(N.B.C.) God is dead: does it matter?

By Theo Brooks

One of the most circular pub arguments is about the existence of god. But does the existence or non-existence of god have any effect on how people should live their life? Does it change what is right and wrong? Imagine tomorrow god plummets from the sky to the shock of the world and goes to the Socratic Society to discuss the meaning of life and give us a definite number as to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Now confronted with proof that god exists, as she amazes the crowd by turning philosophical theories into beer, one would wonder if one should live differently.

You consider yourself a moral person and consider some of god’s laws wrong. The threat of hellfire or the promise of paradise is not an argument against your ethical stance. Perhaps we can presume that god is the expert and from this she holds her authority. Unlike other experts however, god’s expertise is not questionable. If you think that humanity should be challenging all theories and to gain a greater understanding of things, then the existence of god does not change how you think people should live. If god said that turning people into pillars of salt was good does it make it good? It would be right to question this expertise even at the threat of being transformed into a pyramid of nutmeg.

Perhaps we owe god, one might say. She apparently created us and had herself suffer for our sins. That was very nice of her but since we asked for neither we have no obligation. Adults have no obligation to obey their parents and if someone saves your life that does not mean you have an obligation to live under their moral code.

As god staggers out of the pub singing “Sympathy for the Devil” we can slumber easy or restless in the knowledge that our life is our own and in the end it is to ourselves not to god which it needs to answer in order to be of worth.

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19 responses to “(N.B.C.) God is dead: does it matter?

  1. Theo,

    You wrote, “One of the most circular pub arguments is about the existence of god. But does the existence or non-existence of god have any effect on how people should live their life? Does it change what is right and wrong?”

    Your circularity jibe is enthymematic. You want to unpack it?

    But let me cut to the chase.

    Judging by your effeminate name I know I am fitter, stronger and more masculine than you. However, I attack you. There is no God. Is my attack of you right or wrong?
    This comment has been edited for content.

  2. Marc raises an interesting point, though the example appears to be more for effect than to enlighten.

    Morality & Ethicality

    I believe some students have been taught to think of Ethicality and Morality as quintessentially the same. This perhaps serves some classroom purpose, but does not allow a complete understanding of issues that involve the two, given they are different (if interdependent).

    Morality refers to the relation of the self and others to particular Moral codes or systems. For instance, a Christian might follow the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy). In this, the ‘Ten Commandments’ is a particular Moral code. That they might be interpreted by various Christians differently is irrelevant. From the perspective of the Christian, one who follows the commands is Moral, and one who does not is Immoral. Morality is tied to a specific Moral system. This does not mean individuals must necessarily accept or not accept entire codes (e.g. the Bible, Qur’an) or that all codes are interpreted the same way by everyone. Moral systems provide people, through individual selection and interpretation, with a stringent definition of ‘right and wrong’.

    Ethicality is the process of determining the agreeability of an action or event with one’s own sense of what is appropriate. This is far more complex a process than determining if something agrees with a particular, individually selected, Moral code. To be Ethical in this sense requires that each decision made be considered in the context of the situation – not that there be always a ‘right and wrong’. For example, the Christian considers whether or not it is appropriate to uphold the Ten Commandments every situation. One who considers such, acts ethically, whereas one who does not cannot be said to be (acting without Ethics). One who acts against one’s own conscience acts Unethically.

    Given these distinctions, one might reason that Moral systems exist for the specific purpose of easing the burden equated with considering each decision in an Ethical manner. Moral systems exist (and are applied) so that Ethicality might be more easily achieved. The major issue of Ethics lies not in any disagreement of Morality, but rather when people align themselves completely with a particular Moral system (specifically interpreted). An individual’s ‘Morals’ change as new situations/experiences force them to consider the Ethics of these (contextually – remembering such ‘Morals’ only serve to ease the process of decision making / acting). If one accepts a doctrine / Moral system completely one no longer considers decisions on an Ethical basis, rather uses the same code for each situation (and these are usually simplistic – i.e. Ten Commandments). This means: one cannot act Ethically if one always acts Morally (and one’s Morals never alter).

