Re: [asa] Re: good atheists?

From: Merv <>
Date: Fri Sep 04 2009 - 19:09:11 EDT

Hi, Susan. Just to pick on one snippet of your many posts ---the
'bruised shin' analogy caught my eye. I think C.S. Lewis wrote at some
length about this and disposed of it rather quickly, although in the
final analysis, his morality argument does not seem to have stood the
test of time to 'prove' to determined skeptics the existence of an
independent absolute standard. But his insights still have sharp
edges. I may do him injustice in my attempts to reproduce the gist of
his argument here but here goes.

Following my own natural instincts (i.e. keeping my shins comfortable)
has no more moral content than an animal learning which behaviors best
guarantee its survival. It's when I'm exhorted to do something contrary
to my (and/or my society's) own interests that things get interesting
and venture into what I would call "true" morality. Jesus didn't do (or
teach us to do) things that guaranteed his long and comfortable
survival. Nor did he make things comfortable for the establishment or
culture of his day. We all may lapse back into this so-called "natural
morality" and indeed be trapped in it. But we shouldn't confuse it with
Christianity or the higher morality that might, say, induce me to lie to
the Nazi soldiers at the door, telling them I am not hiding Jews in my
house ---all the while knowing that my non-cooperation with them may be
the end of me. A simple "anybody knows you should always tell the
truth" formula has value for helping hold a society together, to be
sure. But Christian claims regarding morality never leave it that
simple. As you said, Love your neighbor gets you 99% of the way
there. Only the Christian would add the prior and higher command to
love the Lord your God. And yes, those certainly do describe the law.
Maybe I might lie someday to protect my neighbor. At the judgment seat
I will probably answer according to whether my act was motivated by love
or not. But to simply follow the course that yields the best physical
results for me and my own is nothing more than animal behavior ---rocks
rolling down hills if you will; what else could they possibly do? To
reduce morality to that is to practically say morality, in any
meaningful sense, doesn't exist. Of course Dawkins has pointed out that
Christians are still acting in self-interest. If they must be motivated
by a threat of eternal punishment or a promised reward of eternal bliss,
then how are their actions any less selfish in the end? To which I
respond: guilty as charged!!! I wish I was as moral as Dawkins
apparently is so that I always felt and acted in love for all my
neighbors, let alone others with whom I share very little common
interest. But my own self-appraisal is much more dismal. I fail at
this regularly, and sometimes it is only the thought that a higher Being
has laid down a pattern for me to follow that bridges the gap and helps
me enjoy those all-too-sparse successes where I make good moral choices
against my own self-desire. Maybe I'm just a worse-than-usual person
in this; but it's what I have to go on.

...and I'd better sign off now and go home (where I won't have email
access --so no more responses from me tonight.) But before I go, let me
point out, as somebody else has also, that for all this talk of
morality, it really isn't the core of Christianity except as an initial
pointer by which we are supposed to know how spiritually needy we are.
According to Christianity, those who aim for morality will miss their
target. Those who aim for Christ will get all the morality they need as
a side-benefit --but a very important one to be sure: one that is the
fruit or the observed evidence of Christ in their lives. There is much
more of interest to discuss in all of this, such as the accusation I've
heard about the "no true Scottsman" fallacy that is leveled when
Christians start talking about fruit. But as I said before, I have a
family waiting for me at home. Thanks for joining us. (To the charge
of arrogance, perhaps it applies; but if Christ is the Truth, then how
arrogant and hateful would a Christian need to be to keep that truth for
themselves?) I personally liked the example in the popular novel "The
Shack" in which Jesus says he relates to people who are Buddhists,
Hindus, Atheists, Republicans, Democrats, and yes --even Christians.
That goes a little way to diffuse the arrogance of the statement "My
religion is right and everyone else's is wrong" and yet preserves a
central truth claim that Christ is the only way. Hope you don't mind
a disorganized ramble.

--Merv Bitikofer (ASA member)

Cogan, Susan L. wrote:
> Only if you assume that morality has no intrinsic value but is merely an
> empty pantomime performed to please someone external to yourself. The truth
> is, that every time one child kicks another in the shins morality is born
> anew. Don't like the pain in your shins? Don't steal your friend's pencil!
> Good is friendship. Evil is the pain in your shin or the loss of your
> pencil. Or the loss of a friend.
> In order to make your statement above be true you would have to assume that
> people's shins don't hurt unless they believe in God, that you won't care if
> someone takes your pencil unless you believe in God and that you can't make
> friends unless you believe in God.
> A bruised shin is an objective wrong. You don't need a heavenly observer to
> point it out to you.

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Received on Fri Sep 4 19:11:08 2009

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