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Christianity, morality, philosophy

Sin

As an addendum to my presentation of morality, here’s a brief explanation of why the concept of sin (as opposed to morality) is a nonsense term, and why it adds no value to any discussion of ethics.

Like so many other religious concepts, Sin is nonsense.

Let’s start from the beginning.  How does Christianity define “sin”?  I did a google search for the phrase “What is sin?” and this was the answer from Allaboutgod.com:

We live in a culture where the concept of sin has become entangled in legalistic arguments over right and wrong. When many of us consider “What is sin?” we think of violations of the Ten Commandments. Even then, we tend to think of murder and adultery as “major” sins compared with lying, cursing, or idolatry.

The truth is that sin, as defined in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus. Viewed in that light, it is clear that we are all sinners.

This, I think, is a good place to start.  If I may “un-obfuscate,” all these paragraphs are saying is that sin is anything that deviates from a perfect standard set by God.  Curiously, even taking out all the gobblety-gook and dealing with just the given definition, it’s quite unclear.  Are we talking about a standard for behavior?  Most Christians would probably agree that we are, but many go further and say that thoughts can be sins as well.    I remember being taught in Sunday School that thinking about sinning was the same as sinning.  Many of my Christian friends through the years have said the same thing — especially about lust.  (I will cover Christians’ obsession with sexual purity in another post.)

Sins of the Body

For the moment, let’s just talk about sins involving actions.  Is sin the equivalent of immorality?  If so, there are some serious problems.  For one thing, as readers of this blog already know, morality is not absolute with regard to actions.  It might be morally good to kill a man in one instance and morally bad  in another.  Indeed, even in the Bible, Yahweh orders killing on genocidal scales.  “Thou shalt not kill” is not as easy as it sounds.  Consider a classic moral dilemma.  A man is forced to choose between killing an assailant (and saving the lives of his children in the process) or allowing his children to be killed by choosing not to kill him.  Most people believe that it is the morally correct thing to protect the children and kill a man.

Morality is not about actions.  It’s about meaning. When we ask if an act is morally good, we are really asking what the act means with reference to other humans (or possibly other life).   But if this is the case, then sin cannot be the same as morality.  Morality is a system of approximation and sliding scales, not perfection.  (For a more detailed explanation, see THIS ENTRY.)

So let’s go down a different path.  If sin is not the same thing as immorality, maybe we can salvage the concept.  Let’s imagine that there is a God, and he has decided that there are some things which piss him off, and he’d rather humans didn’t do them.   What is the standard God used to determine what constitutes a sin?  We’ve already established that it’s not morality, so sin is not about being good to our fellow man.  Again, I remember hearing this in church as a child.  Sin is about offending God, not man, and sometimes, you have to do things that won’t be popular with your fellow man, but you do them because that’s what God wants.  Kind of scary when you think about it, isn’t it?

Anyway, sin is not immorality, so what is it?  Things grind to a halt here.  We know intuitively what is moral and immoral because we have a frame of reference — our instincts for fairness, reciprocal altruism, and mutual protection.  But with God, we have no such frame of reference. Indeed, from the human perspective, we can only regard God’s will as arbitrary and even capricious. (But then, what perspective can we possibly have other than our own?  If we have no frame of reference for God’s system of sin, we can’t empathize with it or understand it.)  If we have no way to judge for ourself what is a sin and what is not, we are simply following a set of instructions.  I suppose that would be well and good enough, but the Bible is hardly a clear and concise list of what we should and should not do.  Should we really hate our family?  Should we really sell all that we have?  Should we really not let women speak in church or cut their hair?  Should we really not allow menstruating women into sacred holy areas?  Should we really stone disobedient children?

Sure, the Bible does instruct us in some ways that are beneficial.  Some of the Proverbs are good words to live by, but curiously, they usually aren’t prohibitions of certain actions.  They are almost all guidelines for how to address the meaning of actions.  If the Bible is all we have to go by, we’re kind of stuck.  There are over fifteen thousand Christian denominations in the world, and they all have different views on what constitutes a sin.

Then again, maybe God instills us with innate knowledge of what is a sin.  I’ve heard that preached a time or two.  But if that was the case, then scientists ought to have discovered such a list of prohibitions in the human psyche, right?  Of course, they haven’t.  What they have discovered is that our moral instinct is universal, but we already decided that sin is not the same thing as morality, so we’re stuck again.  There’s no evidence that humans have such a built in list of prohibited actions separate from our concept of morality.

In the end, we’re left with a horrible situation.  Either sin is the same thing as morality, in which case, the church is just dead wrong about how it works, or sin is different than morality, and we apparently have no way to know what is really a sin.  But it’s even worse than that.  Since we’ve admitted that morality is different than sin, we must admit that when there are differences between morality and pleasing god, pleasing God will necessarily be either neutral or morally wrong! (Think about it… it’s simple logic.)

Sins of the Mind

Let’s go down the other path and see if we can make the concept of sin fit our minds.  Maybe sin isn’t about prohibited actions.  Maybe it’s about prohibited thoughts.  Maybe we are sinning when we contemplate wrongdoing, or lead ourselves into temptation.   If this is the case, then God is a real son-of-a-bitch — even moreso than if he gave us some arbitrary list of activities to avoid.  Recent neurological research has shown us conclusively that we actually make decisions before we become aware of having made them.  That is, our thoughts are formed before we become aware of thinking them. That being the case, we must admit that God has punished us for doing things over which we have no choice whatsoever.

