief.

What caught my attention though was how Tabash explained the moral issues at hand:

…most of religion has been used not to promote greater harmony among humans, but to be divisive. Because of throughout human history the greatest motive for person-on-person violence has still been religious beliefs. If you look at Christianity, and you take Christianity literally, good works and good behavior are not necessary for salvation. If you believe in Jesus, that is sufficient. According to strict Christian doctrine, if Hitler had opted for Jesus a few minutes before dying, he would be in Heaven now, and all of his non-Christian victims in his concentration camps would be in Hell.

So Christianity, which is the dominant religion in the West, posits the most immoral kind of god and actually encourages people to only seek salvation through belief. They all say goodness alone won’t save you. Now the Bible is contradictory on this. Part of it says that good works is the only way to be saved, and the other says works are irrelevant, goodness is irrelevant, and only faith in Jesus will be the ticket to salvation.

Well I think it’s very dangerous to tell people that regardless of what they do to others, all they have to do is believe in Jesus, and they’re saved. Billy Graham, I remember even as a little boy hearing him, he used to always tell his audiences goodness alone won’t save you. Well if goodness alone won’t save you, and all you have to do is believe in an incoherent process where God was his own son and his own father, I question the kind of morality.

Also, if you look at the atrocities in the Bible, the Biblical God is guilty of some of the most horrible atrocities. In I Samuel, ordering armies to kill innocent children, or ordering captive women to be raped throughout the Old Testament. Everything that the God of the Old Testament does is horrendous, and in the New Testament, all he does is turn around and say regardless of anything else just believe in my son and you’re saved, or burn in Hell forever. So in the Old Testament we have this vicious, kinky, vindictive God with a morbid preoccupation with foreskins, and in the New Testament he turns around and burns people in a lake of fire forever. That to me is not much of fount of morality.

The more important question, is that if Biblical morality is true, it means that we human beings and our reflective ability are irrelevant, and all of our evolution, all of our development in ethics is irrelevant. And some ancient book with simplistic atrocities is what we have to go by and we can’t even use our human intelligence.

Tabash goes on to describe that virtually every atheist is more moral than the product of this strict Christian doctrine. He also goes further to say:

Our ethical achievements, our advances in human morality, are linked to how far distant we are from the Biblical code. The more society bases its laws away from the strictures of the Bible, the more moral, the more tolerant we become. If we observed the strict Biblical code, in the Book of Leviticus two gay men who make love together would have to be executed. An incorrigible child would have to be stoned at the gates of the city. And in the book of Deuteronomy, if someone even witnessed to you of a different religion, you’re supposed to kill them. So the only way that society has achieved a modicum of ethical and moral development is because we have abandoned strict Biblical principles.

I would have to agree – good works and deeds, our reflective intellects, our in-born sense of right and wrong, our development of ethics – that these constitute the foundation for greater morality, harmony, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and better choices all around.

A better world, in short.

Have at it though – perhaps a case could be made for non-literalist/metaphorical liberal religious framework for morality. But how would fanciful metaphors for the human condition be better than abandoning the Bible (or other theist doctrines) altogether in favor of fact-based descriptions of the human condition? Why a metaphor at all?


Responses

  1. Dan, This carries on nicely from points about original sin and salvation that arose on your “talking snake” thread and this seems like a better place to mention some comments I held back from posting there.

    Edward Tabash is accurate in identifying certain narrow religious concepts as hindrances to the moral development of humankind. The kind of exclusivist extreme ideas about salvation (by faith in Jesus alone regardless of one’s actions), held to in some quarters, do indeed lead to some pernicious and even dangerous attitudes. Tabash’s analysis of these religious doctrines is generally on target. However, there are a few drawbacks to his perspective. He seems to conflate all religion with the religion that he grew up with and understandably rejected. In other words, he accepts that religion is what they say it is. So his reasons for rejecting religion altogether rest on the same lack of historical perspective and other failings that this particular brand of religion suffers from.

    A good deal of the Bible is historical narrative. That is, it is an interpretation of history. Sometimes it is accurate in historical details and sometimes it falls short in this regard, but as an evocative and stirring treatment of historical themes it is superb. Within itself it contains a record of human moral development in an historical framework. The laws of Leviticus are brutal and harsh by comparison with the legal systems of modern well-governed states, but the essential thing to note is they represent an early stage in the emergence of the very idea of a society being regulated by codified laws. It is entirely right to say that if we went back to those old laws now we would be regressing 3,000 years. But we would not be where we are now if we did not have those older systems to build upon. Dan, I’m sure this would make sense to you as an evolutionist!

    As to the doctrine of salvation that Tabash criticizes, it seems that the whole superstructure of ideas around original sin and salvation is a fabrication that is far removed from what Jesus and His early followers had in mind. I have read many interesting posts by a blogger, Theo Geek, who has done some intensive scholarship in trying to determine what the early Christians really did believe. He has read up thoroughly on the writings of early Church fathers as well as many tomes by modern Biblical scholars. In a recent post ( Evolution of doctrine: original sin), he states his conclusion that, “The Christian church in the second century AD had nothing remotely resembling the doctrine of original sin as we know it today.” In the same post, Theo Geek mentions, “When a monk from England named Pelagius journeyed to Rome he was shocked by the theology he encountered there. He felt that the teachings of the North African bishop Augustine effectively denied the possibility of good moral conduct and human moral reform which Pelagius (in line with typical Christianity of earlier centuries) saw as the foundations of Christianity.” Interestingly, Theo Geek comes from a “Bible believing” background, and so far as I can tell from remarks on his blog, continues to be an active member of his local Baptist church.

