What Is Good?

A comment brings up this overall question of what is good anyway? I suggested that humanity is good for the most part, but what is that actually measured by when an unbeliever says it? Well, obviously since I say it, then goodness is defined and measured by my own judgements. This obviously may not match at all with your own view. For example, if you believe a good woman covers her entire body and barely shows her eyes, then we disagree. If you believe a good woman should submit to her husband and is second to him instead of an equal partner, then we disagree. If you believe a good person must bow to a deity as their ruler and master, then we disagree. When I speak of an overall good it has to be seen as an overall feeling instead of an exact list of what is specifically good and bad in my view.

I will quote the words of Bertrand Russell who answered similar questions:

Since you deny ‘God’s Law’, what authority do you accept as a guide to conduct?

An Agnostic does not accept any ‘authority’ in the sense in which religious people do. He holds that a man should think out questions of conduct for himself. Of course, he will seek to profit by the wisdom of others, but he will have to select for himself the people he is to consider wise, and he will not regard even what they say as unquestionable. He will observe that what passes as ‘God’s law’ varies from time to time. The Bible says both that a woman must not marry her deceased husband’s brother, and that, in certain circumstances, she must do so. If you have the misfortune to be a childless widow with an unmarried brother-in-law, it is logically impossible for you to avoid disobeying ‘God’s law’.

How do you know what is good and what is evil? What does an agnostic consider a sin?

The Agnostic is not quite so certain as some Christians are as to what is good and what is evil. He does not hold, as most Christians in the past held, that people who disagree with the government on abstruse points of theology ought to suffer a painful death. He is against persecution, and rather chary of moral condemnation.

As for ‘sin’, he thinks it not a useful notion. He admits, of course, that some kinds of conduct are desirable and some undesirable, but he holds that the punishment of undesirable kinds is only to be commended when it is deterrent or reformatory, not when it is inflicted because it is thought a good thing on its own account that the wicked should suffer. It was this belief in vindictive punishment that made men accept Hell. This is part of the harm done by the notion of ‘sin’.

Does an agnostic do whatever he pleases?

In one sense, no; in another sense, everyone does whatever he pleases. Suppose, for example, you hate someone so much that you would like to murder him. Why do you not do so? You may reply: “Because religion tells me that murder is a sin.” But as a statistical fact, agnostics are not more prone to murder than other people, in fact, rather less so. They have the same motives for abstaining from murder as other people have. Far and away the most powerful of these motives is the fear of punishment. In lawless conditions, such as a gold rush, all sorts of people will commit crimes, although in ordinary circumstances they would have been law-abiding. There is not only actual legal punishment; there is the discomfort of dreading discovery, and the loneliness of knowing that, to avoid being hated, you must wear a mask with even your closest intimates. And there is also what may be called “conscience”: If you ever contemplated a murder, you would dread the horrible memory of your victim’s last moments or lifeless corpse. All this, it is true, depends upon your living in a law-abiding community, but there are abundant secular reasons for creating and preserving such a community.

I said that there is another sense in which every man does as he pleases. No one but a fool indulges every impulse, but what holds a desire in check is always some other desire. A man’s anti-social wishes may be restrained by a wish to please God, but they may also be restrained by a wish to please his friends, or to win the respect of his community, or to be able to contemplate himself without disgust. But if he has no such wishes, the mere abstract concepts of morality will not keep him straight.

Sinner at Heart

Why do many of the religions have this notion that people are sinners or evil at heart? This is followed by the solution that there is a deity that can guide us and forgive us for following our naturally evil instincts. For that forgiveness you must follow their religious teachings and their religious leaders since you can’t be trusted to think for yourself. On the flip side, but with the same kind of mentality is the claim that the United States is the perfect way to govern and the absolute best country we could have. I do love living here but I’m sure we’re far from perfection. I think we generally have the right amount of freedom and are collectively full of good intentions. The true root of that American spirit is humanity itself. We formed a free society by the people and for the people. We obviously weren’t built up as a theocratic country under the Christian God no matter what some may try to say and there are other posts that have addressed that. Given that our government is from the people and not a God, you would think our country is inherently sinful. I guess that’s why some religious people think this country needs to be under God to correct our sinful ways even though I think we’ve done just fine without a deity ruling over us.

