CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

“Would you say grace?” someone in my family will ask, to an elder before a family meal--a meal such as Thanksgiving, for instance.

Of course what they mean is, “Would you give thanks?” But the phrase in English could be more accurately translated, “Would you say ‘grace’?” In our language, ‘grace’ derives from the same Latin root as Spanish ‘gracias’ or Italian ‘grazie’. Strictly speaking our English word traces back to a Middle English translation of an Old French translation of the Latin {gra_tia} (the long ‘a’ being represented by an underscore here): favor, gratitude, agreeableness. The attitude expressed is one of actively receiving love, in fair-togetherness.

In New Testament Greek, however, the word that is typically Englished as ‘grace’ does not have this meaning. Nor does the Hebrew/Aramaic which the New Testament authors were translating or thinking about (typically following the Septuagint). The meaning there is not different in content, exactly, but different in direction: the reference is not primarily to the receiver, in thankfulness, but to the giver--for which the proper response from the receiver is, ideally, an active acknowledgment and thankfulness.

What I find most interesting about this, is that the Greek word chosen for expressing this notion is rooted in the ancient Greek word for joy: chara. Thus {charis}, and its cognates, in context, means ‘freely given joy’. And so it is entirely appropriate, when one perceives that joy has been freely given--an action of indisputable love and fair-togetherness--to acknowledge that this has been done by naming that which has been given: to say ‘I thank you’ by saying ‘grace’.

This has deep topical (though not linguistic) links to the notion of ‘acclaim’--a New Testament Greek word often Englished as ‘confess’; which isn’t an altogether inaccurate translation, but which more literally could be called ‘speak (or reason) out with’. The basic idea is that a person is actively cohering with another person. One of the more striking cases is found in Luke’s story of Judas Iscariot: “Now, coming away [from the group, during the final week in Jerusalem before the Passover], he [Judas] confers with the chief priests and officers as to how he may be giving up Him [Jesus] to them. And they rejoiced, and they agreed to give him silver. And he •acquiesces•; and sought opportunity to give Him up to them minus a throng.” [GosLuke 22:4-6, Knoch’s translation] ‘Acquiesce’, in English, can be a little weak. The Greek is much stronger: he acted (and so declared) in an agreeing unity with them.


St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, after relating to his congregation the hymn concerning the prior divinity and incarnated humanity of Christ (2:5-8), urging his listeners to be of a similar disposition to the attitude and intentions of Christ in His action of doing so, continues with one of the most famous and well-known declarations in Christendom: a declaration that includes not only this action of unity agreement, but also a verbing of the term {charis}. Most Christians will be able to quote a phrase from this declaration already; but listen to it in its fullness, with these contextual meanings restored to the verses:

“Therefore, God also highly exalts Him [Jesus] and in joy is freely giving Him the name above every name!--so that in the name of Jesus [i.e. “The Lord saves” or “The Lord is Salvation”] every knee shall be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue shall be agreeing in unity with each other that Jesus Christ is Lord, into the glory of God the Father!” (Phil 2:9-11)

Leaving aside as controversial the scope of this declaration and this hope (so colorfully expressed by the Apostle), notice that the thanks for salvation is consonant with the freely given joy of God the Father: a joy connected with the giving of the name itself, a name of promised salvation, representing not only the intentions but the character of God Himself.


Nowhere is this more unexpectedly expressed, perhaps, than in a story of Jesus unique to Luke: the story of an unnamed woman, fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, who crashes an intellectual dinner in a most scandalous fashion.

(The following translation is one I wrote for The King of Stories, selections of which I presented here on the Cadre Journal during Lent season this year --though not this story, at that time. I locate this incident as occuring not long after the healing of Jairus’ daughter.)

.......
Now, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dinner; and entering into the Pharisee's house, He reclined (at the table).

And look! a woman who was in the city, a sinner! (or 'a woman “of the city”, who was a sinner')

Now realizing He is lying at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of attar.

And standing behind at His feet (where He was reclining), weeping, she now starts raining His feet with tears; and with the hair on her head she wiped them off, and fondly kissing His feet she rubbed them with the attar.

Now--when the Pharisee who invited Him saw this, he said to himself: "If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman is touching Him, that she is a sinner!"

Answering, Jesus said toward him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

And he strongly agreed, "Say on, Rabbi!"

"Two debtors paying usury were owing a certain moneylender; one owed five hundred days wages, and the other owed fifty. Now, as they had nothing to pay with, he freely gives them joy instead. So which of them will be loving him more?"

Answering, Simon said, "I suppose the one to whom he gave more joy."

And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."

Now turning to the woman, He strongly declared to Simon:

"You see this woman, don't you!? I came into your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, no kiss of greeting, no oil to rub on My face! Yet she rains tears on My feet! And with her hair she wipes them off; and she rubs attar on My feet; and from the time I arrived, she hasn't ceased in fondly kissing My feet!

"I say to you: her sins, which are many, are pardoned; on behalf of which she loves this much.

"But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

And He said to the woman: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Yet those who were reclining with Him began saying among themselves...

..."Who is this, who even is pardoning sins?!"
.......

This incident is (almost?) unique, in the New Testament, including in Luke’s account, for its colloquial way of speaking of forgiveness and the mending of disrupted relationships between persons. The one who has been wronged is described as freely giving joy to those who have done the wrong. It is easy to see why joy is invoked in this description: love is actively given in this act, and love (in reciprocation) is actively received, to be given then in return and so on in the rhythmic actions of unity. Moreover, in this parable from Jesus, it is the one who was wronged who initiates the giving of the joy to those who have wronged him. Yet though their supplication is not mentioned, neither is the responsibility of the wrong-doer neglected; for Jesus (so Luke reports) also states that the faith of the woman has saved her.

The mending cannot be done without the active participation of both of the people; but we, as derivative creatures, depend upon God for our very existence and abilities. Indeed it is by God’s grace, by His freely given joy, that we exist in the first place and continue to exist at all. In a very real sense, it is even by God’s grace that we can sin--for though this is an abuse of the grace of God, the grace to be abused must still be given.

It is striking and challenging, then, to read the scriptures with this understanding: that when we see the word of ‘grace’, we ought to try substituting that with “freely given joy” (or some cognate thereof), and see how this affects our further understanding of the passages.


But what (it may be reasonably asked) does any of this have to do with apologetics? My answer is that this has deep connections to the theological distinction between trinitarian theism (I mean of the orthodox kind), and any other kind of theism imaginable, including proposed in other religions and philosophies.

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true (and I believe it is), then God is a (personally) singular unity of distinct persons. In some other kinds of tri-theism (for example the classic Celtic exposition of Maiden, Mother, Crone), the persons are not in fact distinct but are only masks or appearances of the divine in regard to certain human conventions. Or again, in some other kinds of tri-theism (for example in Mormonism), the persons though distinct are not the single unified ground of existence.

Or yet again, in cosmological dualisms (such as a Manichean God/Anti-God cosmology; or in a neo-pagan notion of Father/Mother, which is related to a less religious God/Nature disparity among some philosophers) the two separate grounds of reality have no common interaction with one another. (Or else if they do, then being of distinct ‘substances’ in philosophical parlance they thus are interacting within a common field or system of existence, and this is what we ought to be discussing instead when doing ontological work.)

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true, however, then God the self-begetting is one person; and God the self-begotten is also distinctly a person; and the two of them in their personal relationship with each other actively ground not only their singular existence as God but also (as the final ground of all reality) ground the existence of all derivative reality: including you and me and the system of Nature in which we live.

God is love, and fair-togetherness (the word that from Greek we typically English as “righteousness”), and positive justice therefore--if this is true. (I am not at this time discussing the role and existence of the 3rd Person in this economy; suffice to say that He distinctly proceeds instead of being begotten. In other words, His existence has nothing specifically to do with the self-existence of God, or of derivative reality. But I have discussed this elsewhere this summer in this journal.)

