Archive for November, 2010
XFiles Weekend: Big divisions

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 6, “The Rival Conceptions of God”)

Did you ever notice how some people can take a perfectly innocent and neutral fact, and make it sound incriminating, just by how they phrase it? For example, here’s C. S. Lewis observing that, when we consider all religions throughout history, both Christians and atheists can find things they think are right and things they think are wrong:

If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.

Clever, isn’t it? Notice how you can reverse the nouns and say pretty much the same thing: atheists don’t have to believe that all religions are wrong all through, and Christians do think that the main point in all other religions is simply one huge mistake (with the possible exception of Judaism, but that’s Christianity’s ancestor, so naturally they can’t call that wrong).

Here’s another way of looking at it. He could have looked at Greek mythology and Norse mythology and all the many, many gods of the past, and said, “Of all the people who have ever agreed with me about gods existing, at least the vast majority have been wrong about their gods, whereas of all the times atheists have said that someone’s god was a myth, they’ve been right the vast majority of the time. In fact, by Christian standards, there’s only one case where there’s even a possibility that the atheists might have been wrong. So from a historical perspective, theism has been wrong most of the time, and atheism has been right most of the time.”

Of course, that would also be a biased discussion of the facts. Put this version next to Lewis’ version, though, and I think you get a fair and balanced view: you get to see how liberal Christians become when they believe in gods, and you get to see the true value of being liberal minded about gods in a world where such beliefs have historically been found to be wrong at least most of the time.

Having bragged about how open-minded Christians are, Lewis is immediately struck by a sudden twinge of monotheism.

But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong.

In other words, Christians also believe that “most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most.” The difference is that when atheists believe this, that’s a bad thing, but when Christians hold the same view, it’s a good thing. He then tries to soften the obvious hypocrisy of his argument by comparing religion to math: there’s only one right answer, but some wrong answers are nearer to being right than others. Which is true, but is hardly a uniquely Christian perspective: the only difference in the atheist position is which right answers you’re comparing the wrong answers to.

That’s just the warm-up though. The main point of this chapter is to divide humanity into two groups, or more specifically, to divide mankind in some way that makes Christianity look superior to all other alternatives.

The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not. On this point, Christianity lines up with the majority…

…who, even by Christian standards, have been wrong in at least most of the cases where gods have been proposed. He doesn’t point out that particular “qualification” of course, but he does seem to feel like it’s not really a strong enough recommendation for Christianity, so he builds on it.

Now I go on to the next big division. People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil… The other and opposite idea is that God is quite definitely ‘good’ or ‘righteous’, a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another. The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism. It was held by the great Prussian philosopher Hegel and, as far as I can understand them, by the Hindus. The other view is held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.

Isn’t it fascinating how all the polytheists, all the bulk of the majority Lewis used in his first division, have suddenly ceased to exist, and indeed seem to have never existed at all? By the second division, all theists are monotheists, either pantheistic monotheists, or Judeo-Christian(-Muslim) monotheists. Even the Hindus have somehow lost Vishnu and Krisha and all the rest, and become believers in a solitary, pantheistic He Who Is Beyond Good and Evil.

I find it fascinating that Lewis would choose this particular distinction to make when there are so many others he could have made. He wrote this during WWII; is he motivated, perhaps, by anti-Nazi sentiments, seeking to blame the war on pantheistic Prussian philosophers? Or is he, perhaps, worried that, by engaging polytheism, he might dilute the case for theism, and might raise issues that would make Trinitarianism a doubtful proposition?

Regardless, this is the division Lewis chooses to make, and it, too, is fascinating, because once again he has painted himself into a corner: God cannot be the Creator of moral standards like Good and Evil unless He Himself is indeed above and beyond such standards. With a bit of thought, Lewis ought to have been able to see that the pantheistic position is not only superior, but inevitable. Any tyrant can declare himself “good” on the grounds that, being tyrant, he can define “good” however he likes. That doesn’t make him “good good,” it just means he’s praising himself. If God is that kind of “good” tyrant, then there’s no real merit in His “goodness,” because He’s just stacking the deck to His own arbitrary advantage.

The only way God can be truly good is if some higher power, beyond Good and Evil, establishes an objective standard of goodness that God can measure up to. Such a higher power, however, is by definition a God greater than Jehovah, since Jehovah must obey and be judged by this God before He can be found “good.” (I call this God Alethea, but that’s just for our human convenience.) So already Lewis’ argument implies the superiority of the pantheistic God he wants to reject.

