Saturday, September 18, 2010

9-Page Reply #3

Moving on to ethics and theidiotcy, I mean, theodicy. This is a long post and still incomplete. I will write about ethics at later times, but this touches on it. Feel free to read or not read.

Note: I make it clear in this post that I am working on my ethics, and maybe we all are. I say this because you could easily attack things I say and I'm saying that you may need to lower your standards, this goes for anyone who reads it. I believe that ethical systems are more diverse and more numerous than there are religions!

My ethics are evolving and I expect to make many mistakes during the next few years while I rewrite my standards. Some things obviously have not change, I still don't believe it is right to 'murder', and I don't ever plan on driving after having a drink, and have avoided that very well so far. But my ethics on using the Lord's name in vain seems pointless, except when concerned with company, and my sexual ethics probably need to be looked into very deeply.

One point made by Demosthenes was actually a misunderstanding of the point I was making, but I do not mind clarifying. I said that Islam and Mormonism have some similarities in that they accomplished some good when founded but have not moved on to better, higher morals, or have not done so easily. That was the point in that statement, as simple as that, only to assert that from my limited historical knowledge on the subjects the two seem similar and this is why.

It is my understanding that Islam actually helped women a lot when it was started, that the sexism was much greater beforehand, and that their lives improved under the religion. The same can be said of Mormonism under Joseph Smith and even under Brigham Young. Women allowed in the church with men, (mostly normal though), women received temple ordinances, and even some received the second anointing, women given rights to vote in Utah (which was then taken away by the government so women could not vote for polygamy so the government could free them from suppression … lol). Islam, I believe, was a religion that said you shouldn’t kill infants just for being born and unwanted. In fact, I believe Muhammad said that the parents would go to hell for doing so.

In the context of the times the two religions brought about some good. It often seems, to me, that new religions generally improve on the moral standards, which tells me that we do evolve to understand our own morals and are evolving in a more moral and ethical direction. Blacks and the priesthood took a while, the LGBT community will probably be similar to that.The two religions have plenty of differences, and I was never meaning to imply that their original ethical systems were very similar, they aren’t. Next in the email was my comments on feminism, which I felt I had said poorly and quickly replied to last week. Generally, my views on life decisions and goals focuses around whatever makes people happy, obviously with some qualifiers attached though.

Humanism is not something I’ve gotten into very much. Most of my understanding of it comes from podcasts where there are humanist guest speakers or hosts. Honestly I want to get into it more, but with classes and work and girls I am generally pretty busy, and still have a dozen books I’m currently reading, though I am almost done with three of them. I am hesitant to copy n paste part of Demosthenes email, but he makes a good point and is well said:

While secular humanism may have a coherent ethical system, there is no good reason for the assertion that humanist ethics are superior to any other system unless there is a creator or an afterlife. Environmentalists that fight water rights based upon the assertion that some obscure endangered fish is more valuable that the humans fed by California’s crop fields have an equally valid basis for their assertions as you do, assuming that there is no God. If your dog whom you love and a stranger were in a burning building, there is no reason to save the stranger over your beloved pet unless you have the belief that man is in God’s image and is therefore more valuable in an eternal sense. You can assert that sentience gives man more value, but that’s a little self serving, isn’t it? And isn’t it a little bit convenient that the secular humanist ethicist is building upon the foundation of a Judeo-Christian civilization? Ever wonder why there was no similar ethic developed by Hindus in India, Buddhists in China or Japan, or Muslims in the Middle East? The central tenet of secular humanism, that ethics is based upon the effects of actions on human beings, rests upon the idea that humanity is in God’s image and therefore more valuable than cockroaches. Any other basis is self-serving and therefore untenable.

One thing: the connection of a “creator or an afterlife” probably should read “creator AND an afterlife,” cause I think an afterlife could exist without a creator and that the two are not intrinsically connected, and also that an ethical system with a creator but no afterlife seems to have some issues with its basis.
Now, that secular and humanist ethics are built on Judeo-Christian foundations is no problem by me. Moderate Christianity, in my mind, does have some of the best ethics in the world, you can pull out a lot of good things from the Bible, as long as you leave some of the Bronze-age things behind.

