Category Archives: Morality

Treat the living as if they’re dead.

“Don’t speak ill of the dead.” – a whole bunch of people.

Ever noticed how people are very respectful and reverend around dead people? It’s fine to say they are mean, vicious, bigoted and nasty while they’re alive, but once they are dead, then “ooo, don’t speak ill of them.” Where did this crazy mentality come from?

Image from findagrave.com

It’s possible that it comes from people simply showing respect to the grieving family, but so often it is still “enforced” by more than just assertive nose-up-in-the-air politeness freaks, when the grieving family isn’t around. So, I suspect that the belief in the afterlife may play a role here. Perhaps souls come back and take revenge when they hear nasty stuff. I’m probably wrong, but it was fun to point out anyway.

I’m not so concerned by where the idea came from anyway, but simply how absurd it is. The dead guy, yeah, he doesn’t care what you say, he’s dead, he knows nothing (I’m an atheist, but the Bible agrees, Ecc 9:5). But let’s for a moment assume the unlikely event that there is some kind of being out there that keeps souls functioning after death. This being gets to decide whether you go to Heaven or Hell, paradise or purgatory, or whatever you want to call it.

So the bloke dies, and goes to heaven, he’s in heaven, what are the chances he cares what you think or say? After all, he couldn’t possibly be upset in Heaven, or it wouldn’t be Heavenly. Nah, he was a bad bloke, which is why people are saying bad stuff about him, so he’s in Hell (bet few of you ever heard that from the pastor at a funeral). He probably doesn’t care much what you’re saying, he has enough of a more immediate problem, eternal fire and brimstone.

Perhaps you prefer reincarnation? Then the person is likely a tree, or a cockroach, or if you’re very good, you get to come back as a rat. Apart from the fact that none of these understand what you’re saying about the previous them, they probably also have more immediate problems, like bird shit, rattex and shoe soles.

So, the odds of anyone who is dead caring what you say about them are very slim. On the other hand, while they’re alive, your words can actually be very damaging. So, I think a good mantra to live by, is that we should just treat people as if we think they are dead, we’ll probably have a much more peaceful society.

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Judgmental, intolerant and proud.

“We live in a day and age in which the only thing that it is wrong to believe, is that it’s wrong to believe that somebody’s wrong.” – David Assherick

It’s a funny thing when everyone’s beliefs are considered of equal value. “We have no right to judge the beliefs of others.” Why not? We’ve come so far because of judging beliefs as bad. Imagine if we considered human sacrifice just another belief that’s ok, simply because it’s there?

From IMDb

I am judgmental, and believe we should be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with judging Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) as immoral for ordering the repeated covering up of child molestation by priests. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with judging someone who repeatedly abuses kids (even if it’s because God told him to) of being abusive, there’s a pattern. I fail to see why judgmental is an insult, surely if people weren’t judgmental, then there’d be no morality at all?

I think it’s good to be intolerant, society is intolerant, we don’t tolerate fraud (unless it’s a religious movement), we don’t tolerate human sacrifice, drunken driving, or mass murder. Some of us don’t have an issue with mass murder and thus consider Moses to be a good moral leader. But in general, society has benefited from intolerance.

Being intolerant or judgemental is limited, I don’t think it is ok to judge someone for being black, or to be intolerant of someone because they choose to eat meat, and I don’t. I don’t think that being intolerant of someone’s sexuality because of a verifiably false Bronze Age text is good either. I do, though, think that being intolerant of a text that encourages child abuse, homophobia, racism, war mongering, mysoginy and fraud, is a good thing.

I don’t mind people being intolerant of my beliefs, but I expect as much as I give. I will always give a reason, “god said…” Isn’t a reason. “You have no right to judge,” isn’t a reason. people can judge me, I don’t mind, there’s a lot of bad stuff to be judged, and I’m not going to hide behind a poor excuse and pretend my evils don’t affect others.

We have outlawed human sacrifice because we are judgmental and intolerant. We have outlawed pot smoking because we don’t take Rastafarianism as seriously as Islam or Christianity, and consider pot smoking worse than child abuse and mysoginy. This is intolerant and judgmental, the fact that it is an incorrect judgment is beside the point, it is judgmental, and most people accept it.

We are intolerant of allowing religious practices such as already mentioned, and indeed, the vast majority of the global population follows an Abrahamic God, who is by nature intolerant and judgmental, and encourages that in His followers. This 52 or 53% of the global populace are fiercely intolerant, leading to wars and other civil unrest. But say something about their beliefs, and you’re intolerant and judgmental, and they get very upset, and stamp their feet, and send people to kill you for drawing pictures, or writing books, they don’t like.

