A question for thought


In his book, The hidden face of god, Friedman writes, and I want it to be the subject of discussion

Moralities were constructed in association with deities for millenia.
How is it possible to construct any morality that will have substantial acceptance in the absence of appeal to a god?

He says elsewhere

The moral debates of this generation have the unfortunate, absurd, frustrating, annoying quality that, frequently, the two sides do not engage one another.
[…] few on either side argue head on the validity of each other’s moral starting point.  They concentrate more on the opponent’s last claim or they challenge his or her statical points.

What are your views?
And while you are at it, a meditation on death

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

51 thoughts on “A question for thought

  1. ladysighs says:

    I got down to Modalities and thought the post would be about the ancient tribes: Moabites and Ammonites and Hetites and Ablacites and Menonites and Anthracites and Boracites. I was getting all excited and started to meditate on it. Are the Medatites a new tribe?

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  2. The main reason why the two sides don’t engage one another is that one side is trying to make excuses for an invisible sky wizard magically making things “good” or “bad” while the other is beginning to realize that nothing passing for intellectual is going to be happening in the discussion.

    Until theists can recognize the tall order that is accepting their deity’s existence as fact, this is going to keep happening. Even if one engages on that front, theists frequently can and do change the subject until they can portray themselves as a victim or as a champion for the divine.

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    • makagutu says:

      And would one still be a theist if they were to recognise that the deity is a figment of their imagination?
      How does one engage the godcultist in a way that they can understand while still remaining godcultist?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, it goes to the thoughts behind my earlier comment.

        The reason why goalposts shift, subjects change, and other stuff happens in these discussions is because theists are actually arguing from emotion rather than logic (and atheists are doing the opposite). These justifications do not negate the other.

        In other words, it’s entirely possible to get a theist to accept they have no logical reason to justify the existence of his or her deity, and that theist can still believe because of emotional reasons.

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  3. Not too familiar with Friedman but this “Moralities were constructed in association with deities for millenia.” seems no more than an appeal to popularity or a appeal to tradition.

    Also not too sure about this claim “few on either side argue head on the validity of each other’s moral starting point.”

    I always confront the theist on the validity of their moral starting point e.g. the existence or non-existence of the god claimed to be the root of all morality. Most atheists in my experience do the same thing. Perhaps this is not what he means? If not, what does he mean by the “validity of each other’s moral starting point”?

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      He has written other good books such as who wrote the bible. This current book deals with the apparent disappearance of god in the bible and the divine human balance. It is an interesting book.
      I don’t think he is appealing to history, rather just pointing out that lawgivers in different places and times have invoked gods when stating their laws to give them some authority. What happens in an age where there is no god?
      That is a valid starting point. The godcultists must first demonstrate the existence of their so called gods

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  4. shelldigger says:

    I’d answer to the first question thusly: For millenia you have been doing it wrong. No one cares how long you have been all fucked up with your god attributed moralities. What we want now is to get together, without your fictional gods, and agree on something that suits the majority. Having umpteen friggin gods in the mix with umpteen different sets and subsets of rules and regulations all under the god umbrella, these only get in the way of true progress. Ditch the useless gods, and let’s hammer out some basics that most of us could call just.

    The biggest source of friction and the cause of much grief “for millenia” is the interpretations of umpteen fucking ass backward cult followers.

    As for the second part, if your “starting point” is not grounded in reality, of what use is it for a starting point? Of what use is there for discussion? Piss off, until you actually have a starting point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Interesting thoughts my shelldigger friend.

      Like

    • Nan says:

      You just said a mouthful of truth!

      “Having umpteen friggin gods in the mix with umpteen different sets and subsets of rules and regulations all under the god umbrella, these only get in the way of true progress.”

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    • basenjibrian says:

      Majorities are not always the source of wisdom.

      Also, they are particularly poor at accepting the rights, heck even the very existence, of minorities.

      I am also skeptical that “the basics” are always obvious. Or that the main problem with humanity is religion. The main problem with humanity is human beings. Religion is merely a tool used by some human beings to bludgeon other human beings with. The underlying “causes” are still good ol’ greed, power hunger, sex, and in group versus out group posturing.

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      • shelldigger says:

        I knew the moment I wrote that, that truly no set of moral rules would be good for all peoples. I was thinking more along the lines of keeping it simple.

        Ala Bill and Ted “Be excellent to each other.” And “Party on dudes.”

        It is my belief though that religion is a main underlying cause for grief in this world. Yes humans use religion as a tool as a means to an end, and do so very effectively. But how much less effective would that manipulation be without that religion tool?

        Religions are tribal groups, seldom in agreement and quick to draw a sword. History cannot be denied. That powerful people can use that to their advantage makes religion no less dangerous IMO. Religion is the ultimate tool. Every kind of atrocity imaginable is forgiven if done in the name of the gods.

