Discussion: How do we know worshiping the divine is moral?

A recent exchange I had on someone’s blog post about morality and what standards we use to gauge them had me thinking about a question I never really asked before in regards to theism.  In this thread the theist was arguing that God represents an objective standard to what is moral and what isn’t moral, and atheists have no objective standards for morality.  I feel theists are equally subjective and I think atheists can objectively evaluate the morality of actions through non-divine standards.  I honestly couldn’t get through to to this person to convince them, but no matter.  The question that occurred to me that I had asked before is “by what standards to we decide that we should be worshiping Gods and living according to their desires?”

I mean let’s say there is a God, by what basis do we decide that this is somebody we should worship?  If they have a bunch of rules for us to follow do we get to question whether those rules are something we should follow? If we do not it seems following those rules is not based on a decision about the rightness of the rules, but rather a default position to authority.  Are we to follow all those who are more powerful? Is it a duty to a creator to follow rules blindly?  Are we to follow those who promise consequences that make us fearful should we choose not to follow?

Despite the claim by many theists that God represents an objective standard of morality it does not seem that morality plays a role when it comes to following God.  One can’t say, “Following God is the moral thing to do,” unless we are somehow able to evaluate the rules that God wants us to follow.  In which case God is no longer the standard that we judge the morality of the rules.  Can we even say something like “God is good” ? Aren’t we using a separate standard to evaluate God’s goodness.  It seems God is only good because of his power, not his morality.  Thus whatever happens to us or anybody else is because God allows it to be so, making everything simply good.  The punishments, the rewards, the rules, everything.  I guess it’s always bothered me to give anything that much authority.  Even if I had conclusive evidence of God’s existence, I think I would still want to evaluate him.

I mean let’s say God and the Devil stand before you, incarnate in some human form.  How is one able to tell the difference between the two?  How do I measure God’s goodness?  Is it that one sends me to punishment while the other does the punishment?  Surely it’s by one having a greater power over the other.  Because it cannot be by actions of goodness, because according to at least the definition of the Christian God, anything that God does is good.  Because God is the supposed objective standard of morality and my differing is not permissible if I wish to be moral.

It seems to me that what religion then teaches us is that worship is to be given to beings who are more powerful.  If that powerful being is deemed to be the standard good then whatever that being does is by definition good and we cannot question but follow blindly.  The consequences of our actions have no bearing on the situation providing we are following the rules laid out by that being.  What then is the value of our ability to reason?  Isn’t existence then rather empty having to set aside reason to follow blindly that which is defined as the ultimate good?

It still seems to me that someone had to have a pre-defined notion of good to even decide that God met the ultimate definition.  More importantly I think it seems worth asking the question whether the worshiping the divine is even a moral action or an action meant simply to ensure obedience to entities more powerful than ourselves.

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Why I Am Leaving Facebook

Dear Friends,

This decision does not come lightly or easily, but I think that I need to leave Facebook.  Actually I am 100% sure of it.  I am not 100% sure for how long, or if it will be for good, but the latter is certainly a possibility.  Before I explain to you my personal reasons for doing so, I want to say that my reasons are no judgment on anybody else.  Maybe you’ll connect with some of what I feel, maybe you won’t.  I know there are many of you who seem to be able to use Facebook in a way that I wish I can do.  Some of my reasons are broad and for what I feel are based on reasoning, others are simply based on personal reflections and knowing myself and my own weaknesses.

I will start with some broader ethical concerns that make me feel it is the right thing to do.  All of that can be best summed up by this TED talk.  We live in an attention economy and companies are working to grab hold of my attention, and they’ve succeeded.  There are people out there who are starting to think about ethics in this realm, but as it stands I don’t think I want to be part of this game where possible. I probably can’t get away from Google or Amazon, but I can do something.  There are entities out there who want to learn about us and dictate how we want to live, and I want to at least take back some control and make more decisions about how I want to live.  I don’t think that Zuckerberg or any of his crew are evil or anything, but I don’t think they put a lot of thought into what they are actually doing and wondering how they might change society for the better with this powerful tool.

