Like it or not, we are all worshippers
Question: When was the last time you used the word ‘noble’?
Ummm…having a hard time remembering? Me too. “No bull” doesn’t count, by the way.
‘Noble’ is not a word we throw around much today, and not simply because, at least here in the United States, we don’t confer on anyone a title of nobility. I wonder if perhaps we don’t value the concept of being noble like we used to.
Noble: having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals
You probably know this, but when you google a word you can access a graph that shows the incidents of a word’s use over time. Here’s how the usage of ‘noble’ has dropped over the last 200 years.
I point this out because I’ve been pondering a statement I read recently about worship, and how what or whom we worship impacts our own character.
“The truth is that our supreme fulfillment, as moral beings made in God’s image, is found and expressed in actively worshipping our holy Creator. When the object of homage is noble, the rendering of homage is ennobling; but when the objects of homage are not noble, the rendering of it is degrading… [But] it is impossible to worship nothing: we humans are worshipping creatures, and if we do not worship the God who made us, we shall inevitably worship someone or something else.”(1)
What the authors are asserting here is not a new idea; it goes back to the Old Testament.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands….Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. ~ Psalm 115:4, 8
And more recently, 19th century American essayist, lecturer, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying,
“The Gods we worship write their names on our faces; be sure of that. And a man will worship something … That which dominates will determine his life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”
We become what we worship, or at least we grow to resemble it. Is whom or what you worship ennobling you or degrading you?
The word worship is a mashup of worth-ship…it’s what we ascribe the greatest worth to. So if one’s goal is to make as much money as possible, if that’s what’s most important to him, he’s worshipping the almighty dollar. Such an object of worship is ignoble and will always degrade its worshippers.
If humanity is deemed of greatest worth, as an uncreated happenstance of purpose-lacking time and chance, then we are worshipping a happy accident. Something that did not have to be, but is contingent on random mutations and the survival of the fittest is not a noble object of worship.
And if your god loves only those who obey him and commands conversion under threat of death, he is not noble and rendering him worship will result in you becoming ruthless and dictatorial as well.
But if your God is greater than you, if he is perfect in holiness, righteousness, compassion, patience, mercy, kindness, and love, then true worship of him will mold and shape you into his likeness.
If all this is true, doesn’t it make sense to foster and promote the kind of worship that will result in we worshippers becoming more noble ourselves?
(1) Thomas Howard and J.I. Packer, Christianity: The True Humanism (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1984), 146.
Interesting post. Have you, however, ever seen the moral autonomy argument? (adapted from James Randy’s God and Moral Autonomy)
1. We are moral agents with moral autonomy and a responsibility to exercise it
2. Abandoning one’s moral autonomy is immoral
3. God is a perfectly good being worthy of worship
4. Worship is the recognition of one as inferior and subordinate to a greater being
5. Worship of God includes the total abandonment of one’s moral autonomy in favour of blind, non-questioning obedience of God
6 This is immoral, unless we can continuously be sure the being we are worshipping is (perfectly) good, and that the being we are worshipping is indeed a (or the) “God”
7. To continuously evaluate whether a being is good requires moral judgment, which requires moral autonomy
8. Therefore it is not possible to continuously evaluate if a being is good while also worshipping it
9. Therefore, worshipping necessarily requires abandoning one’s moral responsibility, which is immoral
10. Therefore, no being is worthy of worship
11. Therefore, God does not exist
In short – worship makes it impossible to know the object of worship is good, and a non-good object of worship isn’t worthy of worship. It is said that it can be known that God is good, and that God is worthy of worship, which is a contradiction, which cannot exist.
There are a few flaws in this argument that I can see, John. And probably others that I can’t. But let me just ask you this: By whose or what standard is “abandoning one’s moral autonomy immoral”?
By the standard, I would presume, that one needs to be autonomous to exercise judgement.
John, I think you can see that this is not a satisfactory answer. A moral standard needs a foundation and an explanation for its existence. Do you have those for this moral autonomy argument?
All standards have a foundation. They stand against the things we are repulsed by. 30 years of extensive behavioural studies in primates has revealed a highly developed sense of fair play. It’s an evolved trait.
If it is an evolved trait, then it has nothing to do with objectivity and could have evolved differently. And no reason why you can judge anyone who says that he had some mutation in his biological ancestry that leads him to desire and value torturing others or that he simply chooses to act against his genetic disposition.
Sadly, there are people who do indeed enjoy torturing.
And that’s about all you can say about it on a worldview that denies an objective morality grounded on a transcendent moral lawgiver.
Well, that actually disproves your objective morality model. Did you miss that? 🙂
How so, friend?
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By the point that some people actually find pleasure in torturing. Those people break the concept of something being wholly objective.
But anyway, we can observe (and have observed) a burgeoning of empathetic thought directly proportional to neurological processing power. It’s really not complicated, although i do appreciate that this particular argument is the last bastion of the apologist trying to shoehorn a god into the equation.
And thanks for calling me, friend. I like that, and feel the same way back.
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I like that we can be congenial also. 😊 So then torturing is acceptable for those people who find it desirable?