A Question for Atheists and Those Inclined to It
I’m not trying to pick on anyone in particular. Anyone who has followed my blog very long knows that, from time to time, I raise questions about the rationality of atheism and about its consequences for ethics and morality. So please don’t think this is aimed at anyone in particular.
Recently I accidently came across a 2015 film on a streaming video service. It was released on DVD and on Amazon Prime Video in 2016. I have read several reviews of it—after watching it.
The film is called “Godless” and is not the mini-series about “the West” released later. This one is by filmmaker Joshua Lim who has one of the two main characters quote the late Christopher Hitchens. A reviewer claimed that Lim is an atheist who tries to work atheism into his films. I wouldn’t know about that otherwise.
I suggest you watch the film if you have any doubts about my description of it here. The centerpiece issue of the film is what is technically known as “sibling consanguinamory”—sexual love (or desire for it) between siblings. This is obviously a form of incest. But when we think of incest we normally think of something else such as sex between a parent and son or daughter.
The film features two brothers, one a year older than the other, who struggle with sexual desire for each other and have engaged in it as adolescents. (There is no pornography in the film; sexual activity is referred to and not shown. But there is a scene where the adult brothers kiss each other passionately.)
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The movie portrays this sexual affair as seriously problematic but only psychologically because the brothers know it is taboo. One is left with the impression that if their sexual relationship was not taboo they would probably carry it on. One brother, the older one, realizes it is ill-fated because it is taboo and the other one pines away for his older brother to the point of contemplating suicide.
In the film the brothers are adults. Their sexual relationship as adolescents is only referred to, never shown in any way. One reviewer, however, claims that such adolescent sex between brothers is common. I would hate to think so. I hope he is wrong. But I don’t know of any studies of the phenomenon.
What is perhaps especially disturbing to me, and I would hope to most people, is one reviewer’s correct comment and question that, at the end of the film, as the brothers part possibly forever, “Propriety wins, but at what cost?” The implication of both the movie and some of the reviews is that this love between brothers should be permitted by society.
Here is my question to atheists: Why not?
One way of interpreting the film, given Lim’s atheism, is that, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, without God this is permitted (or should be).
Okay, so incest of all kinds is taboo in almost all societies. (I’m talking here about sexual relations between siblings and parents and their adult offspring, not about sexual abuse of minors which is a whole other subject and wrong for the same and other reasons. It’s more than merely “taboo,” it’s criminal because it involves force or at least coercion of a child and has life-long negative consequences on the abused child.) But why should it remain taboo? That’s the question this film raises—whether intentionally or not.
If there is no transcendent, “cosmic” moral order, if nature is all there is, why should “sibling consanguinamory” be taboo? Why not encourage it if the siblings love each other romantically and even sexually? (Please know that I am not in favor of that! So don’t take my question out of context and pretend it expresses any sentiment on my part in favor of that!)
I believe incest of every kind is wrong, not just taboo.
Some years ago a woman wrote to a major syndicated advice columnist who was very adamant about her pro-LGBTQ stance. The writer described her neighbors—a mother and adult son who were having sex together in plain view of the neighbors. (In a second floor bedroom with the window coverings open such that the writer could see them in action.) The writer asked the pro-LGBTQ, pro-gay marriage advice columnist what she thought about this. The advice columnist went ballistic, saying that the mother and son were “sick” but admitted that probably nothing could be done about it except close one’s own window coverings so as not to see their sick displays.
My question was why “sick”? Why call incest “sick” if nobody is being hurt by it? Or are the participants being hurt by it? If so, how—if there is no transcendent, cosmic moral order?
Can we envision a day when incest between consenting adults that does not produce offspring is not only legal but regarded as normal by society? Why not now? There are siblings who want to be married. I have seen them interviewed on television. The two I saw interviewed were European, but so what? “Progressive social change” almost always happens first in Europe and then spreads to America.
My question to atheists is, if you consider sex between brothers (for example)—such as is reported in “Godless”—wrong, why? Only because our society says it is wrong? How does that make it really wrong? Would it be wrong if the United States Supreme Court said it is legal? Would it be wrong if a crucial mass of people in the United States came to believe it is okay?
If you say it’s not wrong, what is wrong—forever and regardless of what any society thinks? Why? I personally know a man who grew up on an island halfway around the world from America among so-called “primitive” tribespeople. He is middle age now and still struggles with the fact that he was sexually molested by some of the people of that tribe when he was a child. (His parents were American missionaries and used tribespeople to babysit him when they were busy.) He reports that sex between adults and children is not taboo in that tribe on that island. And, so far as he could tell, that sex had no negative effects on the psychology of the children as they grew up into adulthood. Everyone in the tribe considered it normal. He doesn’t, but only because he believes in God. In that place and at that time, no one would have arrested the adults for it because everyone considered it normal.
What if the day comes when even that is considered normal and alright? Would it then be okay—morally and ethically? Why not? How are moral and ethical norms not merely socially constructed and therefore infinitely changeable if there is no cosmic morality? And how can there be any universal morality without God or something like God?
I consider these questions absolutely devastating to atheism. This is why Chesterton said that if God does not exist all is permitted. (Okay, someone else may have said it before him, but I’m confident he also said it. Don’t be nit-picky.)
If God does not exist, then eventually all is conceivably morally permissible and actually justified. That is my point. What do you say?
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