    Anyway, the point is that when you get out of the way the strange concept that we are all hopeless sinners unless we accept Jesus, etc., then the ethical teachings of Jesus emerge from the obscurity that this concept has imposed on them. A reading of passages like the Sermon on the Mount leaves no doubt that Jesus’ teachings convey a powerful positive moral message.

    I won’t comment for now on further stages in the process of advancement in moral thinking over the past 2000 years since Jesus lived. Suffice it to say that religion has had a hand in it. And I haven’t touched on the contributions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

    It is no doubt true that many atheists have a better moral sense than many religious believers exhibit. But I submit that believer and unbeliever alike, we owe what moral sense we have to a collective human inheritance in which religion has played a central role.

  2. John,
    I knew I could count on you to provide a well-written rebuttal. Your final sentence here really hits the point home. The religious have indeed played a part in our collective human intelligence. It justs strikes me that it is difficult to put my finger on just what the nature of our moral sense and human nature is. Part of my continuing struggle with the continuous presence of religion in society, despite it’s apparent nature as contradictory to reality, I suppose.

  3. Any person who believes he will be judged in an afterlife and rewarded or punished according to his acts is likely to be more moral than he would have been otherwise – but only if he believes he will be judged by a just Judge. If he believes he will be judged by a deity who has told his ancestors to do unjust things, he is likely to do unjust things for the glory of his “God”. The most moral person is not likely to be an atheist, but rather a person who believes in a just God. Where do you find a just God? Not in any Scriptures I’m aware of. Still, I choose to bet my life & soul on one. If I lose – screw life and the god who created it.

  4. […] Why Non-Theism is a More Moral Alternative at Migrations. […]

  5. Clarifier,
    Your view of life sans god sounds quite pessimistic. I’m not sure why it need be so. You’re also new as a commenter here, so I admit that I don’t know what to make of you. Please elaborate though, if you feel so inclined. I’d be particularly interested in hearing why you feel that the afterlife holds your attention more than the here and now, and why life itself holds less value to you. Or whatever you have to contribute. Either way, welcome to the discussion!

  6. Dan, after your kind comments what more can I say? You threw out a couple of other aspects to think about — moral sense, human nature, religion contradictory to reality in our society — but I can’t think of anything to say right now about these that I haven’t said before.

    Clarifier — you made some interesting points and I don’t disagree with any of them. However, the existence of justice in this world, regardless of the hereafter, seems to me to have just as much bearing on why people behave morally as does fear of a final judgement. The consequences of positive and negative actions are with us all the time, not just being tallied up waiting for death. On the other hand, it is a bleak prospect to think that one spends a lifetime trying to “become” a person with positive qualities, while expecting to have it all reduced to decomposed elements in the earth at the end. So I’m with you in thinking that the idea of an afterlife helps to make sense of the present life. In making this statement I’m giving myself a whole lot of work to do in justifying it to Dan!

  7. Wow, that guy articulated the absurdity of what people believe per that old book wonderfully well. We make it all so complex, and it’s really about the brainwashing that’s put upon us — religion infused in our lives/laws — there’s no escaping the effects of it. And as a I child, they “hook” ya’ right off the bat with that hell thing… All of the horrors in this world are rooted in these erroneous religious teachings. It’s created potent self-loathing in us, and how well do you think such people love each other, their own planet?

    We don’t need the old book for anything, and we surely don’t need their mega-controlling religion. You don’t force people to love themselves or others with threats of hell. You will get a lot of people pretending to do so, and all the while fearing hell ’cause they know they aren’t measuring up…

    Again, it’s so simple. Forcing has never and will never work with people. Teach them to love themselves and all our problems will be solved. People who truly love themselves do not harm others, do not destroy the very planet they live on… The old book does just the opposite of teaching us to love ourselves and all that we are. And from all their BS, look at us. Babbling on about this, when the answer is simply about genuinely loving oneself, because that’s the only way you will love another. That’s the answer.

  8. John,
    Thinking some more on what you said, it occurred to me that perhaps we should distinguish between using religious frameworks as a historical narrative, and using such frameworks as a metaphorical explanatory description.

    Would you agree that many people confuse these perspectives? I think they do. I imagine you do too – because as you say, it’s not what the historical figures of religion believed, it’s what type of people they were. It’s the quality of their interactions with their kin and communities.

    I often draw comparisons with obsolete religions (usually Greek mythology), to get my point across. They’re mythologies are just that – mythologies, legends, allegories, etc. They contained a historical narrative too, that was the people of ancient Greece found highly relevant to their lives. Yet I think that we can all agree that the explanatory power for real-world phenomena was limited. I think that the same is true for Christianity and our contemporary society.

  9. Dan, I must admit I don’t fully understand your point about distinguishing between the historical narrative aspect of the scriptures and the metaphorical aspect, but I’ll throw out a few observations as an aid to digging into this.

    * The Bible is not actually one book, but a collection of some 66 books (I think) written over a very long period of time, containing many different perspectives on life.

    * Where the Bible treats history, its primary focus is the meaning of history, not history as a series of facts, although not totally divorced from the facts either.

    * Some passages go very far over into the metaphorical domain in trying to get at the meaning of what life is about. The story of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden reads like a fable that was meant to be understood as a fable right from the start.

    * Actual historical situations come to the fore in say, some of the writings of Jeremiah, etc. I recently saw some scholarship that proved that one of the historical figures referred to by Jeremiah really existed and had left traces of his own life. But still, Jeremiah was not writing to give a blow by blow prosaic chronicle of events. He was trying to deal with the historical misfortunes and difficulties of his people on another level.

    * The writers of the Gospels, for instance, were not worried about mixing up genres if need be. Much of what they wrote about the life of Jesus appears to record in fairly straight-forward fashion, his actual actions and utterances. But stories of the resurrection etc. bring in a “mythological” element. This is because they are trying to convey a point that needs a heightened effect to get it across.

