Concept Clarifier in
separate window


Originally presented at THINK Meetup group May 1, 2017
but with subsequent changes based on criticism

Non-scriptural monotheism at its core is not a religion;  it's a philosophical position.  It is not revealed or made up;  it's figured out.  It's not for anyone who hasn't figured it out.  It figures that a Supreme Being is probable, which should be obvious once you understand Transcendental Argument for God (TAG), which I've linked to in the group pages.  But non-scriptural monotheism as a philosophical position says nothing about God's alleged attributes - all that omnipotence, omni-whatever stuff is unknowable, therefore not addressed, nor is his alleged intervention in the world.  NSM is not deism, but deism is a subset of it.  NSM is basic monotheism prior to any dogmatic knowledge claims or behavioral directives.  Explaining why I believe it takes more than 15 minutes, but here's a start.

What is the meaning of life?  is a nebulous question and therefore unanswerable.  You wouldn't know the answer if it were shouted in your face, because you don't know what criterion distinguishes the right answer from all the wrong answers that look right.
What is the value of life?  is the answerable version of it.

The value of life is... [ happiness minus unhappiness ] times duration of life.  Simple as that.  If at the end of your life that is a positive number, your life had positive value.  If negative, you would have been better off never existing.  Obvious.  Why don't people see it?  Because they don't want to see it, because emotion doesn't like it, because it threatens survival instinct, which emotion serves.  So emotion objects:

Why not something else other than happiness?  Well, something affects emotion that causes you to either like existing or dislike it.  I choose to call it happiness because I don't know of a better term.  Call it something else if you like.  The concept is all that matters.

Happiness is relative.  The term can be taken in the relative sense.  That's where happy means the same as less unhappy.  But when happy means liking existing, and unhappy means disliking it, that's the absolute sense.

Happiness is subjective.  Yes, it is experienced by a subject.  And what causes it is purely subjective.  But happiness itself remains the same objective concept regardless of anyone's opinion, including the subject's opinion.

Well I want other things beside happiness:  freedom, love, knowledge.  No.  The only reason you want those things is because you think they will make you happier.  If you have those things, and don't have happiness, you don't have what you want.   If you're happy without those things, you don't care about them.

Unhappy people sometimes cause great happiness to other people.  Yes, but that's irrelevant to the person having the life, unless it makes him happy enough to want to exist, during his life.

If emotion had any sense, it would say the hell with survival instinct.  Give me happiness or give me death.  But emotion is stupid.  It wants things that are ultimately contrary to its own best interest.

The next important question is not, Does God exist?.
The next question is, Does an afterlife exist?.  Mind may be to brain as software is to hard drive.  If so, an operating system with all of its modifications and stored data can be copied and pasted onto a new hard drive in a new computer.  An afterlife may exist with no God.  Scientists acknowledge eleven dimensions;  what's the problem?  A God may exist with no afterlife.  If no afterlife, God is irrelevant.  Duration of life is unknowable.  It could be this life alone,  this life plus an unknown number of afterlives,  or eternal life.

If this life is all there is, then the most sensible way to live it is to grab as much happiness as possible until it stops being fun, and then suicide out - unless you would have had a greater happiness to unhappiness ratio by spreading it out over a longer period of time.  Unfortunately, you don't know if that's going to work.  Your happiness level may nose dive at any time.  Or maybe it does work.  But no matter how long it has worked, you still don't know if it will keep on working.  So the safest bet is to grab now, and suicide out.
That's an obvious truth that afterlife-deniers try to ignore because of emotion.

If afterlife, then the most the most sensible way to live may or may not be different than it would have been with no afterlife.  It all depends on the nature of the afterlife.  If quality of life is based on luck, then it makes no difference.  If it's based on some criterion, that criterion could make a huge difference.

Speculation time:   If there are communities of people in more than one afterlife locations, then happiness will depend partly on which community you go to.  Different communities will have different happiness levels.  You may be unhappy where you're sent,  and/or the family you get,  and/or the body you get,  and/or the mind you get.  Suicide may or may not be an option.

The big question is justice.  If justice, then you will get what you deserve.  If injustice, then the place is run by the most competent lying cheating bastards.  Assuming an afterlife, do you think it is likely to be just or unjust, based on what you have seen of life so far?  If you think justice is probable, don't bother listening to me.  Cross me off as a cynic, and I'll cross you off as a willful denier of obvious reality.

If an unjust afterlife appears probable, are you likely to be happy in it?
Most people think it's a matter of your location in the hierarchy.  That doesn't work for me, because I took a good look at the top of the food chain, and realized that though I would like to have what they have, I don't want it enough to become what they became in order to get it and keep it.  You can't get what you want, if the effort to get it makes you something you don't want to be.  If there's justice, it's better to be Spartacus than Crassus.  If not, I'd still rather be dead than Crassus, or any person who rises to the top of his society by doing immoral things, because I can't possibly be happy while knowing that I don't deserve it.  If you are otherwise, don't bother listening to me.  Cross me off as a damn fool, and I'll cross you off as something I want to get far away from.

What if afterlife quality is based on believing some religion?  Then if you believe the right one, you get rewarded;  wrong one - you get punished - big time punishment, possibly eternal.  But whether it's eternal or not, it's still unjust - both the rewards and punishments are unjust, because they're based primarily on believing the right set of improbable things.  Only after that is the degree of reward/punishment based on willful actions.

It is not surprising that humans made up religions ruled by an unjust God.  This life is unjust.  But then religionists have to pretend to think their God is just, because their scriptures say he is, despite also saying he does obviously unjust things, and tells people to do unjust things.  So scripturalists have to redefine justice.  We all know what justice is when we're on jury duty.  But scripturalists have to suppress that when talking about God.  They have to convince themselves that any immoral act warrants big punishment, and that honestly believing the wrong scriptures warrants big punishment.  Christians have to convince themselves that punishment by proxy is somehow just.  Jews don't have to worry about that.  They just have to justify genocide in the Torah, while condemning it in the Holocaust.  In any case, nothing corrupts a person's sense of justice more than faith in an unjust God.

Side issue:  I don't need a bit of authority to say what I'm saying.
All of it can be figured out by critical thinking alone.

Justice and morality are not the same thing.
Morality is willful behavior that is objectively good, meaning relative to an objective standard.  Behavior is good if either it is judged to be good by an objective evaluator, or it increases the objective happiness level in the universe.  Atheists haven't figured out that 2nd one, but it's there for them when they do.  If a Supreme Being exists, he is necessarily the only objective evaluator, and is therefore necessarily moral.

Righteousness is denotatively the same concept as morality.  The only difference is connotative.

Justice is that which is deserved.  It exists as a concept, whether or not it's ever achieved in the universe.  It is not determined by a Supreme Evaluator.  It's based on arithmetic.  That's why it's represented by a balance scale.  You cause X amount of happiness, you deserve X amount of happiness in return.  There are qualifiers, but that's the basic concept.  Fairness is relative justice.  If everyone in the company is cheated equally, that's fair relative to the company, but it's still unjust.

Religionists try to sweep justice under the rug of morality, and assert that since God is moral and justice is moral, therefore God is necessarily just.  And that's a formal fallacy - affirming the consequent.  The Supreme Being is necessarily moral - even if he tortures babies for fun, in which case morality becomes meaningless for all practical purposes.  Morality has meaning to created beings only if it affects their happiness level.  The Supreme Being is moral relative to his creation only if he creates more happiness than unhappiness.  And he's just only if he dispenses happiness and unhappiness proportionally to what is deserved.

Addressing faith:
There is no official definition of faith;  so unfortunately people can pretend it means whatever they want it to mean in the context in which they use it, and then equivocate at will.  Usually faith is synonymous with belief.  As such it has the same ambiguity belief has.  It can mean probability judgment or willful trust.  As probability judgment, faith implies a deviation from straight epistemic judgment to a probability judgment altered by emotion.  That emotion is usually optimism or fear of authority.  Once you fear authority, you may let authority redefine faith for you, resulting in some really stupid thinking.
There is no substance of things hoped for until those things arrive, which they may never.
And faith is not evidence of anything, but its own existence.
Faith at its best is inductive reasoning based on data selected by emotion.
Faith at its worst is assumption based on emotion.
Faith is beneficial to people who need it to keep them out of depression or despair, or the kind of nihilism where you slide into criminal values.
It is not beneficial to people who are sufficiently content with life, and behave morally without it.
It is also not beneficial to people who place that faith in an unjust God who tells them to do unjust things.
Assuming a God who created minds for a purpose, which is more likely?
1.  He created minds to live by faith in what he tells them.  But it's not at all clear what he tells them;  and if they guess wrong they get punished, after it's too late to change their minds.
2.  He created minds to figure things out, and to use faith only as a safety net to fall back on when they can't figure things out.
It depends on whether or not God is just;  doesn't it?
If you must have faith, don't have faith that God is just.  Place your faith in a just God; and figure out the difference.

Addressing religion:
Assuming a God to whom we are accountable, then any religion is "Godly" which takes a mind closer to the will of God than it would have been otherwise.  The same religion is unGodly relative to any mind that is already beyond it.  Godliness is relative to minds, and unrelated to correctness.  The most correct religion may or may not be Godly relative to any mind or set of minds.  For both Godliness and correctness, mental evolution necessitates religious evolution.  Any religion can serve a purpose to its target audience, and then go obsolete once they evolve beyond it.

Addressing scripture:
What is true of religion is generally true of scripture.  Scripture-based religions cannot keep up with the changing moral needs of an evolving world.  I can believe all scripture is sanctioned by God, and is profitable as a record of good ideas often made obsolete by better ones, and bad ideas worthy of note lest they be revived.  Scriptures are to their respective gods as manuals are to computer applications, except that they don't teach you how to operate him;  they teach you how to be operated by him.  At first, the manual is helpful.  But the more experience you have with the application, the less you need the manual.  Eventually you know the application better than the writers of the manual, and you can see its errors.  But Bibiliolators don't want to see its errors because they don't want to be operated by God; they just want the appearance of it, so they deify the manual.
Scripture is correctly interpreted by logic and common sense - not by faith.  Faith seekers interpret scripture so as to make it say what they want it to say.  Truth seekers interpret scripture so as to determine what it says and why it says it.

Addressing Christianity:
Assuming a God to whom we are accountable, I can believe he inspired the pragmatically essential parts of Christianity, for the sake of those who know they deserve punishment - or believe it.  Christianity keeps them out of nihilism or despair.   But then he couldn't restrain their egos from claiming everyone deserves punishment.

Still, I can even believe God inspired the stupid parts of Christianity.  If you wanted to create honest respectable people who will admit what they honestly think and feel despite fear of punishment for doing so, how would you go about it?  You could threaten them with torture if they don't pretend to believe what you tell them to believe.  Of course, God wouldn't have to inspire it at all.  He could just sit back and let them create that religion by themselves.

Assuming the Christian Heaven exists, do you still have free will in it?  Yes, but nobody does bad stuff.  Really?  Why not?  If you are forgiven as you forgive others, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the way to beat the system is to cheat more than you are cheated.  If you steal $10. and you get $1. stolen from you, and everyone is forgiven, you just made a $9. profit.  Like they don't know that in Heaven?
Or are they no longer forgiven?  If they're no longer forgiven, then they have to learn to not do bad stuff by being punished for doing bad stuff.  If God could create free will creatures who are somehow magically good, he would have had no reason to create this world at all.  If minds exist for a purpose, part of that purpose must be to learn to overcome the forces that would make them insane, including corruptions of morality and justice.

We all deserve to live with others of our own ethical kind:  e.g. honest with honest, liars with liars, cheaters with cheaters.  But we may or may not deserve to live with others of our own ideological kind, depending on the ideology.  Truth seekers deserve to live with truth seekers;  game players with game players.  But bigots don't deserve to live with fellow bigots.  They deserve to live on the receiving end of their bigotry, and reap the consequences of their ideology.  Those who honestly believe that a particular kind of oppression is just or moral deserve to live on the receiving end of that oppression, to see if they still believe that ideology.  People who act contrary to their own moral judgment deserve retributive punishment.  People who make honest errors of moral judgment do not deserve retributive punishment, but they deserve correction, even when that correction is punitive.

Grace is unmerited favor.  If you want unmerited favor, then you deserve to live with others who also want unmerited favor, until you learn that you don't like living with forgiven scumbags.  You want to live with ethical people.  Ethical people want only what they deserve.  And the only way to get to where they are is to ask for what you deserve.  You don't get rewarded by grace in justice-land;  you get rewarded by proving worthy of it.

I don't even want undeserved love.  If I get justice, I will get whatever love I deserve, and that's all I want.  I don't want to be loved by an unjust God, who loves you proportionally to how much you promote his unjust agenda.  Maybe you have to go to Heaven to learn that.  I learned it here, thanks to Jesus for showing me that I'd rather be dead than spend another life, much less eternity, with a bunch of Christians - or any kind of scripturalists - or antitheists, because though you may start as truth seekers, you all reach a copout point, at which you see new data that doesn't fit your worldview, but you figure you've invested too much to start over.  You abandon either logic or common sense probability judgment to cover up flaws in your chosen paradigm.  Right there you change from truth seeker to faith seeker and truth obstructor and game player.  You embrace either nihilism or injustice, while redefining those terms in order to deny it.  You know your thesis is crap, but at least it's better than the antithesis.  And there is no synthesis with any social support.  Been you;  done you;  moved on.  To a truth seeker, social support is irrelevant at best.

Non-scriptural monotheism is not only the next dialectic synthesis, it's also the most philosophically stable worldview.
There is no rational argument against non-scriptural monotheism.  I can defeat any attacker, theist or atheist, even if he's smarter than I am, because NSM is as unassailable as a worldview can get.  It has all of the philosophical arguments for a Supreme Being, none of the scriptural or rational absurdities, and not a single assertion that isn't more sensible than anything contrary to it.

Now my particular version of NSM is assailable, because I have added religious baggage, which is not necessarily true.  A Supreme Being does not logically imply a God who cares about us, or to whom we are accountable.  But I'm choosing to bet that one exists, and that he is just, despite perceived evidence to the contrary, simply because it's my only chance of getting to worthwhile life.  If a slim chance of winning is your only chance of winning, it is rational to bet on it.  Pascal was on the right track.  But he stopped short and sold out to the religion of his culture rather than take his logic it to its conclusion, which is - bet your life on the necessary preconditions of worthwhile life.  If justice is one of those preconditions, bet on it - despite perceived odds.

Now prayer is not a necessary precondition, but it doesn't cost much, so I've chosen to bet on it anyway - some of it - mostly when you ask God to do something he already wanted to do, but was waiting for you to ask - such as praying for correction of errors.  After nearly 50 years of testing that prayer, I still don't know if it works.  I have expserienced a whole lot of what appears to be error correction.  But for all I know, that may be a purely psychological interpretation of the data.  All of the obviously correct stuff I've said so far may be evidence of error correction.  But maybe I would have figured out that stuff anyway.  In either case, I am confident enough to recommend praying for correction of errors to any sentient mind in the universe, regardless of belief.  But if it causes stress, I also recommend retracting it occasionally, because stress can damage you.

I do what I think God wants me to do.  But I don't advise you to do that until you serve a just God - or the illusion of one;  it really doesn't matter - and until you learn critical thinking.  A sapient being has no behavioral guide more reliable than critical thinking, which is that process by which flaws are found in propositions and sets of them.  The basic and most important part of critical thinking is logic.  Logic is not a tool to pick up when convenient.  Assuming a God, logic is an eternal part of him.  Assuming no God, logic is just the way things are.  Either way, it is the set of laws governing all abstract reality, specifically that set of statements which is universally and eternally true of the relationships of variables.  That which is logical is not necessarily true, but that which is illogical is necessarily false.  In addition to logic are other epistemic principles and axioms.  The more critical thinking you learn, the more you can figure out.  People stop learning it because it shows them things their emotions don't want to see.  Such as...

There is only one universal moral principle that's always applicable: Do what you think you should do.  After you've done something you thought you should do, you may discover that you shouldn't have done it.  The first is moral should, which is based on intent.  The second is pragmatic should, which is based on results.  If you think an act will cause moral results, you morally should do it.  Afterwards, if it looks like a mistake, you should not make the same mistake again.  If you start by making small errors, you're less likely to make big errors later.  If you don't do what you think you morally should do, then you deserve punishment.  If you do what you think you morally should do, but you're wrong, then you don't deserve retributive punishment, but you deserve correction, even if that correction is punitive.  Retributive punishment can be either whatever it takes to satisfy the offended party, or unhappiness of a given intensity for a given duration.  Corrective punishment is whatever it takes to correct the error.

There are also general moral principles.  Children should generally do what their parents tell them.  But if that's all they do, the only morality they will learn is what they observe from the behavior of others.  Morality, like everything else, is learned by observation and reason, not by believing authority.  If you believe me when I say that, you don't learn it until you reason it out.

A scriptural religionists should cautiously experiment with obedience to his scriptures, to see if he gets the results his authority says he will get.  If you do that, and don't get those results, your scriptures are unreliable, even if they say true things elsewhere.  If a scripturalist believes his scriptures to be more reliable than his God-given sense of morality, and he's wrong, he does not deserve punishment.  But he deserves correction, even if it's punitive.

A monotheist, whether scriptural or not, should cautiously experiment with obedience to what he believes his God wants him to do, not only for the sake of obedience, but for the sake of knowledge.  If you don't act on what you believe, you will never know if what you believe is true.  If you do act on what you believe, you may find out if it's true, and you may not, but you will definitely find out if you still believe it, after you see what comes of acting on it.  That knowledge comes only to the obedient experimenter.  If you experiment, you will find that many of your theories about what should be true are not true.

You atheists are not likely to experiment with anything beyond logic and common sense, and if this life is all there is, that's all you need - to survive and procreate.  But if there is no Supreme Being, or there is one, but he's not just, then all life is insane for even trying to survive, much less procreate, in a world where unhappiness outweighs happiness.
That's another obvious truth that emotion tries to ignore.

If you're a truth seeking critical thinker, I want to sell you non-scriptural monotheism - at least as a philosophical position, not to make you happier, but to make the world happier, which it would be without moral nihilism, which is logically implied by atheism, or the stupid, unjust, and immoral doctrines imposed by scripture.  Now scripture also says sensible things, but we would believe those things anyway without scripture.  The world will be happiest when people accept the rational possibility of a just afterlife.  A rational possibility requires no faith at all, until you start betting on it.

I figure atheists will be the easiest converts.  You atheists already have the sense to not be afraid of the big bad unjust God.  That puts you way ahead of the pack.  You have the moral sense to not let dead ancestors tell you what is moral.  You just don't have a reason to think morality is anything more than majority opinion.  Once you learn enough critical thinking to see that science can't answer philosophical questions, and faith in science is just another faith, you should see the wisdom of TAG and NSM - as a philosophical position, without the religious "if this" and "if that" to object to.
But I don't much care about converting today's atheists, because in the past 40 years, the immorality of theists has provoked atheists to a moral backlash.  You guys are already motivated to behave morally just to prove you don't need an objective standard.  It feels good to prove it, and to outmoral the moralists.  But, if you behave morally because it feels good, you will behave morally only when it feels good - unless you fear bad consequences.  If an immoral act doesn't feel bad, and looks like it will make you happier in this life, and you think there's no justice after death, you have no reason not to do it.  While morality & self interest are disunited, individuals will be in conflict, and in conflict with their communities, and communities will be in conflict with other communities.  Morality & self interest can be united only in a just system, which requires a just afterlife.
If no afterlife, then try to get what you want.
If afterlife, then try to become worthy of what you want.
But anyway, I have no illusions of saving your soul.  If God is just, he'll give everybody what they deserve whether they believe he exists or not.

If you're a scripturalist, going non-scriptural does not mean you have to trash all your dogmas.  You can keep the ones you like.  I know that sounds Obama, but seriously, you can become a non-scriptural Jew, Christian, or Muslim and continue serving your present God, and believing the doctrines you honestly believe, but without the pressure to believe things you were never designed to believe, or to play hermeneutic hopscotch in effort to justify those beliefs.  All that will fall away naturally.

The people I most want to convert are Muslims, because the radical right wing of Islam can destroy our whole civilization.  Muslims are not likely to convert out of Islam, but the sensible ones already want to convert from an unjust Allah to a just Allah, which they could do with their prayers alone, if they didn't have to rationalize around the stuff in Quran and Hadith and the rest of it.

If a religionist kills people who don't believe his religion because he believes his Creator wants him to, that religionist is not a bad person;  He is doing what he thinks he should do;  and that's as good as anyone can get.  He is a theologically insane person serving a bad God.  In this world he deserves to be killed.  In an afterlife, he does not deserve punishment, but he deserves correction, even if it's punitive.  If he believes killing his theological opponents to be moral, then he deserves to live in a world where other religionist believe the same of him, until he figures out his error.  That error may be an erroneous interpretation of scripture, and it may be a perfectly rational interpretation of erroneous scripture.  NSM becomes more reasonable with every suicide bomber.

One thing I don't want to do is convert anyone on false pretenses, as I was converted to Christianity.  Love joy peace?  Bullshit.  Fills that spiritual void?  Bullshit.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?  Maybe in an afterlife, but I didn't see it in 4 decades of Christianity, or since then.  You can't be happy and right in the land of the wrong.  I'm proud to have been the first to recognize NSM as the next major upgrade in theological evolution, but that pride hasn't made me happy.  I could still die without ever passing on the baton.  Fortunately, critical thinking is on the rise, thanks mainly to social media for making fools look like fools.  Therefore, NSM is on the horizon, and on the way, with or without me.

So if you're a been-there-done-that, but remain in an unsatisfactory position only because it looks like the best of bad alternatives, think again.  Pioneers are not happy people.  But there is much satisfaction in knowing that you are providing useful data to the human species, and facilitating the evolution of it, and that you are as right as you're able to get, so if there is justice you will win, and if there is a God worth serving, you are serving him.