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SDG

God and the moral argument

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As do I...but it seems to lead me away from being able to take Church and the Bible all that seriously...

Would you believe me if I said I very much understand this reaction? I know my writing projects a lot of certitude, but I understand doubt very well ... and while my own struggles have led me to embrace dogmatic Catholic faith, the loss of faith is not a road I regard with incomprehension by any means.

Clinging to God, trying to take a step back and do as Jesus suggested... love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

Did Jesus offer suggestions? My understanding of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth has changed greatly over the years, and I find him much more challenging today than I did even ten years ago.

I'm fascinated by Rabbi Jacob Neuser's critique of Jesus in A Rabbi Talks With Jesus, based on the Sermon on the Mount and other Gospel texts. In Neuser's account, a rabbi follows Jesus around, listening to his teaching, comparing it with Torah, even speaking with him. Afterward he discusses his impressions with another rabbi, and offers this reflection:

Moses gave the Hebrews 613 commandments. David reduced them to eleven; Isaiah reduced them to six, then two. Finally, Habbakkuk summed up everything in one precept: "The righteous shall live by faith."

"Is this what the sage, Jesus, had to say?" the other rabbi asks.

"Not exactly, but close."

"What did Jesus leave out?"

"Nothing."

"Then what did he add?"

"Himself."

That is the best parable I have ever read outside the Gospels, and it does exactly what the Gospel parables do: It reveals Jesus. That it was written by a Jewish rabbi and a non-believer in Christ, as a critique of Christianity, only makes me value it more. (Pope Benedict, a big fan of Neuser, quotes it in his book Jesus of Nazareth.)

But anyways...I find myself wanting to believe, yet being unable to trust or find joy or release in God as the Church and the Bible represent God.

I get this, too. I do. But the Bible, like the historical figure of Jesus, will not let me go. I see something breaking out here, so to speak, something that seems to me to stand apart from other religious texts, ANE literature and other ancient mythologies and histories. Something is happening here in the Bible and in Jesus, something I don't see happening anywhere else.

This issue of justification is where I get hung up. Rather than saying that all people have an innate sense of morality (which I think is A. True and B. Vintage Apostle Paul), I think it is easier for people to swallow this: All people feel compelled to justify their behavior by an appeal to ethics. It is this propensity towards self-justification that lies at the center of much of Jesus' teaching, which comes out very clearly in his stunning statement: No one is good but God.

This is a really crucial point, and my failure to make it in my very long post above is a significant flaw I didn't appreciate until now.

Edited by SDG

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I noted elsewhere this weekend that I find it funny that i have heard many Christians argue that one of the Pharisee's problems was that they added rule upon rule to the law, parsing it, adding even more rules, trying to fine tune everything. They were making it impossible. But the rub is, the Christian Church seems to have started doing the same thing from almost day one. Jesus words weren't enough. We needed more. We needed specifics. And people quickly provided them, suggesting guidance from God to expressly say who was in the club, who was out, what lines could be crossed, what lines could not, etc.

What if that isn't what happened? Then would your mind change about what Christianity is and how it works?

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SDG wrote:

: If materialism is true, then survival and reproduction is the only meaningful vindication, and death can only be regarded as the ultimate defeat.

Forgive me for stepping back into a thread that I said I'd be setting aside, but I can't help noting that, if materialism is true, then I'm not sure the word "vindication" is "meaningful" in the first place. Things either survive or they don't; and reproduction, of course, is not the same thing as survival at all, at least not to the individual.

It's kind of like how someone once asked Woody Allen if he hoped to live on through his art, and Woody replied that he hoped to live on by not dying. As with art, so with kids -- or clones, for that matter. The materialist does not live on through any of these things, because the materialist still dies.

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Follow up: I don't think it's enough to point out that people feel compelled to justify their behavior to each other. That could be explained as conformity to social norms. I think it's more telling -- and actually I did make this point in passing, in relation to the unprincipled man's pretzel narrative of his life -- that people feel compelled to justify their behavior to themselves. A man has a deep desire to believe that he is a good man -- that his life conforms to a standard of behavior that wasn't determined by him. It isn't enough to say "I did it my way."

