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Morality without Religion.

 
 
Ceili
 
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 07:15 pm
Christopher Hitchen's
Rebtle to this.... http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/12/AR2007071201620.html

It's uncommonly generous of Michael Gerson[" What Atheists Can't Answer," op-ed, July 13] to refer to me as "intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind," since (a) this might be taken as proof that he hardly knows me and (b) it was he who was so kind when I once rang him to check a scurrilous peacenik rumor that he was a secret convert from Judaism to Christian fundamentalism.

However, it is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship, which could read and condemn my thoughts and which could also consign me to eternal worshipful bliss (a somewhat hellish idea) or to an actual hell.

Implicit in this ancient chestnut of an argument is the further -- and equally disagreeable -- self-satisfaction that simply assumes, whether or not religion is metaphysically "true," that at least it stands for morality. Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included the slaughter of other "tribes," the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual "deviants" and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of "deicide," the absurdity of "Limbo," the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice.



Of course Gerson will -- and must -- cherry-pick this list (which is by no means exhaustive) and patter on about how one mustn't be too literal. But in doing this, he makes a huge concession to the ethical humanism to which he so loftily condescends. The game is given away by his own use of G.K. Chesterton's invocation of Thor. We laugh at this dead god, but were not Norse children told that without Valhalla there would be no courage and no moral example? Isn't it true that Louis Farrakhan's crackpot racist group gets young people off drugs? Doesn't Hamas claim to provide social services to the downtrodden? If you credit any one religion with motivating good deeds, how (without declaring yourself to be sectarian) can you avoid crediting them all? And is not endless warfare between the faiths to be added to the list of horrors I just mentioned? Just look at how the "faith-based" are behaving in today's Iraq.

Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first -- I have been asking it for some time -- awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.

Essentially conceding that philosophy and secularism do not condemn their adherents to lives of unbridled selfishness, and that (say) the Jewish people did not get all the way to Mount Sinai under the impression that murder and theft and perjury were okay, and also that we could not have evolved unless human solidarity was in some way innate, Gerson ends weakly by posing what is a rather moving problem.

"In a world without God," he writes, "this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature -- imprinted by evolution but designed for disappointment." Again, he substitutes the wish for the thought. We very probably are, as he admits, not the designed objects of the Big Bang or of the process of natural selection. But this sober conclusion, objective as it is, is surely preferable to the delusion that we have been created diseased, by a capricious despot, and then abruptly commanded to be whole and well, on pain of terror and torture. That sick joke is one that we can cease to find impressive, that belongs in the infancy of our species, and gives a false picture of reality that we would do well to outgrow.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of "God Is Not Great."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/13/AR2007071301461.html
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 07:25 pm
@Ceili,
Although I'm not a terribly big fan of Christopher Hitchens, the virtuoso writer, I agree with the argument he presents. I think it's sound.
dyslexia
 
  2  
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 07:43 pm
@Thomas,
yeah, if Hitchens wasn't such a pompous ass I'd find him more acceptable (sounds kinda funny coming from THE DYS.)
0 Replies
 
Diest TKO
 
  1  
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 09:51 pm
I love watching Youtube videos of him doing his debate tours. He makes excellent points although he delivers them in quite a harsh way.

Not included in this article (directly), I like his thoughts on religion and the language of fascism.

T
K
O
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 10:15 pm
@Ceili,
Quote:
name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.


That's easy... let's start with the first Commandment-- "Thou shalt have no other God before me".
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 6 Aug, 2009 10:21 pm
@Diest TKO,
I don't mind harshness, and Hitchens doesn't even treat religions exceptionally harsh. Countless journalists routinely say much harsher things about political parties, baseball teams. I don't think religions deserve any special protection from critical toughness that those other objects of attachment aren't deserving. Hitchens certainly isn't harsh by that standard.

The only problem I have with Hitchen is his his style: "I'm an intellectual! I can produce rhetorical pirouettes and off-the-cuff apercus that would make you fall flat on your face!" I used to have the same problem with the style of William Buckley. The difference is, Buckley was utterly unimpressive once you had cut through the rhetoric. Hitchen, at least, dances his pirouettes on a ground of solid reasoning.
Diest TKO
 
  1  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 01:35 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
Hitchens certainly isn't harsh by that standard.

Agreed. I also agree that religions isn't entitled to getting kid gloves, but I think because people have such a strong emotional attachment, sensitivity might not be a bad idea. Not as kid gloves, but as strategy. I know many people who wouldn't be able to deny Hitchens's reasoning, but for them to get to that point they would have to be willing to hear him.

It's not the fault of Hitchens if other choose to never listen to him because of his style.

T
K
O
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 03:45 am
@Diest TKO,
Diest TKO wrote:
I know many people who wouldn't be able to deny Hitchens's reasoning, but for them to get to that point they would have to be willing to hear him.

I dunno -- is there a non-offensive way to ask someone: "Have you considered that you may be wasting your life on a Bronze Age myth?" I don't see it.
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 04:02 am
The biggest problem in the discussion of religion is the implicit social restriction against offending someone's idiosyncratic and deeply cherished superstitions. I already know that the best way to completely flummox someone in a discussion of religion is to refer to it as superstition--it sets 'em off, they go ballistic and usually lose all rational apparatus for debate. I know i'm dealing with someone who is comfortable with holding and expressing their beliefs (a rarity) when their reaction to the use of the word superstition is to laugh.

Both religion and politics were, anciently at least, considered to be subjects which it were in poor taste to introduce into casual social conversation. This is a thoroughly plausible point of view because of the passions these subjects ignite, and the high probability of ruining a social situation by bringing them up. I know a gentleman who is politically conservative, who rails loudly, vociferously and in angry manner against religion. At the same time, he once became as exercised when i casually mentioned the congressional boondoggle involved with a new medicare bill. He became vehement about how Bush was blamed for everything, and the take off point was that he was grateful that i'd blamed Congress for pork barrels, rather than attempting to lay the blame for everything at Mr. Bush's feet.

He's a great guy, and i think anyone here would enjoy his company. It just wouldn't be a good idea to bring up religion (hates it) or Republicans (can do no wrong) with him.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 04:06 am
@ebrown p,
That's nonsense. What moral prescription do you allege is entailed in prohibiting apostasy?
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 05:55 am
@Setanta,
Quote:
name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.


Quote:

That's easy... let's start with the first Commandment-- "Thou shalt have no other God before me".


Quote:

That's nonsense. What moral prescription do you allege is entailed in prohibiting apostasy?


LOL
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 05:59 am
You can laugh all you want--there is nothing inherently ethical or moral in a requirement to worship only one particular, specified deity.

I often think that either you're not very bright, or your reading comprehension skills are primitive.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 06:15 am
@Setanta,
Come on Set.... you aren't that dull.

The question is whether there is any ethical principle that is followed by religious people that an atheist would never follow.

I offer you an ethical principle that is at the core of Judaism, so important it is the first of the 10 Commandments. You, as an atheist, are arguing that you will never accept that this as an ethical principle.

Yours is the most simplistically circular of arguments. I put forward an example of an ethical principle that is not accepted by atheists. You argue that it is not an ethical principle because atheists don't accept it.

QED.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 06:24 am
I am not arguing as an atheist. Although i am an atheist, my objection to your foolishness is that it begs the question. That someone may not subscribe to your superstition of choice may make them odious to you, but it does you no harm. In that particular, the apostate does society no harm. The point which you are obviously missing is that a requirement to believe in a particular deity, and only in that particular deity does not involve any ethical principle.

At no point have i argued that the principle is not ethical because atheists do not accept it. You are erecting a straw man. I am pointing out that no principle of moral or immoral behavior in involved in the failure to acknowledge any particular deity. You are the one with the circular argument. You are, by implication, saying that the failure to subscribe to your superstition is inherently unethical because your imaginary friend requires people to believe in him.

Furthermore, you are ignoring that others who do not worship your imaginary friend of choice are not inherently unethical because they worship a different imaginary friend of choice. Are Hindus unethical becuase they prefer to worship Ganesh or Shiva?

As i say, either you are not very bright, or your reading comprehension skills are defective.
ebrown p
 
  0  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 06:47 am
@Setanta,
You are arguing as an Atheist. You go as far as to call God "an imaginary friend". In fact your argument makes no sense to someone who is not an Atheist.

For someone of the Jewish faith, for example, worshiping God exclusively is absolutely an ethical principle. The difference here is that your set of religious beliefs is different than theirs.

Ethics are a subjective, sociological phenomenon. Your views on ethics lack any solid objective foundation and, as such, have no more validity than anyone else's views.
Setanta
 
  3  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 07:26 am
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
You are arguing as an Atheist. You go as far as to call God "an imaginary friend". In fact your argument makes no sense to someone who is not an Atheist.


No, i'm arguing from the point of view of logic. You have specifically referred to "the first commandment," which makes your argument specific to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and therefore excludes all other religious traditions. More on that in a moment.

Quote:
For someone of the Jewish faith, for example, worshiping God exclusively is absolutely an ethical principle. The difference here is that your set of religious beliefs is different than theirs.


Here you are misrepresenting the text of the commandments, in the first place. The first commandment requires not simply worshiping "god" exclusively, but worshiping Jehovah specifically and exclusively. In the King James version, Exodus Chapter 20, verses 2 through 5:

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me . . .


And, in the King James version, Deuteronomy Chapter 5, verses 6 through 9:

I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

Thou shalt have none other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me . . .


So, in fact, the first commandment is not an ethical requirement, it is a doctrinal requirement. One must not worship Baal-Moloch (the "golden calf"), one must not worship Astarte, one must worship Amon--one must worship Jehovah. So that is a requirement not of ethics, but of doctrine. Calling a doctrinal requirement an ethical requirement is nothing more than an attempt at ipse dixit on your part. Relishing the irony of the pun, you are speaking ex cathedra.

But more than that, you are begging the question. You are, inferentially, saying that the believer might be a good man, but that the non-believer cannot be a good man. Or, at the very least, you are saying that the believer might be an ethical man, but that the non-believer can never be an ethical man.

Quote:
Ethics are a subjective, sociological phenomenon. Your views on ethics lack any solid objective foundation and, as such, have no more validity than anyone else's views.


I'm n0t suggesting anything of the kind. I'm pointing out both that you fail to make a distinction between a doctrinal requirement and an ethical requirement, and that in insisting upon the first commandment as an ethical requirement, you beg the question involved.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 07:54 am
@Setanta,
Quote:

But more than that, you are begging the question. You are, inferentially, saying that the believer might be a good man, but that the non-believer cannot be a good man. Or, at the very least, you are saying that the believer might be an ethical man, but that the non-believer can never be an ethical man.


No I am not saying that (ignoring the sciolistic puns).

I am saying that ethics are a subjective sociological phenomenon. What is ethical in one society is unethical in another. It is nonsense to judge an ethical system from outside of the social context that it exists in.

The religious and the non-religious are on equal footing. They can both be ethical based on their own social context-- but neither of them have any legitimate claim to a universal standard of ethics.

Please tell me, how do I distinguish between your morals and your doctrinal requirements.



Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 08:03 am
It's pretty simple, which i why i suspect it sailed right over your head. The first commandment does not require that someone believe in any god, but only in Jehovah. It does not matter what the cultural context is, that is clearly a doctrinal requirement, one which requires the participant to adhere to a doctrine about who is the one, true god. You also display a pathetic ignorance of the history of Judaism. Exodus and Deuteronomy both specifically mention graven images because of the alleged golden calf incident. That would be an artifact of the worship of Baal-Moloch. Baal-Moloch was the main competition for the Jawists among the Jews. In fact, the evidence is pretty good that Jehovah worship was a minority sect until the Babylonian captivity. So, you can't even make a case that this is simply a case of an ethical system based in another culture. The culture concerned was not comprised only of people who were exclusively worshipers of Jehovah, which is why the Jawists wanted to insist on the exclusivity of Jehovah.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 08:23 am
Here, let's make this even simpler, so that even you can understand. Ethics prescribes your behavior--what you must and must not do. Doctrine prescribes your creed--what you must and must not believe.
Diest TKO
 
  2  
Reply Fri 7 Aug, 2009 08:55 am
I think this could be put perhaps more simply that if in the commandment there is a ethical principle in worshiping no other god or gods, then the ethical principle that is embedded is "loyalty" or perhaps "trust."

The challenge is to find a ethic that atheists cannot have. Both loyalty and trust are ethical characteristics that people can have without religion. People like atheists.

Beyond that, I'm with Set on this one. There is nothing ethical/unethical about worshiping one specific god above all other possible gods. This is akin to saying that a person's ice cream preference has some sort of ethical merit.

T
K
O
 

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