The Delusion of a Just World

You’ve probably heard religious apologists assert that if God didn’t exist, the world would be an unjust place where some people were never rewarded or punished as their behavior deserved. (They usually hold back from explicitly stating the conclusion, “Therefore, God must exist, because it would make us very sad if he didn’t,” probably out of subconscious recognition that this would make the fallacy too obvious.) As prominent a religious figure as Pope Benedict has endorsed this reasoning.

Claims like these arise from a fundamental bias of human psychology called the “just world” hypothesis, first described by the psychologist Melvin Lerner. In his experiments, Lerner found that people are uncomfortable believing that suffering is random, that sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. Instead, we prefer to believe that people must have done something to deserve what they get. This is obviously a reassuring and comforting belief, which explains its wide appeal. (If bad things only happen to those who deserve it, and I’m a good person, then I can be sure that nothing bad will happen to me.) Belief in the just world can be thought of as a failure to apply the null hypothesis in the moral domain: rejecting the explanation of chance, we prefer to believe that everything that happens is deserved.

But the problem is that, however much we’d prefer to believe otherwise, the world is random and sometimes bad things do happen for no reason. And because it encourages us to look down on victims of misfortune as deserving their fate, the just world hypothesis usually leads to worse injustices. For example, it lies behind the common belief that people who’ve been unemployed for a long time must be lazy (and therefore not deserving of a social safety net or other help), or the belief that rape victims are at fault for being raped if they were dressed “provocatively”:

Afterwards, they said that the 22-year-old woman was bound to attract attention. She was wearing a white lace miniskirt, a green tank top, and no underwear. At knife-point, she was kidnapped from a Fort Lauderdale restaurant parking lot by a Georgia drifter and raped twice. But a jury showed little sympathy for the victim. The accused rapist was acquitted. “We all feel she asked for it [by] the way she was dressed,” said the jury foreman.

But religion, more than anything else, encourages and supports the just-world delusion. By postulating an all-powerful god who orders events, it offers an easy one-size-fits-all explanation for any misfortune: the victims were sinners, and God was punishing them. That’s why a Harvard study, from one of the links above, found that

…people who have a strong tendency to believe in a just world also tend to be more religious, more authoritarian, more conservative, more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and more likely to have negative attitudes toward underprivileged groups. To a lesser but still significant degree, the believers in a just world tend to “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

The just-world belief is found throughout human culture. It has one of its most extreme expressions in Hinduism’s caste system, where each person’s station in life is presumed to be the result of sins or virtues from a previous existence. But it finds expression in evangelical Christianity as well, in an even more ridiculous (if no less morally outrageous) form: the belief that everyone in the world who isn’t a Christian is deliberately suppressing their knowledge of the truth.

As already mentioned, just-world believers tend to show less concern for the suffering of others and less desire to work toward creating an actually more just society. Ironically, belief in a just world impedes justice. When you believe that God is in charge and everything will work out for the best, this can’t help but detract from the urgency of attempts to create a better world by our own effort. How much human suffering has been ignored, how many evils allowed to persist, because of the belief that the downtrodden are sinners who deserve what they get, or that injustice should be patiently endured rather than actively battled? If we truly care about fairness and seeing that justice is done, we need to give up the harmful belief that higher powers control the course of events, and recognize instead that the only moral order in the universe is what we create for ourselves.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Whenever I hear someone cart out the “God has to exist because if He didn’t the world would be a mess,” argument I simply reply that this line of reasoning is irrelvant to the question of whether God exists or not. The “just world” is just a cheap bit of rhetorical propaganda, and projection of the believer’s worst childish nightmare.

  • FuzzyDuck

    Brought to mind a quote from the character Marcus Cole in Babylon 5: “I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe. “

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    I was right with you for the first few paragraphs. You teased out the conclusion of the religious argument well, and I agree completely that it is fallacious. But moving on to the effects of religious beliefs in a just world, I disagree – although only in a limited way. I do recognize that religious belief in a just world can and does have the negative effects you describe. A valid argument can be built from the premises you name to the conclusions you name; and many religious people certainly do, in fact, enact those sorts of conclusions. I’m with you on all this.

