Does God have the right to interfere in politics?


by guest
25th September, 2008 at 7:40 pm    

By Richard Rose

A slightly longer and more involved version of this first cropped up in response to a (very off topic) argument in a comments thread back in July 2007. This edited version then disappeared into the depths of Sunny’s inbox where it was recently uncovered by a crack team of theo-archaeologists.

Various groups argue that a political system should accord with one or other set of revealed religious “truths” about what constitutes a moral or “right” action. Contained within these arguments is the assumption that God, if He exists, has the right to dictate what constitutes morally right action, and thus interfere with the organization of a political system. By using Pascal’s Wager as a springboard I’m going to argue against the idea that we should mediate out behavior based on either a belief in God, or even a sense of agnostic doubt about His existence. In other words God has no right to tell us what to do.

Pascal’s argument boils down to an assertion that it is more logical to believe in God because if He exists the believer gains everlasting life upon death, while if He doesn’t then the believer essentially loses nothing. Equally if God doesn’t exist then the unbeliever gains nothing upon his death, but if God does exist then the unbeliever can potentially be sentenced to eternal damnation. However, in arguing this way Pascal assumes that God requires not just a belief in His existence, but also a sense of gratitude for the act of creation, the ability to divine God’s will and the ability to carry it out. In other words one must attempt to please God by modifying one’s behavior.

This is because God, if He exists, has the power to prove His existence with at least as much force as I can say that the keyboard in front of me exists. Yet God has not done this, thus we have to obtain evidence for His existence that is indirect. This evidence can be expressed in the form of various conjectures and a priori arguments, or we can take on faith the statements of prophets who claim to have received “revelations.”

If God has acted thus, and it certainly appears that He has done so, then He has put the believer and the unbeliever on an essentially equal footing, since He has not provided indisputable evidence for His existence, (by for example scrawling God woz ‘ere in mile high letters of fire across the sky) but instead has merely offered individuals the option of belief.

Therefore the following propositions arise:

1)God either exists or He doesn’t.

2)There is no indisputable evidence in support of either proposition.
We now have a game where on one side is the full set of believers and unbelievers and on the other side God alone. Therefore according to the rules of the game (that God is omniscient and omnipotent) God cannot punish an unbeliever for his unbelief.

This is because it is definitely unknown whether or not God exists; all arguments for or against God’s existence simply being unverifiable assertions. Therefore no just tribunal (one based upon any conceivable standard of evidence) can pass judgment against anyone for denying the existence of a thing about which it is impossible to make a verifiable assertion about. Therefore God is either perfectly just, in which case He cannot assume the right to punish unbelievers simply because they are unbelievers, or else he will punish the unbelievers anyway, in which case he is not perfectly just and is acting in an arbitrary fashion.

This is why Pascal must necessarily assume that one must not just believe in God but must also assert that belief, be grateful to God, love him and attempt to behave as if carrying out his divine will. In other words one is trying to placate an unjust and illogical God by second guessing Him and attempting to read His mind. However because we cannot assert even God’s existence or non-existence with an absolute degree of certainty here on Earth, the motivations of God are unknowable. From this it follows that there is no guarantee that even if one somehow managed to divine the mind of God and did exactly as He wished you to do that upon your death He would not simply turn around and say:

“I don’t like sycophants; to Hell with thee!!!” (Cue thunder, lightning and insane cackling)

Thus while it is possible to postulate that life continues after death and it is perfectly logical to do so, the possibility that it does should not affect one’s actions here on earth. The question of whether or not God exists thus becomes a morally empty question and has absolutely nothing to do with how one should behave on earth. It follows that any moral or ethical code must be based entirely on the earthly consequences of one’s actions without taking into account any expectation of continuation, forgiveness, reward or punishment in the next life.

Thus God has no right to interfere in politics and a just political system cannot be based upon religious revelation or any assertions about the existence of God or His beliefs.

Of course this argument only works if there is no indisputable proof of God’s existence – but if anyone can come up with one then I’ll eat my keyboard.

…….

This is a guest post. When not pondering the ineffable, Richard divides his time between working for an international development economist and studying for an MA.


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  1. Parag Kapoor — on 25th September, 2008 at 11:04 pm  

    God’s existence has been a debatable issue from time immemorial; both believers and non-believers have their own reasons for their beliefs and unbelief. To a believer it could be an answer to a prayer and yet to a non-believer it could be mere hard work or a result of human capacity when they achieve something they desire. Both groups seem happy and have co-existed for centuries with their own understandings. To a believer God has every right to interfere in all because to him earth is of the Lord’s but the atheist will always set his eyes on human judgement alone. Should God then please the believer and interfere in everything? I think God sometimes remain silent and would rather watch fools to test their own understanding…

  2. Jai — on 25th September, 2008 at 11:48 pm  

    a (very off topic) argument in a comments thread back in July 2007.

