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iamthemob's avatar

How, if possible, can you determine the moral or spiritual validity of any belief system?

Asked by iamthemob (17123 points ) October 15th, 2010

Belief system should be interpreted as broadly as possible in this sense. In religions, and many spiritual movements that can’t be qualified as religions per se, the basic moral lessons are based on rules and rituals, parables, etc., contained in sacred texts. Philosophers had debates that were recorded and are now distributed. Throughout time, however, these texts are subject to various interpretations – as anything written or stated invariably suffers from the fact that language confuses as much as it communicates. More recently, theorists rely not on a single text, but rather ongoing academic releases and with the advent of the internet, electronic publications of various sorts.

Considering the multitude of potential sources available, or multiple interpretations, or multiple translations…how does one determine the moral or spiritual validity of a movement or a belief. In any case, is it necessary? And if underlying texts are demonstrably flawed, does it invalidate a system, or undermine it, or demand an alternative interpretation?

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72 Answers

flutherother's avatar

There is no objective criteria that can be used otherwise we would all believe the same thing. I would simply ask what harm might result from believing this and is it uplifting or beautiful.

thekoukoureport's avatar

You can’t. That is why we challenge beliefs. Thats how answers are attained. If we never questioned validity of beliefs we would still think the earth is flat.

iamthemob's avatar

@flutherother – I agree with you. But most movements have somethings that are wrong, damaging or harmful in them, even when they have parts that are uplifting or beautiful.

@thekoukoureport – I’m with you there too…but should the tools we use to question the fact that the world is flat (a wholly objective assertion) to question moral, psychological, spiritual, or religious systems? Should we use those tools as well as those we use to look at history, literature, etc.?

Seek's avatar

There is no unquestionable source of moral information other than that which is ingrained in our bodies through natural selection.

By instinct, we know it is wrong to harm a member of our tribe or through inaction allow someone to be harmed. We know it is of utmost importance to care for the young of our tribe.

That’s about it. Everything else is up for debate.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Any “system of beliefs” is intrinsically flawed, because it piles beliefs upon beliefs, and this is like building a house on quicksand, using sand for a foundation and rotting wood for walls. If you say for instance “I believe God exists because I believe I’m so wonderful I couldn’t have appeared except by divine action.” It would make as much sense to say I believe the Great Pumpkin wears a bowler hat because he was proud of having created the world as a place to host pumpkin patches, and I believe that bowler hats exhibit pride in great pumpkins.

flutherother's avatar

iamthemob Most belief systems are flawed and contain the potential for harm but not all. Buddhism for example (though I am not a Buddhist).

iamthemob's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – Oddly enough, though, we show the least amount of attachment to our young of any of our close relatives – species-wise. So our instinct is, in many ways, to ignore our young more than others. Additionally, there are certain survival tactics that most would agree were immoral, and may be driven by instinct, but would almost universally be derided. It is often beneficial to our survival to allow a member of our tribe to be harmed, and legally we often argue, with conviction, that no one should be required to step in to the aid of someone else (we also have good samaritan laws, of course – but these are qualified by rendering assistance only if you do not put yourself in harms way). So I feel like there’s an awkwardness in stating that we can draw upon an “unquestionable morality” from our bodies ingrained through natural selection.

Additionally, I know more than one person on here who would get their hackles up seeing any implication that natural selection “did” anything to us. ;-)

iamthemob's avatar

@flutherother – I think there’s a potential for harm in Buddhist beliefs. Indeed, the withdrawal from sexuality would probably screw up a thing or two for the species. ;-)

But I agree that there are some systems that, objectively, contain “rules” or teachings that, on a whole, do not advocate direct and intentional harm.

BoBo1946's avatar

Why challenge an intangible! Beliefs are faith based. Scientific theories (shape of the world) etc., can understand that more so than beliefs. Beliefs are a personal matter. Each person has to make that call and that should be respected. To ask questions about one’s beliefs, got no problem with that, but to make fun of one’s beliefs calling it fairy tales, etc. is over the line.

iamthemob's avatar

@BoBo1946 – but many faith-based beliefs still have central, sacred texts that make at least some objective claims that can be proven or disproven. Those have to be dealt with – and I hate to bring it up, but you know that the bible is one that we’ve had more than one discussion about here in flutherland.

thekoukoureport's avatar

but should the tools we use to question the fact that the world is flat (a wholly objective assertion) to question moral, psychological, spiritual, or religious systems?