    * In a sense, all language is metaphor. That is, a word is not directly the same as the thing it refers to. It is a sign or symbol for the thing.

    * There is a saying that history is written by the victors. This is because all history-writing is a narrative that attempts to not only say what happened but also the meaning of what happened. Of course responsible historians go to great pains to get all their facts right, but they must needs select particular events to write about, and select particular episodes within these events, etc., and all these selections involve judgment calls. Good history writing is a combination of factual accuracy and insight into the collective lives of human beings in the flow of time.

    Not sure if any of this hits the mark in relation to your point.

    By the way, there was a public holiday here yesterday and I had some free time. I might go quiet again as I get involved in other things…

  10. Dovelove — I agree with almost everything you say, except that I don’t think its the Book that’s at fault, I think its the way that people read it. The folks who use it to put the fear of hell into others have an agenda of their own. I also think that if you cut yourself off from the past, you don’t understand the present. A well-rounded appreciation of the literature of the past can help us in understanding why things are as they are today. With the emphasis on well-rounded.

  11. Dovelove, there was a typo in my first sentence, “you see” should be “you say”. But the meaning is much the same anyway, I guess.

  12. John,
    I corrected your typo for you, and will get back to you when I get a chance. Unfortunately work has me a bit swamped today though…

  13. Hi John, I also totally agree with what you just said :) Absolutely, it’s not the book at all, it’s the erroneous interpretation of it. Yeah, organized religion is one of the most insidious ways of keeping us under control. This topic invariably stokes me, I feel religion is the true root of all our ills. And it riles me if I think about it too much, how we’re controlled by it via our laws. How our basic human rights are sucked away because of it. We don’t have true freedom because of it…

    I believe the old book has multiple meanings, but primarily it’s symbolic…and there is much truth in it. Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear, I was half asleep and in a hurry when I typed that, not unlike right now :)

    Ya’ might check out a post I wrote not long ago about how religion separates us, weakens us and keeps us weak and feeling powerless. And, of course, that’s necessary. Gawd forbid :) that we should discover just how powerful we are, that we should unite in that truth, that strength — where would that leave them? We wouldn’t need them :)

  14. except that I don’t think its the Book that’s at fault, I think its the way that people read it.

    “the Book” tells people to stone homosexuals and disrespectful children, to commit genocide, to cheat their employers if they think it will improve their future chances of employment, and you think it’s the way people are reading it? And dovelove blames it on erroneous interpretation? I don’t think I can agree with you two on this. It sounds an awful lot like cherry-picking.

  15. In a sense, all language is metaphor.

    That’s just a metaphor.

  16. Dovelove — I agree with almost everything you say, except that I don’t think its the Book that’s at fault, I think its the way that people read it.

    Absolutely, it’s not the book at all, it’s the erroneous interpretation of it.

    Seriously folks. We’re talking about a book that instructs people to stone to death gays, disrepsectful children, non-virgin brides. It describes multiple occurences of genocide. It fails to say anything against slavery. It instructs employees who are going to be fired soon to cheat their employer’s interest if they feel it will improve their chances of finding another job. If you think the problem is only with the interpretation, I have to suspect you are doing some serious cherry-picking.

  17. John,
    To get back to you on the historical narrative versus the metaphorical explanations as applications of the Bible…

    I think that I’m trying to distinguish between using the stories of the Bible as perspectives of historical figures (the narratives) and the fables or allegories that they use to explain aspects of life (metaphorical explanations).

    The historical perspectives are great. We all like to understand what was going on back then, why they did what they did, and how that influences us today.

    But for the Bible as an explanatory tool for describing the human condition, I find it limited. Metaphors are nice in that they can be a form of art or literature, but they’re crude in some respects. If we can describe the human condition – the issues that we all face simply by the fact that we’re social animals of the species H. sapiens – in more precise terms, that strikes me as an improvement that would make the metaphors of the Bible obsolete.

  18. Reginald, you are quite right that there is no way of “interpreting” the harsh Biblical instructions that you mention that would make them acceptable as moral guidelines today. But my comments on historical perspective earlier in the discussion should answer your objections. Its not about reinterpreting those harsh commands but seeing them in the context of the times when they were promulgated. The interpretation thing comes in regarding stories that should not be taken literally. Have you considered the whole of the line of thinking I put forward?

    Dan, I agree with you that modern prosaic descriptions of reality are a big advance in crucial respects over past modes of understanding that relied heavily on metaphor to account for nearly everything that exists or happens. But as someone who amuses himself attempting to write poetry, I relish the multiple resonances of metaphorical language, so I don’t think its usefulness is completely exhausted yet.

  19. I’d have a tough time with asserting that “the Bible” has been either a positive or negative influence on human moral conduct.

    For one thing, it’s not a single coherent text but an anthology of books that vary widely in content.

    You can’t get away from what people select to emphasize and how people interpret what they read. It seems to me that these texts have been used for everything from launching crusades to recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.

  20. I don’t pretend to be a biblical scholar, the extent of my knowledge of it was reading it here and there as a bible-pounding grade-school kid :) And it didn’t take long before (still as a kid) I realized the people in that church, the things they were saying…it simply made no sense. Yeah, it was contradictory, I could see these church-y people were simply not happy… I almost totally discounted the bible up until about a decade ago when I was introduced to a different way of looking at it, and began to have, um, some very “interesting” experiences that showed me that at least certain statements in the bible are true.

    Reginald, I’m actually amazed and intrigued that those things are in the bible. I’d like to see the actual passages of which you speak. Again, my knowledge of the bible is very limited, but wasn’t it written by a big bunch of people? :) And am I understanding correctly that it was written and re-written, interpreted and re-interpreted, again and again? Is that true? Regardless, why would we think each and every one of those people put the words and such down perfectly as they “received” the info from “God.”