    But here is my limited disagreement: In the specific case of Christianity, at least, the fault lies with the believers and not with the religion’s actual doctrines. While the Bible definitely presents a God who punishes, there is not even a hint that all or most earthly suffering is divine punishment. Rather, there is great stress laid upon God’s eternal justice, and the underlying idea is in part that suffering in this life which is unjust and unearned will be put right in eternity. We can go to town finding fault with this doctrine, but it simply does not have the fault of painting earthly suffering as deserved divine punishment. If we talk that way, then we’re just having idle fun with a straw man.

    Second, there is an issue with how “just-world believers tend to show less concern for the suffering of others.” Again, I completely agree that this can and does happen. But again, with Christianity at least (sorry, but it’s the only religion I’m qualified to speak on), the problem lies with the believers and not their doctrines. For if someone believes that the world is (or rather, ultimately will be) just because the Bible teaches this, well then that very same Bible commands her or him over and over to show great concern for the suffering of others. To meet a book that directs both messages toward you, and then use the one message to try to fight the other, is contradictory. And it’s not the fault of the book, but the reader.

  • http://www.dvorkin.com David Dvorkin

    The world is a mess and evil does go unpunished. Therefore, God does not exist.

  • Seomah

    To meet a book that directs both messages toward you, and then use the one message to try to fight the other, is contradictory. And it’s not the fault of the book, but the reader.

    Did you miss the sarcasm tag?

    If I read a book with two (or more) contradictory messages and choose one the fault is mine? People who like cheap shots would say that the fault is indeed mine for reading such an awful book in the first place. I happen to be one of those people.

    Also, christianity as you describe it does not exist. There is not a handbook that tells you what christianity is or is not. And no, the bible is not that handbook. We have to criticize the actual implementation of christianity, wichever sect it is we’re talking about, and not the bible, because not anyone is following it ‘as it is’, everybody interprets it as they see fit.

    You can’t blame a tennis player for playing the ball out and say that the tennis book you read does not allow that. Tennis is the game you play, not what the books say.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    @3 Ivan:

    Doctrine doesn’t exist independent of its believers. The reason there are so many different sects of Christianity today is because people disagree about what the Bible says. As the Bible contradicts itself in many ways, such as the one you pointed out yourself (is the world just, or does it require our help to make it just?), it lends itself to multiple interpretations.

    Your Christianity may well preach help for the unjustly victimized, along with a recognition that the world isn’t just, but there’s no way you can claim that this interpretation is more valid than any other interpretation of the Bible. Other sects have simply decided that different lines are more important, and they take precedence over helping the needy.

    As the evidence goes (referred to in the linked articles), religiosity correlates with an increased belief in a just world. The arrow of causation could point either way, or even both ways, but just because your particular version of Christianity points you away from seeing the world as just, it doesn’t mean that all Christians get a free pass.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org Paul Crowley

    @Ivan I agree that justice as such in this world isn’t a very Christian idea, but God intervening to favour the righteous and smite the wicked certainly is!

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    Seomah and Infophile, you bring up some good points about the interpretation of the Bible. There is obviously disagreement. The Bible is a big and complicated book, made up of pieces from many authors, in many genres. But are you really trying to jump off the postmodernist cliff and say that no interpretation is privileged over any other? Would you say that of all texts? If I want to interpret the Iliad as a commentary on the Industrial Revolution, is this just as valid as any other interpretation? What if I want to cherry pick a Gould quotation or two for use in creationist propaganda? Is that a valid interpretation of his work?

    I have no interest in convincing either of you of an entire interpretation of the Bible. But I hope that you’ll realize that some interpretations are bound to be more valid than others. And if, by some chance, you were ever to decide to read through the Bible, and attempt to look with standard interpretive charity for how a believer might be able to find a coherent interpretation – let me assure you that you’d find the things I wrote in my first comment to be true.

