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Author Topic: As atheists know, you can be good without God
Maya
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Posts: 51
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: February 9, 2012, 17:57
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Quote from Stein on February 5, 2012, 19:03
Stein: Yes, the words I used—"that religious belief and moral reasoning are not related"—are vague, but the study quoted referred to multiple studies showing moral judgment, conduct, and development do not always depend on religiosity.

As Stephen said, there's a lot here, so I'm going to try to do a little at a time.

About the above, I think you're conflating two ideas. One is "religiosity" — which is defined by some pollsters as participating in "religious" or church activities at a certain level. The other is religious principle — for example, the idea that it is best to return hatred with love, or to treat others as we would like to be treated, or that justice is the greatest quality in the sight of God, or that reason is man's first faculty. (Or, as Krishna put it several thousand years back, "Greater than the senses is the mind. Greater than the mind is buddhi, reason; and greater than reason is He—the Spirit in man and in all." — Bhagavad Gita 3:42)

As I said, it's inarguable that people can be moral without overt religiosity, religious affiliation, or overt religious instruction. But I think it's also clear that the principles of faith — such as those mentioned above — so permeate societies all over the globe, that it would be impossible to tease them out of the environment.

My husband was an atheist when we married. He was raised by an agnostic ex-Lutheran and a non-practicing Jew (a similar background to several of the prominent new atheist thinkers). The environment in which he was raised was, while not religious in the sense of religiosity, was informed by those religious principles that his parents had absorbed during their own upbringing. This was reinforced in school, in his friendships, and ultimately, in his marriage; he was surrounded by people who were also influenced, to one degree or another, by the faith teachings in their own lives.

Stein: Doesn’t this reflect another Muslim conception: "The prevailing sentiment regarding secularism in the Muslim world is negative equating it primarily with a lack of religiosity or 'Godlessness' rather than formal separation of religion and politics."

One comment about this, though it was directed at Bahram. Again, we are at the mercy of semantics. To me, "religiosity" is almost a dirty word. Given how it's most often used to refer to the outer trappings of religion (the performance of ritual, church attendance, etc) a lack of religiosity, IMO, can be a good thing. Godlessness, to me, is reflected in behavior whether or not an individual professes a particular faith. My husband — the one-time atheist — was a godly man in the true sense that he was moral, caring, and strove to be honest and trustworthy. I'm fairly certain that when Bahram refers to Godlessness, he means that people's behavior evinces a lack of religious principle. They do not turn the other cheek, treat others with justice and mercy, meet affront with calm, rational assurance rather than retaliating.

I will observe that Godlessness is not just a feature of secularism. A great many people throughout history with a high "religiosity" quotient were Godless as all get out — by the simple standard that they did not uphold the principles of faith to which they laid claim.

This has nothing to do with Muslim "chauvinism" or any other form of chauvinism. It's simply, as Christ noted, judging of something by its fruits.

How do you know a person is a vegetarian—by the fact that they SAY they're a vegetarian or by the fact that they don't eat meat? There is a behavioral standard—written down and searchable—that goes along with saying, "I'm a Christian ... Buddhist ... Muslim ... Baha'i." The quality of one's claim to be one of those things links directly to their behavior.

Thought I should answer at least one that was aimed at me 😉

Maya (Nov 9): "My point is that "good without God" is a theory that can never be proven, for our global culture is permeated with religious principles."

Stein: Yes, but studies show how ambiguous the positive effects are. Bahram said, "Signs are clear however, greed, fraud, lack of morality are exponentially accelerating."

There's nothing ambiguous about that. No faith teaches that greed, fraud, or immorality are virtues. Religious principle is a matter of clear record, and that record teaches AGAINST all of those ills. In other words, there is a yardstick against which to measure how truly religious someone is that has nothing to do with how often they attend church, ashram, or mosque. I think that fact gets lost in the debate. Bahram is right, Godlessness is accelerating in some quarters, even among those who claim belief in God. It's a cycle that we've seen over and over again as mankind evolves. The older religion loses its hold and devolves into ... well, into religiosity ... and then a renewal of religion pushes us forward again.

Re: The secular societies in Scandinavia. These societies have, first of all, declassified a number of things that were previously considered sinful. Prostitution, for example, and pornography. But at the same time that the sex industry in these countries is held up as a model for the rest of the world, it is those very legal industries that are fueling illicit human trafficking. I read an interview with the owner of a sex business (I don't recall which country) who lamented that he had to purchase women on the black market because the local stock was limited (most women don't choose to be prostitutes when there's an alternative) and there was a great demand for "exotic" women and girls that he couldn't get legally at home.

Secularism, by its nature, offers no standard for behavior — that standard must be arrived at by consensus. At points in relatively recent history, the humanity of blacks, women, and native Americans was called into question based on what some people believed to be good scientific principles. Eugenics was another outcome of scientifically based ideas about the relative value of different types of human beings. I think the above situations beg the question of what morality means in this context. Religion has always taught that all souls are equal before God. We brought bigotry to the table. Which reminds me of one of my favorite Baha'i buttons — God created diversity; man created bigotry.

Something that seems not to come up when "secular" countries are held up as models for society (besides the fact that some have state religions that have deeply informed the culture in the recent past) is that the rate of violent crime — especially sexual crimes and harassment — has, according to recent statistics, been on the rise, especially in Sweden.