    So what if I told you that I (and anyone) can do the same. That is, we all have the ability to receive this “higher” information. Okay, so just pretend for a minute that this is true (heh). If it were, would we still think this old book is really all that special? The thing is, when I have received very accurate information about the lives of others and myself, among those accurate things, there were some things I apparently didn’t “hear” quite right :) I didn’t “hear” it correctly, or I misunderstood the message. Sometimes taking it literally and it was meant to be symbolic :) Sometimes both meanings were accurate.

    Per this experience, I now believe that those who wrote the bible were the same, they got some of it right, and maybe some of it not-so-right :) That seems reasonable. And just like our, uh, fine judges, our own bias invariably creeps into the messages we’re receiving. I’m doubting that ALL of those people were any different in that regard. They were still human beings.

    Even so, there is some very significant truth in the bible. But the two statements that I believe are true above all the rest is “believe and it shall be so” and “all things are possible.” I’ve seen the absolute truth in the former, and it could not be true without the latter :)

    Now, forget all that, ’cause I know that’s likely mind-blowing to ya’ — and you totally don’t believe that, or that we all have the potential to be like “prophets” (psychics?)…or “do all that Jesus did and more”? :) Nah, that’s BS :) Okay, that’s fine :)

    Anyway, Reginald, back to the cheating employers and all that. Again, that intrigues me, do you happen to have a biblical version of that, of what it actually says. Since I’ve been, um, potently taught that symbolism is the “Universal language,” that is how I would first look at any message from this or any other book..or any type of similar message :)

    For example, the mention of a male might be a reference to our left brain, a female might be representative of the right brain… Oh, here’s a good one. That spare the rod thing. I loathe the ill interpretation of that statement. It has clearly given people the encouragement to beat (any type of striking) their children. I personally believe this has been a potent seed for all our self-loathing…

    So what is the “rod” then, if not a stick to beat your child with? Well, in the Tarot, another “book” of life :) … there are four suits, one of them is called “Wands.” Or sometimes this suit is also called “Staffs” or “Rods” :) So what does the “rod” represent? This suit can be a reference to our creativity or WORK :) Both of which I believe would benefit our children more than a beating with a literal “rod.” No, children shouldn’t get jobs, but kids that are taught responsibility, by having chores they are requrired to do to “earn their keep” are going to grow into finer adults and not be “spoiled” :) Helping a kid to discover his/her creativity is also a jewel for establishing self-esteem… very much unlike striking them, as if they’re less than human. Also, I’m “getting” :) another type of meaning…the baton of a conductor, it kinda guides :) The “rod” could simply be referencing guidance.

    Oh, another is the “honor thy father and mother,” which has always seemed ridiculous to me. Biology? We honor people simply because they conceived a child, even if they put it in a dumpster?… Or, it matters not that they might be people who do horrible, and very not-honorable things? That’s stupid. So what does it mean? Back to the male/female thing :) What the bible is telling us with this is that we should honor both sides of US. We all have both a male and female side, left and right hand, left and right brain, logical and creative/intuitive… Use them, “honor” them BOTH. Per my atypical experiences, that makes a lot of sense to me :) Certainly more than the other.

    Admittedly, it would be a challenge to find symbolic meaning in the cheating thing and the rest of what you mention, that’s why I’d like to see the actual wording. But I know there are people who could give you a symbolic meaning in a heartbeat. I don’t know that I could, but it might be fun to try :)

    Peace,
    Dove

  21. Hi all,

    Dove, the verses that Reginald is refering to, (but taking literally, in a different manner than intended, no offense meant), are the following (Jesus is telling this story):

    Luke, a book in the New Testament of the Bible, NIV version, Chapter 16
    The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

    1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

    3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

    5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

    6” ‘Eight hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied.
    “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

    7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
    ” ‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied.
    “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

    8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

    10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

    13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

    14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

    _______________

    Me again :) The manager commends the shrewd actions of the soon-to-be-fired employee, from one shrewd man to another. Grudgingly perhaps, but commends them nonetheless. There was nothing the manager could do about it– he’s about to fire the employee and the record books are set and the debts decreased. This is a difficult verse, and when taken out of context, might sound like Jesus is saying “buy your way into heaven.” He isn’t (which is helped to be made clear by the verses that immediately follow). He is refering to the fact that people who don’t necessarily believe in him or have anything to do with him are sometimes a lot better than people who do believe in him at using wealth in ways that will benefit their futures. He’s refering to the fact that, although you aren’t allowed to spend eternity with him just because you gave money to the poor, there are rewards for the things you do in this world, whether we think it makes sense or not. People are rewarded in the future for the (beneficial) actions they take now, and they should be taking those actions, but not because they are rewarded. Rather, because it is something they feel compelled to do. Out of love. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (from Luke, too chapter 6 verse 45) that verse, which I am fond of, just came to mind. This is a confusing passage, however, especially when taken out of context. Just wanted to pipe up and say that. Thanks :)

  22. All,
    Thanks for the continued interest, and the depth of the responses! If I may just comment again on one of the themes a couple of you appear to be bringing up, and echoing each other on: that “it’s not the book at all, it’s the erroneous interpretation of it.”

    Well, that may be true, but let me remind you of the rhetorical way in which we refer to the Bible. While yes, it’s actually a collection of books by a lot of authors, we still refer to it as the Book, or the Word. Why?

    Clearly everyone here is in agreement that there are large parts of the Bible that just plain don’t make any sense, or require convoluted attempts at rationalizing to construct a sensible interpretation. It just appears to me that one needs a powerful imagination to re-interpret the Bible so that it becomes relevant to us today.

