This video is from a debate on Egyptian TV on 27 January between an Egyptian Islamist imam Muhammad Hamouda and an Egyptian intellectual, Sharif Farouk. The TV host, whose name I cannot ascertain, is clearly on the side of the imam.
Part of the debate is about atheism versus Islam, and part of that is in this clip from MEMRI TV:
(I’ve tried, but it won’t work if I make it smaller. If you go to the link above you can see it without my site getting in the way.)
The Egyptian intellectual, Sharif Farouk, bravely states (MEMRI transcript):
Religions in general, the notion of the existence of God, and all metaphysics… I believe that there is no scientific or rational evidence for these notions. There is no rational evidence for any religion.
The Islamist imam he is debating has some beliefs about atheists I have never come across before. (Also from MEMRI transcript.)
Hamouda … if Sharif were an atheist and had an automatic gun with him, he would grab it and wipe out all religious people.
Hamouda: A secular man would not attack me. A secular man would not attack a church, a mosque, or a Jewish synagogue. A secular man believes in, ‘live and let live.’ But if Sharif were an atheist and had an automatic gun with him, he would grab it and wipe out all religious people.
Farouk: Why do you assume that?
Hamouda: It’s not an assumption…
Farouk: Why do you assume that a non-religious person would grab a gun and kill you?
Hamouda: Isn’t this your doctrine?
Farouk: Absolutely not.
Hamouda: All the countries with a majority of people of your kind are fighting and killing all over the world. We, the Muslims, are your victims.
In the end Farouk walks out as the host apologizes to the imam and the viewers:
Dear viewers, our show today was clearly pointless. I am very sorry that I had to host such a show. I apologize to the viewers for inflicting such discussion upon your ears.
He should be apologizing for the plastic animals argument and the lies by the imam about the actions of atheists around the world.
Of course, anti-atheist prejudice is nothing new. The idea that we’re all a bunch of amoral sexual deviants with nothing stopping is from being master criminals is common amongst conservative Christians. How anyone with any knowledge of reality can believe that is beyond me, but that’s religion. In general, the more atheists in a country, the more peaceful it is. The most violent countries in the world are those where religion has the most powerful grip and more often than not religion is the cause.
University of Kentucky Study on Atheism in the US
Two University of Kentucky psychologists,Will Gervais and Maxine Najle, recently made a study of how many atheists there are in the US. Their hypothesis was that because of the social stigma of being an atheist, people didn’t tell the truth about their lack of belief even in anonymous phone surveys. (See their study here.) The reason for their assumption was a curiosity in the data of both Pew and Gallup.
First is the Pew Research Center. Most recently, Pew found that around 3 percent of Americans say they are atheists. It also found that a larger group — around 9 percent — say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit. (Which goes to show that you may not believe in God but could still be uncomfortable calling yourself an atheist — because that term implies a strong personal identity and an outright rejection of religious rituals.) Gallup also regularly asks the question point blank — “Do you believe in God?” The last time it asked, in 2016, 10 percent of respondents said no.
How Many Atheists are there in the US
In their thesis, Gervais and Najle state:
We used the unmatched count technique and Bayesian estimation to indirectly estimate atheist prevalence in two nationally representative samples of 2000 adults apiece.
… our most credible direct estimate is 26%.
In their paper they go into detail about their application of statistical methods and how statistically reliable their estimate is.
From Vox’s interview of Gervais:
“There’s a lot of atheists in the closet,” Gervais says. “And … if they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance.”
I hope this study becomes well known in the US as it may encourage more people to come out of the closet as atheists. The last couple of decades has seen a huge change in attitudes towards and the acceptance of LGBT people as more have been open about their sexuality.
At the moment, around a quarter of USians are likely atheist. It would make such a difference to acceptance if people could see we’re actually just like everyone else.
I’ve written about the strong anti-atheist sentiment in the US on several occasions, most recently here. Suffice to say, it’s real. Only amongst the youngest age-groups (18-29) are atheists seen as no different from any other group in relation to religion.
Waiting for older people to die isn’t really a solution to the problem though. Atheists shouldn’t have to put up with being hated for not believing is something no one has ever even proven exists.
The Morality Argument
I feel compelled to include a comment on the argument that atheists are immoral here. It usually goes something like this:
If you have no belief in a god or an afterlife, what’s to stop you from constantly breaking the law or behaving immorally?
Um, our conscience?
