Friday, July 6, 2012

The Serenity of Good Without God

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianity
Today I'm posting an anonymous guest post.  Many of you won't agree with portions of this post, and well, that's kind of the point.  To have a truly vibrant and helpful discussion we must all be open to views that push and prod at our understanding of the world.  I hope you enjoy and I'd love to hear any feedback you have.

by Anonymous 
For the unindoctrinated, the TV show Firefly and the subsequent film, Serenity, follow Captain Malcom Reynolds (pictured) and his crew in a Wild West-esque future. The story takes place across multiple worlds as the crew of the ship Serenity pirates around a solar system occupied by humans after the “Earth-That-Was” could no longer support its population. 

Another note for the unindoctrinated, stop being dumb and go watch every disc right now and don’t talk to me again until you do! angry sound effects

For the rest of you, “Hello and welcome. Please continue.”

Captain Malcom Reynolds goes by “Mal,” which is, as series discusses, the root word of the Latin “malum” and “malus,” meaning ill, bad, harmful, evil, and wicked, as well as “maleficium,” meaning wrong-doing, harm, injury and mischief. It is also made clear throughout the series that Mal doesn’t believe in god, or more accurately, he doesn’t believe anymore.

With those facts in mind, someone who hasn’t seen the series (Which is no one, right? I thought I was very clear back there) would conclude Mal is an interplanetary Jesse James. In fact, Mal is closer to an unintentional vigilante. A measured, moral, dashing vigilante.

To be fair (read: to avoid angry, counter arguments), Mal commits his share of immoral acts. He fights. He steals. He even kills, though usually not as a first option. 

But the core of the character is good. He acts, often at his own peril, in the interest of his crew, his friends, strangers in need, and the human race as a whole. A few proof points:
  • He steals a shipment heading to an outpost on a border world, but when he discovers the contractor who gave him the job didn’t tell him everything, namely that the shipment is medicine and the outpost will be in dire straits without it, he returns it to local officials and accepts the wrath of the sadistic contractor.
  • Years before the TV episodes and movie take place, Mal volunteers for the Independentce army which fights to stay separate from Alliance governance. He does this because of his belief in the peoples right to live their lives freely and not be subject to the will of others’ ideals.
  • He refuses to kill a man in a dual that was forced upon him stating, “Mercy is the mark of a great man.” (Of course, Mal then gives the other man two small, nonfatal stabs and acknowledges maybe he’s just, “Alright.”)
  • Most notably, (Spoiler Alert: This is the entire plot of the movie Serenity.) he goes to extreme lengths to broadcast a video that reveals the heinous outcome of a underhanded attempted by the Alliance to control an entire world through forced medication. Mal is willing to sacrifice his life in order to right a wrong decades past.
He operates without a God-pointing moral compass, yet has a steadfast moral code that can be summarized as: Love and protect those who earn it and need it, no matter the cost. For everyone else, an equal and opposite reaction to their evil action. 

Mal is good without God. No, he doesn’t turn his cheek. He doesn’t spoon out soup to the homeless. He sure as hell isn’t meek. And he does have his shortcomings, which he recognizes, but he preserves his freedom, and that of his crew, and navigates lawless worlds without leaving a swath of destruction and, in most cases, leaves things slightly better. 

Who could ask for more? Isn’t that every good person’s aim? Deal the best you can with the world around you, leave it better than you found it, all while making those around you happier. 

Mal is an example of the current atheist rallying cry, “Good without God.” The series also gives many examples of people who are bad without Satan— mal sine diabolus—as well as good with God and bad with God. 

Good without God” is a plea for people to see that the guidance of a deity isn’t required for good behavior. In my experience—and I imagine yours, if you’re honest—the moral atheist (or at least, nonreligious)/bad atheist ratio is the same as the moral religious/bad religious ratio. 

Atheists are viewed by many (dare I say, most) people as bad. Perhaps not always out loud, but as a gut feeling. The most commonly expressed thought is: Atheists don’t believe in God so they can act as they wish.   

However, almost universally, atheists view their non-belief in God separate from their views on appropriate behavior.

This atheist finds deep serenity in the fact that there is a sense of morality separate of religion. It doesn’t take knowledge of a God in order for a person to know good from bad. People across the Earth-That-Is, regardless of their experience know to protect those who have earned it and need it and correct those who don’t. 

Like Mal, I think it is vital to see people for who and what they are—and what they are is conveyed by what they do. He deals with priests, high society, and outlaws and holds them to the same standard. What they believe or the moral code they claim to subscribe to holds no bearing on the actual world, so it is of no consequence to him or anything else. 

What is of consequence is how they, and you, change the world.

(Unlike Mal, I am not so confident in my relationships and surroundings, so I will sign this post…)

- Anonymous Atheist

1 comment:

  1. Spoiler alert and/or mind blower. Ben is the Atheist. Get him, OC peeps Attack! Just kidding. I just like to start rumors. (Is that wrong?! *chuckles to self about wrongness*)

    The whole, "Good without God." Is kind of funny to me. Mostly because of the twinkling of moral superiority it takes on when the proponent suggests, "I can be good without consequences." As if it is some moral vice that someone else (god) is compelling you to be good because if you don't you'll be punished.

    This, I think, misses the point.

    A moral good exists outside of consequences for both the Christian and the Atheist. Right and wrong exist regardless of whether it is punished. The murder is still wrong if the murderer doesn't go to prison in this life or the next.

    The question is what does that mean? We agree, I assume, that it is wrong to murder. I would argue, though not here extensively, that this is objective (i.e. wrong for everyone). The existence of an objective moral right or wrong, suggests a standard. A standard... There is the rub. What is the standard? Is it God? Is it something else undefinable? Is it like the laws of physics or nature, in that the standard just exists without cause?

    This causelessness of a seemingly objective moral standard presents a problem for the atheist. There are possible counter arguments (though I have not yet been convinced). The "Good Without God" does not answer it, it just deflects. But an understandable deflection. It erks people when they are considered immoral. I believe the point is they aren't altogether immoral. But why not?!

    "Anonymous Christian"

    P.S. Firefly is awesome and it was a moral wrong to cancel the show.