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« PNG’s 12 turbulent months – what really happened | Main | We've the brains; so let’s put idealism & energy to work »

12 December 2012


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Thanks Martyn.I thoroughly enjoyed the arguments with Ganjiki.

Everyone believes in something, even atheists.

Some consider God to be the only standard. That's all right. But I disagree with pushing beliefs on to another person. It gets quite messy.

I think that was why we agreed to basic human rights. But, problems arising with our legal interpretations get mixed up with moral questions, as in abortion.

Thank goodness/God for the current status quo where people actually have some freedom to decide what they want to do with their lives according to the morals they adhere to.

The freedom to do this also comes with responsibility.

In the end I think that may be why a good God would give us free will - so that we could choose and be responsible for the consequences.

Ganjiki takes the fundamentalist Christian and of course the Catholic Church view that opposes what they describe as relativism thats prevalent in modern society. These groups prefer a more absolute world view where there is one set of absolutes.

But of course Christianity itself has been progressive and the two Testaments are testament to that.

The fact that there are so many Denominations of Christianity also underscores a certain relativism and defeats notions of absolutism.

Islam to has different intepretations and so have other major religions.

Lord Acton's maxim that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" applies not just to political power but to every other discharge of power including that of moral authority.

The limitation of political power from absolute monarchy to democracy has led to great progress. Likewise, the limitation of the Pope's absolute power over spiritual affairs has led to muxh freedom.

Just as the day gives way to the night and life to death, there are natural limitations. In the discourse of human rights the limitation was set about by Jesus and that is, "do not do unto others what you do not wat them to do unto you".

Echoing John Locke and the American Declaration of Independence, all human beings are equal and have the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness within the limitation of not infringing upon their fellow human beings.

Whilst there is a role for a higher power to intervene in conflicts between humans, it is not jusfiable that such power restricts the freedom of individiuals if their actions do not iinfringe on other people's rights.

In your example of abortion, no one has the right to interfere with a woman if she chooses to make a decision concerning her own body. Whilst I get the point about the rights of the unborn, the unborn is a function of the woman's body and dependent entirely on that woman. What the woman does, will not infringe the rights of another member of society.

Thanks for the numbered points Michael. I’ll try to respond summarily to each of them.

1. It’s probably an easy escape to say he was insane. But he was not. He was a man convinced in his mind of a certain course of action. According to many on your side of the fence who say that truth is what you make of it, what you believe, then he was validly believing what he believed to be true right? But then, he wasn’t the only one. Four other officially atheistic regimes were also responsible for the elimination of millions of people.

2. Firstly, if there is a God his existence is not dependent on the beliefs of Christians. Our understanding of Him over time is a completely natural process of learning and being revealed His truth.

3. That’s what you believe. It may not be true. What you and I believe about morality may be quite opposite. So we cannot both be right at the same time. Your paradigm of how morality came about may not be sustainable at all.

4. Sorry my bad. That “creed” was written by Steve Turner, and English Journalist who realised the difficulty of subscribing to the humanistic viewpoint where there’s no fundamental point of reference for truly identifying good/right vs bad/wrong.

5. “By this argument a person may also choose not to do the will of God. That happens a lot too doesn't it?” Yes. In face it happens all the time. That’s not parallel to what I was saying about naturalistic thought.

Anyway, there are certain assumptions that perhaps you and I agree:

1. Human Rights protection/advocacy is generally a good thing.
2. Morality is recognised by all man.

However we disagree on the origin of that morality. And its volatility. Perhaps I shall explore that in another piece.

In response to the other comments, I must say gentlemen that I find it quite disappointing that my point has been grossly missed. I say again, nowhere in my piece do I say that morality only exists within a “religious framework”. Yet that seems to be the “point” being responded to. But I do say that morality comes from God (albeit through His Word or in built conscience in man). I don’t equate God with religion. But I guess I expect that kind of conclusion from people who don’t have a concept of God.

Like I said, I guess I’ll have to discuss morality itself in a later piece if PNG Attitude would let me. I do enjoy the diverse responses.

You'd be most welcome, Ganjiki - KJ

I follow Christianity but I feel that my basis of morality lies in something other than the Ten Commandments and/or the bible itself.

My sense of morality arises from fear and compassion. Fear of harming others and myself and compassion (wari/sori) for others.

But the question that has always been bugging me is this: does a person surrender their own human rights when they impinge on another person’s rights?

For example, does a cold blooded murder have the right to life when he/she has denied that very right to the other person?

By that reasoning Colin we'd also have to drop any discussion about politics, which enlivens PNG Attitude no end.

However, I suspect that arguing with both religious and political zealots is a waste of time.

I'm like Keith, I sat down and tried to rationalise the concept of gods and religions at an early age and decided that, on balance, the secular view made a lot more sense.

I was a lot older before I did the same thing with politics and decided that the apolitical view was the way to go.

Nowadays I simply find the antics of both schools of thought mildly amusing.

I've even given up the idea of being buried with a baseball bat just in case I'm wrong.

However, I do agree with you that it might be a good idea to drop the subject before it gets out of control.

All is under control. Bex, kapti and lie downs all round - KJ

C'mon! I just googled this Madang University where many of the commenters of this blog have a say.

"Divine Word University is a national Catholic university in Papua New Guinea. It is one of the newest tertiary institutions in the country. It was established as a university by an Act of Parliament in 1996. The university is ecumenical and coeducational, and is under the leadership of the Divine Word Missionaries."

Now if I learnt one thing in life in the hospitality industry, religious discussions are a "no no" in bars/bistros and restaurants, as is politics. If you want a brawl either one of these will quickly bring it on.

So please drop any more on this subject. I am a Catholic and proud to be one.

I judge people not on religion but by character.

It is contentious to the extreme.

PNG Attitude delights in hosting the discussions that old fashioned Australians would hate to have at the dinner table - politics, religion, sex, slavery, cannibalism... Mipela stap isi - KJ

I can’t resist throwing my two penneth into this maelstrom of ponderings about human behaviour and enforced moral codes in particular.

Whenever someone starts drawing a line in the sand it stands to reason that someone else may become offended if they regard the sand as their own stamping ground.

The claim many seem to make is that an organised religion provides a moral and ethical basis for humans to follow and without which, we are devoid of any morals at all.

Given that most religions have evolved over time and are the distilled essence of many people’s views, if one chooses to say the end result is ‘god’s will’, it seems that those who do are demonstrating an adherence to their faith in the humanity that are claiming to transcribe ‘god’s will’.

In regard to Christianity, or in fact any organised religion, the defining proof of whether an action is either good or evil is in the eye of the beholder.

If one chooses to adhere to a strict code of ethics or morals, this code may be totally unacceptable to others.

Look at the Japanese code of Bushido. Look at the logic in olden days in some areas of PNG where one twin was killed to help the mother look after and bring up the other.

Esoteric discussion is indeed useful to help us all determine what we will decide to follow. It’s not helpful when it stifles all debate or is clearly aimed at excluding free thought as were the burning of heretics by both Catholics and Protestants a few hundred years ago.

At the risk of upsetting a few, anyone who claims they can interpret ‘god’s will’ is demonstrably maintaining a position that has yet to be substantiated.

They are actually enacting their ‘follower’s will’ since that is what is axiomatically the case.

Is morality derived from religion or is it that religion was born from a pre-existing moral sense?

I've often wondered on what basis a person can make judgements between competing religions. How do you decide which is more 'moral' - say between Halakha, Canon law, Karma and Sharia?

Surely it can be argued that it is because you base your judgement on some existing moral sense about which religion most closely matches your intrinsic sense of what is right or wrong.

Early examples of this pre-date all existing mainstream religions (eg. the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Ur-Nammu).

Or maybe most people just follow the way they were brought up and choosing your religion is a bit of a western luxury.

5) In regard to your point "that the pragmatic approach cannot argue against people who choose not to have any concern for human rights I had countered that "adhering to pragmatism does not mean 'doing whatever --- ---- we like'".

By this argument a person may also choose not to do the will of God. That happens a lot too doesn't it?

Here at last lies the destination for a circumnavigated path; free will.

Some say humans have it because 'I think therefore I am' others sat God granted it to us. We can't disprove either notion.

Thanks for the clarity, Ganjiki. In response:

1) The man you infer to may have been a Christian - check that. Also most authorities on both sides of our fence seem to agree that that particular man and the war machine he created out of a nation was 'insane'(i.e. is we refer to the same man).

2) Religious ideology as well as Christian understanding of God has "evolved over time" and it has been argued that Jesus Christ was the first anarchist.

3) While it is your view that the evolution of morality "cannot be sustained" by our naturalistic path, I do not need to accept that as true for me. I do not maintain the argument that morality is a "working of the naturalistic brain". In fact, I think morality is a uniquely human construct which is only served by higher levels of thought by human beings - the product of our individual and social interactions.

4) As for the satirical creed, well it sure serves it's purpose as a cleverly joined list of distasteful statements (like dis-information) that does nothing to reflect the thoughts of 'good people' who are pragmatists and non-creationists. Is there a reference on that or does the author wish to remain anonymous?


Here's a satirical "Creed" of what "non-theistic" moralist could also say. I guess it highlights my point about being unable to be consistent in holding those views:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there's something in
horoscopes, UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same--
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.
We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.

"Chance" a post-script
If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.

Okay Michael. My example may have been extreme (But I do recall someone(s) actually trying that extreme measure in the last century). But you havent responded to my point I'm afraid.

Regarding morality and ethical norms. I think we can all agree that it doesnt exist within institutionalised religion. It is something all humans (maybe most) have the capacity to recognise. My argument is that we have it because we are created and our maker put it in us. Differing views are that it evolved over time.

The latter view cannot be sustained; especially when one goes against such moral conscience to do what is immoral. Why do we say something is wrong (whatever it is)? What i mean is: If moral conscience is a work of our nature, then doing both "moral" and "immoral" things are equal workings of naturalistic brain (or whatever the source). therefore there is no basis to say whether one thing is good/right and another is bad or wrong.

Ethical and moral behaviour does not exist only within a framework of institutionalised religion, or any religious formulation for that matter. It is a high order capacity of most human beings.

The great and wonderful codes of reasonable human practice – for example, the golden rule to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ - were drawn from human experience and aspiration and can be and are maintained irrespective of religion.

Writing as someone who moved away from card carrying Christianity many years ago, tiring of its institutional flaws and spiritual imponderables at the age of 17, I’m able to assert with confidence that secularists like me are well able to understand and practice high moral values.

And, having in my life lived amongst heathens, Christians, animists, Muslims, Buddhists and others of differing beliefs, I find it intellectually unacceptable to argue that human morality cannot exist in a coherent form unless it has the label of religion on it.

Apart from its inhuman tone, that is a very self-serving view.

When I was a young man, Papua New Guinea taught me a lot. One important thing it taught me was that moral and good behaviour has no artificial bounds such as those that may be imposed by notions of religion, race or any other classification.

It’s a lesson I’m glad I learned at such a young age.

What kind of moral advice, what kind of philosophy do atheists and pragmatists teach?

Well, I'm no expert so try looking at this recommended reading (for pragmatists and interested others);

The Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu (circa 100 BCE).

Excerpts from Book 1,Chapters;

Ruling the people by means of the Way
Does not involve awing the realm with force.
That’s likely to come full circle.
Where the general camped
There the brambles grow.
In the wake of a great army
Bad harvests inevitably follow.
The good man aims at ending war,
And doing so fears to intimidate.
Achieve the aim but don’t boast.
Achieve the aim without display.
Achieve the aim without arrogance.
Achieve the aim but don’t assert it.
Achieve the aim but don’t intimidate.
The creature that ignores what exists from of old
Is described as going against the Way.
What goes against the Way
Will come to a swift end.


Since weapons are instruments of evil,
And people detest them,
A wise man can’t stand their use.
A gentleman, in his house,
Makes the left the place of honour.
In military matters
The right is the place of honour.
Since weapons are instruments of evil,
They are not the instruments of the gentleman.
When he is forced to use them
He does so without savouring it.
Victory is not glorious,
Those for whom it is glorious
Delight in killing human beings.
Those who delight in killing human beings
Will never control the realm.
The left takes precedence on joyous occasions.
The right takes precedence on sad occasions.
A lieutenant’s place is on the left.
A general’s place is on the right.
Mourning rites are observed.
When there are mounds of dead
One should weep with sorrow.
When one is victorious
Observe the mourning rites.

Ganjiki, I'm afraid your example is out of line and indeed has nothing to do with pragmatism.

It is an extreme notion and one that infers that a pragmatic person or people would decide that killing many other people was a 'good idea'.

(Try insanity, it might work!).

In my view, that point does not hold truth. Adhering to pragmatism does not mean 'doing whatever --- ---- we like',(so that the world can be more manageable and less populous).

That notion is simply ridiculous and in fact, impractical.

Thanks Michael. "Conversion" was not the intention of this essay. Yes, you are right, both worldviews arrive at the importance of human rights.

My point was that the pragmatic approach cannot argue against people who choose not to have any concern for human rights.

If for example a person, taking a pragmatic approach, decided to eliminate people who didn't contribute anything good to the world (so that the world can be more manageable and less populous), how would fellow "pragmatists" counter his equally "pragmatic" approach to fixing the world?

Because they both think that their approaches will make the world a better place. But disagree on their methods.

Thanks Phil - Nowhere in my piece do I suggest that people who don't believe in God are not humane. (If you can point out such an insinuation in the essay I'd be interested).

Quite the contrary. People (atheists or otherwise) can be good to each other. The thing is, atheists don't have a foundation to be good.

If atheists are bad to each other it wouldn't be different to them also being good to each other. I think a certain stereotype has been imported into my essay to suggest that.

As to your suggestion to abondon whatever god one follows and think for yourself, well that isn't working out very well in the world is it.

People become selfish, they can sit on major financial institutions and siphon off millions at the expense of others.

They can abort their babies at will. They can leave their families and practise adultery at will.

They can lead completely selfish lives yet be completely consistent with "think for yourself".

In fact they take up a "god" in place of another: the "self" god

Interesting. But I remain unconvinced - or, as a 'creationist' might say, unconverted.

What does morality have to do with gods?

Why do we seek a root meaning for basic human rights? Is that not self defeating since, neither side, creationist or pragmatic, seems defensible.

This one sentence stands out, "There is absolutely no basis to protect human rights." Absolutely.

But that does not mean it's not a good thing to do, the best course of action to take for the benefit of all people, good, bad or ugly.

A creationist might say, "God wills it"; a pragmatist might say, "It's a point of reference".

Does it really matter which view it comes from or is it more important that both worldviews actually agree that human rights are necessary?

That's a very long bow to conclude that people who don't believe in a supreme being are somehow not humane.

Caring for one's fellow human beings is a matter of ethics and you don't need a god for that.

I would bet that there have been more atrocities, big and small, committed against other humans in the name of one god or another than there ever was by non-believers.

One might even conclude that gods are created by human beings for political purposes, including making war and killing people.

I would suggest that one way to be a really humane and caring individual would be to abandon whatever god you follow and think for yourself.

Interesting. Yes, the world is a place where many humans are treated inhumanely. It is called "sin".

"Do unto others as you would do unto yourself." "Love one another as you would love yourself." "Having compassion" are the key concepts.

"Man was made in the image of God." We have a soul. We have to learn what is right and what is wrong when it comes to how we act as humans.

Which gets us back to corruption. PNG needs an ICAC ASAP to teach PNG people e.g. bureaucrats and politicians, how acting corruptly and sneaking off with millions of kina to buy property in Cairns, is inhuman. It lacks compassion in a Big Way!

It means money does not go towards saving the life of an expectant mother, educating a child, training up a future doctor etc etc. It is violating Human Rights in a Big Way.

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