Tag Archives: beliefs

Arguments

Boing Boing: Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

I grow weary of continual “he said, she said” rhetoric. It’s a major part of why I’ve more or less tuned out politics, why I’ve even, to some extent, tuned out of religious and philosophical discussion recently. This is more of the same.

It’s interesting to me that the religious say this nation was founded on Christian principles and that secularists say it was founded on secularism. In truth, this nation was founded, in part, on religious freedom, granting each citizen the right to worship as they see fit. So it’s increasingly ironic that Christians and secularists alike continue to try to force their way of thinking on others via politics and strong-arm techniques rather than through the power of persuasion and one-on-one discourse. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, I don’t believe there is any room for anger, hatred, bitterness, and strife in the mutual pursuit of truth. And let’s face it – aren’t both sides looking for truth? Naturally, different people are going to arrive at different conclusions. People are going to disagree, sometimes even violently so. That, unfortunately, is the nature of humanity. It doesn’t make it right, of course.

I guess what bugs me the most when I hear this kind of dialogue being spouted in a public forum is the fact that so much of it is laced with anger and bitterness. I can understand, to an extent; frankly, I find my hackles going up everytime I hear someone harshly criticizing my own beliefs. It’s a natural reaction; no one likes to be told they’re stupid and foolish for believing a certain way. No one likes to be made fun of. But just because those emotional reactions rise up does _not_ mean that we should allow them to rule us and govern our reactions. Just because I’m angry and hurt at what someone said about me, whether directly or indirectly, does not give me the right to respond with anger of my own. Don’t you see? That just makes the problem worse.

“A soft answer turns away wrath…” Words to live by, folks. Do you hear me?

Tension

There is a tension inherent in holding the belief that morals are absolute but in recognizing that one cannot force once’s value system on everyone else. Specifically, I hold to the notion that moral standards are absolute — they do not change over time. The same moral standards that were right and good yesterday are still right and good today. At the same time, I also believe that there is room, within reason, for personal freedom for one to choose what morals they believe are right and good and to live by them. That is part of what America and democracy are about, allowing people to live as they will. I live by the ideal that people should live by what is right and good and be held accountible to that standard. Yet, I am stuck with the reality that not everyone agrees on what is right and good, and so the definitions of such are going to vary from person to person. It is also not within my right to make anyone accept or embrace my own beliefs. I can possibly persuade others that I am right, and then teach them to live by the system that I embrace, but I can only do so after they are convinced that it is the right way to live.

I would say that morals are both subjective and objective — subjective insofar as nearly everyone will have, at the least, subtly different notions of what is right and good and just, objective insofar as I believe that there is one, and only one, code of morals that is actually right and true. Some people believe that the standard for morality can only be found within oneself, that one can only discover their personal value system by working it out for themselves, since there is no other true and stable source for such truth. Other people believe in God (or a god or gods) as the source for the standard of morality, looking beyond the fluid system of their own mind and heart to something they consider to be stable and much more permanent and unchanging. For the religious this is not so difficult to believe, but for the non-religious and the atheist, this is a difficult pill to swallow. One must first be convinced of the existence of a God before one can believe that He could serve as the standard for morality.

Morality only becomes out-of-date because men themselves change, and when men, who serve as their own moral standards, change so then must their moral systems. We have seen many such changes over the past couple of hundred years since this nation’s founding, a greater acceptance of a wider range of behavior. This has, in many cases, been a good thing, but in others it has been a very bad thing. Where such changes have been good, in my observation, are in those places where the conservative (read, ‘legalistic’) right has relinquished their militant hold on beliefs that are actually very judgmental and hateful and, for the religious, have no basis in Scripture. Where such changes have been bad are in those areas where the liberal left has been more ‘tolerant’ of traditionally deviant behaviors that have, in so many cases, caused so much heartache. But such behavior has been allowed to exist, within legal limits, in the name of freedom and permitting people to build, or destroy, their lives as they see fit.

