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« St. Patrick's Breastplate | Main | Some Brief Critical Thoughts on Presuppositionalism »

March 18, 2010

Comments

Amen to that.

I’ve always wondered why Evangelicals or conservative Christians (on the Right) were more likely to hold this view than Christians on the Left. This has been my experience – so I could be off.

The causes and reasons of most differences between the two are usually easily sussed out, but this one is perplexing to me. Always has been.

I would go so far to say, that you can pretty much tell how a Christian views Scripture and you can get a good feel for their worldview by asking them: “Are you basically good?”

How do you deal with someone who says, "I'm Basically a Good Person"? Here's one approach.

I think the approach given here assumes that the person asking the question has some type of category for "sin" and "divine law," and I'm not sure that's a safe assumption.

I think the calculation is perfectly logical, and if thought through in conjunction with a certain set of assumptions, makes a lot of sense.

But if the conversant doesn't have any categories for sin in relation to a divine being, then I don't think it gets very far.

Two misunderstood things... God's character, especially His holiness and the seriousness of our sin has always been at the very root of the abomination called modern evangelicalism.

Answering the old evangelical explosion question..."If you were to die tonight and stand before God in judgement and He asks you why He should allow you into heaven...what would you say?"....also helps puts our "goodness" in perspective.

Getting the doctrine of God's soveriengty and predestination (without any "buts") will eliminate much of the silliness that passes for worship today.

So, what do you do when a nonbeliever dies and you hear your friend comforting the nonbeliever's distraught family, saying that he probably went to heaven because he was "a good person who never wished harm on anyone"?

I am seriously asking this question because I had this experience recently. Often, when someone dies who is an unbeliever, the rest of the family will find peace in knowing that the deceased was a "good person" who is now living in some happy place invisible to the rest of us. I won't judge who was and was not a believer, but it doesn't sit right with me to see people thinking that God makes exceptions for "good people."

Ally asked "what do you do when a nonbeliever ..."

I consider myriad factors ... my relationship with those people; their current state of mind; all pointing toward whether my injecting truth in that circumstance will make a lick of difference.

Greg says to put pebbles in people's shoes to get them to think about Christianity -- he's never said to pour salt into someone's wounds.

brgulker,

You can probably get them to realize they don't live up to their own moral code. That's close enough to work.

An easy way to define sin is to define it as hatred. If hatred is the opposite of love, and love fulfills the Law, then hatred must be the essence of sin.

This removes sin from a list of dos and don'ts and internalizes it into even the attitudes of those who lead seemingly spotless lives.

Also, if we are to love our neighbor as our self, we are indebted to all for what we own and fail to give.

So, people can be saved not by their own goodness, but they can by "getting their beliefs correct"? ... Of course, what exactly those beliefs entail, and even what "accepting Jesus" means, seems to vary quite widely among Christian denominations.

Seems to me like people are saved by their own intelligence, their own educational upbringing, their literacy (and ability to obtain and read the Bible), and the religious environment they live in.

(So much for a loving God...)

"The Law gives us no hope." (Greg?)

This is an interesting statement to say the least. The law was not meant for Gentiles so why the concern exactly?

On the flip side of that argument, The Law was handed down by God (personally is the claim) to Moses on Sinai (anyone remember this occurence in the Torah?). And that resembles a 'no hope' scenario? I mean, if we are being literalists with the text, Moses had those 'hand given' to him...sounds pretty good to me!

The Torah also functioned from Moses through Judges, Kings, Exiles, and loss of country. The law is what kept Israel on it's formative path for the last 3000+ years. That's not hopeful? I like that track record to be honest.

The problem is Christianity's understanding of 'law'...we see it as bad - yet when we need the law to protect us in society we have no problems with the term 'law' in general.

I think there is mass confusion in Christian circles to what the law means and entails...just my opinion.

"So, people can be saved not by their own goodness, but they can by "getting their beliefs correct"? ... Of course, what exactly those beliefs entail, and even what "accepting Jesus" means, seems to vary quite widely among Christian denominations" (Kind of a Heathen)

Spot on with the critique!

"I won't judge who was and was not a believer, but it doesn't sit right with me to see people thinking that God makes exceptions for "good people." (Ally)

How is being 'good' an exception exactly? People have to work hard at doing their best moral behavior and refine that from year to year through-out their life - that's no simple exercise. It takes time, patience, study, experience, etc.