Edited by SDG

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I've been staying out of this, and for the most part will probably continue to do so. I'm just dropping in at this point to note that I'm part way through a lecture series from the The Teaching Company on determinism and free will which has huge implications for moral responsibility. Quite interesting.

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: If materialism is true, then survival and reproduction is the only meaningful vindication, and death can only be regarded as the ultimate defeat.

Forgive me for stepping back into a thread that I said I'd be setting aside, but I can't help noting that, if materialism is true, then I'm not sure the word "vindication" is "meaningful" in the first place. Things either survive or they don't; and reproduction, of course, is not the same thing as survival at all, at least not to the individual.

I don't disagree. And of course the next move is that things don't even "survive or they don't." Nothing survives, not even offspring. That was the point of my subsequent long run / short run comments. Survival and reproduction is "success" from a certain biological point of view, but in the end you're just as dead as the less lucky competitor.

I've been staying out of this, and for the most part will probably continue to do so. I'm just dropping in at this point to note that I'm part way through a lecture series from the The Teaching Company on determinism and free will which has huge implications for moral responsibility. Quite interesting.

Yes indeed. This is a very difficult subject.

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What if that isn't what happened? Then would your mind change about what Christianity is and how it works?

Understand, I approach this all as someone who never so much as questioned Christianity until I was 30. I was certain that God was God, that He Guided the Bible and so on. As I started to read the Bible more, it tore at my ideals of God and left me wondering...and now seeing little difference between the Bible and other holy writ. I don't know if there is an opportunity to change my mind any more.

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SDG wrote:

: I don't disagree. And of course the next move is that things don't even "survive or they don't."

[1] Right. [2] Well, that may or may not be the next move. My point was that "vindication" is neither here nor there. If something survives, it survives, and if it doesn't, then it doesn't. My point does not depend on which of these two outcomes occurs.

Side note: I wonder if all the talk of "justification" etc. relies a little too strongly on legalistic thinking. Both biblically and anthropologically, there is an even deeper force at work in our minds and hearts than Law, and that is Honour and Shame. And when we talk about the fact that morality cannot be strictly individualistic but has to be seen within a social context, well, honour and shame are pretty obviously one of the key ways that society first instills in us that sense of morality. And you don't need to be a theist to recognize that honour and shame can run pretty deep, or that our parents and teachers and peers all play a big part in shaping what we find honourable or shameful.

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Understand, I approach this all as someone who never so much as questioned Christianity until I was 30. I was certain that God was God, that He Guided the Bible and so on.

See, I'm totally with you so far, but then ...

As I started to read the Bible more, it tore at my ideals of God and left me wondering...and now seeing little difference between the Bible and other holy writ.

This is the very first thing you've written that I completely can't relate to. Having gone through my own shaking, I can imagine some version of myself losing my faith and coming to regard the Jewish and Christian scriptures as merely human literature, albeit the most astonishing and visionary anthology of religious mythology, poetry, legend and history that the religious genius of man has ever produced. Not in my most skeptical moments or nihilistic nightmares can I imagine considering the Bible comparable to other holy writ (e.g., the Koran, the Analects of Confucius, the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas, to say nothing of the Book of Mormon or Health and Science, etc.). Works of genius in many cases (others not so much), but the Jewish and Christian scriptures are in a class by themselves.

Then there's the historical figure of Jesus himself: a dimmer and more remote figure than our Sunday School teachers would have had us believe, perhaps, but definite and irreducible enough to be a problem, certainly in terms of the effect he had on his disciples and their followers.

If I lost my faith, I guess I would have to come to regard Jesus as the most tragically and catastrophically misunderstood figure in history -- misunderstood to the end even by his innermost circle, by Peter, James and John, which seems counterintuitive if he was any kind of teacher.

Then there's the crowning irony that his misconstrued life and career actually had the stunning historical effect of seeming to vindicate the preposterous, age-old hubris of the Hebrews that someday their covenant god, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, would be made known and proclaimed throughout all the pagan nations as the one true creator and the lord of all. It was always an insane conceit, not unlike if the Duchy of Grand Fenwick in The Mouse that Roared had declared war not only on the U.S. but on the rest of Europe as well -- and actually expected to win. Yet this was part and parcel of the notion of the kingdom of God that Jesus seems to have announced -- and his life and career actually wound up bringing it about. If this massive coincidence was itself an accidental consequence of his life and career being completely misrepresented, this must surely rank among the most staggeringly ironic twists in history.

Then there's the disciples' conviction that Jesus was risen from the dead. What I would make of that if I lost my faith, I honestly can't think.

Edited by SDG

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Understand, I approach this all as someone who never so much as questioned Christianity until I was 30. I was certain that God was God, that He Guided the Bible and so on. As I started to read the Bible more, it tore at my ideals of God and left me wondering...and now seeing little difference between the Bible and other holy writ. I don't know if there is an opportunity to change my mind any more.

Let's just bracket out the resurrection for a minute. I can understand how life and time tend to flatten out those peaks and valleys we used to see in the Bible. The big difference between the Bible and other holy writ isn't always that substantial until you get to the gospels. And even there, the similarities between the message and meaning of Jesus and the message and meaning of figures like Siddartha Guatama are eyebrow raising (though Buddha and Luther may be a better comparison). But some of these readily apparent similarities between religious texts does not mean all religions are the same. I play this cat and mouse game in one of my religious studies classes wherein we wade through a lot of comparative religion and come to see the unexpected structural similarity between the major world religions. Concepts of cleanliness and rebirth through the ritualistic use of water, the use of ethical codes as a devotional yardstick, the arrangement of life around patterns informed by sacred time, Weber's distinctions between church and sect, etc... There is simply a lot of similarity there.

Then we come to the problem of theodicy. Where does evil come from? How do we reconcile the existence of evil, of the awfulness of this world, with the existence of a god/God/gods? That is where everything unravels. Though everything initially felt similar, the major world religions deal with the problem of evil in vastly different ways. Dualism, divine sovereignty, karma - these are examples of fundamentally different concepts of the world and its origin. After we talk about this, we can begin to see that though the texts, rituals, and ethics of world religions do quite often seem to be the same thing, they are actually responses to mutually exclusive understandings of the problem of evil. They really aren't the same thing at all.

This is a bit of a rabbit trail to this thread, but I wanted to toss it in as an argument against the idea that the ethical claims of Christianity aren't much different than those made by any other holy writ. Honestly, the more I study other religions, the more stuck I feel in the idea that Christianity makes a few very radical and distinctive ethical claims. We tend to think that Christianity, real Christianity isn't about rules and ethics. But it actually is.

Edited by M. Leary

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Side note: I wonder if all the talk of "justification" etc. relies a little too strongly on legalistic thinking. Both biblically and anthropologically, there is an even deeper force at work in our minds and hearts than Law, and that is Honour and Shame. And when we talk about the fact that morality cannot be strictly individualistic but has to be seen within a social context, well, honour and shame are pretty obviously one of the key ways that society first instills in us that sense of morality. And you don't need to be a theist to recognize that honour and shame can run pretty deep, or that our parents and teachers and peers all play a big part in shaping what we find honourable or shameful.

I was just trying to write a sentence saying that I was using the term justification in the least legalistic sense of the term, but I guess I wasn't. The least legalistic sense of "justification" I can think of is that used in analytic philosophy, which has more of a sense of "warrant." But I suppose I really am envisioning a tiny courtroom in everyone's head, which is what I think Paul is referring to in Romans 2 when he is talking about accusing and defending. To continue the side note, isn't an honor/shame culture eventually still predicated upon conscience? The primary reasons why someone would choose not to do something is influence directly by their social context rather than an interior principle. But what is it that makes "honor" and "shame" legitimate concepts in the first place? Where do the teeth in shame come from?

Speaking strictly from Romans 2, I think I would say that the Law predates honor/shame. But then there is the reference in the Genesis account to shame. But isn't that a consequence of the violation of a law?

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: And of course the next move is that things don't even "survive or they don't."

Well, that may or may not be the next move. My point was that "vindication" is neither here nor there. If something survives, it survives, and if it doesn't, then it doesn't. My point does not depend on which of these two outcomes occurs.

I'm not sure I follow this. The one certainty in all this is that in the end there aren't two possible outcomes, there is one certain outcome. Everything dies. Even if something survives, it doesn't survive. That, surely, is the final nail in the argument.

Side note: I wonder if all the talk of "justification" etc. relies a little too strongly on legalistic thinking. Both biblically and anthropologically, there is an even deeper force at work in our minds and hearts than Law, and that is Honour and Shame. And when we talk about the fact that morality cannot be strictly individualistic but has to be seen within a social context, well, honour and shame are pretty obviously one of the key ways that society first instills in us that sense of morality. And you don't need to be a theist to recognize that honour and shame can run pretty deep, or that our parents and teachers and peers all play a big part in shaping what we find honourable or shameful.

Yeah, but at some point many of us raise some sort of questions about our own pedagogy, in some cases quite searchingly. Many of us wind up embracing what we were once taught was shameful and shunning what we were once taught was honorable. I don't deny that we continue to be shaped by such pedagogy even when we question and challenge it, but even this, I think, doesn't explain our need to justify our lives to ourselves even if we claim to have dispensed with the moral foundations that stand against us.

I can understand someone like Philip Pullman calling himself an "Anglican atheist," or Roger Ebert citing "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" as his favorite hymn long after rejecting the Triune faith that hymn celebrates. If Pullman or Ebert went to church every week, that would be harder to understand.

Likewise, I can understand e.g. a lifelong teetotaler finally rejecting dogmatic teetotalism but still being emotionally unable to enjoy alcohol. I have a harder time imagining e.g. a fully persuaded naturalist choosing to be faithful to his wife in the face of temptation simply because it causes him irrational shame feelings. Shame feelings can be powerful, but sex is awfully powerful too, and if you've intellectually debunked shame feelings ... And if he tries to justify his actions, not just to his wife, but to himself, by telling himself that it's only physical, and that his wife is neglecting him, etc., then I think the cat is out of the bag: He still perceives that adultery is wrong.

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Just to chip in: what is to prevent a 'fully persuaded naturalist' to find that marital faithfulness is desirable in a deeper way to the initial pleasure of adultery? To intentionally choose to do what a person who thinks in terms of moral law would regard as 'unconditionally right' on a hedonistic basis? It's not as if people assume that there are simply degrees of pleasure, to be weighed up against each other; people often think in terms of quality of enjoyment, deeper and shallower pleasures.

edit: I just noticed the word 'simply' in the above post. Which makes my point kind of irrelevant. Feel free to chastise me for this - I have rationalised away my shame, and so don't care. <_<

Edited by stu

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This is the very first thing you've written that I completely can't relate to. Having gone through my own shaking, I can imagine some version of myself losing my faith and coming to regard the Jewish and Christian scriptures as merely human literature, albeit the most astonishing and visionary anthology of religious mythology, poetry, legend and history that the religious genius of man has ever produced. Not in my most skeptical moments or nihilistic nightmares can I imagine considering the Bible comparable to other holy writ (e.g., the Koran, the Analects of Confucius, the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas, to say nothing of the Book of Mormon or Health and Science, etc.). Works of genius in many cases (others not so much), but the Jewish and Christian scriptures are in a class by themselves.

I may have stated that... poorly.

:)

There are things that connect for me...I am drawn to the storyteller with a strong , yet gentle heart. The man who fears not what others will think because of who he was seen speaking with. Who could show great compassion and represented the face of God who reaches out to his creation. There is much I am drawn to...but other thing, I am not so... drawn to. :)

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Just to chip in: what is to prevent a 'fully persuaded naturalist' to find that marital faithfulness is desirable in a deeper way to the initial pleasure of adultery? To intentionally choose to do what a person who thinks in terms of moral law would regard as 'unconditionally right' on a hedonistic basis? It's not as if people assume that there are simply degrees of pleasure, to be weighed up against each other; people often think in terms of quality of enjoyment, deeper and shallower pleasures.

In a word, I think the whole notion of "deeper" and "shallower" pleasures reflects superstitious, magical thinking that we will have to reject if we are to be really good materialists. We must take to heart the admonition of C. S. Lewis:

You can’t, except in the lowest animal sense, be in love with a girl if you know (and keep on remembering) that all the beauties both of her person and of her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behaviour of your genes. You can’t go on getting any very serious pleasure from music if you know and remember that its air of significance is pure illusion, that you like it only because your nervous system is irrationally conditioned to like it. You may still, in the lowest sense, have a “good time”; but just in so far as it becomes very good, just in so far as it ever threatens to push you on from cold sensuality into real warmth and enthusiasm and joy, so afar you will be forced to feel the hopeless disharmony between your own emotions and the universe in which you really live.

I agree that fidelity makes me happier than adultery would, and in that sense is the most "hedonistic" choice I could make. But that's because I'm not a materialist. If I really lost my faith in everything but the physical world, I would lose with it the depth of happiness that fidelity gives me. I could no more choose to cling to the happiness of that illusion than I could pretend to be happily married if I lost my faith in other minds and became a solipsist. At that point, there would be no more incentive not to resort to a more omnivorous sort of hedonism.

I may have stated that... poorly.

:)

There are things that connect for me...I am drawn to the storyteller with a strong , yet gentle heart. The man who fears not what others will think because of who he was seen speaking with. Who could show great compassion and represented the face of God who reaches out to his creation. There is much I am drawn to...but other thing, I am not so... drawn to. :)

Okay, now we're back on the same page, or at least the same chapter. :) I would just add that in speaking of the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, I'm not necessarily thinking only of elements that I find appealing. The bits that won't let me go are sometimes among the more difficult bits. But I agree that there are bits that, humanly speaking, don't grab me in that way either, and could easily be transposed from the Bible to some other text without greatly affecting my opinion of either.

Edited by SDG

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I'm sympathetic with Nezpop to a certain degree. I, for one, do not find Christianity a particularly likable religion. It often strikes me as very unpleasant, even ugly, and I have always disliked attempts to whitewash it. I don't find the God of the Scriptures to be very likable, even in the form of the Jesus of the Gospels (Jesus, I'd suggest, is just as scary, brazen, and baffling as the God of the Old Testament). Nevertheless, I believe that the Scriptures are a true and faithful witness to the nature of God and his interaction with the world, and that the God presented therein is worthy of my love and obedience.

While I can sympathize (also to a certain degree) with these comments and appreciate the candor, it seems to me extremely urgent to find some way of mediating between the two seemingly disparate statements here. To put the point in its strongest form, it can hardly be the case that God is unpleasant and ugly, but worthy of our love and obedience! As the source and summit of all perfections, God is the fullness of beauty; conversely, our aesthetic power is one faculty by which we perceive transcendence in natural beauty pointing to God.

Would I be right in guessing that, as a Calvinist, you would be inclined to cite the noetic effects of sin upon our aesthetic sensibilities in this regard? Or is the unlikability/ugliness of Christianity related to the reality of sin witnessed by Christianity? Or some combination of the two? I wouldn't be entirely unsympathetic to either of those moves, though I wouldn't necessarily take them in exactly the same ways, nor would I necessarily regard them as entirely solving the problem.

As a point and counterpoint, C. S. Lewis talks about finding the Trinity less aesthetically appealing than either polytheism or "pure" monotheism. Without diminishing his point, I can say I have come to find the idea of the Trinity, almost in a sense irrespective of my belief in it, to be the most glorious, elevated, ennobling, beautiful, and lovable idea that I have ever tried to wrap my head around. I've come to believe that nothing so elevates and explains the mystery of man as the idea of the Trinity.

To put the point with deliberate naivete: A world in which people truly lived as if God is Triune would be the noblest of all possible worlds -- nobler, I say, than a world in which people truly lived as if God were one, but not three. If I could live as if the God is Triune, it would be the best life I could hope for.

The idea of the Trinity draws me as beauty itself. It is beauty that, I believe, transcends the greatest conceits of religious genius. It is a beauty that was given to man, not something we came up with on our own.

Edited by SDG

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M. Leary wrote:

: But then there is the reference in the Genesis account to shame. But isn't that a consequence of the violation of a law?

A command, yes, but not a law, and certainly not a Law in the transcendent moral sense that we've been reaching for here. On the surface, the command to eat from one tree but not another would seem to have even less moral weight than the command to commit genocide against one tribe but not another tribe. But if I understand SDG correctly, we may imagine, if we wish, that both of these seemingly arbitrary commands are rooted in something deeper that can stake a claim to being genuine transcendent moral Law.

SDG wrote:

: I'm not sure I follow this. The one certainty in all this is that in the end there aren't two possible outcomes, there is one certain outcome. Everything dies. Even if something survives, it doesn't survive. That, surely, is the final nail in the argument.

Um, the final nail in WHAT argument? My point is that the very concept of "vindication" presupposes some sort of meaning that, on a purely materialistic level, doesn't exist in the first place. (And incidentally, on a strictly materialistic level, I believe everything DOES survive; it simply changes form -- and death, on a materialistic level, would simply be one of those transitional phases.)

: In a word, I think the whole notion of "deeper" and "shallower" pleasures reflects superstitious, magical thinking that we will have to reject if we are to be really good materialists.

Wait a minute. I thought you said materialists CANNOT be "really good" -- or "really bad", for that matter -- because they do not have a "real" or transcendent sense of "good" and "bad" in the first place. On what basis, then, do you now hope to persuade them that they should be "really good" about anything?

Not that I think many people are really materialists to begin with. It has been said that most people nowadays -- certainly among the younger generations -- adhere to a form of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism", and in that sense, they are not far removed from Thomas Jefferson and the other creators of the Declaration of Independence, which is what got this discussion started in the first place.

: You can’t, except in the lowest animal sense, be in love with a girl if you know (and keep on remembering) that all the beauties both of her person and of her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behaviour of your genes.

Hmmm, this is beginning to make me wonder what sense it would make to go around telling moviegoers that they're not really going to witness love and death on the big screen, but only a pattern of light transmitted through a film of molecules, and that their response to that pattern is shaped by their experiences in situations resembling those patterns, etc., etc.

Why must anyone "keep on remembering" that life is full of accidental patterns, any more than one must "keep on remembering" that movies are illusions?

: At that point, there would be no more incentive not to resort to a more omnivorous sort of hedonism.

But would there be any incentive to BE omnivorous with your hedonism?

We have to be careful about making these kinds of declarations. I used to go around telling people that I would be bisexual if I weren't a Christian, but there came a point when I realized that, as logical and provocative as my position may have been, I actually didn't have any interest in men. Or at least, I didn't think I did. I would certainly not say anything as glib as that nowadays.

: As a point and counterpoint, C. S. Lewis talks about finding the Trinity less aesthetically appealing than either polytheism or "pure" monotheism.

That's fascinating, as Lewis's comments on the Trinity, in The Screwtape Letters particularly, have always shaped my own appreciation of that doctrine. Indeed, I can't remember a time when it didn't seem to me that any God worthy of the name would have to be trans-personal, as it were -- and I think Lewis's comments on the Trinity may have nudged me in that direction.

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: I'm not sure I follow this. The one certainty in all this is that in the end there aren't two possible outcomes, there is one certain outcome. Everything dies. Even if something survives, it doesn't survive. That, surely, is the final nail in the argument.

Um, the final nail in WHAT argument? My point is that the very concept of "vindication" presupposes some sort of meaning that, on a purely materialistic level, doesn't exist in the first place.

Are you really not grokking me on this point? The argument is a sort of progression (or regression) of the sense(s) in which we can or can't meaningfully talk about success or failure. We are accustomed to thinking of "moral victories" such as the victory of the concentration camp prisoner who dies with his sense of dignity and honor intact. The first stage of the argument is recognizing that such moral victories are meaningless; "better a live dog than a dead lion," and a live quisling than a dead patriot. Then the next stage is: But not a lot better, or not better for long. In the end the dog and the lion are both dead, and so are all their offspring. I mention offspring not because reproduction actually offers a form of "immortality" but because it is a powerful drive that gives us satisfaction before we die, and as long as we're not dead yet we might as well enjoy whatever satisfactions come our way. But it's true that this satisfaction, like most others, is sharply curtailed by awareness that we and all our lineage are all doomed in the long run. Even on a purely animal level, regular sex is still a pretty obvious goal.

