Why Rise Above?

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This week I had a very encouraging talk with a literary agent about my book project. He likes the idea, at least; at the time of our talk he hadn’t seen the actual written proposal yet. Today I got a couple invitations to write, and I finished off an article someone else had asked me to do. It’s enough to go to one’s head. It’s threatening to get me so self-absorbed it makes me sick.

But that (getting sick) has been taken care of for me anyway, since this week I’ve been down with a one-two punch, two different bugs (I suppose) that hit me hard in both the gut and the lungs. Dealing with that, and especially being unable to be a helping family member around the house, will really turn you in toward yourself.

So tonight I was wondering, why not? Why not be puffed up over my successes? Why not focus on myself when I’m sick and I genuinely need care? Is there any compelling reason to rise above myself?

And I realized I couldn’t answer that question without backing up a step to, what kind of question is that? The answer must be that it’s a moral question, and nothing other than that. It’s uniquely moral in that it can also be phrased, “Why should I put my interests aside for the sake of others? It might be the moral question; for all other behavioral questions besides this one resolve down to, how do I know and accomplish x, which will get me some y that I consider good for me? This one is, how do I know and do x that is good, whether or not it gets me some y that I think is good for me?

I’ve never seen a secular ethic that could answer this. Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative comes closest, perhaps, yet it still doesn’t clearly answer why, and he wasn’t as thoroughly secular as today’s secularists can be. Luke Muehlhauser posted an article today by “the atheist ethicist,” Alonzo Fyfe, that demonstrates the point in contemporary secularism nicely. It’s all about self-interest. What gets me where I want to be, what I desire. That’s not rising above myself, that’s just complexly argued, highly nuanced self-indulgence. It’s not even morality, it’s how to manipulate the world to get the best you can get out of it for yourself. I’ll grant, however, that for an atheist ethic, it may be as close as one could hope to approach something like morality.

So what about Christianity? Isn’t there self-interest there, too? Well, sure. The Bible makes no bones about rewards for those who by faith please God and do well. But that’s not the whole story. If it were, I doubt it would move me much, especially on a night like this.

Christianity teaches that to put others ahead of self is simply right. It’s right because it’s love, and love is completely wrapped around in the foundational nature of reality. It’s bigger than the cosmos and it’s older than time. I mean that literally, not figuratively.* I’m not speaking love-song language: “I’ll love you longer than the stars shine, ooh, ooh, ooh.” I’m not talking about romanticism but about reality that ruled before the stars shone, before there was any place for them to shine, and beyond where their light could ever reach.

Yet this reality is neither long ago nor far away. It pervades. It is fully present with you and with me, right here and right now. Reality says love is right. Its rightness is in its being true of God, who is the all-creating, all-sustaining, all-pervading truth himself.

He is the truth who loves, and who showed his love personally through Jesus Christ. Jesus is my other strong reason to rise above myself. He demonstrated genuine selflessness in the most pure, perfect, admirable, worthy-to-be-imitated life in all history. It is his love expressed through that life, and my love for him today, that impels me to follow him, even in ways that run counter to my own service of self. While living that exemplary life he also taught it in a way that supported its truth. His was not just an exceptionally good life; it was a good life explained, so that we might not only give him our admiration but also our assent. He preached what he practiced. Genuine love co-exists only with truth.

On a night like tonight when I’m all wrapped up with my own good and bad, I see how very far I fall short of his standard. This is not with a sense of despair, though, for I know that God loves me even in this. I can smile over it, even laugh at myself about it.

For I know there is reason to rise above, and something—Someone—very wonderful to rise toward. It’s a long journey I’ve only begun, but it’s a good one.

*I trust you’ll grant me room for imprecision on the language I’m using for beyond space and time. Precision and brevity do not often co-exist as successfully as truth and love.

