Quench not the Spirit

Rachel Held Evans responds to the recent Southern Baptist Convention resolution affirming belief in “conscious, eternal suffering” for all non-Christians, i.e., Hell.

She quotes from Rustin J. Umstattd, a theology professor at Midwestern Baptist seminary, who criticizes author Rob Bell for not realizing that we Christians, apparently, are not supposed to listen when our conscience starts screaming in protest:

It is clear that Bell is not comfortable with the idea that billions of people may suffer in hell. But then, who is comfortable with that? The majority of evangelicals who hold to the orthodox understanding of hell … are troubled by its implications. But being troubled, even deeply troubled, by the implications of the biblical text does not give us a reason to abandon the text or force it into a mold that rests comfortably with us. It should be our goal to let the Bible be the source and shaper of our doctrine.

Evans points out that Umstattd, like most Southern Baptists, believes in the idea of an “age of accountability,” even though the Bible is not the “source” of that doctrine.

The age of accountability refers to a belief that children under a certain age (usually twelve or so), will be granted salvation regardless of the religious affiliation of their parents. Most Baptists I know believe in the age of accountability, and even the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message makes it implicit in its statement that people are not morally accountable until “they are capable of moral action.”

And yet this concept is never explicitly stated in Scripture, nor does it appear in any of the historic Christian creeds. …

I am often told by fellow Christians that an inclusivist reading of Scripture is the result of a sentimental “bleeding heart.” And yet most of those people embrace without question the age of accountability and reel at the idea of a non-elect two year-old burning alive for eternity.   I believe we were created to reel at that idea, just as we were created to reel at the idea of a young Muslim woman being tortured forever by a God whose name she never knew.  I believe that our impulse towards grace is a reflection of God’s image inside of us, not a weakness of which we should be ashamed.

“Quench not the Spirit,” the Bible says. If the Spirit, as Umstattd suggests, leads “the majority of evangelicals” to be “troubled” by a particular interpretation of a handful of biblical passages, then perhaps it is that interpretation, rather than the Spirit, which has gone awry.

Conscience matters. If a doctrine offends the conscience of most believers — if a doctrine is so blatantly troubling that even its defenders can ask “who is comfortable with that?” — then maybe God is trying to tell us something.

Elsewhere I have pointed out that the doctrine of Hell is not as Bible-based as the Southern Baptist Convention wants to suggest. The Bible is not the source of that doctrine. Nor is that doctrine shaped by the Bible. The Gospel of Nicodemus is not part of the canon. The Apocalypse of Peter is not part of the canon. The Vision of Tundale is not part of the canon. To reinterpret the Bible’s very few, allusive uses of the word “gehenna” as references to the Hell of those later, noncanonical and deeply weird texts is a deeply disrespectful approach to scripture.

But let us for the moment bracket this exegetical dispute and focus here on the unambiguous message that Prof. Umstattd acknowledges his conscience is shouting at him.

I think he ought to listen to what his conscience is telling him.

Prof. Umstattd, I would venture to guess, would be incapable of torturing another human being, even briefly, let alone for any sustained period of torment. This is true of most people. It is even true of most Southern Baptists (despite that convention’s origin in defense of keeping torture, kidnapping and rape legal in the American South). And I am sure it is true as well of Prof. Umstattd. I am sure that the very idea of deliberately torturing another human being is repugnant to him viscerally, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

I do not think that the professor’s commendable inability to bring himself to maim and cruelly harm another human being reflects an insufficiency of holiness on his part. Nor do I think that this is how he perceives this lack of capacity for torture himself. He does not lament his having a conscience that forbids him to torture others. He does not view it as a moral failing on his part. He likely sees it, instead, as evidence of his fundamental humanity — evidence that he is a child of God created in the image of God.

And yet — despite what his gut, his brain, his heart and his conscience are telling him about torture — the professor is reluctantly convinced that God is capable of being the monster he cannot imagine allowing himself to become. And this places him in the unfortunate position of having to argue that this monstrosity is a function of God’s holiness

I do not think this word means what he thinks it means. I do not think this word can be made to mean what such an argument would require it to mean. I am fairly sure that if you construct a sentence using the word “holiness” in which the word “sadism” can be substituted for it without changing the meaning of the sentence, then you’re using it wrong.

If that is what this word means, then the heavenly hosts singing praises around the throne of God would have chosen a different word rather than accusing him of something as nasty and stomach-turning as holiness.

If “Holy, holy, holy” meant that God delights in that which causes our consciences to recoil — causes every fiber of our being, our gut, our intellect, our heart, our soul to scream out no, No, NO! — then those praises would be blasphemies. Then praise and blasphemy would be interchangeable.

That would be troubling. Who could be comfortable with that?

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  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I think it is actually us that aren’t good.  God’s morality is alien to us = He is good.  Our morality is flawed = even our “good” is not fully good.  Even the most sacrificial thing a human can do could be selfish, self-serving, self-motivated, etc.  If we are good in the true sense of the word, it is coming from God.  So bad things = bad, and human effort = bad.  God = good.  God working through humans = good.

    Okay, the most perfect circle I could possible draw isn’t perfect. Even if I use a compass to draw it, it’s not going to be perfect. Even if a computer drew it, it wouldn’t be perfect.

    But if I do someday behold a perfect circle, it’s not going to look like a star. It’s going to look like a circle. Otherwise we wouldn’t call it a circle, we’d call it something else.

  • Bificommander

    I don’t find the ‘We can’t judge God by our standards, so he can torture and still be good’ argument very compelling. What buisness would such a being have judging humans then? Why, if he has created us as we are, with a morality that can’t be compared to his, have any right to comment on our behavior. Plus, it isn’t just human standards that this fails by. It isn’t very compatible with what Jesus suposedly said about what is right and what is God’s will. So for a Christian Team Hell, that’s a problem.

    And a second thing that hasn’t been touched much yet is exactly who this eternal punishement of Hell is supposed to be for: EVERYONE. Several commenters mentioned the problem people have when villains escape punishment, but remember that according to Christianity, there is no one righteous, no, not one. Free will or choosing to sin doesn’t really enter into it, if Jesus explicitly states that there hasn’t been a single human good enough to escape Hell. And the whole point of Jesus was (according to team hell anyway) not really to teach us how to fix ourselves but to die so that, through some IMHO incredibly convoluted loophole pulled out of the apostoles collective asses when they needed to put a positive spin on the death of their Messiah, people can now get forgiveness from God for God not making them good enough for God’s standards, as long as they accept Jesus as their lord and always acknowledge they can never be good enough for God, but if they suck up enough God promises he won’t make too much of a point of that *Deep breath*. Personally, I don’t think even a monster like Hitler, Stalin or Mao deserves an eternity of torture, but at least the Christian doctrine of Hell would have us accept that EVERYONE deserves it, but through “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” God has given us a way to escape that punishment, even though you still deserve it.

    I must admit, I kinda liked one of Fred’s earlier ideas of punishment, where everyone after death is put in paradise and stripped of their Earthly imperfections, including problems with memory. So now your perfect, sinless self remembers all the sin and inperfection you displayed before. The more you sinned, the more you have to be guilty of (and the idea is, you will feel guilty, since the rationalizations or lack of empathy you had in life is now fixed too). It’s a shame this idea isn’t anywhere in the Bible, it would’ve been much more interesting and just.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Just a side note:
    “If we’re god’s image, than we sure as hell can judge god by human standards.”
    “…sure as hell…”
    I found that phrase delightfully ironic given the topic Does Hell Exist.
    Was it on purpose?

    Sadly, no.  I wish I were that clever…

    I don’t find the ‘We can’t judge God by our standards, so he can torture
    and still be good’ argument very compelling. What buisness would such a
    being have judging humans then? Why, if he has created us as we are,
    with a morality that can’t be compared to his, have any right to comment
    on our behavior. Plus, it isn’t just human standards that this fails
    by. It isn’t very compatible with what Jesus suposedly said about what
    is right and what is God’s will. So for a Christian Team Hell, that’s a
    problem.

    This is one of those issues I keep coming back to, but lose track of while trying to deal with the other particulars in the conversation.

    If god sent humans a list of rules and standards to live by, then those rules hold one of two purposes:

    1.  They reveal god’s nature through an image of a world god desires.
    2.  They give god an excuse to be a real asshole, then say, “They broke the law!”

    Theologists tend to go with bullet point 1.  So if point 1 is the correct reason, it means that we can judge god by the standards of morality god handed down.  So if god says, “Don’t kill,” then god kills, that means we can judge god.  At that point the best defense is, “But humans kill each other, god doesn’t do it.”  It then opens up the possibility of making the argument from disciplining your dog that Chris Doggett attempted to make: i.e. god says, “Don’t kill,” but since god knows things we don’t, sometimes god can break that rule for the greater good.  I am actually completely fine with this line of reasoning, as long as we keep it in a completely mortal concept.

    There is no morality in creating a place of eternal, exquisite torture with no possibility of release.  Hell is unnecessary and, in being unnecessary, it becomes an unmitigated evil that must be laid at the feet of god if we’re going to make a moral judgment.

    Ergo, if god is good, there would be no eternal, relentless Hell.  If there is an eternal, relentless Hell, god cannot be good.  And this is according to the definitions of good and evil laid down by god.  It leaves point 2 as a completely open possibility, though.  So we’re right back at Epicurus’s Paradox.

  • MaryKaye

     I think two questions are being conflated:  Is God Hitler? and Ought we worship him?

    Just because we would rather God weren’t Hitler is, I agree, no reason to suppose he isn’t.  But if he is, I see no moral justification for worshiping him.   If I were fully convinced that the God of Left Behind existed I would not be a Christian, I would be a Satanist–it’s clearly the more moral choice, by human morality, and human morality is *what I have*.

    In the world we have I am neither of these things, but a Pagan. My own answers to theodicy don’t have to grapple with omnipotence because I don’t think my gods are omnipotent; but also, and more importantly to me, I am not obliged to worship a god simply because s/he is a god.  I have the moral freedom proper to a human being, and I choose.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I think two questions are being conflated:  Is God Hitler? and Ought we worship him?

    I think this actually requires a three-part question:

    1. Is god Hitler?
    2. If god is Hitler, ought we worship god?
    3. Is that god we are worshiping deserving of our worship?

    If the answer to 1 is “yes,” then the best answer to 2 is also “yes.”  Since we’ve already acknowledged a universe ruled by a tyrannical dictator who says, “Do this or I will torture you forever,” you have two options: do what Hitlergod says, or be tortured for all eternity.  That is, if we have absolute, unequivocal proof that Hitlergod exists and Hell exists and Hitlergod send people to Hell for eternity for breaking the rules.

    Of course, that requires a sub-question: 2a. Is Hitlergod consistent in the rules and punishments?  If the answer is yes, then the answer to 2 remains the same.  If the answer is no, then the answer to 2 gets…complicated.

    All that said this does not mean that the answer to question 3 is or ever will be “yes.”  Any worship received over the barrel of a gun isn’t real worship and should not be thought of as such.  Anyone who demands worship is not worthy of it.  Anyone who attempts to coerce said worship through pain of torture is most certainly not worthy.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    I love this explanation.  Truly, people who believe in Hell either have Hitler God, or a God who cannot control evil, and yet can somehow rescue some of us from it…

  • Anonymous

    Wow.  I think you just godwinned a thread ABOUT Hitler.

    There must be a new word for that.  (beyond completely frackin’ awesome)

    hitlergodwinned?  godhitlerwinned?  ultra-mega-godwin-prime?

  • MaryKaye

     I think the “ought” in “We ought to worship him to keep from being tortured” is a different “ought” than “We ought to worship him because it’s right to do so.”  In my original post I meant the second sense of the word–we ought to do something that’s morally right, we ought not do something that’s morally wrong.

    I think you do horrendous spiritual damage to yourself when you know it would be morally wrong to do something, but convince yourself that it’s God’s will that you do it.  Much worse than if you know it is morally wrong to do something but do it anyway out of weakness, because then at least you are not justifying the wrong action.

    I look at Milgram and see that not everyone will commit atrocities even when urged by an authority figure.  I feel we have an obligation to try to make ourselves into the kind of people who resist evil authority, not the kind who knuckle in.   I would rather be surrounded by people who do what they believe is right –even though I will sometimes disagree with them, perhaps disastrously–than people who surrender their wills to authority, because authorities with that much power inevitably go bad.  It’s not as though surrender to authority actually gets rid of the need for moral decisionmaking.  It just moves it around.  I personally believe that the one in best position to do an individual’s moral decisionmaking is almost always that individual.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “For example, “our intentions are universally selfish” : no they aren’t.”  (I apologize, I don’t know how to make quotes)

    This is where there’d have to be an agreeing to disagree.  Our intentions are universally selfish, however, God can share his intentions with us, so we can do good.  They’d say.

    “Doesn’t that imply that God’s definition of “good” is something humans would recognize as such ?” 

    Maybe we recognize the definition of good well enough, but just misunderstand the true number of times we engage in truly “good” acts.

    “(or worse, for people on the other side of that debate : a concept of
    goodness that humans have considered and explicitly rejected !)”

    This is probably accurate in some senses.  Ethics is difficult enough just for humans to choose sides on certain issues.  It stands to reason that we’ve rejected concepts of goodness before.  Throwing a God into the mix that is supposed to be the epitome of ethical goodness only complicates everything further.  It implies that there is always a right answer to every ethical conundrum.  The evangelicals that I grew up around (see, that’s much more specific!) believe this and that is where we get this whole argument.  They’d say if God does something then it is ethical for Him because he knows every specific and every angle of the situation.  For us to make that decision would be unethical….somehow?  Or, even more frighteningly, they just say it would be ethical for them as well.  Thus, the pro-torture groups, I suppose.

    “Well, of course a platonic version of good would be wrong, as I don’t
    believe one exists. As far as I’m concerned the platonic ideal is, well,
    a platonic ideal. They work great as a kind of abstract placeholder,
    but it’s important to stay very fuzzy when considering them because most
    of the time when you focus on that ideal and imagine what it would be
    like it doesn’t just turn out not to exist, it turns out not to be a
    coherent or well-defined concept at all.”

    But, I like being an idealist! :)

    “Wow, I spent all this time promoting the smallpox vaccine because I
    thought it was a good act, but it turns out it isn’t swirk at all ! And
    who knew beating one’s children was so swirk ?”

    It’s more like, “Wow, I spent all this time promoting the smallpox vaccine because I thought it was a good thing, but I didn’t do it good-ly (if you will) so it wasn’t worth anything for me, yet it still was worth something for the people I helped.”  God promises rewards in Heaven for good works done through faith.  Without the faith, no Heaven-rewards.

  • Caravelle

    These comments use html tags, so that’s those with “>” and “<" around a word (still to lazy to learn the code for those characters, so I'll give the examples with "]" and "[" instead):
    [i]italics[/i]
    [b]bold[/b]
    [blockquote]blockquote[/blockquote]
    [s]strikethrought[/s]

    This is where there’d have to be an agreeing to disagree.  Our
    intentions are universally selfish, however, God can share his
    intentions with us, so we can do good.  They’d say.

    Yeah, not much further one can go beyond that. Except maybe pick away at how they think God affects us, exactly (you suggested “love” earlier, which is a good illustration), until it turns out that their one-to-one correspondence between humans being unselfish and God influencing them is descriptive, not prescriptive, making it unfalsifiable and logically equivalent to humans not always being selfish.

    It implies that there is always a right answer to every ethical conundrum.

    Exactly. And that’s where the problem lies, because a platonic ideal of goodness has the exact same property. Except that a platonic ideal of goodness can be approximated by non-platonic ideals of goodness. So saying that God’s goodness is different from our platonic ideal of goodness goes further than just saying there’s always a right answer, it’s saying the right answer isn’t something we can approximate with our instincts or logic.

    Which of course fundamentalists love because it means turning your brain off and following authority (i.e. whatever the alpha individual says the Bible says)

    But the problem is still there : we have morals, and they come from our instincts and logic. If God put them there, then those instincts should be reliable. If they’re not, then God’s morals are completely unlike our morals and it’s meaningless to call God “good”.

    They’d say if God does something then it is ethical for Him because he
    knows every specific and every angle of the situation.  For us to make
    that decision would be unethical….somehow?  Or, even more
    frighteningly, they just say it would be ethical for them as well. 
    Thus, the pro-torture groups, I suppose.

    I think that issue isn’t just about God’s goodness but about God’s omnipotence. Because people are very familiar with the concept of doing evil for the greater good. But we only accept this if there’s no other way to get that greater good; an omnipotent being doesn’t have that problem.

    It’s more like, “Wow, I spent all this time promoting the smallpox
    vaccine because I thought it was a good thing, but I didn’t do it
    good-ly (if you will) so it wasn’t worth anything for me, yet it still
    was worth something for the people I helped.”  God promises rewards in
    Heaven for good works done through faith.  Without the faith, no
    Heaven-rewards.

    But that has nothing to do with whether something is good or not, does it ? It only means God doesn’t reward good. Or rewards only swirk, which comes to the same thing. And it says nothing as to what morality God obeys (as opposed to “expects us to obey”).

