Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A response to Kyle and Anonymous...

I understand the social implications and reasoning behind the verses I selected. I hear from a lot of Christians that the Old Testament is the "old law" and so they reject all the laws that are contradictory or are no longer acceptable in our modern society. The problem that comes when you’re dealing with a supernatural source is that, since we are not supernatural, we cannot change the written dogma. So if you believe that Jesus is your savior and the Bible is your guide—it becomes very challenging to non-hypocritically use the parts of the Bible that you and society agrees with and disregard the rest. Anonymous asked a good question when he/she asked "how is one to choose which Bible passages are absolute, which are relative, and which are merely anachronistic?" I don't know. I’ve also heard people say that the Bible was inspired by God and was written by man—so the parts they don’t agree with are just human mistakes. The obvious problem with that is how do we know which parts are really God and what parts are mistakes? We don’t know... it is entirely possible that God really thinks that women should never have authority over men.

Kyle asked "is it so bad, living under the guidelines of the Bible?"

No, I do not think it is bad to live under the guidelines of the Bible. In fact I live my life under many of the guidelines of the Bible. I think there are many guidelines and commandments in the Bible that, when adopted, are very beneficial to societies. I just think that the need for these guidelines or commandments to come from a supernatural source is unnecessary. As a society we can realize that killing is not beneficial to our well being and, thus, we can label killing humans as wrong without God telling us. So I think that it is fine to use the Bible as your guide in a purely secular way. It is just logically impossible to prove that God exists and then to prove that your religion is the right one and then to prove that your religion’s book is the word of God—and if it was merely inspired by God or if you don’t agree with everything in the book you must justify that belief (which I showed earlier is not possible). It’s just a complicated, unnecessary mess.

Are you honestly suggesting that the average citizen view government as the final source of a moral code?

No, I am honestly suggesting that every citizen should view the government as the current source of a moral code. If they disagree with how the government is being run or what the government says is right or wrong then every citizen should work to change that government so that it is as beneficial to society as it can be. It is not as though I’m suggesting a new type of government. The current American government does change what it considers right and wrong every election (or, at least, every time a new law is passed) and I don’t think this causes our government to be unstable.

Anonymous spoke of corrupt governments—but he/she failed to mention corrupt religious figures and institutions. Many people believe that the books of Matthew and Luke were not inspired by god but instead were inspired by (or plagiarized) the book of Mark. So not only can we not trust religious texts—but as I said before we cannot change them. However, when we find that a government is corrupt it is possible to change the government.

As for Kyle's mentioning of faith and Pascal’s Wager ("Id rather live my whole life thinking there is a God and find out there is not one than live my whole life thinking there is not a God and discover I’m wrong.")—I’ll touch on those in future posts.

11 Comments:

Blogger Matt said...

Interesting blog. There are a lot of points that I could take up and discuss, but I really don't feel like taking the time that would be necessary to do so thoroughly, so I’ll just tackle a few issues. Regarding your comment on those who feel that Matthew and Luke are not authentic Christian scripture because they use Mark as a source, that was new to me. It seems obvious that Matthew and Luke certainly used Luke as a main source of their work, but that does not mean that Matthew and Luke are any less inspired. If the Christian scriptures are indeed scriptures, then we must acknowledge that God worked through time and space and earthly human means in order to compose those scriptures.

In this sense, we can throw scriptures into the mix of paradoxes that we Christians claim to uphold. For Christians, Jesus Christ was fully man, yet also fully divine. God is completely sovereign, yet we appear to have a free will. God is three and yet one. In a like manner, we also believe that the scriptures were written by man as well as inspired by God, fully in each sense. Because of this, it is possible for the scriptures to appear that they were composed out of 100% human means. This is no less heretical than saying that Jesus looked, breathed, and acted 100% human while he was on earth. Just because Mark was a source for Matthew and Luke does not mean that Matthew and Luke are any less inspired.

My next point follows well off of that. You ask what the utilitarian purpose of religion is. For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, the question is an irrelevant one. What matters to us is not what its utilitarian value is, but what is the truth of the matter. If God does exist, if Jesus Christ was the incarnate Logos of God, then our lives should look radically different than if God does not exist. For us, the utilitarian value of religion is a moot point. As stated above, we believe in a variety of apparent paradoxes. To me, there is no need to try to justify every single paradox that occurs within our faith, such as Jesus being fully human and fully divine. If there is a God of this universe, then He is beyond our scope of comprehension and rational thought. Because of this, we are able to hold to things that seem paradoxical from the human perspective because we have faith that God’s way of working in our world is completely outside of our realm of comprehension. That is what makes faith faith.

I’m done for now, I’ll probably be back later.

6:43 PM  
Blogger spankidiots said...

I agree that the important thing is the truth-- that is why I said in my previous post that everything I said is contingent upon there being no logical reason to believe in god... which will be the topic of my next post (assuming I don't have to make another post to clear up arguments against my point).

