CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Barry Carey at withallyourmind.net has found a singularly interesting article heading into the holidays which he has posted in an post entitled For Goodness' Sake. Here's what Barry found:

I read with a slight chuckle this recent news story about the bus ads planned for the Christmas season by the American Humanist Association. Starting next week and running through December will be ads placed on the sides of buses which state, “Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Of course, the reference is to the lyrics of the children’s holiday song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

It seems the athiests and agnostics are feeling a little left out and lonely during the Christmas holidays. According to a spokesman for the humanist group:


We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you…

Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.

The Humanist Manifesto III (available at the AHA website) defines humanism as…

… a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.


Barry than spends some time making a couple of points about goodness that I encourage readers to read in full.

For my part, I found the use of the quote -- "be good for goodness sake" -- to be an interesting choice. Generally, when someone says to do something "for goodness sake", that phrase is an idiom. It means roughly the same as "for crying out loud". To be "good for goodness sake" is not an exhortation to be good for the sake of goodness. However, that is exactly how the humanists appear to be using the phrase in their bus advertisement.

This is the age old question of whether the atheists have a basis for their moral position. Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally. In fact, the Book of Romans says that all men have the law of God written on their hearts so that they know what is right and wrong -- men just suppress the truth that they already know as the result of the fact that God has written it on their hearts.

But here, the atheists are asking us to be good. Why? For the sake of goodness. Really? Is that really a reason to be good? It certainly doesn't seem like a strong reason to me.

Consider: Since there is no God, the questions that arise from the slogan become (1) what is good, and (2) what is the moral mandate for being good? In response to the first question there is no answer -- only a vague notion that being "good" is simply what the atheist believes, in his subjective, relativitic view, is good. Without a clear vision of what "goodness" means, there is no way to have any certainty which acts are good and which are not.

The answer to the second question is even murkier. It could be "so that we have a better world." But this doesn't answer the question of why I should care if we have a better world. That assumes that goodness means caring what happens to others, but since we haven't come up with any objective standard of goodness there is no compelling reason to believe that caring about what happens to others is "goodness."

Of course, we all have a notion of what it means to be good in the general sense. We all know that helping an old lady across the street is good and stealing her handbag is not good. But there are many areas in between those two extremes that are less clear as to what is actually "good". And even if we could all agree as to what it means to be good, is being good for "goodness sake" a motivation to be good?

Maybe I am happy being evil and I'd rather be "happy for happiness' sake."

Regardless, I think that the real motivation for this bumper sticker is what the humanist says about the reason for the slogan: "there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays...." Yup. They don't experience the deep joy that many of us feel when we remember that Jesus came into the world because "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." So rather than allow those of us who celebrate the real meaning of the holiday to do so in peace, they want the rest of us to feel as miserable as they are. (Phil. 1:27-28)

16 comments:

{{So rather than allow those of us who celebrate the real meaning of the holiday to do so in peace, they want the rest of us to feel as miserable as they do.}}

I didn't really get that from the statement by the humanist spokesman. It didn't seem to me that his 'feeling a little alone' (which doesn't translate to 'miserable', btw) was due so much to his not believing in God per se. Rather, it seems to be due to the rest of us believing in God! {amused g} Presumably, if we didn't believe in God either, they wouldn't feel quite so alone during a religious holiday season.


I suspect a more practical reason, is what we would otherwise call a proper evangelical outreach if we were living in communist China or secular Japan during this season. (Christmas is wildly popular in Japan as their version of Valentine's Day, complete with the typical Western tropes thereof. Which personally I find to be charmingly appropriate, in an 'eternity in their hearts' sort of way. {s!}) If a group happens to believe that human culture is being handicapped by people actually believing that God sent Himself to be miraculously born of a woman, due to His love of the whole 'cosmos' and because He loves even His enemies so much that He gives His own life for their sake (even when they betray and kill Him), etc.; then obviously that group will have a vested interest in trying to undermine this belief in key cultural contexts that would otherwise tend to reinforce the belief. We would do (and do do) the same thing in other cultures, except the other way around. {s}


That being said, I think it's terribly amusing that they chose that as their advertising slogan. And not only because the context of the song-reference is practically Godlike. (He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake; he knows when you've been bad or good... SO BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS' SAKE! Go Saint Nicholas, agent of God!! {ggg!}) But because technically, the statement amounts to saying, "be good because an overarching interpersonal union exists as an eternal standard of morality."

That's at least orthodox binitarian theism of some kind.

JRP

(heh, cool, the Blogger word verification this time was "Pratisti"... {g})

Some also-amusing quotes from that CNN article... Note that 'Edwords' is apparently the correct spelling of the name of the spokesman for the campaign.

{{Edwords said the purpose isn't to argue that God doesn't exist or change minds about a deity}}

Which is supposed to explain why the campaign slogan starts with the question, "Why believe in a god?" (Also apparently this would explain why the British Humanist Association announced a similar campaign on London buses last month with the message, "There's probably no God.")

Edwords: {{"we are trying to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people's minds."}}

Not that this involves trying to change anyone's mind about a deity or God's existence, of course. {g} But I do wonder how much critical thinking went into choosing the American bus campaign's slogan. (See previous comment for details: critically the statement is an affirmation of at least orthodox binitarian theism, and contextually the statement is pulled from an affirmation of a personal omniscient ethical judge.)

Edwords: {{"We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you"}}

It does admittedly help if your intended audience can hear you, that's true. I suppose the other times are when they're sending subliminal tacit messages? (Maybe that explains their choice of the American slogan? {g!} Rogue orthodox Christians in the group...)


I would however like to stress again, that as unintentionally amusing as I find the effort, in principle they are not doing anything different than we are doing here and elsewhere in the Christmas season. They're simply taking the topical thrust in the other direction. I would want to do the same if I believed what they do. (Though hopefully I would be more critically rational about it. {wry g})

JRP

They could always take the line that goodness is something like a platonic entity, like abstract objects. But this is a truly radical thing for an atheist to say. I've made a few comments about it over on my site:

http://www.doxazotheos.com/?p=74

Our ideas of goodness might derive ultimately from the fact that evolution has shaped us as social animals.

Chad,

I agree: that would be a pretty radical step for a non-theist to take, although historically they're probably looking at Early and maybe Middle Stoics for their inspiration along that line. (Notably the Later Stoa tended to drift strongly into theism... {wry g}) I personally know at least one atheist (or non-theist anyway) who goes this route, though.


Anon,

Be good for evolution's sake? Be good because we're wired up by non-rational non-moral automatically reactive processes to feel that certain things are 'good' already? Kind of loses its punch as an appeal to action. {g}

I've written with some sympathy for this kind of ethical theory here, among other places; and there are certainly some factors in its favor as (at least) a contributing explanation. But this type of explanation tends to make a hash of ethical appeals in principle.

JRP

Evolution is not a reason to be good, it's an explanation as to why, in general, most people think that some things are good and bad.

Doesn't matter how much it loses its punch as an appeal to action if it is logical and true.

If the truth "makes a hash a ethical appeals," then we should probably revisit the idea of making ethical appeals.

'In fact, the Book of Romans says that all men have the law of God written on their hearts so that they know what is right and wrong'

How come most Christians cannot tell you what the 10 Commandments are?

It is , of course, the other way around.

People have developed morals and then made up a god who they claim gave us those morals.

BK
Maybe I am happy being evil and I'd rather be "happy for happiness' sake."

CARR
Another Christian who is convinced that evil is pleasurable and makes you happy.

I guess the fact that Hitler blew his brains out convinces some Christians that there is a good case to be made for the idea that evil brings happiness.

From their own experience, they often find that the happiest people they meet are not their fellow Christians, they are evil atheists, who are much happier than Christians.

All BK can do to counter the strength of atheist arguments is posit a fantasy world where the happy people are the evil people.

His arguments are very weak, if he has to make up fantasy worlds where they might apply.

'Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally.'

I wonder how Hell-bound sinners act morally.

'Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally.'
I wonder how Hell-bound sinners act morally.


There is a difference between being capable of something and actually doing it.
For example, you are capable of posting comments that are not infantile tripe.

(Ha -- just kidding, Steve-o!)

CARR
'Keep in mind that no one is disputing the atheists are capable of acting morally.'
I wonder how Hell-bound sinners act morally.

JUNKYARD
There is a difference between being capable of something and actually doing it.

CARR
I see.

So atheists are capable of acting morally, but they don't actually do that.

And Christians think nothing of calling opponents 'infantile tripe'.

It demonstrates their moral superiority, and the fact that only they have a basis for morality.

So they feel free to call people names, and call things 'infantile tripe', because they love to show how morally superior Christianity is, by resorting to name-calling and personal abuse.

"Be good for goodness sake."

I don't expect that much from bus slogans whether they're advertising religion, humanism, politics or perfume. They're meant to be short, punchy, and to the point-- not carefully reasoned intellectual arguments. The point, at least according to the AHA, is to sort of let people know "Hey, we're atheists and we're out there," which I don't think is a good thing and not at all inappropriate.

Personally, though, I'd've gone for something a little less in-your-face. I've always been partial to "Reasons Greetings."

Whoa, I meant "which is think IS A GOOD THING." Editing...

