‘Why should a man be thought a sort of idiot because he feels the mystery and peril of existence itself?’ asks Basil Grant about the Zulu tribe in The Club of Queer Trades. Precisely.
I have been reading a history of the development of the atomic bomb. Currently, I am twenty years of age. When he was twenty, Harry Truman held an every-day, boring job as a bookkeeper at the local bank. Just thinking about it now makes me almost wish I could go back in time and walk through that bank in order to jokingly suggest something to the bookkeeper. I would suggest to the bookkeeper that one day he might be president and that his very word would “confront several generations to come” (as Churchill put it). His reaction, I imagine, would be much akin to mine when someone makes a joke: he would laugh.
Of course, I express my wonder at Harry Truman’s biography in the same way I do at most anyone’s life. There are any number of people I would like to have had the chance to jokingly suggest things to (don’t you think so?). But, there is just something about WWII that particuarly sickens me. Just entertaining an internal discussion about the subject is difficult, as are all things unpleasant. I can handle your everyday, depressing war. But, whatever it was, World War II was not that.
And, thinking about WWII, the leaders involved, and everything that goes with it, got me to thinking about how life is to be lived in large part in fear. That is the grand thing about the mystery of Christianity. “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.” That is the grand thing about conservatism and limited government. The freedom to aspire is nothing if it is not perilous. The lucidity of secularism and scientific materialism does nothing but bore me. They are silly religions for silly, boring people.
All this talk about healthcare is astounding. “People die” the Democrat cries to the C-SPAN audience of political-junkies. There is no truer statement I suppose. But, if the argument goes something along the lines of (and I think it does) thinking that a forfeit of freedom is worth making men equally dead, I counter with yet another G.K. Chesterton quote: “I know of nothing that is safe except, possibly — death.”
Existence itself is dangerous. It is dangerous to say: “I am going to endeavor to pursue happiness.” It is safe to say: “I am going to endeavor to collect welfare.” Failure is Christian. Bailouts are pagan.
In other words, be Zulu. Be afraid of devils in the dark.
48 thoughts on “Be Zulu”
"Failure is Christian. Bailouts are pagan."
That may be the most ridiculous thing my little eyes have ever read.
its so beautiful! I wonder if Justin made it up himself.
Maybe not. But I know I know John 3:16 tells me of the Ultimate Bailout. "Christian" is probably too generic of a term to describe what Jesus did for me, but I certainly would not call it pagan.
Justin, for whatever reason, out of everything you've written that I've ever read, this has got to be my favorite. I think its because you touch on a lot of my favorite topics and I wish you'd make this post longer, but actually I don't think I'd like it as much if it were longer. Also, its logical, it flows, but its also rant-like (similar to how I write), and it expresses personal opinion.
Much more can be said in fewer words and you've done so here. I really like it! Even after re-reading it a couple times to be sure I'm not lying to myself! 😉
Thanks haha (I have to comment back because I have no FB account)
i'd rather you comment on facebook
"The lucidity of secularism and scientific materialism does nothing but bore me. They are silly religions for silly, boring people."
Absence of religion is not itself a religion.
Everyone has a “religion” of some sort. Everyone has a set of principles that he, more or less, takes for granted. I personally don’t know an agnostic or atheist who doesn’t have some sort of a system of beliefs that guides his life. You may not believe in God or go to church, but there are certain moral principles that you have settled upon and therefore there are certain actions that you won’t commit, and certain actions that you will commit, that are based on what is valuable to you. If you were a rationally-sound, logical, honest atheist or agnostic, then you wouldn’t ever criticize people like Hitler, or call anyone immoral for any reason.
Nor is existential atheism a boring philosophy. One might reasonably claim that it's wrong, depending on the assumptions he starts out with. But no one who has ever experienced the full depth of existential responsibility would call it boring. Justin is echoing C. S. Lewis's claim that atheism is "a boy's philosophy," and like Lewis he is totally wrong.
On a side note, I would think that for someone who believes in an omnipotent, omniscient Creator who has reveled divine knowledge to man, life would hold a lot fewer mysteries than for someone who thinks that it is all up to us to figure out. The theist makes a claim to some kind of absolute knowledge that is beyond the reach of skeptical inquiry; the scientific materialist does not. On a fundamental level, everything for the scientific materialist is mysterious, because there is no fixed knowledge. Not so for the Christian.
The only mysteries that Christians enjoy that are denied to secularists are the mysteries of absurd apologetic argumentation.
That's a gross generalization on your part, and BS to boot. So, every single non-atheist who has ever studied science just gave up and said "It's a miracle!" while the atheist were hard at work trying to solve the worlds problems. Don't make me laugh. As a chem major, I enjoyed trying to understand how things worked. BUT how can this be so? I believe in God, so OBVIOUSLY, every time that I got bizarre results or something unexpected happened, I simply wrote on my report that God must have manifested Himself in my lab work and caused the reaction to occur in an unexpected way.
The acknowledgment of the supernatural doesn't mean that natural science and discovery is moot.
Which part do you think is a gross generalization? The cheap shot at the end? Of course that part is; it's hyperbole.
The substance of my argument, however, is that "On a fundamental level, everything for the scientific materialist is mysterious, because there is no fixed knowledge. Not so for the Christian." That is not a gross generalization. Christians believe in some kind of fixed knowledge. The scientific materialist (or at least, to my mind, the good scientific materialist) does not. That is my point. If you take such vehement issue with my statement, you ought to address that point, and speak of "divine (absolute) knowledge" like I did, rather than "miracles" as you, for whatever reason, have.
