The End Justifies the Means

This is going to be one of those topics I don’t like writing about because it’s going to upset nearly everyone who reads this blog (if there is anyone left).  But the purpose of this weblog is to inspire people who are interested in finding truth, and what I am about to say is an important part of finding it.

About four years ago, I attended a bad church.  The pastor of this church had a problem – he constantly lied (about anything and everything) and plagiarized.  When my friend confronted him on this problem, he responded with a lot of self-centered dribble, but one comment he made stuck out in my memory:  he simply asked my friend how many people he had personally led to the Lord.  What was he implying?  That his tactics, although unorthodox, lead people to Christ.  This excuses his sermon plagiarizing. This somehow excuses his constant lying.  In other words, the end justifies the means.  I couldn’t believe I was hearing this from a Christian pastor.  My rosy-colored view of the Christian “church” began to slowly fall apart from that point on.  But this wasn’t the first time I saw this.

When I was attended collage, I decided to take a religion course.  I absolutely loved it.  I remember one day our professor introducing us to a feminist bible scholar, and had us read and comment on her take on the Genesis account of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  Basically, she blamed the entire thing on Adam and completely vindicated Eve.  I remember at the time liking the fact that at least someone was saying that Adam was at fault, contrary to teaching I had heard prior saying it was all Eve’s fault because women do not possess spiritual discernment (an opinion I completely disagree with, by the way).  Unfortunately, her arguments were terrible (as is characteristic of most bible interpretation) and intellectually dishonest.  I remember telling our professor this, who was probably a feminist herself, and she told me that they were in fact terrible, but logical argument and intellectual honesty were not the main point of the feminist writing on most subjects.  What trumped those things was getting people’s attention through any means necessary, which manifested itself in this case in deliberately misguided logic that lead to a deliberately wrong interpretation of a biblical account.  For what purpose?  According to my professor (and not me), to get people’s attention.  I guess that means to anger men, and make women who are oppressed cheer.  In the end, you are guaranteed an emotional reaction from an audience that cares about the bible.  An emotional reaction, either positive or negative, seeds itself in people’s minds like it did mine – and they will walk away remembering what was said.  I guess the theory is that this kind of tactic used over time causes cultural change that benefits those who employ it.

After I left that bad church I talked about initially, I began to walk down a path similar to this feminist bible scholar.  I was very angry about the corruption of the Christian church, and it was personal because I had first-hand felt the brunt of it.  I went to another church that was in some ways even worse.  After I left that one,  I took a break from church for a while.  My hate and disgust for the church slowly grew stronger.  It was during this time that I  discovered something that was like a drug — reading  and writing about subjects harshly critical of the church.  The harsher the better.  I didn’t notice or care about the logic in the argument.  I began to argue with people in the same manner.  I didn’t care about the means, I cared about the ends.  What I loved about my slanted verbal debates, or the books and weblogs and essays I read, or the stuff I wrote on my own weblog and elsewhere, was that the final conclusion of the matter — that the Christian church was hopelessly and pervasively corrupt.  Non-christian organizations had more hope of moral underpinning than Christian ones.

It was this insatiable anger that drove me to start this weblog.  I needed to write to make sense of this belief system of mine in light of this new perspective I had acquired.  It drove me to seek out atheists and ex-religious people and see why they were angry (in some cases) at Christians, God, Christianity, or religion in general.  Now that I was a bad boy in a church-religious sense, I had no problem relating to others in the same situation, and having a great deal of empathy for them, more so than I would ever extend to a fellow Christian brother or sister.  Ironically, this proved to be a first step towards healing me from my anger.

While writing about my struggle to find truth, I realized one day that I had become what I had all along hated others for doing.  I was deeply employed in living out the mantra of the end justifies the means.  By this time, I had calmed down a little, but the same philosophy still guided my thinking and debating.  It hit me very hard: I was not too different from that pastor.  That piece-of-crap, worthless, stupid, arrogant, lying bastard.  So I thought at the time.  Now I can’t despise him so much for that failing of his anymore.  His failing had became my failing.  I don’t know what caused him to take the moral low road, but for me it was because I was hurt, and was very, very angry.

Intellectual life after this realization became internalized has been interesting.  I have since learned to detect ends justifies the means argument style when I see it.

A couple of years ago, I read an article in Newsweek called the “God Debate” between Sam Harris and Rick Warren.  (The full interview is available at Richard Dawkin’s website) I didn’t really care what Rick Warren though because I don’t like his philosophy or approach to Christianity.  I was interested in what Sam Harris had to say.  Then I caught him saying this in response to the moderator:

 

MODERATOR: Sam, the one thing that I find really troubling in your arguments is that I am guilty, to quote “The End of Faith,” of a “ludicrous obscenity” when I take my children to church. That is strong language, and it doesn’t exactly encourage dialogue.

 

HARRIS: To some degree the stridence of my writing is an effort to get people’s attention. But I can honestly defend the stridence because I think our situation is that urgent. I am terrified of what seems to me to be a bottleneck that civilization is passing through. On the one hand we have 21st-century disruptive technology proliferating, and on the other we have first-century superstition. A civilization is going to either pass through this bottleneck more or less intact or it won’t. And perhaps that fear sounds grandiose, but civilizations end. On any number of occasions, some generation has witnessed the ruination of everything they and their ancestors had built. What especially terrifies me about religious thinking is the expectation on the part of many that civilization is bound to end based on prophecy and its ending is going to be glorious.

Hey!! It’s the ends justifies the means tactic!!  He saying stuff that isn’t intellectually honest or true, but he’s trying to get people’s attention.  He can defend his tactic,  (to lie and deceive) but not his statements (lies and deception) because his mission is so important. I’m quite familiar with that.  I used it too.  I read the rest of Harris’ book, and it was filled with it.  He employed a lot of stereotyped descriptions of Christians to a degree that I wonder if he actually ever knew one personally.  I used to think stereotypically of atheists the same way until I started to read what they write and talk to them and got to know them personally.  I found out that they are immensely more complicated then my stereotypes.

At this point, I must mention a book that was often checked out in the library of my university.  It was very popular.  It was called “How to Lie with Statistics“.  It was popular then an still is now for a purpose.  It is an important convincing tool when the end justifies the means, to “appear” scientific and objective in our agenda-soaked arguments about our pet truth claims.  I would also like to point to Michael Crichton’s CalTech commencement address on how to lie with science as well.

So where is this all leading?  This is where I piss off everyone.

This leaves the person who is seeking truth with a problem.  If you are angry or have an emotionally-charged agenda because you have been hurt, you are going to have a hard time hearing or communicating anything truthful regardless of your worldview, Christian or Atheist or otherwise.  To a person trying to hear truth from people and organizations like these, I’m going to have to disbelieve most of what they claim to be true.  This is why I do not believe nearly anything that comes out of the gay/lesbian or feminist activist organizations.  I believe that these groups have something true and great to say (such as people who are homosexual or female are awesome people and in every way equal their counterparts and discrimination in any form against them is morally wrong), but besides that basic message, much of what else they say or try to prove is untrue.  Christian end-times organizations and their writings are most often wrong.  Truth claims by Atheist activist organizations (who have similar endeavors as Sam Harris has demonstrated) are untrue.  A lot of truth claims from the interpretation of news events by the media is slanted and untrue.  A lot of ecological /global warming activist initiatives are highly suspect.  In my limited experiences with Christian movements, such as the Charismatic, Emergent church, and Social Gospel movements (just to name a few), some/a lot of what they believe is based on poor logic because they have a greater goal in mind in which they are more passionate about than the foundational truths that underpin it – which could not possibly hold it up to the level of grandeur that they see it as having.  Most of what they say is untrue too.  I’m not trying to point fingers at the liberal/secular organizations. I’m trying to say that all emotionally-charged agenda organizations, no matter what the underlying world-view, have highly suspect truth claims.

So I guess we are left to deal with these people and organizations with a huge grain of salt.  Even though what they have to say is highly suspect, it is possible and really important for a person seeking the truth to read between the lines to hear them.  Behind the misinformation and deliberate lies, there are real people who have real hurts and real concerns that decided one day like me that deception and lying were the ways to make the world hear clearer what they had to say.  In my humble opinion and experience, only when we actually get to know the real people behind these movements personally does the truth of their causes become clear.  Aside from that, there is too much deception and misinformation to find much truth in these places except from small bits and pieces.  Please don’t think I am saying to form friendships solely for philosophic purposes.  I’m saying when the opportunity comes, don’t be shy to be friends with people who think very differently than you do.  Share life with them, cry with them, laugh with them, love them, encourage them.  Christians, atheists have a lot to say and are fascinating people.  Atheists, Christians are amazing people and have a lot to say too.

One might criticize me and say that all religion and Christianity fall into the category of the other movements I’ve mentioned. I would agree with you. Why am I still a Christian then? Because I decided long ago to go to the source, to God himself, and get to know him personally. Just like I did with a feminist friend, just like I did with a gay friend of mine, just like I did with a friend who was crazy about Christian end-times mythology. By knowing God personally, I was able to cut through all the human religious garbage and lies that people invented and instead found the truth from the source – from the Person that started that Movement in the first place.

    18 Responses to “The End Justifies the Means”

    1. Todd
      1

      Amen brother.

      I think Yoda said it best:
      “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

      Any individual or organization which promotes fear or anger is likely covering for a lack of reason, and usually attempting (consciously or otherwise) merely to justify their own fear, anger, and hate.

      I appreciate your honest thought disclosure, and I am happy to see that you have chosen the “red pill” in your quest for the truth, despite the uncomfortable reality that is exposed.

      So we are left with the question of healing the underlying pain that leads to these “ends justify the means” behaviors. In my experience, the only answer is “tough love”, which when used appropriately, consistently leads to true healing and justified self-esteem. The major hurtle to implementing such an approach is reliving our society of the burdens of guilt that are heaped upon us by those uncomfortable with our successes.

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      2
      Author Comment

      Todd!
      Great to see you hear again. I’m with you in the quest to “relieve the burdens of guilt” from a society that has an unjust agenda against it. The danger I’m constantly facing is jumping to conclusions and throwing the baby out with the bathwater regarding these agendas. The people behind them may have reasons for being angry — and as tempting as it is to criticize them, I’ll bet there is something real there, although quite buried.

      What I really find ironic and ugly is that many of these movements are not happy with their agenda being adopted as status quo, but seem to have a vindictive streak to them. They are angry and want to hurt everyone not like them or behind them through writing, pressure, and public policy. This seems true of the more extremist feminist, gay/lesbian and atheist movements. I’m very much against this, and luckily, I’ve found a lot of sensible people in these movements who don’t agree with this vindictive approach, although it seems they sometimes turn a blind eye to it and don’t outright condemn it.

      Reply to this comment.
    3. cheeky
      3
    4. Jonathan
      4
      Author Comment
    5. William Barr
      5

      Just wanted to say thanks for this entry from 2009, especially since I just found it a google search in 2011. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences as woven around the theme of the ends (not) justifying means.

      I was curious, if you have a church you go to now, and if so, what about the people or common bond amongst this group keeps you there now ?

      I think I would enjoy reading your reflections of what draws you and your family to this church body if you have now chosen to be part of it at this point in your life. If you’ve already touched upon this, please point me to this entry.

      Reply to this comment.
    6. Jonathan
      6
      Author Comment

      William,
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I do have a post on what I decided to do after a year out of church (http://truthandpurpose.com/2007/06/the-lone-ranger-spiritual-life-is-it-possible/).

      I moved out of the state where I was previously having church problems and starting attending a church that I have been at ever since. I also immediately enrolled in an evangelical seminary.

      I rejected the notion of going to church purely because it was an unquestionable rule or a mandatory cultural practice for a Christian. But I had to go because the Bible does say not to stop gathering with the saints (Paul), and it became clear over the year that I stopped attending that I was certainly missing something in my spiritual life.

      I have since come to the belief through experience that Church is for fellowship. Period. Everything else that goes on is extra. I go to be with friends who at their core think and believe like I do – that there is a God, and he loves us dearly, and have decided to devote their lives to following him. The only place that people like that gather together is at seminary and at church.

      I need desperately to be around those people. For some reason, I really believe God made us social, and our spiritual lives are enriched by fellowship with God and fellow believers.

      The church my wife and I (and our three kids!) go to now is awesome, but certainly not perfect. It was the church my wife grew up in, and where we actually met for the first time, and where we got married. It’s a smaller church – about 150 people or so, and a close group that is very friendly and inviting to newcomers. The pastor isn’t susceptible to go nuts over the latest trends and crazes in Christian culture (Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church/Life, “emergent” church philosophies, mega-churchism, End-times eschatology, bible codes, etc.) as if Christianity is boring and you need to spice it up. He instead approaches them with care or avoids them entirely (I like the latter). He just focuses on the basics – the living of our lives as Christians and avoids sensationalist topics.

      But you are right – I should write about what the “normal” christian life has been like since I started attending my latest church.

      Reply to this comment.
    7. William Barr
      7

      Thank you for your current insights with your church and reference to past ones.

      Your reflections indeed show me that some of the experiences or perspectives I might have thought were unique to myself are in fact part of a common human experience.

      I concur with your conviction that we have been created for fellowship and am convicted by your account of your journey back to your church body for ministry (to & from).

      Reply to this comment.
    8. Denis Abercrombie
      8

      Just found this as I was searching the phrase “the end justifies the means” out of curiosity. That curiosity was stirred by some of the frustrations you share in your post. I have become increasingly frustrated with organizations that I have supported, that have admirable and worthy overall goals, using the tactic of fear mongering and hyperbole rather than simple reason and fact to make an argument. “End justifies the means” seems to permeate our society these days. I sometimes feels that the general degredation in education during my own life time, and out instant news world, encourages this trend. I was fortunate to have some teachers in my yough that weaved the skills of critical thinnking and analysis into our course work; including the ability to have critical discussions of substance without emotion and defensiveness. It seems anytime to tell people these days “what facts support your position” you get a defensive and emotional reaction as if you are questioning their very soul, rather than simply wanting to have thoughtful discussions. Taking this into religion and the spiritual realm was not my initial path, but this posting had stirred my thoughts in that direction as well.

      Reply to this comment.
    9. Jonathan
      9
      Author Comment

      Thanks Dennis!
      You are right – this principle is not just something found in religious discussions, but probably in many other circles as well, as you have mentioned.

      Reply to this comment.
    10. meghna
      10

      Now brother see END DOES JUSTIFIES THE MEANS. This isn’t just about we humans, it has its roots in the ancient times as well. When demons and gods ruled the Earth, Gods had to destroy the Demons for the sake of humanity and their very own existence. Even in many epics, we may find stories about different Gods who are worshipped because they were triumphant in defeating and killing the EVIL demons. We indians have more than 100 Gods and all of them have a history of assassinating the demons from the Earth. If they wouldn’t have done that, maybe our existence could have been long before vanished. It is right to nail down all the EVIL demons still prevalent in the society. One might wonder that is it justifiable to kill the bad people even when god gave us the equal rights to live? That question should have been asked when God himself killed the Demons he gave life to. ( waiting for a quick criticism.)

      Reply to this comment.
    11. Jonathan
      11
      Author Comment

      meghna – I wouldn’t consider assassinating demons to be a morally wrong thing if I believed in a religion where that was possible. So in your case – that wouldn’t really be doing something wrong in order to achieve some good – it would be doing something right(assassinating a demon) in order to achieve peace for humanity (something good).

      In Christianity however, demons cannot be killed. They are not material – they are supernatural beings – not mortal, but immortal. No human being can kill a demon, they can only remove one from oppressing someone by calling on the name of Jesus (who currently is the ruler of all things) to leave and to return to Jesus who will determine its fate. That’s all we as humans can do. There is no recorded evidence of God himself killing a demon either – they are at worst bound from interfering with humanity, but otherwise allowed to do what they want within some kind of set guidelines (like retaining the free will of mankind by how they operate in the world). Their ultimate destiny is the “lake of fire” of Hell mentioned in Revelation – but no one is really sure what that means – if it is tormented eternal existence or permanent death.

      When it comes to killing “bad” people – again, I don’t disagree with you either in certain cases. The bible is a proponent of capital punishment for certain crimes deserving of death. Our society today believes this too. However, a crime deserving of death requires at least two or three witnesses (according to the bible) of the criminal act. Interestingly, in the Bible, it is the two or three witnesses who put the person to death (at least drop the first stone) before others in the community grudgingly participate. I guess today, the equivalent would be for the witnesses to administer the lethal injection or whatever. This prevents lying of witnesses in a capital criminal case, or killing someone on the basis of little or no evidence.

      So to sum up, I don’t think we disagree – all examples you give are not the “ends” justfying the means, they are moral and just means to bring about justice. We just share different worldviews. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Reply to this comment.
    12. meghna
      12

      Dear Jonathan. But see what you say is that it is right to assassinate the bad guy. But some people wont find it right to take away the rights of other people. They believe that God gave us all the right to live our lives. Consider the case of Osama bin laden. Many people argue that it was blasphemous to kill him. But I ask the people, is it allright if more innocents die just because you consider killing Osama as a next-door human being? You want Jesus to punish him. But why do we want God to do all the bad tasks when we can do it too? And just because God did that doesn’t makes it right. Imagine if Osama would have died of some disease. People would have claimed that God has punished him. Now this death looks justified just because it had been done by God. The bad people have to die one day. Sooner the better. So killing them is like saving many more innocent lives. SO here End Justifies Means.
      And as for the demons, maybe you have another perception about the word. We indians call them Rakshas, and they have been killed by our very own God’s , when humans were not able to do it themselves. According to our philosophy, the Rakshasas were usually humans with incredible powers, given to them by God as gifts of long Tapsyas. But God himself becomes the murderer of Rakshas to protect humans.
      Now obviously i m not talking about eliminating every other street fighter here. Only the very destructive people need to be removed ( like Osama. )
      Thanks for the reply 🙂

      Reply to this comment.
    13. meghna
      13

      Ps- please ignore my grammar mistakes as I didnt have time to recheck. 😉

      Reply to this comment.
    14. Jonathan
      14
      Author Comment

      I guess I’m not too concerned about what other people think – executing a criminal guilty of a capital crime is something God in the Old Testament saw as an important thing for the benefit of society. Executing a criminal guilty of a capital offense is not unjust – it is just. God is quite clear that everyone has a right to live (i.e. he is against murder) but he is quite clear also that our right to live no longer applies when we have committed a capital offense. Our current laws have not changed on this point either. If someone disagrees with this concept – I would consider them unjust.

      God used to act as a judge with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, but in today’s world – it is almost impossible to know what God is doing for sure in terms of his activity towards non-Christians. We have no prophet who can tell us what God is doing like in the Old Testament (Elijah, Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) so to say that God has killed Osama or given him a disease, etc. is impossible to say and should not be said.

      In the Old Testament, God almost never killed people who committed capitol offenses, he told the people to do it. A trial would occur, witnesses were consulted, and if found guilty, the witnesses and others in the village/town executed the criminal. Executing criminals is not an evil means to justify a good end – it was a commandment of God for the Israelite people and a model for us of justice.

      I guess I’m confused why you keep referring to killing or murdering evil people. Murdering (unjust killing) evil people is wrong because we need to be sure he really committed the capital crime (i.e. we have witnesses) – but executing an evil person who has been convicted by 2 or more witnesses is just, and not doing it would be considered unjust. Are you talking about killing evil people without a trial or without witnesses i.e. vigilante justice? Killing someone without any proof that they committed a capital crime would not be a case of “the ends justifies the means” because we are killing someone who might have committed a crime or might be innocent. The ends in this case would supposedly be justice or safety for the community, but until witnesses come forth, those ends cannot be achieved if the person in question is innocent in the first place. Justice cannot be achieved unless a person is guilty and condemned. A person cannot be guilty of a capital offense unless it is proven he committed a crime by two or more witnesses. That’s the best we can do in human society.

      The “ends justifies the means” is referring to doing something morally wrong to bring about something good. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t apply to anything we are talking about.

      If you are referring to killing someone who supposedly committed a crime worthy of death (i.e. evil) but had no witnesses to his crime – that would be killing someone based on no evidence – and might cause us to kill an innocent man. If you are talking about killing a person that our court system can’t convict but there are plenty of witnesses against him, that is another issue entirely. But I’m not sure what you are talking about – killing a person who might be guilty, or killing a person who is guilty but a corrupt court system is unable to convict him.

      Reply to this comment.
    15. meghna
      15

      See when talking about killing evil people, I was just quoting an example, the most preferred lulu for me here. But when it comes to God being responsible for all the things happening on Earth, consider this fact. In Bhagwad Geeta, Bible , The Koran , it is clearly mentioned that God himself quoted that he is responsible for the just and unjust happening on Earth. Now , tell me , to diminish the multitude on Earth, God brings disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. Here his aim is justified but the method is wrong. Can you argue here if end justifies the means? Definitely no. We all have been taught from the cradle that God is the savior and not the destruct-er and that by begging and praying him, he often sprinkles mercy on us. But see, he himself claims that he is responsible for all the evils in ones life. All-right, now here he wants to maintain the equilibrium on the planet by checking the increasing population, but the means are unjust. So it is not wrong to say that it is the essence that End justifies the Means.

      We don’t need any prophet here to tell us that God is doing these, when God already told us. As for killing bad guys, I was talking about people being reluctant to kill them just because they raise the question “is this just?” or “does God give us the rightb to do it?”

      And i m talking about killing the criminals and not innocent people ( as then it would be right away unjust.)

      Reply to this comment.
    16. meghna
      16

      And I am not very much acquainted with the history of Christians or any other religion, I m talking what I see, not what I am being told to. I live in India , where people blindly trust any one who talks in the name of God.

      Reply to this comment.
    17. Jonathan
      17
      Author Comment

      Good for you for questioning what you hear!!!! Ok – I think what you are saying makes sense. However, in Christianity, things are very different. That’s why I am writing about this subject in the first place.

      First of all, there is only one God who is all-powerful but limits himself – (I’m sure you knew that, but bear with me), and he never does anything morally wrong, because it is contrary to his nature. Additionally, nowhere in the Bible does he tell us to do things morally wrong either because he wants us to be like him. The only way God wants us to bring about good is though good means. There are supernatural beings (angels and demons), but God does not kill them for any reason.

      God did allow people to die or he kills them in a more direct manner in the Bible (but in Christianity, it’s impossible to tell if he is doing that today in any specific situation since we have no concept of a prophet who could tell us with certainty). However, a morally perfect and all-knowing God doing this is a whole lot different than a human doing this – his reasons are always loving, just, and morally right even though we don’t understand the details.

      Also, God is not responsible for the evil in this world – that is, moral evil. That guilt rests on the shoulders of evil men and women. However, this is tricky – he is not guilty, but he is in some way responsible for allowing evil to exist. The reason for this, I believe, is because it is necessary if we as human beings are to exist as truly free beings and not be robots. There are a lot of unanswered questions with this concept, such as natural disasters, (something that I have already written about in two previous posts).

      In Christianity, we have no evidence to support the fact that God kills people to keep the human population low – in fact, he tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth.” anything else is anti-Christian.

      So to say again, from the perspective of Christianity, the ends NEVER justifies the means – this means God never does it, and he demands we never do it either.

      Reply to this comment.
    18. A
      18

      Hi, Jonathan, I’ve just stumbled across your blog today, and I find your posts to be very interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      I agree that God is concerned with not only results but also the particular methods in bringing about those results. For Him, it would be good means leading also to good ends (not morally bad or questionable means to bring about what should be a good end).

      I also want to throw my two cents out here: with this topic of “ends justifying the means” in mind, it is a good reminder to remember John 14:9, that anyone who has seen Jesus “has seen the Father.” I believe that Jesus is a perfect, if not THE, representation of God. Since Jesus did not kill anyone, neither does God (the thief comes to kill and destroy). Now this statement opens up a new can of worms entirely, and mind you, it is a subject that I’ve recently begun exploring after another blog mentioned it, so I am not setting these words in stone. I do not claim to have all answers, only belief that, whatever Jesus did–healing, comforting, rebuking when necessary–is what God does. And since the means Jesus used were good (or should I say beautiful?), and his end was/is good, then perhaps it is safe to say that God’s means are good (beautiful, virtuous?) when bringing about a good end. After all, it is His nature for love, goodness, and virtue.

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