The problem is the bench-mark for what is 'good'? This seems to be the huge concern for Christians when they approach this topic - 'how good is good enough?'. But the Christian teachings have this generic built in quality to them themselves - which is supposed to make us 'question' exactly like that.

For example, Jesus' greatest 2 commandments are 'Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength' and 'love your neighbor as yourself'...does anyone see anything 'specific' being asked there? If you said 'no' - you can read.

The fact is we decide what out thresholds and standards are in many regards - and refine the process as we grow/mature and interact with one another. How can we lovw our neighbor if we cannot love ourselves? What does it mean to love someone else - what actions do we take? What is too far? We are asked to address ourselves in those 2 commandments. Yet I never see a Christian asking 'well, how much love is enough for my neighbor'?

>>The Law was handed down by God (personally is the claim) to Moses on Sinai... And that resembles a 'no hope' scenario?

The Law, though good and beautiful (particularly in the way it reveals God's holiness to us), does not give hope because it doesn't give us the power to fulfill it. Instead, it condemns us.

"The problem is the bench-mark for what is 'good'? This seems to be the huge concern for Christians when they approach this topic - 'how good is good enough?'." (Societyvs)

Actually, nothing is good enough. None of us is good enough, even if we spend our lifetimes trying to do what Jesus commanded, and live moral lives, however we define "good" or "moral." That's why we need Christ--he was the only one who was good enough, and it's only in Christ that God can see us as sinless and perfect. If we were good enough, we wouldn't need God's mercy and grace.

btmbo - Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't dream of pouring salt into the wounds. At the same time, it (privately) disturbs me that the idea that "being good will get you into Heaven" is so broadly accepted. The Bible doesn't tell us that.

"The Law was handed down by God (personally is the claim) to Moses on Sinai... And that resembles a 'no hope' scenario? I mean, if we are being literalists with the text, Moses had those 'hand given' to him...sounds pretty good to me!"

God led Israel through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13-31), fed them with Manna and quail (Exodus 16) and watered them from a rock (Exodus 17:1-7). He spoke to them the Ten Commandments audibly (Exodus 19:18-20:19). Then Moses went up to Sinai and God carved the Ten Commandments and His Covenant onto the tablets.

Is the irony that, after all this, His people were making a golden calf at about the same time that God was carving "Thou shalt have no other gods" completely lost here?

If there ever was a people that was given everything anyone could ever want in order to be faithful followers of the law, it was the people who made the golden calf at the foot of Sinai.

There is no hope for humankind in the law. Only death.

"The Law, though good and beautiful..."

Actually, much of "The Law" is ugly, vicious, brutal and nasty.


"There is no hope for humankind in the law."

So, God gave his chosen people a "no hope" gift? The Israelites never had any "hope"? The operating system that was in effect for over a thousand years, the operating system handed down by God, was a "no hope" system?

"So, God gave his chosen people a "no hope" gift? The Israelites never had any "hope"? The operating system that was in effect for over a thousand years, the operating system handed down by God, was a "no hope" system?"

No. The Israelites were also given circumcision and the sacrificial system. After God gives the Ten, He continues with law after law after law. If God had thought the Israelites could live up to these laws to His satisfaction, that would be the end of it, wouldn't it?

So, you bet the law is a 'no hope' system. But God doesn't stop with the law, He continues with a long discussion of how the tabernacle will be built and how sacrifices will be offered and so on. It's the sacrificial system that gives hope after the law has done its work of convicting.

>>So, God gave his chosen people a "no hope" gift? The Israelites never had any "hope"? The operating system that was in effect for over a thousand years, the operating system handed down by God, was a "no hope" system?

I didn’t say the people of the OT had no hope. I said that the Law doesn’t give hope. The Law doesn’t give hope because the Law can only condemn the wrong things we do. Fortunately for us, the first covenant given to Abraham before the Mosaic covenant of the Law was one of grace that was offered because of Christ’s future work on the cross. The followers of God in the Old Testament always had this hope.

First covenant of grace:

Romans 4: 13For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. 16For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham

That covenant of grace given to Abraham was given because of Christ:

21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The Law has no power to help us because the problem is with us, not the Law:

Romans 8: 1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

The Law, given to Moses long after the covenant of grace with Abraham, showed people their need for God’s grace:

Romans 3: 19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

The Law can never give us life. Just knowing what is good doesn’t change us to want to do it.

