Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are You A Capitalist?

When I talk economics with people I have a few times been mistaken for a socialist. It seems that in our country today this idea has been drummed into us that anything that even remotely curtails capitalism is immediately labeled to be socialist or communist. That means unless you are prepared to accept this label, (a la Fox News style) you must be a supporter of unobstructed capitalism. This has angered many who believe in free markets but with a fair and conscious approach to it.

When asked if I am a capitalist I usually respond that I am a liberal capitalist. Recently the idea of compassionate capitalism has struck me as more accurately describing my economic beliefs. While there is no single definition, compassionate capitalism is fair capitalism; it is conscious capitalism; it is against the cut throat corporatism that we've seen increasing over the past few decades that seeks to outsources jobs, and cut wages and benefits of workers regardless of the profits line. Compassionate capitalism is for protecting worker's rights to have fair and decent pay and benefits; it is for considering the environmental consequences of a business' actions, and it is for a fair tax code that doesn't allow those making the most money to pay a lower tax rate than those in the middle.

In an interview with, Raj Sisodia, head of the Conscious Capitalism Institute describes compassionate or conscious capitalism has having four traits as it relates to business:

  1. First is a higher purpose. There needs to be some other reason why you exist, not just to make money. 
  2. Second is aligning all the stakeholders around that sense of higher purpose and recognizing that their interests are all connected to each other, and therefore there's no exploitation of one for the benefit of another. 
  3. The third element is conscious leadership, which is driven by purpose and by service to people, and not by power or by personal enrichment. 
  4. And the fourth is a conscious culture, which really embodies all of these elements: trust, caring, compassion, and authenticity.
More or less, these were the characteristics that many businesses used to have that we have since strayed from. There was a time when CEOs recognized the value of their workers and the community in which they operated. Over the years, the thirst for greater and greater profits led many business leaders to put profits over people. And so here we are, with CEOs making 400 hundred times the average worker when it used to be 10 or 20 times; we have workers taking pay and benefit cuts while CEOs get raises and even while profits increase. Something's wrong here. It doesn't take a genius to recognize why our economy is virtually flat: the middle class carry the economy, and the less disposable income they have, the less Americans consume. 

The lack of compassion exhibited by many corporations in recent years demonstrates the inability to consider those outside their social circles. That's what it means to lack compassion. If you live your life with a mentality that only considers the well-being of yourself, your family and friends, and those basically inside your social circle, then you allow yourself to be open to economic policy that will hurt thousands or millions of people, as well as animals and the environment. 

There is much more to this than I can possibly mention in a single post. For example, how exactly would compassionate capitalism be implemented in relation to the healthy competition between competing business interests? It seems that the compassionate capitalist must strike a careful balance between collectivism and individualism. Either extreme serves many the wrong way and there is plenty of room for argument. I just want to help offer the liberal capitalist an identity that isn't between either extremes of communism and unobstructed capitalism.

So when asked if I'm a capitalist, I'd say yes. I believe in free markets and free people, I just don't think that the bottom line is above all that we should be focusing on and that there is a need to have an economic system that consciously and compassionately considers all the pieces entangled in its web. Therefore, you can call me a compassionate capitalist. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Secularism, The Culture War, & The Anti-Secular Perspective

I've previously written about the ongoing culture wars dividing the US. One of the most important battles being waged in it is whether or not we are going to continue living in a secular society that separates religion from government. There are forces out there that are trying to push religion into all aspects of government and public life and who are only stopped by the constant and determined effort made by secularists. It is apparent that the more religious a person is, the more likely they will support an encroachment of religion into government. There are many conservative Muslims out there who are advocating for Islamism, and there are Christians out there who want the Bible back in the classroom in the form of creationism. Some of them even go further and want sanctioned prayer in schools and religious based legislation created and passed that would force others to observe their religious duties.

While debating people like this recently I have learned a few things about the way they think and I want for a moment to see the war from how it looks from their perspective.

First, some of those who want religion formally in government think that secularism is itself a religion, being shoved down their throats. I have already argued against the notion that secularism is a religion, but from the theist's perspective, is he/she right in their belief in an ever-increasing and intolerant form secularism chipping away at their religious liberties? Imagine if we had an officially Christian government, and those who were in favor of preserving this rule were forcing non-Christians to observe their faith's traditions and rules? Would I be upset? I certainly would. Is it possible to live in a Christian country and not be forced to observe any practices that are Christian? Yes. There would still be issues of whether schools teach from the Christian perspective, or whether tax dollars go to support the church, or whether other religions would have equal rights to Christianity. These policies exists in many secular and non-secular countries around the world.

Second, the problem I have when I try to look at the issue of secular government from the anti-secularist perspective, is that I do not see their comparison that they are the persecuted majority as they claim to be. Sure, there have been cases of religious liberty being prevented, and I am against this as well, but it seems that the secularist is fair in preventing the encroachment of religion into government so long as we recognize that (1) secularism is not a religion in itself, and (2) that we officially live in a secular democracy. I've always felt that religion is a private matter and that it should be kept where it belongs, in private. The problem with some religions, is that its adherents are never happy just believing, they must convince others to believe as well. If religious people would simply just keep their religions to themselves, and adopt the secular principle when it comes to politics, I'd have little problem with them.

There is a lawsuit leveled by the American Atheists to remove a Tennessee law that forces citizens to acknowledge god's existence by asserting that the “safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.” I never even understood the concept of god protecting the US from terrorism. Does he prevent terrorists from hating or attacking the US like some sort of divine firewall? If so he must violate free will in order to do so. Anyway, the law clearly violates the first amendment, and it is one small battle in a never ending war with anti-secularists.

As I've said before, I believe in fair secularism. I wish to preserve religious liberty and freedom of thought and would hate to ever see a system of state secularism where the state decides what can and cannot be believed. Anti-secularists see any stoppage of the mention of a deity a violation of their religious liberty, but what they fail to see is that the mention of a deity in a law is violating the rights of those who wish to be free from religion. The argument is what side should win and take precedence. Should the non-theist, atheist or non-religious person, be forced to acknowledge and respect a god they do not believe exists and might even hate? Would that be worse than if the theist or religious person has the name of his or her believed deity removed from law and government legislation? I think it is less of a violation to the theist to not have their deity mentioned than it would be for an atheist to be forced to acknowledge any deity. If the theist wishes to have their god acknowledged, they are free to do so privately.

I know this answer will not satisfy those who believe in god and actively want others to publicly acknowledge their deity. To them I will say this: secularism preserves and protects your religious liberty and is one of the reasons why religion has historically thrived so much in the US. This debate will rage on as it has pretty much since this country's inception. More reports from the front lines of the culture war are sure to come.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Writing As A Therapy - Teenage Identity Crisis: A Painful Reminiscence Part 2

Writing for me is very therapeutic. I cannot shake off the good sensation I get when I put together a well written post. Not all of my posts hit the mark, but nevertheless, each is an attempt to put into words a concept or memory that I consciously wrestle with, however imperfect it is. Besides the usual posts on religion, theism, and morality, which seem to consume a great deal of my writings, I occasionally like to write about a personal reflection. And as this is the Thanksgiving holiday, I feel somewhat inclined to write about past problems I've dealt with and hopes I have.

I cannot say that I've had it too bad. My life has been a sort of mild journey when I compare it to the most horrible tragedies that have marred the lives of others. Although my parents divorced when I was a young child, I grew up in a pretty stable middle class home. My parents, although not perfect, were certainly not the worst characters when it came to how I was raised. I also grew up in a pretty safe neighborhood that is and was neither privileged nor impoverished.

I've had my bouts with depression. When I was an adolescent I came down with a serious case of acne that stayed with me until my early twenties. All throughout high school I was a mess. Acne made me embarrassed to be seen, it made me withdrawn, anti-social, and awkward. I hated my life at this time and I even contemplated suicide, making one failed attempt at it. In the back of my head what gave me confidence all through these years was the idea that things would get better. As an atheist, I never prayed, I never had any unreasonable faith that things would get better. Instead, I blamed my misfortunes where it seemed logical, namely my genetics. I blamed my mother and father for giving me the genes that cause acne. I angrily held them accountable and fully responsible for what they had done. In short, I had wished on some deep level that I was never even born.

