Shuck and Jive


Friday, January 29, 2010

Good Without God

It looks like we are in for a bit of weather in Southtown:
Tonight
Snow. Snow may be heavy at times. Snow accumulation of 5 to 9 inches. Lows in the upper 20s. Northeast winds 10 mph or less. Chance of snow near 100 percent.

Saturday
Snow in the morning and early afternoon...then snow likely late in the afternoon. Snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches. Total snow accumulation 6 to 12 inches. Highs in the lower 30s. Northeast winds 10 mph or less. Chance of snow 90 percent.
A good weekend to settle down with a good book. I picked up (at the Cokesbury Bookstore of all places) a new book by the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, Greg Epstein.







The book is Good Without God: What A Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.








I am finding it refreshing and certainly compatible with where I am on my journey. It is a book about Humanism. Here is what he writes about it:

In short, Humanism is being good without God. It is above all an affirmation of the greatest common value we human beings have: the desire to live with dignity, to be "good." But Humanism is also a warning that we cannot afford to wait until tomorrow or until the next life to be good, because today--the short journey we get from birth to death, womb to tomb--is all we have. Humanism rejects dependence on faith, the supernatural, divine texts, resurrection, reincarnation, or anything else for which we have no evidence. To put it another way, Humanists believe in life before death. P. xiii
Epstein, unlike Richard Dawkins (who is also a humanist), has a more gracious tone toward believers and sees progressive religious folks as allies. He also values communities:
People need community. Not just out of some whiny desire to be hugged or avoid loneliness--we need community because we succeed best in life when we can count on reliable help from a wide range of individuals with a range of skills and talents, all of whom know us personally enough to treat us as their own when we are in need....For most people, it takes a congregation. But it doesn't necessarily take God. p. 24
He answers the insulting question, "Can you be good without God?" Duh. Yes. Then he replaces it with some important ones, why be good? and how do we be good? He also turns the tables: can you be good with God? Answer: Yes and he includes some suggestions for how to include humanists in inter-faith groups and gatherings.

A lot of good stuff here and I am only through the third chapter. Oh, by the way, curious about what humanists believe about God? Here is the answer:

We (the non-religious, atheists, Humanists, etc.) believe that God is the most important, influential literary character human beings have ever created. p. 13-14
Count me in that number.

83 comments:

  1. well done, john. Good is good irrespective of any religious belief. God is not a prerequisite for good.

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  2. I remember seeing a church sign in these parts that said "Good without God is just 'O'".

    "Oh?", I thought. "Y'all better hope not, or we're in for some real trouble!"

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  3. I would put it another way :-

    Good , What's God got to do with it .?
    .
    .

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  4. Without God, what determines what is "good" other than our preferences?

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  5. Patrick asks "Without God, what determines what is "good" other than our preferences?"

    Um. How about "decency?" When I took a homeless teenager with developmental disabilities in off the street, God was not in my thoughts in the least. My neighbor mowed another friend's lawn and proclaimed it was "the Christian thing to do." Does that mean his act was somehow "more good" than mine? Who gets to decide where God was in either of these two acts?

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  6. Hi Patrick, welcome!

    Determining the good is all up to human beings. It always has been. The various gods we have created who supposedly tell us what is good are our creations.

    The important questions are why be good and how do we be good?

    Epstein spends time in his book with those questions Here as well.

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  7. Does he deal with the evolutionary/biological questions of the need for community? I remember reading somewhere about an evolutionary biology paper that suggests that the need for community among humans is built it. Or for that matter does Hawkins?

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  8. Yet another way of putting it ...

    Can we be good without God ?

    Ask the millions of Buddhists , a notoriously amoral lot .

    To me this question as traditionaly put has become a non starter . Especially since our encounter with the eastern spiritual traditions . It seems we have not fully come to terms with this encounter .


    Regards

    .

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  9. Buddhists are a notoriously amoral lot? From whence do you draw this conclusion?

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  10. Hugh says To me this question as traditionaly put has become a non starter."

