Monday, 16 April 2007
Beware of flying folders
For the past week I've been struggling with an assignment on the Bible and ethical decision making. The Bible and what? Back in WCG days I can't recollect the word 'ethics' appearing anywhere. I guess the closest thing was the Meredith booklet on The Ten Commandments. I even checked the infamous STP. Ethics are missing in action.
I think most of my ethical struggles in those days - at least conscious ones - were about food. Could there be ham in that sandwich? All the big issues were deferred to the powers that be. One size solution fits all: just do what the church says!
In any case, I've come close to turfing the study guide out of the window more than once over recent days. I'm not sure the Bible has anything relevant to say about ethics at all. The track record of Christians generally is hardly impressive. Lest anyone think the COG tradition is different, remember back to the days of D&R when families were split up.
The Bible can and has been used to promote slavery and oppose slavery, to promote anti-Semitism and oppose anti-Semitism, to promote capital punishment and also oppose it. Prohibition, Sunday laws, military service, you name it. The Bible is a marvelously malleable weapon in anyone's culture war.
In New Zealand at the moment there's a huge debate going on over whether parents should be able to smack their kids (corporal punishment.) As usual the fundamentalists are up in arms, waving their Bibles and quoting scriptures in defense of their God-given right to belt the devil out of their progeny. At the other end of the spectrum non-fundamentalist Christians generally support a change in legislation that would give kids exactly the same protection adults have. It's a debate that has the community cleanly divided, and a lot of tempers frayed.
I notice that Samuel Martin, son of the late Ernest Martin and the guy in the picture, has a book out on the spanking issue. In one of those "isn't it a small world" moments I also noticed that it's been endorsed by my sister's Presbyterian minister. Hmm.
In any case, after a week of hard labor, I at last have a draft up even if it is completely unreadable. Even better, the study folder hasn't ended up in the hedge or crashing on top of the neighbour's cat.
But there's still time, still time...
Addendum: It's been pointed out that the impression might be given that Samuel Martin's book is pro-spanking. Absolutely not, as the link makes clear. I haven't read the book, but on the strength of what's available online it seems to be a valuable contribution to the debate from someone who has some real insight on the issue. If anyone has read the book and wants to provide a review, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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There are three rules of ethics:
1) Don't get caught;
2) If you do get caught, Human Resources will act mystified and declare that they have taught you ethics courses and can't understand your unethical actions;
3) When those in positions of authority are caught, Human Resources will manufacture plausible deniability to justify the behavior [note that underlings will be dealt with and not have the support of management or Human Resources].
As long as no one is caught, unethical behavior is not observed and does not resolve itself one way or another until observed. When behavior is observed, it will resolve to either being ethical or unethical, but up to that point it is neither and it is both: This is known as Quantum Ethics.
It would just seem to me that those of us who believed in 1975 in Prophecy and lived to 1975 and past and still accepted the prophecies of 1975 in Prophecy without recognizing Herbert Armstrong as being a false prophet, would be completely dysfunctional in the realm of ethics, completely devoid of being able to make ethical choices.
After Ethics I and Ethics II classes where I work, it is clear that the five bases of ethics should be considered depending upon the situation, with "the end justifies the means" basis being the least useful as an ethical determination. Unfortunately, it appears that the church of gods routinely uses that basis on whatever laughingly passes for an ethical basis these days.
I have the working theory that the ethical basis known as "conscience" must be formed in childhood prior to adolescence, whatever the conscience is. Otherwise, talking about right and wrong, good and evil is a lot like explaining rainbows to earthworms -- which, in my mind, explains a lot of arguably unethical behavior of the church of gods, such as stalking and fondling, lying and stealing and those thing which are deemed to be the works of the flesh, rather than the fruit of the Spirit.
Those without empathy are narcissists and those without empathy and conscience are deemed to be psychopaths. If ever there were a need for an ethical basis for dealing with narcissists and psychopaths, it would be now, for no one seems to have a good means to do so. Perhaps the best we could achieve is to come up with standards to deal with narcissists and psychopaths, rather than discuss ethics.
Before we completely deconstruct the inner “Quantum Ethics” of the WCG, a few general thoughts about ethics may be in order.
The relationship between religion and ethical morality goes back to the earliest history of mankind. Until modern times this relation was generally taken for granted, and writers as far different in philosophy as Plato and Avicenna, or in theology as Aquinas and Luther, never questioned the basic truth expressed on Mount Sinai, when Yahweh gave the Jews a decalogue whose first precepts were to honor God as a foundation for the secondary precepts of the moral law.
But something new has entered the stream of human thought, a concept of man's autonomy that wishes to dispense with religion in its bearing on morals, on the grounds that the very notion of religious values is only a mental construct. Whatever bearing they may have on ethical principles, it is not as though the acceptance of God was a necessary condition for being moral in the current, accepted sense of the term. When Julian Huxley boldly proclaimed in his Religion Without Revelation that he knew nothing of a personal Deity be he Yahweh, or Allah, or Apollo, he was saying more than meets the eye. "I am not merely agnostic on the subject," he insisted, "I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that phrase is ordinarily used." His protest was born of a conviction that the practical effect of theism is to stultify human effort. Where Pelagius denied the existence of grace because he felt this encouraged lazy dependence on supernatural aid, latter day critics of religion would remove the existence of God for the same reason – except that their Pelagianism is more complete, perhaps because their confidence in Man is so extreme.
