Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, January 26, 2007

Do We Need God in Order to be Good? (A Response)

(SpacemanSpiff, who, I am proud to say, happens to be my oldest child, has kindly agreed to write a guest post for my blog. This is an eloquent response to my posts on the subject, Do We Need God in order to be Good. Thanks Spaceman! I love you!)

Yes "religion" taken as the actions of religious people (which is certainly a fair way to take it) has been used as a justification for evil as often as for good.

My answer to this question though requires connecting a number of conclusions that I don't think you've heard before. So I'll try to summarize as best I can. If you like this you can post it as a guest article. Anyway, here goes.

First, while I agree that religion has often been used to justify evil at least as often as it has been used to for good, I do think the language we're using is very interesting. Where did we learn to use language like good and evil?

Can there be any content to the ideas of good and evil other than "that which I like" and "that which I don't like"? Without some sort of religion, I'm fairly certain it can't. Yet I think you and I both want to be able to mean something more than that. So the very fact that we are asking why religious people so often do evil things already seems to concede that something like religion is a given, since there is some good and evil larger than both us and those religious people.

Second, that religious people do so much evil doesn't prove that religion does no good. Only that it isn't a panacea, and that people will use anything they can find for the ends they had. Would you say that science has more often been used for good than evil? I'd be willing to take that debate any day of the week. But of course I wouldn't then make the claim that science is false or evil or a negative force in history. What people use science for only shows their own nature, not the nature of science.

Third, if my understanding of Christianity is correct, then there is plenty of evidence to support the idea of "general revelation." If God reveals himself in nature, and if man is made in God's image, it is no surprise then that we might find men everywhere doing good without "religion" and people with "religion" doing evil. Christianity allows me to say "God is working over there in those people, though they may not know His name" and "All who call themselves Christians run the risk of doing so falsely and using Christianity as another tool for evil." Ultimately, Christianity teaches that God is progressive, and nothing else, least of all religion. Thus wherever we see good happening, we say "Praise God!"

A view of science or democracy as uniquely progressive, or a view of religion as uniquely or inherently regressive is much less forgiving and flexible, and as far as I can tell, doesn't hold up under scrutiny. There are too many examples of religious understanding causing people to do good and noble things and too many examples of science, capitalism, democracy, and what-have-you being used in evil ways for those to hold up.