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Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”

March 7th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 38 Comments

While taking a look at pages on quote mining, I came across a rather silly example of how the Bible could be quote mined. In Psalm 14 (NIV) the Bible says, “There is no God”. It does, really! Yea, quote mining can be absolutely ridiculous, not so? Refrain from quote mining. Quote mining is dishonest, and an example of moral deficiency.

But I digress. Psalm 14:1 says:

The fool* says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

I’ve seen this quoted at non-theists. The theist doing the quoting typically interprets this to mean “those that say there is no God, are fools”. I’m not convinced. In particular, this talks about what the heart says, not what the lips say. Note in particular the footnote on “fool”:

The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.

Now there is a huge difference between

  1. The person that says there is no God…
    …is a morally deficient person, and
  2. The person who is morally deficient…
    …has a heart that says there is no God

Understand how different these two interpretations are. Also, be sure to understand exactly and completely how one can arrive at each of these two interpretations. Also remember this is poetry.

Now this is written from a theistic worldview, in a theistic culture, with a theistic audience in mind, where “God” denotes “higher purpose”, encompasses the ideals we strive towards. (See What is God?: The Personal God for some background on this understanding of theistic language.)

Here is my translation of the first verse into non-theistic language (please excuse the bits that I lose in translation), using the second interpretation:

A morally deficient person has a heart that believes there is no reason to be good, that they can do whatever they want. They have no moral compass guiding them. With no higher purpose than their own gain, they are corrupt, their deeds are vile. They do no good.

Verse two says: “The LORD looks down from heaven / on the sons of men / to see if there are any who understand, / any who seek God.” Heaven does not exist in the material universe. Heaven is a description of an ultimate ideal, a description and an idea, i.e. something in our Meh. The ultimate love and compassion is found in this ideal. A personification of this ultimate love and compassion witnesses what we are doing in our materialistic reality, to see if there’s anyone that understands, anyone striving towards such compassion, anyone reaching out to heaven. (Talking Meh here…)

A humanist may not have a belief in the particular idea of “God” that most Christians promote, but they definitely have a belief in a greater ideal. They believe that what they do does matter. They have compassion and the golden rule as their moral compass. Their deeds are not corrupt or vile, they do good. This poem cannot be talking about them, can it? Described in theistic language, the humanist has a heart that knows God, a heart that knows good, a heart that knows compassion and cares about the oppression of the poor (verse six). Effectively, they worship a God of compassion and love, even if they don’t care much about supernatural intervention.

Now consider a particular theist that verbally announces “there is a God”, but that is in fact corrupt. Consider someone calling themselves a “Christian”, but who does no good, a theist that focuses on personal gain. I propose that this psalm speaks about such people. This psalm says that while the morally deficient theist may confess “there is a God” with his lips, his heart is saying “there is no God”, as seen through his actions.

Don’t you think that challenges your perspectives on this verse a little? Do you think this makes sense? For interest’s sake, also take a look at The Message’s paraphrase of Psalm 14.

This post is a filler, so that this blog does not sit idle until I can publish my feedback on the creationism seminar. There will be more thorough feedback than I originally planned, because I’m not alone in tackling this highly biased, unscholarly, unobjective misrepresentation of science (i.e. using straw man arguments), coupled with dishonest quote mining, and topped off with a potent dose of argument from incredulity.

Categories: Worldviews
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38 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben-Jammin' // Mar 7, 2008 at 3:28 am

    The only time I’ve had the verse come up with theists it has always been meaning ‘atheists are wicked fools who are corrupt and do no good.’ It’s a rampant point of view over here. The American Heritage Dictionary lists ‘immorality’ as one of the meanings under ‘atheism’ in the last three editions (2nd, 3rd, and 4th). Newspapers publish letters to the editor or editorials like this one without a second thought. (I put a lot of work into my reply comment and I’m glad they put it up.)

    Unless you convince bible translators that the word God no longer means today what it meant then and they should re-phrase their translation, though, the verse will continue to have the ‘atheists are teh evil’ meaning. A Hugo Standard Version? :)

  • 2 Hugo // Mar 7, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Hehe… shall I label my “translations” into non-theist as from the “HSV”?

    Now I see this in that post: “It is not religion that is the opiate of the people, but atheism that is the opiate of the morally corrupt.”

    A friend of mine that recently came to visit out of America, made a comment to the effect that “it is great to see someone still believes in God”, or something. Referring to me… I was most curious why he said that and what he meant by it. He was indeed referring to “has good Christian morals”, or something along those lines. I.e. by “believes in God”, functionally, he means “has a moral compass”. Later I asked him what his views on atheists were then, thinking he would mention his concerns over Hell’s Angels being a law unto themselves (i.e. outlaws?), considering he knows a bit about them. Nope, he mentioned he doesn’t like Stephen Hawking. Further probing lead to a dismissal with laughter, and an admission that it’s personal bias against the guy.

