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seeker

In Reply To
Omar Karindu

Subj: Re: Some questions I'm looking for opinions on. Theology related
Posted: Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 04:36:04 pm EST (Viewed 6 times)
Reply Subj: Re: Some questions I'm looking for opinions on. Theology related
Posted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 04:20:44 pm EST (Viewed 5 times)

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> This is just something I’ve been wondering different people’s opinions on for awhile. It is not intended to offend anyone or their religious beliefs nor is this being used for anything besides my own personal curiosity.
>
> One justification for human dominion of the planet is that humans are a superior species or of a higher order of species than others.

One among many, and one that not even all Christian denominations interpret in quite the same way. "Dominion" means something different to a Southern Baptist than it does to a Methodist or a Catholic.

> This gives humans dominion over the planet and depending on who you ask either the right to do with it and the animals, such as killing them for food or sport, on it whatever we want to other people who claim it gives us a greater responsibility to the planet. Support for this is found in the justification of different religions to humans being more intelligent in at least some sense and being higher up on the food chain. While this is an arguable point let us assume for a moment that humans are of a higher order than other animals.

We can assume that, but not all of the consequences you also ask us to assume will follow from that initial assumption. We can each or all interpret the responsibilities and privileges of being "of a higher order" very differently.

> This leads us into the theology part. Most modern definitions of the monotheistic god differ on wording and details, but usually describe G-d as:
>
> “an anthropomorphic being of both creation and destruction who is aside from the highest being, the most powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent, and perfect.”

I don't know that "anthropomorphic" would apply all that strongly to God beyond Christ Jesus or even the narrower case of the Incarnation for some Christian thinkers or denominations.

> Then there is the idea of gods. Here the definition is less concrete and varies from a humanlike figure with great power such as control over nature to a being that is the personification of a concept or object with great power. The one thing nearly all descriptions of G-d or gods include is they are often considered to be beings of a higher order above humans.
>
> With all of that in mind and assuming for a moment that gods are of a higher order above humans AND that G-d or gods are real what are your opinions/answers to the following questions:
>
> Remember, for the sake of discussion assume that the being in the question is real, is a higher order of being, and what the claim is.
>
> 1.    Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, is the greatest thing a human can achieve in life to die at the hands of G-d since doing so would serve a higher power and at the same time dispel any questions about the existence of such beings?

Erm...no, not really. This assumes that what a God or gods want is to be concretely demonstrated, to be proven...or, for that matter, that their goal is to kill some mortal schmuck in the first place. A God or gods has no trouble killing persons in the myths and Scriptures of various religions, but the theological points of virtually all of these suggests that those so killed are hardly...er...testaments to great faith in and of themselves. Martyrdom is a whole 'nother animal, but it's may be theologically impossible to by martyred both for and by God or gods in any meaningful, coherent sense.

No real religion, not even the most literalist form, really stops at the assumption that God or gods are virtuous or higher; they all, of necessity, try to work out some comprehensible form of what is good from their Scriptures or myths. The religious person doesn't stop at God's action or the actions of the gods, they try to work out the consequences for human virtue and morality.

This second bit is the real point of religiosity; if God does whatever He wants and we can't figure it out or apply any of it consistently to our own behavior and mindset, you don't have a religion in any meaningful sense of the word. If you can't work out God's will for you, you have no basis for behaving as if God exists in the first place. It might be possible to believe in a thoroughly and truly ncomprehensible God, but it would be close to to impossible to worship that God and definitionally impossible to act in accord with that God's incomprehensible and perspectivally arbitrary will. Christianity does not assume an incomprehensible God, of course.

I suspect that Gaiman is indulging in is a bit of literary paradox more than a profound theological point. He's taking apart a particular sort of hermeneutic, not outlining a religious virtue.

> What if it was dying at the hands of a polytheistic god such as Apollo?

I'm not sure it makes much difference outside of a distinctly henotheistic system, as opposed to a generc polytheism.

> 2.    Since G-d created this world and everything in it, knows everything, and is perfect does G-d therefore have the right to do whatever He wants with this world?

That's part of the Thomas Hobbes argument, certainly. But Hobbes assumes that divine right holds, and that emnpirical evidence can present an indirect comprehension of God's will and of ethics. Therefore he argues that the comprehensible commands of the monarch stand in as the will of an otherwise potentially incomprehensible God.

