Saturday, November 21, 2009

What is sin? What is saved? What is truth?

This is in reply to some recent comments from this post about being saved.

What does it mean to be saved? What are we being saved from? Even after I concluded that Mormonism was false, I still believed in Jesus Christ for quite a long time and the whole concept of being saved was something I pondered. I never believed in hell as a physical place, lake of fire and brimstone, what have you. I believed in it as a state of separation from God, or as a state of realizing our unworthiness to be in God's presence. When I thought of being saved, I thought of leaning on Jesus to overcome the darker side of my human nature, tendencies toward anger, hatred, viciousness, revenge, etc.

Comments have referenced the tormented, angry, self-absorbed state of the damned. I believed that kind of existence awaited me unless I formed some sort of relationship with Jesus. So I tried. I really, really tried my damnedest. 

Patrik posed the question that Pilate asked Jesus: What is truth? I'm gonna borrow a few lines from dictionary.com here. Truth is: the true or actual state of a matter; conformity with fact or reality. I tried to have a relationship with Jesus. I went to church. I read the Bible. I prayed for my heart to be in the right place. I prayed for God to fill me with faith. But even though I was trying to do all the right things, if I was honest with myself, the reality, the truth, was that nothing was happening. I wasn't feeling any different. I wasn't sensing any divine love in my life, just the human love that had always been there. But then I realized that I didn't need Jesus to be good or to be happy. I was okay on my own. Not being able to form a relationship with a non-existent being was not a reflection of any failure on my part; it was a reflection of reality, and that was the truth that set me free.

There was a reference to blaming others to justify one's own actions. Dinesh D'Souza seems to think this is a motive of atheism. In a recent address at Brigham Young University, he said: "How do you get out from out of the shadow of unceasing accountability, of unremitting moral judgement? Well, abolish the judge. If you can somehow get rid of God, then all his preachments and commandments become optional."

Let's examine my sinful life that I'm trying to justify, shall we. I've had a total one sexual partner in my life. So monogamy for the win. Yay me. But we didn't wait till we were married, so fornication fail. (Question: How do tribal societies who don't have governmental provisions for marriage get out of fornication? Or does Jesus have to pay for that too?) So now we have the piece of paper that magically turns sex into a beautiful gift from God instead of an abominable sin, but we've taken measures to ensure that we don't conceive any more babies, so there we fail by Catholic standards. If you want to go further into sexual conduct, for a Mormon, not much beyond kissing is okay outside of marriage, but I've known many Christians who think as long as you wait for marriage to have intercourse the other stuff is okay. And I know still other Christians who think sex outside of marriage is no big deal at all.

I drink coffee and the occasional glass of wine. Fine by mainstream Christian standards, but bad by Mormon standards, and Islam also frowns on alcohol. I like bacon so Jews and Muslims aren't happy there. I like hamburgers every now and then, so Hindus condemn me there. I don't observe any kind of Sabbath, bad according to Judeo-Christian tradition.

I don't pray or go to church, but I still strive to be honest, hardworking, kind, generous. I think anyone who knows me would say I'm a fairly decent human being, but there are still some of my actions, or lack of actions, that are "wrong" by some people's standards.

I think a better question than "what is truth" might be: What is sin? Whose standards do we follow? And the Bible (or any other "holy" book) is not a valid answer because no one can agree on which parts we follow and which parts we don't. Which brings me to the ethical standards that I believe in. It's fairly simple: Love is good; hate is bad. Alleviating suffering is good; inflicting suffering is bad. I think these are statements pretty much everyone can agree on, regardless of belief or lack of belief in a deity. How did I come to these conclusions? I observed what made me happy and what didn't. I feel good if I'm able to help someone out. I feel bad if I hurt someone's feelings, or if someone cuts me off in traffic and I lay on the horn and flip them off, it might feel good at the time, but I usually feel bad later. Seeing other people happy makes me happy. Seeing other people suffer makes me unhappy.

This is the stuff everyone agrees on. These are the rules that actually have legitimate bases and deserve to be followed and codified. The other stuff is arbitrary and makes no sense. 

