thank god or thank goodness?
1/22/2007 07:06:00 PM
I hope I never thank God for Daniel Dennett's death, and I am glad that his life was spared. Being a theists, I hope one day that he will see God and will convert, but I can only hope. I can imagine that he'd want the same for me concerning atheism.

It was interesting to read an atheist's perspective on how one views medicine and healing. Surprisingly, it wasn't all that different from the way Christians see it, save one thing: God. And it is on that matter I have been thinking about.

One thing that Dennett notes in the article is how "good intentions" are often used as the standard in view of God, but not the one that is applied to man. He thinks that if a doctor's work was just "good intentions" by theist standards, then the doctor would have a lot more room for error. He says:

…if you have good intentions, and are trying to do what (God says) is right, that is all anyone can ask. Not so in medicine! If you are wrong--especially if you should have known better--your good intentions count for almost nothing...In other words, whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does!

I think that Dennett misevaluates Christianity. It is true that God wants our intentions to be pure, but it also true that God wants our conduct and effort to be pure too. People are filled with good intentions, but often fail to act on those intentions. This is not at all what God wants. I am sure that Ted Haggart had all the intentions in the world to not do what he did, but he did it anyways, and now has become yet another moral failure in the eyes of Christianity and secular world alike. Intentions weren't good enough here. What if this had been the pope? The ramifications would have been even larger. It is of the utmost importance that Christians and Christian leaders especially maintain impeccable behavior to not discredit themselves or Christianity. When Bill Clinton failed morally, it didn’t deface the faith as much as when someone like Jim Baker did.

On the same issue, God wants more than good intentions in the work place and work of the church. What if Christian charities all over world who deliver aid to the people who need it desperately decided that it was just good enough to have the intent to help people? Nobody would ever get helped. But the intentions have manifested themselves and today many people receive aid because of Christian charities. And what about the doctors who work for these charities? These people often sacrifice potentially lucrative careers to live in less than acceptable living conditions to help people. Such sacrifice goes beyond mere intentions to showing people an example of what Christ preached: complete selflessness without any intent other than love. So essentially, religion demands excellence in two areas: work and morality. This is a far cry from what atheism would demand.

On thankfulness, Dennett thanks goodness, rather than God for all that he has received. Dennett sees goodness as those who have helped keep him alive for his life. He says:

I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

I am in complete agreement with Dennett on this statement, but as a theist I would take it a step further. First, I would thank God for goodness. From whence does goodness come? As a theist, I believe God, but where does an atheists get the concept of goodness from? C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity writes about how he perceived there to be so much evil in the world, but in doing so, he realized that he could have no perception of moral law without a moral law giver, namely God. How can Dennett know anything about goodness apart from someone who defines goodness? If it is subject to himself, then as an individual I could certainly think that murder is a goodness. But we know it is not, and on that I thank God for the goodness and justice he gives us.

Second, I don't have to be an atheist to thank goodness. Dennett spells out those who he thanks, and I too and grateful to those who have helped keep me alive all these years. I can thank the doctors, nurses, orderlies, security guards, insurance agents, x-ray technicians, and so many other. I can thank religion, the very institution that is so often criticized for stifling the growth of reason is the very institution that preserved learning while the Europe was in chaos, from which medicine was born. And on top of that, I can thank God. So which heart of gratitude is ultimately a greater? If I am thanking God and people, then presumably I would have more gratitude than those who just thanked people. I can also thank God for life, the air I breathe, the planet on which I live, the food that the planet provides me with. Can an atheist thank the ground for food? Can an atheist thank anything for life? Certainly not. It is quite humbling to realize that there is so much that we take for granted, and I can't help but think that these things are a gift, not an accident--something I can be infinitely grateful for.

Third, Dennett holds that we should repay goodness for what goodness has given us, but he also maintains that trying to repay God is ludicrous:
The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness--by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come...Or you can thank God--but the very idea of repaying God is ludicrous. What could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you?

Dennett is right on when he says we can't repay God, but I don't think it is ludicrous. What seems more humbling is realizing that I can't repay what has given to me: life, air, food, and so much more. This exponentially increases my gratitude. It is in that gratitude that love is born. It is fundamentally different than the way Dennett see it. He sees it as a give and take economy--what one takes out he or she should put back in. A person with that perspective might feel that they have given more than they have taken, and hav a sense of entitlement. The Christian worldview is all give, because we realize that we have been given so much more than we could ever repay. It is out of a heart of gratitude that love is born. So which is true altruism? Because of how Christians perceive blessing, it makes one more grateful and more generous than atheism, which is more altruistic.

One final thought: What if Dennett had died? Can anyone thank goodness for that? Probably not, but one can at least thank God when someone who is a Christian departs. For a Christian, life doesn't end at the grave but continues on and for that hope that I can and will be eternally thankful.

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