    An issue with the above understandings and definitions is for Christians the belief that the Ten Commandments come directly (or indirectly) from God. This notion implies a universal ‘right and wrong’. Such speculation limits Ethicality to trying to find congruency with Morality.

    Marc, remove God and one might have the same Moral system renamed: “One communal interpretation of guidelines that are beneficial to society, generally in a general context.” If you genuinely believe God dropped a stone template from the sky, Ten Commandments engraved, and you follow these always, you are Moral only by your own estimations (and other likeminded believers) and you are not Ethical by any account.

    Travers

  3. Well it all really depends on what “god” if any you are talking about. The god of the philosopher, the god of the Bible, the gods of the Greeks, the god of etc.

    Often philosophical discussions that revolve around the existence or virtue of “god”, use an abstract (straw-god) notion of god so that the only thing it resembles is something that the “philosopher” can chase and destroy. Like the rabbits that greyhounds chase around a track, there is nothing real about this god.

    As an example of what I am getting at Travers says:
    If you genuinely believe God dropped a stone template from the sky, Ten Commandments engraved

    See here Travers have conflated the Judeo-Christian God, with a philosophical constructions/parody of a god. This leaves the theist in a predicament – defend the indefensible, i.e. an imaginary god that doesn’t really resemble anything or accept the argument that, while terribly skewed, is directed at the Judeo-Christian God.

    Similarly, Theo says:
    Perhaps we owe god, one might say. She apparently created us and had herself suffer for our sins. That was very nice of her but since we asked for neither we have no obligation. Adults have no obligation to obey their parents and if someone saves your life that does not mean you have an obligation to live under their moral code.
    This is also a strange mix of the Judeo-Christian God and fantasy. The trouble is the fantasy crept in through the Cartesian front door and it hasn’t been able to be evicted yet.

    One final remark before answering the question.
    The ‘god is dead’ line is popularly cited in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (although Hegel says a similar thing) and in this context Nietzsche/Zarathustra recognise the significance and terrible enormity of this statement, while the villagers, to whom Zarathustra is hysterically shouting “we have killed god”, laugh and lampoon Zarathustra and openly and unreflectingly declare their involvement in the act of murder. So my question is which character are you? The villagers who unreflecting and with bravado declare the death of god, or the Nietzsche/Zarathustra character who realises the significance of this?

    And to answer the question: If the god we are talking about is the god of philosophy then I agree, it doesn’t matter because that god cannot die, as it never existed.

  4. Sorry, it is from The Gay Science not Zarathustra (although ideas about what to do after the death of god are discussed there).

    Here is the quote:

    Have you heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who do not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter…

    Whither is God,” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are murderers…. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him…

    Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science (1882), section 126

  5. “Often philosophical discussions that revolve around the existence or virtue of “god”, use an abstract (straw-god) notion of god so that the only thing it resembles is something that the “philosopher” can chase and destroy. Like the rabbits that greyhounds chase around a track, there is nothing real about this god.”

    Well we can’t know the minds of others so whether we’re destroying an abstract “straw-god” or an abstract “straw-santa” aren’t we just doing the best we can?

  6. So, Marc is asking “Without God, what makes acts right and wrong?”, albeit asking in a hyberbolic and somewhat repellent manner. (And mocking his name – what’s that about?)

    Travers comment is confused.

    “Morality refers to the relation of the self and others to particular Moral codes or systems…[which] provide people, through individual selection and interpretation, with a stringent definition of ‘right and wrong’.”

    Moral systems don’t offer definitions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; meta-ethical ones do.

    Is the “individual selection and interpretation” in morality meant to be different from “determining the agreeability of an action or event with one’s own sense of what is appropriate”, which is apparently the definition of Ethicality? (Ethics?) These seem to be the same thing.