So stay tuned and i'll hit on belief in the existence of a God, miracles, faith and other exciting topics.

Thanks for the comment Matt. Hope to hear from you again.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Hey dude-
What exactly is the thesis of these entries? Is it simply that Christianity cannot be absolutely proven and that our current understanding of religion is imperfect? You say some neat things, but I'm not sure what the underlying purpose is. If my assumption is right on then sweet, but if you are trying to assert something else alltogether I look forward to discussion.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous One of Many said...

Your idea of government as a current source of a moral code is an important clarification, but I am then forced to ask another question: by what right or with what standards are the moral precepts of a government to be judged? When the conflict arises between a citizen and the government, how is the issue to be resolved? You seem to suggest that in the event of such a conflict, the individual should work to change the government. A standard is briefly referred to: the changes which bring about the most benefit to society are desired. If society is defined as the collective sum of its individuals, we have defined Utilitarianism. If society is thought to be an emergent property, we have a new moral code with a lot of similarity with Utilitarianism. In either case it seems superfluous to bring government into the picture, as morality can be defined without resort to government, and our actions towards a government can be determined from the moral code in question. You may have been headed in that direction in future posts; if so, I am sorry to steal your thunder, and am refraining from a more rigorous treating of the subject.

I am curious about the stance Matt is taking on morality in the Bible. He seems to be arguing against Jeff, and yet he ends up claiming that the Bible is both entirely mortal and entirely Divine. This does nothing to answer the question raised concerning the relativity of morality caused by using a conflicting book such as the Bible as a moral source. If the Bible is relative, how are we to decide which parts are important? If the Bible is absolute, how are we to deal with conflicts? If only the New Testament is absolute, how are we to decide when Jesus is speaking in metaphor, and when he is being literal? This is in particular reference to the gouging of eyes and severing of limbs, but there are other passages that no one seems to take literally.

I suppose you can call me Om.

1:28 AM  
Blogger spankidiots said...

I really should clarify-- I think that government both should and does determine the moral code--because of that there is no need for religious moral code.

Ultimately if laws of the state conflict with religious laws then the religious laws are trumped. The only way we can morally judge the government is by the moral code that they set. If they are doing something that hurts us—they aren’t doing something “wrong” they are just doing something that is not beneficial to us. So it would be natural for us to want change the moral code in order to make that something “wrong”. The way we go about doing that, whether it be violently or civilly, has to do with sociology and political science and really holds no philosophical bearing in this discussion.

Morality should simply be thought of as the law of the land; people really need to rid themselves of thinking that there is an ultimate right and wrong... there is no logical reason to believe this. If there was a society where people tortured stolen babies and used the lord's name in vain while sleeping with their neighbor's wife AND that was deemed acceptable according to the law of the land-- then that would not be “wrong”. Of course not many governments would condone that behavior and if they did the citizens would demand changes to make that behavior “wrong” (because it’s not beneficial to society to have that sort of behavior).

Sounds Utilitarian? Well since the original discussion was about the utility of religious morality it should not surprise you that my alternative would be utilitarian. I think the greatest good for the greatest number of people works out nicely as a guideline and I also think every citizen should have equality and freedom—generally those two go hand in hand. What if equality and freedom are in conflict with the greatest good for the greatest number? Then whatever system of government is in place simply uses the system to make a decision. It may take more work than just going by rules chiseled in stone—but at least there is room for change. But as I said before, the way we go about doing that is not what I’m concerned about—what I’m concerned about is that there is no function of religious morality that cannot be served by some other system.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Om said...

You still seem stuck on two conflicting ideas:

1. Government is the source of moral code, and people should base right and wrong on the law of the land.
2. People should set their morality to be such that it is most beneficial to them or society.

Which is it to be? You suggest that 1 will work for the short term, and 2 for the long term. This means that the two would be combined into the overall statement:

Government sets forth a moral code which should be followed by its citizens. These citizens should constantly judge this morality using Utilitarian guidelines, making changes as necessary to correct deficiencies and reflect the changing needs of society.

It is impossible to judge a system from within. This can be illustrated by the vast number of contradictory beliefs with large fanatical followings. To some extent this can be explained by a lack of thought, but there are many who think through their system of beliefs; however, they do so from within the system. This leads to circular reasoning and faulty logic. "I believe in God because the Bible says it is true; I believe the Bible is true because God says it is true." If you don't step outside the system, how can you begin to deconstruct it? The two axioms listed, the truth of the Bible and the existence of God, are self-reinforcing and impossible to question from within the Christian mindset. In a similar manner, if one believes in the government as the source of morality, how can he question morality from within that code? Without resort to some external principle there is no basis for judgement.