    Seomah, regarding what you wrote about reading a book with contradictory messages, please reread my first comment. I wrote that to meet a book that tells you both 1) that the world will be ultimately made just, and 2) that you must show great concern for the suffering of others, and to then try to use the former to fight the latter – that would be contradictory. And indeed it would. Both propositions have the same foundation – namely, the book which tells you both. That foundation either holds up both propositions equally, or else it holds up neither. The foundation cannot legitimately be used to hold up one but not the other, and to in turn actually support the one’s use against the other.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    There is a noteworthy exception within Christian belief to the just-world delusion. When bad fortune besets a devout member of a Christian sect, who remains faithful in the face of adversity, other members of the sect may interpret the ill fortune of that person and a form as trial and tribulation, and in some cases as a test of the compassion of the more fortunate faithful. In those situations, they may feel socially compelled to offer aid, varying from offering prayers ( the thought counts, i guess, even if it doesn’t really do any thing) to organizing fund-raisers to help pay medical bills.

    The same people, however, will revert back to the just-world delusion when the victim of such catastrophe is someone they don’t like.

  • 2-D Man

    But I hope that you’ll realize that some interpretations [of the Bible] are bound to be more valid than others.

    And I hope you realize that you posted that on an atheist blog.

    The Bible is a big and complicated book, made up of pieces from many authors, in many genres. But are you really trying to jump off the postmodernist cliff and say that no interpretation is privileged over any other?

    No one was going all postmodernist on you. No interpretation of the Bible is more valid than any other, not because all interpretations (of anything) are equally valid, but because all interpretations of the Bible are irrelevant. Check your rhetoric about jumping off cliffs.

  • Jeff

    …people who have a strong tendency to believe in a just world also tend to be more religious, more authoritarian, more conservative, more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and more likely to have negative attitudes toward underprivileged groups. To a lesser but still significant degree, the believers in a just world tend to “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

    Yes, well, there’s a shocker.

    The funny thing is that they’re always telling us how much more proactive they are, charitably, than we are.

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    And I hope you realize that you posted that on an atheist blog.

    I didn’t think this was a Christian blog when I mentioned the Bible, nor did I think this was an ancient Hellenistic blog when I mentioned the Iliad. 2-D Man, you make me wish that I still had the theological resources to tell you to go to hell.

  • Leum

    I’m siding with Ivan on this one. Most churches’ official doctrines don’t say God rewards and punishes in this life, reserving such judgments for the next world. Pop theology only functions as actual theology within the evangelical, Pentecostal and non-denominational movements. The churches can be faulted for not being explicit enough about their doctrines to their parishioners, but the fact remains that the theology officially adhered to and taught in seminaries does not teach a just world.

    And some interpretations of the Bible are more valid than others. The field of modern biblical scholarship and the historical-critical method exist to provide an interpretation that reflects the viewpoint of the original author(s).

  • 2-D Man

    And some interpretations of the Bible are more valid than others. The field of modern biblical scholarship and the historical-critical method exist to provide an interpretation that reflects the viewpoint of the original author(s).

    Yes, but those interpretations have nothing to do with figuring out what Yahweh really meant, which was the focus of the above disagreement on interpretations.

  • 2-D Man

    2-D Man, you make me wish that I still had the theological resources to tell you to go to hell.

    Sucks to be you. You’re not only incapable of telling me to go to hell. You’re also incapable of reading the second paragraph.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Yes, but those interpretations have nothing to do with figuring out what Yahweh really meant, which was the focus of the above disagreement on interpretations.

    The above disagreement wasn’t about what Yahweh meant. It was about what Christianity teaches – while Yahweh doesn’t exist, Christianity certainly does.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Easy, friends! I think Ivan is perfectly aware he’s commenting on an atheist blog. That said:

    The Bible is a big and complicated book, made up of pieces from many authors, in many genres. But are you really trying to jump off the postmodernist cliff and say that no interpretation is privileged over any other?

    This is an obvious strawman, Ivan. No one here is saying that any interpretation is just as good as any other, but what I think we are saying is that the conflicting viewpoints expressed in the Bible mean that you can find an equal degree of textual support for several mutually contradictory interpretations.

    To name one example, you scorn the idea that “all or most earthly suffering is divine punishment”. But this is exactly the message taught throughout the Old Testament: when Israel is obedient, God rewards them with prosperity; when Israel is disobedient, God punishes them with disaster and conquest by their enemies. The Abrahamic covenant, the wandering in the desert, the period of the judges, the united monarchy, the Assyrian conquest, the Babylonian conquest: all these formative stories and linchpins of Biblical mythology are based on precisely that concept.

    The idea that God punishes or rewards after death, to make up for inequality in this life: that idea isn’t hinted at until the very latest part of the Old Testament, probably as a result of the influence of Persian thinking which the Jews came into contact with during the exile. Even the Book of Job, the one book of the OT that comes closest to the viewpoint you describe, never promises an afterlife as repayment: Job’s sufferings are recompensed to him entirely by rewards in this life.

    If you disagree with this viewpoint, fine. But don’t claim it isn’t taught in the Bible. It clearly is.

  • 2-D Man

    The above disagreement wasn’t about what Yahweh meant. It was about what Christianity teaches – while Yahweh doesn’t exist, Christianity certainly does.

    Very well.

    Yes, but those interpretations have nothing to do with figuring out what Yahweh Christianity really meant teaches, which was the focus of the above disagreement on interpretations.

    The point is: if Yahweh doesn’t exist, then Christianity doesn’t have anything valuable to say regardless of the way you interpret it.

    (Note that one might say that Christianity teaches the Golden Rule and that’s valuable. However, Christianity says the Golden Rule is good because Yahweh says so (remember: it’s the second-greatest commandment of a supposedly sovereign god). Without the existence of Yahweh, someone might defend the Golden Rule but they can’t use the Christian principle; they must appeal to extra-Christian ideals.)

  • paradoctor

    The Book of Job takes this on. Job was just but suffered unfairly; he states his case, maintains his tattered dignity, and it is God who comes out looking badly.

    Given the injustices of the world, it is in God’s best interest not to exist. “Mythical and therefore not present at the scene of the crime” is the perfect alibi.

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    Philboyd, you hit the nail right on the head. Thank you!

    Ebonmuse/Adam, I’m not entirely sure that I was straw-manning. Those two commenters said “not anyone is following it ‘as it is’, everybody interprets it as they see fit,” and “there’s no way you can claim that this interpretation is more valid than any other interpretation of the Bible.”

    Regardless, I do certainly agree that multiple interpretations are possible. As for the particulars you mention, though, I would contend that while that strong theme of national reward and punishment is indeed prominent, the Old Testament still didn’t extend it all the way to a just world. I don’t know of any body of biblical texts suggesting claims strong enough to entail a just world, such as 1) each individual is rewarded and punished in this life according to justice, and 2) this is done universally and consistently. There are certainly the national sticks and carrots you describe, and also some similar rhetoric on the individual level. But it is never extended into any sort of universal principle. For example, the Old Testament never says that the poor, or orphans, or widows deserve their plight, and it is their just punishment. Rather, there are constant directives to treat them with compassion and generosity. And then, of course, once you get to Jesus and the New Testament, earthly suffering is even framed as a positive virtue. It is certainly not framed as a universally just punishment for wrongdoing.

  • LindaJoy

    Ivan- one of the biggest causes of my moving from christianity to atheism was from reading the bible cover to cover. While there are certainly books from many different authors etc., there is also a major thread through the book that gives the reader a pretty solid idea of the nature of and characteristics of the god it portrays. And that god is immoral.

    So it really doesn’t matter what little parts one gleans out of it to bolster whatever one is arguing. The overall messages of both the old and new testament are immoral. The concept of hell favored by the savior is immoral. And the whole idea that the creator of the universe waited thousands of years to tell his creation about salvation instead of just presenting that up front is also immoral. The idea of salvation itself is exclusively immoral.

    I think this is basically what Thomas Paine was getting at when he wrote Age of Reason. He believed in a god, but insisted that the bible was an insult to the god he imagined. I’m willing to bet if he lived now he would become an atheist. When you can’t find your idea of god in the major religions, you come to realize that it is because the god idea you have in your head is just that- an idea and nothing more.