Lewis compounds this problem by discussing how a pantheistic God is the universe, and the Christian God is not. The Christian God is the creator of the universe, and exists apart from, and in contrast to, His creation. That means that there is indeed a greater power than Jehovah, because there exists a Reality, containing both Creation and Creator, of which the Creator is only a part. Jehovah, and the things Jehovah can do, are bound by Reality, because Reality (aka Alethea) encompasses all that is real, whether visible or invisible. Thus Jehovah can never be greater than Alethea, because She comprises everything that He can do that is real, and Alethea is always greater than Jehovah, because She comprises everything that’s real about Jehovah plus everything that’s real about Creation.

Lewis tries to paint the pantheist in a bad light (just as he did with atheists at the beginning of the chapter), as though pantheists were apathetic about the difference between Good and Evil. It’s not really fair. True, pantheists do say that good and evil are neutral from God’s point of view, but that’s not the pantheist’s attitude. The pantheist is simply reporting the fact that God does not actively promote Good and suppress Evil in the real world. Even Christians have to acknowledge that God does not intervene to prevent disasters like 9/11 or the Christmas tsunami or ebola or what have you. To say that God is beyond good and evil, and that both are part of the same pantheistic God is simply to say “Evil is real.” But that’s obviously true, so why would anyone be ashamed to say it?

The Christian reply, according to Lewis, is “Don’t talk damned nonsense,” with a footnote explaining that by “damned nonsense” he means nonsense that will literally damn you to Hell.

For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made up out of His head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made, and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.

Call me biased, but it seems to me that the term “damned nonsense” would be better applied to the idea of fighting for a religion, to the point of twisting the facts and slandering your opponents, when pantheism is a better fit for the facts, and when your own religion is based on blind faith in the words of men. In fact, if you’re looking for nonsense, why not consider the fact that you’re claiming an all-powerful, all-good Creator, and yet admitting that things have “gone wrong” with His creation. Why would such an awesome God become such an epic fail? That’s Lewis’ next topic, but we’ll have to save that for next week. Stay tuned.

Evolving Planetary Consciousness To Escape Self-Destruction

Right now, at this very moment, humans are going down a path which is leading to a self-destructive end. Where will this all lead, if the trend continues down such a path? It is not difficult to provide an answer to such a question, and upon coming to the inevitably depressing conclusion, one can see that this all needs to change– and fast, or else we will be the reason for our own demise. The evolution of the collective consciousness of humanity is the first and foremost requirement for a world in which there is abundance, peace, and liberty. When we look around and become aware of the current level of planetary consciousness (with its still-high level of fear that has to be transcended), we realize that diplomatic negotiations, legal and administrative measures, and armed military/police actions show little success and they often produce more problems than they actually solve. It is difficult to argue against this unless one has a vested interest (such as a monetary one) in keeping the status quo. These ‘problem-producers’ as simply short-term tinkerings that do not eliminate, or even come close to eliminating, long-term basic and fundamental problems. Truly effective solutions to the problems we face as a race on this planet call for a different kind of thinking and a different kind of commitment. More people are becoming awakened to the reality that such thinking and commitment simply cannot be achieved without the evolution of people’s individual and collective consciousness.

In order to implement working and meaningful solutions to the problems that we face today and in the coming years, the consciousness of everyday individuals must rise from the ego-dominated and nation-centered domain to a global and planet-centered one. This would be the universal Golden Rule (cause harm to no one, because we are all connected) at work and established as being a foundation of everything that a person, group, and society does. In this regard it still has quite a way to go. In many societies today the domineering consciousness is beset by such forces as egotism, misplaced nationalism, and cultural chauvinism/exaggerated superiority. The result of all this is the persistence of social and political narrow-mindedness, economic warfare, cultural intolerance, and disregard for the environment. It is impossible to look around and not see these hindrances to consciousness evolution taking place every day of the year, every hour, and every second somewhere in the world.

So how can we evolve the planetary consciousness in a way that avoids a dystopian and totalitarian future? The answer becomes clear when people sense that a core belief system and/or social perception structure (be it a religion, life stance, world view, philosophy, or ideology) is a threat to themselves and their loved ones, they search for alternative ideas, values, and beliefs. We can see this trend in existence today, and we could even say that it gained significant momentum during the consciousness revolution of the 1960s. Despite the persistence of outdated myths and illusions in the established layers of society, there is a massive search by people all over the world for alternatives and other positions of awareness. Problems such as the rise of inner-city deprivation and violence, the drift toward anarchy and the inability of police and military measures to cope with it, the dissolution of the social contract between society and the worker, the spread of drug addiction and of esoteric orders/cults, the rise of unemployment and homelessness are so many signs of a decline that does not fail to leave its mark on the beliefs and priorities of individuals. The old order of things is breaking down, and with its coming demise there is an enormous amount of motivated youth, and open-minded people of all ages who wish to live in a better world than their predecessors have left for them to live in.

