Why Do Christians Worship God? Part II

(Author’s note: This is the second installment in a series discussing why Christians worship God. The first installment can be found here.)

Instructional Worship: Our Response to God as Parent

Children, when they’re born, naturally love their parents and look to them for provision, but that gets challenged. As children grow, they begin to test their independence, and they also begin to respond to their parents’ personalities, learning some ways and responding negatively to others. Life also creates opportunities along the way for children to distrust or disrespect their parents. A child falls into a swimming pool and nearly drowns, and then wonders “Why wasn’t Mommy there to stop me?” The other children treat them cruelly, and the parents don’t notice to protect them. And so forth.

Parents who take seriously the responsibility to train their children have to manage their children’s responses to these, so they can continue to learn from their parents well into adulthood. A child who hates or disrespects his parents cannot be taught. Parenting is the art of gradually releasing responsibility, but only when the child can handle the next level of responsibility, and if the child comes to disrespect the parent at any point along the journey, he grabs too much responsibility too soon, and can hurt himself badly. Thus, wise parents work to protect their children’s attitudes toward them, both by acting in a sensible manner before them at all times, and by stamping out the slightest disrespect as soon as it appears.

Some modern parents have completely lost this understanding, choosing instead to treat their children as equals over whom they have no authority, only the power to persuade. This is polite insanity. While granting that sort of latitude in some things is wise, one does not have the luxury of time to explain to a four-year-old why they should restrain their impulse to visit the bunny on the other side of the busy street; if the child hasn’t learned to respond to your voice by that time, you’re likely to lose the child. I recall watching a documentary in which the narrator recounted the experience of having his six-year-old struck by a car when he pulled free from his hand and ran out into the street. The fellow recalled how brave his son was during recovery, but I couldn’t help thinking that the man had probably failed to train his son properly, and that his failure had cost the child a great deal of pain.

Plus, it’s not good for the child to think they have some inherent right to buck their parents; such a child never learns humility, which is a necessary virtue, nor does he learn appropriate respect for law. Good parenting grants as much respect to the child as possible, but without relinquishing the right to command, which is a natural and necessary right.

The Ten Commandments, at the beginning of the Law of Moses, articulate the most basic rules for civilization, and their order is not accidental. Before the basic behavioral rules — don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t covet, don’t violate marriages or lie about your neighbor — come several relational rules that secure the citizen’s respect toward God. These first few rules establish the basis for the others; without these in place, the other commands simply would not be obeyed. Critics ignorant of the Old Testament suggest that these were created by priests to retain control for themselves, but that’s just a mindless prejudice; the commands don’t even mention the priesthood. They mention God Himself: worship God and no other entity, don’t make statues and call them “god,” don’t claim God’s authority where He has not given it, surrender your time to His control. And they mention parents: honor them.

The connection between honoring God and honoring parents is organic. The purpose of life is growth, with God as parent. Some amount of awe for God comes naturally, having been designed into ourselves and into creation, just as love and trust for the parent are designed into the parent-child relationship. However, ordinary life and growth present opportunities to learn to distrust God, just as with parents; life is difficult, and often hurts. If at any point in the process we lose respect, trust, appropriate fear, or love for God, we lose the ability to learn and grow as we ought, and then, like unruly children, we can do ourselves great damage. And these affect each other; if a person rebels against God, they tend to rebel against their parents as well, and vice versa.

For this reason, it’s necessary to command people to worship God, just as it’s necessary for a parent at times to command their children to show respect. Parents — good ones, at any rate — never insist on respect for the purpose of pleasing their egos, although it’s easy for the child who lacks perspective to think so; it’s always for the purpose of maintaining the ability to train the child. Likewise, God insists on worship, because He has to protect our ability to learn from Him.

This often becomes difficult at times of crisis. When a man has lost his wife to illness, for example, the deep grief naturally includes the question, where was God? Facing this sort of crisis requires a titanic struggle, and while God is always present through the crisis, He’s often silent, allowing people to work through their grief and come to a new understanding. This is a dangerous time in which faith can be lost; and it might be lost, if there was not a standing command to honor God, and an already-existing relationship. The conflict between grief and love for God produces tension; the tension eventually produces new growth, trust with a more mature understanding. The obligation to worship is the lynch-pin that keeps the believer tethered to his salvation when life makes little sense.

Thus worship must be commanded, in order for the believer to continue to learn from God in a difficult world. I call this “instructional worship,” and it’s the reason why worshiping God is most important specifically when we don’t feel like it. It’s not that God needs to have His ego stoked — not even good humans fall into that pit — but rather that the tension between hard life and worshiping God produces maturity.

Next: battle worship, our response to God as liberator in a world under siege.

13 replies
  1. Toby R. says:

    life is difficult, and often hurts. If at any point in the process we lose respect, trust, appropriate fear, or love for God, we lose the ability to learn and grow as we ought, and then, like unruly children, we can do ourselves great damage. And these affect each other; if a person rebels against God, they tend to rebel against their parents as well, and vice versa.

    I find this, at least from my own experience, to be wrong. Even as a young child I never believed in a god. I think it all went out the window with Santa Claus and the ToothFairy for me. I didn’t have a choice in going to church. I went and with only little protest. “Can we just go to sunday school this week?” “It’s a great sunny summer day, can’t I just go fishing or hiking?” I had no respect for god, yet I never rebelled against my parents. From their own accounts I was a good kid. I’m college educated, married, kid, have a good life, and it doesn’t involve any sort of worship and I don’t feel the slightest bit unfulfilled. How can religion be the most important thing in the world when you can be perfectly content and fulfilled without it?

    Off topic question: Don’t all the ten commandments boil down to one commandment? Don’t steal, whether it’s life or respect of some form or another. and why want to have them posted all over the place? I think it’s confusing to hear someone say that the old testament is the old convenant with god, but there’s a new one to go by, yet they pick and choose at whim from the old testament to fit their debate.

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  2. Phil Weingart says:

    Toby wrote:

    How can religion be the most important thing in the world when you can be perfectly content and fulfilled without it?

