Archive for nglreturns.myfreeforum.org Nglreturns is a forum to discuss religion, philosophy, ethics etc...

NGLReturns Daily Quiz - Play here!
 



       nglreturns.myfreeforum.org Forum Index -> Atheist chat
SusanDoris

Debate organised by Southampton Humanists

This afternoon I went with a group of about 26 from our local Humanist Group by coach to a Debate organised by the South Hampshire group. It was in a theatre/cinema somewhere in the University campus.

Bishop Richard Harries  and Julian Baggini debated 'Christianity: a Force for Good'. After the opening speeches, there were questions answered in groups of about 6. There were a few Christians, quite a few of them young, who said they were members of the University's 'New Atheists' group. I must look this up. There was also a Chinese student who said that his family had converted to Christianity in China because of a fear of Hell.  He seemed to have navigated his way through to rationality since coming to study here.

And now I keep dropping off to sleep in between typing! So I'll come back to this tomorrow.
Sprocket

Christianity a force for good?  

Well, it invented the nursing profession, and I think it could be argued that the idea of disinterested, self-sacrificing care for strangers who can give you nothing in return also originated with Christians.  The Quakers and the Salvation Army are famous for their good works, and then there's Christian Aid, Tear Fund, World Vision, etc., and if my limited experience is anything to go by, Christians volunteer out of all proportion to their numbers in society: most of the old dears behind the counters of charity shops are church-goers.

OTOH, there are the inquisitions, the witch-hunts, the forced conversions, the sectarian strife in N. Ireland, etc.

On balance - I don't know.
SusanDoris

Julian Baggini, responding to (rather than opposing completely of course) the Motion, pointed out that, yes, religious, specifically Christian,  organisations had been the instigators of such movements, but put the emphasis on present and future, not the past; also that there must have been many non-believers who enthusiastically helped establish nursing, hospices, etc because it was obviously a good thing.

He also said that there are Bishops who do not believe in God ... this immediately being rebuffed by RH of course, saying that all the Bishops he knew absolutely believed in God. Murmurs of dissension here...!
The Littlest Homo

Well I'd just like to say the military had a lot to do with the history of nursing also. Its not something exclusive to religion!
Pukon_the_Treen

Quote:
I think it could be argued that the idea of disinterested, self-sacrificing care for strangers who can give you nothing in return also originated with Christians.

Christians invented altruism?  So you wouldn't find any altruism in non-Christian countries then, or in pre-Christian stories or teachings?  Oh, you fail again!
BevIsHopeful

I wish I'd been there, Susan.  I would have spoken on what I believe to be a divide between two types of Christianity:  one based solely on the teachings of Christ and Paul, and the other based on violence (which I believe is nothing but a worldly entity in religious clothing.)
Sprocket

Altruism isn't quite what I meant, but I haven't time to explain now.  I'll do so tomorrow.
Pukon_the_Treen

Quote:
The Quakers and the Salvation Army are famous for their good works, and then there's Christian Aid, Tear Fund, World Vision, etc., and if my limited experience is anything to go by, Christians volunteer out of all proportion to their numbers in society: most of the old dears behind the counters of charity shops are church-goers.


And that's just because charity shops are mostly staffed by old retired people and a lot of old people are church goers, partly because their generation always went to church but also for the social side.  I personally know two people who work in charity shops (one teenager, one about forty) who are not churchgoers; they do it for personal reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

There are a lot of religious charities and they do fantastic work, and most of the Victorian philanthropic organisations were organised by religious groups, but at the time there simply were very few other social organisers.  These days however, there are a lot of non-religious charities and social organisations too, I don't think anything particular will be proven by a head-count.  I must say I find this notion that Christians have more of a social conscience than non Christians to be erroneous and offensive; I know these groups do excellent work, but quite often their work is intertwined with evangelising of one kind or another.  Is it really motiveless if you're handing out pamphlets and seeking converts as well?
Shaker

Quote:
The Quakers and the Salvation Army are famous for their good works, and then there's Christian Aid, Tear Fund, World Vision, etc., and if my limited experience is anything to go by, Christians volunteer out of all proportion to their numbers in society: most of the old dears behind the counters of charity shops are church-goers.

