Monday, 8 March 2010

Are You A Good Person?

Do you think you're a good person? Well, maybe you are, maybe you aren't. If you sinned 3 times a day, that's not significant, right? Well 3 sins sounds like nothing, but it sure does add up. So if you sin only a couple of times a day, that over 1000 sins a year! That means on average, even someone who sins as little as 3 times a day will sin 80,000 times in their life! So how can you think you're a good person?

But there is a solution to all this. God gave us redemption by sacrificing his son who lived a sin-free life. If you believe in Jesus, all your sins will be forgiven and God will spare you. Praise the Lord!

Salvation through faith
Hopefully someone will come and slap me and assure me that this isn't the message of Christianity, because so much of the apologetic centred around Christian morality merely reminded me of this apologetic nonsense I was told as a child. Back then I wondered which 3 ten commandments I broke every day and wrote it off as extravagant, these days it is a reminder of the depravity that is Christian morality.

Not throwing out the baby with the bathwater here, this isn't to call to depravity the Sermon on the mount or similar such teachings that form part of the ethical doctrine that we collectively refer to as Christianity. At the same time it really should be recognised that there are Christians who can and do take such extremes as an extension of the dogma present, and why wouldn't they?

This problem of salvation through faith, it's preaching the worst possible picture of humanity and pretty much writing us as a species off - we are beyond help. And suddenly the redemption through the Christ seems a supreme gesture of good will on account of God. Such twisted and depraved creatures despite rejecting the paradise are being given the ultimate gift. What a truly loving God He is...

I am a good person!
It's arguing from failing to achieve perfection, this √úbermensch held up as the ideal form we must be like. Any failure to achieve perfection and you're put in the same category as a baby-raping mass-murderer. Not being able to distinguish between the two is a dangerous quality in an ideology.

And in some apologetics it doesn't stop at deeds. Thought-crime is a crime for some. Can't get someone on being a murderer? Well they've surely had an angry thought so that counts. Didn't cheat on their spouse? Yet they had a sexual thought about another person and that's just as bad. So much as even feel slightly jealous that someone has a better car? That's coveting and you deserve to burn for all eternity you wicked sinner!

Have you ever told a lie? That makes you a liar. That's it, one white lie and you're as bad as a pathological liar who can't be trusted. Whether you've tried to save face in social situation or lied with malicious intent that either directly or indirectly led to others being harmed, it doesn't matter. A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat, and a face saving transgression is just as bad as lying to justify the invasion of another country to a malevolent deity.

I get the impression that many of those who preach such nonsense actually believe it. It's a depressing view of humanity, and one that's far beyond the realistic. Someone who helps out others is still a horrible contemptuous person who deserves an eternity of torture - they need Jesus to have died for their sins and will be redeemed through faith. Actually helping out others and giving to charity? Despicable! Salvation through faith, not through works. A good person by definition is one who believes in Christ, there can be no virtuous non-believer because it is a contradiction.

Can the idea of religion and morality being tightly-coupled die please?
It's apologetics like that explored above that highlight the absurdity of religious morality. Pointing out the Euthyphro dilemma or the problem of evil do little, taking the ideas and applying them to who we think about others highlights the absurdity and the danger of such ideas. It isn't morality in any sense that we as a society understand it, yet the idea that morality and religion are tightly-coupled still persists.

The danger word is relativism, take away a transcendent morality and there's nothing left to hang the absolute on. So despite the utter lack of tight coupling of morality and religion, it is desirable to keep pressing the link lest we fall into moral subjectivism. (It seems that the arguments against moral relativity are arguments against moral subjectivism)

There is also the IS-OUGHT problem, that an IS doesn't imply an OUGHT. If someone is a violent person, it doesn't mean they OUGHT to be violent towards others. At the same time, just because someone IS quite altruistic, it doesn't mean they OUGHT to be altruistic. If xenophobia and sharing are both evolved trait, why should sharing be moral and xenophobia immoral?

In the face of trying to define a coherent secular ethic, it's understandable that many will just point to religious instruction as at least some way to justify an absolute by which people can receive instruction. There need not be a transcendent morality, just the idea of one. Regardless of how contradictory it is, the alternatives have not yet been suitably defined.

Yet there's an evidential indicator that there can be morality without absolute moral doctrine, the last few hundred years can be testament to this. To think of the US bill of rights, it is a social construct with no divine authority backing the principles therein. Free speech is seen as a fundamental inalienable right, yet is not even pretended that it only exists as a divine command. It's an idea born of humanity, yet one that resonates with us so much that it is taken as a must in any modern society.

Part of it I feel is knowledge of consequences for particular actions. Passive smoking is a good example of a radically changing moral standard in the last few decades where the passive harm to others has made such a behaviour morally unacceptable. Of course this isn't the whole story as consequences can't justify themselves.

While there's the appeal to a transcendent being to justify moral change, the reality of the situation is that the moral landscape has changed greatly in the last few hundred years on humanity's own accord. Principles don't have to be absolute to be transcendent. To illustrate this, think of language. Language cannot be subjective by definition, it's a transmission of meaning between individuals. Yet language changes over time, and it will be lost if those who speak it perish. It transcends the individual, yet is not absolute nor fixed. The fear of subjectivism is quite simply unfounded.

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