Eventually my problems cleared away but not without leaving their indelible marks. My adolescent years when I was suppose to foster my social skills, were in a way put on hiatus. My withdrawn personality had made me lose the experiences necessary to build social skills and to make friends easily. I was also a person who was not into the typical things young people were into. I cared nothing for sports, and my musical tastes were very eclectic and usually far from the mainstream. My atheism however was never an issue at all since religion was almost never talked about and it pretty much never came up amongst my peers. I also wasn't the polemic anti-theist back then that I am now either.

In high school I did my fair share of partying with the few friends I had but looking back I always felt that somehow I missed out on what it should have been. This is probably instigated my the movie industry's depictions of high school that show a free for all in non-stop partying and sex. I guess I can say that although I've been through some tragedy, others have been through worse and I have to be thankful for that.

Now that I'm 30 years old I have to realize that my youth has almost completely evaporated and I must accept that my body will forever be in a perpetual state of decline. Sure I can eat healthy and workout obsessively but I will only be delaying the inevitable. Physically speaking I no longer have anything to look forward to, unlike when I was young. As time passes things will not get better, they will get worse, and this has partially led me to another form of depression, the depression of getting old. I still have many years before I am "old" and before I start to look "old", but I do not wish for eternal youth or eternal existence of any sort. Such an idea seems like a cruel trick of hell to me. I enjoy the fact that I will eventually grow old and die, and cease to exist. I just wish that I can age gracefully while it happens. That will give me a tremendous sense of comfort and hope for the future.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Being Thankful Takes Work

We all know that it is important to be grateful for what we have. I usually prefer to complain about what I don't have instead. I actually do not celebrate any holidays, not even my birthday, but today is, according to what I'm being told, Thanksgiving.

I want to make a list of some of the things that I actually am thankful for this year so that I can reflect upon them later, perhaps when I no longer have them.

I am thankful for (in no particular order):

My lack of health problems (for now)
My comfortable apartment
My beautiful cat Sheba
My education
My intelligence and my knowledge of many things
My ability to attract women relatively easy
My friends and family
That I live in New York City rather than some boring town or war torn country
That I live in a country that allows be to express my beliefs freely and without persecution
That I am living at a time in history when using reason and science are common and when superstition is waning
That Barack Obama was reelected
That I am not addicted to drugs and consumerism
My fascination with philosophy and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake
That I am not poor
That I still have potential to do what I want
That I am not dead

There is no way that I can capture here all that I am thankful for and most such lists of any kind are incomplete. Perhaps an easier task would be to make a list of what I don't like about my life, maybe a task for another time. All I can say is that I continue to struggle with my lack of being thankful for what I have when I know it has benefits. It is nice to be reminded from time to time.

Epicurus On God

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? 
Then he is not omnipotent. 

Is he able, but not willing? 
Then he is malevolent. 

Is he both able and willing? 
Then whence cometh evil? 

Is he neither able nor willing? 
Then why call him God?

Many theists say that the unwillingness of god to prevent evil is done for sufficient reasons. Evil, many of them say, is necessary in order to have good and in order to draw believers towards acts that are good. Some even claim that the existence of evil proves god's existence.

I don't respond well to this sort of conjecture for the following reasons. First, I think what we consider good and evil, are a natural occurrence in a world where beings evolved the ability to respond and to employ free will, even if that free will is an illusion. Under naturalism there would also exist the imperfection of a world that is not designed. This means natural disasters exist and will sometimes harm beings caught at the wrong time and place. Also, naturalism permits the evolution of beings to evolve that harm other beings such as diseases and other microbes.

Second, the idea that there exists this grand designer who made things this way, who designed the virus and the harm it does, who designed the tectonic plates of the Earth's crust knowing it would cause earthquakes and tsunamis that kill millions of people and animals, is to say that evil and tragedy are also designed and masterminded. The reason why I say this is because if something harmful occurs naturally, it is not evil, it is just a rather sad set of events. But if something harmful occurs because it was designed that way, then it becomes evil because it was intentional.

If the allowance of human evil and the creation of natural evil are all somehow justified by god because it is all to fulfill some sort of grand scheme in the end, then god you can say is just a utilitarian, in that the evil he intends today is just a means to an apparent positive end.

Either way I think that the notion of god the designer and the existence of evil, are confusing at best to the greater notion that we are all created in order to come to know and love god. I think Epicurus more or less got it right when he accused god of being malevolent, because to intentionally create conditions that cause harm and be unwilling to prevent the resulting harm is to be evil.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Perceived Fear of Moral Progression

Many theists fear the moral progression of Western cultures. One Muslim apologist said in a debate that a few hundred years from now the West might allow men to have sexual relationships with 3 year old boys, citing NAMBLA as pushing for this recognition. I disagree. If anything, secular morality has lifted the age in which a person can consent to sexual relations, unlike Islam which must forever allow 50 year old men to marry 6 year old girls. The accusation here, is that secular morality is not static, it is not absolute, it changes with every generation like the way fashion does, and therefore there is no anchor holding it down to any particular set of values. This accusation has become very common when debating morality with theists.

I have written numerous times on morality but I would like to address for a moment the perceived issue of moral progression for the theist and tie that in with concepts of moral absolutism. Whenever I talk about morality with anyone, I always ask whether they believe in moral absolutes. I often get different answers. Theists like to assert their moral superiority over the atheist by asserting their moral absolute standards. But when you press a theist on these moral absolutes, it becomes evident that it is easier said than done in practice.

Recently when I was debating a Christian theist on morality, the theist claimed to have moral absolutes that I cannot have as an atheist. However, during our dialogue he said Old Testament morality was relative to those people, places and circumstances, and is not necessarily relevant to us today. So after admitting that his "absolute" Christian morality is relevant to time, place, people, and circumstance, I asked "How much more relative can you get?" He responded that his absolutes are founded in the written word of the Bible. "What version?" I ask, "King James? ASV? Thomas Jefferson Bible?" He didn't respond.

The problem he knows is that there are many versions of the Bible, with different translations, and some include whole books that others do not. Also, the process by which the Bible was put together was rather political in its motivations by the Roman emperor Constantine. To ground your moral absolutes in a heavily translated and highly versioned book is a fatuous attempt to find a solid grounding of your values. Besides this, the Bible doesn't give us all the moral answers that we need and since god isn't going to reveal himself when we are faced with moral dilemmas, we are always forced to calculate and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

Now since the atheist rejects the validity of the written word of any supposed holy book, so what then do we make of moral progression? Are morals merely decided upon by each generation? In order to have the best moral code to live by, we would need to have all the scientific information regarding the laws of physics, the universe, human nature and biology. On top of that we'd have to know the outcome of every possible future event to know what action made today will produce the best possible results. So in the absence of the totality of empirical knowledge that exists, we must make moral judgments based on moral values that are made with limited knowledge. Therefore, any moral values system devised will always be to some degree, imperfect. And so as we gain new knowledge about ourselves and our world through the beautiful endeavor of scientific inquiry, we can better revise our moral system. This means that it would be as ignorant to solidify moral values as it would be to solidify medical or scientific knowledge because new information means they can always be improved upon.

How does this relate to a perceived lack of moral absolutes?

If our moral values can be subject to revision, what grounds them? Think of our attempts to make sense of time. We used to think it was absolute, but then Einstein came along and showed us it is actually relative. The truth was out there all along, we just had incorrect assumptions about it due to our limited knowledge. I see morality in much the same way. There are moral values out there that would best suit humanity regarding our treatment of ourselves and nature, we just don't know them yet because of our limited knowledge. Every attempt to morally progress and to revise our moral values, is an attempt to get one step closer to this moral truth. Religious morality was some of our earliest attempts to understand this moral truth, and that is why they fail so miserably in many areas at assessing human conduct.

How can we recognize this moral truth, and what impact does culture have on it?