    It should be a not-starter for everyone. Unfortunately, too many christians think they have a lock on "good" acts, which tends to devalue the good acts of, oh, much of the world. One could almost call it a sort of "moral apartheid".

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  11. Please define the difference between "relative" and "absolute" good.

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  12. I think Hugh was making a funny about the Buddhists.

    @Bob yes he does talk about that. Under the heading, evolution of cooperation he talks about kin selection, reciprocity, group selection, and then talks about how we can make decisions for healthy, non-violent ways of living together.

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  13. Snad, I fear more real good is done from humanist motives than from the Christian thing to do. Also when a person says it is the Christian thing to do and a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist does the same thing ... what is it then?

    John, I appreciate you writing about this book. I just finished reading The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's long coming third book with his symbologist protagonist. This one offered some interesting spiritual philosophy on the nature of God and sacred texts. If you have read it or do read it I would enjoy reading a post with your thoughts.

    O.

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  14. Suleyman is... said...
    Without God, good is only relative good.


    I would love to see a further explanation of this. I just can't seem to understand it.

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  15. This book opened my eyes to the level of discrimination against non-religious people in the U.S. Pastor Rick Warren said he would vote for president anyone BUT an atheist.

    They are constantly insulted as if because they are atheists they cannot know or be good.

    They are vilified and excluded.

    I am starting to realize that as I have been an advocate for gay rights, I now need to be equally passionate for the rights of the non-religious.

    While I am spouting, I also think that the logical progression of liberal protestantism will be toward a Humanism of some sort. In fact, most liberal protestants (myself included) are basically Humanists with a religious veneer. We keep the language and redefine it and make decisions based on Humanistic principles.

    I do recommend his book and check the articles he has written that I linked to in this post.

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  16. Relative good is what humans are capable of on our own. Absolute good is what God says it is.

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  17. @Suley Welcome!

    So what does God say about

    *climate change and CO2 emissions
    *gay marriage
    *evolutionary theory
    *universal healthcare
    *the war in Afghanistan
    *what I should eat for breakfast

    please cite sources.

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  18. Everyone else writes one or two sentence blips, but you expect me to write an epistle siting sources? I suspect a double standard.

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  19. @Suley my post was more of a rhetorical device. Pick any one of those or pick anything in general.

    You said "Absolute good is what God says it is."

    What example do you have of "God" saying anything about anything?

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  20. @Suleyman
    I probably know less about anything religion related than anyone here. I would like to know more of where you are coming from with "Absolute good is what God says it is." Is this your opinion, or is there something, scripture or other, that you can point me towards?

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  21. Suleyman -

    What you said about absolute good and relative good is just what I meant in my previous comment: that saying such devalues good work. Standing as we are on the brink of self-destruction, it seems that is a condescension humans can ill afford.

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  22. Relative good is still, mostly, probably good and is better than evil (unless it be evil masquerading as good...which is the problem with human definitions of good) but it is not true, absolute good.

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  23. Something the other John said on another blog, for which he was summarily judged of course, is apropos here. He used the term Jesus-olatry in the same sentence with bibliolatry.

    It reminded me of what Jesus himself said concerning those who call him Lord.

    "So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."

    Humanists doing good fall into that category very nicely. As do believers of other faiths.

    It's a tough call: Is God a product of human fiction, or is humanity a product of God's fiction? I like to think we are all God's fiction. But I definitely go along with the notion that if God created Man in God's own image, Man being a gentleman, has returned the favor.

    (And after looking up who it was the said that - it was Rousseu - I found another cute little quote beside it:

    "You know your god is man-made when he hates all the same people you do."

    There is a lot of that going around. Seems like something Samuel Clemens would have said.)

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  24. It may or may not surprise you all that I agree, so far, with what Suleyman says. As one who holds to a view of divine revelation in Scriptures I also hold to a view of the ethics of divine command.

    This does NOT mean that Humanists cannot do good or establish ethics. If as a humanist your measure of the greatest good is what is best for humans (as a group) one can come to a broad ethic of good for the earth, other species, etc.

