Saturday - July 28, 2007

Category Image The Bible as a Tool for Those Unable to Know Right and Wrong

I met an interesting man the past two weeks. An army ranger, a captain formerly, now a navy chaplain. He's a believer in the Bible as a document that is to be taken literally to an extreme level. He believes that evil angels exist that are induced to copulate with women if they don't cover their hair. It seems bad angels have some fetish for hair, I guess. Oh, and evil angels can be recognized by their three pairs of wings. He's only met one so far in his life, when he worked as a prison guard. He knew him because the prisoner's eyes glowed red. Despite this, I really like him and think he is an otherwise good man, full of good, practical advice for my Marines.

Before he became a chaplain and a minister, before he became a missionary, before he became a handyman, before he became a prison guard, but after he left the army he applied for a job with the state department.

He didn't get the job, and the reason fascinates me.

He didn't get the job because of a revelation he had during the interview. He realized that one of his job requirements would be to convince people from other countries to supply information to him. He would get them to be traitors to their country. This horrified him because he realized that had he done that to his country, he would consider it among the worst crimes possible to commit as a citizen. The guilt for such a crime would drive him to suicide. He did not want to put that burden on other people.

After lengthy discussion, finally it was clear to me that this good man was unable to distinguish between nations, judging one as good and another as bad. His personal philosophy is incapable of judging whether something is good or bad. He was incapable of seeing that supporting a despotic regime was morally wrong and he believed the old, tired canard that one's culture determines what is right or wrong.

For example, he believed that individualism is valued only in our culture, and is in fact what is leading us to our downfall. Other cultures -- strangely he doesn't see how they are the despotic ones -- value family and tribal relations that are more important. The individual should be subordinate to the group. I suspect he comes to this conclusion honestly, he gets it from his only source of thought.

Although very intelligent, this man is incapable of thinking in abstract philosophical terms. He knows there is right and wrong, but is incapable of perceiving right and wrong. Being thus incapable, and yet wanting there to be an answer to the question as to what is right and wrong, he turns to a single source: The Bible.

He is a moral absolutist, which is good, but without the ability to percieve morality he is dependent on this book. This explains why he is a literalist in interpreting the Bible. If the Bible tells him absolutely what is right and what is wrong, then everything else it says must be absolutely true as well. Thus we must have six-winged bad angels that are seduced by women not covering their hair (I still am skeptical that this is in the Bible.)

Right and wrong are absolutes, and it is the role of civilization to come to an agreement to understanding what is right and what is wrong. No civilization has ever, and likely never will get 100% agreement nor even will any individual likely ever get a fully correct understanding of all that is right and all that is wrong. We can, however, certainly judge how well we are doing in a relative manner. We can know that the United States is among the best even with its known flaws. We can know that Cuba, China, Korea, and any muslim nation are among the worst. These are facts, they are self-evident and all people on this Earth are responsible to know this.

Convincing someone from one of these or other nations to subvert their government is not asking them to sin, it is allowing them to redeem themselves.

I enjoyed meeting this man for many reasons, but especially because he is such a dramatic example of why belief in god is often the catalyst for abetting or ignoring evil in others. There are many who believe in god who are not like this man, but this is a common mode. People like him believe in a god because they are personally incapable of deciding right and wrong without being told by others or being told by some ancient, dusty book of magic.

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