Wait a minute. I thought you said materialists CANNOT be "really good" -- or "really bad", for that matter -- because they do not have a "real" or transcendent sense of "good" and "bad" in the first place. On what basis, then, do you now hope to persuade them that they should be "really good" about anything?

I was aware of that irony when I wrote it. But the fact is that whether we are materialists or not, we want to be intellectually honest and self-consistent. The "boo/hurrah" theorist does not in the slightest excuse himself from the duty of intellectual honesty on the grounds that the appeal to such honesty is only an irrational "hurrah!" response. Ironically, he is intellectually inconsistent in his commitment to intellectual consistency!

Not that I think many people are really materialists to begin with. It has been said that most people nowadays -- certainly among the younger generations -- adhere to a form of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism", and in that sense, they are not far removed from Thomas Jefferson and the other creators of the Declaration of Independence, which is what got this discussion started in the first place.

I can't remember that far back.

: You can’t, except in the lowest animal sense, be in love with a girl if you know (and keep on remembering) that all the beauties both of her person and of her character are a momentary and accidental pattern produced by the collision of atoms, and that your own response to them is only a sort of psychic phosphorescence arising from the behaviour of your genes.

Hmmm, this is beginning to make me wonder what sense it would make to go around telling moviegoers that they're not really going to witness love and death on the big screen, but only a pattern of light transmitted through a film of molecules, and that their response to that pattern is shaped by their experiences in situations resembling those patterns, etc., etc.

Why must anyone "keep on remembering" that life is full of accidental patterns, any more than one must "keep on remembering" that movies are illusions?

However much we "enter into" a movie while we're watching it, we don't genuinely confuse it with reality. It's an exercise of imagination. We may not consciously reflect that we're using our imagination while we're watching the movie, but at the same time we value the ability to reflect afterward on the experience from the perspective of reality. If you insisted on buttonholing us during the movie and asking us "Is this real?" we might find it annoying that you brought us out of the experience of the film, but we wouldn't be annoyed that we were able to distinguish reality from illusion. I think that very few of us would be content with a philosophy that reduced our interpersonal relationships to imaginative illusions of this sort. Once again, we can't simply dispense with the idea that we ought to be intellectually honest, and anyway if you know something isn't real you can't just pretend that you don't know it, even if you don't value intellectual honesty.

: At that point, there would be no more incentive not to resort to a more omnivorous sort of hedonism.

But would there be any incentive to BE omnivorous with your hedonism?

We have to be careful about making these kinds of declarations. I used to go around telling people that I would be bisexual if I weren't a Christian, but there came a point when I realized that, as logical and provocative as my position may have been, I actually didn't have any interest in men. Or at least, I didn't think I did. I would certainly not say anything as glib as that nowadays.

Sorry, "omnivorous" was a misleading word, perhaps I should have used "free-ranging" instead? I certainly didn't mean engaging in all forms of sexual behavior, I only meant not confining oneself to relations with a single partner. I think that many happily married and faithful heterosexual men who believe in marriage and fidelity and would not dream of cheating given their worldview could at the same time very well understand, if that worldview were to collapse and their former beliefs in the moral structures undergirding their commitment to marriage and fidelity no longer provided the same emotional rewards for that choice, how attractive and even obvious a life of sexual opportunism would appear in the moral wasteland that remains.

: As a point and counterpoint, C. S. Lewis talks about finding the Trinity less aesthetically appealing than either polytheism or "pure" monotheism.

That's fascinating, as Lewis's comments on the Trinity, in The Screwtape Letters particularly, have always shaped my own appreciation of that doctrine. Indeed, I can't remember a time when it didn't seem to me that any God worthy of the name would have to be trans-personal, as it were -- and I think Lewis's comments on the Trinity may have nudged me in that direction.

As you might expect, Lewis's comments in "Is Theology Poetry?" are more nuanced than might appear from my brief remarks. Unfortunately I have no time at present to do them better justice.

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