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  25. Well, then, I'll ask the same of you, Bob.

    What is one thing that "God" has ever said about anything?

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  26. Oh, and John the subject of breakfast is complicated. I think it comes down to questions of stewardship and obeying the commandments to love God and neighbor. So. . .

    1. Where did the stuff in breakfast come from? Closer is better than far away.
    2. What was used to help raise or grow what's in breakfast? Is creation helped or hurt by the method of production? And if animal products were the animals treated with care?
    3. Where the workers all along the line from growing to putting the stuff in the container treated justly?
    4. What other curious stuff is in breakfast that wasn't grown (all those chemicals listed) and where did they come from?
    5. Is what you eat good for your body?
    5. Was extra sugar or salt added? (It always amazes me how much sugar the is in things like mayo and ketchup.)

    Since it is difficult for one person to answer all these questions when shopping cooperation with others is a good idea. Food coops are a good idea.

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  27. I agree that the progression of liberal protestant Christianity is in the direction of humanism and that most liberal protestant Christians are humanists with a religious veneer. Why do you not just get rid of the religous veneer and be done with it?

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  28. Good answers, Bob. I don't see that any of them are from "God." They are from the wisdom of Bob that he has gleaned from his life experience and from the wisdom of others.

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  29. The simple answer for me John, is Jesus. Or Creation. Or the Bible (although by means of human authors).

    This answer is not satisfying to some and that's OK. I'll work with anyone who tries to find the right thing to eat for breakfast.

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  30. @Suley That is a very good question. And many have done just that, in fact are continuing to do that. That is why non-religious is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) growing group.

    I'll be happy to answer that for myself, but I am still waiting for you to tell me one thing that "God" has ever said.

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  31. This answer is not satisfying to some and that's OK. I'll work with anyone who tries to find the right thing to eat for breakfast.

    Great. I am with you on that. If people want to believe in supernatural beings to help them with breakfast or anything else I am ok with that to the extent they don't claim special privilege.

    Unfortunately, special privilege is what many religious people have claimed for themselves.

    I am impressed with the various systems of ethics human beings have created and the mouthpieces they have created to narrate these systems.

    We shouldn't sell ourselves short. We have created some pretty impressive gods. So impressive we even fool ourselves into thinking they exist.

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  32. God said to not do murder, to not commit adultery, and to not steal. Among other things.

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  33. @Suley Thanks. And you knew this was coming, what evidence is there that human beings didn't create a story and have the character "God" say those things?

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  34. So, having answered you, perhaps you will answer as to why you keep up with a religious veneer.

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  35. @Suley. OK. I like communities. I like potlucks. I like religious mythology. I find that communities such as the one I serve are able to do more good collectively than we would individually. Religion is the making of meaning. To quote Lloyd Geering from his book Coming Back to Earth:

    "Humans show themselves to be religious whenever and wherever they take the questions of human existence seriously, and then create a common response to whatever they find to be of ultimate value to them. The only truly non-religious person is one who treats human existence as trivial or meaningless, for ultimately the religious phenomenon arises out of human experience as we reflect on the fundamental nature of human existence. With but rare exceptions, people everywhere and at all times have made some kind of response to the demands of human existence. They have tried to make something of life. They have looked for meaning and purpose. They have hoped for some kind of fulfillment. For such reasons humankind has in the past been universally religious, and there is no good reason to suspect that in the future people will cease to be religious. And this is true even though an increasing number have grown dissatisfied with the religious forms of the past, having found them to be irrelevant in the new cultural age we have entered. pp. 151-2

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  36. Most religious communities have certain rules and traditions enshrined in rules that would seem to limit if not forbid such a "freelance" approach to belief.

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  37. @Lalla Way back to you! Thanks for the comment. Did read Dan Brown's latest. I don't really recall what he said about religion, well he said a lot of things, but not sure what you are thinking of. What did you have in mind about his novel?

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  38. Yep, sure happy I'm in the good ol' PCUSA!

