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Why would a Christian want to change the world?
Posted: 26 August 2012 12:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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author=“Scott Mayers” ...what a careful Christian arguer would do would be to try to draw a comparison between their belief and the non-believer by demonstrating their active ethical social values as opposed to those without. It would be one of claiming, yeah, we may not be great because we accept that we are all sinners, but without any grounding in a god at all, how could anyone justify any better of an ethical justification to behave; At least, as a Christian, they would claim to know right from wrong.

There was a fellow who not too long ago, used to post a lot on CFI.  He was developing his own religion that was a sort of off shoot of Christianity.  He did something akin to what you are suggesting.  He would say things to the effect of “If there is no God then we may as well do anything that we want to our own benefit or amusement, without any concern for the effect on others.”  He claimed that God is the source of all moral authority, as most religious people do. And indeed, he did not seem to understand that people who don’t believe in God would even want to behave ethically, much less be able to develop a valid ethical structure for living.

The problem there is that it is a false assumption. But it is an assumption consistent with his particular faith based beleif system.

Faith based belief systems are necessarily not completely based on reason.  And when a faith based belief system tries to incorporate reason, it tends to break down, at some point, in that reason comes into conflict with the faith based beliefs and inconsistencies come into play.  This is part of what Dom is getting at, I think.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 01:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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This reminds me of something I remember Amartya Sen saying about justice. It’s not so much that human beings have an innate sense of what justice is or what a completely just society or world would look like. It’s rather that we (or at least most people) have an innate sense that something is wrong with the world as it is.

Sen’s point is that we don’t need to be able to spell out exactly what justice is to know that we should be doing a lot better than we are at present, and we can know moral progress when we see it without needing to know what moral perfection is. So we’re always aiming for something but we’re never quite sure what it is and we’ll never get there. A lot of people will see this as a deeply spiritual idea, and I guess it probably has been a major driving force behind many religions. If religions were just concerned with this-worldly goals such as these, then
there needn’t be any conflict with movements like secular humanism and socialism, but unfortunately we have all of the other-worldly nonsense as well, and if we take all of that seriously then we’ll really be in the dark about what to do for the best.

In any case, people here keep asking about motivation and specifically about how secular people can get motivated to go and change the world. I don’t have anything interesting to say about this at all, but this wasn’t the topic of the post in the first place anyway. It’s never going to be easy to overcome greed and selfishness and become more empathetic and caring.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 02:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Dom1978 - 26 August 2012 01:37 AM

... If religions were just concerned with this-worldly goals such as these, then
there needn’t be any conflict with movements like secular humanism and socialism…,

Right, and to the extent that there are some niches of Christian religious groups who do primarily and overwhelmingly focus on Jesus’s concern for the poor, his helping the sick, his apparent disdain for excess worldly wealth, his anger with thieving money changers, etc., I think that most secular humanists could feel quite compatible with them.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 03:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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You guys are arguing about a world that doesn’t exist. Most Christians don’t think the way you’re describing, even if you think their theology, extended to its logical conclusions, dictates that they must. So this is like watching medieval Catholic “scholars” argue about how many angels can dance on a pinhead; and the irony is that you’re assuming that “Christians” (as though they all thought the same) behave the same as the people who engaged in that argument.

[ Edited: 26 August 2012 03:52 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 26 August 2012 03:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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Well, that’s strange, because I’ve definitely met many people who believe that everything happens for a reason and that there’s an all powerful God controlling everything, but who, because they are decent and caring people, also want to get out there and help people and reduce the suffering in the world.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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This statement in particular, I suggest, is an argument we can’t defend or win: “In fact, the secular socialist is perfectly consistent in dedicating their entire life to creating a better world for everyone, but the Christian is not, and we need to remind the Christian of this.”

Dom, you seem like a really nice guy but if we go around “reminding” people if this, they’ll remind you that “Christ” preached love, compassion and the Golden Rule; and they’ll point out some of the self-described secularists who’ve argued and fought for all kinds of injustices. Stalin was a secular socialist, for Christ’s sake! (If I may be permitted a little color in my language.) You can argue that “Christ” preached contradictory things, and they’ll point out that secularists have done the same thing. We don’t win that argument. I can’t even defend it, because you put it categorically to all Christians and all secularists. And the mere fact that theists regularly abuse the argument about Stalin, Pol Pot, et. al., doesn’t mean that we can afford to make poorly framed and indefensible claims.

