We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A discussion point…

Ian Bennett made an interesting comment on an article published the other day that is worth making a discussion point. It actually makes two points… firstly that politicians will say whatever they think they need to say to stay in power… I regard this as a truism and so not really worth discussing other than to say “indeed”. The second point however was more contentious:

Religion is unconditionally dangerous, simply because it is irrational; the distinction between “extreme” and “moderate” adherents is a false one, and is better regarded as “consistent” and “inconsistent”. The inconsistent moderates may not actually call publicly for the murder of non-believers (despite that being a core dogma of their faith), but they provide the context in which the consistent extremists operate, namely that adherence to a religion is a perfectly acceptable way of life. Eating only fish on a Friday “because God tells me to” is no different in its motivation from committing any other act “because God tells me to”. If we accept the performance of an act which has no rational underpinning simply because of its motivation (“God told me to”), we must accept the performance of all acts with that same motivation. This is what consistent, “extremist”, religious adherents do.

I sort of agree… which is to say, yes but no but…

I think the nature of what “God tells you to do” is a non-trivial distinction between religions and whilst even Buddhism has gone through militant phases, some religions default suppositions are broadly positive (i.e. if you are actually being ‘consistent’ you really cannot justify slaughtering the Cathars based on anything Jesus said), whilst others have clearly negative default suppositions (i.e. yes you really can justify slaughtering apostates based on what Mohammed said and there really is not a lot of wiggle room if you are being consistent).

As a atheist myself, I regard God as nothing more than a psychological artifice, but it also seems demonstrably true that many believers are nevertheless entirely capable of rational moral judgement that is not of any practical difference to my God-free moral theory based way of going about things. Indeed many of the writers for Samizdata are people with religious beliefs.

Is this simply what Ian describes as the difference between consistent versus inconsistent believers? Not so sure. If a religion can include “God says be rational because you are responsible for your actions due to having free will and are not merely God’s meat puppet” and also says “you will roast in eternal hellfire if you murder anyone, so put that gun down dude!”… well I think a ‘consistent’ follower of that particular God will find it rather harder to say “Kill ‘em all for God will know his own”. Indeed it seems rather inconsistent even if slaughtering Cathars is very much The Done Thing these days.

So I think maybe religions are conditionally dangerous rather than unconditionally so. When following “the word of God”, it is fairly important what that particular God has to say… and clearly contrary to what many adherents claim, the God Jesus was referring to and the one Mohammed was referring to have about as much in common as Freyja and Shiva.

Discuss.

91 comments to A discussion point…

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’m mired in a crisis of faith at the moment so don’t have a lot to add, but I will say this: despite what trendy relativists would claim religions are neither morally nor empirically equivalent. Islam is right at the bottom of the pile when it comes to its objective content, for the simple reason that it is the only modern religion which contains open ended commands to kill.

    Even the really blood soaked parts of the old testament (which I have as much a problem with as anyone else) refer either to specific situations (kill the people of Jericho right now) or judicial punishment for things considered crimes (death for buggery). There is nothing even close to “kill the Jew wherever you find him”, and the people who claim all religions to be the same are either very ignorant or wilfully disingenuous.

  • The Pedant-General

    “Even the really blood soaked parts of the old testament (which I have as much a problem with as anyone else) refer either to specific situations (kill the people of Jericho right now) ”

    And to some degree, those blood soaked bits are quasi-historical: they are descritpions of what people did and what God told them to do, rather than explicit guides/orders for future situations.

  • Alasdair Robinson

    1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul
    2. Love your neighbour as yourself.

    If you follow those two rules, you will probably build a harmonious society around you. Perry, I find it interesting that you seem to distinguish between “moral judgments” and “religious beliefs”. Aren’t two things the same? My moral compass (and therefore, hopefully, my judgments) is based on my religious (Christian) beliefs. Your moral compass is based on your atheistic beliefs, (which is still religious, just anti-theistic).

    I get frustrated to no end by people who seem to sincerely believe that they have been personally instructed by God to follow a particular course of action. It is so easy for people to justify behaviour if they can wrap it up under the banner “God told me to do so”.

  • Perry, I find it interesting that you seem to distinguish between “moral judgments” and “religious beliefs”. Aren’t two things the same?

    I try to derive my moral theories from my conjectural falsifiable theories about the nature of objective reality, with varying degrees of success. Religious beliefs pertain to things that follow from theories about supernatural entities and humanity’s relationship to said entities. I think these are significantly different.

    So I think describing atheist ‘beliefs’ as ‘religious’ can stretch the definition of ‘religious’ to well beyond breaking point. I try to have ‘theories’ about most things and try to keep in mind that my theories are falsifiable. That said, certainly notionally secular things like AGW and socialism have deeply non-rational aspects to them which could be reasonably described as ‘articles of faith’.

  • Jacob

    “So I think maybe religions are conditionally dangerous rather than unconditionally so.”

    Atheist systems are also “conditionally dangerous”, even those that pretend to be rational or rationalistic – like the communist system.

    In general, atheist systems have comitted immensly more atrocities in the last 100 years than religion systems. So, one can say that atheist systems are also “unconditionally dangerous”.

    I think that over history religion has had a restraining role, and has led to improvement (les atrocities) to antique barbarous practices. It has contributed to the cultural evolution of mankind.

  • QuinT

    I am not a person of faith myself (necessary disclosure in such a thread). I would like to know if you, as an atheist, and also other atheists, practice the consistency whose absence you are suggesting is a telling commentary on religious persons. In my experience, soi-disant atheists have no moral compass whatsoever, whereas persons of faith at least attempt to. Evidence-based reasoning (not the same thing as rationality; rationality is perfectly compatible with even the most fundamentalist creeds) is not a moral code nor even a moral principle, and people who pride themselves on being free from religion based “irrationality” are mostly people who have simply chosen to ignore the moral questions that religion-minded people have grappled with since antiquity.

  • the other rob

    “My moral compass (and therefore, hopefully, my judgments) is based on my religious (Christian) beliefs.”

    This reminds me of a theory that I encountered back in the mists of time (when I was a boy or a very young man and a stranger to proper referencing, so there’s no hope of identifying the source, sorry).

    Broadly, it held that when the counter culture movement kicked off in the 1960s, those involved were able to reject Christian dogma, without any great impact on their personal moral choices, because they had already internalized Christian morality as children. Thus their moral choices were little different from traditional “Christian” ones. However their children, who grew up without the opportunity to internalize that morality became a much more amoral generation, making very different moral choices.

    Clearly there are many holes in the theory – free love, for one, and the puzzle of why the next generation didn’t internalize the moral code of their parents, as communicated by way of example, for another. Nevertheless, I think it is an interesting argument.

  • Dave Walker

    Many religious documents are not self-consistent; while it would be a laborious exercise, it would be very interesting to see a set of tables (one per document) comprising direct quotations set side by side, which contradict eachother. If this exercise has already been performed and example tables are known, it would be great to see a link posted up here. It’s crossed my mind before now, whether it’s effectively a necessary condition for a religious text to be written in a manner which permits multiple conflicting interpretations. Only belief systems focussed on nature, animism or ancestor-worship seem in a position to avoid this issue, as they don’t seem to hold the sub-belief that there’s only one true path – and also tend not to have holy texts.