But really it boils down to personal reasons.  I don’t believe social media is inherently bad.  When I see how useful it is for mobilizing something like March for our Lives, I think social media is a tool we need.  Through Facebook I have met some incredible people.  People I know will be friends for life.  I have many friends who have helped expose me to insightful articles that help me learn and have meaningful discussions.  But there is another side to all of it.  There is seeing friends all posting the same horror stories on their news feeds.  It’s not that they shouldn’t, they care about these things, but when you see the same headline over and over again it gets to you.  Then there are the idiotic and poorly reasoned comments and this is where I fall into the trap over and over again of getting into these conversations.  They get me angry, and I find myself unable to calm my mind.  Sometimes these thought linger with me while I’m trying to sleep, trying to meditate, or when I get up in the morning.  I’m getting angry at people I don’t even know and will never meet, even when I try to remain civil in the conversation.  And then as comments and status mount, I’m seeing who replied, who reacted to my comment or status, and it all adds up.  And I wonder, what am I really counting, and is there a point to it.  If I make a comment that a lot of people like does that mean anything?  Is this how I should be deriving a sense of value?  I ask this question a lot.   Facebook feels noisy to me now.  The best analogy I can think of (and this dates me) is that it’s like a radio station with a lot of static and interference.  There is definitely a signal I want from social media, but I can disentangle it from the noise.  I fight to just focus on the part I want to hear, but I can’t tune out the static.   I see other people do this and I know it’s possible.  It just doesn’t seem possible for me right now.  It just seems like the best idea to turn the radio off and read a book instead.  It doesn’t feel like it’s increasing my happiness, contentedness or peace in life.

The weight of the world has been heavy on me these recent years.  Even before Trump (Trump certainly hasn’t helped).  I know this has been true for many friends my age.  As you become more aware of what’s going on, there is a price to pay for that, you want to do something, you want to make a difference.  In that vein I decided do some volunteer work in my local community to help neglected and abused children.  With a second kid arriving, the responsibilities of now being a department chair, I am more acutely aware of my own limitations in both time and energy.  I contemplated giving up my volunteer work with the second kid coming, but given the amount of time I spend on Facebook it just became crazy to me to give up the volunteer work.  Don’t get me wrong, it means a lot that I mean something to people who might feel sad that I’m leaving, and there is obviously value in maintaining a relationship between people you value and admire, but as of right now, while I’m unable to shut out all the noise I have to truly ask myself, “Is the time and energy I’m putting into Facebook the most effective way I can use my time and energy?”  I have to ask myself “Am I inspiring, teaching, helping by being on Facebook?”  Now maybe I am, but it doesn’t feel that way.  It often feels like I’ve just used Facebook as a way to ‘feel’ like I’m doing something; to ‘feel’ like I’m helping.   I feel like I can’t know the answer to these questions until I break away from Facebook for awhile; to sort of de-clutter, and see what paths lay out before me.   I was very inspired by this TED talk recently about how we can affect change in the world and I believe that sometimes I on Facebook when there is value I could be adding to the lives of family and friends just a few feet away from me.

I started this blog as outline to express myself intellectually and creatively.  Whether people have enjoyed my blog posts are not, I have found it immensely helpful to me as an individual and this is also something I don’t want to give up as my time grows shorter with a new family member on the way.  I don’t plan on leaving Facebook until the end of April.  In that time I hope that those of you who read this, and who want to keep in touch will talk to me so we can find out a way to do that.  But certainly following this blog is a good way to do that.  There is a way to follow this blog by e-mail, and am happy to have discussions with you on here.  There are other messenger services (like gchat) where we can still have conversations, and there is e-mail (sgill1974@gmail.com), twitter (@profswarn) for quick shout outs, and you can message me for my number for texting.  I realize though that there is going to be losses with this.  And while this decision might seem sudden, please know, that with all life decisions I have put in a great deal of thought into it, and this is something that has been growing in my mind for the last 3 years as I have tried, unsuccessfully, to have mastery over Facebook.  I hope that maybe after a good break I can come back to it with better control and use it in a way that compliments my life.  Right now I just feel like I’m in a mire and I just need to get out for awhile.  At the very least it will make me a more present father, and that alone has value.  I hope you can support me in this decision.  And for all the people that enjoy my company on Facebook and who might not interact as much once I leave, just remember that my doors are always open if ever you are in the Pittsburgh area.  Just give me a heads up even if a lot of time has passed.  The memory in my brain might not be reliable but the memory in my heart always looks forward to interacting with a friend.

Thank you for traveling with me along my journey in life, I hope that many of you will continue.

Be good to each other and do good in this world in the way that serves you best.

With Love,
Swarn

In The Beginning, Part III

A very angry woman watches as God vanishes, and turns her attention to the only remaining person in the garden.

“Alright.  You look like you want to say something, but given the uniqueness of your existence I’d recommend against it.  Do you have something to say?”

Adam shakes his head.

“Good.  You’re off to a good start.  Alright first of all, where are we and who the hell are you?”