Even without going down that road, we have to ask some tough questions of God.  Why does a human thinking a particular kind of thought piss God off?  What harm comes to him if I spend a few minutes mentally undressing some girl on the street?  For that matter, if my thought remains private and no other human is the wiser, who have my thoughts harmed?  If thoughts by themselves do not inherently cause harm, then we are left again with the inscrutability and capriciousness of God’s will.

God: “Don’t think that thought!”

Me:  “Why?”

God: “Because I don’t want you to.”

Me: “Why?”

God: “Because I don’t like it.”

Me: “Why?”

God: Because it’s offensive to me.

Me: “Why?

ad nauseum…

Remember, we’ve already decided that immorality and sin are not the same thing, so we can’t appeal to the idea that a thought is bad because it might lead to harm of another person.  Even if we were allowed to do so, how could we possibly justify the idea?  A thought only causes harm when it leads to action.  Here is where I think the concept of mental sin is so devastating and damaging.  I remember being a young hormonal teenager in church and being taught that sexual thoughts were sinful.  I was told that if I thought about sex too much, I’d become obsessed with it, and probably act out in horrible ways.  I might be driven to rape or masturbation!

Of course, a hormonal teenager can’t help but think of sex, so I thought of sex.  When I thought of sex, I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to think about sex, so I thought about not thinking about sex.  Except… that was thinking about sex, so I thought about other things.  And then sex popped into my brain again, and I went through the whole routine again.  Meanwhile, the non-Christian boys were just going home, jerking off to a magazine and getting on with life.

We have to admit that it’s insanity to suggest that thoughts, in and of themselves, are harmful.  If they are not inherently harmful, and yet we are prohibited from entertaining them, what does that say about God?

A common objection is that “sins of the mind” lead to some sort of corruption of the body.  That is, if we dwell obsessively on certain kinds of thoughts, we become what we’re thinking to some degree or another, even if we don’t ever act upon our thoughts.  I suppose it’s somewhat self-evident that dwelling on thoughts of moral turpitude gives us lots more opportunities to contemplate acting poorly.  But to suggest an intangible corruption is to mis-categorize good and evil as innate qualities, not value judgments.

There is one more way in which the idea of “sins of the mind” poisons the well.  I remember being taught that certain kinds of thoughts were from the Devil himself — namely, thoughts “borne of the world” which might lead me to question my devotion, belief, and loyalty to God.  (The Church.)  We have seen throughout history that one of the easiest ways to get large groups of people to do very, very bad things is to brainwash them into thinking that questioning one’s beliefs is the equivalent of a crime.  If it is true that God wants us to avoid thoughts which call his existence into question, then God is a fascist dictator, a brainwasher, and a despot.  There is no other alternative.

We do not need a God to give us an arbitrary set of rules to live by.  We have morality, which is the natural result of natural selection, and which works pretty well.  It’s not perfect.  No humans are perfect.  “Perfect human” is a nonsense term.  Life is gray.  Morality is gray.  However, life and morality are a lot easier to figure out if we just ditch the idea of some unfathomable list of things that are “just wrong.”

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Discussion

10 thoughts on “Sin

  1. Here we go again!

    Like so many other religious concepts, Sin is nonsense.

    Hmmm. I wonder if morality is a nonsensical concept.

    Let’s start from the beginning. How does Christianity define “sin”? I did a google search for the phrase “What is sin?” and this was the answer from Allaboutgod.com:

    Okay. This is a huge problem. If you want to write an article on something, it’s best to not do a google search for the concept. Instead, pick up a systematic theology. Go look up a Greek lexicon. Are you aware Hamatiology is an entire field in systematic theology?

    If I may “un-obfuscate,” all these paragraphs are saying is that sin is anything that deviates from a perfect standard set by God.

    That’s right. It is falling short of what we were meant to be and going against His moral will.

    Curiously, even taking out all the gobblety-gook and dealing with just the given definition, it’s quite unclear.

    All of this is terminology understandable to a good student of systematic theology. To refer to it as gobblety-gook is revealing.

    Are we talking about a standard for behavior? Most Christians would probably agree that we are, but many go further and say that thoughts can be sins as well.

    Yes. Thoughts are internal actions. That’s included under behavior.

    I remember being taught in Sunday School that thinking about sinning was the same as sinning. Many of my Christian friends through the years have said the same thing — especially about lust. (I will cover Christians’ obsession with sexual purity in another post.)

    Sunday School as a reference? Why not again a systematic theology? Also, as for sexual purity, I have practiced it and now I am happily married. Sexual purity is the way to go!

    For the moment, let’s just talk about sins involving actions. Is sin the equivalent of immorality? If so, there are some serious problems. For one thing, as readers of this blog already know, morality is not absolute with regard to actions. It might be morally good to kill a man in one instance and morally bad in another. Indeed, even in the Bible, Yahweh orders killing on genocidal scales. ”Thou shalt not kill” is not as easy as it sounds.

    You’re still incorrect on the sixth commandment. It’s not against killing. Also, there is the path of graded absolutism held by many Natural Law theorists. What do you know of it?

    Consider a classic moral dilemma. A man is forced to choose between killing an assailant (and saving the lives of his children in the process) or allowing his children to be killed by choosing not to kill him. Most people believe that it is the morally correct thing to protect the children and kill a man.

    That’s not a dilemma. If I had a gun with me for instance, he’d be a dead man for going after my wife.

    Morality is not about actions. It’s about meaning. When we ask if an act is morally good, we are really asking what the act means with reference to other humans (or possibly other life).

    Morality is not just actions. It is intent and consequences as well. To look at just consequences is to allow for utilitarianism which I’ve dealt with on another post of yours.

    But if this is the case, then sin cannot be the same as morality. Morality is a system of approximation and sliding scales, not perfection. (For a more detailed explanation, see THIS ENTRY.)