It is axiomatic in the Christian faith that religion and morality cannot be separated, at the risk of destroying the essence of moral conduct and leaving man's will a prey to his passions and unreasoning drives. To the casual reader the hard supercessionist answer of Christ to the questioning Pharisees may seem like a platitude. They asked Him, "Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?" He told them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, That is the greatest commandment. It comes first. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything in the Law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments."Behind his statement stands the ethical system of Christianity, whose prior concern is with the things of God, on the premise that everything in the moral order derives meaning only from Him.
Religion means different things to different people. It has been loosely defined as that which holds the inner loyalty of a man. He may be fundamentally loyal to himself alone (an egoist), to the crowd he is with (the herd instinct), to his country (as a good citizen), to an abstract idea of man's welfare (the humanist), to some conception of God (a theist), to God made known to us in His divine Son Jesus Christ (as a Christian). Whatever engages a man's inner loyalty is said to be his religion, unless he cares nothing about anything, a nihilist; but then he is worth only what he believes, nothing. For everyone is what he is by virtue of what he believes.
Christianity has always maintained that truth, while necessarily involving mind, is not made or created by human mind. It discovers truth; it does not fabricate it. Where is the ultimate source of what it discovers? It is in the Mind of God. Truth abides first in the divine Intelligence, which conceives eternally the ideas of what it creates. It is secondly found in things outside of God, since these were brought out of nothing in conformity with these Eternal Ideas. And thirdly truth passes into human knowledge when it represents things as they really are.
The bearing of these principles on morality is profound. It lies at the basis of the Christian claim that moral principles are unchangeable, and that relativism in ethics is a contradiction in terms.
If anything is obvious in moral science it is the need for passing judgment on what actions are good and what are bad, and correspondingly which conduct is right and which wrong. To pass judgment, however, calls for some norm or criterion by which the mind can recognize the good and then will choose accordingly. Otherwise morality would be nothing but caprice, and ethics only a name. Two kinds of moral "measuring rods" are conceivable: a proximate norm which stands nearest the human will and directly teaches it what is right and wrong, and an ultimate standard beyond which no further principle of ethical discrimination is possible. On both counts, God as the Author of creation and of man's nature is quintessential.
Religion also defines the scope of morality and identifies the first of man's duties in the moral order: It is an incredible prejudice among certain ethicists that they will write volumes on morality and never so much as recognize that our first obligations are towards God. Underlying this prejudice is the most devastating mental inversion of modern times, the claim that not God but man stands at the center of the universe. It deserves careful consideration.
"I'm not sure the Bible has anything relevant to say about ethics at all."
Not even the bit about the primacy of conscience, or the moral law that is written on every human heart?
So, JH, if I understand your lengthy discourse properly, ethics boils down to one word: Accountability. After all the shouting and waving of arms, in this view, it boils down to accountability to whom?
If your premise is correct and if I am correct in divining the nature of your premise, the framework of ethics depends upon our allegiance: God, society, family, neighbor, the corporation for whom we work, our local church, self, our cat....
In a sense, once we select the "whom" to which we are accountable and the framework in which we operate to assure compliance to be accountable, we are servants to that set of ethics we have established for ourselves. In a sense, we are slaves to the path of ethics we to which we are committed.
The ultimate harm, then, would be to be influenced to violate the very ethical standards to which we are committed: If we violate our "conscience" knowingly and deliberately, we fragment our very being. The human condition is to routinely compromise our principles in order to comply with unanticipated deviations from our "ethics". In "Moral Mazes" Robert Jackall in his investigation of what constitutes morality within a corporation discovered that the corporate view is that executives were to leave their morals and ethics at the doorstep of their homes and churches and that what is right and moral is what the guy above you wants from you. Thus it is that we have created the "psychopath by day" in which a CEO will pollute the land, water and air, oppress workers and be otherwise a jerk and then return home at night to be a loving husband and father and recycle. This is known as "compartmentalization" and is known to be destructive in the sense of fragmenting personality.
The WCG and XCGs are a special case: Loyalties are to following and elevating a single man or narrowly defined group of men to whom one is accountable is paramount. Nothing else matters, not even God. Perceptions are manipulated to create a peculiar type of idolatry in which people unwittingly worship the church structure in which the ethical basis chosen is not the golden rule, not Deontological, Teleological or Virtue Ethics, but the end justifies the means ethic.
In such a venue, emphasis may seem to be placed on a focus upon adherence to independent moral rules or duties or focus on the consequences which any action might have or focus on helping people develop good character traits, such as kindness and generosity, but the real focus is supporting the narcissism of the leadership in what it wants above all other considerations. It would be difficult to deny the outrageous results we have all come to experience over the years by this particular focus, and conveniently explains -- employing Occam's Razor -- the results in the form of failed organizations and bad fruit.
It should be clear that it is prudent to choose one's basis for ethics carefully for the long term sustainable impact it will have on our lives and others.
I do not believe that the Bible is malleable. I do not doubt that it has been treated as if it were malleable by whichever vested interested happened to come along.
The Bible sets out a cohesive ethical stance but not in the form of an Ethical Code with a flowery border around it. The ethics of the Bible require discovery. The operative force behind Biblical Ethics is Love.