Yes because those systems are responsible for the belief. i.e. all knowledge not attributable to god must be destroyed. (the dark ages). So we eliminated knowledege because it wasn’t worded right thus the debate becomes one sided with a religious system having the upper hand and a populace dumbed down so as to be subjegated by it.

All religions have relied on the absence of knowledge for its success.

Spiritual movents tend to be more free thinking and not repressive in nature so there’s usually no need to guestion cause the reply is usually “whatever man live and let live”.

Moral systems are usually challenged when the Hypocrisy of the system is exposed i.e tedd haggart, larry craig etc.

BoBo1946's avatar

@iamthemob as you know, I’ve no problem with people attacking or questioning the text, it’s the personal attacks that come with the territory when that person sees that you don’t buy what they are selling.

iamthemob's avatar

@thekoukoureport – I agree with you generally – however, religions (as I believe you mean them…) can be separated from belief systems, or spiritual movements.

Take Christianity…when we discuss the way that it has relied on the ignorance of it’s followers, we inevitably really are talking about the church…whether it be Catholic, Southern Baptist, or that favorite of yours and mine – the WBC.

So it’s not so much the system, but rather the organization that gains power through use of it’s influence, and then interprets the meaning of the system in a manner consistent with maintaining that power. Indeed, much of the criticism of many church actions and statements is that they are “not very Christian.”

Seek's avatar

we show the least amount of attachment to our young of any of our close relatives – species-wise.

I’ll need a source for that.

“there are certain survival tactics that most would agree were immoral, and may be driven by instinct, but would almost universally be derided.”

Example?

It is often beneficial to our survival to allow a member of our tribe to be harmed, and legally we often argue, with conviction, that no one should be required to step in to the aid of someone else (we also have good samaritan laws, of course – but these are qualified by rendering assistance only if you do not put yourself in harms way)

I agree on the first clause – It is me first, then tribe. I’m no good to anyone if I’m dead. However, the preferable outcome to any situation is that all members of the tribe reach safety. Saving oneself is generally a last resort.

I’m not talking about “legally”.

Besides, “Good Samaritan” laws are set in order to protect the helper from conviction should anything go wrong. For example, one is protected by Good Samaritan Law if they unknowingly perform CPR on a stranger at a restaurant, and it is later revealed the person had a Do Not Resuscitate order. The DNR patient could not sue the Samaritan for assault as they might if the same had occurred in a hospital setting. The Samaritan is also protected in case while performing CPR he inadvertently breaks a patient’s rib. No one is legally bound to help in case of an emergency, unless they are a licensed First Responder – such as a physician.

I know more than one person on here who would get their hackles up seeing any implication that natural selection “did” anything to us

I do not accept a person’s ignorance as proof against Natural Selection. It is scientific fact.

BoBo1946's avatar

loll…whatever!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Morality is easy. Extrapolate the effects of any given cause as far as you are able, and determine whether or not those effects provide benefit to the parties affected. The problems arise in the future modelling abilities of people. Some would expect certain effects of a given cause, while others would expect a contrary result.

Spiritual validity cannot be determined, since spirituality is often used as an excuse to cover for all sorts of garbage. That is not to say spirituality cannot be valid, but that there is too much obscuring information and the definitions are too vague to be able to construct a definitive test as to the validity of a specific spiritual theory.

iamthemob's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

I’ll give you a source if you ask nicely. Otherwise, I suggest you can find the information on your own. I have faith in your google capabilities. ;-)

The example of putting yourself before the survival of others was already the example. I believe in moralistic terms, we refer to this as selfish.

I gave the example of our legal system as a manifestation of the lack of samaritan laws as the example that people don’t think they should be held responsible for each other…that’s their choice. I know you weren’t talking legally – but many of our morals are, of course, expressed through our laws. And that particular one supports a “me first” idea without any consideration to the well being of the tribe – and therefore should scream bloody murder in our instinctual bones if that is to be considered an unquestionable source of morality.

And finally, lord…you accept what you want. I was talking about the fact that natural selection is undirected, and people who are hardcore evolution defenders would ridicule you for implying that natural selection acted in any way to create a moral truth for us. That suggests that in the end there was an intention – a big no-no in natural selection. Soooo…I don’t know where you got the ignorance as proof against natural selection. It was more about the fact that people who have a true understanding of evolution would object to your characterization of the unquestionable morality “ingrained through” natural selection. They get testy about that, and would be calling you ignorant at this point. ;-)

JustmeAman's avatar

I find it very amusing when a person states “It is fact”.

iamthemob's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – it seems like you’re saying that the concept of morality is easy, but the practice is hard. Isn’t that what belief systems generally attempt to do – in many ways, put the idea into practice.

And that’s how I think about the spiritual validity as well. I feel like it all gets muddled up in subjectivity. But I feel like, therefore, it can be a place for a different kind of productive discussion because, by necessity, each argument starts from a place where it cannot be shown to be right or wrong…which takes some of the motivation to argue (theoretically, of course) out of the equation.

iamthemob's avatar

@JustmeAman – don’t start hitting that beehive with a stick. Note that she did state that it was a scientific fact, not a fact generally. Science has different ideas of when something is true, fact, and what a theory is than other areas…it’s all subject, in many ways, to being disproven at any time, but so far has proven helpful and descriptive of events occurring or discovered later. ;-)

BoBo1946's avatar

@JustmeAman :-))) The ignorance part is what got “my goat!” You honor, we rest our case!

iamthemob…good point! You would be correct!

Seek's avatar

I’ll give you a source if you ask nicely. Otherwise, I suggest you can find the information on your own. I have faith in your google capabilities. ;-)

I will not research your points, now or ever. If you wish the point to be discussed, you cite it.

The example of putting yourself before the survival of others was already the example. I believe in moralistic terms, we refer to this as selfish.

That is not an example. I want specifics, so I can discuss how your example relates to instinctual morality.

I know you weren’t talking legally – but many of our morals are, of course, expressed through our laws.

Our laws have been long tainted with sources of dictated morality – religious and secular alike instead of intrinsic morality, thus they do not apply to my point.

That suggests that in the end there was an intention – a big no-no in natural selection.

How so? Everything developed through natural selection has a purpose, an “intention” if you will. Birds didn’t develop hollow bones and wings if they didn’t need to fly. Yes, there is often leftover matter (like our tonsils, for instance) that remain because while they are not necessarily useful they aren’t harmful either.

It really bugs me when people fall under the impression that “natural selection” = “random chance”, when it is exactly the opposite.

iamthemob's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

It doesn’t really bug me, but yeah, I agree…it’s a little inaccurate to say “random.” It is, however, as I said, undirected. But you’re ascribing a lot of purpose before the fact rather than something useful that developed and was kept. Birds didn’t develop wings because they needed to fly…species from a common ancestor branched off, and one developed the ability to fly as it was advantageous. The way you describe it, it works like this: organisms needed to fly, and therefore they developed wings, as opposed to organisms in a particular environment developed wings, and this proved advantageous to their survival, so we still see them today. Having a purpose and being useful have two very, very different implications.

The term selfish is the specific example. We generally are inclined to feel morally superior to those who put themselves first, but at the same time when called for, we act most often putting ourselves first (e.g., herd fight-or-flight responses).

And @Seek_Kolinahr – you don’t have to research my points. But I’m not going to provide a source on demand when you provided nothing to support your statement that we know by instinct to protect the tribe, and that we must care for our young. But you know…trust me…it’s a scientific fact. ;-)

Seek's avatar

@iamthemob You never requested a source. I’ll be happy to provide one if you wish.

BoBo1946's avatar

I respect people’s intelligence on Faith and religious beliefs (many here much smarter than i). But, having said that, really don’t understand how a person can see the wonders of this world and not believe in a higher power. Oh, certainly understand why people would guestion the negative aspects of this life…there are many! I don’t have the answers, but nothing, would ever change my beliefs. Beliefs are largely based on one’s life experiences. I’ve walked down a tough road during my life….experienced things that a few words here would not do it justice, but in my heart of hearts, believe with every fiber in my body that Jesus Christ died for us. Now, can I prove that…no, but feel it in my heart. Nothing said or done to me would ever change that feeling in my heart. enough said, can see my place in this conversation….out of here!

fundevogel's avatar

This doesn’t really relate to religion, but I noticed several people saying you can’t really judge morals and I just saw Sam Harris give a really interesting lecture arguing against that. It’s really long but if you’re into ethics and lectures it’s worth your time.

He follows Spinoza’s model of “good” and “bad” and proposes a system by which we can objectively determine the most moral action according to how to best maximize good and minimize bad.

iamthemob's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – “If you wish the point to be discussed, you cite it.” Seems like you were arguing that if the point is to be discussed, it must be cited as a prerequisite – no need to ask for it at all. ;-) Personally, I don’t need one, as I believe that it is instinctual to take care of one’s young as it’s reproductively beneficial. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a straightforward and unquestionable moral imperative, as issues like the one I stated complicate it a bit, particularly considering the fact that we both (1) need to rear our children for a significantly extended period of time due to the fact that our brains need to develop outside the womb a bit otherwise birth would be impossible, and (2) we’re programmed to recognize the intentions of others in their facial expression because we need to determine faster and better whether they mean us harm because we are often left in the care of others by our natural mothers (chimp mothers, for instance, stay in constant physical contact with their young).

There are also issues when it comes to behavior that we generally believe is moral, and has a reproductive benefit, but that also we are biologically predisposed against. For instance, the more sexually dimorphous a species, the more polygamous that species is instinctually. Human beings are a particularly sexually dimorphous species, and therefore if the morality of instinct is unquestionable, polygamy should be the norm.

Seek's avatar

@iamthemob You are correct, I did phrase my bird analogy a tad backwards.

However, it does follow that we see few birds today without wings, or without functional wings, unless they have other methods of escape or a lack of predators – such as the ostrich, which can run up to something like 35 or 40 MPH, and the Antarctic penguin, whose predators live under water. In the case of the latter, the penguins who were capable of swimming the fastest escaped the predators and lived to reproduce, and thus penguins today have wings that resemble flippers.

I would argue that tribes of individuals who worked together to ensure survival – sharing food, caring for each others young, not killing each other over things like who gets the first handful of wildebeest meat – ultimately lived longer and better lives than tribes of cannibalistic barbarians who viewed someone else’s newborn as a lovely source of protein. Thus, it becomes evolutionarily advantageous to work together as a group.

here is a fascinating article about the Moral Instinct, by Steven Pinker

iamthemob's avatar

@fundevogel

I think that would be my most boiled down definition of morality as well…and @FireMadeFlesh touched on that idea a bit as well (I believe – I’m definitely going to watch that lecture when the time presents. ;-)). Does it address the issue of how we can do such calculations considering the nature of globalization?

For instance, I would argue that it’s immoral to buy manufactured shoes, as the mass production of shoes allowed Nike to exploit overseas economies and child labor. It’s actually pretty immoral for me to be typing right now, as the resources I used to purchase this computer would have produced a ridiculous amount of potential benefit if invested elsewhere.

iamthemob's avatar

Pinker wrote another “Instinct” title? Lord. His “How the Mind Works” and “The Language Instinct” were my cognitive science textbooks.

Seek's avatar

I believe it is only an article. At least, I haven’t heard of a book. Dawkins referenced it in The God Delusion, so I read it. ^_^

Coloma's avatar

Personal experience can never be argued with, well it can, but it is the epitomy of arrogance.

I don’t need proof of anything to know, in my heart, and from experiential feeling what constitutes ‘morality’ and a sense of the mystical.

These questions cannot be answered on the level of thought, intellect, they can only be answered on an individual level via experience.

Learning, study and debate are no substitute for ones own discoveries of what works and feels right to them.

iamthemob's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – I am totally with you on the “working together” bits as being reproductively productive (that sounds weird). So I’m with you there – it’s just that things that are reproductively productive can also work in a manner opposed to our instincts. For instance, I mentioned the polygamy issue, which is reproductively advantageous for the individual in a species, but not the species itself necessarily. If a man settles down with one woman, then it is more likely that they can produce a stable family unit. However, reproductively fit men would benefit by not doing any such things, and run around being assured that the more seed they sow, the more they pass on their genes, regardless if some offspring die because they didn’t have a supportive family unit to decrease risk factors to survival (ps – this is looking at as if I was outside, and I’m not saying that the nuclear family rocks. ;-)).

Also, because we have evolved to a point where we can adapt the environment to our needs rather than have to adapt due to its pressures, we have altered the ecosystem in a manner that may actually end up leading to our extinction. So our instincts may actually lead us to end up causing massive harm to us in the end.

It’s just difficult for me to see that a morality arising from instinct, etc., doesn’t still result in a complicated cost/benefit analysis, which by necessity means that it’s questionable.

fundevogel's avatar

@iamthemob He gives some examples and discusses classic ethics problems. He is particularly concerned about the human rights violations enshrined in backwards cultures and the “how can we judge, it’s part of their culture” mentality of too many outsiders.

Apparently he’s got a book coming out on the subject next year which I’ll probably check out.

iamthemob's avatar

@Coloma – but is personal experience a substitute for learning, study and debate? Your gut can often tell you to do some very, very bad things (the road to hell and all. ;-)). For instance, when dealing addicts, their families often engage in enabling behavior that prevents the addict from dying but prevents them from facing their addiction. Unless informed of the damaging effect of what can be something you do because you know it’s right (and would be generally accepted as “the right thing to do” if the person were not an addict), your personal experience is going to end up leading you to harmful choices.

Seek's avatar

@iamthemob I’m not against polygamy, if all participants are willing. I think the idea of the “stable family unit” is a fairly modern development that began with the advent of civilisation about 10,000 years ago. That’s hardly a blip on the evolutionary radar screen.

I think the biggest difficulty with dealing with our instinctual morality is to come to the conclusion that our “tribe” includes all of humanity, and not merely the 25 – 50 people closest to us, or our town, or our country. Once we finally make it there, the world will be a much better place. Some of us have made it there already. We can only hope that more of us do before we self-destruct.

iamthemob's avatar

@fundevogel – Ah, the classic Chinese moral relativism stance. Love it.

That brings up an interesting issue. The U.N. has three significant human rights documents. The first is the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) – kind of like the Bill of Rights for the world. The other two that I particularly enjoy are the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the ICESCR (International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). The ICESCR has a major following with Communist, Socialist and developing nations, where as the ICCPR is in favor in the developed world. The ICESCR concentrates on the right to have a job, the right to have a vacation, the right to receive a living wage – positive rights that deal with things that the government should be required to provide its citizens so they can be productive. The ICCPR concentrates on freedoms of speech, political affiliation, etc. – negative rights which deal with things that the government should not be permitted to interfere with.

This is the more reasonable representation of the “cultural relativism” argument in human rights. Both sides seem to be good rights to have…but China will criticize the U.S. for it’s violations of the right of it’s people to have a job when confronted with it’s oppressive political practices.

I think there’s a reason for the cultural relativism argument, but of course it, like any other discussion where there doesn’t seem to be a clear right answer, it can be used to support what many would deem human rights violations.

JustmeAman's avatar

Personal experience by far is the best.

iamthemob's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – You’re absolutely right on the family bit. I am unclear, however, if you’re advocating or not that we do come to intellectually understand our “tribe” as the entire human race in order to overcome an “instinctual morality” that allows us to only react in order to benefit those nearest to us.

fundevogel's avatar

@iamthemob Interesting stuff about the UN, I’ll have to read about the proposed documents. The world has needed a global Bill of Rights for a long time.

Coloma's avatar

@iamthemob

Of course, education and learning has it’s place. But when it comes right down to it, experience is the greatest teacher.

Beleifs are nothing more than thought forms passed off as truth.
Thoughts and concepts cannot replace experience.

I can read all day about the best way to handle a dysfunctional other but until I roll up my sleeves and jump in the pond all the books and debate are nothing more than pointers and have no credibility without application.

And every situation will be unique unto itself with unique features that cannot be catagorized in textbook fashion.

As far as spiritual beliefs, again, one will not find their truth in a book, only pointers towards truth, the truth itself must come from the experiencers expereince, not merely words and conceptual banter.

Seek's avatar

@iamthemob

I am a humanitarian in that respect, yes. I don’t think killing people that kill people to tell people that killing people is wrong is the right way to go about things.

Whereas I fully believe all human lives are essentially equal, I also understand, respect, and condone protecting one’s family or “tribe” from harm, physical or otherwise. I will be the first to admit that I would have no problem physically injuring a person that was trying to harm my son, for example. Would I intentionally kill someone? That I can’t say. I hope that I wouldn’t, and that I would subconsciously use my knowledge of human anatomy to incapacitate rather than kill.

My original post in this thread was merely to set into motion the idea that there is no definitive go-to reference for absolute morality. The idea itself is relative to every situation. The human mind is coming up with some wonderful ideas especially in the last 100 years – men and women are equals, children have the right to not be beaten by their parents, we should use the excessive wealth of some to mitigate the suffering of the poor, no person can/should be owned by another person, etc. These beauties of modern morality simply serve as evidence that religious texts and secular laws are not the shining examples of “morality” that many people think of them as.

Coloma's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

I agree.

But, again…morality & spirituality are found on the feeling level, the heart level, not through thought forms.

It is about trial and error and how ones own personal experience FEELS to them.

You can read to a child all day about not being unkind to others, or animals, but it is usually the kid that blasts the bird with his BB gun and watches it fall to the ground stone cold dead…THAT is the teacher that drives the concept home on a deep FEELING level not merely a conceptual level.

Seek's avatar

Instinctual morality can be seen on fMRI machines operating in a separate part of the brain than the “feeling” areas. See the link above for more information.

Coloma's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr

Instinctual morality, I like that!

Hmmm….science finds a way to measure morality through brain waves…haha, whats next….kinda takes all the mystery out things and I am one that likes the mystery.

I don’t really care that science can reduce the amazing being of a flower to a science, I prefer to take in the flowers flowerness and love it for what is, an amazing little being.

JustmeAman's avatar

Science is very limited and is only good for testing the physical. We are more than just physical beings.

Seek's avatar

What isn’t beautiful about being able to see our brain working? Sure, you can look up at the stars and say “wow, pretty”. But now with science we can see the Fairy nebula, and the deep field where we get to see the billions of galaxies in one tiny corner of the universe! And as far as the flower, we can know exactly how that flower gets its “flowerness”, down to the last subatomic particle.

To me, that is intensely beautiful. Not only the flower, but how it works.

crisw's avatar

A moral system, in order to be valid, needs to be coherent and consistent, to start with.

Coherent- its principles are logical and follow the rules of logic.

Consistent- in any given situation, morally equivalent beings are treated in morally equivalent ways.

iamthemob's avatar

@Coloma : one will not find their truth in a book, only pointers towards truth – this is something I fervently agree with.

@Seek_Kolinahr : These beauties of modern morality simply serve as evidence that religious texts and secular laws are not the shining examples of “morality” that many people think of them as. – totally with you there.

@JustmeAman: Science is very limited and is only good for testing the physical. We are more than just physical beings. – I agree that science is limited in providing usable data or information in the analysis of “morals” or “spiritual validity.” However, I don’t quite agree with your characterization of “just the physical” and “only good for.” It can put the physical observable claims of certain religions to the test, and that’s important to demonstrate to fundamentalist, literal text adherents that complete submission to religious information is a deeply flawed approach if one is trying to live, I believe, a “good” life.

@crisw : A direct approach. However, I don’t know if your system is functional…in order to determine whether or not the system is valid, you have to determine that it’s consistent. In order to determine it’s consistent, you have to determine if morally equivalent beings are treated in morally equivalent ways. In order to determine if something is morally equivalent to another thing, you need a system to determine morality. In order for that to appropriately demonstrate consistency, you need to ensure that the system is valid. In order to determin whether or not the system is valid, you have to determine that it’s consistent. ad infinitum

flutherother's avatar

Chinese Taoism is sceptical of all forms of ‘morality’ as being artificial constructions that are damaging to the human spirit. In the Taoists opinion Man was in a perfect state of morality before civilization and those who preach morality do nothing but harm.

iamthemob's avatar

@flutherother – Interesting…I’m going to have to read about that. Of course, if that’s the case, one can’t really assess the moral validity of the argument since it precludes morality as a possibility…I mean, if it had to, I guess the answer would just be no.

JustmeAman's avatar

This is all conjecture and really doesn’t amount to much or change anything.

flutherother's avatar

I wouldn’t say Taoism precludes morality it just says that natural morality is best, that it happens of its own accord when we don’t even think of it. You can get a flavour of what they are saying here

iamthemob's avatar

@JustmeAman – neither does that statement. ;-)

JustmeAman's avatar

Of course.

lloydbird's avatar

@iamthemob To answer your question, I ask myself a question, namely : Is it Unitive or Divisive?
The first determines good, the second determines not good. (For me)
This perhaps explains why I have never allied myself to any ‘particular’ “system”.

But I do support the unitive elements of any expounded “system”.

wundayatta's avatar

Sorry. Didn’t read the above, so apologies if I am repeating.

How does one determine the moral or spiritual validity of a movement or a belief. In any case, is it necessary?

It’s actually pretty simple. You choose a movement or belief based on how well it works for you. Of course there are a lot of things that help you decide how well it works for you. Off the top of my head, I’d say that community, family, and education are the top three. If the belief serves you well in getting what you want out of these groups, you’ll hold on tightly.

Holding a belief is also strongly related to your sense of self—who you think you are. You adhere to a set of beliefs or a moral system if it makes you feel like yourself the most, except if the desire to be bound to community or family overrule your need to be yourself.

Clearly, it is unnecessary to determine the moral or spiritual validity of a movement. Most people who are in such a movement are born into it. They are part of it before they can think. Some, upon learning to think, may decide they don’t want to be a part of it, assuming the rift between them and community is not seriously affected by abandoning the faith. In religions where that is not true, it can be a much more difficult choice to make, because it might mean being banned from the community you grew up in.

The standard for validity, in my mind, is whether the belief system works for you. That’s it. There is no objective way to determine whether one system is more moral than another. It’s easy to predict that people with different systems will fight each other to ensure their’s is the predominant system. However, might does not make it more moral, nor does it take away from its morality.

Belief systems are morally neutral. Everything that isn’t human is morally neutral. It is only humans that determine morality, and most of us do it by voting with our feet. No. All of us do it by voting with our feet—although some of us have sneaky feet.

iamthemob's avatar

@wundayatta – that’s essentially where I stand. I do wonder, though, if there may be an appropriate, fairly straightforward test – elements of a belief system may likely be valid if the beliefs are something we generally think we should teach our children. If they are likely to frighten, confuse, or elicit hatred when told, they shouldn’t be part of a valid moral system.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@iamthemob “It seems like you’re saying that the concept of morality is easy, but the practice is hard. Isn’t that what belief systems generally attempt to do – in many ways, put the idea into practice.”
Yes, that is a major goal of various belief systems. However they are often coloured by belief in a deity, which in my opinion skews their idea of morality because believers would rather do what is right by their god than by other people.

”[Spirituality] can be a place for a different kind of productive discussion because, by necessity, each argument starts from a place where it cannot be shown to be right or wrong”.
To be honest I don’t quite understand how an argument can be productive when there is no way, even theoretically, to say if there even is a right or most appropriate point of view. Even though we may not know what the truth of the matter is, I think it is important to argue the merits of each point of view.

iamthemob's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh

Because I didn’t say argument – I said discussion. The most difficult questions are often the ones that don’t have an apparent objective “truth” to the answer. As long as we keep discussing the best way to address them, we may not get the right answer, but we will more than likely get a better and better answer.

And not knowing the right answer doesn’t prevent you from discussing the merit of any point of view. Without the motivation to “win an argument,” in fact, you might more easily see the two differing views actually produce a better, compromised result.

tearsxsolitude's avatar

I don’t think that you can. You’re raised to believe something. I was raised Christian, but if I were raised to believe in Hinduism I would. It just however you were raised. I’m a deep thinker though and I’ve decided that I’m athiest until further notice. Although I’ll have to have some sort of conversation with a god or something to actually change my mind. I think that gods and religions were created to give people hope when it seemed that all was lost. I think that religions are necissary because they give people hope, but I also think that they segregate people and it spawn genocide. Or it can anyway. I’m only 17 so that may change, but I’ve thought this since I was 14 so, we’ll see I spose.

Coloma's avatar

I think that untangling faulty beliefs and programming is THE work of a lifetime.

Finding ones own answers through exploration and experience instead of blindly accepting anything as ‘truth’ just because a parent, teacher, government, religion or society says it’s so.

There are many truths and that is about as true as it gets! lol

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@iamthemob Looking back I think I agree. GA.

Pepshort's avatar

Upon what basis does the questioner assume that morals or spiritual values can be assessed as valid or invalid?

Coloma's avatar

And @Pepshort dives right into the ‘deep’ end….welcome new canonball. lol

iamthemob's avatar

The questioner assumes nothing about the possibility, as implied through the question being constructed to allow for there to be no way to assess the moral or spiritual validity of belief system (“How, if possible, can you determine…etc.). ;-)

Pepshort's avatar

@iamthemob – point well taken! To rephrase my question, then; unless a belief system contains inherent contradictions of logic, musn’t one presuppose a belief in absolute morality to judge a belief system as immoral or invalid?

iamthemob's avatar

@Pepshort

I think so. The question for me grew from questions regarding whether I thought that the bible was a “valid” source for moral behavior. Personally, I find it difficult to determine whether a source could be valid unless there were a way to determine absolute morality. I’m, in many ways, at a loss to determine where we could cite such a source, and think it much more likely that anything close to absolute morality is more revealed by comparing multiple sources that humanity has resorted to and showing their universal similarities.

Pepshort's avatar

@iamthemob Whether the bible is a valid source for moral behavior is a fascinating question. Personally, I think the answer to that question hinges upon whether one believes that the bible is Divine in origin (whether Divinely transmitted, or perhaps even Divinely inspired). If it’s a work of man or a group of man, what would distinguish its moral authority from that of, say, Confucious, Plato or Shakespeare?

As to your point of relying upon a consensus within multiple sources to determine absolute morality—I suspect you’d agree that truth can’t be determined by a vote of the majority. If so, even universal similarities of values would be suspect as being considered representative of absolute moral truths.

iamthemob's avatar

@Pepshort

I wouldn’t call it the vote of the majority, necessarily…it’s more of a survey of the available material. It all available material indicated three basic truths, and differed to some degree on all other points, you could call it a vote of the majority – but it would be perhaps the most comprehensive and expansive concept of the majority we’d have to date. That said, of course I agree – this isn’t by definition the truth. I do think that it’s, as I said, the closest we’d be able to get to anything that could be an absolute statement of moral truth, in terms of what we “know.”

I agree that whether the bible is a valid source would completely hinge on the answer to whether it’s divine in origin – but not on whether one believes it to be divine in origin.

Interestingly, though, I think that belief plays into it not as to an validity determined by effect, not source. If those who believe it to be of divine origin are able to, inspired by it, bring about an objective moral improvement in the world (what that would be I reserve any assertion), such belief might, I thing, validate it as a source.

Pepshort's avatar

Ah…but the devil is in the details. Even something that you, I, and 9999 others out of 10000 would agree to identify as an ‘objective moral improvement’, might be subject to dispute by a minority. For example, let’s say we advocate for improving the treatment of widows, orphans and strangers. Hard to disagree with that, isn’t it? Nevertheless, there are those out there who would object, and question whether such a change would contribute to an objective moral improvement.

iamthemob's avatar

Absolutely. Those who object are immoral. :-)

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