    I’d really study the work of those who hold to graded absolutism. The reason you can have scales even is because there is some idea of perfection.

    So let’s go down a different path. If sin is not the same thing as immorality, maybe we can salvage the concept. Let’s imagine that there is a God, and he has decided that there are some things which piss him off, and he’d rather humans didn’t do them. What is the standard God used to determine what constitutes a sin?

    This depends on the definition of good which has yet to be established. God does not use a standard for there is nothing outside Himself He refers to. God is the standard and the knowledge He has in His mind.

    We’ve already established that it’s not morality, so sin is not about being good to our fellow man.

    God is good. Saying he is moral is nonsensical.

    Again, I remember hearing this in church as a child. Sin is about offending God, not man, and sometimes, you have to do things that won’t be popular with your fellow man, but you do them because that’s what God wants. Kind of scary when you think about it, isn’t it?

    First off, if you have warrant to believe God exists and he wants something, then what is scary about that? Second, must we go back again to things learned as a child? A systematic theology would do better.

    Anyway, sin is not immorality, so what is it? Things grind to a halt here.

    Already answered. Sin is going against the moral will of God.

    We know intuitively what is moral and immoral because we have a frame of reference — our instincts for fairness, reciprocal altruism, and mutual protection.

    If our frame of reference is ourselves, we are not any better off.

    But with God, we have no such frame of reference. Indeed, from the human perspective, we can only regard God’s will as arbitrary and even capricious.

    We could find out the way Aristotle did…..

    (But then, what perspective can we possibly have other than our own? If we have no frame of reference for God’s system of sin, we can’t empathize with it or understand it.) If we have no way to judge for ourself what is a sin and what is not, we are simply following a set of instructions.

    False again. Natural Law theory states we don’t need a set of instructions in special revelation but special revelation does not go against a set of instructions.

    I suppose that would be well and good enough, but the Bible is hardly a clear and concise list of what we should and should not do.

    I already stated in a prior post that something is not moral because the Bible says so or immoral because the Bible says so. Heck. Josh McDowell at the conference, and I don’t even really admire McDowell, said that to say something is moral because the Bible says so would be heresy.

    Should we really hate our family?

    Jewish thinking was done in hyperbole and Jesus was making a comparison statement. Your love for Jesus must be so strong that your love for family is hatred by comparison.

    Should we really sell all that we have?

    Demonstrate where this was a command for all people at all times.

    Should we really not let women speak in church or cut their hair?

    Paul was dealing with a statement most likely made by his detractors. Note that he had women prophesying which meant they were not being silent. As for women, this was in Corinth and Paul wanted them to not have the hairstyle of prostitutes and thus have people think Christians were prostitutes.

    Should we really not allow menstruating women into sacred holy areas?

    Theocratic Law for Israel. Not for all people at all times. There’s a reason the law was there also.

    Should we really stone disobedient children?

    I explained this in an earlier post. Why repeat it again when it has already been explained?

    Sure, the Bible does instruct us in some ways that are beneficial. Some of the Proverbs are good words to live by, but curiously, they usually aren’t prohibitions of certain actions. They are almost all guidelines for how to address the meaning of actions.

    That’s what the purpose of Proverbs is…..

    If the Bible is all we have to go by, we’re kind of stuck.

    A position I’ve already denied….

    Oh well. Keep burning those straw men!

    There are over fifteen thousand Christian denominations in the world, and they all have different views on what constitutes a sin.

    Already addressed also. You didn’t deal with it there. I guess you won’t here either.

    Then again, maybe God instills us with innate knowledge of what is a sin. I’ve heard that preached a time or two. But if that was the case, then scientists ought to have discovered such a list of prohibitions in the human psyche, right? Of course, they haven’t.

    Oh good grief. You do realize that this is not what Natural Law theory states don’t you? It doesn’t state that we come knowing propositions and they’re printed on us. It states we come with an awareness of the good and when we reach the age of understanding concepts, we do intuit these things.

    Let’s go down the other path and see if we can make the concept of sin fit our minds. Maybe sin isn’t about prohibited actions. Maybe it’s about prohibited thoughts.

    It’s both….

    Maybe we are sinning when we contemplate wrongdoing, or lead ourselves into temptation. If this is the case, then God is a real son-of-a-bitch — even moreso than if he gave us some arbitrary list of activities to avoid.

    You posted to me earlier about how you wanted me to not make assumptions about your knowledge in the name of courtesy.

    Speaking about my God in this way makes me think that you want that to go for you but not for me. If you spoke of my wife in this way, I would not take it lightly. If I spoke of someone highly important to you that way, you would have the same response.

    If you want courtesy and respect, it will have to go both ways. Right now, I’m seeing a lack of it based on how you’re repeating what I’ve already answered and you’re not using valid sources.

    Recent neurological research has shown us conclusively that we actually make decisions before we become aware of having made them. That is, our thoughts are formed before we become aware of thinking them. That being the case, we must admit that God has punished us for doing things over which we have no choice whatsoever.

    Nice assertion. Got a source?

    Even without going down that road, we have to ask some tough questions of God. Why does a human thinking a particular kind of thought piss God off?

    The anger of God is anthropomorphical language. God does not get angry. He’s impassable. The church has affirmed that for centuries.

    What harm comes to him if I spend a few minutes mentally undressing some girl on the street?

    No harm at all.

    For that matter, if my thought remains private and no other human is the wiser, who have my thoughts harmed?

    You. You’ve turned a woman into an object and lowered all women as a result.