  • hapax

    Exactly. And that’s where the problem lies, because a platonic ideal of
    goodness has the exact same property. Except that a platonic ideal of
    goodness can be approximated by non-platonic ideals of goodness. So
    saying that God’s goodness is different from our platonic ideal of
    goodness goes further than just saying there’s always a right answer,
    it’s saying the right answer isn’t something we can approximate with our
    instincts or logic.

    Okay, this is where I have to jump in, because there is a definite misuse of “the Platonic ideal of Goodness” going on.

    When a (neo-)Platonist* refers to the “Platonic ideal of Good” (or anything else), zie don’t mean “Good to the nth degree” or “Good unmixed with Bad” or “Supremely Good” or anything like that.

    It means “the Source of all else that is good;  good things are only good insofar as they reflect that Good.”  Evil things are only evil insofar as they fall short of that Good.

    So when you try to define the Goodness of God by starting with human goodness, you’re working backwards.  Human goodness is participating in the Good in the way that humans can.  Just as every creature is good when it participates in the Good in the way that it can.

    The shark is doing “good” when it smells blood in the water and destroys every living thing in reach.
    The ebola virus is doing “good” when it takes over a host cell’s replicating mechanism and uses it to propagate its own coding, although it destroys the host.

    Why?  Because each one is doing what it was designed to do.

    Humans were not created (or so most who accept theistic Creation take on faith) to go into a blood-frenzy, or murder those who give us shelter.  It would not be “good” for us to do either.  In fact, it is “good” for us to destroy those that do those things, if we are doing it for the sake of those who have a claim on our protection. 

    (Who exactly falls into that category is a matter of debate.  Most Christians [although, sadly, not all] would say it extends to all out fellow humans.  Those who adhere to one of the various “creation care” movements might extend it further, possibly even to the Evola virus.  That’s a separate debate).

    Inflicting infinite (or ANY) torture is not “good” for humans.  It is not what we are created to do. It is a falling away from participating in the Source of our goodness.

    Does that mean it could be “good” for the Good to do so?

    Theoretically, yes.  Practically, no.

    The neo-Platonist would argue that God is not just the source of Good, but also the One in whom all ideals meet — Justice and Mercy and Compassion and Joy and Beauty (and everything else positive, for that matter, such as Delicious, Aromatic, Tidy, Punctual…  sort of an Ultimate Boy Scout Law) 

    As humans, one of the things we are created to be is reasonable.  And it is impossible to conceive of a God indulging in infinite torture who can reasonably be understood as Good, Just, Merciful, etc. without rejecting that gift we are created to exercise (our reason), and thus wilfully lessening *our* goodness — i.e., inclinging towards evil.

    Thus, we are not permitted to judge God by any moral standards we create.  But we are required to understand God by those standards, which we claim as ours by virtue of our created purpose. 

    tl; dr:  It may well be true — it almost certainly is true — that our understanding falls far short of  Who God is in Godself.  But to try to approach God through a different moral and intellectual framework than that same God gave us to use, is to decry and defy and deny any goodness (=God-ness) in ourselves.

    *original Platonism doesn’t allow for any sort of personal Deity, or one which really interacts with anything that is not Itself except by sort of passively serving as the Source of everything.   If you’re going to talk about any sort of Hell, or Judgement, or personal worship, etc. in a platonic framework, you’ve pretty much got to go with some form of neo-Platonism.

  • Caravelle

    I’ll grant that I’m using “platonic ideal” in a vernacular, learnt-by-cultural-osmosis way so it’s quite possible an actual Platonist or Neo-Platonist would define the concept differently. Especially since from what you say Neo-Platonism is a religious concept, which I didn’t know. That said I’m not so sure what you say contradicts what I said. If our good reflects the Ultimate Good, then it has to resemble the Ultimate Good in some way. Ordinary “good” is more like Ultimate Good than, say, ordinary “french fry” is. Studying human good should bring us closer to Ultimate Good.

    The main difference I see is that you consider all good to be a reflection of Ultimate Good, so studying shark good would also bring one closer to Ultimate Good. I’m completely unconvinced that this leads to a coherent concept but I guess that’s one thing we’re supposed to take on faith so fair enough.

    But then I get the problem that your conclusion that “theoretically” Good could inflict infinite torture does depend on Ultimate Good being a coherent concept. Whereas I see the fact that “theoretically” Good could do something that we’d consider utterly evil as evidence that it isn’t a coherent concept. Certainly not something we would go around describing as “good”, capital letter or no.

    And I don’t know how your conception of “good” as “doing what we were created to do” squares with the evidence. People are a mess of contradictory impulses, both good and selfish. Why assume the good ones are the quintessentially human ones ? And what about sociopaths ? Should they endeavor to be the best sociopath they can be, or should they follow good impulses they don’t feel because they’re unlucky enough to contain human instead of shark DNA ? (… or maybe sociopaths don’t really exist ?)

  • Hapaxnom

    Whereas I see the fact that “theoretically” Good could do something that we’d consider utterly evil as evidence that it isn’t a coherent concept.

    Probably not, if you define “coherent” as “something accessible to human reason”.  I do not agree that God is limited to that which humans can comprehe
    However, I do argue (based on tradition and faith and experience, NOT reason, so this is totally a subjective description) that God has chosen to provide an understanding of Godself that IS accessible to human reason.  This is provided both by revelation and by the moral impulse and consensus of humanity.  The fact that it is not EASY or SIMPLE is (partially) an artifact of its trans-rational origin.

    And I don’t know how your conception of “good” as “doing what we were
    created to do” squares with the evidence. People are a mess of
    contradictory impulses, both good and selfish. Why assume the good ones
    are the quintessentially human ones ?

    I am glad that you didn’t frame this as “good” vs “evil” impulses, because I would argue that strictly speaking there are no “evil” impulses.  Selfishness is “good” insofar as it preserves the individual, and if each individual is valued by God, it is not wrong to value zirself. Even some forms of cruelty can be “good”, if they bring pleasure to the doer, because pleasure and joy are themselves good.

    So I would say that people are a mass of many conflicting impulses, between “lesser goods” and “greater goods”, none of which are perfectly good or completely un-good.

    Why do I assume which ones are “better”?  Through the gifts we have been endowed with as creatures of God, same as anything else.  Revelation and tradition, if you accept it.  Reason and social consensus and empathy (either instinctive or taught) for everyone. 

    If these do not provide simple, clear-cut, unambiguous answers, that’s because life very rarely presents us with simple, clear-cut, unambiguous questions.

    However, I would argue that “Is there any offense deserving of infinite torture?” is one of the rare exceptions.

  • hapax

     I hate Disquis. 

    That wall o’ text was me

  • hapax, dammit

     Well, apparently Disquis won’t let me name myself. 

    I AM HAPAX!  I DEMAND MY IDENTITY BE RESTORED! 

  • hapax

    O-kay.  Now Disquis is changing ALL my logins.

    [backs away from the keyboard, slowly…]

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    lol, its done the same stuff to me :)

  • Caravelle

    Probably not, if you define “coherent” as “something accessible to human
    reason”.  (…) However, I do argue (based on tradition and faith and
    experience, NOT reason, so this is totally a subjective description)
    that God has chosen to provide an understanding of Godself that IS
    accessible to human reason.

    Aren’t the statements on either side of the (…) mutually contradictory ? Unless you’re drawing a distinction between Ultimate Good and Godself ?

    I am glad that you didn’t frame this as “good” vs “evil” impulses,
    because I would argue that strictly speaking there are no “evil”
    impulses.  Selfishness is “good” insofar as it preserves the individual,
    and if each individual is valued by God, it is not wrong to value
    zirself. Even some forms of cruelty can be “good”, if they bring
    pleasure to the doer, because pleasure and joy are themselves good.

    I am totally sympathetic to that view. But then again I don’t particularly believe in ultimate good so I have no reason not to see “good” as a fluid concept. Would you agree that this usage of “good” differs significantly from a more common, naive understanding of “good” ?

    Why do I assume which ones are “better”?  Through the gifts we have been
    endowed with as creatures of God, same as anything else.  Revelation
    and tradition, if you accept it.  Reason and social consensus and
    empathy (either instinctive or taught) for everyone.

    Okay.

  • hapax

    Aren’t the statements on either side of the (…) mutually contradictory
    ? Unless you’re drawing a distinction between Ultimate Good and Godself
    ?

    No, I am drawing a distinction between God qua God and God-as-God-chooses-to-reveal-Godself (an abridged version of God, if you like, or perhaps God For Dummies).

    But then again I don’t particularly believe in ultimate good so I have
    no reason not to see “good” as a fluid concept. Would you agree that
    this usage of “good” differs significantly from a more common, naive
    understanding of “good” ?

    Well, not exactly;  since I would argue that all of those various things along the spectrum of “good” have something in common that causes us to put them in that category.

    Whether you think that “something” is an artificial abstraction from many separate items born of the ingrained capacity of the human brain to form categories or patterns, or is a “real” entity that comes from the Divinely endowed capacity of the human brain to recognize patterns that correspond to a transcendent reality … well, it comes down to the first argument between Aristotle and Plato, really.  (Or a Nominalist or a Realist.  Etc. etc. etc.  It’s an old argument, depending as much on intrinsic temperament as much as reason and evidence, and unlikely to ever be resolved.)

    In my anecdotal experience, most people talk like Platonists but think like Aristotelians. I’m one of the weird few who actually operates in a Platonic mental universe.

  • Caravelle

    No, I am drawing a distinction between God qua God and God-as-God-chooses-to-reveal-Godself (an abridged version of God, if you like, or perhaps God For Dummies).

    Um… okay. So applying this to “good”, Ultimate Good might not be understandable by humans, but God has given us something that approximates it and that we can understand, which is our moral sense and reasoning ability ?

    Well, not exactly;  since I would argue that all of those various
    things along the spectrum of “good” have something in common that causes
    us to put them in that category.

    Sorry I’m nitpicking this to death but I always find your worldview fascinating ! Do you know what it is all good things have in common ? Does anything that isn’t good exist, and if not, is there something all good things have in common in addition to simply existing ?

  • hapax

    I don’t look at it as nitpicking, I look at it as a challenge to clarify my views to myself.

    Ultimate Good might not be understandable by humans, but God has given us something that approximates it and that we can understand, which is our moral sense and reasoning ability ?

    Pretty much, yeah.  I mean, I’m a Christian, so I would argue that you need to throw revelation and tradition into the mix to get a better comprehension of this approximation of Good, but I wouldn’t quarrel with the statement as presented.

    Do you know what it is all good things have in common ?  Does anything
    that isn’t good exist, and if not, is there something all good things
    have in common in addition to simply existing ?

    Well, all good things have in common that they participate in the Good ;-)  It’s not really a dodge, because while I might say that was something like “fulfilling their (Divinely) intended purpose” or “authenticity” or “integrity”, it wouldn’t be *exactly* like that, because they would then be participating in the Authentic, etc.

    Except, of course, in God all the Ideals are One.  It’s complicated.

    But it also means that everything that exists is good in that “Being” is also in God, and is therefore Good.  If something was totally devoid of all good — purely “evil” — it would not exist.  (It also means that there is nothing that is that does not in some form partake of Beauty, Joy, Justice, etc.  Although certain sensual Ideals — say, “Delicious” — are expressed *more* in material things than purely non-material things, it is therefore not formally wrong to speak of, oh, an idea as being “delicious”)

    But although in their Ultimate Source all the Ideals are One, in their expressed form (accessible to human comprehension) they are distinct and not completely interchangeable. 

    (Which, to go off on a tangent, all definitions are ultimately metaphors, similes, and analogies.  Yes, I find the Tamarians utterly congenial, why do you ask?)

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Rev. Ivan Stang on God: “We’re made in His image… so if we’re stupid, He must be stupid!”

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I profess no belief in god.”

    This, however, has no bearing on whether there is a God or not.  Just because you do not believe in him, doesn’t mean he does not work through you.  :)  Any good you do is because you are made in his image. 

    “If I ought to be nice, but my true nature is that of a sociopath, then moving towards one precludes the other.”

    If you look at evil, or in this instance, the sociopath side of the nature, as something opposed to your “true” self, or who you were created to be, then Ought and True Self can be combined.  Doing good moves you more toward the True Self that God meant you to be and will transform you into.  Regardless of whether you believe in him :D

    “But if it’s, “Every human should be a Christian in the mold of Team Hell,” we have a huge problem.”

    Definite agreement here.

    I’m not sure that God will force the True Self upon you, so free will could still be on the table.  You are free to remain in your sociopathic state, though he offers another way, in other words.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    This, however, has no bearing on whether there is a God or not.  Just
    because you do not believe in him, doesn’t mean he does not work through
    you.  :)  Any good you do is because you are made in his image.

    So now you’re telling me that I am enslaved to a god/divine power even though I do not believe in god.  You have removed free will from the equation and basically set up an end-around on the Evangelical Christian argument that all atheists/non Christians actually actively hate god and will be going to Hell because they totally know god exists and is their interpretation of the real god and everyone else knows that, too, and is in active, intentional rebellion.

    While it’s possible that the weak version of the argument you advance is true, I see no evidence for it.  Moreover, I see no need for it.

    Still, you are defining “good” as “what god wants.”  And you are defining any action I make that is good from that definition.  So you are enslaving any positive action I take to the intentions of your definition of god.

    I think that’s known as the Argumentum ad Neener Neener, and I’m pretty sure it’s a fallacy in formal logic.  It’s also probably begging the question, as you define “god” as “good” and any actions which are “good” as “of god.”  By definition this is a circular argument and a logical fallacy.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    First and foremost, my truthful opinion of God and the afterlife does not include Hell.  This quote is full of your own inferences, and none of mine.

    I never said anything about people not believing in God being in active, intentional rebellion.  That’s the Ellenjay belief, not mine. I just said God could work within those who believe and those who do not believe.  Free will is not something that I care much about discussing simply because I believe our circumstances and surroundings affect so much of ourselves that humans can hardly be allowed any type of free will, even taking God out of the equation. 

    I think that the abstract thing we call “good” could also be personified metaphorically or in reality as “God”.  We can have a definition of good: kindness, gentleness, generosity, etc and also say those things are good only because God is kind, gentle, and generous.  If you believe in “good” at all, believing that God is goodness shouldn’t be that big a problem because you believe that good is goodness.  (even if you want to make God a hypothetical).  The part where it becomes a problem is when you have the Bible saying he does things that seem un-good.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    You guys…I have no idea how to do the html!  Sad for me…

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    First and foremost, my truthful opinion of God and the afterlife does
    not include Hell.  This quote is full of your own inferences, and none
    of mine.

    Yes.  This is why I said, “You have removed free will from the equation and basically set up an end-around on the Evangelical Christian argument.”  It was to point out that the argument you were advancing was simply a version of the standard Evangelical argument from rebellion with the specifics removed.  The inferences then made are based on the fact that the argument is wrong on both ends, not that you, yourself, hold the standard Evangelical position.

    Attacking a non-existent center from the opposite end doesn’t magically cause the center to exist.

    I think that the abstract thing we call “good” could also be personified metaphorically or in reality as “God”.  We can have a definition of good: kindness, gentleness, generosity, etc and also say those things are good only because God is kind, gentle, and generous.  If you believe in “good” at all, believing that God is goodness shouldn’t be that big a problem because you believe that good is goodness.  (even if you want to make God a hypothetical).  The part where it becomes a problem is when you have the Bible saying he does things that seem un-good.

    Substitute any word for “God” in that preceding paragraph and it remains a valid statement.  That doesn’t matter if you say that, “I think that the abstract thing we call “good” could also be personified metaphorically or in reality as “God”.” or you say, “I think that the abstract thing we call “good” could also be personified metaphorically or in reality as “Sparklepony”[1].” or you say, “I think that the abstract thing we call “good” could also be personified metaphorically or in reality as “1997 Subaru Forester”.”

    Actually, technically, the last one doesn’t work, since I’m pretty sure we can all agree on the existence of the 1997 Subaru Forester.

    So, basically, if we’re going to have a discussion, we have to agree upon terms.  You’ve now informed me that your terms for “god” and “good” are absolutely synonymous, which means that you have informed me that we have not, in the manner of formal logic, been having a conversation.  And we cannot (moreover, ought not, as it’s a useless waste of time) have a conversation if the necessary terms require “good” to be synonymous with and, in fact, defined exactly as, “god.”  How can we decide if good is possible apart from god if you’re using the terms in a way that one necessitates the other, after all?

    —-

    [1]Which would then give you an Argumentum ad Sparkleponium.  Which would be awesome.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    ” It was to point out that the argument you were advancing was simply a
    version of the standard Evangelical argument from rebellion with the
    specifics removed.  The inferences then made are based on the fact that
    the argument is wrong on both ends, not that you, yourself, hold the
    standard Evangelical position.

    Attacking a non-existent center from the opposite end doesn’t magically cause the center to exist.”

    I must be honest, I’m not understanding what you mean by this.

    “How can we decide if good is possible apart from god if you’re using the
    terms in a way that one necessitates the other, after all?” 