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  5. I see no reason why any person can not construct morality without needing a fictitious being. We have civil laws, and then, we have humanity. Hardly difficult.

    The death post was good. The funeral director/undertaker for my parents was very good. We don’t need comfort or solace. Just, a little respect and time to cope.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Morality is not, and never was, exclusive to theism. That’s a convenient myth perpetrated by various religious advocates interested only in the preeminence of their chosen ideology.

      All human beings construct and continually modify their own individual morality respective and irrespective of cultural influences. All anyone need do to verify this is to ask numerous people generic questions about what they believe is “right and wrong.” The range of answers would be quite wide even within religious groups.

      Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu says:

        I agree with you. The argument Friedman is making is that people have always invoked gods after they make laws. The question then is only of obedience to the laws when each of us feels, and correctly so, that the laws are not absolute

        Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      I, too, thought the post on death was really good.
      The question he is asking is not whether we can formulate moralities without gods, but whether we can have them obeyed universally without invoking deities

      Liked by 1 person

  6. tildeb says:

    Not to be stick in the mud, but talking about morality without beginning with human biology is like talking about dining without beginning with human food. Sure, we can sound philosophically sophisticated and wax what may seem to be metaphysically profundities but such discussions are empty of any knowledge value. When we do include knowledge as a necessary starting point and then try to wedge some god into the discussion, we have no need , as Laplace has been quoted as saying, for that hypothesis. Reality suffices.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Interesting question,
    To me morality is essentially the ability to make choices. Therefor everyone has ‘a morality’ or a set of reasons and methodology to make decisions (moral or otherwise).

    The contention in my eyes lies in the method and reasons we make decisions, the reason why so many people from a secular or atheist inclination contends with a religious ‘morality’ is that theology states morality is unchangeable and absolute, when we know it is not. We know it is not absolute, because even theologians have to use an epidemiological method to ascertain moral ‘truth’. If there was only one true morality, everyone in the church would agree on everything and there would be no need for interpretation or choice.

    The second problem is the method for creating knowledge, and to me is too an epidemiological problem. The way we make decisions and the way we make new knowledge is the same. And so the problem with the theologian again broths up to the surface, because they again claim to have or know knowledge which is absolute and unchangeable, the essence of faith. Although we do claim near certainty on many things, they are always up for debate, and importantly can be disproven in light of new knowledge. In other words truths can only be truth in the light of our available knowledge, and under new knowledge can change.

    Unless we are able to instill or explain that to the theologian, the conversation will only ever go in circles.

    Maybe.

    Walking Around Human

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    • makagutu says:

      Well said.
      Have we failed, then, to explain to the goddites that their gods are irrelevant in discussion of morality whatever we take these to be?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Simply put yes. I would say that we have failed as societies to make these things overt. This is to say that we have paid little attention in the way we make decisions ourselves, and to articulate the way to make good ones.

        Indeed the problem is not only capitalized by the theologians, you can find it in conspiracy theorists, alien abductees believers, Reiki healers, homeopathy, and so on and so ao ond so on.

        They all have one thing in common: they make epidemiological mistakes. Many social theory philosophers have worked on these problems. People like: Foucault, Habermas, Bordieu and Derrida. All of whom where concerned in the epidemiological process to best make new knowledge.

        Just as a final thought too, when it comes to morality and conversations about it, it is also important to define it:
        Although I see it as a decision making process, or a choice I have to make; a theologian would say it is the rule that governs this decision or choice. What happens when people people do not take this into consideration is that they essentially have two different conversations, and that’s no good.

        Walking Around Human

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        • tildeb says:

          You say ‘epidemiological process’ to gain knowledge… are you sure you don’t mean epistemological processes? I was taught that how we come to know is epistemology, what we think we know is ontology.

          I’ve had many, many discussions with theists about how epistemology determines ontology and that an epistemology that first accepts and second utilizes any faith-based belief about reality simply doesn’t produce knowledge about it…. and that’s a clue as well as a condemnation about its usefulness revealing what’s true.

          Religion in this regard is the mothership in that it raises faith to be a virtue rather than the vice it is in any other field of human endeavor but you’re quite right to point out it is the disconnected-from-reality epistemology that utilizes faith- based belief in all kinds of ways.. from the rack of denialism subjects (the Anti- crowd against wifi, vaccines, wind turbines, human caused climate change, evolution, and so on), all alternative medicine and complimentary therapies, conspiracy theories, mystical forces and the ‘life energy’ assumptions to the confused belief that man=bad/nature=good, that stereotypes and groups are real things.rather than human constructs.

