As promised, here’s my review of the panel discussion from Thursday night’s screening of “Collision”. Atheist Hemant Mehta and Christian Chad Meister were our panelists and it was moderated by Pastor Mark Bergin. Apparently Mehta beat me to the punch and posted first before I could finish writing and editing (thanks for the heads up @atheistinWA). Yes, sir, I agreed with you about the Q&A. You’ll find that on page one million of my critique below.
(It’s not really one million pages. It is long detailed, though.)
The two people who shined during the panel were Bergin and Mehta. I was unimpressed by Meister. Surprise, surprise.
Before Q&A, Bergin did a good job keeping the momentum of the discussion moving forward and asking pretty good questions. He might not appreciate this, but his temperament reminded me of Sam Harris’. He was relatively straight forward and deadpan. It made for a pretty good attempt to be fair as moderator. After Q&A, he seemed tentative to cut off the blather to ask for a certain question.
Mehta’s answers during the panel were straight forward and spontaneous. He was calm and poised and at no time seemed out of control.
After the discussion, I went up to Mehta and said, “You make us [atheists] look good.” He did. He didn’t focus on proving Christianity was bad. He focused on bridging the divide between religion and non-religion. Mehta brought up examples of how he’s working with the Secular Student Alliance which sends atheists and Christians on do-good trips or mission trips. These trips and other SSA events bridge the gap, not widen it. These things do well to dispel rumors and achieve beneficial dialogue. Mehta didn’t taunt the Christians in the audience (which there were several surrounding Tina and I). He seemed genuinely most interested in dispelling myths and erroneous rumors about atheists and bridging the divide.
Meister came off as the guy who wanted Atheists to repent or burn for their evil associations. He contrasted Mehta’s calm with a temperamental moment when a veteran forensic psychologist stood and made a comment that her experience with rapists and murderers was that they justified their behavior based on biblical morals. Meister’s face went beet red and he went on a Ted Bundy tirade. (But but but, Bundy was an Atheist!)
Meister would have done well to listen to the question first, thought about it, then responded.
The Chaz Meister* … Epic Trainwreck
Meister failed, because he came to the discussion equipped with flimsy, outdated, flat-out debunked debate points. Mehta wasn’t trying to make him look poorly; why the hostility, Meister?
Meister tried and tried (and tried some more) to make atheists out to be “evil” because Ted Bundy was an admitted atheist. He accused atheists of hobnobbing with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Pol Pot. Meister had Ted Bundy quotes, too! Surely I should cower in the corner and throw off my non-belief, because Bundy was an atheist.
Frankly, Meister’s shadiness was creeping Tina and me out.
There are stories that preachers tell. You know what I’m talking about. Little “anecdotes” that they claim happened to them that they turn into sermons.
Had. He delivered one of these anecdotal mini sermons.
To avoid telling you what to think, I happen to have video for you to watch and make your own decision (I let the video run past the story to make another point):
To quote David Cross, “ONE HUNDRED PERCENT BULLSHIT.”
Did this ever happen? Really? Or did it kind of happen and it played out better in the stories that followed? If I was that guy, I would have said, “Yeah, go ahead. You’re right. Make up your own rules. Hit me, Meister.” Once he hit me, I would have called the cops and had his dumb ass thrown in jail. Because actions have consequences and that’s the secular society we live in, thank you very much.
What was even more nauseating was how Meister wanted so badly to get a particular answer out of Mehta. You could visibly see that Meister was not listening, but waiting to talk. To atheists reading this, Christians are taught this tactic of asking for the genesis of non-Christian morality. This is rife in their culture, and I speak as a former insider.
Meister kept bringing up Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. Not only are these cliché debate topics over-cooked and beaten to a pulp, we continue to out smart he who brings them up (Thanks, Julie!). Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, all those guys, have pulled the pin many times on these arguments. Meister was sitting on stage holding pin-less grenades in his hands saying, “See, atheism is awful!”
I particularly appreciated Mehta’s response to one of the first times Meister brought it up. He caught himself from smiling and straight-forwardly said something like, “Even if you could prove they were atheists, those were bad people who everyone agrees weren’t good for the greater good of humanity.”
Atheists are all stupid, murderous, lying rapists.
Simply put, Meister’s goal was to demonize atheism, and to make God and Christianity appear good by default. Or he tried to pull the wonderment of nature bit. Again, fail.
