Saturday, September 14, 2013

Jiminy Cricket!

What other religions profess is none of my concern as long as they don't bother me.  I don't accept their beliefs, so what do I care?

Still, it's interesting to hear Pope Francis claim, essentially, that religious faith is not required.  (That's how I interpret it, anyway.) Unusual thing for the leader of any religion to say, and certainly not beleieved by, oh, billions, including quite a few Catholics.

He notes “Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”  Maybe he's right, but this will be offensive, once again, to a lot of religious people.  The main point of religion, to many, is that it's a guide to let you know what sin is and how to avoid it.  Religion let's you know what your specific deity expects of you, and without it, you would be lost in error, or at least can't develop a true morality.

Is the Pope saying we have this built-in conscience?  If we do, then why bother with religion? Just look inside yourself and follow the way.

In a related story, the Vatican reminded everyone that atheists can't be saved.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doubly interesting.

I don't see why it doesn't work. If Obama can lead America, an atheist ought to be able to lead the church. Or is it Church?

4:06 AM, September 14, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A grand fight against a simplistic reductionist view of religion- the "demands of a specific deity"0-hopefully this will scare off the adherents of Benedict's "smaller purer" church and they can go off and form their own institution (hmm whats Latin for "the Base")

4:31 AM, September 14, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

This is the problem about religion stories written by reporters who don't understand what they are covering. By contrast, major newspapers have science-savvy writers to write the science articles (sometimes).

According to the Catholic understanding of "conscience", one's conscience can be educated. A six-year old child in Richmond in 1820 watched her slave prepare her breakfast without seeing anything wrong with it, and therefore she was guilty of no sin. When she was twenty years old, if she watched the slaves being whipped, her mind and her conscience and basic logic (analogizing the slaves' punishment to fair and unfair punishment she herself had received) would tend to lead her to see that this system was immoral. If she then stubbornly persisted in defending slavery, even though her conscience knew it was wrong, that would be a sin.

This applies whether someone is atheist, Christian, or anything else. Thomas Aquinas wrote that "an erring conscience is binding". One has an obligation to inform one's conscience (because it's not a magical organ that intuits all moral principles regardless of its input -- GIGO), and one has an obligation to follow one's conscience.

This is exactly analogous to how our minds work: we don't consider a a geocentrist in 1000 CE to be a fool, but a geocentrist today who willfully ignores the evidence we see as a fool. Similarly, someone who willfully resists their conscience, or chooses not to look at evidence that could change their moral views, has subjective moral guilt.

So what Pope Francis says is what Catholic teaching said prior to him, and can be found in the Catechism.

Thom Rosica -- who is not a Vatican spokesman [another media error] but rather a Canadian priest with a blog about theology -- wrote a long post which did correctly state the Church's teaching, but which the media has done a bad job of summarizing. The key sentence, which is a good summary of the Catholic teaching on this point, is this:

Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.

Again, this makes sense if you see the conscience as something that can learn. If someone realizes that the Catholic Church was established by God as the road to salvation and refuses to walk that road, they are consciously rejecting God's offer of salvation, and God will allow them to reject this offer. But if someone does not know that this is what the Church is, then God will not punish them for not following what they don't know.

Obviously you may not agree with these views, but I think you might agree that they do make internal sense, unlike the media-reported version.

8:55 AM, September 14, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I think this answers your question:

The main point of religion, to many, is that it's a guide to let you know what sin is and how to avoid it. Religion let's you know what your specific deity expects of you, and without it, you would be lost in error, or at least can't develop a true morality.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have each seen internal debates on the question of whether morality is something accessible to all human beings through reason, or whether morality means obeying God's commands which are inscrutable. If the latter is true, nobody can be moral unless they belong to the correct religion. The former view has been dominant for most of Catholic history (except from the early 14th century until the mid 16th), and the latter view was finally condemned in no uncertain terms in the 17th century. In other words, it is not only Catholic tradition but is also Catholic dogma that all humans have access to morality through their reason and their consciences.

However, again, the conscience needs to be eduated. It's easy for us to be misled about the state of people we have never met, for example. Complex issues (like the morality of throwing recyclables into the trash can) need to be learned much as objective science is learned, whereas more human issues (like the morality of malicious gossip) often needs to be learned through witnessing the actual effects of these acts.

Religion can help this process, by teaching commandments such as "do not steal". These can help someone's conscience learn, but they are not themselves the source of morality.

So while your quote italicized above is indeed true in the view of many followers of many religions -- and surely some non-educated Catholics today -- it's not consistent with the Catholic understanding. In fact, it's almost the opposite: when a moral adult (atheist or theist or anything else) hears that Christianity teaches "do not murder", that does not teach him that murder is wrong; on the contrary, it teaches him that the Church may perhaps teach a morality consonant with that which he already knows, which may cause him to wonder if the Church might be correct in some of its esoteric teachings as well.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, the statement "God is good" is not meant as a tautology; it rather indicates that humans already have a (significant but imperfect) understanding of "good" independent of any religious concepts.

9:09 AM, September 14, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Excellent summary, Mr. King, of predominant religious understanding since the 18th century! I've saved it for furture reference because it can hardly be better stated. Thanks.

8:53 AM, September 16, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Predominant religious understanding? I'd say a very popular, perhaps predominant understanding of most religious adherents around the world including Christians is that their scriptures or their deity makes morality, and anything not based on that is just human opinion.

10:15 AM, September 16, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

It may be the loudest interpretation that the media loves to feature on the news, but a great deal of thought has gone into Christianity and Judaism (and Islam, though I'm not as familiar with it), and most conclude that when the scriptures say humanity is made in God's image, it does not refer to a mirror, but rather the capacity to know right and wrong and make a choice.

2:42 PM, September 16, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A great deal of thought" has gone into Christianty and Judaism? So what? (And why do we need so much thought--didn't they know the truth from the start, and if it was handed down in a confused manner whose fault is that?) Religions have changed their minds on so many things, and when they believed differently in the past plenty of thought had gone into those conclusions as well. I think the present-day conclusion about one line in the Bible, written by humans, about the "image" thing is just a modern, false interpretation that comports with how modern, relatively godless people think, rather than the embarrassing original idea that gods looked like humans, so we look like them. But that's neither here nor there. The point is a great deal of thought has gone into many religions or mythologies around the world. Basing your beliefs on magic isn't going to get you great conclusions no matter how much thinking goes into them, unless you conclude your original basic beliefs are wrong.

3:20 PM, September 16, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

So much anger - calm down. First off, calling it "magic" or dissing belief in something that can't be proved one way or the other doesn't make an argument. Sure, any understanding humans come up with for the reason for existence, as long as it isn't spoon fed by a higher authority, is no better than an interpretation. And it is of course self serving to the argument to point out that God intended it that way. We then put a great deal of thought into deciding why it would be intended that way. This is not a criticism of religion - it's probably the fundamental reason why mankind has advanced as far as we have (developing writing, art, and even science in order to further our understanding of why things are and why we should or should not behave in certain ways).

Belief brings to many of us contentment and happiness - why begrudge others that comfort? And since it may be true, and is often a source of much "good" in the world (however you want to define that), I would lthink a live and let live attitude would be more appropriate among non-believers. And yes, that would be easier if believers adopted the same attitude in all cases (do you suppose Alexis was killing for Buddah yestedary?)

8:04 AM, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are we trying to find out the truth or make people feel good about their beliefs?

Now I believe in Zeus, my neighbor on the right believes in Odin and my neighbor on the left believes in Isis. We all come from long traditions. You believe in another tradition that makes specific claims about magical things that happened in the past. Unless you can give me some specific reason why the magic you believe is in true, why should I respect anything you say about the lengthy intellectual tradition that followed? Because it comforts you and makes the world a better place? So do fairies and Santa Claus.

9:01 AM, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Thanks, DG!

Anon, you may believe that all religious traditions are lies, but the initial claim you made was about the content of the beliefs of "most religious adherents around the world including Christians". In other words, you were making an objective claim, which DG objectively rebutted. Belief and respect are irrelevant.

I'm not a Muslim, but if one person says "The Quran was written in the 19th century and contains the word 'instagram' forty-seven times," it's completely valid for a Muslim to rebut this claim by citing the Quran and the work of 10th century Muslim scholars. The rebuttal would be valid regardless of whether the Quran's contents are true. Similarly, when you make an assertion about what "most religious adherents around the world including Christians" believe, it's valid to rebut that claim by pointing to books written by Christians. Indeed, how else could someone prove or rebut such a claim?

10:50 AM, September 17, 2013  
Blogger LAGuy said...

You actually bring up an intriguing point, Larry, though it's not what this post is originally about. How does an outsider determine what a religion actually is? Is it what the official leaders say it is? Is it what the scriptures say it is? Is it what people who write books about it say it is? Or is it what its followers believe, and practice?

1:38 PM, September 17, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Let me also point out that I wasn't asking Anon to believe anything. LK's point was that those disparaging religion (including subtlely in the news media) often misquote the beliefs of the religion, thereby creating a strawman to shoot down.

If it sells papers, I guess that will continue to happen, but my second point was merely that there is no need to be shooting down other people's religions. If you don't find any guidance or comfort in any philosophy, don't follow it - that's all. If you want to ask respectful questions, fine, but referring to it all as magic (or in the case of non-religious philosophy as "mumbo-jumbo") says more about the attacker who seems to be trying to bolster hos or her own lack of belief by delittling the target faith.

8:30 AM, September 18, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always try to bolster ho's.

12:25 PM, September 18, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

LAGuy, that's a great question in general. Just about any answer can lead to awkward moments... like saying "I know that your religion believes X" and having someone reply "No, my religion doesn't believe X." Or when you try to argue with a Scientologist about Xenu and it turns out he hasn't reached that level yet and has no idea what you're talking about.

Given the variety of religions, probably the only general rule would be this: If a certain religion's scriptures, leaders, and members clearly agree on some point, then it's safe to say that the religion believes X. If there is a disagreement, that might be a sign of an internal division, or a complex doctrine that is not always understood even by the faith's own members, or of something that has changed over time (and such change might or might not be officially acknowledged).

However, as far as practice goes, one would need to take into account people's beliefs about their own practices. For example, Judaism, Christianity, and tons of other religions teach that adultery is wrong. There are surely many followers of these faiths who have committed adultery. But if you were to ask them "did your affair contradict your religious and moral beliefs?" most of them would say yes. So in that example, aberrant practices don't alter the religion's teachings.

4:39 PM, September 18, 2013  

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