    Additionally, it seems to me that whether we’re talking about the Bible or any other book, we believe in certain ideas because they’re good ideas, and match well with our personal experiences and perspectives; we don’t believe in ideas simply because they’re Ideas (note the rhetorical use of the word ‘idea’).

    In short, we need to take this book down off its pedestal.

  23. Dan (and others),

    In short we need to take this book down off its pedestal.

    Although the authors of the books of the Bible evidently spoke eloquently to the audiences of their times on the moral questions they faced, the Bible does not speak with the same eloquence to us today. A system of moral guidance is desired by people of the present day that speaks to the world as we find it now. “In large part … loss of faith in traditional religion has been an inevitable consequence of failure to discover in it the guidance required to live with modernity, successfully and with assurance.” (Quoted from One Common Faith a Baha’i book which can be found on the Project Gutenberg website.) Yet, any adequate moral compass for us ought to build on the insights of past generations, rather than throw out the revered literature of the past wholesale. To fully understand modern philosophy one must have a good grounding in Plato and Aristotle. To understand Einstein one needs a grounding in Newton’s physics. Which brings to mind Newton’s famous statement that his achievements came from the fact that he stood on the shoulders of giants. Toppling pedestals? Or kicking the giants out from under us? If the latter, our own stature might diminish.

  24. John,
    Good comeback. I think that will shut me up for a while…
    ;-)

  25. “In short we need to take this book down off its pedestal.”

    I agree completely :)

    “To fully understand modern philosophy one must have a good grounding in Plato and Aristotle.”

    I disagree :) There was a well-known “psychic” named Edgar Cayce, he could speak other languages when under his “trance” where he accessed “higher” information. He wasn’t “grounded” in these languages, he didn’t have that knowledge in his “lower consciousness,” and yet he spoke them. He wasn’t a freak of nature, we all have the potential to do this, to access this type of information and understanding… It’s just a matter of time before this is common knowledge. I know this because I’ve done it, accessed information for which there was no logical basis for me to know… I still do it, and I know others who do it…I’ve been in a room full of strangers, just regular people, who — upon a few simple directives — were all doing this “psychic” thing… I “received” accurate info about them, they received accurate info about me — this was my very first experience. Amazing. I won’t respond to any inquiries in this regard, because most people can’t bring themselves to believe such a thing. Plus, it’s tiring trying to explain it to those who don’t truly wish to believe it could be possible… And that’s okay. Again, it’s only a matter of time — but, this is why I disagree :)

    Yep, it’s a “giant” alright, a giant that has come close to totally destroying us. No? Religion is everywhere, firmly infused in our society, our laws…and yet look at us? Why the hell hasn’t so much religion created heaven on earth? :) Because it’s teaching and creating hell with it’s judgment/hatred — and wow, what an impressive hell it’s created :) We don’t give a damn who we kill or maim as long as we fill our pockets… The crime and violence is unthinkable… Children who hate themselves so much that they will kill another for a designer jacket… Children who are so messed up they’ll go into a school and have a shooting spree… We hate ourselves so much that we are destroying our own planet. Why hasn’t all our valuable religion, our wonderful “giant,” prevented this??

    It’s bullshit that we need the absurd interpretations of this old book to teach us to love each other… It doesn’t teach love, it teaches hatred. We don’t need rules to teach us to love — rules, fear and forcing, don’t create love in people’s hearts. And THAT is truly the only thing we need to know, to have — love in our hearts. And the only way that comes is with self-love, and the church teaches us just the opposite, that we’re “wretched,” that we’re “sinners,” that the likelihood is that we will fry in hell… Oh, but regardless of that, if you do this “accepting of Jesus” and all, then you won’t fry. But that BS doesn’t really make sense to most people, they just pretend to believe it, ’cause they don’t want to fry — so they understandably live in fear of not measuring up. Self-hatred. And hatred of oneself creates hatred of others… Hatred/judgment is deadly. To hell with the erroneous version of the “giant.” It’s killing us.

    What we need is to start raising people to love themselves, not reference themselves as sinners, and who are beaten into submission per the bible… Imagine the kind of people we’d raise if, as children, we’d been taught that we were too special to strike, that we were genuinely special — just because we are :) Not because we have money, or some special talent, or fine clothes, but just us without any trappings, so very precious. Precious because we’re these amazing loving beings, accepting others just the way they are — not trying to force anyone to do or be anything. Just love, just emphasizing loving oneself, and how precious all human beings are — how valuable they are. Can you even begin to imagine? If people are born into love, they become loving… Look around you, does this look like a planet of people who were born into love?? Geez, isn’t it obvious? And it’s BS that people who are loving often raise an unloving child…it’s a rare person in this hating society that is genuinely self-loving… Love begets love. What other “morals” do ya’ need if ya’ have that?

    Now, for what it’s worth :) here’s what I think about the stuff on cheating the employer.

    Are you kidding me? You honestly believe that this guy’s employer praised him for stealing from him?? I don’t believe that happened for a minute, unless the employer was a total fool. I think the reason the interpretations tend to be “convoluted” is because the original “words of God” have been twisted. I think whoever wrote/re-wrote this, wrote it in such a way so as to convey the message that the author felt was being conveyed.

    Even so, my intuition hones in on the word “master.” How it’s used for several different things here, it makes it kind of a puzzle. Who was the actual “master” that “commended” this guy for his dishonesty? Not much of one, that’s for sure. Was this particular “master” his boss, God, Jesus, or MONEY? Well, among those choices, I’d say hands down, this “commending” master was a reference to MONEY. It mentions money as a master. What master was he serving in being dishonest? Money. The dictionary says that “commended” can mean to “represent as worthy.” His dishonest certainly proved him worth of his master, Money.

