Thursday, December 06, 2007

No Will Greater Than My Own?

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The other night I received an IM from a guy who posts on a certain message board. He's an atheist and we had exchanged a few barbs here and there, but didn't really know each other. He didn't attack me, he was polite enough but he said some very disturbing things. First he began with a lot of break the ice sort of questions, such as was I a YEC and what did I think about it? We got into a very shallow exchange about God arguments, by that I mean neither of us got into it deeply enough to say anything profound. Then he began to say that if God was real, he would still choose to go to hell. Why? He said he hates God. He said in no uncertain terms as he proceeded to issue forth the most blasphemous stream of bilge, complete with all sorts of imagined violations of God's body, I'm suer the reader can fill in the blanks. I asked him way he felt that way he said "no evidence." Well, I told him, he's bordering on abusive lanague and what he said if he could do it would definitely get him in put in jail. No one says stuff like that just because there's no evidence. That's pure hate, no one hates something (or someone) just because you can't prove they exist. He said "I hate dictators."

Now I can well imagine things one would say about why God might be considered a dictator, especially the God of the OT. But I asked him Why is God a dictator. The answer floored me. I expected him to say wiping out the Amalekite babies and such, but instead he says "he tells people what to do." I ventured the theory that a dictator is more than just someone who tells people what to do. God, in so far as he created us, might actually be in a valid position to tell us what to do. He seemed not to understand that concept. I don't think this guy speaks for all atheists. I think he might be just a fringe element, but it made me think. A week or so latter I had a discussion on my boards and it was enough like a lot of other discussions of that topic (moral issues, grounding of ethical axioms) that I have to wonder, do the atheists of this generation, the gen xer atheists really understand the concept of authority? Has no one ever introduced them to the notion that there might be a valid authority that really has the right to tell one what to do?

I am sure that atheists can understand this concept, what I'm not sure is that it has been sufficiently pounded into their heads to the extent that they are willing to actually take it seriously. The Xaths are the product of the selfish, hedonistic seventies and the "go along get along" "we generation" eighties, via their parents. That should make them more docile toward authority, but it also means they may never have been taught that there's a valid reason to think of a will higher than their own. They may resent a will that others purport to know but for which they can find no overt empirical demonstration. Following rules of a system is one thing, but submitting to the unseen is another. This is not something that we can reason about intellectually, its' a cultural difference, a generation gap, and there may be no way to bridge it. What was the discussion on my boards that made me wonder about all this?

The issue was advanced by an atheist friend that morality is genetic. Of course they have no data and certainly have no empirical proof, but sometimes atheists are content with speculation and assumptions, when it suites their side. So the argument is advanced, morality is genetic. we have genes to tell us right from wrong, thus we need no appeal to God. But the Christians counter with the bit a bout objective ethics. So it becomes the usual hum drum argument, "tastes great, less..." I mean, objective moralist vs. no need for God. I argued that objective morality is not the issue. The real issue is grounding of ethical axioms. Morality is not objective, but axioms can be grounded or ungrounded. God provides grounding because he created the universe and thus, is the author of its purpose. But the atheists counter by saying that being author doesn't give God any privilege at all. They are free to do as they please because if God was really kind he would have created them as robots so they wouldn't have worry about moral choices. I have seen this argued a hundred times. I've seen it argued on every major atheist board from CARM to Sec Web.

Many atheists will give it a long protracted argument; so what if God created me. That doesn't give him the right to tell me what to do. He's no more special than a drunk in bar on Saturday night. But every time I try to argue that God is necessary to ground axioms many of them chime in with "no he can't because he doesn't exist." This is merely circular reasoning. They are confusing the distinction between the effects of God's hypothetical existence upon meta ethics, and the actual fact of God's existence. Clearly this is circular since the answer to the question "if God did exist what difference would it make to morality?" Just cannot be "God doesn't doesn't exist so he can't make any difference." Then we spend about fives posts going "If he exists," "but he doesn't exist," "if he exists," "but he doesn't exists..."

I think the problem is it just never occurred to them to ground their moral axioms in some higher authority because they have always been taught to think of themselves as the ultimate authority. I wonder if perhaps they are coming at this from the stand point of consumers. They can understand following rules, but ultimately no other will can be imposed upon them since for each one he/she is the final authority and the only one to whom he/she must answer. If one worships the self, the highest blasphemy is that I am not the center of the universe.This is why my argument about the atonement as solidarity is as big a scandal to them as the financial transaction model or any other model. They see no logic in it and no sense. For the willingness of God to be in solidarity with them would be major blasphemy because God dares to put himself on equal grund with them. This must be what Paul meant when he said there would come a future generation that would be lovers of selves rather than of God.