Please note that I am not here arguing that we should believe this is true; I am only pointing out the distinctions involved--and I am pointing out what is at stake in different propositions concerning God.

A singular person as the ground of all reality, does not give us love as the ground of all reality--for there is no coherent personal interaction as the ground of this God’s existence (and everything else). This remains true even if the person can be perceived in different circumstances as if there were different persons. It is only an ‘as if’.

Multiple personal grounds of reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they utterly do not share a common existence. (Which indeed renders the concept meaningless as a practical or even a principle proposal; but that is another discussion.)

Multiple persons who are not the singular ground of all reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they are not the ground of all reality but exist within that ground or system.

But God the Father and God the Son, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance, God self-begetting and God self-begotten--

--this does mean that true love is the ground of all reality. The grace, the {charis}, of God, is love actively given and actively received in (so to speak) active submission, between distinct persons. This is God’s freely given joy. God’s grace does not depend on sin, but where sin exceeds grace hyperexceeds: for not as the sin is the grace! The grace of God is the ground and the cause of derivative creation (the generation of not-God systems and creatures within those systems); and the grace of God is the hope of reconciliation between man and man as well as between man and God; and the grace of God is the faith and the hope and the love that shall be enduring when all the things that can be shaken have been shaken.

Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to; only, at best, the mere exercise of mere power.

And that, as most people intuitively understand, is not love.

That is what is at stake, in specifically Christian apologetics.


As for me, being persuaded that this is true, I acclaim God, and give thanks both to Him and to His mediant agents (human or otherwise!) for all the love they are willing to give me; and so I say...

thank you. (and I sorrow for my sins against you, all of you, above and below, and reject my selfishness, in hope of the day to come when I will have finally finished dying--by God’s grace, and with God’s help.)

And to all our readers around the world, on this Thanksgiving weekend, whether or not we must be striving in this vale of separation, I say, from the bottom of my heart:

God’s grace and hope to all of you, above and below.

Amen. {s}


Jason Pratt

16 comments:

Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to
If you are an atheist Buddhist following the Buddhist teachings and following their moral code (without ever using your own subjective opinion how you should act), why are those Buddhist morals not "objectively moral final ground"?

Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to
Christian moral code seems to be that ultimately to follow god's will. The moral code is subject to god's will. Bible tells us not to kill, unless god tells you to kill. If I see someone killing another, I can not tell if (s)he is breaking the god's law or if god asked him/her to the other person. To me that kind of moral looks subjective, where am I going wrong?

-Peter

“Would you say grace?” someone in my family will ask, to an elder before a family meal--a meal such as Thanksgiving
What do think is the correct protocol to say grace (~ thank god) if members of another religion or non-believers are present at the table? Should Christians thank their god, should members of another religion have a change to thank their god(s) or should others just be quiet during the prayer which they might not agree with. What is the best way to handle the situation so that there is minimum awkwardness/unhappiness and a change to maximise the success of the meal.

What about if most of the people at the table are not Christians? Does it matter?

What do you think, is religion an acceptable dinner table conversation topic as saying grace often bring up the issue?

-Peter

JRP,

I thought that was an excellent post. I certainly will think a second time about saying "freely given joy" in place of forgiveness. It does give the text a different flavor. Thank you.

BK

Thanks for the good questions, Peter. (And the compliment, Bill. {s})

Peter: {{If you are an atheist Buddhist following the Buddhist teachings and following their moral code (without ever using your own subjective opinion how you should act), why are those Buddhist morals not "objectively moral final ground"?}}

I answered this implicitly in the article (and I think explicitly elsewhere in another comment thread recently.) When metaphysicians are talking about a final ground, we're making an ontological claim about an (or the) independent level of existence.

Perhaps there are Buddhists (though I can hardly believe they would be atheistic if so) who claim that Buddhist moral teachings per se are the source of all existence. If so, then they would be talking on the same topic that I'm discussing here; but I would want to know more about their specific claim (regarding how Nature and humans and the Buddhist teachings themselves perhaps are generated by those teachings--depending on whether they were claiming privative or positive aseity for those teachings!) before I compared and contrasted the position with orthodox trinitarian theism.

Otherwise, if the atheistic Buddhist isn't claiming that all existence comes from those “teachings”, then we aren't talking about the same kind of thing at all. And under examination I expect I would have the same things to say to him as I would to a Christian who was trying to say that the Bible (and/or its “teaching”) is an (or worse, the ) “objectively moral final ground”: briefly summarized, uh, no, it isn’t. {s}

It should be noticed that not once in all that article am I treating Judeo-Christian scriptures in any other way than as a useful (including historically useful) reference. In no place am I treating the scriptures as being a (or the) final objective ground (of morality or anything else).

The quote you referenced, then, needs to be kept in context of the actual discussion I wrote it in. If you look back through the comparisons and discussion preceding it, you will not find me comparing ‘Christian scripture’ with ‘Muslim scripture’ or ‘Mormon scripture’ or ‘Wiccan scripture’ (I doubt they even have any {s}), or ‘atheistic Buddhist moral teachings’ or ‘the UN declaration of human rights’ for that matter. In fact I am not discussing writings or codes or laws at all. I am discussing and comparing various notions and claims about the properties of final reality. (I could have included ‘atheism’ in that list, but it seemed too obvious that if atheism is true then the ultimate reality is certainly not going to be true love.)

Let me emphasize, in passing, that by all this I do NOT mean to say that Buddhists (atheistic or otherwise), by following a set of Buddhist teachings, are certainly not following “the objectively moral final ground”. On the contrary, any given Buddhist might be doing better than I am on that, at any give time! {s} (That's part of the point to several of Jesus' sayings and parables, although it isn't obvious. And I don't mean that He's talking about the superiority of atheistic Buddhist moral teachings in those places, btw. {g})

A Buddhist may in fact be being a better servant of God than I am being--even if the Buddhist is an atheist. {s} In the judgment of the sheep and the goats, the goats are surprised at having to go in for brisk cleaning (it's a technical word from agriculture, kolasis, typically translated to English as 'punishment') from God; the sheep are surprised that they're getting in without the punishment. 'You professed atheistic Buddhism' was not the ground the goats are being punished for; and 'you professed the Athanasian Creed' is not the ground the sheep are being welcomed for. {s}

It should be noted that I am saying this precisely as a hyper-orthodox Christian theologian, though.


{{Christian moral code seems to be that ultimately to follow god's will.}}

I can certainly understand why it might seem that way. And it isn’t strictly incorrect, but neither does it get to the heart of the matter (so to speak {s}). I can follow “the will of God” and yet only be following the will of God as if it was only a “will”: only an expression of mere power. There are numerous warnings against that in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, incidentally; and those warnings confuse people who, in their hearts, can only see far enough to pragmatically obey greater power because it is greater power. So they cast around looking for some other mere power-effect that is being transgressed against in relation to those warnings.

This is connected to the tendency to try to locate morality within a text or some code or law or principle or philosophical notion or perhaps some ritual-set or whatever. At best, though, these are supposed to be about That Which Is Morality. They shouldn’t be considered to be the Morality itself. An Agent of the Lord Above may represent Him to this or that real and useful degree; but when the Agent claims to be the Lord Above, then the Agent has gone Rogue (if I may be allowed to borrow terms from my novel. {s} Though matters aren’t usually put so straightforwardly there.)

We may rightly say, then, that any code about morality, is subject to God’s will--one way or another! (Similarly, though, any code about morality is still subject to the non-rational non-moral final fact of reality, if atheism is true.) But this simply highlights the truth that no code is itself God.

{{If I see someone killing another, I can not tell if (s)he is breaking the god's law or if god asked him/her to the other person.}}

Which is one reason why we have to be careful about making judgments concerning other people. In that regard, having a law provides a useful substitute for the more difficult task (maybe impossible from our perspectives and resources) of deciding whether a person really was doing something evil or not. And yet we do have intuitions about evil, too.