    God: “Don’t think that thought!”
    Me: “Why?”
    God: “Because I don’t want you to.”
    Me: “Why?”
    God: “Because I don’t like it.”
    Me: “Why?”
    God: Because it’s offensive to me.
    Me: “Why?
    ad nauseum…

    Because it goes against the nature of reality. Women are not objects and thinking of them as objects is thinking of them in a way they aren’t.

    I remember being a young hormonal teenager in church and being taught that sexual thoughts were sinful. I was told that if I thought about sex too much, I’d become obsessed with it, and probably act out in horrible ways. I might be driven to rape or masturbation!

    Good grief! I have several books by Christians in my library such as “The Gift of Sex” or “A Celebration of Sex” or “The Sexual Man” or “Secrets of Eve.” Also is Ed Wheat’s “Intended For Pleasure.”

    Sexual thoughts are not bad and there is something worth getting obsessed over. The problem comes when you treat that person as an object. Lust is not just desire but desire to an excess. Desire that gets past the person and sees the person as just a tool for sexual pleasure.

    Rape? Definitely wrong.

    As for masturbation, a man has to have a release at sometime. I won’t condemn it every time, but if a man has no release, it will be harmful to his system. Marriage is the best outlet for that of course.

    Of course, a hormonal teenager can’t help but think of sex, so I thought of sex. When I thought of sex, I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to think about sex, so I thought about not thinking about sex. Except… that was thinking about sex, so I thought about other things. And then sex popped into my brain again, and I went through the whole routine again. Meanwhile, the non-Christian boys were just going home, jerking off to a magazine and getting on with life.

    And this is just a false view of how to think about sex. Sex is wonderful and beautiful and sacred. That’s why we guard it so much. It has so much value. The problem is really you weren’t thinking about sex enough. People think about the action of sex a lot. They don’t think about the substance of sex.

    We have to admit that it’s insanity to suggest that thoughts, in and of themselves, are harmful. If they are not inherently harmful, and yet we are prohibited from entertaining them, what does that say about God?

    How we think will change the way we live. Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a behavior. Sow a behavior, reap a habit.

    A common objection is that “sins of the mind” lead to some sort of corruption of the body. That is, if we dwell obsessively on certain kinds of thoughts, we become what we’re thinking to some degree or another, even if we don’t ever act upon our thoughts. I suppose it’s somewhat self-evident that dwelling on thoughts of moral turpitude gives us lots more opportunities to contemplate acting poorly. But to suggest an intangible corruption is to mis-categorize good and evil as innate qualities, not value judgments.

    The Christian position is that they are real concepts and not just value judgments.

    There is one more way in which the idea of “sins of the mind” poisons the well. I remember being taught that certain kinds of thoughts were from the Devil himself — namely, thoughts “borne of the world” which might lead me to question my devotion, belief, and loyalty to God. (The Church.)

    I really doubt this. I don’t think the devil is doing much and to make him responsible for our thoughts is just silly.

    And heck! I wish more Christians would question their devotion, their belief, and their loyalty to God. I’d consider that one of the greatest blessings we could have.

    We have seen throughout history that one of the easiest ways to get large groups of people to do very, very bad things is to brainwash them into thinking that questioning one’s beliefs is the equivalent of a crime. If it is true that God wants us to avoid thoughts which call his existence into question, then God is a fascist dictator, a brainwasher, and a despot. There is no other alternative.

    And he doesn’t do that. I wish more people would question his existence. They’re the ones who are taking it seriously. I think the atheist who questions at this point is better intellectually than the Christian who just believes without thinking.

    Posted by apologianick | October 21, 2010, 5:19 pm
  2. Okay. This is a huge problem. If you want to write an article on something, it’s best to not do a google search for the concept. Instead, pick up a systematic theology. Go look up a Greek lexicon. Are you aware Hamatiology is an entire field in systematic theology?

    There you go again, Nick. For a second time, I’m going to suggest that you would be better served by ditching the pompous insinuations that I don’t know what you’re talking about. There are two very good reasons for this. First, by being arrogant, you’re displaying the kind of us-them mentality that is so counter-productive to this kind of discussion, and you’re MAKING ME ANGRY. You’re reinforcing my belief that Christians are pompous asses when it comes to apologetics. Your friends did a great job of convincing me I might have been mistaken in that assumption. You’re not doing a good job.

    Secondly, you’re just setting yourself up to look bad when I demonstrate that I know precisely what you’re talking about.

    That’s right. It is falling short of what we were meant to be and going against His moral will.

    Ahem…

    So… I got it right.

    Yes. Thoughts are internal actions. That’s included under behavior.

    An interesting twist of language, but it’s not really very useful. Call it “Bottle of Chocolate Milk” if you like. For the purposes of this discussion, “action” refers to physical movement through space/time and “thought” refers to the conceptualization of some aspect of reality in a mind. No, I will not get into a discussion of the nature of mind on this post, and yes, I’m sophisticated enough to know that there are movements of electrons and so forth in brains. (Seriously, are you reading my irritation in these replies? Don’t you think it would be better to stop treating me as if you believe I’m stupid?)

    Sunday School as a reference? Why not again a systematic theology? Also, as for sexual purity, I have practiced it and now I am happily married. Sexual purity is the way to go!

    Nick, I understand your fervor. I really do. But you’re not staying on topic, and you’re continually throwing out snide comments like this which are not adding any new information to the conversation and only serve to make me believe you don’t actually have new information. If I’ve misrepresented your conception of sin, fine. But unless you’re prepared to suggest that it’s absolutely impossible that I picked up accurate information about your beliefs in Sunday School, you should probably back off of this tactic. It’s just irritating. (Consider very, very carefully whether you want to tell me that Sunday School only conveys false information about sin.)

