Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Ask the Next Question

I have entitled this “Ask the next Question” because it is what I think so many, especially those professing a disbelief in God, neglect to do.

One of the things that led me toward faith was my tendency, as I have just put it, to ask the next question. Notice that I said it led me toward faith, not to faith. But one of the problems of atheism is that it never answers all the questions. It never answers that last question. It stops short. An atheist may think he has found all the answers, but that is only because he has not asked enough questions.

This concept applies to any number of areas; morality, for example.
I once asked the question of a number of skeptics: “Is it wrong to hurt someone emotionally or physically?” and received some very interesting replies. Those who profess not to believe in God replied in a number of different ways.

Some said that it was wrong to hurt someone if it was deliberately and maliciously. The next question, of course, is, “Why?” If motivation governs the rightness or wrongness of an action, why? Who says so? If it is permissible to do something by accident, yet evil to do it deliberately, who says it is wrong? Agree as one may with this position, by what, or whose, authority is it the case?

Some people said words to the effect that, “This is my moral code.” or “This is what I live by.” The next question, then, is this: if this is the case, is it up to each individual to set his or her own moral code. What about someone who may have a different moral code, whereby they don’t see anything wrong with assault or murder? Is it then OK for them to murder but not for you?
Some said it was all relative; that there were times when it was alright to hurt someone for their own good, as in an emergency rescue, or pleasure, as in a physical sport. This answer implies that there are times when it is alright, but other times when it is wrong. The next question, then, is; “ On those occasions when it is wrong, why is it wrong?”

Some may say, as is commonly heard, “You can do anything you want as long as you don’t hurt somebody else.” But the next question I would ask is, “Why limit it there? Why do you draw the line at hurting others? Why the restriction? What authority do you claim for making it?”
Some may say that it is wrong because society says it is wrong. It is a consensus of the people. It is the law of the land. But then comes the next question. There have been societies throughout history who have practised human sacrifice. Was it right in that case? Or wrong. There have been societies in the past, including our own, who have practised slavery. Was it right then merely because society viewed it as right? Or was it wrong even then? And if it was wrong, what made it wrong.

Some might say that it is wrong because civilization has been built on rules that protect its members. Without these rules society could not stand. It is for the protection of the individuals within the society and therefore of the society itself. But that would make it a matter of practicality, rather than morality. The next question then is, “Does right or wrong depend then on the practicality of a situation? Is the murder of dissidents and protesters within a society right, for instance, if it is for the protection of that society?” If it is wrong, what makes it wrong?

Perhaps it’s a sort of stand-off for mutual benefit. Maybe there’s no morality in it at all. Perhaps the rule, “If you don’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you” has been merely a rule of convenience, which has allowed humans to avoid anarchy and build civilized societies. But that is nothing more than, “Might makes right”, or survival of the fittest. This would make murder acceptable as long as you could get away with it, or assault permissible as long as the weaker could not retaliate. Stronger nations throughout history have invaded weaker ones. Stronger peoples have subjugated weaker ones. Have they been right?

Tell me what you think, but first, ask the next question, and keep asking. I believe that every question, carried through to its true and logical end, leads to God.

Take Care

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