Galatians 3: 21Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, all this talk sounds crazy to me.

A massive, pointless, incoherent effort made necessary by the refusal to come to an unpleasant but irresistable conclusion: 'good' is something we - human beings - hammer out together without supernatural aid.

(I don't mean that I find the conclusion unpleasant. I just see that others seem to.)

RonH

"A massive, pointless, incoherent effort made necessary by the refusal to come to an unpleasant but irresistable conclusion: 'good' is something we - human beings - hammer out together without supernatural aid."

I find it fairly easy to resist this conclusion. Because, you see, we know that we sometimes get this wrong. If 'good' were something we human beings hammer out together, we could never make moral mistakes. Because we can, 'good' is something objective over and against our wills.

WL,

we sometimes get this wrong

We sometimes find we'd gotten science wrong too. Indeed, do we ever find we have science right in the sense that we know we'll never change our minds?


If 'good' were something we human beings hammer out together, we could never make moral mistakes.

How's that?

Because we can, 'good' is something objective over and against our wills.

How's that?

RonH

WL,

Consider this: If science were something human beings hammered out together we could never make scientific mistakes. But it is and we do.

RonH

For I believe in all warnings that are given, all the strong instincts, every revelation, every miracle, every experience of ecstatic love, all contemplation, rapture, and finally every interior and exterior operation, so long as humility precedes, accompanies, and follows them, if nothing harmful is mixed in with them. If these conditions are met, you will not be deceived about their having the mark of being from God or his good angel. - Friends of God

"I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." John 15:15

If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God

God's worked in mysterious ways

"He continues with a long discussion of how the tabernacle will be built and how sacrifices will be offered and so on. It's the sacrificial system that gives hope after the law has done its work of convicting."

Aren’t the laws about sacrifice also just another part of the The Law?

So, you set up a system that's impossible to follow, and therefore, the system offers no hope. An unbeatable system never offers hope. But that's ok, because once the humans have inevitably failed, they just have to cut a few goat throats, and they're good to go again. Well, I’ll grant you the fact that at least there’s an escape hatch. Unless you’re the goat.

I’m curious. What form does “hope” take if you’re a 10th century BC Jew? What are you hoping for? What is your reward? It seems to me that the OT rewards are almost all material and earthly. Kill the goat in the right way and you get a bigger harvest, more kids, victory in war. The rewards seem different from the NT rewards.


"Fortunately for us, the first covenant given to Abraham before the Mosaic covenant of the Law was one of grace that was offered because of Christ’s future work on the cross. The followers of God in the Old Testament always had this hope."

I don't get it. How do OT Jews get a break because of something that won't happen for as long as a thousand years in the future? How can grace be offered as an outcome of an event that hasn’t happened yet? How can one have faith in events that won’t occur for a thousand years? The phrase "massive, pointless, incoherent effort" does seem accurate.

Where does it say in the OT that Jews of the time have hope, because a thousand years in the future, this guy named Jesus, who is also God, is going to do X, Y and Z, and that’s why you have grace in 10th century BC Jerusalem? You cite passages in the NT, but these don’t exist during the OT period. How did OT Jews actually view the world? Did OT Jews really think that it was “faith” that mattered or that “faith” mattered more than The Law or that there was "no hope" in The Law? If you could ask them, is this what they would say? This is not the impression that I get from the OT.

And who gets “grace” in the OT? Well, it’s the people who happen to be born into the right tribe in one tiny corner of the planet, isn’t it? You get grace by being a descendent (heir) of Abraham. Oh sure, they have to kill a few goats to stay on God’s good side, but at least they have a chance. As for the millions of others living all over the globe over thousands of years? Guess they’re SOL. Sounds fair to me.

In any event, it seems to me that The Law is essentially irrelevant. As a former Jew, Paul pays lip service to The Law. While Paul is trying to start something that is clearly new, he simultaneously wants to keep a few connections to the past. Once a Jew, always a Jew, I guess. But really, The Law doesn’t matter. If you have faith, you go to heaven, regardless of how good or bad you were in the context of The Law. If you don’t have faith, you’re eternally tortures, again, independent of The Law. So, who cares about The Law? Good people fry, bad people go to heaven. That’s Christianity.

