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Brad
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since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea


0 posted 04-05-2002 07:51 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I've been reading a lot of stuff trying to pin down the secular view as debilitating to human society. Essentially, secularism has no anchor from which to make moral judgements.

Unfortunately, there do seem to be plenty of secularists (usually young) who feel the same way.

It goes something like the Nietschean argument: without God, we have no meaning in our lives so we can do whatever we want.

I think this is a mistake. Losing God doesn't mean we lose anything unless you see human beings as something along the lines of teen-agers whose parents went off for the weekend: while the cat's away, the mice play kind of thing.

But this argument fails to see that religion becomes a human construct and if so all moral and ethical issues are still a matter of human understanding. Losing God gives us neither more nor less freedom in any society. You then privilege a working society as opposed to something outside that society.

The question in a secular society is not whether it has the underpinning of some outside force but whether it gives people (in the aggegrate or individually depends on what specific secularism you're talking about -- I think we all pretty much side with the individual here, no?).

When you argue that a society needs to believe in God in order to work, you explode the argument for God by privileging a working society over and above God's existence. You take the fundamental point of secularism and graft it on to an onto-theological point concerning reality.

The two points, as far as I can see, are separate and not contradictory.

More later,
Brad
Stephanos
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1 posted 04-05-2002 08:33 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,  

my own viewpoint would be slightly different than those you perhaps have read.  I would say that,  more accurately, a society needs God himself in order to work, but not necessarily to believe in God.  For God exists quite separate from our belief in him, and doesn't stop what he does for us and through us.  And when I say "work", I don't mean in the sense of how God ultimately designed society to be, and has promised actually will be.  


What I mean is that a society, community, family, or individual can function quite confidently  according to their own dictates and standards, not heeding those of God.  (Of course this has it's limitations because all of our moral considerations are a direct result of God himself ...  He does after all rain on the "just and the unjust".  


Biblically this ties into the idea of a certain age, or set amount of time in which God allows humanity to function in rebellion, and ignorance of his Deity, Glory, and Moral Judgement.  This can be thought of as an "Age of Grace", or unmerited favor.  Just because there are  men and women all over the face of the planet who do not recognize him, nor believe in him, (thankfully) he does not retract his bountiful gifts.  He provides all possiblities for industry, labor, concepts, work, plans, goals, accomplishments, or frankly anything else.  It is all his blueprint.  We are like a man who has recieved a constant flux of valuable gifts through the mail for years, but  has never been able to read the language the  sender's address was written in, and don't know from where it all came.  


But God is (unlike the faceless giver of gifts through the mail) waiting for a response.  The Bible refers to this response as "faith".  But there is also a set time where humankind, communities, families, and individuals will not be permitted to go on using his gifts without acknowledging the giver.  There is the crossing point for everyone, and corporately for the whole world, when God calls into account our response.  He will turn off the flow of grace for those who refuse to believe and serve him.  He will purify the flow for those who delight to believe and serve him.  


This really concerns me, especially if God is, as I believe, the fountain-head of all resources.  THE source himself.  Where will we be physically, spiritually, and emotionally without the renewal he gives?  This is a state of absolute severance from the Vine of Life himself.  The bible describes this state as "Hell".  Regardless as to what doctrine you believe about how that condition will be, it offers no hope at all.  


At first glance Christianity may seem to say... Life won't work without believing in God.  But acutally is says something more like this... Life on Earth, with no Heavenly concerns, can and will go on in seeming prosperity.  Even up to the very end people will be "marrying and giving in marriage", and "buying and selling".   Is this proof against the need of God, or is it one more proof that God himself is longsuffering, patient, and holding back the Judgement just so that many may still come to know and know his love?  The Bible says:  "While people are saying 'Peace and safety', destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape." (1 Thessalonians 5:3)


So with this idea in mind, the idea of a cozy secularism is like someone who claims that he can drive a gasoline car without the need of a gas-station, and proves it by boasting how far from a gas station he actually drives.  When in reality, the marvel of how far from the station he can drive, commends the virtues of gasoline itself.


The better consideration is where societies (and persons) ultimately end up, not merely how they fare on the way.  


Stephen.


Peace without God is illusory,
lulling to sleep like the waves,
pulling the crafts of it's mariners
far from the harbor that saves,
whisp'ring "fair waters forever . . .
No briney disturbance awaits."
How many will drowse without waking
to turn and deliver their fates?

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (04-05-2002 09:16 PM).]