Series Navigation (Rising Above):Rising Above by Stooping Low, and How That Makes Sense After All >>>

26 Responses

  1. Luke says:

    Wow. That is not at ALL what desirism (the theory of morality defended in the post on my blog you linked to) says about morality.

    What you described I suppose is egoism: a far, far cry from desirism.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    I can’t speak of anything but what is represented of desirism on the page there, Luke, and what it’s talking about there is self interest. If that’s not what desirism is about, then you can art least see where I got that impression.

    The main thing remains, “why rise above?”

  3. Luke says:

    Tom, here’s how you characterized desirism:

    It’s all about self-interest. What gets me where I want to be, what I desire. That’s not rising above myself, that’s just complexly argued, highly nuanced self-indulgence. It’s not even morality, it’s how to manipulate the world to get the best you can get out of it for yourself.

    Every single sentence you wrote here about desirism is false, and in fact is nearly the opposite of what desirism actually claims.

    Desirism does not condone self-interest. It remarks that the desires we happen to be born with may or may not have any relation at all to the desires we should have. It remarks that very likely many of my desires are evil and ought to be changed.

    Desirism is not about how to manipulate the world to accomplish what I want for myself. It’s about how to influence agents (including myself) to have more moral desires – which in many cases are not going to be the desires we naturally have.

    Desirism does encourage me to rise above my inborn prejudices to adopt more moral desires. I am not naturally skeptical, but it happens that it’s moral for me secure my beliefs so that I avoid false beliefs that harm others. I have to constantly train myself to do that. It may also be moral for me to avoid eating meat – a very unnatural thing. That would certainly require that I rise above myself to accomplish that.

    So what you’ve said about desirism is wrong in just about every possible way, and I confess I do not see how you could have made this interpretation from the article you linked. I think you may be seeing what you want to see in atheistic morality.

    In any case, you are welcome to ask for clarification when you’re not sure you’ve got it right.

    I suggest changing your link to point to a moral theory more similar to what you describe, such as Ayn Rand’s theory. Or, better yet, you could admit that millions of atheists adhere to moral theories which require that one rise above oneself and try to become a better person and make sacrifices to improve the state of the planet.

  4. Martin Freedman says:

    Hello Tom Gilson

    You said “I can’t speak of anything but what is represented of desirism on the page there, Luke, and what it’s talking about there is self interest. If that’s not what desirism is about, then you can art least see where I got that impression.”

    This statement is very misleading. The article is indeed talking about self-interest, however it is criticising self-interest. In particular, it is criticising the invocation of a Christian God in defending self-interest, in justifying self-interest.

    Where you could have addressed this argument and attempted a sound, valid and strong critique – as would be indicated by the “thinking” part of your blog title, you have instead inverted it entirely, indeed asserted, without any argument or support, that it is a defence of self-interest, not a criticism of it. Again, in keeping with your asserted “thinking” claim in your blog title, what rational (which is how I, charitably, read “thinking”) defence can you provide to justify such an inverted mis-representation?

    Cheers

    Martin

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Martin and Luke, it appears to me that Alonzo’s article offers nothing motivational or persuasive to appeal to other than self-interest. I’ll tell you what, though. If Alonzo wants to send me a copy of his book on desirism I’ll promise to read and blog on it within a month. I’ll retract my comments on desirism at least conditionally until then.

    In the meantime you might want to look at what he wrote on your page, Luke, to see how well he represented the moral motivations available for believers in Christ that I presented here.

    For other commenters who may want to criticize what I wrote about desirism: I have retracted it, thank you very much.

    P.S. I’m not staying up obsessing over this. It’s a medicine side effect that’s keeping me awake. Oh, well. There’s more to write in response to these latest comments, but later.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    I have time available now to add one important clarification. I was not referring to atheists’ moral experience or behavior in this post, but to atheistic moral theories. Some people (not necessarily Martin or Luke) get these discussions over ethical systems confused with arguments over different groups’ ethical behavior.