The theist will point to cultural differences on what is moral and claim that the ultimate moral truth will differ from place to place. I disagree. Any culture that adopts critical thinking, reason, freedoms of speech, and the pursuit of knowledge through science, will inevitably come to the same basic moral conclusions as the secular progressives in the West has, as long as they do not have cultural and religious obstacles in their way. Moral truth exist naturally irrespective of cultural or personal bias in much the same way that the laws of physics are not relative to cultural belief about the nature of reality. Fairness, love and compassion are naturally good because of their universal benefits, they are simply not a matter of opinion.

As time goes on and we progress morally, some theists cringe because they see moral values step further and further away from what their religions codify. But I must ask you, if you are hesitant to adopt a progressive attitude towards morality, to seriously consider the alternative. How many of you would seriously be willing to literally pick up a stone to throw it at your neighbor's head with the intention of killing him or her, because they were found to be working on the Sabbath? How many of you would be willing to do the same to the accused adulterer, homosexual, or a witch, today in the 21st century? How many of you would be willing to allow slavery and to allow 6 year old girls to be forced into arranged marriages with 50 year old men? Think about this. If the idea of actually doing this makes you cringe and repulsed, you're a moral progressive, because these are all the absolute and unchangeable morals of various religions.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Who Speaks For Atheism?

My how I love to debate with theists. I cannot deny the pleasure that I get seeing how they try to justify their irrational and contradictory beliefs. Debating with theists allows me two pleasures. First, it allows me to understand how the religious mind works, and second, it forces me to sharpen my principles so that I make sure I have a damn good argument to back them up.

It is very important that our beliefs are challenged from time to time. If they aren't, we can become irrational, and close ourselves off into our little bubbles. Being challenged forces you to be knowledgeable, logical and not contradict yourself. I openly welcome challenges to just about every belief I have and I pride myself on having a very "bring it on" attitude.

I wish I could one day become a professional debater. After watching many debates on religion, I have to admit that I am very dissatisfied with many of the atheist debaters. Many of them are figity, nervous wrecks when they are up there making the case for atheism, and quite frankly it is embarrassing. Theists on the other hand, have many talented debaters who speak smoothly with humor and deliver their message often better than their atheist counterparts. And this annoys me.

I often wonder, "Who speaks for atheism?" Most atheist debaters are either heads of secular or atheist groups, scientists, biologists or authors. Most of them do not have the persuasive charisma that many of the theologians do who argue for theism. I would like to change that.

When we lost Hitchens we lost one of our best advocates. He will never be replaced. Sam Harris is good and entertaining, but he's no Hitchens. Dawkins meanwhile is aging. I'm sure the field will grow with new voices in the years to come but I just hope they are as witty and articulate and charming as the best that religion can produce.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Culture War: The Front Line of the Political Divide

As America sobers up to the reality of another four more years of Barack Obama, the never-ending culture war continues to rage. I remember back in 2004 when Bush Jr. was reelected and how bad I felt the next day, but this year the response from some losing republicans shows that they can be the biggest sore losers ever. They complain that the demographics have changed, that we're no longer a "traditional America anymore", that their is a secular liberal agenda sweeping the country aided by the media and the public school institutions, and that conservatism will shrink as the white evangelical demographic wanes. They believe this will make liberals and democrats unstoppable in the elections to come. Their fear is very palpable, and judging from the movements in all 50 states to succeed from the union, they are not going to be silent.

Now I hate partisanship, I really do, but I have to admit that I do support a liberal agenda. I support equal rights for gays, a strong wall of separation between religion and government, and laws based on science and reason that would include such things as the full legalization of marijuana and universal healthcare. Now I don't agree with liberals down the line, but I lean towards the left of most social and economic issues. I am an adamant (but fair) secularist, and a voter and I certainly do consider the religion and philosophy of the candidate I vote for. So I guess you can say that I'm a "soldier" in the culture war, or at least I'm part of its Reserves.

Now when we speak of the culture war in the US we are generally speaking about whether it is the general policies outlined from liberals or from conservatives that is in control in the White House, Congress and local government. There is also a culture war between secularists like myself, and those who want religion allowed in government and schools. So let's look at a few areas of the culture war and examine the impact around them.

The Liberal Bias

Now when looking at the "liberal agenda" sweeping the country as evident in this passed election cycle, you'll notice it's a reflection of the changing attitudes of the people. But the conservative will argue that this change in attitude in favor of liberalism is because the media and public school system is brain washing the youth and turning them into liberal robots. I have had several conservatives complain to me personally about this.

Here's what I have to say about this. First, I agree that most of the media and the public school systems have a liberal bias. But there is a reason why this is so and I've written about it before. Historically speaking, the liberal point of view is almost always correct on social issues. Think of slavery, women's rights, and civil rights. Conservatives were against all of the changes that came in these areas back when they were radical and controversial. Now they act as if they were always for them. And what was liberal yesterday, is conservative today. This is called moral progress. Conservatism, almost always backed by religion, is the greatest hindrance to moral progress.

Today one of the great civil rights issues is the struggle for equal rights for gays. Conservatives are against cultural and legal recognition of any aspect of the gay lifestyle. What angers them so much, is that they know they are losing the culture war on this issue and there is little they can do about it. And I guarantee you that in a few decades from now when being gay is no more as controversial as being black, or a woman, or left-handed, and gays have their equal rights, most religious conservatives will have came around to the liberal side on the issue, and will be trying hard to forget that they once were vehemently opposed to gays as they were towards women and black people.

So the liberal bias is justified, especially when you consider that in every generation, conservatives draw the line and say the buck stops here on moral progress. If we took that seriously, we'd still be back in the Jim Crow south. So no, moral progressives like myself will not allow religious and closed minded conservatives to draw moral lines where they expect everyone to yield to.

Demographic Changes

We are within a few decades of majority non-white US. This has caused a lot of concern and fear amongst mostly conservative thinking whites who fear that their long-held taken-for-granted majority and control over politics will fade. Even when considering that the percentage of white voters in the presidential election was 72%, higher than the percentage of whites in general, they fear living in a country where they'll be a minority. Now on immigration, I am a bit more conservative than the typical liberal. I support a strong border and control over who is allowed into the country. I support controlled immigration because I prefer that we diversify who enters the US so that it isn't mostly coming from Mexico and Latin America and instead reflects the world as a whole.

In short, I am fine with no one having the majority population, and I enjoy diversity. As long as we continue to assimilate immigrants, we can ensure that the US will prosper culturally in the years to come. Now how this affects the culture war seems obvious. The majority of non-whites vote democrat and voted for Obama. This seems like a win for the democrats looking forward, but I have a feeling that if conservatives liberalize their immigration stances, as it seems they will inevitably have to do, they can attract large numbers of Latinos. This is because Latinos are generally more religious and conservative on social issues and this actually has me quite concerned knowing that the largest growing ethnic populations immigrating to the US are socially conservative. I don't know exactly what kind of problem this could pose in the fight for secularism in the years ahead, but there is evidence that there is growing number of "nones" (no religious affiliation) among younger Latinos that mirrors that of whites.

Who is Winning the Culture War?

It seems that as the US becomes less and less religious, the trend towards liberal politics increases. This will spell good news in the years to come. Liberals are wining the culture war, so if you stand for equality, secularism, and for science and reason guiding our futures, rest assured that the theocrats are being kept at bay. This does not mean that we should declare victory; the war is not over and may never be, and its battles take place in schools and court rooms nearly everyday.

Finally, if there is just one point where I can leave an impression on your mind, it is that I urge you to think deeply about what you stand for, and make sure you have a damn good argument to back it up. That's what it means to be well informed, and that's what it means to be a critical thinker.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Parenting And Society's Ills

When I analyze many of society's ills, I can't help but come to the conclusion, that most of them are due to bad parenting. I think that if all parents were better informed and let go of the embedded cultural ignorances that were passed on to them from their parents, we would have a better world that maximized its potentiality. That means a world with far less violence; no war (imagine that); the humane treatment of the environment, animals and fellow human beings; technology that maximizes human well being through renewable energy; and an economy that is not based on the exploitation of finite resources and cheap labor. Sure many problems are natural: disease, famine, drought etc, so better parenting by no means would end all of our problems, but surely a great number of them could be reduced if not all but eliminated.

