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Tue Oct 15, 2013, 12:53 PM

Professor Jim Al-Khalili: Christianity hijacked human values

Professor Jim Al-Khalili, a theoretical physicist and science broadcaster, said Monday at The Cambridge Union Society that Christianity had commandeered humanistic values.

In his presentation, Al-Khalili said he believed in the Golden Rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. The ethical maxim is often attributed to Jesus Christ.

Echoing the thought of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a member of the audience said it seemed like secular humanists had “killed God” but were “still doing what he said” by adhering to Christian morality and values.

Al-Khalili responded by saying the situation was actually reversed. Christianity had hijacked human values. "For me, that is what defines me as a human, that I have the capacity to love, to empathize, to sympathize, to be kind,” he explained.

“Yes, those were values that were taken up by the Abrahamic religions and rightly so, because [it was] back at a time when people needed to be told those are important human values. For me, I don’t think I need to behave in a certain way because I want to seek the reward of God or because I fear the punishment of God. I do them because I’m a human being.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/15/professor-jim-al-khalili-christianity-hijacked-human-values/

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 01:31 PM

1. Reciprocal ethics were written down by Confucious, 500 years before Jesus was allegedly born.

"What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."

In Hinduism, it's at LEAST 400 years older than Christianity.

Egypt? 600 BCE: "Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you."

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Response to AtheistCrusader (Reply #1)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 01:47 PM

2. IIRC, the Sumerians had the first written account of "the golden rule".

I find it baffling how so many are unable to grasp the concept that their religion is simply an updated version of an older belief system and not something new and unique.

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Response to AtheistCrusader (Reply #1)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 02:27 PM

3. There is a pervasive idea

among many Christians that Christianity is the "true faith" because of all the "unique" things about Jesus and their religion.
No matter how "un-unique" they really are.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #3)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 05:05 PM

5. Plus they have martyrs!

Who would die for a cause they knew was a lie?

(Oh but please ignore the fact that other religions have martyrs, too!)

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 04:49 PM

4. Logically, he is arguing for inherent human morality.

 

That's debatable.

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Response to rug (Reply #4)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 05:28 PM

6. Or that morality

can be a rational decision without the need for it to be God based.

Which seems true for many people.

And since no two religious people have the exact same morality, no matter where they think it came from, but are deciding what is true for them.

Logically all morality is human based.

"n'est-ce pas?"

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Response to edhopper (Reply #6)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 05:37 PM

7. +1

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Response to edhopper (Reply #6)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 05:38 PM

8. I don't think one can reason his or her way into morality, unless it's done in a utilitarian manner.

 

More likely it's the result of mores or a particular culture.

On the other hand, I don't think a morality based on a religious belief is a hijacking of cultural morality. Or that "all morality is human based." I think it simply adds another dimension to it.

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Response to rug (Reply #8)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 06:10 PM

9. Why not?

Philosophers often have used reason to address morality. Satre' comes to mind.

And there are always those with a different morality than there culture.

And as an atheist i would say all morality is human based min some fashion even when it's adherents don't think it is, your mileage may vary.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #9)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 06:49 PM

10. Because you cannot prove a value.

 

to say that we invent values means neither more nor less than this; that there is no sense in life a priori.
Sartre - Existentialism is a Humanism

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Response to rug (Reply #10)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 07:40 PM

11. I think you are using a very tight definition of reason

I am referring to using our intellect in general to discern what morals we should follow.

I am also not sure what you are trying to say with the Sartre quote. Giving life the meaning we deem it should have, rather than expecting it to have a meaning from on high seems exactly what I am talking about.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #11)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 08:09 PM

13. When it comes to reason, it must be tight.

 

For instance, when you say, "what morals we should follow", where does the "should" come in? A good is posited. Can that value, that good, be proven?

Sartre comes in because he acknowledges that values do not exist a priori, before a person makes them. He goes on at length about a good for one is a good for all but at that point he's in the realm of mores, or culturally imposed values. I think, at root, those are all social utilitarian values.

I understand the difference between humanist values, values derived from humanity as a whole, versus values derived from on high. But I don't think they necessarily contradict each other. Religions usually acknowledge a natural law as well as those stemming from their particular beliefs.

Either way, though, I don't think an individual can reason, i.e., justify rationally, a given action as having any particular value beyond what he or she individually gives it.

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Response to rug (Reply #10)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 09:24 PM

15. Do you agree with Sartre?

Here's a brief excerpt from near the place you quoted in Existentialism is a Humanism:


We can judge, nevertheless, for, as I have said, one chooses in view of others, and in view of others one chooses himself. One can judge, first – and perhaps this is not a judgment of value, but it is a logical judgment – that in certain cases choice is founded upon an error, and in others upon the truth. One can judge a man by saying that he deceives himself. Since we have defined the situation of man as one of free choice, without excuse and without help, any man who takes refuge behind the excuse of his passions, or by inventing some deterministic doctrine, is a self-deceiver. One may object: “But why should he not choose to deceive himself?” I reply that it is not for me to judge him morally, but I define his self-deception as an error. Here one cannot avoid pronouncing a judgment of truth. The self-deception is evidently a falsehood, because it is a dissimulation of man’s complete liberty of commitment. Upon this same level, I say that it is also a self-deception if I choose to declare that certain values are incumbent upon me; I am in contradiction with myself if I will these values and at the same time say that they impose themselves upon me. If anyone says to me, “And what if I wish to deceive myself?” I answer, “There is no reason why you should not, but I declare that you are doing so, and that the attitude of strict consistency alone is that of good faith.” Furthermore, I can pronounce a moral judgment. For I declare that freedom, in respect of concrete circumstances, can have no other end and aim but itself; and when once a man has seen that values depend upon himself, in that state of forsakenness he can will only one thing, and that is freedom as the foundation of all values. That does not mean that he wills it in the abstract: it simply means that the actions of men of good faith have, as their ultimate significance, the quest of freedom itself as such. A man who belongs to some communist or revolutionary society wills certain concrete ends, which imply the will to freedom, but that freedom is willed in community. We will freedom for freedom’s sake, in and through particular circumstances. And in thus willing freedom, we discover that it depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that the freedom of others depends upon our own. Obviously, freedom as the definition of a man does not depend upon others, but as soon as there is a commitment, I am obliged to will the liberty of others at the same time as my own. I cannot make liberty my aim unless I make that of others equally my aim. Consequently, when I recognise, as entirely authentic, that man is a being whose existence precedes his essence, and that he is a free being who cannot, in any circumstances, but will his freedom, at the same time I realize that I cannot not will the freedom of others. Thus, in the name of that will to freedom which is implied in freedom itself, I can form judgments upon those who seek to hide from themselves the wholly voluntary nature of their existence and its complete freedom. Those who hide from this total freedom, in a guise of solemnity or with deterministic excuses, I shall call cowards. Others, who try to show that their existence is necessary, when it is merely an accident of the appearance of the human race on earth – I shall call scum. But neither cowards nor scum can be identified except upon the plane of strict authenticity. Thus, although the content of morality is variable, a certain form of this morality is universal. Kant declared that freedom is a will both to itself and to the freedom of others. Agreed: but he thinks that the formal and the universal suffice for the constitution of a morality. We think, on the contrary, that principles that are too abstract break down when we come to defining action. To take once again the case of that student; by what authority, in the name of what golden rule of morality, do you think he could have decided, in perfect peace of mind, either to abandon his mother or to remain with her? There are no means of judging. The content is always concrete, and therefore unpredictable; it has always to be invented. The one thing that counts, is to know whether the invention is made in the name of freedom.

...

The third objection, stated by saying, “You take with one hand what you give with the other,” means, at bottom, “your values are not serious, since you choose them yourselves.” To that I can only say that I am very sorry that it should be so; but if I have excluded God the Father, there must be somebody to invent values. We have to take things as they are. And moreover, to say that we invent values means neither more nor less than this; that there is no sense in life a priori. Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose. Therefore, you can see that there is a possibility of creating a human community. I have been reproached for suggesting that existentialism is a form of humanism: people have said to me, “But you have written in your Nausée that the humanists are wrong, you have even ridiculed a certain type of humanism, why do you now go back upon that?” In reality, the word humanism has two very different meanings. One may understand by humanism a theory which upholds man as the end-in-itself and as the supreme value. Humanism in this sense appears, for instance, in Cocteau’s story Round the World in 80 Hours, in which one of the characters declares, because he is flying over mountains in an airplane, “Man is magnificent!” This signifies that although I personally have not built aeroplanes, I have the benefit of those particular inventions and that I personally, being a man, can consider myself responsible for, and honoured by, achievements that are peculiar to some men. It is to assume that we can ascribe value to man according to the most distinguished deeds of certain men. That kind of humanism is absurd, for only the dog or the horse would be in a position to pronounce a general judgment upon man and declare that he is magnificent, which they have never been such fools as to do – at least, not as far as I know. But neither is it admissible that a man should pronounce judgment upon Man. Existentialism dispenses with any judgment of this sort: an existentialist will never take man as the end, since man is still to be determined. And we have no right to believe that humanity is something to which we could set up a cult, after the manner of Auguste Comte. The cult of humanity ends in Comtian humanism, shut-in upon itself, and – this must be said – in Fascism. We do not want a humanism like that.


I can accept some of what he says, but not all of it. My essential disagreement is the claim that a person has a complete liberty of commitment. I believe that certain values are indeed incumbent upon us. Non-sociopathic humans do apparently have an inherent concern for their community, both in its survival and in maintaining a certain level of status within that community. I don't believe that sociopaths choose sociopathy, I believe they are either born with it, or have it imposed in their early environment. Within that inherent concern, we do have freedom to choose values; but that concern limits the set of values that we will choose from. IOW, I do believe that their is an essence that precedes our existence.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #15)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 09:47 PM

16. I agree with his goal but not with how he got there.

 

The essence of an ethical system is that it is altruistic. Or, at least that one considers the other's concerns as legitimate as his or her own. That's where I think he ended up.

But he got there through some Randian portal.

And this, "Furthermore, I can pronounce a moral judgment. For I declare that freedom, in respect of concrete circumstances, can have no other end and aim but itself; and when once a man has seen that values depend upon himself, in that state of forsakenness he can will only one thing, and that is freedom as the foundation of all values."

Why? It's a self-referential statement picking but one of many equally valid - and unprovable - ends.

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Response to rug (Reply #16)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 10:48 PM

17. I'll have to think about where he ends up.

He thinks that we must make the liberty of others our concern. But, in the concrete case, the case of the student, he cannot offer any advice. His conclusion, to make the liberty of others our concern, seems quite abstract. If the abstract breaks down when it comes to defining action, I'm not sure how his morality plays out in the concrete.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 07:56 PM

12. Al-Khalili uses the word "hijacked," but his discussion sounds more like they embraced humanist valu

He does say Christians are humanists who believe in God.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #12)

Tue Oct 15, 2013, 08:11 PM

14. Thomas More, Saint Thomas More, was an early humanist writer besides being devoutly religious.

 

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