You didn’t put it this way but most people would want to know whether the belief was backed up in action; so they would compare manifestations of Christian charity to secular Humanist charities. We don’t win that argument either. I would love to see data to the contrary. Do you have any? If not, how do you justify making a claim like that, which you must know will be seen as arrogant. If you show me the data, I’ll start saying that. But we can’t make claims like that if we can’t back them up - not if we want people to respect us, or even take us seriously.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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Dom1978 - 26 August 2012 03:55 AM

Well, that’s strange, because I’ve definitely met many people who believe that everything happens for a reason and that there’s an all powerful God controlling everything, but who, because they are decent and caring people, also want to get out there and help people and reduce the suffering in the world.

No, Dom, you’ve met people who say they believe that, just like I once dated a woman who said sex outside marriage was wrong, then proceeded to do it. Look at how they behave. People don’t always act in accordance with what they say they believe. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t depart from his or her stated beliefs in some substantial way.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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PLaClair, I mean that the secular socialist is consistent in saying that we should be focusing entirely on this world and this life and on making the world a better place. This doesn’t mean that they’re always going to do what they should do!! Secular people will also be after power, money and sex, and they’ll be eager to punish and humiliate certain people and classes. And if you want to get all Freudian about it, then of course they’re going to be driven by all sorts of irrational desires, many of which they’re not even aware of. The only thing I argued here is that various secular philosophies are internally consistent, whereas Christianity is not. Everybody is going to have to deal with the evil side of human nature, and as far as I can see the best way to do this is by having democracy, and by not allowing too much money and power to be in the hands of a very small number of people. You’re confusing things here. My argument was not about human nature. It was about the consistency of the Christian world view.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Dom1978 - 26 August 2012 05:09 AM

PLaClair, I mean that the secular socialist is consistent in saying that we should be focusing entirely on this world and this life and on making the world a better place. This doesn’t mean that they’re always going to do what they should do!! Secular people will also be after power, money and sex, and they’ll be eager to punish and humiliate certain people and classes. And if you want to get all Freudian about it, then of course they’re going to be driven by all sorts of irrational desires, many of which they’re not even aware of. The only thing I argued here is that various secular philosophies are internally consistent, whereas Christianity is not. Everybody is going to have to deal with the evil side of human nature, and as far as I can see the best way to do this is by having democracy, and by not allowing too much money and power to be in the hands of a very small number of people. You’re confusing things here. My argument was not about human nature. It was about the consistency of the Christian world view.

I don’t think I’m confusing things. Which secular socialist are you referring to? You can’t just ignore history, and you can’t ignore human nature either. Not if you want to talk about things that matter.

We secularists do have an internal consistency that the theists don’t have but we have to be careful how we say it. Look again at the title of this topic. You chose that title, Dom. Do you really think that it doesn’t imply that Christians have no reason to do good? If we frame the issue like that, we’ll get killed out there, at our own invitation.

Here’s what we can say, and defend:

“No, I don’t believe in a god, and here’s why. Look at it from an anthropological standpoint, in other words, why do people believe in a god. There have been thousands of beliefs about creation of the world and various gods. You’re saying that your god is the only one that is real, the others are just stories, like Zeus and the various thunder gods and rain gods from the primitive religions; and if you’re not saying that, then you’re only referring to a symbolic god, and I don’t think that means anything. It certainly doesn’t refer to anything that’s real. So we know that people make up stories about gods and the creation of the world. That’s because people want to believe that they’re not going to die, and that someone is watching out for us - at least for the ‘good’ people - making sure we’re safe. I see that you live a good life; so do I. The difference is that I don’t insert an unnecessary mediator, born solely of my wish that one should exist, between reality and my values system. I love people because of who they are and what their lives mean to them, not because some imaginary being says that I should; and I would love people even if there was or is a god. And if anyone tries to tell me that such a belief system is immoral, I would tell them that their theology is immoral because it doesn’t operate from love for the sake of the loved ones. My point is that belief in a god or gods is not necessary and only confuses the issue. Some people say that there’s no reason to be good if you don’t believe in a god. But you see how I live, and how I treat people. So you know that’s not true. I don’t need someone telling me that I should respect others. I do it because I know what it is to be human, and to experience joy and suffering. If I needed someone to tell me that, then I don’t really know it; only I do know it, this is my revealed Truth from within, because I know something about what it is to be human, and to love and experience pain, pleasure, joy, suffering and fulfillment. We all know that if we’re really in touch with our own humanity. We don’t need a theology, and in fact a theology can’t make us know that if we don’t already know it from within.