There is much positivity occurring that we can be elated about an the rise of an emerging worldview is evident. Although the problems we face may seem daunting and sometimes almost impossible to fix, there is a great deal of progress being made and the planetary consciousness is slowly moving forward. You would probably not notice this when your sources for becoming aware as to what is going on in the world focus on tragedy instead of news, but thanks to the Internet and the simple act of going out into the world and meeting everyday people positions our awareness on the realization that the world is filled with mostly good people doing good deeds.  A great help to letting humanity become aware of the overwhelming positivity of humanity is The Pathfinder Project, which is an internationally networked project of the Institute of Noetic Sciences of California. This project has summed up these positive trends under the following headings:

Creating a home for humanity within nature: Revisioning of humanity’s place within nature and the cosmos, together with a multitude of creative efforts to design human activity in consonance with ecosystemic principles and environmental limits.

Local and global self-organization: Simultaneous proliferation of creative initiatives at the local and global level, including the revitalization of civic society, the cultivation of new forms of community, and the emergence of effective global institutions.

From outer to inner authority: Realization of the primacy of consciousness as a causal reality and a corresponding shift from reliance on outer sources of authority to a trust in inner sources of knowing.

From separation to wholeness: Recognition of the fundamental wholeness and interconnectedness of all aspects of reality and experience.

Awakening spirituality: Widening search for ways to revitalize spiritual practice and nurture a sense of spiritual community, together with growing exploration of the role of spirit in such areas as health, business, and public life.

From centralized to “acentric” power: A shift from relationships, systems, and institutions based on centralized power to perspectives and approaches that emphasize peoples capacity for creative self-organization and learning.

From mechanistic to living systems: A related shift from models of the world, organizations, and human experience based on mechanistic systems, to perspectives and approaches based on the principles that inform living systems.

From greed and scarcity to sufficiency and caring: A further shift from values, perspectives, and approaches based on greed and scarcity to those based on a sense of sufficiency and caring.

From competition to reconciliation and partnership: A shift from relationships, organizational models, and societal strategies based on competition to those based on principles of healing, reconciliation, and professional as well as male/female partnership.

What these trends show us is that there is an elevated consciousness that is surfacing at the forefront of society. There are some questions however, that lie before us. How influential are the new trends and how fast will they spread? Will they be powerful enough to move to center stage and impact on the way the great majority of the people live, and the way managers and politicans make decisions? It is still too early to tell, and the coming months and years will make the answers clearer. This is why helping to articulate and spread the awareness of the emerging consciousness shift is a major and valiant cause, worthy of the best minds that humanity has to offer. As the old world order continues its attempts at increasing its stranglehold on humanity, we must demonstrate that we are human beings with inalienable rights. Enhanced empathy and understanding of the interconnected nature, not only of everyone but of everything, will ensure that there is a positive shift in the planetary consciousness. The stakes are almost as high as they can be. Without the evolution of our individual and collective consciousness it is nearly certain that we will not avert deepening economic, social, and cultural problems and environmental destruction. By the shifting of our consciousness from the ego-dominated and nation-centered toward the global and planet-centered domains, we will have a good chance of matching the growth of our technological sophistication with the corresponding intellectual understanding and emotional maturity. We will have a chance gather up and focus the will and the motivation to use our technologies and our social creativity to bring us and our loved ones into the emerging new paradigm with the least amount of problems, conflicts, and losses. Try to do your part in this collective task of evolving the planetary consciousness. Not only our future, but the future of the planet and all those yet unborn depends on it.

XFiles Weekend: Not with a bang

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Prof. Lewis started to address those of us who might have “felt a certain annoyance” at his wild leap to the conclusion that there must be some supernatural What or Who behind morality. “You may even have thought that I had played a trick on you—that I had been carefully wrapping up to look like philosophy what turns out to be one more ‘religious jaw’.” In response, he said he had three things to say, the first two of which we’ve already seen.

The third point is, in some ways, a bit surprising. The real surprise, though, is that this third point isn’t just a brief aside on the way to a well-reasoned conclusion. It is the conclusion! He just got done telling us that his argument thus far hasn’t brought us “within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology,” and yet now, apparently, he’s ready to conclude that the Someone “behind” the so-called Moral Law is the Christian God. And he sees nothing wrong with arriving at that conclusion via sloppy, subjective, and unfinished reasoning! Simply astonishing.

Lewis’ third point is, surprisingly, more or less a confession.

Now my third point. When I chose to get to my real subject in this roundabout way, I was not trying to play any kind of trick on you. I had a different reason. My reason was that Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing.

Except that he explicitly rejected real-world facts as a reliable means of discovering the truth about the origin of moral feelings. He called them mere “external observations,” as contrasted with the “inside information” we have about our feelings because we’re the ones feeling them. Despite his denial of trickery, he admits that his whole argument up to this point is, not an objective inquiry into the facts, but simply an attempt to manufacture a subjective mind-set within which Christianity might make sense.

