Monday, October 22, 2012

Religion, Morality, and Kitty Wells


Country music, as most of us know, is  the most theology-laden form of popular music. The lyrics of this song, sung by Kitty Wells in the early 60s, illustrates, I believe, something interesting about the effect of religion on morality. It is a song of a woman who supposes herself to have been a wrongly deserted wife whose husband has given her divorce papers, all legal and proper. However, she asks whether "God is satisfied" with his actions, telling him that he will be called to account for what he has done by God, and implies that his lawyer won't do him any good when he stands before God and must be held accountable for his actions.

Your lawyer called and said he had the papers all prepared
To sign my name was all I had to do
He saw the judge, now he seen me, there's only one thing left
Will your lawyer talk to God for you?
Will your lawyer talk to God and plead your case up on high
And defend the way you broke my heart in two?
Manmade laws to set you free on earth but is God satisfied
Will your lawyer talk to God for you?
We all face that final judgment and it's very strict they say
When your time comes, I wonder what you'll do
Will you bow your head in shame or will you turn your head away
Or will your lawyer talk to God for you?
Will your lawyer talk to God and plead your case up on high
And defend the way you broke my heart in two?
Manmade laws to set you free on earth but is God satisfied
Will your lawyer talk to God for you?

I am not saying anything about the morality of divorce in general. Clearly, it is evident that at least some people desert marriages without adequate moral justification, and the law, as we currently conceive it, cannot prevent them from doing so. I bring these lyrics up because it seems to make nonsense of the popular idea that somehow religious belief, or lack of same, isn't a game-changer when it comes to morality. Assuming atheism, this appeal would be plain nonsense. Again, I am not arguing that no one can follow a moral code without a belief in God. But I think we must admit the force of this sort of consideration, and face that fact that many people, over the centuries, have turned away from a wrongful act because they believed that God would hold them accountable if they performed that action. I am thinking primarily here of the accountability and shame for these actions, as opposed, say punishment in hell. If someone can't see the moral force of this sort of thing, then I would have to say there is a screw loose somewhere.

17 comments:

cl said...

Along similar lines:

"…if a person doesn’t think that there is a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?"

—Jeffrey Dahmer

BeingItself said...

Of course belief in God can effect moral behavior. Even having atheists read the 10 commandments effects their moral choices for the better. Posting a picture of an eye above the office coffee pot causes more people to drop a quarter in the till rather than freeload.

But God is imaginary.

B. Prokop said...

"God is imaginary"

To deny His presence is like a person standing on the beach in a howling gale, lashed by sand, wind, and salt spray, yet all the time denying the existence of the sea.

ozero91 said...

"Even having atheists read the 10 commandments effects their moral choices for the better. Posting a picture of an eye above the office coffee pot causes more people to drop a quarter in the till rather than freeload."

But why? An atheist should not change their behavior. Don't tell anyone, but morality actually has no basis. It's just an evolutionary artifact that we hang on to because it's useful. As long as people think morals exist, life is less likely to be short and brutal. Then again, it makes no ultimate difference if your life was short or long, brutal or peaceful.

Matt DeStefano said...

To deny His presence is like a person standing on the beach in a howling gale, lashed by sand, wind, and salt spray, yet all the time denying the existence of the sea.

So, if I told you that I've spent my life "looking" for God, am I deluding myself? Am I being deceitful or irrational about my approach? Was I duped by Satan?

How do you explain the existence of (at least prima facie) rational dissenters?

But why? An atheist should not change their behavior. Don't tell anyone, but morality actually has no basis. It's just an evolutionary artifact that we hang on to because it's useful. As long as people think morals exist, life is less likely to be short and brutal. Then again, it makes no ultimate difference if your life was short or long, brutal or peaceful.

I'm going to ignore the "morality has no basis" for the moment, and ask why you think that it makes no "ultimate difference" if your life was short or long, brutal or peaceful? Why does it have to be cosmically significant in order to be significant? Can't it matter to you, those you love, and those who know you? Why does this somehow make it less valuable - that it is not eternal or cosmically significant? I've linked to Thomas Nagel's "The Absurd" here before, but I think it's worth reading on this issue.

B. Prokop said...

"I've spent my life "looking" for God"

Molodets, Matt! Keep looking. The funny thing is, if you keep it up, He'll find you!

(By the way, judging by your picture, unless you took that a long time ago, you haven't spent your "life" doing anything... yet. Wait until you're an old codger like me to say something like that!)

Matt DeStefano said...

Thanks, yeah - I'm still rather young. I'd like to press the question further. You said that God was as obvious as the Sea . I'm serious - what do you make of atheists who deny the existence of God? Why are we so mistaken about the existence of something that is so obvious?

It seems that if you really believe this, you'd have to claim that atheists are raving lunatics. It's not just that we are merely misguided or missing some evidence, we are mistaken about something that is plainly available to everyone.

B. Prokop said...

Matt,

Thanks for the response. No, I don't think atheists are raving lunatics. But I do think they spend their lives looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Judging by those I have spoken to in person, and not just via the internet, I am convinced that the problem is "going-in assumptions". It's like holding the map upside down. I'll never get to my destination until I turn it right side up, and head out in the right direction.