Of course there are exceptions. There are valid concerns, I am not saying there are not. One such valid concern is wiping out the Amalekties. I am not saying that there aren't problematic Bible issues that have to be dealt with. But when push comes to shove the major cultural difference is, I think, that this nrew trend of atheism, while not very significant numerically, may represent the coming to fruition of many issues unresolved revolving around the ego in the modern age. As modern people we see ourselves as individual units, with rights, invested with a total package of personhood; a package that includes right, privileges, and revolves around the "punctual self" as the center of all navigation in the world. We see this tendency to center self in the world and make the world go around it in the Descartes and in the philosophy of modern world. I think, therefore, I am. I am the center, my perceptions determine reality. There is no tribe, there is no higher power there's only what I want and what I can get and what I have to put up with to get it.

Of course they realize that they have to cooperate. Of course they realize that we can't all be the center so we have to work together, that's why they have teleological ethics. Ethical means can't be based upon duty and obligation, that would necessitate another will than my own. I have to form a corporate will for the purpose of cooperating in society so not duty, but outcome becomes the major sticking point for moral value. That outcome revolves around soft values, like greatest good for greatest number, or avoiding pain since we can't impose anything upon anyone. Outcome ethics always leads to a disaster because it proceeds from the premise that there is no duty to impose and the only obligation is to cooperate so we can all have what we want. It can easily lead to the sacrifice of a small helpless group to support the cooperation for the greater number, because after all, the greatest good is getting what I want. Thus Regan's contra war of the eighties could be justified upon utilitarian grounds; and utilitarians supported the salve trade, because the "ignoble" black man had to be sacrificed to support the greater good (white people making money). I am not saying that atheists are on a par with slave traders. Please don't misunderstand me. This is not an argument about atheists not having morals. Atheists can have morals but they can't ground their axioms. They have to coast on Christian memories to ground their axioms.

There could be no stronger grounding than the authorization of the author of the universe. But we cannot move into this through winning rational arguments. One sees on message boards the bitter result of trying to confront the secular minded hoards with logic and theology. We have to find some new way around it. We have to get our bearings again. We are spoiled to live in a society which coasts on Christian memories. We have to find again the way Paul did it. We have to find out how to live in the power of God. We have to show the power and love of God to a pagan world. But it should help to understand the intellectual basis of the struggle.













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14 comments:

TJW said...

I'm an agnostic but I still think that's an excellent post.

I'm interested in ethics. Where did you study it?

J.L. Hinman said...

I did my Masters degree (MTS) at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist U. There I took courses with Dr. Frederick Carney, who is retired but was a major force in medical ethics, and studied natural law theory.

In Doctoral work I studied for Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Dallas. There I took courses with Victor Worsfold. He was not as famous as Carney but he was very good. Worsfold studied with John Rawls, at Oxford. Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice. In my opinon it's one of the great books of the 20th century.

J.L. Hinman said...

here is an article by Worsfold in the Journal, Negations, that I published back when I was at UTD.


http://www.datawranglers.com/
negations/

TJW said...

Thanks for that link, looks like a good journal.

I'll definitely keep reading your site (I've put it in Google Reader).

I haven't read Rawls but I have read a bit of political theory. The concept of authority is one I find particularly interesting though it's something most of us ignore. I read the entry at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authority/ which is pretty good. That is the kind of thing that I like thinking about.

Tysen Woodlock

Goliath said...

Ah, at last, you've begun to realize that even if your god exists, not everyone would want to follow him.

Not that I believe that either exists, but I would MUCH rather follow Satan than the xian god. In fact, I would rather die and spend eternity in hell than follow the xian god.

J.L. Hinman said...

I'll definitely keep reading your site (I've put it in Google Reader).

I haven't read Rawls but I have read a bit of political theory. The concept of authority is one I find particularly interesting though it's something most of us ignore. I read the entry at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authority/ which is pretty good. That is the kind of thing that I like thinking about.

thanks buddy, I appreciate your interest

J.L. Hinman said...

Ah, at last, you've begun to realize that even if your god exists, not everyone would want to follow him.

Not that I believe that either exists, but I would MUCH rather follow Satan than the xian god. In fact, I would rather die and spend eternity in hell than follow the xian god.