    Is this what we were trying to decide?  I thought we were trying to decide between whether or not God is “abstract good” or Hitler? 

    “Which would then give you an Argumentum ad Sparkleponium.  Which would be awesome.” 

    Why yes it would!  I think this is almost beside the point.  I was just trying to say that you believe there is something out there that is called “good”.  I believe that, too.  It doesn’t really have that much bearing whether I believe Sparkleponies are goodness or God is because you don’t believe in either one.  The argument about whether or not the Christian God’s goodness is the same thing as our abstract idea of goodness is another thing.  And I think that’s where we agree:

    If torturing people is God’s idea of “goodness”, then I reject “goodness”.  But I maintain my belief that goodness as I understand it is still accurate. 

    I want to believe that God is good in the way I perceive goodness.  This discussion, I thought, was just whether or not that’s a possibility.  And I don’t know the answer to that :)

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I must be honest, I’m not understanding what you mean by this.

    The idea that people who do not believe in a god do what they do because of/in spite of said god is wrong.  It does not matter whether you approach that idea as a negative (“All atheists are really just in rebellion against god!”) or a positive (“God is good, so anyone who does good does the work of god.”).  It is wrong.

    Is this what we were trying to decide?  I thought we were trying to
    decide between whether or not God is “abstract good” or Hitler?

    We are.  You seem to be missing a step.  Let’s go back to the central question of Mackrimin’s original question:

    I realize there were many people besides the Jews who were murdered in
    the camps. That’s not the point. The point is: were the Nazis just
    deluded do-gooders? Or were they evil?

    So, as far as I can tell, the question “Is there Hell?” is really just another way of asking “Is God Hitler?”

    This, then, leads to the question.  You seem to think it can be answered in one step, i.e.:

    Q.  Is god Hitler?
    A.  Of course not.  God is good.

    This might seem satisfying, but it’s not.  The problem is that we have not defined terms.  There are three:

    1.  Who/what is god?
    2.  What is good?
    3.  Were the Nazis doing good?

    If you are simply going to go with the conception that god = good = god, then one and two are self-answering: “Who/what is god?” “Good.”  “What is good?” “God.”  And we have learned nothing.  We have also created such an abstraction of god that god becomes unnecessary to explain anything, which renders the entire question completely without value from the outset.  You might as well be asking, “Are sparkleponies good?” and, “Was Hitler doing the will of the abominable snowman?”  So if we’re going to have this discussion, we have to have a definition of “god” as something with some sort of agency apart from “good” or “good” as a state of being with agency and a self-determining will.

    At this point we get to the Christian idea of god as the creator and sustainer of good.  Then we have to go back and say, “So what happens when god does things that are not apparently good?”

    This, then, is the basis of the discussion.  “What is good?” and “What is god?” become two separate questions that must be answered before we can even approach the question of Hitler.  Which then leads to the next level of discussion, to wit:

    Team Hell’s god is Hitler.
    Team Bell’s god is not Hitler.

    That’s where it gets really interesting.

  • Caravelle

    The idea that people who do not believe in a god do what they do because
    of/in spite of said god is wrong.  It does not matter whether you
    approach that idea as a negative (“All atheists are really just in
    rebellion against god!”) or a positive (“God is good, so anyone who does
    good does the work of god.”).  It is wrong.

    How about we approach the idea from the neutral “God created our conscience” ? Or the more woo-ful “good is a physical expression of God’s grace, if God wasn’t there good wouldn’t exist” ? How is it a different claim, formally, from “things fall down because of gravity. Even if you don’t believe gravity exists, if you fall it’s because of gravity.”

    In fact gravity is even worse, because even when you don’t fall you’re under gravity’s influence.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    Just want to point out again that I’m halfway tongue -in-cheek here.  I’ve argued passionately both sides of this argument before, and now I’m somewhere muddled in the middle.  But I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate all perspectives.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    >making it unfalsifiable and logically equivalent to humans not always being selfish.And it says nothing as to what morality God obeys (as opposed to “expects us to obey”).But we only accept this if there’s no other way to get that greater good; an omnipotent being doesn’t have that problem..< 

    I can't even pretend to disagree with this because I don't know what answer Evangelicals even have for this problem.  I think the only thing they'd say is, well there's hope that one day he will stop behaving one way, and start behaving another way, even though he never changes?

     I don't know why evil existed ever, nor why it continues to exist.  Thoughts about it plague my heart almost constantly.  However, at this point I don't believe that God isn't real, in some way.  So, denying that fact won't give me any comfort when it comes to death and pain either.

    When people in the Bible ask God why he allows evil he responds with, "Look, there's an ostrich and it runs really fast and I made it!" (I think that's Fred's line?)  Or "I am." I've found myself wondering, "Why don't you just destroy us all because these evils are too monstrous to live through and live with."

    Ending humanity seemed preferable to me at the time.  So I wondered, since wickedness is something permanent on earth (and if you look at history its pretty clear that it is) why don't we just take this action into our own hands?  We are capable of performing a procedure on baby girls making them incapable of pregnancy and just ending the human race.  It's impossible to stop evil events from occurring in any other scientific way, right?

    Obviously no one here, including myself, would agree to such a thing.  But why not?  It's a plan to eradicate evil.  No one would die from it (in my fake, ideal scenario ;).  Just no new people would be born.

    There's just something about the preservation of our race instilled within us, that such a thing looks like an abomination, even when compared to the abominations of humanity.  Maybe God feels the same way about us as we do?

    What are atheistic or other thoughts on this?  Obviously we all agree that wickedness exists…if belief in God is out of the equation, is there a solution in mind?

    (I feel like this response is all over the place, sorry about that)

  • Caravelle

    I think this distinction is made because God should receive the glory for the good deeds, not humans.

    But he shouldn’t receive condemnation for the bad ones. Transparent circular reasoning.

    God doesn’t obey morality, he embodies it.

    And that string of words means… ?
    Does God perform actions ? If so, then either those actions are consistent with a moral framework, thus obey it, or they’re not and they break it.

    I can’t even pretend to disagree with this because I don’t know what answer Evangelicals even have for this problem.

    I think it’s mostly sticking their fingers in their ears and going LALALA, getting into some argument that amounts to conceding God isn’t omnipotent (which is “all right” because the technical meaning of “omnipotent” in theology is “not omnipotent”. I’d be happier about that if they admitted they have no clue as to how powerful God is and stopped making statements about it), or worst of all arguing that all is for the best in the best of worlds.

    So, denying that fact won’t give me any comfort when it comes to death and pain either.

    Oh, atheism doesn’t make the existence of evil more comfortable; if anything it’s the opposite. Bad things suck, and the fact that no super being will take us in its arms and make it all better eventually sucks too. What atheism does is make the existence of evil not a logical contradiction. Which is nothing to spit at.

    It’s impossible to stop evil events from occurring in any other scientific way, right?

    But… that way is also evil, because good events occur too and that technique will stop them. Besides it won’t stop evil : Ichneumon wasps will still torture caterpillars, seagulls will still cheat on their mates. It’ll just make sure no human suffers from it again. Except for the bit where they suffered the extinction of their race, including unfulfilled would-be parents and the unfortunate last generations that would grow old with nobody to care for them.

    What are atheistic or other thoughts on this?

    Feed the poor, promote good education, freedom and democracy, any policy that helps people (or other things we value), oppose policies that will harm people (or other things we value), improve our understanding of ourselves and of the world so that we have more power to change things for the better….. ?
    Or on a personal level, ac-cent-tchuate the posirive, enjoy what the world has that’s enjoyable (if you’re depressed, get treatment…), work to e-lim-minate the negative…

  • Anonymous

    My atheistic thoughts on ending the human race to avoid evil: forcible sterilization *is* an evil.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    So it is an evil to force it, but what if you could convince every young woman on the planet that it was the right and logical choice to do so?  Or put another way, could there be a scenario where it would be the right and logical choice? 

    This was just a question of my own that I threw out there, sorry if it doesn’t quite address the topic at hand. 

  • Anonymous

    An impossible task, but not an immoral one.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    I am fairly sure that if you construct a sentence using the word
    “holiness” in which the word “sadism” can be substituted for it without
    changing the meaning of the sentence, then you’re using it wrong.
    As a sadist, I think I’m offended by that statement.  ;-)

  • Rikalous

    I am fairly sure that if you construct a sentence using the word
    “holiness” in which the word “sadism” can be substituted for it without
    changing the meaning of the sentence, then you’re using it wrong.
    As a sadist, I think I’m offended by that statement.  ;-)

    S&M is a nice way to spend a Saturday night, but I don’t think I’d base a religion on it.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    S&M is a nice way to spend a Saturday night, but I don’t think I’d base a religion on it.

    Well, no, but even those of us that are sadists aren’t assholes

  • Rikalous

    Well, no, but even those of us that are sadists aren’t assholes.

    Not universally, no. I expect ya’ll have some assholes, just like every other group. The think is, I don’t think that a good use of holiness should be replaceable with, say, redheadedness, either. Holiness is supposed to be such a good and wonderful thing that replacing it with any value-neutral term should change the meaning of the sentence.

  • Anonymous

    When J Random Unfamiliar-With-S&M and K Random S&M-Isn’t-Top-Of-K’s-Mind hear ‘sadism’, it’s not value-neutral connotations that spring to mind. It’s negative connotations. Which is much more relevant, I think, to Fred’s point.

  • Rikalous

    When J Random Unfamiliar-With-S&M and K Random
    S&M-Isn’t-Top-Of-K’s-Mind hear ‘sadism’, it’s not value-neutral
    connotations that spring to mind. It’s negative connotations. Which is
    much more relevant, I think, to Fred’s point.

    Yes, but what I was trying (and, evidently, failing miserably) to say was that even if one doesn’t take a dim view of sadism, Fred’s point still works.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    Arrgh!  It ate my hard return!  Stupid, frakin’ disqus….  *wanders off muttering*

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “The idea that people who do not believe in a god do what they do because
    of/in spite of said god is wrong.  It does not matter whether you
    approach that idea as a negative (“All atheists are really just in
    rebellion against god!”) or a positive (“God is good, so anyone who does
    good does the work of god.”).  It is wrong.”

    I don’t believe they are two sides of the same coin.  One example allows for people to choose different beliefs and yet God still blesses them.  Is it only wrong from your perspective, because you are requiring it of yourself that you have inherently good qualities and that you get the credit for them? As we’ve been discussing from the above studies, that may not be as true as any of us would wish to think.  So, I don’t think it is necessarily wrong, just different.  And my beliefs on the subject don’t affect how I view you or anyone else.  I still feel capable of distinguishing between someone who does a majority of good works or a majority of bad ones, regardless of their personal beliefs about God. 

    “If you are simply going to go with the conception that god = good = god,
    then one and two are self-answering: “Who/what is god?” “Good.”  “What
    is good?” “God.”  And we have learned nothing.”

    I think it’s more like:  God told us he is this: kind, generous…etc.  And God told us he is good.  He told us to be good, and then detailed being kind, generous, etc.  So we get our definition of good from God and good also is God.  Maybe. 

    “Team Hell’s god is Hitler.
    Team Bell’s god is not Hitler.”

    Yes, but there is still something to be done about all the ordered genocides and whatnot in the OT.  :( I w Team Bell and Fred would address this.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I don’t believe they are two sides of the same coin.  One example allows
    for people to choose different beliefs and yet God still blesses them. 
    Is it only wrong from your perspective, because you are requiring it of
    yourself that you have inherently good qualities and that you get the
    credit for them?

    If there is no god, no heaven, no hell, then the reason to do good is because it is a good thing.  At that point it becomes an issue of self-definition and self-determination.  If I do good because I want to do good, then someone else comes along and says something that comes out as, “Wow, that’s a very Christian thing to do,” (I’ve got plenty of anecdotal stories to this effect.  Some have happened to me, others to not-me who have shared it in places I’ve been.  Often right here at Slacktivist), then that person removes me from the equation of that which I’ve done.

    Imagine you’re at work.  Your boss asks you to do something, so you do an excellent job, hand it in, and your boss calls up Ralph, your predecessor, and says, “Hey, Ralph, good job training Georgia on how to do [task],” then looks up at you and says, “You’re quite the reflection on Ralph’s skill as a trainer.”

    You have officially stopped existing.  You now exist only as a cipher for your boss to praise the greatness that is the guy who is no longer there.

    Meanwhile, imagine that Ralph’s “training” of you consisted of dropping a stack of papers on your desk and saying, “Figure it out on your own.  I’ll be hanging out in the break room for the next two weeks.”

    That is what happens when someone tells me that I do good because of god.  Except, y’know, that we can say Ralph did exist, whereas god…not so much.

    Yes, but there is still something to be done about all the ordered
    genocides and whatnot in the OT.  :( I w Team Bell and Fred would
    address this.

    I tend to just block those off as ad hoc rationalizations of the people who wrote the Bible doing what they want to do and leave it at that.  But…yeah.  It is problematic if you actually want to believe in god.  And argue that god’s not a complete asshole.

  • Lori

    I’m not going to comment on the idea that all good comes from God and anything that humans do that id good is as the result of god even if we don’t know it, because that whole thing just makes me rage-y. 

    Also, defining God as good and good as God doesn’t actually solve anything, let alone prove anything. That entire line of reasoning also tend to make me ragey so I’m leaving that alone too.

    I will comment on this:

    Oh, atheism
    doesn’t make the existence of evil more comfortable; if anything it’s the
    opposite. Bad things suck, and the fact that no super being will take us in its
    arms and make it all better eventually sucks too. What atheism does is make the
    existence of evil not a logical contradiction. Which is nothing to spit at. 

    The idea that atheism is all about making oneself more comfortable is both false and annoying, at least to me. I don’t believe in god. My lack of belief in god is not about being comfortable. A universe absent a deity is more comfortable in some ways and less comfortable in others. My lack of believe is my honest assessment of reality.  

  • hapax

    defining God as good and good as God doesn’t actually solve anything, let alone prove anything.

    May I respectfully point out that the implication that those of us who say this are employing some sort of rhetorical trick in an attempt to “solve” or “prove” something, rather than simply describing reality as we perceive it, makes *me* feel a little rage-y?

  • Lori

    May I respectfully point out that the implication that those of us who say this are employing some sort of rhetorical trick in an attempt to “solve” or “prove” something, rather than simply describing reality as we perceive it, makes *me* feel a little rage-y?    

    Well, I guess it’s good that we’re even then. 

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    >.> Ramen to that.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “You’re quite the reflection on Ralph’s skill as a trainer.”

    You
    have officially stopped existing.  You now exist only as a cipher for
    your boss to praise the greatness that is the guy who is no longer
    there.

    Meanwhile, imagine that Ralph’s “training” of you
    consisted of dropping a stack of papers on your desk and saying, “Figure
    it out on your own.  I’ll be hanging out in the break room for the next
    two weeks.”

    I don’t believe God just throws a stack of papers at you (the Bible?) and goes to the break room.  I believe that he is ever-present and ever-working with and through myself and others.  So, if “Ralph” was portrayed that way in this scenario…as someone who never left the office, someone you look up to and respect and tried to be like, then the original comment about being a reflection of Ralph’s skill as a trainer would be the highest compliment.

     If you despised the attention that Ralph got and wished he would just go away so you could do your job in peace and reap all the rewards, then that comment would grate at you.  I see no way in which that makes you stop existing. All of us are affected by forces out of our control.  Pointing that out doesn’t make us cease to exist.  And it doesn’t make our actions any less ours.  Just that we acknowledge we couldn’t have done that without “Ralph” leading us.  We still were the one who chose to do it.

    I think a big problem, where we are getting stuck, is that we are working from a starting point that God exists.  You can’t ask questions about what God is like and who he is without assuming he is real.  Your beliefs don’t allow for that.

    At the end of the day, I know that neither of our perspectives can be officially declared right or wrong. Just different viewpoints of the same world. <3 

    "But…yeah.  It is problematic if you actually want to believe in god.  And argue that god's not a complete asshole."

    Sigh.  Yes, it greatly is.

  • Caravelle

    I’m not sure I buy Geds’ analogy, but I certainly don’t buy your response to it. To wit :

    So, if “Ralph” was portrayed that way in this scenario…as someone who
    never left the office, someone you look up to and respect and tried to
    be like, then the original comment about being a reflection of Ralph’s
    skill as a trainer would be the highest compliment.

    No, it wouldn’t. It would be a compliment to Ralph, not to you. You don’t need to hate Ralph or begrudge him his laurels or even disagree with the compliment, but the fact is the boss is acting as if he’s complimenting you when he’s actually complimenting Ralph. As if you weren’t there. As if you were an inert vessel for Ralph’s awesomeness.

    Moreover, your changing the analogy to make Ralph actively help you and you admire Ralph completely neglects the bit where atheists don’t perceive God. It would be more like if Ralph had been secretly correcting your mistakes and easing your way.

    Heck, in that situation not only would I feel ignored, I’d feel humiliated and would be seriously ticked off at Ralph for not telling me, and my boss for being so passive-aggressive in their compliment.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    I’m sorry that I made you feel that way.  Why does it make you rage-y? 