Doubtless true: and yet of the money given to charity by ordinary folk in this country every year (£7.1 billion in 2003, I was able to find - that's £147 per person), this being a secular and militantly religiously apathetic country, the overwhelming majority must come from non-believers.
BevIsHopeful

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
Quote:
I think it could be argued that the idea of disinterested, self-sacrificing care for strangers who can give you nothing in return also originated with Christians.

Christians invented altruism?  So you wouldn't find any altruism in non-Christian countries then, or in pre-Christian stories or teachings?  Oh, you fail again!


If I think about it, the two most altruistic examples I can think of in human history are Jesus and the more modern example Mother Theresa.  

In my own studies of western culture, I can't think of a non-Christian example of a similar altruism, with maybe the exception of Ghandi.
chadivarus

Quote:
Doubtless true: and yet of the money given to charity by ordinary folk in this country every year (£7.1 billion in 2003, I was able to find - that's £147 per person), this being a secular and militantly religiously apathetic country, the overwhelming majority must come from non-believers.


Why/

I hope few christians limit themselves to £147

I know of many who give at least 10 times that amount.  Every one who tithes will give even if they are getting a low wage that amount. [/quote]
Pukon_the_Treen

All axial age religions and philosophies extol altruism; Buddhism, Confucianism, the Hindu Vedas and the Greek philosophers. It is what made that period so significant and remarkable.

The Christ-myth has an act of altruistic self-sacrifice as it's apex, but Mother Teresa (like all real people as opposed to myths) was a complex character.  I know Christopher Hitchens isn't the most impartial witness but:
Quote:
Hitchens has argued that "her intention was not to help people", and he alleged that she lied to donors about the use of their contributions. “It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty,” says Hitchens. “She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, ‘I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.’"

Altruism?
david_geoffrey

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
Quote:
The Quakers and the Salvation Army are famous for their good works, and then there's Christian Aid, Tear Fund, World Vision, etc., and if my limited experience is anything to go by, Christians volunteer out of all proportion to their numbers in society: most of the old dears behind the counters of charity shops are church-goers.


And that's just because charity shops are mostly staffed by old retired people and a lot of old people are church goers, partly because their generation always went to church but also for the social side.  I personally know two people who work in charity shops (one teenager, one about forty) who are not churchgoers; they do it for personal reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

There are a lot of religious charities and they do fantastic work, and most of the Victorian philanthropic organisations were organised by religious groups, but at the time there simply were very few other social organisers.  These days however, there are a lot of non-religious charities and social organisations too, I don't think anything particular will be proven by a head-count.  I must say I find this notion that Christians have more of a social conscience than non Christians to be erroneous and offensive; I know these groups do excellent work, but quite often their work is intertwined with evangelising of one kind or another.  Is it really motiveless if you're handing out pamphlets and seeking converts as well?
I think it is simplistic to say just because you are a Christian you are generous and altrusitic and more so than non-Christians. But as Christians we should be doing as much as we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves - it is our Christian duty; there is no such imperative on non-believers and therefore it is not likely that Christians on the whole are more altruistic (or should be!) That takes nothing away from wonderful and generous non-CHristians who I know do many good works.

As for motive, I think that it is true that there are some organisations that very much combine good-works with evangelism, from my own experience it is often not. For instance in our town there is a scheme called "Ready for Action" where about 200 people from churches all over the town go and clear gardens, decorate houses, do up playgrounds etc over bank holiday weekend. There is no leaflets or evangelism that goes with it.
david_geoffrey

admin. wrote:
Quote:
The Quakers and the Salvation Army are famous for their good works, and then there's Christian Aid, Tear Fund, World Vision, etc., and if my limited experience is anything to go by, Christians volunteer out of all proportion to their numbers in society: most of the old dears behind the counters of charity shops are church-goers.