Anon,

{{Evolution is not a reason to be good, it's an explanation as to why, in general, most people think that some things are good and bad.}}

So, as noted: this type of explanation tends to make a hash of ethical appeals in principle. {g}

But it’s an ethical appeal, by non-theistic apologists, that we’re discussing at the moment. (There’s a sign on American buses put by secular humanists as a counter-evangelical appeal this Christmas, suggesting that we “just be good for goodness’ sake” and linking this ethical appeal to a rejection or at least a disconnection of belief in God.)

{{Doesn't matter how much it loses its punch as an appeal to action if it is logical and true.}}

I think the loss of punch does matter; and many other people (including many secularists) have agreed that the loss of punch does matter, too. Which is not to say that it should be rejected as an explanation if it is logical and true. But notably, to return to the pertinent example, the British Humanist Association in their add campaign made no ethical appeal at all. Whereas the American Humanist Association had to put their ethical appeal in terms that didn’t involve explaining the “goodness” away to something upon which no ethical appeal could be made.

{{If the truth "makes a hash a ethical appeals," then we should probably revisit the idea of making ethical appeals.}}

Which is another way of saying that it does in fact matter if the explanation involves making a hash of ethical appeals. {g}

Meanwhile, would anyone less lazy than I am care to report how many ethical appeals the Humanist Manifesto III makes, and/or what their stated position is (if any) about ethical appeals? (I mention this doc since it's reffed in the article. Also, because the CNN article and/or Edwords by tacit report, says that the American Humanist Association defines humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.” Was that misreported? Or does the American Humanist Association need to revisit the idea of making ethical appeals? Or, perhaps, am I mistaken in thinking that this positively affirms the importance of making ethical appeals and/or is even an ethical appeal in itself?)


Steven,

Actually, the fact that I commonly find doing evil to be pleasurable to me (and even giving me happiness for at least a little while), convinces me that there is a good case to be made for the idea that evil can and does routinely bring pleasure and happiness to the agent doing the evil. And Hitler certainly seemed to be a very pleased man--so long as he was winning. What he was doing was evil whether he was winning or losing, though. (Or would anyone care to dispute that? Anon?)

And not all of us would immediately classify atheists as being hell-bound sinners for being athiests. Some of us even make a point of emphasizing rather that apparently devout and effective Christians are hellbound sinners--who are capable of acting morally anyway and even do sometimes act morally. The acting morally isn’t the problem, though; it’s the acting immorally that’s the problem. (I repeat that I do not consider the professsion of atheism to be necessarily tantamount to acting immorally, though; any more than either I or Christ consider the profession of Christian doctrine to any degree to be necessarily tantamount to acting morally.)


LG,

{{They're meant to be short, punchy, and to the point-- not carefully reasoned intellectual arguments.}}

Actually, Edwords specifically said that the purpose of the slogan was “to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people's minds."

Thus my amusement: my critical thinking tells me their choice of slogan was ironically counter-appropriate. {g}

Sadly, I agree in doubting that Edwords really was expecting people to think all that critically about the slogan, despite what he said. The AMA was only looking for something that sounded kind of appropriate rhetorically: short, punchy and to the point, as you put it.

{{I've always been partial to "Reasons Greetings."}}

That might lead me to theism even more quickly than “Be good for goodness’ sake”, if I thought critically about it. {g} I approve! {lol!} (But I would approve even if it didn’t lead to theism, or even led away from it.)

JRP

Jason, what do you mean by an "ethical appeal?" I have a few different ideas what you might mean by that, but it should get specified before we go any further.

Anon,

Sorry for the delay. Busy-ness back here.

I consider ethical appeals to be rationales concerning cooperative interpersonal unity. I have specific metaphysical reasons for doing so; but I also notice as a matter of practical fact that most people throughout human history (including presently) agree with that definition (though not necessarily in that wording) regardless of metaphysical reasons for doing so.

You and I both agree, for example, that “Evolution is not a reason to be good, it's an explanation as to why, in general, most people think that some things are good and bad”; and that consequently this kind of explanation “loses its punch as an appeal to action”, even if it is logical and true. Loses its punch in what regard? In regard to being a reason to be good: a call to rational action in favor of some concept of good that you yourself understand to be a concept of ‘good’ and that you expected me to understand, too, in principle, without further reference (even if we disagreed on particular applications of the principle).

You and I both (apparently?) agree that the kind of explanation you’re proffering explains “goodness”, including the kind of “goodness” being appealed to by the American Humanist Association for this Christmas season’s bus-slogan campaign, away to something upon which no ethical appeal could be made. Instinctive reaction to micro-environmental stimuli (or to macro-environmental stimuli, for that matter), is not rational action; it occurs automatically regardless of whether the biological entity is a person at all. If it happens to involve cooperative interpersonal unity, that’s ultimately an accident (one that happens to survive from generation to generation, somewhat thanks to aiding in survival-to-breed utility.)

JRP

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