The way he does that is by taking the standard “religious jaw” of Christian dogma and carefully wrapping it up to look like philosophy. It’s not that he’s providing us with an intellectual framework within which he defines the terms used to describe Christian concepts. He’s not trying to explain Christianity at all, he’s just trying to create a “felt need” for what Christianity is selling. (Rather an interesting use of the phrase “make sense,” in my opinion.)

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know that they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness.

In other words, you can’t sell your snake oil to people unless they think they’re sick. Lewis may have paid lip service to at least the vocabulary of rational objectivity, but everything he said, every fact he pointed out, every fact he ignored, every spin he put on his interpretations, was all designed to make us feel like sinners rebelling against God’s will, and in need of a Savior, in the classic Christian tradition.

So in other words, the only way Christianity makes sense, Lewis proposes, is if you first condition your audience to reject scientific facts, to rely on subjective feelings, and to assume that the Gospel is true. Could there be a greater indictment against Christianity than C. S. Lewis’ defense of it?

Let’s do a quick review of some of the ways Lewis’ Moral Law argument falls short.

  1. He fails to consider simpler, natural explanations like empathy, peer pressure, and anticipation of consequences, working together in a larger social context.
  2. He fails to observe that feelings of guilt are unreliable as indicators of actual guilt (just as remorselessness is unreliable as an indicator of innocence).
  3. He fails to identify any particular source for his claim that “philosophers” used to speak of a “Law of (Human) Nature,” nor does he offer any reasons why we ought to accept the ancient philosophers’ conclusions as true.
  4. He acknowledges that different moralities exist, but fails to address the implications this fact has for his “Moral Law” conjecture. Instead, he merely dismisses all such differences by claiming that the moralities are not entirely different, and therefore the differences don’t matter. You know, like the way poisonous mushrooms are not entirely different from edible ones, and therefore the differences don’t matter.
  5. He assumes that when we feel like we “ought” to do something that we’re unwilling or afraid to do, this feeling of “oughtness” is the Moral Law speaking directly to us. Unfortunately, he completely fails to explain how we can all be getting our Moral Law by direct, subjective intuition, and yet not all get the same definitions of right and wrong. Either this intuitive sense of morality is infallible, in which case there should never be any differences in our morality, or it’s unreliable, and we ought not feel guilty about letting our better judgment overrule it now and then.
  6. He fails to explain how the same thing can be both right and wrong at the same time, for different groups of people (e.g. befriending people so that you can betray them to their enemies).
  7. He fails to explain why some choices have no right/good answer (e.g. abortion).
  8. He acknowledges that genuine laws of nature describe patterns that we consistently observe in the real world, and he even acknowledges that his proposed Moral Law does not describe any observable real-world patterns. Instead of acknowledging that his conjecture does not fit the facts, however, he invokes a completely gratuitous supernatural realm, and proposes that the discrepancies are due to this “Law” coming from “outside” the observable universe.
  9. He fails to provide an objective way to determine what right and wrong and good and evil are (other than just taking some guy’s word for it), and yet consistently assumes that his definition of right and wrong is true and correct.
  10. He consistently prefers superstitious attributions over natural/scientific explanations, even when the more mundane explanations are a better fit for the facts.
  11. He bases at least part of his argument on the assumption that matter cannot think, even though the only known instances of thinking occur in biological brains made of matter.
  12. He fails to acknowledge the existence of scientific analysis and the whole gamut of procedures, tests, and methodologies that allow us to look beyond the immediate observations to the underlying causes and forces at play. Worse, Lewis proposes a crippled version of “science,” limited to observations only, and makes that the basis for arguing that we should trust our subjective feelings more than we trust science, as the basis for understanding morality.

Well, I could go on, but 12′s a nice round number. C. S. Lewis set out to find a plausible, rational, objectively-factual basis upon which to present the skeptic (or at least the believer) with a valid reason to believe in the Christian Gospel. The fact that he made such a bloody hash of it—and became renowned as a defender of the Faith for it—just goes to show how far the Gospel is from having a rational, objective, and factual basis.

And that’s it. Bad as it was, incomplete as it was, this was Lewis’ whole argument for why we ought to think Christianity is really true. The next chapter starts “Book II – What Christians Believe.” We’ve finished the apologetics part, and now it’s on to the unvarnished dogma. That will probably come as a bit of a relief, for Lewis and for us, since he can stop pretending his arguments are rational and objective.

