Organized religion isn’t all bad….

A comment made by Les to an earlier entry made me think.  Les noted that fundamentalism isn’t limited only to religion.  I agree with this sentiment quite strongly.  It does seem that some of us non-believers do get a little vitriolic at times, and I think we are sometimes a bit too hasty to reject anything that is proposed by those who are a little more willing to accept things on faith.  This is not to say that I’m suggesting that we stuff reason into our back pocket and go around believing things willy-nilly.  Indeed, nothing can be farther from the truth.  I think anything that is accepted without first surviving the most rigorous tests that we can devise to disprove is nothing more than speculation that is mistaken for knowledge.

This said I would like to get to the topic that is suggested by the title of this entry; namely that organized religions have some underlying virtues.  Now I will admit I’m not an expert on religion but I do enjoy reading and one of my favorite topics is comparative theology so I know a little bit about a few of the major faiths.  In these faiths (Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Mormonism, Reform Judaism, and Quakerism) I’ve noticed some underlying themes that I think everyone can accept whether they accept the more doctrinal claims or not.

First among these is the requirement that we care for our neighbors.  This is something that, from my experience at least, seems that we’re all woefully inadequate at doing.  I would hazard the guess that most of us have no idea who are neighbors are and it would be a snowy day in Sudan before we’d take the time and effort to go next door and lend a hand doing the laundry.  I think this is something that we can all learn from religion.  We do need to take more responsibility for the welfare of those around us.  People are social creatures, and the defining characteristics (evolutionarily speaking at least) of social species is some level of cooperation and altruism (depending on how you define it). 

Second, is the rejection of material excess (this is truer of some religions than others, however, they all reject excessive greed).  This is something that I also think is lacking in our contemporary society.  Indeed, as a friend of mine once noted (though perhaps she stole the quote from a movie, I’m not sure whether such is the case or not) the things we own end up owning us.  I look around and I do see many people who, though they have given up worship of God, fairies and Zeus treat money and random stuff with flashing lights as something that should be put on an altar and prostrated in front of.  I don’t think this is any less silly than sitting in a cave starving yourself and self flagellating to get a little closer to a bearded dude with a toga that lives on a cloud.  Again, this is something that we all can learn from religion; there are other things way more important than gathering crap.

Third, every single religion that I have ever read about places love as the most important virtue.  Love of oneself, love of others, love of your enemies, love of creation (well Buddhists aren’t so stoked about creation or samsara, they pretty much think it’s a crap sandwich with a side of crap), love of donkeys and whatever else you can think of.  As much as it might make me sound like a hippy (don’t worry I don’t smell like patchouli) I think that encouraging love is something that is quite laudable.  If there was a little more love there’d be a little less misery, and as much as I hate to say it, there seems to be a lot of misery out there than can easily be avoided.  People in Africa who can’t afford their AIDS medication, well if we cared for them a little more they’d probably have that medication.  People in the middle-east who constantly have to avoid bombs from terrorists and stray bullets from us, well if we all got along just a tiny bit better that probably wouldn’t be happening either.  Hell, even a little closer to home if we all cared about each other as people we’d have fewer problems with racial tensions, homophobia, and gender inequality.  A little more love might just be what the doctor ordered.

All in all, I think organized religion tends to be a bit scary, a little silly, and not all really for me, but there are a few things that one finds in it that is entirely on the mark.  Maybe instead of always pooh-poohing each other over what we believe (this goes both ways) maybe we should all take five minutes consider what other people think and perhaps accept it if it makes sense.  This said, no one is ever going to convince me that free will and an omnimax deity are compatible.  Such a claim isn’t logically consistent.  However, if you want to tell me that we should take an hour a day and do something that benefits others rather than ourselves because in serving others we serve “God” then maybe you wouldn’t get an argument out of me.  Anyhow, that’s all I have to say.

54 thoughts on “Organized religion isn’t all bad….

  1. I agree.  MrsDOF attends a Mennonite church and they’re a very good bunch of people with values I can endorse.

    Thoreau said; “Men have become the tools of their tools” or something like that.  It could be the inspiration that eventually wound up as your friend’s quote.

    “People in Africa who can’t afford their AIDS medication…”

    It’s so common for African men to visit prostitutes that it is a major factor in AIDS transmission.  If they loved their wives enough to be faithful to them…  The wife and her children become victims to the husband’s horndoggedness.

    Or for that matter, if a man won’t even don a condom to protect his wife…  Sometimes love is an ounce of prevention.

    And yes, once they’re infected, they need medication too – I’m not pullin’ a Falwell here.