    The question presupposes that the purpose of life is for the individual to be content and fulfilled. While I have no problem acknowledging that it’s good to be content, I don’t see any particular reason to assume that that’s the primary purpose for our existence. In fact, if that is the purpose for our existence, the world is a singular failure, as most human beings never achieve that state for more than a short while.

    The point is, you could conceivably live a life contented and fulfilled, but completely miss the purpose for which you were created. Or, you could tell yourself that you’re content and fulfilled when you’re really not — if, for instance, you had only an incomplete notion of what fulfillment means, or if the argument for the moment requires you to say it, so you oversell. Mind you, I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing, I’m just listing instances where a person might say what you’ve said and still be missing his or her central purpose.

    Don’t all the ten commandments boil down to one commandment? Don’t steal, whether it’s life or respect of some form or another.

    I just heard that argued in the movie, “The Kite Runner.” It’s an interesting point of view. Personally, I think articulating the various things you’re not to steal — your neighbor’s life, your neighbor’s wife, your neighbor’s good reputation, God’s honor — helps clarify a lot.

    yet they pick and choose at whim from the old testament to fit their debate

    Please pardon me for appearing prickly here, but I find this is what people say who want to criticize religious people without having the good manners to learn something about what they’re criticizing. There are consistent principles for how and when one applies Old Testament laws; it takes some study to get it, though. Granted, there are religious people who don’t know the rules and apply OT laws inconsistently or in the wrong place, but that does not mean all such applications are improper.

    Of course it’s confusing. Anything is confusing if you approach it without learning. Try understanding biology without study, or aerodynamics.

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  3. Toby R. says:

    Everyone’s view of what life should be about is vastly different, as it should be.

    In my view the big three religions miss the mark by not making their central pillar individual happiness. It seems that the lynch pin for the big three is worship the big guy in the sky and then, maybe, you’ll be happy, but if not, don’t worry you’ll get to be happy after you’re dead so long as you worship the big guy in the sky and do nothing to make him mad.

    I think the closest religion to express happiness/contentment as a central pillar is buddhism. Seek enlightenment to end suffering. And it’s also one of the few that puts an emphasis on physical exercise, which would probably be good for our fatty country.

    I haven’t seen The Kite Runner. I’ve heard it’s good though.

    If that’s you being prickly, I couldn’t tell.

    The OT should probably just be thrown out, at least in christianity. most of it already is. You always see people passing out those small bibles and all that there is of the OT is Psalms and Proverbs. No one should take seriously statements about not being near a woman when she’s having a period or that men shouldn’t shave. I think these old laws are interesting as a study in disease prevention and how through observation and trial and error these old cultures figured out that if you ate pork there was a chance you’d get parasites or that shellfish might give you cholera. But I don’t think these things should be taken seriously, not in light of what we know about microbiology today. And I’d argue with someone that would say this is the word of god, that god spoke these laws. This was the oldest CDC on record. The Jewish Tribal Board Of Health. And . . . and what has this to do with anything in this post? Okay, nothing. I’ll shut up now. I agree with other people that have posted the desire for a forum here.

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  4. Phil Weingart says:

    The OT should probably just be thrown out, at least in christianity. most of it already is. You always see people passing out those small bibles and all that there is of the OT is Psalms and Proverbs.

    That’s to reduce printing costs. Most of the folks who do this are operating on donations.

    If that’s you being prickly, I couldn’t tell.

    I’m relieved.

    In my view the big three religions miss the mark by not making their central pillar individual happiness.

    You’re into an area where you’d probably get better answers from a trained philosopher. However, I’ll take a brief shot:

    The system that makes human happiness the central goal of life is technically called hedonism. Hedonism generally fails because it produces insufficient motivation to do good to others, and places too much emphasis on the self. Plato and Aristotle were hedonists of a sort, but tempered their hedonism by defining “happiness” as something involving abstract contemplation, and not just pleasing the senses.

    I think your Buddhism takes a similar tack, although I can see classifying Buddhism as the OPPOSITE of hedonism: Buddhism seeks to relieve you of the need to please the senses, and to make you rise above such meaningless pursuits. If I’m not mistaken, Taoism is more about achieving happiness, and does it by conforming to the ordinary rhythms of life. From your description of yourself, I think perhaps you’re closer to Taoism than to Buddhism.

    Christianity, on the other hand, introduces you to a whole new category of experiences that are not even available before you’re Christian; you’re made alive in the spirit, and have access to the Spirit of God. This is why I pointed out that you may not even know what true satisfaction IS; if Christianity is true, there’s a whole realm of experience of which you’re not even aware.

    CS Lewis has a decent discussion of happiness in Mere Christianity, and I think he gets into the same topic in Surprised By Joy, his autobiography. To him — and I concur — happiness is a byproduct of other things. If you pursue it, it eludes you, but if you pursue the other things diligently (virtues, like justice, fortitude, prudence, temperance, etc.) happiness sneaks up on you unawares.

    It’s important to recognize, at this point, that Christianity is really not about conduct and becoming happy, primarily; it’s about building a relationship with God through Christ, and participating with Him in achieving His plans for the earth. The moral and practical living component of Christianity is essentially Judaism, with the added fact that the Spirit of God in you helps you achieve the goals that obeying the Law of Moses aimed at.

    The practices in the Jewish Law work whether you believe in God or not. So, if you happen to be doing by nature or parental training those things God recommends for, say, marital happiness, your marriage will be happy whether you worship God knowledgeably or not. It’s not uncommon for unbelieving people to experience productive and fruitful lives; it usually happens when unbelieving people do naturally things that God recommends. But there’s a great deal to Christianity beyond merely living well.

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  5. Tim D. says:

    The question presupposes that the purpose of life is for the individual to be content and fulfilled. While I have no problem acknowledging that it’s good to be content, I don’t see any particular reason to assume that that’s the primary purpose for our existence. In fact, if that is the purpose for our existence, the world is a singular failure, as most human beings never achieve that state for more than a short while.

    so you’re saying that we’re not meant to be fulfilled? That fulfillment is just a by-product of the “reason for our existence?” What’s the point of it, then, if all it does is distract us from this supposed “reason?” Or do you justify this as just another one of “Lucifer’s temptations” or something?