The Bible does not condemn slavery, for instance. Paul could have easily done so in Philemon but he did not. But my Quaker ancestors manumitted all of their slaves because the recognized the general theme of the Bible stood against it.
Yet some Southerners in the old WCG felt that there was no reason to be ashamed of the South's history of slavery because the blacks are descended from Canaan and these people were prophesied to be slaves. While they can quote chapter and verse, they have not the Love of Christ in their hearts that would permit them to impart the proper meaning to scripture.
It is odd that these latter day Confederates would resurrect and old and tattered argument after many leaders contemporary to the Civil War concluded that it was a punishment on the USA for the institution of slavery. That generation of people back then seemed to have learned a lesson that some of their fundamentalist descendants have rejected.
I was sitting in Faculty Dining at AC Big Sandy one day at a table with David Robinson. We had just seen a student assembly arranged by Murdock Gibbs. The assembly speakers were Afro-Americans. Robinson started off by hollering across the dining room to some of the top administrators at BS, who had just walked in, "Old Bob Lee didn't work hard enough." This was a reference to the fact the Robert E. Lee lost the war and the cause of slavery was defeated. Something that David Robinson apparently felt was a tragedy. (And he did not suffer the fate of Don Imus for making this reference. He fell out of favor only when he attacked HWA.)
I do not know a lot about David Robinson's ethics but I think if the WCG had created and published a statement of ethics, it would have been the most controversial publication ever to be issued. It would not be Christianity in theory, which can be easily contained and interpreted in a self-interested way, but Christianity in practice. Any study of ethics is conspicuously absent from the WCG publications.
A more or less, somewhat biased, complete outline for Ethics can be found at Ethics.
Hope it helpful.
"I was sitting in Faculty Dining at AC Big Sandy one day at a table with David Robinson. We had just seen a student assembly arranged by Murdock Gibbs. The assembly speakers were Afro-Americans. Robinson started off by hollering across the dining room to some of the top administrators at BS, who had just walked in, "Old Bob Lee didn't work hard enough." This was a reference to the fact the Robert E. Lee lost the war and the cause of slavery was defeated."
Just one question on this hopefully 'open' forum. Is this the same David Robinson who accused Armstrong of incest? I think I smell a rat and a racist one at that.
“So, JH, if I understand your lengthy discourse properly, ethics boils down to one word: Accountability..”
Reducing the field of ethical thought down to one word is a tall order. Ethics can be thought of as a scientific treatment of the moral order. The field of ethical thought can be further divided into religious ethics, or moral theologies or the great religious traditions (including Christian ethics) and philosophical ethics (moral philosophy). What is usually understood by ethics is philosophical ethics, or moral philosophy.
Religion has been defined loosely in terms of what holds the inner loyalty of a man (or allegiance, to use your term). In terms of a moral ethic, the last two objects I listed as having the sense of inner loyalty of a man were “to some conception of God (a theist), to God made known to us in His divine Son Jesus Christ (as a Christian).” Only the last two are valid in the Christian scheme of reality. Unless the notion of a personal God is included, religion is not only a misnomer, it is a parody.
Yet there is prevalent in modern thought the idea that people can be religious, and therefore moral, without believing in any religion in the sense of accepting an objective and transcendent Deity. In other words, God does not exist except as the projection by our imagination of those non-objective ideals which guide our conduct. While the idea of God is not real, therefore, since it is created by the fantasy, it is not illusory because it serves the purpose of idealizing our hopes and desires.
Consistent with this doctrine of naturalism, philosophers in the tradition of Feuerbach and Freud inveigh against the idea of religion – any religion – which pretends to represent man's relations with an objective and personal Supreme Being. They introduce a distinction between religion and religious which has become classic. Projected ideals of conduct are religious, but there is no warrant for religion, since there is no extra-mental God for religion to worship. Any activity, according to them, pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of a conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality.
The roots of this subjectivist theory are not old. They date from the revolt against the perennial philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, for whom being and its transcendentals measure thought. For the moderns it is thought which measures being and its transcendentals, including goodness and truth.
For Aristotle and St. Thomas, mind is a clean slate on which reality writes. Nothing can be in the mind unless it was first in the senses and therefore in objective reality. As far as man is concerned, mind is not the measure of reality. Reality exists even though it never enters into a finite mind. And even when reality does measure mind, it is in no way modified in the process. Only the subjective counterpart or image is affected.
A great deal of ethical thinking inverts this order of mind and being. It makes mind a measure instead of the thing measured. Both Idealism and Empiricism agree in this revolution which was sparked and mainly determined by the writings of Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804): reality is to some extent the product of mind. Not unlike the Athman of the Hindu Brahmins, for whom Self is the center of the universe, the facets of reality are only reflections of the Ego. And how does the mind measure reality? Either by using the a-priori categories native to the mind (Idealism), or by practical forms arising from need and utility (Empiricism). The first is the modern version of Kant's First Critique, of Pure Reason; the second of his Second Critique, of Practical Reason.
