Caricaturing and disapproving sceptics, religious critics and figured out ethics

Since 1872 when the UK Parliament authorised public meetings, very Sunday, Londoners gather at ‘Speaker’s Corner’ in Hyde Park to talk, debate and preach about whatever they choose.

In the 1970ies wherever you went in London you could find street corner preachers of which some also presented themselves as prophets. They where full of fire and let their spirit go over many listeners and curious onlookers.  Often they acted as if they were deeply concerned about the fate of souls. With those who disagreed with they were willing to show their way of thinking was right.

The street corner preachers are gone, but today we have the online preachers. Their attitude does seem to be quite similar like their old colleague’s. John Blake from CNN does find you can tell that those contemporary street corner preachers relish the prospect of eternal torment for their online enemies.

Some don’t even try to hide their true motives:

“I hope you like worms because you will have your own personal worm to feed off your fat drippings in hell for all eternity…”

That’s what a commenter called “HeavenSent” said to another following an article on evangelical Pastor Rick Warren. HeavenSent ended his malediction with one word: “Amen.”

Okay, so that’s the wrong way to argue about religion online if you’re a street corner prophet. Now, here’s the right way:

Not everyone who disagrees with you deserves eternal torment. People rarely listen to someone who is in perpetual attack mode.

MSN Classic sign-in screen

MSN Classic sign-in screen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I had my MSN blog and reacted on several MSN Groups I encountered often very unchristian attitudes and even got several viruses especially send to my mailbox. Some reactors or so called Christians would not have hesitated to put shit in my mailbox. It was incredible how some people who I did not know personally, and who did not really knew me, reacted and called me all sorts of names. Those Christian shouters were all the time Trinitarians defending their belief as the only one belief. Non-trinitarians were called heretics and even nonbelievers, though according to me everybody does belief something.

 

The first page of the Nicomachean Ethics in Gr...

The first page of the Nicomachean Ethics in Greek and Latin, from a 1566 edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aristotle who could not be called ‘a believer’ in his Nicomachean Ethics believed already that people could study ethics and by doing so could become good, and in so doing become a virtuous, flourishing, fulfilled, happy human being.
The agnostic as a person who claims, with respect to any particular question, that the answer cannot be known with certainty, may have an open mind about religious belief, especially the existence of God, but often believes that because there is no reference to any concept of gods or the supernatural that it does not mean there would be not such special power or not something after death.

The humanist, who wants to take a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church, may believe that moral values follow on from human nature and experience in some way. Most humanists would agree or believe that people should work together to improve the quality of life for all and make it more equitable. According to some, humanism is a full philosophy, “life stance” or worldview, rather than being about one aspect of religion, knowledge, or politics.

With many who say they are “non-religious” we can find the believe in humanity. Many of them look for the way and sense of life. Even when they reject the idea of any supernatural agency, they are aware of the universe and the placing of the human being in the whole ‘creation‘. They also belief we should look for ways to make the best out of the world.

Sceptics as either doubter, cynic or a person who believes the worst about people or the outcome of events, perhaps may swear that they do not believe in anything, but already by swearing they confess a certain believe. It is their belief that there is doubt about all the many religious sayings, myths, supernatural or “paranormal” beliefs. More than one cynic believes that people always act selfishly and that people are malformed by their upbringing and cultural environment..

 Organizers of the “Open Hearts, Open Minds” conference at an Oct. 15 press conference: from left, Frances Kissling of the University of Pennsylvania, Peter Singer of Princeton, Jennifer Miller of Bioethics International, and Charles Camosy of Fordham.

Organizers of the “Open Hearts, Open Minds” conference at an Oct. 15 press conference: from left, Frances Kissling of the University of Pennsylvania, Peter Singer of Princeton, Jennifer Miller of Bioethics International, and Charles Camosy of Fordham.

Charles Camosy, who teaches Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York City may find those who give criticism, those who go against somebody his thoughts, are justified to do so, and we should understand that they sometimes react in ways we would not expect. His academic work focuses in biomedical ethics, but he is also very interested in the confluence of ethics, theology and politics in our public sphere more broadly.

In his work the Roman Catholic got confronted with many opinions. He did not mind to look at discussable subjects, like we would like to tackle on this platform. As such he has spent considerable time working to find ways to dial down the polarization in our public sphere and fruitfully engage difficult issues like abortion, euthanasia, treatment of non-human animals, and health care distribution.

According to him and us, the key of understanding and ability to talk about such subjects is to be open for an other opinion and to have

intellectual solidarity with those who think differently.

In his second book Camosy engages the first sustained and fruitful conversation between Peter Singer and Christian ethics — and once again considers a wide variety of bioethical and social issues. As a non-typical Catholic moral theologian he questions how Singer can push Catholic ethics to greater depth and how Catholic ethics can push Peter Singer to greater depth. For example, on the issue of abortion, the differences appear insurmountable. Singer not only holds that abortion can be morally licit but also infanticide.

In Camosy his work he points out several areas of commonality, and that is what many Christians overlook. Being part of the same body, the Body of Christ, using the same book as their base, the Bible, they should have more things in common or otherwise it would be clear that they are not following their so called teacher Jesus of Nazareth.

Camosy says that online discussions about religion are difficult because they are not in person. Tone and nuance gets lost online.

“You can’t look them in the face,” he said. “You can’t shake their hand or give a hug. You find it very difficult to have that sort of embodied trust.”

According to John Blake who witnessed some of the nastiest religious arguments online

It’s too bad that many of the exchanges between atheists and people of faith in our comments section don’t follow the same script.

He gets the source of frustration for some atheists.

They have longed been caricatured by people of faith as moral degenerates who don’t care about morality. Some of them, in turn, have caricatured people of faith as weak-minded hypocrites who believe in fairy tales.

Whatever a person may believe or how he may look at those who believe certain things, he should know that everybody may have a field in which he may know a lot. We should know that we can not know everything and can not have enough knowledge in the many fields of science. For many it is difficult to accept that there is a limit to knowledge also for themselves.

To debate about religion should not mean to go to war against those who think differently. In case we are interested in religion we may encounter some extreme interpretations and reactions, knowing that many thoughts come from the emotional heart.

In interviews after the Rutgers event, Singer and Camosy each gave the same answer: dogmatism. Camosy elaborates:

Furthermore, I think most disagreement comes – not from differences in evidence in argument – but because of social or emotive reasons. Someone is turned off by a group of people who hold a particular view, or part of their self-identity comes from not being like another group, and thus the arguments are built on top of that first principle as to why such a group holds mistaken views. And so on.

James Goodrich writes:

We would be naïve to think that there aren’t overly dogmatic persons or those who define themselves by their opposition in both camps. Given this thought, could it be the case that we ourselves, in some sense, are responsible for a lack of ethical progress? Could progress be made if we all were all actually able to sit down together with open minds and our best arguments? I think it’s not irrational to be hopeful. It is unlikely that we can completely do away with some level of dogmatism, but if the reason disagreement persists is in part due to social reasons, then perhaps given enough time progress is indeed obtainable.

We might come to find, at least with respect to ethics, that religious and secular thinkers really did just start from different places at the base of the mountain and will someday meet at the peak.

According to it’s probably one of the most intractable and complex questions in philosophy to know how free will, determinism and moral responsibility work together. Those who call themselves Christians should have a certain moral and an attitude to all people who are according the Bible created in the image of God and part of His Masterwork. Of those who call themselves children of the Creator God you would expect moral responsibility.

Charles Camosy

our will needs to be, at some important juncture, determined by something we identify with as ‘us’.  What specific kinds of things might these be?  Well, the normal things you might imagine: our interests, goals, values, moral convictions, characters, motivations, processes of deliberation, etc.  (And additionally, these things need to be left up to us and not ultimately determined by some other mind with their own interests, goals, etc… among a few other clauses which space won’t permit.)

In many religious groups though, we may find that the disagreements there are should not always be such a terrible stumbling block. Lots of time many similarities can be found, or little details which are not as important to the outcome, they may think.

As children of God we should respect the other creations of God, and accept that they may have their own interests and their own believes. We should imagine a multitude of possibilities in this world, or models of the way the world could be. We also should accept that not everybody wants to choose the same things or the same order. We should leave them the liberty to choose freely,

pick between them based on our personal interests and values a la Hume.

When defining free will simply (and crudely) as “an uncaused will” or “caused by nothing but ‘myself’”, you get the kinds of tensions that keep some determinists up at night.  However, why define it this way?  Why not define it differently?

We all have a very real experience of free will, of choosing between live ‘options’, and of being morally ‘responsible’.  There is a very real phenomena I seem to be pointing at with these words that begs an explanation.  So it seems that there are really two separate kinds of free wills, or ways in which we use the term free will.  Specifically, ‘free will’ can refer to 1) a concept or definition or 2) a phenomena we experience.

Cupido

To understand this think of “Love”.  Love is an very real and powerful emotion, yet there are a thousand definitions and understandings of what it is and causes it.  Psychologists, sociologists, evolutionary biologists, and theologians all understand the term differently and operate on different academic definitions.  So in the first way we could, for instance, simply define “love” as “mutually altruistic pair emotional and social bonding” and then work off of that definition.  Then, in contrast, I could ask: What is this phenomena over here in front of me that we all experience and often call ‘love’? And, further, why accept this definition of ‘love’ as opposed to some other?  How should we define this phenomena and what characterizes it?

When we do have the capacity to take things in perspective we should try to understand others’ differing interests. Out of our love for the creation we should feel empathy and show understanding, trying also to learn from the other person his ideas, intelligence or sense. Each of us should know that it is not because we might have a strong personal opinion or interpretation of a subject that the other opinion could not be right as well or could not receive our sympathy as well. Though sometimes there may be a close similarity in appearance or quality; inherent likeness, we should be wiling to see. It just demands a free spirit who puts away the selfishness of the ego, liking its own ideas.

We better should look for the quality of fitting or working harmoniously with one another, trying to find ways to make this living space a better space for every one, whatever they may like or whatever opinion they would like to hold on.

Like we should treat kids we should take the right attitude to people around us. We should look at them with investigating minds, not condemning the situations or actions straight ahead. We should look for harmony between things, ideas, and where we see something going right or wrong we should mention the good things first.

Moral blame and praise (very different from punishment and rewards, btw), holding people accountable for their actions, and other moral considerations daily effect how we think about our choices and make our decisions.

Holding people morally responsible, promoting moral values, etc still has tangible and valuable effects on peoples’ conscious and subconscious deliberations and life choices.

agrees , but he also thinks

Even if ‘free will’, crudely defined, creates problems for moral responsibility, again, who cares?

Those who are aware of the Higher Being and belief that we live in a temporary system, should care, and try to come to good alternatives.

may believe that in the 3000 yr old tradition of Philosophy, the discussion about God and ethics was pretty much finished with Plato in the Euthyphro Dialogue. The question about what ‘right’, ‘good’, and other moral terms actually are may still be on many tongues. We as citizens should listen to the worldly lawmakers, but should always put the Most Important  and Most High Lawmaker in the first place.
Paul Chiariello who is currently studying for his PhD in Philosophy at Yale University and who is also the assistant coordinator and webmaster at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University, gives a good answer:

So like ideal teachers, parents and legislators, God instead commands and loves what is already right and good, independent of his commanding/loving it.  God has, in a sense, figured out ethics already (being omniscient and whatnot) and then tells us about it.

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Please do find to read:

  1. To mean, to think, outing your opinion, conviction, belief – Menen, mening, overtuiging, opinie, geloof
  2. Being prudent – zorgvuldig zijn
  3. Choices
  4. Choosing your attitudes
  5. Not the circumstances in which we are placed constitutes our comfort
  6. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
  7. Our stance against certain religions and immigrating people
  8. Attitude to others important for reaching them
  9. How us to behave
  10. Not liking your Christians
  11. Who are the honest ones?
  12. Greatest single cause of atheism
  13. What’s church for, anyway? (by Marcus Ampe)
  14. Act as if everything you think, say and do determines your entire life
  15. How we think shows through in how we act
  16. Raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair
  17. If you want to go far in life
  18. People should know what you stand for
  19. The manager and Word of God
  20. Remember that who you’re being is just as important as what you’re doing
  21. A learning process for each of us
  22. Are Christadelphians so Old Fashioned?
  23. Feed Your Faith Daily
  24. Followers with deepening
  25. Determined To Stick With Truth.
  26. Unconditional love
  27. Life and attitude of a Christian
  28. We have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace
  29. Work with joy and pray with love
  30. Abhor evil. Adhere to goodness
  31. Act as if everything you think, say and do determines your entire life
  32. A Living Faith #3 Faith put into action
  33. A Living Faith #4 Effort
  34. A Living Faith #6 Sacrifice
  35. A Living Faith #9 Our Manner of Life
  36. It is free will choice
  37. Our relationship with God, Jesus and each other
  38. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience
  39. You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind
  40. Ask Grace to go forward
  41. Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal
  42. Spread love everywhere you go
  43. Don’t wait to catch a healthy attitude
  44. Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
  45. Finish each day and be done with it
  46. Christadelphian people

Those who understand Dutch can also find:

  1. Uitkijken voor de steeds groter wordende kloof tussen wereld en kerk
  2. Zorgvuldigheid of oplettendheid
  3. Grootste oorzaak van atheïsme in de wereld zijn de Christenen
  4. Niet houden van dat soort Christenen
  5. Woede Oordeel en veroordeling
  6. Niet de omstandigheden waarin we geplaatst zijn vormen onze troost
  7. Hoe we denken schijnt door in hoe we handelen
  8. Onze houding naar anderen belangrijk om te overtuigen
  9. Een norm waaraan de verstandigen en eerlijken zich kunnen herstellen optrekken
  10. Als je ver wilt gaan in het leven
  11. Mensen moeten weten waar je voor staat
  12. Tot bewust zijn komen voor huidig leven
  13. Je verliest alleen energie wanneer het leven saai in je geest wordt
  14. Vergeet niet dat wie je bent slechts zo belangrijk is als wat je doet
  15. Beoordeel niet elke dag door de oogst die je plukt
  16. De Bekeerling, bekeringsactie en bekering
  17. Christen, Jood of Volk van God
  18. Christen genoemd
  19. Christenmensen met ons geloof
  20. Welk soort leven moet een Christen hebben?
  21. Christen worden iets anders dan lid worden van een kerk.
  22. Volgelingen met de vrucht van verdieping
  23. Hoe ons te gedragen
  24. Handel alsof alles wat je denkt, zegt en doet uw hele leven bepaalt
  25. Neem afstand van het kwade
  26. Kleed jezelf met compassie, zachtheid, vriendelijkheid, nederigheid, en geduld
  27. Vraag Genade om voorwaarts te gaan
  28. Christadelphian mens
  29. Zijn Christadelphians zo ‘Old fashioned’?

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Additional reading:

  1. What’s church for, anyway? (by )
  2. Four Reasons Why Determinism is Irrelevant to Ethics & Free Will
  3. Christian ethics and Peter Singer
  4. Peter Singer & Christian Ethics
  5. Seeking common ground
  6. A Quick Report from ‘Christian Ethics Engages Peter Singer’ this Past Week at Oxford
  7. Euthyphro’s Dilemma: Why Atheists & Theists are Stuck in the Same Ethical Boat
  8. Are We Climbing the Same Mountain? Secular-Religious Ethical Disagreement and the Peter Singer & Charles Camosy Discussion
  9. You Blind Guides! You Strain Out a Gnat But Swallow a Camel
  10. “A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” — Tom Stoppard
  11. Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude
  12. Relationship with God
  13. You are not limited to who is in charge
  14. 3 Characteristics Of A Person Called To Bless
  15. Life’s Healing Choices: Chapter 5 – The Transformation Choice
  16. The Yes Face
  17. Leading neuroscientist: Religious fundamentalism may be a ‘mental illness’ that can be ‘cured’

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  • Debating with theologians and preachers and their somewhat constricted views…. (healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.wordpress.com)
    41,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. Wow.

    That’s a lot of people, getting a lot of what God wanted us to know – wrong, and who knows who is right???

    I’ve put my very un-theologically sound views in there, which surprisingly has been welcomed by some – but I think hey – if they are all arguing with each other and getting a little personal with each other in some of their opinion, I might as well interject with some psychology based opinion too. Of which some have agreed with, men included.
    +
    I have no desire to be a preacher, no desire to lead in Church, in fact I can’t think of anything worse for me. But, I don’t see a compelling argument either way and all the theologians can’t get it right and agree.

    But, I do like seeing all their views and thinking about them and seeing some of their confusion, some of their rigid religious beliefs and some of their..well… silly arguments.

    Cognitive distortions are responsible for some of it, religious idolatry responsible for some of it, narcissism some of it, ego some of it, doctrine some of it, peer pressure some of it and some is just well…stupid.

  • #PreachersofLA: As Real as It Gets (themisinterpreted.com)
    What frightens us is that we’re not seeing something that is false, but something that is very real. A mirror is up and if we don’t like what we see then maybe we should begin to do some internal soul searching. The sooner we own up to that, the sooner we can face the realities that there are significant flaws and brokenness within our Christian leadership (and community). This show represents what we have nurtured and fed for decades. We have supported, encouraged and enabled
    arrogance,
    entitlement,
    a misplaced rationalization of prosperity,
    egoism,
    narcissism,
    sexism,
    position worship,
    emotional & spiritual manipulation
    et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
  • Why can’t I warm to street preaching? (christiantoday.com)
    Street preaching was encouraged as Biblical practise when Jesus came to Earth and has been since.

    Those who are brave enough to take to the streets are therefore following the footsteps of Jesus and spreading the word of the Gospel as we are asked.

    Even so, I cannot help but think that street speakers actually scare the public away from Christianity. We’ve all seen the eye-rolling of passers-by and it gets me wondering about the effect street preachers actually have on religious conversion.

    +
    There is certainly an argument that we must take the Word to the street because most people avoid Churches and religious buildings entirely. But I wonder whether the public aren’t encountering the right kind of street evangelism?

    Some evangelists preach discreetly in the streets by framing unintimidating picture boards for example, or by engaging in casual conversations. Others perform Christian music busker-style. These methods may be better suited to today’s society. After all, Jesus introduced street preaching over 2,000 years ago and modern society has changed profoundly.

  • Moderates, good deeds and religious fanaticism (samizdata.net)

    John Stephenson argues for the need to ask religious moderates about the motivations behind their actions. Are moderates – seeing faith as virtuous – tacitly defending fundamentalists (who are the genuinely committed believers), allowing them to become the “tail that wags the dog”? Moreover are religious moderates actually engaged in religion because they are “humanists in disguise”?

    One of the problems with engaging religious folk in conversation is the fact that, before falling victim to the charge of being “angry” or “strident”, we find that the rules of discourse and logic are warped and violated beyond recognition. Find me a religious fanatic who doesn’t endorse his faith through the actions supposedly committed in its name and you will have probably found me a liar.
    +

    The fact that what we perceive as a sense of morality is innate within humanity as opposed to religion is evident by virtue of the cherry-picking so commonplace among moderate believers. Among casual Church of England Christians for example, the Sermon on the Mount may be advocated yet the more abhorrent elements of Deuteronomy or Leviticus will be ignored. I suspect that a large proportion of these individuals are religious in name alone and that, for the most part, their attendance comes as a result of habit or an intrinsically vague idea that to attend church constitutes as a “good thing”. These people have often given very little thought to the doctrine their religion entails, but understand church to be a place of warmth and community – things that most of us are drawn to.

  • Can Faith Ever Be Rational? (ronmurp.net)
    When the question, is it rational, is asked of faith, the method by which a belief is maintained, then no, faith is not rational at all. Faith is the antithesis of rationality. Faith is what you use when you want to believe something, or are otherwise driven to hold a belief, when there is no reaason or evidence to support the belief. And faith can result in belief in spite of counter evidence and reason.

    When the question is asked it may be asked of faith, the system of belief, such as Christianity or Islam. So, can Christianity be rational? Can Islam be rational? Well, they can contain elements of reason, rationality, in the arguments put forward to support them, but that does not make them consequentially rational.

  • “Nicomachean Ethics” by Aristotle (noneedtomindme.wordpress.com)
    In the passage, “Nicomachean Ethics”, by Aristotle, he explains about good and evil are the main contributions to our happiness, it crafts our character, and our virtues. I totally agree with his concept, because our virtues can help distinguish other relationships, and help relate to other people’s intention and emotions.
  • Political Correctness and “Bashing” (fggam.org)
    The adverse impact of “political correctness” on American culture cannot be overstated. Its sinister influence has been monumental and subversive in the extent to which it has reshaped American values, literally driving the population farther away from its Christian moorings, and redirecting civilization toward hedonism, socialism, atheism, humanism, and a host of other anti-Christian philosophies.
    +
    It is ever the case that error and falsehood are self-contradictory, and typically guilty of the same malady it imagines in others. Observe that those who express their disdain for “bashing” do not hesitate to bash the ones they accuse of bashing, and to do so publicly. They openly express to others (people who have no real connection to the matter) their rejection of and dislike for specific persons and groups who have had the unmitigated gall to express disapproval of a false religion or an immoral action.
  • John C. Richards Jr. Cuts Through the Focus on the Prosperity Gospel to Expose a Better Way for the Church (blackchristiannews.com)
    The pulpit has always been sacred space for the African American community.
    +
    The pulpit was reserved for the pastor. A sacred space for someone who recognized the sacred duty. Like Moses’ encounter at the burning bush, a preacher was to recognize they were standing on holy ground. As God’s mouthpiece, the preacher would deliver a message that was to deliver the people of God from bondage and sin. Recognizing this, the preacher’s accompanying humility-laden approach to sermonizing would cause others to grow deeper in their faith. As John Wesley puts it, the preacher’s duty was to “catch on fire” so “others will love to come and watch you burn.” Have we doused the fire in the Black church? Have we grabbed our extinguishers labeled “prosperity,” “tradition,” and “justice,” and forgotten about the Gospel? Do we just run across the pulpit as a shortcut to our next destination? Have preachers forgotten about that sacred space?
  • Does God Exist? (crain207.wordpress.com)
    I’ve often thought on that long-ago neighbor’s sad statement of belief. I’ve wondered if he only wanted to get rid of a visiting preacher, if deep down he still believed but responded in shock-the-preacher fashion because the parson on his porch reminded him of wounds he felt he received in church.
    +
    I often think of Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he who comes to God must believe that God exists and rewards those who search for him.”
  • Preachers Of LA’s Bishop McClendon Says He Was Set Up (rhythmraveradio.wordpress.com)
    The new reality series on Oxygen’s ‘Preacher’s of LA’ has caused quite a sir, especially when two of the ministers on the show , Bishop Clarence McClendon and Deitrick Haddon got into an argument .

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