Archive for the ‘ Religion ’ Category

Morality Without God—Introducing Pactualism: A New Ethical Framework (Part 3/3)

Without God, morality doesn’t exist.

And it doesn’t need to.

Have you ever had someone try to convince you that you ought to do something? Having failed to convince you, do they resort, in exasperation, to the phrase “it is the right thing to do”?

The right-wrong moral construct is a tool whereby people seek to impose their will on others when persuasion fails. If they can’t convince you, they simply appeal to morality. For theists, this moral authority is God. And while atheists are fond of dismissing God, they essentially declare themselves to be God in their assertion of what is “clearly” right and wrong.

The fact is, unless you have God to tell you otherwise, there is no such thing as right and wrong. Theists have successfully nailed atheists to the wall on this point.

Fine.

If we set aside this hopeless question of “what is right and what is wrong?” we can get to the nub of what the atheist ethicist pursues. Human behavior can be either awful or wonderful; we want a set of rules that will inhibit the former while promoting and maximizing the latter.

We can have such a set of rules even without moral authority.

(If this sounds like crazy talk, I highly suggest reading Part 1 and Part 2 before proceeding).

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Morality Without God—Toward a Solution (Part 2/3)

As noted in Part 1, the atheist is not entitled to make an assertion of moral rightness/wrongness and have it understood in the traditional sense: a proclamation of universal, objective truth with regard to a platform of universal objective morality.  Only a theist may do this.  To drive this point home, a healthy dose of moral nihilism is in order.

Moral Nihilism

To the atheist:  You are born with no responsibility to anything or anyone—living or nonliving.  You may do whatever you want to anything or anyone, living or nonliving.  At the same time no one and no thing—living or nonliving—has any responsibility to you either.  Anyone or anything may do anything to you.  There exists no moral authority whatsoever to say that you or they are right or wrong.  And so, appraising the intrinsic “rightness” or “wrongness” of any action is nonsensical.  After death, there will be no consequences at all for anything any of us have done to anyone or any thing.  None whatsoever.

For a Christian, the pursuit of righteousness is the pursuit of truth.  For the Christian, to declare something as “right” is to say that it is objectively true that this action is right.  Because of the influence of Christianity on western civilization, western atheists are inclined to approach morality the same way.  But the atheist may not pursue morality as if it is a real thing that he may discover, as if it is a treasure to find, or a righteousness that is true—a truth that is there to find.  In breaking with God, atheists must jettison the inclination to think this way.  In their dispute with religion, atheists are doomed to confusion and frustration if they continue to play this game by the theist’s rules.  Atheists cannot discover morality because it is not there for them to discover.
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Morality Without God—The Problem (Part 1/3)

You can be an atheist and you can be a sadomasochist.  You can be an atheist and a psychopath.  You can be an atheist and be fascist.  To be a communist, you practically have to be an atheist.  It doesn’t commit you to anything.  But it certainly does not commit you to the absurd belief that if you don’t have a supernatural belief you have no morals.  ~ Christopher Hitchens

If you have not yet seen the film Collision, I highly recommend it.  In it Christopher Hitchens takes on Christian apologist Douglas Wilson in a series of lively debates on the validity and value of Christian theism.  Hitchens’ trademark rhetorical style is on full display and does not fail to entertain even as it instructs.  Again and again Hitchens levels devastating blows to Christianity’s reputation as he makes the case that not only is Christianity untrue, but that it is a “wicked cult”.  The inconsistencies inherent in Christianity are serious problems that Christians must make sense of in order to convince thinking people to embrace their system, and Hitchens makes this painfully clear.

At the same time, Wilson puts Hitchens on the defensive repeatedly on one critical point:
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Listen, you silly atheists and theists…

…you really need to cut out the asinine bickering.  Neither of you are getting anywhere.

Take a look at this.

 

Atheism and Curiosity

Extraterrestrial Life

Life on other planets—does it exist?  We want to know.  Why?  Perhaps we suspect that life on this planet is ultimately doomed and so we hope that the opportunity for life exists elsewhere.  Is it that we simply find life fascinating, and any new exotic form tickles our wonder?  Is it because we are looking for a greater intelligence from which we may learn?  Are we seeking new friends?
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Rights, Atheists, and Earth

The United Nations is considering a proposal that would grant the Earth rights similar to those of humans.

What is a right?  Where does it come from?  Perhaps Merriam-Webster can help:

  • right: something to which one has a just claim (So what makes a claim just?)
  • just: acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good (What is moral?)
  • moral: conforming to a standard of right behavior (What is right?  Oh crap.  That’s where we started.  And where do we get this “standard” from?)

Useless.

If you’re a theist, and you believe that God has revealed to us rights and wrongs, it’s simple; God grants and ultimately enforces those rights.

What if you don’t believe in God?
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Why Do We Believe what We Believe?

If you do not know why you believe what you believe, then your beliefs are opinions grounded in emotion.  And one person’s opinion grounded in emotion is just as good as the next person’s.  And if everybody’s opinion is just as good as the next, then you can’t really say things like, “This is the way the world should work,” or, “This is what you ought to be doing,” or, “You should not be doing that.”.

Almost everybody argues with other people over the things that they believe, whether or not they know why they believe those things. If you think you do know why you believe what you believe, please play the How-Why-What game and make sure. Once you know what you believe and why you believe that it is true, you can actually make a case to other people who also want to believe what is true.

But if you don’t take the time to understand why you believe what you believe yourself, it doesn’t make much sense to try to get other people to believe what you believe—that is just being bossy and intrusive.

Furthermore, if you use your beliefs to advocate the use of force on other people, and you don’t know why you believe what you believe, then you flirt with evil.

Their Threat Is Your Threat

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.

– Thomas Paine

We Ally with the Different, yet Closely Related…

As I’ve discussed previously, people tend to form collective groups and then campaign only for the interests of those groups.  But an interesting thing happens when these groups, though separate, recognize a common threat.  They ally.

Consider all of the people who attend a gay rights parade who are not actually gay. At these gatherings you will find practitioners of all kinds of unconventional sexual behavior: polyamory, transvestitism, BDSM, and fetishism.  We see different groups of people united out of the recognition of a common threat: people who would forcefully limit the sexual behavior of consenting adults.  They correctly recognize that successful forceful action against any of these groups sets a precedent.  That precedent says that it is okay to use force to limit private consensual behavior that some people do not like.  And once that precedent is set, these different groups know that they could be targeted next.
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Religious Fanaticism vs. Hypocrisy—An OkCupid Message

So I use OkCupid to find cool women with whom to speak.  I do.  I figured that if I’m going to apply the brainpower to craft messages, I might as well share with the world.  No?

If you aren’t already familiar with OkCupid, it is a system that revolves around questions and answers.  You answer hundreds, or even thousands, of questions and then the system matches you up with other people who answered in compatible ways.  It works pretty well for nerds like me.

One woman’s profile caught my attention.  She prefers reason over fantasy.  And coffee.  I commented on one of our “disagree” questions:

I share your enthusiasm for reason over mythology. We don’t make a lot of progress in understanding anything if we’re content to say, “God did it.”

But one thing about that!

A question on which we disagreed was: What of the following is most offensive to you? Religious fanaticism or general hypocrisy?

A lot of atheists immediately respond with the “fanaticism”, but I suspect that the underlying offense is with hypocrisy, not personal adherence to zany beliefs. I mean, people believe in all kinds of nonsensical things: astrology, healing crystals, etc. Those are obnoxious, but not particularly offensive. Religion is offensive because of the religious people who want to forcefully impose on the non-religious. And they want to forcefully impose their beliefs while at the same time arguing for their right to be free of forceful imposition on the part of those with whom THEY disagree. And so it is the hypocrisy with which they operate that makes what they believe so offensive. It’s when they actually become a threat that they become offensive and even scary.

Nonsensical beliefs are a mild annoyance until people hypocritically and forcefully prioritize their belief-system over everyone else’s. I think that if people were content to stay at home and do their voodoo in private, it would be no big thing.

Thoughts?

And I like coffee too. I just ground some beans, pressed a pot, and am indulging in a bit of funky caffeine-induced nirvana. ahhhh.

I’m Matt. Nice to meet you.

I doubt she’ll respond.  Oh well.   🙂

Take a look at my essay on the danger of forceful imposition.