    Easy for it to turn into a list of annoying things; if people had more love for their fellow man they wouldn’t speed or tailgate, etc.  But while the teachings of organized religion are usually pretty positive, how often do they filter down to daily cognition?

  2. While I can agree with alot above, I do see this as a difference between spirituality and ‘organized’ religion.

    I am spiritual, but if pressed to define what my religion is, I would have to say I am a Deist; which does not explain anything to 99.9% of humanity.

    All of the values that are mentioned are spiritual values that the churches (crutches?) by and by have ignored, forgotten, or tout when in their best interest.

    Now I am painting with a wide brush here, and acknowledge my own predispositions and prejudices …

    All Organized Religion is not bad, although I have not found many that are not… but statistically there must be some that arent smile

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t those things be part and parcel of being a decent human being, rather than part of an organised religion or belief structure?

    I agree with what you’re saying, it’s just a shame that people need religion to be nice to each other, rather than just being nice people.

  4. Nice article, Schweinchen.  I suspect that we would all have a better impression of organized religion if we had less contact with those representatives who are trying to drag us into their particular fold, or who are trying to suppress other groups.  Interesting how many religions stress being nice to your neighbor, but once you get into the neighbor’s philosophical differences, it all goes to pot REAL fast.

    Check out the Ethical Societies.  To my mind, they keep the good parts and toss out the bad ones.

  5. Although peace, love and goodwill to all men is espoused by organised religions like Christianity, it is often preached more than it is practiced. The amount of death, destruction and misery throughout our history which can be attributed to organised religion is shocking. All the time we hear so-called Christians spewing hate and attempting to restrict the freedoms of others. How much love and compassion do you hear from the likes of Jerry Falwell?

    We should all be striving to be more compassionate, more peaceful, but religion just gets in the way of that.

  6. Yes, nice work, Ferkel.  Many things must be considered, when trying to figure out how we all can live in peace, but it all basically comes down to love, to extending the boundaries of self.

    jamesx said: but shouldn’t those things be part and parcel of being a decent human being, rather than part of an organised religion or belief structure?

    James- how can we expect those things to become part and parcel of being a decent human being, if not through some kind of belief structure, religious or otherwise?  True, we’re not born evil, but we’re also not born decent in this respect-  without “belief structures” (and even with them) our love tends to be limited to the family and tribe, which makes sense in terms of evolution.  Trouble is, we now fill the earth, and we’re well armed; if we don’t learn to recognize that we’re one tribe now, we will continue as we are, destroying each other and destroying the earth that gave and gives us life.

    Religions can help us here, whether organized or not, sacred or secular.  In this sense I consider myself religious: there’s no logical reason to want, for example, blue whales to survive, but it’s important to me.  And despite all our foolishness, it would be a pity if humans died out too.  We need all the help we can get, from atheists and believers alike.

  7. James- how can we expect those things to become part and parcel of being a decent human being, if not through some kind of belief structure, religious or otherwise?

    My apologies, I tend to oversimplify things.

    Looking back on my comment I wish I’d just commented on organised religion and left “belief structure” out of it.

    In hindsight I would say “shouldn’t it be part of everyone’s belief structure to be decent human beings rather than as part of a religious belief?”

    People can be “good” outside of religion.

  8. Using religion to inspire moralistic behavior is a bit like using the invasion of Iraq and the murder of uncounted numbers of innocent Iraqis to illustrate democratic values. In both cases the participants/victims are pawns with no real control over the outcome of the venture and no real understanding of why they will be/ are being sacrificed. The threat and dispensation of force merely indicates the superiority of the punisher/ liberator but does little to explain why this indomitable might has the right to be a threat in the first place.

    In other words, shock and awe tactics are utilized in both situations to bring about acquiescence but, for the defeater, it is destined to be a hollow victory.

    Anytime you choose to threaten someone with death in order to inspire conscientious behavior, whether that death will entail a momentary bit of suffering or burning that never ends, you’ve won the recognition as most threatening but you’ve lost the moral high ground.

    Good entry and thought provoking but aren’t the morals religions claim to be the sources of simply logical observations and advisements dressed up as divine Revelations and mandates.

    Can we get there from here without an angry guide?

  9. I think religion has to many detractors to cast it in a positive light.  While spirituality is a good thing, religion can only serve as a catalyst in achieving or destroying it.

    Most of the violent acts of Christianity have gone by the wayside, but even today it continues to be passively destructive.  IMO, anytime you have a guilt based relationship, in this case god, driving your spirituality there is more potential for harm than good.

    Any religion that has a doctrine built around you must do this or else becomes a breeding ground for resentment or indentured servitude.  So I would say spirituality good, religion, eh, not so good.