    Though I have not thought of it in quite these terms before, it just occurred to me that I have no theory whatever regarding atheists’ moral experience or behavior. Nor do I have any theory regarding Hindus’ or Muslims’ moral behavior, or any other group’s. I have a theory about human moral experience and behavior, and it applies to all of us equally and alike. It’s basically what Pascal said, and it’s basically what the Bible says from Genesis on: we are marvelous yet flawed, in a most confounding and confusing mixture.

    Now I do also have a theory about Jesus Christ intervening graciously in humans’ lives to affect our moral behavior and experience. That’s distinct from the other, though obviously related: it is not about the general human condition but about what can happen when we get outside help. This theory has power to encompass both Christians’ moral successes and our failures. It’s the subject of about 35%-40% of the book I’m working on. Luke, if it gets published, I’ll be glad to send a copy to both you and Alonzo. If not, I’ll handle it on the blog.

  7. Martin Freedman says:

    Yes Tom, on the one hand, Fyfe’s post was a discussion about a certain group – “thugs” – unethical behaviour and what could realistically be done about them. This is based on the most empirically adequate model of human behaviour, action and motivation, that is based on biology and cognitive and social psychology. There is plenty of evidence that we are “we are marvelous yet flawed” , however that “in a most confounding and confusing mixture” has been well delineated in the Biases and Heuristics Program of cognitive psychology – it is not confounding and confusing but predictable in many ways. Genesis etc. is hardly the first, let alone a relevant or useful source in this regard.

    On the other hand, as for an ethical system, the post ended by criticising claims that morality works by magic, which, by implication, you seem to disagree with in your last comment. Your ethical theory based on “outside help” via “Jesus Christ intervening graciously in humans’ lives” has to, in order to survive scrutiny to be a candidate decent ethical theory, be both consistent with what we know about how to “affect our moral behavior and experience” and explain how it is not “make believe”, which is an argument which very easily explains how such a Christian God has been repeatedly abused (if you wish) in the examples Fyfe gave over “there is a God for that”, that is using God as false justification for unethical conduct (basically this was the argument from indeterminancy).

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Martin, this discussion is heading in a good direction, and I thank you for that. I want to probe some things further, though, as I’m sure is no surprise to you.

    First, I wonder about your easy dismissal of the our confounding and confusing nature. I have a master’s degree in psych, and what I know about the literature is that it goes a lot further in describing and treating than it does in providing in-depth explanations. I also know that to dismiss the Bible’s relevance or usefulness in this is simplistic and narrow-minded. It represents deep wisdom. It provides relief for guilt. It sets a basis for loving relationships. It brings hope. It has a basis for real comfort for sorrow. And there is overwhelming empirical evidence that its followers are emotionally and spiritually healthier than the general populace.

    But is it make-believe? That’s a very long discussion; virtually every post I’ve written for this blog deals with that question in one way or another. The abuse of the Bible is easily explained, though. There are standards of biblical morality on the one hand, and there is self-interest on the other. Sometimes people let self-interest take over, and when they do, they often co-opt whatever seems useful to them to support their self-interest. The Bible is a most useful tool to co-opt, for if one can make it seem it supports one’s behavior, that gives excellent cover for one’s behavior (or rather the image or illusion of cover).

    The question then is, what overrules self-interest? Is there anything that does? Why rise above?

    We’re coming full circle here.

  9. Martin Freedman says:

    Hi Tom

    You raise many points so I will only be brief on each, you can chose to expand on ones if you wish.

    With regard to the Bible being a source of wisdom, it appears to be woefully inadequate compared to many other texts, some religious, some not. Indeed it is not written to be a guide to wisdom, the old testament being the history of one people and the new testament being various conflicting history of one man. Writings from Lao Tsu, Buddha, Plato/Socrates as well as many others written before the new testament all far more directly address the issues and questions of the human condition and provide far more wisdom.

