The Sore Spot

Friday, March 01, 2002

GODLESS VALUES After reading both that I do not believe in God and that I accede to a certain code of conduct, an insightful, if quibbling, reader asks:

Specifically, my question is, 'Assuming that there is no such higher power as God, why should anyone "prize honesty and pride above all else," even to the point that they "end up in a cell for it"? In fact, why should any attribute or value be prized above the rest?"

In placing some values above others, in deeming honesty the best (and conversely, dishonesty the worst, or at least undesirable?), a type of moral code emerges. Yet if there is in fact no highest standard to base our actions on, then who's to say that honesty should be prized? Perhaps those involved with the Enron scandal prized self-preservation or caring for the needs of their families over honesty. Why would they be wrong in doing so?

It seems to me that those who do believe in a highest standard have rights to making moral judgements, however ludicrous they may seem to others. But how is it justifiable to pass moral judgement on anyone when there is no belief in a higher standard that is greater than our own? And if there is no God, where else would such a standard come from?

Best to tackle the reader's last question first: If there is no God, where does a code of moral conduct come from?

I always wonder why it surprises few that the world's disparate cultures all developed rather similar moral codes while still believing in rather different deities: Don't kill. Stay more-or-less monogamous. Don't steal. Etc.

The reason it doesn't surprise anyone is, of course, that people see these general rules as The Right Way to Live. Why do they see it thus? Because they know, even if only subconsciously, that without those rules, society would crumble like Soviet-era dacha.

Now, if one recognizes those rules as being vital to society, then one can see how they emerged in hundreds of different societies: they were put in place, at the pain of physical punishment imposed upon the few transgressors by the many peaceful residents, to sustain the culture.

And that's where God entered the mix: a bogeyman waiting in the heavens, people invented him to explain why, for example, it's wrong to steal an ounce of silver from a rich man. (It's not easy to answer that question by saying, "Because, in the long run, it hurts society." Far simpler to answer, "Allah will not appreciate.")

Now, I should say that while I do not believe in God, I do think that the general, historical belief in God by other peoples has been a positive force in society. And it's my theory that "moral" conduct is the result of that belief in God (or whatever higher power), quite independent of the existence of God (or whatever higher power).

This is of course self-evident when one considers how religion works. A married Catholic man, for example, may refrain from committing adultery because he believes it's a sin to cheat, not because he has any evidence that previous cheaters were punished. That is, his moral conduct is enforced by his belief in God, not by the actual existence of God. So to observe a Godly society acting morally is no proof of the existence of God -- it's proof only that the society believes in God.

That observation prompts this question: When people stop believing in God, will society break? I cannot, alas, answer that question.

Lord, help us.
posted by Robert 4:05 PM

PRIEST-TENSE I am not sure, but I rather hope this is a joke. If it is, it's not very humorous; if it isn't, it's less so.
posted by Robert 3:09 PM

THE OLD WORLD Life has a way of taking hairpin turns, m'friend.

A number of you have e-mailed to ask where I've been for the past week or so. I thank you all for your inquiries -- yes, I am very well, still alive, and safe.

Tuula B., a friend from my old days -- a matronly Nordic woman who turned, awhile ago, to a life in cellular technology, got pulled into the immense gravitational field of her native Scandinavia's leading industry and decided she had to go seek her wireless inner-self among its many cells -- returned last week on a professional trip; a quite sudden thing, really.

Since I decided, seven years ago, to lead a life free from the reigns of property, the friends dried up. It's a curious fact of human experience: one can be live a relatively normal life, full of friends and fun, without acquiring anything ... except shelter.

Tuula B. is different. A sweet woman, several years older than myself and hardened from her experience, still stunning as any Valkyrie. She'd lost track of me, but being in town, she says, she decided to find me. It wasn't too difficult -- Google helped.

She took me to dinner, and offered for me to stay with her at her cellular-funded hotel. I of course declined her advances, believing it not decorous to so intimately consort with a woman with whom you only want Platonic words to pass.

But Ms. B. insisted, would have none of my modesty, brushed aside my protests of not wanting to accept charity with one of the nicest phrases ever directed my way: "Robert Sore, one half-hour of conversation with you is payment enough, sir!"

I was flattered. We spent a great deal of time together, and when she left, she promised to stay in touch via e-mail.

Here's to the pursuit of happiness.
posted by Robert 2:55 PM


Joe Pesci
This isn't me, but it looks like me.
The library doesn't have those scan machines. And I don't have a camera.


My name is Robert Sore. I am a homeless man in San Francisco, scraping out a living from trash cans and odd jobs. But don't think that I need your pity. If you see me on the street, keep walking, buddy. I don't need your money and I don't need you, in fact -- but I'd be willing to wager that you need me.

I have lived a long time, and I spend a lot of time in the library. A lot of time. I know what's wrong with this world. Why the politicians have it wrong, why the fancy professors have it wrong, why the United States has it wrong. Why the liberals are wrong and why the conservatives are wrong.

But I damn sure know what's right, too. And I'm going to tell you what.

02/03/2002 - 02/10/2002
02/10/2002 - 02/17/2002
02/17/2002 - 02/24/2002
02/24/2002 - 03/03/2002
03/03/2002 - 03/10/2002
03/10/2002 - 03/17/2002
04/21/2002 - 04/28/2002
01/25/2004 - 02/01/2004
02/01/2004 - 02/08/2004
02/29/2004 - 03/07/2004
03/07/2004 - 03/14/2004