[Turing 2013] Atheist Entry #7

This is the seventh 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

I’m going to be up-front here, and confess that I don’t really care about marriage. I mean, it’s great that people who are committed to each other have an outlet by which to express that, but the legal institution is (in America anyway) clearly just the last, mutated outgrowth of an old Christian custom, and one that is not really benefitting society as far as I can tell. Let it die.

Now, polygamy/polyamory. (Another caveat: lifestyle-wise, polyamory isn’t really on my RADAR, so forgive me for not having highly developed views. What two… or three… or four… responsible adults do in the privacy of their home is nobody’s business.) Obviously polyamory is fine, except inasmuch as it’s hurtful to the individuals involved. But this is not something any authority can regulate. Why not? Because how is an abstract moral/legal authority going to be capable of peering into everyone’s emotional history and needs and tell people who to do what with? This seems like sufficient reason for the state not to be involved.

I’m afraid since I’m taking a minimalist approach that it will seem like I’ve left the burden of proof too much on the other side. But the simple fact is that the burden of proof IS on their side, inasmuch as what we’re dealing with here is an arbitrary social convention totemized over the course of centuries by a religious culture, the last devotees of which are now fighting to the death to protect it, as if it were the lynchpin of civilization. The flood walls have been breeched, my friends, and the tide of “unnaturalness” now pouring in is merely the restoration of a reasonable order on the ground you have so fiercely and pointlessly defended these many years.

 

Euthanasia

I’m not sure that anything is ever strictly obligatory. I’m not a deontologist, and I’m not a consequentialist either. (Forgive the digression, but…) If the aliens are going to blow up planet earth unless I slit my own throat, I am not morally obliged to slit my own throat (for reasons of utility), nor am I obliged not to slit my own throat (out of respect for rational nature). This goes back to a theme from the marriage response: most of ethics tacitly presumes the authority of a deity. I get a little fed up with trendy atheist apologists who pretend that bourgeois Christian morality is the atheist thing to do. If I don’t believe in a deity, it doesn’t make sense for me to talk absolutely about what we “ought” to do, or what is “ok”. All of that either falls back on some divine authority, or a sense of social acceptableness, neither of which can reasonably “bind” us without subscribing to an ontotheology. (I’m fighting myself not to rant on the stupidity of Kant and Mill.) OK by whose standards, according to what norm? This is always an important question in moral reasoning, and often the determining question.

Euthanasia specifically: the famous Swiss clinic is called “Dignitas” for a reason. We’re all going to die, and as Heidegger says, it belongs to the heroic spirit of the truly authentic person to confront the inevitability of death, not just as a vague, perpetually-deferred possibility, but as an actual moment, as the possibility that is closest to who we are as humans, the moment of completion that determines the sum total of our lives. I believe that the practice of euthanasia opens people up (who have confronted that most human of realities) to the possibility of dying in a way that fully and harmoniously reflects who they chose to be as human beings. With this option, it is possible to frame a life, to design its conclusion, and to find a truly good end. The word means “dying well” for a reason. I don’t think most people would ever want to do it, but the potential for genuine self-creation in the process of choosing one’s moment and manner of departure is pretty ****ing amazing.

There was a flip side to this — whether it’s okay to keep pumping drugs (or oxygen) into someone to keep them alive. I think it’s ok. I think people in a vegetative state should probably be kept alive as long as a relative or living will stipulates. This judgment doesn’t have an absolute character, because there could probably be some case where for good reasons one of these people’s lives had to be terminated, and in abstract I have no issue with that. If there’s no brain functioning, then the person is, for all practical purposes, just a memento of a lost life. If the former person wanted their body to persist in that state as a memorial, then it would be good to respect them. (And, in some cases, not to respect them.)

And then the third aspect: the difference between intervening to kill and failing to treat. Yes, there is very clearly a difference. Obviously someone can want another person to die and choose either means to kill them, but it seems that the ability for us to reference the two kinds of activity and expect their non-identity to be broadly understood indicates that most people find a difference, and I think this general instinctive agreement that there is a difference is enough to color the moral significance of an action either way. “There’s nothing either good or bad…” but truly, thinking does make it so. Again, not that any resulting judgments have absolute validity, but I think it would be wrong to deny a moral significance to the difference, though it might swing either way, and the line between the two categories is clearly not absolute. (E.g. failing to treat might cause a wrongful death where one had agreed to terminate a life.)

 

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."

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

    Very likely atheist. Coherent, but just idiosyncratic enough that I think it would have been hard to invent.

  • Dan

    Two things,

    1) I have problems reconciling these two statements:

    (a) “I get a little fed up with trendy atheist apologists who pretend that bourgeois Christian morality is the atheist thing to do. If I don’t believe in a deity, it doesn’t make sense for me to talk absolutely about what we “ought” to do, or what is “ok”. All of that either falls back on some divine authority, or a sense of social acceptableness, neither of which can reasonably “bind” us without subscribing to an ontotheology. (I’m fighting myself not to rant on the stupidity of Kant and Mill.) OK by whose standards, according to what norm?”

    and

    (b) “With this option, it is possible to frame a life, to design its conclusion, and to find a truly good end. The word means “dying well” for a reason. I don’t think most people would ever want to do it, but the potential for genuine self-creation in the process of choosing one’s moment and manner of departure is pretty ****ing amazing.”

    Now if there is no objective “ok” or “ought to do,” how can anything be, objectively speaking, a “truly good end?” (“truly” is an adjective that, to me, assumes objectivity and not just the author’s subjective views).

    (2) The author blatantly ignores the legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage. There are reasons why there’s been such a push for marriage equality. He then arrogantly dismisses the institution with “Let it die.”

    Overall, I think this is a strawman, probably written by a “Thomist” (author is clearly familiar with philosophy), looking to take swipes at atheist thinking–note the unnecessary crack at secular humanists, for example. He also comes across as rude and arrogant (e.g., stating that Kant and Mill were stupid; uh, you might disagree with them, but they weren’t stupid). I believe this was an attempt to make atheists look badly in general. And finally, using vulgar language is sophomoric.

    So I’m guessing a Christian.

  • jscalvano

    Seems like satire to me. I went with very likely Christian.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    This is a good one. I was thinking atheist but switched to Christian at the last minute. Strong arguments, enough at least to have a good old ding-dong in the comments about! :-)

  • Jakeithus

    The first question had me thinking a Christian playing a part, the 2nd question had me leaning atheist. In the end I’ll go likely Christian.


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