These standards tell me stealing is wrong, as is drunk driving, or murder or child abuse. 

These are the standards I used to determine that homosexuality was not evil. It is not hateful. It does not hurt anyone. Stigmatizing it, on the other hand, is very hurtful. I agree with Christopher Hitchens' statement at the recent Intelligence Squared debate regarding the Catholic Church. He said: "Homosexuality is not just a form of sexuality. It is a form of love and it deserves our respect." Or this essay by Elizabeth Nichols from the November 2009 issue of skirt! She writes about meeting her sister's partner. Her sister said, "My soul fell in love with another soul, and we both just happened to be women." Some call that evil. I think that's beautiful. That brings tears to my eyes.

These standards tell me that making love to the man I love and share my life with before we had a marriage license was not a sin. At the time, I believed it was and thought my inability to feel remorse meant there was something wrong with me, evidence that Satan had hardened my heart. I prayed and prayed about it: "Help me repent. Help me have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Help me feel Godly sorrow." Nothing. And how insane is it that I was trying to make myself feel guilty for something that I didn't naturally feel guilt for? Lack of remorse did not indicate something wrong with me; it indicated the invalidity of this "law" of chastity. What we did was loving. It hurt no one. The only bad things to come from not waiting for marriage were the artificial consequences invoked by the Church. And now, actually, I'm grateful even for that because it was the catalyst to getting me to question and getting me out.

Is inflicting pain on an innocent person really the best way to "save" us from the hateful side of our nature? Why is more suffering the price that has to be paid? And how does making someone else bear that suffering help us be better people? I agree with Mike's comments that the only reason to punish someone is to help correct future behavior. I think our legal system is broken, at least in part, because of this ingrained Judeo-Christian notion of having to "pay" for our crimes. Why is punishment a good way to pay? Why not restitution wherever possible? Why not more emphasis on changing future behavior? I'm not saying that there aren't some people who need to be in prison, but I think this notion of having to "pay" and "accountability, no matter what" often does more harm than good.

I also thought Mike had an excellent point about our ability as imperfect humans to forgive debts and misdeeds, but somehow omnipotent, loving God is powerless to forgive unless a price is paid. Does not compute.

Bottom line: There is right and wrong, but there is no sin. We will be happier if we cultivate the loving, empathetic side of our nature rather than the hateful, vengeful side; but we have the ability to do that ourselves and don't need someone else to "save" us. And all the nitpicky, random rules of religion are optional because people just made them up. 

The truth shall set you free.


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15 comments:

  1. I have been mulling over for a while what to write, if anything at all, in response to this post and today it came to me. I was in Yakima spending Thanksgiving with my wife’s family and we went to her parent’s church this morning. The sermon was from the book of James chapter 4 and so I flipped my Bible to that chapter. My eye was caught by a verse on the opposing page that I had previously highlighted. The verse was James 2:10 “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” Or if you prefer the KJV, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

    The reason this verse struck a chord with me is because of the bit you wrote about being a decent human being. The way you listed out specific “sin”, that you may or may not be guilty of depending on which religion you refer, seems as if maybe you imagine that if there was a God he’d be up in heaven with a giant balance scale and everything good you have done is put into the “good” side of the scale and every bad is put into the “bad” side of the scale and then at the end of your life you’d get to heaven if your good outweighed your bad. However, if the story as it is laid out in the Bible is true then God does not accept people because their good outweighs their bad. One cannot say, “Well, I’m a pretty good person so I think God will be ok with me.” Or “If there is a God, I’d be ok because I’m a fairly decent human being.” Instead of focusing on the specific sin you may or may not be accountable for try to think of it in terms of it being your sinful nature as a whole that you are accountable for. For it is our sinful nature that we are being saved from. It doesn’t matter how many sinful things you do, whether it is just one or if it is a million (James 2:10), we are all equally guilty of breaking God’s law. We cannot think that we are good people because our good out weighs our bad (especially if we are using our own standards to measure our good and bad and not God’s standard). What we need to do is to recognize that we are sinful by nature. I am sure that there are plenty of non-Christians who have lived a morally better life than many Christians. However, the moralist of moral non-Christian is as equally guilty of breaking God’s law than that of the most sinful of Christians. Romans 3:12: For there is no one good, not even one.

