Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'll be right back. Just nipping out to steal my neighbour's ox.

   Dropped by Technorati today to see who might be linking to me out there, and discovered this: a whole, brand spanking new blog dedicated to asking me a question. But the blog owner never told me he had this question to ask, so it's just luck, really, that I found it at all.
   I tried to answer his question in a comment there, but ran up against the 2000 character limit (hey, it's a complicated question), so I decided to transpose the comment here. Click the link above to read Guy's question first.

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Hi Guy,
   You should have left a comment on my journal telling me you had this question. I only found your entry here by accident. (OK, so ego surfing can't really be called an accident, but I don't do it that often, so coincidence, perhaps, is a better word. It might otherwise have been months before I knew you had written this.) I shall endeavour to answer your question to the best of my ability.

   First of all, I do not believe in absolutes. I don't believe anything is 'inherently right' or 'inherently wrong.' No man's actions are either right or wrong in and of themselves. They can only be judged to be right or wrong in relation to how they affect one's fellow men. As Donne said, "no man is an island." Man is not a solitary creature. We are a social animal by nature. We desire the company of a group or a tribe. In fact, the entire Old Testament of The Bible is about the creation of a tribe. But a tribe cannot survive without rules of conduct. If, as you say, we were to kill and steal from each other without regard, no tribe or society could survive. Clearly rules are necessary. But whence come those rules?

   You attribute them to some God. I do not.

   Who is right? Difficult to say. I see no evidence anywhere that such a person as your God exists, however. Lots of hearsay, but no solid evidence. Like our court system, I will not allow myself to be swayed by hearsay. I can only accept actual evidence. I see none.
   So, I hold no belief in a God of any kind. Yet I cannot deny that morals exist. You have them. I have them. As I said in my original journal entry, mine and yours are probably virtually identical. You say that without God, there is no reason to abide by any moral laws. I disagree. If I transgress a 'moral law,' I cause hurt to a fellow human being. Because empathy is a characteristic humans posess, I am able to imagine how I might be hurt by the actions of another, and so I am able to understand how my actions might hurt someone else. This is how morals are born. Because we do not wish to be hurt by the actions of others, we agree not to hurt them in return.
   What I am talking about, of course, is the so-called 'golden rule': "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." (Luke 6:31). Of course, Jesus was only rephrasing Judaic teaching - good Jewish Rabbi that he was: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
   Also: "Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." -The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, circa 1900BCE, ancient Egypt, long predates the Judaic reference. The sentiment has been expressed in virtually every religion, and culture around the world, and is as close to a universal truth as exists. It is, however, an obvious one, and needs no Supreme Being to point it out. All other morals derive from this basic premise. The laws are many, but as the Talmud said, all but commentary on the first.

   And here I am. I do not kill, lie, cheat or steal. I am faithful to my wife and family. I honour my parents. I do not covet my neighbour's ox...or other belongings. I believe I am a moral person, but it is not out of any fear of a God. By your reasoning, as an atheist, I should be lying, and cheating, and stealing, yet I am not. Is there a fault in your reasoning, or can you explain?

Regards,

-Paul

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13 comments:

princesssaurora said...

You rock Paul... and you have Pat as a moral compass... don't all men have their wives to thank for that?  lol (seriously, I am in a wacky mood and couldn't help but crack a joke... sorry... no, I'm not really... I thought it was funny... okay... shutting up now... )

be well,
Dawn

sdoscher458 said...

Good answers Paul. But I have always thought the following: Back in the day when man emerged from whatever murky caves he dwelt in, he needed something to exist so that he could accept lightining, thunder - earthquakes...of course, all works of a greater power than he. Time marched on and someone figured we all needed to be "humanized", "civilized" and pulled religion out as a hammer to hit people over the heads and make them behave or else the big, bad whatever was going to get you. So, actually, you can thank God in a way for your good manners..lol...be well Sandi

aleclynch said...

I've never understood the argument that you need a god to have morals, and that we'd all be behaving willy nilly if there is indeed no such being.

I always want to ask the people that make this argument if they are really saying the only reason they don't rape, murder, steal, etc is because their god told them not to and they fear they will be punished. Really? That's all stopping you? And you're questioning my ability and reasons to act moral?

