Thursday, April 2, 2009

What's Love got to do With it?

We have been discussing ethics. My standard attack on atheist versions of ethics is that they can't ground their axioms. Well I amend that to say that the grounding they use is not as strong as belief in God is as a grounding. Its not that they have no grounding at all, but of necessity and logic atheist are basically forced to either result to a relative and discordable grounding, or to ground axioms in something that can't produce an ought. Grounding nature is pretty solid in that it's empriical but it can't produce an "ought" becasue it's inherently ground in the world of what "is." There's no bridge to get form "is" to "ought." Since ethics is about "ought," it's not very good grounding.

The dialogue partners with whom I have been confabulating, Hermit and Dave Ellis, are exceptional. Both have grounded their axioms in love. I find that unusual for atheists because most times when I have this discussion with atheists they avoid "the subjective." In my opinion Dave and Hermit have both failed to produce a strong ground. Neither of them can really show me why their views or the values they espouse should trump any other values. They ground their ethics in the values of love, but they really can't say why we should value that any more so than someone who grounds them in hate or in violence. Both are grounding in relative personal feelings, avoiding trying to make love into some kind of universal principle which all must follow. Dave tries but i think comes dangerously close to argue God when he does so. I am sure he is balking at that but think about it.

His only recourse to the question why should your personal feelings out weight anyone else's is just a form incredulity: "well don't think love does trump everything?" I mean, come on man, who doesn't love love right? I agree but that doesn't make it so. On the other hand if there is a creator of the universe whose character is synonymous with love then love as the meaning of the universe is "written" into the fabric of reality and so is "correct" a prirori. Atheists seem to feel that there is no need to be correct in this way. Just asserting the power of the feelings is enough. yet in other matters they eschew the "subjective."

Now the thing is, in spite of all this I feel that Dave and Hermit are really close to what I believe in certain regards. I strongly believe that love is the basis of everything and that it is synonymous with God's character. All of God's basic motivations are driven by love, and love is the background of the moral universe. That means all the motivating principles that drive the grounding of axioms are based upon love. If one does not love one is acting ethically only in a legalistic sense and in "good faith." I think that does matter. The battle ground of ethics is in the heart.

I understand Dave and Hermit's views, and there's a possibility that I underrated the depth of their commitment. With some atheists I think talk of love could be cheap because it is taken by some to mean "i love doing X therefore X can't be wrong." Whereas the way I understand love to ground axioms is not a license but as motivation for duty. In other words, If I really act in love I will do X for so and so because that is the will to the good of the other. I sense that love is a grounding for Dave and Hermit in a deeper way than just licensing their desires. I say this based upon the political commitments I know about and other things they say. I understand their view of love grounding axioms. But I still I think without a larger connection to love as the foundation of all things (ie from God) then they are just grounding axioms in personal tastes and they can't really arbitrate between other personal tastes that compete with their own. No consequences to doing wrong in such a senerio. They can't even say "that's wrong." The most they can say is "that's not loving." But the other can always say "I don't value love" and all they can say is "you are missing stuff." I think ethics has a lot more force when one can say "you are acting unethically."

I think they are close to understanding the idea of God's grace. I agree that love covers a multitude of sins. In other words, what is right is motivated by duty and obligation and duty and obligations are defined by the loving regard, the will to the good of the other. A legalistic view is not an ethical one. Imposing a lot of rules for the sake of keeping the rules defeats the purpose. The true end of ethical thinking is the decision making process to act in accord with the basic motivations of love. But this only has the force of ethical power when it can be linked to the basic meaning of the universe not just one's own personal predilections.

2 comments:

A Hermit said...

This is just a Saturday-morning-after-the-gig reaction to your comments, not an attempt at a formal response, so please be patient if I ramble a bit...

'The dialogue partners with whom I have been confabulating, Hermit and Dave Ellis, are exceptional. Both have grounded their axioms in love. I find that unusual for atheists because most times when I have this discussion with atheists they avoid "the subjective.""

Your surprise at this tells us more about you than it does about atheists, I think...in my experience most atheists agree that ethics and morality are subjective; it's god-believers who insist in absolutes and make the claim, as you do here with your insistence on "oughts", that only a belief in God provides an objective, reliable grounding for ethical behaviour.

But in my experience there are as many kinds of god as there are believers in god(s), so I just don't see how this is any less subjective than human feelings, needs and behaviours.

"I still I think without a larger connection to love as the foundation of all things (ie from God) then they are just grounding axioms in personal tastes and they can't really arbitrate between other personal tastes that compete with their own."

I think it's better to have an honest recognition that love is not, in fact, the foundation of all things. Nature is neutral, nature does not love us, love is human thing and we have to make a choice to embrace love and compassion. We can of course choose to embrace some other grounding for our behaviour, and some choose narcissim, or nihilism, or hatred, but I'm not defending their ethics, I'm defending mine. And I think I can demonstrate pretty objectively that a compassionate morality based on human needs and human empathy and human love is less destructive and produces happier lives than selfishness or hatred.

You're saying that I can't make the case that any of this is enough for us to say that our morality is really better; that any other ethical choice is equally valid without God, but I disagree. Morality is always about making choices. You have chosen to value love in the form of a God the existence of which you freely admit you cannot empirically demonstrate. How is that more solid grounding for morality than my choice to value my own natural human empathy, compassion and love?

We would both like to persuade others that love is better than hate, but in the end all either of us can point to in the end is the result of those choices and hope that others will value those results as we do.

And I think this brings us to what I really object to in theistically grounded morality, which is the separation of human moral behaviour from humanity itself. If we make something other than humanity the ground of our ethics, whether it's some idea of God or political theory or economics, than humanity itself becomes less important and to some extent disposable.

The love of God can, and often has, been used as a justification for great cruelty toward humanity. If furthering the cause of God is the primary value than human suffering and human needs become secondary. Since I see morality as a uniquely human thing I can't agree that any morality which places humanity in an inferior position can ultimately be a superior form of morality.

J.L. Hinman said...

se at this tells us more about you than it does about atheists, I think...in my experience most atheists agree that ethics and morality are subjective; it's god-believers who insist in absolutes and make the claim, as you do here with your insistence on "oughts", that only a belief in God provides an objective, reliable grounding for ethical behaviour.

you and most atheists do a knee jerk reaction thing to over interpret what I'm saying because of you expect Christians to say.


"provides an objective, reliable grounding"

that's going further than I have gone. I don't believe in objectivity remember? so I don't talk about it. I don't say you can't ground your axioms as an atheist. I say your grounding is as firm as mine.


But in my experience there are as many kinds of god as there are believers in god(s), so I just don't see how this is any less subjective than human feelings, needs and behaviours.

you really need to learn that concept any asiety is all asiety. there is o such ting as "many kinds of gods" that concept doesn't even make sense.