    I think that your feelings of guilt are a testament to the fact that there is a right and a wrong, as you have stated. I do find it curious, though, that even though your own sense of right and wrong is derived from your own personal feelings that you cannot even live up to your own standard (the example you gave was flipping off a driver who cut you off in traffic and then feeling bad about it later). Nor can any of us. I find it slightly ironic that Christopher Hitchens picks on God for establishing rules that are impossible to follow (i.e. that of our sexual desires) and yet we “mere humans” can’t even observe our own basic self imposed rules. This is what I meant by sinful nature. Whether it is our own standard we try to live up to, or God’s standard, we fail.

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  3. I am curious about a couple of other things...if we are to be reduced to nothing but complex clumps of stardust then there is no right or wrong. There is just matter. When it comes to the universe, and the matter therein, there can be no right or wrong. There is just available energy or entropy. However, you state that there IS right and wrong. As a complex clump of stardust why do you make that affirmation?

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  4. You can't honestly believe that committing one tiny infraction is just as bad as committing a million. If that were true, then a person who committed some minor trifle like, say, coveting his neighbor's Lexus, could then go out and rape and murder truckloads of babies or whatever else he pleases with impunity since his punishment is going to be the same either way. It's like saying nothing you do matters; nothing you ever do could possibly be good enough for God, so why bother at all? You could be Mother Theresa or a serial killer who rapes and eats his victims while their loved ones watch—it doesn't matter either way; belief in Jesus is the only thing that matters. That's a horribly twisted way to look at morality.

    You ask how people are supposed to be moral when they have no belief in God, meaning supposedly nothing they do matters; I'd say the question applies equally to Christianity (at least the flavor you believe in), since nothing you do matters under that philosophy either. Just believe in Jesus, then rape and kill to your heart's content. It's all good.

    So why don't you do that Patrik? Why aren't you out killing and raping and stealing from everything that crosses your path? Why do you bother doing anything good when apparently none of that matters to God because of our sinful nature? What inspires you to goodness? I think the reasons you and I are moral are more similar than you might think.

    I do not have a sinful nature. I am not a bad, or disgusting, or filthy person; screw anyone who tries to tell me otherwise. I'll acknowledge that I'm not perfect—just like every other human being—but I'm not bad. My predominant disposition is toward good; evil is the rare exception in my actions. Calling that a sinful nature is like calling someone who goes golfing a few times a year a crazy golf-obsessed fanatic who spends all his time on the green 'cause he's obviously addicted.

    As for why lumps of stardust believe in right and wrong, I've already explained the evolutionary roots of morality in another comment thread.

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  5. Here's another example to think about...

    Adolf Hitler was raised Catholic, and presumably accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior. I know none of us can really know what was going on in his head, but for the sake of argument, let's just assume he accepted Jesus. If that were the case, none of his horrible atrocities would have counted against him since he accepted Jesus' gift of sacrifice for him, and therefore he gets an automatic ticket into heaven. Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand, was not a Christian. It's a pretty safe bet he did not accept Jesus as his Lord and savior. All the amazing good he did and progress toward peace he made counts for nothing because he didn't believe in Jesus. Therefore he'll be tortured eternally in a fiery lake of boiling tar and blood, and according to God he deserves every last bit of it.

    Hitler goes to heaven. Gandhi goes to hell. Does that seem right to you?

    Why is belief in Jesus so maniacally important? Why does God want people to believe in him so badly anyway? What do you think?

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  6. Patrik, I was reading through your comments and making little notes about the points I wanted the respond to, then I read through Mike's comments and he already took pretty much everything I was going to say.

    Just one quick thing from me, Why would *I* be the one responsible for my sinful nature if God is the one who created me to have a sinful nature?

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  7. @ Leah – God did not create us with a sinful nature. He created us with free will and to live in harmony with him. And from the beginning we each have chosen to rebel against him.

    @ Mike – The flavor of Christianity that I believe in?!? I’m a bit curious what you mean by this. Do you mean the idea of trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive your sin? You say this as if I’m “picking and choosing” the parts of the Bible I like. (This seems to be a theme of some sort) Why am I not out raping people since I’ll just be forgiven for it anyways? The fact that Jesus died for our sin is not a license to sin despite what you might imagine. Jesus tells those that he forgives to “go and sin no more.” Now, that doesn’t mean that we, as Christians, are perfect and never sin but that that should be our goal, to emulate Jesus. Not to flaunt his sacrifice as a get out of jail free card. In fact, Paul addresses this very concept in Romans chapter 6. “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not!” This concept is not my flavor. It is straight from the word of God. If you don’t believe me then read the New Testament.

    I’ve heard arguments from both sides about what Hitler believed and so I’m not going to speculate further. However, since you posed a question, I’ll pose an answer. Timothy Keller says in his book ‘The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism’: “When people have done injustice in the name of Christ they are not being true to the spirit of the one who himself died as a victim of injustice and who called for the forgiveness of his enemies.” Ask yourself this: Did Jesus ever call for the mass killings of Jews? Did Jesus ever call for a military takeover of the world? The answer is no. So, IF Hitler was a Christian, he was not being true to Jesus or what it means to be a follower of him. What happens to him after he dies is between him and God.

    You acknowledge you aren’t perfect? What does that mean? According to what standard are you not perfect? Are you referring to the fact that you do not live up to even the sense of morality that has evolved in us though natural selection? If, as Hitchens claims, it is cruel of God to make a standard that we can’t live up to then isn’t it as cruel for natural selection to allow a standard of morality to evolve that a species cannot possibly live up to? It would seem, from your admission of imperfection, that natural selection is as cruel as God.

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  8. @ Mike - I did not ask how people are supposed to be moral without God. In fact, I made reference to the fact that there are non Christians that live a more moral life than Christians. Although I believe that being a Christian can and does help people to live a moral life that morality is not by any means limited only to Christians. Christians are still sinners and still sin. Unlike Hitchens belief that morality is limited to the religious (as he regularly poses this sort of question in debates), I do not believe that you have to be a Christian to be moral. Our innate sense of right and wrong was designed into us by God. (Paul also talks about this in Romans 2:14-15) When you said you already posted about where morality comes from were you referring to Dawkins’ idea of our morality resulting from an altruistic behavior amongst tribes that was passed down to us in our genes? Isn’t this concept a bit relative? What that would mean is that our sense of right and wrong is NOT because something IS necessarily “right or wrong” but rather because it only happens to be how our species evolved. Labeling something as being right or wrong would be an absolute. Does evolution produce any absolutes? What this idea suggests is that if we were to rewind the evolutionary clock that we could very likely, through randomness, re-evolve with a completely different sense of altruism, or no sense of altruism at all, and end up with a completely different sense of morality. Maybe our new morality wouldn’t have any problem with genocide because we are just helping our particular nomadic clan survive. Leah, by labeling certain things as right and others as wrong, is claiming that there is an absolute. If that were the case then where does the absolute authority come from that decides what is right or wrong? Is it derived purely from her feelings? From your feelings? From my feelings? What happens if our feelings on a particular subject differ?

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  9. Let us look at this morality issue from another angle shall we? We, collectively as humans, pretty much all agree that it is murder, and therefore wrong, if we kill another human being. For example, if a woman abandons her baby in a garbage dump we all cringe and call it murder if the baby dies or child neglect and abuse if it is lucky enough to be found and survives. What is it called if a chimpanzee mother abandons her infant? Do we label it as child neglect and abuse or murder? No, we don’t. In fact, we will probably raise the infant chimp in a zoo and just let the mother go about doing her thing with no punitive action taken against her. Now, why is that? Why is one female labeled a murderer and bad mother and the other is never even considered a murderer or bad mother? Is it because chimps are less evolved and haven’t had the opportunity to develop a moral sense of right and wrong? If that is true then morality IS relative depending on how evolved we happen to be and therefore we cannot establish what is absolutely right or what is absolutely wrong as Leah so stated. It is nothing more than a relativistic chemical process. (Back to the whole stardust argument….chemicals have no cognitive ability to decipher right or wrong) We might be able to say that we feel or believe that murder is wrong but then if someone else feels or believes differently then to each their own and there is nothing we can or should do about it. It’s all relative. Also, why do we treat our species differently than we would other species? Doesn’t Dawkins say that we are conceited to think that humans are any more special than any other species sharing this planet? So why don’t we impose our sense of right and wrong onto other species when we see an injustice done? Why do we put up such a stink within our own species when a lot of the injustices aren’t anything unique to humans but occur in other places in nature as well. We would all be horribly saddened to learn about a human mother that ate her baby and yet there are other species out there that do. (scorpions for one. And yes, it is perfectly fine for me to compare humans and scorpions because we are all just animals on equal standings and sharing this planet)

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  10. The definition of the word "nature," as in "sinful nature," precludes an ability to choose. The word "nature" is a statement about the way we are "naturally." It is a statement about the way we are hardwired, and if you believe we were created, then the hardwiring was done by the creator. It's as Leah said: God creates defective creatures then blames them for their defectiveness.

    When I mentioned the "flavor" of Christianity you believe in, I was referring in particular to the concept that faith in Christ alone is sufficient to be saved and gain access to heaven, and that all our other actions are basically irrelevant with regard to whether we're allowed into heaven or not. I inferred that you believe in this concept by your endorsement of Romans 3:12: "For there is no one good, not even one." and your assertion that one misdeed is as bad as a million and that God is not up in heaven weighing our good deeds against our bad.

    The truth is people (thankfully) do pick and choose from the bible, and there are many, many "flavors" of Christianity, and some of them believe in this concept of grace, while others don't. And it seems you follow one of the flavors that does believe in this concept. So do you believe that faith in Jesus Christ and acceptance of the gift of his sacrifice are enough to save you from hell, regardless of your actions? If my assumption about your belief in this instance is wrong, tell me so, and I'll apologize.

    My intent in bringing up Hitler's religious beliefs was not to damn Christianity as a whole because of one follower's actions—that's no more a valid argument than saying atheism is evil because Stalin was an atheist. My intent was to call into question the fairness of God's judgements, and the validity of the concept that faith alone is all that a just God would consider when it comes to salvation. If faith alone is all that matters, then—assuming he accepted Jesus—Hitler is forgiven of all and goes to heaven, while Gandhi goes to hell for the heinous crime of not believing in Jesus. Does that seem right to you? That's all I was asking.

    Personally, if I die and find that there is a God, and that he would really send Gandhi to hell simply for not believing in Jesus, I'd spit in His face and gladly spend the rest of my days with Satan, who quite frankly seems like a much nicer fellow. Any God who operates with such deplorable injustice deserves contempt, not worship.

    I acknowledge I'm not perfect. That's according to my own standards, and I'm fine with that. I do that best I can, which is all any of us can do. I don't think natural selection is as cruel as God, as you said, since God completely discounts all the good I do and nitpicks my small imperfections, whereas with natural selection, the good I do counts for quite a lot and the mistakes I make generally don't have any lasting significance. Not that I think "natural selection" is even capable of cruelty, seeing as it's just a natural principle. It's like saying the water cycle is cruel and unfair because it makes it rain in some places and not others.

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  11. Now for the question of morality.

    When I said I'd already posted about where morality comes from, I was referring to my very last comment on "To the Lost Sheep: It's okay to run!" My basic assertion was: "that which promotes the survival and wellbeing and quality of life of yourself, your social network, and the species as a whole can be considered 'right'; that which promotes the opposite—death, pain, poor quality of life—can be considered 'wrong.'" This is the universal standard that guides our logical judgment of what is right and wrong. This is the absolute authority you were asking about.

    Of course this principle applies only to living things. It's not an absolute in the same sense as gravity, or chemistry, or thermodynamics—things that are objectively true and apply to all matter regardless of whether it's "alive" or not. Life versus death is an absolute to be sure, but avoiding one in favor of the other matters only to the living organisms that are experiencing it. There is no right and wrong independent of the experience of a living consciousness. By that I mean, the universe doesn't care if humans (or any life forms) live or die. The death of our sun, or a massive asteroid colliding with our planet and obliterating it isn't right or wrong from an objective perspective; it just is.

    "[Inert] chemicals have no cognitive ability to decipher right or wrong," as you said. However, chemicals that have assembled themselves into something capable of reproduction and evolution ARE subject to questions of right and wrong and are judged by the absolute authority of life or death.

    But to say that there is an absolute standard by which we measure morality and judge what is "right" and what is "wrong" isn't to say that morality itself is unchanging or that it emerged fully-formed from the beginning of time. It evolved—like all things that concern living creatures—over many, many years. Morality is constantly evolving and fine-tuning, shaped and honed based on this absolute of what is life-promoting versus death-promoting in the context of our current environment and the changing needs of our species as a whole. Morality evolves and adapts as our situation changes, or as new knowledge emerges, or as we learn from our mistakes.

    Consider the many laws in the bible—which were considered "right" back in the ancient context in which the bible was written—that now seem abhorrent or irrelevant by today's consensus on morality. Consider the feminist movement, or the civil rights movement, or the emancipation proclamation, or state religion, or witch hunts.

    Or consider a non-human example: the deer population and how they're coping with the sudden appearance of cars and highways. The deer's current sense of "morality" (or "instinct," to put it another way) isn't adapted to dealing with this new situation. But those deer who don't consider it "wrong" to wander into the road, will eventually die off, while those deer who consider it "right" to stay out of the road will survive and reproduce, and eventually the sense of morality (or instinct) of the population as a whole will have shifted to consider it wrong to wander into the road.

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  12. Natural selection doesn't produce exactly the same results every time (meaning if you rewound the clock, things might come out slightly different—we might have invented different gods, for example), but natural selection by its very nature does (eventually) produce attributes shaped by the ruthless absolute of life or death. Undoubtedly there would be wildly different physical forms that would arise were evolution to unfold again, but with regard to morality, the basics are relatively uncomplicated and consist mostly of "yes" or "no"—"do" or "don't"—where one choice inherently promotes life, and the other death (so it's obvious which one natural selection will repeatedly favor). If intelligent life were to arise again, the most basic and important morals that allow organisms to survive and thrive—don't kill your own kind, The Golden Rule, etc.—would inevitably arise again. Any species that doesn't follow these basic values at least most of the time is not living sustainably and must either adapt or face eventual extinction.

    Yes, morality is relative, and yes, morality changes, but it's not as wishy-washy as you're making it out to be. Murder is not wrong today, and suddenly okay tomorrow. Changing public opinion (especially on matters of morality) is a long and drawn-out process and you have to have some convincing arguments to back up your proposed changes. And murder, is obviously not merely a difference of opinion with no recourse for those who disagree; every interaction with another human being has some sort of consequence, good or bad. Murder is counterproductive to the survival of our species and it is a violation of the accepted social consensus on morality (that we have codified into law), and you can be sure there will be consequences for the murderer.

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  13. Let us look at this morality issue from another angle shall we? We, collectively as humans, pretty much all agree that it is murder, and therefore wrong, if we kill another human being. For example, if a woman abandons her baby in a garbage dump we all cringe and call it murder if the baby dies or child neglect and abuse if it is lucky enough to be found and survives. What is it called if a chimpanzee mother abandons her infant? Do we label it as child neglect and abuse or murder? No, we don’t. In fact, we will probably raise the infant chimp in a zoo and just let the mother go about doing her thing with no punitive action taken against her. Now, why is that? Why is one female labeled a murderer and bad mother and the other is never even considered a murderer or bad mother? Is it because chimps are less evolved and haven’t had the opportunity to develop a moral sense of right and wrong? If that is true then morality IS relative depending on how evolved we happen to be and therefore we cannot establish what is absolutely right or what is absolutely wrong as Leah so stated. It is nothing more than a relativistic chemical process. (Back to the whole stardust argument….chemicals have no cognitive ability to decipher right or wrong) We might be able to say that we feel or believe that murder is wrong but then if someone else feels or believes differently then to each their own and there is nothing we can or should do about it. It’s all relative. Also, why do we treat our species differently than we would other species? Doesn’t Dawkins say that we are conceited to think that humans are any more special than any other species sharing this planet? So why don’t we impose our sense of right and wrong onto other species when we see an injustice done? Why do we put up such a stink within our own species when a lot of the injustices aren’t anything unique to humans but occur in other places in nature as well. We would all be horribly saddened to learn about a human mother that ate her baby and yet there are other species out there that do. (scorpions for one. And yes, it is perfectly fine for me to compare humans and scorpions because we are all just animals on equal standings and sharing this planet)