    As for your claims over empirical evidence there is far more in support of religiosity being correlated (not a cause) with social ills see, for example:
    http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=3189 and http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=3265
    (had issues creating both these as links in this comment).

    One might add, at what cost is your claimed “emotional and spiritual health” of Christians obtained, two examples, the adverse affect on Jews though nearly 2000 years and homosexuals at present, springs to mind, that would not be an issue if one is an egoist, disregarding the interests of others, which is what much of this work implies. Still I am familiar with some of the studies in your post and none, as far as I am aware, address the above two themes, which contradict your claim, that there is overwhelming evidence. There is not.

    You make a distinction between self-interest (by that I presume you mean narrow self-interest or self regarding desires as the only ends or interests in the self as opposed to of self) and bible morality, but any analysis of bible morality seems to support only such a narrow self-interest, since the only reason to follow bible morality is to be selfishly saved. And salvationary ethics is only self-regarding.

    “The question then is, what overrules self-interest? Is there anything that does? Why rise above?”
    The only real reason is that we do not live on an island in isolation (in which case there is nothing to overrule) but in a world interacting with other sentient beings and we both have evolved the psychological capacity and the social environment to have and promote mutually-regarding desires. We can use or abuse this. The quest is to find ways to avoid or minimise such abuse. I fail to see how biblical morality can help in this regard, as it appears to have more flaws as an ethical theory than just about any other proposed.

  10. Martin Freedman says:

    Seems to be some delay in seeing my comments. I was going to add this to my last one but will make an additional one instead.

    “The Bible is a most useful tool to co-opt, for if one can make it seem it supports one’s behavior, that gives excellent cover for one’s behavior (or rather the image or illusion of cover).”
    Indeed.

    The question is why is this?

    First it seems to be that the claiming of God or the Bible in one’s favour is a too easy justification for unethical conduct, which requires skepticism of any ethical claims justified this way (and any other way for that matter).

    And, secondly, this leads to the underlying problem over there being are no objective grounds to distinguish between such supports for ethical versus unethical justifications. One needs to look elsewhere to find ontological grounds and epistemic objective knowledge. In which case Biblical morality is at best irrelevant and at worse a serious factor preventing the determination of and motivations for ethical conduct.

  11. First, if I may, I do not call myself “the Atheist Ethicist” – as if there can only be one and that one is me. I write a blog called “Atheist Ethicist” – no “The”. I am not the only one.

    I suspect you were motivated (consciously or unconsciously) towards this misrepresentation because you wanted your readers to start off with an unfavorable impression of me. This is a very simple and effective way to bear false witness against me, and to cause in your readers an initial attitude of scorn by inviting them to think, “Who is this arrogant creep that he would dare call himself ‘The Atheist Ethicist’?”

    Second, obviously what you did is skim the post, found a couple of words and phrases that conformed to a prejudice of yours, jumped to all sorts of (false) conclusions. Specifically, you have stored in your brain a stack of stock answers against ethical egoism. Saw a couple of terms in my posting that triggered the “ethical egoism” flag, brought out your stock answers, and called it good.

    Without actually taking the time to ask (or to answer) the question, “Is this guy REALLY defending ethical egoism?”

    It is a very easy low-energy way to write. It requires very little thought and effort. Scan. Look for key words. Write stock response. Post.

    I distinguish between ‘interests IN the self’ and ‘interests OF the self’. ‘Interests OF the self’ = ‘interest IN the self’ + ‘interests IN things other other than the self.’

    Only my interests motivate my actions. In fact, if somebody else’s interests were ever to control the movement of this body then they would not even be ‘my actions’ – they would be the actions of the person whose intersts are controlling this body (e.g., by remote control). For an action to count as my action it must be motivated by one or more of my ‘interests OF the self’.

    What you opted to do is to take an essay that concerns interests OF the self and interpret it as interest IN the self in order to employ your stock criticisms against it.

    Desirism then explains both why and how we have reasons to promote interests in things other than the self . . . that is to say, interests OF the self that are interests IN things other than the self.

    What you have written about . . . ‘self-interest”, “good for me”, “self-indulgence”, “best you can get out of it for yourself” . . . all ignore this distinction between intrests OF the self and interest IN the self and focus exclusively on interests IN the self.

    You equivocate between the latter and the former so that you can create a theory that is vulnerable to your stock objections.

    However, what you are objecting to is not desirism. It is a theory that you designed for yourself – specifically tailored so that your stock responses would be applicable to it – and then falsely attributed to me.

  12. BillT says:

    “It’s about how to influence agents (including myself) to have more moral desires…”

    As is the case with the moral constructs that I’ve encountered outside of those associated with the Judeo/Christian ethic, they are great at creating a process to better moral behavior but completely lacking in giving a reason why we should do so. That they either co-opt from faith based reasoning or ignore it completely hoping no one will notice.

    “Why rise above?”

    Until this can be answered, the rest has little meaning.

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Alonzo, your attempt at psychoanalyzing me, especially in paragraph 2 where you are simply wrong, is based on even less evidence and more obvious prejudice than what you go on to accuse me of in the rest of your comment. And you find freedom to blast me with it even after I have already retracted what I wrote. (Not that your nuanced distinction between interests in and interests of was spelled out so neatly in your article on Luke’s blog. I guess I’m blameworthy for not reading it between the lines.)

    I would be more than happy to study desirism more in depth before I attempt to represent it again. I have two counter-Christian books in queue ahead of that (After the Ball and John W. Loftus’s Why I Am Not a Christian), and I’m spent out on my book budget. Thus the offer I made earlier to Luke: if you want to send me a copy of your book, I’ll put it at the front of the queue, read it carefully, and then respond.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    Martin, here’s another gold standard study on spirituality and life outcomes: http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17078639. Luke’s links aren’t of the same quality. (The one by Christian Smith in the link I gave you earlier would be another high-quality example.)

    As to your mis-reading of both the Old Testament and the New, it would take too much time to respond so I won’t.

    And I shall continue to be brief, as seems to be warranted. I do not claim that all that Christians have done has been exemplary. I’ve already dealt with that.

    Your “any analysis of bible morality” is oddly devoid of awareness of the analysis I gave in the OP here.

    Why is the Bible a useful tool to co-opt? Because whatever has authority is useful to co-opt, if one wants to legitimize one’s practices. This does not lead to being unable to objective ethics, as you claim, however. The Ten Commandments are pretty plain and clear. Some other ethical topics have indeed taken time to work out, but most of the work has been done by now and is fairly well agreed upon. Not all of it, but most of it.

  15. Martin Freedman says:

    “Martin, here’s another gold standard study on spirituality and life outcomes: http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17078639. Luke’s links aren’t of the same quality. ”
    This is nothing to do with believing in the Bible, indeed findings based on religious affiliation (including none) were inconclusive. Plus atheists can have a spiritual outlook too Naturalist Spirituality. And none of these studies examine the costs on others of these. Do you have studies that cover either that or epidemiological studies that significantly contradict the correlation of social ills wiht religiosity? Surely these are the only ones that are relevant in making such claims. Regardless of how great this makes one feel, it is the real world affects on others that is the topic of morality.

    As for your OP, I did read it and all this talk about Jesus and love, whilst it may be valuable to you, looks, with all due respect, like psycho-babble and, regardless, is nothing to do with real ethical issues. If it moves you, good for you. It is also highly subjective, further making my point about the subjectivity of biblical morality. If it is objective, where is the evidence independent of anyone’s (not just yours) subjective opinion? Claiming something is objective is not argument. Please show me one.

    Finally, and I am not insinuating this applies to you, but I have all to often heard similar such claims whilst supporting quite unethical conduct. Therefore such claims of love, I take with a big pinch of salt and look at the consequences before drawing any conclusions.