Clearly I am breaking a law if there is a law about coming to a full stop at an intersection yet I don’t come to a full stop. In that regard my intentions are irrelevant. But most people understand that my intentions should be relevant in judging whether I should be punished (and how and to what degree) for doing a ‘rolling stop’. That is because I am an actively rational person, with personal responsibilities (without which I cannot coherently be said to deserve any punishment at all); not some merely reactive machine, with at best an illusion of consciousness. Otherwise I may be adjusted, perhaps, for messing up, but pretending that my (illusory) intentions have anything to do with what should happen to me is at best sentimentally misleading.

Yet that other understanding (on which law is typically based), about me being a rational agent, has strong philosophical corollaries, too. {s} If this claim about me is true, then other claims must be true or untrue. (But that’s another discussion.)

Come to think of it, even in the case of breaking a rolling stop law, the point is that the transgression involves (to put it very simply) a lack of fair-togetherness among persons. Persons (or at the very least one person) came up with that law; intentionally breaking it means I (the person) am rejecting a unity with those people. Are there any times that I should do that; and if so, then why? That is a topic for metaphysical analysis; and (in a way) it’s connected with the main discussion in my original post above. What should be obvious (and I discuss this in far more detail here), is that if the only such transgressions are between derivative entities, then eventually there can be no decisive ethical ground (per se) for preferring the unity of one group’s preferences over another.

This illustrates why ontological claims (e.g. atheism is true; theism is true; this or that kind of theism is true) are crucially related to ethical claims (including claims about ethics).

What then are we supposed to believe about a person claiming to kill because he is following the will of God? Obviously, if God does not exist, then he has to be wrong about that!--consequently, if we believe God does not exist, then that simplifies the judgments we can make concerning this person. One thing it doesn’t simplify is why (or even if) we should believe him to be ethically wrong in doing so. (Unless perhaps we simplify the grounds down to our own mere assertions or feelings on the topic.)

What then if we believe God exists? Then that will provide more data (true data, to the degree that our beliefs on the topic are true) for us to use. I believe certain things about God to be true; and if they are true, then God would not be ordering someone to kill civilians in order to cause fear in a population, for instance.

My judgments about the objective situation will themselves be subjective, of course; but that is simply to recognize that I am a rational, but derivative person doing an action. (Also, my beliefs about an objectively real situation, are not other people’s beliefs about that situation: even if we agree about what to believe about that situation, and even if we are correct to believe ‘x’ about that situation--correct in that the notional content of our beliefs corresponds with sufficient accuracy to the objectively real facts of the situation.)

In the end, we can walk according to the light that we can see and we can look for more light thereby. Or, not. It’s our choice. I would add that we have an ethical obligation to do this, too; but I add this in coherency with what I believe to be true about reality, and that coherency of ideas (at least) can be logically checked by anyone, in principle. (But that doesn’t mean that the checking will be easy, or that any derivative entity, myself included, is guaranteed to succeed in adding up the logical math.)


All that having been said, if I had to answer your question simply, I would say: it is love that makes all the difference. If what I believe about God is true, then I may not be able to know for sure (rigorously speaking) that God did order a killing, but I will be able to know for sure if either God did not order that killing or the people doing the killing have misunderstood (or not learned enough yet) about God’s intentions in the matter. I'll be able to know that based on the love those people have for their enemies. (Or the lack thereof.)

But I say this, because I believe orthodox trinitarian theism to be true, and not any of the alternatives instead. Similarly, if atheistic Buddhism (or any of several other kinds of Buddhism) is true instead, then there are logical corollaries to this, too; including that God could not possibly have ordered any killing. Someone who believes this to be true would then (if it is true) be correct to be drawing this conclusion.

JRP

Peter,

(I did this one separately for topical convenience. {s})

{{What do think is the correct protocol to say grace (~ thank god) if members of another religion or non-believers are present at the table?}}

I believe it depends on the mix of people there, and on how offended the dissenting minority is likely to be. In a large crowd this is simply not something that is feasible to estimate (or so I expect); but in a relatively small gathering the leaders of the meal may be in a position to know this already. (Several people in my extended family are agnostics or atheists, but this is the South and they know we mean well and we know they aren’t bothered by a brief prayer of thanks. I don’t think we have any alt-religious people at this time.)

The vast majority of religious beliefs can be included in (and agree substantially on) expressions of gratitude to God, without going into technical doctrinal statements about God. If atheists at the table are expected to be annoyed by the praying, they don’t have to join in, of course (though they may quietly wait while others pray); and if the leader makes sure to express thanks to the human providers of the meal, then that would give an atheist something to join in the thanks about. (Besides, thanking the human providers ought to be done anyway! {s!})

In the worst case scenario, a moment of silence is always appropriate of course. The main thing I worry about is the temptation to turn any prayer opportunity into an impromptu sermon for a socially captive audience. {g} The main thing is that I love God and I love other people, and I want to express that and say thanks. Metaphysical disquisitions and doctrinal sermons are meant for times when people have shown up looking for something like that. Internet journals on apologetics, for instance. {g}


I’m going to be out of pocket for a few days, including this afternoon. (Funeral service for a friend who committed suicide Monday.) But comments and questions are still welcome. (And thanks for the good questions, Peter. {s})

JRP

JRP,

Sorry about your loss.

Thanks for the lenghty answers and not dodging the questions. I think I need to refresh my knowledge of Metaphysics branch of philosophy...

If I understand correctly you stated that there is an "objectively moral final ground" where a final ground is an ontological claim about an (or the) independent level of existence. If you make a subjective ontological claim, how can it be proven to have any objective properties. I don't think it can be proven or disproven and I don't see why the source of all existence is required for objective morality (in the real world). Your example of the traffic rules might also point to the subjective final moral ground, like what the time and location independent road speed limit should be.

I was more refering to an independently observable human behaviour; can a non-believer have an objective code of conduct. Members and visitors of this web site regularly make claims about the real world application of the moral, not the metaphysical one. I see the source of the moral as an indipendent or secondary issue.

I think you allow the possibility of non-god related objective morality by stating:
I do NOT mean to say that Buddhists (atheistic or otherwise), by following a set of Buddhist teachings, are certainly not following “the objectively moral final ground”. On the contrary
Where if I would also add that Buddhist follow a code of conduct written down by a man and the followers just (try to) follow it objectively, you indicate that it is not "objectively moral final ground". Maybe this is all about how the word "objective" is defined and if we are talking about real life or another level of existance.

I think you are not making a complete case for the existance of the objectively moral final ground in the independent level of existence when as it seem to be elusive and the applications seem to be subjective.
it is love that makes all the difference... I may not be able to know for sure (rigorously speaking) that God did order a killing..
Love can also be understood differently, subjectively. If you fall in love that is a chemical reaction in the brain, if you love your children that is subjective and if god loves everyone but Esau that is subjective. I would think at least god's application of love should not contradict the objective moral final ground, only human application could. If a loving parent kills his sick child out of love, we might not know if that was morally right making an observer to rely on killers subjective opinion. The modern (closely Christian?) legal system seems to reject this idea. Objective moral system would enable every observer to know was the action right or wrong, maybe I did not fully get your point. I do understand you separate the source and the application of the moral, but if the manifestation of the objectivity is not clear, I'm reluctant to believe it.

If you also believe in unchangable god and state:
I believe certain things about God to be true; and if they are true, then God would not be ordering someone to kill civilians in order to cause fear in a population, for instance
God ordered to kill civilians in the bible, for example newborn baby boy midianites, so killing innocent civilians must be part of the god's plan and a moral action. Neigbouring tribes surely noticed the genocide and started to fear the followers of Yahweh. I'm not sure how those views can be reconciled.

Again, thanks for the lenghty and thoughful reply.