We’ve dispensed with human sacrifice, and most western people recognise that animal sacrifice is also cruel and serves no purpose. We’ve decided that the Sun is probably just a “mass of incandescent gas” and not Ra riding his chariot across the sky. We make jokes about flat earth beliefs, even though the most popular religious text in the world implies geocentricism and a flat earth. We have done this through judging some ideas as objectively incorrect, or in some cases even harmful.

Why then, would it be an bad thing to say beating kids is abusive, even if your bronze age role model disagrees. Why would it be bad to accept that threatening people with Hell is so obviously not loving. Why is it seen as wrong to point out that Christians happily accept the incredible of the resurrection while rejecting the uncomfortable in Jesus teachings of giving all possessions away or removing limbs. It is judgmental and intolerant, of course, but it is also true. How is this a bad thing, if not for people thinking like this, we’d probably still be allowing human sacrifice.

So, I am judgmental, I like making judgments before doing stupid things, like beating children. I’d like to judge that as wrong, and anyone who does it as immoral, and I won’t apologise for that. I am intolerant, I am intolerant of bad ideas that lead to objectively bad choices, like abusing children or threatening people with hellfire and brimstone, which is psychological abuse. I won’t apologise for that either. And if you believe your beliefs are above judgment, and use insults like, “you’re intolerant and judgmental,” I’ll say, “thank you, do you have any good reasons for why you think I’m incorrect?”

Immorality and the objective truth of belief

This has been in my drafts for a while, sorry it took so long, but this was the last piece in my good without God’s series.

This is a follow up to the A week posts, regarding the atheist claims that you can be good without gods, and whether unbelief is immoral in itself.

While an argument can be made for atheism being morally dubious, I don’t think it really matters that much, so why bring it up? Simple really, many atheists attempt to use, as an argument against religion (I presume they aren’t silly enough to believe it has any bearing on whether there is a god), the idea that religion causes harmful and immoral behaviour – suicide bombers, wars, stuff like that. This seems to be the bulk of Harris’ argument in The End of Faith. It is true, suicide bombers are inspired by religious beliefs, and some (not as many as atheists would have you believe) wars are caused by religion.

Obviously if atheists are against religion on the grounds that it causes war, they should be against any country boundaries and resource ownership of any kind. Since people have fought wars over various resources like gold and oil, and they continue to do so, Iraq was not about religion, democracy or the imaginary weapons Sadam didn’t have, it was about oil, a valuable resource.

Land is probably the greatest cause of war, solution, the land doesn’t belong to anyone, and everyone can do as they please with it. Let’s see how well that works. Obviously ridding the world of land ownership isn’t going to make it all better, there’ll still be disputes over how land is used, and who gets to decide.

Likewise, ridding the world of religion won’t stop, or likely have much of an impact on war. People will still fight over resources, and they’ll still find reasons to motivate the masses with. While the religious right could be convinced to attack a bunch of impoverished cave dwelling Afghanistanis, with the “holy war against the evil of Islam” argument, any American can be motivated with patriotism and the threat of being labelled “unAmerican” as in Vietnam. Getting rid of religion wouldn’t have stopped any war for resources, and not having religion to motivate people wouldn’t mean that no motivation would be there.

We could keep arguing about this, or we could just acknowledge that every belief system can be misused and thus morally dubious consequences will happen, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. This is now significant, if Islamic suicide Bombers are right about the reality and character of God, then their actions aren’t immoral, since the moral law giver has told them to. Likewise, if Christians are right about the reality and character of God, then many of their prejudices and holy wars aren’t immoral, but moral imperatives. It’s not likely that every religion and non-theism are all correct, it’s possible none are. But, if any religion is true, then it becomes morally defendable.

This may seem obvious, but it is important when looking at atheism. If atheists are right, non-theistic worldviews were selected out by natural selection without the people with those worldviews even becoming literate. No progress to modern science happened because of atheists, sure they’ve added to it now, but they piggy backed on the progress made by theists. If natural selection favoured theism over non-theism once, there’s probably a reason, and to return to non-theism could result in a worse outcome than people being motivated to fight over land under the veil of religion. Thus, atheism is only defendable as morally superior to theism if it isn’t true, for if it is true, non-theistic societies were a dismal failure in comparison to the better evolved theists.

Here’s the point of this post in a nutshell, religions can be immoral only if they aren’t correct. Atheism is an immoral worldview which possibly leads to extinction if it is true, and is thus only morally defendable if it is false. This doesn’t alter the fact that atheism being true could actually be the reality, any more than arguments on moral ground could actually impact the existence of deities or the supernatural. Something seeming immoral, like religion, doesn’t make it false.

Jack Sparrow’s moral compass

I’ve pointed out recently how I feel about using the “religion as a moral compass” argument. This dislike for that argument goes hand in hand with another issue I have, regarding interpretation.

While it sounds good to say the Bible is infallible, it doesn’t seem to matter much unless the interpreter is also infallible. Obviously none of us are infallible interpreters, but we can have reasonable discussions about how difficult sections can be interpreted, and come to a reasonable and well considered solution to differences. Something else we can do is pray (sure critics aren’t going to accept this, but this post isn’t for critics). The idea being that if we go into our study of the Bible prayerfully and without that obstinacy that makes us want to be the clever one, then The Holy Spirit can guide us. Here’s where the problem comes.

There is, according to Christianity, only one Holy Spirit, but many people claim their conflicting views are “inspired.” The problem now is that people don’t really want to have their belief called out, and react defensively, or claim the other person is attempting to pick a fight, or, as is often the case with Christians, “influenced by the devil.” This makes discussions about Biblical issues almost impossible in interdenominational discussions, and sometimes untenable within a denomination.

In order to get around being called out for logical or well thought out opposition to their opinions, Christians have taken to falling back on a charismatic type conversational style, and claiming inspiration from God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit/Angels. This flies in the face of any rational conversation, since it isn’t falsifiable, and anyone who tries to respond is a heretic/misguided/uninspired. Quotes from the Bible will not change the persons opinion, since they are, most often, ruled out as “out of context.”

While quoting things out of context has plagued Christianity since its origins, pointing it out has become an automatic refutation of what is being said, even if it is correct. Many people have told me I’m quoting out of context, then failed to explain (or even attempt to) how context would vindicate what they are saying. These kind of arguments seem to allow us as Christians to remain stagnant and without spiritual growth because we no longer feel the need to question what we believe, in fact we’re encouraged not to question.

Often discussions like this cover how we should explain an alleged contradiction, or the exact character of the trinity, or what the 144,000 in Revelation should be viewed – stuff that isn’t really going to affect how we live our lives as Christians. Unfortunately, more often we find that these discussions run directly into how Christians should live. Anyone who has discussed theology with an adventist will be familiar with their issue over Saturday vs Sunday worship, which often provokes some kind of response about “Old Testament Legalism.” If the adventist comes back with, corporal punishment and tithes are also Old Testament, but the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments, then the “Holy Spirit has shown me that…” argument surfaces. Obviously all these issues, along with tattoos, planting “mixed seed” (a vegetable garden), shaving your head, trimming your beard, stoning homosexuals, eating pork, and whether ladies should wear headgear in church come down to how well we follow what God tells us in the Bible. There needs to be a consistent systematic approach to understanding what we keep and what we leave in order that we can live as God intends us to.

If we are simply listening to voices in our heads, how can we claim that our canon (the Bible) – that which defines our religion – is a moral compass. It obviously isn’t if we don’t carefully and prayerfully examine what is printed therein, and live by it. When we start calling on voices in our heads, voices we can’t trust. It was allegedly God who decided that sending thousand of europeans to their deaths in the crusades, it was allegedly God who decided to have inquisitions, it was allegedly God who inspired Joseph Smith, Mohammed and David Koresh. What happens when we start invoking divine inspiration in rational discussion comes down to blaming God for our bad ideas.

What seems to me to be happening in Christendom is a case of Jack Sparrow’s compass. You’ll recall that it was an unique compass that never pointed north, it pointed to the thing you most desired, or basically, where you wanted it to point. This seems to be the moral compass of Christianity, each denomination (and even people within denominations) have their own moral compass that points where they want it too, and they all claim to be divinely guided. The problem isn’t so much the fact that there doesn’t seem to be moral agreement among groups that share a religious canon (although this is a problem), the problem here is that, with all this divine inspiration going around, there’s no way to have a reasonable discussion that could lead us to a better understanding of what living a moral life should mean.

So not only is the moral compass argument a bad argument because it is Biblically refuted (Genesis 3:22) and neurologically refuted, it is also simply not the case, Christianity, for the average believer (possibly more so than other religions), seems to be like Jack’s compass, just pick what you most desire from your religion, and find a denomination that interprets the Bible to point you there.

What are your thoughts?

Is unbelief immoral?

Christians believe that not believing in God is immoral. This is simply based on their religious views of God as lawgiver and the fact that the Bible commands people to love God, which is difficult to accomplish if you don’t believe in God. The question is, could someone make an argument that, from an objective standpoint, atheism is actually immoral?

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I’d be using social well being as a yardstick for morality as this post explains. I will also be using the Kantian Moral Argument, that morality should be rational in my examination.

The trolley problem, seems to be a useful device for what I’m going to cover here. In the problem, most people will choose to take action and to cause the death of one to save the life of a group. Different variations of the problem yield different results. If the one person is a brilliant surgeon who could save many lives and the group were all violent criminals, one would likely not save the group. If the single person were your mother, or a surgeon who is the only person who could save you from a terminal illness, then you’d likely want to let the group die and would console yourself with the fact that it was inaction, and not something you did that caused the death of the group.

What if the one person you could redirect the trolley towards offered you millions of dollars, which he had access through his criminal network. What if in this case there were a bunch of good doctors. It would be rational for you to choose to take the money, as it would lead to a better life for you, but morally speaking, you should probably save the doctors.

Money is a strong motivator, and can lead to people doing strange and out of character things (just watch Jackass). I have briefly touched on the effects greed could have on the human population and on the environment, which could seriously affect human survival and or social well being. The thing is, without a certainty of some kind of responsibility (countries generally don’t have laws against greed), it pays to be greedy, greed is rational. If that greed would lead to the extinction of human kind, so what? You’ll likely be dead by then anyway, and if you aren’t, you’ll die along with the rest, but death is a certainty anyway, why not line your pockets so you can afford to have a good life while it lasts?

As the Kantian moral argument points out, it should be rational to be moral, but this isn’t always the case, it is probably seldom the case. Atheists are always going on about reason, and how people should be driven by reason. Moral behaviour is influenced by a part of the brain linked to emotion, and this is important to influencing people to do good, even when it isn’t necessarily rational. Kant pointed out that retribution or judgment in the afterlife would make morality rational, even if it doesn’t look rational in this life.

With the combination of no belief in an afterlife, and the drive for rational behaviour, it is likely that atheism could push people away from moral behaviour, but being likely, doesn’t make it the case, so we probably need more.

According to the theory of evolution, the human population would have to have experienced almost no growth for a million and a half years. With the rise of literacy and civilisation, human population started rising. By the time people were literate, they were also theistic, and the pre-theistic ideas that atheism would require to exist seemed to have disappeared. The non-theists seem to have disappeared before they learnt to write, and before society stabilised enough for reasonable population growth to occur. Whether or not this is connected to a lack of belief in the afterlife or not is something we’ll never know. What we do know though, is that no evidence exists of a society that would have never have been tainted by belief in deity. Had such a society existed, it failed horribly, and the human population thrived under theistic ideas.

If we bear this in mind, belief in deity seems to be a huge aid in human survival and social well being. Thus one must ask, would it be morally sound to adopt a worldview, that had it ever existed, was a failure as far as advancement and growth of the human race is concerned.

This obviously wouldn’t prove that atheism isn’t correct, simply that it could objectively be morally wrong. In my next post on this subject, I intend to focus on the issues discussed here, and atheists claims that religion is bad for society, and how that relates to the correctness of the viewpoints.

A week: good without gods

As you can see, we’re bang in the middle of A week. For people wanting to know more, a good place to start would be recent Catholic convert Leah Libresco’s post. As she points out, it’s a good time for atheists to come out to their friends who may otherwise think that atheists like eating children.

While I don’t believe that anyone should be persecuted for their beliefs, which seems to be what is happening in the US today, I do think that atheists should be responsible for backing up the claims they make, while still entertaining the radical scepticism with which they approach religion. With this in mind, I will use the next couple of days, and beyond examining certain of those claims with a level of scepticism similar to that used by atheists.

The primary thing I’m interested in at the moment is the idea that you can be “good without gods.” This claim, which I’m sure you noticed on the A week banner, is something atheists try to promote, although some via the use of moral relativism.

Contrary to this, many Christians (although they aren’t alone among religious groups to believe this) believe that religion is required to give people a moral compass. This is problematic as shown in that post, but I still think atheists need to provide more.

The idea that you can be good without gods is based on the assumption there aren’t any. If there is a deity responsible for producing the universe and all the things therein, then it is fair to assume that morality came from such a being, whether you recognise its existence or not.

This isn’t really a problem though, since no atheist doubts that they are right, or they’d be agnostic. The problem really is, that while Sam Harris and some others have tried to define an objective view of morality, it’s still not clear what atheists mean by “good” in their claim. Many atheists are still moral relativists, and thus the statement seems to loose any meaning.

To add to this problem, is the issue that we don’t set the bar for good very high. Many Christians set the bar at simply accepting Christ’s sacrifice, which doesn’t make you good, even in Christian theology, it atones for the bad stuff, you still need to work on being good. Some people define good as not doing wrong (“I pay my taxes”; “I don’t murder” etc.). Some people that good is found in actions, like helping others. So, just like we wouldn’t classify good the same way for a tomato as we would for a dog, how can we define good the same way for an atheist who believes in moral relativism and one who accepts arguments like Harris’ in The Moral Landscape.

I like what Harris is trying to do, but disagree with his premise that morality is focused on concern for conscious creatures. One of the main problems is that it is a premise, and the yardstick for an objective morality should be a conclusion. My own explanation of an objective morality can be found here. For those unfamiliar with Harris’ views, the video below is a good introduction.

In my next post on this subject, I will examine the idea that atheism could be immoral if we push the idea of objective morality to it’s extreme. This, of course, wouldn’t prove that atheism is incorrect any more than arguments like The End of Faith, which argue that religion causes people to do bad stuff, would prove that religions are actually based on false ideas, or that God doesn’t actually exist.

I will be focused on the idea that, while morality is concerned with the well being of conscious creatures (as per Harris), it is primarily concerned with the well being of society in general.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Can people be “good without gods”? What makes someone good? How would you define objective morality.

Moral Compass

This is the second in a series asking what would be the impact of objective morality?

Christians generally like to use the argument for Christianity, and acceptance of the Bible, on the grounds that it supplies a moral compass. This argument would suffer a severe blow if morality was indeed objective enough to be open to scientific enquiry. Unfortunately, the nature of morality in a Christian paradigm is that certain things are absolute (don’t murder; don’t steal; don’t covet etc.) If moral law is not objective, it cannot be absolute, thus the moral compass argument finds itself in a corner, if it is valid, then the Bible is wrong, but if it is invalid, then how does one support Christianity as a moral compass? I will not attempt to answer this question, I will focus on why the moral compass argument is invalid and why objective morality is essential to Christianity.

The first recorded instance of immorality in the Bible is obviously The Fall in Genesis 3, it reveals some interesting things regarding the moral compass argument and subjective morality. Firstly, it shows physical consequence for the immoral act, secondly, it claims that people have a moral awareness.

Verses 17 and 18 reveal the first point (from the English Standard Version.)

And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.

If this is indeed correct, then immorality can have observable physical consequences. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to verify whether immoral behaviour could cause the production of thorns & weeds, since the only situation science has ever known has involved these things, but if we have a look at 1 Timothy 6:9-10 compared to the state of affairs in the world we do know, it reveals some interesting things.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

The love of money (greed) is considered immoral by Christian standards, & also by the observable requirements of Morality as a characteristic. The measurable effects on morality part 1 shows how this is immoral from the idea of how it directly affects the human gene pool, but it also affects the environment. Climate change has largely become a problem because of a greed driven oil based economy, this is a symptom of immoral behaviour that can be seen in the natural world. Likewise, farming has become highly industrialised, the methods have lead to great weed control problems, & the driving of heavy machinery over crop lands, has led to compaction, making tilling more difficult, much like the scenario predicted in Genesis 3. This may seem to help the Christian point of view, but it certainly doesn’t help the moral compass argument.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”

Genesis 3:22, thoroughly destroys the moral compass argument, if people know right from wrong (or at least the basics) then they don’t need a moral compass. When viewing morality as a characteristic, & considering the relationship between morality and the brain, then one could say that it could be argued that there is evidence that this assertion is correct, & people have morality somewhere in their genome.

Of course there’s a long way to go in the discussion regarding morality as an argument for a god, but the moral compass argument is weak, and is one that critics of religion have never really worried about. In future I will cover some of the more compelling arguments from morality for the existence of a god.