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  39. @Suley Of course there are rules. That isn't what you asked.

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  40. A freelance approach to belief would imply an absence of official boundaries to me.

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  41. Re: breakfast

    John, I'm not that wise. I learned all that from my wife.

    Evidence? you want evidence? All world views are faith based, including humanism in its various strains. Why should "what's best for humans" be a basis for ethics? why not for cows or ants or the moon? (Hmm, I think some religious groups tried the moon at one point or another). I'm merely suggesting that ethics will always be faith based. Just not necessarily based on a faith in a divine being.

    Seriously, I'm not dissing the humanists here. We disagree about the basis for ethics. But when we find grounds for cooperation I'll cooperate. We humans find so little about which we will cooperate even when we agree with each other.

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  42. I'm merely suggesting that ethics will always be faith based.

    I am not sure what you mean by faith, but OK. I am good with the cooperation. I think that is the great strengths of Epstein's approach.

    The point I have been trying to make is that there is no advantage whatsoever in the good department to the theists as opposed to the atheists.

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  43. @Suley Sounds like you would make a good officer in the holy office of the inquisition! : )

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  44. I am wondering what you mean by faith, Bob. I wouldn't use that word to describe ethics. Ethics is about determining the good.

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  45. Consider this potential humanist ethical statement: it is important that the human race continue to exist. I'm not suggesting that all humanists believe this but some to. The statement makes faith claims about humans. The universe got along just fine without humans for billions of years. So why is what is good for humans important?

    A different statement: what is good for all living things is the greatest good. Again there is a faith statement behind it. Why is what is good for all living things important? Why not inanimate objects?

    Assuming we had the ability would keeping the sun at the proper temperature and gravity be important? For us, yes, but for the universe?

    I'm not suggesting that all ethical statements have a complicated theology behind them rather that behind them there are assumptions about the nature of reality that produces the basis for claiming what is good.

    Maybe faith is the wrong word since it is so closely tied to belief is some kind of god. maybe presuppositions?

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  46. "The point I have been trying to make is that there is no advantage whatsoever in the good department to the theists as opposed to the atheists."

    That of course depends upon what the good is. This, from what you say, is the big difference between Epstein and Dawkins. Dawkins says that belief in god, particularly monotheism produces bad. Epstein, from what you say, believes that theism and atheism both can produce good.

    Traditional Christianity would say that the greatest good is to give glory to God but goes about it in ways that, without the spoken words, can look a lot like some actions of humanists.

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  47. Anarchy is its own inquisition, I am afraid. I was really only wondering what sort of organization can survive as an organization without anything holding it together.

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  48. Maybe faith is the wrong word since it is so closely tied to belief is some kind of god. maybe presuppositions?

    Yes, definitely. That's a better word. I agree with that. I think together, you and I share a lot of presuppositions. In fact, I would suggest that humans share far more presuppositions than not.

    Some of those presuppositions are based on what took for us to survive thus far, including reciprocity, kinship, group cohesion, and many other things.

    "Giving glory to God" is still a human ethic. What Suley said and what you said you agreed was:

    Relative good is what humans are capable of on our own. Absolute good is what God says it is.

    How do you know what "God" says? And which god? Even if there was such as thing as absolute good, it would take humans to decipher it. You never get past human beings making decisions.

    That is why all claims to the good need to be evaluated by human beings without special pleading.

    In other words, since I don't believe that Mr. X's god exists, I am certainly am not going to care what Mr. X says his god says. I do care what Mr. X says (even if he pretends to use his god to speak for him). Whatever Mr. X comes up with will have to be evaluated on its own terms.

    Therefore, theists have no advantage over atheists in terms of the good. We are all trying to figure things out.

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  49. @Suley I have answered several of your follow up questions. What about mine:

    What evidence is there that human beings didn't create a story and have the character "God" say those things?

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  50. There is no evidence that one determined to not believe would accept. If one refuses to believe that the sky is blue, no amount of paint samples, witnesses, art experts, or historical examples will suffice as proof.