> If G-d decided it was best for a world for a person to die without explaining why, even an infant or virtuous person would it be alright for G-d to kill that person?

One could suppose so, but only insofar as one would have to assume the goodness of the action as comprehensible from an outside or objective point of view. If the nature of the good is wholly incomprehensible then assumptions about God or gods become impossible to maintain in the first place.

> What about an entire people or nation if it was in the name of justice?

The Old Testament seems to have no problem with this second bit, but again, all manner of theological and theodicean architecture has been developed to derive an comprehensible notion of the good from these instances.

> 3.    Gods plural were rarely thought of as all-powerful, all-knowing or even all good, but they are still thought of as a higher order of being and sometimes the embodiment of whatever they represented.

Sure, but in those cases they were not so much seen as wellsprings of morality -- the Greek, Norse, Celtic, and Teutonic pantheons were instead subject to the Fates as were mortals, and it was from the Fates that one derived morality, not from the gods. The gods not only could but sometimes did act immorally, and suffered for it in their own ways. One appeased them and tried not to anger them, but that wasn't the beginning and end of ethical responsibility.

> In ancient Greece Zeus was thought of as the dispenser of justice and knowing pretty much everything or at least most things were his will,

Except that he wasn't considered a perfect dispenser of justice, not entirely, at least. He didn't decide which afterlife a person went to for example; that was done by the shades of three virtuous mortals. Nor could he buck the Fates; there are a few stories of Zeus screwing up and suffering some humiliation or punishment as a result.

> if acting in this capacity of justice does Zeus have the right to kill a person even if to human eyes the man is an upstanding member of the community? What about sending a plague to strike an entire town to get at one murderer and letting the community figure out who the murderer is?

Since your assumption here is in the wrong, the dilemmas you present aren't dilemmas.

> 4.    What about a lesser god such as Ares, ancient Greek god of savage warfare or Tyr, Norse god of honorable warfare? Does he have the right to strike down a mortal who has offended him? What about an entire community? Would it depend on the god? (Ex. A more benevolent on such as Baldur or Athena)

Gods have the right by power, but that right is not really tied to the benevolence of the god so much as to their sheer power. Power and benevolence in Greco-Roman religion, and most properly pantheistic religions, are not one and the same. Christianity seems to assume some kind of identity between power and goodness, but the nature of that identification is varied and complex in various denominations' theologies.

> 5.    If G-d wanted you to die and told you it is for the good of Earth, but would not explain why would you do it?

How would I know it was God? And if I did know, what sort of God would I be able to assume was ordering me to die? The questuon requires some definition of God before the fact, one more fleshed out than the generic and debateable "of a higher order" statement. What does it mean to be "of a higher order?"

> 6.    What if polytheistic god wanted you to die without explaining why and claimed it was for the good of Earth? Would you go ahead and die? What if they explained it to you? Would it depend on the god? (Ex. A more benevolent on such as Baldur or Athena)

See above. You're using broad and undefined terms, and so the questions are unanswerable as you put them forth.

> 7.    Should G-d be held to the same standards as humans? Or due to being beyond human are He/they beyond human concepts of good and evil or at least human judgment and morality?

See above. It all depends on how we define "higher order" or "good" or even "God" and "gods."

You're not really asking theological questions, because theology is about working out the nature of God and God's order (or gods and gods' order). And you're not really asking theodicean questions, because theodicy means to comprehend the nature of the ethical and the attributes of God from examining the existing world rather than the "what-if?" world that would assume those issues to be settled.

You're sort of at a pre-theological stage, one in which you have to settle on slightly more nuanced or detailed definitions of terms like "good," "God," "gods," and "higher order." You keep slipping between "higher" as meaning "more powerful" and "higher" as meaning "more moral," and those are hardly the same thing.

