My response to Tom Freeman's The moral of the story
This posting is in response to Tom Freeman's recent post on our continuing discussion of morality. We've been at this topic for about six months now and it would seem that we've made some progress. Much as been said (and will continue to be said) on the topic of objectivity. We both agree that such a state of affairs is desirable, however we still seem to be a ways off from agreeing that it really is he case.
First off, I'd like to offer my heart felt thanks to Tom. Over these last six months he has continued to put some serious thought into our conversations. I really admire the conviction with which he approaches our conversations. Keep it up bud!
I'd like to start by giving a quick overview of how I maintain the Christian world view allows for an 'objective' (read: "not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts") moral framework.
According to Christianity all moral assertions are either true or false as they relate to the unchanging eternal character of God. Now, it is easy for the skeptic to feel a slight bewilderment that the Christian should claim moral facts are dependent upon some being hiding far far away in some remote corner of the universe. But this only serves to illustrate how hard it is for us to conceive of a being who is not merely 'a part' of reality, but is, in-fact, the 'source of' reality.
On a micro level it would be somewhat like a three year old nudging his brother and asking: "who does Dad think he is telling us what's right or wrong?"
In many ways, the three year old is dependent upon the family system that the father is the head of. In this way, the child is subject to the moral system that the father puts in place. Likewise, switching to a macro focus, we are contingent beings who depend on God for our very existence. Because of this, we are rightly under His authority.
Having said all that, I would like to address a question I have seen Tom raise on a few separate occasions. He seems willing to accept that the Christian God would indeed provide a singular, consistent and eternal standard, but he has difficulty calling such a standard 'moral'. I'm assuming he is basically asking: "how do we know this standard is good?"
In response I'll have to ask, would it ever be possible for the absolute Fact of all reality to act in such a way that could be deemed evil?
I'm not suggesting that this is possible, I am simply asking, who's standard would God have to violate to be evil? If God's character is eternal and unchanging, is it possible for God to violate His own standard? It would seem not. Thus, as I have argued in the past, God simply "IS" and therefore, we can only speak of 'objective' morals as they relate to Him.
A second point I would like to make on the topic of "why God's character matters to us", would be to point out that "morality" is, in a very important sense, simply a descriptor used to evaluate the state of a relationship between personal beings. To say the morality is simply "rules" or a "code of conduct" negates the more fundamental reality that underneath it all morals ultimately hinge on relationships. When one of the teachers of the law brought Jesus the question:
"Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
The point is not simply to obey rules. The Pharisees strove to follow rules, even to the degree of tithing a tenth of their spices (grain by grain) in order to follow the 'rules'!
The key to morality lies in love. Love for each other and love for God. I would even venture to assert that without first loving God (or should I say accepting His love for us) we will always be incapable of loving each-other.
Tom, to the degree that you experience love and to the degree that you act in love your atheistic world-view is being contradicted. Do you realize that?
Now this concept of love (like morality) is difficult to put into words, but we sure know it when we experience it. The next time you find yourself experiencing a moment of profound love from, or, for another, pull the atheist card out of your pocket and look at it. What does it say?
"Tom, this experience is meaningless. It is simply the result of a chance happening of various material affecting each-other in a simple cause and effect sort of way. No need to get all worked up... not that you can help it"
Your friend, No one
What if you looked through life using a different lens? What if love actually had some meaning over and above a supervenient quality of "stuff"? You admit yourself that you wish to build your moral code around "compassion". Can you see a way that compassion is even available to us if there is no God? Mindless, determined matter cannot have 'compassion' on mindless, determined matter. If you agree with me here, then you must affirm that you are 'more than' mindless matter. (even really really complex mindless matter.) But now you are left with a problem. What are you?
Lastly, I'd like to just quickly address your assessment of the following comment:
Tom says: This ties in to one of the most telling throwaway comments Alex has made in our months of chewing things over. It came when he was rejecting the idea of there being real meaning and morality without god existing:
Alex says: If it [Christianity] is not true, to whom would I turn? Dualism? What's that? There's no name or face associated with a term such as that.
Tom says:He has a fair and I think widely shared view: a person, with a name and a face, can be far more inspiring than an abstract theory, however well argued. You can relate to a person; you can rally round them; you can ask yourself what they’d say. This is part of human nature (and why politics can favour personality over policy).
Role models are fine; fictional role models are fine; role models of dubious and contested reality are fine. They illustrate virtues that strike us as, well, virtuous.
One one level, this is a classic "Bulverism". But on another, perhaps more important, level you are acknowledging a fudamental truth. We need personal beings in order to even talk about "virtue". What does this do for the case of Platonic moral forms, or other such "properties"?
Would it not be reasonable to assume that since moral concepts only have weight as they relate to personal beings, that perhaps our longing for an objective moral framework is evidence that we are indeed — beyond all hope — products of a perfectly loving personal God? All I meant to illustrate, is that mindless platonic forms, or some other sort of property dualism, leave our spirits unfulfilled.
It would be much like while anxiously awaiting your spouses' return home from a long trip you find yourself in the position of slowly waking up from a mid-day nap. As your eyes adjust you see her! She's standing right there! Just inside the door you see, her arms outstretched to take you in a warm embrace! You jump up, ready to run towards her, but as your head clears and your eyes adjust, your heart sinks. You suddenly realize the object you thought was your beloved is nothing more than her old coat propped up on a broom handle. Sure you could go and give it a hug and talk to it, but it's not her. She's not there.
In the same way Tom, if we try to accept some moral foundation based off of impersonal "qualities" or "forms" we will come to a disheartening end. As I've tried to demonstrate in this post, morality is relational. It's basis is love. You can't have a love relationship with an impersonal quality. Therefore, it seems right to conclude that unless the foundation of our morality is personal and perfectly loving, then we have no foundation at all. I don't accept that, and you don't seem to want to.
I see Jesus as the visitation of this perfectly loving moral standard into His creation. The length He went to bring us back to him shows a depth of love that I can't even begin to comprehend. He didn't come to call us to a system of rules. He came to bring us into a relationship with Him. All that's left for us to do is accept the invitation.
I pray someday you see that the deepest longings of your heart really do have an answer and it's better than you could have ever hoped!