Doubtless true: and yet of the money given to charity by ordinary folk in this country every year (£7.1 billion in 2003, I was able to find - that's £147 per person), this being a secular and militantly religiously apathetic country, the overwhelming majority must come from non-believers.
Not sure that without knowing how much people give as Omshafoo indicates you can draw much conclusion from that.
Its a bit like saying the overwhelming majority of people are not anglers, therefore non-anglers are more generous..
SusanDoris

david_geoffrey wrote:
But as Christians we should be doing as much as we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves - it is our Christian duty; there is no such imperative on non-believers ...

Yu say it is a Christian duty - it is a moral duty and all of us have this 'imperative'. Some will respond, others will not, whether they are members of a religion or not.
david_geoffrey

SusanDoris wrote:
david_geoffrey wrote:
But as Christians we should be doing as much as we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves - it is our Christian duty; there is no such imperative on non-believers ...

Yu say it is a Christian duty
I sure do
Quote:
- it is a moral duty and all of us have this 'imperative'. Some will respond, others will not, whether they are members of a religion or not.
As I said, I am not saying that non-Christians don't do good, but I am suggesting that because of what we believe and are taught that perhaps more of us as a percentage do respond. But you don't have to take my word for it
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/sep/12/religion.uk
BevIsHopeful

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
All axial age religions and philosophies extol altruism; Buddhism, Confucianism, the Hindu Vedas and the Greek philosophers. It is what made that period so significant and remarkable.

The Christ-myth has an act of altruistic self-sacrifice as it's apex, but Mother Teresa (like all real people as opposed to myths) was a complex character.  I know Christopher Hitchens isn't the most impartial witness but:
Quote:
Hitchens has argued that "her intention was not to help people", and he alleged that she lied to donors about the use of their contributions. “It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty,” says Hitchens. “She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, ‘I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.’"

Altruism?


Excellent reply, actually.  It's always such a pleasure when someone supports a counterpoint with really good sources.  

I would argue though that M. Theresa is not looking at bringing souls to Christ as a sort of selfish gain, as merely making the church larger or more formidable.  I believe she saw salvation as a great hope, and she would normally believe this hope is most found in the Catholic Church.  Whether I agree with her or not would not change her true motive, which was to give up practically every known human comfort in an effort to give hope to as many (among the especially hopeless) as possible.  

I just don't know of many, even from ancient examples, who gave so much up in life to offer what they believed to be the best hope to others.  It's what makes Jesus' story so precious to those who believe in him.  He gave up all the comforts of life, all possessions, and even eventually his life because by doing so he was providing this hope (as Mother Theresa saw it I'm sure) to anyone, regardless of who they are.  

The other examples you give are teachings, but true altruism is exemplified in ones actual way of life.  

And, I believe we still can say that Christianity has more of these examples than any other religion.
Pukon_the_Treen

Quote:
As I said, I am not saying that non-Christians don't do good, but I am suggesting that because of what we believe and are taught that perhaps more of us as a percentage do respond. But you don't have to take my word for it


It is an interesting subject, but I'm still not convinced; the examples seem to mostly be from America and America under the Bush regime saw an increased of faith based social services as he kissed up to the religious right.  There were (and are) faith based drug programs, disaster relief programs and marriage counselling, not because nobody else wanted to do the job, but because Bush et al were encouraging the view that a faith based response to any kind of crisis is the best response, and of course the government could save money by not having to fund such initiatives themselves (though they provide huge grants, contradicting their own separation of church and state).

But I gather that even prior to the Bush rampage, America lacked a lot of the state organised secular social networks services and support that we have in Europe; partly due to their individualistic independent self-mythology, partly their hysterical fear of anything that smacks of socialism.  To a certain extent those who fall through society's cracks are on their own and the churches are not so much the only people who will help, but they are the only people who are placed so that they can help.

As I said, it is an interesting subject, and not one to be simplified.  There may be a danger that in rejecting the authority of religion one rejects something of society itself, but personally I don't know any atheists without a social conscience.  All of the popular atheistic writers espouse charity and compassion.

