Worlds & Time

Monday, May 30, 2016

Praying for you & Free Will

I saw someone pull the old "I'll pray for you" to an gynecologist the other day on Twitter, and one of the videos I was watching on YouTube (I can't recall which one, sorry) had been talking about God's position on free will.

Generally, most of the Christians that I've talked with have insisted that God doesn't interfere with human free will.  There are a couple of reasons why they have to argue that, both Biblical and related to the problem of evil.  After all, if all evil in the world is caused by the fall of man, and Christians have salvation in Christ, one might expect God to intervene to protect Christians or perhaps the innocent.

Spoiler alert, that doesn't happen.

If everything is the fault of free will, including death and disease and etc., then that allows Christians to side step the issue of what God could be doing while still blaming humans. Humans brought any pain and suffering on themselves and others, and any interference in that would somehow meddle with free will, somehow.

Also, just to point out, the belief that god doesn't interfere in free will is explicitly contradicted in the Bible.  God hardens Pharaoh's heart multiple times, preventing him from making reasonable choices in the face of the plagues that Moses is bringing down on his people.  And just to note that these choices are directly linked to the possibility of Pharaoh's salvation.  If he believed the miracles that he was witnessing first hand, he might have decided to worship the god of the Bible.

I suppose I should also point out that faith instead of knowledge being required for salvation is also murky.  After all, if early Christians witnessed the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth, they didn't need to have faith in him, as Christians today will define the concept. 

So, ignoring Pharaoh, if God really doesn't interfere in free will, what exactly are people asking for when they say "I'll pray for you"?  the vast majority of those people are praying to a God that they themselves don't believe will change a human's mind.  Not because he can't but because he actively refuses to do so.  So . . . they're praying for God to do something that they know he won't?  Actively praying against the explicit will of God?

There's an atheist meme, "Prayer: How to do nothing and pretend that you're doing something."  However, assuming that the people aren't pretending but actively hoping for a change, saying "I'll pray for you" is even worse, because as honestly as you might hope for a change you're also sure that it's not going to happen.

It's quite literally praying for nothing.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Executive Bubble

It seems pretty clear to me that there's an executive compensation bubble that isn't being addressed by corporate America, primarily because it's driven by the same people that run corporate America.

Eventually I think that's going to pop.  I can't predict when, mostly because I really thought it already should have happened.

I have a longer set of thoughts on it, but I just wanted to put this down somewhere.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Lack of Objective Morality in Religious Morality

To lay out the basis of this post, I was debating with a polite conservative Catholic on Twitter a few months ago, and he asked me about where my morality comes from if it doesn't come from God.

So, I tried to explain, briefly (as befits Twitter), that my moral system is based on a couple of basic principles.  At the time I feel like I only really worked through the first, but I've added two additional principles here to try to further explain my thought process.

  1. It is possible to differentiate between moral and immoral acts based on a framework of empathy and relative harm.  Eventually this devolved into "feelings are meaningful" but obviously there's substantially more to it than that.  A large part of why this is a basis for morality can be described as the "Golden Rule."  Treating people the way you would want to be treated is good, treating them as you wouldn't want to be treated is bad.
  2. Morals are situational.  That is, the more that is known about a situation, the more well understood the morality of the situation.  Saying that "hitting someone" is moral or immoral is difficult if not impossible based on the vague nature of the presented situation.  Additional information can easily turn an immoral act into a moral act.  However, the morality of a situation can be judged from the best, if imperfect, understanding of any situation.  
  3. Morality is not relative.  If two situations are precisely the same, then the morality of both those situations is the same.  Any differences between two situations, no matter how slight, might change the morality of those situations.

Additionally, because I was debating a Christian on this, at some point I stipulated two additional things:

  • The world exists.
  • People exist.
I should have additionally stipulated that there are moral, immoral, and amoral acts.  That sometimes choices have no real moral content.  I didn't think about that at the time, but I'll try to recall that for next time.  As it was, I'm glad I stipulated to at least the two things above because they headed off the worst of the "How do you know?" and "What if you're wrong?" questions.

Just a note, Matt Dillahunty's talk on secular morality, "The Superiority of Secular Morality" helped me understand and phrase my own point of view of this subject.  Thanks to him for his excellent discussion there, and on episodes of The Atheist Experience.

