May 25, 2005

Rachel Ann is egging me on...

It appears that the wonderful blogger (and fellow MuNuvian) Rachel Ann at the Willow Tree is wanting to start up a discussion regarding my "Truth" series. She sent me a lovely email today, and the more I read it, the more I wanted to respond to her (Don't get scared Rachel, we actually agree). Specifically (and I hope it's not bad form for me to quote her) the statement where she says:

I felt, still do, that it is easier to be moral
within a religious context than it is to be moral without G-d standing beside one.

What can I say? She's absolutely correct. It is Orders of Magnitude easier to be, and remain, moral when there is a Diety there to answer to. I'll now explain my perspective to you.

(backstory) In my early formative years, my family was a group of "Sunday-Only" Baptists. We went to church, and I remember doing the whole Bible-School thing. Pretty average folks, for being in the South in the late Seventies. I remember being Baptized (very vaguely). I remember the teaching of the Ten Commandments, most of which I didn't understand at the time, and the Golden Rule. Then we moved to another city in Tennessee and had to join another church. Here's the juicy part. The new church decided that they needed to Baptize me again. Yup. I've been Baptized twice, and my middle name is Paul so I've been named very closely to the most popular Pope of the modern era. I should be religious as Hell.

Unfortunately, the second Baptizm sparked the urge in me to question my religion, and in fact, religion in general. After looking into most of the Big Ones, I even started looking into some of the alternative faiths. None of them "clicked" with me. There was always something that seemed false. Flash forward twenty-some years, and you get the Athiest I am today. (/backstory)

It is my contention that the very foundation of Every Religion (with few exception) is at its core, the same. The base precepts are essentially alike, and that led me to think that these core ideals are more of a simple human reaction, than they are derived from a devine source. "It's how we're built" is a lot harder to accept than "G-d Wills It!". The concept of "Absolution" becomes null and void. The idea of a "Cruel God" comes into the spotlight, except the "Cruel God" is Me. I am my own worst critic. I look back and see where I've failed, and then the guilt sets in. For someone who has a G-d to lean on, they can make it all better with just a few Hail-Mary's, or the understanding that Jesus forgives them, or that YHWH will judge them and there's nothing they can do about it so let's just get on with our lives.

For the devout, ultimate responsibilty lies at the foot of the Diety. For the Athiest, it all lies at one's own foot. Which one's easier? You tell me.

Thanks again to Rachel Ann for the wonderful inspiration.

Posted by Johnny - Oh at May 25, 2005 11:44 PM

Are you talking about secular humanism?

Posted by: ArmyWifeToddlerMom at May 25, 2005 11:59 PM

To a certain degree. Once I read their theology, it rang a lot more true than anything else I'd seen. The problem with the majority of them is they are elitists. I proclaim (I hope) that I am no more noble than the next person, so I don't quite hold with their philosophy.

Posted by: Johnny - Oh at May 26, 2005 12:41 AM

Personally, I'm more favorably inclined toward Objectivist ethics, since it tends to focus more on the practice of virtues rather than the avoidance of vices.

Kind of a "keep your eye on the ball thing" :-)

Anyway, does having a God help? Yes it does, in the sense that you need to have SOME sort of absolute upon which to base your ethical decisions, and God fulfills that role.

Posted by: Harvey at May 26, 2005 01:21 PM

My Dear Husbands "Step-Dad" that is visiting, is a secular humanist. He is a great guy and great company. He is lovely to speak with, a very open and interesting man.
We are respectful of each others "life philosophy", and although I am Christian, and he is secular humanist, we overlap on may of our ideas.

Posted by: ArmyWifeToddlerMom at May 26, 2005 11:28 PM

Very interesting. I would say that you are correct; most religions have laws regarding ownership and use of property (and thus theft), sexual mores, and murder. It makes sense on many levels; no matter how we picture the begining of human life and existence, our origins were small.

However, in Judaism there isn't a simple form for forgiveness. Forgiveness must be worked for, striven for. It must include no only restitution, and the request for forgiveness if one has wronged a person, but a serious attempt never to committ that sin again: ultimately, the test of whether or not one has changed is if, when facing the same temptation again, one chooses a different, more moral path, then one has in fact repented.In Judaism it is not simply a matter of releasing it all to G-d.

When I say it is easier being under G-d then without, I mean that the fine tuning is more explicit. Jews have both and oral and a written law, and used together they answer most of the questions that could face us. The knowledge held by a wise Rabbi is the ability to use, know where to find the rulings, and how to come up with a unique ruling (for a situation not known before) based on the past.

I also think it easier because why something, in the absence of G-d, should be considered immoral is difficult to explain from logic alone. The criterion of course could be "what creates harm to another living human being." but who is considered human and what is considered harm? Is it a subjective thing? The answers, under G-d, are actually spelled out: Less than X amount of money lost does is not considered theft. To kill under x/y reason is not considered murder. It is all spelled out, and, even if the lay person can not always judge the situation for him/herself, here is someone who can provide an answer.