    The book belongs on the shelf in the mythology section, and I am thinking that it might help you to back and read the whole thing with a clear mind.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    But the problem is that, however much we’d prefer to believe otherwise, the world is random and sometimes bad things do happen for no reason. And because it encourages us to look down on victims of misfortune as deserving their fate, the just world hypothesis usually leads to worse injustices.

    That’s a good point.

    I once overheard a small part of a conversation between two of my friends who are Hindu, and they were talking about this topic. (Based on what I heard, I think one friend believes the world is just while the other doesn’t.) The idea of the world being just seemed rather strange to me, because by that time, I was already having doubts about religion. Although, of course, this belief in a just world certain isn’t restricted to any one religion or even to religion in general.

    Concerning interpretation of the Bible (or any other book for that matter), I certainly don’t think that any interpretation is as valid as any other, but there can be different ones supported by different parts of the book. I think the interpretation of the Bible which says that the world is just may be a result of trying to reconcile the fact that bad things happen with the following beliefs: (1) God is just and (2) God is all-powerful. So, while it’s not stated outright in the Bible that the world is just in this life, it’s a way to explain away the bad things that happen despite the version of God that’s described/believed in. Others turn to an interpretation which says that this life isn’t just, but the afterlife is. (Personally, I find it rather unjust to let bad things happen during this life and then have the heaven-and-hell afterlife, similar to what LindaJoy wrote.)

    One thing I’ve noticed is that both the religious people who think the world is just in this life and those who believe that this world isn’t just but that God will be just in the afterlife share a belief in point #1. The difference is whether they think the justice will be carried out in this life or the next.

    So, when trying to treat the Bible as we would any other book (like Homer’s Illiad, as mentioned above by Ivan) which I think is a great idea, we run into an issue: that many of the people interpreting the book are holding on to a belief that the resulting interpretation must paint one of the characters as just and perfect.

  • Brock

    Ivan: It’s dangerous to assume that commenters here don’t know the Bible, as a couple of people have pointed out. I am currently recovering from a major surgical procedure, and Sunday I got out for the first time. I ran into an old friend who said he had been praying for me. I told him that I expected that it did him good, but that I was entirely indifferent to his prayers, and he expressed his bewilderment, that I knew the Bible better than anyone else he knew, and could still say somethng like that. I told him not to think about it as paradox, but as cause and effect.

  • Neil

    I think that Ivan is onto something, but is missing something as well….
    There certainly are christians who openly follow a more Old Testament “just world” sort of morality, particularly among the poltically conservative and uneducated. There are those who think that natural disasters are punishments for a nation tolerating homosexuality or other sins, etc, or that godless communists deserve every famine that comes their way. There are plenty of christians who approve of the death penalty and “eye for an eye” style punishment, even though they know some innocents will be executed, because of “they must have done something to end up there” or “god will set it right” sort of rationalizations. There are also calvinists, christian scientists, and other determinist faiths that see health and prosperity as a sign of god’s favor, and poverty or sickness as punishment for sin. They exist, and they have at least some scripture to back up their ideas, even though they are simply taking a common human failing and inserting it into their religion…such actions seem to me to make up a large portion of what religion is in the first place.

    There may well be more of the charitable christians around, and they may well have better scriptural footing for their beliefs, at least in the New Testament. I wouldn’t say it’s as clear or obvious as Ivan seems to think, but I don’t totally disagree with him either. I know for a fact that there are plenty of christians, even a majority, who know that life isn’t fair, that poverty, war, crime, illness, and disaster aren’t god’s judgement, and that rich and healthy doesn’t equal moral and godly- “The rain falls on the just and the unjust”. But I would argue that even the most liberal, charitable, open-minded and realistic christianity doesn’t fully escape the “just world” hypothesis.

    Why? Because while “the world” may not be just, their “universe” (including the afterlife) still essentially is, and that belief is still part of our real world and has consequences in our real world. A christian might think that being racist is immoral, but might fail to combat racism because they see the world as sinful(“that’s just the way it is”), and justice and equality as things that Jesus will dole out in the afterlife. Many christians are personally charitable, because they think it is moral and because they believe their savior commands it, which is all for the good. But that same christian may well oppose any realistic political or social attempts at reducing large-scale poverty and suffering because “suffering is our lot on earth, but not in heaven” or “the poor will always be with us”(until Jesus makes it all ok). The belief that justice will be served by God or Jesus in the afterlife, even though this life is unjust, is really still a very big part of what they are willing to do in THIS life…the one that exists and matters. All they are doing is admitting that the “world” is unjust, but then inventing another realm beyond to take the weight of real moral responsibility for this world.

    Many parts of the Old Testament(along with parts of Islam and the Hindu caste system, among other examples) seem to require that we actively support immoralities and inequalities, as long as God’s favorites are in charge. Mass slayings, holy wars, stoning children, punishing rape victims, lifelong enforced slavery or poverty…Old school tribal religons would have us actively support these things, as long as the right holy man and holy book commands it. Chrisitanity, or at least the more liberal christian sects, seem to have made the philosophical realization that might doesn’t always make right, that injustice exists, that innocent people suffer for no observable moral reason, that the powerful can be evil and the weak can be good. Yet, in the guise of providing “comfort” in an irredeemably “evil world”, it still demands that we accept and tolerate these things even if we don’t support them. We may not have to be a part of the problem, but our passive acceptance is still expected. Those who really try to change the world for the better are often seen as either dangerous, prideful troublemakers at worst, or time-wasting fools at best, and the same result of protecting the status quo is achieved. The privileged and powerful escape any responsibility for their actions and influence on society, and the weak are left to suffer any consequences. But hey, we all get the “comfort” of knowing that Jesus will make everything OK…after we die. Believing in a “just afterlife” is little or no better than believing in a “just world”, if the results are the same.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Linda, I’m pretty sure Ivan isn’t currently a Christian (Ivan, please correct me if I’m wrong).

    The point is: if Yahweh doesn’t exist, then Christianity doesn’t have anything valuable to say regardless of the way you interpret it.

    If Hamlet never existed, then Shakespeare doesn’t have anything valuable to say? Lord, what fools these mortals be. Look, even if Christianity doesn’t say anything worth saying – which of course, like any collection of myth, it does – don’t you think it’d be ‘valuable’ to know what it says so you can, uh, argue against it? Otherwise, as Ivan said, you’re beating on a straw man.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I don’t know of any body of biblical texts suggesting claims strong enough to entail a just world, such as 1) each individual is rewarded and punished in this life according to justice, and 2) this is done universally and consistently. There are certainly the national sticks and carrots you describe, and also some similar rhetoric on the individual level. But it is never extended into any sort of universal principle.

    Come now, Ivan. As I’m sure you know already, it’s a central dogma of evangelical Christianity that all humans are universally evil and corrupt due to original sin, and that therefore any suffering God chooses to inflict on us is just and deserved.

    More to the point, though, why are you arguing this with us? The only thing we’re doing is pointing out beliefs that are actually held and taught by a large percentage of self-identified Christians. If you believe that viewpoint is wrong or is contradicted by teachings in the Bible, you should be trying to convince them of that, not us.

  • 2-D Man

    If Hamlet never existed, then Shakespeare doesn’t have anything valuable to say?

    Analogy fail. Bill said Hamlet was merely a character in a story and doesn’t actually exist independently of that story. Biblical authors do not make the same claim about Yahweh.

    Look, even if Christianity doesn’t say anything worth saying – which of course, like any collection of myth, it does…

    I’ve already explained why I think Christianity doesn’t say anything valuable in this thread (comment 18). If you want to take issue with that conclusion, take it up with the way I arrived at it. (You could try defending your assertion but it requires finding value in everything over at Snopes.)

    [D]on’t you think it’d be ‘valuable’ to know what [Christianity] says so you can, uh, argue against it?

    That is not the same as finding value in the thing itself.

    We all know that homeopathy is bunk. Knowing what it is might be valuable for arguing against the charlatans who bilk the credulous, but we can not infer from that that said charlatans are employing a valuable medical practice.

  • LindaJoy

    Linda, I’m pretty sure Ivan isn’t currently a Christian (Ivan, please correct me if I’m wrong).

