What Trump Represents To Me

I wrote this several weeks ago and thought: what’s the point of even writing stuff like this? It’s a glorified Facebook rant, to be echo-chambered among my friends on Facebook for what reason? It’s also divisive. I was going to delete it. I promise to my 13 readers this is my only Trump post. And who cares? – it’s just my perspective. Talking politics is kinda boring, depressing, and makes me sound like an old whiny pessimist baby. I don’t enjoy thinking about it. But, considering that political systems are the only way to solve real world problems, it’s hard not to care.

Even optimism has its limits and demands a shred of evidence. And Hope, a religious virtue, doesn’t apply here baby.

Trump represents the mass incarceration of Black people. The phrase”law and order,” which Trump uses knowingly and strategically, is possibly the most terrifying phrase to the Black man and to Black people generally. For very good reason. Historically speaking, it means nothing less than the mass incarceration of black men, which has been going on for decades and continues to go on. As The New Jim Crow shows, it’s the new Jim Crow segregation. History is littered with politicians using that phrase – “law and order” – and then creating policies or defending policies that result in putting 1 in 3 black men into the prison system, disenfranchising citizens and destroying families. Both parties are guilty of this. In fact, after reading the book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, I learned that tough-on-crime policies actually started with one of the best democratic presidents ever – good ‘ol Lyndon Baynes Johnson. To be clear, Republicans have been much worse, and much more open and harsh about it, but both parties are to blame. And intentions have nothing to do with it. Hillary Clinton, by her supporting some of Bill Clinton’s policies, by calling black men “super predators,” is guilty of the same shit (and I believe she apologized for that but, again, intentions don’t matter). Any politician can claim they had good intentions. They’re either lying or not smart enough (and we know they suffer from both). And Trump, if you judge a man based on what they say, could very well be the worst tough-on-crime president to date. His rhetoric, paired with his internalized racism (“I’m sure some of them are good people”), paired with his legal history of racial discrimination in housing, paired with his inaccurate hell-fire dystopian descriptions of “urban centers” (he would say “ghetto” if he could), paired with Rudi Giuliani’s idea of stopping and frisking black people on the street for being black. This is a recipe for what he would call a “disaster” (but he won’t call it that – he’ll call it “keeping our streets safe” from “bad people” or “thugs”).

Trump represents “no skin off my back.” In other words, I’m white, I’m male, I’m employed. I’ll be just fine thank you very much. Which means I could of voted for Jill Stein or whoever if I wanted (I didn’t). I didn’t wake up the next morning terrified. The worst thing I could possibly face is the loss of my pension, which I’m sure Trump would obliterate without a thought – not that he alone has the power to do that. I suppose that is a big thing. And that’s just me, standing on the pinnacle of privilege. Imagine other people.

Trump represents stupidity, idiocy, not being educated, not learning, not reading, not fact checking, not doing your homework, not qualified, not listening to science, not caring about objective facts or having a deep respect for them. He loved the stupid people that voted for him, and he seems to be uneducated himself. And if you’re stupid, it’s probably not your fault. That’s a societal problem. Our country made us stupid by having a stupid education system created by stupid politicians. So Trump represents a celebration of stupidity. Denying climate change, for example, which, apparently, might be some of the people he surrounds himself with as president (update: yes, he is), is the epitome and pinnacle of brash ignorance and willful stupidity. Good luck science. Good luck environment. You’re both fucked.

Although white children might be in luck because we invented a thing called “charter schools,” which is code for good white schools and everyone damn well knows it. Trump, by choosing Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, is pro Charter school. Let’s fund those with public money, and let public education continue to under-perform on the global stage. White supremacy continues.

