Discussions on the History of Conscience and Ethics
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HE exchanges on these pages began on the Newsgroup, "talk.origins," under the subject, "Re: Sense of Morality," on January 24, 1997. The discussion was moved to this website in order to make it available to a larger number of participants and to put it in a more readable and lasting format. The discussions are presented here with a minimum of editing; the text is in a subject-related order, rather than in the sequence in which it occurred on the Newsgroup. |
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As a newcomer to these sites, I am wondering if it would be worthwhile to establish some sort of ongoing exchange, on a strictly scholarly basis, concerning the ascertainable history of Conscience and Ethics?
For example (before this sounds too whacked-out and intimidating), exchanges of information on the availability of (and the apparent arguments advanced in) documents of conscience through the ages, whether it be
a)the availability in English of (and the specific wording for--if any) the so-called "peace" platform advanced by the ruler Asoka from the B.C. era,
b)ditto for some of Nelson Mandela's enunciations/espousals from prison--if any,
c)the most authoritative source/edition for Martin Luther King's letter from a Birmingham jail,
e)the earliest ethical formulations in an atheistic context during the A.D. era (incredibly, the two earliest such formulations, Matthias Knutzen's three German pamphlets of 1674 and Chapter Two of Jean Meslier's French work, Mon Testament, ca. 1725, SEEM not to be available in English(!!)--a critical gap that an ongoing exchange group like this MAY be able to fill),
f)the draft revisions in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence,
g)the chronological relationships in the various strata for the different chapters of the Lun Yu (Analects of Confucius),
h)current political and philosophical platforms from around the world,
and so on.
I realize this is casting quite a wide net (no pun intended), and, in addition, I would also hope for in-depth discussions on the implications of this one's or that one's ethics/conscience reasoning for our own day, within the context of whatever textual and editorial determinations/insights our modern, hopefully non-sectarian scholars may offer.
Being neither a pronounced atheist nor a pronounced theist (the term "militant agnostic" seems a little contradictory!), I am only interested in what the history of humanity, through the prism of rigorously modern scholarship, can yield us concerning the insights of those rare birds--of whatever persuasion--who bucked their own peers, risked their livelihoods, challenged our minds, and uplifted their own communities, and by extension this entire fragile globe, for the sake of formulating ethical imperatives essential towards fulfilling a worthwhile human destiny.
These may be impractically big words to throw around, but I suppose it's tough to treat on these weighty matters without falling into such a trap.
I fervently hope such a dialogue can be carried out in a genuine spirit of inquiry without--too many--preconceptions. I am simply not interested in arguing the PERCEIVED heinousness of the atheists Matthias Knutzen and Jean Meslier with a fundamentalist nor the PERCEIVED ludicrousness of Jesus with an atheist. Frankly, that is BORING!!! And I also hope we won't degenerate into a forum where atheists argue FOR Knutzen, fundamentalists FOR Jesus, Democrats FOR Jefferson, Republicans FOR Lincoln, and so on.
Genuine, scholarly inquiry with an engaged but open-minded concern for the ramifications of ethics in the crisis-ridden world of 1997 should be our goal. We may not always achieve that, of course, but let's--at least--try to aim for that.Eyler Coates
May I suggest an additional work by Thomas Jefferson,
The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the GospelsJefferson's compilation of the moral philosophy of Jesus.
This was a work that Jefferson prepared for himself. He considered the ethical system of Jesus to be the finest the world has ever seen.GRiggs
Sincere thanks to E.C. To those who may already know this Jefferson Bible site, this may be old news, but I certainly was not aware of it. I look forward to reading it some time next week as I have two different lectures to prepare for back to back this weekend!! I have already bookmarked the site. Again, thanks.
I am somewhat familiar with this work, though I doubt I have even glanced at it for nearly twenty years! This compilation is fascinating for our purposes, since it allows us to study both the rigorously humanist spin that a Founding Father, a Deist, put on ethics along with the various Gospel traditions coming out of the earliest Synoptics (i.e. Mark) and the so-called Q Gospel passages in Matthew and Luke.
Hope to get back to everyone on this soon and to exchange impressions with others on Jefferson's arrangement.C. W. Jones
On the substantial level, why King without Hutter, Fox, Garrison, Tolstoi and Gandhi?
