# The Relevance of the Concept of God

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Syne, Oct 15, 2013.

1. ### BalerionBannedBanned

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Will it? I happen to live in a world of western secular morals, and see no evidence of such a problem. Can you give an example?

But religious morality requires human interpretation to be implemented, so there goes that. Also, any time you have two opposing moral systems, there will be disagreement. That isn't exclusive to one or the other. And citing God's authority doesn't help when the opposition believes in a different God, believes in the same God but a different interpretation of the moral law, or doesn't believe in a God at all.

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5. ### cole greyHiValued Senior Member

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you are specifically saying here that you see no problems with mob rule? So then you have no problem with the morality of a culture that expects elders to walk out into the snow and never return when they are too old to be productive? As long as "we" decide it is "good". Or is it just that you are luckily in the majority instead of the minority? I am saying there is an obvious problem with mob rule that you should see.
A majority of people, right or wrong, believe it is logical to believe in a higher power, usually a Christian or Islam type god.
However, by saying you have no problem with mob rule, you seem to be implying that you are ok with the majority making the decision on what principles they want to use. Or do you actually believe the mob will go against what they believe because a logician says they aren't providing a proof? If the majority wanted women to remain underpaid, and saw this as morally valuable you would say, " that isn't logical" , but your voice would be overruled. I am saying that a person as a minority still has value regardless of the mob's feeling on the matter, and that is an appeal to a "higher" non-votable principle. I agree that it would be nice if we could use logic as an authority but mob rule does not accept higher principles.
your faith in everyone agreeing on what is obvious and or self-evident is not shared. What makes you believe that there is even one principle humans take as self-evident? I wish we could start at the most basic and build from there, always holding on to the first principles, but the most obvious human ideal, "treat other as you would be treated," is certainly not accepted by people in power around the world, even those that are voted in to be representatives.
that has nothing to do with what I said. The mechanism for behavioral complicity is unfortunately, usually, commanded obedience, whether secular or social, as Nietzsche has correctly pointed out in his attacks on both a socialized and a religious lack of personal responsibility. He didn't believe in a secular god any more than he did in a religious one. That is why he was so pissed his ideas were twisted and used by the nazis.

7. ### cole greyHiValued Senior Member

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no, you live in a world where secular and religious morals have blended to create our laws. Let's not pretend we can decipher which morals are originally secular and which are religious. It could be said that you live in a world where religious morals are implemented through secular powers, although I personally would not go that far, because I have great faith in secular interpreters of morality as well as religious ones.
the length of time black people were oppressed in the USA is a good example of a failing of the mob to act morally and insist on protection for the minority. If we were to go back to actual slavery this would be even more obviously a problem, but it isn't necessary to go that far back to find these problems. I guess Tibet would be another example where a higher morality has been abandoned, although it is unclear if the mob is at fault when protesters against the Chinese govt can be killed and people "vote" for those the party accepts.

Of course human interpretation is (purportedly) not the final authority in that case, since god (supposedly) will judge who did the right thing, not priests or neighbors. I already mentioned the idea that there were implementation problems of religious moralities. I am just pointing out that at some point we do need to be able to appeal to some kind of higher authority than the mob if we are going to be moral. Or the mob will have to be a totally different mob than the one we have had for thousands of years.

8. ### CapracusValued Senior Member

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By their very nature, all religions, Buddhism included, embody a mystical prescription for spiritual redemption or final disposition, which is also the operating principle of your concept of god. So tell me again, how do the two essentially differ?

How can a concept of god govern conscience without including god as an element in the concept?

Moral relativism is most notable among the various concepts of god that have come and gone throughout the ages. You should be grateful that cultural evolution weeded out much of the depravity associated with those traditional concepts of god.

9. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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Not at all.

Especially for the sixth stage of moral development - Universal ethical principles - it's hard to imagine such universal ethical principles without also considering that there may be some kind of "higher being" that determines what those are.

That would mean that psychologists (and other neuroscientists and social scientists), especially those that research moral development, are sociopaths ...
I mean really!!

10. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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One of the implications of Kohlberg's theory (which is still one of the main theories of the development of moral reasoning) is that people on a lower stage cannot understand arguments from a higher stage (while those on a higher stage have difficulty relating to arguments from a lower stage). No amount of reasoning and discussion can change this in the foreseeable time.

So, for example, telling a small child that stealing is wrong because it hurts other people or because it is against the greater good, will not have the desired effect of detracting the child from stealing. But telling the child that he'll get caught and punished if he steals, does the job quite well.

Which is why discussing moral reasoning so often leads nowhere, because the stage that the person participating in the conversation is on generally determines what moral arguments they can understand and which they can't.