  16. Martin Freedman says:

    The Biblical Ten Commandments – the ones popularly claimed as such – says either nothing original with respect to morality and much more that is either irrelevant or very dubious indeed. The real ten commandments as stated in the Bible as what was was written on the tablets, is far, far worse.

    By contrast, the similarly ancient moral precepts of the Buddha and Solon’s 10 commandments are far superior in many ways.

  17. Tom Gilson says:

    RE: the inferiority of the Ten Commandments. I guess I’ll bow to the weight of your authority on this. I mean, you said it, so it must be true. Same with your diagnosis of my psycho-babble and “nothing to do with real ethical issues.” But what, what will I do if someone comes along and says otherwise? I mean, if they say it, doesn’t that mean it must be true, too?

    As to the correlation of social ills with religiosity, I cannot for the life of me imagine why they are the “only ones that are relevant,” especially since the study showcased just two European countries, and those with extremely strong Christian heritage still underneath their structures and customs.

    You want to see one objective argument? I’ve published 733 posts here, plus a passel of others on an earlier version of this blog. There’s a topic listing for evidences in the sidebar. Pick almost any one of them and you’ll get an objective argument.

    Did you look at the Christian Smith data, by the way?

  18. Holopupenko says:

    Atheists present their doctrines without order; the antidote is order… to the Truth.

    Be careful, Tom, please. You’re dealing with a subtle form of evil that dilutes truth and seeks chaos. How that must grate upon the “modern” mind… err, brain.

    “Spiritual naturalism.” Think about the inanity of that.

  19. Martin Freedman says:

    “RE: the inferiority of the Ten Commandments. I guess I’ll bow to the weight of your authority on this. I mean, you said it, so it must be true.”
    Very funny. It is neither my authority nor yours that is relevant. It is an objective examination of it in comparison to any other such claims. An objective conclusion available to anyone, if they are prepared to transcend their partiality, prejudices and preferences. In addition I have presented you with a number of illustrative contrasting alternatives which you have failed to address. If you wish to pursue this I suggest these to Solon’s commandments.

    “Same with your diagnosis of my psycho-babble and “nothing to do with real ethical issues.””
    I did not give you a diagnosis, just a view that it is psychobabble to me. And I acknowledged “with due respect” etc. that you, for sure, would think otherwise. That is I was not attacking your understanding of it, rather stating that how irrelevant and unmoving it is to anyone who has not bought into such indoctrination. Until you can provide an argument there is nothing to show that this is anything to do with real ethical issues. Until you provide an argument, your conclusion (in the OP and here) is a non sequitur.

    ” But what, what will I do if someone comes along and says otherwise? I mean, if they say it, doesn’t that mean it must be true, too?”
    Oh the irony. Of course, this is a good demonstration that such reasoning is fallacious – the argument from authority – since it leads to indeterminate conclusions, that is not conclusions at all. Since you clearly agree this is a bad argument, can you drop the authority of your interpretation of the bible?

    “As to the correlation of social ills with religiosity, I cannot for the life of me imagine why the are the “only ones that are relevant,”
    A very Humean “argument from ignorance”. Please explain why any others would be relevant. Now I do know, I think, what those other studies are about, however the main problem of objective morality in this world is about the effects of one’s actions on others and none of the studies that you presented (extrapolating based on the subset of those I am familiar with) address such a question. Only the epidemiological ones address this and there are quite a few, all AFAIK pointing to the same correlations. I just gave you two quick links.

    “and those with extremely strong Christian heritage still underneath their structures and customs.”
    This looks like an example of the genetic fallacy. There are many historical factors that brought countries to where they are now. One common factor over many countries is a “christian heritage”, however given there is substantial differences in outcome, this is highly indicative that this factor is not the distinguishing cause of such effects.

