Saturday, March 03, 2007

Biblical Christianity Is Totally Unique and Counterintuitive

Almost without exception, my atheist friends posit The Golden Rule as the basis of morality. They propose that this rule predates the Bible and is almost universally understood. The Golden Rule is a fine rule, and it totally makes sense as regards the social compact that seems to underpin most standards of ethics: I won't hurt you in hopes that you won't hurt me; I'll drive in my lane if you'll drive in yours; I will not have loud parties after midnight if you will agree to the same.

But Christianity is very different. I won't hurt you because to do so is not loving. In fact, even if I don't know you I will come to your aid and help you through crisis. When you spit on me after I help you, I will wipe off the spit and continue to offer my help. If in a fit of rage unrelated our my helping you, you attack me verbally or even physically, I will continue to love you and pray for you, (though I may withdraw from you.) And in the midst of all of this I won't judge you.

If you are my neighbor and you have the loud party, I will quietly ask you to stop doing so. My decision to not have loud parties has nothing to do with whether you may or may not do so, but is out of respect for your peace of mind.

Some say that you don't need to have Christian morality to sacrifice your life for another. But I would argue that Christ was telling us that sacrificing our time, our money, and our egos would be more important than even sacrificing our existence. And this sacrifice was to take place without any hope of recompense, honor, glory, or applause. Just to glorify God.

Submission, humility, turning the other cheek, forgiving and praying for our enemy. The list is long. Many who followed Jesus said that the things he preached were too hard, and they turned away.

As humans when we see things that are counterintuitive, and then we see that they work, we are forced to ask ourselves why? The first thing we would do is look for the source of the information.


bernardo said...

"The first thing we would do is look for the source of the information."

No, the first thing we should do is look for evidence - anecdotal or, ideally, from a large and diverse set of circumstances - that those things do indeed work. And then, for models that explain how they might work. The source of those models/ideas is much less relevant than their quality and effectiveness in accomplishing what you want to accomplish - such as improving the lives of people in need, developing good relationships with your neighbors and your community, making society more just, etc.

And I don't see why only Christians get to claim they are compassionate, loving, empathetic, caring, and selfless. Sure, I see that Christian morals are all about that, and that's good. But why is it impossible for non-Christians to arrive at the same behavior? I mean, if this kind of behavior is good (which it is, if your definition of "good" is similar to most reasonable people's), then most reasonable people should eventually reach the same conclusion.

bernardo said...

And I'm not saying that your definition of what is "good" should simply imitate the definitions picked by reasonable people. Again, it's not the source of the models/ideas, but whether it seems to you that they work. Everyone should, individually, put in some effort in figuring out for themselves what is good and what is not. No, one single person's perspective is probably not enough for a thorough investigation on this issue - Good thing we have relatives, friends, newspapers, the internet, history, fiction, and things like religion and psychology, so that we can be exposed to tons of ideas about morality as well as results about how they work out.

Hey Skipper said...


So what happens to people who are compassionate, loving, empathetic, caring, and selfless, but don't, whether through circumstance or inclination, accept Christ into their lives?

Randy Kirk said...

Bernardo, the point I was trying to make is that even those who see that this system works don't understand why. That is what makes it counterintuitive. Why does swinging the bat at a ball with less power result in bigger hits than swinging from your heals. You don't get it until you try it.

Hey Skipper. I agree there are people who have some or many of those characteristics who may have never heard the name of Jesus. The Bible implies that everyone will have that option. However, I have to stand by the clear teaching of Jesus that He is the only way to heaven. I can't say with certainty that the Bible is clear on what happens to the person you describe. My justice would be for that person to be given a final post death chance, or to meet what atheists expect, no afterlife at all. But I didn't make the rules, and the rules say that Mother Theresa will be just as dead as the Hillside Strangler if they both step in front of an 18 wheeler on the freeway.

Hey Skipper said...