I think religion needs to sell the fact that we are evil so they can then sell us all their salvation from our sinning ways. If they really preached what I believe then they wouldn’t have that guilt as a weapon over our minds. I truly believe most of us are good and loving people at our core. Why else would we have the instinct to care for our offspring and families? Why else would we not feel a common bond to our fellow humans and lend a hand to a total stranger? I don’t need religion to tell me that these things are good for me and us as a family and society. My first instinct isn’t to kick a person when they’re down or take advantage of someone that is disadvantaged. Is that your first instinct?

My first thought in any situation isn’t to lie, cheat, steal, and defraud my way out of a problem. Is that really your first thought and basic impulse? Do you really need religion to tell you to be good in life? I wonder how many people actually thought it was a great idea to steal and murder until they read it in the Bible that they shouldn’t. I don’t believe those are unique ideas that people didn’t understand until it was written in a holy book. I know these ideas came from humanity anyway since I believe the only source of our holy books is the humans that wrote them.

People shouldn’t need a fear of God to keep them in line. I’ve said this in a previous post but it is a good example to write here again. If a fear of God and a devotion to your religion is what is really needed to be good, then there wouldn’t be such a thing as a pedophile priest. I couldn’t imagine a deity that would allow such a thing to even happen if there really were miracles. These religious leaders are supposedly closer to God than the average person and should really know these huge eternal consequences of their sins. However, there is nothing about religion that stops them or even effectively punishes them to prevent them from doing such things again. Instead, religions actually offer them unconditional forgiveness. Isn’t that nice? Why don’t they just do it again then since they know forgiveness is so easy to get? I wonder how much religion contributes to the existence of repeat offenders. It is the laws and punishments of human societies that more effectively deals with such sins against humanity. A punishment of some sort is a more effective deterrent.

Even though I believe most people are good at heart I do realize not everyone decides to live that way and there probably are some truly evil people at their core. Additionally, a good person that believes everyone else is evil and full of sin might not feel guilty about doing bad things to those “evil” people as well. Even the most devout religious person can rationalize doing bad things in the context of dealing with evil people. This is how we have Christians in the military who are very willing to kill the “evil” enemy. I’ve never met a person with a truly absolute morality that didn’t adjust their actions to the situation. I can also say I don’t believe I’ve met a person that I think is truly evil or a sinner at their core even though there must be at least a few that exist. Serial killers and child molesters come to mind. Overall, I may just have more hope and faith in humanity than the average Christian does in believing such people are a very minor exception to the rule. I don’t believe we are sinners at heart and I do believe that humanity is inherently good.

Pascal’s Wager

Oh our busy lives with family and work and such human endeavors that make up a life! Life is good and full so it leaves me with little time to reject organized religions and share my faith in not knowing the grand scheme of it all. The beauty of our lives is that pretending to have all of the answers like some do or acknowledging that we really have no clue as I do has no real bearing on our actual lives. I feel no ill effects from not believing and actually seem to be rather happy and doing well in comparison to some very devout people I know. If they have all of the answers and know how it will so perfectly end if they do right, then why are they so damn worried all of the time?

Anyway, here is a quick post to get back in the swing of this a little. I’ll quote from a comment to this blog: “If I’m wrong about Christ coming to earth, dying for our sins, and rising from the dead, then I don’t really lose anything. But if you’re wrong about agnosticism, you’ll lose everything. Don’t take that risk lightly!” This is a classic take on Pascal’s Wager, which I’m surprised I haven’t written about yet.