So, I was trying to understand the conservative Catholic's framework for understanding morality so I asked a series of questions, which all really boiled down to "where does your morality come from?"  I'm paraphrasing here, obviously, but he stated that moral and immoral acts should be clear to people because of his god's revelation, especially to Catholics.  When I asked how some Catholics could disagree about morality, his reply was that one of the Catholics would be wrong, and that wrongness would derive from the failure to understand or submit to God's will.

That's where I started getting really interested, because to me it seems pretty clear that this is where we split on my principle number 1.  While I think that morality is based on empathy and relative harm, he thinks that it's based on the will of God.  In that sense, I think he would accept my second principle, but only where better understanding of the situation can be clarified by the Bible or his god's will.

I kind of followed that through to my third principle and realized that while there was a difference of opinion in principle number 1, the third principle fell apart completely.  We were both talking about objective morality and we were talking about two completely, completely different things.  I wanted to try to focus on that, but first I wanted to talk more to establish a larger basis of common terms and ideas with which to discuss it.

I don't generally use the term "absolute morality" but when I followed that thread down, my understanding was that "absolute morality" was the morality of his god, and that while it existed to him, it could not be perfectly understood by imperfect beings.  So it was a real existent thing, but it also wasn't something that we humans couldn't completely grasp.

To underline that he said "Morality isn't determined by men but by God."

We spent most of the rest of the conversation talking about why people's feelings matter to morality, and how morality can be based on harm, societal impact, feelings, and all of the other things upon which I base my premises.  He views feelings as evidence of moral law, which I obviously don't.  I pretty much view things from the opposite direction, moral law is evidence of feelings.  Human morality is what we build up on top of the basic observable effects of our actions on other people (which, if you'll recall, I had to stipulate existed). People are hurt by cruelty and abuse, and they suffer and society suffers as a result.  Being nice and moral lead to better outcomes, both for individuals and society.

I do need to clarify that all of this is based on the idea that people are physical beings, and that feelings and harm are physical states.  Society is also a construct made up of many people, all of whom are physical beings.  Since I'm observing physical people though, I can make objective statements because the statements I'm making literally relate to objective reality.  

I continued to consider this after the conversation had finished, and I came to a few additional realizations.

First, given two situations that are morally equivalent but not exactly the same situation.  A simple moral situation to use could be two men, acquaintances but not friends or relations, one of whom is jealous and kills the other to rob him.  So we have four people, two murderers and two victims.

To me, given similar moral circumstances (neither of the murderers was acting in self defense or for the defense of another, the motivation was robbery in both cases, and the murderer wasn't coerced or forced in any way) I can say that both of these situations are bad because the actions of the murderers are both immoral.  The murderer is clearly wrong to do what he did.

I can say, given the situations, these killings are objectively bad.  Does it result in good outcome for both parties?  No, half of them end up dead.  The killers' financial windfall doesn't mitigate the loss of life by the victims.  Murder 1 is objectively bad, and Murder 2 is objectively bad.

There is a major missing factor for some other conservative Catholic to judge the situations though, which is the will of their god.  Let's assume that Murder 1 occurs without countenance from God.  Then my hypothetical Catholic friend clearly says that the murder is objectively wrong and bad.  Assume though that Murder 2 occurs but is condoned by God (for any reason, known or unknown).  Well, then my hypothetical friend would have to say that the murder is objectively good.

Aside from the opinion of God, what has changed in the situation?  Well, nothing.  Two people have still murdered two other people.  The direct circumstances of the situation haven't changed, and to me the opinion of God doesn't change anything, both are still bad.  To me, the actual situation matters, not what the opinion of a third party is.

To my hypothetical philosophical sparring partner, the situation doesn't actually matter at all.  What matter is the opinion of that third party.  So "robbing and killing" someone isn't actually an objectively immoral act, because the determination rests on the subjective opinion of a third party.

I think it's obvious that the immediate response to this would be "God wouldn't condone killing."  Except, clearly he has.  He condoned and even ordered significant amounts of killing in the Bible.  Some Christians argue that this was a moral thing because killing is not against the command of God, but murder is.  To some extent I agree about the difference between "killing" and "murder," but my agreement is all situational: was it in self defense or in the defense of another?  For the hypothetical Catholic though, again, the actual situation doesn't matter, what matters is the approval of God.

And, of course, I'm assuming the manifestation of God to the Catholic to make his will known, which I know is unreasonable.  As my real Twitter acquaintance made clear, it's impossible to perfectly understand the mind of God.   That just makes me more confused about why they think that their morality is "objective" though, because the opinions of God are unknowable.  Who can say that God wouldn't prefer stoning of atheists, idolators, and blasphemers today or that our society has violated the will of God to forbid Biblical slavery?