Meister said he talked to “creationist astrophysicist” Hugh Ross. Ross told Meister that many astrophysicists (at least 20!) have converted to Christianity after looking through telescopes and at Hubble transmissions. It doesn’t change the fact that the majority of astrophysicists and scientists are still non-believers. And it doesn’t change the FACT that creationists have consistently been outed for their deceit-filled attempts to get Christianity into secular classrooms.
Atheists LOVE science and it only reinforces our views.
From where do you get your morality?
There’s this other cliché debate topic that Meister kept trying to make. It’s something I was taught to do at my Christian high school, too. It’s demanding that everyone respect the supernatural gift of godly morality! Christians think (and they are taught) that this is the greatest point they can make, because when they ask it they rattle their fists back and forth and almost squeal with girlish glee. They want you to say “nowhere” or from “evolution” or from sociological and anthropological evidence. Meister was aching, chomping at the bit to say, “That’s relativism! And you are SOOO wrong.”
He kept trying to make the correlation that atheist morality couldn’t exist without Christian morality, because Christians called dibs first. I don’t remember being welcomed onto a playground, but things were getting pretty juvenile.
I was taught in my Christian high school to call out relativism every chance I got. That was 15 years ago. This card is still being used? Really?
Despite every time we say it comes from excellent sources of secular judgement, they scoff and say, “Nope, that’s not as good as transcendental biblical values and morality. Because our god of morals is awesome! And because he’s awesome and we’re not, we’re in awe of his awesome morals!” You should have heard the contrived mini sermon Meister made on this point when he talked about a magic trick he did as a boy in which he was the hand making a ball appear to move by itself. He tried to say something like, Everyone might know right from wrong, but it’s the Christian who knows the source of the magic trick.
Laudy freakin dah. Meister proved our point. It’s MAN that made up the rules. It’s MAN behind the magic trick. And it’s children who are in awe of such inanity.
Christian morality is delicious, here taste it. Eat it. Take my word for it. I know it stinks. Eat it.
Meister repeated this point so much that atheists in the room finally screamed out, “The old testament is moral? Hell is moral?” (that atheist was me). The Christian man beside me let out a belchy belly-achy whine: “We have a new covenant. A new covenant!”
Christians continue to base “morality” on the bible, “The New Covenant with Jesus,” they exclaim! This is the same covenant that says disbelief in Jesus will result in eternal life in hell.
How is the thought crime of disbelief so heinously immoral that eternal hell is even remotely possible in the vocabulary of a supreme, loving and transcendent being?
Trancendent love that includes torture for unbelief IS the ultimate example of immorality. This is the major thought crime (not the only one) that Hitchens brings up a lot. And it’s high time Christians became fully aware that this is our dissent.
Q&A, failure second to none, I mean second to Meister.
Ahh, the failure of Q&As. I can’t say that I’m proud of anything that happened in the Q&A. Both sides made shining examples of appearing unintelligent. And by both sides, there was only one obvious Christian questioner who asked about the 2500-year old Israeli “accurate” prophecy of Isaiah. Yawn. Mehta responded to him by saying something like, “I don’t know much about biblical prophecy, but I imagine it’s much like astrology predictions today; you pull from them what you want” (not an accurate quote).
There were three atheist guys that stood up to “ask” questions who were shooed away, because they weren’t asking questions. They were using the microphone as their personal platform to spout less-than genius versions of atheism.
To atheists, please stop making the rest of us look ridiculous. It was my biggest complaint as a Christian, and I don’t want it to be my biggest complaint now. Seriously.
If I wanted to read Sam Harris’ or Richard Dawkin’s views, I can read their books. I was there to hear from the panel, and I appreciate if people show a decent enough amount of intelligence to ask a question preceded by a minimal amount of exposition. Show some empathy and respect, if nothing else, for the panelist you’re there to see.
Don’t purposefully try to taunt every Christian in the room by spouting every retort ever recorded by a lame-ass sitting in his dark bedroom with a webcam fighting the bold fight against Christianity. It’s not becoming. It really pisses the rest of us off, so, please, with sugar on top, stop the idiocy.
What would have been my question?
Glad you asked. I didn’t get a chance to stand up, because time ran out (thanks, batshit crazies!) If I were to ask my question before time ran out, it would be this: “If God is transcendent love without condition and you, Dr. Meister, have brought up the monsters of atheism quite redundantly (thanks again), how is it that you give God carte blanche to be the ultimate monster, the ultimate Pol Pot times Stalin times Hitler plus Ted Bundy to the one millionth power, and still consider Him/Her/It to be the ultimate love giver, when he’s incapable of true forgiveness for people brought up in non-Christian homes that are just as psychologically binding as Christianity? (And please don’t say God will deal with them on judgement day, because that’s just a pile of your own excrement.)”
I’ll take my answer over by the stove, because I’m making four pizzas today for a dinner party tonight.
*Yeah, I said “chaz meister”. At least I didn’t say “chaz meister, makin’ copies
16 thoughts on “The “Collision” Panel I like to call, a Trainwreck”
I was also at the Collision event this past Thursday. I felt that the central focus of the panel discussion afterwards was on the basis of morality, whether it be in humanity or in a transcendent being. I have been fascinated with ethics/morality for quite some time and have really begun thinking about its nature. You seem to have thought a lot about it and since the Q&A session at the event was pretty much a flop, I am interested in hearing what you have to say in regards to it. Above you mentioned that it is based in “excellent sources of secular judgement.” Would you care to expound on that a bit? Would you agree with Dawkin’s statement from his Q&A that you linked to in your post? To quote it “We derive our morality from the environment we live in, Talk shows, Novels, Newspaper editorials and of course by the guidance of parents.”
Thanks for your comment, and thanks for asking a well-thought-out question. There really is no better teacher than experience. From the earliest age, you probably found that if your parents, school, sports, clubs or friends didn’t provide some form of discipline or cognitive growth, it was found naturally in the world (e.g. gravity, touching a hot stove, a smile got rewarded, or maybe crying got you a sort of reward, etc.)
Yes, these excellent sources most often come from that which surrounds us. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that cheating on your partner will apply stress to a relationship.
As I said above, I was taught to use “morality” in debate throughout my Christian education. But when I was debating as a youth, I could not find morality in the bible. I found it in my culture. I was taught at Sunday School and at home not to lie, cheat, or steal. Did these morals come from the bible? They are in the bible, but the bible and its concepts are rife with immorality (mortal condemnation being the best and most pronounced example) Did morals come from god? I couldn’t prove god existed, and the god of the bible is so profoundly immoral so why say they come from god?
Plain and simply, the “excellent sources” are a solid disciplinary education. If Christians are so bent on saying it’s a foundational issue, and their foundation (as Meister attempted to slip in during the panel) is either sand or rock, well, I find the bedrock of Christianity’s morals AND non-Christian morals built on strong foundations that are built outside of biblical understanding. Christians think that because they have a parable of sand or rock, that theirs is superior. If transcendent condemnation remains to be part of the equation, god wins the Universal Immorality Award.
(I’ll remind you that I was taught in my Christian upbringing that thinking god is a monster is considered rebellious. It’s nonsense. I can’t emphasize enough that my background was entrenched in biblical teaching, but for all my biblical exposure, I couldn’t agree with what I was taught to think).
Christians are taught to paint “relativism” as immoral, despite the fact that their foundation is built on a form of relativism (e.g. the reference to Dawkins’ quote, “For example we all hate slavery, we want emancipation of women – they are all our moral grounds. These moral grounds started building only a few centuries ago and long after all major religions were established.”)
It’s childish to say, but Christianity is the paramount example of, “When a Christian points his finger at something, there are three fingers pointing back at him.”
So where does that leave the world? Should parents stop using religion to teach children morals? I think they should be more honest about where morals originate. They originate from experience. They are guided with discipline. Education and discipline are the best ways to live a moral life, and also the best way to grow out of the cognitive stronghold that they originate in the foundations of “Christianity.”
Thanks for the response. I actually have another follow-up question as well. If you would rather correspond through e-mail, just let me know. I don’t want to litter your page here with comments.
My question is as follows: What would be your response to a theory where morals are based on some sort of universal natural law? Similar to the laws of physics for example. So, through “solid disciplinary education,” as you said above, we discover the law and fine-tune our ideas of what is moral and what is not to better reflect the natural law, just as we study physics to have a better understanding of the laws of the physical world. I think this could give some sort of explanation for why it would be detrimental to commit “immoral” acts as they would be against a natural law. For when we neglect to recognize the laws of physics, there are obviously negative consequences.