Trump represents fake religion and everything that’s wrong with religion – and I consider myself religious. He’s not a religious person, and he’s not a good, nice, or decent person either – except to his friends of course (religious people are great at that). But masterfully, he convinced the masses of fake religious people, hiding behind their fake religious political party, to vote for someone that is so far from Jesus’ teachings it’s embarrassing. And then these fake religious people have the audacity to make fake religious excuses for voting for Trump, which is annoying to hear. Like “I believe God can use Donald” and “I believe God controls elections” and “I believe Donald will surround himself with good, smart people” or “I don’t really like him” or “it’s not about Trump.” Are you kidding me? Whatever makes you sleep good at night. Just know that you are watering down religion for good honest people; just know that you and Donald are the vipers and snakes that Jesus was referring to, when he was referring to hypocrisy.

A proper religion response to this whole debacle, although very depressing and defeatist, would be to disengage from politics altogether, to give up and give the system a middle finger. Disengaging from power structures, in fact, is a very religious idea. This could be based on a teaching that Jesus was probably right about – that politics has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, or righteousness, or the good life. Socrates was the same way. The real struggle is the spiritual struggle, and that’s a struggle we can actually win. In other words, politics is wordly, and wordly things are greedy and corrupt by their very nature. Politics has been the game of greedy, type A, white powerful men since day one. What makes us think that will change? Are good, decent people going to suddenly wake up tomorrow morning and want to be a career politicians? Probably not – they’ll be a teacher instead, and not get paid shit for their troubles. Unless they move to Sweden where they will be prized as educators of future people in the world.

The most effective response, in my slightly educated opinion, is massive, grassroots movements, ones that reign in power and demand things from it. Like the Civil Rights Movement of MLK, or the Black Power Movement (which was snuffed out swiftly by racist politicians), or the Black Lives Matter Movement, or several other movements I cannot name because they were started by women and thus forgotten or suppressed or ignored or taken over by men. Anyway, coordinated mass movements have shown to create policy changes, usually watered down policy changes that take a bite out of certain discriminatory policies. But make no mistake about it. We white men have a short game and a long game.. Unless anti-racist people control power, these successes will always be temporary, will always be threatened, will always be revised and watered down. As history has shown.

Trump represents the billionaire class. This is so obvious it doesn’t need to be mentioned, and he’s proud of it. He’s the spoiled rich kid who never moved beyond high school, as his emotional intelligence shows. He inherited wealth, which probably wasn’t taxed as it should be, which is unAmerican. He doesn’t pay taxes and thinks it’s smart. He wants to cut taxes for rich people and business. But rather than see Trump for who he really is – a spoiled rich kid that inherited wealth and still somehow managed to go bankrupt several times – white people would rather see him as the embodiment of the American Dream, of what’s possible for anybody that is given the chance and works hard and isn’t impeded by silly democrats and their spending and welfare state and taxes and love of helping Black people and Hispanics (which isn’t even true unfortunately). Trump is a lottery ticket and maybe they can win too.

Trump represents anti-feminism, masculinity, testosterone, power, backroom deals, and violence. He’s a sexual predator, a megalomaniac, and everything that’s wrong with the sexist culture that men have created and (many) women go along with. Women are property, either to be taken care of and praised (if they’re pretty and on his team) or harassed and ridiculed (if they’re ugly or cross him).

Or perhaps most white people don’t like him, as polls seem to suggest. We all don’t like the system, it’s not working for us. That’s one thing we all agree on, and I’m truly glad we do. We all hate the entire political system. We all hate politics, and are sick and tired of the status quo. We agree. I hope Trump breaks the system, shakes it up. I hope he sets term limits, bans lobbyists, and all sorts of anti-establishment things. Fire every single of them – federal, state, local. Let’s start from scratch. I’m sure there’s some specific things that he will do that I will agree with. But at what cost? Even better, let’s start a direct democracy where real people vote on laws. My faith in Trump to do anything rational is equivalent to my faith in ferries or ghosts. A bad tree produces bad fruit.

What Trump Represents To Me

What Causes Atheism?