Easier to state something is or is not moral because G-d said so than because "well I reasoned it out and decided it is moral". The key word being "I". Another "I" may have another definition.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at May 26, 2005 11:33 PM

The base precepts are essentially alike, and that led me to think that these core ideals are more of a simple human reaction, than they are derived from a devine source. "It's how we're built" is a lot harder to accept than "G-d Wills It!".

I consider myself an athiest/agnostic but still think about God. I think of God not as a "diety" (in the sense that it's usually discussed), but as "the Author" of What Is.

Saying "it's how we're build", then, is the same as saying "God wills it". That God's Way is revealed as much the same Way to various disparate peoples and cultures is a testiment to the truth of God's teachings (through "prophets").

As Rachel Ann said:

I also think it easier because why something, in the absence of G-d, should be considered immoral is difficult to explain from logic alone.

We agree on what is moral (more often than not, anyway) because God "speaks" to us and tells us what is moral and immoral. To believe that morality is inate knowledge, not God-created, is only to change the name of the Author "God" to "Nature". But, I believe, that they are one and the same.

At least, that's how I think about God these days. Read the Bible in that context (and take much of it as allegory) and I think you'll begin to see religious teachings in a whole new and enlightening way. Works for me! :D

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 28, 2005 04:21 PM

Or, let me put it another way.

Westren tradition, dating from Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Norse, etc, had many dieties. These were immortal People with names and family relations. Judaism and Christianity discarded those Gods in favor of the 1 God, but kept the idea of a "personified" God.

Far Eastern relgions went for the "essential" God (God as an essence, not a diety). But God's truth was revealed to Eastern prophets as much the same truth. (Hinduism is kinda a mix of the two. No surprise there what with Indi@ being at the crossroads n'all...) [Indi@ is banned as "questionable content". WTF?!]

I think that the reason we are taught to think of a personified God is because a) it's just easier, and it follows that b) that's how we were taught as children. And it's a hard concept to unlearn!

That's not to say that God is an indifferent collection of physical and interpersonal laws. God is the thing that created those laws, and we were created by God via those laws. God, then, is all of the things that we can't measure, touch, smell, hear, taste or see.

F'rinstance, we can measure a falling rock. The mass of the rock, the speed of it's accelleration, the energy of it's impact with the ground. But, we can't measure why it falls at that rate of accelleration and not another one, or why that rock is falling down and not up.

Through science we know enough about God's laws to be able to predict a solar eclipse centuries in advance. But, we have to look inward to find God's laws about morality. And, there, inside of us, is planted the very knowledge that we need and it's because we were created by the Nature that we observe in the "outside world".

My whole point is that, because God's laws of morality seem as universal as the laws of Nature, then maybe it's not God that you don't believe in, but, rather, it's only the way God is usually thought about and taught about that you don't accept.

Look at all of the different relgions from East and West. Don't bother with specific dogma and dieties, but just look at what they proclaim that God says and ask, "Is it true?" If it is then it's likely that what their prophets have "heard" is the voice of Nature revealing God's law.

So, what exactly is "God"? Hell if I know. And I've been rambling on long enough.

May the Force be with you!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 28, 2005 04:58 PM

Actually, the more I think about it the more I think that I'm making your case for you! Dang, this argument can be circular!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 29, 2005 12:01 AM

In general it doesn't matter to me where or how someone gains their understanding of right and wrong. But I have always seen religion as a shortcut - you don't have to do the work because someone else has determined for you what it right and wrong.

The problem I have with that is that so few people give any thought to the morality they have been handed. They accept it on faith, without question and without understanding. It is so because god made it so and as such it is beyond question.

They do not understand the morality of a given choice or even the concept of morality. The know only the rules they have been fed.

I also have an issue with what I call religious absolutists. They are people who believe that their version of morality handed down in their version of what their version of god told them is the only one that is true. I'm not arguing moral relativism here. I mean the the people who think your wrong if you come to the same moral conclusion by a different path. And I include in this group that special brand of wingnuts I like to call god fearing atheists. You know the ones who who panic if someone puts a manger in a public park in December.

I have no interest in the pomp and ceremony of worship, but if what it teaches you keeps you from robbing me or killing me great.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at May 29, 2005 09:03 AM

I mean the the people who think your wrong if you come to the same moral conclusion by a different path.

Exactly. Authority rests only with the Author and the problem starts when we confuse "Because God said so!" with "Because I said so!". As far as Christianity goes, that little idea resulted in the Reformation, where Martin Luther loudly proclaimed that the Authority is the Bible, not the Church.

Religion (the scriptures, not the pomp and heirarchies) is valuable because it shows us what those who've come before us have learned. Ignoring all relgious teachings/writings is to start from scratch -- to not benefit from, or build on, the knowledge of our forebearers. Even dogmatic athiests (those who are "offended" by relgious displays) would do well to read up on what it is, exactly, that they're opposing. They'll probably find something valuable that they can build on rather than destroy.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 29, 2005 12:35 PM
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