-Peter

JRP,

Thanks for your saying grace comment. I would think even when there is only a risk of offending someone that should be avoided when possible, and decision should not be based on how offended the dissenting minority would be. If one wants to thank god for the meal in a mixed group, would it be more considered to do it quietly in one's mind.

If atheists at the table are expected to be annoyed by the praying, they don’t have to join in
I don't think atheists join in, even if they don't get annoyed. Atheist might think bringing up purposly this kind of in-group/out-group mentality in a gathering is not nice. It is like atheist would expect Chritians to quietly listen or join it to "thanks for the non-supernatural nature for providing the meal." I have been at dinners where an atheist host has paid and cooked the meal, but the guests thanked god...

-Peter

Peter,

I’ll start with the briefer post this time. {s}

It should be noted that my reply about giving thanks to God before a meal, is predicated (in its protocol) on the group being relatively small and the tolerances of the members being sufficiently known already. While a hard and fast rule would be easier in some ways, I think it would be better to make the decision in regard to the people there (where possible) and in light of the interpersonal relationships already established among them.

{{If one wants to thank god for the meal in a mixed group, would it be more considered to do it quietly in one's mind.}}

As I noted, there is always this as a last resort. But I called it a last resort (or “worst case scenario” rather) for a reason: it applies when there is minimal interpersonal relationships among the group. (Though the same result of a moment of silence might also be the best choice when the leader knows the members of the group sufficiently well to realize there would be too much friction generated by even a basic prayer, too.) So for instance I don’t pray aloud when I’m out eating; but I do still give thanks while I am eating. (And I make sure to thank any cooks or waiters, too, if I can. I’m very popular among waitresses. {g!} The fact that I routinely acknowledge and respect their authority probably helps, along with heavier-than-average tips. {s})


{{Atheist might think bringing up purposly this kind of in-group/out-group mentality in a gathering is not nice.}}

Of course in traditional prayers of public thanks, the mentality is supposed to be inclusive; but then, that’s the problem, eh? {g} The leader is including everyone (instead of asking dissenters to step away or go outside for a minute or whatever), but the dissenters want to dissent.

And frankly, if an atheist was leading the thanks for a meal, I would consider it proper to quietly listen rather than making some kind of public dissent at that time. (Ditto for a Muslim, a neo-pagan, or whomever.) Why would I complain about a leader or group elder expecting me to quietly listen rather than starting a metaphysical disputation at the dinnertable??

{{I have been at dinners where an atheist host has paid and cooked the meal, but the guests thanked god...}}

I would thank God for the atheist, too. {g} But there’s a difference between thanking God as well as thanking the atheist, and thanking God instead of thanking the atheist. I’m not in favor of the latter.

As for myself, I would be flattered if a guest thought enough of me to thank Buddha or the Lady or Whomever in gratitude for sending and helping me. At worst I would consider it a formally roundabout way of thanking me directly by adding a specialness and including me in that specialness, even if I didn’t think the specialness existed (so long as I believed the thanker was sincere about what she was saying.)

Of course, there’s no point to thanking “the non-supernatural nature” for bringing us together and helping provide the meal, if Nature is non-sentient. Consequently, if a leader did that, I would think he was either a pantheist (not a problem), or a highly confused atheistic naturalist, or else that was only taking advantage of a social privilege to make some kind of satirical polemic. (If I thought he was only highly confused, though, I would only be quietly amused and would still accept his attempt in good faith, so to speak.)

As someone who spends most of his life on the receiving end of prayers {g}, the relevant question for me is whether I believe they mean well by it. If I believe that they do, then I accept their good intentions, whether I happen to disagree with them about facts or not. Do you seriously think I would disrespect or disregard any prayer offered up by the one whom I love the most??--especially if she was thanking someone for me?! Even if I disagreed about the content, I would still love her, and I would recognize that she was trying to love me by including me in her prayer.

No, I am not going to reject that; and I am not going to try to cause problems for her at a time when she is doing the best that she knows how to do. And if I insisted that none of us ever speak aloud what we are caring about, in a formal setting, then I would be bereft of that action of her love.

I would be the one missing something important, from her; because I wouldn’t be able to receive even as much of it as I could receive. That road between us would be shut off.

Once again, it is love that makes all the difference. Not that being silent cannot also be an act of love. But again, I called that silence a worst case scenario for a reason. {s}

JRP

Peter,

{{Sorry about your loss.}}

Thank you. It was harder on other people than on me, because they knew her better and so they miss her more. One of the best funerals I’ve ever attended, though. If we’re still doing this thread when they podcast it, I’ll provide a link. (Not strictly for you, but other people reading the journal might be interested. I had nothing to do with the funeral service, incidentally, so I’m not on the recording anywhere.)


{{If I understand correctly you stated that there is an "objectively moral final ground" where a final ground is an ontological claim about an (or the) independent level of existence.}}

Yes. Normally in my work I call this the Independent Fact; but that claim itself is necessarily exclusive of at least two alternative ontological claims: that there is an infinite regression, and that there are some non-infinite number of Independent Facts. So obviously in a straightline analysis it would be necessary first to discuss those other philosophical options to see whether they should be deducted out of the option pool, so to speak. I mentioned only a bare reference to this in my original post or subsequent comment.


{{If you make a subjective ontological claim, how can it be proven to have any objective properties.}}

On the other hand, how can I be making a subjective claim at all without reference to an at-least-proposed objective reality? Besides, to claim a-theism is still a statement that final reality is one way and not another. A claim about a lack of a property, is still a truth claim about the way reality objectively is. We can’t escape making claims about objective truth, even by tossing atheism and trying to go into sheer negative agnostic scepticism. (Unless we reduce to the level of rocks. Rocks don’t make truth claims. But they are also singularly narrow-minded. {Chestertonian g!}) Yet if we make truth claims about objective reality, we’re going to be doing so subjectively. That just goes with the territory of intentional-relation-to-object.

Consequently, it is somewhat misleading for people on my side of the aisle (or any other side {g}) to talk about “subjective morality”. As receivers of an impression, we’re going to have subjective impressions of objective existence. What people on my side of the aisle really mean when they complain about “subjective morality”, is that the ground or source or standard for the morality isn’t itself objectively moral or ethical; and/or that this standard is doubly-derivative. (i.e. derivative from humans who are ourselves derivative creatures.)

I would have to go into a very very long post to cover this topic. Or I would have to post up a bunch of (occasionally lengthy) journal articles; which I happen to have done starting here. {g} But I don’t mean by this that I won’t answer questions (relatively briefly) if I can, or discuss the matter with you. So, on to more discussion. {s}

{{I don't see why the source of all existence is required for objective morality (in the real world).}}

That is an excellent (implied) question. It depends on whether we agree (as most people do, implicitly or explicitly) that morality is about coherent interpersonal relationships. What I consider to be the best attempt at secular ethics is founded on this, for example. (I discuss it with a lot of sympathy here. Right after posting a nice long appreciation of anti-theistic criticism of God as ethical ground, btw!)

Of course, one might not-unreasonably ask ‘but why should we consider coherent interpersonal relationships to be morality!?’ In fact I consider that to be a crucially important question, because it points toward an analysis that needs to be done first before getting to this topic! But I don’t have any brief way of discussing that here. (Sorry.)

Anyway, what I actually wrote in my original post was: “Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to; only, at best, the mere exercise of mere power.” Which mere exercise of power, I continued, “most people intuitively understand is not love.”

The point here is fairly simple, I think: if our explanations of ethics fetch up at mere power exertion, merely reacting to some stimulus or merely causing some reaction by a stimulus, then we aren’t in fact talking about ethics. The alternate propositions I had discussed (and atheism in any of its varieties would follow suit similarly with them), ended up with mere power being the basis of behavior, especially of derivative behaviors: and all our behaviors, as derivative entities, are derivative behaviors. The objective reality in those cases would be that any “ethics” come down to non-ethical behaviors in the end, ultimately.