This argument is actually terrifying to atheists. It means the person making it only behaves well because of hope of divine reward or fear of divine retribution. They’re not actually a good person at all. How about doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do for goodness sake?
We’re probably not going to be able to do much about the beliefs of those who think atheist doctrine is to go around murdering Muslims. First they need to understand that atheists don’t even have a doctrine. However, if more people were open about their lack of belief in the supernatural, kooks like imam Muhammad Hamouda would not get the respect they currently do. And, people like Egyptian intellectual Sharif Farouk would not have to deal with ridiculous arguments using plastic elephants for analogy.
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The Imam is clearly a bit ignorant about the demographics of those countries actually killing Muslims, which are mostly majority Christian, rather than atheist. I’m not sure if there are any countries that are officially majority atheist, but of those we know that are the least religious, I don’t think any were part of the so-called “coalition of the willing”, for instance. However, given Hitch’s avid support for the terrible violence of the majority Christian nations that chose to be part of that, maybe he’s not the best poster boy for atheist non-violence towards Muslims!
Perhaps you’ve heard of China, an atheist country that is a paradise for religious minorities, including Muslims?
Just can’t help being snarky, can you. I’ve no idea how many Muslims live in China, and more importantly, how many Muslims the Chinese have killed? But do you really think that’s who he was talking about?
Do you think it has to just do with China’s policies in general or Muslims specifically?
China’s on board with the coalition against Islamist terrorism — and is using it as an excuse to repress the Uighurs.
“those countries actually killing Muslims, which are mostly majority Christian”
As kindly as politely as I can muster, what on earth are you talking about? Syria, Northern African countries, Yemen, Burma, Pakistan, India are not Christian countries. Germany is a majority Christian country which has taken in a million refugees fleeing wars in Muslim majority countries.
(Incidentally, Christopher Hitchens is dead. He died 6 years ago. Fourteen years ago he supported a military intervention, on humanitarian grounds, to stop an insane Islamist fanatic and his crime family from oppressing other Muslims, and hoped to replace it with a secular, democratic government. The vast majority of deaths in Iraq were caused by Muslims. You are clearly ignorant of his actual arguments. Claiming he was an “avid” supporter of “terrible violence” is a libelous slander and a flat out lie.)
Apologies to Heather if this is too far off topic, or is too far down the path of troll-feeding.
Yes, I was referring to the deaths that Western interventions have contributed to, which is a very large number, and in response to Coel, noted his point that Muslim majority countries have cause many deaths too, but that I was responding specifically to the Imam’s comment “All the countries with a majority of people of your kind are fighting and killing all over the world”. My assumption is that the Imam was referring to Western countries when he said this, despite wrongly calling them atheistic. That may be wrong, but it seems a fair interpretation.
As for Hitchens, I am very aware of his reasoning for supporting Bush’s illegal war that destabilised a large part of he ME and can be credibly said to have led to the rise of ISIS. I read Hitch 22 in the hope of understanding how he could possibly do so and found it full of passion but wholly unconvincing. I’ve never claimed that his intentions were bad, but that he thought the neocons (who had plans to invade seven ME countries, but didn’t get past the disaster of the first one) would bring about his desired goals is probably the biggest mistake of his life. He clearly was avid in his support for that war which brought terrible violence and death to innocent Muslims. That this wasn’t his intention doesn’t change the fact.
Yakaru, despite disagreeing on occasion, we’ve engaged in very civil debate here for the last two years and I would like that to continue. I have no issue at all with my views being challenged, but to imply I’m a troll for expressing them is not what I’ve come to expect from you.
I am surprised that you still talk about Hitchens like this, Ken. You frequently shoehorn needless jibes like this where they are quite unnecessary, especially given how often you have already made the point here.
Hitchens did not “avidly support for terrible violence” against Muslims. And to repeatedly insist as you have done is in fact a piece of trolling. You can point to no statements whatsoever from him that would support that. I don’t understand why you do it repeatedly.
He supported an intervention that he argued for exclusively within international law, and exclusively for human rights and common good. Exclusively. To refuse to make that distinction is intellectually dishonest. You begin to make that distinction in your reply, as you have done in the past. I don’t know why you revert again to forgetting it.
He has a long history of supporting human rights and has participated in bringing lawsuits against both Bush and Kissinger. If you can’t follow his reasoning, you could at least cut him some slack, given his decades long humanitarian record, and every justification he ever gave for his support for the removal of Saddam Hussein and his reluctant acceptance of Bush et al to do it.