    The point is, you could conceivably live a life contented and fulfilled, but completely miss the purpose for which you were created.

    Assuming such a definitive purpose exists. One thing I detest is the thought process that claims to know each person’s individual reason for living.

    Or, you could tell yourself that you’re content and fulfilled when you’re really not — if, for instance, you had only an incomplete notion of what fulfillment means, or if the argument for the moment requires you to say it, so you oversell.

    *sigh*

    Christianity, on the other hand, introduces you to a whole new category of experiences that are not even available before you’re Christian; you’re made alive in the spirit, and have access to the Spirit of God.

    what does that mean, “alive in the spirit?” What is your spirit? How do you “have access to the spirit of God,” and what is “the spirit of God?”

    It’s important to recognize, at this point, that Christianity is really not about conduct and becoming happy, primarily; it’s about building a relationship with God through Christ, and participating with Him in achieving His plans for the earth.

    The reason I don’t support this system is because, theoretically, if this “relationship with God” would lead an otherwise essentially peaceful relationship into turmoil (be it personal or national), then by Christian rules it’s “okay,” because communion and happiness are not factors. So I agree that excluding them as determining factors is a big problem.

    The practices in the Jewish Law work whether you believe in God or not. So, if you happen to be doing by nature or parental training those things God recommends for, say, marital happiness, your marriage will be happy whether you worship God knowledgeably or not. It’s not uncommon for unbelieving people to experience productive and fruitful lives; it usually happens when unbelieving people do naturally things that God recommends. But there’s a great deal to Christianity beyond merely living well.

    That sounds like a fluffed-up version of the “there have always been Christians, they just haven’t been called that” argument :(

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  6. Phil Weingart says:

    so you’re saying that we’re not meant to be fulfilled? That fulfillment is just a by-product of the “reason for our existence?”

    I was careful not to say “Happiness doesn’t matter.” The question Toby asked presupposed that happiness was the primary goal, and my answer suggested happiness was not the primary goal. Is it so hard to imagine that we have multiple goals, some subsidiary to others?

    Judaism teaches that fulfillment comes from keeping God’s commandments, but recognizes that human beings seek fulfillment. It recommends that in order to achieve fulfillment, one ought to keep God’s commandments faithfully. Christianity is based on Judaism, so it shares that outlook.

    However, Christianity posits a higher calling, and suggests that our purpose here is preparation for some sort of responsibility in the next life. Christianity adds that whatever we experience here is temporary, but that the human soul is eternal. Thus, while Christianity retains Judaism’s earthy recognition of ordinary human motives, it counsels that one subjugate personal, temporal satisfaction to the greater goal of service to Christ. “What does a man profit if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Jesus asks, and a modern martyr named Jim Elliot adds, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose,” referring to heavenly reward.

    And yet, it turns out in practice that when one does pursue the will of God with abandon, one achieves a level of satisfaction that’s beyond what can be achieved by other means. This is the consistent testimony of the most completely devoted Christians — devoted in the sense that at some point they completely abandoned the pursuit of earthly pleasures, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, or like St. Francis of Assisi. Most people are afraid to make a commitment of that magnitude.

    what does that mean, “alive in the spirit?” What is your spirit? How do you “have access to the spirit of God,” and what is “the spirit of God?”

    Good questions, all. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can answer them, because they’re outside of normal human experience. The only way these could be answered is if you experienced them for yourself; and that can’t happen without repentance and faith in Christ. All I can say is, on the day after I prayed and committed myself to the will of God, the world looked like a completely new place, and I had a sense of well-being, lightness, and connectedness to God and the universe that I’d never had before, and that has never completely left me (that was in the spring of 1973, when I was 19.)

    One thing I detest is the thought process that claims to know each person’s individual reason for living.

    Are you saying it’s not possible for a system of thought to be generally correct about what humans’ purpose is for existence? Or are you saying that each individual has different aptitudes and temperament, and may be suited to different tasks? If what you’re thinking is the latter, allow me to assure you that Christianity FULLY recognizes this, and the apostles teach it VERY clearly.

    If you’re concerned about the former, though, consider: the proper definition of “religion” is “a cohesive system of dogmatic thought that addresses the questions, ‘What is the universe,’ ‘What is man’s place in the universe,’ and ‘How should we, then, live?’” All religions address these core questions. If you’re coming from a system of thought that answers “These questions have no definitive answer,” you’re just like any other religion, and you’re making a positive claim about every man’s place in the universe: “It’s unknowable.” That’s a positive claim, just as much as mine is. You can’t really escape making positive claims about man’s role in the universe, unless you refrain entirely from expressing opinions about religion.

    That sounds like a fluffed-up version of the “there have always been Christians, they just haven’t been called that” argument

    Huh?

    All I’m saying here is that rules that are intrinsic to the universe work regardless of who’s using them. It’s like making a paper airplane: if you fold the paper a certain way, and release the folded paper a certain way, it floats on air. It doesn’t matter if the paper is folded by Albert Einstein or by Forrest Gump, it floats just as well. Same if it’s folded by Albert Schweitzer or Adolf Hitler. The laws of aerodynamics are the same for everybody.

    Same with the laws of human behavior. For example, it’s generally known from human experience that if you give a worker a personal stake in the outcome of his labor, he works harder and more responsibly. That’s a principle of human behavior. It’ll work equally well if applied by Federal Express, the Salvation Army, or a drug dealer in South Philadelphia. Doesn’t matter who you are, the principle works.

    All I’m saying is that what the Bible teaches about human behavior that’s true, works just as well whether you believe in God or not.

    But then I’m adding, the Bible is a lot more than just a relationship skills seminar.

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  7. Tim D. says:

    Is it so hard to imagine that we have multiple goals, some subsidiary to others?

    Not at all; I firmly believe just that about my own life. I have many goals which I have set for myself, some of which supercede others.

    Judaism teaches that fulfillment comes from keeping God’s commandments, but recognizes that human beings seek fulfillment. It recommends that in order to achieve fulfillment, one ought to keep God’s commandments faithfully. Christianity is based on Judaism, so it shares that outlook.

    And yet fulfillment is described biblically as only truly attainable in the afterlife. Job, for instance, was basically tormented by God, and he’s revered as one of the most devout followers of God ever. How was anything Job experienced “fulfilling” in any way that means anything to someone who, say, doesn’t believe in God? If, in fact, this fulfillment is something that can be recognized or perceived here on this earth?

    And yet, it turns out in practice that when one does pursue the will of God with abandon, one achieves a level of satisfaction that’s beyond what can be achieved by other means.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t believe a word of that. “It turns out in practice” is just a claim without proof. I could easily say the opposite.

    Good questions, all. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can answer them, because they’re outside of normal human experience. The only way these could be answered is if you experienced them for yourself; and that can’t happen without repentance and faith in Christ.

    That’s a cop-out. You blame me for not understanding that which is necessary to understand that which I do not understand. It’s a giant circle.

    All I can say is, on the day after I prayed and committed myself to the will of God, the world looked like a completely new place, and I had a sense of well-being, lightness, and connectedness to God and the universe that I’d never had before, and that has never completely left me (that was in the spring of 1973, when I was 19.)

    That actually happened to me not too long ago, though not when I prayed. Rather, when I came to terms with myself and the things that I could not deny about the world around me. I realized that there was (for all knowable intents and purposes) no God, and I realized all the things that this entails. It allowed me to truly examine why I am here, and whether or not any of that matters (and what does matter if not that). I feel much more fulfilled than I ever did when I followed the metaphor-laden-yet-substantially-empty teachings of the Christian church.

    Don’t take that personally, as it’s not a stab. It’s simply an affirmation that I am much more fulfilled now that I feel I am honestly pursuing the truth about myself than I ever did when I was searching for some external God-given “truth.” I bring it up because it is very important and it runs entirely counter to your claims here, and I have experienced this myself, so I know for a fact that you are wrong.

    Are you saying it’s not possible for a system of thought to be generally correct about what humans’ purpose is for existence? Or are you saying that each individual has different aptitudes and temperament, and may be suited to different tasks?

    I’m not saying either of those things, actually. I don’t see humans as worker ants that each have a different way of serving their supposed creator, and I don’t see them as infinitely wandering nobodies in a sea of ambiguity (watch out for that metaphor). Rather, I think that there is no pre-set or established “reason” that unites every single person unanimously. Humanity is too diverse to account for such a reason. Also, such a reason would have to transcend even irrationality to be truly, objectively, finally “true” — which is to say, it’s not true because it makes sense, it’s true “just because.” And unfortunately, the only way that anyone can even imply anything about such “truths” is by metaphor, or by reasoning (often horribly stretching in the case of the latter).

    a cohesive system of dogmatic thought that addresses the questions, ‘What is the universe,’ ‘What is man’s place in the universe,’ and ‘How should we, then, live?’

    “Should” implies deferring to an opinion. Whose opinion do you defer to here? God’s? If so, I have a question: Why does God’s opinion matter, objectively? Even if God was real, and he created everything, how does that allow his opinions to transcend his being and become objective? If they do not transcend him, then they are not objective, because they are based on his subjective whim or opinion. So in what way do you think God’s opinions truly “matter?”

    If you’re coming from a system of thought that answers “These questions have no definitive answer,” you’re just like any other religion, and you’re making a positive claim about every man’s place in the universe: “It’s unknowable.” That’s a positive claim, just as much as mine is.

    I’m not saying anything is “unknowable.” I’m saying that your answers don’t satisfy my deepest curiosity; trying to accuse me of some wrongdoing such as deliberately ignoring some perceived truth that I supposedly plainly see as an excuse to explain away the fact that I don’t feel the same way about some issues as you do (your “howling” and “partisan” comments particularly show through here), or trying to portray me as either stupid or intellectually dishonest because I have not concluded the same thing as you, are both indescribably condescending. When I ask questions about God, morality, and truth, I ask them candidly and sincerely, even if the context seems abrasive. They are real questions that I have that I have opened my mind to receiving answers to. And when you or Turek cops out with a statement like, “Objective morality is self-evident, and if you can’t see it then there’s something wrong with you” (Turek), or, “People who disagree with me are partisan and have their own selfish interests in mind instead of the Truth(TM)” (you), that makes me believe that you are neither sincere nor earnest in your response. It leads me to believe that you don’t really care one way or the other whether God is real, you just want to stick to what makes you feel better. That is not an answer.

    So I guess my answer to your question here is, I’m perfectly open to the possibility that there is an answer. I just don’t believe it’s been found, and I think you’re doing a terrible job of representing a party that claims to have found it.

    Same with the laws of human behavior. For example, it’s generally known from human experience that if you give a worker a personal stake in the outcome of his labor, he works harder and more responsibly. That’s a principle of human behavior.

    There are no laws to human behavior. There are things that are widely acknowledged, yes, and common, but there are no universals. Some humans’ brains work differently and they may not value the same things that you value. Some could be called sociopaths and do not even live in the same metaphorical universe that you and I do, and see things completely differently. So no, I don’t believe there are any such things as universal “principles” of human behavior. Just studies and theories.

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  8. Tim D. says:

    Don’t take that personally, as it’s not a stab. It’s simply an affirmation that I am much more fulfilled now that I feel I am honestly pursuing the truth about myself than I ever did when I was searching for some external God-given “truth.” I bring it up because it is very important and it runs entirely counter to your claims here, and I have experienced this myself, so I know for a fact that you are wrong.