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  51. He answers the insulting question, "Can you be good without God?" Duh. Yes. Then he replaces it with some important ones, why be good? and how do we be good? He also turns the tables: can you be good with God? Answer: Yes and he includes some suggestions for how to include humanists in inter-faith groups and gatherings.

    Being “good” to me has never been determining factor in my faith. I don’t think there is any where in the Bible that states “Go forth and be good.” You are right there are no religious qualifications to be “good” and do “good” deeds. But as a Christian, being good, is not good enough. John 10:10 states; The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

    For those who are not Christian, would counter that they have a more than abundant life, but explaining Christian faith to a Humanist, is like explaining color to a blind person. There are no words, to convey the richness have a deep hunter green, or the warmth of a light yellow.

    Good is just not good enough for me.

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  52. Well, good is good enough for me. Ever since I was about 4 years old I have wondered why the sky is "blue" as opposed to "green" or even if any two eyeballs percieve colors the same way, and John, while I have said I will never probably never join another church, if I lived in East Tenn., I would certainly visit yours. Thank y'all for a great discussion

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  53. @Suley

    Not the same. We can all look at the the color of the sky and agree as to what we see (although I never can be sure if the blue I see is the blue you see) but nevertheless, the evidence is available to all.

    Not so with deities.

    If it takes special mojo, insight, or faith to get at this secret information, then it does no public good.

    Peter Pan spoke to me in a dream and told me the absolute good. You cannot disprove that any more than I can disprove that your deity communicates with you.

    In the end it doesn't matter. What we say (whether we believe it is from Peter Pan or your deity of choice) is still subject to human critique.

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  54. Welcome Mary. That's fine. I hope good has some value however for you and I hope it is something you can can communicate and that we can debate.

    When good is less valuable than some other religious ideal, that can get scary for the rest of us.

    As we see in the news everyday, people can do some pretty awful things for the glory of God.

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  55. @local MD,

    Your tribe is increasing! I am hoping for many more congregations like the one I am fortunate to serve all around the country and am pleased to find more everyday.

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  56. My point was that if someone is determined to not believe something then something as plain as a blue sky is debatable.

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  57. @Suley

    The issue is not being "determined not to believe" something as it is exercising healthy skepticism when people make claims that cannot be disproven.

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  58. John

    "There is a god" and "There is no god" are equally unprovable. Except to Anthony Flew who is now convinced because of a variety of events that seem to have occured during the first few milliseconds after the big bang that there is a god. He is not willing, however, to say anything about that god except that he believes that god had something to do with what happened during those milliseconds.

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  59. I would say you can't disprove the statement there is a god or there is no god. Technically, I should say there probably is not a god.

    But there probably is not a flying spaghetti monster either. : )

    So the gap for god to exist has narrowed to a few milliseconds after the big bang.

    But so I don't just sound negative and grumpy, I like the stories of the gods and I like my Jesus and I am all for the wisdom of our wisdom traditions that was communicated via these gods and so forth.

    I marvel at human creativity and it gives me hope that we might find a creative way to navigate a future for my descendants.

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  60. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  61. Sounds like some of you want to "circumcise mosquitoes", as an old boss of mine used to say. And in the end, it comes down to the same old line: my _____ is better than your _______ because I am a "real Christian". It's just another way to keep the riff-raff out of your club. So be it.

    This "discussion" about whose good is better brings to mind one of my favorite lines from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff":

    "Good, better, best, bested. How's that for declension?"

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  62. Thanks Snad,

    66 comments later and the original point still stands that Bill stated in comment #1:

    Good is good irrespective of any religious belief. God is not a prerequisite for good.

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  63. Had a prof in seminary who talked about Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God. The professor said, "Doesn't sound like the God I know!"

    I would say that same thing about Flew's god. I'm not really big on watchmakers.

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  64. The title of the book is “Being Good without God”, it could of just as easily been titled, “Being Good without Buddha, or “Being Good without Alah, or Being Good without insert the deity of your choice”

    Because the point of the book is being good is not dependent on any religion. He chose God for his own reasons, of which there is no need for debate.