    “You want to see one objective argument? I’ve published 733 posts here, plus a passel of others on an earlier version of this blog. There’s a topic listing for evidences in the sidebar. Pick almost any one of them and you’ll get an objective argument.”
    I will be content to see one here first before taking any recommendation that you have done this elsewhere. In the OP you inverted the meaning of desirism, which I acknowledge you have at least tentatively retracted, and then presented an entirely subjective argument for “rising above”. You then compounded this with claims over the wisdom in the Bible and some psychological studies that were not relevant to the questions at hand and other subjective assertions such as over the Ten Commandments and so on.

    Still waiting for arguments here, which, whether we agree upon conclusions or not, would indicate that you can argue on an objective basis, that is live up to the title of blog. I hope you can.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Martin, where is the burden of argument here?

    Let me set some context for you. When a blogger writes an post, he writes on whatever seems of interest or importance to him at the time. When commenters write their comments, they do the same. But sometimes commenters will steer the discussion in a certain direction, and demand the blogger follow them. Then it becomes asymmetrical: the commenter is free to stay or to leave, to respond or not to respond; but if the blogger plays along, the blogger’s time and writing are controlled by the commenter. I don’t choose to play that game.

    Continuing on the vein of setting context. An argument is a connected series of thoughts developed in support of some view or assertion. You are asking for me to provide arguments. If I am to do that, then of course I ought to be doing it in support of some assertion I have made. Of course you could set forth some assertion of your own, and demand that I argue against it, but there are two problems with that. First, when you make the assertion it’s up to you to argue in favor of it. Second, if you demand that I respond to your assertion—unless you can tie it to some that I already made—then you’re asking me to play the game I described in the paragraph above.

    I have gone through my contributions to this thread and listed the assertions I have made. (Some of them represent surrounding context where, if you looked, you could find other related assertions, but I think these cover the territory). I have excluded assertions relating to desirism since I took those off the table through my retraction.

    My assertions

    I’ve never seen a secular ethic that could answer this.

    hristianity teaches that to put others ahead of self is simply right.

    He is the truth who loves, and who showed his love personally through Jesus Christ. Jesus is my other strong reason to rise above myself.

    I have no theory whatever regarding atheists’ moral experience or behavior.

    Now I do also have a theory about Jesus Christ intervening graciously in humans’ lives to affect our moral behavior and experience.

    to dismiss the Bible’s relevance or usefulness in this is simplistic and narrow-minded. It represents deep wisdom. It provides relief for guilt. It sets a basis for loving relationships. It brings hope. It has a basis for real comfort for sorrow. And there is overwhelming empirical evidence that its followers are emotionally and spiritually healthier than the general populace.

    Sometimes people let self-interest take over, and when they do, they often co-opt whatever seems useful to them to support their self-interest. The Bible is a most useful tool to co-opt, for if one can make it seem it supports one’s behavior, that gives excellent cover for one’s behavior (or rather the image or illusion of cover).

    “As to the correlation of social ills with religiosity, I cannot for the life of me imagine why the are the “only ones that are relevant,”

    Martin, here’s another gold standard study on spirituality and life outcomes: http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17078639. Luke’s links aren’t of the same quality. (The one by Christian Smith in the link I gave you earlier would be another high-quality example.)

    Here are some assertions you have made, again using the method of allowing some sentences to represent their context.

    There is plenty of evidence that we are “we are marvelous yet flawed” , however that “in a most confounding and confusing mixture” has been well delineated in the Biases and Heuristics Program of cognitive psychology – it is not confounding and confusing but predictable in many ways. Genesis etc. is hardly the first, let alone a relevant or useful source in this regard.

    Your ethical theory based on “outside help” via “Jesus Christ intervening graciously in humans’ lives” has to, in order to survive scrutiny to be a candidate decent ethical theory, be both consistent with what we know about how to “affect our moral behavior and experience” and explain how it is not “make believe”, which is an argument which very easily explains how such a Christian God has been repeatedly abused (if you wish) in the examples Fyfe gave over “there is a God for that”, that is using God as false justification for unethical conduct (basically this was the argument from indeterminancy).