    What has come to me is that when we are dishonest, we acquire things that we don’t truly want, but if we are honest, we will acquire those things that we do truly want. Regardless, the former has no strength in it’s foundation, it will ultimately crumble — it will be lost eventually. Perhaps Jesus’ message was actually that yeah, we can do this, but you will lose what you gain through dishonesty, and then you will know that honesty is how you get to “heaven” (aka, true peace — on Earth and beyond).

    Peace,
    Dove

  26. Dan,
    Love to talk with you, but this would be a serious side track from this discussion.
    Please go to my website http://www.sanityquestpublishing.com and email me.
    Or suggest some other way to do it.

  27. John Bryden,
    I agree with you that people (even believers in an afterlife) care about justice in this world primarily because of reward & punishment possibilities in this life. So I don’t think we have any disagreement.

  28. Participants in this thread may be interested to read “People
    of the Book”
    , this being a review in the Guardian newspaper of Karen Armstrong’s book, The Bible: the Biography. The review contains observations that relate closely to the discussion that has been going on above.

  29. For those following along here –
    Relating to Clarifier’s comments, I left the following response at his blog:

    Regarding your comment on my blog, and your related issue of the afterlife and justice mentioned here – I think that we can agree that one can be a Christian and sensible. But it is not being Christian that makes you moral. You are moral for the good choices and deeds that you carry out, not for what god you pray to.

    Similarly, I don’t buy the notion that fear of retribution in an afterlife is the great motivator that you appear to suggest it is. For one, that completely ignores the many consequences that our actions have upon our lives in this life, as though those consequences were unimportant. For another, the focus on the afterlife appears selfish to me – when a person focuses on how his consequences impact himself or herself, they forget that they should be caring about the effects of their actions on others too. If you only care about your fate, and not the fates of your friends and family, that’s selfish.

    Similarly, the focus on whether one believes in the correct god (or whether there is a god), misses the point. If what matters is what god you worship, then even the cruel and unjust will go to a good place in the afterlife if they accept the right god, correct?

    What matters is what good acts we do here and now, in this life; and that fact isn’t changed by afterlives or origins of life, or gods.

    ** As an afterthought, it may be the case that fear of repercussions in the afterlife are a powerful motivator – for forcing us to do things in the name of our group that we otherwise would be hesitant to do. For example, going to war, or performing some other costly act. In that case, behavioral conditioning (i.e. combination of the promise of a reward for action and the threat of punishment for inaction) would indeed be a very powerful motivator.

    That said, what is the value of such costly actions in a moral society?

  30. Thanks for the book link John.

  31. Actions are meaningless, and you’ll get no “brownie points” for them. Intention is everything. Think about it — even in a court of law, motivation/intention is a key factor. Just to “not be selfish” isn’t a worthy motivation for “being good.” Genuinely caring about the welfare of others is.

    Genuine “goodness” comes from self-love. If you haven’t got that, there’s simply no way you can truly love another. It’s an impossiblity. Sure, you can go through the motions, most do. Call it whatever ya’ like…

    There is no fantasy “heaven” or “hell.” It amazes me how many people believe that. And, of course, it’s a strong motivation to “being good.” It’s understandable to believe such fantasy as a child (and that’s where they hook ya’), but to continue to believe it into adulthood astounds me.

    We encompass all, we create all of it with what is genuinely in our hearts, our true intention, and that creates “heaven” (peace) or “hell” (suffering) — in this life, the next, wherever we may be. I assure you, Job One is self-love (that is loving/worshiping “God” — we are “God”), because that is truly the only way you can love another. “Do unto others…” because they are you. “Judge not…” because they are you. These directives are intended to get us to understand this, the nature of our energy — it travels in a circle. What you truly think/feel/act toward another, this will come BACK to you (“heaven” or “hell”). You choose. Note, look at all the “circles” around us, in our world (wheels, Earth, planets, electricity, our blood, days, seasons…) It all comes back around — that’s a hint :)

    Regardless, I’ll leave you in peace to believe as you wish. There’s no severe consequences (fairy-tale hell) either way, unless you believe this to be so, and that’s always our choice :) But only that will last until you realize in the “afterlife” that it is you who are continuing to create your own hell — even “over there.” :)

    Peace,
    Dove

  32. Dove,

    Actions are meaningless, and you’ll get no “brownie points” for them.

    Of course actions are vital. “Having good intentions” is just the rationalization that one says when they try and fail. Trying and failing are better than not trying, to be sure. But trying and succeeding is the goal here.

    I’m sorry that you think that I meant “not to be selfish” was a conscious motivation. The way you phrase it makes it appear that we agree, but that you didn’t notice it.

    There is no fantasy “heaven” or “hell.” It amazes me how many people believe that.

    Agreed. But one point at a time. While I think that Clarifier is mistaken for assuming that there is a Heaven or a Hell, I wasn’t taking him on on that point, in that comment. But thank you for making the point.

  33. Well, I must say when I “heard” :) that actions were meaningless, it kinda freaked me out. But when it was explained, it made sense. Actions aren’t vital at all, again without right intention behind them, they mean nothing.

    And in that I mean, “right intention” is when one is truly feeling an intuitive pull to do a certain thing, as opposed to putting money in the plate ’cause Sally Jo with think less of you if you don’t… It’s all about our “intuition,” if you will, that connection to one’s Higher Self (our Godself). Ya’ feel strongly that it’s the right thing to do, it “warms” you to do it. That is, your action is based on truth — because you felt that truth in your heart, you wanted to help that person, or make that donation. You truly wanted to do it, you truly felt it was the right thing to do. No pressure, no fear involved.