I don’t think you’re a troll, but I do think it’s a cheap hit bordering on trolling to repeatedly bring this up.
I apologize for the way my tone probably comes across. I don’t mean it personally. Really not. Thanks for your civil response to my previous comment.
Thank you for that. It was indeed difficult for me not to see your comment as personal when you accused me of libel and lying.
I suppose if you disagree, it seems needless, but it doesn’t to me. I want very much to promote atheism as not excusing the kind of violence that religious dogma is used to excuse. Holding Hitchens up as an example of atheist non-violence against Muslims, given his support for Western military intervention in the ME that killed so many Muslims, undermines that claim significantly, particularly when done under the label “militant atheist”. I don’t understand why that’s not exceedingly obvious. I also don’t know what you mean that he argued for intervention “exclusively” within international law, etc. That may have been his original desire, but he then choose to support Bush’s intervention, which was nothing of the sort. And if a lack of a certain kind of statement from him is all that matters, rather than his actions as well, then I think your bar is set too low.
I cut him as much slack as I can by defending most of the rest of his work, which I think is great, and not letting his awful decision on the war pollute my views of that work. That’s not always easy in my circles, as for many, his support for the war completely discredited him and made him a rank hypocrite. And that’s because as mistakes go, that one was pretty massive. I’d cut him more slack on it if he’d clearly seen the error, but, while he criticised the execution of the war, to my knowledge he never said supporting the neocons was a mistake that he regretted. If so many of us could see the huge blunder it was even before the fact, I don’t think it’s overly critical to think he should have seen it more clearly afterwards at least.
Finally, it is exactly Hitchens’ long history of support for human rights and opposition to criminals like Kissinger that made me respect him, and make his support for Bush’s human rights travesty so difficult to explain. He said he admired people like Wolfowitz, but how could he possibly have believed Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney and Bush were any less driven by realpolitik than Kissinger and Nixon? It just astounds me. But he did what he did and as much as I like his other work, this is a part of his, now mixed, legacy. There’s nothing we can do about that except be honest about it.
I think Hitchens knew a bit more about the horrors of Saddam’s regime than we do. He also felt solidarity with the Kurds, oppressed everywhere, but nowhere more than in Saddam’s Iraq.
Although disagreeing with him, I can understand why he supported that invasion.
The question could and should be asked if Iraq is indeed worse off now than under Saddam? It is always assumed that Iraq is worse now, but I’m not so sure. DAESH, is for a great part Saddam’s men. At least the Kurds are better off now.
Well I’m not sure what more there could be to know about Hussein. Certainly Hitchens didn’t seem hold back on his reasons for despising him. It’s very clear he was the worst kind of dictator imaginable. And maybe parts of Iraq are better off, though one has to consider more than just Iraq in calculating whether it was net positive. There are so many things to factor in. Certainly all those Iraqis that live where the soil has been contaminated from enriched uranium shells and who are suffering a spike in birth defects and cancers as a result may have difficulty deciding. And not least there’s the damage to international law every time the US ignores it.
So given all the bad, most of it predictable and predicted (which is why, remember, the international community refused to give sanction), I don’t understand why he supported the war. Sometimes, there’s just nothing that can be done that will make things better and we can only wait things out. Of course, not assisting horrible dictators into power in the first place, as the US did with Hussein and others, is the best prescription. If Hussein hadn’t turned on the US in 1990, he’d likely still be in power. Hitchens of all people should know it’s hazardous to entrust one’s lofty goals to a superpower that mainly looks after its own perceived interests.
I also find Hitchens’ position morally consistent. He has written extensively about how and why his position developed and changed, with regard to the best way to deal with an extremely complicated situation.
Hitchens reluctantly accepted the option of supporting Bush instead of Saddam. His assessment was that Iraq would be better off without Saddam. You can argue that he should have decided differently, but as we don’t know exactly how bad it would have been had Saddam been left in power. So I think it is a mistake to present it as if it is a fact that Hitchens made the wrong choice. It’s an argument you could try to make, but it’s not something that can be bluntly asserted as a fact.