I am not speaking for humanists here but for myself, and I say that cause I understand what I say next may not be the best thing. But I have no problem forming an ethical system that holds humans higher than other living things purely for selfish reasons. Now let me expound. I believe that, as humans, we are all connected. Through evolution we are eventually connected to everything else. Through families we are much sooner connected to other human beings. Through society we are connected to everyone around us. This interconnectedness is one basis of my ethical ‘beliefs,’ that being connected we have a responsibility to look out for each other, as a whole. Through close relationships we gain deeper responsibilities, often through emotional connections. Going down this road of emotions then we bring pleasure and pain into the picture. I like pleasure, I don’t like pain. A serial killer finds pleasure causing pain to others, but I have not heard of anyone who truly enjoyed being butchered, betrayed, hurt, or not allowed to do what they wanted to do. Meaning, even the serial killer doesn’t want done to them what they do to others, if only for the fact that wouldn’t be able to continue living the way they do. This is a form of the golden rule, which isn’t perfect and I won’t go into it all yet. I plan on writing a post some time in the distant future on ethics, and now is not the time to write pages more on it. I will say that a question system possibly would work – meaning questions you would ask yourself related to your ethics to help you make a decision. But more on that later.

Without God you do run into problems, because I do know of some people who probably would save their dog before a stranger. And that is an issue. I don’t feel learned enough to deal with this problem, and I think if I had a solution I would probably win a Nobel Peace Prize. However, I don’t think religion is all that much better. If you have a God in your ethical system is there anything you do that doesn’t have some sort of reward or punishment attached to it? In the Christian view you either go to heaven or hell, generally. Every action means something, accepting Christ means something. Religions with justice-centered gods do not allow true altruism. They do not allow you to do good actions purely for goodness’s sake. An atheistic worldview probably doesn’t either since it admits people like to do good things because they feel good. Just that feeling removes true altruism, even if they receive no reward. Generally religious people believe they will receive a lot of rewards in the hereafter.

But Demosthenes brings up a good point about human worth in the theistic worldview. At least with a god you ‘can’ believe that you are more important than other living creatures. From an atheistic view that belief does not hold very strong. And maybe this is me admitting that I have not studied and pondered on this enough, but really, honestly, I don’t really care. I think our morals are being discovered, and when a Mormon supports Prop 8 because the prophet said so, but doesn’t feel right in their heart … this is a sign that we discover our morals, and are evolving them. The world is far better today than before. Crime still exists, pain and suffering still exists, but it doesn’t take a very hard look into the past of human history to see where we have come from. There will always be crazy people and sociopaths. But when people are raised well, raised to be free-thinkers, and in a society that meets their needs, then the people will 99 times out of 100 come out okay. That’s my belief, I will write more on ethics at some time, but this is it for now.


  1. After your first paragraph I was expecting a post on theodicy. Or one that even mentions theodicy. The term refers to the squaring of the existence of evil with a benevolent God. Perhaps you'll touch on that later.

    As for the evolving ethics, that's universal and the purpose of discussing it isn't to tear you down, it's to point out areas that still need fleshing out. It's not an attack, it's a conversation. That said, there's plenty to discuss. The point of my quote on secular humanism is not that it isn't a laudable ethical system, it's that the foundation is a faith statement that is no more defensible on logical terms than is a religious ethic, namely that human life is uniquely valuable in the world. I have no beef with secular humanists, except insofar as they claim to be smarter and more logical than the religious. And for the record, moderate Christianity does just fine, but the most thoughtful, comprehensive, and morally advance ethical system in the world today is Jewish, and descends directly from those Pharisees that Christians love to hate. For a fairly thorough treatment see the multi-volume "A Code of Jewish Ethics" by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

    The most interesting part of your post here, in my opinion, is the part where you talk about connectedness as a basis for ethics. Given that basis, right and wrong are not as important as tribe and family. It's rather like that Islamic ethic which you say is behind the times, where the saying is "me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the stranger." I am more connected to my family than I am to the rest of society, and should I therefore choose them in a fight regardless of who's right and who's wrong? Somehow I doubt that such a system really appeals to you.