(Though again the question should be asked, why consider coherent interpersonal relationships to be morality--and the logic thereof to be ‘ethics’--at all? Why not simply go with Might Makes Right, and realize that whichever way we go our ‘ethics’ will never be anything other, much less more, than that? While I think I can answer that question, I can’t do so briefly here in a comment. But I can point out, as I did in the original post, that these-and-those basic philosophical options, including their subvariants, come out to this result--except for one of them.)

{{Your example of the traffic rules might also point to the subjective final moral ground}}

It might--though you should keep in mind that in your immediately preceding sentence you stated that you didn’t see why the source of all existence is required for objective morality.

A simple answer at this point, would be: if the source of all existence is not itself moral in intrinsic character, then my example of the traffic rules can never be indicative of anything more than merely subjective moral grounding.

Your challenge would have been to use my traffic light example to show why the source of all existence is not required for objective morality in the real world. But, having taken a position that the source of all reality is not objectively moral, you not-unreasonably inferred instead that my traffic rules example might be the most we can ever expect of our morality. But you didn’t call this “objective morality”. You called it subjective; more precisely, a subjective final moral ground. Morality is, in that case, only subjective, not (also) objective: which is another way of saying that when we talk subjectively about morality, we can’t be talking about an objectively moral reality.

That’s also known as a mistake. Or worse. I can subjectively talk about the IF being actively sentient, but if the objective reality doesn’t substantially correspond with what I am talking about (i.e. if atheism is true, compared to my claim), then I am misrepresenting the objective facts and what I am saying is not true except in some imaginary fashion of my own. Even if a bunch of us theists get together and agree about our claims, that doesn’t make our claims any more true in regard to the object we are discussing, if atheism is true instead, does it? It only means we are all being mistaken (or worse) together.

But that’s the kind of situation we’re left in, if there are only subjective final moral grounds: our talk about morality will be only about a property we imagined (as an honest misunderstanding, or otherwise).

That is why many secularists are trying to appeal to an objectively moral reality (a reality that is moral independent of any derivative agent’s beliefs about it) of some sort, as ground for our moral judgments--even if that ground is not the final overarching Independent Fact. (Which it couldn’t be if atheism is true--or any of those other philosophical proposals in my original post’s list, including most theisms; but for one.)


{{I was more refering to an independently observable human behaviour; can a non-believer have an objective code of conduct.}}

I have not the slightest problem believing that non-believers can behave in objectively real fashions, if that is what you are asking about. {g} I even believe non-believers can behave in ways that correspond positively with objective morality, even if they don’t believe in objective morality. But then, I believe there is an objectively moral reality for them to correspond to.

{{Members and visitors of this web site regularly make claims about the real world application of the moral, not the metaphysical one.}}

As an aside, while metaphysics can be about mere hypotheticals, ideally it is supposed to be about discovering and relating to actuals. I have no interest at all in only-unpractical metaphysics; I would rather be playing computer games or doing something else for amusement (or doing something practical, whether personally amusing or not.)

So, for example, if you are loved by God, then that has extremely practical consequences as to how I ought to be treating you. But “loved by God”, is a metaphysical topic.

Or again, on a somewhat different topic, if you are only a vastly more chemically complex and effecient version of a Furbee, then my recognition of this has practical consequences, too, in what my treatment of you will be. This is a modern version of the classic “Socratic cabbage” statement. (Socrates once pointed out to a disputant that if the disputant was nothing better than a cabbage--which was a corollary to something the opponent was trying to claim--then Socrates saw no good reason to be debating him.)

The source of morality can be a “secondary issue” in the same sense that I don’t have to know what’s going on inside my computer monitor in order to make use of it. But (by tautology) once the topic of discussion has turned to characteristics about that monitor, then characteristics of that monitor are no longer secondary issues. Members and visitors of this web site regularly discuss things like the source of morality--that’s why they’re here instead of doing something else at the moment!--and obviously beliefs about the character of morality make a difference (as data, be it correct or incorrect data) in what inferences we draw concerning how we ought to behave. Which is why people have typically understood that someone somewhere ought to be working on the topic and passing along the results to people who don’t have the skills or inclination or resources or whatever to work on the topic themselves.

Sites like this, however, allow everyone to work on the topic, if they think the topic is important.

In any case, there is practically (and I would argue even principally) no point in discussing some other “level of existence” that shares no reality with what you are calling “real life”. On the contrary, if supernaturalism is true (whether theistic or otherwise), then the IF is even more “real” than either Nature or any of us within Nature; and this real life around us depends upon its supervenient reality.

Or again, if Nature is the IF (the acronymic resemblance to the English word ‘if’ is an accident, btw; I don’t mean to be making a wordplay with the abbreviation), then the “real life” of Nature is as “real” as it is going to get. A realist either way is going to want to know about the realities involved; but it ought to be obvious that if atheism is true (regardless of whether philosophical naturalism is true), then the IF simply cannot be objectively moral. Consequently, those people who refuse to consider something derivative from this atheistic reality to be “objectively moral” will be the ones who are talking about real life, and not about some imaginary level of existence where “morality” is objectively real. The writing of an atheistic Buddhist on morality might be pleasing in various ways, but no moreso than Robert Jordan’s _Wheel of Time_ series of fantasy novels: they’re both talking about equally imaginary things, if atheism is true. It may be admirable imagination; it may be imagination worth paying money to experience (rather like prostitution. {s}) But that’s all it can possibly be.


{{I think you allow the possibility of non-god related objective morality by stating [that any given Buddhist might be doing better than I, Jason, am on following “the objectively moral final ground”, by which I was clearly meaning God, at any give time.]}}

If I spend the comment talking about how law, even in the Christian scriptures, cannot be “the objectively moral final ground”, which (I pointed out) is why I wasn’t comparing different ethical writings with each other in my main article; then by logical extension I should still be talking about this here in this quote you referenced. Which, as it happens, I am. {s}

Which means I am still not allowing that maybe a Buddhist code of conduct is itself an objectively moral final ground after all. I was stating that a Buddhist might be doing ethically better than I am in relating to God, even if the Buddhist happens to be the sort of Buddhist who doesn’t believe God exists and/or who doesn’t believe God is the final ethical standard. (A claim that many though not all of my Christian brethren would say goes beyond charity into preposterousness, btw. Or even into outright hopeless and irredeemable blasphemy on my part.)

But this is not the same as acknowledging (or even inadvertently allowing) the real possibility of an actually non-God related objective morality.

{{I would also add that Buddhist follow a code of conduct written down by a man and the followers just (try to) follow it objectively, you indicate that it is not "objectively moral final ground".}}

Well, you think the Mosaic Code was only written down by a man (in fact this follows from atheism as a corollary--or anyway if he had non-human sentient help it wasn't from God, and so for all practical purposes it might as well have been from another man); but I get the impression that you aren’t prepared to consider it to be an (much less the) “objectively moral final ground” either.

Or if I misunderstood you, and you actually are prepared to accept it as (at least) an objectively moral final ground, this leads to an interesting illustration of why codes and laws cannot of themselves serve as final references for morality. After all, you disagree strenuously on the morality of some of the things you find in the Old Testament, including in the laws and codes of conduct given and enacted there; and I have gathered (perhaps wrongly?) that your disagreements are ethical ones: i.e. these things are actually unethical.

What is your ground for saying so, though? Some other mere man wrote down something else once with no reference to truths of reality beyond himself?--or beyond the writing itself?

This is why morality ends up needing to be traced to ontological claims. If a man, be it Gautama or some later exponent of his teachings, writes down a code of conduct that has no relevance at all to reality independent of the man (much moreso the mere writing itself), then that means it either has no practical relevance at all or else it means that the man (or the writing he has made!?) is the independent final ground of existence himself.

