Camels With Hammers Philosophy

After this introductory paragraph, every sentence in this post will summarize and link a different post expressing my views, primarily on topics related to atheism, philosophy, and ethics—which are the primary preoccupations of this blog. I am organizing all of these links into this one summary statement of “Camels With Hammers’ Philosophy.” This post will constantly be adding new sentences with new links for each core idea that I work out for the blog. So I recommend this post as an introductory guide to the rest of the blog. Follow its overall argument to acclimate yourself to my way of thinking, follow its links to find my justifications for my views, and return periodically to find recent additions you may have missed. Thanks for reading and for offering me Your Thoughts in reply!

Moral Absolutism And Pluralism’s Challenge

Moral absolutism appeals to many because it gives their lives doubt-free order and guidance, and so moral absolutists viscerally oppose cultural and moral pluralisms because they threaten to expose an uncertainty about ethics which they fear would make it less binding, less clear as a guide for life, and less unifying among community members—and insofar as moral absolutists are correct and it actually does do these things, there is pressure on self-conscious pluralists to develop explicit strategies for creating social cohesion and moral integrity while still endorsing a range of possible values as morally defensible.

Balancing The Concerns Of Moral Modules With Need For Non-Moral Goods

I am very intrigued by Jonathan Haidt’s hypothesis that morality is cognitively based in modules of the brain concerned with fairness and equality, care and harm, respect for authority, in-group loyalty, and purity.

Where I want to go beyond Haidt, though, is to argue that these parts of the mind can obsess over their own fulfillment to the point of damaging, rather than merely complementing, other human goods—specifically the aesthetic, hedonic, athletic, sexual, material, and technological—and that the moralistic parts of the brain should be curtailed wherever they excessively stifle our flourishing in these other “non-moral” areas of possible human excellence.

Judging competing moral codes for both minimal ethical acceptability and for relative superiority to other codes involves assessing both the relative qualities and quantities of both the moral and non-moral virtues they cultivate and the moral and non-moral goods whose enjoyment they increase access to.

Is There A Conflict Between Morality And Evolution?

I do not think facing the reality that morality evolved at all gives us either an expectation that psychologically we could or would abandon moral practices, and nor does it give us any rational reason to abandon practices which we have been selected to love and commit to in deep ways.

And it is quite possible to defend notions of moral objectivity based on non-faith-based intuitions and I think that religious people who genuinely believe in morality’s objectivity should at least try do so, and that in the meantime those religious people who insist that the faithless cannot have objective reasons to be moral actually care more about using morality as a political football to scare people into their faith than they care about advancing commitment to objective morality itself.

(Similarly, I think those who realize that their faith represents a set of unjustifiable presuppositions and so try to argue all reasoning consists of equally unjustifiable rationalizations of presuppositions, have a contemptible desire to destroy others’ commitment to objective truth out of desperation to save their own faith).

Naturalistic Teleology

I am a teleologist insofar as I think that though we have not been given “purposes” by a divinity, we nonetheless have characteristic functions which we have evolved as part of becoming the sorts of beings we are, and that in fulfilling the various potentials we have we can most successfully be what we most fundamentally are.

We get no ethical imperatives from outside of our nature as human beings, but nonetheless our being itself entails prioritizing certain complex arrangements over others just to be what we are and so for us, it is rationally and existentially inescapable that our objective good involves fulfilling various characteristic excellent possibilities—including various moral ones even though the idea of “moral facts” existing apart from moral beings sounds false to me .

Ethics Of Love

I think the pure ideal of unconditional love is irredeemably conceptually flawed. The word love refers to all the various permutations and combinations of any of the ten following things: intense affection, platonic desire, eros, concern, admiration, attachment, identification, intimacy, and/or strong volitional commitment to the well-being and flourishing of someone, or something, in spite of manifest flaws of the beloved and/or when the various enticements to attachment lose their power.

What is usually called “unconditional love” is not really love without all conditions but rather is the kind of volitionally maintained love that endures amidst the waning of affection and of objective desirability.

The Ethics Of Gay Marriage

Ethically speaking, gay marriage can fulfill all the functions which ultimately justify marriage as a social institution since it helps make individuals and societies more stable, provides a healthy two-parent environment for children, and can cultivate virtues related to commitment, love, responsibility, mutual support, kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice just as well as heterosexual marriages can.

I find it morally offensive when religious people waive away arguments for gay equality and inclusion as just expressing “fashion” or some sort of selfish moral indifference, rather than treat them as serious and sincere arguments about what is fair and moral.

Gay Marriage And Religious Intepretation

I also think that contemporary religious views on marriage already diverge wildly from those in the Bible, such that it is disingenuous to claim that contemporary Christians actually get their ethics on the issue from the Bible itself or that the Bible’s prohibitions on homosexuality are even defensible in a contemporary context. I also think that if there is a good God, he must approve of gays since he apparently created them specifically with their homosexual desires and only a malicious God would create a desire in someone as fundamental as the drive for a pair-bond with a particular sex of person only to punish them for fulfilling it.

The No True Scotsman Fallacy And Religious Hermeneutics As Normative Rather Than Descriptive

I also think that there is no such thing as “True Christianity” since it is not simply a belief system but a sprawling worldwide, centuries old tradition which has taken numerous forms and has interpreted its belief statements, symbols, rituals, and texts in numerous varying ways in different times and places. There are no such things as true “biblical literalists” since those claiming to follow the Bible as unquestionable must themselves inevitably employ highly disputable hermeneutics—and frequently the character of their judgments reveals more about their starting prejudices than about the “true intentions” of biblical writers.

The Moral Ideal Of Greater Exclusion And Religion As A Source Of Resistance To It

I think the psychological challenge of increasing our concern for, and our identification with, those further and further away from us (whether geographically, socially, or hierarchically) is our fundamental task of moral improvement and that this task has historically and logically been hindered by religion’s tribalistic dimensions, which inherently exclude outsiders. Recent history has shown Western secularism to be a much stronger force for inclusion than religious beliefs for exactly these sorts of reasons.

There is an ethically and intellectually authoritarian “gene” in religion insofar as it asks people to believe certain things without sufficient evidence and so even as moderates may interpret their faiths in humane ways, nonetheless insofar as they support faith and perpetuate faith traditions they inevitably preserve this gene which can always then be exploited by religious extremists in numerous explicitly authoritarian intellectual and political ways.

Of course religion is not the source of all our bad intellectual habits and it is almost certain that cognitive errors would continue to proliferate without it for as long as our brains are wired such as to be prone to certain sorts of errors by their very nature—but nonetheless religion is the primary human institution for systematically exploiting and exacerbating our irrationality rather than correcting it.

And I’d love to hear from those who imply that the Enlightenment ideals of rationalism were somehow refuted by the violence of the 20th century and hear the exact explanation as to how becoming less rational, demanding lessscientific evidence and making less rational moral arguments is a better route to a better world.

Expositions Of Key Texts In 20th Century Metaethics (Moore’s Non-Naturalism, Emotivism)

G.E. Moore conceives of goodness as an indefinable, non-natural property which is not reducible to any of the things upon which it supervenes (such as pleasure, usefulness, or desiredness). C.L. Stevenson, as an emotivist tries to argue that what unites all our uses of the word “good” is not the recognition of an indefinable, non-natural property, but rather their common reference to a positive attitude we have towards that which we call “good”, and by which word he thinks we express only our enthusiasm in such a way as to try to persuade others to share our feelings.

A.J. Ayer goes a step further than C.L. Stevenson in his own brand of emotivism by denying that there is any descriptive content in the word “good” at all and instead arguing that value terms are as devoid of reference to facts as pure expressions of emotion (like nonsensical exclamations which make no propositional claims) are.

Expositions Of Key Texts In 20th Century Metaethics (R.M. Hare & Bruce Russell)

R.M. Hare wants to argue that there are logical principles of morality which can serve as the same sort of neutral, rationally arbitrating tool for settling some moral disagreements as logic is for settling claims about the world generally. Bruce Russell lays our four possible accounts of where rational motivations come from and lays before us the challenge of deciphering whether there are reasons for actions that we rationally must accept, on pain of irrationality, which come from objective reason-giving sources outside our own personal desires.

Scientific Methodologies Vs. Religious Methodologies

Methodological Naturalism has proven to be the only reliable way of categorizing and explaining the world that we have yet devised and this proves that naturalism itself is the best metaphysics we have—i.e., scientists are not just methodologically and hypothetically treating the world as though it acts according to natural causes but are giving powerful evidence for the inference that it actually does act only by natural causes.

It is incredibly hypocritical and irrational for religious believers to insist we think of scientific explanation as inherently limited (since it always depends on only probabilistic inferences that never achieve 100% certainty) and thento try to use this argument about science’s imperfection as a basis to make room for faith-based knowledge claims which aren’t even probabilistically supported at all, but rather completely unjustified according to those same skeptical standards with which they hyperbolically disparage scientific confidence.

The more we live in a world that rewards powers of careful thought and proves wild guesses impotent, and the more we live in a world where peace is achieved only where reasons and consensus are treated as absolute requirements, whereas on the other hand tyranny flourishes wherever dogmatic claims to political, moral, and intellectual authority are allowed to prosper—I cannot imagine how people’s belief in authoritarian sources of knowledge and morality can still look like the necessary or ideal future for humanity.

Disambiguating The God Of Philosophers From Gods Of Faith

It is, to my mind, one of the most disastrously misleading equivocations in world history to use the same word “God” to refer to both the metaphysical notion of a ground of all being and to the thoroughly anthropomorphic deities of the world’s mythologies—deities who transparently express only humans’ values, fears, and desperate projective wishes for the means to change their situation beyond all naturally available recourses.

While the idea of a deist god is not as prima facie implausible and false as the tooth fairy, it must be stressed that such a principle of being itself (if it is an adequately specifiable concept at all) (a) is an issue for complicated cosmology and irrelevant to people’s faith beliefs, (b) doesn’t lead with any likelihood to proof for a personal God, (c) implies no likely existence of Yahweh or any of the other interactive gods of religious traditions, (d) offers no foothold for supernaturalism, and (e) is irrelevant to adequately explaining moral normativity or proving any particular moral judgments correct.

I think the concept of “nothing” might just be a pseudo-concept since we have no experience whatsoever of “nothing” and can only think of it as though it were something, and so I am suspicious of arguments for God’s existence which assume “nothingness” is a possibility whose non-actualization needs to be explained.

A Mysterious God Cannot Be Called Omni-Benevolent With Any Confidence

Even if God does exist, since its will is mysterious we can never be certain that it has good desires rather than evil ones for us and, therefore, we cannot be sure it is even morally worthy of worship (assuming we can even defend the notion that any being could ever be morally worshiped by another).

Rational Belief, Rational Actions, And Confidence In Reason

Attempts to question the ultimate validity of rational norms for our thinking is incoherent since one cannot avoid accepting and employing rational norms in any attempt to assess them.

We should always apportion our beliefs to evidence such that we hold beliefs only as strongly or tentatively as the evidence allows, but we may simultaneously acknowledge that sometimes it is actually rational to act on certain improbable hopes or fears, as long as we recognize that our precautions against rightly feared scenarios or for reasonably hoped-for ones does not translate into a rational cause to believe that less probable scenarios are rightly taken to be true.

Faith vs. Doubt

Doubt is a necessary precondition of faith—in that without doubt, there is no need for faith—but religious people are disingenuous in claiming that faith and doubt are compatible since faith by its nature is the willful refusal to succumb to doubt even in the face of a preponderance of evidence against the beliefs in which one has faith, and so faith refuses to acknowledge that the systematic commitment to doubt is either an intellectual or ethical ideal.

Faith is more than just a necessary, tentative commitment to a tradition within which one orients one’s thinking, but rather is the voice of traditionalism itself, demanding we never abandon or truly scrutinize the tradition’s central teachings or practices. And those who argue that faith can thrive as something ambivalent which admits of great uncertainty about religious truths completely miss the point that one cannot worship with ambivalence and nor will faith’s greatly implausible teachings survive long if people take the attitude that they should only hold beliefs uncertainly and to the extent they have rational warrant.

Distinguishing Illicit Faith From Non-Discursive And Prima Facie”Irrational” But Nonetheless Truth-Conducive Forms Of Reasoning

Having a true belief through an unjustified means does not equate to holding that belief rationally, so even if by faith someone coincidentally believes something highly implausible which nonetheless improbably turns out to be to be true, they are not thereby rationally justified in that belief.

Strong intuitions that come to us from pre-conscious, sub-conscious, or unconscious reasoning processes or directly through perception can be sources of valuable insights, but they should not be confused for divine revelations or any other kinds of beliefs justifiable on “faith alone”, and they should not be accepted on face value if they contradict firmer beliefs which we hold or if they in any other way do not stand up to rational scrutiny.

Sometimes we rationally should explore counter-intuitive possibilities and test low-probability hypotheses just in-case they are true, but all such endeavors are distinct from faith because faith does not merely exploreseemingly irrational hypotheses but rather (a) outright commits to them in defiance even of their unambiguous refutation, (b) distorts all other beliefs which contradict them, and (c) prejudicially squelches many lines of future speculation which would threaten the beliefs it dogmatically protects.

Faith As Irrational Subjectivism And Willful Rationalization

I adamantly reject Kierkegaard’s notion that “truth is subjectivity” and that the most important matters require passionate leaps of faith and, by contrast argue that the most important matters require just the opposite—the most scrupulous rigor in proportioning our beliefs to evidence and the severest critical reexamination of what we passionately want to be true.

Against religious appeals to heart-based reasoning in matters where reasoning proves inconclusive, I argue that while often our hearts give us data which is important for the intellect to make its judgments, ultimately a belief is either intellectually justified by heartless reason or it is not, and it is rationally impermissible to treat our hearts as a “special way of knowing” that can outweigh all undesirable evidence.

Religious faith is a unique form of rationalization, distinct from merely paradigm-dependent forms of thinking which are inherently revisable, because with religious faith the believer does not merely accidentally rationalize but explicitly chooses to do so as part of an identity-based commitment to a tradition which gives rationalization the honorific name of “faith”!

How Atheism And Reason Differ From Faith

And just as non-religious paradigms need not be held the way “faiths” are, also neither is reason an atheist’s “god”, since reason is the antithesis of a narrow, tradition-specific, prejudicial faith-based authority; it is a set of cognitive processes that are potentially truth-conducive and to which allrational agents alike must appeal and to which all rational agents must alike restrict themselves as our only hope for fairly and non-arbitrarily settling disagreements.

Why I Am Not A Christian

I personally learned that faith is an inherently dishonest, rationalization process by spending years committed to desperately trying to defend my Christian faith until the freeing day when I stopped lying, freed my intellectual conscience to only assent to beliefs when I found them too compelling not to be admitted, and committed to proportioning my strength of belief to my degree of sureness.

Now I am free to genuinely and openly consider challenges to all but a few core notions of which I am completely convinced—and even those are matters about which I could possibly be persuaded to change my mind, and that prospect causes me no dread.

I left Christianity for moral and intellectual reasons and not because I did not love being a Christian—and even though I now would never want to be a Christian again, I still can empathize with those who enjoy their lives of faith since I remember so well what it was like and even have some nostalgic moments of longing to go back to aspects of my life in the faith.

A Commendable Form Of Faith, The Existentially Unjustifiable Willingness To Die For A Rationally Defensible, Moral Cause

But even where there is a 99% moral and rational certainty of an action’s worth, when one’s very existence is on the line (as in the case of the heroically self-sacrificial firefighters of 9/11) then the commitment to act cannot be existentially justified as far as I can see and in such a case the choice to put the entirety of one’s being at stake for less than 100% certainty is a quintessentially heroic leap of faith—a laudable kind of faith.

The Virtue Of Trustworthiness Distinguished From Faith

The virtue of trustworthiness encompasses distinguishable (and sometimes competing) virtues of loyalty, honesty, and skill competence. Rational trust proportions itself to the degree of objectively determinable trustworthiness of that which it trusts, whereas faith trusts beyond demonstrable trustworthiness.

How Tradition Cultivates Faith To Assure Faithfulness Even Against An Individual’s Own Reason

Traditions, through their religions, turn this sort of faith beyond demonstrated trustworthiness into the key test of loyalty as a way of guaranteeing that individuals will submit to them even when their reason or conscience does not have adequate reasons to do so.

And rather than evolving minds that would be first inclined to independently reassess traditions for ourselves and quickly improve them, it worked better to keep us on the same page, deferring instinctually (in what Nietzsche calls the “herd instinct”) to the most tested and previously reliable traditions—even at the possible expense of better new alternatives likely because the risk of disaster from failed experiments was too great.

Sources Of Flexibility Within Tradition

I think debates about orthodoxy—the boundaries of permissible interpretations of the meanings of a tradition’s standard belief statements—boil down to debates about what variations of ways of speaking would threaten a group’s identity by hindering the abilities of its practices, recitations, rituals, holy-text readings, etc. to have the same desired effects as they have had in the past, and to be able to successfully transmit the tradition into future generations.

As long as traditions can preserve continuity of their basic forms, they can survive reinterpretations and when a Christian tries to say what Christianity “truly says” she is only giving a norm for what she wants Christianity to say or to mean, but not actually describing any preexisting fact about what Christianity really is already; and he’s certainly not giving adequate basis to dismiss Christianity’s historical sins as “not ‘genuine’ Christianity”.

The Mixed Possibilities Of Good In Religions

It is of course possible (though neither necessary nor inevitable) that Christians can interpret their tradition in increasingly inclusive and humane ways than past Christians have, and I would genuinely prefer that Christians do so for as long as their religion stays in business. But also, the fact that religions can be interpreted inclusively does not mean that religion is as good as secularism at achieving inclusiveness, especially since faith’s insistence on irrational, communally specific beliefs hinders religious people from always inclusively giving and accepting reasons for their beliefs and actions that are founded in general reason.

How Religious Evil Refutes Religious Truth Claims

And of course the ever-prevalent existence of wicked religious people and corrupt religious institutions does not prove that religions or religious people are “all bad”, but nonetheless it does prove that such people and institutions are not specially guided by a perfect divine being since to justify such a grandiose self-conception of themselves and their traditions, religious people and institutions would have to meet a much higher bar than “not all bad”.

The Atheist As Abomination Against Tradition

So, faith’s spirit of willingness to defer to tradition (even to the point of sacrificing reason and conscience) is so deeply ingrained in everyone religious—from the tradition-fetishizing fundamentalist to the most minimal and nominal believer—that each alike feels instinctively mistrustful of the avowed atheist for rejecting the entire possibility of such ultimate deference to the community over personal reason.

Moral reformers and other critics of tradition have long been accused of atheism because traditions equate their traditional moral opinions as the quintessence of goodness and divine will themselves and this makes anyopposition appear tantamount to wickedness and godlessness themselves.

The Moderate’s Drive To Please Both Tradition And Reason

Because of their innate, powerful need to stay faithful to tradition, I have sympathy for those rational people who have too many doubts to genuinely affirm most religious superstition but nonetheless still cling to God in extraordinarily vauge and watered down interpretations, since I see that in many ways is a functionally atheist belief which existentially feels less traumatic for some than simply calling themselves atheists would.

Contemporary Religious Belief As Expressing Cognitive Dissonance

Integral to believing in the divine authority of the Bible one must fallaciously trust ancient people’s claims to divine interpretations of their experiences in a way that we rightly recognize as only arrogant and not authoritative when comparable claims are routinely made in the present day.

While many thoughtful contemporary religious people may not interpret their own experiences with the hubris that assumes God is communicating His message or expressing His will uniquely through their own lives, nonetheless insofar as they import the audacious claims of their religious founders and sacred texts into their thought and let those founders’ and texts’ claims shape their own thought, their religion transmits those claims and their attitudes into the present.

Moderates As Moderating Force Within Religion

Without moderate religious people’s leavening influence, fundamentalists would risk becoming even more radicalized than they already are, and so I think atheists have reason to appreciate and in some cases outright encourage the moderates—but I also am really irritated when the moderates accuse atheists of being simplistic or dogmatic for not being willing to join them in clinging to theological language which is almost entirely empty and superfluous to rational 21st Century people.

Perpetuating The Intellectual Vice Of Faith

But, nonetheless, a sophisticated religious intellectual, for all his great intellectual virtue outside the church to be theistically religious must incorporate some degrees of irrational faith, traditionalism, supernaturalism, authoritarian deference to “sacred” sources, etc., and in doing so reaches the limits of his intellectual virtue, opens himself up to intellectual vice which may or may not afflict his capacity for judgment even in matters which are not strictly personally religious.

The fact of some happy and virtuous faithful people does not in any way prove the truth of their abstract beliefs but, rather, gives us the challenge to figure out how religion uses various tools to make people happy and virtuous (where it successfully does this), while figuring out outlets for people to have these benefits without the cost of cultivating their worst intellectual tendencies.

Theology Contains No Knowledge

To do theology requires participating in a religious tradition by accepting its texts/prophets/institutions/rituals, etc. as uniquely revelatory of information about God and the world which allegedly would otherwise be inaccessible to human reason.

But since religious traditions, qua religious traditions, are not at all sources of any special knowledge, I think that theology generates no actual knowledge and that theology departments in academia should replace theological reasoning with rationally defensible investigations into how best to synthesize the findings of the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, psychology of religion, history of religion, religious literature studies, etc., into a full picture of human religious nature and its constructive possibilities to support reason, rather than undermine it.

Insofar as theology reasons from arbitrary, tradition-based sources taken to be divinely inspired, it offers no genuine knowledge—but, nevertheless, I think theology departments which acknowledged this could still serve a legitimate academic purpose as hubs for correlating the research into the nature of religion as a human phenomena from the perspectives of all the other disciplines.

What’s Wrong With Religious Scientists?

I am more than willing to criticize other instances of irrationalism from scientists and political figures besides just religious ones. I have specifically been impressed with how Richard Dawkins has consistently and passionately insisted on an account of evolution which he explicitly sees as unsupportive of his own consistently and passionately felt political preferences—rather than letting his political socialism read the natural world as a more altruistically socialist and less selfishly competitive place.

By contrast I am suspicious of Francis Collins for his willingness to prejudge scientifically open questions in accordance with his preferred faith beliefs, and I am contemptuous of his attempts to leverage his credibility as a great scientist into an unearned appearance of authority to talk about matters of philosophy and theology when he “vouches” for the compatibility of faith and science—especially when the key to his good science is precisely and necessarily his rejection of faith in the lab.

Faith As Neutral At Best And Obstacle At Worst For Scientific Knowledge

When it comes to the specific question of whether we can demonstrate that faith is in practice an aid or a hindrance to the acceptance of science one only need look at the number one cause of denials of the truth of evolution—religious faith.

How Genesis Is Not Only Literally False But Mythically False Too

An evolutionary understanding of primeval history exposes not only that the Genesis story is not literally true but that its mythically presented propositional claims—that pain in the universe is connected to moral failing, that moral failing is a punishment for a sin, that the need to work and for women to suffer excruciatingly during child birth, and most of all that humanity was initially better off than we are now are—are all flat out false.

Objective Meaning To Events and Fate

As long as we can describe events in abstract terms in which others can interpret their meanings in commonly accessible terms, I think we can talk about events having meanings that are not idiosyncratic to any one’s particular perspective but would exist in any comparably situated rational human perspective.

Through a chain of successive selves, the dimension of “fate” in our lives is the dimension in which we will always respond in terms of what we are at the moment, and what we are at any moment will reflect the choices of previous selves, and the most bedrock, inexorably fated dimension of ourselves is whatever it is that stays most resilient in persistently making the choice in all of our most fundamental moments of choice, that within us which is most consistently effective in determining how our successive selves shake out is what we are at our core.

Rejecting Faith Claims Not Just As False But Irrationalistic And Not Intellectually Respectable

Rationality must reject both the content of beliefs which are only supported by faith and, further, must disrespect such beliefs as fundamentally irrational in a way that other, more respectable, wrong beliefs are not—but, while disrespecting irrationally accepted beliefs we must remember that the religious people who hold them deserve to be respected and their overall intelligence to be judged holistically by a fair assessment of their total intellectual life.

Holistically And Non-Prejudicially Weighing The Virtues Of Religious People Against Their Intellectual Vices

And, similarly, holistic assessments of many religious people’s lives may show that, despite at least partially lacking the intrinsic good of truth and valuable virtues of intellectual scrupulousness, they are on balance better people who live better lives than irreligious people in any given instance. And since it is prejudicial to exaggerate the importance of one character trait in assessing an entire person, in most cases it is probably blameworthily prejudicial to judge a given religious person badly solely on account of her irrationally holding to particular views on faith.

The Extents And Limits Of Criticism Of Religion For Its Treatment Of The Mentally Ill

Even though faith formally could justify all sorts of irrational beliefs and atrocious actions done in its name, this does not entail that in most people’s lives it ever does lead to atrocities or that psychotics’ actions which incorporate irrational faith beliefs should be blamed on those who introduced them to fantastic religious characters or ideas when such show up in their delusions.

Nonetheless, even though faith cannot be blamed for psychotic reasoning, faith formally cannot consistently oppose psychotic beliefs for their irrationality since it denies standards of rationality are absolutely binding and, also, historically religion has a shameful tradition of interpreting the hallucinations of ascetics as divinely inspired and the psychotic episodes and seizures of others as demonic possession.

The Place For Mocking Religious Beliefs

Faith beliefs are held to be socially desirable and morally virtuous in part due to numerous pervasive emotional influences, and, so, some attempts to mock such irrational beliefs are justified as part of an effort to recondition people to associate saying nonsensical and unjustified things with moral shame, rather than honor.

The Place For Meeting People Where They Are

But such mockery and shaming should also be tempered with prudent, properly humble, and humanly decent acknowledgment that particular believers one meets have complicated emotional and intellectual histories that lead them to their irrational ideas, and that they require patience and respect as much as possible.

Disambiguating Fact From Fiction

We atheists who are anti-faith do not oppose faith because we are somehow obtuse to all the literary value of myths but rather we vigorously oppose myths only when they are confused for facts—and especially when this happens systematically to billions of people, as in the cases of religious beliefs.

Atheism In Hospitals

I would rather people not say they will pray for me if that is just a sublimated way of saying that they love me, because I’d rather they just tell me they love me outright or say they are thinking about me and feeling concerned for me, rather than that they indulge in wishful thinking, superstition, sublimation, and/or denial of inevitable realities.

While I don’t think it is necessary to pick philosophical fights with people on our sick beds (or, especially, theirs) when they offer to pray for us (or ask us for our prayers), but nonetheless I think it is important to articulate the constructive and different ways that clear-eyed rationalism allows atheists to appreciate and love those who care for them without involving God.

Secularism In Public Ceremonies

On the question of public prayers and invocations, I think that by their very nature they presume to speak on behalf of an assembled group and imply (or demand) that all present take part in the prayer and, therefore, I think that speakers in secular, government sponsored places may express what they personally pray about for others but should not lead prayers or make invocations on the assembled citizenry’s behalf.

Against The Misnomer “Militant Atheism”

I think that calling an atheist “militant” and disrespectful to believers simply for exhorting fellow atheists not to be ashamed of their rejection of religious beliefs (or not be fearful that said rejection is detrimental to society), is as ridiculous as blaming and vilifying a political party’s partisan for exhorting her fellow political party members to stand up for their shared values and beliefs.

Secularism As Fairness For Both Atheist And Religious Rights

Atheists ask for no special political or intellectual deference but only demand of all people, including ourselves, that they give reasons which are justifiable in principle to any rational person for all their consequential beliefs—including, most especially, their views on what laws should be implemented.

Religious people are more than welcome in my view to argue on publicly accessible and assessable moral grounds for positions that their faith teaches—for example, they can oppose abortion by appeals to normal emotional and moral intuitions about protecting vulnerable humans without having to invoke any dogmatic faith claims or trying to impose on the general public laws that have only religious justifications.

The Ideal Of Noble Competition Between Ideas And The Symbolic Actions Which Acknowledge It Or Not

What is noble about our democracy, for all its crass machinations and appallingly manipulative demagogues, is that it is an arena in which opponents are not destroyed but where they are rather free to continue to challenge us and force us to be our best, and in which the prevailing ethos is one of that seeks to win out over our enemies on an equal playing field rather than have them obliterated or unfairly disadvantaged.

It is important, therefore, that atheists do not undertake symbolic gestures (like book destruction) that send the message that we are willing to resort to irrational means of force—be they the force of law or the force of physical destruction—to silence our opponents or to stop them from being heard in those zones of free speech in which freedom of expression must be kept sacred.

Constructive Atheism Which Meets Needs For Which People Now Turn To Religion To Meet

Unfortunately, since atheism unites atheists precisely along the one axis of our larger identities and ideas that is inherently hostile to religious belief (our very rejection of it), inevitably talk of atheists organizing will risk sounding like anti-theism the way that rejections of anything are understood only as “anti-” those things which they reject—but this does not mean thatwhenever those of us defined by the negative do anything constructive that the spirit is entirely anti-something else.

And I think it is of vital importance that atheists make constructive efforts to meet people’s desires for explicitly moral community, ritual, and meditationwithin rationalistic contexts so that people do not feel the need to accept a faith’s irrationalism as the only means to attaining these other goods for which they quite naturally, and deeply humanly, yearn.

If we are genuinely concerned that people live lives in which they strive to be as rational as possible, then rationalists need to offer substantive advice and communal support for fulfilling people’s religious impulses and other psycho-social needs.

Against The Charge That Atheism Entails Nihilism

I have hardly any sympathies with the nihilistic viewpoint that thinks that if there were no God we would lose all our motivation or justification to value anything—since even when I was at my most devout and faithful as a Christian, I explicitly recognized that even without God I would still love what I love, love whom I love, and be passionate about the causes in which I believed.

And saying there is most probably no God (or more precisely that there is no personal, self-revealing, intervening, judging divinity as described by any of the monotheistic traditions) does not strip the world of all mystery, but rather leaves the question of the source being genuinely mysterious,while leaving open all avenues of inquiry into actually discoverable natures.

Freethinking Consistently

And even as freethinkers group together, they should not indoctrinate their children as the religious do but should instead concentrate on teaching them how to reason, how to respect the requirement that they offer reasons for their beliefs, how to question traditional ways of thinking to see if they are genuinely sound, and, finally, how to disagree even with their parents—when they have good reasons with which to do so.

If we can ever get the word atheism associated first and foremost with the ideals of reason, rational morality, worldwide freedom, truthfulness at all costs, and life-affirmation, then and only then do I think that people will start to see the good deeds of atheists as the embodiments of a noble ideal and a specifically “spiritual” and “moral” option.

The Lesson In Being A Minority

And, finally, while I want to see atheists organize and counter political and social hostility to atheism, I also recognize that as Americans we are eclectic enough in ethnicity and philosophy that probably every one of us is only a 10-25% minority of the population with respect to something specific about us, and so I take my small “minority status” as an atheist as a way not to see myself as a uniquely alienated member of my society but rather to learn empathy for other people’s feelings about their own 10-25% minority statuses, whatever those may be.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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