Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
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Friday, May 20, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Sunday, May 8, 2011
In Romans 7:20 Paul makes the claim that, “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” So Paul believes that sin lives inside us and acts against our will. This would seem to undermine traditional arguments based upon free will. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41)
Of course, what Paul seems to be talking about, from a modern perspective, is biological or hormonal urges. Your body has certain physical reactions that are reflexive and do not even go through the higher brain. Your heart rate quickens. Males may get an erection. Certain things like this are not 100% under conscious control. Indeed, modern physiology tells us that the brain has many layers, and some of these lower layers, around the amygdala, for example, are concerned with the more base instincts of fear and gratification.
Yet Christianity still sets impossible standards, saying that we should avoid these things over which we have little or no control. Jesus, in Matthew 5:27-28 says, for example, “You have heard it said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This may even be the basis for Christian opposition to pornography, for example.
It is easy to demolish this silly claim, and once one does then Christians will resort to some sort of mind reading act about Jesus saying, “(I think) what Jesus meant was that you should try to control yourself,” etc, etc. The really slippery ones will then go back and try to quibble about wording after the fact, so it is also important to *pre-test* them and ask them, “Is it committing adultery or not, as Jesus says, to look at a woman lustfully? Answer yes or no right here:____” As I have said, later on they will come back to a single word to try to equivocate and pretend that you did not force them to change their view.
To quickly summarize the arguments against Jesus's belief that thought crimes are equivalent to real crimes, let us start with food. Gluttony, is one of the seven deadly sins, so imagine eating mountains of cake and ice cream. Oh, wait, Jesus says that it's wrong to even look lustfully at a pie. It's the same as being a real glutton, despite the fact that you haven't gained an ounce or deprived anyone else of a single morsel of food. Please hold off on the mind-reading apologetics, because I'm not done beating on this silly teaching of Jesus. If you imagine killing someone that may not be a good thing. It might lead to the real thing, but it might not. It might relieve your anger to imagine it for an instant, just as it might relieve your sexual tensions to look at a woman lustfully. Furthermore, and here's the clincher, if just imagining a forbidden act like adultery is the same as doing it, then why not go all the way and rape her, especially if nobody is around and you can get away with it? God says you have already committed adultery and presumably will already be punished for it. So why not actually follow your fantasies or vague intentions?
At this point, the Christian shouts, “A ha, I've found an excuse!” (in their own minds). They finally realize, via the thought experiment, that there is a difference between the physical act of adultery and the vague mental intentions. Thinking “Damn, she's hot” is a lot different than throwing her down and raping her. However, under no circumstances will they admit that it was your discussion which caused them to see the passage differently, because then they might have to admit that their faith can be changed or shaken. Instead, they will say, “Jesus says the act was only committed ...'in his heart',” versus “in her vagina”, so Jesus is off the hook for saying its totally the same. Not so fast.
To begin with, that effectively means that Jesus is saying nothing, because he is just restating the obvious that when you imagine doing something bad that you have committed an imaginary crime. So should you just burn in “imaginary hell” instead of the real thing? Is imagining being the King of England even close to actually being King of England, especially if you cannot really become the king of England? Then why is imagining sex with someone even comparable to the physical act?
Secondly, nobody said that Jesus didn't know the difference between a thought and an action. We all do. But Jesus is confusing himself and others when he suggests that there effectively is not much difference. Again, you can attempt to deny this, because, like many ancient holy men, Jesus's teachings were vague and incomplete. However, why compare a mental act to a physical act with no additional qualifications, unless you are suggesting an equivalence. When an adulterer commits real adultery, there are presumably thoughts that go with these actions. Jesus is saying that there is no difference between the bad thoughts of the real adulterer and the imaginary adulterer, despite the fact that one acts and one does not. Yet most of us know that there has to be some difference in thoughts, because, in one case, the person's thoughts emboldened him to act, and in the other case the thoughts did not. The thoughts that lead to actual, physical adultery surely had to be more serious in their intentions and more grounded in the real, physical world. Fantasy thoughts of sex with another women may be more generic and not even involve a specific woman, or, if they do, may never be with the serious intention of following through. Why should we be punished for thinking about things that we know we won't actually be able to do? We might imagine having sex with Beyonce, but we know it won't happen. It might be an impure thought, but it's not one that leads to any kind of action. Therefore it's still not as impure as the thoughts of the many men who have had sex with Beyonce.
So what is the substance of this teaching. You can imagine anything, but that doesn't automatically make you take on the character of the individuals who might do these things in reality. It's pretty clear that Jesus is trying to discourage us from thinking lustful thoughts, but his “argument” seems to be absurdly weak, since thinking about a given thing is nowhere even close to that actual thing. The only workable defense is to deny that Jesus was doing any more than making an empty statement about lust producing an imaginary crime. Since he never specifies the penalties for imaginary crimes there is nothing that can really be done with this teaching. Perhaps he wants us to imagine good thoughts, but, even there, imagining them and doing them are quite different things, and we should be hesitant to grant too much credit or blame for things that never leave our own minds.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Don't blame God for evil, because he only gave you the ability to choose to do right or do wrong. That is the freewill defense in a single bleat. Of course, there are many obvious objections that arise to this approach. The first might be to point out that choice without prior knowledge is merely shooting in the dark. He can sit in judgment of our blindfold marksmanship, but how can he blame us overly much for missing the target when he himself tied the blindfold. Anyway, who would say that it was morally responsible to hand a blindfolded man a loaded gun, spin him until dizzy, and set him loose for a game of Russian Roulette against the world?
Clearly more than mere choice is needed to determine morality. He must also furnish, along with choice, a level of light necessary to see the choices clearly. To the extent that this light appears to some and not to others we can say that some are fortunate and others are not, but is it really fair to consign to flames those whose only sin was to be born with eyes too weak to do day labor as well as others?
Likewise, nobody would fault a person for being born slow-witted, nor can we credit a person with any special moral character for being born a genius. In common parlance we say these intellectual faculties are “God-given”. Furthermore, it should be obvious to all but the most stubborn, that a genius may have an easier time making certain good choices, compared to a slow-witted person, because choice involves thinking, and the genius is, by definition, more adept at some forms of thinking. Even if we take the counter-intuitive Christian view that a slow-witted or ignorant person may sometimes have an easier time of making choices, since such persons don't tend to over-complicate things, we can simply reverse the argument and say that now, slow people end up with an occasional undeserved advantage, compared to others. In either case though, we can hardly sit in judgment of the moral character of these individuals when it comes down to biological qualities of their brains, just as we do not "blame" a person for his or her skin color, sex, etc.
By the way, it is interesting that many religious people go to great pains to insist that homosexuality is “a choice”, yet clearly nobody would say that we choose to be born a man or a woman. By being born a man we tend to have a natural attraction to women. The alternative is to say that we choose it at random, which would mean that it's a fifty-fifty deal, which doesn't match reality. Clearly, if males are naturally predisposed to like women, and women are naturally disposed to like men then we can imagine that wires get crossed and some men end up being naturally disposed to like men. Futhermore, you will note that, the fact that there is choice in the equation still doesn't entirely address the situation. Sure, there is an element of choice, but the choice is a biased one, because, without an inborn, hormone-based biological sex drive, we might not have ever been tempted to philander or “transgress nature”. Therefore, at best we can say that choice is part of the equation in terms of sexual “immorality” and that the other part is not choice-based.
Thus, so far, we have established that moral decisions are based not just upon free will, but also starting knowledge, inborn intellect, and hormonal levels. If we cannot blame God for these factors then whom should we fault? We might say it is “nature”, assuming that god surrenders his prerogatives to its randomness, but this still does not make human free will 100% culpable for the amount of evil in the world.
This says nothing of the more traditional objections, such as natural disasters, which likewise undermine the doctrinaire view that 100% of evil can be attributed to free will. Indeed if even a small percentage of evil can be attributed to factors other than free will then this still creates a problem for the defense. Something else must account for these kinds of problems. While we might attribute natural disasters to mere misfortune, rather than evil, we cannot say that evil created by people who are ignorant or slow-minded is merely misfortune. Nor is pain alone the measure of these evils and misfortunes. An ignorant person may not experience any pain due to some poor choices, and others may not necessarily feel pain from their choices either, but the choice can nonetheless be the wrong one.
Still don't believe me? What about Saint Matthew who famously observed that, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"? (Mt 26:41). Despite our best efforts and desires to make good choices, our "weak flesh" rebels. This apparently lead Saint Paul to theorize that, "if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it". (Ro 7:20) This is hardly a vote of confidence for free will, because it says that your actual will is thwarted by naughty tendancies within the body itself, which overwhelm the will. Therefore even people who want to be good, like the saints say that they are unable to do good, despite their desires to behave morally. This makes a naive invocation of "free will" as an explanation for the existence of evil completely untenable.