    You’re still incorrect on the sixth commandment. It’s not against killing. Also, there is the path of graded absolutism held by many Natural Law theorists. What do you know of it?

    Enough, my friend. It’s certainly a better model than unqualified absolutism, which you and I probably agree is unworkable in a real world and leads to horrible paradoxes when applied universally. The ultimate problem with it is the same as the ultimate problem I already presented with Christian morality. Either the levels of graded absolutism are inscrutable, or they are derivable without God’s intervention. So we’re right back to the original problem. We’ve just added a layer of fluff on top of it. (My example of a hundred measures of moral goodness in my discussion of platonic morality ought to have sufficiently explained this.)

    Morality is not just actions. It is intent and consequences as well. To look at just consequences is to allow for utilitarianism which I’ve dealt with on another post of yours.

    Ahem… Yes. I believe I said that. The concept of “meaning” encompasses both intent and consequences. I don’t believe I’ve advocated utilitarianism anywhere in this or any other post.

    I’d really study the work of those who hold to graded absolutism. The reason you can have scales even is because there is some idea of perfection.

    Perhaps in the future, you could avoid this tactic entirely and just directly address the criticisms I’ve already leveled at the notion of “perfection” in moral frameworks. Or… did you not understand how those criticisms affect graded absolutism? Remember how I warned you against implying that I’m stupid? If you need me to spell out this connection, you might want to reassess your evaluation of both my intellectual ability and yours.

    (See, Nick? Coming at this as pompous adversaries will get nasty really fast. I’ll pull the guns back if you will. Can we discuss this civilly and assume that we’re both intelligent and well read?)

    This depends on the definition of good which has yet to be established. God does not use a standard for there is nothing outside Himself He refers to. God is the standard and the knowledge He has in His mind.

    I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t catch my refutation of this concept. You do realize that in argument, restatement is not the equivalent of explanation, right? I know you believe this. But I’ve also given you an argument for why this is an unworkable model. The appropriate response is to demonstrate that you (A) understand my argument, and (B) can logically refute it. If you didn’t catch it, let me know and I’ll be happy to restate it for you.

    First off, if you have warrant to believe God exists and he wants something, then what is scary about that? Second, must we go back again to things learned as a child? A systematic theology would do better.

    I wrote: “Sin is about offending God, not man, and sometimes, you have to do things that won’t be popular with your fellow man, but you do them because that’s what God wants. Kind of scary when you think about it, isn’t it?”

    What’s scary is the idea that someone would believe doing a bad thing to another person to placate an invisible and inscrutable deity is righteous and good. If you don’t know why that’s scary then I don’t know what else to say.

    I don’t care too much about learning things “as a child.” I prefer using my fully developed rational faculties. What is your point?

    If our frame of reference is ourselves, we are not any better off.

    This is the essence of our disagreement. Our two models can be represented thusly:

    You: GOD
    |
    |
    Man — — Man

    Me: Man — — Man

    In your model, a man is first beholden to be good with regards to God, and his obligation to his fellow man is secondary. In my model, man’s highest obligation is towards his fellow man.

    In your system, in any case where God wants something other than that which is best for your fellow man, then by honoring him first, you are being less than as good as possible to your fellow man. If God wants only that you honor your fellow man as your highest obligation, then his position is irrelevant and we might as well treat morality as if he did not exist. Therefore, for your model to have significance, God must want things other than what is best for our fellow man.

    From where I sit, we are MUCH better off if we stop trying to ferret out the intricacies of placating a deity whose interests — if they are different than mine — can ONLY serve to cause harm that otherwise wouldn’t be caused.

    Maybe we are sinning when we contemplate wrongdoing, or lead ourselves into temptation. If this is the case, then God is a real son-of-a-bitch — even moreso than if he gave us some arbitrary list of activities to avoid.

    You posted to me earlier about how you wanted me to not make assumptions about your knowledge in the name of courtesy.

    Speaking about my God in this way makes me think that you want that to go for you but not for me. If you spoke of my wife in this way, I would not take it lightly. If I spoke of someone highly important to you that way, you would have the same response.

    If you want courtesy and respect, it will have to go both ways. Right now, I’m seeing a lack of it based on how you’re repeating what I’ve already answered and you’re not using valid sources.

    Nick, I would like you to think very carefully about something. My view of your god and your religion IS that he is morally repugnant and that he is unworthy of respect. I appreciate and understand that this idea makes you uncomfortable. But please try to think about this in terms of us as humans. Do you believe that I am just writing what I write to make you angry? If so, then you should probably stop conversing with me and write me off as a blow-hard.

    If, on the other hand, you can recognize that I’m truthfully relating my understanding of the universe, and that sometimes we can have very different perspectives which are still perfectly reasonable from our own vantage point, then let’s continue talking.

    I understand that it’s difficult to hear someone speak of your god in un-respectful ways. The thing is, Nick, I don’t believe your god exists, and if he does, I don’t believe him worthy of respect. You clearly believe he does and he is. But if you’re going to have any hope of changing my mind, you’re going to have to get over any anger you feel and realize that I’m not a monster just throwing insults at your god. I’m a genuine, sincere person who honestly believes your god is not worthy of respect.

    I apologize in advance if the occasional curse word or flippant aside ruffles your feathers. But this is my house, and this is how I live my life. I was very respectful of your cultural boundaries and practices when I was in your church, even though I disagree with many of them, and even though I found many of the things I heard rather repugnant. I smiled and accepted you and yours as fellow humans even though we have vastly different viewpoints. I ask the same of you now that you’re in my world.

    And with that, I have to stop writing. Real world happens sometimes. When we re-convene, can we do it with a bit more civility and a lot less hand waving and sweeping insinuations?