9:36 PM


that's your prerogative and your problem. I will just sayt you don't know God. you don't know what God is like. Maybe I dont' either but a i have a general idea. you can't go by the OT. you have to go by Jesus. So far all the atheist attempts to show that Jesus was no good have been less than impressive, for me.

I'll look you up in a million an and see what you think then. I jsut warn you of one thing:

I do happen to know, a little known secret of the universe, a large part of hell of his having to hear the replay of "Down Town" Petula Clark over and over again forever. think about it.

Goliath said...

I know everything I need to know about the xian god, and I know everything that I need to know about your vile faith.

I hate Jesus, I hate the xian god, and I would destroy both of them if I could.

"I do happen to know, a little known secret of the universe, a large part of hell of his having to hear the replay of 'Down Town' Petula Clark over and over again forever. think about it."

ROFL! Is that the best you can do to scare me into groveling before your god? You're pathetic.

J.L. Hinman said...

ROFL! Is that the best you can do to scare me into groveling before your god? You're pathetic.

I am not interested into scaring you into anything. You are only hurting yourself.

Goliath said...

Then why try to intimidate me by telling me what hell might be like?

Again: I would rather burn in hell than follow your god. Deal with it.

J.L. Hinman said...

that is nuts. to really think that is a serious attempt to scare anyone? I can think of a lot more scary fates than having to listen to "Downtown."

this is something called "humor." Are you so demented you don't even know what "funny" means?

If you bothered to learn more about my ideas you would know that I do not believe in hell as a place of eternal conscious torment. So you are just hurting yourself because you are missing the very essence of what love is by rejecting God because God is love.

scary hu?

If you are just looking for fight you wont get one. I have better thins to do. Go troll someone else. If you really care bout ideas I am wiling to talk but you have to shed the bad boy image thing and grow up and really think.

J.L. Hinman said...

I am going to write a whole actual blog spot for you on hell and hating God and the use of fear tactics in religion. So if you are interested give me a chance to work on it.

Tim said...

Good post. You did a good job of stepping back from the emotions and the specific discussion that was your jumping off point. Repointing it back at the challenge for Christians at the end was perfect.

FWIW, I would change 'pagan' in the last paragraph but I'm not sure to what. The more I think about the more interesting the 'to what' becomes. I think most people understood and misunderstand 'pagan' in the sense of Wiccans. Aethists, especially in the Richard Dawkins mold, would have problems with that association. At a literal level, you're referring to a world that doesn't believe --the unbelieving world-- but that doesn't work on several levels.

First, it could be argued that everyone believes ... in something. It's a variant on all the jokes that were floated in response to the people with the people who held up the John 3:16/Jesus Saves signs circa the early '90s. "Jesus saves ... he goes back ... he scores!" or "Jesus saves ... with coupons" said the cynics. Which I still find remarkably funny because the grammar hole in "Jesus saves" points out the failing in clarity (that you discussed in a past post) that leaves us unable to explain this Christian salvation thang.

Second, getting closer to where you started the essay, atheism as you've been colliding with it, could be called an exercise in denial. I'm not referring to denial in the sense of denying God. Sometimes it might be denying you they believe in something (even if it's themselves). Almost always it seems to be denying that there is anything beyond the rational sense data. Never mind the case made by scientists (e.g. Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, Schrodinger's cat, etc) that there are limits to has limits; even if they can seem a little fuzzy (punny me). Ignore that man beyond the curtain; he can't be there because there's nothing beyond the curtain. It's not that they don't just not believe, but they deny that there is any space for belief.

Third, on an western cultural level, you run into hundreds of years of cliches around a realm that centers on phenomenon like the fire and brimstone preacher and the uncaring Christian. As Gandhi said, if I'd met a Christian, I'd be one. The vibe most people associate with Christians is one of judgementality. There are things about my life that I won't talk about with most Christians because of the response that I know I will get. I just looked back over the paragraph and thought about changing judgementality to judgementalism ... but I like the connotations of the made-up word better. The world associates a mentality of judging to Christians. The sad thing is that we of all people should know better. And, getting back to where I was going, so may terms I can think of to use in place of 'pagan' bring up those connotations. The fact that Christianity is in a sense an us and them, the saved and the non-saved, construct makes it very easy for people to fall into the judgementality trap.

So... getting back to 'pagan'. It seems to be the worst choice except for all the alternatives. But it did get my brain clunking along...

J.L. Hinman said...

that is brilliant analysis Tim. You remain about my exacting and most valuable critic.