If an external principle exists, it belongs to a system which encompasses everything under it. There is no need to explicitly define anything within the system as it is all implied by the axioms defining said system. The combined statement I proposed does not really need the part about government, because following the laws of the land can be said to follow from Utilitarian guidelines. It becomes a matter of setting specific definitions and following the various trails of implication to determine everything encompassed by the system and resolve conflicts stemming from first principles.

On a side note, it still seems impossible to define a moral system without resorting to some overarching purpose. It almost seems that purpose and religion are inseparable - purpose is inherently arbitrary, and an element of faith is invariably required. There's a tough nut to crack.

10:01 AM  
Blogger spankidiots said...

It is possible to judge a system from within the system. Our government does it all the time-- we have a system within the bigger system that does that (system of checks and balances).

By judging a system from within does not mean you are necessarily using circular reasoning.

It's about using the system... you can question the system while still living under its rules. You can still question the law of the land while living under the law of the land without contradicting yourself. What do we use as our basis for questioning the law of the land? As I've said I think everyone should use the greatest good for the greatest number of people with respect to personal liberties. You can use the categorical imperative, you can use the golden rule, you can use whatever ethical theory you want-- you can use religion-- it's just not necessary and its basis is not founded in reason (as I will show with my next post).

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Om said...

That is logical fallacy, or perhaps you are using some curious definition of judge. You are still resorting to principles outside of government to question government: categorical imperative, golden rule, what have you.

The government issue has been misrepresented. "Checks and balances" does not judge anything, it is merely a balance of power such that it is difficult for any one branch to gain an unhealthy amount of power. Let's talk about the judging that does go on within the three branches.

Legislative: Congressmen use personal judgement to decide which bills to introduce, what arguments to put forth, and how to vote. This personal judgement is certainly not contained only within the laws currently in place, and is derived from outside sources.

Executive: Same deal as before. A group of people using personal judgements derived from many sources to execute a plan of action.

Judicial: The most interesting branch to consider. Judgments are regularly passed, and it could be said that the source for the principles comes from the system itself. A closer look can resolve this issue; judgments are passed on individual laws or acts of Congress. The reasoning behind the judgment comes from a system outside that of the individual law - the inspiration behind judges' decisions comes from the Constitution, precedents set in previous rulings, and personal conviction. It is impossible to argue that a law is judged from within the system of the individual law itself - one must step outside to the larger realm of the entire body of law and the Constitution. A judge can not declare the entire system of government wrong or right.

In short, by definition it is impossible for a system to judge itself without resorting to something beyond itself. If we have a moral system, how can this moral system decide what is right and wrong with itself? It can't, it has already decided what is right and wrong, and every rule within the system is right by definition. Only something on the outside can pass judgment on a moral system.

7:02 PM  
Blogger spankidiots said...

A system can judge itself.

The executive branch can judge the legislative branch's decisions by vetoing a bill.

The executive branch checks the judicial branch by nominating the judges and they can judge judicial decisions because they have the power to pardon.

The legislative branch checks the judicial branch by confirming or denying the president's nominations for judges and they also can impeach them (an obvious judgement).

The parts of government can and do judge each other.

What allows them to do this?

It's because our system is made up of people who have different beliefs and who fight and campaign to make their beliefs known.
Just because the people that compose the government are making their political decisions based on their own ethical system does not mean that morality itself comes from outside of the system. People will disagree on what they think the laws should be and they can think that something is very wrong as much as they want-- but the things they think are wrong will never be officially "wrong" until a law is changed to make that something wrong.

So you can say that the ethics that they use is "outside of the system" it doesn't really matter-- I think the people and their views are a part of the system and you don't it's not important.

The basic point I've tried to make thusfar is that the utility of religious laws can be replaced with manmade laws very easily. There is no need for the supernatural.

3:46 AM  
Anonymous Om said...

You're missing the point. I wish to know by what basis you make moral decisions. You said that the government provided a basis for moral decisions. You also said that citizens should judge the basis of government using some vague, ill-defined benefit test. Without explicitly defining the source of your morality you risk falling into severe relativism. This is the relativism that allowed slavery, persecution of minorities, current and past genocides sponsored by government. These were all held up as "beneficial" and necessary. You can't just wave your hand and make the problem go away.

Your understanding of the term system is also vague. You have now defined the system to include everything, even the moral codes of the individuals within the system. As such, it is entirely contradictory, massive, ill-defined, and in constant flux. If citizens are to derive their moral code from the government's laws, the system as it stands would cease to be, as no senator or judge would be able to use anything but the laws currently in place to make their decisions. If the saving grace to your mechanism of government morality is that many people will reject it as patently absurd, another source must be found.

11:19 AM  
Blogger spankidiots said...

The government is the source of what is ultimately "right" and "wrong".

The citizens can use whatever ethical system they want to influence and attempt to change the government.

There doesn't have to be a universal morality. Perhaps that makes your life simpler-- instead of thinking about why something is right and wrong you just decide based on what some old book tells you.

4:38 PM  

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