11. ### BalerionBannedBanned

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I thought we were talking about morality, not law. Of course there are religious laws on the books, and there are plenty of laws that aren't on the books solely because of religious influence. But those laws (and lack of laws) are being corrected steadily by secular moral pressures. I shudder to think of where women and minorities would stand in the west without secularism. Indeed, there wouldn't be a west without secular values.

Certainly not exclusively. Secular morals are also implemented, unless you're suggesting that "it could be said" all of our morals are religious in nature. In truth, we have a mix of both. The secular ideals, however, are the bedrock of our society. Gender and racial equality, freedom of and from religion, freedom of expression; these are things that do not exist without secular influence.

So you see these as instances where a lack of religiosity or adherence to religious morals caused immoral behavior?

You're going to have to justify that one.

Can you give me an example of religious morality being implemented without human interpretation?

Since there are no historical examples of God stepping down out of the clouds and explaining the what, how, and why of his moral system, any appeal to a higher authority is necessarily an appeal to a human interpretation of that authority. In fact, appealing to that higher authority is arguably the leading cause of mobs.

12. ### YazataValued Senior Member

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It does to me too. Pretty clearly the implication in this thread is that people won't behave ethically unless they believe that they are being watched. All earthly forms of morality supposedly fail because they can't guarantee that people are watched 24/7.

If you think that we aren't understanding your idea properly, then perhaps you need to explain it in more detail. You've said several times that you believe that belief in God has something to do with the development of conscience. So how does that work? What do you take the relationship between belief in God and human conscience to be?

13. ### Magical RealistValued Senior Member

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Are you talking about law or morality here? Because the concept of mob rule seems particularly linked to the formation of laws and rules for people to follow. Do I have a problem with a society or culture forming its own laws without a God telling them to? Not at all, seeing that is exactly what has happened in cultures all over the world since the beginning of time. What you fear as "mob rule" I see as a natural democratic process. Centuries upon centuries of prescribed and proscribed behavior based on that society's traditions and values and the evolving majority moral sense. No God is necessary in this process.

Societies base their laws on the majority morality of it's members. That's just a fact. If the majority begins to view women as equals with men deserving of equal pay, then laws will be passed enforcing that. Ask a society why it passed that law and they will not say "because a God commanded them to do it." They will likely cite the basic principle of their morality: "Because women and men are equal." A sort of self-evident logic that in no wise depends on some higher will mandating it as true.

I already cited one principle most societies take to be self-evident: the equality of all persons. Can you tell me in what sense that principle has to be mandated by a higher will in order to be accepted as true? It doesn't. People don't say they believe in equality because God said it. They just accept it as a natural rule of their experience. Just like they do logic.

Are your moral actions REALLY dependent on them being commanded by a higher will? Do you help a stranded driver on the roadside because someone somewhere said that is what you are supposed to do? No..People by and large do the right thing because they sense it to be the right thing. They rationally extrapolate their ethical duties and responsibilities from a core set of values and a few heuristic rules of thumb like the principle of reciprocity (Golden Rule). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuristic And this inner moral sense and practical logic is where our laws came from, not the other way around.

Last edited: Oct 21, 2013
14. ### Magical RealistValued Senior Member

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On the contrary, the majority (what you contemptuously call "the mob") did exactly what you say it didn't do and had a bloody civil war and freed the slaves in accord with the majority moral sentiment of the time. Note this morality, of the equal rights of people regardless of race, was not something derived from religion either. Nothing in Judeo Christian tradition spoke out against the enslavement of other races. It was a moral decision that emerged from the evolving consciousness of our society at large. Noone commanded it. And yet it is globally accepted as true now. How did THAT happen?

15. ### YazataValued Senior Member

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Do they? I don't think that I agree.

I'm not convinced that's true. Human beings possess broadly similar consciences.

But assuming for the sake of argument that it was true, how would belief in a god change things? The same sort of problems remain. If the god doesn't actually exist and doesn't actually speak to everyone in some obvious and objective fashion, then people could project anything that they want into their god's mouth and interpret his will as they see fit. If there are multiple ethnic or cultural gods, then what ensures that they all speak with a single voice?

Even if everyone's moral beliefs are all derived somehow from their religious beliefs, we still seem to have a relativism on our hands, except now it's a religious relativism.

That's not any 'common sense' that I recognize. I think that it's clearly false (and tremendously cynical).

What's the relationship between a fully developed conscience and a highly developed sense of self? It seems to me that on many occasions it's the sense of self with all of its desires and demands that's getting in the way of conscience.

And what's the connection between having a highly developed sense of self and believing in the existence of a god?

