Atheists, Agnostics, and Arrogance a match made in Heaven?

An atheist/agnostic I converse with on a regular basis has accused me and other Christians of self-importance on the following grounds: to think that God (if He even exists) would care about you is arrogant (as to how we got this idea that we ought not to be arrogant came about well, that’s the white elephant in the room).

Whether or not Christians can be called arrogant for maintaining that,

God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

well draw your own conclusions, but don’t forget to take into consideration that this arrogance my friend speaks would be based on something which we had no part in carrying out (God loved, God gave).

This all came to mind after reading something in Burt Prelutsky’s column, “Ann Coulter’s Big No-No”.

This is what Mr. Prelutsky pointed out,

Unlike most of the non-religious people I know, I am not opposed to religion. In fact, I tend to prefer believers to agnostics and atheists. They don’t seem to be nearly as self-righteous and self-important. Perhaps it’s unavoidable that if a man doesn’t believe in a superior power, it tends to make him view himself as the center of the universe.

Let me say that Christians can be arrogant (I don’t dispute that) not to mention self-centered (we’re only human). However, this behavior goes against the life which God has called us to live. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:1-3),

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

and to the Philippians (2:3-4),

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Now, as Prelutsky pointed out,

Perhaps it’s unavoidable that if a man doesn’t believe in a superior power, it tends to make him view himself as the center of the universe.

If one believes that there is no god then doesn’t it follow that one is the center of the universe? Then why is it wrong for an atheist to be arrogant and self-centered?

He’s just living out his faith.

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44 Responses to Atheists, Agnostics, and Arrogance a match made in Heaven?

  1. mjackson75 says:

    Interesting entry. I wrote an entry a couple of months ago regarding whether selfishness was a bad thing. I know that there is a difference between selfishness and arrogance, however, they do seem to go hand-in-hand.

    To be honest with you, whether Christian or Atheist, we are all human. This means that we all have our own lenses through which we see the world. Sure faith and religion play a role into the type of lenses one uses, however, I don’t think faith and religion change the fact that each person has his or her own perception.

    I argue that we are all self-centered. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. I made this point in the entry I described above…it basically says: We all operate out of our own self-interest in the pursuit of happiness. This means that while I think I have some altruistic motive in my willingness to sacrifice for my family, in truth, I sacrifice for my family because I love them. Because I love them, it makes me much happier that I could suffer instead of them having to. So, while it is a brave thing to jump in front of a bullet for one’s wife and child, truly it is because I would rather suffer than them.

    The point is a little convoluted…I’m still working out how to really describe it. Hopefully it makes sense. Regardless, I like to do good for other people. Not necessarily because I want to treat others as more important than me, but because I know I feel better about myself when I do good. Is this self-centered? Absolutely. But I don’t think it’s bad.

    Religious discussions often bring in the whole “self-centered” point. While it is definitely valid, it’s not important. Whether you are self-centered for believing that God died for you really doesn’t matter to me. Your beliefs don’t affect my life. Does this make sense?

  2. Laz says:

    Thanks for commenting.

    I argue that we are all self-centered

    No argument there, after the Fall, humans are self-centered by nature.

    Is that a bad thing?

    Bad according to what standard?

    A better question is, should we be self-centered?

    By the way, how can anyone who acknowledges that God sent His Son to die for them be self-centered on these grounds? How can this be when the source of his/her self-centerdness does not originate from him/her?

    My beliefs don’t affect your life, that much is true since I don’t know you. However what God has done through Christ affects you whether you accept it or not.

  3. mjackson75 says:

    You’re right, “Bad” according to what standard. I am speaking in terms of the general statement that one would normally here in conversation. I don’t think it is wrong to be self-centered when that is just how we (as humans) are. My point was that we often mask our self-centered motives with altruistic virtues. I don’t believe we need to do that at all. Being self-centered in ways that negatively impacts others will not make one popular, but being self-centered in ways that invoke one to do good and to act out of respect for others is perfectly justifiable in my opinion.

    Please note, I did not agree that Christians are self-centered because they believe that God died for them. I think that’s a bad argument, and if I made that impression, I’m sorry. However, since you asked “How can this be when the source of his/her self-centerdness does not originate from him/her?”, I would respond that it does originate from him/her. Because I don’t have the belief in the personal God, I see this whole discussion as originating in each person. One is responsible for one’s own beliefs, meaning, they are personal. Again, this goes to what I was saying about different lenses through which we view things.

    Again, I don’t look at the concept of Christianity as a wrong version of self-centeredness, unless the only reason one goes through the motions is the attempt to avoid hell. In that sense, one is living a lie…which is why I left Christianity.

  4. Laz says:

    You still haven’t defined the standard by which we can call things “bad” or “good” or “right” and “wrong”.

    I don’t think it is wrong to be self-centered when that is just how we (as humans) are.

    This is troublesome logic because why shouldn’t an alcoholic say “well this is how I am so when I got behind the wheel and hurt someone then what’s wrong with that?”

    “Negatively impacts others… do good” Again, based on what standard? What makes the concept of a “respect for others” valuable? You unknowingly invoke a standard, what is the source of this standard? If it’s of human origin then it’s worthless.

    One is responsible for one’s own beliefs, meaning, they are personal.

    Here I disagree for faith in Christ is a gift from God. This is why there is no room for the Christian (who has been given this gift through the Holy Spirit) to be arrogant, how can one be arrogant because of something one has received? I can attest what the Bible says about this through experience (though my experience does not grant veracity to the witness of Scripture).

    I’m sorry to hear you say “I left Christianity” but I would argue that you were never there to begin with.

  5. mjackson75 says:

    You seem to be trying to steer the conversation in the direction of “absolute” morality. Is that where you’re going? That’s far off from where my simple 1st comment was going. You seem to be stuck on this “define good, bad” comment. I already made mention that what I said at first was incorrect as I was making a general statement of good and bad. I know that’s philosophically imprecise, however, I wasn’t writing as a philosopher. Do you recognize if someone has done wrong? I would hope so. I have written about this also on my site, and I really don’t want to get into it again. But…

    Do I believe in absolute morality? Yes. So, if I do, where does it come from? It comes from the creator. Do I believe in the Christian version of God or creator? No. You seem to be trying to paint me into a corner here. I do believe there is right and wrong. I do believe that we are endowed a priori with certain beliefs…such as the common respect of life. One could argue that this can’t be so because infants and toddlers often have no concept of mine vs. yours, or life vs. death. I disagree. I believe the seeds of absolute morality are ingrained in humanity, however, it isn’t readily available until people reach a time of certain reasoning skills (in Christianity they refer to it as the “age of accountability”, depending on your view of baptism). Infants and toddlers are still working out the ability to reason, and it is many years later that it truly develops. Also, we learn morality through our settings- a posteriori. We are taught what is and is not acceptable in different situations. This is not the absolute morality of which I speak. I think it’s impossible to argue against some sort of absolute morality considering the conscience. Yes, there are exceptions, but in general, I think the majority of people have an innate respect for life.

    Do you really think that given the context of my earlier comment, that your comparison of my saying we are all self-centered (after going into detail what I meant) and the drunk driver is fair? I think you’re really pushing the limit on that one. Seriously, is it a fair comparison when my statement is taken in context?

    Also, I think you know when you are negatively impacted by another’s action. Don’t you? Please stop waxing philosophical when I was just making a comment. I really wasn’t trying to pick a fight.

    Also, please argue that I wasn’t a Christian. I would like to know how you know this? Is it because I would never “fall away” if I were a true Christian? The spirit of God never took root? I wasn’t a true believer? Please tell me where I went wrong.

  6. Laz says:

    Well I gathered that was your view on “absolute morality” for your blog states that you are a Deist.

    I’m not trying to pick a fight, really I’m not. I’m trying to understand where you get this concept of a creator that isn’t personal yet is the source of absolute morality. It seems to me just easier (from your standpoint) to discard the belief in a creator or turn to pantheism.

    Of course we know when we are negatively impacted by another’s action.

    Well as to your “falling away” I take the Reformed view that once saved, always saved. Could be inaccurate but it seems to me that this is the view which Scripture indicates, not to mention my experience.

    The opposite view of course will cite proof texts supporting that view. Nevertheless I think the Apostle said it best,

    They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19

    That verse is my presupposition, I’ll make no bones about it. So when I run across folks who “fell away”, well you know how presuppositions work.

    Truth be told, I’d be glad to hear your story. Did you grow up in the church?

  7. mjackson75 says:

    Laz,

    Sorry I got a little “snippy” with you. However, my feathers get ruffled when presumptions are made concerning the honesty of my Christian experience. I suppose it’s always possible (as I don’t know the answers) that my Christianity was not genuine. I however believe it to be, and, if it wasn’t, then it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part. There’s too much to go into here concerning my story. I’ve written a lot about it on my blog…”Why I am a Deist,” “What’s Wrong with American Christianity,” etc… So I would refer you there to check it out.

    As far as absolute morality goes…I know it’s confusing. This is why I’ve accepted Deism as a philosophical view. The deal is, I couldn’t honestly go along with Christianity. I reached a point where I realized that I just didn’t believe it anymore, the more I read, the more nonsensical it seemed. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, or a previous comment (I don’t remember which) that Deism almost makes it too easy. And if there were no Deism, I would probably create it for myself. Basically, I believe in some sort of creator. I don’t know what it is, or even whether I can classify it as “God.” I can’t accept the “something from nothing” that we get in Atheism. I believe there had to be some sort of cause. This cause created the universe according to principles and laws (of nature). To me, absolute morality is really about life, and the respect of it. This cause had to have a hand in it somehow. Whether it was through the laws of nature and humans, because of their reasoning ability, were able to grasp it…I don’t know.

    Beyond the issue of morality, the main point is that I don’t think any of us can “know” about the creator. The only way you can know, which I know you mentioned earlier, is through personal experience. That’s great. However, if I was active (very active) as a Christian for 10 years, why did I not get this or some other personal experience that made it beyond a reasonable doubt? This is why I have a really hard time with Calvinism, in that it means that even though I devoted years of my life to following Christ, I wasn’t “chosen” for election. Therefore, no matter how hard I tried, I’m still going to hell. I can’t follow or accept that sort of God. I know the arguments about us all being sinful and none deserving, but that doesn’t hold water with me. Especially when it says that Christ died for the world.

    As I said, there are too many things to go into here. But, I do believe in a creator, and I do believe that we do have some sort of innate sense of right and wrong…but I don’t think that this creator is working outside the natural laws it set into motion.

  8. Laz says:

    Thanks for sharing and my apologies for the feather ruffling, I hope to not do this again.

    I however believe it to be, and, if it wasn’t, then it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part.

    See here’s the rub: Christianity isn’t about our efforts, at least when it comes to the salvation God calls us to. I know this is what you have (had?) a hard time with. For example, He chose Israel not because they were such great people, not because their efforts let Him little choice but to choose them. He chose Israel out of his Sovereign will. Romans 9 contains some things which the natural man cannot accept, I admit, but it is what it is. It’s His Universe not ours.

    It’s good to see that at least you know what you are rejecting instead of trying to sugarcoat something as mind-boggling as God’s Sovereignty.

    So do you think this creator created for any purpose at all? I’m still trying to understand how an impersonal creator can be the basis of any sort of morality.

    I don’t think any of us can “know” about the creator.

    This is precisely where Christ comes in, that some men in 1st Century Palestine came into actual physical contact with God in the Flesh and gave testimony to this reality (I cannot explain this any better than what is done here) . As with any historical event, it must be believed by authority right? If we thumb our nose at authority then why bother to believe anything regarding events we didn’t witness.

    I understand your disagreement with Calvinism (or Reformed Theology), for I recently embraced it myself and I’m not sure I’d go for all 5 points.

    Did Christ really die for the world? John 3:16 doesn’t really suggest it,

    For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

    He loved the world but notice the caveat of “whoever believes in Him”. I’m not trying to convince you with Scripture (I read the disclaimer on your blog) but I’m trying to understand your understanding of Christianity.

    Also notice that humans were not created sinful, something happened to mess that up. Different Christians hold different as to what this event was, as for me I hold to what Genesis 3 describes.

    Can you elaborate what exactly you meant by this,

    I don’t think that this creator is working outside the natural laws it set into motion.

  9. j razz says:

    Laz, mjackson,

    I have been enjoying reading your interactions. Just thought I would let you both know. Laz, I didn’t know that you recently came to embrace reformed thought. Maybe later you can talk to what part of the 5 points you do not accept. Some have argued that the 5 points are a summation of what reformed thought concerning God and His dealings with man are and so if you reject one aspect, it becomes unrepresentative of the whole. I digress, but I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject at some point.

    j razz

  10. mjackson75 says:

    Laz,

    I understand the point of God’s sovereignty. I know that if the Christian religion is true, then God would have every right to act as he might. However, it makes no sense that he would choose to not “save” me when I was fully involved and really working on the relationship. While he is sovereign and has full right to do as he will, how is it that Jesus died for my sins…I was willing to accept his lordship (in fact, did) and yet he would choose not to pursue the relationship with me…thereby sending me to hell. So the question becomes: Is it humanity’s fault if they don’t believe. If I’m not able to believe (heart hardened, eyes darkened etc…) then why would I be punished for that? It’s nonsensical.

    I don’t know what else to say concerning morality. The fact is that I believe in a creator that created for its purposes, why, we cannot know. I’m not even 100% sold on morality as given, it’s just what I think now because there are too many people across the board with at least a similar respect for life. But it’s really hard to say. As far as us being created for a purpose? I don’t know. I would imagine there was some sort of purpose, but again, we cannot know. I don’t think it’s because an eternal, omniscient, omnipresent being wanted a relationship. I don’t believe we were created solely to worship…that seems rather self-serving. Maybe the creator is a creative something, and was working according to its nature. I don’t know.

    As far as my understanding of Christianity…it’s based on relationship. The sacrifice followed by the resurrection of Christ is what bridges the gap between sinful man and God. One of my problems is that relationship is two way. I can’t force relationship on anybody and have it genuine. If I truly believed and accepted Christ as my saviour, then I fulfilled my part of it. If he doesn’t accept me, because of his sovereign will, then there’s nothing I can do about it. You’re right about John 3:16, there is a caveat for “whosoever believes in him,” but the calvinist view says I have no choice but to not believe. This is a serious frustration for me. When I was really struggling with Christianity, I was praying, reading the bible, reading apologetics, and having conversations with my pastor and other Christians. I was trying to buttress my faith, but I couldn’t get over the objections. Therefore, I knew that I was lying when I went to church. I had to stop going, even if only to avoid causing other people problems.

    As far as the creator not working outside the natural laws it set, what I mean is that I think the universe is operating according to natural laws (physics). While it’s possible for a creator to intervene in human existence, I really don’t believe that it does. I suppose there are some “miracles” that happen in life, however, I tend to think that we just don’t have the knowledge yet to explain it. I knew a lady in my church who had cancer, ended up having both legs amputated in the hopes of stopping it, and ended up in hospice. However, while in Hospice she recovered and is back in the ministry again. Was this God’s intervention? It’s a possibility. However, I tend to think that there were other circumstances that led to her recovery that we just can’t explain with our limited knowledge. Could I be wrong? Sure.

  11. Jon says:

    If one believes that there is no god then doesn’t it follow that one is the center of the universe?

    A person doesn’t have to believe in impossible things to feel humbled. But a person does have to believe in impossible things to be arrogant. You claim that the creator of the universe cares intimately about a single species of primate on a single planet in a single galaxy out of billions. That’s arrogant. That’s self-important. It gives your life meaning to claim such a thing, and that’s why you claim it, regardless of whether it’s actually true. My atheism doesn’t give my life meaning in the slightest. Atheism is just the claim that what religious prelates say about the world isn’t true. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive. Therefore it’s erroneous to claim that something logically follows from atheism; nothing logically follows from atheism except a disbelief in religious mythos. The supposed moral implications you insist exist are illusory. As Christopher Hitchens writes, an atheist can be a nihilist just as well as an optimist. Calling someone an atheist says nothing about their morality or philosophy or beliefs or any of it.

    Then why is it wrong for an atheist to be arrogant and self-centered?

    It has nothing to do with atheism. It’s wrong because arrogance and self-centeredness lead to bigotry, and bigotry is at the root of racism, ageism, classism, nationalism, sexism, and every other form of in-group/out-group hostility that exists. These hostilities impinge on my well-being. I feel comfort from knowing that my friends and family do not suffer under such hostilities. How can I expect others not to be arrogant and self-centered if I don’t follow the same guideline? Everyone is made of the same stuff, the same genes, the same history. I’m no better than anyone else. It’s common sense.

    Just about the worst argument you can make for a religion or a god is that it somehow defines the moral landscape. When the moral landscape is simply whatever God says it is, then changing good and bad amounts to just tinkering with the god; good and bad have no intrinsic value, then–their definition is predicated upon God’s arbitrary will. That’s the paragon of moral relativism, and it’s why, for instance, Christianity has over 33,000 denominations throughout the world.

    Morality is a social endeavor; it arises from society, not from any god. There isn’t a cosmic font of goodness that you tap into when you lend a friend a dollar, or give up your seat on the bus to an elderly fellow. You do it because it makes you feel good about yourself.