    I’d completely forgotten about all that and have just skimmed through the link. It must go down as one of the most insane, deranged off-topic threads in PP (or even internet) history. Lots of well-argued theological points made by all sides, though.

    Arguments about Mobious strips and infinity, Jagdeep and his cheese and onion crisps, Sonia’s snarky comments, debates about the pros and cons of Tibetan independence, Katy and her terrorist elks, etc etc. Maybe I was hallucinating after laughing so much, but I’m sure Sid even threw in a reference to mars bar parties. Ah, good times.

    It was like the most unhinged late-night booze-fuelled group pub/bar discussion you can imagine, while the WAGs impatiently wait at home in their highest heels and brightest red lipstick, tapping their fingers and wondering why the calls keep going straight to voicemail when they try to phone their blokes’ mobiles in order to remind them that it’s “nookie night”.

    Bechara Usman. What a star. God bless his little green cotton socks.

  3. sonia — on 26th September, 2008 at 12:14 am  

    brilliant.

  4. Katy Newton — on 26th September, 2008 at 12:49 am  

    God, that was like some sort of weird “best of PP” compilation tape.

    Usman: Would you like me to explain in detail what it is about the quran that makes it miraculous and inimitable?

    El Cid: No.

    Happy, happy days.

  5. sonia — on 26th September, 2008 at 1:53 am  

    heh katy, good one.

    and then sunny closed the thread!

  6. Jai — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:38 am  

    I haven’t decided whether that thread was like a small bunch of people having a really earnest philosophical discussion in the middle of a bar and oblivious to the fact that there are fights breaking out all around them as the rest of the punters totally trash the place…..Or if it’s like a hash party where absolutely everyone’s stoned and talking complete crap, although of course it all makes perfect sense at the time.

    Rumbold (suffering from the munchies): D’you know what would be a really good way to promote a healthy diet and cut down on junk food ?

    Sid (biting into a hash cake): What’s that, mate ?

    Rumbold: You know how the menu at Pizza Hut has a nice salad selection ? Well, they should offer a free lapdance to anyone who buys a salad…..But they only get that after they’ve finished their salad.

    Sid: Jesus…..Rumbold, you’re right…..You’re a f*****g genius !!!

    Rumbold (glum): I know, mate…..I know.

    Usman: Would you like me to explain in detail what it is about the Quran that makes it miraculous and inimitable ?

    Jagdeep: No. Here’s twenty quid, go down to Spearmint Rhino and treat yourself.

    Usman: Er, thanks.

    Rumbold: God, I’m starving.

    Jagdeep: Cheese and onion crisps, anyone ?

  7. Jai — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:57 am  

    Later that evening, in Spearmint Rhino…..

    Hot girl: Hello darling. I’m Tiffany.

    Usman: Pleased to meet you. Would you like me to explain in detail what it is about the Quran that makes it miraculous and inimitable ?

    Tiffany (looking confused): Er, okay.

    Usman: Well, let’s start by imagining a Mobius strip…..

    45 minutes later

    …..and that’s why God unequivocally exists and the Quran is undeniably the word of God.

    Tiffany: Lovely. Would you like me to dance for you ?

    Usman: No, but thank you very much for your time.

    Tiffany (thinking): That’s got to be the dodgiest thing I’ve ever done for money.

  8. sonia — on 26th September, 2008 at 11:02 am  

    that’s really funny jai

  9. Kismet Hardy — on 26th September, 2008 at 11:30 am  

    I’ve been reading the Quran. I was hoping to be have my mind enlarged with a phial of theological viagra but instead all I’m getting are the following words rephrased time and time and time and time again.

    Allah is the almighty the merciful. And those who do not believe will have to drink boiling oil. Do you not see Allah the merciful at work? Those who see will have wives in heaven. Those who mock will be scorched with boiling water. For Allah is the most merciful. Do you not see?

    No, I don’t I’m afraid.

    Stop seeking my validation for god’s sake.

    God is a pitiful excuse for those who don’t have the balls to man up (or woman up) and face life

  10. Muhamad [peace be upon me] — on 26th September, 2008 at 12:06 pm  

    “Thus while it is possible to postulate that life continues after death and it is perfectly logical to do so…”
    WTF?
    Whoever this Richard Rose is, I’m guessing he’s not reading for MA in Logic? He needs to stick to ‘international development’ and leave such omphaloskepsis to the students of apologetics.