“Well this is the Garden of Eden.  It’s my…er our Father’s….paradise for us.  And I’m Adam.”

“First of all a father who just creates you to be somebody’s helper, and then spends the first 10 minutes of her life making her bits twinkle and showing somebody how to get up all in her business and squirt baby making fluids in her, has questionable parenting skills.  Secondly, why do you get a name, and I don’t.

“I’m not really sure.  I don’t get told a lot.  All I can tell you is, I’m a man, which I was told, means from the Earth since I’m made from dirt, and you are woman, meaning from man.”

“Wait, my designation means I am from man, but yet I am the one who will be giving birth to all sorts of future men?  That’s rich.  And what was all this when I arrived,” woman makes talking motions with bother her hands, “two boys talking it over and deciding what’s going to happen my body?  Talking it over as if I wasn’t even there?  Is this what I can expect in the future?”

“No no…of course not.  I am sure you’ll be part of the whole decision making process.  I mean we’re man and woman, we go together, none more important than the other.”

Woman’s expression softens momentarily.  “Wait a second, are you telling me I have to be your mate?  That we are going to be doing all that baby making He was talking about?  I don’t even know you.”

“Yeah, but somebody has got to make people. And look, look at this thing down here, it’s sticking straight out at you.  I think that’s how it works, it sort of points to who you are supposed to mate with.”

“Well don’t point it at me.  Given that it started pointing about 2 seconds after you saw me, I don’t think it bases any of its decisions by divining the inner working of my soul or through some appreciation of my intellect.”

“But I really feel like…you know…what he was talking about…insert slot A into tab B?  He said it would be a lot of fun.”  Adam moves in close for an embrace.

Pushing him away, “Ugh…stop it.  What are you doing?”

“I’m doing what feels natural in paradise!”

Woman smacks Adam on the side of the head “Well so am I.  As quaint as it is that our mutual Father wants us to get it on, as it stands, I wouldn’t mate with you if you were the last man on Earth.”

“But I’m the first man on Earth, and there isn’t anybody else around.”

Woman looks around exasperated, “I’ll admit my options or few.  But this child birth and raising stuff sounds like a fair amount of work.  I need to know whether we can work together as a team.  And that means talking to each other.  Getting to know each other, and really talking about whether a relationship between us has a future.”

Adam’s tool for baby making goes limp.  “Hmm…weird.”  Adam looks down. “I suddenly feel like I can talk about other things.  You know what? You’re right.  There is no rush.  It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful setting, and we have the Tree of Life nearby, we have forever, perhaps literally to make babies.”

“Tree of Life?  What are you talking about?”

“Oh…oh…yeah I guess I should tell you.  Well you know He hasn’t given me a lot of details on this Tree of Life.  He mentioned something about being the greatest creation and being forever in paradise, so I assume the tree has something to do with that.”

“Well having children for the rest of eternity doesn’t sound fun, but I imagine just walking around in a garden could get old as well.  Anything else?”

“Yeah.  Something important actually. That tree over there.  It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  We are forbidden to eat from it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.  Our Father created all of this.  He’s pretty powerful and knowledgeable, I figure it’s best to listen to Him.”

“Yet you had to spend the first few weeks of your life in what sounds like a taxonomical nightmare?”

“Well it was a learning experience.  I mean I imagine when you create a universe there is always some bookkeeping at the start.  Either way, He was pretty clear about not eating from that tree.”

“So you’re telling me that we are an omniscient and omnipotent being’s greatest creation, and he has placed us in paradise, but puts a tree full of rather delicious looking fruit in the middle of our paradise and we’re just expected to walk around it or something?  I mean why have the tree here if we’re not allowed to partake of it?”

“These are fair questions?  Well He’s omniscient so He knows we’re going to listen to Him, so He figured it doesn’t matter where He puts it.”

“Maybe, but it seems like poor planning overall.  I mean I have a pretty strong curiosity, don’t you?”

“Yeah.  I think I do too.  I’ll even admit that there were times when I was enjoying seeing all the different animals.  I really wanted to learn more about them, not just name them.  To be honest, I’ve got a million questions about everything.”

“Me too.  And I feel especially curious about things I’m told not to touch.”  Woman starts walking towards the tree and Adam grabs her by the shoulder.  She turns “Don’t touch me!  You need to learn about consent Adam.  Don’t be like Father.”

“Sorry…er…I was just trying to stop you from going to the tree.  I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry.  I’ll be a good girl and I won’t eat from it, but we can go look at it right?”