When it come to charity it helps if someone else does all the organising for you; very few people just take it into their heads to repair a community centre roof or set up soup kitchens on their own.  So some sort of organisation is essential, and religions unite people behind a common set of beliefs, but atheism doesn't really do that; we have nothing in common apart from our lack of belief in God - the analogy to trying to herd cats is often mentioned.  Humanism aught to be taking up the reins but it is still pretty low profile.

I wonder if the British Humanist Association would be condemned if they handed out atheistic propaganda as they did their good deeds; food parcels to Africa, with an pocket guide to evolution and a box of condoms?
BevIsHopeful

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:


It is an interesting subject, but I'm still not convinced; the examples seem to mostly be from America and America under the Bush regime saw an increased of faith based social services as he kissed up to the religious right.  There were (and are) faith based drug programs, disaster relief programs and marriage counselling, not because nobody else wanted to do the job, but because Bush et al were encouraging the view that a faith based response to any kind of crisis is the best response, and of course the government could save money by not having to fund such initiatives themselves (though they provide huge grants, contradicting their own separation of church and state).


Christianity in America is exactly the kind of Christianity I referred to in my previous post, which is a religion that seeks God's blessing, however that blessing is realized.  And so, one cannot use the more notorious versions of Christianity in America, in particular the religious/political right of the GWB era, as an example of the kind of altruism found in biblical Christianity.
Pukon_the_Treen

Quote:
The other examples you give are teachings, but true altruism is exemplified in ones actual way of life.  

And, I believe we still can say that Christianity has more of these examples than any other religion.

I would suggest that as you live in the Christian West you are inevitably going to be exposed to more Christian-based stories of charity and compassion to instruct and guide you.  If you were Japanese or a Jew, Sikh or a Hindu and so on then you probably would not have heard a hell of a lot of good things about the Christians, but you would have heard of examples of moving acts of altruism featuring protagonists of your faith and culture.

Aesop's fables has some such tales, and personally I know several from Buddhism, one from the Hindu Vedas and one from the Sikh gurus.  Of course these tales may be fables as with Aesop or they may be parables as with Buddhism or they may be based on (the probably wildly exaggerated and mythologised) exploits and teachings of real people as they are with the Sikhs ... but isn't that just what Christianity is?  The only real difference is that despite the evidence (or rather lack of it) you insist that Christ was real and his story was historically true, but in reality He represents a super human ideal for us to aspire to.
BevIsHopeful

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
you insist that Christ was real and his story was historically true, but in reality He represents a super human ideal for us to aspire to.


Even if Jesus were merely an "ideal," I am compelled to follow him in his actions and teachings.  And I believe they represent the height of altruism, not only in teaching but by example.  

But, having said that, I do agree with most of your post above.  We will naturally hear more stories from our own culture, and it truly would be a shocking revelation for most western Christians to see Christianity through eastern eyes (in particular middle-eastern eyes.)
Pukon_the_Treen

Quote:
it truly would be a shocking revelation for most western Christians to see Christianity through eastern eyes (in particular middle-eastern eyes.)


Ah well, I'm not sure a lot of moral messages come out of the Middle East these days.  Seems to be the largest outdoor insane asylum in the world, with everybody queuing up to poke the loonies with pointed sticks.
BevIsHopeful

:lol:
Pukon_the_Treen

Oh, and there is nothing 'mere' about an ideal!

I feel that the story of Jesus has more significance, power and importance if we recognise it is a myth, than it has if we insist that it is historically true.
BevIsHopeful

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
Oh, and there is nothing 'mere' about an ideal!

I feel that the story of Jesus has more significance, power and importance if we recognise it is a myth, than it has if we insist that it is historically true.