          Determining which method works better than others in how we approach subjects to find out stuff about reality can be compared and contrasted for practical effect. Some are much better than others. The theist’s method can be shown to be an absolute failure to gain insight and knowledge about reality. That’s why it is so important that if we want to find out anything reasonable and knowable about what we mean by ‘morality’ that isn’t just an expression of beliefs that may or may not have any knowledge value, then we’d better start with reality itself and not scoot immediately into expressed beliefs about some causal, invisible, immaterial agencies of Oogity Boogity! using forces of magic and POOF!ism delivered very mysteriously by divine mechanisms we cannot examine yet supposedly producing real world effect… beyond anything we can know anything about, of course. This is such a mind-boggling irrational approach, such a disturbingly severed-from-reality method, that it is deeply disturbing for any self-proclaimed reasonable person to inject with confidence and still expect to be treated as if rational and reasonable and honestly concerned with finding out what’s true, what is the case, the pursuit of knowledge itself. This broken epistemology of faith-based belief is not just contrary to but incompatible with all of this.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Yes sorry I meant processes.

            Agreed, I think you are right to point out that religion based epistemological reasoning is as devoid of reality as it can be. Essentially these mistakes in thought can be attributed to assumptions made that are ultimately absolute, and there is no more an absolute assumption than fate.

            Yet interestingly there are differences between people who proclaim faith. Most Christians in Europe for example have learned to accept pragmatic epistemology when it comes to most real life decisions, leaving faith to only influence their acual belief in God. Indeed they are happy to ignore many of the things preached by the conservative camp because they simply do not like it or agree with it in a pragmatic standpoint.

            I saw a documentary where a conservative American preacher asked people in sweeden “what religion are you?” And would then ask “do you believe in God?” Many of the answers where:
            “I’m a Christian but I do not believe in god”, which perplexed him greatly hahaha.

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        • makagutu says:

          WAH, I agree with you it is important to define what is meant by morality to have a meaningful discussion about it.
          Maybe we should learn to communicate our ideas clearly and coherently

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Just an afterthought,

    Why is my method for making moral decisions valid? Because it is the same method for making the most reliable knowledge possible.

    Why do we know that theological moral absolutism is invalid? Because it gives way to ‘bad knowledge’ that is, it gives way to knowledge we are able to disprove.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. john zande says:

    Not sure I fully understand the question, but rules have always come down from Kings. Dressing that King up in a supernal hat and coat just takes a little imagination, and a need.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. “Moralities were constructed in association with deities for millenia.
    How is it possible to construct any morality that will have substantial acceptance in the absence of appeal to a god?”

    Things were constructed on the backs of slaves for millenia. How is it possible to construct things without them?

    Easily. Just take God out of the picture, and the ethical debates are still pretty much the same. It’s just a harm vs rights sort of discussion instead of pretending some invisible man said it should be a certain way. Appealing to tradition is never a good argument in my opinion. Secular morality has outstripped religious morality at every turn.

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    • makagutu says:

      How easy is it to just take god out of the picture? We have several debates with the religious and you have noticed they keep asking this question. Maybe it is them who have a problem of understanding or we haven’t explained ourselves well enough. Which is it?

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  11. fojap says:

    I went and read the link and then got all confused because the discussion seemed to have nothing to do with it. Then I looked back and saw the first part of your post.

    My grandfather was one of the first people in the town to have a car – it was a hearse. In the beginning, it doubled as the ambulance as well. He drove my father to school in the mornings in the hearse. Needless to say, my father says he would have preferred walking. Funeral directors have one of the highest rates of alcoholism and my grandfather was an alcoholic. My father didn’t want the business and it was sold. Growing up, my mother used to tell my father he had been foolish, but I think he was happier with less money but a pleasanter job.

    I haven’t read Friedman’s book, so I’m only going by what you quoted, but I have to wonder about whether or not his statement is anthropologically accurate. What exactly does “constructed in association with deities” mean, anyway. If all he means is that people constructing morality also believe in non-corporeal beings, then people constructed morality in association with lots of other things as well, gravity, trees, birds, seasons, whatever. Secondly, what does he mean by deities and did all people have them. Find any group of people without a deity but who have a more code and the whole concept fall apart.

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    • makagutu says:

      The link and the post were unrelated.
      I think, like your father, I would have preferred to walk than take the hearse to school.
      I think all he is saying is that for a long time in our history, lawmakers have always claimed divine authority for their proclamations.

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      • fojap says:

        Well, as a kid, I came to the conclusion that it was people in authority that made up religion. That was after a period of time of seriously praying everyday. I was about eight or so, so I can’t say I did this in any sophisticated way, but you know how people are saying that you have to “let god into your heart” and all that, well I did that with the earnestness that only a little kid could do. I’m not really sure how long I did this. It seemed like a month, but I could have been only a week. To a little kid, time seems longer.

        Anyway, despite being really sincere, I felt absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada. So I came to the conclusion that there was no god and that he was made up. Then I figured he was probably made up by people in authority to control other people.

