Monday, February 05, 2007

"be nice, because Jesus said so"

I am uncomfortable with the idea of basing our morals and values and restricting our actions solely on "That's what God wants" or "God told us that's bad" or "Jesus said so." When I hear parents discipline their kids with, "Don't bite your sister, because it makes Jesus sad," I think, Huh? How about, "It makes your sister sad"? or "It hurts your sister"? Why appeal to an unknown, unseen entity for a 5 year old, who can barely understand abstract concepts? I do good and avoid bad to make the world a better place, and to help people be happy, and to help my family. What's wrong with that? If it helps to have an outside, powerful, all-knowing God to help direct your actions and help find peace, fine, do it. But I can find direction and peace without one, too.

Some religious people find it hard to comprehend that atheists and secularists have morals and values and would still behave well if, say, the law enforcement system broke down. I find that insulting. God is not the only reason to be nice, nor is God the only thing to believe in. Yes, some people do lose God and go a little crazy for a while. But I haven’t gone crazy, my marriage hasn’t fallen apart (I’d say it’s stronger than ever), and I haven’t been in the depths of despair wondering if life has no meaning. Yeah, maybe right now, my beliefs are slightly more defined by what I don’t believe than what I do, but it’s the stage of a process I’m in. And I’m okay with that.


Rebecca said...

Ah-HAHAHAHA! It makes Jesus sad! heeheehee. Seriously. SERIOUSLY. Who SAYS that?

aerin said...

In addition to God and Jesus is the mormon profit.

What I never understood was don't do (insert something here) because the profit said so. There was never any logical reasoning behind it. Just that some guy who theoretically speaks for God and is white and over 90 thought blank was a bad idea. This includes having your ears double pierced, wearing shorts above your knees and drinking coffee, among other things.

I agree that it's a little insulting that the belief in God is the only thing keeping us as humans from stealing, cheating and murder.

emerging from the ashes said...

rebecca- Who says that? Uh, people related to me?

aerin- Good point. I want to get my ears double piecred _because_ Hinckley said not to! Oh, and I'm enjoying a pumpkin spice coffee on this cold, cold day.

Simeon's . . . Turning the Corner said...

I thought making Jesus sad was the whole point of the Atonement. We do bad stuff that makes him sad and he says "Don't worry about it." We should be encouraging our children to partake of the atonement regularly by making HIM sad.

Silly for sure.

Zarathustra said...

This may be a deeper rabbit hole than it appears at first glance. The desire to lodge moral normativity in something transcendental is no laughing matter. Many notable philosophers, atheists and theists alike, have recognized that normativity is THE serious problem in moral philosophy. In other words, moral philosophers have historically struggled to identify a satisfactory way of grounding the claims of morality. Traditionally, this was done by grounding the claims of morality in God. Many still try to do this as you’ve pointed out. And, if done properly, it can be a reasonable way to think about morality. But it is becoming a less and less attractive way of supporting our notions of right and wrong.

I suspect many of us want morality to be more than your post suggests, i.e., we want the claims of morality to be binding in a way that reaches beyond the conditions of our lives. In other words, we want the claims of morality to be universal. But how can we generate such universality? Some have thought the best way to do this is by lodging morality in God. Now, in principle, even if we believe the claims of morality should be universal, we could possibly do without God. But, we would need something to take God’s place. And, as you might suspect, taking God’s place isn’t an easy thing to do.

emerging from the ashes said...

And I am Alice, falling, falling, falling down that rabbit hole, looking forward to all the drug-induced, funky visions I might have... ;)

Good points, Z. Need it be universal? Each society makes its own laws, values, morals, do they not? Of course, I'll have to explore this more.

Zarathustra said...

While I think it's true that much of what passes as morality may be strongly influenced by our particular cultures, I do believe there are moral imperatives that exceed the limits of any one culture. The view that women should be treated fairly and as equals is a nice example. I would argue that those cultures that demean or otherwise subjugate women may rightly be consider degenerate and uncivilized. I suspect you would agree with me on this. But how would you persuade someone who did not share this view without appealing to some standard that exceeds the particular conditions of human experience. You would at least need a standard that exceeded the combined experiences of you and your interlocutor.

emerging from the ashes said...

I would be very hesitant to label any culture as degenerate and uncivilized, but I see your point. But by those standards (treating women poorly), _every_ culture qualifies as uncivilized. We all have work to do.

but why do we "need some standard that exceeds the particular conditions of human experience"? Why is the human experience itself not enough? Doesn't humanism argue that we don't, in fact, need to appeal to God, and that humans are capable, in and of themselves, of achieving what we need to in order to make the world a better place?

I recognize that you have much more training than me to argue religion and ethics, and I have yet to get to the literature that would help me argue effectively. But it seems to me that relying on the necessity of appealing to God for our morals and standards short-changes us as humans.

But I know you have different views on this: you feel that humans are "fallen" in a metaphorical sense and need help ("redemption"). We are sinners and need the idea of God to make us better. Did I portray your basic ideas on that correctly?

This difference between us is perhaps what makes me lean toward humanism and you Christianity.

Zarathustra said...

I do think we are substantially weakened by sin, to speak in Christian terms, but not completely incapacitated. For Christians, this should have both moral and epistemic implications. But Christians are by no means the only ones who think of human nature as self-interested and corrupt. Hobbes also, convincingly I might add, has argued that it is irrational for human beings to act in the interest of others; and that, as rational animals, human beings are motivated by self-interest. Now philosophy has come a long way since Hobbes, but many contemporary philosophers still think Hobbes was basically correct.

Kantians would be the principal exception to what I've stated above. But Kant's moral philosophy, in an interesting way, also depends on God as a source of normativity. There are secular Kantians who've abandoned the religious connotations of Kant's ethics, but I think there are good reasons not to follow these interpretations, although these would likely be reasons you'd object to.

Utilitarians often express displeasure with the idea of using God as a sourse of normativity, but they've also largely ignored the problem of normativity. Most utilitarians, as far as I can tell, think that human beings will simply want to behave morally for the sheer reason that that's what morality requires. Because of certain presuppositions that I hold, I'm unconvinced it's within our power to be motivated in such a way.