Even Immanuel Kant, who denied that the mind can arrive at a theoretical demonstration of God's existence, admitted that the moral law postulates a Deity. He argued that the imperative nature of the moral law implies there exists somewhere a good which is not only supreme but complete (consummatum), an embodiment, so to speak, of that perfect holiness which is the sum of all the conditions implied in the moral order. Thus, while theonomic ethics (law deriving from God) supposes the existence of God, autonomic morality (law based on oneself) proves His existence. For all his stress on the autonomous will as ethical imperative, Kant did not divorce morality from reference.
“ In a sense, once we select the "whom" to which we are accountable and the framework in which we operate to assure compliance to be accountable, we are servants to that set of ethics we have established for ourselves. In a sense, we are slaves to the path of ethics we to which we are committed.”
Within the framework (moral theology or religious ethics) of Christianity, we are accountable to the God of the bible. Special ethics applies the principles of general, or theoretical, ethics to the various relations of man, and thus deduces his duties in particular. General ethics teaches that man must do good and avoid evil, and must inflict injury upon no one. Special ethics descends to particulars and demonstrates what is good or bad, right or wrong, and therefore to be done or avoided in the various relations of human life. Applied ethics, as the name implies, consists of the application of normative ethical theories to practical moral problems. As Gavin suggests in part, applied ethics can range the gamut from thorny personal and family level problems to societal (e.g., abortion, corporal punishment, spanking, divorce and remarriage) to corporate (business ethics, environmental ethics, corporate social responsibility) to social policy (ending colonialism, just wars, national socialism and holocaust, human rights, nuclear arms proliferation, combating terrorism).
“The ultimate harm, then, would be to be influenced to violate the very ethical standards to which we are committed: If we violate our "conscience" knowingly and deliberately, we fragment our very being. The human condition is to routinely compromise our principles in order to comply with unanticipated deviations from our "ethics".”
Our entire world is fragmented. The result of our condition after the Fall is our further need of grace to keep even the fundamentals of the moral law for any length of time. Pelagians (and their modern counterparts in the churches of god) would naturally claim that we have both the physical and moral power to keep the whole law, on their assumption that original sin (if it occurred) did not directly affect anyone but Adam. Indeed on their principles we could avoid all sin, even the slightest, for a lifetime, if only we put our wills to it, since the main source of our weakness in moral matters is the ravages of inherited sin, which the Pelagians simply deny. Falling short of perfection, violating the conscience, “sinning” if you will - does harm, fragments and separates us from God. If we violate our "conscience" knowingly and deliberately, we fragment our very being.
Jackall discusses occupational morality in the management setting. He theorizes corporate bureaucracy resembles a king's court (WCG?) more than a meritocracy. According to Jackall, the essential work of a manager is not management but constantly making the right friends and adopting the correct corporate posture. Such a judgment is about the most effective way to survive in the organization, but does not pretend to be a statement about what is morally/ethically justified. It may be important to examine such codes of behavior and see how they affect the opportunities for moral action, but not every code of behavior has, or is even claimed to have moral/ethical justification. The term "moral" tends to be used for more practical elements, such as "moral problems" and "moral beliefs", and "ethical" tends to be used for more abstract and theoretical elements, such as "ethical principle", but the distinction is by no means hard and fast. Some philosophers and theologians have drawn a distinction between the moral and the ethical.
If we ask, then, why we approve certain actions as morally good, the answer must be that we perceive them as rightly directed to their true end. They are seen as conformable to this divinely established order of things – ultimately to the nature of God and proximately to our natures, created after His image and likeness. Remove God from the premises and we make goodness anything the human mind conceives to be good, subjectively and apart from reality; and evil becomes whatever the autonomous intellect of man decides is disagreeable.
We go a step further. Unless God were the focus of moral actions and the final object towards whom we tend, the deepest hunger in man's spirit must forever remain unsatisfied. Nothing else than He can fully answer to our needs. Over the centuries every conceivable substitute has been devised and experimented with, and all have been found wanting.
Thus man's ultimate happiness does not consist in pleasures of the flesh. In the order of nature pleasure depends on operation, and not the converse.
Consequently, if operations are not the ultimate end, the pleasures that result from them are not the ultimate end either; nor are they concomitant with the ultimate end. It stands to reason that the operations which accompany the pleasures of the flesh are not the ultimate end, for they are directed to certain purposes that are quite obvious: eating for instance, to the preservation of the body.
Moreover, something which is not good unless it be moderated cannot be good in itself; it receives goodness from the source of moderation. Common experience teaches that the enjoyment of food and sex is not good unless moderated. By the same token if man's final happiness consisted in indulging the body, the maximum enjoyment of the flesh should be the best. But this is clearly not true, because excessive carnal pleasure is considered vicious, and is also harmful to the body (as even the least ethical Freudians admit). In fact restraint in this matter tends to increasing the very pleasures of sense. A hungry man enjoys food more than someone whose appetite has been dulled by over-indulgence.
In the same way, our final happiness does not consist in being honored by others, even though many people practically govern their lives by this ideal. But, in any case, the praise and reputation are not to be identified with the final goal of existence. A similar case could be made out against the possession of wealth, or earthly power, or even the highest endowment of the moral virtues, none of which can constitute the ultimate of human beatitude. We are creatures of unspeakable longing, always pressing forward to further horizons of happiness.
Since God is a pure spirit, our perfect happiness must be found in possessing Him with the spiritual faculties of mind and will, in knowledge and love – contemplating Him in the fullness of His wisdom and enjoying Him inthe plenitude of His goodness.