If I define away light, I'll never see a damn thing, no matter how hard I try.

In your case (I tread lightly here, as I do not know you) I am tempted to place a great deal of blame on your evangelical upbringing. This sets off alarm bells when I learn this about someone, since it generally means that their primary experience with Christianity has been with the crudest caricature of the Real Thing - a strawman in the flesh, so to speak.

In any case, you're not going to "find God" in a book, or in philosophy class, and certainly not on this blog, but out on the street. Spoiler Alert - preaching follows: Since the Incarnation, our primary means of "finding God" is taking a good look at our fellow human beings. Because, though we were indeed created in the Image of God, of far greater importance is that He has assumed our image in Christ. You want to find God? Talk to the person next to you.

Matt DeStefano said...

If I define away light, I'll never see a damn thing, no matter how hard I try.

Uh, what? You can't "define away" something out of existence. You'd still see things - you just wouldn't call it "light" any longer.

In your case (I tread lightly here, as I do not know you) I am tempted to place a great deal of blame on your evangelical upbringing. This sets off alarm bells when I learn this about someone, since it generally means that their primary experience with Christianity has been with the crudest caricature of the Real Thing - a strawman in the flesh, so to speak.

But you're being disingenuous here and moving away from your original claim. You said earlier that God's existence was as obvious as the sea. Surely, what I was taught about the sea as a child would have no bearing on me actually discovering it. It would be blatantly obvious!

In any case, you're not going to "find God" in a book, or in philosophy class, and certainly not on this blog, but out on the street. Spoiler Alert - preaching follows: Since the Incarnation, our primary means of "finding God" is taking a good look at our fellow human beings. Because, though we were indeed created in the Image of God, of far greater importance is that He has assumed our image in Christ. You want to find God? Talk to the person next to you.

Again - why should I need to look at people? If God's existence is as obvious as the sea (I don't think you realize how strong this claim is), unless I am delusional or blind - how can I not immediately apprehend Him?

B. Prokop said...

But you can see Him. You're seeing His immanence all around you right now - this very moment. You're just not acknowledging it.

And yes, He is as obvious as the sea.

I know this sounds horribly like a self-serving plug, but you really ought to read my book, Eyes to See (available at lulu.com). There's just too much to put into a blog posting.

BeingItself said...

$41 for a 124 page self-published book on the meaning of life? If you want folks to read that, just offer the .pdf for free.

B. Prokop said...

I'd gladly e-mail you the pdf if I had your address.

By the way, I make no money whatsoever off this book. I set the price at the cost of printing. The cost is relatively high, since I opted for full-color printing (there is either an illustration or chart on nearly every page). I'm sure Lulu gets their share, but I get nothing. Somebody must find it worthwhile, 'cause it's sold 332 copies so far.

BeingItself said...

beingbeingitself@gmail.com

Victor Reppert said...

I wouldn't say morality has no basis without God, because we are still social beings. But there do seem to be cases and situations in which having a God to which one must account provides a basis for much moral conduct. In fact, I am inclined to turn Weinberg on his head: Good people will always do good things, but getting bad people to do good things, that takes religion.

BeingItself said...

Thank you, Bob.

B. Prokop said...

The offer is good for you, too, Matt. If I know your e-mail address, I'll send you a free copy.

cl said...

Hi Matt. Not to cut in, but I want to throw my two cents at this one:

"It seems that if you really believe this, you'd have to claim that atheists are raving lunatics. It's not just that we are merely misguided or missing some evidence, we are mistaken about something that is plainly available to everyone."

I really believe that it's as obvious as the sea, but I don't have to claim you're a raving lunatic. Contrary—and I say this despite the fact that I think you say a "far out" thing here or there, just like you probably think I do—you aren't a raving lunatic. You're a rational, intelligent person, and that's precisely part of the problem. Man's "intelligence" sets itself up against God's truth because we are so thoroughly corrupted by sin. Please, I mean no offense here, but you are correct when you say you must be blind! The Bible states that Satan "blinds the minds" of unbelievers. So, no, it's not that you're a raving lunatic, it's that you're trapped by an epistemology that is wholly antithetical to the simple faith God demands. If you really want to find God, you have to let go of that. You have to drop this "prove everything" attitude, or at least refocus it by praying sincerely and asking God to prove Himself to you. You have to surrender. You have to say to yourself, "You know what? I don't need to see how every piece of the puzzle fits together before I'm willing to believe." Etc.

You're not mistaken because you're a lunatic, you're mistaken because one far more powerful than you is blinding you. Please don't take that personally, as the same enemy operates against me as well. By no means am I above his wares. The only difference is that I have a God I can lean on, else I'd be good as dead, too.

Here's what I honestly suggest: stop coming to blogs for a while. Stop searching for answers in other people. Rather, spend time alone, in solitude, and above all, pray earnestly for God to make Himself real to you. Drop any and all expectations, and just listen with your heart. It is the only way, and man, I hope you find it.