    My comment was not to encourage debate, because I don’t see any relationship between the book and Christianity. Now stop me if I am wrong, but I think that you are implying that atheism is the “religion in believing in nothing?” The reason I say that is it seems that you are protecting it more as a religion, than say a freedom of speech issue.

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  65. @Mary

    You are right. God is a generic term here for any supernatural deity.

    Because the point of the book is being good is not dependent on any religion.

    Well...the point of the book is to advocate for humanism (which is atheistic). But yes, part of the point (the part we keep kicking around on this comment thread) is that you don't need god (any god) to be good.

    Atheism isn't just a negative. It rejects the supernatural. There are many (although they may not admit it) Christian atheists. That is probably confusing things.

    The point I was making on their behalf is that the non-religious, atheists, Humanists, etc. are discriminated against in our country. This is in part because of stereotyping and false information and because religious people associate believing in God with being moral or good.

    Would you vote for an atheist to be president? Rev. Rick Warren says he wouldn't. Anyone but an atheist, he says. Why? Imagine if he were to say I would for anyone but a Jew for president?

    Epstein has nothing against Christianity. He is a Humanist and hopes to get understanding from Christians about what Humanism is and hopes to work together with Christians and others on common projects.

    He is a Humanist chaplain. So in a sense he does view Humanism as a religion, just not a supernatural one.

    It does get confusing especially as religion is often confused for supernatural when that really isn't true for everyone.

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  66. What we really haven't gotten around to is how to determine the good. Humanists, some of them at least, determine good as something that produces good for the human race. And I agree with that . . . sometimes. But we have not dealt with folks that we all would agree have a definition of good that we talking here would not consider good.

    Say Stalin's action against the Kulaks (small land owners in the Ukraine, 1920s). Several million died. Food production dropped. BUT food production was taken out of the hands of private growers and the means of production of food moved into the hands of the Party who kept it, of course, for the good of the people.

    I suspect we would all agree that the means, the result and maybe the motive were all not good in this case. But from a Statist Communist world view they were all good.

    So I suggest there are world views and then there are world views. Further there are questionable interpretations of particular world views. There are some who claim to be Christians whose means, motives and results I find do not grow out of what I would call a Biblical world view. Good Friday was a day of horror in Jewish ghettos in Europe for centuries (kill the Christ killers). I think playing kill the Jews isn't Christian.

    There are also some humanists whose motives and actions (or at least proposed actions) I find suspect. I suggest a reading of Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" as an example. He says that humans will show they have been naturally selected if they go out and defeat any unfriendly aliens out there. (If humans lose and die then they aren't naturally selected, a topic that crops up here now and again) And when questioned "I always thought that fighting never solved anything" a teacher in the book suggests that a student ask that question of the city fathers of Hiroshima. Heinlein is kind of an extreme humanist.

    So I'm back to the old Greek philosopher's question: how do we determine the good?

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  67. So I'm back to the old Greek philosopher's question: how do we determine the good?

    Like we always do. We talk it out. And we will not always agree. We may surprise ourselves and come up with something together that we hadn't thought of individually.

    I quoted from Epstein's book today which was a good start:

    The good is that which facilitates human dignity and the health of the natural world that surrounds us and sustains us. The bad, or evil, is that which creates needless human suffering. P. 137.

    Maybe you have something to add. We are human beings figuring out what is good.

    That good will change as our circumstances change. We keep at it. : )

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  68. John

    I was actually trying to go back a step from that.

    How do we KNOW that Stalin was wrong? I rather like Epstein's start too. But how do we know that it is good? From a more utilitarian point of view we could say that economic and ecological sustainability can only happen if large groups of humans die. Well Stalin succeeded at that, didn't he?

    I am afraid that we all start with world views firmly in place. We even seem to have defined some terms. But don't we need to take a step back first?

    What does human dignity look like? When is human suffering needless and when is it not needless? Do we use Western models and if so which one? Or any of a variety of Asian or African models?