You agree that a code with no practical relevance outside the man (much less outside the writing) is worthless. And you seem to agree that the man (much less the writing of the man) is not to be considered the Independent Fact of existence. (Though incidentally I think many Buddhists would disagree with you on that. But then again most Buddhists outside communist countries aren’t atheists per se. {g} They’re pantheists of some sort.)

Consequently, the writing depends on the man, and the man depends on something independent of the man; we’re already beginning an ontological track here. And once we start, the question is, where and why do we stop?

Another way of putting that question is this: is the man writing about that which is objectively moral? If not, then the man’s writing actually has no relation to the quality of morality, any appearances notwithstanding. If it is so related, then what is this objectively moral standard? What are its characteristics; if it behaves, then what are its own behaviors? If it behaves in natural history, then do we have any history of its behavior? And if we do, then how shall (or should?) we make practical use of that data?

These issues may be “secondary” in the sense that in a particular sequence of thought they may not happen to occur ‘first’ to a person. But they are not “secondary” in importance-relationship to the topic of how (or whether) we are to behave in relation to what that man over there is writing. They are crucially important. (Which, incidentally, is why the great ethical teachers do in fact make reference to those topics, even if they don’t have many answers to give about them.)


Meanwhile, notice that I am prepared to recognize divine inspiration in both writers (even if for various reasons I decide one of them has a special and unique importance). And yet I still would not consider either writing to itself be either an or the objectively moral final ground. I consider the One Who is (hopefully) doing the inspiration to be that ground. Thus I discussed various notions about that ground, in my original post. (Notice also that in arriving at a discussion of the Independent Fact, and even in affirming that there is one Independent Fact (instead of an inifnite regression or a non-infinite number of IFs), I am discussing the level of reality at which causes and grounds must coincide. This is technically important for reasons I can’t go into here; but if you are familiar with some of the epistemological debates about causes and grounds then you may appreciate why this is specially important.)


{{I think you are not making a complete case for the existance of the objectively moral final ground in the independent level of existence}}

I think I even said as much myself up there somewhere. More than once, if I recall correctly. {s} A complete case would require hundreds and hundreds of pages of analysis, not four or eight. (Hint: this reply doesn’t complete the case either. {g} And it isn’t intended to do so. It’s a discussion of the case, not an establishment of it.)


{{Love can also be understood differently, subjectively.}}

Obviously, I am not talking about reacting to chemicals in one’s brain. But let’s be forthright: if atheism is true, then that is all that can be happening in our brains anyway; which (as you yourself rightly noted) is very far from being irrelevant to the contention that there is no objective morality but only subjective morality instead.

After that, it is only moonshine to be trying to get an “objective morality” out of “objectively” following a code written by that other bunch of reactive chemicals over there.

No; I don’t deny the existence of feelings and even behaviors as reactions to chemicals. But neither is that true love; and it certainly isn’t what I am talking about in my discussion in the original article. (Or afterward in my first comment.)

This does however highlight again what is at stake in these discussions: we both agree that I am not talking about mere chemical reaction; and we both appear to agree that if I was mistakenly ascribing properties to (or from) those reactions that don’t in fact exist, then my original article and subsequent discussion have no importance on that topic except as an example of a mistake.

But the only way to counter me by appealing to chemically induced feeling as a distinction from what I was actually talking about, is to claim that those feelings, those mere reactions to chemicals, is all there is: that nothing substantially different is occuring in me, that I am doing nothing substantially different than merely reacting to those chemicals.

On the other hand, you could try to counter me by appealing to chemically induced feeling as being instead the objectively moral reality I was talking about, with the properties proper to that claim (instead of distinctly different properties). But you went the other route instead: only subjective. Which for many different reasons (including, most importantly, in respect to reason itself) I strenously disrecommend. {s}

{{I would think at least god's application of love should not contradict the objective moral final ground, only human application could.}}

True, but again it now depends on what the objective moral final ground is. For instance (following the famous Euthyphro Dilemma), if God is not Himself the objectively moral final ground, then it’s rather a moot question whether He could act against It or not: we aren’t talking about the objectively moral final ground anymore, but only about God! {g} If God is only an agent within the overarching system (as in Philip Pullman’s recently popular young-fantasy trilogy, the first movie of which is about to be released), then He might go rogue (as in Pullman’s story... um, spoiler there I guess {g}) and this would be no more surprising than misbehavior by any other agent within the system. (Incidentally, Pullman doesn’t present a final reality being objectively moral, per se, within which the rogue angel God is acting.)

On the other hand, if God is the Independent Fact, then there is no objectively moral reality which He could be transgressing against. If He isn’t Himself objectively moral, somehow, then that’s it: so far as moral grounding is concerned, the situation might as well be the same as atheism. Which clearly involves a non-moral (not immoral) IF, too. (This is the other horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma; translated over from Socrates’ original polytheism topic to monotheism, but it is equally applicable.)

It makes a big theological difference, then, what we believe to be true about God’s moral existence. In the second half of my original article, I stated (by comparison with orthodox trinitarian theology) that mere monotheism ultimately involves only dictated ‘morality’; which solves the problem of God somehow acting against ‘morality’ by reducing ‘morality’ to God Says So. Yet many of us recognize that this is not really morality, but only mere power application; the only difference between God and Satan in this concept is that God is more powerful and maybe behaves differently in some regards, sometimes.

If God is Himself a singular unity of distinct Persons, though, then God is an objectively moral entity in His own intrinsic nature; not merely by fiat declaration on His part, and not in relation to some more fundamental moral standard.

Furthermore, if God is an actively self-existent unity of distinct Persons, then in point of fact He could theoretically act against the principles of His own self-existence: the Son could rebel against the Father, the Father could reject the Son, etc. The Persons could refuse to actively do love, in other words. But if that happened, God Himself would cease to exist, as would everything dependent upon God for its existence, such as you and me and our own past and present (not to say future). Yet here we still are. Therefore, either God is not an actively self-existent unity of distinct Persons (i.e. orthodox trinitarian theism is false), or else we can be sure that He will never act against fulfilling interpersonal relationships.

Thus, if Christian theism is true, you are correct that God in His application of love will not contradict His own principles of self-existence; whereas any creature doing so would be sinning, just as God would be sinning if He did so. (Yet again, the creature by doing so is not doing something simply impossible for God to do. I discuss this at much greater length in the series of articles I pointed you toward.)

{{If a loving parent kills his sick child out of love, we might not know if that was morally right}}

Only if “love” is nothing more than chemicals reacting inside the killer’s head. But if love is more than this, and if (per hypothesis, since after all we non-omniscent entities are not in a position to be absolutely sure what is going on in the killer’s intentions) the killer is acting in conjunction with that love, and if final reality is itself true love; then we can be sure, in principle at least, that the killer did something morally right: not in a merely legal sense, but in a personally responsible sense. He didn’t in fact sin by doing this; and on the other hand other people might very well not be sinning by trying to stop him. Both people might in fact be doing what is right. Whereas, if morality is only law, then one party was doing right and one party was doing wrong, with respect to the law (insofar as the law addresses the issue); and their intentions make no difference at all (much less any ignorance on their part).

Incidentally, I think some of the lawyers around here might be able to affirm that our legal system does recognize distinctions in intentions, regarding criminal culpability; including in killing a sick child. The act still has to be regarded as a crime because we can’t in fact be entirely sure of the motives of a person, and so we try to err on the side of the victim.


{{Objective moral system would enable every observer to know was the action right or wrong}}

A legal system would (in theory) spell out guidelines for establishing when someone has gone against the legal system, in all possible cases. Or rather, people would do that, in a legal system--hopefully in conjunction with morality!

I was about to add that God, though, is not a legal system. {s} Which is true, but as a trinitarian theist I do believe God is an interpersonal relationship, which could be considered a different kind of system; the kind of system from which (and in regard to which) laws are derived. A legal system, though, just sits there; or doesn’t really sit anywhere, but is a doubly-derivative intellectual abstraction. The living God doesn’t just sit there. And if He is objectively moral, He would be acting to enable every observer to know whether an action is right or wrong.