Of course for me, this creates a tension. I hold to this standard of morality that has been defined by the God I serve, a standard that, when lived by as described in Scripture, provides nothing but joy and peace and healthy living. I want others to know this standard, to live by it, and experience the joy of a lifestyle that shuns self-destructive behaviors, that gives respect to all men, and that embraces only those things that are good and right. Some Christians wish the same, but in such a way as to become forceful and offensive in trying to make other people believe as they do. When they are rebuffed again and again, frustration naturally crops up, leading to anger and bitterness and hatred. These Christians forget, in their anger, that they are called to reject these feelings; instead, they allow themselves to be controlled by them. Much damage is done in the name of Christ, as a result, further adding to my own tension (and I am not alone in this, I am sure), as I work to persuade others of my own viewpoint while working both against destructive Christians and antagonistic unbelievers. (There are also still a great many of the aforementioned legalistic Christians who, while I share some of their beliefs, carry many hateful rules and regulations that I believe are very unbiblical. More tension.)

Tension is part of life, part of the nature of the human condition, part of what it means to be a community of people who live together in relative peace but who sometimes hold very different beliefs. It is only for me to share my beliefs with others in a way that is bold and confident, yet respectful and peaceful. If I can convince others that God exists and that His way of doing things really is best, then glory be given to Him. If I cannot then I can do nothing more than continue to boldly proclaim the tried-and-true beliefs that serve as the guiding light in my life.

Living On the Fringes

It is the extremists of any major religion that end up giving the whole a bad reputation. Bad news travels more quickly than good news does, and poor behavior is more easily remembered and available to memory than is good behavior. So what typically ends up happening is that the whole organization gets placed under the banner of those who make the most noise, even though they are not necessarily a representative sample of that population. Christians are often perceived as hateful, unforgiving bigots because there are many who are exactly that. Note, however, that I did not say ‘majority’ or ‘most’ because it has been my own experience that, in general, those who call themselves Christian do strive to live up to the compassionate, forgiving ideals of the Bible and of Christ’s teachings. The same goes, as I understand it, for those of the Muslim faith. The vast majority are a peace-loving people, and those who perform heinous acts of murder and bombing are the fringe extremists, just as are those Christians who bomb abortion clinics, twisting the ideals of their religion into a perverted distortion of the actual. In the process they give the entire faith a black eye, and the world sees the whole as being just like the extremists.

So, the question becomes then, what underlies these fringe, extreme groups? What drives them to justify horrible acts and behaviors that are counter to the basic tenets of belief that define the faith they claim to espouse? Ultimately, I can only conclude that they are flawed people, just like the rest of us, who, whether through willful disobedience or through genuine ignorance, misunderstand the teachings of their religious system in such a way as to justify hatred and murder. They are the people who lack the personal discipline to control their emotional impulses, who act on their base desires, rather than striving to live up to a higher ideal of morality. They are the people who pick and choose which parts of their canon to abide by, rather than understanding that the bits they follow are parts of a whole and cannot be separated from it without ending up, by definition, with a completely different set of beliefs. They are the people who were already angry and bitter, who found a system of belief that was attractive to them and fit at least somewhat with their own preconceived notions of how the world should operate. They are the people who then twisted the system of belief to fit their own ideals, rather then reshaping their own ideals to fit the system. In so doing they found justification and an outlet for the violence already in their hearts, and by acting upon that violence, then sullied the name and reputation of the group they claimed to be a part of. Christians who bomb abortion clinics or express hatred, bigotry, and superiority to those not like them are Christian only in name; they are not Christian in actuality because anyone who truly understands the teachings of the Bible would not perform the sorts of behaviors that these extremists tend toward. Similarly, Muslims who fly planes into buildings and strap bombs to themselves and blow up a group of children, and who decapitate innocent victims are Muslim in name only; they do not represent the Muslim faith at large or the teaching of the Qu’ran and do more harm to people of that faith than good. These extremists cannot and should not be called Christian or Muslim, even though they call themselves that. They should be called murderers and hatemongers and should be separated, both in name and in deed, from the whole of the groups that they claim to be part of. Yet, perhaps because it is convenient to do so, they continue to be categorized into the group by the population at large, thereby stereotyping the whole by the deeds of the few. Unfair? You bet. But stereotyping is easy and convenient, even if it is at times unfair and makes it harder for those with the true ideals of their beliefs to communicate them. It is a challenge, no doubt, and that is why unity of the whole is necessary in order to overcome the misdeeds of the few.