    I didn't raise the question of the Kulaks lightly. There existed a world view that said this particular human suffering was acceptable for the good of future humanity. Except the good was never produced. Do we necessarily rule out statist communism as a failed world view on which to base an ethical system or say that it was misapplied in this instance? Theoretically the goal was good: provide food for all and economic equality for all. It didn't work in this particular instance. Can we necessarily rule out statist communism as a basis for deciding the good because of this (and other) failure(s)?

    I also raised the question of the Kulaks because I think humanity is going to have to take a great leap forward (bad joke from Communist China intended) in terms of independent cooperation and sharing or governments will have to limit who gets how much if we are ever to reach a point of economic and ecological sustainability. And who will we trust to make those decisions?

    Sometimes I think that private communism (small voluntary groups) is the best solution. But like Hawthorne (or was it Thoreau?) I don't want to be the one stuck shoveling the manure.

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  69. Still following and thoroughly enjoying this...

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  70. Bob said: There existed a world view that said this particular human suffering was acceptable for the good of future humanity.

    If we take Epstein's definition as our starting point, we would probably want to study very carefully the concept of "unnecessary human suffering. In this case, could Stalin have achieved the same results without the human suffering? If so, then his act would not be considered good, regardless of how many other people it helped.

    Interestingly, one thing that hasn't been mentioned, as far as I can tell, in this thread, is the idea that "good without God" is good done with no notion of a "heavenly reward". My neighbor, whom I mentioned quite early in the thread, makes it clear that he feels he will receive a heavenly reward for his acts of kindness to others. He's angling for it, as a matter of fact, and doesn't make bones about it. I've rarely heard anyone as blatant about it, frankly. He's a great guy, but it feels as though he has devoted his life to being some sort of "earthly errand boy", with payment deferred.

    I can't decide whether it's amusing or irritating.

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  71. Well then, take a step back, Bob. If you have an answer, if you have a way of knowing then spill it.

    Epstein provided a start. Do you have something to add or to refine?

    Here is another step regarding rights. Feel free to add your opinions.

    Epstein comments on the book from Alan Dershowitz, Rights from Wrongs.

    As he summarizes it: rights do not come from God, because God does not speak to human beings in a single voice, and rights should exist even if there is no God.

    Rights do not come from nature, because nature is value-neutral.

    Rights do not come from logic, because there is little consensus about the a priori premises from which rights may be deduced.

    Rights do not come from the law alone, because if they did, there would be no basis on which to judge a given legal system.

    Rights come from human experience, particularly experience with injustice. We learn from the mistakes of history that a rights-based system and certain fundamental rights--such as freedom of expression, freedom of and from religion, equal protection of the laws, due process, and participatory democracy--are essential to avoid repetition of the grievous injustices of the past...In a word, rights come from wrongs. p. 140


    Perhaps this can help in evaluating actions. I am open to something better.

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  72. First let me say that before I jump back again that I am more than willing to cooperate with Epstein in general. Christians (at our best) have been Christian humanists. Calvin was one.

    I do like the trial and error idea. That's how we ended up with a lot of stuff in the Book of Order. I suspect that the requirements to publish special meetings of the congregation and the session come out of bad experience with pastors and their cronies who scheduled meetings and only invited those who were sure votes.

    I have mixed feelings with the whole idea of rights. I agree that rights are important, (although note that in the Declaration of Independence the rights are declared to be self evident, a term from Scottish Common Sense philosophy. I'm not convinced that rights are self evident). How do we determine that? I do get concerned when we use the word "right" to label everything under the sun. We Americans are rights drunk. We need to emphasize responsibilities that come with rights.

    Frankly I don't know that we can come to an agreement because we come from different world views. What we can do is cooperate when we agree. Free speech is good, even if we hate what the other says. Freedom from unlimited search and seizure is good. Freedom of religion in good. I'm all for pagan or Wiccan symbols on the graves of pagan or Wiccan soldiers who have died. And I am very uncomfortable with the idea that the cross is a cultural symbol. It's a religious symbol! It's from MY religion. It doesn't belong to America.