I have very strong thoughts about being a parent. I have to be honest when I say that I do not, and have never wanted to have kids. I don't see myself as the fatherly type. I have thought perhaps too deeply about this issue, unlike many people who simply have kids, either planned or not, without really thinking about the consequences. When I tell people that I do not want kids, I usually hear a shocked response that asks, "you really don't want to have kids, ever? I say "yes", and we usually get into a debate about why. Why I don't want to have kids is for several reasons.

The main reason why I do not want to have kids is the main reason why most people want to have kids: I do not want to pass my genetic material on to someone else. There are things about me that are genetic that I simply would not want to knowingly pass on to another human being. I don't want to go into detail about them, but I know that all the negative traits that I have that are genetic, can all be stopped by me if I don't have kids.

The other reason I do not want to have kids is the high financial cost of raising a kid today, combined with my low attention span and general dislike for kids. I like adults. I like people who are educated and cultured and intellectual, because it is these kinds of people that I can usually have the most interesting conversations with. Kids are by nature uneducated and immature, and I do not like anyone regardless of their age, who has these characteristics. Kids deserve parents that truly care about them and want them in their lives. I am sad to say that I cannot fulfill that end of the bargain. I have had so many friends over the years who have told me horror stories about their parents neglecting and abusing them, and being such bad parents that I sometimes think you should have to have a license to be a parent. I am deeply concerned about the potential that I could be a bad parent, that my way of dealing with this is to refuse to have kids. I would never want to intentionally bring anyone into the world and then mistreat them. I feel this to be the most rational and educated stance on the matter. If more people thought like me in this regard, then the brightest, most informed and most dedicated people would have children and they would grow up into the better adults.

The desire to be a parent is as natural as eating for most people, and I don't quite know why I lack this quality. I have a different twist on "reproduction". For me, passing on my ideas is how I envision my seed being spread. Children are not necessarily like their parents, and there is no guarantee that parents will get along with their kids. But if you are intelligent, and outspoken, you can pass on your knowledge and ideas to others, and influence minds, and that can make more of a difference in this world than making another human being. It is not merely the act of influencing minds that I care about so much that it is bettering the world. I truly care about the quality of life for human beings, animals and the environment. We have extremely complex problems that we must address if humanity should see the end of this millenia.

I propose a radical change in the way we raise children that is partly taking place already. Parents should wait until they are older and more responsible before they have kids. There are many cultural reasons why having kids at an early age happens, that needs to be phased out as people enter the modern world. No one should have more than 2 or 3 kids; the Earth simply cannot yield enough resources to handle litters of 10 kids anymore. Cultural practices in raising children that are shown to be harmful should be abolished. (This admittedly would probably be the greatest challenge to a world with maximized parenting skills.) A deep sense of morality must be taught to our children that emphasizes above all else, compassion and empathy towards others. We must emphasize the pursuit of knowledge, reason and critical thinking as these have shown to be the best medicine to cure the ignorance that has led to so much unnecessary suffering.

In short, better parenting means a better world for all of us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Refuting William Lane Craig: His Attempt To Marry Evolution With Christianity

The process of evolution and its compatibility with religion has been a heated debate for 150 years. Many contemporary Christians acknowledge evolution as fact and as being compatible with the doctrines of Christianity. William Lane Craig put out a podcast addressing evolution and Christianity and how the two can be successfully married. In the podcast he says that the random aspect of evolutionary biology is not actually random, but is instead guided by god. He further says that the genetic mutations that result in organisms evolving over time do not occur with the benefit or detriment of the organism in view, and this is what he says biologists mean when they say evolution is "random".

So William Lane Craig now thinks he's an evolutionary biologist. While trying to fit evolution into Christianity, he explains that an evolutionary process that is random in the sense that it is completely unguided or without any end goal in mind is not compatible with Christianity, but one guided by god is. He even says that there is no justification for any scientist to say that the genetic mutations that result from the evolutionary process is unguided and that such a claim would be "a metaphysical statement which no scientist could justifiably make".

As far as I understood it, the genetic mutations that result from the evolutionary process are random in the sense that they are unguided, with no end result in mind. I don't see how WLC can justify saying that god designs the whole process unless he were trying to fit the process into Christianity, which he is. In evolution, when organisms reproduce, every so often there is a genetic letter that changes in the DNA molecule. So an A might turn into a G, and a C might turn into a T. This is called a single-nucleotide polymorphism. The genetic change can have no affect on the organism, or it could help or hurt the organism. If it helps the organism survive in its environment, the organism will have a greater chance to reproduce and pass on the genetic mutation, and other organism with out the genetic advantage of the same species will have a lesser chance to reproduce in that environment. That is the general basis of evolution and it is all random in that there is no end goal in mind.

Now if god guides the genetic mutations, how does the theist explain genetic mutations that hurt organisms? Is god directly interfering with the DNA of creatures to purposely make their lives more difficult? What is the justification for that? Think of diseases and deformities that are the result of genetic disorders in humans and in animals that cause them to suffer horribly from birth. Did god specifically design that? If so, why did he design specific genetic diseases that cause humans and animals alike to suffer if he is all loving and benevolent? If species are designed with an end goal in mind, why have so many millions of species gone extinct? This would mean that they were purposely designed in such a way that they were not compatible and were thus not able to survive or evolve into other species. Believing that the evolutionary process is guided by god forces you to address these problems, whereas if the process is random, there is no one to blame other than chance.

We have no evidence that mutations are chosen or designed by any kind of supernatural force, and this rather silly attempt to justify the randomness of evolution by making it part of god's grand design is just another way Christians like WLC are forced to come to the recognition of evolution's undeniable truth. WLC isn't exactly a young Earth creationist so I will give him that, and I think it is better to have creationists embrace this highly distorted view of evolution, rather than the typical young Earth creationist nonsense. At least they are getting one step closer to the truth when it comes to science, and some progress is better than no progress.

I know WLC has a large loyal following among Christians and is regarded by many as one of the best theologians alive today, but almost every time I hear him speak I can see right through his bullshit that few others call him out on.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Inter-Belief Dialogue And The Challenges Of Secularism

Earlier this year during the Republican primaries, presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said in an interview with 'This Week' host George Stephanopoulos that he felt the separation of church and state makes him "want to throw up."  He said, "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute", "The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country."

Extreme right-wing ignoramuses like Rick Santorum are the intellectual enemies of those who want to preserve the separation of church and state and it is good news to know his political party is on the decline. It is people like him that are constantly trying to knock down this barrier and usher in a flood of religious influence. As secularists it is important that we remain a challenge to their agenda while at the same time do not help further the extreme partisanship that has gridlocked much of Washington. This is much easier said than done, but let me try to explain.

We can never concede our principle on the separation of religion and government. It is paramount to the atheist and secularist alike that we continue living in a society where politics is decided from the point of view using science and reason and free from the influence of religious tradition, dogma and supernaturalism.

If you consider that for quite some time secularists like myself and those against secularism will have to coexist in the US, I wonder how can this best occur while not conceding on principle. I have been trying to recently articulate my positions on secularism to make clear what I mean when I say the separation of religion and government, and what that means for a theist or someone who was anti-secularist. I haven't been able to take on every challenge of course, but I think it is important to address some issues we are facing.

It is important for those who disagree to be able to come together whenever possible on the things they have in common. Even the most ardent partisans on opposite sides of the political spectrum will have something in common that they could join together in fighting for. It is important that the secularist can recognize the common humanity bonding them together with the theist, and they should all be willing to engage with others who we sometimes disagree with. I can name a few areas where this could occur:

  1. The Occupy Wall Street movement. Although it was not as successful as many hoped, it did at least spark a serious debate on the disproportionate increases in wealth and power of the top 1 percent in recent years. Many Muslims (due to their religion's prohibition of usury) are also against the culture of greed that characterizes the financial system. Many Catholics are against this too. This is a perfect opportunity for atheists and those with faith to come together and fight a system of corruption created by the rich that hurts the poor and working class. 
  2. Working together towards the elimination of poverty and to help those less fortunate can be done between those with and without faith. 
  3. There are those with faith who also support the separation of religion from government and we can work together whenever and however possible.
  4. Working together to spread human rights and to help those in countries that are having their human rights violated, such as those suffering under dictators or from ethnic cleansing. 
  5. Working together towards unreasonable laws that we both agree are unjust, such as basic women's rights, civil rights and caste systems.
  6. Working together on environmental issues such as climate change, laws concerning pollution and waste treatment
  7. Working together for ethical treatment of animals 
There are many reasons where secular atheists can come together with those who believe in god. The other alternative is to say, "since we disagree on religion and politics, let's not even communicate or work together at all, ever." That is not a long term strategy of coexistence even if we are highly polarized in some of our politics. It is through working together, that we can best achieve our goals. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Militant Secularism And Atheism: A Practical Application To Secularism

When Malcolm X was asked whether he considered himself "militant", he jokingly responded by saying he considered himself "Malcolm". Perhaps I can answer this question by saying I consider myself "Michael".

I have asked myself the question of whether I am a militant atheist. I don't think I am militant, so much as I am polemic. I have no intention of killing or physically harming anyone on behalf of my beliefs. I believe in peace, love and justice. When it comes to politics, I will say that I am and I support those who are adamant about furthering the secular agenda. When it comes to my personal life, I am usually enthusiastic when it comes to debating my convictions and this could be perceived as being militant.

That said, I do not support state atheism in any sort of communist style system that would restrict religious practice, and I do support the rights of the religious to practice their personal faith free from persecution. My support for them ends when they begin trying to advance their religious-based beliefs in government because it is then that they are violating my freedom from religion.

But as I've engaged in debate over secularism with those who are actively against it, I feel the need to clarify my positions. One of the bonuses of debate is that it does force you to sharpen your convictions as they are cross-examined. Let me lay down for a moment some of the core points on my views towards secularism.

  1. First, secularism is not a religion. It is a principle; it is a political ideology. If secularism cannot be advanced in government because you classify it as a religion, then you would also not be able to advance democracy as well because it would be classified as a religion too and we would have a situation where no set of political beliefs would enter the government. 
  2. Secularism is to keep religious organizations and dignitaries separate from government. This does not mean that someone with religion cannot become an appointed or elected politician, it just means that those with religion in government should base laws and policy free from their religious traditions and dogma.
  3. Basing policy free from religious traditions and dogma does not mean that one cannot advance a moral position that their religion also agrees with, it means that the person in government must be able to give a valid argument on their position, without appeal to their religion. In other words, they must justify their political position in secular terms using reason and science. If their justification for their position is to say "my Bible/Torah/Qur'an says it is wrong so I do too" that is a violation of secularism. 
  4. For example, take the issue of abortion. If a politician is against abortion, a secular government means they must justify why it is wrong without using the typical appeal to religion and god by saying the fetus has a soul and that their holy book says it is wrong. This would be an appeal to religion and not to science and reason. Even though there is no scientific evidence for the soul, it is possible to mount an argument against abortion from the point of view of secularism completely absent of religion and theism. Such an argument would be valid in a secular government. 
  5. If a secular argument without appeal to religion and the supernatural cannot be made for the reason a certain law or policy should exist, then it is not admissible in a secular government. 
  6. This is a practical and fair approach towards secular laws because it does not mean that all laws and policies that exist in religion(s) will be immediately blocked, rather it means those laws and traditions must be defensible without being backed up by the religion.
Even with this approach towards secularism we are not free of conflicts. Take the issue of school sanctioned prayer that I recently explored and debated. Imagine someone who is for introducing school sanctioned prayer comes up with statistics showing that schools that have allowed it have better test scores and lower dropout rates and this is used as their appeal to science and reason for why it should be allowed. Now we have a conflict here in that something that may be good for students if applied would violate secularism by allowing a government institution to establish a religion. 

How do I weigh in on this problem? As I mentioned before, the establishment clause prevents the government from establishing any religion, and allowing any religion to be sanctioned by a government institution violates that principle. So therefore, even if you could successfully mount a secular argument in favor for school prayer, the practice itself would violate the separation of government from religion. 

Secularism and its practical application certainly introduces complex situations that have to be analyzed from multiple points of view. That is why we have armies of lawyers and liberal watchdog organizations like the ACLU as well as those who are trying to poke holes in secularism doing what they do. 

This brings me back to my point earlier about the militarism of secularism. As we head towards a majority secular society with religiosity on the decline, secularists like myself will increasingly find ourselves in the position of power. It is certainly possible for an atheist and secularist to be as fundamental as any theist in their approach towards freedoms of conscience and expression. I feel obligated to maintain a fair and practical approach towards my views on secularism so that its practice does not do to those with faith, what those with faith did towards those without faith when the faithful had the monopoly on power. 

I do not want to be called a hypocrite by simply doing to others today what people like them have done to people like me in the past. Moral integrity and virtue are more important and are the cornerstone of my character. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Masochism Of Christianity

I've always felt from an early age, that Christianity was an extremely masochistic religion. It seems rather obvious to me, that at some level, religion is a product of the sadomasochistic aspects of the human personality. The desire to be a slave, the desire to be humiliated, degraded, denied pleasure, and subject to the will of someone else's whim, characterizes much of religion, but especially in Christianity. This is evident in self-flagellation and crucifixion rituals, perverse obsessions with chastity and sexual regulation, guilt-ridden feelings of unworthiness, and many more. This is all somewhat counterbalanced with the natural solipsism and ego gratifying beliefs that the whole entire universe is human centered, that we are in the spotlight, that it is all created with us in mind and that we are all loved by an invisible being. Christianity paints a picture that plays perfectly upon the warped conditions that the human mind endures.

I've never had any doubt that all religions are man made. Their obvious contradictions, plagiarisms, and child-like observations of the natural world around them convince me beyond any reasonable doubt to their falsity. With Christianity, we are told that we are sinners from the moment of conception, that we are born sick and commanded to be perfect, that we don't deserve the life that we didn't even ask for, and that we all deserve the Christian hell by default. Now to me the masochism here is obviously apparent. This guilt ridden wallowing on one's knees in shame and terror of one's natural state, is tantamount to the slave who enjoys being urinated on and whipped.

Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to be urinated on and whipped, but when your whole life outlook concerning human nature, sexuality, desire, and existence, is from the point of view of the self-loathing masochist via the Christian mindset, and you are promoting this view towards others, that is when it becomes a problem. As atheists we do not believe in an inherent state of "sin", and we don't need to feel guilty of natural desires as long as they are not harmful to others. There is no need to seek approval from some invisible authority that we can't see, hear, touch, feel or measure in any way to justify our very existence.

The freedom involved with being an atheist is something that makes some theists anger. While they shackle themselves psychologically in manacles submitting to an invisible master, they see us laughing and enjoying our lives free from a harmful masochistic complex in our outlook on life and nature. They see us indulging in activities they consider sin, and sometimes boil with rage as to why we are not also swimming in guilt. Many Christians also want to export their Christian guilt onto us so that we too become self loathing and submit to their invisible god. The atheistic outlook does not necessary sanction a totally hedonistic indulgence for one to engage unmitigated in every desire because every rational person understands that we have to live in a society with rules. The problem is that the rules of Christianity are not based on reason, they're based on the ignorance and superstition of masochists.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is America Becoming More Like Europe And Canada?

survey conducted by the Pew Forum on religious and public life indicates that the "nones" - those who do not consider themselves part of any organized religion, represent about 16.1 percent of the U.S., and are growing at a quicker rate than any religion. The statistics are even more encouraging when you factor in age. According to the American Values Survey 2012, the number of those "unaffiliated" by any organized religion jumps to 32 percent for those between the ages of 18-29, and falls to 19 percent for those between 30-49. This shows that the younger you are, the less religious you will tend to be. No surprise by most measures; it is already generally understood that young people tend to rebel against the religious institutions they're raised in and then become religious again as they age. But what is encouraging here as a long term trend, is that the survey also shows that as people grow older, smaller numbers are keeping the religion they were raised in.

For example, among Catholics, there is a 9.4 percent loss from those who were affiliated with Catholicism when they were children, to those whose current affiliation is still Catholic. White Mainline Protestant, Black Protestant and White Evangelical Protestant affiliations saw drops as well although not as dramatic. Those who were unaffiliated with any organized religion as children grew from 7 percent, to 18.6 percent as adults, and represent the only group that saw dramatic increases in numbers between childhood and adulthood.

See the interactive survey results here:

All these statistics provide an encouraging trend towards a gradual reduction of Americans being affiliated with any organized religion, a trend already mimicked in Europe and Latin America. For those 16.1 percent of Americans who are unaffiliated, that does not mean they are atheists. In fact, the survey shows that only 39 percent of the unaffiliated or "nones" consider themselves atheist/agnostic. Some of them believe that god is an impersonal force, others believe in a more traditional god but reject any religion organized around it. Either way, the rejection of organized religion even if one retains their belief in a deity is good news for secularists like myself.

Now even considering the good news, an openly non believing presidential candidate today has little chance to get elected in the U.S. That can all change in a moment however, but in my estimation it will take another 15 - 20 years or so until the hostility towards atheists subsides enough to the point where we can get a plausible chance at the White House.

I suspect as many others do that Barack Obama is a closet atheist, or that he is really far less religious than he has to pretend to be to the American people. This is one of the reasons why I like him. One day I hope in the not too distant future, we will see a time when presidential candidates do not have to pledge their undying love for Jesus Christ, and make the ignorant declaration that their faith guides their every decision.

In some European countries, like in England, candidates running for office do not have to overplay their religion and doing so can actually be seen as a negative. It is odd how in a country like England, which has an official state religion - the Church of England, they have a more secular approach toward their elected officials then we Americans do. I predict given the trend, that this will change in the decades to come.

On issues like healthcare, Americans voted for keeping Obamacare. Now I have given my two cents on healthcare, and fully support a system of "socialized medicine". I believe that it is a basic human right to not have to die if you cannot afford healthcare, and I also think corporations should not be profiting by being able to decide who gets to live and die based on how profitable it is for them. All signs indicate that we are headed towards a more European-style system on healthcare and in the absence of religion from politics.

During the Bush administration in the last decade there was this growing fear among liberals that the U.S. might be heading towards a fundamentally religious and conservative political system, while the rest of the developed world moved closer towards secularism. Since Obama became the president this fear has not been actualized and we are seeing the reverse, but those on the right continue to beat their war drums in the fantasy of a full-blown conservative Christian take over of American politics.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Moral Hypocracy of Religion

Debating with fundamentalist theists is always entertaining, especially on the issue of morality. It is my contention that on morality, no where is there a worse basis for moral absolutes then there is with religion. When cornered, many believing theists admit they disagree with the "absolute" morals of their own religions and struggle with the reconciliation between them and what they believe is moral in their hearts. Yet they still proclaim, often proudly, that through their religion's absolute moral stance is the best and only way to think critically of moral issues. Let's examine this issue in detail on several points.

First, what is moral absolutism?

Moral absolutism is defined as "the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, regardless of the context of the act."

Moral absolutism and relativism can get us into some murky waters here so we have to be careful what we are talking about. Theists of many faiths will reluctantly admit that some moral relativism exists. I recently had a very conservative theist argue that Old Testament morality "was relative to a particular time and place." Thereby he admits that some moral actions are right and wrong, depending on where, why and how they were committed. That is moral relativism.

I would agree with this considering the virtually infinite number of possible situations where a moral choice must be made. The questions of where, why and how they were committed is often a determining factor to calculate its morality. However, this does not have to force you to dive head on into total moral relativism. The standards by which you calculate an action being wrong or right can be the same and apply across all cultures and time periods equally, even if different situations result in different determinations as to whether something is right or wrong.

No religion gives us a complete moral code. We are always going to be debating what is or is not moral, whenever new issues arise. Just think of the invention of the internet and how many new laws and regulations needed to be debated and passed as to what would be moral or not with this new advance in technology. No holy book will decide that, for this we must use our brains.

I further argue, that no religion really gives us the standards by which to calculate moral actions. In ethical philosophy, there are three main branches of thought to calculate morality: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Religion uses a divine command theory of ethics. That means god commands it to be right or wrong, period. So if you're a Muslim, eating pork is wrong, because god said so. If you are a Christian, you cannot suffer a witch to live, because god said so. You are required to accept these moral commandments and thinking for yourself and reconsidering what is right or wrong is strictly off limits: The boss has already done the thinking for us.

The atheist's problem with this is the source of these ethics. We are told that we just have to accept that these commandments were revealed to people years ago, from an all knowing god, and perfectly translated through many languages and many generations to the present. What the atheist insists upon, is questioning everything, and every moral, so that nothing is accepted by blind faith. And if we can consider a better moral based on the moral calculations of utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics, guided by the latest science, then we should be perfectly right to discard the moral we derived from religion.

The Cherry Pickers of Morality

I often enjoy accusing theists that they are merely cherry picking their morality from their holy books to suit their personal beliefs, while they discard many of the other "absolute" morals. In Christianity, the Bible condones a host of "absolute" morals that include various forms of slavery, fathers selling their daughters into slavery, indentured servitude, forcing underage girls into marriages with older men, stoning to death all homosexuals, adulterers, witches, unruly children, those who worship false gods, those who work on the sabbath, allowing the rape of female captives in war, and throwing war captives off cliffs. There are certainly more that I do not have the time to mention.

Now if a theist adhering to a moral absolute standard believes that these above mentioned morals were relative to a certain time and place, that is hypocricy. You can't have all morality to be absolute and relative at the same time. This puts the theist into a bit of a conundrum.

So a theist could ask, "Does admitting perplexity about the Bible’s teachings in one area, while strongly affirming its teachings in another area, make me a hypocrite?"

Well it would certainly make the theist a selective literalist. I personally do reject the Bible on account of several things. First are its contradicting, and fallacious moral teachings, that are the product of an angry, jealous and superstitious tribe, bent on justifying the harm they committed by believing it was divinely sanctioned. Second is the historical and scientific inaccuracy when compared to modern science.

As an atheist I do not accept the authority and validity of the Bible. So how then should Biblical morality be interpreted? If one must continue believing in the god of the Bible, they should take from the Bible whatever morals are beneficial, and disregard whatever is no longer relevant. This is pretty much exactly what almost all theists do anyway. Most logical Christians today know the Bible in its entirety is not meant to be taken literally, and a strict literalist interpretation of the Bible will only continue to shave away adherents as a result of the torrent of secular criticism. The best hope for religion is to reform itself to include what modern science and philosophy provide us. If not, religion, much like the republican party, will continue to see its numbers of adherents decline with time.

The theist could counter with a comparison, "Should we reject science and its findings because it is not entirely amenable to our understanding?"

There is simply no comparison of the practice of science and the practice of religion. First, as I've written before, science is just the method by which we build and organize natural explanations for everything based on testable evidence and predictions. Science is an activity, it is not a set of faith-based beliefs. No one who uses science is forced to commit themselves to one particular scientific theory or not. There is no hell for not believing in string theory. Although when the evidence for a scientific theory is overwhelming, scientists will sometimes look down upon those who deny it (just think of how ridiculous flat Earth proponents look today).

Religion is a set of dogmatic beliefs surrounding a deity that requires faith to believe in, and skepticism and doubt about these beliefs are frowned upon. Comparing science to religion is to compare apples to oranges. They are two different camps. The scientific understanding of matter at the subatomic levels, however perplexing, is not tantamount to our understanding of morality from a Biblical perspective. Scientists are not "revealed" scientific truths from an absolute authority that they then have to reconcile with contradicting testable results. In religion however, we are "revealed" not only moral truths, but scientific "facts", that we then see are contradicted by our moral intuitions and the natural world.

The Role of Science in Morality

When Europeans first encountered black Africans, they didn't even consider the Africans to be human beings. They thought of them as some kind of sub-species, without the same intellectual and emotional capabilities as Europeans. This falsely held belief lead to centuries of slavery and colonization that they helped justify with the Bible. Today with modern genetic science, and the unraveling of the human genome, science has proved that all human beings share a common ancestor and that all human beings came from Africa. In effect, science has shown us that we are all Africans. With this new found scientific knowledge, one cannot justify the inferiority of African people with their previously held beliefs.

Having scientific knowledge about ourselves and our world is necessary for making the best possible moral choices. The reason why I don't regard Biblical or religious morality with any serious regard, is because they were decided at a time when humans lacked the most basic scientific understanding of the nature of reality. We used to be a people who believed in the powers of alchemy, sorcery, witches who could control the weather and disease; we believed that the world was flat, and that it was the center of the universe, that being left handed was a sign of wickedness, and that children should be buried beneath the foundations of buildings to ward off bad luck. Why would anyone seriously consider believing forever, moral cues derived from a time when this ignorant nonsense existed?

The problem with religion is that it is philosophy frozen in dogma. Just as we shouldn't have considered permanently freezing all of our beliefs when we were ten years old, the ignorant "wisdom" of the Iron-age should not be our permanent guidelines on how to live and think morally.

We may never have all the scientific knowledge of ourselves and the universe to guide our moral thinking. What we should do then, is make the best moral decisions given the (always) limited knowledge that we have and continue to improve them as new information is derived. This is called moral growth and we all do it, whether theists like to admit it or not.

By What Basis Is Biblical Morality Unethical?

Theists claim that an atheist is in no position to critique Biblical morality since he doesn't have his own absolute standard to judge it by. To this I respond in two parts. First the theist has no absolute standard, since all theists reluctantly admit that morality is at least in part, relative. Imagine a world with no human beings. Who would the ten commandments apply to? Lions? Dogs? The ten commandments are only relative to human beings existing. We cannot expect animals to behave to our moral laws. So all morality is at least relative to the human species. Furthermore, think of lying. It is considered generally wrong, but who would argue against lying to save a life, such as if Nazis came knocking at your door to ask if you were hiding Jews and you were. This is situational relativism which the Christian theist also reluctantly agrees is true.

Second, in what sense is morality objective? Any argument made for whether something is moral or not, has to be justified for a reason. So for example, kindness, love, compassion and fairness are good in and of themselves for justifiable reasons. It doesn't help us any better at all to believe there is a god who says these things are also good. Would kindness, love, compassion and fairness be any less beneficial to the beings affected by it if there was no god, or if god didn't agree that these actions were good? Of course not! No one's opinion, not even god's, makes any difference as to whether kindness, love, compassion and fairness are good things. They are naturally good in and of themselves and do not require to be backed up by authoritative power.

We get our moral intuitions from the sociobiological evolutionary process. As a species of social primates, human beings had to learn to get along and live civilly with one another. Living in small tribes for hundreds of thousands of years, everyone was dependent on each other for survival. Collectivism reigned supreme. In the modern world, we've had to adapt this tribal way of thinking to a world where we largely don't personally know our neighbors. The great struggle of humanity has been to look past race, ethnicity and differences to recognize all fellow humans beings as extended members of the same tribe. The tribal and ethnic warfare of the Old Testament is indicative of our early failures to understand this. That is another reason why the validity of absolute morals from this era should be disregarded.

In Conclusion

I'd like to summarize my points:

  • Religion and theism cannot provide an absolute basis for morality. Every religion created has relativistic morals for different situations and morality is only relative to human beings.
  • Divine command theory of ethics is a "might makes right" reasoning to understand moral truth.
  • The religious all cherry pick their morality. Furthermore, since some morals contradict themselves, the theist is often forced to cherry pick morals. 
  • There is no way to compare the endeavour of science with the dogmatic practice of religion. One uses the scientific method to find natural explanations of our world; the other asks believers to frown upon doubt and skepticism and to accept "revelations" as fact. 
  • Scientific knowledge has greatly helped our moral understanding and the morality of religion came largely before the scientific era, that is why many of its teaches seem ludicrous.
  • Some actions are naturally good or bad in and of themselves regardless of anyone's opinion of them.  The effects of actions are objective regardless of what someone's opinion of it is. Introducing a deity to the situation merely adds one more unnecessary opinion.

Finally, on morality the theist should consider these questions:

  • Couldn't it be possible that the counter-intuitive morality of the Bible is largely a product of our Iron-age superstitious thinking, which lacked the most basic understanding of science and human nature?
  • Isn't trying to reconcile Biblical morality so that it all fits into modern morality simply a futile waste of time? 
  • If Biblical morality is indeed right, why is it right? By what basis is this justified? 
  • If Biblical morality is indeed right, shouldn't we still be practicing it now? What are the justifications for doing so or not doing so?
  • Is something good because god commands it, or does he command it because it is good?
  • If something is good because god commands it, then couldn't he command murder to be good?
  • If god would never command murder because murder is inherently bad, then murder must naturally be bad in and of itself, and couldn't this be recognized by human beings without the requirement of god? 

The Election Results 2012

Yesterday I made my way over to my local voting center and I voted for Barack Obama as I did in 2008. I spent the night watching the news results closely to see who won, just as I did in 2008 as well. Of course I am thrilled that Barack Obama was reelected president but there were also several other notable state ballot measures concerning marijuana legalization and gay marriage.

  • Maine and Maryland approved gay marriage initiatives, the first time gay marriage has been approved at the state level with a popular vote. Washington state appears to be doing the same with its referendum.
  • Marijuana legalization passed in Colorado and Washington state with ballot initiatives.
Since I both agree with the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage I am quite happy with the results. The fact that gay marriage and marijuana legalization are winning popular votes in states, (something we never saw before), is further indication of the liberal trend towards more reasonable morality. 

If you look at the younger generation today, which would be those under 35, there is a clear consensus of support for both of these issues. Some might argue that it is due to an indoctrination of the public school systems with liberal professors, but others like me believe that as we learn more about human nature from science and the consequences of our actions, it logically concludes that those who are born gay are given equal rights to marry who they choose, and that our war on drugs has been an abysmal failure in need of policy change.

I look forward to the day where I see a United States more consistent with the values I hold. It is only a matter of time before this happens. The older, conservative beliefs of the past are going to die out as quickly as the aging people who hold them. I must say that this moral evolution does not mean to indicate that morality changes with each generation, but rather that we are evolving towards a better moral code, more compatible with the latest scientific understanding of our world. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Do Atheists Have Faith In Science?

One accusation of those who have religious faith in god, is that atheists too have that same faith in science. However, this is not true. Science is just the method by which we build and organize natural explanations for everything based on testable evidence and predictions. So having faith in science would be like having faith in math. Math is the method we use to determine and calculate numeric representations and the relationship between them.

No one will argue that math is not a very reliable way of dealing with numbers; our modern world depends on it, and even animals can use it. Science, likewise is a very reliable way of finding information about our world, because it has proved its reliability time and time again. All of our modern technology is the result of science, and one doesn't require any faith to understand its brilliance.

Furthermore, no atheist justifies evolution by saying it is true because "Darwin says so." I have debated with theists whose last resort at reasoning is to say "because the Bible says so" or "because the Qur'an says so." The idea that a supposed "holy" book merely saying something in and of itself makes an assertion true, without any credible evidence to back it up, is reasoning gone bankrupt. That is faith, plain and simple.

Now science cannot explain each and every aspect of our universe and it might be impossible for our body of knowledge to contain everything that there is to know. Theists jump on this and assert the hand of god where there is a gap in our knowledge. And if that gap is ever closed, they then have two gaps that they fill with the hand of god. The god of the gaps method is a very weak way to assert the existence of any deity. It is best that theists simply do what they do best, which is to maintain that believing in god is a matter of faith.

"Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do."
                                                                                                                                    -Bill Maher

"Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."

                                                                                                                         -Bertrand Russell

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why Secularism?

Debating with theists recently regarding opposing conceptions of government has lead me to ask the question: Why secularism? In other words, why do I believe in a secular government? Is secularism a religion unto itself? And is a secular government unfair to those who oppose it?

Secularism is defined as "the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element." Phrases like "the separation of church and state" are often evoked. Secularism is necessary in order to prevent laws from being passed that are based not on reason and science, but from a religious customs, traditions, rules and scripture. It it the absolutism of morality guided by revelation that I have such abhorrence for.

The idea is very simple: in a pluralistic society like the U.S., where many faiths are practiced, secularism becomes necessary to prevent laws from being passed and enforced onto people that are based on another person's religion. Most of us would not want to be forced to live under the rules of a religion that we do not hold, such as Islamic Sharia. Many people who are of a particular faith also do not want their religion's rules legislated onto them because they feel that many of their religion's obligations are a matter of personal observation. This is why secularism has been so successful in the West and continues to spread around the world.

As an atheist, I want to live in a society whose laws are rational and just, and based on reason and science. Religious laws sometimes enforce conduct that when examined through the light of reason and science, make little to no sense. For example, Jews and Muslims are forbidden to eat pork. Why? Because god says so. Now imagine a law forbidding pork from being served, regardless of whether you are a Jew, Muslim or not. "Because god says so" is not a justifiable way for a law to be passed, for reasons rather obvious to the atheist and theist alike. This also gets you into the problem of just whose god will it be whose commandments get inscribed into law. You will either have to have a national religion or some sort of religious partitioning that will usually lead to prolonged conflict. To prevent all of this, separating religion from government seems to be the obvious solution.

But the argument is far from over. Let's look at some issues made by some of those critical of secularism. Some claim that secularism is itself a religion, and that a secular government is merely one that has secularism as its state religion. It is certainly possible to define religion many ways. If religion is defined as to not include a deity, but to simply represent a system of beliefs, such as a political ideology, then one could twist out an argument that makes secularism look like an imposing force like so many theocracies today and of years past. The problem here, is that if you dilute the definition of religion to include any set of beliefs, then every belief could be come a religion. In other words, being a democrat or a republican can be your religion. Being a socialist or a capitalist can be your religion. So then under this diluted definition of religion, wouldn't our capitalist economy actually be a religion being imposed on every American, regardless of whether they agreed with it or not? All governments have to impose some system of rules and beliefs onto their citizens. It is just simply impossible to have a system so free that no one has anything ever imposed on them. That would lead to anarchy.

Now what about the person who opposes secularism? Are they being treated in a similar manner to how an atheist would be treated in a theocracy? In a theocracy, the atheist will have to be subjected to religious laws, at home and within the workplace. What they eat, who they can have sex with, how they can dress, whether they can drive or not, might be affected. They might have part of their income taken and given to the state religion, they might face penalties for not observing religious duties that could include jail time. They might not be able to speak out and criticize the state religion or the religion's leaders, with penalties ranging from fines to death. It might also be illegal to influence others with another religion or political ideology with similar penalties. A theocracy can force the believer and non believer alike to live as close as possible to the religion's rules, and this may include violations of some of the most basic of human rights.

Under modern secularism, those who wish to observe their religions can do so freely, so long as it does not violate common sense laws based on reason and science. So for example, if your religion allows the forced marriage of underage girls to older men, if it allows honor killing, or if it prevents various justified civil liberties, then the secular government will have to step in to prevent this. This is no more of a violation of one's religious freedom as it is a protection of other's rights. If your religion does not recognize these civil rights, let me remind you that all Abrahamic religions condone various forms of human slavery. So the emancipation of slaves in the American south under this argument would technically qualify as a secular government limiting the "rights" of slave holders to continue their practice of slavery. The moral problem we see when faced with religion is that as the forces of modernity, precipitated by morality guided by a deeper scientific understanding of reality, clashes with Iron Age ideas, we are increasingly seeing hostility in a culture war where the battle lines are drawn in our classrooms and bedrooms.

Freedom gives you choice; it gives you options. If you don't like gay marriage, don't have one; if you don't like abortion, don't have one; if you don't like eating broccoli, don't eat it; but do not prevent others from doing so. And if you are against any morality based on reason and science because it violates your religion, then mount an argument based on science and reason against it without appeal to scripture. Revelation just doesn't cut it as a valid argument.

Finally, I want to add that it is certainly possible that a secularist can become so fundamental that they begin acting like the theocrats in various oppressive regimes. When secularists start acting like adamant communists in their treatment of religious freedom, I oppose them as I would the theocratist. Freedom of conscious is fundamental and must remain so. So I guess therefore what I am really against is any system that stifles freedom, whether it be theocratic or secular. Modern liberal secular democracies offer us the best hope for a free society, with the most justified laws, based not on Iron Age "revelations" when human knowledge of the world was in its infancy, but by using the powers of science and reason. It is because of this that I regard secularism as the best political system.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How To Talk To A Christian: Debating School Sanctioned Prayer


It is rare that I get to discuss religious issues with true believing theists in the secular metropolis of New York, but every once in a while I come across one. A few weeks ago at a student discussion group for atheists, a young-Earth creationist Christian name Daniel Mann joined in and as you can imagine, some debate ensued over religion's role in the public school system. We exchanged information and we soon began debating my blog post regarding school sanctioned prayer in public school. 

In my blog I think I laid out my point of view pretty clear. School sanctioned prayer violates the Constitution, because it violates the separation of religion and government. So Daniel then disagrees with my definition of religion. Religion to me is defined as the belief in and worship of a deity. But he defines religion as any set of beliefs at all. This would include humanism, Dawinism, socialism, capitalism, and just about every other "ism" or belief one can think of. So an organization that thinks the Yankees are the best baseball team in the world as their core beliefs, would be defined as a religion according to him. Go figure. It became apparent when dealing with theists like Gareth Bryant and Daniel that they assume everyone else's beliefs are just as religious as theirs because they are so religious themselves.  

So I am then forced to point out the obvious problem this would cause, which is that teachers wouldn't be able to teach anything if all beliefs were banned. But the issue is clear, the Constitution does not prohibit these "isms" from being mentioned or taught, but it doesn't prohibit the establishment of religion, which school sanctioned prayer would violate. But this theist and theologian, stubbornly holds his ground, motivated by his emotional dislike of secularism, while completely not addressing the legal issue at the heart of the argument. 

I cannot deny by pleasure in arguing with theists because it exposes their way of thinking which often becomes so evidently absurd. For example, Daniel actually said to me in person that we should bring back stoning to death adulterers now in the twenty first century because it would be an effective way to discourage adultery. Need I say more? People like him want to legislate their religion onto everyone else, while they accuse secularists like me of trying to do the same. What they fail to realize, is that we live in a secular democracy, with a secular constitution, and our nation's founding fathers enshrined this system into our founding documents because they were well aware of the problems that occur when one religious group wants to make their faith-based beliefs into law. 

Below is a transcript of our debate. His blog post is also linked below along with my original blog post that started the discussion.

Our debate:

The ThinkerOctober 28, 2012 8:03 PM
The issue here is whether school sanctioned prayer is constitutional, not whether your personal dislike of certain "isms" can be mentioned in public school. Nowhere in our founding documents does it say that socialism cannot be taught or any other non-religious ideology. Only religion is specifically mentioned because we live in a secular democracy. 

You said "Materialism makes the counter-factual assumption that our material world is all that there is". How is this counter-factual when all that we can test exists in the material world and every other realm is mere subjective speculation?

Mere "consensus" doesn't hold the moral fabric of a culture together. It was the consensus that slavery was moral for many years that allowed it to exist in the U.S. for so long. Diversity in race and religion, united under secularism, that is necessary in order to prevent one religion becoming officialized and imposed onto others is what makes our country so great. That is why the secular model is being followed by more and more countries around the world. So secularism is far from dead, it is on the winning end as it rightfully should.


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