Is God Good? Are Humans Bad?

The following is the transcript of a talk given at Church of the Cross during the “Dealing with Doubts” series on August 19, 2012.

Today we are going to look at perhaps the most difficult question that any human can face: the problem of evil and suffering. The problem of pain.

This is a problem that everyone has to resolve. Christians agonize over how to think about the recent shootings in Aurora, CO and the wildfires that swept the state and affected Colorado Springs. This past week, my wife and I have had to wrestle with this question due to some painful injustices we have experienced in regards to our housing situation.

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Moral Clarity and Richard Dawkins

Moral confusion is a common problem. When a conversation begins about the difference between right and wrong, everyone can feel the tension, because admitting you’re wrong isn’t just about saying you have bad reasons, but can become about whether or not you are a bad person. Sometimes we argue past each other because we’re using the same words to mean radically different things. Sometimes we agree with each other, but we don’t even recognize it. This article is an attempt to offer conceptual clarity so we can have fairer, more intelligent conversations with one another about the pressing moral issues of our day.

For the sake of further clarity, I’ve divided this article on ethics into two parts. In the first part, using the metaphor of a house, I offer a brief overview of the categorical differences between behavior, ethics, and meta-ethics. The second half of the article explains the implications of this metaphor for the ‘New Atheist’ worldview, as exemplified by Richard Dawkins.

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Moral Relativism and Two “Ten Commandments”

Does moral relativism make sense? Are all ethical theories equally good and deserving of our respect? Can a moral code be wrong? Should we always tolerate people and cultures who have different moral standards than we do?

One way of examining these questions is to compare two very different versions of the Ten Commandments. We will look at Richard Dawkins’ version and then the Ten Laws of Camp 14 in North Korea. And finally, we will consider the legitimacy of moral relativism in light of these contrasting systems of morality.

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Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden – A Book Review

Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden and Shin In Geun, is a powerful expose of the ongoing horror story that is North Korea. As you read, consider the question: is evil real? Is the North Korean prison system evil – or is that just a word we use to describe our personal feelings about it?By retelling the story of Shin, a North Korean born within Labor Camp 14, Harden vividly exposes us to the frightening world of a living nightmare. Shin’s story is but one story: there are perhaps 200,000 individuals living in these prison camps as you read this post.

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Paula Kirby: Is Religion a Parasite?

Paula Kirby, a “consultant to secular organizations,” recently wrote in an article for The Washington Post that, “Religion is a parasite that feeds on all that is good in humanity as a whole and then proclaims it as its own gift to the world.”

That’s a very strong, unqualified, and unconditional statement. If true, religious practice is a very serious problem, one that we should all work to eradicate.

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Sam Harris and 9/11

In a post reflecting on the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Dr. Sam Harris speaks about religious practice in sharply negative terms. For instance:

  • Parents teaching religious doctrine to their children is “nothing less than the emotional and intellectual abuse of a child,” is oppressive, and represents “terrifying ignorance and fanaticism.”
  • Religion itself is “the delusions of our ignorant ancestors.”

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Atheism and Moral Accountability

Many atheists, dedicated to doing what is good, are offended by arguments that the atheistic worldview has problems with morality. It is frustrating for an atheist who genuinely loves doing kind actions to be told that, philosophically speaking, their lifestyle doesn’t fit with their worldview. After all, for that person, it does fit together. On the one hand, they don’t believe in an invisible fairy god who magically grants wishes, on the other hand, they love science, reason and the people in their lives. (Please notice how I define atheism).

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Atheism and Selfishness

Let’s look at the relationship between atheism and selfishness. Let’s be clear: I am not discussing atheists and accusing them of selfishness. Many of my secular friends are generous, kind, hospitable, friendly folks. I don’t think, in general, that they view the world strictly through the prism of evolutionary logic. But what I do want to make clear is how atheism, if followed strictly, is an inevitably selfish worldview. (Please notice how I define atheism).

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Atheism, Evil and Despair

Have you ever felt wretched, just sick to your stomach, over how you’ve hurt someone else? I want to talk about how atheism deals with these experiences. (Please notice how I define atheism).

At a time in my life when I should have known better, I put myself in this position.

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