Did man create God?

Did man create God? Yes.

I like to pick questions a part a little, and so I’m going to do that with this question, focussing on the words “create” and “God”. Firstly, I’m going to present a slightly facetious argument to help unpick the word “God”, and then I’m going to present a much more sincere argument to show man definitely created God.

The facetious argument: what does the question mean by ‘God’?

All Gods were created. There may be an exception, in that a sect of a religion may be true. But, apart from that God, all Gods were created.

I suspect the reason that this answer somehow doesn’t satisfy your thirst for an answer, no matter your position, is because the question seems to somehow misunderstand “God” in this sense. It seems to miss that point that if Hinduism is the true religion, then Allah was created by man. It’s almost as if so long as at least one religion is true, then we cannot say man created God. As such, as soon as I say “a religion may be true” I have failed in properly addressing the question.

And to that I agree. It seems clear that the question is not referring any religion or God of any religion. Instead, the question appeals to the essential concept of a God. Really, the question is ‘Did man create the essential idea of a God?’ In this question, it does not help us to talk of religions because we are talking about a cloud of publicly amassed philosophy referring to a God.

The sincere argument: what do I mean by ‘create’?

In this context, one about knowledge, I mean create, in a sense, in opposition to ‘discovered by evidence or revelation’. If the idea of a God were composed from evidence, then I would say that man ‘discovered’ God, and that excludes man from having ‘created’ God. In this context, I’m also happy to say that man ‘knows’ God if God was discovered.

This is a question of epistemology (which is a fancy word to describe the question ‘how do you know?’). And to that I have quite a simple argument:

  1. If there is no way by which one can know, then one cannot know.
    I don’t think this will be controversial, but it’s basically the idea that if you guess at something without any methods underpinning how one could come to that knowledge, then even if you happen to be correct, you still don’t know.
  2. There is no way by which one can know God.
    Religious people often claim this: God works in mysterious ways; God is beyond human understanding; God is unknowable. Atheists tend to accept this.
  3. One cannot know God
    That follows.

However, the essential idea of a God does exist. And, if it did not come about by knowledge or discovery, then it was created.

Did man create God? (Or was it Homo ergaster?) Taking a broader definition of the word “man” (to mean hominid regardless of gender), yes.

You’ll be careful to note that this answer is completely independent of whether or not a God exists. Nothing about this answer rules out there being a God looking down on us and saying ‘Well, they got that all wrong’. It’s just that even if that is so, the essential idea of a God was not discovered, but was instead created. Guesswork that is, regardless of whether it is accurate, a human creation.

 

God looks a lot like no God

We are willing to claim things don’t exist. I don’t mean atheists; I mean thinkers in general. Do you believe in unicorns, Santa, leprechauns, the tooth fairy or the Flying Spaghetti monster? I know they’re cliché examples, but that is intentional: I want you to realise these arguments aren’t new, but apologists have been ignoring them in the hope you can be fooled into believing one can never be reasonable in claiming something doesn’t exist. I’d be willing to wager that you actually are convinced the things above don’t exist, so you do have some idea of what it takes to claim something isn’t real. No ghosts, no mummies, no vampires.

You haven’t had to go to the end of space and time to make these conclusions; you have not observed every inch of the universe and neither do you need to. You know that.

We recognise the lies of psychics and horoscopes by their vagueness; the fact that nearly anything could be compatible with my horoscope prediction. How could “you will make an important transaction today” be wrong? We also recognise ghost hunters by their excuses for repeated failures. People who claim Bigfoot exists always have a reason for the miraculous absence of Bigfoot poo.

All these claims reveal nothing new about the universe; because anything could relate to my horoscope, it really says nothing at all. Because they reveal nothing, while claiming something, we are comfortable uttering their falsehood.

However, it does not seem to bother the religious that the claim ‘a God exists’ is empirically identical to its negation. Anything that one would expect to see that might be considered unique to a world where a God does exist is absent and apologised for. “God exists” is turned into a content-free utterance as anything that claim might mean is taken away; we don’t see anything it might mean.