  10. This very thing is one of the reasons I’m generally opposed to organized religion. Every religion I was ever personally exposed to presented the doorway into all this goodness ONLY through the religion. In other words, you could be truly good ONLY if you accepted the existence and teachings of the (for instance) Methodist-flavor Jesus. If you were a Presbyterian or a Buddhist or an atheist, you might still well be headed for a flaming hell, good acts or no good acts.

    Religion always seems to me to be a black hole with near-infinite gravity for people’s attention to the subject of goodness. For some people, you can’t talk about, you can’t even THINK about Good without talking about their god first. Goodness gets mixed up with, and polluted by, the sectarian nonsense … because the people trapped in it can’t imagine anything else.

    I just realized I could express the core of my objection in a rough equation: X – R = G

    If you have X amount of energy and attention to give to good acts, and if sectarian religious demands, R, use up some of that energy and attention, you end up with a maximum goodness output of G.

    It sure seems to make sense to me that G has to end up being some lesser value than it could be, in individuals as well as in societies, the more sectarianism sucks up people’s time and energy. Considering that religious people have frequently throughout history produced hugely evil acts, you can clearly see that G can be a negative value.

    This is not because the people of those times and places were bad people, but because they were actually restricted from doing broad good, or commanded to participate in acts of wickedness, by the dominant religious paradigm of their time and place. (Note that I’m specifically addressing religiously-inspired acts of wickedness, and not implying that people can’t be just as mean outside religions.)

    A good example of this less-good-than-possible might be the very existence of churches. The city I live near, Schenectady, New York, has a very large number of huge, imposing churches that tie up shitloads of value just in their soaring stonework-and-stained-glass structures alone, to say nothing of the tax-free land they occupy.

    Sure, people need a place to meet, to get their weekly dose of reminders to be good, but they hardly need these multi-million dollar cathedrals, set on some of the most expensive (and un-taxed) land in the city. Especially considering that, right alongside those structures, poverty and ignorance, environmental destruction and government graft still exist.

  11. As to “spirituality,” I never use the word. It makes me think of bliss-ninnies wearing beads and feathers and gabbling vapidly about Energy and oversouls and such.

    “Spirituality” always seems like Religion-Lite to me, something for people who want all the flavor of religion but half the sectarian calories.

  12. something for people who want all the flavor of religion but half the sectarian calories.

    Love it, Hank. grin

    Geek(and don’t get me started on spiritual carbs)Mom

  13. Interesting post.  As much as I don’t like organized religion, especially when thinking about how much destruction it has caused, I believe that a majority of people cannot think for themselves.

    It is easy for a group of individuals, such as those that write into this site, to espouse their views on how we can be moral without religion (as I believe I can be).  But how many people can behave the same way without the threat of some kind of retribution?

    Let’s not forget that religion in its extreme also produces people like the KKK and people who fly planes into buildings.  As much as many religions teach ‘good’ morals, the extremes of most religions tend to go in the ‘bad’ direction.  The Bible has got to be the most violent book I have ever read.  The god of the Bible does not seem to have much problem killing off those he does not approve of.

    Intestingly enough, I don’t think most people who go to church today are even aware of what their religions are really based upon.  They think the ten commandmants are the primary basis of their morals without even understanding where they come from or what the true punishments are supposed to be.  They think that their church is simply about teaching positive morals and raising their kids the way they were brought up; and perhaps that is all most churches today teach.

  14. Chad,

    I wholeheartedly agree that most people cant think for themselves … if at all, but…

    It is easy for a group of individuals, such as those that write into this site, to espouse their views on how we can be moral without religion (as I believe I can be).  But how many people can behave the same way without the threat of some kind of retribution?

    We have enough threats of retubution… jail, lawsuits, loss of property, loss of life, etc to handle the retribution end of the bargain w/out a religion to scare people…

    Man is scary enough, he does not need to invent gods to further scare the sheeple

    If all religion is is a threat to hell and damnation it would not be something that caught on… there is a carrot with that stick too…

  15. You should all know that there are many Christians who almost never think of hell, yet they’re very decent people.  The media only notices them when they’re protesting a war, or when they show up with tools and lumber after a flood or a fire, but often not even then. 

    My working hypothesis is that they’re decent people already, and they would be regardless of what religion – or non-religion – they had.  Religion isn’t what made them the way they are. Likewise Christian jerks would probably still be jerks if they were atheists, Muslims, or Jews.  It isn’t within the power of a religion to make a jerk into a decent person, or vice versa. 

    We have enough threats of retubution… jail, lawsuits, loss of property,
    loss of life, etc to handle the retribution end of the bargain w/out a
    religion to scare people… 

    The worst threat of retribution for me is having to live with myself.  It doesn’t bother me to think of another person as a lying scumbag, but it would be very painful to have to think of myself that way.  The most reliable way to avoid that pain is to behave in a way that I would approve in other people.

