November 30, 2007

Everything is Permitted

Posted in atheism, church, philosophy of religion, psychology of religion, theodicy, theology at 10:39 am by Jerry

I just finished reading Philosophers Without Gods (subtitled – Meditations On Atheism and the Secular Life) edited by Louise M. Antony. It was a good read. Funny thing, though, while I read it I couldn’t help but think about another book I read years ago (which I may have to visit again for old times sake). And speaking of re-reading, there may be a few chapters from the former book that I might have to give a second read as well.

One common subject discussed (and apparently written about in a novel I never seem to get back to), is the assumed non-existence of morality if God were not to exist. I was getting tired of hearing about this subject (especially from Christians) until I read the last line in the last chapter, written by Jonathon E. Adler. Adler turns the tired adage “If God is Dead, Everything is Permitted” on its head by writing: “If God is Alive, Everything is Permitted.” These words stood out to me more than anything else he wrote in the chapter.

Saying that everything would be permitted if God didn’t exist means that not only would you be able to do whatever you wanted, but everyone else would be able to do whatever they wanted to you. Really? Would anyone let anyone one else do anything to them? Come on, let’s be realistic here.

But on the other hand, does Adler have a valid point? If God exists, is God permitted to do everything? Now let me clarify. I didn’t ask – if God exists, doesn’t he permit himself to do anything? I’m talking about the human perspective, a perspective we can all acknowledge exists.

God is free to do anything without question from his followers. According to his followers, God is accountable to no one. Why would he be if he is believed to be omni-benevolent? His holy and perfect righteousness affords complete trust, doesn’t it? What could be considered by non-God-followers as evil committed by God will always be considered by his followers as a righteous act perceived as evil by non-God-followers, who need reminding of their human ignorance and fallibility.

For example, I have yet to find an adequate ethical justification for the genocide acts condoned by the God of the Old Testament. Why is it wrong to commit genocidal acts in the twentieth century, and yet permissible (and justified “for that time”) millenniums ago? Or, why is torture considered wrong by most of the world, and yet is accepted as a valid form of ethical reckoning in the afterlife for anyone who is not a follower of a certain religious creed?

I don’t see how the same evil behavior committed by human beings becomes “good” when it is committed by God. Calling inhumane acts “Divine Justice” doesn’t make them just. But no true follower of God would ever say they don’t permit God to do certain things.

And so, for God, from the perspectives of his followers, everything is permitted.


November 17, 2007

Cop In or Cop Out?

Posted in atheism, philosophy of religion, politics, science, theology at 8:52 am by Jerry

We limit our freedoms just enough to protect our valuables (people and possessions). We do this by creating laws (moral laws) and hiring those with interest and skills to maintain these laws.

It must be tough to be a law enforcer. There’s so much pressure to protect and serve those in the immediate community, including the law breakers – especially when the law breakers may cause you physical damage! Is it possible for cops to be trained so well that they are able to avoid any physical abuse? I wonder how easy it is to transform into a law breaker when attempting to be a law protector.

I think it’s so unfortunate what happened to Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport. It truly reveals the imperfections and fallibility of our police force. It would be great if there were cops who were completely trustworthy, invulnerable, and powerful enough to help the troubled or stop any hurtful actions of another. But there’s never been a cop capable of doing that.

I do wish, since I’m not on speaking terms with God anymore, that theists would convince God to care enough to take on the policing profession. It wouldn’t infringe on our “freewill” because we’d be using our freewill to arrange for physical protection – a strategy we’ve used for years. But with an all-loving, all-powerful cop, we’d be much more successful.

So far, God is not for hire. Which is baffling because imagine how many people would start believing in his existence – or worship him – if he did become a cop. But then, believers (or God) might object to an unceremoniously empirical study of his work. And maybe that’s why God doesn’t intervene. Because it would destroy some of the required faith to believe in God’s existence, and maybe believers want the freedom to apply more faith in God rather than embrace sufficient evidence.