    You also seem to be saying that morality is a system of concepts (’right’ and ‘wrong’) and ethics is a system of application. But a system of concepts without knowing how to apply those concepts is useless. And a system of application devoid of concepts is empty.

    It’s not at all clear what you mean by “one’s own sense of what is [ethically] appropriate” without reference to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (or ‘good’ and ‘evil’).

    I hold ‘Morality’ and ‘Ethics’ to refer to exactly the same things. Moral systems involve principles (indeed moral, or ethical, behaviour must be principled). These principles can be general (”Thou shalt not kill”) or they can be more context-specific (”Do not kill, unless in self-defence, or as a requested act of mercy, or in a wartime environment and the person you’ll be killing is a legitimate enemy”). Whatever principles one holds, one must also know how to apply them as part of holding those principles.

    As for Chris, his referencing skills aside, I think he makes a lot of sense.

  7. chadd makes a good point. god is never a thing that is absolute. since there is no absolute interpretation of god, there can be no straw god. what makes u guys think that philosophers are strawmanning god? philosophers can say christians are strawmanning god as well as the christian’s interpretation of god is different from the philosophers’ interpratation which they believe to be the true interpretation.

    btw, i think u guys have completely missed the point of theo. does it matter if there is a god or not is his point. if the christian god showed up in front of me rite now, it would only convince me that there is a god. whether i should worship this god and do everything she says is irrelevant to whether i believe her to exist. i believe that was the point theo was trying to make.

    the main point of religion isn’t whether god exists or not, but whether there is a heaven and hell. if there was no heaven and hell, ie no consequence of one’s choice of faith in religion, no one would care about religion. on the other hand, if there was a heaven and hell, everyone would do everything in god’s favor, no one would care if this god who decides one’s afterlife was a power-mad bloodthirsty vengeful god at all.

    therefore, all christians are just self-concerning individuals who allow the fear of hell to block out their logical thinking. i have reached this conclusion because there is no one who can be more than 50% sure that god exists, and i’m being generous with the percentage here. if there was someone who KNEW that god exists, then he can still argue that he owes this god for sacrificing her son. but the fact is everyone is just guessing.

  8. Andy wrote: “So, Marc is asking “Without God, what makes acts right and wrong?”,

    Really? Am I? I thought I was asking Theo a question about HIS belief without God. (Stay on track, Andy!)

    Andy wrote that I was asking this “in a hyberbolic and somewhat repellent manner. (And mocking his name – what’s that about?)”

    Repellent? Like…. ahhh… horrible like the smell of out-of-date milk? Or do you mean repellent because you don’t like it? Or is it repellent because you think it was morally reprehensible according to some arbitrary standard of yours that you expect me to submit to?

    Mocking his name? So, what’s wrong with that? In my chosen moral code I can mock whomever I like, as long as I am stronger than he. In yours you can’t because…well…I don’t really care because your morality is yours and if you have a problem with that, well, what are you going to do about it, ANDY?

  9. OK, Marc.

    I’ll concede the first point. It would have been more precise of me to write “Without God, what makes acts right and wrong for Theo?” But in saying that, Theo is still making a claim about the world that we all share.

    By ‘repellent’ I meant more than ‘I don’t like it’. I meant ‘I expect people to be repelled by it’ or ‘People should be repelled by it’. This does not have to be according to some ‘arbitrary standard’. Yes, I have a distinct moral code. You’re claiming to have a different one. My moral code is not arbitrary because it is based on real features of human interaction (which are far too complicated to cash out here). Every moral code must have a social basis because morality is fundamentally a matter of interaction between persons. Consequently, one cannot simply ‘choose’ their moral code, but must work it out in conjunction with other people. This does not mean conforming to what other people believe, nor does it mean trying to force your views onto others. I would say it means challenging other people’s views and allowing yours to be challenged by theirs in order to get at the truth of the matter. (Now there’s a big claim.)