Ever since I was an evangelical Christian, I’ve always thought of Lewis as a champion defender of the Christian faith, and even after I left the faith, I still saw him as a leading Christian apologist. That’s a big part of why I picked Mere Christianity as my next book to work through. But now that I see what his apologetics are like, I can no longer call him an apologist. C. S. Lewis is a good writer (as in “easy to read”), but his true role is as a popularizer of Christian thought. He’s not deep, he’s broad, and that’s what makes him so famous. He tells people what they like to hear, says it smoothly, and doesn’t press any uncomfortable issues.

It’s a bit disappointing, but never fear, we’ll drive on. Next week, we’ll start Book II, What Christians Believe. Given his offhand remarks about how Christianity has nothing to say to anyone unless they’re damned souls in need of salvation, it should be interesting.

XFiles Weekend: the Good guys

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

We come now to one of the more interesting things C. S. Lewis has said in the entire book so far. It’s an off-hand remark, a casual comment tossed in as a obvious truism, and one that you’ll hear echoed by an astonishingly large number of ordinary rank-and-file believers. And yet, despite all the people who take it for granted that things must be this way, it’s fairly trivial to show that it’s nonsense. Logically, rationally, it means something that can be called true in only the most trivial and even tautological sense. And yet people take it as one of the most fundamental Absolute Truths a person could base their life on. Why?

This is a very interesting question to me, and I’ve got a few ideas that I think are at least part of the answer. But still something about it mystifies me. I’d be interested to hear other people’s comments on this topic.

As you may recall from last time, Prof. Lewis has “not yet got as far as a personal God—only as far as a power, behind the Moral Law, and more like a mind than it is like anything else. But it may still be very unlike a Person.” Yet despite this, the next part of Lewis’ argument assumes that this “power” is indeed a person, with likes and dislikes, and a very strong preference for “Good.”

[Y]ou know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests [evil] behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. That is the terrible fix we are in.

Not half so terrible as the fix Lewis himself is in, rationally speaking. Not only has he failed to provide any reason why this “power” would be capable or interested in “loving” or “hating” anything, he’s trying to assess the “goodness” of this power by measuring it according its own definitions. It need not have “good” reasons for requiring us to be “good,” nor is it really even meaningful to use the term “good” to describe the fundamental definition of what “good” means. Ask anybody in marketing: arbitrarily designating something as “good” is no guarantee that it really is good!

There is a deeper, more fundamental definition of “good,” by which we instinctively judge whether things like the Moral Law or even God Himself—erm, excuse me I mean “the mysterious power behind the Law”—can rightly be called Good. And, in a bit of poetic justice, Lewis finds that he must rely on this real-world standard of Good and Evil/Right and Wrong, in order to spin his argument to favor Christian doctrine. If this real-world standard exists independently of the Law, however, then Lewis’ whole premise is mistaken and/or misleading, whereas if it does not exist, then he cannot correctly appeal to it here.

That’s pretty much where we left off last week, but now for the interesting bit.

If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless.

This may be the most fascinating statement in the whole book. Notice how Lewis (and millions of other believers) make two assumptions here which they assume to be absolutely and incontrovertibly true:

  1. The universe is governed by an absolute goodness, and
  2. This is necessary in order for us to have hope in the long run.

These two assumptions are why it is practically impossible for an atheist to win an argument with a believer over morality. The atheist must be wrong, because the universe must be governed by an “absolute goodness” (i.e. God), because without God, all our efforts are hopeless in the long run. Or in other words, “it must be true because I don’t want it to be false.”

Fascinating, isn’t it? Lewis tosses it off as though it were a common-sense observation, even though it’s fallacious nonsense in all but the most trivial of senses. Yet somehow this “observation” provides a powerful psychological motive that drives the moral reasonings of millions if not billions. What’s behind it? Is it simple denial? Some kind of psychological insulation to shut out the realization that “someday I will not be”?

That’s a big part of it, I think. Logically and rationally, it’s easy for the atheist to highlight just a small portion of the real-world evidence that’s inconsistent with the idea that the universe is governed by an absolute goodness. Trying to show that to a believer, however, is the psychological and emotional equivalent of saying “the universe is out to kill you, and someday it will succeed.” People tune that out, and tune out the atheist along with it. That makes C. S. Lewis’ job a walk in the park.

I think there may be another important dynamic here as well, a more tribal dynamic. Remember, moral laws are primarily social laws. “Good” behaviors and “evil” behaviors are defined relative to how they affect other people. Different groups within society, however, may have different standards of right and wrong. Especially among believers, the defense of Moral Law goes hand in hand with the assumption that our definition of goodness is the definition of goodness. To champion a particular moral code is to assert the supremacy of the cultural group that “owns” that standard. In that light, those who argue for “absolute goodness” as the supreme authority are merely taking the idea of a Christian Nation and applying it to the whole physical universe. “We are the rightful arbiters of morality, because the entire cosmos is subject to a Ruler whose opinions are the same as ours!”

This is a particularly vexing dynamic because it means that if you have a believer wise enough and self-aware enough not to let fear of death cloud their consideration of morality, they will still have a very powerful psychosocial motive for advocating the validity of Moral Law. Defending this kind of moral reasoning means going up in the esteem of your peers. Propagating it means raising the status of your group in society as a whole. Even if it’s a transparent rationalization and hopeless self-contradiction, you can gain politically and socially by selling it to the “unwashed masses,” who are not at all reluctant to swallow it. “We are the Good guys, led by the Hero, and we’re going to win.” Who wouldn’t want to jump on that bandwagon?

What can we, as unbelievers, do to counter this kind of diseased thinking? I’m open for suggestions. One thing I think we can do is to simply raise awareness of the issues. For example, it’s nonsense to claim that “all our efforts are hopeless in the long run” unless the universe is governed by “absolute goodness.” Hope, by its very nature, is an expectation of change for the better. If any state would rightly be called hopeless, it would have to be heaven, or some other variation on eternal bliss, since you could never hope for things to get better there. And that in turn shows us that it’s pointless to hope for things to be better than they can be.

Hope, and meaning, and purpose, and all the things that believers associate with having some kind of eternal objective, are all things that, in fact, lose their significance in the context of eternity. The purpose of eating is to satisfy the need of the moment, not to achieve some eternal satisfaction in which you never hunger. And likewise with other appetites, like the desire for beauty, or mental stimulation, or challenge, or achievement. The true meaning and purpose of things are rooted and nourished in the changeable, imperfect, ephemeral world in which we experience them, not in some eternal and unchanging perfection that’s effectively indistinguishable from death. We have hope, we have purpose, we have meaning, because we live in a world where there is room for improvement, and the possibility of achieving better things by our efforts.

Now, if you say, “But that still leaves us without a reason to hope that we will live forever in ceaseless bliss,” then I will reply that this is true, in the exact same sense that a detox clinic will try to leave a drug addict without a reason to hope he can stay high for the rest of his life. Ok, one difference: drug-induced euphorias do exist in the real world, whereas the evidence for heaven, not so much. But the point is, hope can be a bad thing if your hope is simply a form of denial and rejection of the real world. If you routinely write checks based only on the hope that your account will have enough to cover the draft, you’ll get to know your bank manager—if not your parole officer—on a first name basis. It is far better to embrace reality as it really is, and to find your meaning and purpose and hope in the real-world truth.

And that’s it for now. I don’t feel like it’s quite enough, and I’m sure there’s lots more that could be said (and probably should be). It’s a bit of a tangent from our main topic, though, so I’m going to keep it to just one post. Next week we’ll pick up back in Chapter 5 again.

The Rise Of An Emerging Worldview

Humanity, at this moment, is at a crossroads where it will decide whether to move forward towards a bright future or whether it will choose to stay on the follow the old worldview and plunge into a dystopian darkness. Whichever path we choose at this ever-so-critical moment in human history, it will surely determine the fate of our species for a long time to come. One has to only look to the so-called Dark Ages to see how such a decision steered humanity down a path that was unfavorable to progress and positive social transformation. Since our beliefs shape our reality, the world we see is heavily influenced by the current judgments, assumptions, and conclusions of the cultures and societies into which each of us was born in. The old assumptions concerning life, existence, reality, and everything inbetween are being questioned and invalidated with such high frequency, that it seems as if humanity is ready for a quantum leap into a brighter future, where unity, compassion, and reason overcome individualism, selfishness, and greed.

There is a shift in the perception as to what is important in life. This shift will be affecting out collective perceptions, beliefs, and actions relating to all aspects of life, some of which include health, spirituality, the environment, economics, science, and our sense of self. One must only look to the rise in the popularity of eastern spirituality, environmentalism, quantum physics, respect for indigenous cultures, holistic medicine, the feminine archetype, non-profit organizations, and globalization to see that there indeed is a tremendous shift occurring. Perception is reality, and with the shift in our perception of reality humanity moves further and further away from materialism, reductionism, hierarchies, and an ego-dominated lifestyle towards spirituality, oneness, integration, and the interconnectedness of not only ourselves with each other, but with everything to everything else.

To further illustrate the defining aspects of the emerging worldview, which is occurring thanks to the progressive shift in human consciousness, a few of the dominant themes within this new domain will be put forward, as listed in the book Global Shift: How a New Worldview is Transforming Humanity printed by a great organization looking forward into the future called the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

A Conscious Universe

Humanity is perceiving the Universe as a conscious, creative, and evolving process rather than a purely static, mechanistic object. Every whole system in the Universe, all the way from tiny atoms to immense galaxies, exhibits attributes of consciousness such as self-organization, coherence, and intentionality.