Christianity makes a distinction between what reason tells us about the destiny of man, and what revelation teaches. Reflection on our motives shows we are always looking for goals in what we do, at least implicitly, and beyond lesser goals for a final one that promises perfect satisfaction. Since nothing merely earthly or created qualifies – at least because everything on earth must come to an end – only the Creator can finally satisfy. But what kind of possession of God will this be? Revelation gives the answer, and thereby the purpose for moral conduct which all the speculations of philosophy could never find. "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him ...When He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is."
Without getting really pedantic and erudite, I believe the following is a good working definition. Ethics would be the practical, fair, and intelligent application of morality. Whether the source of each is secular or religious, it really doesn't matter except to the individual.
I must have said this at least a thousand times: I really did not have any sense of ethics until well after leaving the WCG, working for some major corporations, and taking courses in administration.
I don't mean to impugn anyone's background here, but basically all we learned in WCG was a bunch of hillbilly ethics, as we all attempted to live every moral precept to the nth degree. I've learned since, that Christians as a group are some of the easiest people to trip up and confuse, because most tend to see everything in terms of right and wrong, and generally fail to think things through to logical conclusion to where they can see the results of their intended actions.
PS. JH, you sound just like Dennis Prager. Are you a regular listener or fan of his?
Reducing the field of ethical thought down to one word is a tall order.
As impressed as I am about your apparently having read "Moral Mazes" and all and Immanuel Kant for that matter, still ethics has been boiled down to essentially five distinct perspectives, one of which was derived from Immanuel Kant:
1. Universal (Golden Rule);
2. Teleology [the end justifies the means];
3. Deontology [ethics from absolute principles -- from Kant];
4. Intuitionalism (Gut feeling) [ethics from how I feel today];
5. Virtue Theory (Character -- Moral example)[ethics is as ethics does].
These are expanded somewhat in outline form at Ethics.
You seem to be focused on Deontology, the theory of duty, the darling philosophy of Immanuel Kant. More specifically, I do believe that you are arguing Deontology as a duty to God.
Not to put to put too fine a point on it, everything you've said so far points in the direction of Duty to God, which is accountability.
So it may have been a tall order to boil it all down to one word, but it would seem that you have confirmed the word: Accountability.
And that it makes so simple that even the hillbillies and the excessively narcissistic pseudo Christians should be able to understand it, although, none of us here would like to overestimate the leadership of the church of gods yet again. We've grown up and are so much bigger than that.
Note the TRUST model though: Sometimes choosing just one of the five ethical perspectives exclusively isn't enough -- sometimes it is duty, sometimes you have to consider the end result, sometimes you have to set the example, sometimes you have to love your neighbor as yourself, sometimes you have to go with your gut and sometimes you have to act on principle. No one perspective will do it under all circumstances.
And that is the problem with applying ethics to the Bible, because if you can't see the different gradations of the perspectives and see things in black and white, Scripture won't make much sense because it will seem terribly inconsistent -- if you believe in that sort of thing.
"It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes."
I believe this impression, given throughout the Bible itself is why many would not argue that the Bible is anywhere near a book of ethics nor the God it describes, ethical.
Nothing Jesus teaches is new or amazingly insightful that has not been spoken before him.
Commanding someone to "love the Lord thy God with ALL thy heart, and with ALL thy soul, and with ALL thy mind. ..." is simply not how life, faith and love work. What if I don't? What if I can't? What if see no reason to or find no evidence of God's love coming back at me in any measurable way? What if God being Love and a murderous jealous being bothers me?
What if Peter killing off church memebers bothers me? What if "the ways of man are foolish to God" paints with too broad a brush or "my ways are not your ways" seems more like and excuse for "god" to do what I view as evil or just plain wrong?
What if I don't trust a god that drowns the world and stops the sun for more killing to take place? What if it bothers me that this god can praise "just Lot" when I know he offered his daughters for a gang rape so that his guests would not be harmed and his good name besmirched with the guys? What if baby killing is annoying to me? What if stoning adultereous women was the rule but not men who get to disappear into the crowd seems unfair to me? What if a woman how didn't cry out in town when being raped gets killed too for maybe enjoying it,bothers me? What if Israelite men getting to keep the virgins they like for sex for themselves after, of course, they get to mourn for the family the guy killed in front of her no doubt, seems cruel and all to human? What if telling me to ask "whatever I wish and I will give it to you," is a lie to me? What if "I have been young and now am old and have never seen a righteous man beg bread" is not how life works in fact? What if a god challenging me to "prove me now herewith (tithing) and see if I don't open the windows of heaven so that you will not be able to contain it," is another lie? What if it is annoying to me that God will withhold rain from the Egyptians if they don't come to the feast of Tabernacles makes me wonder what pure motive to go those that do have? "Oh, I came because I want to have a farm to go back to and feed my kids and next year I hear if you don't show, he'll kill us all."
What if , what if, what if? Scores of non ethical behaviors by God and his chosen ones could be sited.
You're kidding yourselves is you think the Bible is a great book of ethics and the god portrayed is pure love as we like to idealize it.
"Since God is a pure spirit, our perfect happiness must be found in possessing Him with the spiritual faculties of mind and will, in knowledge and love – contemplating Him in the fullness of His wisdom and enjoying Him inthe plenitude of His goodness."