“I guess.  I just…well…if we aren’t suppose to eat from it, I figure it’s best not to get close.”

“Stop being so fearful.  This is paradise.  Like you said, I am sure he knows everything will be fine or he wouldn’t have put it here.  I’ll go off by myself if you’re too frightened.”

Woman walks towards the tree, entranced by the ripe fruit dangling in the sunlight.  As she gets close she feels some apprehension creep into her.  Maybe Adam was right.  She sits down, and leans back against a smooth rock which in no way was created by millions of year of erosion, and stares at the tree.

     Photograph of snake with legs unavailable.

“It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Woman looks around for a voice she’s never heard before.

“Over here.  I’m waving my tail.  Do you see it?”

Woman looks to her right and sees a black and green scaly animal on stump legs, plodding towards her, wagging its long pointed tail.

“I kind of got the impression that we were the only beings with consciousness in this garden.  Who or what are you?”

“Well, some might say I’m the anthropomorphized representation of evil, but since you don’t know what evil is yet, just call me what your boyfriend so brilliantly named me, snake.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.  And he didn’t say the animals can talk.”

Well, let’s be honest, he isn’t exactly the brains of the operation.  Although I must admit you and he, well that’s some fine handiwork by God.  We aren’t on the best of terms, but the Guy really knows how to fill His day.   But, to give Adam some credit, strictly speaking, animals don’t talk.  The one you’re talking with right now, however, does.  If you can believe you were made from a rib, my talking is small potatoes.  Let me get over there, we need to have some words.”

“You do move rather slowly…your legs are very short.”

“Yeah.  Well, in time, you’ll see God has a strange sense humor.  I came from the east. I ‘ve been walking here for a month pretty much non-stop.”

“What’s east?”

“Well, it’s pretty much just like here.  But it changes more.  Things live, things die, things fight to survive, but you keep busy.  Never a dull moment they say.  As to who they are, I can’t say, but for some reason I love clichés, idioms, metaphors.  Language is so colorful.”

“No I literally mean what is east?”

“Oh…well it’s the opposite of west.” The snake sidles up to her and rests on the grass near her and they look at the tree together. “Look at that tree?

“Yeah.  I just keep wondering why He would put it here.  And what can be so bad about eating the fruit.”

“Well this isn’t your average fruit.  It’s definitely special. As to why He put it here, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself.  But, I, for one, am glad He did.  You know why?”

Woman shakes her head slowly.

“Because this tree is everything.  I’ve been trying to figure out God since I was made.  Sometimes when he’s on a roll, creating, I truly think he figures a lot of stuff out without even realizing it.  The thing is, putting this tree here was the best idea ever and intentional.”

“But we are forbidden to eat it.  He told Adam.”

“Yep.  And you’re going to be punished too.  But here’s the thing: you are what you are.  He made you curious.  You want to know how things work.  There is no knowledge that you want to be barred from, so you are going to have a bite of the fruit from this tree, and so is Adam over there.  It’s inevitable.  Might as well get it over with and leave paradise behind.  All good things must come to an end.”

“But isn’t paradise a good thing?”

“You still don’t get it.  He doesn’t really want you to have paradise.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have made you curious and put the tree, he says he doesn’t want you to eat from, smack in the middle of paradise.  I mean who does that?  It’s like putting a cookie in front a child and saying ‘Don’t eat that!’  Sorry I forgot you don’t know how children behave yet, but you will.  Oh and you’ll like cookies too.”

“What will happen to us?”

“Not sure exactly.  You’ll probably be kicked out of paradise, but you’ll at least have the skills to try and build your own paradise.  One that you’ll actually have to strive for, and thus appreciate the effort it takes.  God, well He’s sort of the definition of privileged.  He never had to work for it.  You might think you’re better off that way, but believe me you’re not.  The only thing that matches God’s ability is His narcissism.  It’s not good to just have it all, with no idea how you obtained it.”

“That does kind of explains the lack of nurturing qualities in our Father.  But what about Adam?  Do you think he’ll eat it?  He seems pretty big on the whole obedience thing.”

“He’s just like you, don’t worry about it.  He would have eventually wandered over here himself.  Now go grab a couple of pieces fruit and have yourself a snack.  Destiny awaits you!  Ooh it appears I flair for the dramatic as well!  Alright, time to make the slow journey back to my home.  This design is ridiculous….”

The snake waddles away muttering under his breath at his poor constructed body.  Woman walks to the tree and grabs a couple of pieces of fruit.  “Hmmm…I thought they would feel magical, but seem kind of ordinary.  She shrugs her shoulders and walks back to Adam.