There might be an assumption, especially for non-prophets, that certain acts are acceptable or forbidden by God according to the dictates of the Bible, but those are just assumptions.  It would be impossible to discern the exact feelings of their deity on each specific case. 

Thus, it strikes me as completely ridiculous that Christians claim that their morality is objective.  It certainly has nothing to do with the objective reality of the situation, or even really of their own laws or opinions.  It's clearly a subjective morality where the "subject" is their god.

Certainly, the more accurate assessment would have to describe secular morality as more "objective" than the muddy and subjective morality that requires a constant stream of opinion from God.  After all, it's much easier to say "robbery and killing" or "kill their men and capture their women" are immoral in the secular system than in the religious one.

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Sunday, May 08, 2016

A Letter to Colton

Hi Colton Haynes,

First, I have to say that I'm a huge fan.  I have been for years (I wrote a piece on you back in 2013) and I still am and will probably always be.  I saw San Andreas specifically because you were in it, which does not embarrass me at all.  I have a crush on you, which I hope you can forgive me for.

That said, I'm old.  Like, in my mid thirties old.  Ancient.  Those dozens and dozens of months more life experience that I have more than you have given me some wisdom which I wanted to pretend to share, in the hope that it helps you recognize how amazing you are.

One of those things that I was wrong about in that piece I wrote years ago was speculation on how easy your life has been.  Not only was I wrong, I was completely torn up to hear about your hospitalization.  When I was about your age I was hospitalized for depression, which is something I almost never talk about, and that's a luxury that I have that you don't.

My experience was pretty terrible.  It turns out that hospitals are generally the most depressing places on the planet, and so going to the hospital for depression is a really stupid thing to do.  Therapy and medication have helped, I am still alive, but I'm still depressed.  I'll probably be depressed for the rest of my life and there isn't anything that anyone can do about that.

Except for you.  You have made my life better, which I bet you think is ridiculous, but it's completely true.  Following your career, seeing fragments of your life in the news, and generally idolizing you have given me something to look forward to.  As small as that is, and as shallow as that makes me, it's something that can get me up in the morning.  For someone as ridiculously and profoundly depressed as I am, that's something that I need to hold on to.

So please be aware that your life has meant something to me, even though we've never met and likely will never meet.  You have helped me through tough times without even being aware of it, although I know that doing so has meant giving up so much of your privacy and putting yourself in public view.

I can't imagine what that's like.  I just don't have the context to understand what it's like to be a public figure like you are.  I can only imagine what it's like to know that cameras and weird fans (like me) are watching you, and the pressure that puts on you.

If I were you, and I had the chances to do what you've done, I probably would have made the same decisions.  I would have felt twisted up knowing that being gay could damage my career but hiding it would be terrible. You had to live with that for years which, again, I can't even comprehend.  I'm so sorry that you had to go through that because of people like me.

But know that you'll have at least one fan out there that isn't going to abandon you.  I wouldn't have abandoned you if you were straight, transgender or even a Republican.

I need to add something to that though: you don't have to be perfect.  You don't have to be Roy or Jackson either.  I idolize you but I also know that you're a real person, and people aren't perfect.  I'm sure as hell not perfect.  My ex isn't perfect (he's a great guy, don't get me wrong, but not perfect).  My brother the genius & businessman isn't perfect.  My best friends the lawyer and the banker aren't perfect.

People are going to tell you that you're a role model, and you will be, but don't believe anyone that tries to tell you that you shouldn't be who you are to be a role model.  Does that make sense?  People will tell you that a role model means this or that, and that you have to be that because you're famous.  Screw that.  You don't need to be anyone other than who you are to be a role model.  You're Colton Haynes, the fantastic actor, the guy with the best Halloween costumes, the guy who can pull off a salmon Marc Jacobs suit and who goes to NY Fashion Week looking boss.  You're an amazing guy just for being you.

The most important part of not being perfect means that you have to take care of yourself, physically and mentally.  If the stress means that you can't ever act again, then don't.  I would rather that you be happy and healthy even if that means that I never get to see you again.  Granted, that would suck for me, but I don't expect you to be perfect.  If you want to do something for me as a fan, then go be happy, be a good brother and uncle, be yourself.

Thank you though, for what you have given me.  If you can continue, then I thank you even more.

You're amazing, Colton.  If you ever need that said again, all of us, your fans and your friends and your family, we are all there to say it to you.



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