Now of course there are many causes for atheism–personal, intellectual, emotional, societal–and I respect them all in varying degrees, but the one I come across a lot is this: a bad experience with a particular Christian or with a particular Christian institution. In other words, I believe that hypocrisy and setting a bad example accounts for much of it (not all of it, much of it). (I tried to research the causes of atheism in academic journals but didn’t come up with anything…so this is just my anecdotal opinion).

What I’m saying is not to be confused with the reasons for Atheism, the justifications and arguments that support it. That’s a different topic. And as I’ve said in the past, explaining the cause of something doesn’t explain it away. Theism has psychological causes too. What’s interesting about atheism is that only 2 to 11% of the world is atheist, and many in China apparently, making it an anomaly.

John-Lennon-1.jpg

Atheism is the view that there is no God and that religion is generally false; but when you talk to most American atheists, 90% of what they say is actually just about one religion: Christianity, and usually a particular version of it – fundamentalism. Chances are they think Buddhism is super cool (most people do). That’s a hint. Atheism is the drawing away from something, a revolt, a critique.

Update! I stand corrected. The title should rather be “What Causes Agnosticism?” I was told by someone, and I agree with him, that religious hypocrisy can and does lead a person towards agnosticism, away from organized religion – but not necessarily atheism. That’s a good point.

What hypocrisy? Hating gay people and abortion, just to take two big examples. If you are gay, you probably were judged and hated by Christians throughout your life. I don’t blame any gay person for being hostile to Christianity; it’s only natural. And as the world moves on and young people are more and more okay with gay people, and as Christianity drags behind on this issue (except the new Pope and more progressive forms of Christianity), this will still be the natural reaction. Now hating abortion is one thing (hate the sin, not the sinner…right?), and I think there is a compassionate way to be pro-life, but Christians have taken this to another level. To the point that I don’t want to be part of that crowd anymore. Sometimes pro-life is thinly veiled sexism or classism. Also, where’s the perspective here? On the one hand, there are real people dying from hunger, war, and poverty all over the globe. On the other hand, there are potential people being aborted for various reasons (including rape protection of the mother, or poverty). Hmm…I wonder where we should spend our resources, and time, and judgment on? I wonder what Jesus would do? When we have solved all the worlds imminent problems (hunger, poverty, discrimination, war), then maybe we can start yelling about abortion and how terrible it is. It takes up too much of our moral outrage.

Alas, this is how it was, is, and will always be. A significant percentage of the Christian population will be hypocrites. That’s human nature and math really, and Jesus predicted it:

“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Religion tends to set the bar pretty high in terms of morality, so, for example, loving your enemies will be difficult for Christians. This goes for any religion. Calling yourself Christian is very easy, but it should be the hardest thing to call yourself. This explains why Jesus called out the hypocrites, chastised the religious people who were keeping people from God. It made him angry. I suppose he was judging them, but it was by their own standards (Jesus teaches that God judges people by their own words). I suppose Jesus loved the hypocrites too, and would easily forgive them, but they were blinded by their own self-righteousness; the same blinding, ignorant self-righteousness that infects religion today.

Judge ye not, yet Christians love to judge. When you are constantly around religious people, it’s very tempting and natural. Keeping my distance from religion, while accepting its teachings, is one way I try to cope. The only perfect Christianity is the one in your heart.

What Causes Atheism?

My Thoughts on the Old Testament, New Testament, and Qur’an

I am conflicted. On the one hand, I respect all religions as valid paths to the Divine. On the other hand, when I start to dig into particular religions, I seem to prefer some religious texts over others. This comes with a huge disclaimer: I am very familiar with Christianity, but much less so with other religions. Still, I’ll share some of my limited experiences with these holy texts.

