Friday, November 21, 2008

God vs. Goodness



This banner is part of a clever little ad campaign:
    "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," proclaims a new holiday ad from the American Humanist Association. Already appearing today in the New York Times and Washington Post, the message will soon be blazoned on the sides, taillights, and interiors of over 200 Washington DC Metro buses.

    It's the first ad campaign of its kind in the United States, and the American Humanist Association predicts it will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.

    "Humanists have always understood that you don't need a god to be good," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "So that's the point we're making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn't come from religion. It's a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience."
Deny God, believe in goodness. Does anyone else see the irony here?

No one can define "goodness" based on a set of arbitrary principles, but that's exactly what these atheists/humanists try to do:
    We can have ethics and values that aren't set in stone. Our ideals and principles can evolve over time to reflect our ever-changing and increasingly complex world. Yet, we can be confident of the decisions that we make, not because someone told us what to do but because we relied on our own careful reasoning and emotional reflection. ...

    ... Humanists understand that compassion for fellow human beings, as well as an acknowledgement of their inherent dignity and worth, must form the basis of our interactions with each other. Humanists are free of belief in any god or afterlife. We must make the best of this one life that we have.
So, just be good for goodness' sake -- even though your definition of goodness may change depending on how you feel at that particular time.

15 comments:

Rachel R. said...

These people have one of the most inconsistent belief systems I've ever seen. I'd love to ask them, "What is goodness?"

Lee Shelton IV said...

Good luck getting a straight answer. :)

Zebedee said...

I guess it is okay for the humanist to say "Yet, we can be confident of the decisions that we make, not because someone told us what to do but because we relied on our own careful reasoning and emotional reflection. ...", until someone decides that it is not okay. LOL (I don't mean to laugh, because it really is sad)

Anonymous said...

Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, Josef Stalin all carefully reasoned their position before implementing genocide that exterminated millions. The humanist position lacks one crucial element... a foundation.

Bill T.
St. Louis, MO

Larro FCD said...

Goodness is a quality or state of being that either promotes or is the product of peace, harmony and happiness on earth. It need not be relegated to the belief or non-belief in a god, spirituality or the supernatural. Hence being "good for goodness sake". We can be good, upright, law-abiding citizens who feel an obligation to help and aid their fellow man and woman with AND without religion.

Anyway, that's my definition.

I should argue the assertion of "inconsistency": Secularists, humanists and atheists are just as varied as every other religion and it's denominations. Where's the consistency in Christianity?

"Pol Pot, Chairman Mao, Josef Stalin all carefully reasoned their position before implementing genocide that exterminated millions."

Is there a convenient omission of Hitler (a devout Catholic)? Who was also enabled and endorsed by the Holy See.

"The humanist position lacks one crucial element... a foundation."

I can't argue against that. There is that saying: "Organizing atheists is like herding cats", LOL

I could argue though that not having a "foundation" is the result of centuries of suppression and the power of the church over the state has limited those individuals who have a differing viewpoint from expressing it. Say, like Martin Luther? Or any other protestant figure who had to battle the censorship of the Catholic Church. It doesn't matter that atheists and secular humanists don't believe in a god. Censorship is all the same; a repression of the first amendment of this country...

...but that is only a law of man.

Gordan Runyan said...

Larro FCD,

I think you missed the entire point of both the post and the comments.

You say it's possible to be good without God. Okay, then tell us what "good" is.

You apparently believe it relates somehow to peace and happiness. If it makes Christians happy and leads to peace in their homes for them to indoctrinate their children into Bible dogma, is that good? They're peaceful. They're happy. But you and your atheist buddies seem pretty upset about it...

Chris Wilde said...

Oooh, four whole comments on the topic of morality today before Hitler was mentioned! You guys are rockin' with originality today! :-)

"What is goodness" is really a silly question. You might as well ask "What is largeness". You're insisting that one can't validly talk about goodness without God as a moral baseline. That's like insisting you can't call something "large" unless you define what is absolutely large.

I submit that goodness really IS relative, whether we like it or not. And, no, you won't get a straight answer on "what is goodness". You can wish there was one all you like, but in the actual world where we live, goodness is defined by nothing more than what the surrounding culture thinks is good. Some cultures do better at that than others. Some religions do better at it than others. Historically, believers and secularists alike have moral skeletons in the closet to spare, without any need to lob Hitler back and forth at each other.

Lee Shelton IV said...

I am large compared to an ant, but not so much when compared to a 747, the solar system, or Bill O'Reilly's ego. Since there exists no standard for determining what is large and what isn't, definitions of large can be all over the map and still be correct. However, the one thing we cannot do is compare two objects and assign the label of "large" to the smaller object. So, at least in that sense, even "largeness" is absolute.

People can have all sorts of definitions of what "goodness" is, but God is the one who has defined it for us in his word. Murder is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Adultery is wrong. And so on. Even the "gray" areas have black and white application. For example, drinking alcohol isn't a sin in and of itself, but if someone thinks it is and takes a drink in violation of his conscience, that would be sin. "For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23b).

As long as someone brought up Hitler...