I kind of smell implicit Hegelian-derived ideas about the role of 'the Other' lurking behind the scenes.

That sounds Kantian. So, how are 'fully confident objectivity' and 'self-assured justification' different from one another?

I don't understand how believing in one of these concepts is supposed to move us from self-assured justification to fully confident objectivity. If the objects of our religious beliefs needn't actually exist and are just our speculative cultural posits, then where is the objectivity coming from?

The precise list of behaviors that are labeled 'good' and 'bad' does seem to be culture-specific to some extent. (I suppose that one of the things that anthropologists argue about is how much.) The list is even more obviously situation-specific. Behavior that's judged 'good' in one situation might not be nearly as good in a different situation.

But I think that there is a common core of what I've called 'virtues' that seem to exist pretty much everywhere, among all humans in all cultures. People all over the world have some sense of fairness. People all over the world have some sense of reciprocity - the so-called 'golden rule' is found in many places. People all over the world feel empathy and compassion. Courage and self-control are valued pretty much everywhere.

16. ### YazataValued Senior Member

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Germany's wonderful Nietzschesque Fuhrer was a purportedly higher authority who set about creating a new and higher ethics for his Ubermenschen, and he didn't have much problem with declaring entire peoples subhuman and expendible.

I actually trust the judgement of the people as a whole far more than I trust the top-down judgement of would-be elite rulers, people who seek to control everyone else as if they were children or herd them like cattle. I still support the old Athenian-style ideal of bottom-up democracy and believe in the soverignty of the people themselves.

A theistic command-ethics is really just the absolute monarchy principle (or Hitler's Fuhrer-prinzep) written large into the heavens.

It's problematic when there's no consensus on who the heavenly monarch is, on what the heavenly monarch commands us to do, or whether the heavenly monarch even exists.

And there's a deeper and more fundamental ethical problem.

Even if a God does exist up there in heaven, and even if that God makes his presence and commands visible for all to see, with no ambiguity whatsoever - never gonna happen - human beings like ourselves still face the choice of whether to blindly obey God or to exercise our own moral judgement.

Everything always seems to devolve into human beings bleating: "It's my faith!", as if faith answered all questions and resolved all difficulties. (Hitler's acolytes with their stiff-armed salutes were faithful too.)

So what if God pulls another 1Samuel 15, and commands his devotees to commit genocide? We condemn Hitler as illustrating the worst sort of evil, in part because of his 'final solution'. So could people continue praising God as the essence of all good, when he commands us to do the same thing that Hitler is rightly condemned for commanding? Would it be morally defensible for us to do that?

Or would it be morally incumbent on us to draw a line on principle, and to be willing to condemn God himself and refuse to obey his orders, if he violates our deepest moral intuitions?

(That's essentially the same question that the warcrimes trial at Nuremberg put to those who tried to excuse themselves by saying that they were 'only following orders'.)

17. ### cole greyHiValued Senior Member

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a person who commands others to die because he wants their gold is not "nietzschesque." If Germans followed nietzsche's ideas they would not have been controllable, and the nazi party would have been an economic and social group with very limited power.
that is not how we do it in america. It is rule of law by which a small group of people govern based in higher principles. It is not mob rule ochlocracy, and the founding fathers were very clear that it should not be that.
Regarding treatment of blacks it was specifically the interpretation of "separate but equal" laws by the Supreme Court, which demanded equality, which could not be implemented by mob rule in the south. Going further back, entrance into a civil war was also decided by a few people who interpreted higher principles not in accordance with the mob in southern states. The mobs in northern states had already, luckily, decided in favor of civil rights, in accordance with higher principles.
I am not saying the mob doesn't ever choose correctly, that would be a straw man to present towards my ideas. I am also not saying there hasn't been improvement over the centuries. Also, the Jews had laws prohibiting sexual use and abuse of slaves, for one thing, which was ahead of the times. If you want to say this is a problem, because god should have gone further I would agree that this seems like there could have been a more radical difference made, but definitely don't be ignorant and pretend the other societies were so nice and loving and the Jews and Christians were the bad guys about slavery. Slaves could not be kept beyond six years without the slave requesting it. Christian slave treatment depended on this short term oppression to be short term, as it even says "if you are about to become free, do so" basically saying if you have five or less years to suffer, do it, you will soon be free. He was no Martin Luther king of course, but he wasn't as bad as the Romans on this matter. Read up on it and tell me whose slave you would prefer to be between a roman and a Jew or Christian. Romans didn't even consider slaves to be people, long after the Jews gave them obligatory rights.
I would say that ideally we would have an ethical principle, either secular, "do unto others", or religious, "love thy neighbor as yourself" which would be the foundational statement for human interaction. If a priest tells you to violate this, it is quite simple to assume that the priest has gone to the dark side, or whatever, and obey the first principle, rather than falsely attribute that to god asking us to violate first principles, as fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist religious do when they say, "god is evil, because the inquisition" or "the priest told me to kill so that makes it ok." In the bible Jesus says all the laws are subject to one master law, which is "love god and love your neighbor as yourself". Atheists and theists misrepresent that all the time, but it is there, and that one statement cannot be honestly denied or rebutted.

As far as, not being commanded, I am not an anarchist, and don't believe, as they do, that people would act in accordance with good morality if they were just left to choose whatever they wished like gorillas. I wish we could all be relied on to even have higher principles beyond, "feel good", but I don't think we are doing that consistently, therefore we have the legal system. The ideal would be self-control I agree, and not control by others, as I hope to have pointed out by my response to "what about if god asks us to violate higher principles?"

Ps I have tried to address all three posters to my questions in this response by including what I saw as their points to this response, hopefully that worked rather doing two pages of specific replies. If there is anything I didn't address that would further explain my position, I would be happy to do so.

18. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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How come that people, when they are children, start off with punishment and obedience orientation?

How come small children aren't detracted from stealing if they're told that stealing hurts other people or that it is bad for the greater good?

How do you explain that?

19. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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First of all, thank you, but the theory is Kohlberg's, not mine.

I'll address this by first illustrating Kohlberg's stages with a standard evaluation tool - the Heinz dilemma:

Heinz's dilemma is a frequently used example in many ethics and morality classes. One well-known version of the dilemma, used in Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, is stated as follows:

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged$2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?[1] From a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg's theory holds that the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response. Below are some of many examples of possible arguments that belong to the six stages: Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which will mean he is a bad person. Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth$200 and not how much the druggist wanted for it; Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.

Stage two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would more likely languish in a jail cell than over his wife's death.

Stage three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband.
Or: Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he has tried to do everything he can without breaking the law, you cannot blame him.

Stage four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal.
Or: actions have consequences.

Stage five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right.

Stage six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.

From what I understood, the conventional and the post-conventional level differ in that a person on the post-conventional level acknowledges that human conventions are sometimes contradictory, or don't cover all the possible situations that people face in life, hence they are insufficient and a more universalistic approach to justifying actions is necessary.

How does virtue ethics explain the change in a particular person's moral reasoning over time?

For developmental psychologists at least, it is important to explain the development of moral reasoning.

20. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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Why do you think this is a problem? Can you explain?

Again, this is the demigod problem that we've talked about recently already.

Can you explain what is wrong with this?

But it does!

I think most people who were trialed in Nuremberg didn't acknowledge the authority of the court there, this is why they answered with the soldiers' standard "I was just following orders."
I am sure they would reply differently if they were trialed by a court whose authority they acknowledged.

And this relativism is not automatically pernicious. Like the developmental psychologists, and some theologies, we can posit that there are stages of religious moral reasoning.

Whose problem is the distinguishing between the two?
Surely only the problem of those who are jealous of other people's sense of surety.

The ego. And it is a sense of objectivity.

I think the major flaw in your line of reasoning is that you are trying to take people out of the equation, and instead try to solve moral problems in a kind of vacuum - as if moral problems wouldn't be faced by people - people with their egos, their needs, interests and concerns.
The simple fact of the matter is that moral problems - and all other problems - only exist for people, and not in some objective, abstract way that is independent of people.

But they probably differ quite a bit in how those virtues are to be applied.

Last edited: Oct 21, 2013
21. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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Can you say a bit more about why you think that "us vs. them" is "a very problematic and unfair morality"?

22. ### Magical RealistValued Senior Member

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No..America isn't an aristocracy. It is a representative democracy in which the lawmakers and rulers are elected to office by the majority vote of the people. What you advocate is some sort of tyrrany of a ruling class independently deciding what is law and morality for the people. And that clearly is not the case. Or perhaps you'd prefer a theocracy in which a religious body derives it's morality totally from what they interpret as God's revealed will and enforces this morality as the law of the land. See Iran for details on that one.

23. ### Magical RealistValued Senior Member

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You missed my question about your own morality. Is there any right thing you do that you do because you are commanded to do so? Do you help other people because it is commanded by a higher authority? Do you donate to charities because it has been mandated that you do so? Would you intervene in a mugging because you are obeying some law that tells you to intervene in muggings? I don't see how your claim that morality has to be commanded by a higher authority makes any sense. That is certainly not my experience of it, and I doubt it is your's either.