- Omar Karindu

"A Renoir. I have three, myself. I had four, but ordered one burned...It displeased me." -- Doctor Doom

"It's not, 'Oh, they killed Sue Dibney and I always loved that character,' it's 'Oh, they broke a story engine that could have told a thousand stories in order to publish a single 'important' one.'" -- John Seavey

>
> > This gives humans dominion over the planet and depending on who you ask either the right to do with it and the animals, such as killing them for food or sport, on it whatever we want to other people who claim it gives us a greater responsibility to the planet. Support for this is found in the justification of different religions to humans being more intelligent in at least some sense and being higher up on the food chain. While this is an arguable point let us assume for a moment that humans are of a higher order than other animals.
>
> We can assume that, but not all of the consequences you also ask us to assume will follow from that initial assumption. We can each or all interpret the responsibilities and privileges of being "of a higher order" very differently.
>
That is what I am looking for.

>
> I don't know that "anthropomorphic" would apply all that strongly to God beyond Christ Jesus or even the narrower case of the Incarnation for some Christian thinkers or denominations.
>
G-d is often described in human terms such as having emotions, being a king, having a throne, etc. So to at least relate to humans G-d is decribed in human terms which meets the definition.

> >
> > 1.    Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, is the greatest thing a human can achieve in life to die at the hands of G-d since doing so would serve a higher power and at the same time dispel any questions about the existence of such beings?
>
> Erm...no, not really. This assumes that what a God or gods want is to be concretely demonstrated, to be proven...or, for that matter, that their goal is to kill some mortal schmuck in the first place. A God or gods has no trouble killing persons in the myths and Scriptures of various religions, but the theological points of virtually all of these suggests that those so killed are hardly...er...testaments to great faith in and of themselves. Martyrdom is a whole 'nother animal, but it's may be theologically impossible to by martyred both for and by God or gods in any meaningful, coherent sense.
>
> No real religion, not even the most literalist form, really stops at the assumption that God or gods are virtuous or higher; they all, of necessity, try to work out some comprehensible form of what is good from their Scriptures or myths. The religious person doesn't stop at God's action or the actions of the gods, they try to work out the consequences for human virtue and morality.
>
> This second bit is the real point of religiosity; if God does whatever He wants and we can't figure it out or apply any of it consistently to our own behavior and mindset, you don't have a religion in any meaningful sense of the word. If you can't work out God's will for you, you have no basis for behaving as if God exists in the first place. It might be possible to believe in a thoroughly and truly ncomprehensible God, but it would be close to to impossible to worship that God and definitionally impossible to act in accord with that God's incomprehensible and perspectivally arbitrary will. Christianity does not assume an incomprehensible God, of course.
>
In short, you disagree with the notion because the actions of the divine are somehow meant to make sense to mortals to form a basis for living. The action itself does not dispel any doubts, but the morality that can be drawn from the deity in question.

> I suspect that Gaiman is indulging in is a bit of literary paradox more than a profound theological point. He's taking apart a particular sort of hermeneutic, not outlining a religious virtue.
>
I don't think Gaiman was being serious. In the story the Norse god Loki was about to kill someone and brought up that line of thought I so was just curious other people's opinions on it

> > What if it was dying at the hands of a polytheistic god such as Apollo?
>
> I'm not sure it makes much difference outside of a distinctly henotheistic system, as opposed to a generc polytheism.
>
???

> > 2.    Since G-d created this world and everything in it, knows everything, and is perfect does G-d therefore have the right to do whatever He wants with this world?
>
> That's part of the Thomas Hobbes argument, certainly. But Hobbes assumes that divine right holds, and that emnpirical evidence can present an indirect comprehension of God's will and of ethics. Therefore he argues that the comprehensible commands of the monarch stand in as the will of an otherwise potentially incomprehensible God.
>
I haven't studied the works of thomas Hobbes yet. What is your view on the subject if you don't mind me asking?

> > If G-d decided it was best for a world for a person to die without explaining why, even an infant or virtuous person would it be alright for G-d to kill that person?
>
> One could suppose so, but only insofar as one would have to assume the goodness of the action as comprehensible from an outside or objective point of view. If the nature of the good is wholly incomprehensible then assumptions about God or gods become impossible to maintain in the first place.
>
So, if G-d wanted someone to die who did not seem to deserve to die that action would only be acceptable if from an outsider's point of view the good was obvious or at least known to the outsider. Otherwise, the deed appears to be one of evil and the claim that G-d if good looses value.