    Posted by hambydammit | October 21, 2010, 6:17 pm
  3. There you go again, Nick. For a second time, I’m going to suggest that you would be better served by ditching the pompous insinuations that I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    I didn’t have to insinuate. You told me yourself. You said you did a google search and checked a website. What happened to reading the main authorities? The best way to counter this is to tell me what references you’ve read and cite them. Also, you constantly referred to what you learned in Sunday School. It’s as if all learning about Christianity stopped there.

    There are two very good reasons for this. First, by being arrogant, you’re displaying the kind of us-them mentality that is so counter-productive to this kind of discussion,

    There is nothing arrogant about thinking my opponent has not read the material when he himself says so and when he himself gives no indication of having done so.

    and you’re MAKING ME ANGRY.

    I am doing no such thing. You are making yourself angry. I can’t make you feel anything. I get insulted routinely and frankly, I don’t care. That’s because this isn’t about defending my person but defending truth.

    You’re reinforcing my belief that Christians are pompous asses when it comes to apologetics.

    Which is totally different from people like the new atheists who don’t even reference evangelical responses in their works. How is it that they define faith? How many times do they cite a lexicon or biblical dictionary for that definition? Not at all.

    But of course, that doesn’t bother me. When I read Dawkins and Harris and Stenger, I only laugh. That’s a great thing to be able to do when you make it more about the honor of truth than personal honor.

    Your friends did a great job of convincing me I might have been mistaken in that assumption. You’re not doing a good job.

    Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. The excuse of “I didn’t like being told I hadn’t read so I didn’t look!” doesn’t wash. Take responsibility for your own actions. If Christians are jerks, so what? That doesn’t disprove Christianity. It just speaks bad of them.

    Secondly, you’re just setting yourself up to look bad when I demonstrate that I know precisely what you’re talking about.

    But you haven’t demonstrated that.

    That’s right. It is falling short of what we were meant to be and going against His moral will.
    Ahem…
    So… I got it right.

    With a google search. I’m interested in the way someone researches something. To say you used a google search is to say you just sat down without prior reference material and started writing and didn’t bother to study the Christian side.

    An interesting twist of language, but it’s not really very useful. Call it “Bottle of Chocolate Milk” if you like. For the purposes of this discussion, “action” refers to physical movement through space/time and “thought” refers to the conceptualization of some aspect of reality in a mind. No, I will not get into a discussion of the nature of mind on this post, and yes, I’m sophisticated enough to know that there are movements of electrons and so forth in brains.

    I don’t doubt you know that. However, if the Christian concept includes thoughts as behavior and that is what you are arguing, then it is best to respect that.

    (Seriously, are you reading my irritation in these replies? Don’t you think it would be better to stop treating me as if you believe I’m stupid?)

    I’m not. I’m saying I don’t think you’ve read up on these topics. If you want to make that all to your overall character, that will be your problem.

    Nick, I understand your fervor. I really do. But you’re not staying on topic, and you’re continually throwing out snide comments like this which are not adding any new information to the conversation and only serve to make me believe you don’t actually have new information. If I’ve misrepresented your conception of sin, fine. But unless you’re prepared to suggest that it’s absolutely impossible that I picked up accurate information about your beliefs in Sunday School, you should probably back off of this tactic.

    Adding new information? I don’t have to because I’ve already added it in earlier posts and you didn’t respond to it. You chose to let Ian do that for you. I would think that if it was your position, you’d be the one to defend it.

    Can you pick up accurate beliefs? You can. However, that would be like saying “I want to study Physics! I know enough about Math! I know my multiplication tables after all!” Physics requires a deeper math than just multiplication tables. Understanding theology requires a deeper understanding. The best thing to do is to pick up a textbook on Systematic Theology. I would gladly recommend some.

    When I argue against an atheist, I get their material and I read it and I reply to that. When I had Mormons visiting, I ordered their material and used that to make my reply after reading it. Yet strangely, when atheists reply to Christians, they think they don’t have to read Christian material.

    It’s just irritating. (Consider very, very carefully whether you want to tell me that Sunday School only conveys false information about sin.)

    Sometimes it does. That would depend on the teacher. I consider most Sunday School fluff material which is why I’m glad my church doesn’t do it. The information may be true, but it’s basic and if you’re arguing against Christianity, you don’t want a basic understanding. You want an in-depth understanding. You need to know my side so well that you can argue for it.

    Enough, my friend. It’s certainly a better model than unqualified absolutism, which you and I probably agree is unworkable in a real world and leads to horrible paradoxes when applied universally.

    Noted that you did not reveal knowledge of Natural Law theory. I would surmise the reason you’re irritated is that you haven’t read the material on Natural Law theory. You might have read about it, but you haven’t read it.

    The ultimate problem with it is the same as the ultimate problem I already presented with Christian morality. Either the levels of graded absolutism are inscrutable, or they are derivable without God’s intervention.

    You know this how? Present the references on Graded Absolutism and show how they fall short.

    So we’re right back to the original problem. We’ve just added a layer of fluff on top of it. (My example of a hundred measures of moral goodness in my discussion of platonic morality ought to have sufficiently explained this.)

    Not really. It didn’t because I’m not a Platonist. I’m a Thomist and I notice which philosopher you did not refer to which is something to avoid when dealing with issues of ethics. The one I speak of wrote a book on ethics still used today.

    Ahem… Yes. I believe I said that. The concept of “meaning” encompasses both intent and consequences. I don’t believe I’ve advocated utilitarianism anywhere in this or any other post.

    I see consequences referred to numerous times asking what harm will X do? I rarely see just the action itself.

    Perhaps in the future, you could avoid this tactic entirely and just directly address the criticisms I’ve already leveled at the notion of “perfection” in moral frameworks. Or… did you not understand how those criticisms affect graded absolutism?

    Graded Absolutism does deal with that. I asked what references you’ve read on it. Are you upset because you haven’t read any? If so, that is not my fault.

    Remember how I warned you against implying that I’m stupid? If you need me to spell out this connection, you might want to reassess your evaluation of both my intellectual ability and yours.

    I implied you haven’t done the sufficient study on this. I happen to think you’d be quite capable of diving into the depths on these issues, but you’re holding yourself back and not doing the prerequisite studies will only hurt that.

    (See, Nick? Coming at this as pompous adversaries will get nasty really fast. I’ll pull the guns back if you will. Can we discuss this civilly and assume that we’re both intelligent and well read?)

    I don’t assume things. I check them. If I don’t see evidence of your reading my position well, then I will state that. The best response would be to list the references you’ve read and arguments from them. That hasn’t been done.

    I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t catch my refutation of this concept. You do realize that in argument, restatement is not the equivalent of explanation, right? I know you believe this. But I’ve also given you an argument for why this is an unworkable model. The appropriate response is to demonstrate that you (A) understand my argument, and (B) can logically refute it. If you didn’t catch it, let me know and I’ll be happy to restate it for you.

    You might think you have, but you didn’t because you never addressed the concept of what the good itself is and I cannot really go into the standard of morality until that is covered. I also don’t say the good is defined by God. That tactic won’t work then.

    What’s scary is the idea that someone would believe doing a bad thing to another person to placate an invisible and inscrutable deity is righteous and good. If you don’t know why that’s scary then I don’t know what else to say.

    Good thing I’m not told to do that. I’m commanded to love my fellow man, and that doesn’t mean sentiment for them. If I have to, I’m all set to go the Coach Carter route of love and I’ve done so.

    I don’t care too much about learning things “as a child.” I prefer using my fully developed rational faculties. What is your point?

    Then don’t approach an adult faith from a Sunday School basis. I saw Sunday School referenced several times. I see no interaction with great Christian thinkers.

    If our frame of reference is ourselves, we are not any better off.
    This is the essence of our disagreement. Our two models can be represented thusly:
    You: GOD
    |
    |
    Man — – Man
    Me: Man — – Man

    Not quite….

    I start with the idea that man can know goodness apart from God and that is by knowing the nature of the good itself and that followed to the conclusion, they will find that God is in fact goodness by His nature and see that all things are good insofar as they bear a likeness to the divine goodness. He is the exemplar cause of their goodness.

    In your model, a man is first beholden to be good with regards to God, and his obligation to his fellow man is secondary.

    If a man is serving God truly, he will serve his fellow man truly. The greatest command is to love God for He is the greatest good. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself, for your neighbor is the next greatest good you will see.

    In my model, man’s highest obligation is towards his fellow man.
    In your system, in any case where God wants something other than that which is best for your fellow man, then by honoring him first, you are being less than as good as possible to your fellow man.

    What is best for God is best for my fellow man as well. The best way to be a devoted husband to my wife is to be a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.

    If God wants only that you honor your fellow man as your highest obligation, then his position is irrelevant and we might as well treat morality as if he did not exist. Therefore, for your model to have significance, God must want things other than what is best for our fellow man.

    It does not follow. God in fact wants the best for my fellow man and by serving God, I can bring that about. The two are not opposed. They are the hand in the glove.

    From where I sit, we are MUCH better off if we stop trying to ferret out the intricacies of placating a deity whose interests — if they are different than mine — can ONLY serve to cause harm that otherwise wouldn’t be caused.

    What’s important is if this deity exists and if He has revealed Himself. If I love my fellow man as God commanded me to, it will at best only cause temporary harm. It is for that man’s good ultimately.

    Nick, I would like you to think very carefully about something. My view of your god and your religion IS that he is morally repugnant and that he is unworthy of respect. I appreciate and understand that this idea makes you uncomfortable.

    Actually, it doesn’t. It just reveals that you have a double-standard. You can insult my God and that’s okay, but if I say something to you, that’s not okay. It just tells me what I’m dealing with. My opponents begin on a scale of the benefit of the doubt for respect. As they begin to lose that, I respond accordingly.

    But please try to think about this in terms of us as humans. Do you believe that I am just writing what I write to make you angry?

    You couldn’t. You’re incapable of making me angry. I make myself angry and I did not get angry. I just see more of my opponent.

    If so, then you should probably stop conversing with me and write me off as a blow-hard.

    If I see a consistent lack of familiarity with the necessary material and background study, I’m liable to do that.

    If, on the other hand, you can recognize that I’m truthfully relating my understanding of the universe, and that sometimes we can have very different perspectives which are still perfectly reasonable from our own vantage point, then let’s continue talking.
    I understand that it’s difficult to hear someone speak of your god in un-respectful ways.

    No. I just take note of it. I get personally insulted every day and I just laugh about it. It’s the same attitude God has in Psalms 2. The one who sits enthroned above laughs.

    The thing is, Nick, I don’t believe your god exists, and if he does, I don’t believe him worthy of respect. You clearly believe he does and he is. But if you’re going to have any hope of changing my mind, you’re going to have to get over any anger you feel and realize that I’m not a monster just throwing insults at your god.

    I don’t have anger. However, you do. You’ve expressed that. If you’re going to be able to dialogue, you’re going to have to get past that anger. If I’m right in a criticism, you’ll need to admit that. If I’m wrong, disprove it. Saying “I don’t like it!” won’t cut it.

    I’m a genuine, sincere person who honestly believes your god is not worthy of respect.

    And I can see that. My point is that it indicates you want respect without giving it, and when I see a lack of interacting with Christian sources, I realize that.

    I apologize in advance if the occasional curse word or flippant aside ruffles your feathers. But this is my house, and this is how I live my life.

    My feathers don’t get ruffled. If my opponent shows something about himself, I realize that and I respond accordingly.

    I was very respectful of your cultural boundaries and practices when I was in your church, even though I disagree with many of them, and even though I found many of the things I heard rather repugnant. I smiled and accepted you and yours as fellow humans even though we have vastly different viewpoints. I ask the same of you now that you’re in my world.

    Once again, you will get from me what you give to me.

    And with that, I have to stop writing. Real world happens sometimes. When we re-convene, can we do it with a bit more civility and a lot less hand waving and sweeping insinuations?

    That will be up to you. If I’m wrong in my claims, prove it. If I’m right, accept it.

    Posted by apologianick | October 21, 2010, 6:52 pm
  4. @Nick: what’s coming through to me is that you’re more interested in showing off your knowledge of theology and philosophy than having a real debate about anything.

    If I was the religious sort, I might say that you are close to losing your faith. That you’re more interested in proving your opponent wrong than in discovering how you can convey the message of Christ to him.

    @Hamby: another great article, thank you.

    Posted by Ian | October 21, 2010, 7:39 pm
  5. Well Ian, give up psychoanalysis then. It doesn’t work. I’m also not interested in showing off. I have enough affirmation from my wife and friends that I really don’t bother what others think of me. I bother about what they think of the truth.

    Also, there are times I don’t believe in conveying the message of Christ. Paul didn’t with the Galatians heretics. I simply give to people what I get from them. If I think someone really isn’t studying, I will tell them.

    Posted by apologianick | October 21, 2010, 7:42 pm
  6. All I’m getting is that Nick thinks he’s brilliant, but can’t be bothered to actually argue against what’s being said in the article and replies. All I can find in his posts is complaints of not having read appropriate sources.

    If all this reading of all these people is required to believe that your God exist, then i’m gonna guess that you’re never gonna convince anyone of anything.

    I’ve read the bible. It’s a pretty crappy story if it’s true, and poorly written if not.

    @Hamby, I agree with Ian, great article.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | October 22, 2010, 12:25 am
  7. Hamby and Nick have more in common then most people on the planet. They are both we versed in this issue and the arguments on either side. And both should be proud of their knowledge, this stuff is dense and hard to get through.

    The irony fro me is that the same with staunch republicans and democrats. They know more than the man on the street, have an equal passion for politics and making the world better, but they would each rather chat on the bus with a man that has never voted and has not interest in politics than someone with oposite views.

    Hamby, you have invited people from other beliefs to your site. I agree that calling their god names is equal to calling their wives ugly names. This is your house, but they are your invited guests in your house. Good manners is a way of showing respect to strangers.

    As you and Nick go forth I advise you both to focus on the HUGE similarities you both have, an interest in this area of thought as apposed to what Paris Hilton wore last week (an undeniable strength), high intellectual abilities, strong writing and persuasive skills, and a passion for sharing beliefs that make your life meaningful and happy.

    Nick, this is the first thing I have read of yours so it would be helpful if you linked me to the locations you cited in your response. You obviously took a long and detailed look at Hamby’s article, felt passionately about it and took a large amount of time out of your day to respond. Bravo.

    Remember there are about 20 million youtube videos of cats/dogs doing funny things. The fact that any of us are spending time on thinking about our eternal life, morality, the meaning of life is a source of true kinship. The different solutions we each come up with are not game stoppers, but areas for sharing as we are all on this life adventure together.

    Hamby, great article. I especially like the God — Decision part. Very clearly articulated.

    Posted by Fey Wyndom | October 22, 2010, 3:55 am
  8. Hi Fey. If you wish to read what I write, my blog is located at http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com. I took the time to go through the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica starting with the existence of God and ending with the last chapter on God in there.

    For the 747 argument, one can go to Tektonics.org and do a search for the Dawkins 747 argument. I’m afraid a link is no longer directly available, but a text can be downloaded. Somehow, I lost it on my own computer. One can also email J.P. Holding who runs the ministry and ask him for it. While there, you can browse some of the articles I’ve written. Just look for a Nick P.

    Also, I recommend coming to TheologyWeb.com and looking at some of the debates that I have done, especially in our area called “Advanced Debate.” I have my own sub-forum there called “Deeper Waters” and if anyone wishes to discuss, that is the best place for me to do it. It is a great time manager.

    Posted by apologianick | October 22, 2010, 8:54 am
  9. @Nick

    Again, very good responses!!

    Posted by Devin | October 22, 2010, 9:45 am
  10. Fey, thank you for the response. I agree with you to a large extent, with the caveat that I simply will not go through the 400+ articles on my blog and edit each of them for profanity or unkind assessments of deities. Most of the material I’ve been posting is reprints. And as you pointed out, this website is not designed specifically for theists. The language I use and the ideas I print are shared by the vast majority of my audience. It’s our idiom.

    To the extent that I’m interacting with interested Christians, I’m doing my best to present my side with neutral language wherever possible. When I come to something that — from my perspective — is atrocious, I have the choice of presenting it that way (while avoiding intentionally inflammatory language) or lying about how I see it. I don’t know how else to handle it. If I were to start sugar coating things now, someone would just dig through my archives, find a more explicit recitation of the same position, and call me a suck up and flip-flopper.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 22, 2010, 12:45 pm

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