Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fletch Seven Deadly Sins (redux)

sins I see that the subject of the Seven Deadly Sins has been well and thoroughly thrashed again in the Saturday Herald; no less than in the editorial and by two columnists (one of whom seems to be a fan of Christopher Hitchens' atheist rantings, and who suggests we read Hitchens' God is Not Good).

Anyway, this got me thinking again..

What the Bishop said, as far as reinterpreting the Seven Deadly Sins for the modern age, was by-and-large for Catholics; to make them more aware of their faults and failings and try to get up attendance in Confession.

Why has the secular media jumped all over this with such intensity?

I have a theory here, and it's the old "shoot the messenger" theory. Basically, people don't like to be reminded of their failings or "sins" and they don't like being told they are wrong or to have to look inside and self-evaluate; there are things there that they'd rather not care to see. The problem with that is, we all have a God-given conscience, whether we use it or not. I think deep-down (maybe in the cockles of the heart, or maybe the sub-cockle area) most people know what is right and what is wrong.

In this day an age, though, there is this overriding thought that we should all be allowed to do whatever we want as long as it doesn't really "hurt anyone". If you're stealing from work the thinking is you can keep doing it as long as you don't get caught. If you're into lusting after the opposite sex and having one-night stands, well who is it hurting? We are all attached to our sins.

It's easier to point the finger at the Church and say, "yeh but the church did this", or "the church did that" instead of looking to our own failings. The members of the Church will be judged at the end of time just like everyone else; that doesn't make what the Church has to say any less valid as far as doing what is right by our fellow man.

28 comment(s):

Unknown said...

The thing that annoyed me about this was that the media thought that what some guy in the Catholic church had to say was at all worthy of being publicised. As far as I'm concerned, the church has as much right to be taken seriously as a ranter on a street corner.

We shoot the messenger, but only because they seem to think that they can tell people what to do. The concept of sin is horrible and has no place in a modern secular society. To think that all people are born dirty sinners and all we can do to save ourselves is repent and believe in the nonsense that is Jesus. The only thing sin is good for is to make people fell guilty and therefore more amenable to control by those in the church.

The concept of doing what we want as long as it doesn't really hurt anyone is nothing new. You might want to read up on John Stuart Mill and his book 'On Liberty'. The concept is quite a bit different and more nuanced that what you have written. Stealing from work does harm others, as could having one-night stands.

When it comes to ethical and moral (*not* Biblical morality), I'll stick to listening to philosophers and better-informed social commentators; I'll save the religious views for some comic relief.

I.M Fletcher said...

The problem there, Christopher, is that you don't have anything, really, to base your idea of right and wrong on.

Without divine authority, we have no logical basis for the promotion of any value system, no matter what we think of that system. If there is no God, then no man is in a position to force his opinion of morality upon another.

One man's subjective view of morality is equal to another man's equally subjective view of morality. Thus, there is no reason to believe in any morality just because another man tells you that it is good.

The standard of morality cannot have an objective reality without divine authority.

However, we believe that Jesus gave his authority to the Church that they can pass along His will, so to speak.

Your "philosophers and better-informed social commentators" are again only voicing their opinions.

Unknown said...

Oh, give me a break. Who says you need an objective basis for morality? People got on perfectly fine without god, and they do so today too. Hitchens made the point that Moses' people had survived as a society up to the point that God gave them the 10 commandments - they didn't need to be told that murder was wrong.

Believing that Jesus is the source of morality, through the church, is just your opinion - no different than my 'philosophers and better-informed social commentators'; in fact, I'd argue it is nowhere near as good. The Bible has been twisted and interpreted in order to justify any sort of moral system - just look at the Westboro Baptist church and the new Anglican bishop in NZ to name two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Speaking of Anglicans, Richard Randerson has stated quite clearly (in his Kim Hill interview for one) that of course morals don't have to come from God.

It seems like you'd be able to answer Hitchen's challenge:

"Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain."

I'd be eager to hear your reply. I'd also like to hear your thoughts on the Euthyphro dilemma, and the discovery of proto-morality in primates.

My idea of right and wrong does not depend on whether I'll be punished after death by some capricious, morally suspect, bully of a God.

I.M Fletcher said...

Woe there, dude: before you get onto the mind games, you still haven't given me a convincing argument about right and wrong..

Oh, give me a break. Who says you need an objective basis for morality?

Of course you do. How do you know your idea of "right" is correct then?
It's just your opinion against someone else's then. Hitler had his idea of 'right' and so did Mother Theresa. Without an objective reality of right they are both just opinions.

You can't see that?

For example, without a higher authority than ourselves, and with no objective, absolute morality, you will be hard pressed to convince a sadist that your subjective opinions of right and wrong are preferable over his own.

As for your ‘dismissal’ of my conclusion that only God can objectively determine morality, you may dismiss it, but you cannot logically refute it. At best, you can only say that you are satisfied with subjective morality that is established by groups who have the power to legislate, in which case, you would be faced with the dilemma of might makes right and ad populum fallacies.

Anonymous said...

"As for your ‘dismissal’ of my conclusion that only God can objectively determine morality, you may dismiss it, but you cannot logically refute it."

Sure, that statement cannot be refuted logically, because it is not a logical statement to make.

Try approaching this from the perspective of an athiest. All that Christianty is, including it's morality, has an explanation based in reality, but, there is no logical proof for the existence of God. Religion therefore is most likely a product of human sociological evolution. As such, morality, all morality, is based on the principles of evolution. Survival of the fittest, natural selection. The ideas that build a strong society are the ideas that survive and build our basis for morality.

Objective reality may exist (as in, there may be an unchanging basis for reality), however humans only have a subjective basis for viewing reality. The contradictions our perceptions create are clues to this underlying reality, and can push us in a more objective direction. So while true objectivity is not attainble, I don't beleive that all ideas are equally valid, and that one cannot judge which ideas are superior through reasoned analysis.

As such, I look forward to the day when people judge theism for it's underlying principles. The ideas that created and kept it strong, rather than fostering it in it's entirity, including it's inherant contradictions. Of course, for many like myself, that day is today.

Unknown said...

Of course you do. How do you know your idea of "right" is correct then?

I don't. And neither do you. Society's idea of what is right can and has changed. Slavery and racism (what does the Bible have to say about these?) were once morally justified. Not anymore, and not because of any religious motivation. If there's an objective morality, humans definitely haven't found it yet.

Is there an objective basis for taste? How do you know if something is tasty then?

Killer whales toss live sea lions for hours. People torture others. The Universe doesn't care. Humans care, and that's why the vast majority of people are good, and helping to advance society and morality.

It's just your opinion against someone else's then. Hitler had his idea of 'right' and so did Mother Theresa. Without an objective reality of right they are both just opinions.

Exactly. People can have wrong opinions. Mother Theresa wasn't a very nice person.

Is God constrained by this objective morality? Then drowning most of the people and animals in the world seems pretty despicable. Not very moral.

Is the only thing stopping you from murdering, raping, stealing, etc, the threat of eternal punishment in Hell? For me, it's pretty clear that those things are the wrong thing to do. People recognise that a society in which those things were moral would be a horrible place to live in.

Anonymous said...

"Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever."

A Christian can say, and do.. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and the things that are of God, to God".

The Atheist can't do that because not only does he not believe in God, he must tear down the concept in order to maintain his belief.

JC

Unknown said...

So you're saying that an Atheist can't say "pay your taxes"? Let's leave the question of whether that is a moral issue. The quote you give boils down to "no matter what your beliefs are, you still need to pay taxes". Anyone can see that this makes sense. The God bit has nothing to do with it. A NZ Buddhist can say "Render unto the IRD the things that are the IRD's, and give some money to the Dalai Lama".

Anonymous said...

Nice sidestep.

But you prove my point. The Christian easily accepts and moves through the secular world whilst retaining the ability to explore and reason about the metaphysical and come up with his own rationale for God. The Atheist can only exist in the physical world and say there is no evidence for another; in short he can't explore beyond the things he knows or understands.

JC

Unknown said...

The Atheist exists in the physical world and says there is no evidence for another. Exactly right. If there was evidence, he would accept it.

You seem to be saying that Christians first believe in God, and then come up with reasons to believe in him. Do I have that right?

I have no problem with people using their imaginations to invent things like gods and other worlds. Greek mythology is super cool. You have a right to believe in Yahweh, Allah, Flying Spaghetti Monster - whatever. Just don't pretend there is evidence for any of them, and don't force your belief on me or anyone else.

Atheists can imagine the metaphysical; transcendent beings and time before time. An interesting thought experiment, but one with little relevance to the here and now.

Anonymous said...

Hitchens is a fool if he thinks "Moses people got on fine before the 10 Commandments". Why?

Because Moses' people were slaves under a brutal Pharoah-ship, whom were murdered or killed by the Egyptians for refusing to work as such. Hardly, "getting on fine".

And as for knowing that murder was wrong anyway, without the decalogue, well the Egyptians didn't have the decalogue and they thought murder was fine. The Jews thought murder was wrong because they were told so earlier by their God.

At least get the facts right.

Unknown said...

Moses' people suffered under the enslavement of the Egyptians, but they still must have been OK morally. I very much doubt that the majority of Egyptians thought that murder was fine. That the Pharaoh and his lot murdered people says nothing about the ambient morality. (Also, didn't a certain God harden a certain Pharaoh's heart?)

The Jewish (and therefore Christian) God murdered, and commanded the murder of, untold millions of people. Was that wrong? What about the non-Jewish people in other parts of the world thousands of years ago? Yahweh didn't have to tell them that murder was wrong. They figured it out for themselves.

The Jews were also told by their God to kill those who try to convert them to other religions (Deut 13:6-10), to give just one example.

Unknown said...

Of course, Hitchens himself puts it better than my hasty paraphrasing of him could: "I cannot believe that the followers of Moses had been indifferent to murder and theft and perjury until they arrived at Sinai".

Anonymous said...

"The problem there, Christopher, is that you don't have anything, really, to base your idea of right and wrong on.

Without divine authority, we have no logical basis for the promotion of any value system, no matter what we think of that system. If there is no God, then no man is in a position to force his opinion of morality upon another."

We end end up with a moral code of our own making. Or don't believe in one at all.

"Everything is alright as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Mentality.

Or this view.

"Pedophilia, incest, drugs, etc, etc. doesn't cause harm. It's good for you." Mentality.

Anonymous said...

"in which case, you would be faced with the dilemma of might makes right and ad populum fallacies."

Except in Religion you have the possibility of eternal punishment for a sin. If that isn't an example of 'Might Makes Right' what is?

S

Unknown said...

Where does the divine authority get his morality from? Is that which is good commanded by him because it is good, or is it good because he commands it?

And what is wrong with making our own moral code, through reason and logic? Jesus didn't come up with the Golden Rule first, y'know.

"Everything is alright as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Why not?

Who says things like "Pedophilia, incest, drugs, etc, etc. doesn't cause harm. It's good for you."? They need a serious reality check. Drugs can be good - aspirin, painkillers, caffeine. Drugs can also be bad. Same with incest. This is not a black and white world.

Just remember, Atheism doesn't equal nihilism.

"Without divine authority, we have no logical basis for the promotion of any value system". Who has such authority? Christians? Muslims? Pastafarians? Which denomination? And how can they be sure that they have the One True message, uncorrupted?

Anonymous said...

That can happen, it's called revelation. Scientists sometimes do it too, particularly when an apple plonks on their head.
But I was thinking more about Greek thought where the Ancients went as far as they could with observation and then used their minds to explore the unknown to form views on man, existence, matter, the world, unseen forces etc. These are not wild imaginings but the application of logic to the intangible and forming ideas on how things are ordered. The products of that abstract thought have come down to us as real sciences.

"Atheists can imagine the metaphysical; transcendent beings and time before time. An interesting thought experiment, but one with little relevance to the here and now."

Bang goes geometry, formal debate with logic, philosophy and all the rest eh? You can't have Pythagoras and all his work without his "interesting thought" experiments.

JC

Anonymous said...

"The Atheist can only exist in the physical world and say there is no evidence for another; in short he can't explore beyond the things he knows or understands."

If an Atheist cannot explore beyond what he knows or understands then how does an Athiest learn anything? All the scientists, students, and just plain curious Atheists of the world - many of whom have made tangable advances in human understanding are proof to the stupidity of your statement.

You are partially correct, in that an Athiest says that we exist in the physical world, but it goes beyond that. An Atheist says that all people, Thiest and Athiest alike exist in the physical world. All that you consider to be proof of the non-physical, commicable or not, all that you consider to be "devine" is actually just based on a lack of knowledge.

We do not need the concept of god to form a basis for morality, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for morality's existance that do not include such fairy tales. Nor do we need the concept of god to explain an imagination. The ability to learn and expand our knowledge is what has made human beings the dominant organism on this planet.

Unknown said...

Sure. Physicists particularly are big on gedankenexperiments. Nothing particularly supernatural or transcendent about them. They never rely on revelation. They may get a eureka moment, but they then follow it up by hypothesising, testing, peer review, refinement, and so on.

Revelation in any other context is highly suspect. Often it is used to justify some horrific behaviour. And they are conveniently free of evidence, just the person's say-so.

Geometry, logic, philosophy can all be derived without some outside divine force. The first two are pure maths. They are confirmed by experiment. They work. We reject things that don't. You don't need to believe everything that Pythagoras thought up (eg: reincarnation) in order to understand and use his Theorem. He wasn't even the first to come up with it.

Anonymous said...

"If an Atheist cannot explore beyond what he knows or understands then how does an Athiest learn anything?"

Beats me. Chris was the one saying such things are of myths and Gods if the imagination is used as opposed to the empirical.

"You are partially correct, in that an Athiest says that we exist in the physical world, but it goes beyond that. An Atheist says that all people, Thiest and Athiest alike exist in the physical world."

A world made up of about 2.5% true Atheists.

"All that you consider to be proof of the non-physical, commicable or not, all that you consider to be "devine" is actually just based on a lack of knowledge."

I don't claim that. Just as the scientist gropes to understand the unknown within the limits he imposes on himself, so does the philosopher who conjectures about the greater unknowns, but he does not bind himself to evidence he does not have but uses logic and occasionally revelation to guide him to a conclusion. It may not be proof, but it is a working theory of the unknown. Interestingly, most religions retreat before scientific evidence rather than ignore it. The believers of a "young earth" and Bible inerrancy are few and far between.

"We do not need the concept of god to form a basis for morality, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for morality's existance that do not include such fairy tales."

Yet surveys show that there are only 2.5% of the worlds population that are truly Atheist, and these are concentrated in Communist countries and a few small enclaves in the West. The likelihood of these people having a lock on morality is very small.

"Nor do we need the concept of god to explain an imagination. The ability to learn and expand our knowledge is what has made human beings the dominant organism on this planet."

And then, like now, it's been Theists who have done most of the work. To be sure, at this tiny moment of history there have been a very significant minority of Atheist scientists and others who have made great strides, but basically, the advances overall belong to the Theists.

JC

Unknown said...

Christopher:

"I'd also like to hear your thoughts on the Euthyphro dilemma.."

I batted this out in The Divinity Code and its chapter on Evil.

God does not "decree" standards according to some higher moral law - God is, in his very essence, perfection. In his essence, he is in fact that law.

When he acts on a moral issue (or makes a moral decree for example) he does so not because he has to think about it, but simply because his very nature requires it.

Our English word "good" derives from the word God.

God cannot issue a decree that legitimises child sexual abuse, any more than you can create a square circle. By definition, it is a logical impossibility for the perfect Good to do bad.

It is equally a logical impossibility for the ultimate hot to be cold.

And if God is in fact that purity of goodness, this would perhaps explain why the tolerance of even a tiny amount of imperfection or sin cannot exist in his presence (any more than an ice cube can survive in a raging furnace)

It is not because he chooses whether to accept imperfection, it is because it simply is impossible.

Which perhaps makes our transformation and salvation by grace far more important in this lifetime, if it in fact is the key to some kind of redemptive morphing from sinful to sinless state.

As the ultimate Good, of course God would want everyone to take that journey because he knows objectively it is as good as a human can ever get. But also as the ultimate Good, he recognises that he cannot force you into salvation.

That is why conversion by force (such as authorised in the Qu'ran) cannot have come from God. It is against his nature.

Anonymous said...

"A world made up of about 2.5% true Atheists."

Could you define "True Atheist" for me?

Anonymous said...

It's a person who, when pressed, will not concede the possibility of God, or life after death. Astonishing numbers of people declare they don't believe in God but concede the possibility of God, and with or without God, believe there might be life after death.

JC

Unknown said...

JC: The percentage of so-called "True Atheists", aka Strong Atheists, is small compared to Weak Atheists (like myself). Those who live their lives as if there is no god, while leaving open the possibility that there is one, is rather more than 2.5%.


Ian: how do you know that God is perfect? By which standard do you judge him? Some people may argue that the god of the OT is far from perfect. A perfect god would have seen that Adam was going to sin, and take steps to prevent it from happening, for example.

By definition, it is a logical impossibility for the perfect Good to do bad. So killing people and order the deaths of people, etc are good things because God did them? The Lord is a jealous god, remember, so is jealousy good?

Just because you can imagine a perfect being, does not me it exists; a perfect circle cannot be drawn.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be a "True Atheist" in your eyes then. I think the definition of atheist has developed a cultural definition beyond it's literal meaning, most likely as a cultural backlash to the concept that we don't need religion. A theist is someone who follows or study's theology, an atheist is someone who does not.

Anonymous said...

"I think the definition of atheist has developed a cultural definition beyond it's literal meaning, most likely as a cultural backlash to the concept that we don't need religion. A theist is someone who follows or study's theology, an atheist is someone who does not."

Nope. It's the term used by Zuckerman and Greeley in their works. You can get some of it here:

http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

JC

Anonymous said...

I see. I don't think it's really relevant, I think you'll find that the majority of people who identify themselves as atheist, such as myself, regardless of that definition, don't really care if god exists or not in this context. We simply dispute the notion that theology has anything to do with the "supernatural"*, and is actually just a bunch of stories that have been exagerrated. It's the idea that theology, is just a precurser to mythlogy. I suppose I would be agnostic, but I don't think that is mutually exclusive to being either a thiest or an athiest.

*a term which to me, only identifies something that has yet to be identified and understood in an entirely natural world.

Unknown said...

Zuckerman and Greeley aren't the be-all and end all of atheistic definitions. There are many forms of non-belief.

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