Phaedrus
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2 posted 04-06-2002 06:07 AM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


I believe morality to be, if not constructs of humanity, an inherent part of human makeup, societies are defined by the constraints of individual morals rationalised into a group morality. The argument that secularism has no anchor from which to make moral judgements would not be applicable if the fountain of morality could be proven to be a solely human concept.

Does a society need a religion to function? Examples of societies devoid of any type of religion, in the broadest sense, are almost impossible to find. This may suggest that religion is a prerequisite for a functioning society or perhaps the formulation of religion is simply to fulfil a different human need, the quest to answer the big question ĎWhy?í

One fact that if accepted seems to point to the possibility that society can function without religion.

That fact is that non-religious individuals are able to function perfectly well within existing societies, there is no evidence to assume that they would not function equally well in a society devoid of religion.

If a basic morality is part of the human condition the Nietschean argument is flawed:

Without God, we have no meaning in our lives so we can do whatever we want.

Should read:

Without God, we still have morality in our lives so we can do whatever we like.
Stephanos
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3 posted 04-06-2002 12:13 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

But it is God himself, not 'religion', who put a conciousness of the moral law within us.  If he created us, then how arrogant is it for us to assume that morality is somehow our own?

That morality is expressed by a society, does not mean that society is the source of morality.  Granted, society does provide for the individual a framework for moral decisions.  But societies are the macrocosms of individuals.  So ultimately it is individuals from which ideas of right and wrong come from.  But there is a standard of morality above individuals, from which to appeal.  We spend a lot of time trying to convince others that something is right or wrong.  If there were no cosmic standard, we couldn't even speak of "right" or "wrong".  Everything becomes preference.


Is killing a 2 year old baby wrong just because society says it is?  If you say yes, then what if I reply that I have no obligation to feel the same way 'society' does about this?  Then the government of that society would inflict whatever penalty for my behavior, through it's 'justice' system.  But should societies have the right to inflict punishments concerning  something that is merely a difference of opinion.  With no moral standard beyond ourselves, we are punishing people for merely disagreeing with us.  Every moral society has felt that their moral laws reflected (but not perfectly) what was "right" and "just" ... concepts that existed prior to the consideration of laws ... concepts that transcend societies, because all societies have them in one degree or another... concepts that manifest in even diverse societies in remarkably similar ways.  There is something in the spirit we are seeing as far as morality goes.  Our moral codes are like imperfect replicas.  We (consciously or not) are all trying to sketch what we "see" within.  We see "as through a glass darkly".  We see something nebulous, but we see it nonetheless.


So the fact that we have an imperfect likeness of morality, does not at all suggest that we don't need God.  What if he were to hide from our view, what it is we have all been trying to copy.  What if the template were to vanish.  How moral would we be?  


Look at the sinister and savage crimes that have erupted upon the face of history, like a jack-in-the-box, shocking us with their sheer brutality and hardness, and you will see a glimpse of what society will be without the grace of God.  He still extends that grace for those who don't believe in him.  But this grace period will end.  We have to make sure his morality IS ours, and not just borrowed.  He'll take back what was only borrowed.  He'll perfect what was purchased for us.  He has provided a way to do that through Christ.

Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (04-06-2002 12:17 PM).]

JP
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4 posted 04-06-2002 12:35 PM       View Profile for JP   Email JP   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit JP's Home Page   View IP for JP

I do believe that religion is a human construct, but the basis for the belief is not.  God/Allah/etc. are separate from humantiy, although I will not debate the proof of existence here.

Consequently, a secular society does have the moral/ethical base to operate, how do we say.... functionally?

The problem with a secular society, as I see it, does not lie in the concept that a "Godless" society has no moral base, but that humanities desire for independence drives it to reject the moral compass inherent in humanity as something a part of the "God" they are rejecting.  

In essence, they deny the existence of God and in turn, deny the parts of themselves that thay attribute to being "God-like" or "God-given", thus the erosion of an ethical and functional society begins and continues.

With this idea, it is not necessary to debate the validity of religion, or the truth of God's existence or any of the other secular/theological debates, those become irrelevant in the face of secular humanities rejection of moral and ethical ideals due to their association as religious/theologic ideals.

Does this mean that secular society is doomed?  No, I don't think so.  If secular society can embrace the idea that morality and ethical behavior is a human condition, and the rejection of that is in direct contravention to the true human condition.

"I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony..."

Yesterday is ash, tomorrow is smoke; only today does the fire burn.
Nil Desperandum, Fata viem invenient

Ron
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5 posted 04-06-2002 03:29 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

It seems to me this discussion is handicapped by two things - the absence of ANY historical society that was truly secular and from which we can draw conclusions, and the apparent confusion between morality and law.

Taking the last point first, Stephen asks, "Should societies have the right to inflict punishments concerning  something that is merely a difference of opinion?"

That, of course, happens all the time. I don't particularly want to pay for a $300 hammer, not from a moral perspective but just a sensible one, yet I know if I refuse to pay my taxes on that basis, or any basis, there WILL be repercussions. I disagree with society, but will certainly be punished should I exercise that disagreement. The laws of society are (or at least should be) designed to protect us from each other or to force us to cooperate for the common good. That has NOTHING to do with morality, even when it seems they often overlap. Nor should it have anything to do with morality. "You cannot legislate morality," and in my opinion, just about every bad law on the books has been attempt to do just that. The law must be pragmatic, else it becomes a tool of force.

Separating the law and morality isn't always easy, if only because they often have common goals. If you borrow $10,000 from the bank and sign a contract, you are legally bound to repay the money. That's the law. If you borrow $10 from a friend for lunch, there still exists a legal basis, but realistically the only way your friend will ever see the money is if you also feel a moral obligation to repay him. The law, at some point in every case, becomes nebulous. It has to, because it was defined by man. Morality, however, is rarely if ever nebulous. You'll repay the ten bucks because you know it's the RIGHT thing to do.

(It's no coincidence that the most important philisophical questions rarely address the conflict between law and morality, but rather the inevitable conflict when two moral issues are at odds. Do you repay the ten dollars even if it means your kids go without dinner? Because morality is rarely nebulous, the conflicts are more important and seldom easily answered.)

We have no real historical comparisons, but I personally believe a purely legalistic society cannot long survive. When we do what is right only to avoid punishment, there inevitably arises situations where we feel we can escape punishment (or where we feel the punishment is inconsequential, i.e., crimes of passion). How many people really "feel bad" when they go ten miles over the speed limit? With no moral imperative behind them, laws become only as effective as the enforcement of the law. We need only look to Prohibition to draw some conclusions about how well that works.

Personally, I believe exactly the same arguments apply to theology, and I think both history and the Bible support that belief. When we do what is right only to avoid divine punishment, there inevitably arises situation where we can twist theology to justify what is morally wrong and convince ourselves there will be no punishment. And when that happens on a larger scale, we see the worst atrocities of history, all perpetrated in the name of God. Morality cannot be legislated. Not by man, and it would seem apparent, not even by God.

Although an extreme simplification, I think morality is just another name for love. Whether love exists apart from God, as the result of God's creation, or as a reflection of God in our lives, is largely irrelevant from a pragmatic standpoint. It DOES exist. Humanity is capable of love. Where there is love, whether it be self-love or between two individuals or suffused within a much larger groups of people, there you will find morality and a sense of right and wrong.


Denise
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6 posted 04-06-2002 04:11 PM       View Profile for Denise   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Denise

I don't think it is a simplification, Ron, I think you've hit the nail on the head and just makes so much sense to me in light of the fact that God declares Himself to actually be Love! Thanks for that fresh insight!
Stephanos
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7 posted 04-06-2002 05:19 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

I agree with this Ron.  But the question " Whether love exists apart from God" doesn't seem to be irrelevant from a scriptural standpoint.  If it's only pragmatic, and renders whether you believe in God or not inconsequential, then why did Christ Jesus have to go through what he did ...  The world did not lack moral teachers, or even those who taught "love" as a virtue and way of living.  And why does it matter so much if we even believe the gospel or not?  Jesus said "Even the Pagans love those who love them", giving an example of love alongside spiritual ignorance.  

Don't get me wrong.  I hear you.  And agree that theology rings hollow without love in action to back it up.  But a generic teaching of love without necessarily believing in God and Christ is not even hinted at scripturally.  What kind of love is it which never acknowledges the one who loved us enough to die on the cross for our salvation?  (a shallow love, at least for those who know)


Your point about legistation of morality is well needed.  I hope we can get into more discussion about that.  But here is another angle to look at... The lack of legisltation of morality can be as bad, or worse.  The concept of "love" can be used as cloak for all kinds of wrong things.  Take the creed of Aliester Crowley (an 18th century practicer of magic arts, witchcraft, and satanism) for example "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, under love".  But without any honoring of the law, "Do as thou wilt", becomes just that, and ends in rebellion.


