I am aware from the many conversations I’ve had where people have run circles around me that I am not a particularly stellar philosophical thinker, but there is something that I’ve thought for a while that I wanted to try to put onto paper.
Frequently, in conversations, people argue for the objective existence of certain qualities that I perceive/conceive of as subjective — but even more, I perceive and conceive of these things as not really making a lot of sense as being objective. To this extent, while I may be able to conceive of objective models for these things, I don’t see how those models or definitions are particularly helpful, and sometimes, I think they may be harmful to our discussion of these things.
Morality is usually the biggest ticket item for which this applies. People seem to really like the idea of an objective morality in a way that I just don’t get the appeal of. Believers in objective moral values (as well as objective frameworks for other concepts I will discuss as well) seem to also believe that if something does not have an objective basis, then it does not actually exist, or it must be an illusion. I think I want to get to morality in a future post, but since I see parallels in a few other concepts, I want to discuss those first.
I want to put onto paper my thoughts about the subjectivity of the concepts in the title — sound, color, beauty [and eventually morality] — as well as sketch out why, to a subjectivist, objectivity isn’t necessarily the end-all, be-all for “what exists” or “what matters, etc.,
In the title of this post, I’ve arranged three concepts in terms of what I find to be “easy” to “hard” (and in my previous paragraph, I have a fourth concept that is even more “difficult”) in terms of my perception of how likely someone might be persuaded by my explanation. Instead of addressing the “hardest” of these (morality), or even the second “hardest” (beauty, of which the following post from Agellius’s blog has really inspired this blog post as Agellius’s thoughts seem to be a good representation of the “objectivist’s” viewpoint), I want to start from the easier ones.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
At times, I have had Christian and other religious commenters argue that morality was developed by religion. I think that many secular, agnostic, and atheist folks have heard this claim in one way or another — if we do not believe in God or do not adhere to a religion, from where do we get our morality? Recently, Jeff at Wheat & Tares used it as one of his points on his discussion of atheism.
One of the things I typically do in instances like these is to show examples of where Christian morality says one thing, show where that is disputed or disagreed with by others (especially secular/agnostic/atheist folks), and then point out that if morality came from God or religion, then we shouldn’t see that disagreement. Often, my religious interlocutor will argue that what is disagreeable in religion represents a distortion or an instance of hypocrisy…so I’ll point out that how that disagreement really isn’t a matter of people failing to live up to their religions, but them living up to their religions with stunning fidelity.
For example, conservative Christians will point out that the Bible is clear on homosexuality, and although liberal Christians will quibble around whether certain passages mean certain things or not, the relevant point is that when conservative Christians act on their beliefs regarding homosexuality regarding things like same-sex marriage, this isn’t just “Christians acting poorly” or “Christians acting hypocritically” — this is what their religion actually believes and they are following that. So someone who disagrees with that is basing their morality on a system separate from those religious precepts and that God.
Some of my interlocutors have gone one step further, however. They say that even secular people, when they are raised in historically Christian countries as in Europe or in North America, are steeped in Christian discourse and virtues, so even their departure from Christianity is particularly Christian. For example, they might say that the idea of the equality of people is a Christian idea, so people arguing for the equality of women, equality of LGBT people, etc., in the space of civil rights borrow that idea from Christianity even if Christians disagree on the application of that idea for various reasons.
There often goes this idea that I one should regard the church as a spouse, and one’s membership in the church is analogous to a marriage.
This idea has been put forth frequently, and I think for relatively good reason. I mean, the scriptures frequently have as running theme the motif of marriage: Israel is the often unfaithful bride of God; the Christian church is seen as bride of Christ.
Yet, this idea seems to come about most commonly in a Mormon context as an instructive analogy to discuss how people should and should not engage with the church, and how people should and should not discuss the church — especially to others. Most notably, this analogy is used to proscribe (or at least, strongly discourage) public criticisms of the church. I do not want to highlight every blog that I’ve seen approach, but I feel that if you have been around conservative Mormon bloggers, then you probably have seen it once or twice already. Instead, I’ll just highlight one particularly recent post as representative of them all: Nate Oman’s Covenant and Speech at Times and Seasons. As he writes:
…If we take the metaphor of marriage seriously as a model for covenants, then it should have an impact on how one speaks and thinks about the Church. Imagine that I subjected my wife to a constant stream of public criticism. It is easy to see how such criticism could be corrosive to one’s marriage, even if it was all entirely merited. My wife might be hurt by such criticism, but even if she was not, the speech could well change my own attitude toward her. Indeed, even if I did not vocalize the criticisms, a mental habit of constantly dwelling on her faults and misdeeds could be equally corrosive of our relationship. Rather, in a healthy marriage, I think that one cultivates a habitual tendency to accentuate the virtues of one’s spouse and treat their failings with charity and – as often as not – discrete silence.
Marriage as a model of proper speech is diametrically opposed to the dominant model provided by our society, namely the marketplace of ideas in a liberal democracy. This is a model that also imposes obligations on how we are to speak. In a democracy, we are to speak truthfully, fearlessly, and critically. Norms that seeks to circumscribe speech are inherently suspect, associated as they are with tyranny and authoritarianism. From the vigorous give-and-take of ideas emerges a world of greater truth and greater accountability for those who wield power, in short a better world. Notice that in this model, habits of affection play no role. Indeed, such habits are generally conceptualized as prejudices and condemned. The failure to vocalize one’s criticisms out of affection is to be a bad citizen, to undermine the social process of the intellectual marketplace.