    Addendum: When I was searching for a God-given truth, I was searching for what I wanted to believe — that there are things in this world that are “objectively right,” that there are such things as “objectively good” or “objectively bad.” But these things cannot exist by their nature; concepts such as good and bad rely on established precedents to exist. If they exist objectively, they exist without precedent; it’s not just that this cannot happen, it’s that it would make no sense even if it could — what would it even mean if something was objectively “right?” Nothing; it would be a sort of suggestion, nothing more.

    The way I feel now, I can see that for myself. I admit that it would be awesome if I could defer to a higher law to enforce my points about what is moral and what is “right,” but I cannot. I feel much more liberated now that I view the world in a way that reflects not what I want, but what I see. I feel stronger for facing reality, as harsh as it may seem at first.

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  9. Phil Weingart says:

    And yet fulfillment is described biblically as only truly attainable in the afterlife.

    This is not a correct statement about Judaism, which is a very earthy and temporal religion. In the case of Job, which you invoke, the writer clearly means to suggest that his happiness was restored by remarriage, producing more children, and re-acquiring wealth comparable to what went before. The story of Job, however, does teach a lesson about understanding that’s worthy of the Greek philosophers — that a life lived with humility before God is more meaningful, and more fulfilled, than one lived without that knowledge, and that acquiring that knowledge is worth the loss of all of one’s wealth.

    Yours IS a correct statement about Christianity, which arose out of Judaism, but Christianity asserts that this life is preparation for the next — a sort of Basic Training, complete with obstacle courses and live-fire fields, And it asserts that we can experience what Paul calls a “down payment” on what we’re going to experience in the next life. So we’re not without satisfaction here. It’s just not the primary goal.

    Regarding my observation that those who have abandoned the pursuit of worldly happiness find greater satisfaction in the pursuit of God: I’m sorry, but I don’t believe a word of that. “It turns out in practice” is just a claim without proof. I could easily say the opposite.

    Nonsense, and you’re being insulting. I said it was the consistent testimony of those who have done it; that’s not a claim without proof, it’s a claim with a great deal of testimonial evidence, and I referenced Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa. I could have mentioned the Desert Fathers, or of any of literally hundreds of Christian mystics. Do you have reason to believe they are lying? What reason would that be?

    For that matter, it’s consistent with my own experience. Do you expect me to pretend that I have not lived the life that I have, in fact, lived? What reason do you have to suppose I’m lying to you?

    Regarding my claim that you couldn’t really know much about life in the Spirit without experiencing it:That’s a cop-out. You blame me for not understanding that which is necessary to understand that which I do not understand. It’s a giant circle.

    Again, you’re talking nonsense, and really frustrating nonsense at that. It’s not a co-out, it’s a simple fact. I don’t “blame” you for anything. I’m simply pointing out that you can’t have knowledge of something that can only be acquired by experience, if you have not had that experience. You want to know what it feels like to ride a roller coaster? You have to ride a roller coaster. Is that circular? Good grief, Tim, how hard is that???????

    Regarding your personal epiphany: Don’t take that personally, as it’s not a stab.

    That was an honestly-expressed recitation of a personal experience of yours, and I did not take it as any sort of a stab. In fact, that’s far less of a stab than was dismissing my experience and the experiences of thousands of people as though they were lying (and then expecting me to honor YOUR experiences), and pretending that a perfectly ordinary epistemological axiom is somehow unreasonable. I’ll listen to your honestly-expressed experiences all day long, and I’m honored that you offered them.

    Rather, I think that there is no pre-set or established “reason” that unites every single person unanimously. Humanity is too diverse to account for such a reason. Also, such a reason would have to transcend even irrationality to be truly, objectively, finally “true” — which is to say, it’s not true because it makes sense, it’s true “just because.” And unfortunately, the only way that anyone can even imply anything about such “truths” is by metaphor, or by reasoning (often horribly stretching in the case of the latter).

    This is nearly incomprehensible, but it sounds like you’re arguing that different humans are so different that you despair of finding a common purpose to explain them. If that were true, I think art would be impossible, because the function of the arts (all of them — plays, novels, poetry, sculpture, painting, movies, etc.) is to speak truth to us regarding our common humanity. In the experience of most people I know, it works, which suggests that what we all have in common supersedes our differences.

    However, I have no idea what you actually mean. This leg of the conversation began with you observing “One thing I detest is the thought process that claims to know each person’s individual reason for living.” I’m trying to figure out what you mean by that. It sounds as though you’ve rejected the entire field of philosophy, as that’s the ultimate goal of philosophy: to use reason to determine our reason for being. And you “detest” this “thought process.” Are you saying that you detest reason? Or just that you disagree with somebody’s conclusion about human purpose?

    Regarding my definition of “religion”: “Should” implies deferring to an opinion.

    No, it does not. It DENOTES drawing inferences from the answers to the previous two questions. Once we have established what the universe IS, and what man’s role in the universe IS, we deduce from that what man ought to do.

    trying to accuse me of some wrongdoing such as deliberately ignoring some perceived truth that I supposedly plainly see as an excuse to explain away the fact that I don’t feel the same way about some issues as you do (your “howling” and “partisan” comments particularly show through here) or trying to portray me as either stupid or intellectually dishonest because I have not concluded the same thing as you, are both indescribably condescending.

    What on earth are you talking about? I don’t recall accusing you of wrongdoing; I certainly did not in THIS discussion, where I’m merely trying to answer questions. You must be referring to something I said in a previous discussion, and it’s obviously stuck in your craw. So, perhaps you should tell me what offended you so badly, so I can apologize, or at least explain why I don’t feel the need to.

    There are no laws to human behavior. There are things that are widely acknowledged, yes, and common, but there are no universals. Some humans’ brains work differently and they may not value the same things that you value.

    So, you also reject the entire field of Psychology as impossible. What fields of inquiry DO you accept as valid?

    Are you saying there are human beings who do not value love at all? Human infants who do not need to be touched in order to thrive? Human beings who do not experience a sense of rejection when they’re treated as a pariah by their peers?

    That there are variations within the general patterns of human conduct is obvious, and trivial. But to suggest that those differences are so profound as to make generalization about human behavior impossible? That’s so extreme it’s hard to describe; I think it’s fair to say that there is not a single psychologist on the planet who agrees with that.