The Old Testament is the expression of a primitive culture dealing with primitive issues. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. When I started reading the Bible, as a young, impressionable man, I’ll never forget coming across numerous passages that said “God hates,” “God detests,” and stories about God-sponsored wars, and other such nonsense. Even at that time, when I thought the Bible was God’s Word, I knew something was wrong here. God does not hate; God does not condone war. Those are moral facts and follow from the very definition of God as an all good, perfect Being. However, I found comfort and wisdom of the Psalms and Proverbs, two of the best books in the Bible

But at the end of the day, I am not a huge fan of the Old Testament – there are simply too many passages that can be misused, interpreted literally, or downright wrong. This is why Kant called the Old Testament a non-Christian text, which I think is right. Jesus encapsulated the entire thing into the Golden Rule, which I think was also right. Most people are decent and will ignore the silly parts. But some people will take them seriously or literally. Racism, sexism, to name two. That’s dangerous.

The New Testament, on the other hand, in my humble opinion, doesn’t suffer from the same problems. Other than some sexist assumptions from Paul, and a weird violent symbolic apocalyptic story in Revelations, the moral teachings of Jesus throughout the Gospels have stood the test of time. They are extremely hard to critique. In high school and college, I studied every single teaching of Jesus, even looking at the extra-Biblical teachings from other texts (e.g. Gospel of Thomas). I entered every single teaching into a giant Word document, eventually putting them in categories like “love” “knowledge” “Kingdom of God,” etc. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my entire life. Sure, I thought some of the saying were cryptic and weird. but morally, it doesn’t get any better than the core teachings of Jesus: love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies. That is the core message of the Gospels, and yet even still, several people don’t get it. That’s my point. Even if a text is rock solid, it will be interpreted through the lens of the person reading it. The teachings of Jesus saved me, so I am forever indebted to the New Testament.

The Buddhist texts and Taoist texts that I have read – also good spiritual and moral nourishment. I find them a little more metaphysical and intellectual, but the morality boils down to compassion, love, and selflessness. They seem to be quite peaceful, even towards animals and the earth.

As for the Qur’an, I haven’t read it. I know that there are several beautiful moral teachings in it, including the Golden Rule. But, like the Old Testament, I have heard there are several violent passages and stories as well, and that Muhammed was in several wars himself. Perhaps it suffers the same fate of the Old Testement: the expression of a more primitive culture dealing with primitive issues. I recently read a book titled Heretic, written by an ex-Muslim woman, who is critical of the Qur’an. However, on the other side, I am a fan of Reza Aslan, a Muslim thinker and scholar of religions. He basically says that the Qur’an is just like any other religious text. It gets interpreted within a particular society, and through the lens of particular human personalities. We cannot blame the text itself. I agree partially. I’m saying we can blame the text- as long as we are specific about it. We need to call out the bad parts, which is what I’m doing right now.

What’s the takeaway? Religious texts are not written by men. They are mostly inspired by God, and that’s okay. They are still holy. Rather than diminish, this expands our understanding of both God and our beloved religious text. There is God. And there is you. The rest is there to help mediate that connection.That is religion. It’s time for us to let go and face God for the very first time, waiting for us in the greatest recesses of the mind.

My Thoughts on the Old Testament, New Testament, and Qur’an

Why People Suffer

Religious

Let’s go over the possible answers and see which is best. First, I’ll start with the worst: people suffer because they did something wrong, they had it coming, God is punishing them. Karma’s a bitch. I can see only one possible instance where this is true, and it’s nothing more than a psychological observation. When we feel guilty, we probably did something wrong. I suppose we could call that suffering. Guilt is the natural indicator and God is the Author of it. That’s as far as we go here. To say that God punishes people through earthquakes, hurricanes, or other natural, social, or political events is morally wrong and bad theology. C’mon, really? Do you really think God, the most perfect being imaginable, kills people? God is much better (thank goodness).

the Lisbon earthquake was seen by many as caused by God for the sins of city. Read Candide.

Karma, from what I understand, is misunderstood by most people. Saying “Karma’s a bitch” to someone who “had it coming” is not the right way to think about it. Karma is not something you justify another man’s suffering with. Karma, rather, is completely in the control of each person. It is the culmination and aggregation of a person’s deeds. You do good, you become good, you progress in the next life. You do bad, you become bad, you regress in the next life. It’s like heaven and hell, but not as final. You cannot apply Karma to another person, another group, another culture.