    So what’s happening there? The atheists-are-immoral believers are confusing two groups of people, I think. They confuse the “I am immoral, I have no fear of God’s wrath” group and the sophisticated “well, I see no evidence for a belief in God, so my morality is not based on fear of God’s wrath”. I’m not sure how one deals with that kind of sentiment. More moral people publicly embracing the atheist label is indeed useful for destigmatising the label. My own post-theistic friends, however, also have negative images associated with the “atheist” label. Technical definitions aside, in this country, “atheist” is often used for someone proselytising “there is no God”. Now if such proselytising leads some theists whose only moral compass was “God”, to reject their only moral compass, then they are a force for immorality. Whether this really happens or not, it is likely what some people fear.

    So… emphasis on humanist values, de-emphasizing atheism then? Gaah, can’t find the article I want to link to now, about some guy who tried to emphasize humanism and not mention atheism, but that usually leads to whole discussions about whether he’s an atheist or not. Instead, now, first answer “yes, I’m an atheist, but that’s only the beginning…”

    Anyway, that turning around of the “opiate of the masses” reminds me much of the dishonest seminar I attended on Wednesday… apparently evolution is anti-science, not creationism. And he claims the question is not how can you be a scientist and be a Christian?, but rather how can you be a scientist and not be a Christian? Ah, the black-and-white flip-flop rhetoric.

    A transcript is on its way…

  • 3 Ben-Jammin' // Mar 7, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Gaah, can’t find the article I want to link to now, about some guy who tried to emphasize humanism and not mention atheism, but that usually leads to whole discussions about whether he’s an atheist or not. Instead, now, first answer “yes, I’m an atheist, but that’s only the beginning…”

    Was it this Friendly Atheist post or the article it linked to?

  • 4 Hugo // Mar 7, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Ah, here ya go:

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=flynn_28_2

    Good food for thought.

  • 5 Hugo // Mar 7, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Sorry, I should probably tune my spam filters some time. This limit to the number of links causes extra moderation work. ;-)

    It was originally the friendlyatheist post that I saw. Thanks for adding that link, I should have done so as a hat tip / thank you, giving credit where credit is due.

  • 6 Peter Peiser // Mar 11, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Hugo!

    I just want to say, I respect the work you do with regards to the promotion of understanding between people with differing beliefs.

    I really do not understand the postmodern views expressed in some/most of your blog posts, but what I do see is someone trying to make a positive difference in the world.

    Good job man!

    I am, however and unfortunately, still a Randian(not an objectivist, by definition you need to agree to everything in their philosophy to be classified one(and they have pretty stupid things next to the more (what I percieve as) enlightened ideas)), so what I want to do is challenge the idea you express here(I feel perhaps I do not understand what _exactly_ you mean, but I will try to paraphrase and please then correct me): “Consider someone calling themselves a “Christian”, but who does no good, a theist that focuses on personal gain”

    The biggest(and only) problem I have with this statement, is the “focuses on personal gain” which is seen as bad/evil/not good. I hold that focusing on personal gain(not so as to cause suffering to others, but still to promote yourself as far as possible) is good, and the concept of needless altruism is flawed.

    I would like your opinion on my statement, for I think it would be interesting. If you have time, that is.

    Anyway, good day to you!

  • 7 Hugo // Mar 11, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I hear you. I agree that “focusing on personal gain” is not the same as “doing no good”. I’m sketching a broader picture, my words need to be taken together to see what I’m trying to get at. Individual clauses are not perfect. I suspect “Randians” are more picky about their words, from what I’ve seen so far?

    So yes, I realise that you could have a game-theory based ethics, where all the “good” you do ultimately comes back to “personal gain” anyway.

    I am probably more into altruism than you would be. I find meaning in altruism and compassion towards other people, effectively I consider all humans as “next of kin” (and other primates as well, and other life as well). From that sense, I could apply Darwinian ethics, and claim I’m fighting for survival of our collective earthly genes…

    How would Randian ethics look? What is needless altruism, altruism that doesn’t benefit your genes, your descendant’s genes, or possibly your siblings or cousin’s? Or I’m probably mixing too much Darwinism into it now, right?

    I guess I should refrain from asking “so what’s your God?” (I need to go find this idea in that Dennett talk again, might help to explain what I’m getting at.) I’m wondering what’s your ideal/purpose in life, in terms of ethics? Who do you consider next-of-kin?