I also question the idea that morality should not be legislated.  Biblical history, and the revelation of God through scripture doesn't seem to support this view.  God's first community as a nation (Israel) was given a moral law as the foundation of their government.  


Proverbs 8:12-16 states ...

"I wisdom have made prudence my dwelling, And find out knowledge and discretion.  The fear of Jehovah is to hate evil: Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, And the perverse mouth, do I hate.  Counsel is mine, and sound knowledge: I am understanding; I have might.  By me kings reign, And princes decree justice.  By me princes rule, And nobles, even all the judges of the earth."


It's just a fact that much of the formulation of law throughout history was based on morality and not just pragmatism... for the question is whose pragmatism?  Do a study on the ideas of "justice" in the history of legal codes ... it is woven throughout.  Though doubtlessly, morality in the world's laws takes a backseat to self-interest.  


Of course I agree that the world will never come to be moral by the way of legality.  The nation of Israel couldn't either, and they recieved theirs straight from God, not through the lens of conscience like other nations.  


Romans 9:31-32

"But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.  Why? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law..."


The same is true of nations, and individuals.  But no one ever attained the "law of righteousness" without  at least facing the law.  As someone once said, we pass Mount Sinai on the way to Mount Zion.  There is a truth in scripture that "The Law was a school-master to lead us to Christ".  But none I know of ever got anywhere without the school-master.  No one debunking Laws of morality ever understands it.


Another interesting thing is that Christ is presented in scripture as "fulfilling the law", not nullifying the law...

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fullfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practes and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven..." (Matthew 5:17-19)


Even Love is represented in this way...


"Jesus replied ' Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments".


As far as God legislating morality... he has and does.  Does it achieve it's goal in his creatures, to make them moral?  Yes and No.  Yes in the sense that it is the only thing that seriously gets them thinking about morality, and the consequences of being moral, or immoral ... and ultimately leads them to give up trying to be righteous through their own power... and turn to Christ.  No, in the sense of law being able to produce righteousness.  It only points out what is not there, but says like John the Baptist "I am not He."  Law is the forerunner of Grace.  

But for those who never attain to righteousness, the legislation of God does not change ...  He can and will punish sin, and reward righteouness.  So in a sense it is through God's legislation that we are made righteous... the only difference is that someone else fulfilled every jot and tittle on our behalf, and still asks us to keep the law out of hearts of love.


Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (04-06-2002 05:23 PM).]

Ron
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8 posted 04-06-2002 07:28 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Stephen, I'm sure Brad will correct me if I'm wrong, but this particular thread seemed to be more about society and morality than about religion and morality. Can society agree upon a morality in the absence of religion (or, much more importantly in the pragmatic sense, in the absence of agreement between multiple religions)? While I understand and respect your inclination to address everything in terms of a Christian viewpoint, I don't think that always serves the best interests of everyone. Not even the best interests of Christianity. Scripture is only going to convince those already convinced.

Nonetheless, you helped make one of my points. Yes, God legislated morality, but only to prove it couldn't be done successfully. It simply amazes me every time one of our legislators steps forward to prove THEY can do what God could not. God's solution, of course, was to do it FOR us, through the sacrifice of Jesus. And I have to admit at times, the image of a few Senators or Congressmen nailed to a cross does cross my mind.

Denise, I appreciate the kind words, but the simplification arises because of our own human over-simplifications about love. Sadly, some of our greatest moral failures are done in the name of love.

Remember my comment in another thread about one of the two most important things in the Bible being the concept of free will? We aren't just puppets, and that's because Love and Control are antithetical. Yet, far too often, our human concept of love results in an attempt to control those we love. For their own good, of course.

If it's true that morality is just another word for love, then it's equally true that an imperfect love gives birth to an imperfect morality.
Stephanos
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9 posted 04-06-2002 10:33 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Ron,

If you'll take a look again at Brad's original post, he started by saying that there were some who argue that "secularism has no anchor from which to make moral judgements", and then proceeded to paraphrase Nietzsche.  Immediately following this he stated his own opinion that  "losing God doesn't mean we lose anything..." immediately tying or untying God from morality.  So the question seemed to me less about society and morality, but about whether or not society can be moral without God, or have meaning, or success without God.


I don't think I was out of context here, considering what Brad stated.