Second, people suffer as a test, as a way to build character, as a way to learn something, as a way to overcome. Soul building. Job was tested by God and he came out stronger in faith and material possessions. Thus the saying: God never gives us anything we can’t handle. I get it. I understand that this might be comforting or even uplifting  to someone suffering. It could help you overcome a particular hurdle. Perhaps it’s good to think of life itself as a giant test. Perhaps that motivates some people. Or not. What happens when several arbitrary, coincidental pointless things happen to you? How do you distinguish an accident from a cosmic test? People do break. Are you really gonna believe that God is picking on you? And when too much shit happens, and you find yourself on your knees, asking God why, why, why me – whence your faith then? What are you left with? Your faith is exposed, I think. Your faith did the harm more than the events themselves! You are left with a God similar to the one I described above: a God who uses nature to punish people, to teach them a lesson. I wouldn’t do this to my own son! Nor would God. You suffered more than you needed to. Rather than having a friend in God, who would guide you through this horrible thing; instead, you made God into the author of the horrible thing. Perhaps there’s a better way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe in a God that’s right here, right now, inside me and outside me; ever-present, all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing. I am not trying to turn God into a cold, careless, distant Creator. I simply believe that God does not play favorites; that he doesn’t arbitrarily mess with us, or worry about the small, daily events of our lives; that he lets the rain fall on sinners and saints (as Jesus taught). He’s eternal. We are not pawns in a game of chess; we are works of art within an unfolding work of art. I believe that God created a physical set of laws, which allows rocks to fall on human heads. And I believe that God created a moral law, which allows people to use their free will to hurt people. And I believe those two things – physical laws and free will – account for all the suffering in the word. God gives us the tools to overcome. In a way, he suffers with us (that’s what Jesus symbolizes). And I believe that God created an afterlife for those people who wrongly suffered on earth; for the people which God sheds a perpetual tear; the people Jesus referred to when he said “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” God’s gift of freedom was both a weakness and an act of love. That’s the God I want to worship. Theologically, I will have my cake and eat it too.

Secular

Okay, that’s enough for the religious answers to our question of suffering. But atheists and agnostics worry about suffering just as much as anyone. They simply take a more practical and political approach to the question. Which is excellent. So do I. For example, people suffer because of free will. That’s something all religious and nonreligious agree on. People simply make bad decisions sometimes. Second, people suffer because of a horrible upbringing. They were planted in bad soil. The biological and psychological effects of having bad parents, or an insufficient support structure, cannot be ignored. When a child is born addicted to meth, the odds are bad, through no fault of their own. Third, people suffer because of unjust laws, inept governments, and immoral systems of finance and control. This is big picture. This is the ultimate political and sociological answer to our question, requiring ultimate political and social solutions. This is our common worldly battle. We must save ourselves from the suffering of  hunger, and poverty, and disease, and we must do it through social and political agencies. Some day, cancer will be defeated. Some day, people will have what they need to live. This should be the call of both secular and religious people worldwide. This is the kind of suffering that doesn’t need to happen.

Why People Suffer

Offending Religious Infants

Deeply held beliefs will be called into question. That’s an epistemic guarantee, based on the nature of those beliefs. People will call them into question and, more importantly, so will you. What will you do about it? How will religious people respond? That’s the ethical question. In light of the killings that took place in Paris recently, I am reminded about the fragile nature of the religion of some people. As a lover of free expression and people, I’m saddened. As a lover of religion (including Islam of course), I’m forced to ask questions.

Who to blame? That’s the knee-jerk reaction. Most will blame the particular people. Crazy people do crazy things. That’s what John Stewart did on The Daily Show. Some will blame religion, calling it a disease that is plaguing our planet. That’s what the New Atheists will do. Others will blame Islam, misrepresenting it as religion of violence. That’s what some self-righteous Christians will do (and, I’m guessing, Fox News, in their own special way). Others will blame extremist ideology in all its various forms (secular and religious). Perhaps it’s a mix of the first and last of these.

note: I’m not picking on Islam here; a cross would have covered the mouth.

