Interesting post of PZ’s on being “good without god” and whether that’s a goal or slogan worth having.
The implication of “good” is thorough conformity. Has challenging an authority figure ever fit the definition of being good? When abolitionists broke the law by smuggling slaves into Canada, when suffragettes picketed to demand the vote, when Stonewall erupted and Martin Luther King marched, when students protested the war in Viet Nam, were they being “good” in the general public’s understanding of the term? I don’t think so. They were being very, very naughty. Which was good. See what I mean? It’s an empty word that offers nothing but vague reassurances.
Yes I guess so. I admit I have been thinking all along that what “good” meant in that context was: not selfish, not ruthless, not brutal or predatory or greedy. I’ve been thinking it meant altruistic and generous as opposed to their opposites.
Now that PZ mentions it I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking that. It’s not self-evident, certainly. I suppose I’ve been assuming that what Christians in general mean by “good” is generous and altruistic…but is it? Am I just assuming that because I’m infected with the same anachronistic illusions that Karen Armstrong is? Am I assuming that because I’ve bought into modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion and related other-regarding virtues?
Well, but if there is modern goddy propaganda that religion simply equals compassion etc then Christians will have bought into it too, so I could still be right that that’s what they mean by the word.
I think they do, really – that’s my guess. For Quiverfull types and all the other flavors of lunatic it probably does mean obedience; it does for Mormons; but for more average Christians I think it means some variation on Charity, as in 1 Corinthians 13 type charity.
And that’s part of the appeal, for some, perhaps for many. That’s not really conformist. It’s not friendly to capitalism, for one thing. It doesn’t look with complacency on all social arrangements, because so many of them have not a damn thing to do with Charity or altruism or generosity.
One of the few persuasive things I’ve ever heard Karen Armstrong say – I think she’s the one who said it – was that real generosity is irrational, and that’s why religion is good at it. I think there’s something to that.
The two are not unconnected though. Challenging authority figures can partake of the same kind of irrational generosity. And then when you go that way you do find yourself flatly denying other people’s ideas of what is “good.” The pope and his friends for instance think the way to be extra special good and different from the selfish secular world is to be insanely concerned about human fetuses at the expense of adult female human beings. That’s the urge to be irrationally caring and generous run completely amok.