  11. persephone — on 26th September, 2008 at 12:10 pm  

    @ 9 “Those who see will have wives in heaven”

    So heaven is when Usman’s Mobius strip comes into it.

    Thanks I do see now.

  12. Sid — on 26th September, 2008 at 12:57 pm  

    The Hindu Vedantists have the best description of god – Brahma or Beyond Being. It is not personal, doesn’t need to be placted by intricate ablutions, complicated turban knotting, scouring your knees in worship, ritual grovelling or stickers on your dashboard. It doesn’t judge you, doesn’t care whether you like shagging men or women or goats. Expects nothing from you and doesn’t even care if you exist or don’t.

  13. halima — on 26th September, 2008 at 4:20 pm  

    I don’t know if anyone has read the opening chapter of Bulgakov’s Master and Marguirita .. which is all about whether God exists or not … and it opens with a Russian intellectual and his friend, a theatre director in Moscow, arguing with a mysterious stranger (who is symbolically supposed to be the devil) discussing this very old question. It’s brilliant – I think in the novel the devil outwits the mortals…. But that kinda of thing happens in magic realism novels.

    The book was written while the author was in prison under the Soviet Union in the 1950 and published after his death. It’s a superb cult novel.

  14. Don — on 26th September, 2008 at 6:10 pm  

    halima,

    One of my favourite books.

  15. halima — on 26th September, 2008 at 6:14 pm  

    “One of my favourite books.”

    Yup – mine, too.

  16. Ala — on 26th September, 2008 at 6:15 pm  

    The best course of action Pascal could have taken was that of the stoical philosophers: to just do whatever the hell you want, accept misery because there’s nothing else you can do about it, and not fear death because if there was a God he wouldn’t be an evil bastard and make it a helluva time for you.

  17. Ala — on 26th September, 2008 at 6:17 pm  

    And I think this is precisely the reason why a lot of religious people are becoming secular. As faithful as they are, they realise that religion can only have any relevance or weight for their fellow faithful and therefore would be meaningless in a political and worldly context where everyone has different beliefs or no belief at all.

  18. Arif — on 26th September, 2008 at 6:57 pm  

    A different starting point is that we all have different ideas of what is the root of our problems like global poverty, wars, etc

    Some think that it is because we are not following God’s formula for solving these problems, so it is very important to get people to understand this, and if not, be compelled to conform (for the sake of the children!)

    Others think it is because we fetter the market, or allow ourselves to be dominated by the means of production, or because humans are inherently evil, or because the world is fallen and progress is not to be found here, or whatever.

    Everyone can appear to everyone else as a fanatic – unwilling to face the truth because they want to hold on to convenient illusions, and unreasonable to expect others to follow. But to the fanatic themselves this is a matter of supreme importance, because of all the suffering being caused by people doing the worng things.

    How do we persuade each other? The secularist may think they are allowing everyone to discuss things on an equal rational basis. The clericalist may think they they are allowing everyone to participate in God’s Grace. Another may think they are allowing everyone to work hard, keep their mouth shut and succeed.

    But people don’t want the same things, so no system seems to offer a fair resolution to everyone. To a liberal, the fairest thing seems to be to allow people to live under the system they wish – but few liberals (secular or otherwise) would be very keen on this as it means allowing things to happen that they consider evil.

  19. Don — on 26th September, 2008 at 7:11 pm  

    The best commentary on Pascal’s Wager,

    The Quirmian philosopher Ventre put forward the suggestion that “Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it’s all true you’ll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn’t then you’ve lost nothing, right?” When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said “We’re going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts…

    (Terry Pratchett, Hogfather)

  20. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 7:48 pm  

    That thread rocked!

  21. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 9:00 pm  

    Don,

    Blooming heck! This forum is moving onto a higher intellectual plane! The God Terry has been invoked and all must fall at his feet! (I, too, think he is a genius)

    ————————————————-

    Interesting stuff you and halima have come up with here. Did you know ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ was probably inspired by “Master and Marguirita” ?

    Google is my friend….

    And that is one of the top ten influential songs of the 20th C, IMHO. I think I’ll ask Leon if I can start a weekend thread asking what songs you think influenced you most.

  22. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:26 pm  

    Shhh!

    Now that the cat, Sunny, is away, perhaps we can play.

    And anyway, I miss old time weekend open threads. Where are you Clairwill?

    Thought for tonight, brought on by a typical drunken walk through the internet. As in statistical drunken walk, although it might be changing, there.

    Anyways, Don and Halima decided that they both loved a book, called The Master and Margarita, which, seems to have been the inspiration for the Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

    Which set me thinking – look honest, I do have an identifiable although admittedly miniscule brain – what pop songs ever made a difference to you? Here’s five:

    Imagine – John Lennon. http://tinyurl.com/2hbxhy. The day I realised my hippy trippy ideas weren’t just inside my head. There was at least one other lunatic.

    Lola – The Kinks. http://tinyurl.com/3dy8bq It was the first time I realised that sexuality was just a laugh.

    Not Ready to Make Nice – The Dixie Chicks. http://tinyurl.com/py7ra Which is just gobsmackingly up you.

    Universal Soldier – Donovan. http://tinyurl.com/4y9hzo
    Which is close to home. Still and all, I think it beats anything Dylan ever said on the same subject.

    And finally, just ’cause you can beat up on me over it. The finest pop song ever written:

    Angels – Robbie Williams http://tinyurl.com/4b4p9k

    In KOS style, does this get lifted or not Leon?

  23. Ravi Naik — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:32 pm  

    Thus God has no right to interfere in politics and a just political system cannot be based upon religious revelation or any assertions about the existence of God or His beliefs

    This post is convoluted. The question “Does God have..” assumes the existence of God. So, if you start with this assumption, you can’t have in your argument “God either exists or He doesn’t”, to come up with the conclusion.

    How do we persuade each other? The secularist may think they are allowing everyone to discuss things on an equal rational basis. The clericalist may think they they are allowing everyone to participate in God’s Grace.

    Although I am religious, I do not want “clericalists” to make decisions based on their conversations with God. I want secularists to perform politics within a rational platform.

    So, I am secularist and religious, and there is no conflict between them. Here is a good explanation of this (skip to minute 8:50).

  24. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:36 pm  

    Err..

    The song that makes me happiest is, obviously Bob Marley http://tinyurl.com/3x4gvz

    Which is so, so uplifting, so it is….

  25. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:43 pm  

    Shh, Ravi. I’m trying to get Leon to see this as something worth pulling up as a thread in it’s own right. They do it on Kos, y’know, and I know Leon reads that…

    Don’t jump the shark.

    (whatever the fuck that means)

  26. Ravi Naik — on 26th September, 2008 at 10:43 pm  

    Sorry – here is the video (8:50)

  27. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 11:00 pm  

    Ravi,

    I have always loved you, really. Your link to that video:

    http://tinyurl.com/3go7m9

    Suggests you won’t jump the shark.

    (whatever the fuck that means)

  28. Leon — on 26th September, 2008 at 11:02 pm  

    How can something that doesn’t exist have any rights?

  29. douglas clark — on 26th September, 2008 at 11:09 pm  

    Well Leon, we have your attention. Is it worth you putting this, post 22, up as a thread or not? Frankly I’d love to hear what influenced you. And you know I love you…

  30. Leon — on 26th September, 2008 at 11:25 pm  

    The video? Will take a look, you staying up for the debate? We’re living blogging man!

  31. douglas clark — on 27th September, 2008 at 12:29 am  

    No you daft bugger. Is 22 worth being raised to a thread? I’d have thought you’d have something to say? What’s your pop influences, what made you the way you are? I love you Leon, but sometimes I just wish… Oh, I hate begging, so I do.

    you staying up for the debate? We’re living blogging man!

    Dunno if I can.

    I’m drinking ‘Hobgoblin’ In some sort of unlikely solidarity with the brewery that may have ‘Skullspliter’ banned for being politically incorrect.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/7622658.stm

    Hat tip, Mr Eugenides.

  32. Leon — on 27th September, 2008 at 12:55 am  

    Pop influences? Jesus, I get pictures of crappy music from the 80s when you say that…er lemme see, Metallica and Pink Floyd where big musical and I guess ‘philosophical’/ life influences on me growing up…er…can’t really think of much more at the mo, will have a think.

  33. douglas clark — on 27th September, 2008 at 3:58 am  

    Leon,

    So you don’t want to make it a post. Worried that it’d pull the standard down, or some such? Well, that’d be a joke…..Ha, bloody ha!

  34. Leon — on 27th September, 2008 at 4:02 am  

    I’d have to watch it, sorry but was a little busy earlier, will check it out later today.

  35. douglas clark — on 27th September, 2008 at 4:09 am  

    Watch it? You’ve only got to bloody well read it. Look, is post 22 worth being a guest post or not, especially as it’s off topic to start with? Says the man with four Hobgoblins inside him. Err, it might be six.

    Love you man.

    Zzzzz….