    I think you’re doing a terrible job of representing a party that claims to have found it.

    ??? Uh… thanks, and your little dog, too.

    I’ll take this as further expression of whatever offense you took from some past discussion we’ve had.

    Reply
  10. Tim D. says:

    This is not a correct statement about Judaism, which is a very earthy and temporal religion. In the case of Job, which you invoke, the writer clearly means to suggest that his happiness was restored by remarriage, producing more children, and re-acquiring wealth comparable to what went before.

    If true, then this completely negates any real relevance of the story. That’s not a teaching unique to Judaism (or any religion). “Get up and move on” (or some form of it) is present in nearly all worldviews before and after Christianity/Judaism.

    Nonsense, and you’re being insulting. I said it was the consistent testimony of those who have done it; that’s not a claim without proof, it’s a claim with a great deal of testimonial evidence, and I referenced Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa.

    It’s not evidence enough; if you only take examples that support your claim (or if you refuse to acknowledge the possibility that such counterexamples exist at all), then it’s not the same thing as evidence at all.

    And how am I being insulting?

    I could have mentioned the Desert Fathers, or of any of literally hundreds of Christian mystics. Do you have reason to believe they are lying? What reason would that be?

    *sigh*….alright, let’s back up a little.

    1) I never said anyone was lying.
    2) I don’t doubt that it’s entirely possible for someone to live a fulfilled life as a Christian. I also don’t doubt that it’s entirely possible for someone to live a fulfilled life as a part of any belief system, from tame to horrific. It’s all a matter of perspective; religions (and secular worldviews) all teach us to value certain things. If we accept what those views have to offer and believe that they are true, then we will experience fulfillment — it’s an exercise of the mind, one that’s proven effective. Change your standards for happiness until they reflect the views of that belief system, and you will experience happiness by acting in accordance with that belief system. Easy as pie.

    For that matter, it’s consistent with my own experience. Do you expect me to pretend that I have not lived the life that I have, in fact, lived? What reason do you have to suppose I’m lying to you?

    I’d ask you the same question about me. Do you not find it a little hypocritical to imply that I’m “not really fulfilled,” or that I could be “overselling it to make a point?”

    Again, you’re talking nonsense, and really frustrating nonsense at that. It’s not a co-out, it’s a simple fact. I don’t “blame” you for anything.

    Well, be frustrated then. In any case, it is quite a huge cop-out. I say, “I’ve been where you say I need to go to see this, and I don’t agree with your view.” You respond with, “Well, you can’t really understand it unless you really see it, and you don’t understand it so that means you didn’t see it.” That is a cop out. I would invoke irony by claiming that it is “frustrating nonsense” as well, but the fact is that it doesn’t really bother me because I don’t think you do it purposefully.

    In fact, that’s far less of a stab than was dismissing my experience and the experiences of thousands of people as though they were lying (and then expecting me to honor YOUR experiences)

    Where did I say that anyone was lying? The only time I’d accuse you of lying is if you accused me of lying about my own experiences. That’s just a giant braindead circle, and I don’t think either of us feel like dealing with it. So let’s stop questioning each other’s motives in recounting our personal experiences, shall we? It defeats the purpose of discussion.

    Basically, I ask you: Do you want to hear what I have to say, or do you want to put words in my mouth so that my case fits your stereotype? Honestly?

    This is nearly incomprehensible,

    What part don’t you understand? I’m sensing some hostility here.

    but it sounds like you’re arguing that different humans are so different that you despair of finding a common purpose to explain them.

    I don’t really know what you mean by that….but what I meant to imply was that, if a person says that they feel fulfilled when they do something, I feel inclined to believe them in 99% of cases. That includes non-Christians and Christians alike. I don’t care to question their motives because I trust them to relay to me what fulfills them most.

    Secondly; I meant not to imply that the fulfillment you experience when you worship God was invalid or untrue. I meant only to imply that I find your claim that this is the only way for anyone to experience true fulfillment to be ridiculous, as well as your follow-up that anyone who isn’t fulfilled by this experience “just doesn’t get it.” That is a cop out.

    It sounds as though you’ve rejected the entire field of philosophy, as that’s the ultimate goal of philosophy: to use reason to determine our reason for being.

    Philosophy does not, as a whole, propose the existence of a singular unified purpose, and I have no idea where you get that idea. Philosophy is an exploration of the possible implications of our existence — including whether or not we even have an ultimate purpose. Or do you mean to imply that folks who propose that we may have no final/ultimate reason are “not philosophers?”

    Or just that you disagree with somebody’s conclusion about human purpose?

    I detest the sort of behavior that leads a person to claim that he/she knows what gives others fulfillment better than those people themselves do. That is what I said.

    No, it does not. It DENOTES drawing inferences from the answers to the previous two questions. Once we have established what the universe IS, and what man’s role in the universe IS, we deduce from that what man ought to do.

    Exactly! You denote that from givens; therefore it is conditional. It is complete nonsense to say that something “should” be, objectively; it means nothing without a condition to mandate such shouldness.

    Of course, we can’t even get that far until there is a consensus on what man’s role in the universe is. Your claim here presupposes that we already know man’s role; the role of secular philosophy challenges that claim, on the basis that it relies on itself (and subsequent claims steeped in itself) to exist.

    So, perhaps you should tell me what offended you so badly, so I can apologize, or at least explain why I don’t feel the need to.

    I feel no offense; I honestly don’t think you mean to offend me with anything you say. I attribute your behavior to a lack of tact rather than wilfull hostility. So there’s no need to apologize.

    Secondly, this is a reference to the claim that has been made by almost every other Christian commenter here at some point or another, that we all “see the moral truth of God” and that the law is “written on our hearts,” and that anyone who does not see it is in denial of it.

    So, you also reject the entire field of Psychology as impossible. What fields of inquiry DO you accept as valid?

    How do you reach that conclusion? I said there are no rules to human behavior. Psychology detects patterns, not rules. A rule is binding; a pattern is not. It’s entirely possible for humans to defy the specific, certain patterns that psychology suggests — if a person is aware of a pattern in his/her behavior, it becomes theoretically possible to upset that pattern, thus removing the possibility for a true “rule” to exist in that sense.

    That there are variations within the general patterns of human conduct is obvious, and trivial. But to suggest that those differences are so profound as to make generalization about human behavior impossible? That’s so extreme it’s hard to describe; I think it’s fair to say that there is not a single psychologist on the planet who agrees with that.

    1) Would you care to define “trivial?” I find it quite relevant indeed if even one person exists anywhere who does not value life or love in some form.
    2) It’s good that you think that is disagreeable, as that is not what I said.

    ??? Uh… thanks, and your little dog, too.

    ….um, okay 0.0 Honestly, I’m not sure what that means….

    I’ll take this as further expression of whatever offense you took from some past discussion we’ve had.

    Not at all. I’d advise you to take it instead as an immediate reaction to what you’ve said here, because that is how it was intended.

    Reply
  11. Phil Weingart says:

    That’s not a teaching unique to Judaism (or any religion).

    I’m curious to know why you think it ought to be.

    The central moral teachings are actually common to most major religious systems of thought. This is as would be expected if our universe was a moral universe, created by a moral Creator with the intention that all humans behave in a moral fashion; it would be unlikely to find anybody who didn’t know, at some level, what’s right and what’s wrong. Furthermore, the things people learn as they age and grow wiser, ought to be common across cultural bounds, as well as across historical and geographical bounds; the same thing that’s considered wise in China during the Ming period, should also be considered wise by Romans, Moors, Bengalis, and 19th century Englishmen.

    The fact that some of them are common in this fashion is the evidence that suggests there are common principles that apply to all lives. This is what I’ve been maintaining all along; so it’s hardly a surprise to me that something taught by Jewish wisdom literature of the 12th century BCE, can also be found in other traditions. That doesn’t negate it, it confirms it.

    This also, by the way, squares with a central theme in Chris Hitchens’ common presentation when he debates Christians; he maintains that we don’t need Christianity or any other particular religion to teach us what’s right and wrong, because we all basically know it. I agree with him. (I would add, we need religion to remind us what’s right and wrong in those cases when morality is inconvenient and we’d prefer to forget, ’cause we all tend do that, too — forget what’s right and wrong when we’re inconvenienced.)

    Of course, it happens that you missed the point; the moral of Job is not “get up and move on,” it’s “humility before God is worth whatever it costs to achieve.” But that one’s common to most traditions as well.

    The uniqueness of Christianity does not lie in its moral teachings, but in it’s offering a real, personal relationship with God through the agency of Christ. Christian moral teachings are essentially Judaism, and, as you point out, not all that different from all other human moral teachings.

    It’s not evidence enough; if you only take examples that support your claim (or if you refuse to acknowledge the possibility that such counterexamples exist at all), then it’s not the same thing as evidence at all…I meant not to imply that the fulfillment you experience when you worship God was invalid or untrue.

    The point under consideration is this: “…when one does pursue the will of God with abandon, one achieves a level of satisfaction that’s beyond what can be achieved by other means.” While it’s impossible to compare one person’s level of satisfaction to another’s if they’re both saying “I’m perfectly happy” and give no outward sign that they’re not, it is the testimony of a large number of people that when they pursued this course of extreme abandon, they achieved something that was eluding them on other courses.

    This requires us to dismiss nobody’s testimony, as they’re only comparing their own experiences while doing A as opposed to doing B. The book of Ecclesiastes offers a similar argument: “I’ve tried everything under the sun, and here’s what I found that actually produced satisfaction.” They’re not saying anybody is misled; they’re saying “Here’s what I found when pursuing several different approaches myself.” This is a perfectly reasonable thing for any person to say.

    Are there examples of people who have pursued a course like this, and discovered nothing of value worth pursuing? (A) You’ve offered none so far. (B) I suppose there are, but even they would probably admit that they just liked physical comfort more than they were willing to part with. (C) I have never in my life heard anybody say, after doing something that genuinely helped another person, “Wow, that was a complete waste of my time.” On the contrary, most everybody experiences a sense of well-being that they didn’t expect.

    So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take the testimonials from the exceptionally devoted and infer that there’s some profound truth that they’ve discovered.

    Toby asked why he should pursue religion if he’s perfectly happy doing what he’s doing. I didn’t dismiss his testimony; on the contrary, I affirmed it. However, I suggested (a) perhaps his satisfaction is not the highest goal; and (b) perhaps his experience is limited. I see nothing irrational, insulting, arrogant, or improper about either suggestion. None of us has experienced everything, and suggesting goals alternate to self-fulfillment, while not common in the modern West, is nothing unusual in human history, and doesn’t imply any special hubris.

    Reply
  12. Tim D. says:

    The central moral teachings are actually common to most major religious systems of thought. This is as would be expected if our universe was a moral universe, created by a moral Creator with the intention that all humans behave in a moral fashion

    It would also be expected if our universe was full of thinking minds that were able to fashion rough definitions on a scale of morality, with some minds being more extreme than others, thus causing the scale to tip in one direction or the other; it would also be expected of a universe where more minds could enter this same equation from outside, observe the two opposing ends of the spectrum, and make a slightly more informed decision on the issue and assert a third position. Whereas another fourth individual could come in and see the other three, draw a conclusion from their differing views, and assert a fourth position.

    It might help to explain my case if you try and think of each person’s unique individual “morality” as a point on a plane, as in geometry. With just one point, or one opinion, it’s very hard to make a solid case. “Why is that wrong?” “Because of the objective moral law!” “Where is that law?” “It’s in my heart!” “Well, I don’t feel it, so it must be untrue.” The discussion is very hard to advance. But introduce a second point; a second viewer examines the perspective of the first and, let’s say, takes an opposing position:

    Person 1: “This is right!”
    Person 2: “No, it’s wrong!”