    The nice thing about religious ethics is that, frankly, I don't care about my neighbor's motives so long as he treats me well, and I expect he feels the same way about me. I'm much less interested in altruism than I am in ethical treatment of others, and if the hope of a reward in the afterlife is the motivating factor then I'll take it. Your last few sentences about being raised to be a free-thinker whose needs are met seems to indicate a belief in innate human goodness. I used to share your optimism about human nature, and then I had two small kids. They're born innocent, but they have to be taught goodness, selflessness, and compassion.

    By the way, Joey, my goal in these discussions is not to win. I couldn't care less if you come to agree with me. My only goal is to demonstrate that a religious worldview can be intelligent, rational, open-minded and evidence-based. And that every worldview begins with a faith statement, be it religious orthodoxy, agnosticism, atheism, or secular humanism. I'm trying to build mutual respect, and to get rid of that damn I'm-smarter-than-you smugness I see in so many atheists today. It's worked quite well so far, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness that's gone into your recent posts.

  2. Oh, and at some point you'll have to do a post on why you think God and an afterlife are not mutually necessary. I disagree, and I'd be interested to hear your reasoning.

  3. Oh yeah, I don't think you are purely trying to argue, I look at the '9-page rebuke' more of a criticism in an attempt to make me be more careful with what I say (not helping toooooo much, lol) and making me think and say what I really think, which is exactly what I'm doing.

    With ethics I've been thinking about it so much and studying it, but I haven't really sat down. Wrote a paper a year ago, but I've already changed a lot since. Like you I don't care too much about why people do good things, but more that they just do it. I don't think any ethical code or reason is suffice enough and every ethical system has issues. Anyways, so far for the ones I've seen.

    Honestly I know little on Judaism, but as a culture I do not respect them to much, almost purely on their racism. However, I do need to check it out, especially since you talk highly of it.

    Yeah, the fact of pain, meant to include it, then I thought I'd rather avoid it, at least for now. That was on purpose.

    The connectedness is a factor of my ethics, but yes, it isn't a very powerful one and is 'tribal.' I am optimistic for society to raise good people, which religion definitely can accomplish, but I fully believe that people are born without morals and some never obtain morals.

    I'll clarify in my next reply post with what you said last. I know where you're coming from, but I'll make sure the readers know.

  4. Oh, and the afterlife. Sure, I do plan on expounding more, but for now - it wasn't an original thought, but someone brought it up that one doesn't mean the other, and I tend to agree. If there is a consciousness of some kind that survives the body, I don't see why a God is necessary for that, but it sure makes easier sense with a God. That's it for now.

  5. I'm not sure how you can call a religion that you can convert into racist. There are Jews that are Black, Asian, White, Middle Eastern, and every combination thereof. Not only that, but Judaism explicitly teaches that God doesn't care about your theology or your color, only your behavior, and that there will be folks from every religious (and non-religious) tradition in heaven. Hinduism, however, you cannot convert to. The only way to become a Hindu is to be reincarnated as one. Now that's racist.

    As far as the afterlife, I suppose there's some theoretical sense in which it's possible to have an afterlife without a god and vice versa, but those theoretical scenarios just don't make sense. Perhaps you can convince me otherwise.

  6. The afterlife thing will take some time researching and formulating. The racism thing, maybe that's the wrong word. All I know is how a lot of Jews in the Middle East do not like people who are not Jewish, and that some Jews outside of the area are not very accepting. I like secular Jews, and I understand that believing Jews can still be nice, but I have heard a lot of stories about them, and I relate that more to their religious beliefs.
    But life-style-wise, Jews seem to do pretty good, be successful, and accomplish a lot, so that speaks for something.

  7. It seems we're back to blaming a religion for the behavior of its most ultra-orthodox, isolationist members. Israel is a kind of self-reinforcing echo chamber which amplifies the weirdest parts of Jewish culture. The same kind of thing can be found in the Jello Belt with Mormons, Latin America with Catholics, Pennsylvania with the Amish, Birmingham with Tea Party conservatives, and Manhattan and Berkley with wacky leftist atheists. To paraphrase J Golden Kimball, ideologues are like shit: spread them around and they can get people asking important questions, but pile too many of them together and they just stink.

  8. Yes true, I'll start my next reply post soon, lol.