Also, one can hardly understand Jefferson's moral thought by reference to his bible alone. Garry Wills has shown that he relied heavily on the Common Sense school, especially on Hutcheson. His reasoning on expatriation of freedmen was clearly based on the doctrine of the "affections," and political correctness aside, his reasoning thereupon has proved remarkably prescient. Moreover, Jefferson explained that he agreed with Jesus except in regard to the latter's spiritualism. Jefferson was a materialist. His view of Plato was precisely that of Benjamin Farrington and Izzy Stone, and he regarded the lunatic Paul in the same light. And, as has been shown by Karl Lehman, a close analysis of Jefferson's Anas reveals that he recurred at times of moral crisis not to Jesus but Euripides.
Isn't the field of "morality" a little broad?Eyler Coates
There is no reason to limit the scope of our coverage here to those specifically named. Anyone familiar with the works of those whose writings might shed some light on questions related to morality should feel free to jump in and contribute whatever they had to say. The field of Morality is, as GRiggs says, "casting quite a wide net," but our best bet is probably to tackle one portion at a time.G Riggs
I am not so familiar with Hutcheson as I would like to be. C. W. Jones mentioned Hutcheson in a recent posting, and I would sincerely appreciate further enlightenment on Hutcheson's own ideas and on any possible comments by Jefferson relating to them.
It may be possible that Eyler Coates already has a few Jeffersonian references to Hutcheson at this site. But I confess I have not yet found any.Eyler Coates
I have not found a single reference to Hutcheson in the writings of Jefferson. Nevertheless, Garry Wills, in his book, Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, in which he examined in depth the sources for the Declaration phrase by phrase, showed convincingly (to the best of my recollection; I don't have the book at hand) that Jefferson derived that document more from the writings of Hutcheson than from Locke! As I recall, many of the phrases seemed almost copied word for word from Hutcheson. And this has special reference to the use of "the pursuit of happiness" rather than Locke's "property."G Riggs
C. W. Jones' reference to possible influence from Euripides is even more fascinating. Scholarship occasionally trots out the cliche of Euripides being the first "morally relativistic" poet/dramatist. So it is refreshing to find that some figures at least recognize Euripides' fundamental--moral--impatience with the hypocrisies and cruelties of society.
Given Jefferson's omniverous reading habits and his classical education, I imagine he must have been struck by some of Aeschylus's writings as well. As a figure who, among the very earliest Greek tragedians, saw it as his task to rear a new society in the image of democratic freedom, Aeschylus's perception of his calling must have struck a chord in Jefferson's mind.
A scrupulously objective poet, the Greek Aeschylus wrote a play depicting the very victory over the Persians that he had personally been a hero in. Yet he scrupulously presented this tragedy entirely from the Persian point of view. His depiction of the Persians' bewilderment at Greek "democracy" in the wake of their defeat perhaps raised a chuckle from Aeschylus as it may have from Jefferson.
Nay, no longer is the tonguePlease, can either E.C. or someone else call to our attention Jeffersonian remarks with respect to either Aeschylus or Euripides? Thank you.
Imprisoned kept, but loose are men,
When loose the yoke of power's bound,
To bawl their liberty. (trans. Seth G. Benardete)Eyler Coates
Again, I am unable to find a reference to either Aeschylus or Euripides.
Of the ancient Greeks, Jefferson did make several references to Epicurus and Epictetus. Of the former, he wrote:
"...the doctrines of Epicurus, which, notwithstanding the calumnies of the Stoics and caricatures of Cicero, is the most rational system remaining of the philosophy of the ancients, as frugal of vicious indulgence, and fruitful of virtue as the hyperbolical extravagances of his rival sects." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thompson,, 1816.
And in a letter to William Short, Jefferson wrote:
"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace... Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 18819.
Jefferson continues with some further comments on specific teachings of Epicurus, and includes a "Syllabus of the Doctrines of Epicurus." If you think it would be interesting for our purposes, I would be glad to post them.G Riggs
It might be best simply to give our readership a representative glimpse, say, of those 3 or 4 pages of the "Syllabus" that you believe might spark the liveliest exchange. Naturally, if the entire "Syllabus" is scarcely that long anyway, please let's have the entire thing by all means. Thank you.Eyler Coates
The materials are relatively brief, and I will include them separately in the chapter, Jefferson on Epicurus.G Riggs
It would also be interesting to scrutinize Aeschylus's and Euripides' takes on ethics on their own as something comparable to some of the other texts we are studying in this "conversation." Somewhere, I recall Swinburne characterizing Aeschylus's Oresteia trilogy in the most glowing ethical and moral terms, but I can't seem to put my hands on Swinburne's remarks.