    You appear to be arguing for moral relativism, Marc, which is always going to be shaky ground to try to maintain (though be my guest if you think you can). If, however, you don’t want to claim moral relativism and you wish to argue that my moral code is wrong, then be my guest. I will challenge you on that. But given all this started with your claim that your being stronger than Theo meant it was right for you to rape him, I’m not sure you have even the most basic understanding of what morality is – outside of any specific moral code.

  10. Chadd and AlanWell we can’t know the minds of others so whether we’re destroying an abstract “straw-god” or an abstract “straw-santa” aren’t we just doing the best we can?

    The problem of other minds isn’t particularly relevant here. I am not suggesting that the antedote to straw-maning god is to know the minds of others. Rather the antedote is to award the same academic rigour and standards to discussions about god as you would to discussions about Plato or Peter Singer or any other philosopher/theologian/theorist – no more and no less is required.

    To take the example of Plato.
    If you are going to write an essay about Plato’s thoughts on government, you had better be sure that you had read the relevant texts i.e. the Republic for starters. Then, having read the relevant texts by Plato you could go head first in and write your essay, but as there is a long tradition of debate, academic scholarship and interpretation of Plato it would probably be prudent to read some of the respected commentators on the text that you are writing about, this way you have other sources to back up your argument.

    So in the case of discussing god(s), you should be a) clear about what god(s) you are talking about b) be aware of the relevant texts that discuss this god(s) c) be aware of the relevant authorities and academics who know the texts that you are using. By doing this you will avoid creating strawmen.

    Remember beating a strawman is like beating a child, it might be fun but it doesn’t demonstrate your strength.

    And Alan to be brutal, most of what you say has about as much truth to it as John Howard’s pre-election promises. If you are interested in statistics and Christianity can I recommend the Oxford philosopher, Richard Swinburne – not that I agree with him, but like you he loves his statistics and misapplying them. http://users.ox.ac.uk/~orie0087/framesetpdfs.shtml

    And Marc your deductive reasoning needs a bit of work.

  11. Sorry Marc but fortunately we don’t live in your society and therefore don’t need to follow your (poorly reasoned) rules.

    You are welcome to contribute to this blog providing that you don’t revert to racism or overtly sexual and violent language. There are enough crazy blogs out there to cater for your sexual, violent and bigotry needs, but this my friend is not one of them.

  12. I say take it down. Ad hominem arguments have no place on the blog. Keep the quality of the discussion high, and those who can’t maintain that quality can go elsewhere. It is the Socratic Society’s prerogative; freedom of speech or ‘fortitude’ does not come into it.

  13. Marc.

    Your point is interesting and worthy of discussion, but until you learn how to appropriately discuss it then your comments will continue to be removed.

    Admin.

  14. “Perhaps we owe god, one might say. She apparently created us and had herself suffer for our sins.”
    Theo, it seems as though you’re directing this blog entry directly at the Christian God, not at either the Judeo- (as the Jewish people do not believe that Jesus died for peoples’ sins) nor Islamic one.

    Also, I just wanted to make a comment on Alan’s comment-
    “…no one would care if this god who decides one’s afterlife was a power-mad bloodthirsty vengeful god at all.”
    that the Bible paints a very different picture of God (the Judeo-Christian one), one of a loving and just God. I’m just wondering where you might have gotten such an opinion about God from.

  15. Admittedly I did base my character of god on the Judo-Christian conception of god this was due to the fact that this is the god I am most familiar with. However I would like to point out that the first three points 1) that the threat of hellfire or the promise of paradise is not an argument against an ethical stance, 2) that the presumed expertise of god does not give her moral worth (assuming certain values) and 3) that the act of creating life does not create a moral obligation on that life to obey your will, are all applicable to any creation god be her Zoroastrian, Islamic or Norse (The Norse creation god was actually female, she was a gigantic cow).

    Chris’ argument that I created a straw god I do not find applicable. The points I made I feel are still valid and are I think, able to stand up to any creation god you throw at them. If there is some relevant aspect of the archetypal creation god I did not mention I would like to hear about it.

    Shaz, Alan might of developed such a negative view of the biblical god from Nahum 1:2-3 ‘The Lord is a jealous God, a Lord of retribution, and indignant. The Lord takes full vengeance upon His adversaries, retaining wrath toward His foes. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the guilty.’ (It goes on for a long while) or perhaps from Leviticus 9-10 ‘If there is anyone who curses his farther or his mother, he shall surely be executed; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood guilt rests upon him. If a man commits adultery with another’s wife, adulterating with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death’ (The death list goes on for a very long time) and you should read Revelation it shows gods not only a petulant basted but also on some pretty hard drugs. Jesus was alright except when he was killing fig trees.

  16. Chris’ argument that I created a straw god I do not find applicable. The points I made I feel are still valid and are I think, able to stand up to any creation god you throw at them. If there is some relevant aspect of the archetypal creation god I did not mention I would like to hear about it.

    No this just won’t do.

    By creating a mix of all different kinds of gods, swinging between different conceptions of god, or trying to construct a god that covers the “relevant aspects of the archetypal god” (whatever that is) is not a worthwhile path.

    It is like trying to construct the archetypal philosopher by through together different things that different philosophers have thought or done – even if they are contradictory with each other. Use the female pronoun for the Norse god and the male pronoun for the Judeo-Christian god, unless you have a textual argument for why the tradition has had it wrong for 5,000 odd years – otherwise you come across as ignorant or insulting neither a particularly nice traits.

    If there is some relevant aspect of the archetypal creation god I did not mention I would like to hear about it.
    Ok after looking through your post I am finding it hard to find a coherent conception of god. Here is your description, your god – plummets – answers trivial questions – holds some kind of causal connection between hell fire and her laws – is a woman – has expert authority – created and suffered for sins – staggers and sings rolling stones songs.

    Now this description has pretty much bugger all to do with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any of the minor cults.

    If you aren’t talking about a “real” god i.e. one that people actually believe in and follow then your argument is pretty much useless and irrelevant.

    Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of interesting arguments to be had around the moral action and God, human agency and divine power, responsibility and autonomy etc but I you didn’t quite get there.

  17. Chris; to ask the question do god’s (whatever god you wish) laws have any moral worth because they are god’s laws (assuming she’s alive, well and living in California) does not require me to discuss every conception of god. I could ask the question do philosopher’s ideas have more weight because they are philosopher’s ideas and answer the question without going through every philosopher and their ideas. I don’t even need to read all the works of philosophers before I start answering the question just as I don’t need to read and completely understand every holy text and tradition conceived by humanity surrounding creation gods. The question is general and can be answered generally.

    I could portray the god I created any way I wanted and the arguments against her laws would have been the same or simular. So the god I use to illustrate my points doesn’t need to be a god that people believe in for my argument to have relevance.

  18. to ask the question do god’s (whatever god you wish) laws have any moral worth because they are god’s laws (assuming she’s alive, well and living in California) does not require me to discuss every conception of god.
    True but it does require you to have a conception of god – namely the god who’s laws you are questioning whether they have moral worth.

    My point is that you have an incoherent jumble of a conception. That masquerades as the Judeo-Christian god for one minute and then something different for the next.

    I could ask the question do philosopher’s ideas have more weight because they are philosopher’s ideas and answer the question without going through every philosopher and their ideas.
    This is also true, but you would need to stick to and define the philosopher. Can you or can’t you include – theologians, cosmologists, the kid who works at McDonald’s, Richard Dawkins, George Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Peter Singer or Madonna?

    You can create your own god and then tear it down in a display of sophistry, but at least make it a coherent conception and one that doesn’t pretend to be one thing, then another and then another.

    While you might think that your argument has relevance – by definition its relevance will diminish the further it drifts from what people actually believe.

  19. Thanks for the discussion and loathed that I’m to admit it I think you’re mostly right. Perhaps take my article as a reaction to the Christian god, the certain interpretation that you encounter in some clubs around the uni.

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