One more point needs to be made here. Non-affiliation with a particular religion or congregation is not the same as atheism. A survey done in Sweden about two or three years ago polled people who self-identified as atheists. 21% said they believed in some Force or intelligence in the universe. Of those, 8% said they would call that entity God. This prompted Sam Harris to comment on Richard Dawkins' website that apparently some atheists didn't know what "atheist" meant. Among the population in general, the numbers rise to 53% for believers in a "life force" and 23% who would call that God.

As I said, Godless is as Godless does. I think that stands to reason, and the Baha'i Faith puts a high premium on self-knowledge and the use of that first faculty.

koinotely
Jedi Master
Posts: 92
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: February 11, 2012, 00:08
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Buddhism could be considered a form of atheism, however it would not qualify as anti-theism, yet many who call themselves atheists act more like anti-theists. It begins with knowledge, which is translated and actualized into effective action, and this cycle recurs. It has also been described as intention, confirmation, and action. The intention is like the seed, the confirmation like roots and branches, the action is the fruit, the divine gardeners prune the branches so that the tree bears more fruit the following season and doesn't waste its energy in growing unnecessary branches...another way is that the intention is like the stars we navigate according to, the confirmation is the sail and rudder, and action is trajectory, the navigator guided by the changeless stars confirms the trajectory so that the boat reaches its harbor safe and sound...another way to think of it is that God intends religion to promote harmony and civilization, the confirmation of God's will is through progressive revelation, and the action is the instantiation of the abstract concretely, at this stage of development through cohesive local-global association.

"KNOWLEDGE AND DEEDS

Although a person of good deeds is acceptable at the Threshold of the Almighty, yet it is first “to know,” and then “to do.” Although a blind man produceth a most wonderful and exquisite art, yet he is deprived of seeing it. Consider how most animals labor for man, draw loads and facilitate travel; yet, as they are ignorant, they receive no reward for this toil and labor. The cloud raineth, roses and hyacinths grow; the plain and meadow, the garden and trees become green and blossom; yet they do not realize the results and outcome of all these. The lamp is lighted, but as it hath not a conscious knowledge of itself, no one hath become glad because of it. Moreover, a soul of excellent deeds and good manners will undoubtedly advance from whatever horizon he beholdeth the lights radiating. Herein lies the difference: By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds."
http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/BWF/bwf-87.html

"The third teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is that religion must be the source of fellowship, the cause of unity and the nearness of God to man. If it rouses hatred and strife it is evident that absence of religion is preferable and an irreligious man better than one who professes it. According to the divine will and intention religion should be the cause of love and agreement, a bond to unify all mankind for it is a message of peace and good-will to man from God."
http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/BWF/bwf-7.html.utf8?query=intention&action=highlight#pg240

Pachomius
Padawan
Posts: 1
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: June 1, 2012, 15:52
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Quote from Stein on August 3, 2011, 23:11

[...]

Plato raised it against divine command theories of morality. He asked divine-command moralists: are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right? If the latter is true, then actions are right independent of whether God commands them, and God is not needed to underwrite the authority of morality. But if the former is true, then God could make any action right simply by willing it or by ordering others to do it. This establishes that, if the authority of morality depends on God’s will, then, in principle, anything is permitted.

[...]

Before anything else, we must all agree on the concept of God, mind you just the concept, prescinding from the objective actual reality of God in the scheme of existing things of which existing things if God exists then He is also one of existing things.

I speak from the standpoint of a Christian.

The concept of God in the Christian faith in His fundamental relation to the universe is that God is:

The unique uncreated creator of the created universe.

Let us know that before anything and everything else, God's entitlement to attention from mankind is that He is the unique uncreated creator of the created universe.

If God were everything else but the unique uncreated creator of the created universe, then He would be of little concern to mankind.

So, to the question:

...are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right?

First, we must ask ourselves whom is God commanding to do right actions?

As far as we humans are concerned who do talk about this question of whether a right action is right even there be no God, or right because God commands it, reason tells us that (again) insofar as we are concerned who are to perform right actions, and there be God the unique uncreated creator of the created universe of which we are parts, the parts that are to do right actions, then the answer is both, namely:

God is goodness itself and there is no goodness according to which God commands mankind to perform because they are in accordance to the goodness that is independent of God -- for God is goodness itself; and wherefore He wills right actions to be performed by mankind because right actions are founded on His goodness.

Now, perhaps you will say that there is no God, at least not in the Christian concept of God in His fundamental relation to the universe, namely, the unique uncreated creator of the created universe.

In which case mankind will not be asking themselves and thinking their mind to exhaustion on the question:

...are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right?

That would be a purely fictional question because there is no God but you are putting up the fiction of there being God, it is of no worth whatever except for amusement, just like asking yourself what is the sound of one hand clapping, all nonsense.

Before anything else mankind must not occupy themselves with nonsense.

Pachomius

Maya
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Posts: 51
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: June 1, 2012, 21:02
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@Pachomius: Excellent points! Thanks for taking on this subject. And in fact, the Christian concept of God, as you sate it matches the concept of God as set forth by Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad and Baha'u'llah. And as the Buddha explains, if there were no such Unformed, Uncreated Creator, there would be no escape from the realm of the formed and created, that is, no spiritual "dimension" if I may use that science fictional term.

In essence the most concise answer to Stein's question is "yes". 🙂 As God is the Creator of all this, He is also the Creator of the concept of "good."

A similar question that I fine myself confronted with on a regular basis is "Can God create a rock too heavy for Him to lift?" This is also a koan, I think. Right up there with "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

Thanks for the comments!

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