We are creatures who like certainty, and that’s what some people get from religion. I remember back when Christianity was taking root in me. Morally speaking, I got the message very early: love, forgiveness, sacrifice, random acts of kindness. After reading the Gospels, that was easy. But intellectually, it was a whirlwind of philosophical questions, most of which were exciting but many of which were confusing and challenging. What about other religions? Is the Bible the word of God? Early on, I do remember being threatened by other beliefs, rival systems, atheism, philosophical naturalism, even science itself (eek!). Intellectually speaking, they were the competition. I was using them to help define what I was. Which makes me wonder: Is this our default position? Is defensiveness the starting point of religious psychology? Perhaps.

But I grew up. All that disappeared. You face your own doubts. You question. You come back much better.  Morally speaking, Christianity has not changed for me. Not one bit. Intellectually, it has expanded quite a bit. Here’s the point. There is absolutely nothing anyone can say that could ever offend me regarding religion. Similarly, there is nothing anyone can say about my own son that would offend me. Why? Because who gives a shit, man! People who get offended, I conclude, are religious infants. They never grew up like the rest of us. In proportion to the amount they are offended, is the amount of faith they lack. In proportion to how angry they get, is the amount of insecurity they have. In proportion to the amount of cognitive dissonance they experience, that is how mentally weak they are. I pity them; they probably live in a scary world. When I was young, my mom had to shake me out of bed. I hated it. That’s infant religion. Now I get out of bed. That’s adult religion. I don’t know how many infants are out there. That’s a hard question. All I can speak for is myself. I refuse to make myself a special exception. That’s not right either. I give humanity the benefit of the doubt. Most of us are adults.

At the moment these extreme Muslim terrorists were killing people, the words ‘praise God’ was on their lips. They have no God. They have a reason to kill. This is a gang mentality. It is revenge dressed in religious language, the only justification they can muster. They never grew up. This is a primitive, primal, childish mindset. I actually don’t have tools to explain it; it’s beyond me. These are just my fleeting thoughts and guesses. But I do know one thing. The core teachings of the world’s religions is the Golden Rule, a common-sense rule based on empathy. In this sense, it is a contradiction to be religious and to kill people. Nothing could be more hypocritical.

However, I do understand that religion is a complex thing interpreted by complex people.  Here is where I partly agree with the New Atheists. There are parts of religious sacred texts that seem outdated and wrong, and in that sense I put some blame on the texts themselves; or, rather, on the infinite value people place on those parts of text. I cannot speak for the Quran and other religious texts, but the Old Testament, for example, interpreted by the wrong people, could spell disaster. God condones killing (for God sake!). When I read the O.T., I read about a primitive people and their primitive God. Partly. The New Testament, in my opinion (and Kant’s), is much better, but still could be used for horrible things like sexism (Paul’s letters). Again, I think religious people need to grow up, realize that these parts of text require careful interpretation (as St. Augustine noticed), and move on with the good parts, the core parts.

How do we deal with religious infants? Lightly, I suppose. How do we deal with dangerous and violent religion infant organizations? Through justice, I would hope. This is why we have United Nations, International Courts, Crimes Against Humanity, and so on. On a large scale, justice is the best alternative to revenge.

Offending Religious Infants

Why I’m not Unitarian Universalist

I’ll start off by saying that I respect the Unitarian religion greatly, I am close with people who are Unitarian, and wish I could become one. If you read my blog, you would probably think I am Unitarian. As I’ve said, philosophically I’m a religious pluralist, which means that I think all religions are valid paths to the same Divinity. Unitarianism is a religion that accepts all faiths. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a perfect match. In fact, one of my heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a Unitarian minister. I own a two-volume set of his sermons. But I learned quickly that Emerson’s religion doesn’t exist anymore.

