What’s Your Basis for ‘Reason’ and ‘Morality?’

 

A Catholic cathedral in France taken by my nephew Luke Renoe. This visual art hangs in our home, a marker of transcendence.

I was transported back to the 1980s and ’90s on my drive to university this morning listening to a podcast. I could hear myself making the same arguments to my high school students then. Kate Cohen in a Washington Post article was pushing back on “religious exemptions” used by some to exclude themselves from the mandate of law. Ms. Cohen then suggested as someone who is “not a believer” she would like exemptions from “religious laws.” Cohen’s basis for her belief? It is “in contravention of reason and morality.”

Now those who follow me on social media, my websites, and teaching videos know that I have deep respect for other points of view. But everyone who knows me also realizes that my first response will always be to ask straightforward questions. So here are the questions I would ask Kate Cohen.

“How do you define ‘reason’ and ‘morality?’” “What is the source or origin of those concepts, ‘reason’ and ‘morality’?’” And most important of all “Who gets to answer these questions, then, apply them?” Again, those who know me know that these are questions I ask everyone all the time, whether in high school, undergraduate, Ph.D. studies, or casual conversation.

And my answer will always be the same: the standard for ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ must have a transcendent source. If there is no outside, supernatural origin for decision-making about right and wrong, then we are left with human definitions, sources, and decision-makers. And if we are left solely with humans at the helm we are left with a haunting question, “Who will decide which humans decide and how will those decisions be made?”

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  1. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok.  I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.  

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.  

    • #241
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us.  But at least you tried to answer the question.  

    • #242
  3. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us. But at least you tried to answer the question.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean.  

    • #243
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us. But at least you tried to answer the question.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

    Is that uplifting story good because it uplifts us or because it uplifts G-d?

    • #244
  5. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us. But at least you tried to answer the question.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

    Is that uplifting story good because it uplifts us or because it uplifts G-d?

    That story accomplishes 2 things.  [1] It comforts people who are confused about which, if any, religious ideas are correct because [2] it presents God as a being who would understand that human beings are in a difficult epistemic position and would be merciful, rather than vengeful, toward them.  

    • #245
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us. But at least you tried to answer the question.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

    Is that uplifting story good because it uplifts us or because it uplifts G-d?

    That story accomplishes 2 things. [1] It comforts people who are confused about which, if any, religious ideas are correct because [2] it presents God as a being who would understand that human beings are in a difficult epistemic position and would be merciful, rather than vengeful, toward them.

    So is the story uplifting story because it uplifts us, because it uplifts G-d, or both?

    • #246
  7. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us. But at least you tried to answer the question.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

    Is that uplifting story good because it uplifts us or because it uplifts G-d?

    That story accomplishes 2 things. [1] It comforts people who are confused about which, if any, religious ideas are correct because [2] it presents God as a being who would understand that human beings are in a difficult epistemic position and would be merciful, rather than vengeful, toward them.

    So is the story uplifting story because it uplifts us, because it uplifts G-d, or both?

    If uplifts (comforts) human beings.  It depicts God as a decent, not vengeful Being.  So, I suppose both.  

    • #247
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    If uplifts (comforts) human beings.  It depicts God as a decent, not vengeful Being.  So, I suppose both.  

    Thank you.

    And it’s uplifting to us because it’s comforting?

    • #248
  9. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    If uplifts (comforts) human beings. It depicts God as a decent, not vengeful Being. So, I suppose both.

    Thank you.

    And it’s uplifting to us because it’s comforting?

    Yes.  

    • #249
  10. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    If uplifts (comforts) human beings. It depicts God as a decent, not vengeful Being. So, I suppose both.

    Thank you.

    And it’s uplifting to us because it’s comforting?

    Yes.

    Thank you.

    Well, I already made my response the first time.  But I can add to it: Comfort is not the only, nor even the most important, uplift we need.

    Not at first anyway.  First we need the uplifting of knowing what the problem is; only then will we understand comfort properly.

    • #250
  11. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    If uplifts (comforts) human beings. It depicts God as a decent, not vengeful Being. So, I suppose both.

    Thank you.

    And it’s uplifting to us because it’s comforting?

    Yes.

    Thank you.

    Well, I already made my response the first time. But I can add to it: Comfort is not the only, nor even the most important, uplift we need.

    Not at first anyway. First we need the uplifting of knowing what the problem is; only then will we understand comfort properly.

    Sure.  But no one wants to be tortured for an infinite amount of time because one could not figure out which among various so-called “revelations from God” were real revelations versus false revelations.  

    So, perhaps “uplift” isn’t the right word, but “relief” or “comfort” would be a better word.  

    Many Christians depict God in such a way that he appears to be as bad as Hitler and Stalin.  If God takes a universalist position on salvation, then he’s not Hitler or Stalin. 

    • #251
  12. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Spin (View Comment):

    And even if it were true, we don’t really do ministry work to convert people. We do ministry work to care for people.

    Why not both? Or was the point that conversion is because we care?

    We don’t convert.  We care.  Christ converts.  If we are kind to someone, if we care for them in their need, and they don’t convert, have we wasted our time?  Maybe.  I don’t think so.  

    • #252
  13. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Percival (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    He knows His own.

    And I would argue that doctrine has nothing (or almost nothing) to do with saving faith.

    • #253
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Spin (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Spin (View Comment):

    And even if it were true, we don’t really do ministry work to convert people. We do ministry work to care for people.

    Why not both? Or was the point that conversion is because we care?

    We don’t convert. We care. Christ converts. If we are kind to someone, if we care for them in their need, and they don’t convert, have we wasted our time? Maybe. I don’t think so.

    Jolly good.

    • #254
  15. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    We all end up in heaven and everyone wins. Or maybe not. But it’s an uplifting story, ain’t it?

    Uplifting because it tells us to be nicer when we have religious disagreements?

    God has infinite knowledge and would know that human beings are easily duped into false religions. Thus, God would likely cut people some slack if they stumbled upon a religious or non-religious doctrine that wasn’t the right one.

    Way to ignore the question.

    Ok. I’ll take a crack at your question about being nicer when we have religious disagreements.

    It’s uplifting because, if true it would mean God is kind, not cruel, to human beings who have limited ability to know which religions are true and which are false.

    You didn’t quite make the connection to us. But at least you tried to answer the question.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

    Is that uplifting story good because it uplifts us or because it uplifts G-d?

    That story accomplishes 2 things. [1] It comforts people who are confused about which, if any, religious ideas are correct because [2] it presents God as a being who would understand that human beings are in a difficult epistemic position and would be merciful, rather than vengeful, toward them.

    So is the story uplifting story because it uplifts us, because it uplifts G-d, or both?

    If uplifts (comforts) human beings. It depicts God as a decent, not vengeful Being. So, I suppose both.

    Heavy, if God appeared in front of you in such glory and splendor that you fell down on your face and couldn’t move, and He said to you, “Yes, I ordered the killing of all those babies that I created, and I have My reasons, trust Me on this,” would you be able to worship Him?

    • #255
  16. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    If There Is No God, Why Not Murder? 

    with Emerson Green.

    • #256
  17. HeavyWater Inactive
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Flicker (View Comment)

     

    Heavy, if God appeared in front of you in such glory and splendor that you fell down on your face and couldn’t move, and He said to you, “Yes, I ordered the killing of all those babies that I created, and I have My reasons, trust Me on this,” would you be able to worship Him?

    No.  I would probably think that I was hallucinating.  But even if I wasn’t, I don’t think I could have confidence that these reasons would be good reasons.  I would be thinking about the Evil God Hypothesis.  

    • #257
  18. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment)

    Heavy, if God appeared in front of you in such glory and splendor that you fell down on your face and couldn’t move, and He said to you, “Yes, I ordered the killing of all those babies that I created, and I have My reasons, trust Me on this,” would you be able to worship Him?

    No. I would probably think that I was hallucinating. But even if I wasn’t, I don’t think I could have confidence that these reasons would be good reasons. I would be thinking about the Evil God Hypothesis.

    Well, this is honest.

    And Adversarial.

    • #258
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