  • Lunch Meat

    This is from a while ago, but I couldn’t reply at work so I’m doing it now…

    If I were fully convinced that the God of Left Behind existed I would not be a Christian, I would be a Satanist–it’s clearly the more moral choice, by human morality, and human morality is *what I have*.
    I think this is a really good point. It is theoretically possible that Logic and Good and Reason and Ethics are not as we understand it, and therefore it is good to torture people for eternity. But there is no way to make that square with our human reason, our human sense of empathy, and our human ethical standards. Eternal hell may be good, but we can’t prove that by our standards, and in fact can disprove it very easily. So it’s wrong for Christians to demand that all Christians accept it as truth or be labeled heretics, and it would be just as wrong and unfair for God to demand that we believe it when it goes against the conclusions of the best reasoning and moral capabilities God gave us. It’s like teaching a child that addition is actually subtraction, and then blaming them when they fail all their math classes. We have to go by the abilities and reason we have.

    An analogous example, I think, is in the idea of “evidence” for God’s existence. It is theoretically possible that there might be some kind of evidence that could conclusively “prove” God’s existence.* Suppose we could build a machine capable of sensing the presence of God, but it just hasn’t been invented yet. Are we then to blame for not believing? No, because *we don’t have that machine*. We have to go by what we have, because there is no other way to function that is logically and morally consistent.

    *And by that, I don’t mean that humans could “prove” the existence of an omni-omni-omni infinite creator deity that is utterly removed from the material and from humanity, because in that case pretty much any evidence could be attributed to sufficiently powerful aliens, for instance, and there would be no way to prove that it was actually that kind of infinite entity. I mean “prove” the existence of an entity going by the name of the Christian God, who has caused the events throughout history that have been attributed to that God, and who now interacts with Christians in the way Christians perceive God to act–but not necessarily infinite, creator of all, or omni-anything.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I’m not sure I buy Geds’ analogy, but I certainly don’t buy your response to it.”

    This wasn’t something to “buy”, it was me qualifying the analogy the way I see it.  He was telling his side, I mine.  If Ralph embodied what you want to be like, and someone told you you were like him, it would be a compliment to you.  To try a brand new analogy: If I said you were as beautiful as Angelina Jolie after she let you try on her clothes and gave you a make-up lesson or something like that, it might be perceived as a compliment to both of you.

    “Moreover, your changing the analogy to make Ralph actively help you and
    you admire Ralph completely neglects the bit where atheists don’t
    perceive God.”

    Yes, it does.  Because I was giving my own analogy, just going off of his original.  We were each explaining how we each see the issue.  At least, I was!  I started the paragraph off with “I believe” twice.

    “It would be more like if Ralph had been secretly correcting your mistakes and easing your way.”

    Well, I guess at least for those reading this thread, the cat’s out of the bag! 

    “Heck, in that situation not only would I feel ignored, I’d feel
    humiliated and would be seriously ticked off at Ralph for not telling
    me, and my boss for being so passive-aggressive in their compliment.”

    See, and now you gave your version of the analogy!  Now we all understand each other a little better.  Big sigh of relief.  <3

  • Caravelle

    Georgia, an analogy is only valid if it’s parallel to the situation we’re analogizing. That’s the purpose of an analogy : to understand a difficult-to-figure-out situation by considering a different situation, which is easier to understand, and which works the same way as the original situation.

    When I say I don’t buy you and Geds’ analogies, I’m saying that I don’t think your analogies are parallel to the situation of God doing good through humans. Which means that your using those analogies is unhelpful, and any conclusions derived from them will be wrong.

    Now, you can dispute with my disagreement, but you can’t sweep it under the rug saying we’re just considering “different versions” of the analogy. Or worse, say that now “we all understand each other a little better”. The way you modified Geds analogy indicates to me you didn’t understand Geds’ position at all.

  • Georgia

    But the situation we are analyzing does not have only one viewpoint to create an analogy around. You view it one way, Geds another, and I, a third way. None of us have proof or evidence to necessarily back up our feelings about God, so we use the analogy to better describe each of our separate viewpoints.

    If it were as easy as creating an analogy to parallel the situation we’re discussing, this conversation wouldnt even be happening. There’d be a clear right answer and that would be that.

    Just because I modify something to share my point of view means I’m incapable of understanding someone else’s? You modified it at the end of your post. I don’t understand why I couldn’t. Simply because you disagree with it? Maybe we need to start over with something new…

  • Caravelle

    But the situation we are analyzing does not have only one viewpoint to create an analogy around.

    There are separate viewpoints but there’s only one reality. And in this case, some viewpoints think the other viewpoint is offensive so it isn’t exactly something where we want to agree to disagree. A good analogy would take one situation, show how it can give rise to several viewpoints, and see whether one of the viewpoints really is being offensive.

    If it were as easy as creating an analogy to parallel the situation
    we’re discussing, this conversation wouldnt even be happening. There’d
    be a clear right answer and that would be that.

    There is nothing easy about creating an analogy ! It requires thinking through the situation and identifying all the elements that contribute to your conclusion, trying to identify a mundane situation where all those elements exist, making sure that the situation doesn’t have confounding elements that don’t exist in the real situation and muddle the answer, seeing if the answer is indeed obvious, and if it’s the one you should get; if the answer is “no”, either reevaluate your conclusion, or look for some relevant elements from the real situation you neglected or some irrelevant elements from the analogous situation you should take out, rinse and repeat.

    And if at the end of that process your analogy takes up three pages, start over because an analogy should be simpler than the situation it’s analogous to.

    I love making analogies and make way too many of them, but it takes up a lot of time and half the time I end up scrapping them because they became too convoluted.

    Just because I modify something to share my point of view means I’m
    incapable of understanding someone else’s? You modified it at the end
    of your post. I don’t understand why I couldn’t. Simply because you
    disagree with it? Maybe we need to start over with something new…

    I’m not sure you get how an analogy works. Of course an analogy aimed at answering a certain question should give you the answer you want, otherwise it’s not proving your point so you wouldn’t make it (more accurately, an analogy should answer the question in the same way that the real situation would. But in an analogy constructed to teach or prove a point you already have the answer to the real situation). But that’s not what makes an analogy bad or good. The most important thing an analogy has to do is be like the real situation (in all relevant ways). (otherwise there’s no reason it would give the same answer as the real situation)

    Here the question we’re trying to answer is, as far as I can tell, “Is the concept that good comes from God offensive to those who don’t believe in God ?”. For me the answer is “no”. Geds’ analogy suggests “yes”, but I think his analogy is unlike the real situation in that the mechanism* of good coming from God is very different from being trained by a coworker. And in particular, I think that the situation of good coming from a God we can’t discern is very different from a coworker shirking their duty to train us. And I think those differences are relevant to how we should feel about the real situation.

    But your twist of the analogy is even worse, for one thing because you draw conclusions from your analogy that I don’t agree with even in the analogy (I don’t think I’d be happy if my boss complimented a mentor I admired for my own work), but mostly because your analogy resembles the real situation even less than Geds’ version did !

    In your analogy Ralph is present, and helping us, and we know it. The only variation you offered was whether we like Ralph or not. That is completely different from the real situation, where atheists don’t know God is there at all. And I’d say that difference is extremely relevant ! I modified the analogy, not to make it have the conclusion I want (if anything, the modification gives the opposite conclusion from what I think – but that’s okay because I don’t buy the analogy in the first place), but to make it MORE LIKE the actual situation ! In real life, atheists don’t know God is there, so in the analogy the worker shouldn’t realize Ralph is helping them.

    Of course you could go further and say that my analogy wasn’t good enough either, because the way God makes people be good is very different from somebody correcting your mistakes behind your back. And you could argue this difference is very relevant. You could think of a way to change the analogy so that it better reflects what God does.

    But the point is, the analogy should be like the real situation in all relevant ways. Otherwise it’s a bad analogy, regardless of what conclusions it gives.

    *I’m talking about mechanisms in a theological argument, what’s wrong with me ???

  • hapax

    Caravelle, as someone who lives and breathes analogies, I think you give a very good analysis of how they work.

    I really don’t care for the “Ralph” analogy, for the reasons that you mention.  But more importantly, because the set-up has the wrong audience.  If I were to make an analogy for “all good comes from God”, I would choose something more like, hmm….

    Oh, my boss saying to me, “My, you did good on that project!  Aren’t you lucky that you  had the genetics, the family support, and the social position to  take advantage of educational opportunities and even be considered for this job and find the time to do it well?” *

    And of course I’d find that offensive.  I *should* find it offensive, because it ignores my contribution to the project — namely, my choice and effort to use all my advantages. 

    Because just like the reminder of my good fortune and social privilege, the statement “all good comes from God” isn’t meant to be something addressed to other people.  It’s meant to be something I say to myself.

    It is one more tool to fight against the ever-present temptation I face against giving myself more credit for my successes than I have earned, and using that inflated self-judgment as an excuse to look down on, or to refuse to share and support, other people.

    As to how we should regard the good works and successful efforts of other people? 

    Well, the appropriate Scriptural model for that would more like this:  “My, you did good on that project!  I’m going to see about getting you a promotion!”

    *except that the analogy falls down in that God offers the same capacity and support to do good to everyone;  nonetheless, the rest of the discussion stands, I think.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Oh, my boss saying to me, “My, you did good on that project!  Aren’t you
    lucky that you  had the genetics, the family support, and the social
    position to  take advantage of educational opportunities and even be
    considered for this job and find the time to do it well?” *

    How is this a different audience than the Ralph analogy?

    More importantly, how does this correct the apparently false audience given in the first?

    Because just like the reminder of my good fortune and social privilege, the statement “all good comes from God” isn’t meant to be something addressed to other people.  It’s meant to be something I say to myself.

    I would argue that you’re in the minority on that one, especially if we’re discussing god in re: Team Hell v. Team Bell.  Growing up in a (rather liberal, for a definition of liberal that is, “More liberal than Bob Jones University”) fundamentalist/evangelical environment, the message was, “Humanity sucks.  If good things happen it’s all because of god.”  This was not intended as an internal message or a reminder.  It was, quite literally, “Everything you do or want to do is wrong and the only way you’ll do things right is if god tells you to.”

    This, by the by, is how non-RTCs were othered.  They weren’t of that particular representation of god, therefore they could not do good.  And if they did do good, it was an obvious sign that god was working to change their hearts.

    Oh, and that’s why I really hate it when people tell me that god = good and any good I do must be because of god.  You are othering me.  Full stop.

  • hapax

    How is this a different audience than the Ralph analogy?

    More importantly, how does this correct the apparently false audience given in the first?

    It’s different because I think it gives a more accurate sense of the impersonal, widespread “common grace” that I mean when I say that “all goodness comes from God” than the specific attention of a mentor-figure.

    It DOESN’T correct the false audience problem, though.  That’s why I wrote the rest of the comment.  The only way to correct the false audience problem is to use the phrase I ended with.

    I am sorry — no, that sounds trite and formulaic.  I am sincerely SHAMED and GRIEVED that many Christians (well, I know I’ve heard it used that way by other monotheists, too) use this phrase to put down, negate, and otherwise “other” persons who do not share their precise beliefs.

    I do not think that this is the fault of the statement, “all goodness comes from God.”  I think this is the fault of the cowardice, cruelty, and vanity of those who wield it like a club.

    Unfortunately, there is no brief encapsulation of a complex worldview that is proof from the human ingenuity in forging weapons.

    I can see how someone’s life experience can make the phrase so toxic that they cannot hear it otherwise but in a hurtful manner. 

    Nonetheless, it is an important concept for me, and for other people who do NOT use it in this way.  I don’t know what to say in response to the pain this causes except that I am truly sorry for it, that the people who use that concept to hurt others mangled and misused it, and I understand why some people don’t like to hear the phrase. 

    I cannot honestly renounce it, however, just because it’s been misused as a weapon, any more than I can renounce all use of hammers just because another person used one to hit people.

  • Caravelle

    This, by the by, is how non-RTCs were othered.  They weren’t of that
    particular representation of god, therefore they could not do good.  And
    if they did do good, it was an obvious sign that god was working to
    change their hearts.

    Right. That is definitely not the way I interpret the general version of that comment, but you have more experience with Christians saying it than I do so I can’t pretend my interpretation is better.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Oh, my boss saying to me, “My, you did good on that project!  Aren’t you
    lucky that you  had the genetics, the family support, and the social
    position to  take advantage of educational opportunities and even be
    considered for this job and find the time to do it well?” *

    How is this a different audience than the Ralph analogy?

    More importantly, how does this correct the apparently false audience given in the first?

    Because just like the reminder of my good fortune and social privilege, the statement “all good comes from God” isn’t meant to be something addressed to other people.  It’s meant to be something I say to myself.

    I would argue that you’re in the minority on that one, especially if we’re discussing god in re: Team Hell v. Team Bell.  Growing up in a (rather liberal, for a definition of liberal that is, “More liberal than Bob Jones University”) fundamentalist/evangelical environment, the message was, “Humanity sucks.  If good things happen it’s all because of god.”  This was not intended as an internal message or a reminder.  It was, quite literally, “Everything you do or want to do is wrong and the only way you’ll do things right is if god tells you to.”

    This, by the by, is how non-RTCs were othered.  They weren’t of that particular representation of god, therefore they could not do good.  And if they did do good, it was an obvious sign that god was working to change their hearts.

    Oh, and that’s why I really hate it when people tell me that god = good and any good I do must be because of god.  You are othering me.  Full stop.

  • Caravelle

    Oh, my boss saying to me, “My, you did good on that project!  Aren’t you
    lucky that you  had the genetics, the family support, and the social
    position to  take advantage of educational opportunities and even be
    considered for this job and find the time to do it well?”

    That sounds like a great example to me. And the funny thing is, I’m not so sure I’d be offended. I might go “Totally ! Right ?”.

    But that might be because for one thing, the awareness of all those factors is uncommon enough in public discourse that I’d feel like I’d just met a kindred spirit, and for another, while what you described could be used as a put-down, it’s so original that that interpretation might not occur to me.

    But you’re right : said in that context it would ignore my personal contributions and hard work.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    True.  So instead of giving every possible corner of the analogy, I simply added a viewpoint of people who believe there is a God. (Which is what I’ve been saying all along.  My intent was never to create a full picture of every individual person’s perspective of “Ralph”, just my own).  Did we really have to have this whole long discussion just to say that?  I just don’t get the reason for picking this apart to death.  O_o

    So, the full analogy as you see it (even though I agree with you that Ralph is not a good stand-in for God) is that some people see Ralph correcting their mistakes or giving them the information to make good decisions and they praise him for it, others don’t, others do and it pisses them off.  IF you start from the point that Ralph exists at all.  :D

    Done.  It’s not a perfect analogy, no one said it was ;)

  • Caravelle

    True.  So instead of giving every possible corner of the analogy, I
    simply added a viewpoint of people who believe there is a God. (Which is
    what I’ve been saying all along.  My intent was never to create a full
    picture of every individual person’s perspective of “Ralph”, just my
    own).  Did we really have to have this whole long discussion just to say
    that?  I just don’t get the reason for picking this apart to death. 
    O_o

    Because it’s a viewpoint that Geds (and ako) appear to find inherently hurtful. They don’t need to know that you’re totally fine with it (the fact that you espouse that viewpoint in the first place should be a hint). They need you either to explain why what you’re saying actually isn’t hurtful (to them) because they’re misinterpreting you or something, or they need you to understand that your viewpoint is indeed a hurtful one.

    Or so I had been interpreting the discussion. I tried to go back to retrace it and now I’m totally confused so I’ll probably leave you and Geds to work it out.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “They need you either to explain why what you’re saying actually isn’t hurtful (to them) because they’re misinterpreting you or something, or they need you to understand that your viewpoint is indeed a hurtful one.”

    Lol, and that’s what I was trying to do!  I clearly should never make another analogous statement ever again because I just confuse the issue.  From now on its cold hard facts, people!

    I think you can be commended for choosing to do good works.
    I don’t think you can be commended for being the source of all that is good.

    :)

  • Caravelle

    Lol, and that’s what I was trying to do!

    The confusion ! It never stops ! :)
    It seems to me, from your analogy and what you yourself said you were trying to do, that you tried to show that “good comes from God” isn’t hurtful to you. To someone in your position. To someone who believes in God.

    But wouldn’t you agree that this has no bearing whatsoever on how hurtful or not “good comes from God” is to Geds ? Or people in his situation ? Or atheists ?

    And that if your viewpoint is hurtful to Geds, that is a problem that should be resolved ?

    (again, from retracing the comments I don’t actually know that “this viewpoint is hurtful” is Geds’ position here)

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “And that if your viewpoint is hurtful to Geds, that is a problem that should be resolved ?”

    Yes.  I was truly trying to do this, and do it within the framework of the Ralph analogy already provided.  Not necessarily resolve it, but explain how any person could possibly think that way.

    I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think acknowledging someone for their good works is a bad thing.  In fact, I think it’s a good thing!  Do I acknowledge Mother Theresa?  Yes!  Ghandi?  Yes!  Of course.