And of course I then have to ask what they would do if Gold told them rape, etc were morally fine? Of course, the usual answer is that 'God would never say such a thing', and when I ask why the reason is because such acts are wrong.  So murder is wrong because god says so; and god says so because it's wrong. Gotta love circles.

-Alec

plittle said...

Alec,
  There are many examples in The Bible of God asking his people to do things we consider immoral today. Most Christians try to pretend those passages don't exist. I agree most whole-heartedly with your point. When those who insist God is necessary for the existence of morals are asked if the fear of God is the only thing stopping them from raping and pillaging, they of course deny it. And then don't understand why we scoff at their arguments.
-Paul

frankandmary said...

I believe in God(rarely, maybe 2% of the time) in a selfish complex connection to my Mother that I know sort of isn't really there way.  Make sense? It does to me, kinda ;-0.  That sort of "belief" doesn't keep me from shooting up the Mcdonalds when I'm feeling beligerent. Even at times when I am particularly insular & undependent upon interpersonal relationships I have a code I live by.
Yet I have found theocratic zealouts to be decidedly remorseless in their persecution of non-believers. Where is the morality in that? ~Mary

dan@thedistractedmind.com said...

It's just such a puzzle how these god-soaked folks seem to just toss all their common sense straight out the window.  It's almost comical, but it's tremendously sad.  

Let's face it, Paul, I think you, me and a whole heap of other atheists are considerably more morally grounded than those fine pillars of religious morality such as Ted Haggard, Fred Phelps, Kent Hovind, Benny Hinn, Osama bin Laden, Pat Robertson, pedophile priests, and so on and so forth.  

So, really, in I think non-believers are the ones who should be asking these believers where THEIR morals come from, because it seems to me that religion is actually antithetical to morality.

Then again, there are good and bad people everywhere, aren't there?  I suppose that's an even further knock against religion in that it shows just how bloody useless and misguided the whole kit and kaboodle is in terms of society and morality.

Aside from that, isn't it nutty fun when someone goes out of their way to start a blog JUST to respond to something you've written?  

-Dan
http://thewisdomofadistractedmind.blogspot.com/

 

bpslider45 said...

I don't get it.

The guy posts this big response / question for you and then goes quiet.
I guess he was just expecting you to be stunned by his question and admit defeat!!

You'd figure he'd at least make some attempt to debate  the issue with you after taking the time to throw down the gauntlet.

Maybe he only goes online once a month?!?
Brent

lurkynat said...

Paul there is a big issue afoot that no one is looking at...
there is a monster in the closet because many kids are not getting the moral rules that they used to receive in church.
How do you address this?
And don't tell me the schools , because teachers are extremely pushed tot he limit and have no time
hugs,nat

plittle said...

Nat, do you consider me an immoral person?
-Paul

lurkynat said...

Nope..(shakes head...)
Paul I'm talking  about mobilizing our society, people like you, Dan, Dawn, Barbara, Bea, Kelli, Caroline, Carolyn, Marti , Hadonfield and other people who care and get a solid ethical  conversation going with children at schools..not your child Paul...
There are many children whose parents "can't be bothered " with such "details". Some of these children emerge from elementary(if they thrive enough) only to get confused and lost..to our total detriment as a society.
Since you claim that we need to throw out our Judeo-Christian ethic in the schools(ei: praying, reciting the ten commandments ,etc) it is only fitting that you install a new one.
nat

plittle said...

  My point, Natalie, is that I hold a virtually identical moral stance to you, yet I did not receive those morals through religious instruction of any kind. The morals and ethics that exist in our human societies predate any notions of an anthropomorphic god. It is we who have attributed moral authority to God, not the other way around. We created Him in our own image. No wonder he is such a violent and vindictive son of a bitch.
-Paul

lurkynat said...

your humor and verve about the Old testament is well taken Paul..
But I persist to point out to you that you are of a very privileged elk; people who have had loving, caring parents and time to relate to them, people who have had literate parents and grandparents, and people whoa re not homeless and not doing all fo that hard work on our roads. Capice?
Then you know that since you and your group have taken character building curriculum out of the schools it should and must be replaced with such tomes.
The night Writer , natalie

plittle said...

  OK, how have I "and my group" (whatever that means) taken character building out of schools? I don't know what you mean by that.

  It is possible to teach ethics and morals without cloaking them in a 'multi-colour dreamcoat'. Religion is completely unecessary.
-Paul