Re: [asa] Re: good atheists?

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Date: Tue Sep 08 2009 - 18:32:42 EDT

Murray does a good job pulling in Lewis' arguments from "Mere Christianity" --(I
need my own copy around here to refer to at times like this.) I would only
modify Murray's example to not be so heavy-handedly obvious. It's easy for most
people to agree that you don't push elderly under a bus because that example is
so extreme as to seem self-evident which is Susan's point I believe.

What Lewis does a better job with (thanks for jarring my memory a bit, Murray)
is show how these same urgings that can seem so *obvious* to us can arrive in
more subtle forms with complications that make them anything but obvious. Then
we find ourselves having to judge between this or that competing compulsion, and
it is in deciding *between* compulsions that we must derive our source or
standard from something quite outside those compulsions themselves. Let me try
my own example here.

Decision: should I pick up the paper cup littering a public park space and put
it in the trash can?

Most basic selfish answer: No --it's somebody else's problem and besides, I
didn't put it there.

Next most basic answer: Yes --I need to be a good citizen and do my part, even
going beyond strict obligation. Since I value the appearance of a clean and
attractive park, it behooves me to help keep it that way. (Most people would
probably agree to this last one as a *self-evident* moral reference.

Taking it to another level: NO! Leave the trash there. Our western culture
has taken disposable lifestyle to obscene and environmentally degrading levels;
and our removal of our shame to "sanitary" landfills does nothing but enable us
to pretend that our wasteful lifestyles are in any way sustainable or
responsible. We need to see our trash just like you train a dog by rubbing its
nose in its own excrement. Leave the trash be ---maybe we'll learn to feel
shame and motivation to change.

Yet another level: doesn't matter --do what you want. Either way your actions
(even multiplied by a billion) are of no consequence in any globally lasting
sense. We are just another animal leaving our own natural detritus like any
other animals. Some by-products take longer for the earth to process back to
natural form, but in the end it all gets swallowed up.

My point here, Susan, is that one can have all these competing *self-evident*
feelings as to what is the right thing to do, and to judge between them you have
to get a standard from somewhere outside of them all. I may settle on either
two or even three above, but in doing so I have to appeal to something outside.
 Whether that something is Christianity or some not, we can argue. But my point
here is that there will be *something* besides the natural tendencies and
intellectual responses above that finally motivates us to pay more attention to
one and ignore another. If you take the argument from one of the above as being
so self-evident as to be its own foundation, then it simply means you haven't
considered the others yet. Much as a young child may stop at the first one (not
pick up the cup for selfish reasons) simply because he hasn't matured to the
point of seriously considering other courses of action.

Even in cases of "don't push granny under the bus" ---well, what if a child was
packing an explosive vest and about to suicidally detonate it in a crowded
market place? Okay to shoot a child then? Or is it okay to stay "comfortable"
with your conviction that such a thing is always wrong and doom the families in
the market for the sake of your own moral good feelings? You may respond --and
very fairly so, I might add, that the Christian has no easier answer for such
situations than others. (And I'm a Mennonite --pacifist leanings -- who
struggles as this from a different direction than most other Christians probably
do.) But at least there is a "court of appeal" that we Christians have with
each other to begin to even approach such situations. We can disagree but we do
so knowing that there will be a judgment seat someday - a higher court.

Was it okay to kill the Grannies in Hiroshima so that possibly, WWII might be
ended earlier? Christians argue over such things all the time. And simplified
maxims like "do no harm" are exactly useless and provide no foundation
whatsoever to address these moral questions except as reference points to be
utilized by some higher arbiter that will (rightly or wrongly) nudge us to
decide between them.


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Received on Tue Sep 8 18:33:25 2009

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