    Also, Buddhism isn’t done with militance and violence, yet; there’s been Buddhist attacks on Muslims in Burma only this year, and I think they’re still ongoing. Along with the issue of interpretation above, it also seems to be part of the fundamental nature of religions for there to be schisms based on interpretation, or even trying to wrap new ideas up as interpretations to try to gain wider acceptance for them. While practices such as excommunication exist as internal policing measures within a religious group, they don’t seem to be wielded as vigorously as they could be, and don’t seem to be effective – pragmatically, it seems to be the case that pretty much anyone can claim to adhere to pretty much any group-of-belief-sets-with-name-tag they choose, and then argue the case that what they do is done in the name of that particular belief set. If certain events set on an apparently-real Earth as described in religious texts are taken at face value, it’s pretty easy to show that these days, rather than being nailed to a cross, Jesus would instead be detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act over the incident with the money-changers.

    Perhaps, as very different beliefs co-exist under the same umbrella name-tag, it would be beneficial from the point of view of clarity to do away with the umbrella name-tags currently applied in common use, and consider the sub-groups as independent entities (which they appear to mostly be, anyway, certainly those which have fought wars based on religion against eachother) – so rather than discuss “Muslims” or “Christians” as apparently-coherent groups, breaking them down into Sunnis, Shias, Wahhabis, etc – and Catholics, Protestants, Copts, etc, and further subdivisions as necessary may serve to make more sense of their behaviour.

    Though monotheism’s not exactly new any more, I’d have thought it would be pretty obvious that any character with an even slightly-scheming mind that if they claim to be a God or the messenger of one, then they’d probably fare better if that God was to claim they were the only one and all others were false; it’s related that the God of Abraham gets pretty explicit in dissing Moloch, for example. Marcion of Sinope apparently did an excellent job dissecting the characters of the God of Abraham and the God of Jesus, concluding that they were different Gods – and I note that the God of Mohammed appears to have far more in common with the former than the latter.

    As with the author, I don’t consider myself to believe in a God; in fact, I find the whole concept rather disturbing, and wonder whether religious belief should be considered a kind of mental illness. Also, I think “do you believe in God?” is a question far too loaded with assumptions on the part of the questioner – far better to ask “what is a God, how many (zero or more) do you think there are, and why do you think that?”. Maybe one of the less-appreciated virtues of atheism is the ability to answer the “do you believe in God?” question with a simple “No”, in the confidence that it’s the correct answer and not subject to misinterpretation, no matter what the beliefs of the questioner are…

    Naturally, if the opportunity arises, I’d be interested in having the appropriate bit of my brain whacked with the kind of magnetic field apparently observed to “induce a religious experience” in 80% of subjects tested. Whatever the result, it would be informative…

  • Surellin

    Alasdair, well done. Quoting the Great Commandment is awfully effective when people are whingeing about depraved-murdering-Xians. Also, for those who do not know, the fish-on-Friday thing is not “because God told me to”. It’s a bit of penance, a remembrance of the Crucifixion. And it isn’t scriptural, it’s traditional.

  • Billy Oblivion

    I find it interesting that you seem to distinguish between “moral judgments” and “religious beliefs”. Aren’t two things the same?

    There is a difference between “Thou shall not commit adultery” and “Thou shall not eat bacon”.

  • Paul Marks

    The idea that something is right or wrong simply because God says so is a position in theology that many religious people reject. It has been associated with Calvinism – but even many Calvinists deny that this is a fair summing up of their position.

    For example, the Talmud is a vast undertaking designed to reconcile religion commandments with REASONED ARGUMENT – it is true that Muslims rejected the Talmud (calling upon Jews to “raise your hand” i.e. to remove the hand from certain sections of the Torah when reading it – the hand was placed on these sections in order to avoid reading out savage sections of scripture by accident, the argument being that these sections needed to be understood and applied in a reasoned way, not just in their raw state). In Judaism this led (eventually) to the position that nonJews (indeed even atheists) go to Heaven – if “rightious” (although they make a long time to convince that they actually are in Heaven – if they are very determined to explain away everything).

    As my orthodox aunt (who died a couple of weeks ago having just managed to get to the age of 94) pointed out “I do not do these things [not eat pork and so on] for a reward”. An orthodox Jew does such things as refrain from eating pork as part of a tradition – NOT for the reward of going to heaven. There will be plenty of former pork eaters in heaven.

    The Roman Catholic Church also rejects the idea that right and wrong are just the “will of God” – as this would make a nonsense of the whole concept of “Natural Law” (and the use of human reason to discover natural law).

    Amongst Protestants such thinkers as Hugo Grontious and John Wesley should be noted – as well as the English philosophy Ralph Cudworth (perhaps the most learned man of his time – of most other times) who attacked the whole idea of dividing the human (or divine) mind into different things called “understanding” and “will”.

    Still “cut to the chase”.

    If someone tells you that you must do X (or not do Y) simply because “God said so” – they are not only rejecting reason, they are also (according to many tradtions of thought) rejecting God (the creator of reason). Indeed it is common Christian saying that “the Devil quotes scripture” (i.e. that the Devil uses the tactic of citeing the commands of God, in a false way, in order to get people to do evil). There is nothing wrong with quoting scripture – only with citeing it ON ITS OWN (without historical context and reasoned argument).

    Although (yes) in the Islamic tradition the only being Satan is not allowed to pretend to be (he can pretend to be anyone else – your father, your closest friend, whoever) is God. So if God tells you to do something you must do it (not matter how hard it may be – say kill a relative or fiend). In both Jewish and Christian tradition the powers of evil are not limited in that way – in short “the voice of God” may the the voice of the Devil (or just a mental illness). How can one tell? By reason – if “God” is calling upon you to do something evil it is NOT God.

    By the way there used to be a strong pro reason tradition within Islam – but it was defeated about a thousand years ago.

    Today Islam is divided between those Muslims (both Sunni and Shia) who stress the TEXT of the Koran and the Hadiths (very much a WILL of God tradition – “such and such is correct – because it says here that it is”) and the Suffi Muslims (normally considered part of the Sunni family – but many Sunni believe they are not)who are more mystical (not so concerned the text of the Koran, and more concerned with a direct spiritual relationship with God).

    The so called “dervishes” (actually that is only part of the Sufi tradition) are hard for a Westerner (such as myself) to understand (although there is also a strong mystical tradition in parts of Christianity) – so I will stop here.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Dave Walker “Many religious documents are not self-consistent”. No, they’re not. But to take the Bible, no-one claims it is the work of a single hand and (unless you are a fundamentalist) you do not believe that it is the revaled word of God. It’s a human document and likely imperfect and inconsistent (at least that’s my understanding) so your comment has little relevance to the majority of Christians.

    When Perry uses words like “rational” and “falsifiable”, I have respect but also some doubt.
    We treat the world as having an objective reality and this is entirely based on our sense-data –in a strict sense, that’s the only source of all the evidence we have about the world. We either observe the world, or we observe others reporting things about the world.

    This is why Descartes’s famous dictum is as it is –
    “I know nothing unconditionally about externalities (the world) -but I know that I think (otherwise I wouldn’t be thinking) and therefore I exist.”

    In addition, we don’t just believe (conditionally) our senses, we also believe that the Universe is rational (or regular). We believe it has laws and predictability. Indeed, most of (Natural) Science is about divining (gettit?) those laws and one of the standard ways in which real progress is made is by observing the (current view of the) laws being broken and coming up with new ones which cover the exceptions in a consistent and rational way (so no laws like gravity reverses on a Thursday, because that’s not rational).

    Now the standard answer to these comments is to say something like “well, of course because otherwise I can’t get started [you idiot]” and I agree with that from a practical point of view. But if we admit this as a pragmatic first step then we are no more or less rational than the person who says that they start with “I believe in one God”. Indeed, they can push harder and say that they are more rational because they start by answering the question ” who made the rules for a rational Universe”.

  • When Perry uses words like “rational” and “falsifiable”, I have respect but also some doubt.
    We treat the world as having an objective reality and this is entirely based on our sense-data –in a strict sense, that’s the only source of all the evidence we have about the world. We either observe the world, or we observe others reporting things about the world.

    Exactly so. I cannot prove the world exists external to my own mind so my notion it does indeed exist objectively and external to myself is… just a theory. I think it is a bloody good theory, and I have formed a critical preference for it, but it can never be more than a theory… at least that’s my theory :P

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    you do not believe that it is the revaled word of God. It’s a human document and likely imperfect and inconsistent

    With all due respect, that’s exactly the opposite of what most Christians believe. Every mainstream denomination apart from the ultra-liberal ones has some passage in their statement of faith that describes the Bible as the inerrant Word of God – even though a great many of them do not act like they believe this in practice. It is a standard, foundational and basic Christian doctrine.

    The Bible is the central text of Christianity. Adherence to its core doctrines define what it is to be a Christian. As soon as you say the Bible is not God-breathed, any reasons you might have to call yourself a Christian start to become very shaky indeed.

    Either the Bible is true or it isn’t. If it is true then it is worthwhile living as a Christian. If it is a lie then there is no point. There should be no mystery-door #3 where you say to yourself “Well the Bible is mostly made up, but that gives me the freedom to make up my own doctrine as I go while still calling myself a Christian”. It would be like calling yourself a footballer who doesn’t believe in red cards of touch-lines.

    Now that is not to say that people don’t do this – many do. I’m saying it is intellectually inconsistent and on a personal note it seriously pisses me off ;)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Correction ** “red cards or touch-lines” **

  • Ian Bennett

    A few points, if I may, as the one who prompted this article:

    I do not describe myself as an atheist, and rarely use the word; I consider it rather silly that there should be a specific descriptor for people who don’t believe in one particular non-existent (god) but not for people who don’t believe in some other particular non-existent (invisible pink flying badgers, talking geraniums, honest politicians).

    I say “non-existent” advisedly. Although I have never been to New Zealand, I can say that it exists because there is sufficient reliable evidence – from people who have been there – that it does. Although I have not seen the centre of the Earth – and neither has anyone else – I can say that it exists because there is logical necessity that it must. For the existence of god, there is neither reliable evidence nor logical necessity, and as a rational person, I require at least one of those. Faith is, of course, belief without evidence – even, per Kierkegaard, in contradiction of evidence – and is inherently irrational, so religionists are unencumbered by this requirement.

    Perry said “if you are actually being ‘consistent’ you really cannot justify slaughtering the Cathars based on anything Jesus said”, which is true, but misses what I see as a critical point, namely that Christianity is based not on what Jesus (allegedly) said but on what the Bible says, and on that basis you can justify it, and much more.

    Regarding the moral compass of non-religionists, I would argue that true morals are more likely to be found among them than among the faithful. To do the right thing under threat of eternal damnation hardly requires a robust moral code, simply a moderately well-developed sense of self-preservation. Further, any action performed simply in obedience to god entirely divorces the actor morally from its consequences because his morals are derived from god, not from his own awareness of right and wrong, which are, in any case, subservient to god; in fact, to refuse to do such would be a sin.

    Regarding consistent adherence; if, for example, one claims to be an Anglican, one is subject to the 39 Articles of Faith. Article 6 recognises certain books of the Old Testament as being canonical, and one of those books includes the instruction that “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death”. Another says, “If thy brother, [or various other people] entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, … thou shalt surely kill him”. If an Anglican refuses to follow those instruction, he is being inconsistent in his faith.

    Regarding Communism, it can be argued that, far from being an atheistic system, it simply replaced “god” with “the State”; subjects owe unquestioning obedience to it.

    The inconsistent religionists who abide by only the “rational” parts of scripture are surely being more even irrational; if scripture is really the word of god, the “rational” thing to do is to follow it all.

  • Hmm

    The other rob‘ makes a point that is worth highlighting: Anyone who has already internalised the Judeo/Christian moral code, though they later abandon it, makes much less amoral choices than the generations they don’t teach morals to due to the original internalising of a moral code.

    Anyone who has internalised the current western “socialist” amoral code basically has reduced their personal morals to the idiom of:

    “I need to be seen to do what I think the current narrative says I should do when I think anyone’s watching, otherwise I’ll do what I want and if anyone complains I’ll make shit up as I go along.”

    That is the core process they’ve ever internalised for dealing with life.

    It is the basic defacto religious foundation and moral code of all leftist/liberal/western-socialists.

    Whether or not any belief system is dangerous is wholly dependent on the ethics of the believer and their ability to reason when confronted with things new and unexpected.
    An amoral belief system is ALWAYS dangerous to both the believer and the object of their focus because it is has no checks and balances to protect either party.

  • That is absurd Ian… if they were invisible, how would you know flying badgers are indeed pink? We know because we see them after drinking too much grappa which is empirical enough for me.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Ian Bennet,
    When growing up in the Baptist church I often heard the phrase “A subject without a context is a pretext”. The idea being that if people quote tiny bits of the Bible at you without looking at it in the wider context, they are probably trying to deceive you and/or themselves into error. You can believe every since word of the Bible to be true without necessarily thinking each should be enacted in every circumstance.

    The standard Christian response to the Levitical Law and it’s various commands is multi-faceted:

    – Those commands were only in force up to the coming of the Messiah
    – They only applied to Jews
    – They refer specifically to laws for the governance of a Theocratic Jewish State that no longer exists and therefore cannot be enacted
    – The whole sum of the Levitical law was fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah and reduced down to the “Great Commandment”

    Matthew 22:36-40 37
    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    – The Levitical Law was an instructive tool designed to show humans how incapable they were of adhering to a divine standard of holiness by themselves. It was not intended to be actually achievable. This was illustrated in the book of Acts when some Jewish Christians insisted that the Gentile Christians should keep the Levitical Law.

    Acts Chapter 15
    Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God chose me from among you to preach the Good News to the nations. They heard the Good News from me, and they believed. 8 God, who knows the thoughts of everyone, accepted them. He showed this to us by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 To God, those people are not different from us. When they believed, he made their hearts pure. 10 So now why are you testing God by putting a heavy load around the necks of the non-Jewish believers? It is a load that neither we nor our ancestors were able to carry. 11 But we believe that we and they too will be saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus.”

    In short, mindlessly carrying out every word of the Bible without the application of context or reason is not more rational. Quite the opposite.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    That should read ““A text without a context is a pretext”

    I’m doing bad at the proof reading today, I know.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    As a slightly OT observation, let me point out that while modern physics has neither a need nor room for God, neither does it have need or room for us: from the outside, our bodies are as mechanical as a freight train.

    And yet, here we are: and since our bodies are indistinguishable from the rest of the material world, claiming that there’s no ‘designer’ at work in the material world besides ourselves is just a tad inconsistent.

  • Lee Moore

    Mr B : “I say “non-existent” advisedly. Although I have never been to New Zealand, I can say that it exists because there is sufficient reliable evidence – from people who have been there – that it does. Although I have not seen the centre of the Earth – and neither has anyone else – I can say that it exists because there is logical necessity that it must. For the existence of god, there is neither reliable evidence nor logical necessity, and as a rational person, I require at least one of those.”

    I think this is a logical error. Lack of evidence for X and lack of logical necessity for X, does not force rational people to the conclusion that X is non-existent. You would require logical impossibility for that. It is not irrational to believe that there is intelligent life on other planets – there’s no evidence for it, nor is it logically necessary, it’s merely possible. Mr B is welcome to his opinion that there’s no God, of course. But it’s just an opinion, not a logical conclusion.

    MrB: “To do the right thing under threat of eternal damnation hardly requires a robust moral code, simply a moderately well-developed sense of self-preservation”

    I should have thought that that was rather a strong point in favour, rather than against, suitable religions. Humans generally find self preservation comes to them much more easily than moral philosophy.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I mean that if we work the way the world works, then the world works like us: and denying willed behavior to the part of the world that isn’t us is therefore inconsistent with our experience that we act from will.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Jaded Voluntarist” Every mainstream denomination apart from the ultra-liberal ones has some passage in their statement of faith that describes the Bible as the inerrant Word of God – even though a great many of them do not act like they believe this in practice.”
    I beg leave to differ: most theologians talk of infallibility which is significantly weaker (in its theological meaning) than inerrancy, but, for the sake of argument, let us say that I mis-spoke.
    Nevertheless, most accept room for much interpretation, as you yourself evidence in your comment at 4.30 p.m.

    Indeed, the two theologians I know (both firmly Christian) agree that to subscribe to the literal truth of any version of the Bible is galloping insanity. They maintain this fervently and I have seen them wipe the floor in argument with people describing their position as inconsistent.

    The reason that this is important is that one should not address the straw man of this debate (the theoretical, fundamentalist Christian …) because we are, in part, dealing with the original post/quote which talks of the “irrationality” of religion.

  • Well our physical existence does indeed seem to be governed by the laws of physics, if that is what you mean. Not sure what will has to do with it.

  • Rich Rostrom

    “Religion” takes different forms and roles in different cultures.

    The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) make deeper and more universal claims than east and south Asian religions, or any paganism. They presume the existence of an omnipotent creator and ruler of the world, and claim to express his will, which applies to all people. Correct understanding of God’s intentions, and the proper relation of man to God is required; error is intolerable. (Christianity is especially tight on this.)

    Taoism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and Hinduism lack these premises. So did classical paganism.

    AFAIK, only Christianity has had serious violent internal disputes over doctrine. We got so bad about it that we had to “agree to disagree”. Islam has had some similar disputes, recently involving Wahhabis, who were regarded as notably quarrelsome.

    But I’ve never heard of any sort of “Islamic Inquisition”, and unlike medieval Christians, Islam did not routinely practice forced conversions. Moslem governments ruled over large Christian populations for centuries. OTOH infidels are to be subjugated.

    Judaism, lacking political power since 70 AD, has been passive by necessity.

    So I would say that Mr. Bennett is expressing fear of Abrahamic absolutism, not “religion”.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Clovis there is a major difference between recognising that something needs to be interpreted carefully and saying that it is, as you claimed, “imperfect and inconsistent”.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Religion is just another time honoured methodology of getting people to do what you want them to using the traditional threat of violent reprisal, be it imagined or actual. It’s like socialism, really, but not with a god, or with a kind of god-state creature, sort of, … and less of the silly hats, apart from the ones the soviet leaders used to wear at the parades.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @JadedVoluntarist at 5.39.
    I think my “imperfect” related to the language, recording and translation and “inconsistent” relates to such things as you referred to above about the Levitical law. I am only an amateur and am happy to accept that I mis-spoke, nevertheless I stick by the spirit of what I said.

    @RichRostrum: the division between Sunnis and Shias is clearly of no import when it comes to violence. ;>)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Religion is just another…..

    Runcie, I appreciate you were being somewhat tongue in cheek, but it’s this kind of intellectually lazy throw-away remark that makes these issues so very difficult to talk about seriously.

    You could certainly argue that what you describe is one of the functions of organised religion, or at the very least is what organised religion has been used for (I would agree wholeheartedly with the latter phrasing), but to say that that is all (the use of the word “just” indicates you are speaking definitively) that religion does is to be wantonly dismissive and unreasonable.

  • Bill Reeves

    The human capacity for both good and evil is limitless, making all ideas, beliefs, objects, machines, constructs, structures (and so on) that exist conditionally dangerous. Not because they are dangerous per se but because WE are. This is the argument about guns in a nutshell.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Paul,

    I am very sorry to hear that your aunt is gone. My sympathy.

    Julie

  • Julie near Chicago

    I am not 100% sure that Islam has ever had anything like either Catholic Just War Theory, discussed and refined over the centuries from the Augustinian, or the secular official American Theory of Just War, basically derived from it.

  • Mr Ed

    We all shall die. We all shall lose relatives and friends to death. We are frightened of death. We have religion. Many religions have concepts of an after-life.

    Anyone recall Silicon Heaven in Red Dwarf? All robots were programmed to believe that when they expired, they would go to Silicon Heaven. Kryten tells Lister that religion was made up by humans to stop humans from going crazy when contemplating death. Kryten could not break his programming to disbelieve in Silicon Heaven, but feigned to as a ruse.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Julie: in terms of ‘just war’, some probably think that Islam is ‘just war’ (x2). However, people who were Muslims did make the Alhambra, and they have had thinkers, engineers, philosophers too. It all boils down to the way that each individual as a moral being (or not) behaves.

    Methodological individualism is a concept that the Left rejects utterly.

  • Mike Giles

    “But I’ve never heard of any sort of “Islamic Inquisition”, and unlike medieval Christians, Islam did not routinely practice forced conversions. Moslem governments ruled over large Christian populations for centuries. OTOH infidels are to be subjugated.”

    By Inquisition, are you speaking of an official governmental body charged with rooting out heretics? Because Islam has no official clergy, but any imam can issue a fatwa against a “heretic”, and it’s up to each individual Moslem whether or not they accept and carry it out. As for forced conversions, that depends upon whether you are considered People of the Book or “idolators”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr. Ed, I’ll grant you that Muslims built the Alhambra. I’ll even grant you that in the past there have been Muslim clerics who were, apparently, somewhat more civilized than the ones we hear from today.

    The Soviets had “thinkers, engineers, philosophers” too, so the existence of persons who occupy themselves with philosophizing or building says nothing about their personal ethics or morality, and still less about those of the political or religious groups of which they are (or claim to be) members.

    (There is some question, by the way, as to whether Averroës was in fact Muslim. It is possible that he was Christian. I believe it was either Robert Spencer or Andrew Bostom who wrote about this; but I won’t swear to it.)

    As to “just war”: Anyone can use any noise he wants to denote his meaning or concept; but if the noise is used by others to mean something different, that does not equate the two concepts.

    For instance, the Muslim can say, “But I too believe the innocent should be spared.” Problem is, Islam teaches that only Muslims can be “innocent.”

    It is debatable whether or not every single so-called Muslim believes this. For instance I’m sure there are “Muslims” who find it socially or business-wise or politically convenient so to identify themselves, but who don’t really believe it for a second — just as there are thoroughly non-Christian “Christians” for the same reasons. And probably there really are Muslims who do not want to bother with war and jihad, or who don’t know they’re supposed to, or who for some reason really do think that we’re all human and entitled to the respect generally due humans. But the problem for us on the receiving end of jihad is to tell the difference…especially since the oh-so-friendly, affable, Western-Civ-loving Muslim can if so moved turn on the non-Muslim in a heartbeat, and has. (For example, an online acquaintance of mine has said that he had a dozen or more Muslim friends whom he thought perfectly fine, until all but a couple of them were full of glee when the Twin Towers went down.)

    Islamic teaching is that it’s all right to lie to the enemy (or to the infidel, which comes to the same thing if the infidel is resisting subjugation, since he is then an enemy by definition). Now, sometimes lying IS necessary in war, if one wishes to win or even has some faint hope of coming out of it alive. But here, the problem is that Islam officially sees all of us as The Enemy–as the object of jihad–which means that there’s no way to know whether one of them is telling the truth. In one-to-one relationships, I think you just have to trust your gut and hope your gut’s full of flourishing anti-bacterial flora today. Or if, like some I know, your career has taught you to be very wary of your fellow man.

    In any case, there is a question as to how we know that even a cleric, an Imam, who preaches non-violence, toleration, equality before the (Western) law is being truthful in the preachings we are allowed to know about. Or is it for public consumption only, whereas in the privacy of the mosque his tune is different?

    Apologies if this has gone too far off track.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr. Ed,

    On the other hand, I couldn’t agree more with your second observation!

  • Rickard Thomas

    Lee, it is irrational to believe that there is life on other planets. It’s not irrational to believe there is a high probability of life on other planets. Or low probability, depending on what rational process you apply to come to the conclusion.

    Mr Ed, of course there’s a silicon heaven. Else where would all the calculators go?

  • Something of a side note to Mr. Ed: not all religions are necessarily concerned with the afterlife, at least not as the main issue – what I see as a (if not the) major concern is rather the meaning and purpose of life itself.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Muslim leaders liked having dhimmies around, because muslims were not supposed to tax muslims, so non-muslims became a resource of the realm. Their tolerance was practical, as well as theological. And wasn’t the Pope recently sanctifying some martyrs who were killed because they wouldn’t become muslims?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, yes, excellent point. In fact I think quite a few Christians have their doubts about whether there really is an Afterlife, and that includes ministers, priests, and, I’ll bet, pontiffs.

    And in the U.S., at least, fire-and-brimstone is not the in thing nowadays. Besides, most American Christians don’t “obey” God in the first place (except when it suits them) and they’re not all that afraid of Him anyway.

    Nice-guy, another excellent point. Somebody has to provide all those emeralds and rubies! Especially before the oil boom.

    It’s so convenient when you have theological leave to work the proles like donkeys.

  • Kevin B

    Every so often, someone comes along and restates the golden rule. Then the devil comes along and says “Yeah, but… ”

    Christianity, (i.e. the teachings of Christ), is firmly based on the golden rule, but in its growth into a world spanning religion, with a need to appeal to other, older creeds, it has accreted an awful lot of devilry.

    Libertarianism is also firmly based on the golden rule, but we can rest assured that if it ever truly takes off as a world spanning religion, er… political movement it will also acrete a lot of devilish detail.

  • Tedd

    Lee, it is irrational to believe that there is life on other planets. It’s not irrational to believe there is a high probability of life on other planets.

    That distinction unnecessarily emasculates the word belief. To say that I believe there is life on other planets does not mean that I discount the possibility of being wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I assess the probability of life on other planets as 1. To say that you believe something specifically acknowledges the fact that the truth can’t be known (either ultimately or just at this moment).

    There is a tendency to emasculate both “belief” and “faith” in this way, which turns many atheist’s arguments into straw-man arguments, without them realizing it. (Full disclosure: I am an atheist who believes in life on other planets.)

  • ErisGuy

    Why single out religion? Godless ideologies are unconditionally dangerous. Must I really point to which ones? Some claimed not only to be rational but scientific, e.g., falsifiable. Since their failures must I point out their followers have not abandoned these ideologies but voyaged into total irrationality no longer claiming any more authority for their ways than I think it is so.

    As to rationality in the realm of morality, is there such a thing? I know of no rational premises, and various beliefs (psychology, sociology, etc.) have as their foundation that people are meat puppets to vast, formless things (history, class, race, gender, technology, economics, etc. etc.). Are all these claims false?

  • Lee Moore

    You can certainly use reason to justify moral arguments, if not moral conclusions. eg if it is wrong to murder humans, and if Jews are humans, then it is wrong to murder Jews. That allows people who disagree about the conclusions to narrow the focus of their disagreement to some previous element, ie one of the premises or the validity of the argument.

  • James Metcalfe

    Quite honesty, I stopped believing in God when Jodie Foster came out as a lesbian.

  • As if anyone was surprised.

  • Tedd

    Jodie Foster is a lesbian? Sheesh. First no Santa, then no God, now that. No wonder there are so many pessimists!

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Alicia Silverstone marrying someone else caused me heartburn, but there’s always Emma Watson! Can anyone say ’10 out of 10 for Gryffindor!!’? Goddess exists!

  • Maximo Macaroni

    One thing about consistent religionists: at least you can predict their thinking and, perhaps, their actions, by studying their holy writ. With an atheist, who knows?

    As to extraterrestrial life, how could one possibly calculate probabilities when we don’t even know what life is? Much less how it could be created?

    As to falsifiability, how can one know if a theory is falsifiable without falsifying it? And then what good is it? Ok, I’ve been channeling David Stove again.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    but it also seems demonstrably true that many believers are nevertheless entirely capable of rational moral judgement that is not of any practical difference to my God-free moral theory based way of going about things.

    I can’t speak for present company, but there are plenty of people of faith with whom I would have great difficulty in sustaining my end of a conversation, in addition to their far surpassing me in moral excellence.

    And why must “religion” be judged with no acknowledgement of the vast chasms between the different religions? In one, reality is an evil to be transcended, in another it is an illusion to be dispelled, and yet others it is the good work of a good god. One religion says to bring peace to all nations, but if you have to, fight. Another says bring war to all nations, but if you have to, make peace. Such vast societal energies are not to be dismissed with a mere “a pox on both their houses.”

    I would think that the anglophone West would be proud to claim John Wesley for reasons of national pride alone, given how he pretty much invented the modern middle class.

  • Plamus

    Clovis Sangrail: “Nevertheless, most [theologians] accept room for much interpretation…”

    That’s certainly fair. As has been pointed out to me by very smart religious people, if you take any physics textbook, you can pull out quotes out of context that seem to contradict each other – say sections dealing with Newtonian vs relativistic physics. However, there are instances where interpreting a point stretches the definition of interpretation into la-la-land territory – how much is “much”, and how much is too much?

    Example: same author (Matthew), same authority (Jesus himself):

    Matthew 5:16 (King James Version): Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
    Matthew 6:1 (King James Version): Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

    Example: same author (John), same authority (Jesus himself):

    John 5:31 (King James Version): If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.
    John 8:14 (King James Version): Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going.”

    There are numerous others, with which I will not bother you – for some even I can come up with possible, albeit unlikely, interpretations. But, IMHO, some contradictions are just that – contradictions.

  • Ron W

    I have only skimmed the comments so maybe I have missed it. But for a libertarian website I wonder if everyone hasn’t gone off on a tangent. In my opinion whether religion is a net good or ill on humanity is not something that will not be settled in our lifetimes and certainly not in a web comment stream. The most extreme and potentially dangerous statement is baldly stated in the original comment quoted “Religion is unconditionally dangerous”. If religion is unconditionally dangerous the only rational response by those in power is to prohibit or at least inhibit religion’s practice. A nominally atheist, materialist political philosophy had this as one of its goals and that ideology may have killed more people than any other in human history. Today a government giving that kind of power to anyone, regardless of their beliefs, is far more dangerous than the beliefs themselves.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Plamus, many theologians think that John is the least reliable gospel in the Bible, as it was composed later. Indeed, some people think that John vehemently opposed the whole principle of Paul’s ministery, and that gentiles should be exhorted to become full Jews (anyone for circumcision?). If it comes to a clash between John and the other three gospels, I’ll go with the trinity.

  • Plamus

    Nick, yes, I am aware that John was… “different” (can you say “logos”?) However, I do not see that it changes my point that John is (on at least one point) internally controversial – or Jesus was. What you are saying gets us into the First Council of Nicaea, gnostic gospels, and all that jazz, which is fascinating, but a little tangent to our discussion here, since very few Christians these days identify as gnostics, or question the authority of the books included in the Bible – Hollywood and Dan Brown notwithstanding.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Nick, those quotes you selected are a perfect example of the “Text without a context being a pretext”. If you look at those quotes in their wider context, the reason for the seeming contradiction usually becomes apparent.

    Let’s say you took two quotes from me:

    “I’m absolutely appalled that you would play with matches in a school. You could have started a fire. Starting fires is wrong

    “It’s getting a little chilly in hear. Would you go out and get some coal. And would you mind lighting a fire?

    What you’ve done is akin to only quoting the bold parts and then claiming I was contradicting myself.

    I’m all for decent criticism of everything, including even the religion I practice, but plucking one-line quotes from all over the shop to argue a point is a decidedly cheap shot.

  • Tedd

    Ron W:

    This may be a libertarian blog in the sense that it was created by libertarians for the purpose of expressing libertarian ideas, but the people who comment here are not all libertarians. I would guess only about half are, which is one of the reasons that the comment section is so interesting. (To me, anyway.)

    But I take issue with this assertion: “If religion is unconditionally dangerous the only rational response by those in power is to prohibit or at least inhibit religion’s practice.” I think the problem here is the word practice. Practicing a religion may involve acts that have a material effect on non-consenting people (such as blowing them up), which clearly can be prohibited under libertarianism. However, practicing a religion also includes beliefs and acts that do not materially affect non-consenting people, which clearly can not be prohibited under libertarianism. So religion, as such, can’t be prohibited under libertarianism; only actions that harm non-consenting people can, and that holds whether the action is motivated by religion or motivated by anything else (except legitimate defense).

  • Rich Rostrom

    Mike Giles @May 29, 2013 10:39 pm:
    “But I’ve never heard of any sort of “Islamic Inquisition”…”

    By Inquisition, are you speaking of an official governmental body charged with rooting out heretics? Because Islam has no official clergy, but any imam can issue a fatwa against a “heretic”, and it’s up to each individual Moslem whether or not they accept and carry it out.

    Now compare that to the apparatus of Roman Catholic Christianity. Organized “Councils” convened to resolve theological differences (Nicaea, Chalcedon, Constance, Trent, etc.) The findings of such Councils declared binding on all clergy and laity. Conformity to the doctrines so established enforced by the Church hierarchy with the aid of secular governments.

    When Protestants broke away from the authority of Rome, they did much the same thing in their own domains.

    It is a serious mistake to project this history onto Islam, which operates in very different ways – and even more so to project it onto non-Abrahamic religions.

  • Richard Thomas

    Lee, sure you can hold that belief. It’s just not a rational belief.

  • veryretired

    It’s not religion that’s the problem—Marxism proved that, and Maoism and pol pot-ism took it even further down the road to lunacy.

    The critical factor is fanatical, totally devoted, wholly committed belief in any ideological construct.

    There have been thousands of varieties of religious beliefs down through history, from the monstrous to the ludicrous to the, occasionally, sublime. The driving force, everywhere and always was, and is, the level of fanaticism of the followers.

  • Lee Moore

    VR : “The critical factor is fanatical, totally devoted, wholly committed belief in any ideological construct.”

    It’s a plausible theory, but I don’t think it holds up. The Aztec religion was fairly bloodthirsty and unpleasant, but there’s no good evidence that the Aztecs were more fanatical about their beliefs than, say, Jehovah’s witnesses are these days. And of the secular religions, though there were undoubtedly fanatical Nazis, Soviet Communists, Maoists etc, a goodly portion of the slaughtering and torturing was done by people with no particularly fanatical adherence to the religion. Torturing and slaughtering is quite fun, and if one can do it without feelings of guilt or fear of retribution, there will be plenty of non fanatical volunteers. Nobody seriously believes that folk like Beria, or indeed Mao, worshipped at any feet other than their own.

    I think it’s the content of the ideology / theology that counts, not so much the fanaticism. If the religion teaches that the neighbouring tribe, the Jews, the Kulaks or whoever must be slaughtered down to the last man, then it’s going to be bad news for the neighbouring tribe, the Jews etc, even if the amount of fanaticism is not Premier League. Obviously there needs to be a modicum of fanaticism to keep the flame alight – whatever the CofE teaches these days is never going to be a threat to anyone, as no-one in the CofE would ever dream of doing anything about their beliefs. But once you have sufficient fanaticism to keep the show on the road, sadists, careerists and admin guys will do all the slaughtering that’s called for, just for fun, or their weekly pay-check. But your religious doctrine does need to give them a solid theological get-out-of-guilt-free card. (Most of them, that is. Some people will not require it.) By contrast, a religion that teaches that if you murder your brother, or indeed a passing stranger, then even if you escape retribution in this life, you will get an afterlife consisting of pitchforks and hellfire, will help keep the murder rate down.

    Fear the priests of the Aztecs. The Mormons, not so much.

  • Loki

    “Regarding the moral compass of non-religionists, I would argue that true morals are more likely to be found among them than among the faithful. To do the right thing under threat of eternal damnation hardly requires a robust moral code, simply a moderately well-developed sense of self-preservation.”

    The threat of eternal damnation is the kind of thing that makes a moral code “robust”.

    Atheism does nothing to enforce any “robustness”. Indeed, it´s hard to see why Atheism is not rather the great liberator from moral guilt and repression. It´s not as if you are going to go to Atheist Hell should you stray from the one true path. And if you want to throw “rationality” in the trashbin, why not?

    TLDR: Atheism is Nihilism. Nihilism is Freedom. Freedom does not require anyone to be “rational”. (Why bother?)

  • Atheism is Nihilism. Nihilism is Freedom.

    Arrant nonsense. I regard religion as irrational superstition, and your version is just utilitarianism piled on top of that irrational superstition. Indeed your ‘morality’ is nothing of the sort, it is actually more akin to a legal code (i.e. a social tool rather than a moral theory seeking to derive what is appropriate behaviour). Your notions are just a method for intimidating people into ‘correct’ behaviour on the cheap (i.e. with preposterous threats of supernational torture if they do not comply)… rather than secular threats. You try to get people to believe that your threats can be carried out in some imaginary afterlife.

  • Loki

    “Arrant nonsense. I regard religion as irrational superstition, and your version is just utilitarianism piled on top of that irrational superstition. ”

    Pray tell, what version of “religion” is it that I am peddling here? I´m quite confused myself on that point.

    “Indeed your ‘morality’ is nothing of the sort, it is actually more akin to a legal code (i.e. a social tool rather than a moral theory seeking to derive what is appropriate behaviour).”

    Well, I do view morality as an (evolutionary) “social tool” that works chiefly through conformism and selective irrationality by design.

    “Your notions are just a method for intimidating people into ‘correct’ behaviour on the cheap (i.e. with preposterous threats of supernational torture if they do not comply)… rather than secular threats.”

    Well, yes, that was my point. There´s probably a lot of synergy between objective morality (word of God), supernatural reward/ supernatural punishment in order to enforce a certain behavioral pattern.

  • Loki

    Now, a brief description on how modern Ersatz-Religion (I.e. Ideology) works in practice:

    1.) Instead of committing to a deity, idol, etc., you commit to a Value. (“I believe in Freedom!”. “I believe in equality!”).

    2.) If you need to explain *why* you are committed to the value in question, you will eventually have to retreat into your own preferences (“Because I believe that Freedom/Equality/Liberty is the key to a good life”, or similar).

    3.) In short, you believe in Freedom because you prefer to believe in Freedom. This is value commitment.

    4.) Needless to say, this kind of morality isn´t terribly resilient to deconstruction (transcendental religion is sturdier in this sense, it´s the non-transcendent parts that tends to do them in, I.e. Christianity, Genesis and Darwin, etc.).

  • 4.) Needless to say, this kind of morality isn´t terribly resilient to deconstruction (transcendental religion is sturdier in this sense, it´s the non-transcendent parts that tends to do them in, I.e. Christianity, Genesis and Darwin, etc.).

    Forming a critical preference for a falsifiable theory is the essence of the Scientific Method. Moral theories are no different.

    Sorry if messy reality does not provide the conveniently irreducible certainty that perhaps you would prefer, but Popper’s approach is a rather successful way of understanding the nature of things.

    Or you could rely on someone else’s interpretation of what The Voices in Mohammed’s head said a few centuries ago I suppose. What could possibly go wrong with that?

  • Loki

    “Forming a critical preference for a falsifiable theory is the essence of the Scientific Method. Moral theories are no different.”

    How can a normative moral theory be “falsifiable” in the absence of transcendence?

    “Sorry if messy reality does not provide the conveniently irreducible certainty that perhaps you would prefer, but Popper’s approach is a rather successful way of understanding the nature of things.”

    I dunno, I have never really seen a non-silly Popperian attempt at morality.

    “Or you could rely on someone else’s interpretation of what The Voices in Mohammed’s head said a few centuries ago I suppose. What could possibly go wrong with that?”

    Plenty could go wrong (or right, Mohammed and his acolytes were kind of successful by most measures) – the advantage of relying on transcendent myth is that it is at least internally consistent (external consistency is another matter).

    Rationalist morality, on the other hand, is never internally consistent.

  • Lee Moore’s last comment is more than noteworthy.

  • How can a normative moral theory be “falsifiable” in the absence of transcendence?

    By having someone come up with a new critical theory that has a deeper and better explanation of reality. This is much easier to do when you do not have “God says…” as a starting point, though fortunately a fair bit of Catholic moral theorising does manage to finesse that rather serious handicap at least to some extent.

    Rationalist morality, on the other hand, is never internally consistent.

    I believe the best definition of a ‘barking moonbat’ was someone who sacrifices sanity for the sake of consistency. Listing uncritically to The Voices, be they God’s Voice or The Will of the Proletariat or whatever, tends to take you to some strange places.

  • Fear the priests of the Aztecs. The Mormons, not so much.

    Pretty much. That was my problem with regarding all religion as unconditionally problematic. Like most ‘world views’, I think it does all tend to be rather conditional. Indeed many secular world views are no less non-rational than religious ones. I regard Islam as toxic primarily for its totalitarian political aspects… the fact it purports to be The Word of God rather than the Word of Marx is of rather less import.

  • Steven

    Fear the priests of the Aztecs. The Mormons, not so much.

    The people killed in the Mountain Meadows Massacre might disagree.

  • Loki

    “By having someone come up with a new critical theory that has a deeper and better explanation of reality.”

    Morality is normative – it’s not about “explaining reality”.

    “I believe the best definition of a ‘barking moonbat’ was someone who sacrifices sanity for the sake of consistency.”

    That does’t really discredit consistency though.

  • Although I would hardly describe myself as a Randian, she did a very good job of explaining the objective basis for morality, so yes, morality is very much about understanding reality and how we determine what are appropriate actions based on that understanding of reality.

    And your quip that god-based morality is more consistent does not actually support why it makes any sense. Simply saying “because God says so…” may be very consistent but it ain’t much of an answer.

  • Loki

    “Although I would hardly describe myself as a Randian, she did a very good job of explaining the objective basis for morality, so yes, morality is very much about understanding reality and how we determine what are appropriate actions based on that understanding of reality.”

    I´m far less impressed by objectivism than you appear to be, I guess that´s the primary difference in our outlooks. To me, objectivism et. al merely replace a statement of faith in a deity or woodland spirits or whatever with a statement of faith in some axiom.

    Rand has the virtue of a pretty minimalist axiom (“choose life!”), but the connection of the axiom to the system of ethics that´s erected on top of that foundation is pretty tenuous, and that´s being kind.

    But at least Objectivism tries to create a coherent foundation – most secular morality just attempts to live off of value fat, I.e. “obviously that´s wrong, all decent people agree!” or somesuch.

    “And your quip that god-based morality is more consistent does not actually support why it makes any sense. Simply saying “because God says so…” may be very consistent but it ain’t much of an answer.”

    That´s why I differentiate between internal and external consistency. Religion is generally internally consistent in that it makes at least some sense for those who buy into the required axioms to actually live according to its rules and regulations. External consistency (“Was that carpenter really God”) is another matter, but without the possibility of achieving internal logical consistency, does that really matter much?

  • Religion is generally internally consistent in that it makes at least some sense for those who buy into the required axioms to actually live according to its rules and regulations.

    Trouble with being ‘internally consistent’ to a “God says so…” system is that it is intrinsically dogmatic pretty much by design (which is also my main criticism of objectivism really and why I think Rand’s idea work best when ‘debugged’ with Popper’s more conjectural approach to things)… and dogmatic systems cannot help but end up producing very weird results when they collide with the hitherto unknown.

    Forming a critical preference for what seems to be the new best current theory is much harder when you have an immovable “because God said so” axiom underpinning it all. This can be true of any dogmatic system of which religions are just particularly florid examples.

  • Loki

    My suspicion though is that “rational morality” is a non-starter. That morality tends to be based on dogma is not some unfortunate quirk of history, but is rather due to dogma being an intrinsic part of the underlying bio-psychological architecture of morality.

    In short, a “moral person” cannot be fully rational – the evolutionary advantage of morality is most likely to act as a curb on rationality to promote self-limitation and group cohesion. Hence, there is a permanent underlying tension between rationality and morality that cannot be fully overcome.

  • Hence, there is a permanent underlying tension between rationality and morality that cannot be fully overcome.

    But that is always true as no one is ‘fully’ rational (and fully irrational is insanity). Catholic moral theories make a fairly good stab at trying to ‘rationalise’ morality within the inherent limitations of a God centred approach to the world (i.e. by concentrating on the whole free will thing). And to turn your remark on its head, I think that is because they recognise that entirely “God said so…” systems also have intrinsic weaknesses and points of attack.

  • Loki

    Yes, it´s a tradeoff – all out dogma leads to total inflexibility but extreme reliability, no dogma leads to total flexibility but no reliability. There is probably some biologically determined (still variable, of course) structure to this, but as history demonstrates, the range of possible outcomes is very large.

    But since it´s a tradeoff, there is in the end no end-run that does away with dogma. It´s always there, and when it´s at it´s most powerful, you won´t even realize it is dogma. It´s just obvious – after all, all decent people believe in it, no?

    Now, the final quirk of the system is that those that somehow achieve “full rationality” will not be obliged to act according to “reason”, but will be free to engage in irrationality at will. After all, in the completely rational scenario there is no longer any dogma in place that privileges rationality over non-rationality.

  • Paul Marks

    J.V. – it is actually the Christian (and Jewish) position that most of the Bible (apart from few words here and there) is INSPIRED by God – not that it is the direct words of God. That is the Muslim claim about the Koran.

    Lots of people over time told the stories that became the Bible – they were inspired by God, but these people were NOT God. Their various (wildly DIFFERENT) opinions do not mean that God is suffering from a muliple personality disorder – it just means He did NOT write the text (the words are NOT His – apart from a few words that are directly from God).

    This is obvious just by reading the Bible – although it astonishes me how few people seem to have a basic grasp of the words (even people who claim to have read them).

    Perhaps this is the fault of the style of the Bible as it is normally presented.

    I would suggest that if people really get a grip on the King James version they buy the the Jerusalem Bible – not the new one, the 1960s one edited by Alexander Jones (perhaps the “Popular Edition” if they want so muh in terms of introductions and notes).

    If someone says “but this is Papist” – I would reply there is nothing there that would anger John Wesley or William Wilberforce, were they not Protestants?

    If people still can not understand the Bible,even after reading the edition that Alexander Jones edited – then I give up.

  • Paul Marks

    I should have said that that if people really can NOT get a grip on the King James version they should….

    Just to give a brief example of the sort of things I mean….

    Nearly everyone assumes that what happened in Egypt when Joseph was a minister of the King was good – actually, if one reads the text (and it is presented in a way that can be understood), it was clearly terrible.

    See Genesis 47 – verses 13 to 26 (pages 54 to 55 in the Jones version).

    The food that the King had taken by force in taxation (Gensis chapter 41 – page 47 in the Jones version) is given the starving people (starving because they were not allowed to store the food themselves in the good years – as the King had taken 20% of the crops by force every year), but in return for their livestock (their animals) then for the land itself (it is not actually “given” at all – the STOLEN food is used as a weapon to make the people give up their animals and then their land).

    So the King ends up owning the land of the ordinary people (only the priests managed to keep their own lands) with the people living as the King’s serfs on what had been their own land.

    If this was the policy with which the Jewish minister Joseph was associated – of course the Jews were hated, and (when there was a change of Kings) nasty things would happen (although, please note, the new anti Jewish King did NOT give back the land to the farmers, and the Jews never got the land anyway – the KING had got the land).

    This is not a complicated story.

    Yet hardly anyone appears to have a clue about it.

    Indeed plays and films are made showing Joeseph as this really nice person who helped people – thus making future Egyption hatred baffleing.

    “Did they not remember what lovely Joseph had done – why did they hate the Jews…”.

    Yes they DID remember what the King had done (and blamed it on Joseph) that is what made the anti Jewish policy of the new King so popular….

    It is much the same with much of the Bible.

    The stories are “read” but they are not really read.

    The point of these historical stories is lost – time after time after time…..

    It angers me.

    As for someone who says “well this part of Genesis says the King got the land of Egypt – so it is clearly the word of God that the government should get the land”.

    Even if it was God telling us the story (which, like most of the Bible, it is NOT) this is so Captain Miss The Point,that ……

    Paul pounds fist against wall – says “ouch” and moves on.

    Historical events (or stories of those events) even the laws of men in the Bible (trying to guess what God would want) are NOT the will of God.

    Also people seem to have no conception of the conventions of literature.

    For example when the author (or authors) of the Book of Joshua has God giving Joshua detailed battle instructions “Take up a concealed position against the city [the city of Ai] or to the rear of it” the author (or authors) does not really mean that Joshua heard a voice insructing him on troop deployments.

    Someone during the Babylonian captivity (when the Book of Joshua was most likely formally written in its final version) would have have laughed at you (or thought you were raving mad) if you suggested that.

    It is a way of writing – a way of expressing that Joshua believed he was doing God’s will (not physically hearing instructions from God).

    So that even when Joshua is doing the most terrible things (such as slaughtering the women and children) he believes that he is doing these things for a good purpose, the point is that the men often do the most terrible things believeing they sre justified in doing them.

    The simple minded “well God clearly wanted the women and children at Jericho slaughtered – here He is ordering Joshua to it” totally misunderstands how language is used.

    Especially in the context – the context of the people who heard the story being themselves the survivers of the sack of Jerusalem (and other towns) by the Babylonians.

    What has been done to us, may have been done by our ancestors to others – long ago.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thank you, Paul. Very informative comments and really should be a regular topic of sermons (and of college classes too), and thanks for the lead to the Jerusalem Bible. (Our church moved to the Revised Standard Version, the first one, sometime in the ’50’s; but the KJV was still a standard reference.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thank you, Paul. Very informative comments and really should be a regular topic of sermons (and of college classes too), and thanks for the lead to the Jerusalem Bible. (Our church moved to the Revised Standard Version, the first one, sometime in the ’50’s; but the KJV was still a standard reference.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Heh…really didn’t intend double Thanks, but then again Paul’s comment was worth it. (It looked from here as though the first submission hadn’t gone through. :()

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Quite right, PM! Another point to consider about language- when God created the world, He is recorded as saying ‘Let US..’ This is NOT the U.S. of A!!! Kings routinely used We and Us as ways of telling the community what they were supposed to do and think- the Royal ‘We’. God is the ultimate King, and so is recorded as speaking in a kingly fashion. God is One, but makes laws for all.
    On a side note, Bob Hawke, when PM of Australia, commented on a neighbouring country’s use of the death penalty by declaring, ‘We do not believe in the death penalty’. I thought, speak for yourself! But he was simply telling the official policy on that matter. It just seemed odd to hear a republican sound so Royal!

  • Paul Marks

    Julie and Nick – yes language is difficult (without understanding the context and cultural traditions). Bob Hawke was speaking for the government (although not for a lot of Australians) so his use of “we” was correct. Various Bible stories have “God” speaking when what is actually meant (in the cultural context) is that the person the story is about believed (however wrongly) that he was acting in the cause of God. When God actually DOES speak (very rarely in the Bible) the treatment in the text is quite different – we do not get just so-and-so getting troop deployment instructions in his ear, we get a massive build up for a special event.

    As for the Jerusalem Bible (Alexander Jones version) – I like it because it makes the events (the stories) clear.

    Evil events are obviously evil in the text (no hiding the evil with poetic language) so people who say “well God wanted all these things to happen – in fact the people were following his orders” can be rejected.

    Make the langauge simple and straightforward – and present the stories in as easy to read fashion as possible.

    If people STILL miss-the-pont – then that is their fault (not the fault of God).

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Culture is also tied up with language. For instance, if a person was described as ‘becoming a pillar of salt’, that expression still means (in the Aramaic language) that they turned white from shock and simply resembled a pillar of salt. My source for this is the Lamsa translation of the Bible.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Very interesting, Nick–that makes sense, thank you. Actually, the names of things (“pillar-of-salt” for instance) are often metaphors, when you come to think of it. “Cowslips,” for instance, or “bluebells.”

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Another thing, Julie- our English words ‘heart attack’ or ‘stroke’. At one time, people believed that evil elves or fairies sent invisible arrows to attack or strike a person’s heart. We now blame the evil colesteroids, but the word ‘stroke’ is still in our language!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Huh! More interesting word (or term) history.

    Speaking of arrows, that makes me think of Cupid and cupidity–wanting.