Monday, October 30, 2006

Some good quotes

I was reading through some quotes on BuzzFlash, and this one from Gandhi really caught my eye:

"Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle."
- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Someone asked a few months ago on this forum how I could consider Jesus a great moral teacher if I don't also believe he was the Son of God. My first reaction to this question is always to point to Gandhi. I am not a Hindu, and I do not believe in Gandhi's theology at all. And yet, I find him to be one of the most persuasive and moving moralists in history. We all have a lot to learn from him, regardless of what god we happen to worship (or not worship as the case may be). Morality and theology overlap, but one does not wholly contain the other. There is great wisdom to be found in the world from those who do not look like us, or think like us, or believe as we do, if we only will open our hearts to them.

Here are some other great quotes from that link, none perhaps as moving as the one above, but that spoke to me nonetheless; hope you enjoy them:

"You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered."
-- Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th US president (1908-1973)

"Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
-- Flannery O'Connor, writer (1925-1964)

"Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."
-- Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President (1882-1945)

"People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them."
-- Dave Barry, author and columnist (1947-)

"We must not be frightened nor cajoled into accepting evil as deliverance from evil. We must go on struggling to be human, though monsters of abstractions police and threaten us."
-- Robert Hayden, poet and educator (1913-1980)

"As I stood before the gates I realized that I never want to be as certain about anything as were the people who built this place."
- Rabbi Sheila Peltz, on her visit to Auschwitz

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."
- George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it."
- Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

"The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within."
- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

"It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."
- William Tecumseh Sherman, Union General in the American Civil War (1820-1891)

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."
- Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882)

"All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies."
- John Arbuthnot, writer and physician (1667-1735)

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing the ground."
-- Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, editor and orator (1817-1895)

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
-- Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President (1809-1865)

"The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts."
-- Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
--Theodore Roosevelt


Anonymous said...

These are all great. The one that made me stop, however, is the one by the rabbi about Auschwicz. How sobering and true are her words, all these years later, especially with the wars being waged in the world and the prejudice and hatred that still fuels minds incapable of seeing what Ghandi, Jesus, Socrates, Plato and other philosophers tried to get us to do -- slow down. Think. Learn, Listen. Understand. Empathize. Believe. Thanks for the link to this site, Jeff. It's a good one. -- Denise

Geopoet said...

Thanks for the quotes. Interesting question on whether morality exists outside of theology. It seems similar to saying gravity exists outside of physics, but I'll give it more thought. I have read about the differences between philosophy and theology however, which may be relevant to what you're saying.

Also, for accuracy on your intro, to view Jesus as only a moral teacher and not the Son of God was not one of the options HE gave us (as you may have read in Mere Christianity by now). Literatively speaking however, his teachings, sayings and parables (to billions of us) far surpass anything put to pen before or since. Interesting there were none quoted on the link. Wonder why...

Suggestion - flip through the Gospels of Matthew and John and just read the "red" (his words); what an adventure.


Jeff Hebert said...

Also, for accuracy on your intro, to view Jesus as only a moral teacher and not the Son of God was not one of the options HE gave us...

Then I am glad to add this one to the list of Christ's teachings I have rejected :-)

Acroamatic said...

There's probably a lot more to say on this, but here's a start. Gandhi accepted Jesus as a great moral teacher. Gandhi believed that Jesus also bore a certain quality of divinity, and would not have denied that it was appropriate for Christians to put faith in Jesus. Gandhi was also a better Christian than most Christians, and on similar terms as Christians, whose faith he understood well.

Jeff Hebert said...

That's true, although my understanding of Hinduism is the belief that it is within each of us to possibly become the divine. They believe that when you achieve a certain level of enlightenment along the soul's journey, you can become like a guiding god to those who are on a lesser stage of development. I believe it's in that sense that Gandhi would have conceived of Christ as partially divine. To put it another way, I think he would have considered favorably the possibility that Jesus was A son of "god", but not THE (as in one and only possible) Son of God.

This is all from an Eastern Religions class in college, longer ago than I care to remember, so take it with a grain of salt. But, that's how I remember it.

Geopoet said...

Your comment raises a question I've had for awhile that has not really been answered, at least to me. When people selectively choose what they like and don't like in the Gospels as far as belief, they are saying obviously that some of what's in there is probably true (the rational ones must begrudge He lived, taught and actually said some of the things in there) while some of it is made up (take your pick - the virgin birth, the transfiguration, the miracles, God's voice at the baptism, his predictions, the resurrection and appearances, his ascension, etc.). Yet, to me, none of the reasons for this selectivity or outright rejection are even rational.

For example, they were written within a generation of his death (within the lifetimes of the witnesses, much better than a lot of other even earlier history or writings that noone seems to question), the closeness of the synoptic gospels (the text discrepencies amount to nothing in terms of veracity of the key events), verification by other historians (e.g., Josephus) with no recorded dissension, the lack of recantation by any of the witnesses at the time or afterwards(their silence is deafening), the lives of the disciples after the resurrection (they certainly all believed it up to death), etc.

Also, the gospels have no taste of fabrication - it didn't necessarily fit into the exact preconcieved notion of a Messiah, the disciples are made to look like fools, and the sayings/parables and events have all the aspects of originality. As we know, oral tradition was much more rigorous than today.

It thus does not seem rational to pull a morsel or two out of the gospels as good advice or philosophy and reject everything else He said and did as a hoax, the words of a lunatic, or fabrication.

In the end for an atheist, is it just too much to believe, and why is it too much to believe? Are doubts really based on lack of evidence or could there never be enough evidence? How much does one's view of the world and themselves affect an honest appraisal of the historical Jesus? Is there just a pre-established belief it could not have happened the way it says (for whatever personal reason), so theories must be made to explain how it could be fiction? (I've read a lot of those theories, and while they sound like rational possibilities on the surface, there's not a shred of evidence to support them, as compared to all the evidence on the Christian view.) Intellectually then, I find the rejectionist view to be quite thin. Your thoughts?

Acroamatic said...

One more thought. I don't think morality exists outside of theology. For a given individual, a set of beliefs may be more or less integrated into the constellation of mind/heart/will that composes the person's "ethos," for lack of a better word. But the roots of behavior and the roots of belief are entangled with each other--we tend to act on what we truly believe. Of course, that may be different from what we SAY we believe.

Jeff Hebert said...

One more thought. I don't think morality exists outside of theology.

I don't think that's a supportable statement, unless we're using different definitions for the terms (which is a distinct possibility). There are tribal cultures below a certain size that do not develop religion as such, but which nonetheless have a moral code. Generally you don't get religion until a society reaches a certain size limit, requiring some way to transmit appropriate moral behavior to individuals you aren't directly related to in some way (see "The Science of Good and Evil" by Michael Shermer for a discussion of this concept).

I have some confusion about the difference between morality and ethics, which I am trying to look into now. It's possible that morals are defined as "a system of ethics within a certain theology". But clearly, humans have developed codes of conduct between people without having a governing religion around it. The example I usually have in mind is that a mother doesn't need theology to tell her to love and protect her child, nor does a child need religion to tell it to love its mother.

My thinking at this point (which hasn't been refined very much, I admit) is that a sense of morality (defined as how we treat other people) is innate in humans (and other animals as well). Religions are (in part) systems for codifying the basic impulses, but to say religion creates morality is putting the cart before the horse. Morality comes first, then religion expands, refines, and defines it for use by a larger group of individuals.

The analogy I have been thinking about is that humans seem to have a built in instinct to organize into social groups -- we're social animals at heart. This desire is innate. Political systems arise to expand, refine, and define that impulse in ways that increase the survival of the society that spawns it. But the impulse to organize socially underlies the birth and growth of political systems, not the other way around.

I hope that makes sense. I am still thinking my way through all of this. A YEC friend of mine pointed out that the chief problem for an atheist is to figure out a basis for a just moral system that is not arbitrary, and I've been noodling on it ever since, but I've not yet settled on something I feel strongly enough about to formalize.

But then, I guess that's what dialog is for -- to help people figure things out. Unfortunately most internet discussions aren't dialogs but diatribes -- people who already have made up their minds yelling to try and convince the other guy to change their opinion.

Acroamatic said...

It IS hard to make this make sense. A couple of things--

You're probably right about the different definitions--different "conceptions" of the phenomena at hand. That would take a lot of unpacking.

I read your examples differently, too. Primal humans did most of what they did by way of rituals handed from one generation to the next, with some sort of (vague or specific, depending on the tribe) metaphysical/mythological moment at the root of those rituals. I'd also suggest that even the mother/child connection is at least as rational as it is "instinctive," since humans' instincts are relatively weak or nonexistent (a thesis of mine). If so, and that's open to discussion, then even the mother/child bond is subject to being formed in the context of some rational/religious mythos. For most of us during most of "history" that mythos took a religious character.

Jeff Hebert said...

I'd also suggest that even the mother/child connection is at least as rational as it is "instinctive," since humans' instincts are relatively weak or nonexistent (a thesis of mine).

I don't know, you see the same behavior in the animal kingdom all over the place. It certainly seems like a built-in emotional response. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint -- offspring of mothers who protect and care for their young have a much better chance to survive to a reproductive age than offspring of callous mothers. And looking back on my own personal experience, I never really "rationalized" my way to loving my mom and my family -- it's just the way it was.

My personal feeling is that we're governed a lot more by instinct and biology than we like to think we are. One example would be recent research that indicates political decisions are made subconsciously with the emotional centers of our brain, and only afterwards do the critical thinking parts fire up.

One wag quipped that humans have "monkey brains with a good publicist." I wouldn't go that far, but it definitely seems to me that certain behavior is built in to us, just as it is with other animals.

Anonymous said...

Jeff -- look into that book I sent you, "The Philosophy of Religion." There are different chapters on all of these thoughts you brought up, and the philosophers come at it from all different points. I think we can approach religion from an ethics standpoint, a faith standpoint and a scientific standpoint. Looking at it philosophically bears investigating, I'm finding. -- Denise