"If science were something human beings hammered out together we could never make scientific mistakes. But it is and we do."

If, by "science", you mean the body of theories that we construct in an attempt to predict experience, we never get science wrong. We often get the Laws of Nature wrong, i.e. our theories often fail to correctly predict experience. But the scientific theories are our creatures. What would it even mean, for example, to say that we got the Ptolemaic system wrong? Of course we didn't get the Ptolemaic system wrong. What we got wrong was the objective reality of the Solar System.

"Aren’t the laws about sacrifice also just another part of the The Law?"

Nope. The sacrificial system is the OT means of grace. It is made effective for salvation in the same way that the NT means of grace (Holy Communion) is made so. To wit, by the broken body and shed blood of the one sufficient sacrifice.

"If you have faith, you go to heaven, regardless of how good or bad you were in the context of The Law."

Check.

"If you don’t have faith, you’re eternally tortured, again, independent of The Law. So, who cares about The Law? Good people fry, bad people go to heaven."

Buzz. No, that's not it. If you don't have faith then you are judged according to the Law and condemned by the Law. Good people don't fry. It's just that there aren't any. Some bad people fry. Some bad people don't and go to heaven instead.

"Good people don't fry. It's just that there aren't any.

Thus, we render the words "good" and "bad" meaningless.

A question.

Is the penal code or the code that says what you have to do if you break the law a part of laws of a state or country?

WL - "Good people don't fry. It's just that there aren't any."

Joe - Thus, we render the words "good" and "bad" meaningless.

Think that through again, there are plenty of predicates that apply to all humans that are not, thereby, rendered meaningless.

"Is the penal code or the code that says what you have to do if you break the law a part of laws of a state or country?"

Here's the question that best fits the analogy:

Are the means whereby one receives the benefit of an executive pardon that's already been declared part of the criminal code of a state or country?

And I think the answer is "No".

If everyone is bad, if both the kid who steals a cookie and Hitler are "bad", then the word "bad" has little meaning or value.

I always explain that the standard/requirement for heaven is perfection. People have no problem saying they feel they are a good person, but I have never met anyone who would claim they are perfect!

@ Joe

"If everyone is bad, if both the kid who steals a cookie and Hitler are "bad", then the word "bad" has little meaning or value."

I would disagree. If we are comparing ourselves to each other, then that would be accurate. But if you're comparing yourself with perfection, then "bad" does have meaning and value.

I think of it this way. Picture two people swimming across a lake. Person 1 makes it halfway to shore, but then drowns. Person 2 makes it within mere feet of the shore, but then also drowns.

Compared to Person 1, Person 2 was much closer to reaching the goal. But compared to perfection (which in this case would be defined as making it alive to shore) they both failed. Since they are both dead, it doesn't make any real difference that Person 2 came closer to achieving the goal than Person 1 did.

"Since they are both dead, it doesn't make any real difference that Person 2 came closer to achieving the goal than Person 1 did."

Exactly. It doesn't make any difference if no one ever survives.

What is the point or value of the word "emergency" if the only condition that exists is an emergency condition? I suppose that one could define "emergency", but if there is a constant, unending state of emergency, what's the point?

"I always explain that the standard/requirement for heaven is perfection. People have no problem saying they feel they are a good person, but I have never met anyone who would claim they are perfect!"

So, what's the point of the standard? If perfection is impossible, then why bother with the standard? Just say that all humans are condemned to eternal torture by the simple fact that they are humans. One can not be "good" any more than one who is human can not be human. So why bother with "good" and "bad"?

WL,

What would it even mean, for example, to say that we got the Ptolemaic system wrong?

It would mean we have good reason(s) to reject it.

What we got wrong was the objective reality of the Solar System.

How do you know that? You have access to objective reality? Try this on for size:

1) there are observations that conflict with Ptolomy
2) one of the two must go
3) the observations are more basic than Ptolemy
4) we prefer the more basic
5) therefore we reject Ptolomy. He was 'wrong'.

RonH

WL, (sorry, ignore the my last please)

What would it even mean, for example, to say that we got the Ptolemaic system wrong?

It would mean we have good reason(s) to reject it.

What we got wrong was the objective reality of the Solar System.