I, reasonably, expect universally high human wellbeing, given a God that loves us. Yet, this is not the case, and it is apologised for: it’s our fault. That could make sense when talking about humans hurting humans; our freewill and autonomy are important to us. It doesn’t make complete sense, though. Ghandi had more empathy than a member of ISIS: why one was blessed with compassion and the other not is a curious quandary. More importantly, our freewill is irrelevant to cholera, ebola and dysentery.  And yet, “God exists”? The problem here is simple: love is considered a necessary descriptor of God, and that claim is made content-free as suffering and pain and things you wouldn’t allow to happen to those you loves are simply permitted.

You can claim this doesn’t affect the truth of the claim “God exists”, but by doing that you are making my point: what we expect to be able to discover whithers away, and the world starts to look identical, regardless of God’s existence.

I have no intention of stretching out the word count by listing every example of where ‘a world with God’ is defended by post fact apologetics and excuses, resulting in a world that looks entirely identical to ‘a world without a God’. However, another example is biology. God is also defined as the Creator, and a perfect one at that, and in many religions―particularly the Abrahamic ones―this creation is written as being an event. John Zande has already written quite extensively on the question of how a perfect being could have such an imperfect creation (surely it is a sign of a lack of foresight, lack of moral judgement or lack of expertise?)(John’s work here, here and here). But if that Creation event were true, archaeology, genealogy, geology and the fossil record would show a creation event. They don’t.

Instead, each discipline shows evolution. There are only really three rebuttals to this: denial, deceit and compatibalism. Denial is simply to say that these disciplines do not show evolution, even though they do. Deceit is to claim that the devil has orchestrated reality to provide false evidence of evolution (as a trick), which does raise the question of whether the Devil is more powerful than God (or whether God needed the Devil to play such a trick on humanity). Compatibilism is to say that a 13.8 billion year old universe, 4.5 billion year old Earth and 3.5 billion year old life is compatible with “on the first day…” making religious claims flexibly meaningless.

The world without God is, again, identical to the world with. Consider Sam Harris’ description: to say that it is reasonable to believe in a God is to say that you lie in a relationship with God, and that relationship is of a nature whereby you wouldn’t believe in It if It didn’t exist. But the actual description being put forward is one where such a relationship is impossible.

And that is the crux of my complaint here: what would you expect to be different about reality, if a God did not exist? If you cannot answer that question then you are not in a relationship with God of the sort Harris describes, therefore your faith is independent of God’s existence, therefore you’re bolstering my point: God looks a lot like no God.

Religion shows morality is discoverable despite God

I think there is evidence for morality being discoverable by secular methods, in religion. To make this argument, I will call on God’s justice and the fact that religions call on their followers to modulate the behaviour of the heathens. And that’s kind of it. The argument acts to do away with the common challenge of “why would atheists defend any morality at all?” The answer is that there is something, demonstrable in humans, that compels us to care how others act.

Now, I’ve already argued that the standard what behaviours in others we care about can be discovered through further understanding of wellbeing and in contractarian terms (i.e. what would perfectly rational entities who have no idea what position they would take in society write as a contract for behavior?). But I don’t think this is a uniquely secular philosophy.

If you are religious, why do you care if I kill people? Why do you even care if I kill you? “Because killing is wrong!” you may be rushing to type in the comments. But that doesn’t quite get us to the full answer. If killing is wrong, and I kill a lot of people, you believe in a God with a perfectly just safety net, right? I will receive my just punishment, and upon death the victims also will receive their rewards or punishments. Death leads everyone to God’s justice. Is that not the world the religious person believes in?

And yet, that seems insufficient to the religious person. Religious people want to modulate Earthly behaviour and politics. They want to stop abortion and stem cell research and extramarital sex. It matters to them how I behave, even knowing perfect justice is coming. But why? From a religious perspective, it doesn’t really matter how anyone behaves because all behaviour is met with perfect justice: murder doesn’t really matter, because the murderer’s actions are exacted. No matter what happens, the scales are always balanced. It’s an orgy of nihilism where no one need care how others behave.

But this simply isn’t the world religious people live in. The religious people care how others behave. The reason for this is that they care about people, even though there is no need for them to, knowing that justice will always be served in their narrative. (There also seems to be a certain level of implicit acceptance that God’s justice is not perfect, but actually massively an over reaction ― that actually the scales are not balanced, but massively tipped with infinite Hell for any transgressions. But that’s an aside.)

Take Islamic suicide bombing as a weird example of this. What would Allah care whether I die an infidel now or in 70 years? Why is Allah so willing to give such a reward to martyrs who kill me earlier than nature would have, given Allah is meant to be an infinite and omnitemporal being? The exacting of justice is coming either way, so what is 70 years to a God that exists outside time? In any narrative, does the suicide bomber achieve anything?

Despite the promise of exact justice, religious people care about people. And “religious” is not the important word here; “people” is. People care about people, and some of those people are religious. The simple fact that religious people care to modulate other people’s behaviour, given a promise of exacting justice, is evidence that the religion and the promise of justice are exactly not the point. The point is entirely about people.

And that’s where we start to talk about the definition of morality. Finding a sociopath who does not care about other people is irrelevant. Taking a contractarian view, morality is about what perfectly rational entities who have a stake in a civilisation would write as a contract of behaviour. People who don’t care, who are not rational, or exploits their known position in society only act as evidence that ‘morally’ is not the only way to act. Morality, in some way, relates to compassion. And that is not a religious phenomenon, but a human one. Compassion takes precedent over future justice, as compassion is about experience right now. (That’s not to say that human compassion isn’t overridden with anger sometimes, but we tend to be able to recognise that as distinct and different.)

Religion offers good reasons to be an earthly nihilist, knowing that it doesn’t matter what people do on Earth precisely because it will all be met with justice. Despite that, people care about behaviour precisely because they care. It’s a human phenomenon, not a religious one. So, when a religious person ponders why an atheist cares about morality, it’s because both the atheist and the religious person are getting that moral impulse from the same place.

A brief thought on that taboo racial slur and a more racist term

There exists a word, an anagram of ‘Ginger’, that is still taboo. I even hesitated to use it in the title of this post. Although (oh my, does this count as a trigger warning?) I am going to use that word in the rest of this post, as soon as I’m reasonably confident I have written enough words here for it to fill the brief summary the WordPress feed offers readers.

The point of this post is to discuss the idea that historically the word was used to dehumanise black people and so when white people use the word, it is that history they allude to. Therefore, so the argument goes, when a white person says ‘Nigger’ (or ‘nigga’, sorry, that’s the same thing) that is an absolute taboo. However, in modern parlance among black people, the word ‘Nigger’ is actually equalising, a comradery or endorsement of another black person. That makes it an entirely different word; the same sound, but entirely different.

The reason some black people keep the word ‘Nigger’ to show endorsement of each other is, in part, to take the dehumanising power the word had away. It has to be said that some black people think this is inappropriate and feel the word ‘Nigger’ is entirely dehumanising and taboo regardless of the speaker. Whereas my view is slightly different.

#whitemansplaining

I entirely support moves take power away from words that intend to dehumanise people. But, I think continuing to allow the word ‘Nigger’ to be a taboo for white people is exactly the problem. By having the word ‘Nigger’ as a taboo for white people, its meaning can never be allowed to change. Only words in use can be allowed to change.

I understand I have limited experience with racism so my view on this may be discounted. But, hear me out. After all, white people who support racial equality outnumber bitter or ill-intending racists. I’m aware some people think all people are racists, but that involves a lowering of the bar of racism to include ‘racism of low expectations’ or ‘racism of passive ignorance’, both of which, although damaging, are far lower-level things than aggressive or active racism.

I am reminded of Louis CK’s use of the word ‘Nigger’ to describe a white barista. “That nigger made the shit out of a coffee.” It was an unabashed, unqualified endorsement of the young white man to be called a nigger. That use of the word that is prevalent among black culture is seeping into the lexicon in broader terms. It is shifting to be an endorsement and not an attack. But, if it continues to be a taboo for white people to say it, that shift can never complete; ‘Nigger’ will always be dehumanising if white people can’t also have access to the word. Most white people are not bitter racists who intend the word hatefully. Not even the old ones. I heard the story from a 90 year old lady that she had just seen “the most beautiful negress”. I don’t know what a negress is, but my spellchecker isn’t picking it up. I honestly think it was a 90 year-old’s attempt at being progressive. There wasn’t any disdain or contempt in her voice. Perhaps a little of the ‘racism of low expectations’, but no bitterness or aggression. She was, without judgement, observing a black woman and noting that she is beautiful. Sure, we can pine after the next step, where the 90-year-old doesn’t even notice the beautiful woman is black. But I think you’d be hard pushed to call the 90-year-old racist, without really minimising the definition of ‘racist’.

 

There is a word out there I think is more racist than the word ‘nigger’ and by a long way: Malteser. I don’t know how prevalent this word is, but I heard a friend of mine get called a malteser for being a high achieving black student. The suggestion was that, despite being black, she is ‘white on the inside’. It is the declaration that academic success is a white trait. Almost as if she is betraying her black culture to be successful. This is not me being outraged on her behalf, she was upset. And this is a word I simply never knew before. (That’s not 100% true, I’ve heard it used to describe brunette girls who acts stupid; they’re blonde on the inside. And, of course, I’ve used the actual chocolate to send myself into a pre-diabetic coma.)

So I am pondering to myself as I write this whether “malteser” could even have its racist interpretation taken away from it. And I think the answer is “no”. If black people take it and try to own it, it will still have the connotation of separation; that there is some trait or achievement that is uniquely ‘white’. If white people try to own it, it will still suggest there are some things black people can’t do or have. And yet it is powerless word that most people have never heard of in race terms. It is unlike ‘nigger’ in that separation of race is built into the word. But I still don’t think taboo is the answer; taboo gives the word power. I think the answer is ridicule (or, at least, it would be if the word ever gained any real power).

And for that, it has to be allowed to be said.

Crossing the ‘T’s and and dotting the ‘i’s: a contract of morality?

I have been compelled recently to thoroughly consider another moral explanation, aside from ‘The Moral Landscape’. It is called Contractarianism. And it resonates strongly with something I have recently been arguing and investigating: that an open rational discussion is a method of understanding morality. This relates to ‘The Moral Landscape’, and I suspect that is an artefact of more than just coincidence. The basic premise is this: given a veil of ignorance and perfect rationality, there are a set of rules and penalties (a contract) society would compose for itself. The veil of ignorance is an important step to this: it is the condition that the rational minds discussing and composing the contract have no idea what role in the society they will play once the contract is composed. It, therefore, benefits no one to write in rules that favour a particular group and no one can exploit an existing privilege.

Despite this language of ‘a contract’, it certainly worth noting that this does not make morality an opt-in situation where people can refuse to sign the contract and suddenly have no moral responsibility and are immune from punishment. The contract is the product of a thought experiment; a hypothetical document on which morality would be described. Everyone’s behaviour could then be said to comport to a greater or lesser extent to the description is this hypothetical document.

Being compelled to consider new moral explanations is a rather rare phenomenon for me. Often moral arguments have a certain glaring hole in them, particularly theistic ones that act on authority without a clear explanation as to why any one should value the authority of a God (other than threats). Vicarious redemption acts as a loophole to any normal moral concerns, undermining the Christian moral explanation rather rapidly. The Christian moral explanation that was offered to me by Oldschoolcontemporary (OSC), although immensely interesting, also failed to compel me to its protracted considerations: the idea that developing a certain relationship with God is what Christianity really is, and that it will lead to certain moral epiphanies. But this doesn’t tell you whether God has saved certain relationships for certain people that have since done things we consider psychotic, or whether God is even necessary for the epiphanies OSC alluded to: meditation and LSD consistently give the same epiphanies. However, this hypothetical contract from perfectly rational and interested beings is curious.

Given that perfect rationality among a group is something humanity hasn’t had, the content of such a document is not yet fully knowable. Certainly, rational and empirical arguments can be made to allude to what the contract would say. The rational argument could look at what rights one would want to afford themselves and, due to the veil of ignorance, would have to afford all groups, with pragmatic limits and thus trade-offs. The empirical argument could look at the moral progress and direction of societies that have embraced the values of the Enlightenment and extrapolate those directions. We could even look at the concepts of fairness and protective nature (even interspecies) among intelligent life. It will heavily reflect the Ancient Greek idea of ‘Natural Law’. But any level of certainty is not yet available to us.

In both cases, I think general rules and values can be gleaned: liberty, not causing harm, helping the needy etc. In fact, the theme of ‘The Moral Landscape’, that of safeguarding the highest possible wellbeing, I suspect, can be derived from imagining what those perfect rational beings with a stake in the society would compose.

This does give me reason for a certain level of optimism, as I recently wrote an article pondering what codes of conduct AI would write for itself. AI doesn’t perfectly fit the criteria for Contractarianism, as even if they were perfectly moral, AI would understand its function in a society: such a situation could still lead to tyrannical rules. However, each individual AI program would not know its place in the community of AI, with new AIs always possibly being right around the corner.

Contractarianism does fail the normal tests composed on it by theistic moral explanations, particularly that of ‘what does it matter to the universe?’ I think this is a biased challenge that doesn’t relate to any understandable definition of morality. I cannot see why cosmic significance, the idea that moral decisions make a difference in 40 billion years, is a necessary hurdle for moral explanations to jump. But the other regular moral challenges levelled at moral explanations are whether they include criteria for accountability. Again, I think this is a mistaken criteria: if one asks whether moral decisions could be said to be better or worse than each other, I cannot see why accountability is a factor. People who believe the Earth is flat are objectively wrong, even no one ever holds them to account for their view. It may be of pragmatic concern, but it is of no philosophical concern. Besides, pragmatic concerns of the accountability held in certain moral explanations also need to be fired inwardly on most theistic morality. Moreover, however, it is a contract that will have among its content the penalty for transgressions. Other contractors are then empowered by the contract to hold transgressors to account. It might not be a necessary hurdle to jump, but contractarianism still does.

(Although this is something I like doing — explaining why I don’t have to answer a certain question because it doesn’t affect the credibility of the idea I’m discussing, and then answering the question anyway — I really should stop. There are a few commenters who are more interested in cheap debating tactics than open discussion, and this leaves me vulnerable to their silly little quips.)

Contractarianism: the view that a perfectly rational group with an interest in a society it shall return to, with no awareness of where in that society they shall return will write up a contract for that society that governs behaviour for the better ― and that such a document records moral values. It may run parallel to or lie causal to or completely replace my former moral explanations: the moral landscape. It is another, reasonable seeming, secular explanation of objective morality.

Do I really have to answer such absurd depictions of my view? Enlightenment values help discover morality and let it flourish

In a recent conversation with oldschoolcontemporary (OSC) about objective morality, we ran into many stumbling blocks to our ability to properly communicate with each other. So far as I could tell, OSC had immovable metrics in place by which to measure objective morality that were almost necessarily religious (redemption, salvation and infallible imposable authority) which were, so far as I can see, superfluous to morality. Morality, and hopefully we call all agree at at least this point, pertains to actions. But, this was borne out of what I suspect was a much bigger issue: OSC appeared to have an incredibly two-dimensional and uniform view of all morality that was ‘other’ to his own.

The morality I offered pertained to wellbeing (queue a million surprises), and the idea that we can progressively learn about this morality through open and honest discussion. The idea that we can learn about morality is based on what the Ancient Greeks initially spoke of, and which translates approximately to ‘Natural Law’. Natural Law is the concept that heavily informed the writing of the EU and UN documents on Human Rights. This concept of Natural Law has spanned cultural differences, national borders and religions. It is discoverable through the values we often related to the 17th Century Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment values are that of open enquiry, speech and the right of and to criticism. Those values have appeared in many places, and when they do they are accompanied by advances in civil rights and justice. The mini-Enlightenment of Ancient Greece, for example, laid the ground for for the first political use of democracy (at least, the first one that was recorded and those records have survived). Athenian democracy has its warts: only land-owning men were allowed to vote. Still, that was a great leap forward from where they were before. The Golden Age of Islam, for all its nonsense, did foster religious and cultural tolerance and intellectual freedoms.

My argument is that, given those conditions, human conversations nearly always (with the occasional bump; I’m not arguing this is perfect) conclude in social progress: wanting to extend liberties to other nationalities and ethnicities, to all genders, to other species; to the writing of human rights and the acknowledgements of war crimes; to freedom of sexuality and love, and to freedoms of migration.

OSC doesn’t accept any of that as necessarily ‘good’. To be a little more precise, OSC doesn’t accept that any of this meets the ‘grace of God’. This, apparently, is a key definition in what ‘good’ is, according to OSC. And that makes sense; that’s the only way to then demand the surrender of moral autonomy to a God and a love of Jesus and his sacrifice.

I attempted to address what I saw as shortcomings in OSC’s theistic morality from a base of common ground: this idea of God’s expectation of us being perfect, of authoritarian and tyrannical definitions, of the paradox regarding what ‘good’ actually is (God’s nature or something God ascribes to), the fact a human sacrifice is so contrary to human moral sensibilities (which presumably God made for us). This is why I was then surprised and frustrated to read OSC’s reply to me, where he demonstrated profound misunderstandings of what I said.

OSC attempted to define ‘wellbeing’ as narrowly as he possibly could, something that comes across as a dishonest strawman: he made it just about human wellbeing, but the expedient function of the human machine (i.e. “healthy” to the human body, with no regard even for psychological health). He converted the ideas of freedoms into “whims and fancy”, completely discarding the fact that humanity frequently agrees to extend these rights, even to people beyond your pragmatic interest (but, evidently, not beyond our moral interest). He set up an analogy where a religious person went to a humanist academy, and made the humanists into modernistic pragmatists with a disregard for experience and wonder, and gave those attributes to the religious character. This is despite those characteristics clearly belonging to the flourishing of wellbeing, and the people routinely going through predefined motions are those who define morality theistically.

All this I may have been willing to address and answer. In fact, I made some efforts. But, OSC’s comment persisting in deviating further into the absurd as the comment progressed. The first major transgression from anything I thought could even be argued an honest misunderstanding was the question of whether a wellbeing-based morality would permit a person to rape and torture 2 children, to save the lives of 3 children. The honest answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know all 5 children surviving, where two are raped and tortured is better than 2 children surviving without rape and torture, and three dying. (The fact I don’t know doesn’t stop that being an objective question. I also don’t know which is heavier: an average apple or an average nectarin.) But the thought experiment is so poorly thought-through. The person being indicted here the person who has to choose between the rape or the murder? Because it seems to be the person who should be indicted is the person who actually set-up this twisted little scenario. But, also, what is the Christian answer here? Should you permit 3 to death, or rape and torture 2? The failure of this thought experiment isn’t wellbeing, it’s that all options are heinous. Christianity fails to get a happy resolution to this, as well.

At some sort of tipping point, OSC stepped into politics. He started talking about utopianism, and how all ideas of utopia have been just-the-other-side of awful and heinous things. He started talking of the suppression of religious freedoms under the Soviets. He started talking about eugenics under the Nazis. He started talking about how my view―that of safeguarding wellbeing and having an open and frank discussion about what is good―would lead to horror and atrocity. I didn’t force his views―one of understanding morality through some epiphany or religious revelation in a relationship with God―into Crusades and Inquisitions or religious persecution and Witch Hunts. But, apparently, no such courtesy was extended to me. Everything that is not theistically defined morality, to OSC, is all Soviet oppression and Nazi eugenics.

Do I have to answer that? From a practical sense, are there people who read a conversation like that and will have OSC’s absurd strawman slip past their intellectual faculties? How much work is ahead of me when my interlocutor doesn’t get a single element of my proposal right and compares it to the complete antithesis of what I’ve said? I’ve got to restate my position, actively disavow and untangle that position from the smear and then start unpicking anything they presented as their own view. It’s overloading, putting work before me that I should never have to do.