In just this quote, several ideas percolate.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote, regarding the changing views regarding sin:
…Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
I do not deny that human beings can have problems. But I suspect that I would run afoul in some sense of G. K. Chesterton’s “denying the cat.” The Christian narrative of the fall from grace and of original sin simply doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t see myself as hopelessly broken and in need of saving (although I can understand how some others might feel that way and I can see that there could be events in my life that changed my view on that [but i’m not going to try to purposefully wreck my life on the off-chance that I will then see the need for God]), and even further, I don’t see how a supposedly perfect creation could become so hopelessly broken (or even be empowered to break itself, as per the Christian narrative of the fall, in a way that could still be called “perfect”).
I recognize there could be a few reasons for this message not resonating with me. I have lived a fairly privileged life. My life really is going well and even when I have problems, they certainly seem within my own grasp to fix…
And even for problems that don’t seem within my grasp to fix, I don’t perceive that the Christian narrative of a fall has a lot of explanatory power for them. Maybe I’m spoiled by the Mormon narrative of the fall, where two major things differ from the traditional narrative: 1) God is arguably not as omnipotent as he is portrayed in traditional Christianity, and 2) the fall is not purely a mistake, but a planned necessity to accomplish the rest of God’s purposes.
Still, there is something that kinda sorta resonates with me and I wonder if any Christians have reconciled it to the Fall narrative?
Over at Wheat & Tares, my coblogger Kristine has written a post discussing her recent discovery that people have been taking her news of her faith “transition” in a way she did not intend. As she has written:
Four years ago I started to question things I’d been taught in the Church because I received an answer to prayer that I believe conflicted with church teachings. I started questioning almost everything, but never the core foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the basics of the Restoration. I thought it was more accurate to describe my journey from straight arrow orthodox to open, questioning, and unorthodox as a “faith transition.” I see things differently, but never felt there was any type of “crisis.” My lenses just shifted dramatically. You could say I navigated Givens’ “The Crucible of Doubt” path on my own before I read the book earlier this year.
It has come to my attention in the last 24 hours that not all people define “faith transition” the same way. Apparently there is a connotation that I’ve left the faith, or if I’ve stayed I no longer believe in Mormonism, just general Christianity and I’ve decided to stick around for other reasons. I’m trying to measure the amount of fallout or work that I have to deal with – I’ve been very loud and public about describing my last four years as a “faith transition.” It became apparent yesterday that I am misunderstood when I say that fairly often.
As I thought about the term “faith transition” to think about why Kristine might be misunderstood, I realized that to me, I can definitely see a sense in which ‘transition’ is simply a euphemism for crisis.
Things haven’t been going so well for Josh Duggar recently. TLC cancelled his family’s show 19 Kids and Counting after it came out to light that Josh had sexually molested five girls…including some of his own sisters.
But that was all in the past for Josh. After all, he made an apology. Yes, he screwed up, but his parents put him through counseling, and he was extremely sorry and regretful.
So, Josh probably wasn’t feeling all that great to find out that his email address was one of the exposed 37 million email addresses in the Ashley Madison leak. Not only that, but per some sites, apparently transactional data was also leaked suggesting that someone with his name had subscribed for two different Ashley Madison subscriptions from his grandmother’s address.
Now, to be fair, Ashley Madison apparently didn’t vet any email addresses used. So, anyone could put in any email address theoretically. But Josh has already gone public with an apology. A snippet therefrom:
I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.
I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.
I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time.
(Oh yeah, did I mention that all this was happening while he served as Executive Director of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group championing traditional marriage?)
(Also, isn’t it interesting that while he shies away from particulars on the Ashley Madison thing, he does talk about everything starting with pornography on the internet…the gateway drug?) Read more…
This blog post has been going around some of the disaffected Mormon Facebook spots despite not really being specifically about Mormonism at all (as far as I can tell.) Isn’t it interesting how those things seem to be universal? A snippet:
This message is for Church People.
It’s for those of you who are part of a faith community every week; a physical place where you usually find yourself on Sundays. You come there willingly, expectantly, and in that place you receive encouragement and find community and feel acceptance, and where you regularly experience moments of challenge and inspiration and joy.
You feel at home there in that building, connected to those people, confident in the creeds you recite there, comforted by the songs you sing together. The sum total of what you find in that place makes you certain that God exists and makes that God feel close enough to touch. Your presence there on the inside of it all makes you better. It leaves you feeling lighter. It takes your faith deeper.
If that describes you, I celebrate what you’ve found and what you feel and what you have, because it is well worth celebrating.
But what you need to know, Church People, is that there are other people too (lots of them, in fact); those who used to have those things and used to feel that way—but who no longer do.
I have a great desire. An exceedingly great and precious promise. A pearl of such great price that it will become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (even as I am).
I will destroy it all. I will destroy every last pretense of Mormonism as a rational faith tradition. Read more…
Over at Wheat & Tares, Nate has written about The Great Chasm. What is the great chasm? As he describes:
My wife recently told me that she feels like there are two classes of people in the church: one class for whom the program works (couples happily married with children), and another class for whom the program has not worked (singles, gays, infertile couples, divorcees). Members in the first class dominate leadership positions and it from them that we hear the gospel preached. These leaders are sensitive to the fact that many have not been blessed with family and children and they take great pains to remind us that “no blessing will be withheld from us” in the next life if we are faithful. Unfortunately this phrase is cold comfort to many struggling to find their place in a family-idolising church. Human nature craves validation and fulfilment now, not after death. My bishop wonders why my infertile wife hangs out with older singles and divorcees rather than with the many other married women her age in the ward. In response, my wife says that she can’t really feel a connection with those for whom the program works. Their world views are simply too different. But she feels a natural kinship with older singles, gays, and divorcees. Indeed, in all the wards I’ve been in, trying to integrate these two groups of people has been a central concern for church leadership.
What I liked more than the recognition that there are definitely people for whom the “church program” does not work was the analysis that the church’s very rhetoric changes depending on the group. Nate also goes into this as follows: