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QUESTION:

My question is about the connection between ethics and religion. I do not dispute the need for ethics. The 10 commandments form an very compactly stated ethical system. Why not take that system and follow it because it is sensible and leads to an ordered and happy society. Why follow it because it was divinely revealed?

You are devout follower of the church of Jesus Christ of LDS. In your opinion, is it not possible to separate the ethics form the divinely revealed parts of a religion? Why would you choose to believe something there is so much scientific evidence against? Is it not enough to take the message, the ethics and work from there.

PS: I'm not saying that I have scientific evidence that there is no God. Nobody can proof or disproof that. There is however plenty scientific evidence that there is no supernatural involvement such as handing over stone tablets etc.

-- Submitted by Bert Corluy

OSC REPLIES: - September 4, 2000

In my belief, we don't obey commandments because God told us to or because God will punish us if we don't. Rather, God gives us commandments because they represent truthful prescriptions for happiness -- natural laws, if you will, dealing with a happy life in a good community. So we obey God because God is right, and obeying him will lead to happiness, while disobeying him will be destructive to us and others in the long run, not by his intervention, but by the natural consequences of our negative acts.

This brings us into the whole realm of "natural law," which has a set of specific definitions in the field of ethical studies. Suffice it to say that I don't buy into those definitions because they are invariably recursive (how to define "good" without using a form of "good" in the definition ...).

In any event, the REAL problem with obeying "God's law" is not with God, or even knowing whether God exists, but rather with the fact that all our accounts of God's law are presented to us via translation -- not just from language to language, but also translation from God's perfect understanding through the imperfect and biased understanding of human beings who do not grasp the context in which all of God's commandments fit. Therefore God's laws invariably become men's laws, and instead of invoking the authority of God, those who preach should be humbly aware of the imperfection of their own understanding. Nevertheless, without fair laws fairly enforced, there is no civilization in the long run, and the invocation of God's authority does serve the purpose of giving good laws the ability to transcend and outlast passing fashions. In our time, because of the "death of God" in our culture, we have cast aside dozens of core laws that used to be regarded as sacred -- and only now, after a generation or so, are we coming to see exactly why those laws, with or without God, protected us from disastrous social consequences.

And those who don't believe in God nevertheless have just as strong a tendency toward authoritarian enforcement and puritanical interpretation of whatever laws they do believe in. I think the "multiculturalists" and "environmentalists" and "politically correct" could give any Massachusetts Puritan or Catholic Inquisitor a run for his money ... So apparently we're able to make laws intolerable without invoking God's authority to do it <grin>.

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