Re: Is Existentialism an obsolete philosophy? ...Similarity to religion?

This is a spin off from Is Existentialism an obsolete philosophy? so as not to hijack that thread.

(And starting in the middle. Please read that thread for the context.)

Uh, no. I don’t think that’s true at all. Buddhism doesn’t appear to have any diety. It is certainly possible, (and I’ve heard of more than one,) to have a religion that isn’t based on supernateral entities affecting the behavior of the universe. “The universe just is this way, and here are the rituals and practices to get the system to work for you.” The supernatural entity claim isn’t neccesarry.

And the nature of existence claim isn’t sufficient. For instance. “The great Gooberslotch sneezed out his right nostril and the universe was formed. Three days later, he sneezed out his left nostril and seeded it with life.” Ok. Interesting… But unless we then say “What does that mean I should do?” we haven’t come anywhere close to making a religion.

Unless we then ask, “what do we do, do we need to treat other people a certain way?” it’s meaningless.


I can justify my statement that how we treat others is a base question of religion. How do you justify your statement that it isn’t? You made no defense of your statement at all. So… I had to ask you to explain it more fully. If you refuse to do more than make general unsupported statements, you aren’t engaging in the argument.

I wasn’t making a value judgement about what society should be based on. I was making a factual statement about how societies formed from religions in the first place. The religions that asked the questions I stated about how to treat people, and came up with answers that fostered being able to live together formed societies, and then the precepts of those religions eventually developed into codes of laws.

You see, the problem is that you would have to show me an ethical atheist. And to do that you would first have to define ethical and good apart from religion. And when there is no superior being who ordered the universe and decrees what the outcomes should be, you have no basis to say that any given outcome is superior to any other.

If actions A, B, and C lead to outcomes X, Y, and Z respectively, the very best you can hope to do is say, “I, personally, and this is only my opinion, prefer outcome X. So the best course of action to achieve it is action A.” You have no basis for saying that another person is wrong because they would prefer outcome Y. You have no basis to say X is “better” than Y. “Morality,” and “ethics” become completely subjective. You can say that society S has determined that it wants to achieve outcome Z, and so it has determined that action C is good, (at bringing about outcome Z, not good in any absolute sense.) And now the fact that any athiest might happen to agree with that society and promote action C doesn’t prove that he is good. He just agrees. What he is is a “good citizen” of that society. It’s completely subjective and relative only to that society. Another society might decree his actions “bad” because they adhere to outcome Y. There is no absolute good from that perspective.

The reason that only religions can make a claim of absolute objective goodness is that a supreme being who created the universe is the only one who has the absolute authority to say, “I created this universe for purpose X, therefore action A is good. Actions B and C are not.” I’m not saying that their claims are right. I’m saying that only in that case can you make any objective value judgements about outcomes X, Y and Z. Athiests can not be capital E Ethical, they can only adhere to the standards around them. And therefore, the existence of an ethical, “adheres to the standards around him,” athiest proves nothing.

I think you’re skipping over what makes it – well, a meta-ethical question, I suppose. The idea is that you can slot in whatever “ethical and good” definition you like, and usually find an atheist who lives up to it with regard to his fellow man: donates to charity, doesn’t steal or murder, refrains from lying under oath, and otherwise does unto others as he would have done unto him…

…or whatever. It doesn’t matter whether the yardstick of choice involves being a law-abiding citizen or a conscientious lawbreaker; just postulate any definition of “ethical” you like, and see whether you can find a bunch of atheists who do just as fine a job of it as Christians and Jews.

(Well, leaving aside Good Equals Doing What I Think God Wants, which produces rather unusual judgments in a hurry.)

I said “entities”, not “beings”. Buddhists believe in an underlying supernatural structure to the universe that organizes it in particular ways. We have souls, for example, and our actions during life determine what happens to those souls after we are gone.

All religions make supernatural claims about the nature of the universe, and then use those claims to justify a set of ethical rules. I’m certainly willing to agree that a set of supernatural claims by themselves don’t constitute a religion. However, I’ll also point out that a set of ethical rules by themselves also don’t constitute a religion. So saying all religions are *fundamentally *ethical systems is a misleading characterization. All religions are fundamentally supernatural claims about the nature of existence that are used to justify ethical rules.

My existence is my cite.

Good is what we collectively agree good to be. It’s no different than how we collectively agree that green pieces of paper have value, or that saying “I do” in the right circumstances creates certain rights and obligations. In order for a dollar bill to be worth something, does God have to MAKE it be worth something? Or is it worth something because we all agree that it is?

Theists, by ascribing ethics to an imaginary being, rather than to social consensus, are running a grave danger. What if the imaginary being tells you to kill your son? The unthinkable and monstrous then becomes an ethical imperative. Religious nuts kill people all the time (or do other horrible things) while believing themselves to be completely justified in their actions.

Neglecting the issue that some religions don’t put all that much weight on the peaceably part, how is this different from secular ethics?

To me, ethics is the process of coming up with solutions to this problem, without there being a complete and correct solution. Religion starts with the assumption that there is a complete and correct solution - either a moral code created by a deity or by the supernatural structure of the universe - and attempts to either understand it or spread it.
There are other aspects, such as providing explanations for the state of the universe, but this part of it seems to directly address your definition.

You have just as little or as much basis with such a “superior being”. “Evil God” is not an oxymoron; power doesn’t mean your moral judgment is automatically right. I see no reason to assume God is my moral equal much less superior judging from how he is typically described and from how the world is.

Doesn’t work; it begs the question of whether or not the universe was created for a good purpose, and of why we should care about its purpose or care about God’s opinion. It also ignores the problem that without a verified connection to God religions can make no more claim to “absolute objective goodness” than any other organization can. Religions don’t even agree with each other on what is good or whether is not there is a “God” - not all religions are monotheisms with masculine deities, you know.

Don’t worry, an angel will appear and tell you to kill a ram caught in the bushes instead.

First of all, who is “we”?

Second, how many of “us” have to agree that something is good before it constitutes the collective agreement that actually makes such a thing good?

First of all, as a theist, I derive my ethics from a real being, God, not to any imaginary one. Second, as you complain about the “grave danger” of trusting in God, I’m willing to take a chance on that. By contrast, if I were to allow a consensus among secular people to decide what’s good as you suggest, the danger would be much worse. That sort of thinking is exactly what’s produced all kinds of horrors from the mass-murders of fascist regimes to eugenics to lobotomy to a whole bunch of others. History teaches that we clearly cannot trust a consensus among secular people to determine our ethics. That way always leads to disaster.

I think you should reconsider that metaphor. At many places and times in history, people have lost most of their life savings because the currency plunged in a very short time. So if goodness is determined in the same manner as currency, does that mean that an act which contained a lot of goodness today might contain none tomorrow?

How many people have to agree that a dollar bill is worth something before I can use it to buy a pizza?

That hypothesis is not supported by empirical evidence.

Yup. The Bible is full of examples of things like slavery and oppression of women that were acceptable at the time but are not acceptable now.

No, you don’t. First because he doesn’t exist. And second, because even if he did you have no way of knowing it. “God” telling you to do something is just you telling yourself to do something and putting a divine stamp of approval on it.

No; that and instinct are where all moral progress, all justice come from. It certainly isn’t from some incommunicado & imaginary God whose desires, nature and existence people can’t even agree on.

Religion in the Western sense defines morality as “whatever our God wants us to do”. See ITR Champion. I acknowledge that not every christian/muslim/jew thinks that way, but many do.

Religion in the Eastern (buddhist) sense seems to be more about giving up your desires and living with whatever you got, irrespective of gods.

Both work, sort of, if everyone buys into the dominant philosophy: in the western sense, because everyone who gets to fuck anyone over is clearly favored by the God(s), and in the eastern sense, because you get whatever you get and it’s not worth complaining even if what you get is a knife in your back.

So, yeah, both are systems of ethics, but I don’t think either are particularly good systems of ethics.

History clearly teaches us that all morality is potentially dangerous. The one advantage secular morality has is that it is not always based on unverifiable - if not false - premises.

That or you derive your ethics from what people and/or books and/or your own imagination tell you your God wants, like all of the other people on the planet who claim to know God’s will do.

The first thing that sprang to mind upon reading this was human sacrifice, as practiced by the mayans or incas or whoever. Obviously that wasn’t horrible though, as it had a theistic foundation easily as firm as yours.

Mayans, Incas and Aztecs all practiced human sacrifice.

Isn’t it funny that when humans appropriate a religion to maintain their own wealth and power, the results often look like the attrocities achieved by secular humans trying to maintain their own wealth and power.

[quote=“Der_Trihs, post:7, topic:544237”]

Doesn’t work; it begs the question of whether or not the universe was created for a good purpose, and of why we should care about its purpose or care about God’s opinion.


It doesn’t matter whether the god is good or created the universe for a good purpose in this example… I stated that action A is better at achieving outcome X than actions B or C. Since the universe was created to achieve outcome X, A is a good choice. B is not a good choice to achieve the purpose. And it makes no difference if outcome X is determined to be evil by some petty minded person who doesn’t want to go along with it. It doesn’t even matter if the entire population of the universe thought X was evil. The universe was created for X, and A is the best action to achieve it. And still, that begs the question of how we are defining “good” and “evil.”


Many differences can be put down to culture, or the aforementioned people appropriating the religion to maintain their wealth and power. But the basics are amazingly similar.

Do you know anyone selling pizza for one dollar?

To buy something with money, strictly speaking only the seller has to accept the value of the money. If we make that analogous to morality, you appear to be saying that an act is morally good if only one person accepts it as morally good. If that’s not what you’re saying, then perhaps you could be kind enough to answer my questions directly: who decides what good is and how many people are needed to make a firm decision?

First of all, I don’t believe that the Bible is full of examples of those things at all. Secondly, slavery and oppression of women are perfectly acceptable now among the majority of people. Are any of the clothes that you’re wearing right now made in China or some other third-world Asian country? If so, then you’re likely benefiting from forced labor. Do you purchase gasoline for your car regularly? If so, then some of your money goes to Arab tyrants who curtail the freedom of women. Now if you personally don’t spend money in unethical ways, good for you, but you can hardly claim that such things are unacceptable to the majority in America or elsewhere.

Speaking of the religions that formed major societies, they basically agree on living peacably with themselves; amongst those of the religion or society. Where they generally turn to violence is with the outsider or lawbreaker.

First, secular ethics has no basis to say that “living peacably in society” is a good thing; or better than any other aim. A secularist would have to first choose that as his goal. After the secularist decides “living peacably in society” is what he chooses to do rather than “killing as many people as I can get away with and having sex with the bodies,” (and the secularist really can’t make a value judgement between the two choices other than which one would make him happier,) the two systems look remarkably similar. Except, I don’t know of secular systems that suggest you go out of your way to do good to others. They usually suggest the bare minimum to not hurt others. I even hear athiests suggest that the bare minimum not to hurt others makes them good people.