Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God Told Me To

In class we discussed the idea that one should do something if God tells one to do it. This is due to the fact that God is the absolute authority, trumping the universal (laws and morals) and the single individual. Now this was all fine and dandy in the times of the Bible when if one claimed to have been spoken to by God then everyone else would sit in awe and believe what had been said. Back then it didn’t matter what God had ordered (as we can see from the story of Abraham) all would believe; today, however, it just simply isn’t that easy. Now it seems we have a new standard that appears to be “It is possible God spoke to you, but only if he told you to do something plausible or clearly good”. In modern society there are plenty of cases of people killing other people and declaring that God told them to do so, however, I believe it is safe to say that not a single person believes them. On the other hand, if I were to drop everything and dedicate my life to helping those less fortunate than myself, and stated that God spoke to me and told me to do so, some people, maybe even many, would find this easy to swallow and go on with their day. It now appears we have a double standard that is easiest to attribute to a loss of faith, however, it can also be attributed to the individual’s belief that they know better than the next man or woman. In some respects this is the result of the alienation that is experienced in modern society coupled with the self-centered view of the world that is so widely held by the individual today. This distrust of everyone we do not know leads us to question everything that is even slightly doubtable; everyone we don’t know is a liar who is not to be trusted, when, most probably, they are people just like you and your friends and family. So if someone today were to come out into the street and proclaim themselves as the second coming of Christ, everyone around this person would laugh at them and wouldn’t even consider it a possibility, when in fact all of Christianity is waiting for the second coming. Nothing is taken at face value anymore, unless there is an established connection between two people interacting. This leads one to the possibility that Christianity was designed to keep people from questioning what they were told in order to control them. So has our society evolved to no longer need beliefs and doctrines such as Christianity? After all, we do now have laws in place to guide people the right way and if Christianity was only established as a system of laws to help govern people, that means there are people in society trying to follow two different doctrines, that of the Bible and that of the law, which can only lead to conundrums and double standards, like the double standard I started with. An example of religion acting to guide people is that of Judaism’s laws of kashrut which are the dietary laws of the religion. The things that are not allowed to be eaten include bottom-feeder fish and pork, both of which are considered to be dirty, suggesting that they were included in the laws of the faith to keep people healthy. So what if clean pork is available today, guaranteed not to make one sick? It most certainly is, so why are these laws still in effect in the faith? Is it possible that in the past the only way to get the masses to organize and govern themselves was to pass laws down from the “absolute” with the threat of punishment which cannot be seen in this lifetime? Now that we are able to make ethical or universal laws, is religion or the idea of the absolute still needed?


  1. Kipp makes a really interesting point about religion in modern society and how the role has changed over time. Society today has become self-centered and less likely to talk to others that he or she does not know personally, as Kipp explained. The ability to be self- centered could have caused the role of religion to become less prominent in society today to some people. However, to answer the last question, though religion or the absolute's role may have changed through time, it provides a moral basis for humanity to follow, atleast in my opinion. Ethical or universal laws are simply laws that are guidelines for how people should behave not considering if their behavior is right or wrong though in some cases. Though the ethical or universal laws are understood by all there is no strict basis for morals in laws as there is in religion or the absolute.

  2. I think it was very sharp of you to point out the double-standard in the "God told me to do it" concept. It is often that people go off to do mission work or organize a community service event in order to "spread the Word" or to do good deeds in God's name. Here the Biblical laws and the secular laws by which we are governed can co-exist harmoniously together- as long as we are serving others in a beneficial way.

    However, I am astounded by people's motives for doing these deeds for religious purposes; they claim that God is love and mercy. But isn't this the same God who told his devout follower to kill his son? And isn’t this the same God who sent the flood to destroy humankind because he was displeased?

  3. Kipp, I'm glad you pointed out the "God told me to do it" concept as well. As you said, God telling someone to murder a baby is certainly not seen in the same light as God telling someone to give all of their money to the poor. Today, society would agree the latter to be preposterous and absolutely crazy. Understandable. But why then, can't everyone see the Abraham story the same way?, which is the point Kierkegaard is trying to make. He says that this story has become so watered-down that people are unable to be affected the way they should be, in his opinion, by the story because they are blinded by Christians' attempt to give the story moral value. Jen, going from your point, just as the story is watered-down by Christians, I also think that mission work and community service, for example, are also watered-down in a way. The meaning of this work is lost and replaced by the idea, the image of appearing to be a "good Christian" or "good citizen." It is all "good" on paper, on the mere surface. As you said, their motives are all wrong--what really is their purpose? Is it to fill a void? To make one feel as though one is a better person because of the deed?

  4. Kierkegaard points to something beyond our understanding as particular individuals rather than the issue of justification being discussed. Of course I am not going to believe that some dude is the second coming if he says so, or if he justifies his actions according to an excuse like "God told me so." It would be absurd to take his word for it because justification operates in the ethical realm. It is the individual's idiosyncratic experience with the absolute alone that motivates the individual to act. So whether or not we are all more or less cynical or understanding than back in the day wouldn't say much, other than that maybe we value reason more now than we used to (maybe because we know more or think we know more
    or something like that).

    I agree that we don't need religion to govern our lives and according to Kierkegaard it actually doesn't. Our everyday lived experience has nothing to do with our relationship to the absolute. True religious experience is so deeply idiosyncratic that it is beyond the comprehension of an any other individual.
    By discussing issues of justification we are dragging the relationship of the absolute with the absolute back into the ethical sphere. Which makes me feel like maybe we can never actually engage in a discussion of a relationship with the absolute with out getting tangled up this way.

    If it is the individual's experience alone with the absolute that motivates the individual to act, then maybe a better question is how much does the absolute limit human freedom?

  5. I really don't think people were more guillable in the past than they are now - people used to be burned at the stake for claiming they had talked to God. I do however agree that religion's role has changed dramatically, but it is hard for it to change, because it is a traditional institution and people turn to it because of its continuity. Its role is more cultural now, as virtually all religious sects can be researched and known about rather than just the one one was brought up with.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.