How do you know that? You have access to objective reality? Try this on for size:

1) there are observations that conflict with Ptolomy
2) one of the two must go
3) the observations are more basic than Ptolemy
4) we prefer the more basic
5) therefore we reject Ptolomy. He was 'wrong'.

RonH

"therefore we reject Ptolomy. He was 'wrong'."

I agree with this. But the question is "What was he wrong about?" Was he wrong about the human invention known as the Ptolemaic system? Or was he wrong about an objective fact about our Solar System? It was the later right?

The same goes for morality. When we make mistakes about morality, we're making mistakes about an objective fact, not a human invention.

@ Joe

"Exactly. It doesn't make any difference if no one ever survives."

When speaking of salvation, it does make a difference because physical death is not all there is. There is a heaven and a hell.

***

We ARE all condemned to hell. The point is that Jesus came to rescue us from that hell - which is forever!

The standard for heaven is perfection, and we know we cannot achieve that. But after we accept Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, we do want to live good lives. Why? For many reasons: because it's best for us, because it's best for others, in order to reflect God's character, to bring God honor, to point others to God, etc.

Mo,

"But after we accept Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, we do want to live good lives."

That's nice, but who cares? It doesn't change one's fate with respect to bliss or torture. I've met some truly nasty people who are allegedly promised paradise. Personally, I'd rather spend time with the decent and the condemned.

Besides, I thought that we agreed that all humans are bad. How can you now talk of being good? An elephant may want to fly, but all elephants are earth-bound, regardless of what the elephant wants to do. Elephants don't fly, people are bad, it doesn't matter how we live our lives or how we treat others. End of story.

WL,

I don't that something physical, material and observable (like, say, the orbit of Mars) can be compared to something abstract, non-material and mythical, such as "objecive morality". Apples and oranges.

Sorry, should read...

I don't *think* that something physical...

I've often wondered how much suffering has been caused, and how many good things have not been done, because some people have the bizarre mindset that their beliefs are important, but their actions are worthless in God's eyes.

All this theological speculation about heaven, predestination, etc. reminds me (in a geeky way) of how convoluted planet orbits appear if you force them to comply with a false belief (i.e. the geocentric model), and how simple they become once you change your perspective : )

"how convoluted planet orbits appear if you force them to comply with a false belief (i.e. the geocentric model), and how simple they become once you change your perspective"

But the Copernican revolution here, is the move away from works-based theologies (which are really ubiquitous) to the theology of salvation by grace through faith.

WisdomLover,

…the question is "What was he [Ptolemy] wrong about?" Was he wrong about the human invention known as the Ptolemaic system? Or was he wrong about an objective fact about our Solar System?

The first question is empty—“Did Ptolemy’s theory accurately describe Ptolemy’s theory?”—but maybe that’s your point. The second question sounds good—yes, Ptolemy was wrong inasmuch as his theory didn’t correspond very well with reality. It did well enough, for a long time; then Copernicus did better than Ptolemy, and then Kepler did better still, and etc. And today we’d like to think we’ve pretty much got it right, although there’s always the chance we’re missing something.

But that’s RonH’s description of morality: a work in progress, “something human beings hammer out together without supernatural aid.” You said:

If 'good' were something we human beings hammer out together, we could never make moral mistakes. Because we can, 'good' is something objective over and against our wills.

So you specifically don’t believe that morality is a phenomenon we can observe and gradually improve our understanding of (like the solar system), but that it is “objective” in some other way. My brief personal history with STR suggests that the word, when applied to morality, means “eternal, immutable, and perfect,” or something along those lines—something beyond the real-world grubbiness we work our sciences on. Would that be fair to say?

If so, then maybe you can help me out with my ignorant layperson’s question in the Grounding Morality thread: if Christians have access to eternal, immutable, perfect laws of right and wrong, then why does the history of Christianity so perfectly match RonH’s work-in-progress, trial-and-error description? Why has it undergone non-stop descent with modification ever since year zero?

I was, perhaps, being too subtle for my own good when I wrote:

If 'good' were something we human beings hammer out together, we could never make moral mistakes.

The point was that Ron was saying that good is something we hammer out. He was not saying that our understanding of "good" is something we hammer out. The issue is whether the hammering out process creates the good, or whether it discovers the good.

I think it's the latter. The good is an objective reality, like the courses of the planets, that is slowly discovered over time by human beings, possibly through a variety of means.

And, BTW, the discovery process sometimes has setbacks. We make moral progress, but we also suffer moral regress.

WisdomLover,

The good is an objective reality, like the courses of the planets, that is slowly discovered over time by human beings, possibly through a variety of means.

Okay, so you agree with RonH's work-in-progress model—that morality is an ongoing human project, guided by knowledge gained from worldly experience. It's just that, instead of being a human invention, you believe morality is God's invention. Would that be fair to say?

If so, wherefrom your contention that God is involved at all? Here we are, in a world where morality—including Christian morality—has all the earmarks of a trial-and-error, generate-and-test, progress-by-slow-degrees, human endeavor. Why not simply suppose that that's what it is?

Morality itself has none of the character you describe any more than the courses of the planets do. Only the discovery of morality is a trial-and-error, generate-and-test, progress-by-slow-degrees, human endeavor.

It makes all the difference in the world to say that our efforts discover morality rather than saying that they constitute morality.

WisdomLover,

First, a big simple question:

If you and RonH actually agree that our moral principles aren't handed to us from on high, but must be discovered by the sweat of our collective brow, in the same way we've discovered the principles governing the solar system—then you agree on rather a lot. In fact, you agree on just about everything that matters; and the day Christians in general, and STR in particular, arrive at this conclusion themselves will be an awfully good day.

But it doesn't seem very likely that you actually do agree. How does hell fit into this picture? What does it mean to say your last comment, and also to say that “some bad people fry” and “some bad people don't”? If our moral sensibility improves by gradual degrees, over generations of trial and error, then what does it say about God that most of our ancestors are burning in a lake of fire for not getting it right? (And why aren't they all burning?)

Second, a little niggling question:

When you say

It makes all the difference in the world to say that our efforts discover morality rather than saying that they constitute morality.
I'm pretty sure what this means is: eternal, immutable, perfect laws of right and wrong must exist so that, at least in principle, there is a fixed point of reference to tell us how we're doing. Otherwise, there is no possibility of progress—“we could never make moral mistakes.”

But you and I appear to agree that, even if that reference point does exist, we can't see it. Our moral history—Christianity and all—looks like people making mistakes and learning from them, with differential success, just like every other human endeavor. So what difference does it make, really, to claim that “the good is an objective reality”? And, if it were true, how would you know?

If you wish to claim that objective morality exists in the sense that we're working our way toward a moral ideal God has in mind, then you're still talking about a distinction without a difference. If we arrive at those ideals ourselves, through our own inference and evaluation, then we'll know they're good regardless of what God thinks of them. And they will be our ideals, regardless of whether or not they are also God's. (And how does hell fit into this picture?)

And why should the only alternative be directionless dithering? The well-being of conscious creatures is not an impenetrable mystery to us. It's entirely possible to think systematically, and to arrive at reasonable conclusions, about our values: what constitutes a good life; what is worth living or dying for; how we ought to treat each other to better promote our own flourishing; whether particular actions are admirable, justifiable, reprehensible, etc.

What, besides wishing, supports the contention that these capabilities are evidence for immutable divine moral standards?

"So what difference does it make, really, to claim that "the good is an objective reality"? And, if it were true, how would you know?"

What difference does it make, really, to claim that "the course of the planets is an objective reality"? And, if it were true, how would you know?

Same answer to both questions.

"If you wish to claim that objective morality exists in the sense that we're working our way toward a moral ideal God has in mind"

That is what I wish to claim. With this proviso: we may also find ourselves, at times, working away from that ideal. Moral progress may sometimes exist, but it is not an uninterrupted upward trajectory.

"then you're still talking about a distinction without a difference."

But this does not follow. There is quite a difference. There is the difference that we can be (and all too often are) wrong about an unchanging moral law that is progressively discovered, even in part, by human effort. But we can't get it wrong if human efforts constitute an ever changing moral law.

Try this aphorism on for size. Human laws can be immoral, but they can never be illegal.

WisdomLover,

So, if I understand correctly: you believe that Christians do not have access to eternal, immutable, perfect standards of right and wrong. You believe that all human beings come by their morality the same way: interaction, experience, trial-and-error, gradual improvement across generations.

And you also believe that an eternal, immutable, perfect standard of right and wrong does exist—to which no human being has access—and that we will be judged by this standard after we're dead, maybe thrown into a lake of fire forever, maybe not.

Do I have this right?

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