    I wasn’t just trying to say, “Well, that doesn’t offend me.  And that’s that.”  I was trying to explain the reason it doesn’t offend me, so that the reader could hopefully assume that I was not attempting or trying to offend anyone. 

    For you and Geds to say that good does not come from God, that is an idea that is offensive to my sensibilities, but I understand that it is your viewpoint and respect it and listen to it.  I was assuming that would be done in return.

    I don’t expect you to change your views or cater to my own simply to avoid offense.  Our opposing views kind of imply offense already. :)  That said, I still think we can discuss it without either flying into a flurry at being offended or getting so defensive that we hurt the other person.

    If your real problem with my analogy was that the message offended you, does that make it not an analogy?

  • Caravelle

    If your real problem with my analogy was that the message offended you, does that make it not an analogy?

    Absolutely not; valid analogies can absolutely be offensive. (one reason for Godwin’s law, actually) But that isn’t my problem with your analogy. And your message doesn’t offend me; I had (apparently mistakenly) thought it offended Geds.

    I wasn’t just trying to say, “Well, that doesn’t offend me.  And that’s
    that.”  I was trying to explain the reason it doesn’t offend me, so that
    the reader could hopefully assume that I was not attempting or trying
    to offend anyone. 

    But one of the reasons it doesn’t offend you is that you do believe in God ! In fact, you changed the analogy specifically so that it would only apply to somebody who believed in God ! Doesn’t that suggest that your reasons might not apply, or apply differently, to someone who doesn’t believe in God ? So explaining the reasons why you don’t find something hurtful won’t help them much ?

    Maybe that’s where disagreement exists : you don’t think that belief in God is at all a factor in whether someone would find “good comes from God” hurtful or not. I’d disagree with that. Do you find that you respond differently to the Ralph analogy depending on whether the employee knows Ralph is helping them or not ? If you do, then it’s a relevant factor. (or a bad analogy) (but it seems obvious to me it’s a relevant factor, even without the analogy).

    And don’t worry, nobody here thinks you’re trying to offend anyone! It’s not even clear you are offending anyone (at this point I’m just in it for the analysis). But if you were, everybody would understand it was inadvertent. Of course you’d still have a responsibility to stop if it turned out you were indeed offending but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

  • ako

    Yes.  I was truly trying to do this, and do it within the framework
    of the Ralph analogy already provided.  Not necessarily resolve it, but
    explain how any person could possibly think that way.

    I found half of your analogy genuinely helpful, for what it’s worth.  I can hear a genuine compliment in being described as a positive reflection on the skills of a beloved mentor, and that explains why someone who has the perception of a relationship with God would be less likely to find that sort of comment grating.  It’s only the half about the people who hate Ralph’s interference and wish he would go away that bothered me, as it sounded uncomfortably similar to “Atheists really know God exists and are denying him because they don’t want to deal with him.”  Seeing the whole direction of the conversation really doesn’t sound like that’s what you meant.  Hopefully you can see why I initially saw it that way.

  • Georgia

    I think I ended up including that and coming in with the attitude of “everyone knows there’s a Ralph” because that was the analogy. I think it originally was that the employee never knew Ralph (or barely) but that he still got all the credit. There was never a chance to disparage the fact of whether or not Ralph even existed, but of course to make the analogy complete, you’d have to. I completely understand how that would be misconstrued into the whole “atheists willfully disbelieve” which I absolutely do not hold to. :)

    C, thanks for saying that you know I wouldn’t offend on purpose, but if I did I’d need to fix it, which, yes.

  • ako

    I think I ended up including that and coming in with the attitude of
    “everyone knows there’s a Ralph” because that was the analogy. I think
    it originally was that the employee never knew Ralph (or barely) but
    that he still got all the credit.

    I think the difference between “God exists” and “I know God” was important to the original analogy.  If I am wrong and it turns out there is a God, that doesn’t mean I have a relationship with him or see him helping me with my daily life.   You could do “God exists in the universe” in a way that many atheists would find, not convincing, but a recognizable description of experiences.  But by losing “I don’t see him or know him or feel any kind of meaningful connection with him”, the analogy loses the aspect that makes sense to atheists. 

  • ako

    Moreover, your changing the analogy to make Ralph actively help you
    and you admire Ralph completely neglects the bit where atheists don’t
    perceive God.

    That’s something that needs to be kept in these discussions.  Some people honestly don’t perceive the existence of any gods.  Slacktivist is a step up from most places, as it’s possible to point that out without simply being called a liar  and dismissed (a default response in some circles), but i makes discussion difficult. 

    If someone gave credit for my professional success to Ralph the guy who’d carefully mentored me, it may or may not bother me (depending on whether they were giving all credit to Ralph, and the extent to which I felt my own efforts were a factor), but it would bother me substantially less than if someone credited it all to Ralph the guy I’ve never met who’s mentioned on some old technical document I read once but never made any particular effort to adhere to.

    The “All good comes from God” idea seems, from my perspective, quite a lot like the second option.  If the work’s important enough, I’ll keep it up to the best of my ability, even in the face of co-workers repeatedly telling me that I only deserve credit for the screw-ups and all of my successes happen because of Ralph, but it seems demotivating and dismissive.  And finding out that all of my successes actually were due to Ralph correcting things behind the scenes, and none of them were due to my own efforts, would be really depressing – “I can’t do anything right, and if not for someone else constantly fixing my mistakes, I’d produce nothing but failure and trouble” is not exactly a cheerful line of thought.  (Which doesn’t disprove it, but there doesn’t seem to be any actual evidence for that claim, and I see no reason to believe something both unsupported by evidence and deeply depressing.)

  • Caravelle

    The reason I don’t like the Ralph analogy is that when I hear believers say that all good comes from God, I don’t understand as saying God does good instead of us, or that we aren’t responsible for our good actions. I hear it as a much more neutral, law-of-nature kind of statement. The analogy I would use is, well, a law of nature. Like astrophysicists discussing how they use gravitational slingshots to send probes very far, and someone goes “so, it’s really gravity doing all the work” and they go “YES !!! Isn’t that neat ?”.

    But that analogy fails too, on two counts. For one thing, the reason the astronomers are so happy that gravity is doing all the work is because their ability to understand gravity and use it this way is a sign of their cleverness. This doesn’t really apply to the concept that all good comes from God, which isn’t a theory with much predictive value. Knowing that good comes from God doesn’t enable us to be more good, at least I don’t see how. If anything it would predict that the Bible (or the religious text of one’s choice) would be clearly much more moral than any other source, which isn’t evident. Unless morality is defined as “what’s in the Bible (or the religious text of one’s choice)” in which case it’s circular.

    And the other problem with the analogy is that gravity is a mindless force of nature. God is a person (… in this discussion at least). In that sense the Ralph example would be a better parallel.

    I wonder if that’s the reason people have a problem with the concept. After all, the only way to make “good comes from God” a predictive concept is to assert that believers are more moral. I don’t think the claim implies this, and I usually assume it doesn’t, but it’s true that if it doesn’t it’s a bit of a useless statement.

    And we deal with persons and universal forces of nature in very different ways. God being both, I can see that “God is the cause of X” would mean different things to different people, depending on whether they concentrate on God’s personhood or on God’s everythingness.

  • Georgia

    Contrary to the Bible being more moral, I think it asserts that when things are good in any book, it is of God. Believers are no more moral than unbelievers, they just believe the good news that they are saved from their immorality. That one day they will no longer make bad decisions or hurt people. And striving to behave that way on earth is called ‘the kingdom of God’.

    I, personally, don’t think that’s useless :)

  • Caravelle

    I meant “useless” in a predictive sense, not a psychological one.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    The reason I don’t like the Ralph analogy is that when I hear believers
    say that all good comes from God, I don’t understand as saying God does
    good instead of us, or that we aren’t responsible for our good actions. I
    hear it as a much more neutral, law-of-nature kind of statement.

    Then why do you call it “god?”  God is a term with an immense amount of cultural baggage and a specific meaning.  God is a being with agency and desire.  Which is why people want to thank god and blame god and everything else.

    No one stands up and says, “Have you thanked gravity that you haven’t fallen off the planet today?” or, “Have you thanked the weak nuclear force for allowing you to be formed from star stuff lately?”  No.  We simply acknowledge that gravity and the weak nuclear force exist and do what they do because they do it.

    So if you’re going to turn good in to some sort of natural law on the same level as gravity, then you have to acknowledge that there’s no reason to thank goodness for doing what it does.  Goodness is mindless, lacks agency, and, therefore, cannot be considered synonymous with any sort of conception of god.

    Here the question we’re trying to answer is, as far as I can tell, “Is
    the concept that good comes from God offensive to those who don’t
    believe in God ?”. For me the answer is “no”. Geds’ analogy suggests
    “yes”, but I think his analogy is unlike the real situation in that the mechanism* of good coming from God is very different from being trained by a coworker.

    You are correct.  ako’s modification of my analogy is actually spot-on, to wit:

    someone credited it all to Ralph the guy I’ve never met who’s mentioned
    on some old technical document I read once but never made any particular
    effort to adhere to.

    I’d like to offer another analogy, based on something that happens all the time:

    Random Public Figure A gets in a horrific car accident.  A bystander sees it, calls 911, and says, “I just saw a car accident.”  The 911 dispatcher immediately sends fire trucks paramedics to the scene, who pry the public figure out of the ruined vehicle with the jaws of life stabilize the public figure, then haul her off to the hospital.  A team of doctors and nurses spend hours in surgery putting her broken bones back together.  Other doctors and nurses then monitor her in ICU, change her dressings, etc.

    At the same time news breaks that this person is in the hospital.  Churches all over the nation add her to their prayer cycles.  News reports about her recovery end with, “She’s in our thoughts and prayers.”

    After a few weeks she has healed enough to begin basic physical therapy.  Over the course of several months a series of therapists, supported by yet more nurses and doctors, get her up and walking again and, eventually, she goes back to her normal life.  At this point she holds a press conference. 

    The first words out of her mouth are, “I’d like to thank god for watching out for me.”

    In that instant a whole chain of decisions made by a whole lot of people simply disappear.  The person who called 911 and the 911 dispatcher and the paramedics are gone.  The doctors and nurses who trained for exactly this sort of situation and worked so hard are gone.  The physical therapists are gone.  But even if she does thank them, she ignores a much bigger truth:

    We, as humans, have created a society that is designed, at it’s best, to allow us to look out for each other.  People decided to study medicine and teach it to others.  People decided to build hospitals.  People decided to create communities that could support such things.  People decided to allocate tax money to police, firemen, paramedics, and emergency response.

    Now, people are also in the process of tearing a lot of that apart, at least in the United States, but that’s a point for another day (also, too, it’s not like I’m saying people should be absolved of blame.  It’s just that altruism and greed are both parts of the human experience and both act in their own separate ways at different times).

    Simply reducing all of that to, “I’d like to thank god for watching out for me,” makes all of the positive achievements of humanity invisble.

    Then, of course, there are those theologically minded folks who pull the next trick: they then blame every bad thing that happens on humanity.  War?  A symptom of human sin and selfishness.  Greed?  Same thing.  And on and on and on.

    This is the overarching problem I have with the idea that god is synonymous with good.  It takes humans out of the positive and leaves them only with the negative.

  • Caravelle

    Then why do you call it “god?”  God is a term with an immense amount of
    cultural baggage and a specific meaning.  God is a being with agency and
    desire.  Which is why people want to thank god and blame god and
    everything else.

    I don’t think God is a natural law. It was just an analogy :)
    I think I mean that God is a very big thing that defines reality, or aspects of reality. So that saying good comes from God would entail no moral judgment. And the associated question of what the world would be like if God wasn’t providing this goodness is that it would be so unlike the present world the question is meaningless.

    Except… that’s not what those who hold this position actually say. I’m pretty sure they think that if God wasn’t providing good, then we’d all still be human, just evil humans.

    And as I see the capacity for good as part of human nature, that conception makes no sense to me, and I can see why it would be offensive.

    And then there’s the issue that mentioned earlier, even if God’s being very big and defining reality makes “good comes from God” a neutral statement, the fact that God is a person makes it harder not to see moral judgment there.

    You know, I think I just might be talking myself into agreeing with you here :)

    That said, I totally agree with you that explicitly crediting God is annoying at the very least and can be seriously offensive. As you point out, even if God is responsible for those things via being responsible for the world, or our capacity for good, it’s so universal there isn’t much point in giving him credit for specific things and not others.

    The thing I disagree with is that the bare statement “I believe all good comes from God” consists of explicitly crediting God with stuff. It’s a statement of belief; it’s a way the world could conceivably be set up. Sure, it implies that you are interpreting your experiences wrong, but “I believe God doesn’t exist” also implies that tons of people are interpreting their experiences wrong. I think if a belief is okay to have, it should be okay to state. And… I thought that “all good comes from God” is an okay belief to have but I might reconsider that.

    Maybe this is one of those cases where thoughtful theists that discuss religion and philosophy on the internet believe one thing, while the vast majority of theists in the actual world believe (or talk as if they believe) something totally different. And I’m being totally okay with the thoughtful position while ignoring that it’s a minority variant.

  • Caravelle

    Then why do you call it “god?”  God is a term with an immense amount of
    cultural baggage and a specific meaning.  God is a being with agency and
    desire.  Which is why people want to thank god and blame god and
    everything else.

    I don’t think God is a natural law. It was just an analogy :)
    I think I mean that God is a very big thing that defines reality, or aspects of reality. So that saying good comes from God would entail no moral judgment. And the associated question of what the world would be like if God wasn’t providing this goodness is that it would be so unlike the present world the question is meaningless.

    Except… that’s not what those who hold this position actually say. I’m pretty sure they think that if God wasn’t providing good, then we’d all still be human, just evil humans.

    And as I see the capacity for good as part of human nature, that conception makes no sense to me, and I can see why it would be offensive.

    And then there’s the issue that mentioned earlier, even if God’s being very big and defining reality makes “good comes from God” a neutral statement, the fact that God is a person makes it harder not to see moral judgment there.

    You know, I think I just might be talking myself into agreeing with you here :)

    That said, I totally agree with you that explicitly crediting God is annoying at the very least and can be seriously offensive. As you point out, even if God is responsible for those things via being responsible for the world, or our capacity for good, it’s so universal there isn’t much point in giving him credit for specific things and not others.

    The thing I disagree with is that the bare statement “I believe all good comes from God” consists of explicitly crediting God with stuff. It’s a statement of belief; it’s a way the world could conceivably be set up. Sure, it implies that you are interpreting your experiences wrong, but “I believe God doesn’t exist” also implies that tons of people are interpreting their experiences wrong. I think if a belief is okay to have, it should be okay to state. And… I thought that “all good comes from God” is an okay belief to have but I might reconsider that.

    Maybe this is one of those cases where thoughtful theists that discuss religion and philosophy on the internet believe one thing, while the vast majority of theists in the actual world believe (or talk as if they believe) something totally different. And I’m being totally okay with the thoughtful position while ignoring that it’s a minority variant.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    I think I mean that God is a very big thing that defines reality, or
    aspects of reality. So that saying good comes from God would entail no
    moral judgment. And the associated question of what the world would be
    like if God wasn’t providing this goodness is that it would be so unlike
    the present world the question is meaningless.

    So are you saying that you see good, in this scenario, as a sort of Pandora’s Box situation?  As in, all the good in the world was in a big ol’ box and one day god just opened that box and the good just flew out and…y’know…was all good and stuff?

    Assuming I’m correct in my (undoubtedly flawed, but hopefully close analogy), I can see the overall point of good being of god.  I would still basically have the same problem, though, that crediting god for the good choices made by a human would be dismissive of that human.  Basically:

    1.  This would still make “good” akin to a natural law.  Say that god created gravity and the universe works because of that law.  Then releasing good in to the universe would be akin to releasing gravity.  It’s obviously different, as there is no obvious mechanism for or of gravity, but the point stands: god simply released good and good propagated in the universe.  Since there is no mechanism for good, however, then I have a choice whether to be good or to be not-good that I can choose quite a bit more easily than I can choose to defy gravity or the nuclear force.

    2.  It still allows us to judge god according to some outside arbiter.  Even if god created good, that means that god is bracketing off a subset of activites as good and, therefore, desirable, and we can judge god according to those, which leads me to:

    3.  Either the Jewish and Christian god is not good or Hitler was good.

    We condemn Hitler because he had the goal of creating a master race and destroying all other races.  The short hand for this is genocide and we — as humans using moral judgment — say genocide is a supreme evil.

    The god of the Jewish Bible selected one group of people to be his.  On several occasions that god ordered his selected people to kill everyone from a different group of people, slaughtering the men, women, children, and livestock.  He also told his people not to intermix with people from other people groups.  There is absolutely no difference between this set of orders and Hitler’s goals.

    So we come full circle to the original question: “Is god Hitler?”  The answer to that question is, “Yes.  For the value of god where god is the god of the Jewish and Christian Bibles.”  We still haven’t answered the question, though, of whether that makes god evil or Hitler good.  But if you’re going to go with the Evangelical standpoint that god is good, then the answer becomes, “God is Hitler and Hitler was simply doing what god does.”