  16. It isn’t within the power of a religion to make a jerk into a decent person, or vice versa.

    Agreed, but it is within the power of religion to focus latent jerkiness and give it scapegoats.

    Or to give jerks reasons to withold their wrath.

    You should all know that there are many Christians who almost never think of hell, yet they’re very decent people.

    Indeed.  Much of the good in the world comes from such people.

  17. When I was young, many years ago, two Buddhist monks visited my home town and I had long conversations with them.  I then found the publications of Paul Carus and his group and read avidly of Asiatic religion.  The most impressive and lasting memories were of reading in early Buddhism (Hinayana) trying to get back before the followers of Siddhartha Gautama made him a deity, which of course is ironic as he warned against belief in such entities. I found his Way and Path to be extremely logical, perhaps difficult. On reading on his life experience I concluded that he was a much more admirable a figure than Jesus..no boasting about being the son of a god, etc. no crap about the Father, no ascending into clouds.
    I liked your review of the main points concerning the Golden Rule, rejection of material excess,and love. That makes for better religion than hatred of unbelievers, disdain for family, and illusions about future life. Buddhism has much to say about these points.

  18. Wow, I’m surprised that anyone had anything to say about this topic.  However, given that people are talking about it I thought I should say something in reply to some of the questions people have asked.

    Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t those things be part and parcel of being a decent human being, rather than part of an organised religion or belief structure?

    I agree, I do think the qualities I discussed should just be something that we strive for independent of what we believe.  I was just noting that not everything that is taught by religious institutions is crap (this is not to say that I think it isn’t mostly crap.  I do think organized religion is fairly silly, but I acknowledge there is some good in religion).

    Although peace, love and goodwill to all men is espoused by organised religions like Christianity, it is often preached more than it is practiced. The amount of death, destruction and misery throughout our history which can be attributed to organised religion is shocking. All the time we hear so-called Christians spewing hate and attempting to restrict the freedoms of others. How much love and compassion do you hear from the likes of Jerry Falwell?

    I completely agree with those sentiments.  I do think that in practice doctrinal religions tend to lead to a whole lot bastardliness.  However, they do say that people should try to be nice to each other.  I was just trying to find some middle ground where the people here (both theistic and atheistic) could find some agreement for the sake of discussion.

    Good entry and thought provoking but aren’t the morals religions claim to be the sources of simply logical observations and advisements dressed up as divine Revelations and mandates.

    Can we get there from here without an angry guide?

    Yes and yes.  I do think that religion is, or at least should be, a superfluous institution.  However, if it takes angry guides and implicit threats to get some people to be nice to each other, I think that’s better than nothing.

    Any religion that has a doctrine built around you must do this or else becomes a breeding ground for resentment or indentured servitude.  So I would say spirituality good, religion, eh, not so good.

    I would agree with that, but I would even question the need for spirituality.  I think people should just recognize some inherent worth of those around them and as such treat one another with respect and consideration.

    Every religion I was ever personally exposed to presented the doorway into all this goodness ONLY through the religion. In other words, you could be truly good ONLY if you accepted the existence and teachings of the (for instance) Methodist-flavor Jesus. If you were a Presbyterian or a Buddhist or an atheist, you might still well be headed for a flaming hell, good acts or no good acts.

    I agree, I think this is why I personally reject religious belief as well.  I tend to think that dogmatism is a sure way to get things wrong and to make poor decisions.

    My working hypothesis is that they’re decent people already, and they would be regardless of what religion – or non-religion – they had.  Religion isn’t what made them the way they are. Likewise Christian jerks would probably still be jerks if they were atheists, Muslims, or Jews.  It isn’t within the power of a religion to make a jerk into a decent person, or vice versa.

    You might be right, it would be nice if there were fewer jerks though. 

    I liked your review of the main points concerning the Golden Rule, rejection of material excess,and love. That makes for better religion than hatred of unbelievers, disdain for family, and illusions about future life. Buddhism has much to say about these points.

    Oddly enough I was raised a Buddhist, and remain a heretical Buddhist onto this day.

  19. I find this kind of funny in that I spend a lot more time proselytizing within my church for the very reason that they often behave worse than many I know outside the church. My favorite spiritual writer is a Quaker, Richard Foster http://www.renovare.org because I see his message as attempting the same from many sources.

    Iambic – [religion] is often preached more than it is practiced. The amount of death, destruction and misery throughout our history which can be attributed to organised religion is shocking

    Chad – a majority of people cannot think for themselves…most people who go to church today are even aware of what their religions are really based upon

    I would modify that to WON’T think, & if you extend that to a time when people couldn’t read, well, you’ve got the violence & greed inflicted in the Catholic church’s name, interestingly at the same time as thinkers like Aquinas, Dante, etc… I see the problem as a failing of education rather than religion.  The intelligencia has never been able to digest things for the common person without corruption by the middle man, & you see this outside religion all the time.  Michael Moore anyone?

    DoF is my HERO!

    Christian jerks would probably still be jerks if they were atheists, Muslims, or Jews

    zilch – it is within the power of religion to focus latent jerkiness and give it scapegoats. Or to give jerks reasons to withold their wrath

    I think the problem more lies within a lack of experience: they were raised culturally around

    Christians who almost never think of hell, yet they’re very decent people

    & would never understand the jerk urges in others, therefore can’t teach them how to struggle with it rather than give into it.  So these jerks see atheists (having probably never met one) as people who just want an excuse to be the kind of jerk the jerkChristian feels restrained from behaving as, so they are jealous.

    Going to what I had proposed on the interconectedness thread…How much of our identity as a being is based on our actions anyway?  My understanding has evolved to be that very little of our identity is created by our actions; they are an outpouring of that identity. Kind of like the visual symptoms of an illness.  Given this, I think DoF’s hypothesis sounds somewhat accurate.  I’ve chosen Christ as a route to the triune omnimax God as revealed in the Bible because it is a way to work out my identity with forgiveness, which I haven’t found extended to me with the support of a community of believers anywhere else.

  20. Umm, let me rephrase, I’ve got access to Christ as route…& I like it better than options without forgiveness.

  21. & would never understand the jerk urges in others, therefore can’t teach them how to struggle with it rather than give into it. (Ellie)

    Not sure if they understand jerkness, but they’re trying to teach the struggle.  The Mennonite church here is involved in the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (which has the attractive acronym VORP,) where criminals and their victims meet in a controlled, mediated situation and try to understand each other.  I’ve never volunteered for that as I’m not sure I have the courage or self-control.  It’s pretty intense stuff.

    I read Foster’s Spiritual Disciplines a long time ago and liked his emphasis on self-mastery over trying to stop other people from sinnin’.  It lines up pretty well with Jesus’ statement; “Take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.” 

    Unfortunately organized religion tends, that is tends to ignore statements like that, and focus on sayings that seem to give them license to harass sinners.

    I think the reason many organized-religious people think atheists can’t be moral is a failure of imagination.  And an analogous failure of imagination affects many atheists whose experience with religious people has mostly been unpleasant.

    If we’re ready to be offended every time anyone mentions God we’ll be offended all the time and religious people pick up on that.

    Religious people generally don’t try very hard to proselytize me because 1) I’m not offended when they try, but 2) it’s obvious they’re just getting nowhere.  Behavior that is not reinforced undergoes extinction. It also helps that I realize all their “Praise God”s and such aren’t usually directed at me.  It’s the cognitive frame they use to give meaning to their experience.

  22. ellie,

    How much of our identity as a being is based on our actions anyway?  My understanding has evolved to be that very little of our identity is created by our actions; they are an outpouring of that identity. Kind of like the visual symptoms of an illness.

    I’m interested with this notion that you introduce, but I’m not sure what you’re asking.  Are you asking if we learn about ourselves, or develop personal or personal narratives, as the result of us somehow watching our actions and drawing conclusions about ourselves?  If that is what you’re asking I find it to be a rather interesting thesis, similar to the views proposed by behaviorists (the philosophical ones not the psychological ones).  As for the answer, I’m not sure where I stand, I’m interesting in hearing what other people think about it though.

  23. It always occurs to me as I hear/read the “free will!” “NO! ILLUSION of free will” debate that the whole thing seems based on an assumption that our actions define us.  Why else would it matter?

    watching our actions and drawing conclusions about ourselves

    sounds somewhat right, although I know those conclusions also somehow affect our future actions.  I don’t know much of behaviorists (defined as such).  It’s something I’m kind of thinking about on my own.

  24. Doh! Correct title of Foster’s book that I read is Celebration of Discipline

    A person is “defined” by whatever one chooses to define them by.  The crux of politically correct speech is not to define a person by some externality*. But people are often defined by occupation (“Bob is a plumber”) and how one pays the bills is certainly an externality. 

    Then there’s social roles and relationships (“My husband/wife” or “Our minister,” which combines occupation and relationship.)  Or action, as Ellie suggests (“The gunman”) and then dozens of combinations of every imaginable kind.

    A more crucial distinction is whether one settles comfortably into definitions provided by others, bristles at unwelcome definitions used by others, or charts a course based on definitions of one’s own choosing.  And, how significant those definitions are, and to whom.

    *(PC speech restrictions are plain idiotic, based on the hyper-sensitive notion that all definitions are bestowed by others. Use one word and you’re OK – another and you’re in violation of policy.  In neither case are your intentions revealed.  Is it possible to insult a self-defined person?)

  25. DoF said:  The Mennonite church here is involved in the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (which has the attractive acronym VORP,) where criminals and their victims meet in a controlled, mediated situation and try to understand each other.

    Now that takes moral courage.  Bravo Mennonites.  This is somehow a lot more impressive than fundies telling us we’re going to burn in Hell…

  26. I finally decided the free will/no free will issue settles in some middle ground. Free will is POSSIBLE to humans, but most of us don’t manage it, because it’s a lot of work. Far easier to just relax and live by patterns and formulas that someone else lays on us.

    I think of Reason in the same way. It’s an attribute of the human species, and thus possible to most of us, but very few actually do it, or do it for any length of time. Because it’s hard to learn, and takes a considerable amount of effort to do. Much easier to do what advertisers, or our culture, or the “cool” people, or Brother Falwell, etc., tells us to do.

    What’s so disturbing to me about all this is this other idea I have: If you live your life wholly by patterns handed to you by someone else, it’s kinda like you’re not really there. There’s a human body there, and there’s definitely complex stuff going on in its head, but there’s no unique SELF there. It’s just a bunch of patterns.

  27. Hank, why can’t everyone just be a unique bunch of patterns?  What’s wrong with that?  I seriously doubt there’s anything new under the sun …

  28. Hank, could you check out & comment on my recent post in the “interconnectedness of things?

  29. I think the reason many organized-religious people think atheists can’t be moral is a failure of imagination.

    I disagree, but I may be operating from a false mental model.  I don’t think organized-religious people think that atheists can’t be moral.  It’s clear that they can, and many of them do, but the question is – why?  Why seek the good of others to the detriment of self?  And worse, if there’s no standard against which to define moral behavior, then how can you judge what is moral, and what is not? Can’t everyone pick their own, differing standards? 

    I actually just wanted to post my favorite quote, from a dear friend, “That church would be just perfect if it weren’t filled up with those durn people.  It’s the people that are always messing things up.”

  30. Kelly,

    Why seek the good of others to the detriment of self?  And worse, if there’s no standard against which to define moral behavior, then how can you judge what is moral, and what is not? Can’t everyone pick their own, differing standards?

    I think the answer to the first question is “math”.  There are more people who are others than the one that is yourself.  As such in terms of maximizing the good, the more you serve the needs of others before yourself, the more good you bring to the world.  Now the most ideal circumstances allow you to do good for yourself while you are doing good for others.

    Regarding your second question, I think the answer is easy.  I think what is moral is what is compassionate.  The right thing to do in any circumstance when you are unsure is the one that is done with the intent to help others.  Now, I will grant that good intentions sometimes lead to bad consequences, however, that is true whatever fixed moral standards you hold.  Moreover, the notion of compassion isn’t a rigid set of rules that don’t account for extenuating circumstances, it allows you to make judgments that are situationally approriate.

    As for your third question I have several replies.  The first is a question directed at you, why should we choose one religious standard over another?  Despite the fact that there are distinct similarities in the more general cases (as I noted in my original post) there are also many differences when it comes to the moral details between various religions.  For example, most Anglicans (in Canada at least) argue that it is our obligation to extend our compassion and love to homosexuals, while say Southern Baptists think it’s wrong to extend anything towards gays except for 2x4s (or maybe axe-handles).

    The second reply is why must be have a single standard at all for morality?  What’s wrong with having a more flexible notion of morality that accounts for new things that we learn.  For example, if we thought it was okay before to mistreat and abuse animals because we thought they didn’t experience pain (as was the case up to the early 20th century) and then we later realized that they experience pain just as we do should we not be able to adjust our moral standards to reflect this?

  31. Pig oinked: I think the answer is easy.  I think what is moral is what is compassionate.  The right thing to do in any circumstance when you are unsure is the one that is done with the intent to help others.

    Swine, what you said, and nicely put.  However, I must disagree with your claiming the answer is easy.  The ideal of helping others is simple, but how to set it into practice is not often easy.  That’s one reason religions differ- there’s no one obvious way to run a society, even given the same ideals (say, love one’s neighbor).

    Kelly’s question:

    if there’s no standard against which to define moral behavior, then how can you judge what is moral, and what is not?

    is a good one, and it has no simple answer.  That’s part of the attraction of religion: it offers simple answers to this question, answers that are workable enough to build societies, warts and all.

    That’s one reason we have religions- they organize people into successful societies, which promulgate their beliefs, one way or another.  Religions evolve as organisms do, and accrete rules and defense mechanisms that keep them competitive in the ideosphere.  As I’ve said before, even atheists need religion, in the sense of rules or morals or ideals that are irrational.  The difference is that the believers believe the rules to come from the top down, and the atheists say the rules evolve from the bottom up.

  32. zilch,

    However, I must disagree with your claiming the answer is easy.  The ideal of helping others is simple, but how to set it into practice is not often easy.

    Yes, I should have been a little more careful with the way I put it.  I was only trying to suggest that the answer itself is easy to come by, namely the obvious answer to the question is that you should do what’s compassionate.  However, it is true that doing what is compassionate, or figuring out what is the compassionate thing to do can be very difficult indeed.

  33. Southern Baptists think it’s wrong to extend anything towards gays except for 2x4s (or maybe axe-handles)

    I take exception to that.  I don’t currently attend a Southern Baptist Church, but I did for the last 2 years before I moved.  A very good friend of mine is gay.  While I understand your point that they are the least tolerant denomination (next to Catholics) of homosexuality, they in no way endorce violence.  This is much like the misconception that there is some direct link between Protestants & the KKK.  I think there’s a direct link between Sadaam & Al-Queda, so I’m not going to use that example, but if that’s true then we can blame Buddhism for eco-terrorism in Maryland.  Once again, violence stems from a lack of education, not an excess of a faulted religion.

  34. While I understand your point that they are the least tolerant denomination (next to Catholics) of homosexuality

    Except in their Priests of course

    :::runs and ducks:::

  35. While I understand your point that they are the least tolerant denomination (next to Catholics) of homosexuality, they in no way endorce violence.  This is much like the misconception that there is some direct link between Protestants & the KKK…
    – Ellie

    First, you are right that violence in any setting is usually the extremists.

    And also right that the Baptists don’t endorse violence – officially – and it would be uncommon to hear a church male suggest it on church grounds, or in the presence of a female. 

    (‘fore anyone gets their political correctness up, try hanging out in Bible-believin’ churches for a while and pay particular attention to how women and men communicate in the church context.  And to the roles they play.)

    I am curious if you have had the opportunity to overhear males outside of church grounds discussing male homosexuality when they think you’re not within earshot.  A rare circumstance, I admit.  But you might hear violent suggestions that would shock you.  Not everyone, of course; but a lot of guys.

  36. I was just thinking of Fred Phelps, isn’t he a southern baptist minister that constantly calls for violence against gays?  Now I know that one person shouldn’t be considered as representative of an entire group, but then again I rarely hear baptists condemning the views and actions of Phelps.

  37. Oh, as for the Buddhism eco-terrorism thing, I’m not sure how you’re drawing that connection.  Buddhism says nothing about environmental activism, the closest view to the requirement to protect the environment is the requirement not to kill any sentient creature.  So yes, Buddhism says you can’t kill animals, but how does it lead to or encourage eco-terrorism?  I haven’t even heard anything about environmental activists and eco-terrorists being Buddhist (indeed, Buddhism doesn’t particularly encourage those kinds of sentiments, considering that Buddhists view this world as a sort of purgatory, not something to be treasured).

  38. DoF hit on the reasons (besides moving) that I no longer attend there.  Many individual good friends, but an overall discomfort with the combination of breasts & questioning in political matters.

    Often I would be a part of the conversations especially since they would also talk to me about my friendship with a gay guy.  I actually brought up Phelps & their assumption was that it didn’t need to be pointed out how obviously wrong he is.  They definitely judged that it all shows a childish preoccupation & curiosity over sex & the Oedipal complex going awry based on a lack of positive strong male presence, etc. (based on little to no direct personal experience, of course).  The pastor of that church himself had issues when his foster daughter had an affair with her female teacher. & the speech he gave in court!  You saw free-will go out the wiindow pretty damn quick!  My grandpa is a pretty firm guy, & even though he has attends Quaker & formerly Baptist non-denominational churches, he was always very harsh with my uncle, (who’s gay, yet also severlely mentally/ethically troubled: he’s been under the county’s care for ander management).  Even I myself don’t try to base much off simply my best friend & my uncle, they are two individuals on opposite sides of the spectrum in a likely diverse population.  The pastor of a church in the town I used to teach at had a 20 yr. long partnership, but they were so far off on so many other theological issues I couldn’t really accept their practice as Christian.  I approach it like obesity or alcoholism, both of which I’ve struggled with in small degrees, & been friends with those who truly struggle: sin’s sin & mine’s the only one I should get violent with.

