Archive for February, 2011

Consequences

Posted in The Narrow Path on February 25, 2011 by RWZero

Common intuitions tell us that we are morally praiseworthy if we can liberate ourselves from motivations that are grounded in consequences.  Upon closer inspection, however, such liberation is impossible. When we speak of genuine concern for others, we nonetheless commit our actions based on the rewarding feelings that arise from exercising such concern. Conversely, we refrain from certain actions based on consequences (or commit actions out of duty, for fear that there will be consequences, be they even so small as neglecting our self-imposed duties, and consistency).

On the naive view of moral behaviour, an atheist might say that it is more praiseworthy to be moral in the absence of divine consequences. What is missed here is the understanding that all behaviour is motivated by consequences, and that the moral atheist is governed by a cost-benefit analysis that incessantly churns beneath the conscious mind. Most of us are moral because we are raised in countries, and in circumstances, where there is no advantage to being “immoral.” Stealing, cheating, lying, and even killing, are simply not helpful to us. They are especially not helpful to people who have the kind of time, money and education to sit around and discuss such questions. What of the situations in which these things are beneficial? The observations indicate that when something is beneficial (on the net whole), people will do it.

God is often introduced as a reason for behaving morally. This is not a security blanket for the weak-minded; in fact it is a rather serious issue. There arise many situations in life where there are no negative earthly consequences for killing, maiming, or abusing another human being. Furthermore, it is human nature to enjoy these activities in some circumstances (usually the same circumstances in which there are no earthly consequences). Plainly said, the concept of God is linked to the permanence of human action, and the possibility of life beyond death. If there is no life beyond death, none of our actions have any consequences whatsoever. This is not a matter of divine judgement, but simply a matter of permanence–if a murder will eventually be undone, such that there is no ultimate difference between committing it or not, then the only variables to be weighed are the immediate desires, and the immediate consequences. Armchair pacifists may type up large essays on moral responsibility, but if an aspiring murderer believes there are no consequences, he will commit the murder, and the essay will be largely irrelevant.

Consider the short-term analogy: one is faced with the choice of whether to attempt to stop a nuclear bomb from being dropped on a city, or not. If, in just 10 minutes, it is made known that the world is going to end, our hero may simply watch the nuclear destruction for pleasure’s sake. It is merely a different way of arriving at the same result. However, if there is some sense that the actions will leave a lasting impression upon things, it will inspire different behaviour.

Some idea of God is also necessary to form a basis of coherent, objective morality. He is required because of the grand “says who?” The comfortable secular society we enjoy is moral primarily because morality is efficient, and this may lead us to believe that all the world would behave this way, if only they were smart enough. But when we see atrocities committed overseas by people who are rather eager to commit them, we will not be able to tell them that they are wrong. We can try to stop them, but we cannot do much else.

It is common for a believer to assert that we need God. It is also common for an unbeliever to assert that we don’t need God. But suppose, hypothetically, that we do need God, but he is not there. This would constitute a problem, which people might solve by denying one of the two basic premises. These people would then become quite polarized and angry with each other.

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As Christians

Posted in The Narrow Path on February 19, 2011 by RWZero

“As Christians, how do we…”

I have heard this sentence completed with almost every permutation of words in the English language. I only remember the questions. I don’t remember any of the answers.

The implication was that there was a way that everyone else does things (and perhaps a way that we are inclined to do it ourselves), but Christians ought to do it some other way. And we are Christians. Right?

As a Christian, someone is bound to spend a lot of time is spent reassuring himself that he is a Christian, along with assuring everyone else that he’s a Christian by beginning sentences with “as a Christian…” The intent is to make known that Christianity was the origin of the good deed (or the humble thought). Internally, the intent is more complicated.

It is difficult to imagine sitting in a circle with a group of Christians, and to have someone simply say “how should we respond to this hunger crisis?” The sentence would almost certainly begin with “As Christians…” Of course, everyone in the circle is Christian, so there ought not to be any need for the caveat. But there would be a need, hypothetically, if being Christian were a kind of theatrical role, or profession, for everyone at the table. Something you do in the on hours. Something you do when it’s time. Something you have to be reminded of.

As a musician, as a professional, as Prime Minister of Canada, as a friend, as a politician… there are certain things expected of me

Theodicy

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on February 13, 2011 by RWZero

It is not uncommon for a Christian to pray through life, beseeching God for safe passage through the dangers, toils and snares, only to suffer some catastrophic incident (though benign by global and historical standards) that shakes everything to the core. It is neither uncommon, at this point, for this person to question the goodness, and even the existence of God.

The question has not changed. The question was always simply this: for what reason do people suffer? But this is not the question that the fragile Christian has been asking, and answering, up until this point. He, or she, has only asked why God allows other people to suffer.

In the past decade, the Internet has come of age. It is now possible for anyone living in an industrialized nation, in the span of mere seconds, to cast a sweeping gaze across the whole of human history. Prior to this revolution, bookstores and libraries were stocked to the brim with the past and the present. You can see for yourself what is, and what always has been, the story of a typical human life. There is no excuse for ignoring it.

Evangelical Lingo

Posted in Humour etc. on February 7, 2011 by RWZero

The following are a few translations of common phrases found in the evangelical church. Please note that the timing is only marginally related to my writing this. I have hated almost everything about the evangelical church for the better part of a decade, and I have hated evangelical lingo since the day of my birth. Hating these things was simply never a big deal to me, in the past. Also, please note that I have no recollection of ever having used any of the following phrases in my life.

God Told Me = I told me

God Wants = I want

It’s all in God’s Timing = It’s a crapchute

I Can’t Do This on my Own = This is difficult

Lay it Before the Cross = Try not to think about it

I Struggle with Pride = I need you to know that I have things to be proud about

Give it up to God = Don’t get your hopes up or you’ll be disappointed

God is Good = I was lucky

God Works in Mysterious Ways = I was unlucky

God Took [this] Away From Me because I Wanted it Too Much = I really wanted that

His Heart is in the Right Place = He agrees with me

My Walk with God = My Life

Search your Heart = Keep on thinking about it until you agree with me

Why I Don’t Believe this is Happening

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on February 2, 2011 by RWZero

Let us imagine, for a moment, that a friend drags you into a room full of people. The people are all engaged in a plethora of activities of varying complexity, and they appear to have been going at it for quite some time. Even more perplexing is the existence of a giant hole in the middle of the room. The floor appears to slope towards the hole. Moreover, the floor is covered in grease, so that people are regularly slipping into it. The occupants of the room do not seem to really acknowledge the hole, though they occasionally joke about it, and let out continual gasps of surprise when someone falls in.

The first three questions that you would ask your friend are:

Why am I here?

What am I supposed to do while I’m here?

What’s down the hole?

But he doesn’t actually know. He just brought you here. After a quick walk around the room, you discover that nobody else in the room has any answers to these questions either. When asked how they got there, they respond that they were dragged in by someone else, and that ever since being dragged in, they have had this insatiable urge to drag other people in as well.

You simply would not accept the absurdity of the above situation.

And yet, you do.