    Of course, you could also say that, “No, Hitler is not doing good, because god didn’t tell him to do that,” but then you’re in a bit of a pickle, as you’re defining good as “following orders” and evil as “not following orders.”  Which brings us to, well, Nuremberg.

    Now, if we’re going to drop god back to something more like a watchmaker god, then the answer becomes, “Maybe.”  It depends, basically, on what your interpretation of god and god’s desires are.  This gets back to my original problem, though: if you simply say, “All good comes from god,” and choose to interpret god solely according to that metric then you have basically defined “god” as “good” and as such you have negated the need for both god and good as separate entities.  In doing so, you have created a formulation of god that is both totally good and totally useless.

  • Caravelle

    This gets back to my original problem, though: if you simply say, “All
    good comes from god,” and choose to interpret god solely according to
    that metric then you have basically defined “god” as “good” and as such
    you have negated the need for both god and good as separate entities.

    I’d say not quite : in that understanding, “good” can be a strict subset of “god”. Linguistically this comes down to “god is not good” but it’s a semantic trick; in one case I’m using “good” as a noun and the second as an adjective.
    That said even if god is more than “just” good(noun), saying that all good comes from god and stopping there clearly is useless. And it’s the useless formulation I’m saying I’m not offended by; all the rest of your post, where you actually look at the implications of a non-useless formulation of “good comes from God”, I agree with.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     That said even if god is more than “just” good(noun), saying that all good comes from god and stopping there clearly is useless.

    So, to go back to my Pandora’s Box analogy:

    You would say that god created good, god released good in to the world, and, therefore, we can interpret god as “good,” but we could also say that god, as a separate entity, is also, say, 900 feet tall and really likes cheese (who doesn’t like cheese?  Even the lactose intolerant usually like cheese.  Wait.  My sister doesn’t really like cheese.  Crap)?

    Still, since there is no actual, physical god who shows up, sits in a really big chair, and eats all the cheese in Wisconsin, the question then becomes, “How do we determine what god is actually like?”  The answers the theologians give us is, “Through god’s revealed nature via Scripture and experience and whatnot.”  This is where I hit my next roadblock on the issue.

    Since all of the revealed evidence is sketchy at best and contradictory at worst, and since god has this terrible habit of not showing up to say, “Hey, I’m like this!” or showing up infrequently in many contradictory disguises that are often indistinguishable from people simply declaring that they are god due to mental imbalance or desire for a greater checking account balance, we’re left with super-generalized stuff, like, “God is good.”  And we still can’t agree on basics, like, say, what the meaning of “god,” “good,” and “is” is in that particular sentence.

    So all we do is run around in circles…

    Also, to jump back:

    Maybe this is one of those cases where thoughtful theists that discuss
    religion and philosophy on the internet believe one thing, while the
    vast majority of theists in the actual world believe (or talk as if they
    believe) something totally different. And I’m being totally okay with
    the thoughtful position while ignoring that it’s a minority variant.

    This.

    This is how I can absolutely believe hapax when she says this:

    I do not think that this is the fault of the statement, “all
    goodness comes from God.”  I think this is the fault of the cowardice,
    cruelty, and vanity of those who wield it like a club.

    While still saying that most of the time people use the concept of goodness coming from god as a way of othering people who aren’t of their tribe.  The folks who come to Slacktivist, engage in discussion, and stick around for a while are a thoughtful, curious lot, which cannot be said for a large chunk of humanity.  As someone who grew up in the fundamentalist circles and often felt he had to quash his thoughtfulness and curiosity just to survive, I can offer plenty of anecdotal evidence to that effect.  It actually pains me to see what the people I used to go to church with say on blogs and Facebook and whatnot and to realize how casually cruel and thoughtlessly dismissive so much of it is.

    So, for this particular conversation, if we’re talking about the concept of Team Hell’s god and the question, “Is god Hitler?” and sticking to the context necessary to even have those questions make sense, then the formulation, “All good comes from god,” is an offensive statement.  Again, given the context.

    Outside of the context, if “good” is simply, “something released in to the universe by god,” then it’s not.  There is no more moral context connected to it than saying, “All iPhones exist because Apple made them.”

    Getting to the meaning and truth of that statement requires a whole different starting point, i.e.: “Is there a god?”

  • hapax

    Well, from my point of view, there are a several points of contention.

    It isn’t like “goodness” is an either / or quality — any given action is either “good” or “not good”.  

    All things are, to a minimal extent, “good” because they ARE.  In that, they participate in God Who is the ground of existence.

    All actions are, to a minimal extent, “good” because they presumably provide some pleasure or benefit to SOMEONE.  In that, they participate in God Who is the source of all joy and happiness.

    So I can no more choose to be NOT-good than I can choose to NOT exert gravitational force.  I can only choose to be LESS or MORE good.

    But that’s all at the theoretical level, at which (to make an analogy that any real physicist will pick apart in an instant) electrons have mass.  For most practical considerations, one can disregard the mass of a single electron, just as one can disregard the “goodness” of Hitler. 

    (Except that I cannot entirely disregard the “goodness” of Hitler.  Because by so doing, I also deny those things I share with Hitler — our common humanity, our love of dogs, our appreciation of art, etc. — and risk falling into the trap of thinking, “Oh, well, nothing *I* do could be THAT bad, it’s not like I could ever be HITLER or anything!”)

    As to your God-committing-genocide discussion;  well, that depends on an understanding that every word of the Bible is dictated by God and literally factual true.

    If that’s your premise, then you’ll have to take it up with someone who accepts that.

    Do I take the Scriptures literally? No.  Do I take them *seriously*?  Yes, indeed.  And in that light, I understand the “God commits genocide” passages as a flawed people trying to understand the Absolute Goodness of God through the imperfect lens of the less-good / more-good spectrum of human choices.

    What are those stories trying to say?  That God loves slaughter?  Even if you (correctly) say that this is an unavoidable subtext, it certainly isn’t fair to suggest this is the primary message.  That would be (depending on the story) things like God acts to liberate the slaves, that God considers (a particular) people worthy of protection, that God views compromise and accomodation with the less-good to be a less-good choice in itself, etc.

    It’s fair to say “Now you’re picking and choosing the Scriptures to mean what you want them to mean!”  Except that human beings do that all the time when we are trying to communicate .  ALL language is essentially metaphorical and analogical;  it isn’t surprising that such metaphors become increasingly complicated, strained, and frayed around the edges when we are talking about something as transcendent and incomprehensible (and, from an empirical standpoint, impossible and nonsensical) as Absolute Goodness / God.

    If you want to get into how we choose a particular rubric for understanding Scripture, however, that’s a whole nother issue, and too complicated and important to restrict to a parenthetical.

    if you simply say, “All good comes from god,” and choose to interpret
    god solely according to that metric then you have basically defined
    “god” as “good” and as such you have negated the need for both god and
    good as separate entities.  In doing so, you have created a formulation
    of god that is both totally good and totally useless.

    It might be useless to you;  I’m not quarrelling with that.  It isn’t useless to ME.

    Because once again, you’re taking the definition backwards.  I’m not defining “God” as “that which I have already decided is good”;  I’m defining “good” as “that which most closely  corresponds to God.”  Since I have no means or capacity for directly apprehending God except those which God chooses to initiate, I have to rely on the indirect means that God has already provided, and which I’ve already discussed — revelation, tradition, reason, and societal consensus. 

    Because I am fully aware that these are only indirect and secondary means of apprehending the Good / God, I have to be respectful to the revelations, traditions, reason, and consensus of others, because insofar as they are, they ALSO come of God, and therefore have good in them.

    And because I am fully aware at all times that such things and choices are good only indirectly, I am in less danger of confusing the things I value and the choices I prefer with God’s values and choices, and remain open to correction and re-evaluation that will bring me closer to the More-Good.

    I personally find that very useful indeed.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    I’m curious how you would describe something that seems morbidly evil like, murdering your own child, as only “less good”. If you just focus on the act of murder itself in that moment.  Is there anything about that humanity that any of us want to “relate” to?  I agree with you about running the risk of saying, I could never be that bad, but still…I feel like it needs to be labeled BAD! 

    I say this because the thought of something like that makes me feel agony, pain, torment, crushed.  Are these things simply less-good?  They don’t exist materially…

  • hapax

    WARNING:  THIS COMMENT WILL DISCUSS THEORETICAL POSITIONS AND ACTIONS THAT ANY REASONABLE PERSON WILL CONSIDER ABHORRENT AND REPULSIVE

    I’m curious how you would describe something that seems morbidly evil like, murdering your own child, as only “less good”.

    Okay.  Do you have children?

    I ask because I have two.  And while I love them with a fierceness and joy that is almost physically painful at times, I won’t deny that there haven’t been moments that it has crossed my mind to smother them in their sleep.

    That sounds flippant, but it really isn’t.  The reason I consider such an action — even if for the briefest second — is because they are, at that point, doing something that upsets my need to do something else, or even my comfort.

    And those “something elses” I need to do are in fact Good Things.  My “comfort” is a Good Thing — I am valued in the eyes of God, and therefore it is right that I should be happy and at peace.

    So anything that acts to further those goods does, in fact, participate in the Good.  But Good isn’t a single ladder, that we go up two rungs and down three.  It’s more like … I dunno … the energy that sustains me, that originates from a single source (the sun) but radiates all around me, and I draw from an infinite number of places?  (A horrible analogy, but the best I can come up with in the moment)

    In the case of murdering my child, the miniscule “goodness” this would promote would be like striking a single match, if by so doing I cut myself off from all other providers of heat, light, movement, nutrition, oxygen, everything else that ultimately is powered by the sun — so horrendously outweighed by the falling away from the radical departure from the  Goodness that sustains me that it indeed should leave me feeling “agony, pain, torment, crushed.” 

    Yet that lit match is still undeniably “light” and “hot”.  It just doesn’t count for much in the circumstances. 

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    I do have two children as well :)

    Ok, so basically we would call that rushing away of all things good except the match…that’s called evil by some? 

    Why, if God is good and God is GOD, is the rushing away from Him even possible?

  • hapax

    Why, if God is good and God is GOD, is the rushing away from Him even possible?

    Well, then you get into the whole ineffythingy free-will problem of evil “it’s a Mystery.”

    I mean, I’ve got answers that satisfy ME, but they involve transcendental poetry and incredibly complicated metaphors and basically boil down to “that’s above my paygrade.”

    :-)

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    Thank you very much for explaining that to me <3  I truly appreciate that perspective. 

  • Caravelle

    Ok, so basically we would call that rushing away of all things good except the match…that’s called evil by some?

    Basically you have hapax_good, and then you have Georgia_good/evil.

    Georgia_good/evil is the derivative of hapax_good.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a little out of energy today, so while there are a few points that are bothering me, I don’t have anything to actually contribute to the conversation. Even so, I’d just like to mention, Hapax, that your startling display of honesty has suddenly left me with an incredible amount of respect for you. 

    Uh. Reading that over again, it looks uncomfortably like a backhanded complimented. To elaborate, I felt your comment was significantly more honest than I expect anyone to be in open conversation – I did not mean to imply that I thought so little of you that a simple display of honesty would startle me. Hope that makes sense.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    If that’s your premise, then you’ll have to take it up with someone who accepts that.

    But that’s the point:

    The conversation we’re having is based on a very specific set of premises created by the OP.  To wit:

    Is Team Hell correct?

    If Team Hell is correct, does that make god Hitler?

    So to step in and say, “You’re wrong because god doesn’t work that way and if you want to have that conversation you’d better take it up with someone else,” is an indication that you, yourself have either missed/lost track of the premises or decided to step in and be dismissive for the sake of being dismissive.  I’m leaning heavily on option one, by the way…

    In other words, we’re sitting her and trying to decide what the best rock band of all time is and you just stepped in to say, “You’re all wrong because Babe Ruth is the greatest hitter of all time and no one can argue with me.”

  • Caravelle

    So to step in and say, “You’re wrong because god doesn’t work that way
    and if you want to have that conversation you’d better take it up with
    someone else,” is an indication that you, yourself have either
    missed/lost track of the premises or decided to step in and be
    dismissive for the sake of being dismissive.  I’m leaning heavily on
    option one, by the way…

    To be fair, hapax came into this conversation responding to me. And I, for one, have totally lost the plot. For one thing I seem to recall I used to have a conversation going with Georgia that was independent of yours and I can’t remember where that went.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    To be fair, hapax came into this conversation responding to me. And I,
    for one, have totally lost the plot. For one thing I seem to recall I
    used to have a conversation going with Georgia that was independent of
    yours and I can’t remember where that went.

    Hence my belated realization of Option C: I was the only one trying to stick to the original set of premises.

    (again, from retracing the comments I don’t actually know that “this viewpoint is hurtful” is Geds’ position here)

    I don’t find it directly hurtful.  I do find it awfully dismissive in its standard formulation as I originally attempted to express via analogy.  I’d be willing to bet, however, that there are people who do find it hurtful.  I’ve just never actually been on the receiving end of that in any great degree.  And I tend to have a harder time accepting praise than criticism, anyway.

    In the more general idea that “good” is a thing created by god and released it in to the universe, though, I simply find it a non-starter.  I see god as being a nonexistent being and good as being a necessary artifice created by humans to convince ourselves to work together.  Good and evil are abstract concepts like love and hate that do not exist as separate forces, but exist because there is a self-aware, observant entity responding to a universe of infinite want and finite resources.  Without awareness there is no good or evil, there is simply action and reaction.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    You’re right!  Ok, well then my answer would be “Yes, their God is Hitler.”

    ……now what? :)

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “Simply reducing all of that to, “I’d like to thank god for watching out
    for me,” makes all of the positive achievements of humanity invisble.”

    But isn’t this only true if a good work MUST be acknowledged and recognized to be considered “a good work” ?  So if a good work falls in the forest and no one acknowledges it, did it exist?

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    “So if a good work falls in the forest and no one acknowledges it, did it exist?”

    If a person does a good work and everyone insists on acknowledging someone else for it, and chiding said person for stealing credit when they protest…isn’t that person going to feel just the slightest bit invisible and unnecessary?

    Granted, some people do things solely for the credit, but nobody likes to be made to feel like they don’t matter. And unfortunately “I don’t really matter” is not a difficult conclusion to draw from the phrase “all good comes from God”, the way people commonly use it.

  • Georgia

    I find it un-depressing for two reasons.

    1. I am grateful to God for giving me the strength, wisdom, etc. to do good works.

    2. My True Self rejoices knowing that God receives the glory for all good things, because that is how it is supposed to be.

    Again, just my viewpoint.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    And now, it puts in my comment twice and won’t let me edit.  Supermegasigh.

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    Interestingly, the mostly common usage of “all good comes from God” I’ve encountered is people saying it about themselves to downplay whatever it is they’ve just accomplished. “It’s not me doing this good thing, but God working through me.”

    It really irks me in that context, because I feel like they are saying they all they are capable of is crap without God pulling the strings from on high. Like my life is only worthwhile if I’m willing to allow myself to be God’s puppet, an empty vessel for his Goodness, or somesuch.

    I sometimes feel like Christians are afraid to own any good deeds that they do, for fear of trying to earn salvation or deprive God of glory or something. Combined with a tendency to always be confessing one’s sins, this weird reverse pride trend starts emerging: where Christians can boast about their sins and shortcomings but must dismiss their good deeds as “not really them, because humans aren’t actually capable of anything worthwhile without help”.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    I want to clarify something at this point.  If I were to say “All good things come from God”, that would not take away from my own personal choice to do good. 

    Jesus says we will be rewarded for our good works!  We obviously have a responsibility to the poor and the oppressed, and its not like God just possesses all of us with goodness and forces us to do those things, otherwise, wouldn’t they be done?

    What I mean with the phrase “all good things come from God” is that there would be no OPTION of doing a good work if God did not exist.

    So, if you want credit for your good works and you want them acknowledged, that acknowledgement is your reward.  If you give credit to God and say, without God I could never have chosen to do a good work, then God will reward you later in Heaven.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “The god of the Jewish Bible selected one group of people to be his.  On
    several occasions that god ordered his selected people to kill everyone
    from a different group of people, slaughtering the men, women, children,
    and livestock.  He also told his people not to intermix with people
    from other people groups.  There is absolutely no difference between
    this set of orders and Hitler’s goals.”

    This is my biggest problem with God, the God of the Bible.  I know of several explanations that I don’t quite buy.

    1.  The Jewish people were not “selected” so much as “set apart” from the rest of the world.  They were supposed to be a light to the nations so that everyone would see their example and worship Elohiym.  They were not allowed to intermingle with other races, because that would affect their worship of Him.  (And it did.  But it just doesn’t add up to murdering other nations.)

    2.  God was taking vengeance on the other nations for oppressing the Jewish people.  This proved his sovereignty over their gods.  (I suppose you could say justice…until you got to the whole murdering babies thing.)

    3.  The other nations deserved it for simply not knowing about God.  (Horrible.  Hitler God.)

    4.  The people writing Israel’s history decided to blame God for their own hellish actions. (I prefer this one to the other, of course.)

    So its true, many people believe in a “Hitler” god and relish in it (Ellenjay).  I think they justify it by saying, well a human couldn’t do that (even though technically, “God” ordered the humans to do just that!)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    4 is the one I buy the most from a historical perspective, though I wouldn’t quite call it ‘blame’ exactly.

    The nature of religion has changed a lot over the course of history;  at the time when the events in the Hebrew Bible were taking place, most religions were locality or nationality based – invoking God or The Gods as a reason for war isn’t entirely distinguishable from invoking national pride.

    Basically invoking God as a reason to go conquer another people isn’t unusual – nor for that matter was slaughtering or enslaving a defeated people.  Basically I think people need to keep the historical context in mind when they read about biblical atrocities – because as sure as the Israelites were out slaughtering everyone, everyone else was out slaughtering everyone else too.*

    This is also why I don’t suggest that this is a question of ‘blame’ exactly – I suspect that the Israelites were actually very good at warfare, and that this is kind of a way of saying “We kicked the crap out of X, Y and Z”; while giving credit to God can be seen as both a way of saying “Our God is a total badass, do not mess with us!” and also “All credit is to God because if we get prideful we’ll get the shit smoten out of us.”**

    *This is part of why when I feel depressed about the state of the modern world, I look at history.  We as a species have really come a LONG way.  You might not think it, or you might think it terribly depressing that this is us after a lot of positive developments… but I think it shows that we can and do improve over time and will continue to improve going forward.

    **Which is in no way exclusive to Abrahamaic faiths.  Greeks, hubris, ’nuff said.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    4 is the one I buy the most from a historical perspective, though I wouldn’t quite call it ‘blame’ exactly.

    The nature of religion has changed a lot over the course of history;  at the time when the events in the Hebrew Bible were taking place, most religions were locality or nationality based – invoking God or The Gods as a reason for war isn’t entirely distinguishable from invoking national pride.

    Basically invoking God as a reason to go conquer another people isn’t unusual – nor for that matter was slaughtering or enslaving a defeated people.  Basically I think people need to keep the historical context in mind when they read about biblical atrocities – because as sure as the Israelites were out slaughtering everyone, everyone else was out slaughtering everyone else too.*

    This is also why I don’t suggest that this is a question of ‘blame’ exactly – I suspect that the Israelites were actually very good at warfare, and that this is kind of a way of saying “We kicked the crap out of X, Y and Z”; while giving credit to God can be seen as both a way of saying “Our God is a total badass, do not mess with us!” and also “All credit is to God because if we get prideful we’ll get the shit smoten out of us.”**

    *This is part of why when I feel depressed about the state of the modern world, I look at history.  We as a species have really come a LONG way.  You might not think it, or you might think it terribly depressing that this is us after a lot of positive developments… but I think it shows that we can and do improve over time and will continue to improve going forward.

    **Which is in no way exclusive to Abrahamaic faiths.  Greeks, hubris, ’nuff said.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “If a person does a good work and everyone insists on acknowledging
    someone else for it, and chiding said person for stealing credit when
    they protest…isn’t that person going to feel just the slightest bit
    invisible and unnecessary?”

    I would never suggest something like that though.  I would chide someone for saying they are the source of all good.  I would praise someone for choosing to participate in that good!

  • Jenny Islander

    Not listening to one’s conscience is a hallmark of American Fundamentalist Christianity.  You see it in the child training manuals that are recommended from the pulpit and used as shibboleths of Real True Christianity.  People are taught to ignore the little voice inside them that says, “No, stop, this is wrong.”  If their stomachs hurt at the thought of beating a child, that’s the flesh talking.  If they stand outside the door of the baby’s room crying right along with the baby, they’re being worldly, and if they go in and pick up that terrified baby and cuddle him and whisper, “I’m sorry, baby, that stupid book is going in the trash,” they’ve given in to temptation.

    I firmly believe that American Fundamentalists are kept in line by being trained from an early age not to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  The preacher (and the child trainer, and the group leader, and the politician who recites the right dogwhistle phrases) interprets for God instead.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I firmly believe that American Fundamentalists are kept in line by being
    trained from an early age not to listen to the promptings of the Holy
    Spirit.”

    This is the most interesting concept about this blog post for me.  The fact that the “Bible” and narrow interpretations of said Bible has taken precedence over the Spirit…

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “This is the most interesting concept about this blog post for me.  The fact that the “Bible” and narrow interpretations of said Bible has taken precedence over the Spirit… ”

    I have had conversations with certain American Fundamentalists where they stated, straight out, that if God Almighty came down upon a chariot of fire performing miracles left and right, then said “This part of the Bible right here?  It never happened.” they would have to denounce him as Satan.  Because Almighty God Himself cannot contradict the Bible, for the Bible is the source of all that is Good and Holy, and God couldn’t lie and say any part of it was wrong.

  • Rikalous

    I have had conversations with certain American Fundamentalists where
    they stated, straight out, that if God Almighty came down upon a chariot
    of fire performing miracles left and right, then said “This part of the
    Bible right here?  It never happened.” they would have to denounce him
    as Satan.  Because Almighty God Himself cannot contradict the Bible, for
    the Bible is the source of all that is Good and Holy, and God couldn’t
    lie and say any part of it was wrong.

    Wait, so they think Satan would be more likely to deceive them by bringing on the miracles than by having a follower sneak some writings into the Bible some time in the past couple millennia? Guess he’s never heard of “work smarter, not harder.”

  • http://www.nightphoenix.com Amaranth

    “I think you can be commended for choosing to do good works.
    I don’t think you can be commended for being the source of all that is good.”

    Do you think a person can be commended for being, not the source of ALL that is good, but simply the source of good *within themselves*? If I’m understanding correctly, I’d say that you believe that good does not come from the person, but from an outside source (God).

    I can understand how a person who does not believe in God would be disturbed and/or insulted by the notion that the good that they do doesn’t come from themselves, but from an outside source that they don’t even think exists.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “So, for this particular conversation, if we’re talking about the concept
    of Team Hell’s god and the question, “Is god Hitler?” and sticking to
    the context necessary to even have those questions make sense, then the
    formulation, “All good comes from god,” is an offensive statement. 
    Again, given the context.”

    I wonder if an answer to the question (again, under the assumption that God is real) “Is God Hitler?”  could be “All good comes from God” or in other words “no”.  The existence of that question doesn’t negate that answer.  The question may exist because of print in a book that is just not true.

    But if you insist on asking the question using Team Hell’s perspective, we should probably get a Team Hell person up in here :)

  • Anonymous

    What offends me personally about the statement “there is no good without God” and its cousins, Georgia? I know there’s no God. So saying there’s no good without God is saying there’s no good, period. I can’t accept that.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    I apologize for offending you and your beliefs.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “So explaining the reasons why you don’t find something hurtful won’t help them much ?”

    I wasn’t trying to help or hurt.  I was trying to explain a point of view.  What you said was that my point of view was not valid because it did not address other points of view and because people found it offensive.

    “Maybe that’s where disagreement exists : you don’t think that belief in
    God is at all a factor in whether someone would find “good comes from
    God” hurtful or not. I’d disagree with that.”

    I do think belief in God is a factor in whether or not “good comes from God” is a hurtful statement.  Again, I was explaining how I viewed it for ME.  Not others.  Maybe I am just the dullest person alive (very possible) but all of us are sharing opinions here, right?  I am not sitting here typing to try and prove to you the notion that there is a God!  If it offends you, you are taking what I’m saying as if I’m applying it to you, which was never my intent.  We are just having a discussion, sharing viewpoints and scenarios about “goodness”.  A perfect analogy for a topic like this doesn’t exist because of all the factors we do not and cannot know.

    “Do you find that you
    respond differently to the Ralph analogy depending on whether the
    employee knows Ralph is helping them or not ? If you do, then it’s a
    relevant factor. (or a bad analogy) (but it seems obvious to me it’s a
    relevant factor, even without the analogy).”

    Yes, I think there are many responses to this, you, Geds, and others have all provided some.  I just unhappily did not include them all…

  • Caravelle

    I never meant to say your point of view wasn’t valid ! I meant that just giving it failed to address the other side’s concerns.

    Again, I was explaining how I viewed it for ME.  Not others.

    I got that. But you also said that you were trying to convince others that it wasn’t hurtful. In that case, explaining how you view it for YOU isn’t going to convince, especially when you have reason to think that the reasons you view it the way you do wouldn’t apply to the others you’re trying to convince.

    Yes, I think there are many responses to this, you, Geds, and others
    have all provided some.  I just unhappily did not include them all…

    See, that sentence seems to be responding to something completely different from what I was saying in the paragraph it’s apparently responding to.

    I think we’re talking past each other, and given it’s been going on for like three cycles with little change I think maybe we should call it a day ?

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I can understand how a person who does not believe in God would be
    disturbed and/or insulted by the notion that the good that they do
    doesn’t come from themselves, but from an outside source that they don’t
    even think exists.”

    Somehow I missed this comment earlier, and I want to address it because I think it applies.  I understand this too.  I think that a lot of my beliefs are offensive to people who do not believe in God. 

    Does this mean I do not have the right to believe them?  Does this mean I do not have the right to share them?  Is Christianity, or even my personal Christianity in particular, the only belief that offends any and all other beliefs? 

    Conversely, I could take offense at any intimation that God does not exist, which has happened repeatedly throughout the course of this conversation.  I could say,  “The original Ralph analogy is so offensive to me because that’s not what God is like!!!!1asdf”

    But that would be ridiculous, a distraction, and in the end, fruitless.

    There’s no reason why we cannot overlook our personal offenses and have a discussion with people of different beliefs and walk away with new ideas, thoughts, or maybe even nothing at all. 

    It actually disturbs and insults me that I am the only one having to answer for my “offensive” beliefs.  However, I don’t blame anyone in particular.  Just the nature of conversation, I suppose.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I can understand how a person who does not believe in God would be
    disturbed and/or insulted by the notion that the good that they do
    doesn’t come from themselves, but from an outside source that they don’t
    even think exists.”

    Somehow I missed this comment earlier, and I want to address it because I think it applies.  I understand this too.  I think that a lot of my beliefs are offensive to people who do not believe in God. 

    Does this mean I do not have the right to believe them?  Does this mean I do not have the right to share them?  Is Christianity, or even my personal Christianity in particular, the only belief that offends any and all other beliefs? 

    Conversely, I could take offense at any intimation that God does not exist, which has happened repeatedly throughout the course of this conversation.  I could say,  “The original Ralph analogy is so offensive to me because that’s not what God is like!!!!1asdf”

    But that would be ridiculous, a distraction, and in the end, fruitless.

    There’s no reason why we cannot overlook our personal offenses and have a discussion with people of different beliefs and walk away with new ideas, thoughts, or maybe even nothing at all. 

    It actually disturbs and insults me that I am the only one having to answer for my “offensive” beliefs.  However, I don’t blame anyone in particular.  Just the nature of conversation, I suppose.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I got that. But you also said that you were trying to convince others that it wasn’t hurtful.”

    Not that it wasn’t hurtful.  That it wasn’t hurtful to ME and that I did not want or intend to hurt them.  I don’t think that every time you say “I don’t believe in God” you intend to hurt me, nor do I think you shouldn’t be able to express that, in an analogy or otherwise.

    “I think we’re talking past each other, and given it’s been going on for
    like three cycles with little change I think maybe we should call it a
    day ?”

    Probably right.  I enjoyed most of it, though. :)  I think I’m just a little bewildered. 

    But -handshake- and great to meet you! : )

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “especially when you have reason to think that the reasons you view it
    the way you do wouldn’t apply to the others you’re trying to convince.”

    I think this might be part of the problem…I had no intention of convincing.  I was hoping to create understanding of how Christians (or just my lonely self) think.  :)  Of course I royally screwed up so…facepalm.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I’m a Quaker who believes in the presence of God within everyone. (Usually called the “inner light,” but I prefer the cumbersome term “That of God in all of us.”) Because I am also a panentheist, I believe that God’s goodness permeates everything. So for me the idea of “would we be good without God” is completely antithetical to my conception of God.

  • Mackrimin

    You know, this only now occurred to me (slow brain): Hitler was also trying to build a Thousand-Year Kingdom! His inner circle (or at least some of them) thought they’d gain magical powers there (yes, really). After the war, there were rumours that Hitler wasn’t really dead, but was alive and was planning to return – surely you’ve seen or at least heard of “They Saved Hitler’s Head”? Many members of Hitler’s inner circle were killed by his enemies (martyred, from the viewpoint of the Nazis), but several escaped to spread the word with the winners…  And even now, there is a persecuted (well, really just embarrassing) minority of national socialists spread here and there. And there’s even a psychological hypothesis that the Nazis kinda thought Hitler as their father.

    So, in many ways, Hitler was thought as the Messiah by the Germans. In many ways, he’s exactly the kind of guy people are always _asking_ God to send: a warrior-king who mercilessly crushes their enemies under his feet and demands absolute obedience, thus also taking away all personal resposibility – and let’s not forget that Hitler was _extremely_ succesful for a long time. In many ways, Hitler really is a far darker take at a Messiah – if Jesus was “love, not power” Hitler was “power and tough love”. So, all you have to decide is which of these two would-be Messiah’s is the true reflection of the Heavenly Father: Hitler or Jesus.

    Frankly, based on this, I’d have to say it seems unlikely Hell exists – not impossible, but unlikely, for while I can understand someone deciding that power through violence is the way to go because of abuse (which is basically what happened to Hitler, which is not to justify his actions, just explain them), I have a very hard time imagining someone first giving up that notion to the point of actually dying, rising from the dead and knowing that bad things are behind him, and _then_ deciding he was wrong and embracing violence (the ultimate example of what Hell at its core is) with wild abandon. It just doesn’t make any sense.

    So, Jesus or Hitler. One of these is your God (if you’re a Christian, that is). Choose, but don’t sweat it, for if it’s the former, He won’t torture you just because you were wrong (but _will_ probably snark at you), and if it’s the latter, I think we can all agree you’re _fucked_ anyway.

    Note: this “Hitler is the Anti-Christ” thing is, of course, not meant to be taken literally (as in “Hitler was Anti-Christ! The Apocalypse has begun!”). It simply occurred to me that the two – Hitler and Jesus – really are the exact opposites in many ways, yet were both considered as Chosen Ones in their lifetime, met inglorious (from the world’s perspective, anyway) ends, and have _a lot_ of mythology surrounding them. It’s fascinating to contrast their philosophies, and how people who claim to be following Jesus are really more drawn to Hitler’s credo. And I, at least, find it very hard to blame them – power’s lure is so very sweet, and the hands of death are a thousand, extending from every shadow to grab you the second you even _think_ of giving it away. Or so you think, anyway; of course, the fact is that power or no power, you will very likely continue drawing breath for years to come and be just fine. But as Lovecraft knew, no description can ever conjure up terrors as well as your imagination can, for it knows your heart.

    Anyway, all that said, I pity the Hitlers of this world. Their victims deserve all the sympathy and aid, make no mistake; but their torturer is a stunted, twisted thing, who makes those who see it for what it is freeze from simple disgusted terror, in exactly the same way – and for the same reason – a mutilated corpse would. It _takes_ a stunted, twisted monster who’s already dead inside to drop people into a pit of acid, or rip out their fingernails, or burn them, or do a thousand other horrible things to them.

    _I’m_ not like that, no matter what problems I might have, and I simply can’t bring myself to believe that God is fucked up worse than me.

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I have a very hard time imagining someone first giving up that notion to
    the point of actually dying, rising from the dead and knowing that bad
    things are behind him, and _then_ deciding he was wrong and embracing
    violence (the ultimate example of what Hell at its core is) with wild
    abandon. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

    That is a beautiful explanation.  Your entire post was so well-thought out.  <3 

  • Anonymous

    So, in many ways, Hitler was thought as the Messiah by the Germans. In many ways, he’s exactly the kind of guy people are always _asking_ God to send: a warrior-king who mercilessly crushes their enemies under his feet and demands absolute obedience…

    *cough*TurboJesus*cough*

    In all seriousness, though, there was actual propaganda put out painting Hitler as the Messiah. Have you ever watched Triumph of the Will? From the Wikipedia page: 

    Hitler himself is portrayed in a messianic manner, from the opening where he descends from the clouds in a plane, to his drive through Nuremberg where even a cat stops what it is doing to watch him, to the many scenes where the camera films from below and looks up at him: Hitler, standing on his podium, will issue a command to hundreds of thousands of followers. The audience happily complies in unison. 

    I also vaguely recall one of my college instructors saying that the movie’s opening text is meant to draw parallels between Germany’s suffering after Versailles and Christ’s suffering on the cross, with the Nazi party being the agents who bring about Germany’s resurrection.

    On a lighter note, edited footage from Triumph of the Will was used to make a British counter-propaganda film of Hitler and the Nazis appearing to dance to a popular song, enraging Joseph Goebbels to the point of screaming obscenities and abusing furniture. You can watch it and laugh here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHtEKSg-ycQ

  • Mackrimin

    In all seriousness, though, there was actual propaganda put out
    painting Hitler as the Messiah. Have you ever watched Triumph of the
    Will?

