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Perplexing revisit

30 April 2009 2 comments

I have finally gotten around to replying to the remarks made to my original “Perplexing” post (link). I have not approved any of the comments for several reasons.  To wit: one was from a Catholic, another made an unfriendly remark about a prominent Catholic.  And while I don’t judge my friends, neither do I facilitate flame wars – not that these two would flame up, necessarily; in fact I think they would be good friends.  I am just done with online conflict.  I am thus pulling the comments into a clarification of sorts.

To address items point-by-point, the first was how Humanists succeed.  The point was made that humanists have “behaved completely sub-human” in certain cases.  Where I stand behind my original point is that humans can act like animals because we are animals.  Humanism only states that we are animals capable of acting “super-animal” – morality (as mammalian studies have proven over and over) isn’t restricted to humanity, but it comes closest to what appears to be a pull toward the “ought to.”  Thus, when a human acts in any fashion, he or she is doing what humans do.  Is this to say there is no real morality? Of course not; morality is best understood by what protects the family unit, the social order, and the species’ survival.  More on that at some point.

A Christian’s goal is to be “Christ-like.”  I Peter 1:16 – “be holy, for I am holy.”  I Corinthians 11:1 – “be imitators of me, just as I am of Christ.”  Do they? No, as it is written – “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” – that phrase is present tense in the text (Romans 3:23).  Christians, every one of them, millions at once, are at this very moment falling short of the very thing that they have been commanded (in all three ways: command, example, inference) to do.  Are each of them failures? Not according to me – I’ve explained why – but, according to the Bible, they are.  How Christ supposedly makes up for it is a wholly different can of worms, but suffice to say that my original point still stands – Christians fail at their objective, every time.  That’s the system under which they operate.

I love my Christian friends and family.  But do I need a divine command to do so?  Of course not.  Thousands of tracts have been printed that say that, without God, we may as well run rampant in the streets – killing, raping, stealing at will.  Aside from the fact that Christians make up a phenomenally disproportionate number of prison inmates (especially compared to atheists), it appears evident that there is an “objective” standard of morality that people abide by – perhaps not for fear of eternal punishment, but of the much more temporal sort – but it is more likely that there is a biological pull toward the “ought to” that becomes more and more increasingly developed given the advanced evolutionary state of higher-order species.

Am I denying that “Jesus” should be a model for behavior?  No, of course not.  But to maintain that without him, none of your behavior merits any worth is preposterous and, in itself, insulting to the species as a whole.  Indeed, being unable to control one’s own emotions and exercising violence – specifically in a locale that is reputed to be a “holy place” – is, to most reasonable people, immoral.  Yet this is held up in the text as being one of the defining moments of Jesus’ character.  Seemingly, the only defense offered for this is that Jesus is the son of God – thus “allowed” to do so.

Finally, the common response addressed – Mother Teresa.  I would never minimize her contribution to the world for what is a picture of “ought to” behavior.  But is the pivotal issue here a desire to be a good person, or merely something to do with respect to God?  A quote from her Wikipedia entry:

Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard.

I look at the good she did and see only good.  But to wrap that up in Theism (and the explicitly-stated worthlessness of human morality apart from a divine order) removes any real luster from it and turns it into a simple good work that has no real temporal value.  It turns her selfless contribution to the World Good into exactly zero. How can someone, in all intellectual honesty, do that to her memory?  I love you guys, but how can you hold her up as an example, yet at the same time proclaim its inherent worthlessness?

Those of you who know me know that I argue passionately, yet without anger.  I respect each of those who chimed in more than I do myself, and I look forward to getting put into an intellectual full-nelson at some point by one or more of you.  I merely believe that asking and answering hard questions is important to one’s intellectual, emotional, and (if there is such a thing) spiritual make-up; moreso than dismissing the “will of God” as mysterious and incomprehensible.  What you (Christianity writ large) are proposing is almost a “quasi-gnosis” where everything in this life is ultimately worthless save the one moment in which “conversion” takes place.  I don’t think that you want to actually do that, but the way the theology stands, that’s the outcome.


  • Scott said:

    I hear what you are saying and agree with you to a very large extent. However, what I think you are describing is evangelical Christianity. Granted, that is the vast majority and the broader implications of their theology collapse under any academic rigor or objective analysis.
    I deviate from you on what it means to be human but that is largely a non-starter.
    Ultimately, I believe that there is a subset of Christianity that looks at Jesus as a tremendous moral example, a picture of that “ought to” you describe.
    However, I no longer feel like I have failed whenever I feel that I have done differently than what Jesus would have done. I have largely abandoned the evangelical concept of “sin” for a more humanistic approach. Obviously, this makes me an outlier in the discussion but these ranks are swelling.

  • dan (author) said:

    I agree that you haven’t failed, but that is under the paradigm of an exegesis, not the system as written. The point can obviously be made that one can *only* operate under an interpretation, but that serves only to illustrate the weakness of the underlying system as it is used.

    I think that once the subset grows a larger voice, and can say with conviction that the text is indeed historical, and perhaps even “inspired” (if one needs that), but not immutable – and definitely not perfect – then progress can really take place, and the picture of Jesus can stand as a model without being used as a weapon, either against nonbelievers or in the ongoing Christian internecine holier-than-thou war.