Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

 


Timothy Keller's Making Sense of God - does God justify moral beliefs?

This book thinks of the believer and the unbeliever who has doubts about the claims Christianity makes for God.  It seeks to argue that faith in God is the best way to become moral and it satisfies the needs of the human heart.  It gives evidence for God but purports to give evidence why faith in God is a beneficial thing.

Keller tells us that Nietzsche "predicts that in societies that reject God, morality itself will eventually become 'a problem'".  He explains that without God or a reason to consider morality to be fixed concerning what is right and wrong people will grow doubtful of its claims and will be hard to control and thus more force and persecution will be required to manage them.  Nietzsche argued that the ethic of seeking the greatest happiness of the greatest number is silly for it is expecting people to selfishly want this happiness for themselves and then sacrifice it if need be for others. Their selfish motives will grow and thus the morality will end up being nominal and useless.

Keller is hinting that religionists and God believers who are really devotees of the moral and not God and secularists who are as bad are leading us perhaps unwittingly down the road to violence and intolerance.

Keller suggests that people lose motivation to be moral when God is rejected.  But what about when God is ignored or considered immoral?  By no means could what most religions present as God be called moral!  It is sharing information that challenges moral mores that causes the lack of motivation.  Relativism tends to demotivate in the sense that it bullies those who have moral views it does not like.  It is way more complicated than Keller makes out.

Keller writes that "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

So you are one of the mankind set and you are involved in other ways too.  This is a denial that you can say some evil has nothing to do with you.  What would Keller say then to those who say, "We all belong to one another.  Muslims belong to each other which is why all must have some responsibility when one of their number becomes a religious suicide bomber.  And what about Christians - they burnt innocent women in the past as witches?"  Responsibility exists on the human level and on the religious level for religion is a human subset and people are involved in it and not just in mankind. 

Keller then observes that the more successful society is with material things and benefits that the less happier it gets.  He sums it up as "the disappointment of success."  The problem is that "We are unhappy even in success because we seek happiness from success."  He says the good things of this world please you for a while but the happiness fades "leaving you more empty than if you had never tasted the joy."  He quotes the Stoic Epictetus as giving the solution, "Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and  your life will go well."  However he says that "some external circumstances do correlate with increased satisfaction."  So it seems you have to find the happy medium between seeking happiness from success and by changing your attitude.  That way you can change yourself and also try to change the world a little bit.  It is better than being resigned completely to whatever happens.  If all our craving or money or beauty or whatever is mistaking a crave for love as a crave for these things we will end up frustrated and angry and unhappy. 

There is no mention of how people who see their success as a gift from God still end up unhappy!  Not all who are greedy and crave success are really unhappy.

Keller says that happiness is found in deciding that you will do all for the will of God alone and not your own will.  But that is another way of seeking happiness in and from success.

It will be more damaging, fatally damaging, if you are convinced the creator of the universe is the way to avoid the time wasting of seeking contentment and happiness from success and find nothing but misery.  If it does not work, then that will be worse than how seeking happiness in some transient thing such as wealth will damage you.  A permanent and eternal failure to give you happiness has to be unimaginably worse than depending on say sex or money to fill a void.  You sort of know they cannot last or do it well anyway even as you try to keep searching for happiness in them.  But to have a source of indestructible and eternal happiness that can't or won't deliver is worse than any fat bank account making you miserable for at least it won't last!

Keller approves of Alain de Botton saying that looking for things such as status and wealth for example is just another way of loving for love - you want to find and keep relationships through them.  This makes sense in the light of Haidt's assertion that material things and the circumstances of your life partly help you be happy even if they are not enough on their own.

So it is not badness or anything that is behind the problems of life, it is love as in, not loving the right things the right way. 

Keller writes, "You harm yourself when you love anything more than God."  He goes on to say that if you put your children before God that means you are seeking your own significance and feeling of security in them.  That means you want them to love you back and live up to your expectations of what makes their lives good and happy. 

This is a really odd argument.  If you have God you are seeking your significance and security in him - it is still about you and you will hate him if you think he does not love you back and dealing with all your expectations.

Keller admits, "not even the strongest believers love God perfectly, nor does anybody get close to doing so."

It is people who don't love God enough who consider themselves having the right to tell you about him and invite you to him and pray to him and invite  you to pray.  They like Keller tell you, "nothing can give us the infinite joy God can."  "You harm yourself when you love anything more than God".  Keller even says you hurt the object of your love!  You cannot get a person to love some one you don't love properly and therefore do not understand properly yourself.  You get them to love an illusion based on that person.

He says that the love that is needed "cannot be generated simply by an act of the will."  He says it is a process and there will be many setbacks.

What an interesting admission.  When confronted with the terrible suffering of the innocent believers say that God has to allow evil so that we may have free will.  Free will is not free if it cannot just love.  It is not worth all the trouble and pain. Suppose you are a Nazi dictator.  You cannot say you have free will when you remove the free will of others.  When you force unfreedom on the will of others how do you know that genes or something are not doing the same thing to you?  It is possible!  You know you can be unfree and feel free. 

The argument that you cannot force yourself or your heart to love is saying we decide what we want God or another to be and if they fit we will love them.  This clearly shows that those who say they love God and others without reasons and conditions are lying.  They love God in a threatening way, "I will love you but if you change..."

Theologians would say, "If you feel nothing for God and think you don't like or don't believe what he stands for and if you decide to be faithful anyway that is an act of love though it is not warm.  It is the best you can do and so God has to accept it and develop it in you."

Keller says, "A kind of vague god, a god of love, an abstract god will never change your heart."  Keller writes, "Love is only possible between persons."

Taking the two statements together shows that you need a warm human like God.  But such a God cannot exist.  Philosophers say that to call God good is wrong for the best and most accurate way to describe him is to say he is not evil.  God is described in negative language - the term they use is univocal.

Keller objects to the "harm principle".  It roundly condemns intolerance and bigotry which mean anything that condemns an action that harms nobody else.  For example a liberal society would let you cut your finger off if it was certain it would deal with an obsession in your brain that makes you want to get rid of it.  He observes that freedom as long as nobody else is harmed is made into a "moral absolute" by todays society.  Keller observes that you are involved in mankind so you can never say that that you belong to yourself and nobody else.  He says another problem with the moral absolute of freedom is that nobody is certain what harm is.  I would add that it gets complicated when action a harms and action b harms as well.  Keller says that nobody is free for they are tied by their need for love and for meaning and happiness.  These things control everybody.  They may be controlled in different ways but they are controlled nonetheless.  Keller says "we are none of us free agents.  We are all worshipping and serving something."

Keller notes that "love relationships require the loss of independence but that both parties must give it up together."  Both people have to say, "You first.   I will adjust for you, I will give up my freedom for you."  He notes that it is exploitation if one person is saying that and the other is not and will not.  He says you must give up the modern narrative of being a self-asserter but be a self-sacrificer instead.

There is hardly any real sacrifice if the other person is going to be another you and look after you.  All you are doing is shifting how you deal with caring for yourself on to somebody else.  The reality is that you should know best so there is an element of degradation in it as morally lofty as it sounds.

Keller says the only master who will not exploit you is Jesus.  He says that a relationship where only one person gives up something is that person exploiting the other.  Keller then explores how Jesus gave up so much to be one of us.  The interesting thing about this point is that it by default says that the Jewish and Islamic God, and the God of the Philosophers, is a user. 

If we are not free even if we have no God for then our god will be money or health or something then how come we are free if we have God?  Control is still happening.  We are controlled by something no matter what.  Do we mean free to get rewards from God?  We will not get rewards from false gods such as money for they cannot reward for they are not personal beings and they will let us down.  If I am in jail, the four walls control me.  I cannot pass beyond them.  Hypothetically, if it is the pope, God, Hitler, health or money that is locking me up it does not matter. To say it does is disrespectful to me.  God may reward me for putting up with it but even that is irrelevant.  

Keller say that trying to look for nobody to validate and accept you but yourself will not work for we are made to get it from others too.  He says the person is mentally disturbed who thinks, "I don't care that literally everyone else in the world thinks I'm a monster.  I love myself and that is all that matters."Keller says hope and optimism are not the same thing.  He reminds us that we are beings that are focused on and concerned chiefly about the future and not the present or the past.  He describes us as "future-orientated."  That is why Keller agrees with Delbanco that attempts to liv only in the present moment and experience the power of now is really about trying to fulfill desire by disconnecting from the future.  That would be irresponsible and unnatural and will only lead to more stress than what it fixes.  The problem with optimism as Lasch, who Keller agrees with and whose wisdom he cites, is that it thinks things are going to get better anyway and thus people end up not doing enough to make sure progress happens and that you get the right kind of progress.  Hope is trust and hope is wonder and is the commitment to keep working to make things better without letting adversity threaten you.  It is facing challenges to fix things and taking responsibility instead of letting progress take care of itself. 

Keller says that hope is not about believing in progress at all.  It is about believing in justice and in how wrongs will be made right.

It is belief in how wrongs CAN be made right and that it is always good to try.  If all wrongs will not be made right that is the reason for hope and for trying.

Keller writes, "scientists will all agree that there is nothing more inevitable and natural than violence - evolution and natural selection are based on it.  Yet we believe it is bad."  Keller repeats Catholic Peter Kreeft declaring that we must not accept death and it is stupid to try and "suppress the natural human intuition that death is not natural at all."  Calling it a part of growth is as bad as telling a paralyzed person that their paralysis is a way of exercising.

These positions fit atheism better than belief in God.  Because nature is random we can battle its violence.  We know better than it.  And it is true that death is not to be seen as good.

Keller quotes Edwards as saying that we are drawn to people who make us happy and we tend to love those who affirm us.  But if they do not do this or stop doing it we become infuriated and jealous.  This is because we love them for our sake.  Interestingly the Christian doctrine is that we do not give 99% of love to God and 1% to others but give the 100% to God which is what is required by our duty to love God for his own sake, and each other for God's sake.  One good thing about doing that is instead of having our happiness in us we have it in them which means that whatever joy they feel we will feel it for their sake.

God is the one that creates diseases and disasters that surpass anything other people can do to you.  Yet he demands total love from us more than what a wife would demand of her husband.  Christians not going around angry and furious is a sign that they only imagine they think there is a God.  If they were great believers, they would act the same way as one would if let down by a fellow human being.  They would still hate and be mad at a person who makes them happy for their own good.  Why are they not mad at God and easily turned into haters of religion?  Maybe they think the terrible things God does to others compensates for what he does to them!

Keller teaches us that atheists can have moral feelings but if they do not believe in God then they have no reason or obligation to be good even if they are good.  "God is not necessary to explain the fact of moral feelings." He points out that if morals are just feelings you cannot tell anybody not to do something merely because you feel it is wrong.  "Why should someone else have a duty to follow my moral feeling if he or she doesn't share it?" 

I would interject and say that two people having the same feeling does not mean they share it.  I would add that people go by moral feelings more than morality.  Even those who believe in objective morality try to bring their feelings in line with it so that the feelings can do the talking not the morality.  So they follow their feelings not the objective morality.  The objective morality is pushed to the background.  Those who seem to follow objective morality are in fact probably and usually following their feelings.

Keller says it is stupid to think that how we think there are things that are wrong no matter what we think or feel about them is an illusion.  He points out that saying things like murder and rape are wrong because they get in the way of our selfishness - we want to be safe - is to say they are not truly wrong.  The only problem is that people will hurt us if they are allowed.

Good.

Keller says that you have to know what the purpose of human existence is - what a human being is for - before you can argue that anything or anybody is good or bad.  There is no other way to work out right from wrong.

So what does he want God brought into all that for?  If morality comes from being a human need it is degrading to try and say you need a God to be moral.

Nietzsche stated that the view that you must always treat human beings as ends not as means - that is you must never manipulate or exploit them - though posing as logical in fact is not.  It could be wrong.  He said that utilitarianism, the idea that morality is all about the greatest happiness of the greatest number, is telling people to strive for their own happiness but while they revel in it they will do so at the expense of others,  So it is really a recipe for selfishness.  It will backfire.

Most people are utilitarians even if they do not realise it.

Keller points out how Ronald Dworkin dealt with how morality is about having the responsibility to live right. The question is who are you responsible to?  Yourself?  Others?  God?  Or all three?  He says you are not responsible to yourself.  If you were you would be able to free yourself from the obligation to do good.  You cannot. To answer that it is God is to say morality in its true form is all about relationship. 

Having nobody to relate to does not mean you cannot clean out your heart.  An honest man on a desert island remains honest.

Dworkin is wrong.  It cannot be possible to free yourself from the duty to be good for that is saying you have a duty to free yourself if you want to.  But morality is not about what you want.  It is not true that being responsible to yourself implies a right to drop morality.

As Keller tells us in the book, Dworkin said that those who believe there is no God still believe that purpose and value are true and real.  This to them is just another form of belief or faith for they cannot prove that purpose and value are real no matter what anybody thinks.

They think that faith in value and purpose are tacit beliefs.  The believers barely perceive that they have them.  Keller points out that any belief happens and functions and appears "against a backdrop of other implicit beliefs, attitudes, and expectations."  I like the expression tacit beliefs.  For Keller, if he wants to say that unbelievers are more believers in God than they think - tacitly accepting ideas that go with God and are implied by God, then what can he say if atheists think believers tacitly accept beliefs and attitudes and ideas that refute or undermine God and contradict God?

Keller denies that God is proven by the following argument:

1 God exists if there are moral obligations that are objectively binding

2 Such obligations do exist

3 Therefore God exists. 

The reason the argument points to God but does not prove him is that there is a chance 1 is wrong or 2 is wrong.  Some claim objectively binding morals can exist without God.  Others say there is no such thing as objectively binding moral obligations.

He settles for saying, "the reality of moral obligation may not prove the existence of God, yet it is very strong evidence for it."

Objective morality is what you are stuck with whether you like it or not and it is like something coming from outside of you and impose themselves on you, and as the majority of human beings hate it and only like it when it suits them and prefer the illusions of relativism (the view that what is right to me is not right to you unless you want it to be) you can guess reasonably that the moral people are not really very moral inside.  Objective morality has few fans for though it is not oppressive it feels as if it is.

 

 

We wonder if Keller is among those who say the moral argument for God out of all the arguments for his existence is "the strongest of them all." 

He does not say.  But if God is so important to human peace and virtue and happiness then naturally the moral argument should ideally be the strongest.  In fact using other kinds of arguments are really about theology not love.  The moral argument aims to be about both!  If it is wrong or unconvincing then the reality is that love is being thwarted by the argument not respected.

Keller thinks that doing a list of a religion's evil and of its good deeds will not work for the "wrongdoings lodge more deeply in the memory and consciousness."

Excellent point.  The idea that a religion's good compensates for the bad is a common but insulting idea.