In addition, there is a surprisingly pertinent series of articles being published now [April 1998] in Atlantic Monthly. This series is culled from a new book, coming out in 1998, entitled Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Its author is Edward O. Wilson.
The first installment, available now at the Atlantic Monthly website, is from the March '98 issue and concerns a challenge to those of the Enlightenment who gave up the effort at an Empirical assessment of the mainsprings of human behavior too readily. In fact, Wilson maintains, in "Back from Chaos," that such an understanding is just as achievable as today's scientific understanding of the amoeba. I am simplifying it grossly, since Wilson himself happens to be an enlightened and challenging writer. If users wish to gauge his writings adequately, the March '98 installment is at:
In addition, there is an interview with him at:
and some further extracts from his book at:
Most intriguing of all, the April '98 installment is on a "Biological Basis of Morality." As with the previous installment, it has been divided into two parts at the Atlantic Monthly site. The first part is at:
What I am most struck by is the sub-section, "A Scientific Approach to Moral Reasoning," at the top of Part Two of April's article:
Here, Wilson demonstrates clearly just how much all of these concerns, duly raised by us at this site, figure today in the urgent thoughts of other observers now engaged, for the first time, in addressing such compelling questions properly and methodically. Those interested in the issues discussed at this site may find the second half of Wilson's April contribution, and indeed the entire Wilson series, well worth pondering.
Something puzzles me: Is Morality a set of beliefs which evolution has bestowed upon the weak?
It puzzles me.G Riggs
To what end? Not trying, in any way, to debunk your idea, I'm tantalized by whether Morality is an evolutionary product borne out of an instinct for bettering the social cohesion and strength of the weak, or merely a rationalization generated to make the weak feel more reconciled to their lot. The latter notion has already been enunciated by Nietsche, while I tend toward the former. I am sincerely interested in which spin you might put on Morality's evolutionary function for the down and out. Thanks.ERiggs
Isn't it also possible that Morality is a set of beliefs set up by the strong within a species or society to keep their strength and advantage for themselves (and keep the weak weak)? The point I am trying to make is that Morality is (or may be) a double-edged sword. One can look at Morality as either a set of beliefs that helps the weak or that hurts them -- or as both things at one and the same time.G Riggs
To follow up from that, might Morality as we understand it not even exist were there no weak and no strong in the human family?E Riggs
Think about Binti, the gorilla that rescued a small child who fell into Binti's "cage" in the zoo a year or so back. Instead of attacking the child, or shunning it in fear (as might have been expected), Binti carefully cradled the child and carried him to a place near the door to her "cage" so that the zookeepers could come and take the child away. Morality among the apes? We may not be the only Moral ones on this earth.....John Hopkins
Everyone should put their [faith] in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, because He is the light of this world, for He is the power and wisdom of God unto salvation. Amen. (Let's pray for our government.)Nancy Kelderman
I am enjoying this dialogue even though I find some of it a little boring. I also suffer from a very high IQ that displaces me in many ways in our "society." I have come to accept that and now travel at very high levels. Jesus Christ is my mentor, my example and I have found my greatest comfort from the Holy Spirit. We are all called according to His purpose and all things work together for the good of them that love the Lord. This is all I need, all I want and all I desire. The debate going on here, in my humble opinion, is simply between a group of human beings that each have a different point of view. Each view represents a fraction of the whole of truth. As Pilate asks, "The Truth, WHAT is THAT?" So Jesus also, in John 8:31-32 reminds us that until we comprehend, accept and act upon the truth of His ministry, we are slaves with no rights, because we do not know the truth. Those of us that seek out God's will in our lives, just as Chirst did, KNOW the truth. We know because we possess. We are all born in an inherent corrupted state. That came from our choice to know the difference in good and evil. We were created in God's image, we were given the choice so that we might chose Him, but because we didn't, we pay the consequence. Yet, God loved us so much, that he gave us his only Son, the person of Jesus Christ, to live, die and rise again to the right hand of God our Father so that he COVERED it ALL and then could petition the Holy Spirit to guide, guard and protect us as we follow Jesus's example in DOING OUR FATHERS WILL in our lives. The law is only to convict us of our wrongfullness. It is at the seat of judgement we find mercy.