Simply put, I’m too Christian to be Unitarian but not Christian enough to be Christian.

Emerson’s Unitarianism was rooted in Christianity while drawing on other religions as extra soul-food. Currently, the Unitarian church not only accepts all religious faiths, but anti-religious faiths too: atheism, agnosticism, whatever. How does that work? There is no single religious impulse or belief that binds them together. I’ve learned this from direct experience. I attended several Unitarian services, in Lansing and Kalamazoo. I personally asked the minister whether there were any beliefs that held them together. Belief in the Divine perhaps? Belief that there is something beyond the physical? The soul? No, she said. If there is anything that binds them together, “we believe in human experience,” they share in it, she said (paraphrasing and, to be fair, she didn’t have time for a full response. To be more fair, I respect this minister so much I had her officiate our wedding).

But besides “human experience,” what really binds them together? It turns out that Unitarianism is an ethical-religio-political group of left-learning liberals (so am I…that’s not my point). Politics, I think, is the glue that binds them. Conservative political ideas are their enemy, their “out-group.” Still, they suffer from identity crisis. What does it mean to be Unitarian? After attending several sermons, I noticed a trend: they talked about themselves a lot. I don’t blame them; so do other churches. And Unitarians are so damn nice that they are constantly worried about offending each other. Should we use the word “God” in this song? No, we can’t! Stuff like that.

Having said all of this, I’m so glad that Unitarian Universalism exists. When I’m older, I’ll probably become one. Like all churches, it’s the kind of thing that you should get involved in to get the most out of it.

Why I’m not Unitarian Universalist

Do Morals Come from the Will of God?

This is an old puzzle that comes from Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro: if something is wrong simply because God says so, then morality sounds a little arbitrary. For example, what if God said murder was good?–would that make it good? (please don’t say yes psycho). On the other hand, if something is good for independent reasons, independent from God’s will, then morality sounds like it’s…well, independent of God, which is presumably bad for religion (so some people think). Thus I’m in a pickle. For God fearing philosophers like me, I want both. I want morality to be connected to God in some way, but not in a way that leaves out tons of people.

Jeremy Bentham, the atheist Utilitarian philosopher, thought that morality rests upon an independent principle “apart” from God so to speak. That independent principle was this: good is maximizing happiness and minimizing pain. That’s it. But he left room for God. He said that if God exists, then God would operate under this principle:

“The dictates of religion would coincide, in all cases, with those of utility, were the Being, who is the object of religion, universally supposed to be as benevolent as he is supposed to be wise and powerful…Unhappily, however, neither of these is the case…there seem to be but few…who are real believers in his benevolence…if they did, they would recognize that the dictates of religion could be neither more nor less than the dictates of utility: not a tittle different” (125).

In other words, God would be the best embodiment of utilitarian morality. However, people would not have to go through God (or the Bible) to get to morality. Anyone with half a brain can figure it out.

Kant, on the other hand, did believe in God, but he too thought that morality must not depend on God’s will or the Bible, but instead on God’s Reason (that is, reason, or rational thinking). Why? Because nobody really knows what God’s will is; people disagree and that causes a lot problems. Morality, Kant says, must be reasonable, accessible to all, and quite simple: only act on those principles which can be universalized to all. Through this principle we get to the Golden Rule – never treat people as a means but as ends-in-themselves – and we get many of the 10 commandments.

My opinion is in line with Kant. I do think that morals “come from God” simply because everything comes from God, by definition. But how do people access morality? That’s the question. Where do we actually get it? What or who is the gatekeeper? Our parents? Yeah sure sometimes. Religion? Yeah, many times. But where does religion get it from? Like Kant, I think Reason (our minds) ought to the be ultimate judge of what’s right and wrong. In the same way that human beings come from evolution and God, morality comes from Reason and God.

Of course empathy is a huge natural component as well. Empathy, when found in a compassionate, rational, and open-minded person – that’s a beautiful thing.

Do Morals Come from the Will of God?