    The idea that my neighbor has the right to play his stereo so loud that my bed shakes at 3:00 AM is over the edge I think. Rights are limited. Everyone has the right to be a jerk. I shouldn't have to listen to the jerk when I'm in my house and my windows are closed.

    So can we agree that we are going to have different ways of determining the good and that we will cooperate when we agree and work to defeat the other politically (after careful listening filled with humility and love) when we disagree? And to not declare that one world view or another is beyond the pale? I will admit that I take a big gulp here because of the world view of the white supremasists.

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  73. Oh and Snad, I think the idea of heavenly reward is a complete misunderstanding of the Christian concept of grace.

    We don't do good out of the hope of reward. We do good out of love for God and others.

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  74. @Bob

    First let me say that before I jump back again that I am more than willing to cooperate with Epstein in general. Christians (at our best) have been Christian humanists. Calvin was one.

    Good.

    I do like the trial and error idea. That's how we ended up with a lot of stuff in the Book of Order.

    In the big picture, that is how everything comes into being including human actions. Even when we plan something the result is something that was tried.

    I'm not convinced that rights are self evident

    That is what I posted. "Rights come from wrongs." Crap happens and in response to that we say we need to declare some basic rights so we can hopefully avoid that unnecessary suffering.

    Frankly I don't know that we can come to an agreement because we come from different world views.

    What makes you think that? I don't know if that is true or not or if it matters. No matter where people get their ideas from, no matter what their worldviews, we decide. Much of the time we decide through force, but we decide. The goal (the good) is to decide without resorting to violence.

    The idea that my neighbor has the right to play his stereo so loud that my bed shakes at 3:00 AM is over the edge I think. Rights are limited.

    Agreed. That is why we make laws.

    So can we agree that we are going to have different ways of determining the good and that we will cooperate when we agree and work to defeat the other politically (after careful listening filled with humility and love) when we disagree?

    That is what I have been saying. What I have been hearing on this post from some is that we cannot know the good without God. That kind of stops the conversation before it starts.

    And to not declare that one world view or another is beyond the pale? I will admit that I take a big gulp here because of the world view of the white supremasists.

    I don't mind saying some worldviews are beyond the pale. The white supremacist view is not good. I don't need God, the supernatural, or special revelation to come to that conclusion.

    There are plenty of worldviews beyond the pale. The view of many Christians that Earth is a crappy place that God is going to destroy it so to actually plan for the future or save the environment is against God's will or the good is most certainly a view that is not good.

    I cannot stop people from believing it but I will do everything in my power to persuade people that that is a bad view.

    I have offered two ways of thinking about the good from Epstein's book, here is The Humanist Manifesto III, that says in part:

    Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

    Again, a good start. I am not here to promote humanism as such. I also think you can believe in God and know the good. You don't have to believe in God to know the good. But God or no God, human beings decide.

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  75. "Frankly I don't know that we can come to an agreement because we come from different world views. What we can do is cooperate when we agree."

    I wasn't clear about that was I? I meant that I don't think we can (or have to) come to agreement about world views or complete agreement about the good. What we should do is do the good that we agree upon and talk about (and compete for votes) about the things we disagree about.

    The violence thing I think is totally unacceptable. Unless of course the great good is so threatened that one must defend it with violence. I prefer talk and debate. Some prefer to debate with guns. If someone says they are going to hurt my neighbor because my neighbor is, black, an immigrant, homosexual, or whatever at the very least I hope I have the courage to say, "You have to hit me first."

    As for using up God's good creation because God is going to make a new world anyway, from this Christian's point of view, those folks are in for a real big surprise! God's gonna ask, "How DID you take care of the creation I put in your care?" They aren't going to like what God has to say when they say, "We used it up because we knew we had a new world coming!" Some of the parables threaten the outer darkness for those folks. Remember what Amos says about the Day of the Lord?

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  76. @Bob

    I am with you completely on all that, Bob!

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