And I think He does do this (through the 3rd Person of God, technically speaking, though I won’t go into this here). But there are other factors in play as well, which obscure us from always knowing (even by grace of the Holy Spirit) what we ought to be doing in regard to those other persons over there (including in regard to their behaviors). A normally functioning person will be given enough light by God to make a good or evil choice, even if we don't know (for various reasons) enough details about what to do. (Persons who are not functioning normally are by proportion exonerated from responsibilities for their actions, of course.) Consequently, two conflicting choices might in fact be ethically good actions from each act-er.

What is required, to fulfill fair-togetherness (i.e. righteousness) in regard to conflicts of this sort, is in a way what is required in order to fulfill righteousness in regard to any conflict: God must act toward bringing about a reconciliation between the persons, as distinct persons, and not give up acting toward that reconciliation (even if the persons choose themselves not to act toward reconciliation). If it isn’t fulfilled before a person finishes dying, it needs to be fulfilled afterward. (Though now we’re treading hard on a highly controversial topic among Christians.)

But all of this is why Christians, whatever other disagreements we may have among ourselves, say with St. Paul that love fulfills the law. If morality is only guidelines, I can keep those (to whatever degree) without personally loving my neighbor. But if I actively love my neighbor, then I will be fulfilling the purpose for which laws are given; I will, in the only sense God cares about, be keeping the law.

But God cannot simply poof me into being able to do this; not without being unloving toward my own personhood. I am a derivative creature growing through a process of natural time (and space), so leading me to do this is also going to take time. And the immediate results will be partially dependent on the behaviors of other entities within my system of existence. Extrapolate that times the population of humanity throughout history; and then complicate things by including any other sentient agents acting in any connection at all to humanity’s existence.

That is why, as MacDonald once put it, the growth (and where necessary the salvation) of a soul, is a labor fit for God Himself. If the situation was very much less complex, and if personal entities like ourselves weren’t involved, it would be proportionately easier to get the results. But things are this way instead. Not surprisingly, the results and the process is messier.

But God shares in the pain of the process, the pain of victims and the pains of sinners, too. That’s part of what is at stake in what to believe about Jesus up there on the cross; as a historical fact, as a historical man, and as God Incarnate in the history He has made.

Anything less is... less. {s}


{{if the manifestation of the objectivity is not clear, I'm reluctant to believe it.}}

For what it’s worth, I have no problem with that. {s!} I mean that it's okay to be reluctant.


{{I'm not sure how those views [i.e. what I believe about God and killing Midionite children] can be reconciled.}}

That may be because you didn’t quote me fully. {s} To recap, I wrote: “I may not be able to know for sure (rigorously speaking) that God did order a killing, but I will be able to know for sure if either God did not order that killing or the people doing the killing have misunderstood (or not learned enough yet) about God’s intentions in the matter. I'll be able to know that based on the love those people have for their enemies. (Or the lack thereof.)”

There are plenty of options there under my belief:

a.) that part of the story is fictional. (And not inspired fiction, either.)

b.) that part of the story is historical, but God did not in fact tell them to kill infant children.

(Incidentally, this would be no different in immediate content from a position taken by very many other religious believers, philosophers or even atheists; though the wider context would be proportionately different of course. Also incidentally, the rules of warfare given to the Israelites required them to give fair warning they were coming, allowing time to evacuate civilians; and they tended to strike nominally military targets, like fort towns. Of course, the fort towns were precisely the places civilians would go when under military threat--but it isn’t easy to cram all that many civilians into an acre of ground, and still have a working fort-town, which was the Jericho situation for example. I mention this, not as an absolute mitigation, but just to remind readers that even from a historical perspective the situation was more complex and with different details than is often remembered. I’m not saying this abrogates or even explains killing young children in an assault.)

c.) that part of the story is historical, and God told them to do something, but they misunderstood and did something else instead (and reported otherwise afterward.) God didn’t immediately correct them because He realized they had in fact done the best they could in the circumstances, and didn’t want to send further confusion by appearing to undercut legitimate prophetic agents; but did take the opportunity later to clarify about what He didn’t want to happen. (There are no-killing-of-children principles elsewhere in the OT prophetic tradition. Scads of them in fact: it’s a prime reason given for why God is going to do to Israel what Israel did to the societies they overran--who, according to the story, did kill off their own babies and were being punished by Israel for this. And in fact God sends pagan nations, in the story, to overrun Israel and Judah and Samaria when those nations, as a culture, insisted on doing the same thing.)

d.) that part of the story is historical, and God did tell them to kill the children, but He had different intentions about it than the people at the time could (or were prepared to) understand. God suffered with the children meanwhile (being omniscient), and still does (being not only omniscient but eternally so); and showed later in history that He Himself pays for their suffering, on the cross, by sharing their victim status with them. (Not that this was the only thing He was doing there, but that was part of it.) In any case He acts to reconcile Himself, not only with the innocent children (and them with their killers, too), but also with any outright villains who got thrown down in the process.

d1.) As a guess for not-prepared-to-understand intentions, based on story contexts elsewhere: God couldn’t trust the Israelites yet to properly care for the children of their enemies, and didn’t want them treating the kids as property, nor (relatedly) thinking that this kind of warfare was an excuse to loot property. He did however want them to understand how serious some other things were. Acting in conjunction with their current limitations, He gives them an order they themselves would find shocking: kill even the kids. They aren’t supposed to be happy about it; which is probably also supposed to be part of a highly complex point.

(To put it oversimply--and considering the story contexts involved, this is oversimple {s}--they have to be in that region for other things to happen later, and these other people aren’t going to live peacefully with them--as was already established earlier in the story--so for the story to proceed the other people have to be driven out. Which can only be done by lethal force, or the threat thereof. But the Israelites can’t be trusted yet to go into this with the right attitude, any more than they can be trusted yet to live in peace with their neighbors while also keeping their side of their covenant agreement with God--as was also illustrated earlier in the story. Therefore God takes away the glory in their fighting by giving them a mere and very distasteful rule to follow. It’s only a bare step in the direction of the attitude He wants them to have, but it’s the only step they’re in a position currently to take. Had any of them objected on actual moral grounds, He would have gladly gone along with that instead; and might have chosen to make the challenge in order to give them an opportunity to do better than what they had considered proper before the challenge.)

I can pretty easily go with any of these options, and probably also with variants thereof. Or there might be other option groups, too; I don’t mean these to be exhaustive. I tend to lean a little more in the direction of the d-series at this time, but something better might occur to me later.

What I do notice, is that there is little-to-no true love on the part of the Hebrews toward their enemies yet. (Lust, yes; love, no.) Where little love toward their enemies is evidenced, I am inclined theologically to expect a proportional (or even exponential) misunderstanding of even legitimate inspiration. Nor is there much God can do about that either: millennia later, according to (what we Christians believe is) the same story, the first time God Incarnate tries to guest-preach in His own home town, the people run Him out of town for daring to suggest that God loves and serves pagan people (including military oppressors!), and Israelites need to become better people. About two years later, He’s handed over to the current pagan oppressors by the people who ought to have understood Him the best and been His most loyal servants; and He lets them kill Him by torture.

If Caiaphas (who was a legitimate prophet, according to St. John!) can misunderstand God that badly; and if the disciples and apostles Jesus Himself chooses can routinely misunderstand God Himself that badly (so that He gets exasperated in the stories at their hard-heartedness, and warns them that unless and until they change their hearts they will by no means be entering into the kingdom)--then I think I have some warrant for suspecting misunderstanding earlier, too, when conditions weren’t even that favorable. {s}

Which I know sceptics will make hay about, and allies may get nervous and jumpy about; but those are the story elements. And I’m still a Christian, and a very seriously orthodox one, too, in my theology.


