(In die volgende gesprek probeer ek verstaan hoe my gespreksgenoot, Smithy, oor morele waardes dink. Dit is duidelik dat Smithy dink dat morele waardes altyd relatief is tot die bepaalde samelewing waarin jy jouself bevind, m.a.w. dat ‘n verstaan van wat “reg” en “verkeerd” is, deur sosio-kulturele faktore bepaal word. In effek beteken dit dat ‘n mens nooit kan sê dat enige spesifieke daad (soos bv. verkragting) wérklik moreel verkeerd is nie, want dit is altyd moontlik dat daar ‘n samelewing kan bestaan, waarin daar goeie redes bestaan vir waarom daardie daad aanvaarbaar is. Maar stem so ‘n verstaan van moraliteit werklik ooreen met die mens se morele intuïsie en ervaring dat daar sekere dinge is wat werklik en onbetwisbaar verkeerd is, ongeag in watter samelewing jy woon of wie ookal dit as aanvaarbaar sou beskou? -Udo)
Smithy: I was rethinking my faith at the beginning of this year. I came to the conclusion that I do believe that God exists. But I don’t believe and really don’t have a need to believe in any specific religion. Please understand and accept that because I don’t appreciate you trying to make me think about questions that you think are important.
Udo: It seems that you feel threatened when I talk about God?
Smithy: Not really threatened, but when you talk about God, you talk about the God of the Bible. I don’t believe that the Bible or any other religious books are real. When I think about God, I feel a joy inside me, but I also feel that he/she is much more than a human mind can realize. In fact, he/she is so much more than we can understand, that I’m unable to know anything about him/her.
Sometime ago I read in a newspaper about some of the things that the world’s physicists are working on and I had difficulty to understand the intricacy of it all. We know so little about our planet and the universe. I can’t believe that religious books written thousands of years ago, contain all that God wants us to know.
I don’t have trouble believing that God exists. I just can’t believe that any one religion is true.
Udo: I have a very hard time understanding this attitude of yours: that you have made up your mind and that you will not allow anything to challenge your thinking.
Smithy: What can I say? This is what I think and this is how I believe. Why should I let my thinking be challenged and why should I not have made up my mind? Of course, you can tell me how you believe things are, but you must respect how I see things. Otherwise you are saying that my thinking is wrong and yours is right.
Udo: I can fully recognise the possibility that I may be wrong in my own beliefs. That is why I want others to ask questions about my beliefs, so that I can think about whether they are true or not. If they are not true, then I want to know it and then I will have to change what I believe simply because it is not the way the world really is. But what I hear you say (and I mean no disrespect) is that you are not interested in the possibility that someone might show that you are wrong in what you believe. It seems that you think that your belief is based on what you feel personally and that it really does not matter if it is actually true. I can accept this, but I really cannot understand this way of thinking.
Smithy: But this is the difference between a believer and a non-believer. I don’t really have a need to think about the things that are so important to you.
Udo: We all, believers and non-believers, ask the same type of questions that are important to all human beings. Things like: where does everything come from, why am I here, what is the meaning of life, how should I live my life, what happens when I die, etc, etc. These are important questions and what you believe about God (whether he exists, and if he does, then what kind of God he is) will make a huge difference in how you answer these kinds of questions. How you think reality really is, will influence your life in very specific way. Don’t you agree?
Smithy: I have been thinking about those questions and I have answers. Of course I don’t know if they are right, but I think that is the problem of being human.
Udo: To say you don’t know if they are right shouldn’t stop you from trying your best to find out if they are right. It seems you think that you can’t know if they are right. But how do you know that you can’t know?
Smithy: Well, scientists find out more about nature and life in general all the time. I believe that God is the one who has created everything in this amazing universe, but I don’t know what he/she is doing now…maybe taking a nap?
No really, how can we know if this is the only universe and if it is, how can we know how many universe there has been before this one?
How can we know what the purpose of the universe is? An interesting theory is that all living things exist only as vehicles for spreading their DNA and that this is the real purpose of life: to make it possible for our DNA to spread and change.
Udo: When it comes to the meaning and purpose of life, it is impossible to ask of science to tell us what that is. Science allows us to discover many wonderful things, but it cannot tell us how we should live or whether life has any purpose. It can only tell us how things are, not how they should be. If nature is all there is, then life has no ultimate meaning. Then we are just biological machines who spread our genes. And then it really doesn’t matter how we spread our genes and what we do with our lives – then there really is no ultimately right and wrong, and then we can really do just as, when and what we feels like doing.
Smithy: Why do you say that we are JUST biological machines? Why is it such a bad thing? Humans are part of nature. Energy doesn’t disappear, it only changes its form. And we have societies with its laws and common beliefs about how people should behave and how to live. Human beings are just a cultural product.
Udo: If, for example, our understanding of what is right and wrong is just a cultural product, then nothing is REALLY right or wrong. It will simply be wrong or right because my specific society says so. But why must I accept what my society tells me is right or wrong. My society might not like what I’m doing, but if I am merely culturally conditioned in a certain way, then it doesn’t really make it right or wrong. My society might not like it that I murder my neighbour, and therefore have made a law against murder. But is it really wrong to murder my neighbour in such a society? Was the Nazi society wrong in killing the Jews? But if they were, what makes one society better able to judge another society’s cultural conditioning?
Smithy: I don’t believe there really is an ultimate right and wrong. Every society has its own laws and those laws can also change. I don’t know whether it is really right to kill other humans or other animals. I only know that these things are wrong because that is how I have been told and our laws affirm it. Sometimes, for example, I think it is right to save every newborn baby whenever possible. But in saying this I know that in nature I would have been dead a long time ago, because of my bad eyesight and because I was so ill as a child.
Udo: Do you, for example, believe it is right in any society or at anytime to torture little babies? Can you honestly say you think that perhaps it might be right to do something like this? If you don’t believe it is right, then you believe at least one thing that is ultimately wrong. I think there are many such examples of things that are ultimately wrong. But again, they can only be ultimately wrong, when our sense of morality is not based on what is only ‘in nature’. For nature can never tell us if something is ultimately right or wrong.
Smithy: But from nature I don’t know of any animal that would torture others. I know that cats play with their prey, but are they really torturing it?
Udo: Yes, I agree: Animals do not act morally or immorally. But what makes it morally wrong for a human being to torture a little baby if there is no ultimately wrong or right? In this case, why would we be acting any differently from a cat that merely “plays” with its prey and ends up killing it? Why would it be morally wrong to do that with a little baby?
Smithy: I think it is only a recent idea to value new life (like babies) so much. Earlier it was common to kill a new born baby if you didn’t want it for some reason. I think it is still common in some countries.
I think where we as people differ most from animals are that we are self-aware. Therefore we can have empathy with others, knowing that they feel the same pain that we do. Therefore, it is wrong to torture, because I’m able to understand the pain of another person. People, who are able to hurt other people without regard for them, lack this ability.
Udo: So you think that if you lived in another culture in another era that it would not have been wrong to kill or torture your own child? And what difference does it make if I’m aware of another’s pain for it to be wrong to hurt them? It might be that I lack the ability to have empathy with another person, but the question remains the same: empathy might cause me to realise that someone else will be hurt, but why would this fact make it wrong for me to hurt another person?
Smithy: I believe that I’m very much the product of the culture I live in. I believe that if I had lived in another kind of environment where it would be okay to torture babies, I would have accepted that. Of course, there would have to be some kind of reason why people would do so.
Udo: Can you think of any reason that would make it acceptable to torture a baby? Or to rape someone for that matter?
Smithy: Every society has its own values and laws. I learn them by living in that society. Because I don’t live in that kind of society, I can’t know how they would justify their values and laws. There has been and still are societies where women don’t have any value. Women are just property and they can be used for their owners’ wishes.
Our natural environment is nature. Therefore I always try to think how things would function there. There is an ultimate right and wrong when we think of humans living in nature, in our natural environment. To find out what is right and wrong for us, we need to know how human beings would behave in such a natural environment.
Udo: I must say I find it difficult to believe that you are unwilling to admit that torturing a baby or raping someone, would be ultimately wrong under any circumstances or any society.
Smithy: Well, I can only promise that I’ll think about it.
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