I'm not sure I agree, as myths are made up, but I do agree that an emphasis (or battle) over such things (the historical Jesus, evolution vs creationism, etc. . .) should never eclipse the message and life of Jesus, but it sadly and too often does.
Pukon_the_Treen

Myths are stories that society makes up and perpetuates, so they tell us about our dreams, our fears, our hungers, needs and aspirations, they also tell us how the people from thousands of years ago felt about these things and give us an insight into their imaginations, and we see that our imaginations are surprisingly similar.  Myths can teach us because that is what they are designed to do.

Historical events are interesting, but they are just historical events; they weren't designed for anything. They only get important when people start turning them into stories, stressing some parts, exaggerating and inventing, then we see which bits are significant and which aren't.
BevIsHopeful

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
Myths are stories that society makes up and perpetuates, so they tell us about our dreams, our fears, our hungers, needs and aspirations, they also tell us how the people from thousands of years ago felt about these things and give us an insight into their imaginations, and we see that our imaginations are surprisingly similar.  Myths can teach us because that is what they are designed to do.


How can we be sure that the myth is not informed by, say, God?  I can believe this, even when similar messages are found in other cultures.  If so, then the definition of myth would be a bit different, wouldn't it?  

Quote:
Historical events are interesting, but they are just historical events; they weren't designed for anything. They only get important when people start turning them into stories, stressing some parts, exaggerating and inventing, then we see which bits are significant and which aren't.


To be honest, I think people emphasize the historicity of something in order to validate the message.  Some feel the message of Christ is meaningless unless he was real and every thing in the gospels was accurate.

For me, that God would inform what many are calling myth is more important, but unprovable, I would agree.
Pukon_the_Treen

Quote:
How can we be sure that the myth is not informed by, say, God?


Well, you can say that, but as you also said, there is no way to prove it and moreover I don't see how it makes the message of the story any better or worse.  If a story inspires you to heroism, wonder, charity or compassion, then all well and good, what difference does it make if God had a hand in the genesis of the myth or not?

In a sense it just seems to imply that you don't trust or can't defend your own judgement so you have to give the myth (or your interpretation of it) extra credentials.  It can be a bit of an intellectual or spiritual cop out; instead of entering into an argument about symbolism or trading other myths with other people and debating the meanings in each others parables you just say “this is my story; it's real, it's right and it's from God; I have no interest in your stories as they are not real, not from God and therefore not right”.  This to me seems to be the antithesis of what religion and spirituality should be about.
BevIsHopeful

I admire your thought processes, PtT.  Criticisms aside, you at least consistently observe and seem to value these things most important to me as a believer:

Pukon_the_Treen wrote:
wonder, charity or compassion


Quote:
what difference does it make if God had a hand in the genesis of the myth or not?


For me, it matters because I believe there is something other than us that informs the myths that promote the kinds of characteristics you list above.  There must be something pure, something perfect that works as a kind of barometer that allows us to believe that regardless of fronts and impressions, there's a true form of these things we quest after, and any other form that has been infiltrated by greed and selfishness no matter how subtle or hidden, deviates from this form.

Quote:
In a sense it just seems to imply that you don't trust or can't defend your own judgement so you have to give the myth (or your interpretation of it) extra credentials.  It can be a bit of an intellectual or spiritual cop out; instead of entering into an argument about symbolism or trading other myths with other people and debating the meanings in each others parables you just say “this is my story; it's real, it's right and it's from God; I have no interest in your stories as they are not real, not from God and therefore not right”.  This to me seems to be the antithesis of what religion and spirituality should be about.


To some extent I agree, except for me I can't say anything negative or positive about someone else's experience with God.  I can only attest to what I know, what I've experienced, what I believe to be from God.  And I believe with all my heart no one can judge whether I am truly looking to him, or looking inward and calling it him.  Only God can.  And if this is the case with me, then it is the case with everyone.  So, I can't judge another, unless a very selfish and hurtful behavior is done in the name of God.  I will always believe this can't be from him, who is the source of all that is good, kind, gentle, loving, patient, and that which desires good will towards all.

But believing that these good things are from God should not devalue or inhibit our valuing these things equally, I believe.

       nglreturns.myfreeforum.org Forum Index -> Atheist chat
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum