If God is Good… what’s that mean?

Jonny made an excellent point in reply to my last post:

To borrow from Christian Platonists, God is Good in the sense that God = Good. We call other things good for the ways in which they are like God. We do not call God good because He is like something else.

Right, this makes sense. I continue to hold firm to the phrase, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” I’ve heard it uttered in both Baptist and Catholic churches, and everywhere in between, and I find truth in it. It is uncompromising and hopeful. God is Good.

So what is “Good?” What does that mean? Extending from my last post, my first thought was that our definition of Good is probably incorrect. I’d like to recognize that Christians, at least some, make an honest effort to align their definition of Good with their concept of God, thereby equating the two, but as a knee-jerk interpretation of the word Good, I doubt we really do that all that often. Jonny states that D&D’s definition of Good is “altruism,” and that this is incorrect when compared to reality, ((He also states that D&D’s definition of “Holy” is shallow, in that all it means is that it does 2d6 damage to evil. I’d dispute that–the reason Holy does 2d6 damage to Evil is because Evil can’t stand the touch of something set aside for and consecrated by deity. It is anathema to them. The damage is just the result.)) but as I look at how a lot of people live their lives with God, I don’t see too many contradicting that view.

Can we say that we do not believe that God is altruistic? I’m not really comfortable with the word “we” in the last sentence, because I’m questioning it a bit, but let’s roll with it. One of the things I was getting at in my last post is that a lot of people in the Church seem to think that God’s purpose is to serve them, or at best to serve humanity. I get that we should ask for God’s help, God’s healing, God’s blessing, etc… but do we recognize the purpose behind God’s actions? If God heals someone, does anyone else wonder why?

It took me a bit to reach this thought, but Adam’s reply gets at what I’m going for. Essentially, I’m calling into question our definition of Good. I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely certain who I mean by “our” in that sentence. Partially, I mean humanity in general, but I loathe over-generalization and that’s too far for me. If I narrow it to the Church, that’s still too overgeneralized, though I don’t consider my question irrational in that context. Let’s just say, a lot of the Christians I’ve met seem to have this definition of good: kind, compassionate, altruistic, humble, forgiving, honorable, and honest. They equate Good with Jesus, who washed the feet of His disciples, and so we assume that God will always wash our feet no matter where we tread.

I agree that God is Good, but I don’t think God’s definition of Good and our definition is the same. I think our definition is the list of words I put above. I’m beginning to think that God’s definition is closer to that of Lawful Neutral. So in turn, what humanity considers Lawful Neutral, God considers Good.

Part of the problem, it occurs to me now, is English. After studying a couple other languages, I’m pretty unsatisfied with ours: it’s too limited, with too few words that mean too many things. “Good” can mean a ridiculously broad number of things. Same as “Love” and, apparently, “Companion.” ((By which I mean Eve, who was created for Adam–the English translation of this word is nowhere near its original meaning.)) In my head, I’ve got at least 2 different definitions of Good going, one being “God,” in the sense that Jonny related the definition as God = Good and Good = God. The other is my own thoughts in regards to God’s alignment, that being Lawful Neutral, so if God is LN, and God is Good, that means that our original definition of Good is incorrect and we ought to bring ours more in line with the traditional definition of Lawful Neutral.

Which means that Good isn’t necessarily a humble, all-forgiving, altruistic servant, but is instead a fair, honorable judge, upholding a moral code. There’s a part of me that is revolted by this thought, as a positron revolts an electron. I wasn’t raised in the Church, and fantasy fiction had more to do with my moral upbringing than anything else, but the definition of Good as I related it above (kind, compassionate, altruistic, etc.) is deeply ingrained in me–to defy it and consider something else to be Good is difficult. Yet the phrase, “Does not hesitate to protect the innocent” keeps going through my head, and I look at this world, and I don’t see it. I don’t see our Protestant American definition of Good in this world, and I can’t find a reason for God to not impose that Good if, indeed, God is Good (by the definition of protecting innocents, altruism, etc.).

Here’s how my logic works, then: I know that God is Good. Since God is Good, God would do Good things. My knee-jerk, gut definition of Good would require God to do things that he is not, in all actuality, doing. Therefore, I can only logically reach one of two conclusions: either God isn’t Good, or my definition of Good is incorrect. I have already stated that I know that God is Good, but I am less confident in my definition of what Good is. Therefore, my definition must be incorrect.

If my definition is incorrect, I must find a new definition of Good. And thus far, the concept of Lawful Neutral seems to fit the bill.

First thoughts on Letter to a Christian Nation

I was challenged a few weeks ago on Reddit to read Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, amongst 1-2 other atheistic books. The assumptions were 1) that a Christian would never read anything that challenged their faith because they feared challenges, and 2) that if a Christian did read these atheistic books and gave them an honest reading, they would surely ditch Christianity because it’s just so stupid.

I’m about halfway through Harris’s letter and, so far, I’m not terribly impressed. I’m taking notes and I’ll write a response/critique once I’m done, but he’s certainly not selling me on anti-Christianity. I appreciate some of his points, but by and large, I feel his grasp of ethics and logical arguments is shaky at best. His arguments aren’t unsound, per se, they’re just… shallow and generally rely on straw men. They’re not false, they’re just not always applicable to the point at hand.

That’s fine, really, given his goal with the book. I look forward to seeing what the second half says and to begin writing my own thoughts in more detail. I don’t know if I’ll have enough material to form my own book, as one man has, but it’ll certainly be a post or series of posts here. From reading the reviews on the existing replies to Harris’s book, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. There are two (I just found a second) and they both sound like rubbish. Since I’m writing on the Internet in favour of Christianity, I’ll probably come across as similarly terrible, but oh well. We do what we can.

Going to play a game and unwind for a bit before bed. I have a new book to read (Elantris by Brandon Sanderson) but so far it’s depressing as hell. Really morbid, and not something good to read before bed. Maybe some DDO? It’s hard to pick between games these days ^_^

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 2 – Understanding Nagarjuna

I need to recant yesterday’s blog entry because, after a long lecture in my Buddhism class tonight, I understand what Nagarjuna was saying now.

The statement that plagued me over the weekend was “A non-moving thing is not stationary,” so let us begin with that.

First, Nagarjuna doesn’t necessarily redefine words, but he was certainly using them in a manner I did not understand. The key phrase is “inherent existence,” and the important thing to understand is that nothing possesses inherent existence. Inherent Existence means, essentially, that something exists without condition, without cause or effect, and this thing is permanent. It cannot change, and as such, it can be neither interacted with nor can it interact with anything else.

Let us therefore use the example of a ball. There are two things we might say about a ball. First, that it is made of various components; its existence is conditional upon being put together of different pieces, chemicals, what-have-you by various people in various places. It does not purely exist without cause; something and someone had to make it. Second, balls roll. They can bounce and go places.

If a ball is not moving, it is stationary, but when Nagarjuna states that a non-moving thing is not stationary, he’s not really talking about something so simple as “not moving.” Rather, he is referring to its conditional existence. In referring last time to potential motion, I wasn’t far from the mark of understanding a ball’s conditional existence. Because the ball does not inherently exist, it is capable of change. It is not permanent. And because it is capable of change, it is capable of rolling. It can be affected, and it can affect other things.

To be stationary would be to inherently exist, or to be incapable of change. A non-moving thing is simply not-moving, but it is capable of being moved, conventionally speaking.

About an hour and a half into tonight’s lecture, it all clicked for me, and I find Nagarjuna far more intriguing now. I really look forward to finishing this book and digging into the commentary. The problem was that I had come at this text from a very Western perspective, with a preconceived definition of the word “emptiness.” Nagarjuna states that everything is empty and that nothing inherently exists; I interpreted that as a very negative statement, and if you walked up to a person and told them that they are empty, they probably would too.

But Nagarjuna didn’t mean it as an insult, just as an observation. Inherent existence means permanence; it means that the thing in question had no cause and subsequently is incapable of acting on anything else. Inherent existence means that the thing in question cannot change. To be capable of change, to be impermanent, to not have inherent existence… that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me now. And certainly, within Buddhism, it was not; inherent existence, permanence, would mean that one is incapable of nirvana.

Later I will have to write, however, about my disagreement with the view that nothing inherently exists. But for now, it is enough that this text makes a bit of sense to me, and I’m excited to read more.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 1 – Confused about Nagarjuna

Just as a moving thing is not stationary,
A non-moving thing is not stationary.
Apart from the moving and the non-moving,
What third thing is stationary?

Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nagarjuna

Like I’ve mentioned before, there seem to be some fundamental flaws in Buddhist logic and theology, largely due to a lack of explanation concerning various doctrinal points. It has been stated that several facets of their beliefs are simply taken as natural laws, prima facia with no further consideration. Karma is a law, as is reincarnation, and that’s all there is to it.

Reading Nagarjuna, though I’m not far into it, feels like reading Ayn Rand. Attempting to redefine words and twist them so they support one’s philosophy seems fundamentally wrong to me. It simply doesn’t work.

A definition is, to be fair, simply what a word or thought means according to the majority. The majority of a society has settled upon what the word/idea means, and agreed upon it. We agree that “two apples” means that we have one apple and another apple. Putting these together gives us two. Just the same, we agree that the word stationary in the context of discussing motion means not moving.

So stating “a non-moving thing is not stationary” just seems nonsensical to me. One might argue that it has potential energy, but the entire point of potential is that it’s not happening now.

Nagarjuna is attempting to prove that everything is empty, that there is neither existence nor non-existence. I’m familiar with the style of logical argument he is using, building upon previous statements, but at certain points he makes assumptions that fail, in my opinion. You can’t get halfway in and then redefine a term.

It’s like saying, “Let apple pie equal the world. Because apple pie has a crust, the earth has a crust, and this we know from science. Therefore, just like apple pie is filled with apples, the earth must be filled with apples.”

A non-moving thing is not stationary? Sorry, but unless you suddenly shifted gears to begin talking about posting letters and birthday cards, I don’t think that argument works.