  12. Laz says:

    Jon,
    Thank you for that, it’s good that at least you know and understand (though not fully) why it is that you believe what you believe about the universe we live in.

    On what basis can (do) you call me or anyone else arrogant?

  13. j razz says:

    So the question becomes: Is it humanity’s fault if they don’t believe. If I’m not able to believe (heart hardened, eyes darkened etc…) then why would I be punished for that? It’s nonsensical.

    I believe you are getting confused in what it means to be “able” to believe. For example, you are sitting in a chair and your house catches on fire, naturally you would get up and leave the house if all hope was lost for it. But, if you were physically constrained (chained to the chair) you have no way of leaving and thus will be burned alive even though you want to leave. The first illustration is similar to how we are “able” to believe while the second one is of what most think.

    We have the faculties that make believing possible so like every other human with those same faculties, we have the same potential of believing (those excluded would be those without the faculties that make belief possible- the mentally handicap, babies).

    I would encourage you to read A Response to J.I. Packer on the So-Called Antinomy Between the Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility
    , I think this explains it quiet well. There is also a chapter that deals with this issue in D. A. Carson’s book How Long O Lord and it is worth the read.

    j razz

  14. mjackson75 says:

    Thanks J Razz,

    I read the article. It bothered me some that Piper wrote a response letter that made somebody else’s arguments. That aside though, I think Edwards’ concept of the “moral necessity” and “natural necessity” to be a larger leap than the unbiblical concept of “free-will.” My main problem with his argument is that it is a very works based argument. To quote:

    “But moral inability to do a good thing does not excuse our failure to do it (p. 148). Though we love darkness rather than light and therefore can’t (because of moral inability) come to the light, nevertheless we are responsible for not coming, that is, we can be justly punished for not coming. This conforms with an almost universal human judgment, for the stronger a man’s desire is to do evil the more unable he is to do good and yet the more wicked he is judged to be by men. If men really believed that moral inability excused a man from guilt, then a man’s wickedness would decrease in proportion to the intensity of his love of evil. But this is contrary to the moral sensibilities of almost all men.”

    Edwards is making this about works of evil and good…not belief. Didn’t Christ die for us while we were all still sinners? Wouldn’t ever human then be a lover of evil? None of us is righteous, it seems there is no gray area with the god of the bible. Either it’s good and righteous, or it’s evil. In that case, every human being is evil, with the exception of those whom god “chooses.”

    My issue is that according to scriptures, we can not come to the light on our own. It is the Holy Spirit that changes hearts and minds. Yes, we have the same faculties that would allow us to believe, we all have minds. However, my point is that according to the reformed position, God chooses whether I do or do not believe. If he doesn’t “reveal” himself to me in an equal way he revealed himself to you, then I don’t have the opportunity to believe (because I am in sin).

    So, even if it is within god’s sovereign right to determine me for hell and you for heaven, it’s not a very godly act. Especially if we don’t have free-will. Yes, that’s a human assessment, but really, that’s all any of us can give. Edwards’ analysis of this problem is a human assessment, one which I can’t go along with. I have personally always seen the issue of “election” a different way, one which I believe can be in resolution with the rest of scripture. But I can’t accept Edwards’ view, or likewise, Piper’s.

  15. Jon says:

    On what basis can (do) you call me or anyone else arrogant?

    I’ve already answered that question. Unless I’m missing what you’re getting at. If so, be more plain with your question.

    We have the faculties that make believing possible so like every other human with those same faculties, we have the same potential of believing

    The problem with potentials is that they aren’t realistic. Every human being that lives on this planet has the potential to only do good things. Every human being also has the potential to do only bad things. And yet, neither of those ever happens. I could argue with equal validity that all human beings have the potential to be atheists. That fact alone doesn’t prescribe atheism over theism. The opposite argument is equally dubious.

  16. Laz says:

    Jon,
    Sorry for the lack of clarity, let me try again,

    Should one be arrogant?

  17. j razz says:

    Every human being that lives on this planet has the potential to only do good things. Every human being also has the potential to do only bad things. And yet, neither of those ever happens. I could argue with equal validity that all human beings have the potential to be atheists. That fact alone doesn’t prescribe atheism over theism.

    Jon,

    You affirmed the definition of potential and validated my point in the same post. Thanks.

    j razz

  18. Jon says:

    You affirmed the definition of potential and validated my point in the same post. Thanks.

    Maybe I misunderstood your point, then.

    Should one be arrogant?

    I thought I answered that, too.

    Quote:

    It’s wrong because arrogance and self-centeredness lead to bigotry, and bigotry is at the root of racism, ageism, classism, nationalism, sexism, and every other form of in-group/out-group hostility that exists. These hostilities impinge on my well-being.

    Etcetera, etcetera.

  19. Laz says:

    Jon,
    Ok then according to you one should not be arrogant. But why should I have to care about you or anyone else’s well-being?

  20. Jon says:

    But why should I have to care about you or anyone else’s well-being?

    Again, I pretty much answered this question before. What happens when you don’t care about anyone else? People stop caring about you. And that’s why you should care. It impinges on your own well-being. The threat of no social ties is a powerful motivator. The threat of a bad reputation is a powerful motivator. And consider the practical implications. How many people do you know that could sustain themselves completely independently, with no help from anyone: grow their own food, make their own clothes, build their own shelter, make their own tools to build that shelter and grow that food? It’s difficult to think of an example. Everyone relies on someone. It’s pretty obvious that if you threaten these social relationships, you threaten your own survival.

  21. Laz says:

    Jon,

    you threaten your own survival

    So what?

  22. Jon says:

    So what?

    Well, that’s a bit of a tangent to the issue of morality. But it has to do with evolutionary adaptation.

    Those organisms which don’t try to survive will die more often. Those who do try will die less often. A population that lives longer has more opportunities to pass on their genes. A simple probabilistic argument shows that a population of organisms that has traits conducive to self-safety will easily dominate over a population of organisms which doesn’t have those kinds of traits. Eventually, those organisms which don’t try to survive will go extinct, because they weren’t able to reproduce enough to maintain a stable population.

    You could imagine two species of squirrel living in the same ecosystem, one that doesn’t run away from predators because it doesn’t care, and one that does. Obviously the species which runs from predators will be more successful, and the one that doesn’t will die out pretty quickly.

    So a normal person has no choice as to whether he or she wants to survive: it’s completely irrational. We descend from organisms who had that feature built in already. I don’t want to threaten my own survival because I can’t help it, just like I can’t help that my heart beats and my eyes blink–it’s an automatic, autonomic behavior. If we didn’t have such a thing, and if our ancestors didn’t have such a thing, neither we nor they would’ve survived long enough to perpetuate our genes.

  23. Laz says:

    Jon,
    I wouldn’t call it a tangent to the issue of morality. In part because if a murder (an immoral act) occurred then the victim’s survival was, um, affected.

    Well in your squirrel illustration, it’s instinctual for them to flee predators. Self-preservation is an instinct no doubt about it. We are prompted by this instinct to avoid danger, and we are prompted by the herd instinct, for example, to help others..

    However, feeling a desire to help is different from feeling you ought to help whether you want to or not.

    So if I understand you correctly, we ought to be unselfish because it’s better for the group as a whole, which is better for me (well-being as you called it).

    So why ought to be unselfish? Because it’s better for me.

    But isn’t that selfishness? In other words, I morally ought to be unselfish so that I can be more thoroughly selfish.

    I’m glad that makes sense to you, but it seems ludicrous to me.

  24. mjackson75 says:

    Laz,

    Your last post goes directly to what my point earlier, as well as the point I made on my entry about selfishness…We are all selfish, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as selfishness can lead to good deeds for others. Because I love my family, I’m willing to make sacrifices for them and their happiness because it inherently makes me feel better to know that they’re happy. I get something out of this selfishness. I don’t think that’s ludicrous at all.

    I believe we all act out of this motivation, not some sense of altruism.

  25. Laz says:

    M,
    So “I should not be selfish so I can be more selfish” isn’t ludicrous? Wow…

    And when someone else’s selfishness impinges on yours?

  26. Laz says:

    The ensuing discussion of this post is like a bad joke: “So an atheist, a deist and a theist walk into a bar…”

  27. mjackson75 says:

    Laz,

    Either you’re missing the point or totally twisting the meaning. I’m not sure which. Never did I say “I should not be selfish so I can be more selfish.” You’re right, that is a ludicrous statement.