That's a lot of assumptions there and not a little bit of doubletalk.
What if it's not a "him" :) You sound like a cleric living in la la land.
J.H. said . . .
A whole bunch of words from a preconceived notion of a creator. A whole lot of words based on assumption with a lot of unprovable assertions of all kinds.
Throwing around words like "pure spirit" when we cannot even define what a spirit is much less a "pure" spirit. After all, what is God? A spirit? what is a spirit?
I've always heard that "God is a spirit being" but if a "being" then not a "spirit", so that won't work.
No one has ever been able to answer the question, "What is God?" and we throw the word around as if we knew.
Everyone knows "who" God is and his "attributes" but no one knows "what" God is. In fact, we have no idea about what any gods are.
They are undefinable other than to say they are "invisible" but our imaginations are invisible too.
I listen to Dennis Prager on occasion. He discusses the merits between his own theistic view and agnosticism or atheism. Prager is one of few in the media willing to defend as reasonable the existence of God, or of transcendental absolutes. Today’s media leans towards atheistic humanism, or at a minimum, secular agnosticism.
As to the source of our sense of ethics making a difference, it does make a difference in the sense that without God, it becomes problematic to assign any ultimate, universal meaning to life or judge among competing values, without making ourselves into the gods of our own created universe. If there is no God,why would anything necessarily be ultimately wrong or ultimately right? Without any purpose to life, each could only do what was right in their own eyes.
Since the time of Protagoras the Sophist, in the fifth century B.C., who is reputed to have said, "of the gods nothing can be known, neither that they are, nor that they are not," there have been philosophers who denied that the human mind can attain to the knowledge of anything ultimate or absolute, and therefore of God.
The precise term "Agnosticism" was coined by Thomas Huxley in 1869. It was intended to describe the position of those who claimed that the ultimate reality was simply unknowable. Its range of nescience was universal, and was directed not only against the idea of God as the ultimate and absolute reality in the religious view of the world, but equally against the possibility of saying that the existence of any reality corresponds with our ultimate ideas in philosophy and science. Philosophers had always professed to reach the knowledge of first principles, and even scientists dealt with realities which they considered ultimate in their own field. Likewise religion offers its explanations of the ultimate in identifying God as the first beginning and last end of all things.
But Agnosticism denied the possibility of knowing the ultimate in any field of inquiry. We can know the manifestations of things, but nothing more. Many agnostics admitted that ultimates exist, others were not sure; but all refused to recognize the mind's capacity for knowing the ultimates themselves.
The great exponent of Atheistic Humanism was Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). He studied under Hegel in Berlin, and through the latter crystallized opposition to religion as "the opium of the people," and of Freudianism in its effort to remove the religious illusion from human motivation and morals.
Never one to mince words or avoid clashing with established positions, Feuerbach laid the groundwork for his followers by asserting that the object we think we know is really only ourselves projected outside the mind as though it were objective. The objects of religious knowledge are no exception. Even God is only we extrapolating ourselves into a fictitious world outside the mind.
But when religion – consciousness of God – is designated as self-consciousness of man, this is not to be understood as affirming that the religious man is directly aware of this identity. On the contrary, ignorance of it is fundamental to the peculiar nature of religion. To preclude this misconception, it is better to say, religion is man's earliest and also indirect form of self-knowledge. Hence religion everywhere precedes philosophy, as in the history of the human race, so also in that of the individual. Man first of all sees his nature as if out of himself, before he finds it in himself. His own nature is in the first instance contemplated by him as that of another being.
Religion is the childlike condition of humanity; but the child sees his nature – man – out of himself; in childhood a man is an object to himself, under the form of another man. Hence the historical progress of religion consists in this: that what by an earlier religion was regarded as objective, is now recognized as subjective; that is what was formerly contemplated and worshipped as God is now perceived to be something human. What was at first religion becomes at a later period idolatry; man is seen to have adored his own nature.
Although man has given himself objectivity, Feuerbach argued, he has not recognized the object as his own nature. He has mistaken himself for God, and while adoring God was later to discover (if he makes the discovery) that this God is really self in objective disguise. Most people still labor under this illusion.
While we do not expect a child to possess a fully developed sense of morality at birth, as time goes along, a sense of conscience, of right and wrong is developed as a child matures on to adulthood. Adults are not expected to continue to labor under the uniformed illusions of childhood, but to continue to experience life and evolve in moral philosophy as they mature objectively. The moral law that is written on every human heart since the original sin is further informed first by divine revelation; secondly, by the redemptive guidance of the scriptures towards salvation.
What do you think of the teachings of Origen? Origen taught that we humans are the incarnation of the fallen angels, being given a chance for redemption by a loving creator who is unwilling to give up on any of his creatures.
You might have experienced a pure form of religion as a child, but I recall being mean, angry, violent and destructive from age 2 or 3. I don't want to go into specifics, because I'm a totally different person today, but trust me, I'm speaking the truth.
When I need more online for an ethics term, I turn to the online ethics glossary here,
online ethics glossary
but the philosophical ethical definitions here at IEP are more complete.