  • 8 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 12:17 am

    Heh, it is only me that is picky about word-usage. I prefer words to be as precise as possible, which is probably why I don’t understand your more postmodern writing.

    Anyhow, my reply:

    Well, firstly, I do not specifically believe all
    actions to be ultimately self-serving. I believe we are all (mostly) free agents, so we can and do sometimes act truly altruistically. However, I would say that we should, in some, or even in most, cases suppress the urge to be altruistic. Randian ethics hold that altruism is the philosophy of death, for a couple of reasons, the most important one being that if you universalize altruism you effectively kill off all intelligent life (if everyone sacrifices everything they have, they all die due to basic needs).

    My personal ideal? To become rich. As rich as possible. Who do I consider my next-of-kin, as in the biblical sense? I would say my closest family and my friends, and perhaps my friends’ friends. I measure their value in terms of my emotional connection with them. No emotional connection means that I will not sacrifice for them, as simple as that. Therefore I do not believe, for example, in charity. However, there is more to why I don’t believe in charity than only because Randian ethics dictate it. I believe it supports laziness and causes honest work to be damaged by it. For example, an argument that I will make against giving a beggar at a traffic light money: Because he will receive money from begging, he will not actively seek a job elsewhere. I know that there are not currently enough jobs for everybody. But, if you put in enough effort, you can be an entrepreneur and trade or render a service. Already this solves some of the unemployment problem.

    My argument is supported, as far as I know, by economic principles. However, I would REALLY like to know in the case that I misunderstand it, as this is a major point of my personal ethics.

    That’s my goals in a nutshell, and therefore my work is my life. I enjoy my work, and I enjoy working, and when I relax, I enjoy relaxing, but I relax just enough so that I do not overwork, but can work with maximum productivity.

  • 9 Hugo // Mar 12, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Next of kin in the “who do you care for apart from yourself” sense. ;-)

    Charity is indeed a tricky thing. There is effective charity and there is ineffective charity, or rather, productive and counter-productive?

    “Just put in enough effort and you can be an entrepreneur” is a little naive. Productive/effective charity could include the kind that makes that more possible though. Education is a big thing. Living circumstances another. I think that BMX track project sounds pretty cool, it gives children a place to play, gets them off the streets, can possibly help with the drug problem as well.

  • 10 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 1:03 am

    I have heard the argument that my statement about making money is naive, and I will think upon it some more. However, I also think that giving away freely without work earning that what is given, is unacceptable. For one thing, it grants the receiver a sense of entitlement, which they have not earned.

    My personal opinion is that everyone should earn their living by the sweat of their brow. Unearned assets are effectively stolen from those who are prepared to work for it, and earn it.

    Now, the BMX project is an interesting case, because I would say that the parents should be willing to work to earn the park, to give their children a better life(I do believe that children should be cared for by their parents, although only until they can fend for themselves). The drug problem, heh, I think that there will be drugs traded on the BMX track just like there are drugs traded in schools. The drug problem will, I think, be solved only with more, smarter and less corrupt police. I would say that that is not going to happen any time soon, so I have already given up hope on solving drug problems. I think everyone should just try to influence the younger ones in their family to avoid drugs, and this will automatically have a reaction. Also, I believe that alcohol is a dangerous drug and should be banned from use, but that is an opinion I know I am almost alone with (apart from the Muslim community).

    Anyhow, I rant too much. I still have some work to do (yes, I work until 03:00 in the mornings), so good day to you!

  • 11 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 1:09 am

    Ah, and what you mean by the “next of kin” is exactly what I mean by it. The people I know are the people I care for.

  • 12 Hugo // Mar 12, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    While I agree that families should take more responsibility, I still find your comments a little naive. Families are messed up, the children are suffering for it. The BMX track is useful precisely because it lets them get away from messed up families for a while.

    And black-and-white thinking is also bad. “Ah, we can’t solve the drug problem, so we shouldn’t even try”. I think children doing sports or something else that is fun are much less likely to do drugs. Though yes, I have not seen studies.

    The problem is typically blissful ignorance of the living conditions of people less fortunate than us. I’ve never even been in Kayamandi… I think that’s shocking.

    Anyway, just try to think in a less bi-polar, either-or way, try think of the third option. There usually is a third option.

  • 13 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    What I mean with my statements are not black-or-white, I mean it as a statement of an ideal, which is necessarily extreme. While you say that they are victims of their circumstance, I say they are free agents who should take responsibility for themselves. I do understand that reality is always grey, but placing the extremes help me orient myself with regards to the situation.

    I am aware of the living conditions there, but I still think that the people living in those conditions are rational adults, albeit in poor circumstances.

    Therefore, while I say that they must earn what they get, you imply that they will not, and therefore we must give it to them. I fundamentally disagree with this sentiment, and that is where I think we differ.

    With regards to the drug problem, I do not say “We cannot solve it, therefore we must do nothing”. I say we must do what will definitely help, namely removing the drug dealers and manufacturers, rather than hoping that random community projects will help.

    In general, I think that the electricity and housing crises are more important than the BMX project, so if someone were to force me to commit to charity, I would choose one of those, rather than a playground. Though this opinion is not based on specific study of long-term effects, more of my personal intuition, which is probably mistaken and should be corrected where proof is forthcoming.

  • 14 Hugo // Mar 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Therefore, while I say that they must earn what they get, you imply that they will not, and therefore we must give it to them.

    Hmm, no, not quite. I’m mostly responding to your necessarily extreme statements, arguing for more greyness. As such, I suggest our disagreement is more about the use of extreme words to describe the situation. (You speak in extremes and ideals, and I fight that.)

    Electricity and housing, granted. Maybe helping out at “habitat for humanity” might be another interesting and worthwhile thing to do. And then education…

    The thing is, many socioeconomic forces can serve to institutionalise poverty. If you want a really stupid (um, extreme, idealistic) example, think of Randian advice applied prior to the abolishing of apartheid, given to a black kid being oppressed by the white regime: “All you have to do is put in enough effort…” I’m sure you would agree that advice is not quite right, eh? We whiteys in control don’t need to do anything, it is up to them to put in enough effort…?

    Extremist thinking. Now my suggestion is that, while apartheid is no more, there are still forces outside of your own control that could keep you down (if you grow up in, say, Kayamandi). One of these forces can be misguided charity, in fact. As you pointed out as well. I agree with that. I’ve heard some countries keep their countries poor, because the poorest countries get more aid from international sources. A nice incentive not to fix your country from the inside…

    So, the question then becomes, what can we do, what should we do, that could help counter the institutionalised poverty? What causes an increase between the haves and the have-nots? Education and economic success breeds education and economic success. You could tax the rich more, you could fight capitalism and inherited wealth and inherited success, using laws etc. Or you could encourage a sense of responsibility amongst the “haves”, and try to figure out and teach how they can help to balance the scales. What do you suggest?

    Just for curiosity’s sake, a quick look at Israel’s socioeconimic legislation from the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), quoting Marcus Borg:

    “These laws also include some of the most radical socioeconomic legislation in human history. For example, no interest is to be charged on loans to fellow Israelites. Especially striking are the regulations for the sabbath year and jubilee year. Every sabbath (seventh) year, all debts owed by Israelites to other Israelites are to be forgiven and all Hebrew slaves released. Every jubilee (fiftieth) year, all agricultural land is to be returned at no cost to the original family of ownership. These laws reflect Israel’s origin in Egypt as a radically oppressed and marginalized people. Their purpose was to prevent the emergence of a permanently impoverished class within Israel.”

    Extreme, eh? ;)

  • 15 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I think the main difference in our approaches to life in general is that I think that any grey consists of a mixture of black and white, while you would say it is simply grey.

    However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the concept of fighting capitalism. Capitalism is the system that causes the largest amount of economic growth. Sure, the rich get richer in proportion to the poor, but the poor get richer as well. See, for example, America, where one of the biggest problems for the poor is obesity.

    Also, reduction of taxes across the board increases the economic growth of companies, which, in turn, provide more jobs for the people in the country.

    Education, specifically, is an interesting case for me. In my opinion, education is not a right. It is something that you must work for to gain. Neither of us passed our degree because education was given to us. We worked for it, and earned it by studying. Now, you would perhaps say, what if they don’t know they must study? I think the proofs of the merits of study are abundant. Even if they cannot afford to study at a formal institution, they can educate themselves with access to a library and books.

    For the case of the countries which are poor and for which there is no hope, I would suggest open and violent rebellion of the population, hopefully assisted by a free country, and rebuilding the country with hard work.

    Heh, I am not trying to troll, so please don’t misunderstand me. My concepts are, in my opinion, very alien compared to yours, and to the population in general.

  • 16 Hugo // Mar 12, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the concept of fighting capitalism.

    I suppose I may be making a mistake if I think you’re implying I’m all into fighting capitalism.

    Not everyone has the opportunity to go to university. We are indeed highly privileged to have had the opportunity. Not everyone can afford it, not everyone has had the primary and secondary education required in order to be capable of successfully completing a tertiary education.

    Not everyone can go to the library to read books. Not everyone can read. Not everyone can do maths. Not everyone is capable of understanding the big difference between their own upbringing and the situation found amongst the poor.

    Or we can continue on our path to greater class tensions due to an even greater difference between rich and poor, and eventually have that violent rebellion by the working class that you seem to advocate. ;)

    http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=125&art_id=vn20071102100824281C942188

    My concepts are, in my opinion, very alien compared to yours, and to the population in general.

    You mean “I believe my concepts are unknown to you”? Don’t flatter yourself…

  • 17 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    The article by IOL says nothing concrete. It does not, for instance, say by how much the “poor got poorer”, and the “rich get richer”. It also said that the top 15-20% of blacks were becoming richer, as well as that “80% of the whites who were already rich” were getting richer. Therefore 20% of the whites, who WERE rich, were getting poorer. It also does not say what percentage of the whites were getting richer, and by what percentage.

    The article is also full of Marxist overtones, which I specifically oppose, as I find Marxism destructive and absurd.

    But that’s the article.

    I know that not everybody can read, study, etc. But everybody can make the effort to learn to read, to learn to study. The exceptions are the people with learning disabilities, and even they can learn to a limited degree. But if you penalize everyone financially(with eg charity or excessive taxes) to give special status to the minority, I believe you are on the wrong path.

    I did not mean that you do not know of my viewpoints, I just meant that they differ wildly. I did not mean to insult your knowledge, but in any case, I apologise for the misunderstanding.

  • 18 -M- // Mar 12, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Sorry I havent followed the all discussion but I have 2 quick questions for you Peter:

    Where do you come from/live?
    And if you dont come from Africa, have you ever been to this continent?

  • 19 Hugo // Mar 12, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    -M-, he’s a local. He studied in Stellenbosch. He’s just been reading too much Ayn Rand, that’s all… ;)

    Peter, thanks, I also apologise for the misunderstanding. Electronic communications and all, I’m slowly beginning to understand you better (despite lack of body language and cues with regards to tone etc).

    And I do still experience your black&white approach to be an obstacle to effective communication and community. (For example, I don’t see encouraging charity as a “penalizing” method, I’m not advocating “special status” for minorities, and I don’t think there is a “right path” and a “wrong path”, possibly “better paths” and “worse paths”, or paths with different trade-offs.)

    I’m curious, suppose another you had inherited an empire, suppose you were born into a privileged upper class, what would you suggest for that other you? Able to live comfortably without any effort of your own. What’s your take on that kind of situation?

  • 20 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    I come from South Africa.

    But now, this is actually a loaded question, implying that I cannot know how things are here. Unfortunately, I have been to Khayalitsha and have seen the circumstances the people live in there.

    Sure, they live in terrible poverty. Sure, someone needs to do something. But, where you probably say the public needs to do something about their situation, I am saying that they should work for it themselves. But that cannot work, can it? Proof that it can work is that we came from the stone age up to the information age by hard work, and hard work alone.

  • 21 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    Hugo, I would qualify that there is an optimal path and a lot of suboptimal paths, but also agree that we can only see “better” and “worse” paths, and that the optimum is in most cases hidden. But not all.

    What I would expect to someone inheriting a fortune must do, is work hard to be able to say “I earned my fortune, even if I started off with a large capital base”. For someone just leeching the inheritance (eg Paris Hilton, although she does do a few (pathetic) shows that earn money), they are an example of all that is wrong with this world.

  • 22 Peter Peiser // Mar 12, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Aww hell, I turned into an Randian zealot. (:

  • 23 Hugo // Mar 12, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Yup… Randian zealot. ;)

    I disagree that there is an optimum path, because I disagree that there is a way to compare apples and oranges. But we digress, we should rather be working. :-P

    Proof that it can work is that we came from the stone age up to the information age by hard work, and hard work alone.

    Not quite. I believe we get to where we are by exploiting other classes and other nations. That’s where the problem lies. In cases where your success and your economy is at the cost of another group or economy, then you’ve got a problem.

    What I would expect to someone inheriting a fortune must do, is work hard to be able to say “I earned my fortune, even if I started off with a large capital base”.

    Make more money, build an even greater fortune? To what end? What motivation does Paris have for doing so? But anyway, I digress. The point was that she gets it really easy. We get it less so, but we still get it really easy in comparison to a down-and-out Kayamandi family. To a down-and-out Kayamandi family, we’re Paris Hilton. (I guess I should speak for myself, I don’t know what you’ve been through. I just know you’ve got a bank account, a house to live in, a car to drive(?), and a university education. That puts you in what, the top 5% wealthiest people in the world? (That’s a completely thumb-suck number and stats now, because I don’t have access to the stats I saw before. Something like a bank account with $100 in it and a place to live…)

    With regards to making fortunes… I enjoyed being a Bill Gates detractor, or Microsoft detractor rather. I was a little bit of an anti-Microsoft, Free-software fundamentalist in my idealistic years. However, recently I gained new respect for the guy. (I still dislike his business’ old practises, but you know, no one is perfect. Sure, I’ll still occasionally ridicule Bill Gates and Microsoft for fun, but it will be in jest.) I also have respect for Mark Shuttleworth, though I don’t know what he’s up to exactly.

    Maybe you’d do yourself a favour by reading about poverty on Wikipedia. If you and your family is too busy fighting to survive, scavenging for food, battling bad water, maybe walking two hours every morning to fetch water… you don’t have time to get an education.

    What music do you listen to?

    Tracy Chapman, Fast Car excerpt:

    You see my old man’s got a problem
    He live with the bottle that’s the way it is
    He says his body’s too old for working
    I say his body’s too young to look like his
    My mama went off and left him
    She wanted more from life than he could give
    I said somebody’s got to take care of him
    So I quit school and that’s what I did

    Now you could go and be all Biblical and talk about generational sin. Ancient Israel (and Shofar’s) teachings say that sinning can cause punishment for your children and their children and their children’s children. She had to quit school because of the sins of her father. But you’re non-religious of course. However, that’s the point here. Individualism is a myth. We live in an interconnected society, and people do suffer due to the “sins” of their parents. The children of Kayamandi’s parents cannot build them a BMX track.

  • 24 Peter Peiser // Mar 13, 2008 at 4:52 am

    “I believe we get to where we are by exploiting other classes and other nations.”
    Please qualify this.

    I agree that slavery played a role in the development of society us we know it today, but to say that we got where we are today by exploitation is, I think, quite a leap, and not supported by common sense. Newton did not create the theory of gravity by whipping his slaves.

    I will agree that parents can contribute to their childrens’ suffering. In some cases, eg foetal alcohol syndrome, they are the greatest bane on their children. But to imply the children and the decent parents do not have the power to change the situation is elitist and patronising towards them.

    “The children of Kayamandi’s parents cannot build them a BMX track.”-Why not?

    I am currently listening to Tool- 10, 000 days
    “High is the way
    but our lives are upon the ground.
    You are the light and the way
    They’ll only read about
    I only pray heaven knows
    When to lift you out
    10000 days in the fire is long enough.
    You’re going home…”

    But I listen to a large amount of music, eg Nine inch Nails, classical cello music by Rostropovich, heavy metal grinding by Mastodon, angsty whining by Linkin Park , trance by Armin van Buuren , gospel by 16 Horsepower, and a lot of others.I am not bound to specific genres, and I’m pretty much prepared to listen to anything I find pleasing to hear.

    Anyway, good day to you!

  • 25 Hugo // Mar 13, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Colonialism… I’ll put up a blog post about an animation that points out third-world exploitation some time. Creating the theory of gravity doesn’t cause an economic boom… Your examples are still caricatures (and my examples lacking, because I’m not studying socio-economics).

    But to imply the children and the decent parents do not have the power to change the situation is elitist and patronising towards them.

    Does anyone have cool words (similar in nature to “elitist” and “patronising”) for Peter’s attitude? ;-)

    “The children of Kayamandi’s parents cannot build them a BMX track.”-Why not?

    Can I give you three guesses, or appeal to common sense?

    With regards to music, I was pondering music that gives people an idea of what the lower-class living/situation is like.

    Anyway, I’m kinda trying to let this conversation die. I’ve been playing outside my own field of expertise these last few years, and I’m about to pay dearly for these excursions. (I’m about to fail an interview. ;) ) These kinds of discussions really need the input of someone with more socio-economics expertise.

    http://www.angryflower.com/atlass.gif

  • 26 Pieter // Mar 13, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    “My personal ideal? To become rich. As rich as possible.”

    If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do with all that money?

  • 27 Hugo // Jul 12, 2008 at 10:54 am

    KJV: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”

    The fool hath said… Do y’all agree that the KJV version most likely explicitly points to meaning 2? The NIV translation is more ambiguous with its contemporary language.

  • 28 Jacobus // Aug 24, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Reminds me of a talk given by Karen Armstrong at TED talks:

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion.html

    Apparently “belief” had a different meaning in the Biblical times. It was more an affiliation (emotion, love) towards something, than a set of belief statements. (I think we have the Enlightenment to thank for this, who limited “truth” to logic and reason.) This makes the distinction between “believers” and “non-believers” more complex. Faith, then, has more to do with “heart”, and less to do with doctrine.

    There is, of course, a big difference between saying “God is love” and “love is God”. The former can exlcude all good works to only those that share your faith. The latter makes belief in God immaterial. I am not convinced by either: Is it possible to have a heart that loves unconditionally, without a belief in Goodness?

  • 29 Hugo // Aug 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    I love Karen Armstrong. Though again, I have yet to read her books. Some of her ideas have shaped some of mine though, in particular through her wikipedia page (which no longer contains some of the things that inspired me) and the time I came across one of her books in the book shop.

    Jacobus, I certainly agree that both renderings of the God&love idea are problematic. I’m not sure what your last sentence implies though? It certainly resonates with some of my sentiments, but the intended implication eludes me. If I read the question literally, well, I’d say a mother can love a child unconditionally, without a particular “belief” in “Goodness”. However, I’d maybe also argue that the unconditional love of mother to child encapsulates quite well the whole concept of “Goodness” for the mother. I.e. I’d deny a causal connection, but somehow suggest they come together? What version of “belief” are you using here? ;)

  • 30 Hugo // Aug 24, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    @myself in #27:

    The fool hath said… Do y’all agree that the KJV version most likely explicitly points to meaning 2?

    Meh, I shouldn’t make any assumptions about old English, should I. (Ideally I should go back to the original Hebrew. Maybe I should ask a friend that loves doing literal translations to check out this psalm’s first verse.)

  • 31 Jacobus // Aug 24, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    On love and God: I agree that they are related and cannot be resolved with a simple causal relationship. And I feel that the one feeds the other.

    Love your idea that “Goodness” is completely encapsulated in the act of love.

    Maybe what I am hinting at is purpose. What drives the mother to love unconditionally? My normal answer, “because it is a more meaningful existence”, smells too much like circular reasoning. What lies behind that? We all have belief-systems and some belief systems make it easier to love than others.

    Maybe the answer lies, not in talking about love, but acting it…

  • 32 Hugo // Aug 24, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Hmm, the mother-child question is too easy to answer from an evolution-aware perspective: “genes” – mother-child love is encouraged by genetic programming because it would be selected for genetically: it is how a nurturing species ensures propagation. (Opposite tactic to that of e.g. frogs that take the shotgun approach.)

    I’d point out that this may be the Lah-level (empirical reality) side of the question, but that the Meh-level (personal worldview based on language, memes, mythos, stories we tell) is what is really *experienced*. The question becomes much more interesting when that mother-child kind of love is then taken as an ideal, and our compassion within our genetic ties are expanded to a much wider target group than can be accounted for by genes. *That* is the expression of love that a “good” worlview should encourage, including the “great religions” as well as humanism.

    It can be motivated from a common-descent perspective, of course, for those that have a strong gene-centric appreciation for things. Respect all marvels, especially living marvels, because we all have much in common. On earth all living things seem to share the same biology… for example. It all from the same biological source?

    In any case, so flows love and compassion.

    I see today’s sermon at Stellenbosch Gemeente dealt with getting past doctrinal statements and onto walking a particular path (described in the concept of following Jesus), meaning living a certain kind of way of life, a certain behaviour. Sweet! (Ponder: I should be careful of “sweet”, it being slang that can be misunderstood in the non-slang sense of kittens being “sweet”.)

    I liked that Karen Armstrong TED talk, thanks.

  • 33 Hebrewtattoo // Oct 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Now there is a huge difference between

    The person that says there is no God…
    …is a morally deficient person, and
    The person who is morally deficient…
    …has a heart that says there is no God

    There is a difference, but there is a sequence. The passage clearly states both.

    Also, passage is quoted in Romans 3 where the sequence is made clear and supports what I am suggesting. The passage refers to God’s people and non-God’s people.

    So

    The person who says that there is no God is a fool (fool = thinks or acts like they know more than God)

    And a person who thinks (or acts like) they know more than God (believer or non-believer) is morally corrupt.

    Moral corruption is defined as living and acting like there is no God. It is not defined in the Bible in 20th century terms.

    All, I mean all ancient peoples had this idea of immoral because ALL ancient people thought morality was from the gods.

  • 34 Hebrewtattoo // Oct 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    So I think, you think to much and not know enough. :)

  • 35 Constantine // Nov 26, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Many atheists are very intelligent individuals. It is not intelligence, or a lack thereof, that leads a person to reject belief in God. It is a lack of morals that leads a person to reject belief in God. People do not reject the idea of there being a Creator Being. Rather, people reject the idea of there being a Creator Being who demands morality from His creation. In order to clear their consciences and relieve themselves of guilt, people reject the idea of God as the only source of absolute morality. Doing so allows atheists to live however they choose—as morally or immorally as they desire—with no feelings of guilt for their refusal to be accountable to God. Many famous atheists have agreed to that…

  • 36 Hugo // Feb 1, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I’m sorry Constantine, I believe you are wrong. Are you still around / following this conversation? Then I’ll try to explain.

