I was brought up in a Catholic household. From an early age I went to mass every week and learned the rituals and prayers and traditions of the church. I learned many Bible stories including the creation story, several stories about Jesus, and stories about the history of the Jewish people. I also learned a moral system through which the rightness of actions was in large part thought to be determined by what is in concert with God's will.
For anyone raised in a given religion as I have, the detailed aspects of the religion tend to form the early developing mind in a way that really makes children see everything through the lens of their religion. As they grow older, their religious upbringing will probably be the single most influential series of experiences in their life. Even if they try to break away from this religion later in life, this is done in relation to the religion of one's youth.
Now, as I have written about in prior posts and as many other authors have explained in detail, there are many religious beliefs that are harmful to people and to society. This applies to some religions more than others, but this is true at least to some extent to all religions that largely rely on blind faith. Yes, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam do indeed rely heavily on blind faith. Hinduism also relies on blind faith at least on par with the Abrahamic faiths. Buddhism probably has less reliance on blind faith, but is not immune to the phenomenon where children are taught to believe things just because.
All of these religions involve beliefs that are to be taken on blind faith that are harmful to people. Young minds are not able to know the difference so for nearly all children brought up in a faith based religion, they will end up with beliefs that are harmful to them or to others. This may include beliefs that they are the chosen people over others, this may include beliefs that only people who believe as they do are in concert with God, this may include beliefs that some people are born in a higher caste than others, and this may include beliefs that there ultimately is no true self. All of these beliefs are harmful to people and are quite popular beliefs within certain faith based religions.
I don't have children, but when I do I am actually thinking that they would benefit from not simply being told from a young age to believe in things just because. I don't think children should be taught to believe anything on blind faith, include belief in the Bible or in this mystical Jesus figure. Many millions (or even billions) are told to believe in certain scriptures or supernatural things from an early age and I think that this practice is a disservice to the developing mind.
Some will argue that children brought up with a religion are better off later in life because they have a more solid moral structure. From my experience, it took me several years to unwind the strict Catholicism that I was force-fed throughout my childhood, so I disagree with the idea that children are better off being raised in some organized religion just for the sake of having some organized belief system to provide them with. I am wondering - would it be so bad to simply lay out the facts for the children (or better yet, lay out the most reasonable principles for finding facts) and let them figure out what to believe?
I believe that this is possible. Certainly it makes sense to begin to teach children right and wrong from a young age and that young children do not yet have the ability to think critically about things so they need to simply be told what to believe. This is true, but it is the wrong idea to try to teach children things for which there is no real evidence in the world. If we just teach children things for which they can find evidence and for which they can understand makes sense, then they will have an easier time later in life thinking critically and realizing the truth for themselves. Also they should be more likely to avoid the pitfalls of believing things just because they were told to.
Some people who don't subscribe to any religion self-identify as Humanists. Humanism is a worldview that emphasizes the value of humanity and social justice while altogether rejecting supernatural concepts and religious dogma. This worldview has become increasingly popular in recent years as people come to realize how unjustified and harmful religious beliefs and practices can often be and also because of the natural tendency of people to empathize with fellow humans.
To be fair, the definition mentioned above might be too restrictive to refer to “Humanism” in general. This definition might more accurately refer to “Secular Humanism”, while just saying “Humanism” in some contexts might refer more generally to concern for humanity while not necessarily rejecting religion. The reason that I started this post the way I did is because many Secular Humanists simply use the term “Humanist” without qualification. This post will be focused on the worldview that emphasizes humanity and social justice while rejecting religion and supernatural beliefs, so for clarity, I will use the less ambiguous term “Secular Humanism” from this point on.
One of the most popular arguments in favor of Secular Humanism are that revealed religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc, encourage unjustified beliefs and practices that are often quite harmful to believers and to society. I agree with this argument to a large extent. I have rejected traditional faith based religions. On the other hand though, I do not reject belief in anything supernatural because the natural universe is not an explanation for itself. The best explanation is that the natural universe was created by something that is over and above nature, and this is a supernatural concept.
This concept may be called God, but this does not mean that for one to believe this that they must have blind faith in God as a Christian or Muslim does. There is a reasonable justification for believing this and thus blind faith is not necessary. This is one strike against the Secular Humanist worldview.
Another common argument of Secular Humanists is that there is value to human life and it is unjust when people suffer unnecessarily. The argument is that we should have concern for our fellow humans and work to prevent social injustice whenever possible. I also agree with this notion because my phenomenological and scientific reasoning has led me to the conclusion that people have the natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This reasoning is rooted in the realization of the nonphysical aspect of humanity, which is called the soul. There is also an important realization that souls have free will, which is a supernatural concept because there are no natural processes through which all actions of souls, and by extension humans, can be reduced to. Finally there is the realization that the first person experience of right and wrong has a nonphysical aspect as well.
Secular Humanism seems to reject the metaphysics upon which the natural rights are based. This worldview does not actually provide a metaphysical foundation for its emphasis on humanity and social justice. These are just taken as a given as true within a purely physical universe. As I have argued in prior posts, there is no way that morality, and by extension natural justice, can be real aspects of the universe regardless of anyone's mere personal opinion unless they are based on some form of nonphysical metaphysics. Quite simply, if everything that exists is physical, then there is no inherent right or wrong, there is just the way things are. The physical universe is not at all concerned with social justice or humanity per se.
If one is truly concerned about humanity and believes in natural rights, and also believes that there is inherent truth to their moral convictions as opposed to mere opinion, then it is rational to find a metaphysical foundation for morality that can incorporate this. Rejection of anything supernatural and strict belief in materialism does not allow for a foundation of morality that can be true regardless of anyone's point of view. Secular Humanism is not a coherent worldview in essence. A worldview that includes belief in a nonphysical aspect of the self is more rational and I believe more justified given the scientific and phenomenological evidence.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you subscribe to any religious beliefs? Or do you have more secular beliefs? What are your thoughts on religion? How does your belief system affect your life? Let your voice be heard in the forum. You can also email the me at email@example.com
I'm sure we have all come across people, either in person or perhaps through some billboard or flier, who tries to make the case that the end of the world is upon us. It has been common at least since the dawn of Christianity to speculate about the end of the world and this is fueled in large part by the last book of the Bible. This book is usually called “Revelation” in modern bibles but was called “Apocalypse” for centuries.
This book tells of the end of the world as we know it, which will be the final battle between good and evil. The righteous will be saved and the wicked will be cast into the eternal fire along with Satan. There is much imagery in this book, and this leaves the passages open to all kinds of interpretations. For example, there is talk of a woman who rides a beast, different colored horses, eating a book, holding seven stars in the right hand while walking in the midst of seven gold lamp stands, creatures that are part goat, part human, and part scorpion, and much more. There are many theories as to what the book of Revelation means. Many theories hold the verses as symbolic, while others prefer a more literal interpretation.
The first line of this book is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show his servants what must happen soon...for the appointed time is near.” This seems to imply that the events mentioned in this book are actually right around the corner. Though this book was written nearly 2,000 years ago, some of those who read it even centuries ago must have thought it certain that the apocalypse was fast approaching.
I know for certain that many people believe this today and these people with their delusions unnecessarily spread fear to those who have not yet had the education necessary to accurately judge fact from fiction. I have said this a few times in prior blog postings and I will say it again: there is no good reason to believe that what is written in the Bible is true! The Bible was written by people, not God. It was written long ago by people who did not know the future any better than you or I.
In fact we are now in a decent position to understand how the world might end in the coming decades or centuries and what might be the cause. The cause will likely be an accumulation of man-made ecological disasters. We are causing the destruction of the earth right now actually. The process is very slow so we are not able to easily see the effect that our actions have on the earth as a whole. But it is quite true that life on earth will eventually cease to exist. I can be a bit optimistic about the possibility of an afterlife, but I will have to be fatalistic with regard to the fate of the planet because this is just reality.
I believe we do have a moral responsibility to do what we can to preserve life as much as possible. This will actually not save the planet from its eventual fate but it may well ease suffering and even may prevent deaths. So I am not entirely fatalistic with regard to life, I am just realistic about the fate of planet earth. We can get a good idea of what will likely happen in the future to the earth through science, not through blindly believing in the Bible.
We can only really speculate what will happen to us upon our own death, whether there will be some sort of afterlife or not. But the Bible should not be seen as an authority on these or other matters. The book of Revelation should be treated as an example of fantasy literature from late antiquity. If we want to get some reasonable idea of how and when the world will end, we can take a look at the evidence that modern science has provided.
Probably most of us have had experiences with friends or relatives who suffered greatly towards the end of their lives. Some of you reading this may even have loved ones who are terminally ill and forced to endure significant and unrelenting pain. There are limits to how far modern medicine can go in alleviating this pain.
Anyone who sees and hears the anguish of someone dear to them will to some extent share in this suffering and will desperately wish to end the suffering that the other is experiencing. If it happens that the doctors and the medications are not able to put an end to the constant pain, then there are some terminally ill patients who will wish to end their lives, but are unable or unwilling to do this themselves. In such situations, there are likely close loved ones who want to assist in the suicide of the one who is terminally ill, because this would mean that the suffering would finally end. But is the practice of euthanasia morally acceptable?
Certainly it is natural for us to want to prevent others whom we hold dear from suffering unnecessarily. And it does seem undignified to force people who are terminally ill to live their lives until they die naturally when they are forced to endure constant suffering. Euthanasia means “good death” because it is supposed to be a way for someone to die with dignity.
That being said however, I believe that euthanasia is morally wrong. The problem with this is that it puts happiness vs. suffering ahead of life itself. Arguments in favor of euthanasia seem to imply that life is only worth living if one is happy. The truth is that everyone suffers in life and we have the ability to endure it though positive thinking and focus. Those who want to commit suicide or to assist others in suicide are probably focusing too much on the suffering and not enough on the inherent ability of the mind to endure suffering and find meaning that transcends any negative feelings.
Of course we will all die eventually, and this will come sooner for those who are terminally ill. For anyone in such a condition, even a few more years of endurance is quite doable given the right determination and focus on the meaning of life. Anyone who is forced to endure suffering should be able to find their own dignity regardless of the circumstances and any of their loved ones should be able to do the same. The friends and family of terminally ill should never want them to die in order to end their suffering but should instead celebrate their lives and always keep in mind the inherent value of life that is incomparably more important than happiness or suffering. To say that live has immeasurable value is the same as saying that life is sacred.
If we, as a society, decide that the value of life is entirely based on the level of happiness vs. suffering that one experiences, then it seems to make sense that we should allow poor people to die as well. Of course, very few people will seriously entertain such a notion and this will likely sound abhorrent to most people. The truth is, however, that if we don't ground our morals in a foundation that makes sense, then there will be more creeping immorality that might blindside us. If we don't solidly proclaim that life has inherent value no matter what degree of suffering one might experience, then we are possibly opening ourselves up to actions that currently sound inhumane but might sound normal to majorities of people in the future.
Life is sacred and we should always seek to protect life and allow people to live until they die of natural causes. When we keep in mind the sanctity of life, there should always be personal dignity in life no matter how tough it gets.
A few weeks ago I made the case for people having natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This essentially means that it is morally wrong to infringe upon other people's life (to murder someone), or to unnecessarily infringe upon another person's freedom or happiness. I argued as well that the right to life is paramount because one cannot have free will or happiness unless they have life. It is best to allow others to decide what to do with their own life.
Now, there may be situations where it is actually necessary to kill someone, though this is rare. If someone is completely insane, meaning there is no possibility of reasoning with them, and all signs indicate that this person will certainly kill others very soon, then if there are no other options to restrain this person in order to prevent the killing of others, then it does make the most sense to preserve the lives of the innocents by killing the crazy person.
This situation might happen if someone breaks into your house with a gun and is about to fire it on your family and you have access to another gun and you can prevent this person from killing your family by killing this person. Now, in such situations it would most likely work just as well to protect your family by merely injuring the intruder, to just shoot this person in the shoulder or the arm to prevent them from firing the gun, but it is conceivable that a situation could occur in which one must actually kill the intruder in order to save one's family. Not that likely, but it could happen.
Then there are situations where someone has already committed horrible offenses against others, of what to do with these people. If someone has already murdered other people, and they have been put in custody and where innocent people are now safe from the horrors of what this person might do, would it then be morally acceptable to execute this person?
Even if they have committed horrendous murders, rapes, etc, I would say no. It is morally wrong to end someone's life unless you are trying to save the lives of other innocent people. This person is still human and, though they have committed offenses against humanity, they still do have the chance to turn their lives around while in captivity. Now, I would never, ever let the worst of the murderers out of prison. They are a danger to society. Only in rare circumstances would I think it is acceptable to parole someone who committed a single murder many years ago. But I think the best punishment for the worst crimes against humanity is for them to be forced to live their lives in captivity, with little resources available to them.
Though we certainly want to punish these people as much as we can, it is irrational to think that killing them is going to do any good. It is sufficient punishment for them to be in a small room with little food and no comforts of life for the rest of their lives. It is morally wrong to kill them, but it is not morally wrong to deprive them of liberty and happiness because the worst criminals do not deserve either of these. We are still giving them the opportunity to turn their lives around spiritually, but we are not under any moral obligation to make their lives comfortable.
So in summary, capital punishment is never morally justified, but in some rare circumstances it might be necessary to kill someone to prevent them from killing others. These are the most reasonable conclusions on these matters that I can draw from my fundamental moral principles.
Categories: Why I am not a Christian, History of Religion
It is a common myth among Christians of various denominations that their version of Christianity is the original. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church and it was often repeated that this church was the original church, that it was founded by Jesus and was the church of the Apostles, and that it has stayed the same essential entity since then, with the blessing of God as the one true church. The other churches, including Eastern Orthodoxy, the Anglican church, Presbyterians, Baptists, and all the other protestant denominations broke away from the original church and are thus not as close to God as Roman Catholics.
In my college years I began to have a lot more open communication with Christians from other denominations and I heard their side of the story. Actually, the Eastern Orthodox churches have a very similar story, where their church is the original one and that Roman Catholicism broke off and so did all of the other churches.
Several of the protestant denominations claim that their method of worship and their doctrines are the original version of Christianity and that Catholicism and Orthodoxy corrupted these original doctrines because they wanted power over the faithful. These protestant churches often refer to this idea of a “remnant church” that still believed and worshiped as Jesus wanted and according to the Bible despite the insistence of Catholic authorities that things be done their way.
The problem with all of this thinking is that the only church that can claim to be the original version of Christianity is the one that existed in Jesus' time. The simple fact of the matter is that from generation to generation, things inevitably change. The beliefs change, the style of worship changes. The culture changes and the political situations change and beliefs change with this. Even if things are written down, over time people have different ideas for what this means. There is no Christian church around today that can justifiably claim to be anything close to the “original church”.
And it is important to keep in mind that even if we can know what beliefs and style of worship the Christian churches had at the time of Jesus and shortly after his death, this would not mean anything significant because these people had false beliefs about Jesus being hugely significant to people's lives, which he is not. They probably believed in some interpretation of the Biblical scriptures, which may be different than the interpretations common among today's Christians, but the evidence strongly shows that the Bible is very wrong in many, many instances. So for one to be true to the original beliefs of Christians would only involve blind adherence to just another version of falsehood.
Now, as to the historical question of which Christian denomination broke off of which, there is an answer to this. Though the churches always did change from generation to generation, century to century, it is possible to look at the historical record to see which church entity has been around for longer. An entity, like a church or a company or a country, does change over time and probably does not necessarily even have any essential enduring attributes, but the continuum over time is what matters when identifying an enduring identity.
The historical record clearly shows that the contemporary Eastern Orthodox church has strong historical ties to the main Christian church from AD 400 to AD 1000. It was around the year AD 400 that Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire and the main seat of the Church was established in the new Roman capital of Constantinople.
There were several “popes”, each of which was the highest religious figure for a large geographic area. There was a pope in Constantinople (actually the word “patriarch” is also used) and others in Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. The popes had a council in which they would discuss the articles of faith and come to agreements. No one pope was above any other. Around the year AD 800, the Roman pope claimed to be the one supreme religious authority. This claim was never accepted by the other popes. It did shock the other popes of the council and strained some relations, but they were nonetheless able to continue working together in some capacity.
Eventually, around the year AD 1000, the Roman pope insisted that the other popes submit to his absolute authority. They refused and the Roman church formally broke away, an event known as the “Great Schism”. From the Roman churches point of view, they were right because their pope is the one supreme religious figure in the world. From the council of popes perspective, the Roman pope was having a power trip and there was no reason to continue dealing with him and his followers. The council of popes called their organization the “Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church”. The Roman church called itself the “Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”. As you can see, these two organizations have similar official names, often shortened to Eastern Orthodox for the former and Roman Catholic for the latter.
Now, centuries after the Great Schism, several protestant churches broke off of the Catholic church. They really don't have a legitimate claim to being the original church or doing things in the original way. Now, I'll say that the early versions of these protestant churches were certainly less corrupt than the Catholic church, but they were still fundamentally wrong in their assumption that the Bible is always correct and that Jesus was anything more than a human being.
I wrote a few weeks ago my case for the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a quite popular belief – most people I know seem to agree that these are natural rights. But my own case, as outlined in the previous post, is intended to be more detailed than those that I've come across in my life. This is my reason for posting on this subject. I'm trying to lay a solid foundation for ethics. Also in more recent posts I wrote about why I don't think animals have rights and also I wrote about the primacy of the right to life over the other natural rights.
Today I want to expand on this and address the issue of abortion. This has been a very controversial issue for a long time. Those on the “pro choice” side say that a woman who is pregnant has full sovereignty over her own body and has the moral authority to do with her body what she wishes. They argue that a fetus is a part of the woman's body and she should be free to excise this part of herself. Those on the “pro life” side say that a fetus is a genetically distinct human being and therefore has its own rights and that because abortion takes the life of a human being, it is morally wrong.
Now, for the time being I am going to try to avoid getting into any legal implications with this issue. I want to try to address this issue from a purely moral standpoint. The conclusion made from this should certainly be useful in forming legal arguments and in forming the basis for laws, but this is a matter that is outside of the scope of this website.
First of all, what people usually don't realize when evaluating the moral worth of abortion and most issues that have a moral dimension is that morality, in order to be grounded in reality, must have a nonphysical component. I've written about this in past postings. The way that we understand the nonphysical is through our own experience of consciousness. There must be a nonphysical essence of the self, which is called the soul. The reason that killing someone is morally wrong is because of the consequences that this has on the soul, not because of what this does to the body.
If you think about it, your body is purely physical. It is just a mass of cells, made of molecules, made of protons, neutrons, electrons, subatomic particles. You will not find moral worth in the body. You will not be able to justify, only on purely physical grounds, that one state of affairs has a higher moral worth than another. So if I kill you, the mere fact that your body is no longer living does not alone justify that this is morally wrong. This is morally wrong of course, but because of the nonphysical affects that this action has on your soul.
So the question of abortion is entirely based on whether a fetus has a soul. If it does not, then it is really nothing more than a part of the woman's body. She of course has a soul, and her happiness and freedom are what are important if no other souls need to be considered. If she is acting on her own body and this affects no other distinct human bodies, then no other souls are affected either. On the other hand, if a fetus is a distinct human body, then it does have a soul and harming the fetus would therefore harm the soul that is nonphysically connected to the fetus.
Nobody denies that a fetus is genetically distinct from the mother, and of the father. It has a unique genetic code. Everyone has a unique genetic code through which they become who they are. The genetic code more or less determines how one develops into adulthood. We know that if a woman is pregnant and does all she can to ensure the health of her fetus, that it will most likely develop into a baby. If a baby is fed and nurtured, most likely it will eventually become a full grown adult human.
The argument put forth by the pro life crowd is that a fetus, in its early stages of development, is little more than a clump of cells and does not yet have the ability to live on its own or to think or feel pain or happiness. This is certainly true, but it does seem to me that this is also true of newborn babies. No baby can live on its own. All need nurturing from others to survive. Now, it is certainly the case that a fetus can not live outside the womb for any period of time, whereas a baby lacking nourishment will survive for a while. This is true with the current level of technology, but it will likely one day be possible to completely grow a fetus to term in an artificial incubator. I'm sure the day will come. So the theory that a fetus is not a human being because it is not viable outside the womb seems to define humanness based on the technology available at any given moment. This is not philosophically sound.
Also, certainly a fetus can not think, but it is doubtful that newborn babies can truly think. It may not appear that a fetus can feel pain, but every one of its cells, no matter how few there are, does react negatively to harm and positively to food. This is true from the moment of conception because this is the nature of life. A cell would have to be dead to not react negatively to threats and positively to food. This may not be pain or happiness as we know it, but how do we know that newborn babies feel pain or happiness in any way similar to our experience? And what is important here is not the physical aspect of pain or happiness, which is just nerve firings and cell reactions, but instead what is important is the soul's experience of valence, which is where value judgments come from. Perhaps a fetus has some experience of valence just by virtue of having a soul.
Does a fetus have a soul? Well it is genetically distinct. It is autonomous no less than any other human being. Surely it has dependencies on its mother, but we all are dependent on each other for viability. None of us can live without each other. If an adult has a soul by virtue of being a genetically distinct and having some degree of autonomy, then a fetus has a soul as well. Because fetuses have souls, it is morally wrong to abort a fetus. A mother has the moral obligation to carry the fetus to term. Also, the father has the moral obligation to help the mother as much as necessary. Once the baby is born, the parents have a moral obligation to either care for the baby or find someone else who will.
As I've mentioned several times in past postings, I was raised Catholic. The Catholic experience of religion is complex. There is much doctrine, much dogma, many traditions, many rituals. There are a few core beliefs that they try to break it down to and these are repeated often among practicing Catholics, as directed by the priests in mass or in one's personal prayers.
This is commonly done through the recitation of the Profession of Faith, which includes the line “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God...For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This creed has many other lines, but I want to focus on this right now because the belief that Jesus is supposed to be one's lord and savior is the thought to be the most important belief among many evangelical Christians.
Unlike Catholicism, the more recently conceived Christian variations that are considered part of the evangelical movement tend to simplify the beliefs one must have as much as possible. It is very common for evangelical Christians to believe that one only needs to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior in order to achieve salvation. At which point, one is said to be “saved” or “born again”.
Now, lets look at what this means. A lord is someone who leads. One who commands and guides. A savior is one who saves another from something bad. Something undesirable is going to happen and the savior comes and prevents this from happening to the other, thus saving them from the undesirable fate. If someone believes that Jesus is their personal lord and savior, this means that they believe that a guy who has been dead for nearly 2000 years is leading and commanding their life. They believe that this guy, of whom we know very little aside from some unreliable writings from many centuries ago, actually has saved them from some undesirable fate.
How is Jesus their lord? I suppose they try to follow what he supposedly said as written in the Bible. There is not actually that much there so it is pretty hard for this dead guy to really be one's “lord”. What bad fate had Jesus truly saved anyone from? Hell apparently. I suppose that God made everyone with the intention of sending them into eternal torment unless they accept this “son” of his as their savior. Then they are “saved” from hell. Jesus is great ain't he? If we accept him he won't throw us into the fire pit.
I wrote last week about the irrationality of believing that Jesus was the Son of God. This really doesn't make much sense in the first place. By far the most rational explanation is that Jesus was no more or less than any human being, if he indeed was a real person in the first place. I wrote a few months ago about the irrationality of believing in the Bible just because one was told to. This is circular reasoning. And it is just as irrational to believe that Jesus has any kind of supernatural powers. He died centuries ago and the best thing one can do in their lives with regard to Jesus is to just let him go and to focus on understanding the world in a more rational way. It really does not make sense to think of any long dead person as one's “lord”. It is also a very bad belief to think that there is this eternal fire that God wants to throw you into unless you believe something. Since this version of hell almost certainly does not exist, there is nothing that one needs to be “saved” from except our own irrational and dangerous beliefs and of course the irrational and dangerous beliefs of other people.
So if we believe in God then we probably believe that God created us, right? Often times people say we are “children of God”. This analogy to parent-child does kind of make sense. God can therefore be thought of as our father or as our mother, since God is neither male nor female. If there is a God, an all powerful creator of all things, then I'm sure It is not humanlike and is not masculine or feminine. We can nonetheless think of God as like a parent to us all.
What I want to look at today is the common Christian belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. I guess Christians don't doubt that all people are children of God, but I guess when they say that Jesus is the Son of God this has a special significance and the word “son” in this case has different connotations that indicate a close connection to God the Father. This is not universal, but nearly all Christians see Jesus as actually being a part of God or being God in human form. So in this case it is not that Jesus is different from God, Jesus is God...or something like that.
I've heard a few different interpretations of this whole godhead thing. Are the two of them, God the Father and God the Son, along with the Holy Spirit, separate entities or just one? I've heard straight answers on this in both ways, both as God as one entity and God as three (or 2, etc.) entities. From my Catholic upbringing, the more time any priest spent talking about this issue, the more obvious it was that he was finding creative ways of not giving a straight answer.
Growing up, my opinion was always that God was one entity. I believed in the trinity dogma of the church, but I interpreted it as just being three aspects of the same thing. This interpretation is not official Catholic dogma, but since they never were able to provide an unambiguous answer to this question, my interpretation seemed to make sense to me. So I believed that God the Father was the creative power of God, like that of a parent. I believed that the Holy Spirit was the aspect of God that we could get in touch with spiritually through prayer. And I believed that Jesus, God the Son, was just God manifest as a human being when he was alive 2000 years ago.
I believed, largely from Christian tradition and Catholic dogma, that God first talked to the prophets, like Moses and Isaiah, and also sometimes spoke through them or wrote words with their hands, for the purpose of giving the people his word. I believed that eventually God had to personally take his message to the people in the form of Jesus and his words and actions are written in the Gospel.
I have explained in a few postings here how I eventually came to realize that Christianity and Catholicism were largely false. I came to realize that the Bible was largely false. The pivotal moment came when I realized, at long last, that Jesus was nothing more (or less) than a human being, just as any other. What made me realize this more than anything is that it is best to assume natural explanations of things that happen and only to go with supernatural explanations if all else fails. I was actually quite easily able to understand how a legend like that of Jesus of Nazareth could be believed by people and could grow to be believed by half the world for hundreds of years.
You see, there is just no good reason to assume that Jesus was anything more than a man. There have been many great people throughout history. A few have been able to be remembered after their death and become legendary. The legend of Jesus is similar to the legend of Saint Nicholas of Myra, also known as Santa Claus. He was a real person too. His legend is so far removed from the historical facts to make him seem fictional. I think Jesus is a similar case. He was a real person, but he was not God, nor any part of God, nor did he have any special connection to God than any of us. We are all children of God, and thus Jesus was as well, but it is quite irrational this day and age to still believe that Jesus is God or any part of God.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining why I believe people have natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. More recently, I wrote a post explaining why I don't believe that these rights extend to animals. Now, I just want to reiterate briefly what it means for humans to have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This means is that it is morally right for us all to 1) respect other people's choices in what to do in their life 2) treat other people as you would want to be treated, which presumably is to not cause suffering and instead to try to make happiness available to others 3) respect the lives of other people, which means whether another lives or dies is their own choice and it is morally wrong to think you know better than someone else whether to end their life.
As I mentioned before, this does leave some unresolved questions. For one thing, it is clear that it is impossible to act this way all of the time because the right to freedom often conflicts with the right to happiness in many situations. For example, if everyone is completely free to do whatever they wish all the time, then this would allow some people to harm or kill other people. Situations like this happen all of the time and they are often times unintentional. One person's freedom to stretch their arms may infringe upon a nearby person's pursuit of happiness if they just want to be left alone. One person may pursue happiness by stealing from others, thus infringing on these other people's pursuit of happiness.
So since it is impossible for us to respect other people's rights all of the time, how should we act? Should we act to ensure that our own life, liberty, and happiness are maximized before concerning ourselves with the rights of others? If we decide to respect the rights of others in addition to our own, what do we do when our possible future actions might respect certain rights over others, such as the freedom of one group over the happiness of another group? If there is a conflict amongst people's rights, should we always favor personal freedom over the pursuit of happiness? Or perhaps should we go the opposite way and always favor people's pursuit of happiness over freedom? Should we find some middle ground between these two extremes? Are there situations where some people's freedom or happiness should be chosen over the lives of others?
These are difficult questions, and to address them we need to look clearly at the nature of life, liberty, and happiness. It is clear that one must have life in order to have liberty or to pursue happiness. If one is dead then it is difficult to see how they can have any liberty or happiness. Though it is theoretically possible for there to be an afterlife, we shall assume that it is worse to die than to endure any degree of suffering or lack of liberty. Any person, if alive, can strive to overcome their suffering. If dead, they do not have this choice. So in light of this, I conclude that it is best to always respect people's right to life before all else. There is no amount of suffering or liberty that can measure up to the value of life itself.
Now, as for the question of what to do when the other two rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness conflict with each other, the best thing to do is to try to balance the two. When faced with choices where some will likely provide greater freedom for people at the likely expense of happiness or vice versa, we should try to guarantee a minimum for everyone. So we should figure out what minimum level of happiness and liberty everyone should have and try our hardest not to deny people this minimum. If we have the ability to provide resources to others and to ourselves that goes beyond this minimum, then this is great, but we should try not to use anyone as a means to an to an end.