Wow, ok, that explains a lot. I think I’ll just leave it there then as we’re so far apart. I had no idea that’s where you were really coming from. The gulf war is arguably the largest blunder of the 21 century (yes, the century is still young and Trump is president). There was a global consensus before the war that it was a terrible idea. Fifteen years on, that consensus is massive, including now even so many on the US right who originally supported it. I’ve never come across anyone even vaguely on the progressive side of the spectrum suggest the jury is somehow still out. I’d like to think even Hitch would have realised it had he lived long enough to witness the rise of ISIS, who I’m pretty sure he would have hated even more than Hussein.
You talk as if you know that things would not have been worse if Saddam had been left in power. If anyone could have created something worse than ISIS, it was Saddam Hussein.
I would be peppering your sentences with qualifiers, if I was your editor.
And yet, as bad as Hussein’s Iraq was…it was one of the least godawful countries in the region. Far superior to Saudi Arabia and Iran and Syria and Libya. And it was stably so for longer than any modern American president has served in office.
To be as emphatic as possible: Hussein’s Iraq was a really nasty place, and he was a brutal and ruthless dictator with few, if any, redeeming moral qualities.
But he was far from the bottom of the pit.
In stark contrast…today’s Iraq with ISIS is indistinguishable from Saudi Arabia today as well as during Hussein’s reign.
So, what we did was trade a garden-variety tinpot dictator who managed to keep the trains running, mostly…with a merciless mediaeval theocracy every bit as bad as the worst as the region’s seen in modernity.
So, yeah. It’s pretty clear that, as bad as Iraq would have been had we not “taken out” Hussein, at least it wouldn’t be as bad as Saudi Arabia — which is exactly the situation we find ourselves in.
Yes,Ben , I think you read it quite well. After all most of DAESH (ISIS) are Saddam’s men. They just continue doing what they did under Saddam, only a bit more openly.
Aren’t they actually mostly majority Muslim?
Fair point, though the Imam refers to “All the countries with a majority of people of your kind…” meaning atheist, though I think he really means non-Muslim.
Except he thinks secular people are “live and let live”. He does seem to have this irrational idea of atheists going around as individuals killing Muslims.
The majority of the victims of Islamist terrorism are Muslims.
In the Middle East it’s mostly Muslim countries that are fighting either Islamist terrorists or other Muslim countries. The main non-Muslim countries involved are USA and Russia, both of which are majority Christian. (Russia c. 75% Orthodox. )
How can one do the right thing “because it’s the right thing to do for goodness sake” if he denies that right and goodness have objective existence in the first place? Yes, of course individual conscience is paramount, but how does one form his conscience? Is it based on reason or brute instinct? How do you know? Why does it matter (or why not)?
And how does a Westerner even go about forming a conscience in a cultural vacuum, as if the Judeo-Christian faith that shaped our civilization did not exist?
These are some of the reasons people find atheism morally unserious. But everybody has the same right to be wrong (even one’s eccentric old atheist uncle). No mortal is possessed of a perfect conscience, but everyone has the same right to exercise his imperfect one.
It’s a mixture of reason, socialisation and instinct.
He doesn’t, of course, but it’s a mistake to conclude that people get their morals from religions, rather religions get their morals from people.
Essentially, morals are a repository for the morals of the previous generations. As a live example of how this works, across the Western world many religions are rapidly adapting to being more tolerant and accepting of gays — following on from the people, who are a couple of decades ahead of them.
It is true that atheism should lead to the conclusion that morality is a subjective matter, and that there are no objective moral truths. But then the religious claim to objective morality is untenable anyhow (Euthyphro).
That, though, does not mean that morals are unserious or unimportant. Quite the opposite, they are all about us and how we relate to each other, and are of huge important to us.
Of the factors you mention, reason is the sine qua non. Untempered by reason, socialization and instinct simply result in constant warfare among groups over status, resources, trade, territory, ethnicity, revenge, etc. Is this state of affairs objectively wrong? Reason is meaningless and unavailing if there is not an ultimate objective truth to be reached for.
You seem to suggest that society is some free-floating entity unsullied by religion. That is not the case; members of faith communities are members of society, and society exists within a cultural milieu imbued with religion. When change happens, it’s usually when a faith community challenges itself to live up to its own professed values and ideals (to put it colloquially, WWJD?).
No, since cooperation, sociality and empathy are also part of our instincts.
No, but it’s subjectively wrong.
Sure, there is objective truth. But there is no objective *moral* truth.
No, when change happens it is most often through people rejecting the religious way of thinking, after which the religion eventually catches up. The current acceptance of gays in society is an example.