    On the other hand, nothing truly positive (even if it appears to be a good thing) comes from actions that are rooted in fear (like the Sally Jo thing). See? Some might counter that, because they think it matters not what was in the heart of the person taking the action, just that the action appeared to be a good thing, or that it appeard to bring about a good thing.

    But it’s not just about being “do-gooders,” many of whom, in fact, have control issues. They appear to want to help others, when what they really want is to control others. And I’ll concede that often this is a subconscious thing. Regardless, if our “God” wants anything, he/she wants us to learn to trust our own hearts (our own Higher Self), and to not live and act in fear (more important than do-gooding) — which is what most of us do. And that means nothing to “God.” Why would this brilliant, loving being bestow “heaven” upon someone who is either acting from fear or solely from a desire to get to “heaven”? The latter too being about fear… I think “heaven” would be a not-so-great place with such paltry requirements, heh :)

    We grow and become strong when we act in faith, not fear. “God” wants to us to know our own power, and that doesn’t come from fear, but “faith” — not in “Him,” but in Us (remember, we are “him”). Doesn’t it make sense that a magnificent “God” would want “his children” to know their own power, to be strong, and to not be cowering, fearful little sheep? If there were a separate “God,” why in the world would he/she want a “heaven” full of people like this? True power comes from true love and peace in one’s heart, and faith in oneself (as opposed to fearful actions for fear of being judged or going to hell).

    Again, actions are meaningless unless they are fueled by faith (not fear and a need to control — same thing).

  34. Dove,
    I think that you’re missing the point. If you have the “truth in your heart” in doing something, but end up hurting people or not making a difference, it really isn’t that good.

    Pretending that it’s what’s in your heart that makes a difference, and not actually what you do, is just wishy-washy nonsense.

    When have you ever heard of someone being praised for “having good intentions?”

  35. Hmmm, and I felt like you were missing the point, lol You totally don’t get it — and that’s okay. This will be my last post. I have to assume someone who has read my words does “get it” and it’s of benefit to them. Hopefully pulling them out of the fearful life that the majority of “christians” live…okay, all of them :)

    “Pretending that it’s what’s in your heart that makes a difference, and not actually what you do, is just wishy-washy nonsense.”

    I don’t know where you’re getting pretending — it’s like you didn’t even read my posts. Maybe you’re coming up with that word because you know that’s what religioius ones do. My statements weren’t regarding those who “pretend,” they were about those who don’t.

    It’s funny though regarding the “nonsense,” because that’s exactly the way I feel about what you believe :) But I’m not angry, there’s no reason to be :) I’ve experienced and continue to experience a lot of things that you haven’t a clue about — yet :) But it’s something we’ll all experience…but not necessarily in this lifetime (“you must be reborn”) ;)

    It astounds me, you call what I believe nonsense and yet look at what the majority of the religious ones believe. They believe some precious man died on a cross for them — why would he do that — more importantly, why would he need to do that? That’s stupid. And they morbidly wear an emblem around their neck celebrating the horrible death he endured. They eat crackers and drink juice pretending that’s them eating his flesh and blood??? Barbaric. They believe all they have to do is “believe” (something we can’t really control) this BS and they will automatically get a ticket to “heaven” — even if they were Charles Manson up until that point.

    They believe “God” has a penis, lol! They believe that “heaven” has roads of gold — and that’s a good thing because?? lol And you’re telling me what I believe is ridiculous?? lol Alrighty then…

    If you TRULY have the truth in your heart, and you act on that, you can do no wrong :) It doesn’t matter what it looks like to YOU. Thankfully, your assessment of what is “good” or not good is irrelevant per the big picture :) The “Universe” or “God” sees, knows and understands things that your lower consciousness doesn’t.

    Here’s an easy example :) “Bill” felt a “love thing” for his secretary. He didn’t want to hurt his wife, but he felt such love for this woman…and he acted on that despite his marriage. When the wife found out, she was deeply hurt — she left him. But a year later she met someone that she fell so deeply in love with that she realized she was never really in love with Bill :) This new man also helped her in many ways to become so much more than she could have ever imagined she could be… Bill hurt her with his unfaithfulness, but did he really do her a disservice?? :) Her life is now sooo much better than what it was with him. Yeah, she experienced pain because of his actions, but if you ask her, she’ll tell you it was totally worth it — per the ultimate result of it.

    There are lots of stories like the one above. “Good” things often come from what we ignorantly label as “bad.” And just because we can’t always see that happy outcome, it doesn’t mean that what happened wasn’t for the ultimate “good.” There is much we don’t know beyond this lifetime :)

    Ya’ see, Dan, you don’t know the “big picture.” Yep, Bill “followed his heart” even though it hurt someone, and he will pay the energetic consequences of that — as it merits per his own Higher Self. But his intentions were not to hurt his wife, but to follow his heart. It would have been a different story if he taken pleasure in hurting his wife…

    No it doesn’t always work out that nicely, but again, we don’t KNOW what really is “good” or “bad” for someone or their life. Our “guide” is that feeling in our heart, that connection to our Higher Self. It’s clear you don’t seem to get that. Okay, gotcha.

    You keep saying this bs about “having good intentions,” (lol)you clearly aren’t reading my posts or you’re totally blind to what I’m saying. And that’s okay too, but I’m not going to try to explain it to you again.

    I’m gonna go now, lol ;) “Wishy-washy nonsense” lol

    Peace,
    Dove

  36. Okay, please feel free to come back and be a little more concise next time.

    Sheesh.

  37. To all:
    For future reference, please be concise and to-the-point, and not waste time with lengthy paragraphs that are seemingly irrelevant. (lengthy comments that stick to the point are fine)

    I’m sure that I agree partly with everyone that visits here on something, and I’d like to find that common ground. However we also want to learn from each other, and discuss the merits and faults of each others arguments. Sometimes however, even if we’re right though, we might not be arguing persuasively. And likewise, when we’re wrong, hopefully we can admit that instead of getting upset.

