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January 25, 2007

Comments

"I certainly would not invent a holy God whose perfect moral character becomes the absolute law of the universe. He is utterly demanding, encroaching on every corner of our life. Who would invent a God like that? That isn't the kind of God that would make me feel more comfortable. That God makes me feel uncomfortable because His demand is so much greater than my ability to deliver."

Greg also mentions desires; I wonder if "needs" might be a better word and needs aren't always healthy. Our home grown Al Qaeda, Mr. Adam Gadahn had a "yawning emptiness", some seem to have a troubling sense of sin, a need for holiness and salvation. Once we get past air, food, clothing, and shelter, needs too often get us in trouble and are best viewed as things to transcend.

Alan,
I find that there is an enormous confusion between needs and wants. Even the basics like food and clothing and shelter often slip across the line of need/want. The reason for these confusions is that most folks haven't a clue what they really need.

Tagline: Intellect is a human attribute, not property, that we all share...at least those of us who aren't too selfish and greedy to do so.

Alan, I'm not sure what you mean by "needs". You seem to be taking a Buddhist approach, that the sense of need is part of the defect of human beings. What if the "troubling sense of sin" is actually there for a reason? What if "transcending" that need ignores the problem, like a cancer patient deciding to transcend the diagnosis of their doctor?

Hi Alan

I agree some "needs" are not always healthy (or can become distorted and hence unhealthy.) Note that is also true for physical needs.

but I wouldn't take it this far:

"Once we get past air, food, clothing, and shelter, needs too often get us in trouble and are best viewed as things to transcend."

Don't we have a need for meaning, love, justice, etc. Should we view those as things to transcend?

"Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?"

We are not merely material beings and hence have immaterial needs.

sincerely,
Todd

A few questions: first, what is wrong with meditation? Second, the on what grounds can Greg say that Eastern thought is high on freedom and low on responsibility?

Buddhism's four noble truths, for example, all point to responsibility and meditation itself is an exercise in responsibility. The common 'folk view' among Evangelicals that Eastern thought is at bottom nihilistic is a sad misrepresentation, just as the overgeneralization of 'postmodernism' as nihilistic shows a limited understanding of many of its prime figures.

One last thought: Buddhism, in its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions (less so in Hinayana), seeks first and foremost to develop love and compassion in its practitioners. This love and compassion is extended to all people such that the current Dahli Lama, when asked if he hated the Chinese for killing and driving the people out of Tibet, said that he has compassion on them. Isn't this something that Christians should seek for? As one of the least violent religions in the world, doesn't that say something about their religion (not necessarily that it's true, but that we could learn something from it)?

Kevin,

Here is C.S. Lewis from “Mere Christianity”:

“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through….If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth…..But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all the other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”

Concerning eastern thought, I am no expert, but to oversimplify, if I understand correctly, both Buddhism and Hinduism feel that everything is just impersonal being, all else is illusion, there can ultimately be no distinctions even between true & false, good and evil. The technical term is, I believe, pantheistic monism. With these religions there is no one personal God as Christians believe. These differences will eventually result in contrary values and concepts that can’t be true if Christianity is true.

Will, you're getting a little bit of your "Hindu chocolate" in your "Buddhist peanut butter". The concept of mya doesn't carry over into Buddhism.

Go here for a general overview:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism

Robert,

Thanks for the links. Skimming the chocolate and peanut butter info. I am reminded of the multi-colored sprinkles some people put on ice cream.

Anyway, check out this link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_in_Buddhism

and if you are in the mood:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_Hinduism

I see overlap of these concepts in some traditions of both Hinduism and Buddhism.

"Whatever can be conceptualized is therefore relative, and whatever is relative is Sunya, empty. Since absolute inconceivable truth is also Sunya, Sunyata or the void is shared by both Samsara and Nirvana. Ultimately, Nirvana truly realized is Samsara properly understood."

Nagarjuna

http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/bodhidharma/sunyata.html

The concept of all things lacking inherent existence is, I believe, unique to Buddhism. We should resist interpreting a system in the terms of a competing system. All of the world's major religions have produced world class thinkers and civil societies at one time or another.

"We should resist interpreting a system in the terms of a competing system. All of the world's major religions have produced world class thinkers and civil societies at one time or another."

But they do compete at one level in the market place of ideas and that is at the level of their respective worldviews, their explanations for things and situations that are around us.

At the end of the day, each religion can be compared to other religions by virtue of the major truth claims each relgion makes. Two things emerge from such a comparison. First, all relgions are not the same and second, they cannot all be true.

"At the end of the day, each religion can be compared to other religions by virtue of the major truth claims each relgion makes. Two things emerge from such a comparison. First, all relgions are not the same and second, they cannot all be true."

Not so easy and perhaps impossible. In order to make a comparison, each person making that comparison has to start from some point and that point is going to be determined by a cultural, educational and psychological context that is likely to bias that comparison.

"Here is Greg's suggestion about how to think about competing religious truth claims. They can't all be true."

Just a thought guys - they can all be false.

Alan-
Well, some certainly can be false, but not all, in view of the law of the excluded middle. For instance, the competing religious claims that "pain and suffering are an illusion" and "pain and suffering are not an illusion" cannot both be false; neither can the competing claims that "God exists" and "God does not exist."

But I take your point - though I remind you that actually Greg was saying what he did in the context of the attempt to say that there fundamentally IS no conflict between competing religious claimns, that religious claims are not the kinds of things that are true of false. He was not saying at that point that his views are true, just that the idea that all religious claims could be simultanieously true is false.

Hi Aaron, I was thinking in terms of the sort of certainty that some Christians (or some adherents of most religions on Sol 3) profess. It is true that there is or isn't a God but it doesn't end there.

If one is inclined to hold that the "purpose" of religion is some combination of social control, existential comfort and a way for a minority class to support itself at the expense of the majority then the doctrinal truth claims are irrelevant. Some might be partially right, to a greater or lesser extent but that one is 100% correct is unlikely.

I remain agnostic to all possibilities that don't transgress the public square.

Alan said:

"We should resist interpreting a system in the terms of a competing system"

What is the source of the moral authority expressed in this statement?

Hi William, I guess my observation is just basic fairness; the sort of thing one learns on the playground, early in ones life, extrapolated into other areas because it seems to work.

We may well have a dispositional issue here. An external authority seems to be important to you; to me, not so much. I observe the social conservatism that says 'my religion is true, yours isn't" and it doesn't seem to make for a happy public square and conclude that our better angels often aren't involved in that debate.

A number of years ago I was browsing through the bookstore at the University of Hawaii and came across a passage observing that the average Hawaiian had a standard of living approximating the average European at the time Capt. Cook discovered the islands.

If a "personal God" is central to your life, is it any wonder that Buddhism falls short? Meanwhile the Buddhist or Hindu sees the concept of a personal God as strange at best and perhaps an indication of some psychological deficit. Meanwhile a Jew or Muslim looks at the Trinity and thinks "polytheism by any other name...", while many Christians, including some at STR, look at our Mormon fellow citizens and think "cultists".

I might be more open to the notion of an external moral authority, independent of rational observation, but our recent experience with that shows that it leads to despotism, fascism and unnecessary war.

"Some might be partially right, to a greater or lesser extent but that one is 100% correct is unlikely."
I am wondering Alan, does this include Christianity, or is it a statement about all other religions?

Alan,

So, if I understand you correctly, Alan Aronson's perception is the source of any moral authority or truth claims.

To what extent do you feel that it is appropriate to exercise or apply this moral authority over others?


You say: "I might be more open to the notion of an external moral authority, independent of rational observation, but our recent experience with that shows that it leads to despotism, fascism and unnecessary war."

I believe that this is a mis-statement of the problem. I think that, in fact, all human experience shows that despotism, war, oppression, greed, envy, lying etc. flow from Man's fallen nature.

In other words, you and I are always guilty of something and if we are honest we acknowledge it. Of course, often what we are guilty of is not being honest!

"I guess my observation is just basic fairness; the sort of thing one learns on the playground, early in ones life, extrapolated into other areas because it seems to work."

And why should I respect that as the moral rule? Why is "fairness" better than the alternative? Is it only because "it seems to work," or are there other reasons to follow that code? Many ruthless dictators followed a different ethic, and it "seemed to work" just fine for them.

"Many ruthless dictators followed a different ethic, and it "seemed to work" just fine for them."

Name one.

If things didn't work we wouldn't do them, would we? I think we may have a basic definition of sanity here. Paul, give it a try. If it doesn't work, I guess you'll need to find something that does. Read the life of your average dictator and read the bios of G. Washington and Cincinnatus and figure out who was together and who wasn't.

"To what extent do you feel that it is appropriate to exercise or apply this moral authority over others?"

Not appropriate at all as long as they don't try to ruin my country.

"I believe that this is a mis-statement of the problem. I think that, in fact, all human experience shows that despotism, war, oppression, greed, envy, lying etc. flow from Man's fallen nature."

I'll kind of agree William, although I don't buy the fallen nature thing. My concern though is our present problem and it is the direct result of the bloc voting patterns of folks commonly termed conservative Christians. Polls consistently show these folks are the among the most loyal supporters of a political party gone south (literally and figuratively); a party that has become a danger to freedom in the the United States and a bully to the rest of the world.

I'm no angel and I may be guilty of this or that but I don't have to live with the fact that my vote has led to Congressional corruption, Executive usurpation, a general incompetence, and the deaths of thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as well as the imprisonment and torture of sundry innocents around the world.

"Not so easy and perhaps impossible. In order to make a comparison, each person making that comparison has to start from some point and that point is going to be determined by a cultural, educational and psychological context that is likely to bias that comparison."

Easy. Compare the major truth claims of of each religion, lay them side by side. They are not the same.

The quoted remark reads like one who is an advocate of post-modern relativism. All comparisons of competing ideas are biased, it's impossible to know the truth. All points of view have equal merit.

Hi John, are those differences what's important? The basics seem to be the same - don't lie, steal and murder. The Golden Rule seems to be universal.

Christianity seems to bring with it, or attract those with, a concern for "salvation". This may not be what is really important. That I am relativistic about that which works out to be of little import doesn't mean that I am relativistic about everything.

"Name one."

that's easy--just pick one of many; Stalin,Mao,Pol Pot,Franco, Castro,Hitler......each was quite "successful" in their endeavors, if sometimes only for a few years. Fairness didn't figure into their thinking, but while their regimes lasted, they "worked". When you mete out justice and social policy with the business end of a gun & a bootheel, few will dare complain that you're not being fair.

Mike, I think its often useful to judge folks by the standards they set for themselves.

Stalin was building for the ages - new soviet man, end of history and all that - gone entirely in less than forty years after his death. Hitler saw the Third Reich lasting a thousand years - fell short by some 988 years. Leave Franco out and all the rest were (are) unqualified failures. I find your claim that the Soviet Union, Cambodia, and Cuba "worked" to be, well, strange.

The American Republic is one of the oldest continuous governments - 217 years and counting - advantage Washington.

Alan,

Two major truth claims:

Christianity:

1. One God.
2. God has a son Jesus who is the promised Messiah or Annointed One.

Judaism:
1. One God.
2. God hasn't yet sent His Son, His Messiah or Annointed One. Jesus wasn't the guy.

Islam:

1. One God.
2. No Son and only one prophet, Mohammed.

Conclusion: The three are different and it is the differences that matter. The Golden Rule seems to be Universal line of thinking is one of the main ingredients in Religious Stew.

Alan said: "Not appropriate at all as long as they don't try to ruin my country."

But of course you are the one that decides what "ruin" means because Alan is the utimate source of moral authority and truth.

If I take the same approach but substitute myself for Alan, where does that get us? I suggest this is relativism. It logically will deprive you of any grounds for suggesting that I am wrong and you are right.

This is why an external authority is important to any truth claim. It is important to everyone who makes a moral claim on anyone else.

Alan said: "I'm no angel and I may be guilty of this or that".

A Christian will know that even though they transgress the moral authority, they are forgiven through the work of Christ. This gives them strength to do better. That's the good news (greatly simplified). How do you deal with your guilt?

Hi Anonymous, your second clause doesn't logically follow from the first. It is important to you, I assume, because you assign great value to the assertions your side makes re; the status of the messiah. I am on the outside looking in and from that position the differences are not all that important in that which matters to me. Your observations make my point.

William, I learned long ago that:

If doing something is going hurt another and you don't do it, you won't have to deal with guilt.

Not all guilt is rational and may simply be a small price for a little fun.

One shouldn't sweat the small stuff.

As you can probably figure out, I don't have the sin or guilt gene. Unless you are posting from Joliet, neith you or I are in prison. If everyone was no worse then us, the country would be a lot better off.


Alan,
"As you can probably figure out, I don't have the sin or guilt gene."

Were you serious?

Also "If doing something is going hurt another and you don't do it, you won't have to deal with guilt."

This reminds me of Paul in Romans 7:15-25. Have you ever experienced the stuation? I have.

15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

>>Alan said: "If everyone was no worse then us, the country would be a lot better off."

What on earth does this prove?

>>Alan said: “I don't have the sin or guilt gene.”

Fair enough Alan, by your own claim you are, in fact, a sociopath.

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