Four questions on the meaning of life. Part Two

by Cindy McGarvie

This week’s blog is the second part of an interview with 22-year old Lewie who grew up in a faithful Christian home and was given a solid Christian education. He has since rejected his childhood faith to embrace a new set of beliefs that he considers makes more sense, and which he feels allows him more freedom to love all people.

Part 1 covered Lewie’s answers to the first two of four questions adopted from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias’s teaching that every human must answer:

Origin: Where did we come from?
Meaning: Why are we here?
Morality: What is right and wrong (how do we know)?
Destiny: Where do we go when we die?

Now we continue with the second two questions.

What is right and wrong?

Well I believe that right and wrong is something that takes individual judgement. I left the faith due to its largely deontologist/ consequentialist view on morality. Deontology being a focus on rules and laws to form your ethics and consequentialism which focuses on the consequences of your actions (for instance the consequences of not submitting to Christ being damnation).

So once I left Christianity I felt lost and woefully unprepared to deal with the world without my shield of blind faith.

Once I left Christianity I felt lost and woefully unprepared to deal with the world without my shield of blind faith.

- Lewie

I found myself (by design) with no tools to judge and evaluate the world independent from the bible. This is one of the reasons it's so hard to conceive of a moral atheist or morality outside the faith when you are still a part of it … So once I finally began exploring the world for myself without just relying on what the adult Christians in my life had taught me, I began to find the world to be very different from the fear painted landscape I grew up with.

Secular society wasn’t this unifying force synonymous with the devil, but rather a wide variety of diverse beliefs and reasoning that allowed to expand my world view. …

This is a very interesting perspective that Lewie held. A ‘fear painted landscape’ and secular society being a ‘unifying force synonymous with the devil’ is not a biblical view. Knowing Lewie’s parents well, I know that this is not their take on things. However, this is not the point, the point is that somehow Lewie lost the true essence of the Christian faith – a saving faith in the redeeming sacrifice of Christ.

For this time in my life my morality is based in two main philosophies. Virtue ethics: "Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach that emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or that emphasizes the consequences of actions (consequentialism)" and Utilitarianism: "On the utilitarian view one ought to maximize the overall good — that is, consider the good of others as well as one's own good." Both of these quotes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

This is a good time to give a quick overview on the two philosophies that Lewie mentions, virtue ethics and utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is described as an ethical system that determines morality on the basis of the greatest good for the greatest number. The problem with utilitarianism is, who defines what is good? Good for one group of people may not be good for another. Even evils such as genocide or euthanasia could actually be good in a circumstance to maximise the good of others or the overall good of a society. Hitler’s treatment of the Jews was spurned from a utilitarian belief of the greater good for Germany.

The difference between utilitarianism and Christianity is that Christianity and Judaism are based on a set of rules or laws on what is righteous or good, such as in the Ten Commandments and other statutes. Whereas utilitarianism is based on results, what brings the best outcome. The rules based ethics provides much more security for people in a society than utilitarianism as we saw in the example of the Nazis.

Virtue ethics, which is the other moral philosophy that Lewie adheres, espouses virtues such as courage, patience, honesty, etc without giving specific rules for deciding ethical problems. To give a basic example let’s take the virtue of honesty. In a particular situation, a Christian will choose not to lie because it’s a commandment laid out in Scripture, in virtue ethics, a person would not want to lie because it compromises his aspiration to be an honest person, and a utilitarian may or may not lie, depending on the what he estimates as best outcome for the greatest amount of people.

Who defines what is virtuous and what is not?

The primary question for this is, how does one know these are virtues? I ask this question because after studying cultures, I’ve read scores of case studies on cultures that espouse as virtues things that other cultures would espouse as evil. For example, deceit (the art of being able to deceive another thoroughly) or revenge (being able to thoroughly enact revenge) or promiscuity (being able to have as many sexual partners as possible as a show of manliness) and many more. The question is, who defines what is virtuous and what is not?

Many of the virtues that we take for granted today, such as humility are firmly rooted in Christianity even though in Greek antiquity, for example, humility was not considered a virtue.

I believe that morality is a combination of individual virtue and ethics along with a wider view of what actions will leave the most positive impact [utilitarianism]. This way I am accountable for my personal beliefs and the effects of my actions, but not because I am afraid of being damned for being a sinner … I want to leave this world better than when I found it, I want to work to improve the lives of as many people as I can (utilitarianism) and I believe one of the primary ways to do that is to start the change with myself, by utilizing virtue ethics and critical thinking to evaluate my personal growth and ensure I am becoming someone in line with my overall goal of love. Not because God told me to, nor because I believe I will be punished or rewarded for doing so, but because I believe it's right.

I am becoming someone in line with my overall goal of love. Not because God told me to… but because I believe it's right.

- Lewie

I pressed Lewie about his measure for knowing what is right and he explained that he found Scriptures were not an objective measure because they are too open to man’s subjective interpretation.

That's why I believe harm and benefit are more objective measurements of our actions. Instead of trying to cramp every real time, real life situation through the lens of scripture, making revisions and adjustments where reality doesn’t line up with faith, it is possible to assess the situation on it's own merits. To assess where the harm is coming from in an individual situation and decide what would be the most beneficial course of action to take.

Lewie gives here a personal experience of questioning lecturers at his Christian university and pastors about same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage and coming up against disagreement to the point of feeling silenced and even a fear that his scholarship would be revoked. He also shared some fellow student’s negative views and comments on same-sex marriage which to him seemed heartless, unloving and unchristian-like. The hurt from this experience deeply impacted Lewie.

He goes on.

This sort of unfaltering clinging to tradition leaves no room for creative problem solutions, which is such an important skill to have especially in the complicated fields of ethics … Why I felt the need to leave the church in order to pursue a greater more universal love of people is also intimately connected to why I believe in the morality I do today. This is because the church has an implicit bias (as most any organization would) on behalf of its members when looking at moral situations.

I often see young people struggling with the issue of bias. There is the premise that if one is not religious, then it is presumed that they cannot be biased on moral issues. Every individual, whether religious or not has implicit bias when looking at moral situations. Nihilism and atheism both have a bias, theirs is that there is no moral law-giver (God) therefore one is free to do anything they choose without the guilt. If one feels any sense of shame from a certain action, then society or Christianity is blamed for that sense of shame (an external force) and therefore society or the system needs to be changed, or Christianity silenced.

Where do you believe man goes when they die?

At this point I'm happy to assume that we have oblivion after death, our bodies decompose and our matter is recycled into the earth and other creatures. For a short time we get to be a collection of atoms that aren’t only alive, but thinking and conscious. Then we go back to the universe we came from, our atoms the same, yet no longer animated with the purpose we gave them.

As for how I feel about it, at times it's scary, but I actually prefer it from the afterlife situation I believed in under Christianity. Where either we choose to confess with our mouths that Jesus is lord or we are condemned to an eternal punishment. This bothered me intensely, and really was one of the first questions that I couldn’t get past in Christianity. If god the father truly loved us, why create us knowing that the vast majority of mankind would end up in eternal suffering. Why create hell in the first place, surely he has the power to just erase our souls if he truly can’t stand to be near their sin.

Even if I'm wrong about god existing, I am confident in my decision not to follow him.

- Lewie

I made up my mind a while ago that even if I'm wrong about christianity, I would rather rot in hell than spend an eternity worshiping the being who sent my friends, family and other good people to hell, because they were exercising the brain god gave them to ask questions. Questions which had no answers. Like how does an all powerful all knowing god allow for the path to hell to be wide and well travelled while the only path to avoid suffering is narrow?

How does an all powerful all good god allow for evil things to happen on earth?

I would rather take my chances living my life as best and morally I can on earth and if I get condemned to hell because of my convictions then I would not wish to share heaven with the judge who made that call anyway.

I apologize if those last messages got a little too emotive… this is the topic that first gave me the courage to transition from doubts to disbelief. And that happened within the last year, so it's still pretty fresh emotionally 

Even if I'm wrong about god existing, I am confident in my decision not to follow him.

Specifically the judeo Christian god. Should there be a different, kinder creator of the universe, I would absolutely be willing to reconsider. It's my personal belief that if god does truly exist then no religion could ever have it right.

However I believe that religion was created by man at best as a method to unite people under a broader banner than simply family, tribe or country, and at worst as a sick method of control, used and abused by governments globally to justify persecution.

I’m not sure about you, but I’m left with a feeling of deep sadness upon reading Lewie’s take on things. I cannot but wonder if he is speaking reactively from an incredible woundedness inflicted by fellow Christians.

Ultimately Christianity is more than a choice of worldviews… and if God is true, our lives and choices stand either in submission, or rebellion to one who is infinitely greater…

On the surface it seems very reasonable, even responsible for Lewie to be his own arbitrator of how to personally live a moral and loving life. He’s asking and exploring important questions that too many people simply ignore. But truth is not unique to each individual. And if God is true, our lives and choices stand either in submission, or rebellion to one who is infinitely greater than we can comprehend.

Ultimately Christianity is more than a choice of worldviews or the by-product of intellectual reasoning. Christianity is an invitation into active relationship with the God of the universe who, though we rebelled against Him, revealed Himself and restored us through Jesus, because of His great love.

I thank God that He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged (Isaiah 42:3). And we stand on the assurance that the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

How would you answer these big questions?

Origin: Where did we come from?
Meaning: Why are we here?
Morality: What is right and wrong (how do we know)?
Destiny: Where do we go when we die?

How would you respond in love to someone hurt and disillusioned with Christianity?

Again this week I encourage you to have a conversation with a young person using the four questions (this will not only help you connect, but help you understand). Some may never have thought about these questions before.

Start with those close to you. Ask lots of questions. Remember, you can’t argue anyone into Christianity but you can listen, love, encourage, disciple and pray.

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