From the point of view of someone who, through no fault of their own, was born at the wrong time, or the wrong place, or into the wrong religion, or without the "gift" of belief that this particular teaching of Jesus is somewhere between empty and risible.

Particular revelation is a pox upon humanity, and, if God is responsible for it, renders Him a Monster.

Unless, of course, it is no more true than Muslim particular revelation, in which case it has nothing to do with God at all.

bernardo said...

"even those who see that this system works don't understand why"

What do you mean? I value the well-being of others because I am considerate, so I try to act in such a way that causes those who interact with me to benefit from it, and so (when I am successful) they benefit from it. What's there not to understand? Are you saying that it is impossible to figure out how to be a good person unless you read the Bible? That it's impossible to keep track of what you like and what you don't like, and then try and give others the things they probably like? That it's impossible to observe the positive effects of patience, forgiveness, sharing, duty, and helping those who need it?

What's so counter-intuitive about it? And even if morals can be counter-intuitive at time (justice is a tricky concept), we have managed to figure out many counter-intuitive systems (like quantum mechanics) through careful investigation and lots of thinking - we didn't need the rules to be handed down by the Creator.

Randy Kirk said...

You are still talking about the easy ones. Submission, servant leadership, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, not judging those outside the group regarding righteousness, loving and praying for your enemy.


I still agree that it doesn't comport with our understanding of justice. It is troubling to every Christian. It is a driving force behind the desire to evangelize.

bernardo said...

What, specifically, are the hard ones?

Randy Kirk said...

The hard ones were:

Submission, servant leadership, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, not judging those outside the group regarding righteousness, loving and praying for your enemy.

I can list more.

Anonymous said...

Randy, I don't see how any of those are difficult for people outside christianity, with the possible exceptions of "not judging those outside the group regarding righteousness" for nontheists, since the word "righteousness" means something different to us, and "praying for your enemy", since we don't pray.

And this doesn't even touch on the question of "do christians really love their enemies and not judge outside their group regarding righteousness?" Because my experiences would say "in general, no".


Anonymous said...

I'll clarify what I meant:

Do people really love their enemies and not judge outside their group regarding righteousness? I think, in general, no.


bernardo said...

Sure, the processes by which these behaviors lead to grater happiness might be counter-intuitive, but this does not mean that they are not understandable by a nontheist.

I can't imagine a nontheist thinking "I realize that being kind to one's opponents, and being humble and forgiving in general, lead to greater happiness, but I just can't understand why!".

To make an analogy: The naturalistic models that describe the processes through which the universe came to be as it is can also be counter-intuitive, but this does not mean that I prefer "God did it" to those naturalistic models. Similarly, "Why is it good to do X" might only be answered non-theistically by counter-intuitive guesses, but I would still prefer those over "because God said so".

Randy Kirk said...

My point was that you might hear these principles because they were set forth in the Bible, and you might choose to follow them regardless of your belief in God. Unitarians, New Agers, and others certainly do to some extent. (Jesus as great teacher.)

But where do we see any philosopher or ethicist outside of the Bible putting together such a comprehensive and counterintuitive set of ideas that turn out to produce great "joy."


I think it is possible to imagine being honestly concerned and interested in the welfare of your enemy, which is what prayer would be about.

I think many Christians recognize the appropriateness of not judging those outside the group and attempt to only judge behavior not people (possibly imperfectly, for sure.)

And loving and praying for enemies is something I see all the time. Not easy. Easier, however, than forgiveness of someone who has hurt you badly. I mean the kind of forgiveness that means you have no interest in them ever coming to justice by you or anyone, and that if you saw them again, you would not feel any interest in getting even. I find this to be the hardest thing for Christians to do. It is totally counterintuitive with regard to its benefit to life. And even though secular psychologists now recognize forgiveness issues as the most important issue in 75% of emotional illness, most that I have read do not understand that health only comes from the deep kind of forgiveness noted above.