Is this compatible with your view of morals, or do you think it’s even plausible?
I don’t mind keeping the discussion on the blog, as long as you don’t mind.
Before I go into more detail, please be so kind as to provide me with some information about your rationale for inquiry. Level the playing field a little, so I can avoid assumption as to your intent. I don’t like blindly chitchating with strangers.
You seem to be a student in search of some “truth”. And now you appear to be a shutterbug too. Dish me up a little bio or CV.
I am actually a Christian and like I said I am really interested in the field of ethics and morals. I didn’t mention that I was a Christian before because I didn’t feel it was necessary info to tell you in order for you to answer my question. I didn’t want you to think like I am in any way being hostile or manipulative. After the last question, I figured that you would begin to wonder about me. I am honestly just trying to see the world through your point of view. I feel that in order to learn more about particular world views you have to go to the source rather than getting it secondhand.
I am majoring in visual art at Bethel College (not very many atheists, and I’m guessing those that are aren’t open about it and I can see why). My emphasis is in graphic design and I have been doing photography as more of a hobby and for some money on the side. I really enjoy doing it. You can check out my site at http://www.micahrichey.com. It has a few of the portrait sessions that I have done. I am not a fan of formal portrait photography at all. It’s just too boring and manufactured for me. I am also on Facebook under Micah Kenan Richey if you want to add me.
Thanks for responding.
I assumed you were Christian by your language. Labels are certainly not necessary. I was fishing for the idea that you might be writing a paper or an article, and I needed to see what your intentions were from a different perspective. If you are, that’s fine.
I must say that I value your sort of caveat “I didn’t want you to think like I am in any way being hostile or manipulative.” I haven’t read you as being hostile, and I think your genuine inquisitiveness has come through clearly. I imagine you came to this site, because of Hemant Mehta mentioned my name at his site. And if you’re reading his blog, you’re doing well to gain knowledge about atheism.
Back to your inquiry.
Your question is an interesting one. I will answer it personally, not necessarily how its viewed by those who study ethics as a full-time pursuit.
Is there a universal natural law? From personal experience, there is a natural tendency toward particular behavior set, and the rewards of those behaviors seem to embody a sort of natural universality. This calls into question universality’s relation to relativism.
These ideas of universality of morals are all fine to discuss. But are they realistic and applicable to the “real” world? I don’t think so. There are too many other factors in the natural world to make general observations about.
You may have heard of the idea of collective consciousness (conscience collective en Français), the idea that religion plays a role in simple societies to combine mental direction for a common good. But we live in a complex society. Collective consciousness works great for a place like Bethel College, where you admittedly do not have access to an insiders’ view of atheism. I went to a Christian college where it seemed to work well, too. I didn’t admit to atheism until after I graduated. I digress.
I opine that collectively we have great foundations of moral stability in this country. And as I said before, there is relativism steeped in Christian culture, whether you agree or not is neither here nor there. It’s painfully evident. So if we can all be realistic over the nuances of what qualifies as immoral, we’d be living in a bettered society.
This may never happen.
There is another aspect of collective conscious that I want to address, and that’s the scientific idea of interconnectivity. From a science perspective, ant behavior is engrained in their DNA. They don’t go to college (obviously) to learn their menial yet intricate tasks, yet every ant that is born seems to possess the knowledge to do their work from birth. As a lover of science, this comes naturally. When it doesn’t come naturally, that ant is not kept in the ant community (form of natural selection).
My point is that there are certainly some engrained ideas passed through DNA that apply to morality as inherited behavior. Motherhood, fight or flight, etc. these things pass in a sort of vestigial structure in our DNA. They don’t always work. But we must not ignore this concept in its application to morality and ethics.
I am atheist, because I was tired of riding the margins of Christianity and disagreeing with so many things that struck me as dissonant in the Christian culture. The more I questioned, I was either shushed, told to have “faith” or given rationale that did not fulfill an intellectual void. In other words, my natural cognitive dissonance informed my pursuit of non-belief. I do not agree with all things atheism, either, as you may have recognized. Although, I must say I am much more fulfilled as a person now then I ever was as a Christian.
Curious, have you read “God is Not Great,” “End of Faith” or “The God Delusion”? If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, why not? I have been told outright by friends and family that they fear reading those books based solely on the idea that they are afraid to read something that might conflict with their beliefs. You seem like you might be different, but again, no assumptions allowed.
Thank you for the conversation.
I have not read any of those books. I’ve been wanting to read “God is Not Great” but haven’t found the time to read it. I have to read a lot for my classes so when I do read it’s been for those. While I’m sure reading one of those books would really help to further my understanding of atheism, I still think that dialogues such as the one we are having are much more helpful. Since there are certainly differing views within Christianity and atheism, it is more beneficial to discuss personal beliefs rather than trying to hold up someone else’s beliefs.
I’m sorry if I ask too many questions, but it seems impossible to sum up an entire worldview by simply answering a couple questions. One question I always have to ask when talking to anybody about morals is about free will. That is, would you affirm that we have libertarian free will or is everything causally determined? I ask this because morality looks a lot different from either side of that fence.
I would say that in order to even begin discussing moral culpability (as I see it), there has to be free will. If our thoughts and actions are causally determined then I cannot see where the “ought” in morality comes from. If I ought to do something yet have no control over my actions how can there be any culpability? Furthermore, in those circumstances I’m not sure I even know what the word “ought” would mean. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of things that are causally determined but I just think that there some things in which I am the first cause.
I would guess that you hold to a different view yourself, however I don’t want to assume anything. What are your thoughts concerning free will?
I really appreciate you working through this with me.
I’m sure your coursework is time consuming. I may have made the mistake of spending too much time studying while in college. Before I knew it, college was gone.
You can ask all the questions you’d like. I’m certainly not an authority on philosophy. But I will answer the question the best I can.
It doesn’t appear to me that you included any metaphysics in your brief explanation of free will. With all due respect, that’s a little confusing coming from a Christian. I don’t mean to denigrate your effort, but doesn’t that oppose your “worldview”? Or are you tacitly explaining that the “ought” is a metaphysical being? Or are you implying that the psychology of egocentrism informs you that free will is explicitly a doctrine of self origin?
I do not recognize free will in a religious mind in which metaphysical beings exists and claims it’s omniscient. The religious minded free will chased me from religiosity. Perhaps your definition of “free” differs from mine. If I am free to make the choice of disbelief, only to be faced with torture, the definition of free will is nullified. Does that mean a man has free will and the consequences inflict metaphysical repercussions? That’s what Christians tend to believe, but without metaphysics, those repercussions cease to exist.
There is no supernatural in atheism, therefore no metaphysical beings dictating or influencing human behavior. To me, the “ought” is neurological, environmental and ultimately physical. Often times moral free will might start with me, as you said. Other times, it does not and I am a player in its continuation forward. I understand that my brother in law and his gay partner of 14 years have a freedom to be themselves in their long-standing monogamous relationship. If someone steals their happiness because of an unprovable metaphysical worldview that clashes with my physical perception of free will, my connection to the symbiotic team of humanity becomes disturbed.
In a Dr. Meister bout of anecdotal story, I grew up on the soccer field. My coaches would videotape games and replay them. Instead of pointing out individual good or bad, they pointed out how a goal was scored as a result of team effort that lasted days not seconds. Seconds on the soccer field might have brilliant moments, but they were informed by hard-work and discipline based on team effort. Coaches would show how the goal started to formulate five minutes before it was scored, but also how training informed a positive or negative individual-to-group behavior. They were mentally planting seeds of what to work on during training. They also showed how we might have been defeated, not by a individual mistake, but by a series of group mistakes. Success is the result of symbiotic discipline. This is how an army works. This is how I operate in the world. But even this metaphor is over simplified.
There is a historical narrative that informs free will. Oversimplified, free will does not originate in self. It starts with the exploration of the plays that came before I came onto the playing field, how I am disciplined to move forward with the players that are both with me and against me. Studies show that culpability is innate. Acceptance of culpability is most often taught.
The atheist criticism of Christian free will is this very concept of the possibility of the incomprehension of culpability. The very theology of Christianity says, “The wages of sin is death, but the [outside of self] gift of God is eternal life through [scapegoat] Jesus Christ our Lord.” If free will is metaphysically forgiven, and death and consequences are debts paid in full, I’d much rather associate with the physical realm that actions lead to consequence (here and now), and that group actions of my team leads to success or failure of the legacy that will continue on after I’m off the field.
