Seen and raised:
So you think Christian Acadamies are a pain in the arse?(32 posts) (9 voices)
I listened to this on NPR, and a few Muslim officials were saying things like : "This is the government's fault! They are underfunded and need more money!"
Sadly, this came as no surprise to me what so ever. I also wouldn't be surprised if the same thing was being taught in North America. Panorama is such a fantastic show. I wish CBC's The Fifth Estate was half as good.
Someone remind me how religion still holds the myth of being the only source of morality?
Because atheists (considered as a group) are much better at attacking religion than they are at positing and communicating a cohesive moral theory that everyone can get behind. I don't mean this to be in any way abrasive, it's just what I think. Atheists can all agree that God doesn't exist, and that religion is full of fail. They cannot all agree on a positively defined morality (at least not yet) and those that can are content to merely agree rather than proselytize (since that's something associated with their opponents.)
Why must all atheists agree on a positively defined morality? Do all religious agree on how morality is defined? However, the myth that religion can be the only source of morality is ludacris, just because it has been attributed with that status in the past. That would be like saying slavery is the only successful way to run an empire, because it worked so well for the Romans. I suggest you read Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. It is not perfect, but it does do a good job, in my opinion, of at least laying out a scientific approach defining morales. As Richard Dawkins points out, you do have to make the assumption that the goal of morality is to reduce the total amount of suffering, which I hope we can both agree is a logical goal for morality. Oh wait, did I just posit a cohesive moral theory that everyone can get behind? Well, actually it wasn't me, but could anyone seriously say that reducing suffering should not be a goal of morality? Would every atheist agree on that? Probably not, but not every atheist is worried about morality.
Once we have defined morality and can agree that it is good, does it not make more sense to be moral for moralities sake then to be moral to avoid being punished in hell and being rewarded with a big prize at the end? I'm good because I can and choose to be. Why are you good? (Assuming that you are)
I certainly agree that atheists don't have the concept of a morality and why would we expect them? I would question whether religions, in reality, really do have cohesive moral theory that everyone can get behind or more particular do get behind in a practical sense. Firstly there are multiple religions with different views on morality and even within religions there are different sects with different versions of morality. Of course there is also the case of what is preached and what is practised. Take the recent case of the Pope's slight "liberalism" on condom use. How many Catholics in the western world really followed this rule in the first place anyway? Secondly I'm totally unconvinced that moral teachings of religions in democratic societies makes any real difference to a persons morals. The type of "brainwashing" seen in certain countries is somewhat different. It would seem that religious teachings are more generally used to enforce a persons existing morals and not to change them.
p.s. What does "Christian values" mean as certain papers in the UK are fond to use the term but I'm buggered if I know what it really means?
"p.s. What does "Christian values" mean as certain papers in the UK are fond to use the term but I'm buggered if I know what it really means?"
Any "good" values. Child molestation? That's not a Christian value. Slavery? That's not a Christian value. Anti-semitism? Nope, not that one either.
Oh, and Christians don't actually have live by Christian values, at least that is the only conclusion I can draw.
Wafik, I'm not saying there haven't been attempts. Utilitarianism has been around a damn long time, as have all sorts of other systems that don't depend upon divine revelation for their authority and "good-idea-ness." This is (and I suspect will continue to be) something that Harris cares deeply about. However, what I am saying is that it seems harder to get a decentralized group of people who pride themselves on thinking for themselves to agree on moral issues than to get a bunch of people who are tightly organized and committed to solidarity at great expense. I don't actually think the approach to US Christian morality is very good. I diagnose problems within it at least as often as I've heard non-theists do so. In fact, I've noticed a peculiar tendency from my little brother, who is now considering seminary: he actually notices more things wrong with that system than I do, because he's further inside it.
But disregarding which way is "better" for the moment, I think it makes sense why there isn't a strong public consensus that atheism or science is the place to go for all your moral needs. Nobody "pushes" their moral values quite like religion does. Religion does this because it turns out to be extremely effective. Atheism, if it would like to be more widely acknowledged as a fundamentally moral position, needs to do some serious pushing (and probably consider some sort of organization.) That's my 2 cents anyway.
"Atheism, if it would like to be more widely acknowledged as a fundamentally moral position, needs to do some serious pushing (and probably consider some sort of organization.)"
No, no, and no.
We do NOT need another self appointed arbiter of morality pushing its agenda on the world. In fact, I am of the opinion that moral authority should not exist. Laws are what our society is based on, and laws are all we need. Outside of a legal context, morality is up to each individual to decide.
Which, by the way, is exactly what we have now, except that some majority of people pay lip service to a moral authority while still deciding for themselves what their personal moral code is.
Why is it that all the theists think atheism would be more successful if it just acted more like a religion? Fuck. That.
"Why is it that all the theists think atheism would be more successful if it just acted more like a religion? Fuck. That."
I could not agree more. I was going to counter JonJon's point, but I read this and had to go to school. I got home to find your response Ty and I do not think I could have put it better.
"We do NOT need another self appointed arbiter of morality pushing its agenda on the world. In fact, I am of the opinion that moral authority should not exist. Laws are what our society is based on, and laws are all we need."
To expand on this, if you make laws for the benefit of everyone, then you don't punish people who do not have a strong enough voice for themselves. Racial Segregation laws, anti-abortion laws and anti-homosexual laws would all not exist if you stripped away certain people's moral agendas and instead just made laws that tried to provide as much freedom as possible for EVERYONE.
“Because atheists (considered as a group) are much better at attacking religion than they are at positing and communicating a cohesive moral theory.”
“Atheists can all agree that God doesn't exist.”
What else would they all agree on? Atheism is simply the belief that god does not exist. It should not be acknowledged as a fundamentally moral position. There is no inherent moral claim in the lack of belief in god (except that it rules out getting your morality from god). It is merely a statement about whether a thing exists or not. But atheists are still people, and as such you would expect them to form opinions about the "good-idea-ness" of certain behavior. Just like everyone else, atheists have opinions about morality. There are cohesive moral theories that go hand in hand with atheism, and many atheists do get behind these various theories, but as atheism itself makes absolutely no moral claim it would not make sense for all atheists to subscribe to the same moral view. Some atheists are nihilists. Some atheists are humanists. Some christians are republicans. Some christians are democrats. Any belief (or belief system) which does not address all the topics a person would have beliefs about will have some variety in its adherents.
“Utilitarianism has been around a damn long time.”
It has. In fact I would say that an unconscious form of utilitarianism precedes all systems of morality and is the first basis for most of them. Of course it was not really formalized as a school of thought until the 1800’s but the thought itself has always been a necessary part of our tribal interactions. What is good for the tribe is defined as moral. Later the idea is dressed up with various gods and rituals, and organized morality was born.
Yeah. I find it baffling that anyone would think atheists *should* posit a cohesive moral theory. Atheism is the lack of religion, not a different brand.
I agree with Nox. I was going to essentially post what he said, but the post never went through.
Atheism doesn't have to be anything other than what it already is. It's just a lack of belief. We don't expect morality to stem from non-belief in the abominable snowman or fairies, so why atheism? Atheism is more of an intellectual awareness, if you may; nothing more and certainly nothing less.
"Someone remind me how religion still holds the myth of being the only source of morality?"
Didn't mean to rile things up, just to answer this question. It's a question about image, not about what's true, or even what's best. This is, I think, why religion is still seen as a source of morality: it claims to be a moral authority.
Ty: "We do NOT need another self appointed arbiter of morality pushing its agenda on the world. In fact, I am of the opinion that moral authority should not exist." Cool. That's really fine. Notice I said "Atheism, if it would like to be more widely acknowledged as a fundamentally moral position, needs to do some serious pushing (and probably consider some sort of organization.)"
I'll just emphasize that "if" a little more strongly. I don't think atheism needs to do this in order to be a valid position, or to have social impact, or even to inform morality. But *if* atheism wanted to compete with religion on grounds of moral authority, or *if* Sam Harris style morality-science should be given authority, then it only makes sense to look at the most "successful" moral authorities. It turns out those are religions.
I don't think atheism should push a cohesive moral theory. I'm only answering the question "why has religion more or less maintained its status as a moral authority, at least in the minds of its practitioners."
I'll let this stand as a response to everyone else, too. I could mention Nox' and Mark' and Wafik's individual arguments individually, but they all seem to be pretty well answered by this clarification (I hope.) My fault for not being clearer. :D
I think it is a mistake to conflate Harris's morality science with atheism. There are a lot of potential means of determining morality that exist outside of divine revelation, and none of them ARE atheism.
If you made the argument that secular humanists need to do a better job of organizing and getting their message out, I would not have disagreed. But you keep using the word atheism in places where it doesn't belong.
Saying atheism needs a better moral message is like saying skepticism needs one. Or physics.
"But *if* atheism wanted to compete with religion on grounds of moral authority, or *if* Sam Harris style morality-science should be given authority, then it only makes sense to look at the most "successful" moral authorities. It turns out those are religions."
What determines "most successful"?
Also, although I do personally subscribe to Harris' idea that the fact/value separation is a mistaken border, it is not wise to claim that atheism is synonymous with what amounts to moral naturalism. In fact, Harris spends the majority of The Moral Landscape defending his position to what could be called hyper-academics that are also presumably atheists.
"Saying atheism needs a better moral message is like saying skepticism needs one. Or physics."
Well, its good I'm not saying that then. Although I do take issue with setting atheism in comparison to physics in this context. I dunno that they function similarly in all respects in this context.
One can be a moral or immoral atheist, just as one can be a moral or immoral physicist. But that is not to say that a given position on a given single issue is guaranteed to be entirely separate from morality; it might be possible to separate morality from a position, but it is not necessarily so. It is possible that a position on even a single given issue (which is what, for the moment, I'll refer to atheism as, since I won't accidentally conflate it with anything) has moral content. Please notice what I am about to say: I do not claim that atheism is such a proposition. It may be, as you claim (seem to be claiming?), more or less free from moral content, and therefore from a responsibility for its "moral message". But that would be an important point to demonstrate.
Physics is a pretty involved system of practices and methodologies, and it intentionally restricts its moral involvement. Atheism, considered as a single proposition (God does not exist, or is not demonstrable) doesn't actually restrict itself from having moral content in the same way that physics does. Notice again: I am not saying atheism has moral content. I am saying, though, that if we consider atheism as a single proposition, or a very limited set of propositions (which seems after all to be a fairly accurate analysis) then there doesn't seem to be room for a conscious, methodological restriction of atheism's moral or ethical content.
Physics *intends* a set of propositions entirely separate from morality. Atheism doesn't seem to have room for that intention: whether it has moral content or not appears to be accidental. This is not actually an argument against atheism: I'm merely pointing out what I consider to be the cogent difference (in this context) between the natural sciences and atheism.
Actually, I suppose I'm just reinforcing your point: atheism doesn't treat morality in the same way that a complex system of beliefs and claims does. But I would characterize the physical sciences as a fairly complex system of beliefs and claims.
Edit: Well, that was nitpicky of me. Overall, I agree with you...
“Successful” in what sense?
I think there needs to be some distinction between secular and atheist in terms of moral authority. Also (while these questions are all related) there needs to be a distinction between “what is moral?”, “how do we know what is moral?” and “why should we do what is moral?”.
There is a difference between arguing that you should behave ethically because there is no god (a position I would consider nonsensical), and arguing that there are reasons to behave ethically that do not invoke god.
"But I would characterize the physical sciences as a fairly complex system of beliefs and claims."
You added a lot more to my comparison than I intended. I was merely using physics as an example of another system, and as you point out a far more complex one, that does not intend to make moral claims.
And I still take issue with the idea that we need moral authorities. We need a consensual ethical framework for how society should function to protect the greatest number of people while inconveniencing the smallest number of people, but we do that through our constantly evolving legal system. There are processes in place by which these negotiations happen.
Whether or not having a lot of sexual partners is moral or not isn't something I want an 'authority' to hand down pronouncements on. I would reject any attempt by any secular organization to do so just as much as I reject religious attempts to dictate morality.
Discussions are fine. I like societies that carry on vigorous discussions about these things. But authority? No. We don't need that.
We need a consensual ethical framework for how society should function to protect the greatest number of people while inconveniencing the smallest number of people, but we do that through our constantly evolving legal system. There are processes in place by which these negotiations happen.
That doesn't seem to leave much ground for ethical critique of law. How can a person come to an actionable determination that a law is unjust if laws are the basis for a consensual ethical framework? Isn't the construct of justice more basic than the law that attempts to serve it? Then, whither justice?
And that is the ongoing discussion. Law is not an endpoint. It's an ongoing process. But it is the framework for these discussions. Don't you agree?
I don't. Law, I think, is a decidedly poor framework for discussing ethics, because the law (for the most part intentionally) strains out and/or ignores many qualities of action that are pertinent to determining whether the act is correct or whether the person doing the act is justified.
I think it's a wonderful framework, because it only focuses on those issues where there is a penalty for breaking the social contract. I honestly could not care less what anyone thinks of my moral choices right up until they attempt to penalize me for them. After that, I want their reasons examined and vigorously debated.
I understand that we need a class of people debating the morality outside of this framework, I'm glad such people exist, but I admit I mostly don't give a rat's ass what they think.
"It may be, as you claim (seem to be claiming?), more or less free from moral content, and therefore from a responsibility for its "moral message". But that would be an important point to demonstrate."
Why must you equate atheism as the direct opposite of religious. Instead of religious, it better contrasts with theism. Theism suggests that a person believes in one or more deities. Once we know which deity that is, then we have a general idea of what their beliefs likely are. Atheists reject the existance of deities. That is it. It does not actually tell you anything about the person aside from that fact. Once we know their personal beliefs such as if they are humanists, naturalists, materialists, etc, then we can draw conclusions about their beliefs. Atheism cannot have a moral position because it is not a movement in the same sense as humanists, naturalists, etc. I cannot draw conclusions about a deist's morality, but I can about a Christian. I cannot draw conclusions about an atheist's morality, but I can about a Secular Humanist.
Don't worry though, the theists are not the only ones who fail at making this distinction, many atheists do as well.
I'll give you a moral and ethical example from life that doesn't involve religion: Nursing. We have a hugely detailed ethical framework which consists of laws, guidance from professional bodies and a Cod of Conduct published by our governing agenct. The only time religion gets a mention is when we're being told how best to interract with practitioners of various faiths. Now, with a very few notable exceptions, we're a pretty ethical lot in our working lives - and I've only ever met TWO religious nurses - one of whom I judged to be extremely morally and ethically compromised because she made decisions based on her faith that were not always in the patients' best interests.
My sister in law was killed by a Catholic hospital following their 'moral' code. I'd be happy knowing all my medical professionals were rationalists.
In point of fact, one of the critical weaknesses of religious codes of conduct tends to be that they are rule-based. Any application of a generalized rule-based system is going to come up with an occasionally monstrous result when applied to real-world situations, even if it is a sound system (and quite a bit more often if it isn't, in the case of systems developed for bronze-age itinerant civilizations trying to be applied today).
Ty, my point was more that what is right rarely, if ever, has anything to do with what is permitted. Abortion's legality does not speak to the morality of the act (either way), for example. The breadwinner of a family may drink or gamble the family's finances away without breaking a law, but we would hardly call such an act morally praiseworthy. Laws are great for modulating the effects of unavoidable evils, or setting the standards for tolerating such effects, but do not and generally cannot speak at all to to the quality of an act, whether it is good or bad.
"Laws are great for modulating the effects of unavoidable evils, or setting the standards for tolerating such effects, but do not and generally cannot speak at all to to the quality of an act, whether it is good or bad. "
And I am saying I don't want an authoritative body deciding what those things are.
And I am saying I don't want an authoritative body deciding what those things are.
Hey, neither do I. All I was reacting against was the notion that law has much of anything to say about morality or ethics. It's a different tool with different purposes acting on different objects.
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