“How we treat people is a choice, and whether we believe in a god is a choice. People who believe in a god don’t insulate themselves from doing evil; it’s just that some of them talk themselves into thinking that, because that is what they wish was true. We’d like an airtight, foolproof universe but that’s not the reality. I don’t think that telling ourselves that things are true when they’re not helps anything. Just the opposite, I think it confuses people and makes it harder to develop and practice a sound values system. People do it anyway, but why insert an unnecessary middleman into your values system?”

What do you think?

[ Edited: 26 August 2012 06:17 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 26 August 2012 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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PLaClair - 26 August 2012 05:46 AM
Dom1978 - 26 August 2012 05:09 AM

PLaClair, I mean that the secular socialist is consistent in saying that we should be focusing entirely on this world and this life and on making the world a better place. This doesn’t mean that they’re always going to do what they should do!! Secular people will also be after power, money and sex, and they’ll be eager to punish and humiliate certain people and classes. And if you want to get all Freudian about it, then of course they’re going to be driven by all sorts of irrational desires, many of which they’re not even aware of. The only thing I argued here is that various secular philosophies are internally consistent, whereas Christianity is not. Everybody is going to have to deal with the evil side of human nature, and as far as I can see the best way to do this is by having democracy, and by not allowing too much money and power to be in the hands of a very small number of people. You’re confusing things here. My argument was not about human nature. It was about the consistency of the Christian world view.

I don’t think I’m confusing things. Which secular socialist are you referring to? You can’t just ignore history, and you can’t ignore human nature either. Not if you want to talk about things that matter.

We secularists do have an internal consistency that the theists don’t have but we have to be careful how we say it. Look again at the title of this topic. You chose that title, Dom. Do you really think that it doesn’t imply that Christians have no reason to do good? If we frame the issue like that, we’ll get killed out there, at our own invitation.

Here’s what we can say, and defend:

“No, I don’t believe in a god, and here’s why. Look at it from an anthropological standpoint, in other words, why do people believe in a god. There have been thousands of beliefs about creation of the world and various gods. You’re saying that your god is the only one that is real, the others are just stories, like Zeus and the various thunder gods and rain gods from the primitive religions; and if you’re not saying that, then you’re only referring to a symbolic god, and I don’t think that means anything. It certainly doesn’t refer to anything that’s real. So we know that people make up stories about gods and the creation of the world. That’s because people want to believe that they’re not going to die, and that someone is watching out for us - at least for the ‘good’ people - making sure we’re safe. I see that you live a good life; so do I. The difference is that I don’t insert an unnecessary mediator, born solely of my wish that one should exist, between reality and my values system. I love people because of who they are and what their lives mean to them, not because some imaginary being says that I should; and I would love people even if there was or is a god. And if anyone tries to tell me that such a belief system is immoral, I would tell them that their theology is immoral because it doesn’t operate from love for the sake of the loved ones. My point is that belief in a god or gods is not necessary and only confuses the issue. Some people say that there’s no reason to be good if you don’t believe in a god. But you see how I live, and how I treat people. So you know that’s not true. I don’t need someone telling me that I should respect others. I do it because I know what it is to be human, and to experience joy and suffering. If I needed someone to tell me that, then I don’t really know it; only I do know it, this is my revealed Truth from within, because I know something about what it is to be human, and to love and experience pain, pleasure, joy, suffering and fulfillment. We all know that if we’re really in touch with our own humanity. We don’t need a theology, and in fact a theology can’t make us know that if we don’t already know it from within.

“How we treat people is a choice, and whether we believe in a god is a choice. People who believe in a god don’t insulate themselves from doing evil; it’s just that some of them talk themselves into thinking that, because that is what they wish was true. We’d like an airtight, foolproof universe but that’s not the reality. I don’t think that telling ourselves that things are true when they’re not helps anything. Just the opposite, I think it confuses people and makes it harder to develop and practice a sound values system. People do it anyway, but why insert an unnecessary middleman into your values system?”

What do you think?

And the devout Southern Baptist replies:  You seem to be a very good person.  But I know from my own experiences of God and from my personal relationship with Jesus Christ my Savior, that He is no middle man.  (While thinking: This poor bastard is doomed to hell, and there is likely nothing I can do about it, other than pray for him.  “Christ, Yours is the Power and the Glory.  If it be Your will, come into this man’s life. Show him the wretchedness of his error and his sin against You.  Enter his hardened heart and show him Your Mercy and Love.  In Your name, I pray.  Amen.”)

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Posted: 26 August 2012 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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I think I agree with a lot of it. 

But the original point of my post was to make a philosophical point, namely that there seems to be some sort of tension or conflict or inconsistency at the heart of Christianity. It’s no good just pointing out that we’re all biased and inconsistent in various ways. This is obviously true, but I’m suggesting that the supposedly divinely inspired Christian world view is itself incoherent.