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  14. @ Leah – God did not create us with a sinful nature. He created us with free will and to live in harmony with him. And from the beginning we each have chosen to rebel against him.

    @ Mike – The flavor of Christianity that I believe in?!? I’m a bit curious what you mean by this. Do you mean the idea of trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice to forgive your sin? You say this as if I’m “picking and choosing” the parts of the Bible I like. (This seems to be a theme of some sort) Why am I not out raping people since I’ll just be forgiven for it anyways? The fact that Jesus died for our sin is not a license to sin despite what you might imagine. Jesus tells those that he forgives to “go and sin no more.” Now, that doesn’t mean that we, as Christians, are perfect and never sin but that that should be our goal, to emulate Jesus. Not to flaunt his sacrifice as a get out of jail free card. In fact, Paul addresses this very concept in Romans chapter 6. “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not!” This concept is not my flavor. It is straight from the word of God. If you don’t believe me then read the New Testament.

    I’ve heard arguments from both sides about what Hitler believed and so I’m not going to speculate further. However, since you posed a question, I’ll pose an answer. Timothy Keller says in his book ‘The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism’: “When people have done injustice in the name of Christ they are not being true to the spirit of the one who himself died as a victim of injustice and who called for the forgiveness of his enemies.” Ask yourself this: Did Jesus ever call for the mass killings of Jews? Did Jesus ever call for a military takeover of the world? The answer is no. So, IF Hitler was a Christian, he was not being true to Jesus or what it means to be a follower of him. What happens to him after he dies is between him and God.

    You acknowledge you aren’t perfect? What does that mean? According to what standard are you not perfect? Are you referring to the fact that you do not live up to even the sense of morality that has evolved in us though natural selection? If, as Hitchens claims, it is cruel of God to make a standard that we can’t live up to then isn’t it as cruel for natural selection to allow a standard of morality to evolve that a species cannot possibly live up to? It would seem, from your admission of imperfection, that natural selection is as cruel as God.

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  15. @ Mike - I did not ask how people are supposed to be moral without God. In fact, I made reference to the fact that there are non Christians that live a more moral life than Christians. Although I believe that being a Christian can and does help people to live a moral life that morality is not by any means limited only to Christians. Christians are still sinners and still sin. Unlike Hitchens belief that morality is limited to the religious (as he regularly poses this sort of question in debates), I do not believe that you have to be a Christian to be moral. Our innate sense of right and wrong was designed into us by God. (Paul also talks about this in Romans 2:14-15) When you said you already posted about where morality comes from were you referring to Dawkins’ idea of our morality resulting from an altruistic behavior amongst tribes that was passed down to us in our genes? Isn’t this concept a bit relative? What that would mean is that our sense of right and wrong is NOT because something IS necessarily “right or wrong” but rather because it only happens to be how our species evolved. Labeling something as being right or wrong would be an absolute. Does evolution produce any absolutes? What this idea suggests is that if we were to rewind the evolutionary clock that we could very likely, through randomness, re-evolve with a completely different sense of altruism, or no sense of altruism at all, and end up with a completely different sense of morality. Maybe our new morality wouldn’t have any problem with genocide because we are just helping our particular nomadic clan survive. Leah, by labeling certain things as right and others as wrong, is claiming that there is an absolute. If that were the case then where does the absolute authority come from that decides what is right or wrong? Is it derived purely from her feelings? From your feelings? From my feelings? What happens if our feelings on a particular subject differ?

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Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism