Yesterday +Michelle May
shared this quote, and I think it's worth talking about. Something I like about this is that it's a meaningful argument from both a theistic and an atheistic perspective. It directly wrestles with the question Euthypro asked: is something good because God loves it (well, the Gods, this is from Plato's dialogues) or does God love it because it is good? If the former, then "good" is completely arbitrary and defined as "whatever the gods happen to like;" if the latter, then divine goodness is arbitrary, rather than a fundamental property of the gods.
Marcus Aurelius takes the second approach without hesitating. If the gods exist and are good, then they will like you because you have been a good person. If the gods' opinion of you depends on something other than whether you're a good person, then the gods aren't that great and you shouldn't give a damn what they think. And if the gods don't exist at all, then none of that matters, but being good is its own reward.
Plato and Marcus Aurelius were both discussing this in a much older religious context. In more modern contexts, the Christian approach -- that God is intrinsically good, and
ought to be worshiped -- dominates the conversation so much that we often forget that there are other ways to talk about this.
Judaism deals with this in a very different way. For one thing, there are many different views of the afterlife in Judaism, no particular consensus on it, and it's not considered particularly central to the religion. Rather, moral behavior and having a close relationship to God are seen as two independent ends in their own right. You want to be a good person for basically the reason Marcus Aurelius says; and you want to be close to God because being close to God is awesome in its own right. It still runs up against Euthypro's dilemma, but at least in this case, the dilemma doesn't affect your individual behavior as much: you want to be good because that's the right thing to do. If God doesn't want you to be good, for some reason, then there are going to be some serious problems here, but the choice is clear: be good yourself.
Part of the way that this manifests is that in Judaism, the divine hand in human morality primarily takes the form of perpetually encouraging humans to make laws, establish codes of behavior, and debate and improve them at length. The suggestion that God, or God's chosen, is automatically good doesn't actually get a very strong basis; to take an obvious example, David, the Messianic king, is an utter dick
and behaves in obviously shady ways (e.g. involving Batsheba and her husband). He even gets some divine ass-kicking for it. And sometimes God is a dick, too; how many times does Abraham, or Moses, or someone else, have to talk God out of killing a bunch of people? And they don't even always succeed at it.
I think that there's a powerful lesson in this: that even God is not always right. The powerful are not good by virtue of their power, and it is expected and anticipated that we maintain our own moral compasses, and speak truth to power when it is needed.
(I can also give a much more technical theological answer and explanation for this, but I'll save all of your sanity unless someone really wants to argue deep questions of Judaism)
This problem is simply harder in Christianity. Here you have God who is manifest in the world, and who judges people based on their conduct in life, with extremely serious consequences. Christianity doesn't distinguish between the ends of moral behavior and of closeness to what God wants; in general, it tends to prefer the latter. That brings Euthypro's question right to the forefront, and it now dictates how you should act. Most people largely fudge this question by assuming that the two do, in fact, line up pretty closely; but this tends to fail when, e.g., preachers start preaching hate from the pulpits. At this point, there are two basic things you can do: tacitly assume an independent moral standard, and that these preachers are wrong, or align with the preachers and justify hate as good. I would say that the split between people who do the first and the second is basically the split between people I do and don't want to spend any time around.
I'm not as familiar with approaches to this in Islam. I get the sense that the approach is largely more similar to the Jewish one -- not surprising, as they developed side-by-side for millennia -- but does someone with more experience in this have something to add?