November 12, 2007

Immaculate Memories

Posted in art, atheism, history, philosophy of religion, politics, psychology of religion, scripture, theodicy at 2:24 pm by Jerry

Yesterday, while others were on they’re way home from church, Becky and I had our version of church moments as we listened to a CBC radio program honoring all those who have fought for our country. While driving on the highway with a Tim Hortons coffee in hand, we heard spoken word and song expressed in what we thought to be a deeply spiritual form.

I love the principle behind Remembrance Day – don’t forget the heroes who fought another’s desire to silence your voice, some of them dying while fighting to maintain our democratic freedoms. And don’t forget what went wrong to require such an unfortunate sacrifice. To me, Remembrance Day teaches us an example of what to do and what not to do. To me, remembrance is about learning who we are and who we want to be.

But sometimes, there is this crazy notion that we should want to forget the problems of the past. Even when forgiveness has been found, and reconciliation is on its way, it still isn’t enough – we should want to forget any trouble that ever existed. We should want to make attempts to turn back the clock before everything went wrong in order to achieve a child-like innocence of bad choices and unfortunate mistakes – while maintaining/seeking wisdom. You’ll find this contradictory notion taught from the Christian Bible in churches:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 (NASB)

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 1Corinthians 14:20 (NASB)

For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. Romans 16:19 (NASB)

These verses are more examples to me of irrational thinking. How can you be wise and ignorant of evil at the same time? It’s not possible. And no matter how hard we pursue nostalgic ignorance, our world is not such that we can reverse experiences of it. Not until we die will we lose, along with our life, memories (attainable or not) of the evil that resides with the good. But, of course, Christians believe in the afterlife which adds an incommensurable dimension to reality.

I don’t struggle so much over whether the afterlife exists than what Christians are hoping to gain from it…

[A Virgin, a Child, and a Lamb – along with the Dove, these ultimate symbols of innocence are most predominantly found in Christianity.]

Lately I’ve been describing to others what I, as an atheist, imagined to be a most ethical heaven. Interestingly enough, my responses from those people so far are that they consider my Heaven to be their Hell. This is because I said I’d like to think of heaven as the best learning environment for everyone to develop a healthy, mature, moral mind of their own (with God’s help if they wanted).

This moral mind of our own would mean that heavenly justice would involve more truthful rememberings, and therefore, a more truthful self-awareness of what are the wrongs we’re responsible for committing (intentionally and unintentionally). It would mean finding the feeling of shame in our expression of the word “my” when it precedes the feeling of guilt in our expression of the words “own hurtful actions”.

We can make people/criminals feel guilty for doing wrong in-the-eyes-of-another, but we can’t make people/criminals feel shame. Shame starts from within us. And it’s a means of personal change initiated by oneself. And the change can only be for the better when it’s understood (through increased skills to empathize with our victims) that disappearing will not benefit those we’ve hurt. Nothing can erase the damage done. But the best compensation for our victims is gaining healthier relationships. And the best way for victims to receive justice is to help the wrong-doer find their own true shame.

For some reason, those I’ve talked to would rather have the traditional Hell described in their scriptures than the heaven I’ve described above. Their kind of Hell inflicts “justice” on those who don’t love Jesus more than their own family.

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. – Matthew 10:37-39 (NASB)

Yes, these people should definitely be banished into some kind place for torturous punishment, adding to whatever hurt they (like all of us) have already done to themselves (feel the sarcasm here). How does this make any sense? And Christians have told me they are able to live with this idea because in heaven…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

In essence, their conscience will be exchanged for a life of purity, while next door…

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Revelation 21:8 (NASB)

To me, the pursuit of immaculate memories is a denial of significant markers in our lives that help define who we are and how we’ve come to be who we are. To me, identity is more than just the existential present us, it is also the essential us that has remained throughout our journey. I will not give up my memories of the trials we’ve overcome, nor the memories of our sacrifices to overcome them. Our personal histories are not renewable, they cannot be redeemed. Its unrealistic to make amends for the memory of past sins, nor atone for them.

Falsifying our personal history by censuring it is a crime. History should reveal the world of the adult along with the world of the child, memories of the good, and bad, in all.

November 8, 2007

Speaking of Wit and Power…

Posted in atheism at 8:30 am by Jerry

An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support. – John Buchan

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand. – Kurt Vonnegut