Your normative ethics outline and trust model checklist of ethical decision making is reasonably succinct. I find the ten step checklist here also helpful
10 Step Method
to making reasoned decisons to real world ethical dilemmas.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
has a primer on the basics of normative ethical theories grouping them into major virtue, deontological, and teleological categories. The entry delves into virtue normative theories, including good habits of character, the four cardinal virtues, and vices; and the theological virtues. Deontological theories are grouped into four areas: the natural rights theory of John Locke; the foundational rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to the derivative rights of private property, movement, speech, and religious expression; Kant’s categorical imperative to treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end; and other theories on prima facie duty. Finally, teleological consequentialist theories, with cost-benefit analysis of the end result as the sole determining factor. Utilitarianism, ethical egoism and ethical altruism are considered subsets of this teleological category.
Ethical Egoism is defined as an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable only to the agent performing the action.
Ethical Altruism is defined as an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent.
Utilitarianism is defined an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone.
Narcissist HWA evidently thought the end justified the means much of the time when he wanted something, such as money, power, sex, or a public honor bestowed upon himself. As an ethical egoist, he rationalized his action as morally right when the consequences of that action were more favorable than unfavorable to only himself in performing that action.
I consider all these normative ethical perspectives we have have outlined to be useful in making ethical decisions or in analyzing ethical dilemmas, but that humans are ultimately accountable to a just and merciful God for the decisons we make.
Thomas Paine reportedly wanted to title his work in favor of colonial independence as “Plain Truth", but instead opted in favor of the now well known “Common Sense”. The quote you gave is in a letter by Paine defending his so called “Age of Reason”.
In an essay Mr. Paine also wrote the following passage:
"I consider myself in the hands of my Creator, and that he will dispose of me after this life consistently with His justice and goodness. I leave all these matters to Him, as my Creator and friend, and I hold it to be presumption in man to make an article of faith as to what the Creator will do with us hereafter."
You say find the God of the Bible so ethically deficient, but what do you to offer in in its place which has clear moral superiority? Agnosticism? Atheistic Humanism? Dialectial Materialism?
Jesus is unique in all of history. He is the Son of God. He died as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God created life and knows how life, faith and love really work.
The truths that refer to God and our relations with Him completely transcend the sensible order; and when there is question of their practical ethical application and realization, they call for self-surrender and considerable sacrifice. In the acquisition of such truths, the mind is further hampered by the impulses of the senses and imagination, and by evil passions stemming from original sin. As a result men easily persuade themselves that what they do not wish to be true is false, or doubtful at the very least.
Thus we have whole nations falling into idolatry and gross superstition, and even philosophers like Plato and Aristotle among the Greeks or Cicero among the Romans indulging in the most extravagant notions on the deity, on immortality and the purpose of life. Aristotle extolled hatred and derided mercy. Plato suggested promiscuity, Cicero praised vengeance, Pliny commended suicide, and according to Seneca, "No pain or evils can ever afflict the dead. Death is the end of all suffering, for how can he suffer who does not exist?"
A word of caution, however. Some knowledge of God and moral truths is possible without revelation. Indeed, a minimal degree of such knowledge must be easily accessible to all rightly disposed persons who have reached the age of reason. Otherwise God would be depriving men of the absolute requisites for keeping the moral law and reaching their final destiny, and also be leaving them with a rational foundation for their faith. However between this absolute minimum which is possible and the fullness with certitude supplied by revelation, stands all the difference between the pantheon of Homer's Iliad and the monotheism of the Old Testament, or the polytheism of the Romans and the one God of Christianity.
I’m certain you could cite plenty examples of a lack of ethical behavior on the part of mankind, but you cannot ever prove the one God of Christianity to be unethical in any way.
God, who created this world, is a spirit being. Humans are created out of the dust of the ground, with sensory input coming to the five material senses; we have our day in the sun, and then return to the dust in the ground, becoming dust in the wind. What is there that makes life sacred?
Because you question Him, perhaps you don’t consider Freud to be groundless double talk. According to Freud, religious ideas are born of the need to make tolerable man's helplessness of his own childhood and the childhood of the human race. They owe their vitality to mankind's hostility to culture and the instinctual renunciations that culture demands. The questions then arise: What are religious ideas in the light of psychology? What is their real worth? Are they in fact illusions, unrelated to reality and motivated by wish fulfillment? Freud's answer is an echo of millions for whom religion is an archaic survival of the past.
Religious ideas…are not the residue of experience or the final result of reflection; they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind; the secret of their strength is the strength of these wishes. We know already that the terrifying effect of infantile helplessness aroused the need for protection – protection through love – which the father relieved, and that the discovery that this helplessness would continue through the whole of life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father – but this time a more powerful one.
Thus the benevolent rule of divine providence allays our anxiety in face of life's dangers, the establishment of a moral world order ensures the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which within human culture have so often remained unfulfilled, and the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life provides in addition the local and temporal setting for these wish-fulfillments.
Religious doctrines…are all illusions, they do not admit of proof, and no one can be compelled to consider them as true or believe in them. Some of them are so improbable, so very incompatible with everything we have laboriously discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them--taking adequately into account the psychological differences – to delusions.
We say to ourselves: it would be very nice if there were a God, who was both creator of the world and a benevolent providence, if there were a moral world order and a future life, but at the same time it is very odd that this is all just as we should wish it ourselves. And it would be still odder if our poor, ignorant, enslaved ancestors had succeeded in solving all these difficult riddles of the universe.