Would the practice of gassing Jews be OK just because a particular culture condones it? According to the atheist/humanist worldview, yes, it would be, because that's what the current culture says is acceptable. And as long as it worked for them, there would be no need for them to evolve beyond it. Those who hold to a concept of goodness that is higher than (or at least outside of) themselves would say that murder is ALWAYS wrong. The question is, what is that standard of right and wrong? If it is outside of ourselves, then it must come from somewhere...or Someone.

Scot de Coteau said...

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." Psalm 14:1

Professing to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:22

The Bible knows all about them!!

Jason said...

Are you sure this isn't really a Rob Bell sermon....

Chris Wilde said...

Lee: I agree with what you say about my example of "largeness". In the same way, we compare things that are better and worse, point at the one we perceive as better, according to our world view, and call it "good". I'm not sure what we disagree about, there.

I also agree with your assessment of what the God of the Bible says is good. No controversy there. All you have to do is read it. But just because the morality of the Bible is highly influential in the western world, and has been a potent preserver of Judeo-Christian morality over the past couple thousand years, does not mean the God it speaks of is actually the root source of human morality. Although 3000 years seems old to us, the Bible and the Judeo-Christian idea of God are relative late-comers to human culture.

Yes, unfortunately, the gassing of Jews was once viewed as OK by a powerful group of twisted Darwinian thinkers in Germany. Though it was OK to them, it's not OK to our largely post-Christian humanist culture. On the other hand--tragically--a dominant segment of our culture thinks late-term abortions are OK. Once upon a time, the Aztec's religious convictions made it OK to slaughter thousands of people in their religious ceremonies. Some Catholics came along in the 16th century and thought that was a barbaric, and so slaughtered the Aztecs. Our moral history is a messy one, in which murder has *not* been viewed as ALWAYS wrong. You and I and present company may believe so, and I truly hope that value wins out in this world someday. But that's up to culture, and, in a small way, up to each of us who is a part of our culture.

Do our values come from somewhere outside of us? Yes! But why do we say that is God? Wishful thinking, I'm afraid. History shows the most potent moral influence in the world is human culture. If it's been God, I'm not impressed.

Scot: I'm familiar with those verses. There are many others like them. Such quotes are temptingly convenient in the absence of rational defense for theism. The word "fool" is very easy to lob at the opposition, but it can stick to all of us. David and Paul, who wrote those verses, were fools, too. Just like us. Perhaps that's why Paul also wrote what he did in I Corinthians chapter 1, where he turns the meaning of foolishness on its head. We don't really know what we like to think we know. God--if He exists--and any moral imperatives He may have, are not really revealed as neatly as we like to think. Attempts to frame the Bible as such a revelation are rationally and apologetically flawed. At the end of the day, I claim no wisdom or superior knowledge of what is good; only intellectual honesty about what is knowable.

Scot de Coteau said...

" At the end of the day, I claim no wisdom or superior knowledge of what is good; only intellectual honesty about what is knowable."
A statement like that my friend, should exclude you from this discussion.

Lee Shelton IV said...

I think the issue boils down to whether or not there is such a thing as absolute truth, not whether or not we can know what is absolutely true. For example: 2+2=4. That is a true statement regardless of what we know or believe. One might try to argue that 2+2=4 isn't necessarily true for a three-month-old baby who lacks the capacity to understand simple arithmetic, but the universal truth that 2+2=4 isn't dependent on a particular person's comprehension.

But can we really know that 2+2=4? I mean, what is "four"? How can we define "two"? Is it up to culture to determine whether or not 2+2=4, or are there just some things that are so fundamental and universal that they transcend such limitations?

Jason said...

I have a great idea, lets make t-shirts with this saying on it and then put Hitler in the middle of it. Because goodness can mean anything if there's no objective morel being (i.e. God)to anchor it in.

Samuel Skinner said...

"If it makes Christians happy and leads to peace in their homes for them to indoctrinate their children into Bible dogma, is that good? They're peaceful. They're happy."

Really? All Christians are peaceful and happy? That seems to be a rather extreme claim. Care to provide any proof all Christians are peaceful and happy or even a single denomination? The only groups I've seen with such trends are cults.

"Murder is wrong. "

Murder is defined as unlawful killing. It is not always wrong as rebels or individuals defending themselves in a police state would be guilty of it, even if they were morally right.

"Stealing is wrong."

Unless you are starving.

" For example, drinking alcohol isn't a sin in and of itself, "

What? Alcohol can impair your mental facilities and leads to a massive amount of individuals dying each year. How can an activity that leads to death of innocent people not be considered sinful?

And I know that some places don't have safe water, I'm refering to the US.

"According to the atheist/humanist worldview, yes, it would be, because that's what the current culture says is acceptable. "

Atheists are cultural relativists... except when they are communists. Or in fact any other ideology aside from cultural relativism. Especially when we adopt cultural practices that mandate the elimination of inhumane practices from other cultures. General Sir Charles James Napier put it best:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours"

"But can we really know that 2+2=4? I mean, what is "four"? How can we define "two"? Is it up to culture to determine whether or not 2+2=4, or are there just some things that are so fundamental and universal that they transcend such limitations? "

Four and two are numbers. It tells you how many units there is of whatever you are dealing with. They are true definitionally.

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