Stephen.
Brad
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10 posted 04-07-2002 04:04 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

While I didn't want to get into another theological discussion (Ron's right), I do think Stephan's point is the right way to go if you're religious (Stephan's right ). Don't tell me that in order for society to work, we need a God. This sounds like we should pretend that there is a God even if there isn't:

"You see, I'm right, I'm right, even if I'm wrong, I'm right."

is basically what I hear.

JP and Phaedrus both see what I'm seeing -- a secular society doesn't turn away from religion, it uses it. If I believe that murdering is wrong, or even better, that all people should be considered equal am I being influenced by the Christian tradition?

You bet I am.

But there's nothing hypocritical in saying that I'm influenced by Christianity and not being Christian anymore than it's hypocritical for a Christian to put up a Christmas tree because it's not a 'true' Christian tradition.  

Ron, while I liked the love bit (I would say recognition but that's not a big deal), isn't a secular society one that derives its system of government from the consent of the governed, not from Divine Right, not from the Mandate of Heaven, and not from the 'science' of dialectical materialism?

To me, secular just means 'worldly, not spiritual' and by that I mean that we don't go outside to find ways to do things. We base our premises on pragmatic agreement.

And, yes, that's all we need.
Ron
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11 posted 04-07-2002 09:16 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

But my point, Brad, was that, no, that's not all we need.  

While I certainly agree (strongly) that a secular society must derive its system of government from the consent of the governed, I differentiate between that and morality. The law, alone and divorced from an inner sense of right and wrong, doesn't seem to work too well. The people may collectively agree on what is right and wrong legalistically, but the individual invariably acts only in their own self-interest. I don't want everyone speeding and making my road unsafe. But if I'm in a hurry and don't see any cops, I'm probably going to break the law. Why? Because the law is only as effective as its enforcement, or more accurately, the perception of its enforcement.

From an historical perspective, it seems clear to me that the most difficult laws to enforce are always those with no solid moral underpinning. If it costs one dollar per capita to effectively enforce laws against killing, it will cost five dollars each to suppress prostitution, twenty dollars for a war on drugs, and a hundred dollars to force everyone to pay their fair share of taxes. At some point, I think the costs begin to outweigh the benefits (but that's another thread).

Most people, even given the perfect opportunity, would not willingly kill another human being (which is why we have to dehumanize the enemy in war). Most people, even when they can get away with it, won't steal from a friend (though those same people are much less hesitant stealing from an impersonal company or government). Most people won't sleep with their brother's wife (though a stranger's is often fair game). Morality makes civilization possible. The law exists only to protect us from the theoretically small segment of society that refuses to recognize morality. When that small segment becomes too large, and certainly were it to encompass everyone, enforcement becomes prohibitively expensive and the law collapses under the strain. A society that devotes too much of its resources to law enforcement cannot long survive.

Stephen argues that morality and love itself is a gift of God, and then supports that position with Scripture. I happen to already agree with his premise, making his proof unnecessary. Those who disagree, I suspect, will just find the evidence circular and unconvincing. The Bible was never meant to logically prove the existence of God or, even, the attributes of God. It is, rather, an instrument of faith, both its fuel and fire.

"Ö a generic teaching of love without necessarily believing in God and Christ is not even hinted at scripturally." I would disagree (love both precedes and defines faith), but don't think it even matters. If love depends on the Christian Bible, more than half of the world is left standing in the dark. If we don't teach love, through example rather than Scripture, we are standing in the same dark place.

Is it necessary to recognize God? From an evangelical perspective, of course. But within the context of Brad's question, I think the answer has to be no. The gift of love, whatever its source, is available to all.

I don't think there ever has been or ever will be a truly secular society. But Brad's question is still of paramount importance today, because as we expand to a global society, we increasingly find ourselves facing a very pluralistic one. If morality is inextricably tied to religion, and especially if it's tied to a single religion like Christianity, we have only the very fallible law to protect our peace. And that ain't enough. Obviously. We need morality if we are to all survive.

I said morality was just another word for love, Brad wants to use the term recognition, but what we're really talking about is empathy. I think love offers a much broader foundation for empathy than does simple recognition, but will also admit that breadth may, in most instances, be unnecessary. If you FEEL what the other fellow feels, whether from love or recognizing their humanity, you will do what is right and avoid what is wrong. That, I think, is the essence of morality.

The law is founded on fear and self-interest, morality on remorse and compassion. The law is external and too easily escaped, morality is internal and impossible to long ignore. The law needs morality, just as morality needs the law.
Phaedrus
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12 posted 04-07-2002 09:25 AM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


The introduction of God would seem to be justified if the aim is to discover the source of morality. If it can be established that religion, under the auspices of God, is the fountain of all morality and morality is determined to be a prerequisite of a functioning society. Then God, religion, morality and society would seem to be inextricable intertwined. If however morality is a wholly human construct God, and consequently religion, would seem unnecessary to sustain a functioning moral society.

