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See You In The Funny Pages

In my discussion about Rob Port's "God was the first libertarian" theory, comments went wildly -- and predictably -- askew. But one particular digression got me thinking -- when DaveK and James H. (I feel like I'm back in elementary school) started discussing morality both with and without religious underpinnings. DaveK, in particular, said this:

In the interest of keeping this discussion going (and with no offense intended whatsoever) I am curious to know, referencing your comment at #25, as to what motivation an atheist might have in doing charitable works? What would be their justification for acting thusly? I am not inferring that atheists cannot be virtuous or charitable, I am just interested in their motivation behind such works.

As an agnostic who's closing in on his 8th gallon pin for donating blood, I thought about fielding that one myself. But that was too blatantly self-serving, even for me, so instead I took the meta angle he seemed to be implying: how can people get ideas of Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, and other such concepts without God and religion?

Speaking strictly for myself, I found myself educated on such matters from a rather unlikely source: comic books.

Yes, comic books. Specifically, superhero comic books, from the 1970's and 1980's (with occasional back issues -- thank you, yard sales!).

Go ahead and mock these, a genuine American invention and art form. But think about it. Comic books -- especially from the pre-90's days (when things really started changing, I'm told) -- could be relied upon to emphasize certain things:

Clear definitions of Good and Evil. The heroes were clearly good -- sometimes not totally good, sometimes in error, sometimes in conflicts with other heroes -- but they were almost always on the side of good. Likewise, their foes were pretty much unabashedly evil. Later, the theory that "no man is a villain in his own eyes," we were treated to explorations of why the bad guys were bad, and we could sometimes even understand why they did bad things -- but they were still bad guys. Occasionally, they could be rehabilitated, but there were bad.

Sometimes good deeds had to be their own reward.  Simply being a hero and doing heroic good deeds didn't mean that things went well for the heroes. Heck, sometimes that made things even tougher for the hero. One didn't do the right thing in the hopes of rewards, they were their own reward. And sometimes there had to be a price to be paid for doing the right thing, but that was OK. Sometimes, it would have been easier and more convenient to not do the right thing, but you should do it anyway.

Help others when you can.
If given the opportunity to help someone else, take it. Inconvenience yourself if necessary.

Let's take a couple of examples of lessons learned from superheroes:

Spider-Man. Everyone knows Spidey's origin story. Nerdy high school kid is involved in a scientific accident and gains superhuman powers. He immediately uses them as a masked professional wrestler, to make money. He goes on TV, and is becoming a big star -- so big, that when a robber runs past him, he just ignores the guy instead of stopping him. Why should he care? He's in it for the money.

Then he heads for home, and finds out that his beloved uncle (and father figure -- Spidey's an orphan) has been killed in a botched robbery. He chases down the thief and catches him -- and it's the same robber he'd seen at the TV studio. If Spidey had stopped the guy, his Uncle Ben would still be alive. He vows to never let that happen again, to stop the bad guys at every opportunity in the future.

Just look at the moral lessons imparted in a mere eleven pages of pictures and words:

Good things can happen to nice guys.

Help others, even if you're mad at them.

Stand up to and stop bad guys doing bad things.

Learn from your mistakes.

And there is one more lesson in those pages, at the very end. For a couple of centuries, we've all known Lord Acton's famous observation: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." At the very end, Stan Lee wrote the counterpoint to that truism, one way to help keep that from coming true:

With great power, there must also come great responsibility.

There. Solid values, decent moral principles, good life lessons -- all wrapped up in the story of a teenage nerd who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and runs around New York in a red and blue spandex costume.

As the series continued, other lessons were taught. A newspaper publisher went on a crusade against Spidey, trying to turn the entire city against him. Spidey learned that he could not only not expect to be rewarded for his good deeds, or even thanked. He might be resented and even hated for his fight against crime and villains. He had to accept that simply doing good deeds would be its own reward, because he couldn't count on much else.

Other comics taught lessons, too -- sometimes the same ones, sometimes others. But, in nearly every case, they imparted them without invoking God or religion. And for a very simple reason:

You don't tick off parents. Because in that time, kids depended on their parents for the money to buy the comics.

When you start bringing in certain topics into entertainment, like politics or religion, you run the risk of alienating your audience -- and for no good reason. Oh, it can be done, gracefully and thoughtfully and balanced, but it's tricky as hell to pull off. Better to just play it safe and avoid the whole thing -- because your goal, your job, is to entertain -- not persuade. (That's for folks like me, in fora like this.)

As noted, the superhero comic is a uniquely American creation, an exemplar of American culture (like jazz music). And they -- especially the older ones -- could and often did act as modern-day morality plays, showing the readers -- usually young and impressionable ones -- that there are such things as right and wrong, and that they should always try to do the right thing.

And all without a single mention of God, of heaven and hell, of Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or even the Great Green Arkleseizure or Hairy Thunderer. (Well, OK, maybe "Hairy Thunderer" -- Thor, the Norse god of thunder, has been a Marvel Comics character for over 40 years, and has a movie coming out this summer.)

Now, I'm not saying that comics are a replacement for religion. I'm not even saying that they're an adequate substitute for religion. But they can -- and have -- provided a way utterly apart from religion that allows us as a culture to define and impart moral values.

We could do a lot worse. Hell, just looking at the last couple of decades, I think we have.


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Comments (35)

But where did the "decent m... (Below threshold)

But where did the "decent moral principles" come from? You ever deal with a kid going through the "terrible two's"? When everything revolves only around them? - And some adults never grow out of that.

I've known crooks who only look on the rest of the population as sheep to be exploited. WHY is their view of the world "bad"? Who decides that?

Remember the Star Trek episode where they landed on a planet where gangster rule was the norm? Was that 'good' or 'moral'?

Garand, the origins of thos... (Below threshold)

Garand, the origins of those principles are a whole 'nother matter -- and not really essential when learning them. We've pretty much agreed to most of them as a society; where they came from is not really essential to know. It's like the difference between knowing what the American flag looks like, and what the symbolism behind the stars, stripes, and colors mean.


"where they came from is no... (Below threshold)

"where they came from is not really essential to know." - But, then that also could apply to macroevolution, the Big Bang, origin of the universe, etc. Why do we have an insatiable curiousity to answer the question of "where things come from", if it doesn't matter?

Why should one choose to do... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Why should one choose to do good or evil, having no promise of punishment or reward? This reduces the choice to pure pragmatism. Sometimes it is "advantageous" for individuals to do one or the other, depending on the circumstances. As you point out Jay, one cannot see or predict the complex outcomes of moral choices. Accepting your argument therefore, one must trust that doing good will consistently lead to the better outcome (in general). In other words, it is still a matter of faith.

Of course, some people may reject the comic book theory of doing good altogether, thinking that is just silly. The pragmatic view may just as well (and more likely will) lead to doing whatever happens to be apparently in one's best interests at any given moment. (This seems to be the philosophy driving leftist politics. You have something I want, I use the power of the state to take it. Right or wrong be damned.) Why would an individual choose one way or the other? The lack of higher purpose ultimately leads to determinism.

I recently read about the serial killer BTK, with a view toward investigating why he delighted in torturing people. He struggles with why he is the way he is. All he can come up with is that he has what he calls "Factor X." Factor X is the thing inside him that makes him desire and choose to do evil. Others do not have Factor X. They are lucky. Determinism in a nutshell. Man is reduced to machine.

I read yesterday's discussi... (Below threshold)

I read yesterday's discussion, though I didn't comment in that thread. Whenever this topic is discussed I can't help but wonder--it seems to me that the main difference between atheists/agnostics and Christians/theists with regard to morality is that Christian/theist people have a fear of devine retribution whereas the atheists/agnostics don't.

Now, I'm not saying that the only reason Christian/theist people have moral values and do good acts/don't do evil acts is out of fear of devine retribution. I do, however, think that said fear does not make one more moral or good and said fear is not required for one to be moral or good.

I often wonder when a theist claims moral superiority over an antheist based simply on the fact that the theist believes in God and the atheist does not-- are they not saying that they believe it is more moral to do good (or not do evil) out of fear of devine retribution they to do good (or not do evil) simply because is it good and right and benefits all of humanity?

That seems back-asswareds to me, but that's just my opinion.

Anyway, Jay's post makes a good point. Morality is learned, not instinctual, and it can be learned from other sources than theistic religions. Fear of devine retribution might help some people be moral and good, but it's not required.

"It's turtles all the way d... (Below threshold)

"It's turtles all the way down," in other words...

I believe we are born with ... (Below threshold)

I believe we are born with many of our values, with our sense of right and wrong. Things can get screwed up along the way, but we all start out with a pretty good foundation. I watch parents sometimes, the trend is to give long lectures to some child, explaining to them that "hitting is wrong," or some such thing. You can look at a kid's face and just see the "duh" reflected there. It's kind of a silly thing, the way we presume a kid just didn't realize that punching somebody in the nose is not okay. They get it, we get it, people innately know right from wrong from a very young age, we just ignore it sometimes.

So no, religion is not required for morality. There are plenty of moral atheists and plenty of immoral religious people. But another way of looking at it is to believe we all come from the same source, pre-programmed with a set of values, so the next question is, who is that Source? Christians believe that morality comes from God, since we're created in his image.

What's always amazing to me is how difficult it is to really screw up a human being. Seriously, immorality is a learned behavior, it takes years of trauma to cut people off from their innate empathy and sense of right and wrong. Naturally I'm not talking about people skipping church or stealing paper clips from work, I mean the immoral behavior of somebody like Ted Bundy. Most people survive incredible adversity and still hang onto that sense of right and wrong. The Ted Bundy's of the world are still rare.

"...where they came from is... (Below threshold)

"...where they came from is not really essential to know."

So they just "happened"?

I would submit that the "knowing" is essential.

Interesting sideline on mor... (Below threshold)
James H:

Interesting sideline on morals. It turns out that our species and dogs are hard-wired to make certain moral choices. There's some really interesting stuff in that regard in the field of evolutionary psychology.

I would argue that decisions regarding "right" and "wrong" spring from larend behaviors, some of them inculcated through conditioning, some that have evolved over time as advantageous.

I'm an atheist, personally, but here comes the mindscrew.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis called this the voice of God in all of our hearts and pointed to this as proof of God's existence.

One could argue that a good chunk of the hardwired brain chemistry is actually the physical expression of God's ordained order, or something along those lines.

It's fun to think about.

But Jay, Spider-man's moral... (Below threshold)

But Jay, Spider-man's morality is based upon Biblical concepts:

Luke 12:48b - "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

I remember reading some time ago that Stan Lee gave an interview where he stated that he used to read the Bible for story ideas and the phrase here caught his attention and was inspiration for Uncle Ben's advice. Who knows if that's correct though?

I often wonder whe... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:
I often wonder when a theist claims moral superiority over an antheist based simply on the fact that the theist believes in God and the atheist does not-- are they not saying that they believe it is more moral to do good (or not do evil) out of fear of devine retribution they to do good (or not do evil) simply because is it good and right and benefits all of humanity?

I'm going to use the term Christian, not theist, as Christianity is very different from mere theism. Christianity has been described as "one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." Does that sound like moral superiority to you? How about this quote from Isaiah 64: "All our righteousness is like filthy rags." Or this from Romans 3: "There is none righteous, not even one."

People confuse confidence with superiority. It is true that Christians are very emphatic that they know the truth. This belief does not equate to superiority. Christians are saved by grace, through faith. This means that God loves and saves us even though we do not deserve it. Salvation is not dependent on doing good.

As for your premise that one is capable of being "good" apart from God, you contradict the Bible, as noted. To think otherwise is not righteousness, but self-righteousness. No man's motives are pure, no matter how good one thinks one is. Thus any motive for doing anything is suspect, whether for fear of punishment or otherwise. Christians believe that we are not capable of pure motives. That is the whole point of needing God's grace and forgiveness. We all need it. Christians are willing to admit it. Admitting one is a sinner is not pride, but the lack of it.

Interesting sideli... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:
Interesting sideline on morals. It turns out that our species and dogs are hard-wired to make certain moral choices. There's some really interesting stuff in that regard in the field of evolutionary psychology.

LoL. I rest my case, re post #4.

"Why should one choose to d... (Below threshold)
jim m:

"Why should one choose to do good or evil, having no promise of punishment or reward? This reduces the choice to pure pragmatism. "

I disagree. Often doing the right thing is disadvantageous. The vast majority of people have a clear perception of what is right and what is wrong. To some extent it is innate, but some is also learned and definitely the clarity of understanding right from wrong grows with experience.

If pragmatism were the sole deciding factor then morality would be much different (much more like how our president treats his friends when he throws them under the bus). Morality would be about efficiency and expediency. But in the real world morality is often less about expediency and immediate outcomes as it is about long term outcomes and concerns outside our own selves. These are difficult to define in a pragmatic way.

Pragmatism cannot provide moral clarity because what is practical now may not be so long term and vice versa.

The fact that morality transcends with very few exceptions culture, race, and religion should tell us that this sense of right and wrong is inborn. Whether we choose to ascribe that sense to the genetics of brain chemistry or to God is another matter.

This is the chief failing of moral relativism. Most people have this sense and even the relativists have it since they insist that their views are correct when to make such an insistence is self contradictory.

"The fact that morality tra... (Below threshold)

"The fact that morality transcends with very few exceptions culture, race, and religion should tell us that this sense of right and wrong is inborn. Whether we choose to ascribe that sense to the genetics of brain chemistry or to God is another matter."

That's when the word "Faith" enters the picture.

On another note, looking at the pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, I find it very hard to swallow the explanation "This all happened by accident." Which is preceded by 'the Big Bang Theory' that happened out of 'nothing'.

Garand, in the big picture,... (Below threshold)

Garand, in the big picture, yeah, I agree with you. But when learning about morality, first causes aren't that critical. Telling a child not to touch a stove need not -- and should not -- involve thermodynamics and conductivity and flashpoints. "Don't run on the ice" doesn't require lectures on coefficients of drag and inertia and gravity. All that can come later.

I'm too lazy to see if I didn't say it or if I didn't say it well or you must missed it, so I'll just state it here: the origins and first causes are simply not essential to learning things. They come into play later, when learning about things.

I'm talking foundations here. Starting points. Bare essentials. What you're talking about is great, but it's not necessary for everyone. Think of my stuff as the "general education" requirements; yours is the advanced courses for those pursuing degrees in that field.


You pose a question and nev... (Below threshold)
Just a guy:

You pose a question and never really answer it, because you offer a false response of "it doesn't matter where the motivation comes from". Of course it matters, and it's ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

Re Blogworth #11, I underst... (Below threshold)

Re Blogworth #11, I understand what you're saying-- I was raised Christian. The fault with your argument is that it is only valid for those who believe in Christ and one of the Christian bibles.

I can't argue with it any more that I could argue with a catastrophic anthropogenic global climate change believer. And believe me, I've tried. All I can say is that your premise rooted is your beliefs and while your beliefs may be "fact" to you (just like Al Gore and CAGCC) they are "fact" only to you and those who believe what you do.

Learning morals from comic ... (Below threshold)

Learning morals from comic books... Yes, that works. And it's all the better in that they're not shoved into your face like a heavy-handed PSA announcement.

That works, actually - or rather, it did.

At one time, not too many decades back, comic books were cheap enough to literally be disposable. 10 cents, 12, 15, then up to a quarter, fifty cents, seventyfive - but there were a fair number of pages of usually lousy artwork. Stories were (usually) complete in one to two issues.

And now? The artwork's spectacular. Glossy pages, LONG convoluted, multiply-threaded story lines spread across multiple titles - pretty much impossible to piece together on a limited budget. But the target audience isn't for the 5-10 year olds any more. They're looking for folks with deeper pockets, willing to spend quite a bit more than the cost of a hardback book for a complete story.

But for kids? Well - TV's good enough, isn't it?

MTV? Real Housewives of Dysfunctional City? Spongebob Squarepants? Wizards of Waverly Place? Media adults are SUCH good examples, such excellent role models and examples...

Yeah... well, maybe the schools will take up the task of actually teaching teaching right and wrong... if it's not too much trouble, and doesn't offend too many people.

For me, the identity of goo... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

For me, the identity of good guy/bad guy always comes down to a simple question:

Am I doing [....] to help myself, or because it will help someone else?

Yesteryear comic heroes. Ni... (Below threshold)

Yesteryear comic heroes. Nice analogy. But what Jay is describing is what I call "cut flower philosophy."

It's pleasing, and nice, and may even serve to benefit others, but it has no root in itself. It ends with that generation's personal application.

I doubt if the kids reading "The Watchmen" or "X-Men," or watching "The Family Guy," ect., will take away the same 'morals' which Jay cleaned from the influence of his (and my) generation's comic books.

Indeed, the very word 'morals' implies something transcendent and absolute, apart from fickle humanity - to spur us to be better people than we would otherwise be.

Jay is correct: comics cannot be a substitute for religion, only a reflection of the philosophy embodied within a religion.

The $64,000 question is which religious philosophy imparts the superior ethic to us inferior beings within a given society?

This is a conservative poli... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

This is a conservative political site, and we seem to have a fair amount of agnostics, atheists, or thoughtful believers with genuine doubt on board, but at the same time many of you, including our poster, ridicule Obama, because he isn't a bible thumping president, therefore he deserves less repect, than the generic typical GOP or even Democratic president.

Of course, if he or any other American politician voiced any doubts that there is life after death or a personal God, it would be political suicide, largely because of the ensuing hysterisa on the right wing. I don't get it!

As to the ethical question of how to Jean-Paul Sartre nevertheless, not exactly a great personal example, summed it up as how "to be a saint without God".

...many of you, includin... (Below threshold)

...many of you, including our poster, ridicule Obama, because he isn't a bible thumping president, therefore he deserves less repect, than the generic typical GOP or even Democratic president.

Steve, Steve, Steve. We don't mock him for not being a Bible-thumper. We mock him for trying to pretend to be a Bible-thumper.

And just from whom would he have received that Bible to thump? Jeremiah Wright, perhaps?

Reconcile this, Steve. To Obama, his faith is so important to him -- yet he spent 20 years in a church (getting married there, having his daughters baptized there, and being very close with the reverend) without once noticing that the aforementioned reverend was a raving racial separatist nutjob until others had to point it out to him -- at which point his dedication to that church evaporated.

Was it not that important to him as he says? Or was he just that stupid?

"Blind faith," indeed.


Jay, it is less than a hone... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Jay, it is less than a honest position of Obama, if that is true? It probably is; but I would rather have a pretend Bible thumper than real one in the White House, because I don't trust them to respect those who aren't. Most of all, I would rather have someone express normal human genuine doubt, or a lapsed believer, but as that won't happen in the foreseeable future, we should be grateful we only have a pretender for the time being.

Revrend Wright, was no more nuttier than half the evangelists on the right who have tv contracts. Look at Bush frequently inviting Dominonist- Pat Robertson to pray with him at the White House. It is almost an oxymoron to have a sane televangelist or one who doesn't have scandal following them. Let me know when you find one!

It may be so obvious that i... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

It may be so obvious that it needs no saying, but let us also remember the other important lessons from comic books:

[] To be identified as a major character, you must wear skin-tight costumes (revealing if female) in primary colors;

[] For heroes and villains both, underwear is outerwear;

[] Violence never solved anything maybe, but you can't end the story without a good fight with some solid roundhouses;

[] You must be or appear to be well-groomed, in your late teens or early 20s, and so muscular as to raise suspicions of steroid use;

[] Subtlety has no place here!

Nice equivalency game, Stev... (Below threshold)

Nice equivalency game, Steve. Bush meets once (or a few times) with Robertson is the same as Obama spending 20 years at Wright's church, using Wright as his book title source, and citing him repeatedly as THE major spiritual influence in his life?

And Obama is NOT a lapsed Bible-thumper. He never was one. He's a pretend one -- when it's convenient.

Isn't that considered hypocrisy, or just old-fashioned fraud?

But this isn't about Obama and Wright. This is about morality, and how it might be learned and passed on without a directly religious source.

Thanks for playing.


DJ: "Am I doing [....] t... (Below threshold)

DJ: "Am I doing [....] to help myself, or because it will help someone else?

Interesting litmus test. I do think, however, that doing [....] to help myself in and of itself does not always make me bad or make [....] a sin, if you will. There are certain [....] for which that is true, but everyone must at times do things that will help themselves even that thing helps no one else. Also there are things that one might do to help others that also help that person.

Missing from your equasion is, "will doing [....] harm another or others?"

There could even be [....]'s where it doesn't help the doer, does help someone else, but still harms another someone else or someones else. It would pass your test but still could be bad depending on the circumstances.

All IMHO, of course.

And Crickmore once again de... (Below threshold)

And Crickmore once again demonstrates the timeless words of Ronald Reagan: "Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so."

I was fascinated by a passa... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

I was fascinated by a passage from "5000 Year Leap" on the reasoning of Cicero. Bear in mind that he is a pagan polytheist arriving at his positions on a purely philosophical basis. Nevertheless, Cicero presumed the existence of divine law. Cicero's writings were a favorite of the American founders. One can hear Cicero's voice echoed by the Founders and the writings of Locke.

"True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions.... It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst punishment."

The book 5000 Year Leap delves into Cicero's writings with far more detail too lengthy to quote here. The author points out that Cicero independently arrived at the First and Second greatest commandments, as defined by Christ and the Bible, by reasoning through natural law.

Why was Cicero able to do this? I'm biased, of course, but my explanation is simple:

"for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." Rom. 2:14-15

Religion is always controve... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Religion is always controversial..arguing about the unknowable..Does it come back down to Wright? Wright was more of black social gospel activist, with a dash of anti-semiticsm thrown in, but perhaps, not as much as Billy Graham, "Yes, sir," Graham says.

"Oh, boy," replies Nixon. "So do I. I can't ever say that but I believe it."
The problem of course, if you really want to go at the foundations, the whole Cristian Church, Catholic or otherwise even its theology and history are riddled by anti-semiticism.

George Steiner said there is no historical evidence that an apostle called Judas ever betrayed Jesus etc etc..Jesus was called 'rabbi' and so forth..There is no history of Jesus that he suffered by the Jewish religious establishment for hersay. He died at the hand of the Romans by crucification, reserved for a political or criminal penalty, everything else is unsubstantiated rumour or gospel depending on your presuasion.

When I lived in Belfast, for a while, I went to the Free Presbyterian Chuch Pailsey routinely denounced catholics in sermons as 'papists'. It is part of the territory. No one ever walked out

If you live in the black South Side in Chicago, and wanted to be a organizer, where else are you going to church?
Has anyone ever walked out of church because they are inherently anti-semitic in the telling of the crucification, without any empirical historical evidence? I don't think so. How far would a politician or anyone for that matter, have gotten in the US, if he did?

A lot of religion is based ... (Below threshold)

A lot of religion is based on a fear of what God will do about my sin (self-centered disobedience to His authority). But if a person really knows God as He really is, than his motivation is not fear.
The Bible, which many of you think is an invention of man and not God´s message to a fallen creation, says that "Perfect love casts out fear." The old hymn, "Amazing Grace", has a stanza that says, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved."
The fear of God´s judgment is a strong motivation for turning from our sinful ways, but the love of God is the real motivation for doing good works and living a moral life.
If you haven´t graduated from the "fear of God" to the "love for God" stage, you can´t possibly enjoy trying to live a moral life. It is really hard work. But when you grow in your love for a God who loves you so very much, you just want to please Him and be like Him.
I am saddened by so many who call themselves Christians, or even religious, who are still trying to live the Christian life with their own power. It´s like having to push a city bus and still having to pay the fare. The Christian life can only be lived by Christ when we surrender control of everything to Him.

The Bible also says that "If we don´t have love, then we are as worthless and offensive as a clanging cymbal"
Unfortunately, lots of people never really read the Bible with an open mind. A lot of "Christians" use it to condemn the evil unbelievers, but don´t apply it to themselves. (Some people try to use what they know of it to defend themselves against "being converted". It´s like being vaccinated - you get just enough to protect you against the real thing.)

If you want to see the origin of moral values in most of civilization today and through history, look at the Bible.
You won´t find love and grace in the Koran or in the Islamic religion. it is an unknown concept to strict Moslem societies. But you will find love and grace in abundance in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. An old song states, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love, that´s the only thing that there´s just too little of." I agree, except to add that we also need to receive the grace of God and the mercy of God in our lives so that we can practice grace and mercy and love to the world around us.
The thing that will make us lovers of our fellow man is neither fear of God´s retribution nor trying to adhere to some list of moral values, regardless of their origin (whether from a comic book or elsewhere).
It is falling in love with the author of love, and being so enraptured with Him, that all we live for is to be like Him.
The Bible is a story of the struggle between good and evil in the hearts of human beings. It is not intended to be a rule book of do´s and don´ts. It is a love story which demonstrates how much God cares for us.

PS. In spite of my use of the generic word "He", I know that God is neither male nor female - He has no body nor is looking for one. His Son, the Word, did take on a body which happened to be male, and will have that transformed body for ever. In creation, God made us a part of Himself, and in the incarnation, He became a part of us.

Richard Landes at Augean St... (Below threshold)

Richard Landes at Augean Stables also touched on this recently:


I recommend his article to any readers/ commenters here; you might just come back to this Wizbang post with a different frame of reference...

A good friend of mine from ... (Below threshold)

A good friend of mine from college who was an agnostic once discussed this issue with me. His thought was that "morality" is constructed and enforced by society in the interests of promoting order, peace and goodwill that are beneficial to all. One does "good" as a result of an unwritten social contract: "I will do these things for you because, in return, you will do them for me."

Hence, the agnostic / atheist is charitable because he knows that (1) society expects such behavior, and it is disadvantageous to him to earn society's opobrium by being miserly; and (2) he knows that he may one day be the object of charity and hence it is to his advantage to contribute towards the maintenance of a charitable society.

As one who actually read th... (Below threshold)
Bill Johnson:

As one who actually read those comics in the 60's, I'm a little suspect of your SpiderMan origin story. sounds like a Spiderman movie origin story - c'mon - none of the 'wrestlers' in the 60s made money - even if they made it to TV. It was less accessable to most back then.

But hey - I like the whole basis. I, too, wonder why murder is wrong, e.g. Just to point at one issue of morality. My personal point of view is not religious, but I cannot find a better reason for morality than something like 'god said so' (lower case to fit more than one god, as they all prescribe some sort of morality) . Not that I like it, but it beats 'Hammurabi said so' or 'Obama said so' - see how that last one lit you up? It's ever so.

Interesting, but I'm not using Stan Lee as my moral guide any more than say Jerry Falwell.


Bill, I started writing usi... (Below threshold)

Bill, I started writing using the movie origin, then re-read my reprint of Amazing Fantasy 15. Does "$100 to the man who can stay in the ring three minutes with CRUSHER HOGAN" ring a bell? With the TV guy in the audience, and getting Spidey to do a TV spcial? And the movie also added "the guy the burglar robbed had just cheated Spidey" element.

I gotta say, it was an improvement over the original... along with the organic web-shooters. But the gist of the story stayed the same.

And my intended point was to say that there were other ways for people to learn morality that didn't involve religion... and comic books were one one such way. I could have cited others, but that was one of my bigger influences.


My own Christianity was inf... (Below threshold)

My own Christianity was informed by my constant perusal of comics, as well as reading about other religions. To my surprise, I ended right back where I started, in the church I grew up attending, believing the same fundamentals.






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