RE: [asa] Re: good atheists?

From: Dehler, Bernie <>
Date: Tue Sep 08 2009 - 14:53:10 EDT

Susan said:
"Jesus, as portrayed, was happy to make his sacrifice for the sake of others. I'm sure he didn't enjoy the beatings, nails, etc. but doing anything else would have made him miserable. He did exactly what he intended to do. He sacrificed himself for people that he loved just as you or I would. In my case, if my courage failed me and I didn't, the rest of my short life would be utterly miserable."

For those who believed that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, yes, that was a very unselfish and noble thing to do, as man-God.

But if Jesus was not God and was instead a religious sect leader who ended-up getting killed because he clashed with the ruling elite, then it makes his death much less noble. And if he never rose from the dead, it makes his life that much more less meaningful, compared to what Christians believe.

So 'Jesus as a role model' really depends on what you think Jesus was in real life.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Cogan, Susan L.
Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 6:59 AM
Subject: RE: [asa] Re: good atheists?

> From: Merv []
> Sent: Friday, September 04, 2009 6:09 PM
> To: Cogan, Susan L.;
> Subject: Re: [asa] Re: good atheists?
> 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.

Ayn Rand made a determined effort to prove the existence of an objective morality. She's fairly convincing, though I can't really count myself as one of her fans. I think her views would have been considerably different if she'd had children.

> 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.

human beings *are* animals, if very sophisticated ones. Lots of people spend their lives kicking and being kicked and survive just fine. Keeping your shins comfortable isn't morality. It's the foundation of morality. Almost nobody in our culture thinks of morality as something you need for a happy life. They don't think "I don't like my shins to hurt (therefore shin-kicking is wrong), other people don't like their shins to hurt (that's where maturity comes in), therefore a moral person does not kick someone in the shins." That's all too complicated. It's just easier to say "treat others the way you want to be treated." The result is happiness, not just 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.

yes, most people believe that "true" morality must be painful, harmful or detrimental in some way. But pain and misery are different things. Most people are willing to endure pain to achieve happiness. If that wasn't true, nobody would ever get born and nobody would ever die defending their country.

If you do something that is contrary to your own or your society's best interest, then you are not committing a moral act.

>Jesus didn't do (or
> teach us to do) things that guaranteed his long and comfortable
> survival.

Jesus, as portrayed, was happy to make his sacrifice for the sake of others. I'm sure he didn't enjoy the beatings, nails, etc. but doing anything else would have made him miserable. He did exactly what he intended to do. He sacrificed himself for people that he loved just as you or I would. In my case, if my courage failed me and I didn't, the rest of my short life would be utterly miserable.

>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.

If you lie to protect your neighbor, then that act is its own reward. Anyone who would judge you negatively for it is the immoral one.

>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?

I agree with that. Anything you do or don't do because you fear punishment isn't really morality. That means if the cop isn't looking (or if you can fool yourself into believing the cop isn't looking) then any childish behavior is possible. That idea is what's behind "atheists have no morality." Atheists don't believe the cop exists. They don't stop at red lights because they are afraid of a ticket. They stop at red lights because they don't want to get t-boned in the intersection.

>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.

I've read most of Dawkins' work and he is an incredibly moral person. His entire morality is based on "do no harm." He's tough, but I've seen him change his mind, his tactics and his rhetoric when he discovered that it was causing some kind of harm. If everyone did just that much the world would be a much better place.

>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.

I have a feeling you reject arbitrary rules that have no intrinsic value just like everyone else, even if you think you "ought" to follow them.

> ...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.

the true Scotsman pops up every time I point out that religion doesn't have any effect on people's morality one way or the other.

>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?)

The arrogance lies in the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of the opponent ("Atheists have no morality." When you point out they do, then the answer is they "parasitize" Christianity.)

>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)

I've enjoyed this discussion very much. In the interests of full disclosure I'm a Unitarian Universalist with a strong Buddhist emphasis.


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Received on Tue Sep 8 14:54:25 2009

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