Freud, and those from whom he borrowed, can be answered. But perhaps the best reply comes from Freud himself, who is honest enough to recognize the consequences of Atheistic Humanism. "Is there not a danger," he asks, "that these masses (of religious people), in their hostility to culture, will attack the weak point which they have discovered in their taskmaster? If you must not kill your neighbor, solely because God has forbidden it and will sorely avenge it in this or the other life, and you then discover that there is no God so that one need not fear his punishment, then you will certainly kill without hesitation, and you could only be prevented from this by mundane force." Freud offers no valid solution to this dilemma, and takes refuge in vague appeals to the intelligence of his readers: "No believer will let himself be led astray by these or by similar arguments," and to a frank confession that, perhaps, "I have been dealing too hastily with complicated matters."
"It is axiomatic in the Christian faith that religion and morality cannot be separated, at the risk of destroying the essence of moral conduct and leaving man's will a prey to his passions and unreasoning drives."
I believe they have done a very good job keeping them separated...What planet are you from?
You pose a lot of intriguing questions. The Bible says that God is Spirit, beyond the material realm. Some things yet to be revealed or explained just have to be taken on faith. Who can know Everything?
It is reasonable to believe in God; it is reasonable to believe that the Bible informs us about an omniscient, eternal spirit Being; we get, in an important sense, our morality from religion; in our world, the Bible is still a source of hope, redemptive comfort and guidance for many; and scientists still continue to believe in God and in the authority of revealed scripture.
Against these self evident truths, agnostics and athiests have erected myths - “God is dead” and wishful thinking to deny God exists, or that he is completely unknowable.
Origen’s teachings became controversial at some point. If Jared would weigh in on this, I am sure he could give you a much better, informed opinion about Origen.
You comment on childhood reminded me of the former WCG teaching on the inner nature of man, with the resultant theories of child development and child discipline to include provision for daily spanking or corporal punishment so as not to “spoil” the child. From day one, vanity, jealousy, lust and greed were to be spanked out of the child’s developing ego.
I tend to believe that people will generally try to act in their own self interest. However, I was never so cynical as to believe the WCG teaching there is little to no inherent good found in people’s nature; or, out of altruistic motivations, a lack of beneficent desire to help one’s neighbor, expecting nothing in return. In general, I give people more credit.
JH, I've had a lot of years to contemplate the WCG and its influences on my life, because I left in 1975 when HWA became the embodiment of Deut. 18:22. It doesn't come easily to me to be able to find any element of truth in their teachings. Their teachings on human nature from birth seem to fall in the "one size fits all" category. Personally, I have observed that there are a number of different personality types of babies, defying generalization. Some are born pure as the driven snow, and are naturally kind and altruistic. Some of these remain in such a condition throughout their lives, while others are later corrupted and commit dastardly acts.
I started out mean, angry, self-centered and violent, and have morphed into a lovable, agnostic, altruistic, kitty cat with muscles. (chuckle!) However, I was by no means using my own background to substantiate Armstrongist teaching regarding human nature. I believe that about 10,000 years ago, when man first developed a way to collect and record his thoughts, knowledge of ethical behavior began to accumulate, based on long term patterns of trial and error. The resulting societal evolution has brought us to the peak of civilization. These are the good old days! Every once in a while, someone regresses to the behavior of the cavemen, when humans were little more than predatory animals, but for the most part, humanity is trending upwards! In that sense, I become a microcosm of what has happened with mankind during his history on earth.
Byker Bob: You left in '75!?!?
I was but a small boy at that time (4 yrs old) but I can obviously surmise from that, that you are older than I but your posts are most enjoyable / insightful.
My experience(s) in the Cog can be summed up several different ways depending on your point of view. I pity most of all; my sisters, although I deal with the demons left in my soul by the WCG, They seem to try and just ignore it. I wonder which way is best...In any event as far as the ethics of this subject go...Marc Masterson takes the prize. He is the only pastor I had that seemed to take seriously his responsibility to his congregation(s). Although I do not know him, I think Dennis
Diehl is one step above Masterson. He (D.D) accepts that the bible stories may not have been exactly as written. I would like to think that they knew each other...and were friends.
Of course the possibility exists that I am mistaken, but in any event, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for M.M. and although I have not met him, D.D I feel is a man in the manner of Sir Thomas Moore.
The whole discussion of ethics seems to be a rather abstract construct, being more of a mental exercise rather than a practical one to most people. The references by J.H. have varying degrees of usefulness [the ten steps of decision making was Ethics I, the material I linked to was from the Ethics II class].
A more direct and certainly visceral way to view this topic for the masses is to relate it to something concrete.
One such perspective is that the leadership of the church of gods were bullies. Certainly there would seem to be a preponderance of various responses and personal experiences which contribute to this view. I believe that at his core, Herbert Armstrong was a bully. In spite of apparent personal care expressed occasionally by Roderick Meredith, his public persona was that of a bully. That he did not always seem consistent between his personal and public persona is very disturbing and indicative that he has very serious dissociate issues in the form of compartmentalization -- which is never particularly mentally healthy.
For those who have not yet examined the site, there is one other resource which might be considered: Bully online, for it may assist in the clarification of experiences of many attempting to deal with obvious cognitive dissonance, particularly in the arena of interpersonal relationships concerning the venue of the church of gods.
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