    Bloody Yankee Presidential Candidates

  36. sonia — on 27th September, 2008 at 2:27 pm  

    heh douglas, yes indeed, what happened to the weekend open threads?

    arif of course is right as always. but i dont suppose anyone was denying the point which you are making – simply I would say, absolutely, everyone wants and thinks different things. the question is obviously we have to try and make clear to our fellow human beings why we think x y or z is better,as you say everyone has an ethical framework. (not just people who believe in god) the difference is simply then in using arguments other people, who don’t believe in a fairy or a pixie or a god, to not expect references to that fairy in our debates/discussions about our ethical frameworks/lives. I mean i could believe in global warming because a fairy told me and that’s why i want you to reduce your carbon consumption for example, but if i say to you, well you’ve got to do it because the fairy told me to tell you to do it, its not going to be the best line of argument is it, if you don’t believe in the fairy?

    depends on whether my end goal is to have you believe in the fairy, or reduce your carbon consumption. some might argue that actually Prophets wanted what corporations do – to expand, nothing more. of course that is a point of view.

    if i want to believe in the fairy, that’s my business. but common sense dictates that unless you too believe in the fairy, i might have to come up with some other reasons for why you should think about carbon reduction. assuming i want them to make sense to you. again, if i only want to demand you listen to the fairy, and im not REALLY interested in your ethical behaviour, then obviously im going to keep re-iterating what the fairy said and will do you to you if you don’t listen. Now this form of forceful reasoning is obviously used by all sorts of people and institutions – usually when they simply want to command blind obedience (e.g. to family , state ) etc.

  37. sonia — on 27th September, 2008 at 2:34 pm  

    obviously there’s no reason why someone cannot have a belief in a metaphysical construct, without also by default imagining that this then means they know what Entity X wants in the way of political frameworks on Earth. that is simply an extra few leaps many theistic institutions have cunningly come up with. (and yes it was cunning).

    you can believe in the idea of aliens without thinking they’ve been communicating with you, right?

  38. halima — on 27th September, 2008 at 2:38 pm  

    Pop influences?
    I thnk it was mostly Bollywood for me…

  39. sonia — on 27th September, 2008 at 2:40 pm  

    good point sid, its nothing more than earthly human anthropocentric self-flattery to imagine that god/alien is really wanting to communicate with us. this is what deists don’t seem to get! i do like the bit in the post about the sycophantic behaviour.

    how do we know for example that Mohammed PBUH wasn’t just another one of those mouthy apostates rejecting shock horror his family’s beliefs and all that non-tradidtional stuff ?:-) obviously we don’t. the meccans and his tribe said he was…this could be really confusing for some people.

  40. sonia — on 27th September, 2008 at 2:41 pm  

    perhaps next time when ashik says hai hai you’ve left the fold I should say yes because i heard the voice of God telling me to do so, and he also told me all you have gone astray, and to tell you that as well.

  41. Muhamad — on 27th September, 2008 at 3:20 pm  

    Sid @ 12
    “the best description of god…Expects nothing from you and doesn’t even care if you exist or don’t.”

    Hmm, the best summation of that in Sanskrit might be ‘veda-vivara’.

  42. Amrit — on 27th September, 2008 at 6:27 pm  

    LOL @ Jai and Douglas… and at Sonia, up there, too…

    Good post, sums up what I think for the most part – but preaching to the converted on the whole, I think.

    And yes please to bringing back weekend open threads.

  43. Arif — on 28th September, 2008 at 11:25 am  

    Ravi #23 – agree with you, there is nothing to stop someone being religious and secular at the same time, which is why I used the word clericalist, but maybe should have said theocratic or something else.

    Sonia #36, if what I was saying is obvious, maybe the implications are not so obvious. I tried to make it to the conclusion, that since there is no logical position in the sky from which to judge all our different certainties/fanaticisms, the liberal solution would be to find a way to accommodate different people living under different systems as they choose, and persuading each other in any way, as long as they accept others being able to use the same methods on themselves.

    (Yes, Ravi, convoluted language again)

    Equality under the law does not offer that. Unless the law becomes far more minimal than it currently is.

    So either we accept that we aren’t really liberals but want to impose our particular brand of fanaticism on others, or we try to maximise the freedom of different social groups to live under their own systems of law.

    And even if we did that, it does not solve the clash of fanaticisms issue – that the reason believers give for why communism/fascism/neoliberalism/liberal or social democracy/theocratic rule fail is that other people did not adopt it: that it is all or nothing. Blaming terrorism for the loss of civil liberties is an example of how liberal democrats can also fall prey to this mindset.

    So, secular or not, we all need to change our mindsets into a kind of postmodern humility, or we fight. And since I can’t make people change their mindsets, fight it is.

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