[Turing 2013] Atheist Entry #1

This is the first entry in the Atheist round of the 2013 Ideological Turing Test.  This year, atheists and Christians responded to questions about sex, death, and literature.  

 

Polyamory

It seems to me that the purpose of civil marriage is not to tell people who they should be in a relationship with, but rather to grant legal recognition and rights to the people who are in fact in relationships. As such, the question is not “should more than two people be allowed to form a marriage?” but rather “do more than two people want to form a marriage?”

The answer, in most cases, is no.

Some days, it’s as much as my wife and I can do to stay married to each other. I can’t imagine trying to negotiate a relationship between more than two people with career and personal needs and aspirations to balance. I find it hard to imagine that anyone wants group marriages other than a few hippies and some fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims.

However, in a free society, we don’t ban something simply because the majority of people don’t want it. Indeed, whether we can call ourselves a free society is best measured by how we treat our minorities. If anything, the fact that so few people would want to engage in polyamorous relationships is all the more reason to recognize them where they do exist. It’s certainly not going to make my marriage stronger to keep some committed group of three or four consenting adults in a long term relationship from having legal recognition and the ability to visit each other in the hospital and have community property together. I don’t want that kind of relationship, and so whether the people who do want it are recognized really doesn’t affect me at all. One of the lingering effects of puritanism in our society is that so many people think that their existences will somehow suffer if people who are not like them are allowed to live in peace.

Now, I do see certain concerns from a women’s rights perspective, in that realistically many of the people taking advantage of the recognition of polygamous relationships might be members of fundamentalist religious sects who tend to treat women and children badly. That’s a serious concern, and I think it’s probably the best argument that people bring against recognizing these relationships. However, it’s important to remember that we already have laws against child abuse and spousal abuse. Far more women and children are abused by men in “traditional” marriages than by members of plural marriages. Moreover, it’s arguable that it’s being forced to live in the shadows outside the law that makes it so easy for these families to treat their members badly. If they are recognized in terms of their family relationship and come out of hiding, it’s that much easier for women and children in these families to come to the authorities if they are experiencing abuse. Finally, making it easier for religious fundamentalists who believe in polygamy to integrate with mainstream society is probably the most powerful weapon we have against the sexism and child abuse so common in those circles. If they stop living on the margins and start sending their kids to public school, surfing the internet, going to mainstream doctors, etc. just like any other family, they are that much more likely to come in contact with the opportunities and technologies of modern society which, I firmly believe, tend strongly towards instilling in people a desire for freedom both from patriarchy and superstition.

 

Euthanasia

If it’s never permissible to end a life, then why exactly do we all die? If there’s one thing we can say for certain, it’s that life is a 100% fatal condition.

Look, I don’t mean to be flip. But if there’s one thing that is utterly and completely our own, it’s our lives. That’s why it is always wrong for someone to take another person’s life against their will. But it’s also why it’s frankly kind of offensive to claim that I don’t have the right to end my life if I choose to.

A person doesn’t give their consent to be born. They don’t sign a contract committing to remain alive until some outside force chooses the time of their death. So why would we not have the right to choose when to end our own lives? To force someone to remain alive against their will would be a form of slavery.

Now, let’s be clear: There are certainly a lot of situations in which someone who expresses a desire to die is not actually doing so freely, but rather under the influence of depression or emotional coercion. For the same reason that I think it’s essential that our right to end our lives how we choose and when we choose be respected, I think it’s also important that if there’s a reason to think that someone is seeking to end their life due to depression or outside pressure, we provide them with counseling.

However, there are times when it’s completely rational to choose a dignified end to life rather than seeking to get every last minute of suffering. I’ve seen many articles in which it’s stated that doctors would prefer not to end life in an ICU surrounded by a bunch of other doctors and nurses trying to revive them. And that’s hardly surprising. What kind of quality of life is that? What kind of sick worldview would hold that we’re required to suffer as much as possible rather than slipping quietly away in a morphine fog when it’s clear that there’s nothing left but pain and increasingly desperate medical procedures?

And if we have the right to end our lives when we choose, it’s simply a matter of justice that those who through disability aren’t able to do so themselves have a physician’s help.

 

Bonus

I think the genre which would best express my worldview is the coming of age novel.

The novel is the quintessential modern literary form. The narrative structure allows a focus on psychology which allows deeper insight into the human experience. It allows for complex plot and for multiple viewpoints.

The coming of age novel in particular deals with what I think is the key human experience: that point when we realize that there is nothing magical about adults. In some says, I’d say that religious experience is rooted in a refusal to ever quite accept that there are no “adults” out there operating on a higher plane and looking after us.

There’s a scene in Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood which crystalized for me the pretense behind religion. The main character is sitting in her church service and it suddenly becomes very plain to her that there’s simply nothing going on there. The same realization came to me much more gradually, but when I read Dillard’s book in high school I thought it summed up the liberation of realizing that there’s no god tip-toeing through the room when people close their eyes and pray.

Perhaps the book I’ve read most times in my life is Ender’s Game, another coming of age novel, and while Card himself seems intent on bringing in religious topics (he’s Mormon) I always drew a lot from the way in which Ender realizes that the adults are not guardians of goodness. And it’s especially key that it’s empathy that allows him to understand the “Buggers” in a way in which the adults in his life are incapable.

One set of books that I found myself unable to love, even though I read a lot of fantasy, was the Narnia books, and I think one of the reasons is that Lewis never really lets his characters grow up. They have to remain children in relation to his god-stand-in, Aslan. The only character who does clearly grow up is Susan, whom Lewis condemns.

 

You can vote on whether you think these answers were written by a Christian or an Atheist here.  Comments are open to discuss the substance of the post and for speculation about the true beliefs of the author, so please vote before looking at the comments.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Brutus

    Anyone else find evidence in the discussion of religious themes in literature?

    • Dan

      Yes. I think that it lends a bit of a personal touch, which suggests authenticity.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Yes, which made me vote likely Christian on this one.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      It wasn’t the deciding factor in my vote, but liking Ender’s Game while hating Narnia seems pretty common among atheist SF&F fans.

  • Slow Learner

    Very reasonable. Didn’t bring up any points I wouldn’t mention, but I can hardly judge someone as not being an atheist just because they aren’t better at it than I am, can I?
    Completely plausible atheist to me, if they’re a Christian I will give a standing ovation (and possibly show I’m a sucker to humour).

  • KP

    The Chronicles of Narnia really seem to inspire some dislike from some of my non-theistic friends, in ways other theistic SFF (LotR, Orson Scott Card’s stuff, A Canticle for Leibowitz) really never does. Which I guess is very fair, because it’s much closer to didactic allegory than those other books. There’s not a lot of room to read it as a story that’s just a story. It feels like the prose British cousin of Archie Comics’s evangelical period.

    If I had that section and nothing else, I would guess that an atheist wrote this. Obviously, it’s an easy taste to crib from some friends, and C. S. Lewis is a huge and prominent target, so that’s not very powerful evidence. But it very much feels like something one of my atheist bros could say.

    • Joe

      I haven’t read the Narnia books but I did see one of the movies and thought the Centaurs were just too corny.

    • An atheist

      The narnia books were responsible for me having a sort of religious experience at age 13 and becoming a kind of Christian (I prayed but never went to church). For this reason, I don’t like them, because I think C.S. Lewis used them to emotionally manipulate children into agreeing with him, and that’s a low down, rotten, dirty trick. I’m not sure I would let my children read them.

      • Story Reader

        I’ve liked to read, my whole life. What really amazed me, was how almost all stories do that. Every story I’ve ever read was an emotional argument, for how the writer understood the world. Even fairy tales. My then-9 yr old brother read one in which 2 wives happily are friends, and decided that polygamy was fine. Almost every story advocates a religion/idea set, whether its be nice to each other(Barney), or men kinda stink (Thelma and Louise), or good against evil fight fight fight (Lord of the Rings), sleeping with a guy is a good way to find out if you like him or not (Nothing ever felt like this),or the world kinda majorly sucks and your idealistic boyfriend will become a power hungry bomb-maker when he gets power (the Hunger Games), Suffering makes you stronger (Fiddler on the Roof), Love will conquer all dysfunctions (Breakfast at Tiffany’s–movie), pretty people who hook up have it all (Sex in the city), horrific personal sacrifices must be made for the greater good (Ender’s Game). Each story argues something, presenting a world as if it were real. Young adult fiction is the preachiest (without preaching) at all (at least, in my experience) They tell kids what a relationship should look like, what sex should be about, what is worth dying for, what kind of friends they should have etc. etc. And the interesting thing, is I found stories always get past my rational filter. They make me root for things/ideas on an emotional level. Then I have to sort it out, figure out why it touched me, is there a grain of truth in it, or is it a cleverly built lie? Do I actually agree with it, etc. Stories force you to see the world through someone else’s (the author’s) eyes. What you do with it afterwards is up to you. Yes stories are emotional manipulation, no story sets out rationally telling you what it is trying to say. Its left to you to sort it out. I guess you have to decide whether its worth doing the analysis afterwards. But I think even the non-rational eyes of stories, can teach us a lot. We just have to do a lot of thinking afterwards

  • stanz2reason

    I’ll go with very likely Christian.

  • Darren

    Well, I could have written that entry myself so we either
    have an atheist of my own school of thought or we have someone with a very
    convincing emulation. I voted Atheist, and if they managed to fool me, then
    well done.

  • Joe

    Im tempted to say Christian but at the same time i can’t imagine someone faking this amount of confusion.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    Definitely atheist

  • jscalvano

    I’d definitely go with atheist. One point that did bother me is that the author uses as an example of euthanasia a situation under which most opponents of Euthanasia would consider a valid use of a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. If he/she is Christian, and against euthanasia, I would think they haven’t critically examined their own arguments against Euthanasia very well. It seems to me like that was a strawman.

  • Jakeithus

    Very likely atheist.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Let the next round of guessing begin!

    I’m going for atheist, and reasonably okay arguments but not overwhelmingly convincing to an opponent.

    The coming-of-age novel is an interesting choice, because I don’t much like those myself; perhaps because they too often involve “kid hero/heroine has been right all along and matures into young adult who continues to be right, unlike those dumb adults”. But everyone’s cup of tea is different :-)

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

      We obviously haven’t read the same coming-of-age novels. The ones I have read (and bothered to remember) have very little mention of adults at all. See, for instance, John Green’s Paper Towns, which is rather ambivalent about adults when it bothers to mention them (though maybe I’m wrong to classify it as coming-of-age). That being said, I’m no apologist for the genre, either: having not gone through a lot of the teenage clichés, I have trouble relating to or understanding them.

  • Guest

    I thought they were Christian until I read the bonus question. I got a sense of unreality from their answers, like they were saying what they thought they were supposed to say. The choice of story for the bonus question seemed more original, and so I changed my answer. If it’s a Christian then well played, sir/madam.

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