    I’d like to think that every person who visits here has something helpful to say. But if you can’t argue rationally AND concisely, you might as well be writing in hieroglyphics. Similarly, if I fail to persuade or make sense – then my apologies. Let’s work on it together…

  38. Hmm… I had some more free time today, and went back to try and figure out what the heck Dove’s point actually was. As you may have noticed in my previous replies, I’ve been having a tough time understanding her.

    Anyway, she said this:

    Actions aren’t vital at all, again without right intention behind them, they mean nothing. And in that I mean, “right intention” is when one is truly feeling an intuitive pull to do a certain thing, as opposed to putting money in the plate ’cause Sally Jo with think less of you if you don’t…

    Well, that’s an interesting idea. A good deed or action isn’t much of one if it is an accident, or not done by conscious choice. So I agree there.

    But I don’t know about “intuitive pull,” “right intention,” or this bit: “That is, your action is based on truth — because you felt that truth in your heart, you wanted to help that person, or make that donation.”

    Now those sound wishy-washy. An action isn’t a good deed just because it gives you a good feeling. Nor is a person good because they want to be, or to demonstrate to others that they are good. In this case, making a donation is fine – it contributes and helps in a small, ordinary way. The world needs that. But a truly good deed is one that stands out and makes a real difference.

    Very few of us (myself included) ever actually succeed in making such a difference, by really affecting another person’s life for the better. Yet, that’s what makes a person “good” in my opinion, as opposed to just like the rest of us.

  39. Dan & Dove,

    I’m with Dove on this one. The core of a good deed is the motivation behind it. There is nothing praiseworthy about doing the right thing for the wrong motive. Indeed corrupt motives in the long run and when endemic in society are destructive. Sincerity of motive cumulatively has a constructive effect. Even the “wrong” thing done for the right reason will lead to good results because the doer will see that the desired effect has not been achieved and will try again with a modified approach. Someone who genuinely wishes to have a positive effect on others is of course driven to consider carefully what course of action to take. I recall as a child making the cliched remark about gift-giving, “its the thought that counts”, to which my father responded, “so long as you really do think about it.” Dove’s remarks about “intuitive pull” etc., I take as descriptions of the inner psychological processes involved in being attracted towards positive goals and determining how to carry them out. Day to day we use faculties for this that go beyond ratiocination. And dare I say it, women tend to be more intuitive than men!

  40. Maybe I’m just caught up on the use of the word “intuitive.” To me it sounds like a hunch, or something without the “thought behind it” that you mention. Intuition, or “right intention” doesn’t imply an action with conscious decision behind it.

    I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not referring to the little things, that we often do subconsciously or intuitively, just because we want to be nice people. Niceness is great. So is cooperation. And sharing. And trying to present a nice gift to a friend or loved one.

    Those are nice things. I’m trying to distinguish those from good things. And let me try to clarify what I mean by that: I see a world that does have its share of injustices, inequities, sufferings, and sadness. These are things that most of us never feel an intuitive pull towards helping out with, myself included. Out of habit, most of us just walk on past, saying to ourselves that “It’s not my business” or “What can I do?” Yes, as I’ve agreed, it does take choice and intention to confront those habits of complacency and indifference. But even among those people who want to try to help, few actually go beyond a token small gift that doesn’t change anything. Few people actually put themselves on the line to try and do something about injustices, inequities, or whatever else there is in the world that needs someone.

    Perhaps I’m using the wrong word though when I call such actions “good.” The people that do those “good deeds” become heroes to those who receive assistance, so maybe heroism is a better word. Regardless, I’m talking about something that makes a difference in the world, and is not merely something that spurs a positive feeling exchanged from one person to another.

    And, to bring it back to the original topic of this thread (theism or non-theism) – both do have plenty of instances of heroic morality. Good deeds that actually have an impact on the world for the better. But I also see a lot of instances, at least by theists, where their appeals to their moral code (derived from religious doctrine) aren’t heroic. They’re not even neutral – they actually promote injustice and division. Secular human rights and philanthropies are marked improvements over the operational modes of theism.

  41. I came to this discussion a bit late, I am afraid. I would like to get back to the Bible a bit, if I might.

    What I think odd about the Bible is its “fluidity.” It can mean whatever an authoritative voice tells us it means; and too many authoritative voices have muddied the waters.

    I just finished a review of Hector Avalos’ Fighting Words, and I will add a trackback rather than re-writing it.

    Parsing The Bible to learn its true meanings, or even to use it in “Atheist v Christian” debates is an exercise in futility, ultimately because it is not a verifiable resource.

  42. Fighting Words – Inscripturation

    Religion as a Scarce Resource
    I had mentioned in a prior post that Hector Avalos keys on Inscripturation’s role in creating religion as a scarce resource, and from the comments on that post I take that I really didn’t explain very well what…

  43. Blue guy,
    Sounds as though Avalos (and yourself) echo my sentiments on religion – or the dominant religions in Western civilization at least – as establishing and reinforcing ethnocentric prerogatives. And, relating more to my post here, “being good” is not something derived from the Bible. Instead, being good to our family, extended kin, and community are something that we bring into our interpretations of the Bible.

    Moreover, we read this sense of being good primarily into interactions with those within our community, connecting it to the aforementioned ethnocentric concepts, and read hostile (Ann Coulter-ish) interpretations into our interactions with ideological and theological opponents. But again, atheists do this too, leaving me to think that appeals to the Bible are superstitious hoodwinking at best and sociopathically delusional at worst.


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