>
> > 3.    Gods plural were rarely thought of as all-powerful, all-knowing or even all good, but they are still thought of as a higher order of being and sometimes the embodiment of whatever they represented.
>
> Sure, but in those cases they were not so much seen as wellsprings of morality -- the Greek, Norse, Celtic, and Teutonic pantheons were instead subject to the Fates as were mortals, and it was from the Fates that one derived morality, not from the gods. The gods not only could but sometimes did act immorally, and suffered for it in their own ways. One appeased them and tried not to anger them, but that wasn't the beginning and end of ethical responsibility.
>
The Fates were not really the source of morality either. They just decided things for unexplained reasons for due to the natural order. The gods were often considered the source of tradition and custom so on one hand they were the source one used to determine how one should live or at least why one should undertake certain actions, but you are right in that the gods were rarely a source of morality. IIRC, in The Republic Plato considers getting rid of the gods due to the gods not being a source for the way one should live a virtuous life.




> > if acting in this capacity of justice does Zeus have the right to kill a person even if to human eyes the man is an upstanding member of the community? What about sending a plague to strike an entire town to get at one murderer and letting the community figure out who the murderer is?
>
> Since your assumption here is in the wrong, the dilemmas you present aren't dilemmas.
>
The assumptions are correct. The assumption was that Zeus was acting in his capacity as the dispenser of justice. Justice in religion does not necessarliy always take place in the next world. The views of reward and punihment in the Greek afterlife were later additions. Even then, to be rewarded or punished in the afterlife one had to be especially good of evil. Otherwise the gods would merely destroy you while you were alive. If Zeus sends a plague to punish a murderer then from an ancient Greek point of view he is fulfilling the role as the distributor of divine justice. The questions proceed from there.

>
> > 5.    If G-d wanted you to die and told you it is for the good of Earth, but would not explain why would you do it?
>
> How would I know it was God? And if I did know, what sort of God would I be able to assume was ordering me to die? The questuon requires some definition of God before the fact, one more fleshed out than the generic and debateable "of a higher order" statement. What does it mean to be "of a higher order?"
>
The term is fleashed out. I defined it at the beginning of this post. I was hoping to avoid having to give a ten-page long definition and leave it up to the reader based on his or her own views.

> > 6.    What if polytheistic god wanted you to die without explaining why and claimed it was for the good of Earth? Would you go ahead and die? What if they explained it to you? Would it depend on the god? (Ex. A more benevolent on such as Baldur or Athena)
>
> See above. You're using broad and undefined terms, and so the questions are unanswerable as you put them forth.
>
They are answerable because each human being would have some idea of what those terms are.

> > 7.    Should G-d be held to the same standards as humans? Or due to being beyond human are He/they beyond human concepts of good and evil or at least human judgment and morality?
>
> See above. It all depends on how we define "higher order" or "good" or even "God" and "gods."
>
That is why I bothered to define G-d and gods. As to a higher order I was leaving that up to each person. Humans are considered of a higher order due to having the intelligence to comprehend such things as mathematics, greater understading of the universe, the capacity for such understanding, opposable thumbs, greater power, being higher up on the food chain, etc. Take that definition and apply it to a higher being.

> You're not really asking theological questions, because theology is about working out the nature of God and God's order (or gods and gods' order). And you're not really asking theodicean questions, because theodicy means to comprehend the nature of the ethical and the attributes of God from examining the existing world rather than the "what-if?" world that would assume those issues to be settled.
>
Actually, they are theological questions trying to wrokd out the nature of G-d of gods.

Theology: "the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God's attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity" or "The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions."

I am inquiring into the nature of G-d's relation with humans.
As to theodicean question, that was not the subject of my inquiry.

> You're sort of at a pre-theological stage, one in which you have to settle on slightly more nuanced or detailed definitions of terms like "good," "God," "gods," and "higher order." You keep slipping between "higher" as meaning "more powerful" and "higher" as meaning "more moral," and those are hardly the same thing.
>
It was in a theological stage. I did define the terms. They may not have been a well-defined as you would have liked, but I was trying to avoid something I find very annoying that some philosophers and theologians do. That is where they spend ten to twenty pages so stuck on definitions that they never discuss what the tretise was originally supposed to be about. I understand taking some time to define something, but sometimes it goes to far.

As to higher being "more powerful" and being "more mortal" when it comes to gods the two things are one in the same. In both polythestic and monothestic religions G-d of gods are more than mortal and more powerful.




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