    No, I can’t say I have watched said triumph of cinematography. I have enough problems fighting my own demons without bothering about anyone other’s.

    However, all said, I think it’s quite ironic, seeing how Hitler never triumphed over his.

    On a lighter note, edited footage from Triumph of the Will was used
    to make a British counter-propaganda film of Hitler and the Nazis
    appearing to dance to a popular song, enraging Joseph Goebbels to the
    point of screaming obscenities and abusing furniture.

    Yes, I figure that _would_ happen to someone who’s lost to his demons, and invested his whole identity into a movie reel. You know, the kind of person who cries “blasphemy” at any deviation from One True Faith. You know, the howls of the damned…

    …who really need a _hard_ bitchslap to break them out of it and a good psychiatrist to help them the rest of the way more than eternal damnation. And that _hard_ bitchslap may or may not look like a temporal Hell.

    I have no problems with temporary Hell. There’s plenty of people who deserve _and need_ it, and in all likelihood I’m included in that number. People _should_ get payback for all the shit that’s befallen them; and, no matter Hitler’s daddy issues, that kinda includes making him suffer until he licks his victim’s boots and begs them for forgiveness.

    I just have issues with _eternal_ Hell. That’s going too far. Even by Hammurabi’s standards. Seriously, God, just give my enemies a break already; I hate them and all, but this is enough, okay? Have pity, for pity’s sake. For these fucking assholes who absolutely deserve none, okay? Stop it already, okay?

    I wouldn’t make for a very good God at all, now would I? Always that pity getting in the way of justice and holiness. No matter how much I’d want the strong, powerful _hatred_ be the defining characteristic. I’m not really sure what I want anymore…

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    “I have no problems with temporary Hell.”

    Holy carp, I think that’s about the first thing I’ve agreed with you on.

    But yeah, this thread really just goes to prove that Godwin’s Law doesn’t apply to ethics debates.

  • Caravelle

    But yeah, this thread really just goes to prove that Godwin’s Law doesn’t apply to ethics debates.

    How did people have those things before WWII ?

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Mostly by talking about torturing and killing babies. A joke among some of my philosophy friend, self included, is that ethics is one big dead baby joke.

    (Personally, I usually hate ethics as a field, not because of this obsession with harming infants, but because I feel meta-ethical questions like, “Is there such a thing as good or evil?” and “How do we know this?” have not been sufficiently answered)

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Mostly by talking about torturing and killing babies. A joke among some of my philosophy friend, self included, is that ethics is one big dead baby joke.

    (Personally, I usually hate ethics as a field, not because of this obsession with harming infants, but because I feel meta-ethical questions like, “Is there such a thing as good or evil?” and “How do we know this?” have not been sufficiently answered)

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Mostly by talking about torturing and killing babies. A joke among some of my philosophy friend, self included, is that ethics is one big dead baby joke.

    (Personally, I usually hate ethics as a field, not because of this obsession with harming infants, but because I feel meta-ethical questions like, “Is there such a thing as good or evil?” and “How do we know this?” have not been sufficiently answered)

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “But by losing “I don’t see him or know him or feel any kind of
    meaningful connection with him”, the analogy loses the aspect that makes
    sense to atheists.”

    If two scientists were discussing a theory, and the first (A Christian) brought forth an analogy for that theory without bringing God into the equation, the second (An atheist) would be able to continue that analogy without bringing God in also, right?  Especially because the scenario already includes that scientist’s worldview.

    It wouldn’t make sense for a third (Christian) scientist to come in and say, you left God out of that analogy, therefore it is wrong — because it wasn’t wrong to the person proposing it, it was only incomplete if you consider everyone in the entire world’s perspective.

    In my mind, it would make sense to just add that perspective to it.  Did you want me to include every “God perspective” in the analogy, or just atheism?  Because Ralph could have been twelve gods, or two gods battling each other, or a god that was purposefully trying to mess you up.  The list goes on and on and on and on.  I would have had to write a dissertation.

    I, personally, don’t think I will ever understand what went on here.  I mean, I understand that you wanted an atheistic perspective in the analogy, I just don’t understand why I was expected to provide that. 

    Geds started off the analogy with saying that if someone else who HE WAS AWARE OF got the credit, that would piss him off.  I was simply saying, if someone I admired got the credit, that wouldn’t piss me off.  I never said that was the end all of answers to the issue.  :)

  • ako

    It sounds like you’re feeling a bit jumped on, and I don’t mean to contribute to that.  I’m not hurt or offended and I don’t feel you wronged me.  I’m actually interested, which is why I keep going back to the analogy and trying to clarify the distinction from my perspective.

    The way I read Geds analogy, it was about having one’s good works credited to a being who one doesn’t know and doesn’t have a relationship with, which describes the perspective of many atheists on having our good works credited to God, whether or not it turns out that God actually exists.  If God doesn’t exist, our good works are being credited to a nonexistent being.  If God does exist, our good works are being credited to someone we don’t know and have no experience of being guided or assisted by.  Your analogy presupposes not only the existence of Ralph, but the active helpful mentoring, which doesn’t fit the experience of atheists at all. 

    I think it would actually be interesting to extend it to other religions.  I suspect it would be something like “No, Sarah was the one guiding and mentoring me!  I’ve never even met Ralph!”

  • ako

    To further clarify, Geds didn’t portray a world where atheism was true in the analogy, but he showed an important part of how many atheists experience things.  Your extension of the analogy added in how many Christians experience things, but changed things so atheist experiences were now left out.  Is that clear?

  • Georgia

    Yes, I should have worded it thusly:

    While Ralph threw his papers at you and walked out, he trained me by never actually leaving! He enabled and continues to enable me to do my job because he is always there to answer my questions and without him I would be useless at work.

    I think another difficulty lies in that, while you believe and perceive that Ralph threw the papers and left, I believe and perceive that he is standing by you ready to offer the same assistance to you as to me. So in that case, the perception of the atheist clouds the “reality” of Ralph. This is why our analogies of the “reality” of the situation would be in opposition and possibly offensive to one another. (ps I am not at all offended by atheism, but I did feel slightly ganged up on a few times. Nothing I’ll lose sleep over and still enjoying the discussion!)
    I never intentionally cut out what he said.

  • Georgia

    Oops. To continue, I never meant to cut out what he said, but in this case what he feels is “reality” is in direct opposition to what I feel is “reality”. Our analogies were destined to be opposed as each automatically discounts the other’s reality.

  • Georgia

    And I think extending the analogy to other religions would be very interesting as well…I just didn’t think of it as a pre-requisite.

  • ako

    I understand.  I don’t think you intentionally tried to distort or leave out anything.  And I understand why you felt ganged up on.  Portions of this discussion didn’t go well, but we seem to understand each other now, so that’s great!

    The basic problem of what’s really there is always going to create an issue in these discussions, because we’re all humans with limited human brains and limited human perceptions, which gets in the way of a perfect understanding of reality. 

  • Georgia

    Definitely. I wonder if we could start the analogy from square one.

    An atheist: Don’t give Ralph credit for my work! I’ve never been helped by him or even seen him!

    A Christian: But, he’s right there!

    :D. Like I said, two perspectives on the same world. <3

  • ako

    I like that version of the analogy.  And I understand about struggling with offensiveness – a of the “imaginary friend” and “magic pixie” references thrown around on some atheist blogs are reasonable descriptions of how religion appears to some people who are looking at it from the outside, but can be really offensive to a lot of people with religious beliefs.  There’s always a tricky balance of trying to express one’s own understanding of the world without being needlessly hurtful (I don’t believe that avoiding offending people is the most important thing, but like any other form of rudeness, it should only be used when it’s the least harmful way to accomplish something more important).

  • Georgia

    True. I am not personally offended by those things. One of my good friends jokingly refers to my “Sky King” and I think it’s funny.

    I don’t think my personal belief in a Sky King should be offensive to him, though. And it’s not :).

    I definitely would recoil at any attempt to use God to purposefully offend, and if offense is taken, I always apologize for the offense, but not my beliefs. The apostle Paul specifically admonishes Christians to speak with love and always be at peace with everyone. It is my hope to fulfill that. <3

  • Georgia

    An inverse of the analogy might be:

    Christian: My friend Ralph here really helped me out with this.

    Atheist: -looks around- Uh, who are you talking about?

    :D

  • Caravelle

    I think another difficulty lies in that, while you believe and perceive
    that Ralph threw the papers and left, I believe and perceive that he is
    standing by you ready to offer the same assistance to you as to me. So
    in that case, the perception of the atheist clouds the “reality” of
    Ralph.

    Which is similar to the scenario where Ralph is helping without the employee’s knowledge.

  • Georgia

    “Which is similar to the scenario where Ralph is helping without the employee’s knowledge.”.

    Correct. And then this is where Christians would begin to differ.

    Team Hell would split into three perspectives:

    1. You see Ralph! Why are you pretending you don’t?
    2. You saw Ralph once, but then you put that blindfold on and choose to ignore what you once saw.
    3. You want to claim all the glory for yourself, so you deny what is evident. (I admit, I included this in my original analogy and it was the reason for part of the offense. However, I meant it to be applied for Christians who act this way, whereas, those very Christians would apply it to people who don’t believe)

    I prefer:

    4. Ralph is there and he will let them know it when he decides to do so, just like he did with me. I must respect each individual’s view of their own life and experiences. I don’t believe in eternal, conscious torment, but reconciliation. So, I believe with all my heart that if you sincerely seek, you will sincerley find. I have a duty to tell people this because it is good news!

    This view in itself would probably offend some, simply because it differs from their own. I apologize for that, but I’m not sure it can be helped…if it can, I want to know how!

  • Georgia Ingolfsland

    “I don’t believe God just throws a stack of papers at you (the Bible?)
    and goes to the break room.  I believe that he is ever-present and
    ever-working with and through myself and others.  So, if “Ralph” was
    portrayed that way in this scenario…as someone who never left the
    office, someone you look up to and respect and tried to be like, then
    the original comment about being a reflection of Ralph’s skill as a
    trainer would be the highest compliment.

     If you despised the
    attention that Ralph got and wished he would just go away so you could
    do your job in peace and reap all the rewards, then that comment would
    grate at you.  I see no way in which that makes you stop existing. All
    of us are affected by forces out of our control.  Pointing that out
    doesn’t make us cease to exist.  And it doesn’t make our actions any
    less ours.  Just that we acknowledge we couldn’t have done that without
    “Ralph” leading us.  We still were the one who chose to do it.

    I
    think a big problem, where we are getting stuck, is that we are working
    from a starting point that God exists.  You can’t ask questions about
    what God is like and who he is without assuming he is real.  Your
    beliefs don’t allow for that.

    At the end of the day, I know that
    neither of our perspectives can be officially declared right or wrong.
    Just different viewpoints of the same world. <3 "

    By the way, here is my original post where I actually acknowledge that what I just said wouldn't work from an atheist point of view and that I am not forcing my opinion on anyone else's views!

  • Caravelle

    Ah, so much for calling it a day.

    By the way, here is my original post where I actually acknowledge that
    what I just said wouldn’t work from an atheist point of view and that I
    am not forcing my opinion on anyone else’s views!

    Actually, you said your analogy was working from the assumption that God exists. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work from an atheist’s point of view. It is perfectly possible for atheists to exist in a world where God exists; it’s just that either they don’t perceive God, or they do and mistakenly attribute that perception to something non-divine.

    Conversely, I could take offense at any intimation that God does not
    exist, which has happened repeatedly throughout the course of this
    conversation.

    Indeed you could; and it’s because I hate it when people do that and I think they shouldn’t do it that I’d been defending you against what I perceived to be Geds position. My only dispute with you was that I thought you’d used a bad analogy. I’m a bit terrible in that way : I’ll attack bad arguments regardless of whether I agree, disagree or couldn’t care less about the conclusion. (I say it’s terrible because that tendency can be used as a derailment strategy and I don’t want to be That Person. Seems to have worked GREAT here…)

    It actually disturbs and insults me that I am the only one having to answer for my “offensive” beliefs.

    I don’t think your beliefs are offensive at all; that’s the argument I was (trying to) tell Geds all along. And it turns out I misunderstood him and he didn’t think your beliefs are offensive either. Much. Oh I don’t know anymore.

    Look, I’m sorry I brought it up. I should have found some other way to explain why I thought your analogy was wrong. I’m sorry that I’m made you feel attacked over your beliefs.

    I still don’t know what your analogy was meant to say or what you thought Geds was saying but whatever. (“we’re all just sharing our point of views here” doesn’t help; a conversation doesn’t work by throwing random thoughts at each other. What I say will depend on what I think others said and what I want to convey.)

  • Caravelle

    Heck, while we’re at it…

    You can’t ask questions about what God is like and who he is without assuming he is real.  Your beliefs don’t allow for that.

    Of course they do. People speculate about entities they think are imaginary all the time. Sure, they’re harder to constrain than entities we actually see evidence for, and if we don’t assume logic is valid they can’t be constrained at all, but we can always speculate.

  • Rikalous

    People speculate about entities they think are imaginary all the time.

    For evidence, see all the discussion we’ve had about Nicky, Rayford, Buck, and the gang.

    How did people have those things before WWII ?

    I’m sure they had some sort of metric of ultimate evil, which might just have been Satan. It’d be interesting to know if there was an actual person who was Hitler before Hitler was.

  • Georgia

    I think it is a possibility that we are two people who literally cannot understand the way the other thinks…haha. I kept trying to express myself in order to get some closure for the conversation because regardless of everything, I respect you and this conversation a lot! (and because I’m apparently Ashley Hebert).

    But at this point I’m willing to concede. I’ve gone back and read over everything trying to find the specific things we disagreed on, and it just got more and more muddled. I’m sorry that I kept dragging the dead horse out of the grave and beating it even harder. :)

  • Caravelle

    Yes, it’s too bad because I’d like to understand you too ! And I enjoyed this conversation. I’m sorry I made you feel attacked.

  • Heart

    I must admit, I don’t really understand what is meant by `God being the source of all that is good`. Does that mean that when we do good actions, it is actually God acting? And if so, does that mean we lack the free will to be good by ourselves?

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    That…is a very philosophically contentious question. For some, it means that God, in created the world, created morality. This belief and its variants are known as Divine Command Theory.

    To others, that statement means that while we do good of our own free will, the only reason we are capable of it is the indweling of the Holy Spirit.

    To yet others, it means that when we do good, either God is directly acting through us, or that he is guiding our actions.

    A fourth common interpretation is that God exemplifies everything that is good. This doesn’t entirely square with the “source” thing, but there you go.

    The last interpretation that I regularly come across is that God, being the creator, is responsible for the existence of all good things in the world, even if “good” exists above and apart from him.

  • Keromaru

    I think of it as sort of a partnership.  When you do something good, you and God are working together in some invisible way to accomplish it.  You and God are pursuing tho same goals, in other words.

    It’s worth noting that in the Bible, when God works through people, the person still gets credit and praise for helping God do it.  Moses is still described as the greatest prophet, Abraham is still celebrated as patriarch, etc.  Heck, the whole reason Christianity has the concept of saints is to credit exemplary Christians for their work and insight.  In a way, it’s kind of like these people acted as conduits for God.  

    It may be in a similar way (not the same way, mind you) that Lauren Faust can deserve credit for the success of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, from a creative standpoint, but it’s still a Hasbro property.  Yeah, I went there.

    Here’s how St. Teresa of Avila put it:

    “Christ has no body but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    Compassion on this world,
    Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
    Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
    Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
    Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
    Christ has no body now but yours,
    No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
    Yours are the eyes with which he looks
    compassion on this world.
    Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

    I also just picked up -The Orthodox Church- by Kallistos Ware, which has this to say on salvation and the Church:

    “‘Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church.’  Does it therefore follow that anyone who is not visibly within the Church [that is, the Orthodox Church] is necessarily damned?  Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved.  As Augustine wisely remarked: ‘How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!’ . . . There may be members of the Church whose membership is known to God alone.  If anyone is saved, he must -in some sense- be a member of the Church; -in what sense-, we cannot always say.

    He also has this to say on Hell:

    “Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God.  It is heretical to say that all -must- be saved, for this is to deny will; but it is legitimate to hope that all -may- be saved.  Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception.  No one must be excluded from our loving intercession.  ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian.  ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for the men for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures.’  Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the Devil.”

    I also found an interesting point in an essay by Jurgen Moltman: that God’s last word isn’t judgment.  It’s “Behold, I make all things new.”  Renewal is the goal, not just judgement.

  • – Leigh –

    I recently had a discussion with my boyfriend’s father (who is a pastor), where he made exactly that point. He steadfastly stood by the position that everyone who goes to hell is responsible for their own punishment, since they chose not to obey God. I tried to point out that God at least bears the responsibility of making the punishment so extreme (eternal torment). However, the pastor continued his mantra of “God isn’t responsible for the choices these people make–they are the ones choosing eternal torment.”


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