    Once again, our “unselfish, altruistic” acts, as perceived by others, are actually based out of our own selfishness. This means that when I act in a way that is helpful, do good works, make sacrifices, etc… for the benefit of others… actions that are seen as unselfish or altruistic in nature…These actions actually stem from my own desire to feel good. Helping others has a definite benefit for me. This is the selfishness to which I refer. I don’t know how to explain any better than that.

    If you don’t feel good about helping others, then perhaps this doesn’t apply universally. But in my limited experience, people seem to feel better about themselves when they’ve made a positive impact on someone else.

  28. Laz says:

    M,
    Well we ought to help others not because it makes us feel good but because it is the right thing to do according the Moral Law written in our hearts. I’m not sure if this is the same as the “absolute morality” which you referenced earlier.

    Like I said in a previous comment, feeling a desire to help is different from feeling you ought to help whether you desire to or not.

    Let me throw out a hypothetical: Suppose you hear a cry for help from someone in danger. You will feel 2 desires,
    1. To help him (the herd instinct)

    2. To keep yourself out of danger (the instinct of self-preservation)

    But there is something else that comes in, in addition to these 2 instincts and this third thing will tell you what your OUGHT to follow the instinct to help and suppress the instinct to run away.

    This third thing that judges between these 2 instincts CANNOT itself be either one of them.

    It would be like saying that the sheet music that tells you to play one note on the piano and not another is itself one of the notes on the keyboard.

    The Moral Law tells us the tune we have to play: our instincts (feelings or whatever you want to call it) are only the keys.

  29. Jon says:

    However, feeling a desire to help is different from feeling you ought to help whether you want to or not.

    I don’t doubt that. There’s a difference between instinctual predilections and normative social practices. The latter reinforces the former. You don’t have to mow your lawn, but social aesthetics demand that you mow your lawn. But why should you care about the lawn-mowing social custom in the first place? Because you’re a part of a society which holds to that custom, and to disavow social customs is to disavow society, which, as I’ve previously stated, impinges on your survival (you’re reputation with the neighbors might suffer, for instance).

    I mean, just consider your own scenario. Why would you think, “I ought to help someone”, even though you don’t want to help that someone? Essentially it’s peer pressure, is it not? It’s what society expects you to do. It’s the concern that not helping this person will come back to bite you. That’s even the motivation religions give, when they give them.

    So if I understand you correctly, we ought to be unselfish because it’s better for the group as a whole, which is better for me (well-being as you called it).

    So why ought to be unselfish? Because it’s better for me.

    But isn’t that selfishness? In other words, I morally ought to be unselfish so that I can be more thoroughly selfish.

    You’ve got it a bit backwards. Human beings are selfish; that’s a fact. A normal mother cares more for her own children than for the children of another. A normal person cares more for his or her own friends than for strangers. So the question has to be asked, if human beings are so selfish, how did we ever survive?

    We know from game-theoretic models that altruism can arise from selfishness. That’s what I was trying to explain in my previous posts. I’m sufficiently selfish as to recognize that by harming someone else, I might actually indirectly be harming myself (in the future, or whenever). Since I don’t want to harm myself, I avoid harming other people. (I’m not saying that that’s the only reason I don’t harm other people, just that it’s the most primordial one. It’s a reasoning I can’t help but escape, so much so that I do it without thinking.)

    Consider the alternatives. If a person is perfectly altruistic, not caring the least for himself, then what happens? He won’t survive as long, either from not taking care of himself, or because he was taken advantage of by someone else. If a person is perfectly selfish, not caring the least for others, then what happens? He also won’t survive as long, since he’ll impinge on the survival of others, and those others will make sure that doesn’t happen (given that they have a normal degree of selfishness). Both cases provide for unstable moral strategies which ultimately impinge on the survival of the individual. The only real recourse, then, is that individuals have enough selfishness as to maximize their survival.

    So to answer your questions, no. I’m saying that a certain degree of selfishness is actually a necessary thing, and that altruism is an emergent property of this selfishness (which is why it’s such a successful strategy).

    (This kind of idea is sort of analogous to the free-market principle; that economic selfishness actually moves the “Invisible Hand” toward a better market. It’s sort of the same idea.)

  30. Laz says:

    It’s what society expects you to do.

    But does that mean that this Moral Law (or oughtness) is merely a social convention?

    Let’s not assume that just because there is something we have learned from parents and society that it is only a human construct.

    Let’s take something you’re familiar with: math

    We all learned the multiplication table at school, but a child who grew up isolated from society would not learn it.

    Does it follow that the table is merely something which humans have made up for themselves and might have made up differently if they had liked?

    Yes we learn proper behavior from parents, teachers and society as we learn everything else.

    But some of the things we learn are mere societal conventions (like driving on the right side of the road as opposed to other parts of the world who drive on the opposite side) but other things like mathematics are real truths.

    I suppose the question that follows is to which group does this sense of “oughtness” belong?

  31. Jon says:

    But does that mean that this Moral Law (or oughtness) is merely a social convention?

    No! A convention is something that’s arbitrary. Modern morality stems from imagining ourselves in past societies, and condemning those societies with modern eyes. It’s decidedly NOT arbitrary. It’s based upon the development of our species from the past to the present, our history, our science, our politics, etcetera–things that are fixed, now that they’ve happened.

    To argue that there’s some kind of intangible “Moral Law” is to argue that modern morality should’ve always existed, is it not? Otherwise what kind of law could it possibly be? If everyone has free and open access to the idea that slavery, oppression, and war are wrong, why are slavery, oppression, and war so unfortunately common in our history? Because past civilizations didn’t have knowledge of the repercussions of those things. They didn’t have access to detailed and accurate secular histories. They didn’t have access to robust mathematics and science. They didn’t understand that their out-groups weren’t very different from their in-groups. They only had access to the basic moral intuitions we get from our instincts: act a certain way so that your peer group doesn’t condemn you, don’t kill too many of your children because that affects the survival of your genes, etcetera– in other words, intuitions that nearly all primates have (indeed, most social animals of any kind).

  32. Laz says:

    Jon,
    Do you think Adolf Hitler “didn’t have knowledge of the repercussions” of his actions?

    What this discussion has affirmed is that us human beings in our darkened understanding will think/say just about anything to reject that which is plainly obvious.

    Not to mention validate what the Apostle wrote in the opening chapter of Romans.

  33. Jon says:

    Do you think Adolf Hitler “didn’t have knowledge of the repercussions” of his actions?

    Is Adolf Hitler representative of the average adult male, morally speaking? If not, I can’t see how this is relevant. I wasn’t claiming there’s some intangible “Moral Law”, that was you.

    What this discussion has affirmed is that us human beings in our darkened understanding will think/say just about anything to reject that which is plainly obvious.

    It’s only “plainly obvious” to you because you already subscribe to it.

    It’s “plainly obvious” to a child that there’s a monster in her closet. It’s “plainly obvious” to 9-11 Truthers that the government destroyed the WTC towers. It’s “plainly obvious” to HIV denialists that the government created HIV to wipe out Africans. It’s “plainly obvious” to UFO conspiracy theorists that aliens abduct and perform experiments on humans. Need I go on?

  34. Laz says:

    Actually I would argue that Hitler is representative of the average adult male. We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, the difference between most males (I don’t see what gender has to do with it, women are in the same predicament) and Hitler is that he had the kind of political power most humans will never have.

    Others did however like Stalin, Mao, even the ‘holy’ men who instigated the Crusades.

    Unless you are an android, are you seriously telling me that there was never a time when you had thoughts of actually harming someone? What if you at those times (assuming you ever had them, if not thank God for giving you a natural temperance dreamed of by others) had the kind of power and lack of accountability that a Stalin or a Hitler did?

    Fine Jon I already subscribe to it but what about when I didn’t? There was a time when I didn’t and I was as blind as you are right now. I would even make some of the same assertions that you have made, after all my formal scientific education told me that there is no God and if there is he/she/it doesn’t matter.

    Admittedly back then no human argument, no matter how clever, could have convinced me that yes there is a God and yes He became flesh and yes He died on a cross to pull us out of this moribund state we are born into.

    Your attempt at levity is noted and it does remind me of something CS Lewis wrote,

    A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.

    I pray that you don’t live the rest of your natural life like Lewis’ lunatic.

  35. Jon says:

    Actually I would argue that Hitler is representative of the average adult male…. the difference between most males (I don’t see what gender has to do with it, women are in the same predicament) and Hitler is that he had the kind of political power most humans will never have.

    You say Hitler is representative of the average adult male, and then in the next breath you say he’s different from the average adult male. Good job, there.

    Unless you are an android, are you seriously telling me that there was never a time when you had thoughts of actually harming someone?

    There’s a difference between thinking about harming someone and thinking that a certain group of people with a certain common characteristic deserve to be harmed. Have I ever thought, you know, I’d like to hurt that person because she’s black, or Christian, or a vegetarian? No. I haven’t.

    What if you at those times (assuming you ever had them, if not thank God for giving you a natural temperance dreamed of by others) had the kind of power and lack of accountability that a Stalin or a Hitler did?

    This is irrelevant, by your own admission (however implicit). The vast majority of people don’t get a lack of accountability. This is also irrelevant, considering my previous response to this line of discussion. I’ll quote myself:

    I wasn’t claiming there’s some intangible “Moral Law”, that was you.

    In other words, most people, most of the time, subscribe to the moral framework I outlined previously. Most people follow the bell curve. Pointing out outliers in the data does little to refute the trend.

    There was a time when I didn’t and I was as blind as you are right now. I would even make some of the same assertions that you have made, after all my formal scientific education told me that there is no God and if there is he/she/it doesn’t matter.

    I was raised Catholic, went to private Catholic schools through high school. I liked being Christian. Does that argue for my position, now that I’m an atheist? No. And your story doesn’t argue for your position either.

    Admittedly back then no human argument, no matter how clever, could have convinced me that yes there is a God and yes He became flesh and yes He died on a cross to pull us out of this moribund state we are born into.

    Then you admit it’s faith you’re talking about, not reason. Subjective feelings, as opposed to logical conclusions. I guess I’ll just have to wait for your god to ring my mental door bell, or however it happens.

    A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.

    ‘Refuse’ is an interesting word. It implies an active evasion of worship. That doesn’t characterize me in the slightest. I can’t worship. I’m intellectually incapable of worship. I could fake it. Pretend that I worship. But would that really be worship?

    There are a lot of people that think Pascal’s Wager is awfully convincing. Me? I think that if a god exists, and truly is omniscient and benevolent and the rest, that he would care more for a person who truly couldn’t find reason to worship than for a sycophant purring in his ear simply to avoid hell. Of course, that kind of reasonable persona rarely jives well with the jealous and wrathful Yahweh.

  36. Laz says:

    Jon,
    Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have much to be thankful for, I surely do.

    You misunderstand what I’m saying. I admit that might have to do with lack of clarity on my part though I think that is not the whole story.

    Hitler is representative of all human beings in the sense of being born into sin. Of that there is no question, in our natural states we all have the propensity to sin (this wasn’t always the case but it has been the case after the Fall). As it were, we are unable to not to sin.

    Most of us are unlike Hitler in that we don’t have the kind of earthly power he had (there are those who did however and I gave a few examples). I”m sorry if you can’t see how these 2 can be true at the same time.

    I shudder to think what the average person would do if given the same kind of power as Hitler was given.

    So you’re not racist that’s good. Racism is hideous and like I said you should thank God that you have never considered another group of human beings as anything but. Unfortunately I was racist and Christ took that away, as He took away my homophobia. 2 hideous things I clung to before being born again.

    The question of whether or not you’ve thought of hurting anyone else (for whatever reason) still holds. The reason is irrelevant, whether it’s racism or simply anger or what have you. The fact that most of us have thought about harming someone else, I think, shows the depths of our depravity.

    The vast majority of people do have accountability of some sort. Whether societal or familial or what have you. Conscience is, I suppose, one such layer. This I believe comes from God, you of course, believe otherwise, the key word being believe.

    We are back at our total depravity. Jon, we know the good we ought to do (we can disagree as to where this comes from) YET, we do not do it.

    I’m sorry Jon but being raised in a particular denomination or attending said denomination’s schools does not make you a Christian. My folks baptized me at the age of 1 and took me to Mass (I even did a first communion ceremony). But so what?

    When I became a new person in Christ, among the many things that He showed me is that religion has very little to do with salvation. The word “Christian” (which only occurs 3 times in the entire NT) literally means a “slave of Christ” or “belonging to Christ” or even “a little Christ”.

    Could you seriously describe your life when you were a Christian as such?

    I’m not sure what you were told growing up about being a “Christian” but I wonder if you were even told the words of Christ Himself as to what a disciple of His actually is,

    “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.

    “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

    “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

    “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW;

    and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.

    “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

    “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

    “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

    This was not made clear to me when I attended the Catholic church.

    After reading this, can you be so sure you were a Christian?

    Then you admit it’s faith you’re talking about, not reason. Subjective feelings, as opposed to logical conclusions. I guess I’ll just have to wait for your god to ring my mental door bell, or however it happens.

    Jon I have never pretended otherwise, though of course I would interject that the Christian faith is a reasonable faith. I wouldn’t call it subjective feelings I would say it’s more of a conviction. It isn’t through feelings that I’m convinced of the work of Jesus Christ.

    “However it happens”. Well truth be told it probably isn’t the same for everyone. For Saul of Tarsus it was pretty dramatic, for me it wasn’t so much. God put people in my life who pestered me to no end about this Jesus.

    One of them, my sister, would not leave me alone and we ended up getting into these discussions about Jesus. I would win the arguments, for truth be told, I was more clever with words than she was and after all I have a scientific education.

    Not content to win arguments I did the worst possible thing I could have done as a skeptic, I picked up the Bible. Not as an act of worship but to find the contradictions and to outline them for my sister and thus make her doubt her nascent faith just enough for her to leave me alone (a selfish motive no doubt).

    Jon, as I read the Holy Spirit convinced me of the Truth of the Written Word. I can assure you it was not mere feelings but a conviction of the truth of what I was reading. I understand that I’m making an existential argument but it is what is. I can echo the blind man’s testimony,

    that though I was blind, now I see.

    I lived a life opposed to God, an evasion of worship, if you will. This characterizes us in our natural state, all of us Jon. So long as you remain dead in your sins, it does characterize you. You’ve said it, you can’t worship (like I couldn’t) because you are dead in your sins. You must be born again as Jesus made clear to Nicodemus who was religious to the utmost (John 3).

    God doesn’t want hypocrisy he wants those who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, fakers need not apply. The fact that there are many who claim the banner of Christ yet have no interest in following Him is beside the point.

    I’ve heard of Pascal’s wager though I’m not sure it’s convincing. Only the Spirit of God can truly convince not clever or well-structured arguments.

    As the Apostle wrote,

    my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

    so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

    Jon as for your last paragraph… You could say I was a person who truly couldn’t find reason to worship. He gave me a reason to do so, He revealed Himself through the Word.

    Your sycophant is not the true worshiper God seeks. His true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in Truth not to avoid eternal separation from God.

    There is danger my friend in judging the Judge as you seem to be doing.

    I’d suggest you read brother Guna’s comment, he addressed the misconception which you seem to have regarding God.

  37. Jon says:

    Of that there is no question, in our natural states we all have the propensity to sin

    What are you saying here? Are you saying that everyone has the potential to become a Hitler? Because again, that’s false by your own admission. If we assume, as you seem to suggest, that the kind of power Hitler had is a necessary condition for murdering on the scale that he did, then no, everyone does not have the potential to become Hitler. Just from a practical perspective, everyone can’t possibly have all of the resources to commit the acts Hitler did.

    Or are you saying that everyone has the potential to kill a person, or lie to a person, or to steal? This is a different scenario, then. The average person, unlike Hitler, has to reckon with his or her local social group. If you steal, and are caught, you pay a penalty. If you kill, and are caught, you pay a penalty. If you’re not caught, well, you’re lucky. The vast majority of people who break these social laws will be caught.

    This is exactly what I was describing at the beginning of this thread. Is it astonishing, then, that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Not really. It’s to be expected. If my model is correct, and morality comes from implicit social contracts, you would expect a person without any sense of social responsibility to act immorally. And that’s exactly what you find.

    If your model is correct, and there’s some intangible evil essence that only religiosity can cure, then we’d expect religious people in political power to be less corrupt than non-religious people in political power, and for the same trend to be true in the general population. But that isn’t true at all. There’s never ever been a correlation found between religiosity and morality. Religious people are just as likely to murder, to steal, etcetera then non-religious people. In fact, some studies show a weak correlation against religiosity in terms of morality. In other words, religious people have been shown to commit more crimes than non-religious people, percentage-wise.

    The fact that most of us have thought about harming someone else, I think, shows the depths of our depravity.

    This seems fairly obvious to anyone who understands evolution. We’re primates, and it shows. We like sex and food and friendship and feeling good. We don’t like when other people who try and take those things away from us. But we were lucky to develop language and abstract thinking, and thus curb that baser nature.

    You can point to some unobserved, unseen, unknowable evil sinful essence to explain our depravity. Pardon me if I find it unconvincing.

    This was not made clear to me when I attended the Catholic church.

    I was taught all of those things.

    …though of course I would interject that the Christian faith is a reasonable faith.

    I think you’re playing with terms here. If the Christian faith is reasonable, then every belief anyone has is also reasonable. You’re just defining “reasonable” as “having reasons”. Well, having reasons isn’t good enough. You have to say something about the quality of those reasons. At the end of the day, all of your reasons aren’t very good ones. They’re based on your subjective feeling that God must exist. And that subjective feeling leads you to believe in a number of other things, most prominently the veracity of the Bible and other theological writings.

    God put people in my life who pestered me to no end about this Jesus.

    Don’t you realize how arrogant and nonsensical that sounds? To me, it reads, “God wants to save me, but not you. Otherwise, he would’ve sent people to pester you.” It’s almost like saying, “God moved all of the traffic out of the way so that I could get home more quickly.” Meanwhile, an SUV runs over a child somewhere, and God did nothing to stop it. No, the most obvious conclusion to draw from the occurrence of a serendipitous event , or a sorrowful one for that matter, is that it was random. The fact that the traffic was light for you, but deadly for a child somewhere, was random. The fact that some Christians got you to convert, but not me, is random. If you happened to have been born in India, you likely wouldn’t have converted to Christianity. To argue otherwise is to admit that your god is arbitrary and amoral, if not outright immoral.

    His true worshipers will worship in Spirit and in Truth not to avoid eternal separation from God.

    His true worshippers will worship not to avoid eternal separation from God?

    I’d suggest you read brother Guna’s comment, he addressed the misconception which you seem to have regarding God.

    Nothing in that comment remotely addresses my criticisms. All I see is a bunch of question begging.

    Could a zealot write a beautiful love story full of grace and love as the book of Ruth?

    Are zealots incapable of love, grace, and poetry? Of course not. The obvious answer is yes, of course zealots can write beautiful love stories.

    Could zealots write prophecies of Israel’s exile and judgement? Could a religious zealot unabashedly record the religious apostasy of Israel?

    Yes to both questions. In fact, a religious zealot would most likely be the one to write down such things. I mean, just look at any apocalyptic preacher. Take Pat Robertson. He makes prophecies all the time about his fellow Christians. He takes great delight in recording what he thinks are the sinful ways of our society, whether they come from Christians or not.

  38. Laz says:

    No Jon, I will merely echo what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3,

    for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;
    as it is written,
    “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
    THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
    THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
    ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
    THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
    THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
    “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE,
    WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,”
    “(THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”;
    “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”;
    “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD,
    DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS,
    AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.”
    “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.”

    We’re all under sin in our natural states. Whether Hitler, Mother Teresa or pick your pinnacles of good/evil, we don’t naturally choose God, it is impossible.

    There is no difference we have all fallen short of God’s standard. That’s what I’m saying. Hitler did what he did not because of the power he was granted but because of the depravity he shares with every other human being. The power only facilitated what he did.

    If your model is correct, and there’s some intangible evil essence that only religiosity can cure, then we’d expect religious people in political power to be less corrupt than non-religious people in political power, and for the same trend to be true in the general population. But that isn’t true at all.

    Jon, for starters it’s not my model. Evil is very tangible there is no question about it. Religiosity doesn’t cure our depravity, it cannot cure our depravity. To quote Lewis, “Men cannot be made good by law”. Religiosity as you call it boils down to following some moral law, that is based on our own merit and self-worth.

    This is not what being in Christ is about. He is our righteousness not acts we perform. Sure, after regeneration (being born again) if genuine and well only God knows that, works should follow. Works that are in step with our repentance (a turning around).

    What religious or non-religious people do is irrelevant to the fact that Christ is our righteousness. To be sure, Christians (real or imagined) still sin every day. That is reality in a fallen world, but we live with the expectation of being fully redeemed, the time has not yet been reached. Besides God can not only see our external actions but the inner man. Come Judgment Day there will be surprises, as they say.

    Of course this is all moot if we have some way to discern for sure who is born again and who isn’t. But we don’t, like I said, only God knows those who are His. Jon, I hope you understand that just because someone claims to be in Christ it doesn’t make it true.

    Pardon me if I find it unconvincing.

    I’m not surprised I also found it unconvincing before regeneration, it’s actually predicted by the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 2,

    But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

    This is you now Jon and it was me before 2003. Nothing will convince you just like nothing convinced me. That is, nothing outside of God’s illumination of a darkened mind.

    At the end of the day, all of your reasons aren’t very good ones. They’re based on your subjective feeling that God must exist. And that subjective feeling leads you to believe in a number of other things, most prominently the veracity of the Bible and other theological writings.

    Your misunderstanding again brings us back to what Paul said about the natural man. Surprising? No. Sad? Yes because it’s like reading a communique from myself pre-conversion.

    Don’t you realize how arrogant and nonsensical that sounds? To me, it reads, “God wants to save me, but not you. Otherwise, he would’ve sent people to pester you.”

    To you it reads, well it reads that way because, without the opening of your mind to the things of God, you can’t possibly understand it. But we’ve been over this. By the way, this exchange started almost a month ago, why are you still commenting? Do you feel pestered?

    To quote Peter (2 Peter 3),

    The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

    How the elect are chosen Jon, I don’t know. That’s a mystery God is not telling. While He wishes that all come to repentance not all will.

    Is that fair? I don’t know but it is grace, unmerited favor. He doesn’t owe us anything.

    He is the Judge and attempts to judge Him by His own Standard (make ourselves to be God, so to speak) is not only utter foolishness, but is the reason we live in a fallen world in the first place.

  39. Jon says:

    …we don’t naturally choose God, it is impossible.

    Oh, believe me, I agree.

    I’ve noticed that there are two general groups of religious people. In almost all cases a person is either indoctrinated into their religion as a child, or they convert after some horrible experience of some kind (crime, drugs, a death in the family, whatever). Now tell me, why is it that religions take advantage of human beings when they’re most in need of comfort, when they’re the most innocent, when they’re the most emotionally unstable? Because normal, cogent, thinking human beings would never ever subscribe to religious ideas. Because they’re silly: they lack evidence, they’re unobservable, untestable, unknowable, and made up.

    Hitler did what he did not because of the power he was granted but because of the depravity he shares with every other human being.

    Yeah, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he was a racist and a sociopath.

    What religious or non-religious people do is irrelevant to the fact that Christ is our righteousness.

    And that mentality is exactly what causes religious wars. It doesn’t matter what religious people do, as long as its sanctioned by their god (or, alternatively, as long as its not condemned outright by their god)? If Christ is your righteousness, and Christ tells you to kill all Jews, you would do it? I mean, he is your righteousness.

    Jon, I hope you understand that just because someone claims to be in Christ it doesn’t make it true.

    You’re totally right. Unfortunately, you don’t apply that same standard to Paul, Jesus, Abraham, Moses, and all the rest of your Christian heroes. For some arbitrary reason, those people can be trusted when they claim to speak for some god, but Muhammad, Buddha, Zoroaster, and the Oracle of Delphi can’t be. My position is that they all made up a bunch of stories. Yours is a little less consistent.

    Do you feel pestered?

    No, I’m just interested in why people believe silly things.

    How the elect are chosen Jon, I don’t know.

    Yes you do. That’s why your Christian.

    …attempts to judge Him by His own Standard (make ourselves to be God, so to speak) is not only utter foolishness, but is the reason we live in a fallen world in the first place.

    This makes zero sense, and that’s why you like it. You think senselessness begets mystery and wonder. Just like the triune god, three, but only one at the same time. To you, contradictory statements are mysterious and wondrous. To me, they’re silliness. You’re using artifacts of human language to say something that’s semantically meaningless. Saying things like “hope is the color purple”, or “lollipops swing trees” is as intellectually meaningful as what you said above.

  40. Laz says:

    Jon, honestly I do not, cannot, expect anything other than that response. The more you rile against the things of God the more you validate the words He inspired Paul to write to the church in Corinth (cited in my previous comment).

    I do not fall into either group of religious people you identified. As previously mentioned I did not grow up in a Christian home. I did not have some sort of horrible experience either. As to your question,

    Now tell me, why is it that religions take advantage of human beings when they’re most in need of comfort, when they’re the most innocent, when they’re the most emotionally unstable?

    Religions take advantage of people? No Jon, people take advantage of people, and yes some even use religion or even the name of God (profaning it, I might add) to do so. Why? Because humans are depraved and this is just one way it shows.

    Because normal, cogent, thinking human beings would never ever subscribe to religious ideas.

    Did you type this with a straight face? Human beings are all religious even the so called “normal, thinking” ones, well especially them.

    Blogged about it here,
    “Religion is man at his lowest”

    Yes Hitler was a racist and a sociopath but again, these are symptoms of his depravity. The root cause is depravity, no matter what ill it leads to. Jon, we are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

    If Christ is your righteousness, and Christ tells you to kill all Jews, you would do it? I mean, he is your righteousness.

    If, if, if… Christ would sanction the murder of His own people? After all He was a Jew. I don’t see how “kill all Jews” is consistent with the 2 commandments Christ said the whole Law hangs on:
    1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and yes mind
    2) Love your neighbor as yourself

    Nothing in His teachings is consistent with your scenario so it is invalid.

    Do you know what “Christ is our righteousness” means? (Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 1:30)

    Jesus claimed to be God I don’t think the others you mentioned ever made such a claim.

    The reason is not arbitrary, I went over this a couple of posts ago.

    My position is that they all made up a bunch of stories.

    Well Mohammed, Zoroaster, Buddha and the Oracles certainly did.

    No, I’m just interested in why people believe silly things.

    I used to tell my sister the same thing, LOL. I feel like I’m having a conversation with myself circa 2003.

    I don’t know how the elect are chosen. I do know that I’m chosen because I believe. As to the how God determines the elect, theologian J.I. Packer explains it,

    This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace [unmerited favor], for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects.

    God owes sinners no mercy of any kind, only condemnation; so it is a wonder, and matter for endless praise, that He should choose to save any of us; and doubly so when his choice involved the giving of His own Son to suffer as sin-bearer

    Jon I cannot adequately explain why I came to faith in Christ. I can only look to the glory of God’s grace toward me, a grace I most certainly did not deserve then and do not deserve now. Any pride taken in His Grace towards me is the grossest of sins, how can one boast of something one has received by grace?

    contradictory statements are mysterious and wondrous.

    Oh you mean 1+1+1=1? Is it contradictory if I say 1x1x1=1?

    Let me try to explain the words that confused you.

    The sin of Eden (which brought down the created order) can be summed up in this phrase from Isaiah (47:10),

    I am and there is none besides me

    Human beings (created beings) trying to take the place of God (Creator). When we try to say “God is immoral” or things of the sort, we are doing just that. We turn into the judge when He is the One who judges, what are we but dust?

    If that makes zero sense to you well that does not surprise for the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this comment.

  41. Jon says:

    Religions take advantage of people? No Jon, people take advantage of people, and yes some even use religion or even the name of God (profaning it, I might add) to do so. Why? Because humans are depraved and this is just one way it shows.

    The way you characterize it is just false. It’s not some anomaly I’m talking about. It’s not just just some minority. The vast majority of religious people are born into their religion. I mean, it’s just not something you can argue about. It’s a fact.

    Did you type this with a straight face? Human beings are all religious even the so called “normal, thinking” ones, well especially them.

    They’re all religious? Sure you aren’t redefining the term “religious” here to make your argument? I define a religion as an institutionalized belief in a supernatural deity of some kind. That’s the way average Joe’s and Jane’s use the word, so that’s the way I use it. So no, all people aren’t religious.

    Yes Hitler was a racist and a sociopath but again, these are symptoms of his depravity.

    No, they’re symptoms of his upbringing, and perhaps of mental illness. What you seem to be claiming is that everyone is as likely to be as racist and as sociopathic as Hitler was. And that’s just untrue. Look around you. Most people don’t even approach Hitler. Just because humans have the potential to be Hitler doesn’t at all mean it’s likely to ever occur that way. I feel like I’m repeating myself.

    Oh you mean 1+1+1=1? Is it contradictory if I say 1×1×1=1?

    Are you really trying to make a mathematical argument for the trinity? It doesn’t help your case in the least to think that “1x1x1=1” is some kind of mystical trinitarian formulation. It’s like holding a single apple, and saying, “This is an apple”, three times in a row. It’s still one apple after you say that, isn’t it? Simply declaring it to be three apples, since you said it three times, and yet it’s still physically one apple, doesn’t make it so, does it?

    The reason is not arbitrary.

    Yep. It is. Why Christianity and not some other religions? All of the philosophical and moral statements you find in the Bible can be found in much older religions with much older holy texts. So that’s not the reason. The only answer you have is, “God told me.” Why did God tell you and not me? Are you better than me? Do you deserve it more than me? Your response is the usual, “I don’t know God’s will,” of course, but that doesn’t answer anything. At the end of the day, either God chose you for a reason, and didn’t choose me because I didn’t fulfill that reason, or it was arbitrary. So you’re left with three choices. Either God doesn’t view everyone equally, he chooses arbitrarily, or he doesn’t exist, and whatever you thought you experienced was illusory or self-imagined.

    When we try to say “God is immoral” or things of the sort, we are doing just that.

    In other words, what’s moral is what God says is moral. Morality has no rational, intrinsic basis. Killing a person isn’t wrong because that person’s family will suffer and grieve, or because it denies that person opportunities, or because it harms the person, or for any other reason. It’s wrong because some being somewhere says it’s wrong. That’s it. If God changes his mind, then what’s moral changes.

    Sounds like moral relativism.

  42. Laz says:

    Jon,
    I feel like I’m repeating myself. I’ll grant that I’m probably not making myself sufficiently clear since by all accounts you appear to be an intelligent individual.

    The best thing is to get what exactly what “religion” refers to.

    Your definition is definitely valid but in actuality is not the totality of it.

    According to dictionary.com religion can be defined as,

    a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

    So I’m using it as Paul uses it in Romans 1 and as Pastor MacArthur uses it. Jon you are religious in this sense for you hold a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe we live in.

    There is no getting around it unless you are omniscient, which you might well be but I doubt it. Of course, at this point what I’m calling “religion” most people refer to as a worldview.

    The way most people or you use the word “religion” is irrelevant, its definition is not limited to yours. We move on…

    The vast majority of religious people are born into their religion. I mean, it’s just not something you can argue about. It’s a fact.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with your assertion that “religions” [sets of beliefs] take advantage of people. I’m not arguing that most people are born to parents who are religious, what parent does not hold a set of beliefs about the universe we live in?

    Maybe I’m just not getting it but what does that have to do with a set of beliefs taking advantage of people? It’s people Jon who take advantage of people, that is not something we can argue about, It is a fact.

    “Religion” is one more tool in the arsenal that humans do to exert control, no question about it, but it is not the only one.

    Like I stated before, I was born into a Roman Catholic home but that didn’t make me Catholic. That’s even spotting you the fact that I was baptized as an infant and was told to do a first communion. In the eyes of that church baptism made me Catholic but since I didn’t do confirmation I guess I can no longer be considered Catholic.

    When Christ talks about being “born again” He’s saying that no matter into what set of beliefs we are born into, we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. It matters precious little whether you’re born into a family that is Christian.

    What you seem to be claiming is that everyone is as likely to be as racist and as sociopathic as Hitler was. And that’s just untrue. Look around you. Most people don’t even approach Hitler. Just because humans have the potential to be Hitler doesn’t at all mean it’s likely to ever occur that way. I feel like I’m repeating myself.

    No I’m not claiming that at all. Racism is a sin many struggle with. I did before Christ. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you that the temptation is still not there, but the work of the Holy Spirit has been most convicting.

    That said, many don’t have an issue with racism but don’t sit here and tell me that these folk don’t have other issues which they struggle with. What I keep telling you is that our inability to do the good we know we ought to do is because of our depravity.

    How this manifests itself is as varied as there are people in this world, though to be sure there is overlap. Most people might not approach Hitler on the outside but can we be sure that internally that is not the case.

    Please let me quote Lewis (who actually didn’t accept the doctrine of total depravity),

    One man may be so placed that his anger shads the blood of thousands, and another so placed that however angry he gets he will only be laughed at. But the little mark on the soul may be much the same in both. Each has done something in himself which unless he repents, will make it harder for him to keep out of the rage next time he is tempted, and will make the rage worse when he does fall into it.

    Each them, if he seriously turns to God, can have that twist in the central man straightened out again: each is, in the long run, doomed if he will not. The bigness or smallness of the thing, seen from the outside is not what really matters.

    Of course if you’re only going by external actions, and that is not hard to do if you hold to a materialist worldview, then you’ll think Lewis’ words ludicrous.

    But God is not fooled by externals. Christ makes it clear that good things done for the wrong reasons (self-exaltation) are worthless in His sight,

    “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

    “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

    “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

    so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

    “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

    Surely you can understand what Jesus is saying here in the Sermon on the Mount.

    No Jon I’m not making a mathematical argument for the Trinity. For one I’m horrible at math and secondly, there is no need for one even if it could be made.

    I brought it up only because of this,

    Just like the triune god, three, but only one at the same time.

    Liked what you said here,

    It’s like holding a single apple, and saying, “This is an apple”, three times in a row. It’s still one apple after you say that, isn’t it? Simply declaring it to be three apples, since you said it three times, and yet it’s still physically one apple, doesn’t make it so, does it?

    Well there is only One God not three gods. You share this misunderstanding with the Muslims. A better analogy (though like all analogies it is an imperfect representation of reality) would be water, which exists in 3 states: vapor, liquid and solid. Yet whatever the state, water is still water.

    All of the philosophical and moral statements you find in the Bible can be found in much older religions with much older holy texts. So that’s not the reason.

    Who said it was about morality? You’re right, Christianity shares more or less the same moral statements of other ‘religions’. The difference is that for one, the Bible tells us why though we know what we ought to do, we don’t do it, that is we sin. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

    Secondly, it outlines the consequences of sin before a Holy God. Third and most importantly, it tells us what God did to pull us out of this predicament, because of His love for us He sent His Son to die as a sacrifice.

    Why did God tell you and not me? Are you better than me? Do you deserve it more than me?

    Jon do you know what the meaning of “grace” is? It is unmerited favor. Do you know what unmerited means? Yeah, not deserved.

    So for you to say that God “told” me because I’m better is quite frankly, misinformed.

    Besides you can’t possibly know the future, I didn’t know mine. I could have easily said what are you telling me pre-2003.

    whatever you thought you experienced was illusory or self-imagined.

    Well what else can you say since you’re rolling loaded dice? Which don’t allow you to even consider the possibility that God has transformed my life.

    Your last paragraph is exactly what MacArthur is talking about.

    God’s Law doesn’t change so no it’s not moral relativism. Without God the only thing you can have is moral relativism since it is imperfect creatures who set the law.

    And this is what Paul talks about in Romans 1 and what MacArthur explains in the post.

    You still need to think about why you keep coming back to a blog which mainly talks about things you consider “silly”.

    I think something else is at work.

  43. Jon says:

    Jon you are religious in this sense for you hold a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe we live in.

    That has nothing to do with atheism. Atheism is just the dismissal of your claim that a god exists. Those “set of beliefs” (all the stuff I wrote previously about altruism as an evolutionary adaptation) you refer to are based upon scientific inquiry. To say that they’re religious is to equate the belief in Jesus with the belief that atoms exist. Again, you’re redefining the term “religion” to make your argument. You can do that if you want, it’s just not a good argument, that’s all.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with your assertion that “religions” [sets of beliefs] take advantage of people. I’m not arguing that most people are born to parents who are religious, what parent does not hold a set of beliefs about the universe we live in?

    Again, you’re asserting that all belief systems are equally valid, and they’re not. Religious ideas depend on one guy receiving a vision, and everyone else believing he really had that vision. That pans out even here on this blog. You tell me you had a vision, by God’s grace, or whatever, and that’s supposed to convince me.

    But other beliefs aren’t like that. Moral beliefs, for instance. How do you teach a child not to steal? You show her the real life implications of stealing, and scold her. Scientific beliefs. How do you teach a child about gravity? You show her a real life example; throw a rock, for instance. How are religious beliefs taught? Completely differently. Instead of the trial-and-error approach used in, say, moral learning or scientific learning, religious beliefs are about insisting something you can’t see or feel or touch is true. And you insist, and insist, and insist. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Go to mass every Sunday for several years straight, murmuring ritualistic mumbo-jumbo. And at the end of all that, you pop out an adult who can’t remember exactly why they believe in this God character, but they believe it with such conviction that they can’t ever shake it away. Indoctrination.

    Like I stated before, I was born into a Roman Catholic home but that didn’t make me Catholic.

    I’m not talking about specific denominations. I’m talking about the belief in a god, any god, or gods for that matter. I’m talking about theism as a belief system.

    That said, many don’t have an issue with racism but don’t sit here and tell me that these folk don’t have other issues which they struggle with. What I keep telling you is that our inability to do the good we know we ought to do is because of our depravity.

    You’re changing the subject. We were talking about evil at the level of Hitler, not trivial little sins. You’re arguing that becoming Hitler is a slippery slope, that anyone has the potential to become Hitler. I’m arguing that it was an unlucky confluence of experiences and/or mental illness that led to Hitler’s atrocities. According to your claims, Hitlers should be fairly common. But they aren’t. That’s what I’m trying to get you to see.

    Well there is only One God not three gods. You share this misunderstanding with the Muslims. A better analogy (though like all analogies it is an imperfect representation of reality) would be water, which exists in 3 states: vapor, liquid and solid. Yet whatever the state, water is still water.

    Imperfect analogy? It doesn’t work as an analogy at all. Water can’t be vapor and liquid and solid at the same time.

    Or are you arguing that God splits himself into three parts, and each part changes into a different “state”? That doesn’t work either. That’s almost like God’s sitting in front of three computers, one wired into Jesus, one wired into the Holy Spirit, and one wired into the Father. But it’s still one person behind the computers. It’s never three distinct “aspects” of the same being, as Christians claim.

    Most people might not approach Hitler on the outside but can we be sure that internally that is not the case.

    I think you’re projecting yourself onto other people. Speak for yourself, please.

    Christ makes it clear that good things done for the wrong reasons (self-exaltation) are worthless in His sight,

    Starry-eyed idealism. All good things are done for the wrong reasons. I donate to charity because it makes me feel good to be helping other people. That good feeling is a selfish feeling. I study science because it interests and excites me. Again, selfish feelings. I love my mother because it makes me feel good to love my mother. I know that other people don’t love their mothers, and they’re sad for it. Selfish feelings. You study the Bible because you love your god and want to obey him. Selfish feelings. You pray because you want other people to be well. Selfish feelings. Etcetera.

    The difference is that for one, the Bible tells us why though we know what we ought to do, we don’t do it, that is we sin. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

    That same philosophy is also present in many other religions. Buddhism comes to mind.

    Secondly, it outlines the consequences of sin before a Holy God.

    Also present in other religions.

    Third and most importantly, it tells us what God did to pull us out of this predicament, because of His love for us He sent His Son to die as a sacrifice.

    As far as I can tell, this is the only unique thing to Christianity. Doesn’t mean much. Scientology has dogma that no other religions have. Doesn’t make Scientology true.

    Jon do you know what the meaning of “grace” is? It is unmerited favor. Do you know what unmerited means? Yeah, not deserved.

    Not deserved? Deserving something doesn’t mean you earned it. It just means you received it for a reason. If it wasn’t deserved, then it was arbitrary. Like I said before.

    Which don’t allow you to even consider the possibility that God has transformed my life.

    I don’t doubt that the Christian God, as an idea, has changed your life. I just think it’s a false idea. If it helps you, great. That doesn’t mean I should think it’s true.

    …it is imperfect creatures who set the law.

    Well, that perfect creature you call God certainly didn’t give women the right to vote, or slaves their freedom. A good chunk of the “morals” the angry Yahweh sets forth are completely and utterly barbarous, or completely and utterly useless. It’s fine if you want to take moral lessons from the Bible, just don’t tell me they’re absolute truths, because they’re not.

    I’m reminded of one of Tolkien’s novels, the Silmarillion. It’s one of my favorites. In that book are a host of pure and good gods. But there’s also an evil god. And the evil god does wicked things. He corrupts the earth, harasses the elves and the men, lies, and steals. And the good gods try to help the elves and men, but they don’t understand evil. They’re too good, too perfect, too beneficent to understand what evil even is. Ultimately, the humans and the elves, sinful though they are, must contend themselves with the evil god. Only they understand his malice and his intent to dominate, and only they know enough of evil to be able to fight him. If your god, Yahweh, truly exists, and truly is beneficent, he can only be that kind of naive god, the one who doesn’t understand evil and can’t possibly know how to fight it. That’s the only thing that could explain his incompetence.

    You still need to think about why you keep coming back to a blog which mainly talks about things you consider “silly”.

    Because I’m bored, and trolling the internet entertains me.

    I think something else is at work.

    Magical fairy dust? Please let it be magical fairy dust.

  44. Laz says:

    Jon,
    It is clear that you don’t understand. It has nothing to do with intelligence which you seem to possess based on our limited interactions here.

    It could have to do with my inadequacies at explaining it, but I think the problem is far deeper than that.

    You will, you cannot understand the things of God in your present state. How quick I’m to forget the many people who spoke to me prior to conversion and how their arguments (the convincing ones anyway) did nothing to convince me of the things of God.

    It seems that I’m in the position of an individual who can see, trying to explain the color “blue” to a man born blind. The man born blind will not understand until he himself is given sight.

    Your sarcasm is not much different than how I used it back in the day.

    Thanks for the discussion, I pray and hope that one day God will grant you understanding and the desire to seek Him.

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