    Philboyd- It doesn’t really matter if Ivan is a practicing christian or not. He is using the bible to argue about the concept of a “just world”, and I am saying that book is not a good guide for that discussion; and, the supposed “author” of the book rests on a pile of immorality. So what’s the point of spending time getting into the little niggling details of what the book says? I know that the bible is an influencial set of texts, but one of my goals is to get people to put it down and discuss our shared problems in the world on the basis of reality, not myth. And particularly myth that has a large lack of ethical basis.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    The point is: if Yahweh doesn’t exist, then Christianity doesn’t have anything valuable to say regardless of the way you interpret it.

    2-D Man,
    I think I see where you’re coming from on this, the idea that if morality, wisdom and all that is good can only come from the decree of Yahweh, then the non-existence of Yahweh invalidates all of the articles of faith in the religion of Yahweh.

    The is a twist on the ill-logic used by believers to argue the existence of god. The first flaw is the presumption that all good can only originate from god. this implies that good only exists because of god, therefore without god, there can be nothing good. Another flaw is that this rationale displays a misunderstand of the logical concept of opposites.
    In the purest logical sense, the only truth you can derive about the opposite of good is that it is not good. This includes not only those things which are anathema to good, all range of things which are We may be taught from an early age that the opposite of good is bad, then we are told the opposite of good is evil, but logically speaking the opposite of good can also be 13, yellow, cocaine, salt, water, or any number of things. It all depends on how you define good.

    These narrow faith linked definitions are common among religions. Defining good as being handed down from an supernatural, omnipotent entity defers the definition to good to whatever priest, shaman, witch-doctor or other individual claiming the ability to directly communicate with a god, It is a system specifically designed to support authoritarian dictatorships.

    Secular definitions of good are generally much broader, such as “all that promotes the well being, equality and continuance of society and its members. These definitions cite the characteristics of good for the individuals to decide.As a result, secular definitions of good aoften overlape with the religious devinitions of good.

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    Ebonmuse, let’s parse this out. Assume the dogma you stated that all humans are universally evil and corrupt due to original sin, and that any suffering God chooses to inflict on us is just and deserved. Does that entail that each individual is rewarded and punished in this life according to justice, and that furthermore, this is done universally and consistently? No, it doesn’t. The proposition that God can justly inflict suffering clearly does not entail the proposition that each individual is rewarded and punished in this life according to justice. Notice especially the relevance to our present “just world” issue of the rewards and punishments coming in this life.

    Neil made an excellent point, with which I tentatively agree, about how belief in an ultimate justice, or a just afterlife—but not a just world—could still have quite negative effects. This is something I’ve been musing about, and will consider further. But even if that conclusion is true—or even if exactly your conclusion is true—we can’t just careen there by any old route. And I think it’s clear that any route which relied upon leaping from Old Testament national rewards and punishments to universal rewards and punishments for every individual in this life, or leaping from God’s right to punish to universal rewards and punishments for every individual in this life, would have a problem.

    Lastly, why am I arguing with you? I care about truth, and about clear thinking. I like to read, to write, and to engage in dialog. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for assuming that such things might be of interest among people who generally build a big part of their identity around being rational.

    To dig a little deeper, let me give you an analogy. One of my undergrad philosophy courses focused largely on Gottfried Leibniz. The professor had published a lot on Leibniz, and he mentioned that there was increasing scholarly interest in Leibniz. Someone asked, in a rather tentative way, whether people, you know, believed Leibniz. The answer was no, of course not! Leibniz surely said some things that many people still believe, but no one believes Leibniz’s elaborate metaphysics of monads; etc. My professor did not hold to Leibniz’s philosophy, nor did any of the other academics writing about him. But to reiterate what’s been discussed before, some interpretations of Leibniz will certainly be more valid than others – regardless of whether Leibniz was right about anything, and regardless of whether anyone believes what Leibniz said.

    To apply this analogy to your question: that professor might well feel inclined, even driven, to correct misconceptions about Leibniz. Despite not believing Leibniz, and regardless of whether he ever had somehow believed Leibniz, the professor might be impelled simply by his knowledge of Leibniz to spread that knowledge, and to correct misconceptions. He doesn’t believe Leibniz. He doesn’t want others to do so. But he doesn’t particularly want others to talk nonsense about Leibniz, either.

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    LindaJoy, I was most certainly not using the Bible to argue about the concept of a just world. And I in no way used that book as a guide for that discussion.

    Adam wrote about the religious belief “that the downtrodden are sinners who deserve what they get,” and I contended that such a belief could not be legitimately blamed on the Christian religion, or particularly, its Bible. Regarding that issue—of whether a belief could be blamed on the Bible—I think that the Bible is a perfectly good and useful guide.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Adam wrote about the religious belief “that the downtrodden are sinners who deserve what they get,” and I contended that such a belief could not be legitimately blamed on the Christian religion, or particularly, its Bible.

    Well, there are Xians out there who disagree with you and cite passages from the Bible as support. How would you argue against that?

  • Brian M

    “We are legion and contain multitudes” Replace “We are” with “The Bible is”

    I see where Ivan is coming from, yet given that there is no ultimate truth expressed in the Bible, the definition of what the Bible really says is what the multitude of denominations claims it says. Given how contradictory and confusion and metaphorical the Bible is, it is difficult to so firmly claim that you understand what the Bible says…or that your interpretation is the correct one.

  • LindaJoy

    Ivan- in your very first post you said “While the Bible definitely presents a God who punishes, there is not even a hint that all or most earthly suffering is divine punishment.”

    Then you went on with the following references to the bible in your subsequent posts.

    “For if someone believes that the world is (or rather, ultimately will be) just because the Bible teaches this, well then that very same Bible commands her or him over and over to show great concern for the suffering of others. To meet a book that directs both messages toward you, and then use the one message to try to fight the other, is contradictory. And it’s not the fault of the book, but the reader.”

    “Seomah and Infophile, you bring up some good points about the interpretation of the Bible. There is obviously disagreement. The Bible is a big and complicated book, made up of pieces from many authors, in many genres.”

    “I have no interest in convincing either of you of an entire interpretation of the Bible. But I hope that you’ll realize that some interpretations are bound to be more valid than others. And if, by some chance, you were ever to decide to read through the Bible, and attempt to look with standard interpretive charity for how a believer might be able to find a coherent interpretation – let me assure you that you’d find the things I wrote in my first comment to be true.”

    “I didn’t think this was a Christian blog when I mentioned the Bible, nor did I think this was an ancient Hellenistic blog when I mentioned the Iliad. 2-D Man, you make me wish that I still had the theological resources to tell you to go to hell.”

    And now you add that you think the bible “is a perfectly good and useful guide”. To what? Maybe you ought to run that idea past a group of women.

  • http://fromwinetowater.wordpress.com/ Ivan

    To what? To exactly what that very sentence said: to whether a belief could be blamed on the Bible. If we are asking whether some religious idea is the Bible’s fault, looking at the Bible might be helpful. That’s not a very surprising or controversial or religious or misogynistic idea.

  • Brian M

    But Ivan: “looking at the Bible”, while helpful, may not always provide as definitive an answer as you seem to think it will.

  • LindaJoy

    Ivan- I’m sorry, but you claimed that you did not “use” the bible in relation to the topic of the concept of a just world, when in your very first post you said (I offer AGAIN), “While the Bible definitely presents a God who punishes, there is not even a hint that all or most earthly suffering is divine punishment.”

    I have a hard time with discussions where one party tries to dance around what they said. You made the statement that you think the bible is a “good guide” and when I asked what it is a good guide for, you give me another run around statement.

    I’m done.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    If we are asking whether some religious idea is the Bible’s fault, looking at the Bible might be helpful. That’s not a very surprising or controversial or religious or misogynistic idea.

    OK, and when believers read the Bible and come to the conclusion that suffering is god’s punishment for sin, what do you say to them? (I ask again…)

  • Fumio Takeshi

    OK, and when believers read the Bible and come to the conclusion that suffering is god’s punishment for sin, what do you say to them? (I ask again…)

    They are wrong, dammit! :-)

  • Zack

    LOL. The straw man is strong with this one. And by strong I mean pathetically and mind-numbingly strong.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Whom do you mean by “This one”? Who is erecting straw men here?