Is Christianity good for the world? In this regard, no it’s not. Jesus may forgive the adulterer, the murderer, the rapist, anyone who disrupts the greater good for whatever reason, but that does nothing for the greater good of those hurt, maimed or affected by the “sin”. These people might have mental proclivities and the free will to act on their instincts to do these things, but it is the Christian who offers metaphysical “forgiveness” for culpability. Why are there so many Christians in prison? Because the metaphysical gift of eternal freedom is a brilliant stroke of disgusting forgiveness and a tacit inability to own up to culpability. This is the danger of free will. The very story Christians tell, that the sinner on the cross is forgiven at the last second is baffling and frustrating to those who struggle in physical reality.
If the very essence of culpability and responsibility is the result of discipline within the framework of the greater good of team, the greater good of humanity, then free will can be an advantage and a benefit. Free will can also damage and destroy others sense of free will. By lumping atheists (or Christians for that matter) into a simplified idea, it is a disrespectful action and a complete disregard for team dynamics.
The sports metaphor resembles dualism too much. The fact is that the world is not dualistic, the world is multiplistic. Dualism is a psychologically juvenile trait which is where some scientists believe religion stems, and the matured mind has determined multiplism exists and that there are many more factors than us versus them. The other issue is that many would argue it’s us versus them versus them versus them ad nauseam.
My goal as an atheist who comes from a strict religious upbringing is to work toward a mentality of us AND them AND them AND them et al with comprehension of physical reality. Togetherness. Solidarity.
This is precisely what I criticized Dr. Meister for above. He was beset on playing opposition to Hemant Mehta and to atheism. While he demonized it in duality, Mehta continued an effort of building the team. Yes, Mehta made some critical statements, but all in all, he wasn’t painting Christianity in his experience as false or evil. At least to me, he identified that both have legitimate points, and since they aren’t going to whittle one off the totem pole, we might as well work together.
Does that make sense? You may feel that I was superfluously critical of Christianity above. I am very critical of atheism as well, as you might have read in my review of the panel. Atheism is by no means perfect or resistant to criticism. Atheism often comes off angry and pompous. I am no exception. Saying there is no god is a bold claim. The fingers that point toward elegance in parts of nature make a strong argument, and it’s probably one reason I held onto belief for so long. I finally determined that if there was an Intelligent Designer, all we know of that designer reflects unintelligence. If one were to make a list weighing the good and bad, the bad would tilt far.
I said before that criticism of Christianity while a Christian was shushed. I find this to be rife in its culture. There are very few who are openly critical of Christianity from the inside, which I find to be one of its biggest points of contention. I find Christianity’s inability to be criticize itself is possibly an issue of immorality. For example, its inability to accept all without condition while saying that it’s unconditional is quite possibly the most immoral concept ever conceived. What would you say to that statement?
hi jeremy, sorry i couldn’t get to this sooner, i can only handle so much typing on an iphone keyboard!
you know what i would have asked? “from a pragmatic standpoint, if the product of our ‘moralities’ are the same (i.e., human compassion and benevolence), then how does the ‘justification’ of it matter at all?” it’s a legitimate question, it addresses one of the ideas discussed in the movie, and it can be answered by both mehta and meister. now we both have to remain curious as to just how they might have answered our questions. goddamn center for inanity jackasses… i was honestly ready to yell at them all to get off the mic.
anyhow, your post is certainly an accurate portrayal of the evening. i definitely agree that mehta and bergin were the shining stars that night. i was also gravely disappointed that dr. meister resorted to the clumsy rhetoric, regurgitated apologetics, and outrageous claims that have always been all too typical of creationists (“if it quacks like a crocoduck…”) on the other hand, perhaps that was a result of the cfi morons putting him on the defensive when he wasn’t expecting to be. stage adrenaline does funny things.
Hello Jeremy, I haven’t forgotten about our discussion here. The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy for me, but I have had a chance to think about your last post.
First of all, sorry about not being more clear with my idea of the “ought” in morality. I was inferring that for me the “ought” is based on a metaphysical law. However, just because it stems from the metaphysical doesn’t mean that it is not valid or should not be enforced in the physical realm as well. Being a Christian, I believe, of course, that the universe as well as humanity was created by God to reflect a certain order, both physically and metaphysically. So for me, morality aligns humanity with reality on both planes. Whether, I’m “forgiven of my sins” or not, doesn’t change the damage done by immorality. I think there are far reaching consequences, not just punitive, in this present reality –physical and metaphysical.
It seems, ultimately, that we are not so different. Our motivation for morality is similar in that it creates unity and harmony among humanity. I, myself, would just go a step further and say that it also creates unity and harmony with God. To quote the same verse you quoted above: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sin, in the nominative form can be seen as a separation from God. If you see God as the sustainer of life, as I do, then it is no stretch to say that a separation from the sustainer of life is death. Now I would say that leading an immoral life would cause a disconnect not only between humanity and myself but also between God and myself. What I do think is a stretch is the idea that God is making a conditional statement involving himself as a punisher. It’s not so much that he is saying follow my ways or I will punish you for all eternity, but that he is saying that a separation from his self (the sustainer of life) will ultimately lead to death.
That being said, I don’t see a clear interference of free will. To make my own little illustration: Say we are sitting in an airplane flying several thousand feet in the air. I am considering jumping out of the plane without a parachute, but you inform me of the law of gravity and that doing it would be fatal. I can now choose whether or not I am going to jump out of the plane. I have a choice. This is what I would say is happening similarly with God. He is trying to show us that there is no life apart from him (since, once again, he is the sustainer of life), but ultimately we can make our own choice. Does this seem a bit stacked? Yes, it obviously is. But the odds were just as stacked up in that airplane. If the physical world can make demands on our free will, why can’t the metaphysical world?
Moving into the last question you posed, I agree with you that there is a problem when Christians, or anybody for that matter, refuse to criticize themselves. I think it is important to examine ourselves to make sure that we can look in the mirror and honestly tell ourselves that we aren’t frauds or hypocrites. As for the example you gave: as you stated it, it does seem to be immoral. However, it doesn’t seem to me that Christianity, as I see it, claims to grant unconditional salvation. God’s love and grace are unconditional, and there is an unconditional aspect to the acceptance God’s love and grace, that is anyone can accept it. However, at least in the tradition that I follow, there is the condition that we must give a positive response of faith(something that every aspect of life requires) in God by the acceptance of his love and grace. So while, I think there are several things in Christianity that we should view with a critical eye, I don’t see what you said being one of them, at least in the tradition that I come from.
Whew, sorry I’ve really kind of unloaded here, but I felt it was necessary in order to fully answer the questions you posed. I hope I have been clear enough in my answers. What are your thoughts and criticisms on anything that I have mentioned here?
I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday and were able to spend it with family and friends.
I must sincerely thank you for your considerably thoughtful response. You have been far more impressive than Dr. Meister, and certainly more impressive than all of the Christians who have commented on my blog.
I took my time getting to your response, as I, too, have been busy, and I wanted to give it its fair shake.
Frankly, I’m impressed. I’m not dumbstruck or in awe as if the light has been shed upon our differences. But I’m impressed by the level of your intellect and the level of your ability to convey what it is you believe.
I’ll be up front, this will be a backhanded compliment. You’ve managed to deliver the expected responses in non-expected ways. That is, I expected the answers you gave, but it’s refreshing that you do not demonize what I “believe” while presenting your ideas. End backhanded compliment.
Your commitment to the Christian tradition is completely apparent. Your obvious knowledge of the Christian belief system is far superior than a good 90% of those who claim they are Christian. I’m searching my mind for the need to write something like, “We need to agree to disagree” or “We’ve come to an impasse.” But that’s not the case.
I sincerely hope that you maintain the strength and knowledge you’ve been equipped with and that you equip yourself with in the future. I also hope you maintain the essence of hospitality, of patience, of understanding that you seem to possess on this thread.
If affecting the world with a knowledgeable view of Christian apologetics is your goal, you will fare well in your pursuit.
If you ever get to the point where you’d like to submit something to be published here (reference call for submissions at the top of the page), please, by all means, feel free to do so. I’m looking for contributions from any vantage point, at any length.
I have enjoyed our discussion here also. I have a little better understanding of where you are coming from. I am planning on reading (when I get a chance) at least one of the “Four Horseman” books against religion, I’m leaning towards Dennet as I am interested in the focus of his philosophy.
I was unsure of how you would respond to me at first. After reading many of the posts on your blog, I realized that you definitely have a negative view of religion in general and Christianity specifically. That did not necessarily come across as so in our discussion, and I appreciate that. I just may take you up on your offer to publish here sometime.
Oh and by the way, thanks for the traffic to my site. It has been up a bit since you placed that link in your post.