Multidimensional Reality

Reality, the sum of All that Is, exceeds the bounds and restraints of the physical universe. It contains subtle, transcendent dimensions not well understood by present-day science. These more subtle dimensions form the matrix of the physical universe that we see and interact with on a daily basis.

Interconnection of All Minds

Though our minds appear to be separated by our individual bodies, they are, at depth, unified in a common, collective and transpersonal consciousness. This consciousness is not only shared by all humans, it is part of a larger matrix that includes the consciousness of the universe as a whole.

A Synthesis of Science and Spirituality

Though their methods and ultimate concerns differ, both science and religious belief systems seek, in their own ways, to reveal the “truth” about the life, existence, and the Universe. Science, relying on sensory experience, examines the objective, spatial universe. Spirituality, utilizing intuition and revelation, searches and dives into the depths of Reality’s interior, symbolic face.

Radical Empiricism

Both sensory observation and intuitive modes of knowing have equal validity in humanity’s quest to understand Reality, though the sensory forms lend themselves more easily to replication and consensus.

Consciousness Has a Causal Influence

Consciousness has inherent properties, such as a capacity for self-organization, intentionality, and meaning, which cannot be explained in terms of the material laws and processes of the natural sciences. However, it has a causal influence on physical processes.

Natural Ethics

Ought reduces to is. Ethical behavior (what we ought to do) arises naturally from the acting out of personal authenticity and integrity, rather than from conformance to culturally imposed norms.

This list may seem progressive and emerging now, but given the incredibly high degree of novelty occurring with each passing year, month, week, and day, it will see quite primitive and ancient in a generation or two. This is why any predictions occurring in the future of our timeline can only be approximate at best, given the current trends. Although the more reductionist individuals in the world may see this list as unscientific at times, dismissing them as such generates a grave error in the understanding of it all. In its meaningful, symbolic, and creative aspects, Reality has a much grander scope than the current scientific understanding realizes.

With the positive shift in consciousness underway, there is a rise of an emerging worldview. This new perception of Reality will accommodate both the physical and the nonphysical aspects of All that Is. We will be that much closer to understanding what the Ultimate Reality exactly is. Something that only sages every now and then realized and experienced will be something everyone will become enlightened about. The Ultimate Reality is all-inclusive, ineffable, unimaginable, and beyond any and all dualities and distinctions that we can conjure up. With the new emerging worldview, science and spirituality are both utilized together in order to come about with a complete understanding of Reality. It is of little surprise that there is a heightened interest in psychedelics, meditation, astral projection, and other technologies that assist in the nonphysical exploration and understand of Reality, since science has lacked in satisfying the desire for human beings to take “inner paths into outer space.” The sooner we embrace the new unity-oriented worldview, the sooner we leave the current path of destruction we are on and stride down the path which ensures that not only do we as a species survive, but that we experience and realize the macrocosmic and transcendental aspects of existence.

XFiles Weekend: What is good?

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

It’s getting increasingly difficult for Prof. Lewis to pretend that he’s doing anything more than hiding traditional Christian dogma inside a secularized vocabulary. He still struggles gamely to maintain appearances, but in Chapter 5 he’s getting more and more careless about slipping openly Christian assumptions into his ostensibly objective “inquiry.”

[T]he being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness. In that sense we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions, that God is ‘good’. But do not let us go to fast here. The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic.

It doesn’t? How would Lewis know that? Remember, his “rational” argument thus far has been based only on the observation that people sometimes have feelings that they ought to do certain things, and yet they don’t do them. Unfortunately, as Lewis himself has argued, we don’t find any basis for this “Moral Law” anywhere in the facts of the universe, which means these subjective feelings are our only connection with the Moral Law. And these subjective feelings shift and conflict in so many ways that it’s impossible to know what’s actually in this so-called Moral Law. So how can Lewis be so sure he knows what it does and does not give us grounds for?

Lewis knows (or thinks he knows) about the Moral Law because what he’s really talking about is the Christian ideal of an absolute and eternal Moral Law as typically summarized by the Ten Commandments. He’s proceeding, not from the evidence he has cited, but from ordinary dogma. Notice how his discussion of the Moral Law echoes Jesus’ teachings about the Law of Moses and the even stricter divine law behind it:

There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft.

As you may remember from last week, the context of this argument is that Lewis is trying to “discover” something about the Someone or Something allegedly behind the Moral Law. The reason Lewis thinks the Moral Law is hard as nails is because he assumes that the God of the Old Testament is behind it. Were he to look at the evidence instead of at Christian dogma, he would have less reason for certainty: that same inner feeling that tells people they “ought” to be doing certain things is just as likely to also indulge them with a selection of reasons why its ok not to in this particular case. More often than not, feelings are a very self-indulgent guide.