    With regard to the Bible being a source of wisdom, it appears to be woefully inadequate compared to many other texts, some religious, some not. Indeed it is not written to be a guide to wisdom, the old testament being the history of one people and the new testament being various conflicting history of one man. Writings from Lao Tsu, Buddha, Plato/Socrates as well as many others written before the new testament all far more directly address the issues and questions of the human condition and provide far more wisdom.

    As for your claims over empirical evidence there is far more in support of religiosity being correlated (not a cause) with social ills see, for example:

    One might add, at what cost is your claimed “emotional and spiritual health” of Christians obtained, two examples, the adverse affect on Jews though nearly 2000 years and homosexuals at present, springs to mind,

    any analysis of bible morality seems to support only such a narrow self-interest, since the only reason to follow bible morality is to be selfishly saved. And salvationary ethics is only self-regarding.

    biblical morality … appears to have more flaws as an ethical theory than just about any other proposed.

    Biblical morality is at best irrelevant and at worse a serious factor preventing the determination of and motivations for ethical conduct.

    whilst it may be valuable to you, looks, with all due respect, like psycho-babble and, regardless, is nothing to do with real ethical issues.

    It is also highly subjective, further making my point about the subjectivity of biblical morality. If it is objective, where is the evidence independent of anyone’s (not just yours) subjective opinion?

    By contrast, the similarly ancient moral precepts of the Buddha and Solon’s 10 commandments are far superior in many ways.

    I was not attacking your understanding of it, rather stating that how irrelevant and unmoving it is to anyone who has not bought into such indoctrination.

    A very Humean “argument from ignorance”. Please explain why any others would be relevant.

    You proceed to argue (quite briefly, I should point out) for only a few of those assertions. Now, before I proceed with an argument, which I am most pleased to do, would you do me the favor of showing me which assertion(s) of mine you want me to argue for?

    I may have missed some assertions presented by you or by me. Nothing intentional, it’s partly a matter of this being an informal rather than a strictly conducted review, and partly a matter of judging some assertions rather than others to be subsumed (or not subsumed) in the context of these. All that to say, if I missed something, please feel free to point it out to me.

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    I could have gone through your assertions and pointed to several for which you made no argument whatever. In a way I did that in my prior comment, anyway. I decided to let you do that work for yourself this time instead.

  22. Martin Freedman says:

    Tom

    I came to your blog because you made some peculiar comments about a post on another blog. You have retracted your claims in reflection to my and Luke’s comments.

    That could have been the end of the matter but you displayed some interest in pursing related issues, which I was happy to do. I have continued relating to the rest of the other post that got me to your blog and your post here.

    Now this is turning into some peculiar meta-conversation. If you don’t want to pursue discussion, that is fine.

    You can write what you want on your own blog, without objective arguments it does not interest me, except to the extent – and as and when – you – or anyone – uses subjective morality to interfere with the lives of others. Apart from your mis-representation of some secular ethics, there is nothing more to pursue here, with respect to that.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    I said earlier we were getting off to a good start. If there’s some specific assertion I’ve made that you want me to support with argument, please let me know and I’ll be glad to continue.

    I do find that meta-discussions are sometimes necessary. I could just ignore certain questions, or I could say, “I’m not going to answer your question!” or I could explain why at times I do not answer. The third of these seems more satisfactory.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and there remains also the important point that the one who raises the assertion is the one responsible for supporting it. That’s why I’m asking which assertion(s) of mine you want me to support. Up until now—and forgive me if it’s my fault—it’s seemed muddy, almost as if at times you’ve wanted me to support the denial of your assertions; when of course it would be more appropriate for you first to support your assertion and then for me to try to defeat it if I think there’s a problem with it.

    Maybe you haven’t been doing that, but as I said it’s been unclear, and I don’t want to proceed without that kind of clarification made first.

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