Your first point is at variance with historical evidence of near constant warfare throughout human history, for the reasons cited. Instinctive cooperation, sociality and empathy did not prevent violent conflict between rival Amerindian groups, for example — estimated odds being 9 in 10 that a given group would conduct war in any given year.
Why would truth have a carve-out for morality?
Your last point is still mistaken. Repeating it didn’t help.
And it’s notable that as the influence of religion has declined, the West has got progressively a lot more peaceful with vastly lower probabilities of being killed by other human beings.
Moral judgements, like aesthetic judgements, are subjective, they are derived from people’s feelings and values. It is a misconception to suppose that they have objective status (meaning, that they are unrelated to the people making the judgement). That does not make them any less important to us.
That would be an exceedingly myopic and biased observation, since, assumg it true, it follows thousands of years of people slaughtering each other for all the other (secular) reasons. In any case, your point was that instinct should have prevented violence, and it didn’t.
How do you know that beauty is not subject to objective standards?
No, that was not my point and not my claim. My point was that reason is not the *only* pacifying element. As I said, morals are a complex mixture of reason, socialisation and instinct. All of these are involved both in violence and in peaceful cooperation.
But, the evidence is, that being religious does *not* lead to societies being any more peaceful and cooperative. Indeed, the current West is the most peaceful and cooperative and the least religious in history.
Partly, because there is not even any sensible account of what an objective standard of beauty (or indeed an objective standard of morals) would even mean.
Only an irrational person who has no understanding of what reason is could write such a paragraph.
Granted, it is popular amongst the faithful to reject reason and thus embrace folly. But, nevertheless, such is failure most forceful.
You can be a reasonable person or you can be a person of faith, but not both — at least, not at the same time.
Nor is this any sort of new revelation; the faithful themselves have whined about how unfair this should be since antiquity. More recently, Martin Luther, in particular, was especially hostile towards reason….
Come on Jam, Coel and Ben just thoroughly destroyed your argument.
Why not be a man and admit it.
@nicky: No, I would not say so by any means, but you reminded me to post this chart depicting the most lethal calamities in human history. Ideological disputes do not figure very prominently. Moreover, it is clear that atheism (real or fake) does not correlate with non-violence, as some would have you believe.
The list’s dominant theme is greed, which suggests that modern global trade is a much more significant factor than ideology in reducing violent conflict (assuming there is indeed such a reduction).
I see they’ve missed out the time God flooded the planet and killed everybody because he gave them free will and they used it – probably because the Bible isn’t history.
I don’t know how you can blame atheism for any of those conflicts. None were about forcing atheism on people as their primary goal.
As for atheists being generally more peaceful, you just have to look at today’s world. Which countries are at war or are most warlike? The ones who are the most religious, or which at least have the most religious leaders.
The most peaceful ones, and there is an international index of peace, are more likely to be secular and have large numbers of atheists – like New Zealand and northern Europe.
Ah, yes — that favorite old canard about how the Nazis were atheists despite their “Gitt Mit Uns” belt buckles.
And let’s grant you your premise for the moment: that not believing in any gods is what drives people to commit horrific atrocities. If only Hitler had seen the light and devoted himself to worshipping the great and glorious Quetzalcoatl, he wouldn’t have made human sacrifices of uncountable millions.
Let’s try that again.
If only Stalin had bowed down before a true god like Ares, he wouldn’t have led the largest armies in history.
Hmmm…something’s still not right.
If only the Crusaders and Conquistadors and Inquisitors had worshipped a love god like Jesus, they wouldn’t have brought hither those his enemies which would not that he should reign over them, and slain them at his altar, for he came not to bring peace but a sword.
Nope, still something missing.
I’m sorry…your point, again…?
I’m happy for people to argue the Nazis were atheists, but they have to explain where the Nazis suddenly found 9 million atheists in strongly Catholic/Protestant Germany. I can understand why some went along with it — it’s difficult for many Christians to recognize a godless authoritarian dictator (as we can see now in the US for example), but why was Christianity no protection against Nazi ethics?
This church (not far from where I live in Berlin)
still displays their nice 1936 statue of St Bernard giving the Nazi Salute.
(Not implying the current church is full of Nazis — I don’t think this generation has quite realized what it is.)
Rudolf Hess described Hitler as a “good Catholic”, and never seems to have left the church (which is a legal bureaucratic process involving stopping paying the church — which was one of the first laws the Vatican got the Nazis to keep in place).
Contrast that with the fate of the Free Thought Society — which *was* an agnostic/atheist organization. It had 300,000 members in the 1930s and was closed down by the Nazis, and their chairman (Max von Sievers) was eventually executed for writing anti-Nazi pamphlets.
The Vatican was the first foreign government to recognize Hitler’s chancellorship. Hitler was never excommunicated, so even if he had denounced the Church and left it (which he didn’t), they didn’t disown him (or any other Nazi). And even if he had been an atheist, all members of his senior staff except one were Catholic. The one who wasn’t was Protestant. Perhaps they had an ameliorating affect on his behaviour? Give me a break!
@H: I didn’t blame atheism. Quite the contrary, I said that ideological disputes do not seem to account for the phenomena analyzed in the chart. However, since many of the violent actors behind those phenomena are atheist or non-theist, the chart tends to discredit the hypothesis that atheists are (as you put it) “generally more peaceful”.
The value of the chart is that it analyzes the whole of human history, across all cultures. If one is going to attempt a counter-argument, that’s the baseline. I’m struck by the strong ethnocentrism implicit in your view of atheism. You seem to be saying that the only “real” atheist is a 21st Century Judeo-Christian atheist. Why so skittish about embracing your fellow atheists and non-theists from other cultures and epochs?
For that matter, how can we overlook the umpteen millennia of human evolution before recorded history? If you believe that God and religion are created by man, then you must believe that for all those millennia before the dawn of reason — when all men were nasty, brutish, illiterate savages — they were atheists. By the light of reason we left all that behind, thank God.
@All: My tablet must not be working. I can’t find a post where I’m talking about Nazis.
What? Now prehistoric humans were atheists?
In a way, I am kind of more open to that idea than the usual argument from your side of the fence that “all human cultures were religious”, as if it is “natural” to be religious, and blurring the difference between modern religion (i.e. contrasting itself with science) and ancient ideologies.
I would imagine stone age atheists were not so different to modern ones — they probably treated claims to divine authority as fact claims, and treated them the same way as they would treat a claim like “there is a spring on the other side of that huge mountain.” — Maybe there is, but I’ve never see you go there, so I will not believe you and will not waste my energy on it.
Ultimately with religion, it comes down to which external authority do you believe. (Or if you commit the heresy of personal revelation and think god is revealing himself directly to you, then who told you how to interpret that experience?)
“if he denies that right and goodness have objective existence”
Atheists deny that something is right or wrong simply because of some scripture or interpretation of a scripture, or that right and wrong are so simply because some objective supernatural authority declared it so. Rather, an atheist is more likely to try to establish a morality based on reason, and guided by compassion and common sense; and which is amenable to discussion and analysis.
Moreover, religious morality, especially in Abrahamic religions, sees morality overall as a zero sum game. It’s not a case of a single action having many possible outcomes, some “good” some “bad” depending on perspectives — different options needing to weighed and considered. Rather they see an action as inherently good or evil, according not to its consequences, but to holy writ. This is an extremely stupid way to approach ethics.
And further more, it’s not merely an action that gets evaluated as black/white, right/wrong. Eventually a whole person gets judged by God as completely good and worthy of eternal heavenly reward, or completely bad and given the worst torments imaginable for eternity.
I know that most Christians back off from this idea these days (thanks to secular culture sensitizing them into finding such an idea abhorrent and rejecting it due to lack of evidence), but the remnants of this despicable and utterly immoral teaching are still sticking to the edges of every Christian notion. The brutal authoritarianism that this idea implies is still hovering in the background, waiting to be cranked up and wheeled out whenever needed.
From the Judeo-Christian perspective, God endows man with the natural gifts to do exactly what you describe: “establish a morality based on reason, and guided by compassion and common sense [or experience]; and which is amenable to discussion and analysis.” So far so good.
The rest of your post claims that Judeo-Christian moral philosophy sees moral questions in black-and-white terms. That’s a straw man easily knocked down by looking at the actual tradition of moral reasoning (or simply by browsing the thousands of relevant titles on Amazon). And of course it’s a straw man that anyone remotely familiar with the concept of purgatory, or the hair-splitting over the categories and grades of mortal and venial sins, will find quite amusing.
I am glad to see that you so thoroughly disavow the idea that human beings have an immortal soul which will one day face divine judgment. But sadly this idea is still widely considered, even if somewhat vaguely, a Christian idea.
No, of course I don’t deny for a moment that you and I are spiritual beings who will be judged. I deny your bad theology and straw man (unless you can offer some credible basis for it).
From a strictly natural standpoint, we will be judged for all eternity by the good we have done when the game is called. For a conscientious person, that thought ought to be as terrifying as any vision of hell.
So, you recognize the inhumane, compassionless, mindless, horrific insanity of Christian eschatology…and yet you still worship at that altar?
What kind of monster are you!?
It’s one thing to be childish enough to fail to recognize the fantasy for the raving nonsense disconnected from reality that it is. But, then, to buy into it as a good thing?
Have you no heart?
But ethics is far more complicated than that. Do you think Hitchens is burning in hell for, say, supporting the Iraq War? The issue is way too complex to take a black/white, good/evil position on.
The only moral issue I can think of that is straight forward, black and white, is the issue of slavery. That one is so simple that it wasn’t even mentioned in any of the text books when I was studying moral philosophy. But it’s also one that that the Abrahamic religions have all completely made a hash of.
The best most appealing idea for the afterlife I ever heard was from Rudolf Steiner, who said that after death we experience the effects of our actions on other people, like a kind photographic negative, which we learn from and then reincarnate. But he had just as little evidence for it as you can offer for your assertions. Then Hindus and and Buddhists have completely different views as well. I see no reason to prefer your version over theirs; whereas the fact that we evolved over billions of years presents no difficulty at all, and no hindrance to ethical reasoning.
@Yakura: Okay, thanks, I have a better understanding of where you’re coming from.
It would be more precise to say that I expect to be judged not on making correct moral decisions, but on responsibly forming a conscience and then deciding as conscientiously as I can in the circumstances. Ultimately one does have to come to a decision to act or not act. But just as two juries can in good faith reach opposite decisions, so too can two conscientious individuals facing a bona fide dilemma.
My original point was to challenge the characterization of the Christian view as a simplistic black/white, good/evil dichotomy. That is not my understanding at all.
@j.a.m. That means you’re doing exactly what atheists do. You weigh up a situation and decide what the right thing to do is. You don’t automatically do what the Bible says is the right thing, like setting a bear on children who mock a priest. That punishment, of course, far outweighed the crime, as do many others in the Bible. Society has evolved from those Bronze Age times and their books are not the right place to find guidance for our actions. They endorsed slavery, genocide, selling women, forced marriage, and much, much more we today find abhorrent.
Bingo, Heather, this is really the only issue. jam is doing what every human has to do, whether he’s honest with himself about it or not. As he said in another post “faith does not provide any answers”, but gives him the heart to set out into the unknown. I don’t think anyone here feels the need to argue with that. But despite not having any answers, he insists his approach is objectively correct. That’s impossible to demonstrate, which is why his attempts always fail. I think deep down he must know this. He’d be better off just concentrating on his own search, rather than wasting his time arguing about ours.
@HH: There’s one big difference comparing me with an atheist: I’m free to ask for help–and to be grateful for it.
@j.a.m. I’m not sure asking for help from a voice in your head, or believing that random acts are a supernatural being intervening to help you, is an advantage. I can ask for help from real people, I can think about things and puzzle them out knowing it’s my own brain that’s giving me the answers if they come.
Not only that, but you can even learn to recognize your own thoughts as nothing more than a voice in your head — the same voice, in fact, as you silently hear when reading these words.
And when you learn to recognize thoughts themselves for the substanceless phantasms they are, not only will you realize that what you think of as your self is an illusion, but any gods you might have previously perceived are quite emphatically illusory.
@Ken: I’m sorry to be such a disappointment to you. It seems like I’m always letting you down one way or another. I am so, so sorry.
One thing that never disappoints is your dependable insincerity, but don’t worry your little mind, I’ve lost no sleep over your delusions at all. And “asking for help” clearly isn’t the only big difference, but good for you, really. We would of course call it having a conversation with yourself, while pretending it’s something else, but as long as you don’t insist your approach is anything other than completely subjective, no one here is likely to argue about it.
And, from the Popeye perspective, spinach makes sailors bulgy.
When you can establish why we should take Sunday sermons more seriously than Saturday cartoons, your appeal to authority might at least perk up some ears.
Until then, if you wish to convince us, you’d best remember poor Euthyphro. Is what you argue for good because your imaginary friend says so? Then we have no use of it. Is your friend in favor of it because it’s good? Then argue for its goodness on its own merits, and stop prattling on about your imaginary friend.
How do Christians dig themselves out of the hellhole of the Bible and the slimepit Jesus to become non-violent and morally trustworthy people? That is the true mystery here.
Let us not forget that Jesus’s primary mission is Armageddon and most of the Gospels are a foreshadowing of that horror. All those out-of-context fake love quotes Jesus is famous for are snipped out of “kill zem all” rants with Jesus waxing poetic about the loveliness of infinite torture.
Hitler kissed babies, too.
True morality is a natural and inescapable conclusion from the fact that we are social animals and none of us can survive without the help of the rest of the society. Once you realize that, like it or not, we really are all in this together…then you figure out right quick that an optimal moral strategy is one that searches for the balance between the society and the individual. There’s a tension between the two, yes, but the balance isn’t that hard to find.
…unless, of course, you’re blinded by religious faith. In which case you think it’s moral to kill zem all, as we saw with the Crusaders, the Conquistadors, the Inquisition, the Nazis…and continuing today with DAESH and the Saudis….
Creative writing award (sophomore division).
So you deny that Jesus will return come Armageddon?
By what right do you expect anybody to recognize you as a Christian, then?
I’ll add to what everyone else has said by noting that since the Enlightenment, multiple Christian religions have adopted that philosophy as their own (with variations) and insisted that they’ve always been that way.
The idea that religion informs the morality of a society is the wrong way around. Society evolves and religion follows on behind kicking and screaming. The Catholic Church, for example, has big meetings about whether to “allow” their followers to do certain things, usually things most are already doing. They just had a trial run around forgiving women who’ve had an abortion. That worked out all right so it’s become standard practice. They’ve changed on how they deal with divorce as society has changed.
And don’t get me started on paedophile priests. Of course, the Church is still behind the rest of society on that one – it continues to protect perpetrators to this day.
And the Catholic Church didn’t excommunicate a single person for their actions as part of the Nazi regime. Not even Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, or Himmler. At the same time they excommunicated women for leaving husbands who beat them.
Your theory that the Enlightenment (whatever specifically is meant by that) arrived on a spaceship from nowhere is intriguing but unconvincing. It is not a coincidence that the Enlightenment arose in the Judeo-Christian West and has barely taken hold elsewhere, including atheistic China.
Like Coel, you seem to have the idea that society is some free-floating entity dictating moral innovations to faith communities. That is nonsense; members of faith communities are members of society, and society exists within a cultural milieu imbued with religion. When change happens, it’s generally because members of a faith community challenge themselves to live up to their own professed values and ideals (to put it colloquially, WWJD?).
That’s your theory, not Heather’s.
Of course the Enlightenment was a product of the society that had been devastated by the incessant internecine depravities of the Christians who had been feeding off the corpse of the Roman Republic for too many centuries.
It was a reaction against Christianity, not a product of it.
You might as well credit Lee and the South for the Civil Rights Act, ferchrissakes.
Come on Jam, Coel and Ben just thoroughly destroyed your argument.
Why not be a man and admit it.
You could have mentioned the ’80 year war’ of the Dutch, or the 30 year war in Germany and the absolutist regime under the ‘Sun King’ (Louis XIV) . I think these wars and regimes were the main reasons for developing the ‘Enlightenment’.
What I’m saying is that many religions have claimed the values of the Enlightenment as their own and further claimed that’s the way their religion has always been.
What always happens is society in general becomes more “enlightened” in some way first, such as rejecting the death penalty, then religion catches up.
“The brutal authoritarianism that this idea implies is still hovering in the background, waiting to be cranked up and wheeled out whenever needed.”
Indeed, we are seeing this in the U.S. right now with Trump and his cronies.
I must say I have difficulty in following that Imam, letters and plastic animals? And cubes that are also made of plastic?
What is he going on about? Either I’m missing some referrals or the guy is completely unhinged. The ‘gun exchange’ and Farouk walking out makes one suspect the latter.
It’s an old argument in Islam that if something contains those three letters it came from Allah, thus everything comes from Allah, and the animals being made from plastic is an analogy. I’m not explaining it very well because I’ve never understood the argument.
That makes two* of us, not understanding the argument. It makes no sense at all, not ‘wrong’, just neither here nor there.
* (‘We are two, we are three, we are thousand and thirteen..’ (Theodorakis)).