So where does that leave Manson, Hitler, Richard Speck? They are dealing with the consequences of unjust acts they have committed and our society does NOT accept at this point in time. God, our heavenly father loves ALL of us...this is where we are all equal. Not one of us are capable, of any work towards truth, without following Chirst's lead back into communion with God. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, not one of us can even grasp what this is about, and with that I mean to say that the honor and glory and CREDIT is not OURS! This is one of the reasons that I enjoy dialogue with those that are agnostic or even atheist, because in a sense, they are absolutely right, just as much as those that do have a strong belief in God. It is important for us to understand that the dialogue that has been going on here could go on forever. What really is the point? What is the payoff? What do we as individuals gain from it? Who gets the credit? Where is the edification?Christine
To be able to communicate a complete moral system into a usable, digestible piece of teaching, might even satisfy those who are encumbered with a very high IQ. Was not the teaching of the Man from Galilee this: That there is a primary law, a law by which we are to govern ourselves in such a way that we cause no harm to others, and in that way, we do away with the need for the remedial law, the law that provides remedies for the violation of the primary law?
But, the other element is the greater part of the teaching: That we also have a duty to the Creator, to seek His face?Eyler Coates
Surely there is such a thing as morality apart from religious dogma and faith. Morality is essential to the foundation of a just political system, and that morality must be based on reason, not on religious faith, else we become engulfed in the political tragedies we see acted out almost everywhere. And not only that, a true basis of morality should be something where ALL decent religions can find common ground. So, I see no need for the "either-or." It could only lead to divisiveness and conflict, as indeed it has throughout the world today.G Riggs
The question that Eyler has raised lies very near the heart of any scholarly or scientific attempt to locate the “nerve center" of humanity’s moral compass. More specifically, while I find myself in general agreement with Eyler's assertion that "morality can exist apart from religious dogma and faith," I am teased by a further consideration:
It is not hard to see why certain posters like Ms. Kelderman may feel passionately that, given the far-reaching repercussions and original thinking of an utterly altruistic figure like Jesus (or, among other religions, a figure like Moses, like Buddha, like Confucius or like Mohammed), morality itself can only come out of an engagement with the metaphysical. Does such a passionate engagement with the metaphysical have, necessarily, a built-in monopoly on the moral and the ethical? Clearly, the preponderance of truly ethical pioneers like Buddha or Jesus would suggest so. But such a conclusion is really based on a set of impressions (however strong, even correct, such impressions may be), not on rigorous scholarship of a kind that -- I believe -- is yet to be sytematically undertaken. But though such rigorous scholarship has not been attempted on as thorough a scale as I might wish, that does not preclude its being undertaken on precisely such a large scale at some point in the not-too-distant future. I strongly urge that such an inquiry is essential to understanding more deeply the ramifications of a profound question for which we are in Ms. Kelderman’s debt.
Yes, I may be an agnostic. But it is precisely because I am an agnostic that I feel entirely open to the idea once and for all of applying modern scholarship and research to the question of the genuine derivation for the bedrock moralities and ethics that humanity has lived by for the last six thousand years.
Of course, this begs the question, in turn, of whether humanity’s basic instincts are more benign in the long run or more selfish. In addition, one can talk all one likes about the basic, innate instincts of humanity being automatically useful or beneficial regardless of ultimate derivation. The fact is that historical, cultural scholarship has not yet advanced to the point where we can be really sure about any of this.
The instinct for Altruism occasionally asserts itself in the face of immediate, individual peril, even though the aggregate benefit for all concerned may be self-evident. Is the Altruism instinct, then, tied to an instinct for family, community, or, even, species survival, making even humanity's basic survival instinct very complex and farsighted (enlightened) indeed rather than invariably of a parochial “dog-eat-dog” variety, concerned only with looking out for Number One? Or, in its occasional neglect of individual survival, is the selfless Altruism instinct in fact in conflict -- constant conflict? -- with a basic survival instinct that, in its raw, uncultured form, may bear no more of a resemblance to a Dr. Schweitzer than would Jack the Ripper, making no prioritizing distinctions among self, community, species, what-have-you, at all?
In other words, is humanity's survival instinct tied strictly to self and to nothing beyond that, making the Altruism instinct its implacable foe? If so, of what does the Altruism instinct consist, and from what is it derived?
Going further, if we suppose, for the sake of argument, that Altruism is not even an instinct at all, then that begs the question: How come humanity can boast of certain paragons who appear to have shown any altruism at all? Is altruism a counter-intuitive phenomenon, crying out for an explanation that is somehow inevitably moored in considerations strictly outside of the immediate here-and-now of the daily human psyche? If altruism is indeed counter-intuitive after all, where does such a seemingly illogical urge, however lofty, come from? The materialist may argue that it must come from an inherent instinct after all, one as thoroughly innate, in fact, as any of the rawest, most selfish survival instincts imaginable, while the less skeptically inclined may argue that its very loftiness and counter-intuitiveness demonstrates a manifest presence of some thing utterly outside our immediate consciousness, some thing which always works quietly with our usually inadequate, humdrum -- and sadly egotistical? -- psyches.
To understand the dynamics of all the greatest cultural breakthroughs in altruism throughout time, and their equally important and selflessly courageous pioneers, much more information and sifting is needed than humanity has so far attempted. I would submit, and I realize I may be going out on a limb here, that such sifting may, at least, give us a clearer picture than we have today of where precisely the cultural contexts, the seedbeds if you will (philosophical, theological, humanistic, skeptical, ceremonial, political, or whatever), for these pioneering concepts really nest.
One does not have to be a genius to recognize that the insights, for instance, of a Buddha, a Confucius, a Socrates, or a Jesus are all nested in a seemingly visceral sense of awareness, on the part of each pioneer, of the reality of the metaphysical as an ever-present phenomenon, fully as real as any human companion walking by their side. But what then does one make of the clearly upright moral qualities of a Baron Holbach or a Mr. Ingersoll, both of whom led exemplary lives while being thoroughgoing skeptics?
Here’s where scholarship can play an invaluable role. Yes, there may be no question that figures like Holbach or Ingersoll introduced impeccably upright ways of living that were fully as courageous and pioneering as any of the more metaphysically inpired ways of living. Moreover, they formulated their new and lofty ways of relating to their fellow man in intellectually rogorous writings that many would claim to be the equal in originality and depth of the extant thoughts left us by the metaphysical pioneers such as Buddha and Jesus. But today’s scholar -- or scholars plus historians et al, in order to ensure multi-denominational consensus -- who studies the mainsprings of such pioneering ways of life coming from the skeptics can perhaps determine to what extent the impeccably ethical ideas of a Holbach are truly original rather than partly borrowed from a set of cultural assumptions easily traceable to the breakthroughs of some entirely metaphysical pioneer(s) after all -- be that pioneer a Moses, an Isaiah, a Jesus, or whoever. Likewise, and here is where a certain amount of courage may come in on the part of today’s scholar, it may be possible to trace certain of Jesus’s ethical pronouncements to an earlier skeptic like Democritus, or certain of Moses’s ethical ideas to various earlier, more secular laws, or Confucius’s ideas to Wen Wang, and so on.
There is no telling where such research may lead. One may find that the most truly original, least borrowed, breakthroughs throughout time come from exclusively practical, political contexts, strictly divorced from theistic worship of any kind, or one may find that the original, earliest seedbeds of all of the most crucial ethical breakthroughs throughout time come exclusively from pioneers whose whole lives were intensely bound up with an overwhelming sense of the metaphysical after all, or one may find that even the most consistently original breakthroughs still show utterly mixed patterns leading neither to one conclusion or the other. Even that last possibility need not discourage us. The energing consensus -- and I would envisage this emerging cconsensus establishing itself on a long-term generational basis, very much like the staggering generational timeline involved in the exhaustive and inspiring odyssey behind the New Oxford English Dictionary, for instance -- would be infinitely useful whatever the outcome.
If this project should take on the dimensions of something like the New Oxford English Dictionary, then there is all the more reason to launch such a project as soon as possible. The New Oxford English Dictionary gave an exhaustive survey of the origins of English words; the project I propose would constitute an exhaustive survey of the ultimate origins of the truly pioneering, epoch-defining moral ideas. I believe such a survey is possible. However, since each century only has a hundred years, we don’t have much time if we want to make the twenty-first century the moment when humanity brings to bear the combined energies of the scholar, of the historian, of the anthropologist, of the scientist (even of the brain surgeon?!) and of any number of other specialists on the philosophical, the cultural, the historical (even the biological?!) patterns relating to genuinely pioneering altruism.
It's the "hardwired" source of a courageous spokesman's lone instinct, validated only through the course of humanity's better -- and more universal -- instincts as shown through later centuries, not at all through the temporary abuses of some backward culture constituting the dangerous background for some courageous spokesman's highly risky pronouncements, that -- I admit -- chiefly interests me. It's just that the allocation of sheer manpower and rigorous, unbiased brainpower adequate to the task of scientifically studying the "lone instinct" phenomenon is staggering.
Still, that old cliche is no less true for being shopworn and a bit trite: The longest journey starts with a single step.
It's the generational conclusions coming decades from now out of such a staggering task that would be more valid than anything we could state here today regarding the following, highly fraught question: To what extent do humanity's earliest articulators of either "Atheist Ethics" or "Theist Ethics" dovetail most precisely with the future discoveries concerning humanity's most truly original ethical norms and their first truly original pronouncements by pioneers who frequently risked life and limb just by advancing such ideas?
Perhaps, online forums such as this one can now help foster the climate needed for such a mammoth project sooner rather than later, as we start a new, pitifully uncharted millennium, where the actions of any one country (or mogul!) can have instant repercussions around the globe, the like of which even our most immediate ancestors could never have dreamed.
I freely confess I regard this kind of research project as part scholarship, part wake-up call. The basic building blocks of Altruism itself become more pertinent than ever as humanity’s very survival appears more and more vulnerable to the imponderables of Altruism’s unfortunate absence from far too many corridors of power.
Afterword written roughly a month after the foregoing: It was a bit of a surprise to come across the following "call to arms" (to peace?) in an essay written by Jean-Pierre Changeux: "Ethical Questions," pp. 210 - 235 of Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics, published by Princeton in 1995. The author writes (page 211):
"Even if some reject the idea that ethics rests exclusively upon objective knowledge, it seems to me essential today that we draw upon it in constructing a new theory of ethics. It is true that the aims of science and of ethics are unambiguously at odds with each other,"
(Frankly, I personally might take issue with that as a blanket statement.)
"at the same time, we should keep in mind Spinoza's dictum that knowledge of the essence of things is the supreme virtue. We must therefore take the data of anthropology, history of religions, law, cognitive psychology -- and therefore neuroscience -- as our point of departure at every stage of analysis. Since it's now possible to proceed in a rational manner, constructing testable, revisable models, there's no excuse for failing to do so."Ann
Chaos arises when there are no moral absolutes, whether governed or not by the 'state.' The pluralistic society of the U.S. today (as a whole) has accepted self-governed, self-asserted, and self-maintained morality -- regardless of who gets hurt. Unfortunately, Christians are persecuted because of their seeming 'intolerance' when it comes to the (world's) morals being enforced (imposed) in society, through 'political correctness.' This persecution ought to be welcomed by Christ-followers because light exposes the deeds done in darkness, convicts those who are outside of God's will, and promotes truth of immovable foundations. Being in the world but not of it will demonstrate the love of God and His intolerance of sin, not people.
Moral relativism is rampant in the U.S. today. The effects are devastating. Turning from God to self only allows for harsh consequences... physically as well as spiritually. It is now popular opnion that people are turning to instead of the God of liberty, love and mercy.
Sin is man's problem. The only way to be free of slavery to sin or have a future with a holy God in heaven (once you're dead physically) or peace through all circumstances, is belief in Jesus, who He is, and what He did on the cross. He bore the weight of sins, something you could never do for yourself. Blood was required for the remission of sin. Faith alone in God's free gift of Jesus' shed blood is the remedy to life's unfulfillment, restlessness, and searching.
The purpose of life (man's existence & future) hasn't been addressed by atheists or agnostics yet. Interestingly enough, atheists are as religious as the Pharisees of the Bible, as devout as Jews, as pious as a Christian legalist, and as loyal as a Muslim. The only difference is their object of worship and devotion..... atheists and agnostics look to self as the answer -- but then they unavoidably die (physically) just like the rest.
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