Saturday, 10 February 2018

Some thoughts on the relationship between "Good" and "God".

I feel very uncomfortable with idea that evil is a “thing” in the same sense as a glass of water is, or that invisible evil spirits blow about the world as leaves on an autumn breeze. 

Humans believe in a lot of things. I have an acquaintance who treats football as a religion and players as gods. This does not mean that they are. We have to distinguish between subjective and objective opinions and often they may be confused. 

Similarly between the ‘internal’ emotional environment of perception, memory and feelings with the ‘external’ physical reality  in all forms and complexity. Even the most rational scientist is not devoid of emotion and it is this that contrasts him with even the most advanced computer. Evil is qualitative, it must be assessed against some objective standard. 

Historically this is where history and religion has played its part. Whether this emanated from god or a man such as Moses can never really be determined. Our belief that its origins were divine and ethereal, does not make it so, although believing such may help many to lead a ‘good’ life. 

When a lion gives chase to an antelope, we do not assume it is an evil act, even if we judge it a cruel one. We might apply the same criteria to the native tribesman killing it to feed his tribe. But what of the highly paid American dentist who shoots a well known lion? In fact the act may be less cruel but surely less defensible morally? Less good, in fact possibly positively evil? 

So we see how circumstances alter cases and what we consider to be good or evil, so to regard evil as just one ‘thing’ flowing from a formless inchoate being can surely not be at all helpful. Rather we should subject the beliefs, and the people that hold them, to a rational and objective examination, when we will probably discover alternative explanations for them and the actions they support. 

The scriptures contain many wonderful stories and sayings that can help to transform a person’s life and make it more useful and fulfilling. It may even make a better person. But quoting from it selectively to support a particular view is very risky. "The Ten Commandments", rather akin to other historical documents such as the "Magna Carta", have been epochal and axiomatic. In the case of the former it is quite remarkable that after about four thousand years, other than the injunctions predicated on the personal nature and existence of a divine being itself, the precepts have remained relevant. 

The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, found in the Ark of the Covenant are:
  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's house, wife, or property.

It is the application of the primary rules that are more liable to redundancy, which in the case of the Old Testament are contained in the detailed bureaucratic rules of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. 

For example in Leviticus 19 this is expanded to over thirty rules. No one could reasonably claim that all of these should be applied or are relevant today including reference to slaves and other archaic practices such as animal sacrifice.

20. "If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another manbut who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed."

It perhaps illustrates despite all the technological innovation since, the human condition the basic moral imperatives of 6 -10 are relatively unchanged. Post Nietzsche, analysis of Christian belief and his assertion that "God is dead"(1), the question emerges to what extent the Commandments and particularly 1 - 4, retain their authority?

The god of the Old Testament, and perhaps even of the New, is clearly not averse to torture, capital punishment and even mass genocide! This rather puts a question mark to the rather simplistic ‘good = god’ and ‘evil = devil’ hypothesis doesn’t it? No, it is more important that humans develop standards based on more objective criteria that may or not accord with a biblical one. 

This was the revolutionary power of the teachings of Jesus and which Christians imperfectly seek to emulate. They may be boiled down to this one simple precept: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ later interpreted by thinkers to the injunction to endeavour to ‘do good and avoid doing harm’. Once applied it would of course cure all the ‘evils’ of the world. Conversely that such hatred, selfishness and violence continues indicates how little, and presumably how difficult, it is to fulfil and be fulfilled.

1. From Wiki: "
God is Dead" is a widely quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It first appeared in Nietzsche's 1882 collection The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, also translated as "The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding")

1 comment:

  1. The danger of concentrating on just one or two cases is that the generality and extent of the problem is overlooked. That I think is part of the purpose. The latest appears to be a six year old Oxfam case that now fills the headlines. Meanwhile the rampant street violence, crime figures and all the rest are pushed to the inside pages. Much better we concentrate on old events and 'historic' cases, rather than face up to the very real issues and dangers of the here and now. As regard child abduction and disappearance, the sitiuation is very much worse than is generally realised and government has done very little to acknowledge or record it. Just occasional cases get publicised whilst literally hundreds of cases get virtually no notice at all. And this excludes a rampant market in lost asylum seeking children, many of whom apparently end up under the control of predators because they are a valuable commodity for those who want to abuse them. Given the Met Police's utter failure to investigate other notable cases, it is a continuing mystery why they have devoted such energies and resources to the McCann, without it must be noted, any real sign of success. The McCann case is unique for sure but not for the reasons generally assumed.


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