My response to OSC was frustrated and angry. OSC is an elegant and intelligent writer, and for that reason I had been hooked into a long and time consuming discussion with him. Some of his religious views are nuanced, intricate and require considerable ruminations over, especially the epiphany-interpretation of Christianity I explored in my last post. This (along with the fact morality matters to me) is why I responded badly, having felt betrayed by OSC sudden descent into such insane argumentation.

The Buddhist Christian, on LSD

Any moral message that can be taken from Christianity is immediately undermined by the fact Christianity holds the loophole to entire avoid moral judgement: faith. A good person receives no rewards if they are not faithful, and a bad person receives no punishment if they are faithful. I’ve argued before that this is the catastrophic failure of Christian ethics: it claims to have moral messages, thus blocks real progress, but undermines itself to the point of permitting anything.

One commenter, oldschoolcontemporary (OSC), in an attempt to make sense of this for me, argued that upon conversion to Christianity or in a renewed finding of Christian faith, the new believer undergoes a sort of transformation. This transformation is one of the mind, where the believer develops an understanding of God’s law. It is important to note that OSC believes God’s law to be something that lines up very much with the moral sensibilities we all have. Although epiphanies of this sort are something that are familiar to me, I take umbrage with the assertion that one needs a believe in God, or Jesus specifically, to have such an epiphany.

A clear distinction was made early in OSC’s comment (read the comment here): the new believer will not develop an aversion to shellfish or fall in line with other ‘ceremonial’ laws, but instead this epiphany will relate only to God’s moral law; the idea of not wanting unnecessary harm to come to others. (We’ll gloss over the wiggle room permitted by “unnecessary”.) I have found it difficult to find anywhere in the Bible where this distinction between God’s moral law and ceremonial law is explicated. From what I can gather, where God’s law overlaps with what is known as “Natural Law”, that’s what we call moral law, and everything else that seem arbitrary or silly, that’s all ceremonial. Natural Law Theory, for those who don’t know, is a pre-Christian discovery meant to describe the preferred moral state of people; perhaps approximately summed up as ‘the moral intuition’ (which we seem to be able to identify in our selves as separate from selfish impulses).

I don’t think it’s reliable for OSC to mandate the relationship with God a new or renewed believer would develop. There are plenty of Christians who I have no reason to doubt are  as sincere in their beliefs, who do wish to repeal the rights and shorten the lives of certain groups of people. There is no clear reason or evidence for a person becoming a new believer that would make them additionally apologetic for their actions. (There are seemingly sincere believers in other religions, too, who are guilty of the same thing, but they are not the point; if OSC is right, those people can’t have the epiphany because they have the wrong God.) What I think OSC is doing here is transposing either their experiences, or their romanticised idea of what experiences people should have, onto other people. So far as I can tell, people who sincerely believe in the Christian God have completely different experiences and moral epiphanies to the one OSC wants them to have.

I’ve experienced mild forms of this transformative moral epiphany OSC alludes to through meditation, and I’ve heard it many more times through the accounts of people using LSD. Both LSD and contemplative meditation appear to make the mind default to the description the ancient Greeks began a discussion of and that ultimately led to various developments in human rights: the Natural Law.

I believe there is some kind of a Natural Law. LSD users give surprisingly consistent account of their feelings of oneness and their moral insights, and those accounts do resonate with my experiences practising meditation and the professed experiences of Buddhists I met in Thailand. It is possible that this ‘Natural Law’ is nothing more than a consistency in neural networks (but I think it is more than that).

This ‘pseudo-Buddhist’ slant on Christianity is not unique to OSC, an interpretation where one has merely to reach this enlightened epiphany before death in order to go to Heaven. The moral trail one leaves behind is redundant. But that epiphany doesn’t have to be belief in Jesus, and belief in Jesus does not necessarily result in the epiphany OSC alludes to. This is part of the reason I don’t believe God owns the mansion we should be having moral discussion in.