Thursday, March 6, 2008

Says who?

There's been a good deal of discussion here about how we decide what is right. There's been concern over moral relativism, moral or religious law, and the roles of government, society, and community in making these determinations. I find a number of nagging questions amidst these discussions, which are worth addressing in some detail. Those questions beg a few preamble questions that frame the discussion. I ask the reader:
Does a deity, or do deities, exist? If not, would people have invented one (or several)? Do morals other than providing for one's own interests exist if there is no higher power? Or, do other people become more inherently valuable in the absence of such a power? Are there other metaphysical phenomena that could promulgate a moral framework?

Image sources:
Freer & Sackler Galleries
US National Gallery of Art

11 comments:

Progressive said...

I need much more time than I have today to discuss this! :)

Great questions - I look forward to writing about it.

Also, sorry all, for being MIA recently. Finals week and being away on a family get together has kept me away.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Good to have you back, Prog.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

I recently read What's So Great About Christianity which I believe is a great place to start on this subject -- whether you are Christian or something else. Some other books that might be of interest are: The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God, The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, and The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. More later.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Prog,
It's good to hear from you. I hope the semester is treating you well.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
I find it interesting that many people attempt to use science and religion to either justify or discredit the other world view. I used to do this as well, but I don't recall what it was that led me to think this way. (I continue to use both to discuss the faith inherent within atheism.) I don't see one as particularly related to the other. On the one hand, we have a rational perspective that attempts to describe nature, while on the other, we have a pararational perspective that attempts to describe the supernatural. These two world views’ descriptive purviews are fairly different. I would even assert that in many cases, these spheres of description are mutually exclusive. That said, I like reading about the subject, even if I remain a little perplexed as to why people write on it. I may post an updated version of an old Some questions for the reader post to push that discussion a little further in the future.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: I don't see faith and science as exclusionary although many in each camp feel they are. It seems that there is a trend among prominent scientists to promote atheism to the point of it being a religious fervor. (see particularly Hawking, Dawkins, E.O. Wilson and others) I think the debate over evolution has sparked much of the divisivness from a Christian perspective but is not the only area of contention. Open-minded thinkers from both groups are seeking truth. They each go about it in different ways for the most part. I think the commonality for me lies in the experiential. I can only attest to that which I have experienced/witnessed. However, like most witnesses, that to which I attest is "colored" by many things. We each are an accumulation of our personal experiences and those are affected by the experiences of those with whom we are associated. No one has the complete picture.

As to your original questions -- belief in God is the question. People make many things gods in their life. That isn't the question. Is there an external Deity that exists both inside and outside the continuum which we describe as space/time who has input/influence/control/creative authority? I believe there is. I believe that God escapes description but that we can gain insight into His nature through the text which we refer to as the Bible. I believe that there is One God who has chosen to manifest Himself to us in multiple ways -- i.e. the Trinity of Christianity. I believe that He has reached out to mankind through one of those manifestations -- namely Jesus the Christ. I do not believe that allah, the god of Islam is the same deity. All of the world's religions, with the exception of Christianity and to some extent, Judaism, are an attempt by man to reach out to God. Christianity centers on God reaching out to man.

I further believe that God has established moral absolutes, just as He established physical absolutes within this universe which is His creation. Do I know fully what those absolutes are? No -- just as I don't know all of the physical laws which drive this universe. Belief or unbelief in God does not affect the operation of those laws -- either physical or moral. Violation of the physical laws is impossible for those bound by them -- God is not so bound since He exists outside of them. For every action there is a consequence in the physical world. The same holds true in the metaphysical world. Action begets consequence. We are affected today by actions taken before written history and by actions taken only moments ago -- both in the physical world and in the world of morality. It will continue to be so until the universe no longer exists.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
Do you recognize any other ways to gain insight into the Creator? Perhaps through that which is created? I've been intrigued (if not inspired and motivated) by this idea for several years. Christian monks in the Middle Ages, for example, compiled a number of "bestiaries", manuscripts that drew parallels between nature and scripture. Certain 19th century American Protestant missionary groups believed that the untrammeled wilderness of the places they ministered reflected an image of the Divine. As a more profane example, anyone who has ever done much programming (or engineering design) knows that code (or design) in complex projects says something about the author.
Also, I'm curious as to why you believe that Islam and Christianity revere different Gods. Do you believe the same of Judaism?

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: I believe that all creation speaks of God. Just as you say about programming, the works reveal something of the author.

I believe that Christianity and Judaism recognize the same God although Judaism stops at the Christ. They believe He is yet to come.

The god of Islam is centered in hatred -- not love. Islam is a religion of works, not faith. It is a method by which to "earn" salvation. The God that I worship freely offers salvation to all if they but accept it by accepting Jesus as His Son and as the means by which His (God's) presence may be entered.

Pat Jenkins said...

erd it is about time you let me in on this... he he.... i will ask a question of you though you posed some. do you a see a God in any other form than a religious, or moral diety?

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Thank you for reading and commenting. As for my own religious beliefs (and how others’ may play into them), I’ll answer your question by describing what I believe in the context of earlier discussions here.
First, I consider myself a Christian. By this, I mean that I believe in the divinity of the person, Jesus of Nazareth, and I study and attempt to adhere to His teachings.
More broadly, I believe that there is a God, and that this God seems to transcend humans’ understanding of quantity and time. There is a Creator, a Physical Incarnation, and a Personal Manifestation. (In English, most people use the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- these labels generally work fine.) It is in part because of this Spirit residing within everyone that I believe every person deserves a healthy, dignified lifestyle. This belief is underscored by central messages within Christ’s teachings, specifically the oft repeated sentiment to “love your neighbor”.
I believe that humans are metaphysically imperfect, and that we are unable to correct this imperfection by ourselves.
I believe that the Bible (more on what I mean by “Bible”, if you want it) is an authoritative source of revelation about God, but not the only one. As I mentioned in an earlier comment to this post, I also believe that Creation reveals insight into the Creator. Likewise, other people can provide insight. Some of these people wrote particularly meaningful things (such as the Gospel-writer we call Mark), some have inspired particular Christian sects (Martin Luther, George Fox, &c.), some attend or lead churches, some aren’t Christian, some make lots of people angry, some paint, some cut hair for a living. As work of the Creator, every person has some capacity to reflect His image, even if unwittingly.
Finally, I’m at odds with the founder of my denomination on at least one point. Luther was not a fan of the Book of James (and related sentiments). I think he came by this objection honestly, but I believe he took it too far. For my part, I think believers must manifest their faith in how they live. Faith must inspire action.
I apologize if I sound evasive, but I don’t see a yes/no question in what you’ve asked. I hope this gets at the answer. If not, I can take another (shorter) crack at it.

Pat Jenkins said...

very well said erd. and like i have mentioned "every" man is a ministry because he has been given his, from Christ. my reasoning of a question to your questions was if we have morality we are in need of a judge to say what is right or wrong. and if that is God, which most would bestow on him, does he go beyond that and save us from the limitations of ourselves. or better put does God interact with us beyond a moral adherence. (if this isn't understood, refer to my post of last sunday and the sunday before for my angle with this....)