Of course, you can interpret that indulgent voice in a Christian framework, and claim that it’s actually a different source, say a sin nature or a demon. But there’s nothing qualitatively different between one subjective moral feeling and another. You’re just interpreting them differently, based on Christian traditions. Which of course you are free to do, but at that point you ought to give up and admit that you’re not really following the evidence wherever it may lead, and that you’re simply assuming Christianity to be true, and adjusting the facts as needed to fit your desired conclusion. Which, by the way, pretty much sums up Lewis’ approach here.

He soldiers on anyway, and, without intending to be ironic, takes the tone of an unbiased observer cautioning the reader not to jump to any conclusions.

It is no use, at this stage, saying that what you mean by a ‘good’ God is a God who can forgive. You are going too quickly. Only a Person can forgive. And we have not yet got as far as a personal God—only as far as a power, behind the Moral Law, and more like a mind than it is like anything else. But it may still be very unlike a Person.

For example, it might be more like a committee, or a war. But you won’t find Prof. Lewis raising any polytheistic possibilities, except possibly trinitarian ones, because we’re not being nearly as objective as Lewis would like to pretend. His careful disclaimers notwithstanding, we are headed straight for the conclusion that God is a good, forgiving God. That’s why Lewis is already introducing the assumption that God is the Person behind the Moral Law, despite insisting that we have not yet got as far as a personal God. There are large gaping cracks in his logic that let his dogmatic agenda shine through—and that’s not the worst of his problems.

[I]t is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort—an impersonal absolute good—then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in.

Here is the problem: Lewis is setting up a conflict between “sinners” and the Moral Law, a “terrible fix” that (ta-da!) Jesus can ride in on a white horse and save us from. In order to pull that off, though, he needs to portray the Moral Law as unmerciful, inflexible and unforgiving. That means that the Moral Law, which supposedly defines Right vs. Wrong and Good vs. Evil, does not include mercy and forgiveness on its list of things that are Good and Right. If it did, then we wouldn’t need a Savior, because the Moral Law itself would already provide at least the possibility of a just and right forgiveness.

Forgiveness and mercy, in other words, are not technically “good” in this system. The Moral Law requires that you can’t be good unless you “really and unalterably detest [sinful] behavior,” which means that to be merciful and forgiving is to be “indulgent” and “soft” in the most negative possible connotations of those words. To exploit some loophole in this Law in order to help a sinner escape the Law’s demands does not merely violate this Law, but makes it irrelevant. If the Moral Law defines what is Good and Right and Just, then there’s no way God could be doing good by flouting what this Law requires.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis takes a stab at solving this problem by proposing that there is an older and deeper Law that takes precedence over the Moral Law, and allows for “ransoms” to be paid for sin. That way, it would still be “legal” for Aslan/Jesus to save us from the penalty of sin, even though it was not legal to let the offender escape the justice demanded by the Moral Law. (The moral issue of using human sacrifice to enable the sinner to escape the Law is a question we’ll leave for another time.)

This solution only compounds the problem, however,  because even if we did have some more powerful Law overruling the Moral Law, would that “deeper Law” be something we could legitimately call “good”? The definition of Good and Evil, remember, are supposed to rest within the Moral Law, so even if the other Law did manage to overthrow the Moral Law, this would not be a good thing according to the “official” definition of “good.” (Think about it: how could it possibly be “good” to overthrow the Law that defines what “good” is?)

What Lewis needs to do is to somehow reconcile these two Laws in a way that allows both Laws to be “good.” In order to do that, however, the two Laws need to refer to some external standard of Right and Wrong that they can both share in common. That means, however, that the Moral Law is not the true standard of right and wrong, good and evil. For all of Lewis’ carefully-crafted argument, his main thesis shipwrecks on the shoals of forgiveness. If you’re going to define righteousness in terms of some kind of supernatural, inflexible, and unforgiving Moral Law, then you have made it impossible for God to remain righteous while exploiting some devious loophole in order to thwart the requirements of the Law. Abort, retry, fail.

All C. S. Lewis is doing is manufacturing a contrived crisis in order to motivate us with a false fear that we’re in some kind of “terrible fix” so that we’ll be eager (and uncritical) when the time comes for him to offer us his genuine patented remedy for what ails us. In reality, the “fear” he’s feeding us is nothing to be afraid of at all: in the real world, good and evil are driven by consequences, and by a common consensus about which consequences are worth pursuing or avoiding.

In any group consensus, compromise is a useful and legitimate virtue, provided it’s not being used as an excuse for one party to force their will on the others. In such a realistic moral system, forgiveness and mercy, when appropriate, are entirely natural and beneficial. We need no Savior because there is no “absolute good” to take offense at our actions. There are only complicated consequences, and people trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got at the moment. Confusing the issue with unrealistic fears only makes a hard job harder.