  39. Exactly my point, SS, you proved the analogy is valid.  The connection is so nearly invisible, it’s a silly connection to attempt between Christianity & the KKK.  I can see the cultural surroundings condoning the KKK, but the teachings of Christianity leading to it?

  40. You think obesity is a sin?  You have to be a little more accepting of yourself.  It’s not like you intentionally try to gain weight.  However, back to the point of the discussion, now it seems from your most recent post that not only do baptists tend to be somewhat homophobic they’re sexist as well.  I’m not sure you’re making such a good case for the baptists.

    They definitely judged that it all shows a childish preoccupation & curiosity over sex & the Oedipal complex going awry based on a lack of positive strong male presence, etc. (based on little to no direct personal experience, of course)

    The above makes it seem that baptists implicitly believe that homosexuality at best is some sort of mental disorder or illness.  Though that isn’t as bad as some people treat homosexuality, it definitely isn’t a sign of acceptance.

    The pastor of that church himself had issues when his foster daughter had an affair with her female teacher.

    Now I can understand being upset that your child had an affair with their teacher.  However, it seems that the emphasis here is with the gender of the people involved, not the fact that one was a teacher and the other a student.

    My grandpa is a pretty firm guy, & even though he has attends Quaker & formerly Baptist non-denominational churches, he was always very harsh with my uncle, (who’s gay, yet also severlely mentally/ethically troubled: he’s been under the county’s care for ander management).

    Here’s a baptist who is “harsh” with a mentally ill person because they’re gay.

    The pastor of a church in the town I used to teach at had a 20 yr. long partnership, but they were so far off on so many other theological issues I couldn’t really accept their practice as Christian.

    I assume from context that the pastor is gay, so the one gay person whom you directly mention, you mention as a bad Christian. 

    It seems there is a underlying rejection of homosexuality in your post even if there isn’t a rejection of homosexuals.

    As for the sexism, I think that’s evident in the line which said:

    Many individual good friends, but an overall discomfort with the combination of breasts & questioning in political matters.

    Why should it matter what sex you are when it comes to expressing your political views.  The fact that it does matter seems to be a pretty clear indication that sexism is alive and well.

  41. ellie,

    I never connected Christianity with the KKK, I just said that baptists seem to me to be vehemently opposed to homosexuality.  I did talk about the 2×4 and the axe-handles, but that was taken from several incidents of violence against gays that were perpetrated by southern-baptists (with the express approval of people like Rev. Fred Phelps).

  42. Um … The KKK is a Christian organization. I don’t know of direct connections to any specific church, but they’re 100% Christian. This is not some coincidence, either, it’s a cornerstone of their identity. I’d be very surprised if every single member of the KKK, however few of them still exist, didn’t self-identify as a Southern Baptist.

    And before you go saying they’re not real Christians, look up the “No True Scotsman Fallacy.” Doesn’t matter whether other Christians want them in the fold or not, if they call themselves Christians, they’re Christians.

    You CAN be a Bible-believing Christian and a hateful racist idiot (and worse). I grew up in Texas and Alabama, and they were anything but rare.

  43. I wanted to address something SS said:

    I was just thinking of Fred Phelps, isn’t he a southern baptist minister that constantly calls for violence against gays?  Now I know that one person shouldn’t be considered as representative of an entire group, but then again I rarely hear baptists condemning the views and actions of Phelps.

    Phelps is truly an asshat, but not hearing many Baptists condemn him doesn’t mean you should assume they condone him either. There are plenty of asshat atheists out there that I don’t make a point of condemning either through ignorance or lack of desire to give them any more attention than they’re already getting. It would be a mistake to assume that means I secretly condone their actions.

  44. Nicely put, Les.  My grandma Hattie was a Baptist from Missouri, and one of the nicest people I have ever known.

  45. Les,

    Point taken, I admit that I might be painting in too broad of swaths.  However, it just seems to me that the problem extends further than Fred Phelps, even if Phelps is the most egregious example of religion based homophobia.

  46. I suppose gluttony/laziness would be the sin, w/ obesity as a result.

    Anyway, I do accept the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, to clear that up, but in practice, don’t judge it any harsher than the sins I’m guilty of myself.  My Grandpa is NOT a baptist, & harsh in general.

    Yup, you got baptists in general right, it’s why I’m not one.  Thanks for the point, Les & zilch.  But I was merely trying to point out that judgement, sexism, & discomfort are a far step from outright violence & murder.  Kind of like the difference between me being somewhat lazy when I get home from a day of work & eating comfort food to the teacher down the hall who is 670 lbs & has taken to a cart to move at all, eats all day long, & plans to retire so she can be bedridden.

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