Possibly out until Mondayish. (I need to check in on other threads, too, even if I’m in.) Thank you for the comments. I hope you’ll have a good weekend.

JRP

Hello Jason,

Regarding the giving of thanks to God for a meal, I agree with your assertion about length. This is not a sermonizing scenario. And my take on those who might be offended is this.

They can be offended if they choose, but I'm not one to let that stop me. We should do what we can to be a peace with everyone, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. Since when would offending God be an acceptable alternative to offending someone who is offended at the drop of a hat anyway?

And I know you are not suggesting that we should let the politically correct crowd bully us, but I just wanted to make it clear that we are Christians and we needn't hide our religious practices in any social setting, IMHO. If an unbeliever has a right to be offended, they also have a right to get over it. {s}

Laterness . . .
C. David Ragland, Jr.

JRP,

Nice lengthy post. I had to printed out to read it and it was ten pages!

Initally you call statements which include claim(s) as "Independent Fact" and I think those should be called claims so those are correctely used in deductive process. That would avoid the trap of process being correct' but if one claim/IF can not be proven the the result is only a claim, not true or false.

You rightly pointed out my sloppy sentence that "traffic rules might also point to the subjective final moral ground". Sorry. What I ment to say is that if there is a final moral ground in a different level of existance, it might be subjective as is it hard to image an objective speed limit. The problem of proving that there is an objective moral final ground is that if even one thing (or claim) is subjective, then the whole thing collapses.

What people on my side of the aisle really mean when they complain about “subjective morality”, is that the ground or source or standard for the morality isn’t itself objectively moral or ethical; and/or that this standard is doubly-derivative.
Dictionaries define objective as "undistorted by emotion or personal bias", so I would claim that objective morality does not depend on the source of the morality, man or god made (given it is coherent).(I understand Christian claim about derivatives). I think Christians mostly argue about collective objective morality (correct me if I'm wrong), where I originally claimed that an atheist (individual) can have an objective morality. I agree that the source of the morality is closely related and interesting topic to discuss.

I see that many appologist try to explain away the difficult passages in the Bible by making up additional ideas to the stories which bring it our 21st century moral understanding. Instead of your b), c), d) and d1) we could suggest that god actually wanted to torture the children before they were killed, but that was not put in the bible. If we allow us to expain away the difficult passages with additional speculative info, then the story could go to any direction. Or we can just say that that was morally right, even when we do not understand it. I would think if the bible is true word of god, there is no need to add any additional text or explanatory story. So I'm lost how this can be claimed to be a good act, yet I can see why Christians can make it justify it to themselves by adding conforting things.

What is your ground for saying so [Old Testament law is unethical/immoral], though? Some other mere man wrote down something else once with no reference to truths of reality beyond himself?--or beyond the writing itself?
The problem I see in OT law is that it seems to be incoherent (I'm not refering to the ethics). God tells not to kill, but orders to kill. I can not see the moral side of killing children when that is prohibited in the Bible. Punishment also depends on issues you have no control (severity of the punishment of adultry depends on your fathers profession). Any man made law (rule set) is likely to have similar problems, but I think set of principles could serve as an objective morality (objective code of conduct). About the "Final ground"; if that refers to another level of existance, then I need to wait for more evidence.

So to summarise (correct me if I'm wrong), your are not making a complete case for the existance of the objectively moral final ground in the independent level of existence, but you state given long enough analysis it can be proven. You also state that "morality ends up needing to be traced to ontological claims". I think that is based on that it can be a man made one.

I claimed (with some examples) that an atheist can have objective (undistorted by emotion or personal bias) moral (code of conduct) and you made claims of objectively moral final ground ground requires independent level of existence, which I don't see as a proof.

Socrates refered agnostic Protagoras as head of cabbage because Protagoras claimed to be superior to other humans and a farmer of plants (human cabbage) and Socrates pointed out his alledged lack of self-knowledge. I have no problem you treating me as only a vastly more chemically complex and [less] effecient version of a Furbee ;-)

-Peter

C. David Ragland, Jr,

They can be offended if they choose, but I'm not one to let that stop me...If an unbeliever has a right to be offended, they also have a right to get over it.

I think that kind of attitude could backfire in a long run. Most agnostics and secular Christians have read Matthew 6:5-6 and could see this as almost like Matthew 10:34-35. If your objective is to bring people to Jesus, it could be worth considering your tactics to support your strategy. Just my opinion...

-Peter

David,

{{If an unbeliever has a right to be offended, they also have a right to get over it. {s}}}

That was a great way to put it. {lol!} {bow!}

But I’m less interested in whether an unbeliever has a right to be offended, per se, and more interested in how to positively live and work together on a case by case basis. I often have to remind God in my prayers that I don’t agree with something another Christian is saying or praying at the moment (not that He actually needs the reminding, but I have a strong need to say so to Him); and I would be far more likely to do so if a non-Christian was doing the praying or thanking (in some obviously doctrinal way). But I can try to look for and appreciate any good that the person is doing, too, especially in his or her intentions toward me; and in the particular circumstances being asked about by Peter I choose to do that rather than raise a dissent at that time.

Obviously I recommend that non-Christians do the same in similar situations, when it’s our turn to pray. Currently in America, it’s our turn to pray more often, but that could possibly change. I think what I’m doing when someone I strenuously disagree with prays, is something more and better than just getting over it. I offer the solution from my own experience, for that reason, to non-Christians as well; that way the public square isn’t progressively reduced to a mere silence of fear of offense.

JRP

Peter,

I have to go eat now (not cabbage tonight, I promise {g}), so I’ll continue the discussion in a couple of days I hope. But I did want to point out one thing...

{{I have no problem you treating me as only a vastly more chemically complex and [less] effecient version of a Furbee ;-)}}

The problem with this is, I don’t debate metaphysics (or anything else) with Furbees. And not because they might not give back interesting answers. I may play Warhammer40K against the computer and the computer might win or lose, and I might have some fun pretending the computer is a person. But I’m not going to treat a merely reactive entity as though it is a real person.

If I bother to have an actual argument with you, in any sense more than just trying to cause you to fluoresce (so to speak) in reaction to my stimuli, then I find on introspection that I have to be treating you as being more than only a bunch of reactive behaviors (chemical or otherwise). Undoubtedly those are going on, too. But that can’t be all, or your apparently active behavior (without which you cannot be having a personally responsible argument) is only an illusion. In much the same way that a Furbee’s apparently active behavior is in fact only an illusion. A more efficiently behaving illusion, is still--only an illusion of a quality. (A bunch of rapidly shifting picture frames isn’t really a person behaving on that screen, though it can be a decent representation of a behaving person. The movement though is illusory.)


I appreciate your charity in having no problem with me only treating you as a more (or less!) complexly efficient biochemical version of a Furbee. But then, if that was true, there wouldn’t really be a person there ‘having no problem’ with it.

For your sake then, as a person, I do have problems with treating you as only a vastly more chemically complex and efficient version of a Furbee. I would be mistreating you if I did that. At best I would only be treating you in the way I want for my own convenience; not as a person yourself. It would in fact be unethical, for me to do that. {s}

Okay, late for dinner now; I’ll get to the rest of your reply tomorrow I hope.

JRP

Slowwwwwly catching up on comments. Wasn't "tomorrow", and won't be tonight either, but this is my next catchup. (Keeping in mind I have 'work' work and this week's article still to write, too.)

Just wanted to let you know I hadn't forgotten. Though a lot of it might be addressed already in the first HSIBAS entry.

JRP

JRP,

No problem, we all have our work that pays the bills. This story will soon be dropped from the first page, so it might be better to continue to talk about objective morality when it pops up again. I prophesise that this will happen very soon ;-) Your comments are also long and well thought out, so you might consider posting them sometimes as blog entries.

-Peter

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