Whether morality is a human construct would have to be the first hurdle to overcome on the way to answering Bradís question.

There is a long-standing argument that sets out to refute the notion that morality is derived from the divine, Plato first posed the question in the dialogue Euthyphro :

"Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because the gods love it?"

If God/gods select morality because it is inherently right the rightness must have existed before the choosing and is independent of God/gods. If morals are only moral because God/gods selected them the selection is arbitrary Ė God/gods could have chosen any act and deemed it moral, adultery could have been chosen as a moral act.

If morality is a human construct where does that leave religion within society?

Even if morality stems from a human and not a divine source society would still require a framework on which to hang those morals, religion with itís built in carrot and stick persuasiveness would seem to be an ideal candidate. In such a case religion (and through it God/gods) would be the moderator of moral standards within society - though the morals would be secular in nature and equally sustainable in a non-religious framework.

Thanks for the chance to read and reply
Ron
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13 posted 04-07-2002 10:07 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

quote:
Whether morality is a human construct would have to be the first hurdle to overcome on the way to answering Brad's question.

The problem with that assumption is that it is divisive, setting religion against secularism. No one who believe in God will accept a man-made morality. No one who refuses God will accept a divine morality. Instant stalemate.

If you are a Christian, you believe free will was the first gift of God. If you are not a Christian, you nonetheless still have free will. Does it matter if my eye color was inherited from my mother or my father? Regardless the source, the eyes remain blue.

Morality exists. If we can agree to divorce it from its source, then we can have constructive dialog about its impact.
Phaedrus
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14 posted 04-07-2002 02:23 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus

Ron you said:

quote:
Does it matter if my eye color was inherited from my mother or my father? Regardless the source, the eyes remain blue.


A closer analogy, as far as I understand the question, would be:

Would my eyes have been blue if my father did not exist?

Eye colour being morality, my eyes being society and my father being religion, discussing the merits of eye colour without investigating the source of that colour leaves you without sufficient knowledge to answer the question at hand.

If the question however were the broader one of whether society requires religion to function the analogy would be closer to:

Does my father have to exist for me to have eyes?

If the question is can society function without morality the analogy would be:

Do my eyes require colour in order to function?

It may be worthwhile at this point if Brad were to clarify the question


quote:
The problem with that assumption is that it is divisive..


Every philosophical question raised is divisive, discussion of alternate points of view by definition requires there to be more than one and for a division of views. The assumption that instant stalemate is the outcome suggests that those points of view cannot be swayed or changed through discussion, how then am I to be converted?


[This message has been edited by Phaedrus (04-07-2002 02:25 PM).]

Ron
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Your analogies fall apart, Phaedrus, because my eyes ARE blue. The rest is irrelevant, until and unless the topic changes. Which was exactly my point. The ability to make moral judgements exists. Determining the source of that ability won't change the ability.

Were I interested in converting you (I'm not), I wouldn't do it by specifically trying to find areas where we disagree. Persuasion is never accomplished by attack. And make no mistake - when you set two fundamental beliefs in opposition, that IS an attack.
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16 posted 04-07-2002 04:32 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


If I have inadvertently attacked the fundamental beliefs of anyone I sincerely apologise, that was not my intent and is I agree contrary to useful discussion.

On the point of the validity of my analogies I believe that the introduction of the correlation between religion and morality introduced sufficient grounds to investigate the source of morality. If I am in error I again sincerely apologise.
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17 posted 04-07-2002 05:04 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Phaedrus, I didn't mean to suggest you were out of line. Just barking up the wrong tree.

You're right that Brad originally tied religion and morality together. I'm trying to untie that knot and was ONLY defending my own position. This discussion "could" be yet another theological one, but I don't think it has to be. And it's important enough, I don't think it SHOULD be.
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18 posted 04-07-2002 06:12 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

If morality is a human construct, where does that leave religion?

Exactly where it is. To see things as human constructs (social constructionism) does nothing to change the institutions that we have today. It's not going to change anybody's mind about anything because we can't 'prove' it anymore than we can prove God (it's a world view). Many who rely on this theory to back a specific program or policy fall into the same problem as those who argue that we should listen to God's word because God says so.

My original point was that those who are secular are neither more nor less moral than those who believe in God. Actually, no, my point is that belief or disbelief have no, or at least very little, connection to one's morality in everyday life.

It's how you deal with other people that matter, not how you think the world is. How you come to deal with people, individuals, is inconsequential to the actual dealing.

Am I being too abstract? My point really isn't abstract at all, it's right there in the way we live our lives everyday.  

a lot more to say later,
Brad
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19 posted 04-07-2002 06:14 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Hey, Ron, I'm not doing that, I'm saying other people are and that's a mistake.
Phaedrus
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20 posted 04-07-2002 07:25 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


Brad

I donít see how ones perceived world view can be divorced from the way you deal with people, regardless of the source of divergent moralities within society the inherent difference must have a causal effect when two people with differing moral values meet.  Are you suggesting that a universal moral code should be formulated and embraced? Or that those moral values should be set aside temporarily to facilitate greater understanding during interaction?

Isnít that a dereliction of self - a denial of who we are? And wouldnít such suppression merely be a lie Ė a means justified by the ends?

Letís take an example:

John is adamant that X is immoral, Jane comes from a society where X is accepted.

When the two meet to discuss X do they temporarily ignore their respective moral values and simply decide to talk about Y instead?

Do they, through discussion, attempt to determine which version or value is more morally correct? Ė The loser changing his/her value system accordingly.

Belief does have an effect on morality and moral values, the belief involved is not however religious in origin, it is the belief in ones own moral values. Asking Jane to believe that X is immoral or convincing John that it is not is surely setting one fundamental belief against another.

Ron

I think Iíve found another tree, though I get the funny feeling itís just my bark thatís different.


Brad
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21 posted 04-07-2002 08:25 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

"John is adamant that X is immoral, Jane comes from a society where X is accepted.

When the two meet to discuss X do they temporarily ignore their respective moral values and simply decide to talk about Y instead?"

And what do you see people doing around here?

This is certainly one strategy to get along with life. Is this a moral strategy? Ron and Stephan, I think, would say no, it's a pragmatic strategy (my view is far fuzzier than that, given that I refuse to look outside the human condition to determine a moral outlook. A moral that does not help people generally get along with other people is no moral at all.). But my point is that this approach is developed along lines that help society to flourish.

The mistake is, on the one hand, to assume that this comes from a philosophical or theological position, or, on the other, to assume that because it works in one situation, it is always the right thing to do, to abstract it into another philosophical position.

But here comes a question that I hadn't considered when I first posted this:

Is morality doing what it takes to keep a society going (in which case most people are moral), or is it something more?  

Even if you think it means something more, my point still stands, I just have to reverse it:

Religious followers are just as immoral as secularists.

Note to Ron: Don't jump yet.  Obviously, at some point I have to deal with your distinction between law and morality. I agree with your premise that morality is necessary for a society to exist (that's how I define it, isn't it?), I am not convinced that morality is as clear as you want to make it. Trying to do the right thing is not always clear precisely because we have to deal with different people.  I also realize that I haven't addressed the distinction between 'doing the right thing' and 'doing what it takes to get along'.

In a nutshell, I think that distinction revolves around short and long term outlooks. Morality is anchored (ha!) to the long term view of things.

We generally just don't think about it like that.

Stephanos
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22 posted 04-08-2002 03:09 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Phaedrus,

I think you are right in stating that considering the source (of morality) is necessary for the question at hand.  Brad's question had lttle to do with how morality benefits society in a practical sense, though that would be a worthwhile discussion.  It rather questioned if secularism has an "anchor from which to make moral judgements" (Brad's exact words).

An anchor is a metaphor for that which is fixed and secure.  A fixed point of reference for "moral judgements".  If you ask me whether humanity  has such a fixed point of reference for moral judgements ... I say emphatically...Yes.  If you ask me whether humanity possesses this point of reference unconditionally ... I say No.  


The question may be better stated "Is the ability of humanity to make moral decisions (even if only to the degree which makes society possible) contigent on a source, or only an independent human attribute? "


Phaedrus said:

"Eye colour being morality, my eyes being society and my father being religion, discussing the merits of eye colour without investigating the source of that colour leaves you without sufficient knowledge to answer the question at hand.
If the question however were the broader one of whether society requires religion to function the analogy would be closer to:
Does my father have to exist for me to have eyes?"


This is an astute observation, and we cannot easily escape it when considering  such a question as Brad posed.  I would of course substitute God himself for "religion" in the above statement.  But either way the correct question is asked.


Ron said:

"Your analogies fall apart, Phaedrus, because my eyes ARE blue. The rest is irrelevant, until and unless the topic changes. Which was exactly my point. The ability to make moral judgements exists. Determining the source of that ability won't change the ability."


Unless the topic changes?  As I stated before, the topic was whether or not there was an anchor for moral judgement ... I believe from Brad's second sentence.  The fact that Brad didn't want this topic to become a theological discussion only reflects the fact that he feels either 1) we have no source from which to make moral judgements, or 2) we obviously do have a source, but God is not that source.  From knowing Brad, I would think the latter is how he feels.  But regardless, this IS the topic.  I know what the source is and can say nothing else to such a question.


I am willing to discuss peripheral topics ... how morality benefits and affects society ... how humanity can all make use of what morality they possess during this temporary time of "plurality" and learn to live in somewhat peaceful terms with one another.  But when someone talk of sources, foundations, fixed points of references,  I cannot not bring God into the discussion.  When someone alludes to ultimate solutions, and an established peace based on the weak ablilites of humankind, I cannot not bring God into the discussion.  


Searching out the source of morality, Ron, is no more irrelevant than studying genetics to determine the source of human traits ... but only more important.  From a genetic point of view, the greater feat is not to correct via surgery an individual's eye disorder that will be passed on to his posterity, but to find out why it's being passed on and correct that.


Maybe a question which Brad hinted at would be "Should humanity value morality for purely practical reasons?"  To which I would reply yes... but I have a problem with the inclusion of 'purely' here.  Because if pragmatism is the only reason then the benefits will not long last.  Morality itself (in the nature of it's very definition) implies things an individual ought to do or not do, aside from considerations of self interest.  I ask, Should morality be purely practical?  If you say yes, I will say it is not truely morality at all.  If you say no, I ask by what standard do we determine the ethical strain of our morality?  If you take me back to pure practicality, or self interest on this point, we have a problem.  Talk about circular reasoning!

Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (04-08-2002 03:12 PM).]

Phaedrus
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23 posted 04-08-2002 07:09 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus


Stephanos

I donít believe Ron was suggesting anyone was right or wrong he was simply suggesting that the time and place might be wrong in light of the possible direction this thread could go. Hence the barking and tree reference, Iím happy to hold fire on the source of morality if thatís the consensus.

Brad

quote:
Is morality doing what it takes to keep a society going (in which case most people are moral), or is it something more?


I think itís rather that society gains as a consequence of individual morality - or people doing what they like - it just happens that people Ďlikeí or prefer morality over immorality.

btw
Could law be the measure of consequence by which individual morality is judged by society?
Brad
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24 posted 04-10-2002 12:45 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I'm getting confused. An anchor is a fixed point of reference, "You should tell the truth because God says so." My point, true enough, was that the secular answer would be, "You should tell the truth because it makes a society work better."

But the rest of the post did indeed deal with the relationship between morality and society -- because that's what a secularist is worried about.

On this point, I agree with Ron (or Ron agrees with me, take your pick )-- it is not necessary to know whether Ron has a father to see that he has blue eyes. I don't see the point in questioning the source of honesty as a good. What will that change? Stephan, I think, is arguing that if we don't acknowledge the source, it won't last a long time. I don't know.

On the other hand, there's a good point to be made that asking the question: Is honesty good for society? The question is generally answered in the affirmative, but the rethinking of moral questions helps to reaffirm old traditions, to reaffirm consciously what we already feel unconsciously. At this point, I want to stress the need to remember that when I say society, I am not talking about a thing, I am talking about relationships among people.  

If people aren't being honest, then there's probably something wrong with that society.

A religious person's answer is not able to be questioned. You either accept or reject it, you either already feel it or you don't (not quite true but that is how religious morality is presented in relation to a society). This situation leads to a reification of morality, a paying of lip service to the powers that be who will identify with the dominant spiritual beliefs of whatever time period.

Too much emphasis on religion can lead to stagnation.

Does religion offer the ability to protest a society? When it comes to Christianity, you literally you have to say no -- "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's".  But of course this is not true in practice as religious movements have triggered societal change in a number of areas.

Can secularism lead to stagnation? Yes, of course it can, but that means a failure to live up to the goal of secularism as such: the point is to make this world better.

The point of religion is to worry about another world. Thus, religious morality is actually incidental to a society.

Surprised no one's talking me on in sliding the communist stuff with the theocratic stuff.

Brad
 
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