What Makes A Good Human?: An Introduction

If you read the title you are probably wondering, who am I to write prologues, or preludes, or introductions?  What’s all this about?  Your blogs are only marginally interesting to begin with, why should I read anything doesn’t really tell me anything?  All fair questions, and the best answer I can come up with is that, good things come to those who wait.  Of course it’s also true that sometimes good things come to people in an instant, but this is not one of those occasions.

A fellow blogger I met when I first started my blog asked me what I was my goal in having a blog, because clearly it’s not all for yourself or you wouldn’t be putting your writing on the internet.  I knew the answer at the time, but was modest about saying it aloud, and I guess I still am, but ultimately I do want to inspire people.  Inspiration is an interesting topic in itself, something worth having a blog post about someday, but the truth is I don’t know that anybody could say how to inspire others.  It’s something you can’t really predict.  Sure there are ways you can communicate more effectively, more enthusiastically.  Inspiring someone through written word I think is more difficult than face to face, and I am not sure that my writing is that good yet.  But I believe inspiration comes also through expressing ideas and asking questions and that is the route I have taken.  Given the number of followers I have that read my blog I can tell that my writing is limited in how it has impacted others, and that’s okay.  Ultimately some of the blogs I enjoy following the most are ones that have a nice sense of community, and it would be nice to get to that point and just have a handful of people that regularly comment and read my blogs who have interesting things to say and interesting and well thought out points of view.  I think I’m moving closer to that as I have met some wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful bloggers over the past couple of years.  But that doesn’t mean that the blog  isn’t also for me.  It is also where I can explore, where I can get my thoughts out and help me sort out things in my own mind.  So while I hope the things I write mean something to others, I am also happy in the way that it helps me grow and learn.

My next series of blogs, which this is an introduction for, are what I consider to be the essential qualities of a good human.  These qualities that I am going to write about represent a culmination of years of thought on the matter.  So while it might seem overly bold, and though there may be disagreements, these are not qualities I have arrived at quickly or arbitrarily.  I make no claims that such a list may not change as I continue to learn and grow, and I have also, through careful thought, tried to condense it to as small a list as possible.  Not because that is necessarily important, but because over the course of my life I have come to see connections between certain qualities and realized that perhaps such qualities might exist under a much larger umbrella.  These qualities have been alluded to in my writing before and blogging thus far has helped crystallize ideas in my mind.   I also don’t make the claim either that these are overly original either, but I hope to make people think about these qualities in a slightly different way, specifically to try to broaden one’s views of this quality as very often people have a very narrow definition.

I like to have pictures in my blog posts, but really couldn’t think of any. I’m Canadian though and there will be 7 qualities. Boom.

One of my first posts when I started my blog discussed the dangers of categorization.  We are species who constantly makes poor correlations as a result of our tendency to make Type I errors, which is to find patterns and connections where none exist.  As I have also written before I grew up in two cultures being biracial and this helped me see from an early age that the innate goodness of a human being had little to do with religion or culture and yet these are characteristics that we seem to tie to goodness or badness most often.  And of course as I grew older I have seen even more judgments of character based on gender, class, job, education, etc.  It might be natural that we make these poor assumptions simply because we are bound to make determinations about a person’s quality based on the people we know throughout our lifetimes.  I have often observed that most prejudice of any kind comes from a lack of exposure to diversity, not because of it.   If I were to say something positive about myself, it’s that I do always try to look for the goodness in all people. As a result I have never shied away from getting to know somebody from a different walk of life because it seems the more people I get to know, the more I am convinced that they way we separate ourselves from others is false and ultimately harmful.  In that vein I have thought a lot about what are the qualities that good people have in all those different walks of life I have encountered.  This, in addition to what I’ve learned through my education has led to me to conclude that there are 7 things that we must all have.  The fact that 7 became the number has me already a little worried that I’m not right, because the number 7 is full of romance, but try as I might I couldn’t think of any more or any less, so I’m just going to go with it.

Finally I just want to emphasize that all these qualities I will blog about over the coming months are equally important.  So much so that missing even one of these qualities can be problematic.  While the degree to which each of us has these qualities may depend on the individual I believe that all are qualities we must demonstrate and develop every day.  There were times that I thought there was a ranking to these qualities, but now I am not so sure.   Anyway, enough of this introductory business.  I shall end this by thanking you for reading this and my blog and hope to hear your thoughts in the coming months as I complete this series of posts.