Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Putting Good Before God

There are people who tell me that I need to "find God" or seek religion if I am going to understand morality.

However, I do not see how that is going to work.

For this discussion, let us assume that there is a god and that the God wants us to do what is right.

Question: What does god want us to do?

Where does one even start to answer this question?

Some may suggest that I find the answer in scripture.

Which scripture?

And even if I had a scripture to choose, how do I discover what it actually tells me to do?

This option presupposes that one can trust scripture. However, there is nothing in "God exists" and "God wants us to do good," that implies "Trust scripture." You need to add more premises to this to get to that conclusion.

One could assert that, if there is a god, and that God also wants us to do good, then that God would give us a clear set of instructions, and that is what we will find in scripture.

However, that clearly did not happen. We see before us a huge array of opinions regarding what god wants us to do, with no clear way to choose among them.

At best, it seems, one can take a random guess - like drawing a card out of a massively large deck and hoping that one happens to draw the one and correct card.

Actually, there is an option. If there is a God and this God wants us to do good, then there exists a way to choose which scripture - and which interpretation of that scripture, is correct. One determines what is good or evil, then one looks at scripture, and determine whether it is commanding one to do good or evil. If it commands what is evil or prohibits what is good, then it can be tossed aside as a poor account of what God wants us to do.

Let us use slavery as an example.

Slavery is wrong. Consequently, a good God would not want us to practice slavery. With this in mind, one can turn to the various religions and ask, "Does it command us not to practice slavery?" If it does not prohibit us from owning slaves, then we may conclude that it does not provide us with an accurate account of what God wants us to do. This means that we have reason to look elsewhere - for something that tells us that God wants us to prohibit slavery.

Or, let us consider the act of killing homosexuals. Again, this is obviously wrong. Consequently, we can use this to help determine whether any religious text or tradition is actually and accurately telling us what God wants us to do. If it commands killing homosexuals, then it is obviously a poor guide as to what God wants, and one needs to search elsewhere.

Does scripture say that the victims of rape are morally obligated to marry their rapists? Well, that's obviously not telling us what a good God would want us to do. A morality that makes this claim is clearly the one that comes from a morally imperfect being - a human mind - that has somehow convinced people to accept his beliefs as those of a God.

To some, this might suggest the question, "How we are to know what is right or wrong if God does not tell us?"

However, that represents a poor understanding of the problem. the wrong question. This question forgets the initial observation that God has not provided us with a clear set of instructions.

The real question is, "How are we going to determine what is right or wrong?" Then, to anybody who tries to tell us to find it in scripture, we can raise all of the problems identified above - problems that tell us that we do not even know which scripture to get the answer from without prior knowledge of what is right and wrong.

Do you want to try faith? All one needs is a casual glance at history - and current events - to see how often those who rely on faith get the wrong answer. If, as a morally responsible person, you are looking for a reliable method, faith obviously doesn't work.

Finally, while you are looking for a reliable way to determine what God actually wants you to do, I would like you to keep another question in mind. "Is it not possible for somebody who does not believe in God to use the same method and get the same answers?"

This is the situation that I find myself in. As somebody who genuinely wants to know what is right and wrong - good and evil - I do not see how "finding god" or religion is any help at all. I would not even have a hint as to which god to believe in or which religion to adopt unless I already knew what was right and wrong - and used that to choose the correct religion. If I have already answered the questions of right and wrong, then the need to turn to religion to find these answers disappears.

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