        That was pretty much the end of worrying about god until I got into college when I went through something of a New Age freaky period that still sort of embarrasses me when I think of it.

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        • makagutu says:

          I am ashamed I believed the religion business for so long.

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          • fojap says:

            My “New Age” period is so embarrassing because I should have known better. If you grow up and everyone agrees on certain things, it’s understandable that people don’t reject it, at least not at first. Sometimes, atheists will talk about proof, but everyone as children has to accept some things without proof. “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Go to school, behave yourself and everything will be okay.” All sorts of things. And most of what we’re told turns out to be correct. “Drink lots of fluids if you have a fever.” I’m no doctor. How do I know that’s a good idea? So, “Trust in God” just goes along with all those other things.

            I think it’s one of the reasons that simply saying you’re an atheist is so threatening to people.

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          • makagutu says:

            How long did you last in the New Age stuff?

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          • fojap says:

            That’s a tough one. My absolute dumbest, trying-to-talk-to-spirits, period lasted less than a year. It coincided with dropping out of college. I had a bad couple of years socially, which led to a bad year academically, emotionally. My father was sick. He survived, but it looked truly grim for a time – two open heart surgeries. (As a kid, he had been sick with scarlet fever in the days before penicillin and his heart was permanently damaged.) So, it was generally a tumultuous period. If things hadn’t occurred as they did, my life probably would have been totally different since I had been on something of a “fast-track” until then.

            I knew the people I was spending time with were behaving very much like a nascent cult. It was probably a good thing that the woman at the core of the group was simply not power hungry enough. There were about eight or nine of us. Anyway, I wanted to get away from them, which was a big part of dropping out of school.

            I moved in with my boyfriend who was from New York City. Having grown up across the river, I had always wanted to move here, but the fact he was from here is what really did it – why we didn’t wind up in a nearby town instead.

            He was close to being an atheist – although I’m not sure whether or not he used that word. His parents had been very, very Catholic. His father had been a monk at one point.

            For him, rejecting the Catholic Church was pretty much the same as rejecting religion, plus any sort of hocus-pocus, woo-woo stuff. He didn’t exactly ridicule my dumber beliefs, but he’d sort of roll his eyes. Eventually, without an entire group of people who agreed with the same silliness, it just sort of faded.

            I think for nearly a decade I held onto the sort of vague notion that there was an “energy” or “spirit” that pervaded the universe.

            By that time, I think I was calling myself “agnostic.”

            Finally, I was out at a bar one night with a friend who is now an atheist but who was, at that time, a devout Episcopalian – if that’s not an oxymoron. He brought with him a new girlfriend he had met at church. She asked what religion I was, which is rude, but – whatever. I said, “agnostic.” My friend put his arm around my shoulder and said, “She’s a seeker.” Of course, the new girlfriend began to invite me to church with them. It was then that it hit me that I wasn’t exactly a “seeker” because I really didn’t expect to find anything. That was when I switched from calling myself an agnostic to calling myself an atheist.

            That was before I was married, which occurred when I was twenty-eight, so I guess my “freaky” period was from about eighteen to twenty-five or twenty-six.

            There was probably some linger acceptance of woo-woo stuff for a number of years afterwards. A little too much acceptance of the left of center anti-scientific attitudes, like the sort of thing you gave me a link to the other day. For a time, I had a boyfriend who had been diagnosed with manic depression and he thought he could cure himself with meditation and dance with a spiritual purpose. I think one of the reasons I’m so hostile towards the left-of-center spiritual b.s. is that I have a similar relationship to it that other people online have to Evangelical Christianity. No one I know will tell me to pray, but people will tell me to stop taking medication and try yoga for my depression. If I were spiritually in the right place, I wouldn’t be depressed. To me, they’re no different from the Evangelicals, they just have a different lifestyle and politics, but their unscientific ideas are just as destructive.

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          • makagutu says:

            This is interesting.
            I don’t remember anyone in my circle, till when I joined campus, being irreligious. A few didn’t go to church, but I think they all believed in a god. The only thing that could arise was which denomination was the right one.
            To be told if one were spiritual they would be less depressed, I think, is annoying to say the least.

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          • fojap says:

            On a Reddit forum on depression I had an exchange with someone from Kenya who said his or her (I don’t know which) mother kept saying to pray as a cure for depression. I think it’s not an uncommon sentiment, although very wrong. I’ve been feeling better these days, but there’s something qualitatively different between normal sadness and depression. I suspect because we use similar words to describe both, people who haven’t been clinically depressed don’t quite get that it’s not the same. The “spiritual” stuff might help for normal sadness, maybe that’s why people say that.

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          • makagutu says:

            Most of my country people think the solution to any and all problems is prayer.

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