There’s some great writing about this called Pascal’s Sucker Bet. There are many other interesting reads at that site I should review here in the future. Anyway, go there and read that post to the end. I’ll wait… Done? Good, so let’s look as this quote again now that you’ve lost that bet there as well and see where I’m coming from on this subject.

If you’re wrong about Christ then you do lose plenty right here and now. You’re devoting time, money, and whatever other resources you have to a belief that means nothing. Me? I do this blog here and there because I feel like sharing what I believe as it entertains me. There is no obligation for me to do any of this for my belief. There is no time spent worshipping or praying to anything. If I have a problem, then I just do something about it if I can. If I did something wrong I try to make up for it and move on. There’s no free pass or forgiveness of my sins. That’s a whole other problem in this world I won’t get into now. If I screw up I know there can be consequences in society. I don’t worry about what God thinks or if I may or may not get into a heaven after I die. I worry about laws and being a productive member of society and things that impact me now or in my known future in life. I know if there’s something after I die then I’ll get to it then when I’m actually there and can finally know what (if anything) I’m really dealing with as far as an afterlife goes.

Now, if I’m wrong about agnosticism then… what? I admit I’m a simple human being with a limited ability to grasp the ultimate meanings of the universe. If there really were a God, do you think it’d fault me for being honest about my cognitive abilities and punish me to eternal damnation for my views? Do you really think I should burn for all eternity because I didn’t pick one of the holy books (which one???) written by my fellow humans and followed it blindly to my death? I’ve come to the best conclusion I could given the information provided. I honestly don’t know and don’t see how any of it impacts me anyway other than what some scared ignorant humans tell me it will. Let your God tell me himself. I have been listening and am still waiting for a real message. I think if there’s an afterlife I might win some kind of award for not being a mindless sheep and actually coming to an honest and straightforward conclusion about it all. I know I’m a decent human being so what more could a deity want from me? I do know I’m right because all I’m professing is that we have no clue on this particular subject.

Now in the case of this other person that puts their entire bet on Christ, what if Judaism, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist was the correct answer? What if the real creator is something (or many somethings) that nobody has correctly defined because we’re incapable of understanding it? You’ve put all of your chips in the pot on Christ and there’s a definite chance that you’ve picked the wrong belief or at least the wrong shade of the right belief. What if it’s really the Catholics, Sunnis, Methodists, Taoists, or Protestants that are truly favored by this God of yours? If the book and message is so important and God’s existence and rules are also so important then you really need to pick the correct belief, right? What if you’re believing a lie crafted by some charlatan or devil? Are you willing to bet your life on it? I’m not. It makes no sense to even play such a game and I see no valid reason to do so.

The whole thing is a sucker’s bet if you think I have to play the same games you are and the only choice I have is to take your side to win or I lose an eternal existence you have no way of knowing or understanding. The truth of the matter is I’m not playing that game at all so all of the “rules” in a particular religion are meaningless to me. Those definitions of a creator mean nothing to me since I see them as just common fables like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It’s all mythology. Sure, it’s real… as real as Santa Claus himself. I see him in the mall and my kids received gifts from him when they believed. Now they just get gifts from good old Mom and Dad. See how a concept can seem so real because everyone tries to build out that illusion and play along? It’s nice and harmless I guess, but in the end it isn’t necessary for the underlying activities of kindness and gift giving. What would you say to a 50 year old that very honestly believed in Santa Claus and demanded you go sit on his lap too? We don’t need the wrapper of religion to be good people and I’ve lost nothing by rejecting ALL of the world’s religions. I don’t need to sit on Santa’s lap anymore to get presents from the people that love me.

Thanksgiving is next week. I am thankful that I exist no matter the reason or even if there is no reason. I’m also very thankful for my wife, my children, and the rest of my family since they make my life happier and more interesting. I plan to try to give as much joy to them as they give to me. It’s a human thing. Whatever it is you believe, just remember that we are all human and we all have to deal with each other here and now. Actually, why don’t we just plan to argue about our creators and the afterlife once we all actually get there? 😉