    Now that Person 1 has a definite position to rail against, true argument begins, and there is officially “debate on the issue.” At which point person 3 can step in; now assuming person 3 has only a passing familiarity with the technical points of the issue (even if he/she already has a basic opinion), he/she can use the debate between the other two to acquire information that he/she might not otherwise have had access to. This allows him/her to enforce a third perspective, perhaps closer to one or the other but not perfectly aligning with either. Eventually, we get a basic shape, in this case some kind of triangle. At the centerpoint of that shape is the “true moderate” position, which nobody really holds (as it would be a completely neutral position on everything), but it gives us a relative point from which to judge a person’s neutrality.

    Now as it was pointed out in another topic, it’s entirely possible for one person to come from one extreme vantage point (say, FAR to the left, or FAR to the right) and thus drastically change the directional orientation of the shape; the average of the mass of the shape now leans much farther to one side than before. It’s the assumption of Christians that this is how subjective morality would work; that it would continue to lean effortlessly to one side until all things were considered “permissible;” it’s known as the “slippery slope” argument.

    The reason I disagree with that is because all it takes is an equal presence in the completely opposite direction, to the same degree, to balance the whole equation out. If there is one person who asserts that we only exist to kill living things, and another who says that killing anything is always wrong no matter what, then people will be presented with a wider range of perspectives; they may lean closer to one side of the argument than another, but they will never match up perfectly; if two people matched up perfectly in a moral sense, then they would feel exactly the same in every case about every issue. Which not even Christians seem to be able to pull off, as ideologically similar as they basically are.

    Sorry if any of this is confusing; it’s a difficult subject to relate without a visual aid 0.0

    That doesn’t negate it, it confirms it.

    I wouldn’t use the word “confirm” (I’d say “support”), but yes, you’re right. I suppose my response was badly-worded.

    he maintains that we don’t need Christianity or any other particular religion to teach us what’s right and wrong, because we all basically know it.

    I believe that in a much broader sense; I don’t think any one person has a truly unique understand about “Objective Right And Wrong.” I think it takes many people, with viewpoints varying in many degrees, to present a spectrum wide enough to account for the discussion of all viewpoints, which leads to the examination, justification, and eventual ratification of certain behaviors; I also believe that this scale tips back and forth rapidly across time, and that we will probably never experience (as a society) a perfectly-balanced “moral center.” Our governments will always lean to one side or the other, never truly meshing with the beliefs of all people, because that is basically impossible.

    While it’s impossible to compare one person’s level of satisfaction to another’s if they’re both saying “I’m perfectly happy” and give no outward sign that they’re not, it is the testimony of a large number of people that when they pursued this course of extreme abandon, they achieved something that was eluding them on other courses.

    And I have no problem with someone explaining that they found something in one area of life that they found lacking in others. I just think it’s arrogant for one person (or even many instances of one person, such as a group of Christians collectively making unique personal statements) to claim to “know” in any real sense that this is the same effect it would have for others. It’s such an intangible, surreal concept to begin with to understand oneself; I don’t understand how anyone can claim to understand others with as much (or better) efficiency, and I don’t think it’s too far out to recommend that we all try to keep our minds open when talking about fulfillment and how others act about or portray their own.

    They’re not saying anybody is misled;

    Problem is, that’s exactly what people are saying. Are you reading the discussion about abortion in the other topic? Here’s what Mr. Ernie Laurence Jr. said about your views on civilian casualties in wartime vs. abortion:

    Luke: Please don’t say that Supreme Court is G-d, because you are seeking to implement the rulings of said HASC here on earth. Why should we put what you say into law, and disregard what Phil says? (Especially considering that both of you are being rational and simply looking to the HAL.)

    Ernie: You should not put into law what I say. What I say is irrelevant. You should put into human law what is objectively right. If what Phil says contradicts, not an interpretation of God’s Law, but the Law itself, then Phil is wrong. What Phil says contradicts the Law itself. Therefore, Phil is wrong.
    God’s Law says: Don’t murder. (Rom. 13:9)

    This is someone from your own belief system who says that you are misled. So you can see why this blanket statement that you make here is confusing to me. I have no objection to someone testifying that he or she has found personal fulfillment in something that does not interest me; I think that’s their right and I have no interest in convincing them otherwise. I do object to the behaviors of folks who insist to others that they’re “just not getting it” or simply “don’t know what true fulfillment is” unless they feel the same way about that same thing. That would be like me seriously telling you, “Man, you’ve never heard really good music until you’ve heard Bad Religion,” and then expecting you to accept that as an objective, serious statement.

    So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take the testimonials from the exceptionally devoted and infer that there’s some profound truth that they’ve discovered.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to entertain that possibility, no. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to infer that maybe they have a different way of living and so their conditions for happiness and fulfillment may differ from mine, and that’s okay; I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to look at me and say, “Maybe they’re experiencing fulfillment in a way that differs from the way I am experiencing it, and that’s okay, too.”

    I do think it’s unreasonable for them to say:

    Premise: “I have found fulfillment in God.”
    Premise: “Everyone else will be fulfilled by the same things by which I am.”
    Conclusion: “Everyone will be fulfilled by living under my perception of God.”

    However, I suggested (a) perhaps his satisfaction is not the highest goal; and (b) perhaps his experience is limited.

    I see nothing irrational about supposing that, either. However, I also think it’s a bit hasty to rely on that possibility as a determinant of whether or not your argument is true. If it were ever theoretically proven (not saying this is really possible, hence the word “theoretically”) that sir Toby was in fact quite aware of the scale of his own fulfillment in proportion with that of your own (or another Christian’s), and so his assertion of fulfillment was in fact correct, then that would completely destroy your entire case for Christianity — because it hinges upon the idea that there exists no person who can be fulfilled by something other than God in a way that rivals the fulfillment they may experience under God.

    If that is the case you’re making, then fine. I just wanted to point out that it’s a dangerously thin line you’re treading; in saying that, you’d be making it very, very easy to disprove your case as a whole. All we’d need is one single well-documented counterexample, out of all the billions of people in the world.

    Reply

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