And no, I’m not ignoring human nature. I take it very seriously, which is why you need to have democratic institutions to try to keep the dark side of human nature in check. These are the very institutions that were absent or not functioning correctly with Stalin and Mao and also with various absolute monarchies throughout history. But in my opinion this doesn’t have anything to do with religion; it’s about democracy and accountability.   

I always forget that the first thing Americans think of when you say the word ‘socialism’ is Stalin and extremely authoritarian forms of socialism. Maybe I should stop using it.

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Posted: 26 August 2012 06:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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Also, ‘consistent’ doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘morally good’, so look at the following:

I want to kill everyone who’s taller than 180 cm - consistent  
I want to pollute the planet and make it a terrible place for human beings - consistent
I want to make the world a better place - consistent
I want to make the world a better place and save as many souls as possible - inconsistent (or possibly inconsistent) 

To say that a world view or set of values is inconsistent is just to say that it doesn’t have a clear goal, and so people can’t use it to guide their actions. My suggestion is that orthodox Christianity is inconsistent in this way. I agree that we can see from their behaviour that most Christians don’t really believe all the things they’re meant to believe, but that doesn’t change the fact that the official view is inconsistent. 

I totally reject the idea that I’m arrogant in saying that secular humanism is consistent. You could have a secular philosophy that’s more consistent than Christianity but still morally worse than Christianity, just like those two examples above. As a matter of fact, I do think that secular humanism is BOTH more consistent AND morally better than Christianity, but the topic here is really all about whether Christianity is logical/coherent/consistent as a world view or value system.

In future I really need to be less polemical and more philosophical! I’m sorry if my argument wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

[ Edited: 26 August 2012 10:32 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 27 August 2012 12:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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Dom: ... but the topic here is really all about whether Christianity is logical/coherent/consistent as a world view or value system…

Tim: The easy answer is that Christianity taken together in all it’s various manifestations, IMO, is not logical/coherent/consistent as a world view or value system.

I can’t rule out, however that there are certain sects or individual Christians who may have a world view or value system that is logical/coherent/consistent. I don’t (possibly can’t) have enough information to know.  and/or   I haven’t thought deeply enough about it to figure it out.

If we knew for sure, is there some practical application for that knowledge, that occurs to you?  (I admit that last question is partially a sneaky way of asking about motivation, so feel free not to answer it if it takes away from your intention for the thread.)

[ Edited: 27 August 2012 12:08 AM by TimB ]
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Posted: 27 August 2012 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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Tim, your position seems to be something like this: Yes, Christianity is incoherent, but at the end of the day who really cares about that? In the real world, this ragbag of different and sometimes conflicting ideas we call Christianity does a lot more good in the world than any secular movements do, and that’s what really matters.

So, if that’s your point, then I don’t really have much of problem with that. It may just be that, given the way human nature is, people will tend to do more good if they believe in things like heaven and hell and everything being for the best and so on. This is an empirical question. 

This post was really aimed at those Christians who do want their religion to make sense and to fit together, so that when you get up in the morning you do know what your ultimate goals are and you can make sense of this in relation to your other beliefs about free will, evil and suffering in the world and all the rest of it. If you don’t care about having a coherent world view, then that’s the end of the discussion.

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Posted: 27 August 2012 07:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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Dom1978 - 27 August 2012 06:38 PM

Tim, your position seems to be something like this: Yes, Christianity is incoherent, but at the end of the day who really cares about that? In the real world, this ragbag of different and sometimes conflicting ideas we call Christianity does a lot more good in the world than any secular movements do, and that’s what really matters.

So, if that’s your point, then I don’t really have much of problem with that. It may just be that, given the way human nature is, people will tend to do more good if they believe in things like heaven and hell and everything being for the best and so on. This is an empirical question. 

This post was really aimed at those Christians who do want their religion to make sense and to fit together, so that when you get up in the morning you do know what your ultimate goals are and you can make sense of this in relation to your other beliefs about free will, evil and suffering in the world and all the rest of it. If you don’t care about having a coherent world view, then that’s the end of the discussion.

My point in post #58 was to respond to the topic sentence of yours that I included as a quote in that post.

I don’t know if Christianity does more good vs. harm than do secular movements. (If I did, I don’t know what I could effectively do about it.)

You, perhaps, have hopes that some Christians may be interested in, and able to develop a coherent world view and that could lead to (less internal conflict for those Christians?) and/or (those Christians being more effective in addressing suffering in the world?).  If that is the case, then I commend your hopes and efforts in these regards.

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