  • 37 Constantine // Feb 1, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I’m not sure why you think I’m wrong, Hugo, when it is a totally rational comment and in addition, there are many (famous) atheists that have, more or less, agreed to that.

    But (obviously) I’m still here and I’m happy to read your rebuttal! :-)

  • 38 Hugo // Feb 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Constantine!

    Looks like I get around to writing on this site about once per month. Good to run into people that are patient and interested in discussion!

    Reiterating the statement that I take exception to:

    It is a lack of morals that leads a person to reject belief in God. People do not reject the idea of there being a Creator Being. Rather, people reject the idea of there being a Creator Being who demands morality from His creation. In order to clear their consciences and relieve themselves of guilt, people reject the idea of God as the only source of absolute morality. Doing so allows atheists to live however they choose—as morally or immorally as they desire—with no feelings of guilt for their refusal to be accountable to God.

    This is what I find to be a gross misrepresentation. I find it particularly pernicious due to the way half-truth seems blended into it. The point that makes me confident in stating “that is wrong” in particular is the fact that it is a generalisation that thereby inherently claims “this applies to all people that reject belief in God”, which I’m sure you’ll agree would be a false statement. Probably your statement was intended more as a claim of a “common theme in many cases” rather than a claim of “always the case”. Even in the latter I’m not happy accepting the statement though.

    I’ll start with where I can recognise some truth: Some forms of Christianity insist on certain things being “bad”, being sin. Permit me to use an example from Orthodox Judaism for illustration. I was walking with a friend-of-a-friend in the rain. I was carrying the umbrella, after I opened it, because it was the Sabbath and this friend-of-a-friend wasn’t allowed to open it or carry it herself. And wasn’t allowed to use public transport.

    The conversation that we had was most fascinating. I wondered if she ever tried not following the requirements of Orthodox Judaism. She actually did, for a little while, but she found herself very uncomfortable with it. She was accustomed to following these requirements and felt guilty and uncomfortable when she didn’t. Not to mention experiencing societal pressure, since everyone is watching everyone else and then talking about it if anyone fails to observe.

    Now someone going through a deconversion process might have thoughts provoked by these requirements. “Why can’t I wear linen and wool at the same time? What is so offensive about having dairy and meat in the same meal?” Such thoughts might be one of the key koans in a former Jew’s conversion apostasy, or perhaps conversion to Christianity.

    If they eventually convert to Christianity, they would have many reason for doing so. In discussing their conversion and their history of doubt within Judaism, they might mention that they were bothered by the requirements surrounding meat and dairy or wool and linen.

    Now someone hearing this could characterise their conversion as follows, permit me to adapt your words into another scenario:

    It is not intelligence, or a lack thereof, that leads a Jew to convert to Christianity. It is a lack of morals that leads a person to stop following the Purity code required by Yahweh. People reject the idea of the Creator Being demanding purity from His creation. In order to clear their consciences and relieve themselves of guilt, people reject the idea of Yahweh’s commandments as the only source of absolute morality. Doing so allows them to live however they choose—as pure or impure as they desire—with no feelings of guilt for their refusal to be accountable to Yahweh.

    This, I argue, would be a blatant misrepresentation of why they chose to convert to Christianity. Do you agree on this particular example? Even if you don’t agree to this example being a good representation of the deconversion to atheism examples you are referring to, I think it serves well to illustrate how I’m thinking about this and why I take exception to your claims. I’m hoping this helps you understand my point of view even if you don’t agree with my point of view?

    As to the last sentence:

    Many famous atheists have agreed to that…

    I’d like to point out this is anecdotal, argument from authority, but most importantly probably quote mining and misrepresentation of those famous individuals’ full views. Given a citation or two we could examine some of them to be used for an illustration of what I mean regarding the bigger picture, or the framing and tweaking of an individual’s story of deconversion. It would still be anecdotal, but my expectations are that most of those stories could be used for such an illustration.

    If you’re interested in why people really leave the faith, we can continue discussing this, or I can even try to get some of the old-timers on this blog’s comment thread to chip in with a story or two. But you can also head over to http://de-conversion.com/ for plenty on that. They even have a pair of posts, linked to from the side-bar on all pages, to try to clear up the misrepresentations and false claims other people make about their de-conversion:

    http://de-conversion.com/2008/03/27/convenient-categories/
    http://de-conversion.com/2008/04/07/inconvenient-categories-the-really-real-reasons-de-cons-left-the-faith/

    Are you still with me? Again apologies for taking so long to respond, you know how life sometimes gets… ;)

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