Hope, Faith, Belief…

hope, faith, choice, belief, truth, reality

“Jackal”:http://jackal.motime.com/ has asked an interesting “question”:http://jackal.motime.com/post/520232#comment going about which of the words above stand as most important and why. What is more perhaps more interesting than the question, however, is the discussion which follows it. Several people have pointed out that all the words are religious terms, but I propose that they are as much philosophical _and_ scientific as they are religious. For this discussion I want to focus on how these terms are also scientific.

hope. The scientist has questions about the nature of the world and the universe, questions that he hopes to have answered through intensive research and experiments. He hopes that his answers will bring truth and enlightenment, that the mysteries of the ages will be opened up and revealed before him, that he will learn something new and fresh and desirable that will change the way people look at things forever.

faith. The scientist also has faith — that his science is reliable and valid, that it can, indeed, perform the rigorous tests of observation accurately and consistently each time, that the information the studies reveal is true and descriptive. He has faith that the answers to the great mysteries are knowable, that they have only to be discovered by he who is brilliant enough to find them. His science is, to some degree, his religion because he places great faith in it that it will provide him with the answers he seeks.

choice. There are a lot of choices in science — what questions to ask, what experiments to perform, what evidence to collect, what information to look at, etc. There are so many choices to make in science, choices that have a great degree of importance on the outcome of each and every study. Every step of the scientific process involves making choices with bad ones leading to misinformation and confusion and good ones leading to truth, answers, and enlightenment.

belief. Belief is also a scientific term because somewhere along the process, the information gathered must be believed or disbelieved, with the former leading to new processes and technologies and the latter leading to more studies and experiments.

truth. Science is, by its very nature, a search for truth. Every study conducted, every experiment run, every microscope and telescope focused, every meter and dial and knob turned is a pursuit for truth, specifically the truth of how the world and the universe functions. Sometimes, the truth is easily found, sometimes it requires years of fruitless labor before truth is discovered, if at all. Yet, it is inherent in the study of science to seek truth.

reality. How can one have science is one does not have reality? Science can only function in the presence of reality. This is, perhaps, a philosophical point, but nevertheless in order for something to be examined, it must first exist.

As always, I believe that science and religious faith go hand-in-hand, with philosophical musings servings as the supplemental goodness that fills out the formula. Science complements faith complements philsophy complements science, and so forth. I see no reason why the three cannot work together in perfect unity, providing us with a richness and depth of discovery that must surely be pleasing to God. After all, why would He have created all this for us if not for us to explore it to His glory and pleasure?

Drive

Everyone has certain values, beliefs, and goals that drive them. They serve as the presuppositions and the assumptions behind every thought, behavior, and action. And when these value systems are not clarified, they can hinder communication because people think they are on the same page when really they are not. Like everyone else, I have values and beliefs that drive me, that serve as my foundation for behavior. I could probably list many values that drive me, but here are my top three:

1. I believe in absolute truth and that that truth can be known. The main reason behind this belief is purely logical. A universe without absolutes would quickly (possibly instantly) spiral into chaos and disorder. There are absolutes in science, in the basic workings of the universe, that keep everything working smoothly. There are some who would say that there are no absolutes, that all truth is relative, and I would quickly point them to proven absolutes. They might then suggest that there is no social truth, that what is truth is different to each individual. But I would also suggest that this breaks from the very nature of the universe and of life itself. It is not hard to look into human behavior and see absolutes defining that behavior every day.

2. I believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere-present God, loving, compassionate, yet just in all His ways, slow to anger, quick to forgive, a God who is there and who not silent, active, yet often subtle in His ways. This may, in fact, be the most basic of all my values, the foundation of all my foundations. There must have been an intelligent design to the universe, an establisher of the absolute truth I see all around me, a Being so much bigger than I am who can do all that I cannot. The only Being who even remotely fits the facts as I observe is the God
of the Bible. Everything I do is done with the knowledge that He sees me and cares about me and that I have to do little more than speak in order to communicate with Him.

3. I believe in integrity, that a man’s word is his bond. This is a natural step from the last and encompasses a great many other values. This includes keeping promises, fulfilling obligations
and responsibilites to the best of my ability, maintaining confidentialities (even when not explicity asked), and behaving with utmost respect and courtesy toward all other individuals.
Integrity is a big deal to me and drives me in a way that few other values can do. I would expect integrity directed toward me, and so I would direct no less than absolute integrity toward others.

We all have values to guide our lives and behavior. I’d be interested to hear some of yours. And if you haven’t thought about it, maybe it’s time you did.