I've never claimed that acknowledgment of the supernatural makes natural science moot. Belief in the supernatural has no bearing whatsoever on natural science, because, as Gould famously observed, science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria." What I do claim is that the acknowledgment of the supernatural is an inherently (that is, analytically) unscientific proposition (see Gould's quote), because science is always confined to phenomena that occur in the "natural" world. Science, by definition, cannot acknowledge the supernatural.
Can natural scientists believe in the supernatural? Sure. NJR the chem major is proof enough. Can that make the supernatural scientific? Not in a million years.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure what you mean by "fixed knowledge". Until you explain that term, I have no way of knowing what your point is, which is precisely why I didn't bother addressing it. Your tone indicates that Christians rely on "revealed knowledge" to determine everything which is simply not true. Perhaps I misunderstood you, but your tone was less than kind in what has been a fairly civil discussion.
Science is the pursuit of knowledge. How you decide to frame that knowledge is up to you. Topics such as metaphysics and ontology delve into the "supernatural" if you may all the time. Indeed, metaphysics is loosely translated to "beyond the physical". And metaphysics is called a science. If science was limited to the natural world, then why would bother labeling certain branches of science as "natural science".
You have indeed misunderstood me, or your religious sensitivities are getting the best of you (or, in all likelihood, both). I never indicated, with a tone or with my words, that Christians rely on revealed knowledge to determine "everything." I actually made it pretty explicit that they didn't. Notice I said that life for Christians would hold "a lot fewer" mysteries, as opposed to no mysteries, and that they make the claim to "some kind of absolute knowledge," as opposed to complete or total absolute knowledge. How you have misread that is beyond me. One of life's great mysteries, I suppose. And look, we don't need God to appreciate that one!
As for "fixed knowledge," the definition seems pretty clear to me, but if the term didn't suit you, you could have turned to the other formulation I provided, "knowledge that is beyond the reach of skeptical inquiry." Be careful, though! This is not a claim that Christians cannot apply the skeptical method to anything, or that they are without doubts. It is a claim that there are some things (operative term here is "some") that are incapable of being doubted by someone who is truly a Christian. To be a Christian, you must absolutely accept some things. (That is part of my analytic definition of the word "Christian.") I, probably like most conservative Christians, get serious indigestion when I hear new-age liberals say things like, "I'm a Christian and I read the Bible and all, but I don't accept Christ as the only way in to Heaven. Maybe you could get there through (fill in the blank)." I don't accept this person as a Christian, because to me the religious connotations of calling oneself Christian are meaningless if one does not absolutely accept certain metaphysical facts. (I might also say that that is part of my operative definition of religion.) Can you think of a single fact, statement or belief that you, as a Christian, must hold beyond doubt or skepticism? Perhaps that Christ is the Son of God and died for your sins? Now imagine being confronted with convincing proof that this is not in fact the case; that Christ bore no relation to God and died an ignoble death to no higher purpose. Could you reevaluate your beliefs and accept the new information and still consider yourself a Christian? Wouldn't the acceptance of this new information in fact contradict what it means to be a Christian? Therefore, to be a Christian, doesn't one have to accept certain things as metaphysically or supernaturally true, and beyond the reach of re-evaluation within a Christian framework? This is what I mean by fixed knowledge. It is something that is absolutely true in its entirety and is intimately bound up with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being. Christians claim to have some such knowledge, given by divine revelation. Scientific materialism, by definition, makes no such claim. For the scientific materialist everything is ultimately still up in the air, and will be forever. Therefore, there are more and greater mysteries for the scientific materialist.
As for the semantics of "science," I was clearly talking about the natural sciences, which in common parlance is simply referred to as "science." Nobody today thinks of metaphysics as a science for this reason. They call it philosophy or, in many cases, quackery. Therefore, when I respond to your claim that "The acknowledgment of the supernatural doesn't mean that natural science and discovery is moot," with my claim that that won't make the supernatural scientific in a million years, I am saying something that is completely true (analytically) to anyone who uses these words in their modern context.
Scientific materialism ,as you define, has no purpose then. Science is about the pursuit of truth and the furthering of knowledge. Yet, the scientific materialist would seem to hold no truth as ever absolute. If that is the case, then why bother trying to understand anything? If there is no absolute truth in anything, then there is no purpose.
The scientific materialist, as much as I've read about the topic, holds that everything is relative. The truth in the laws of science is simply OUR truth, for NOW. Certainly, if one denies that there is anything absolute, then in theory, there would be more "mystery" because you question everything. However, whether that is a good thing or not, is up for debate. The idea that there is an absolute truth, in my opinion, does not limit the "mysteries" of the universe.
"Nobody today thinks of metaphysics as a science for this reason. They call it philosophy or, in many cases, quackery."
Simply because you believe that metaphysics is merely speculative philosophy, does not mean that everyone agrees with you. Unfortunately, much like metaphysics, nothing that a scientific materialist claims can ever be falsified. Since everything is relative, my perception of such a claim is subject to change, and therefore, your claim is indirectly true. This is why skeptics argue that metaphysics is not a science. However, you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
I disagree with your first point. Material science can still have a purpose without the idea of metaphysical, absolute truth, and its purpose can still be exactly as you define it, "the pursuit of truth and the furthering of knowledge." All we have to do is acknowledge truth as instrumental and knowledge as contingent. Science never pretends to have the "absolute truth," because science simply cannot acknowledge such a metaphysical concept. But it can accept the search for approximations of whatever "truth" might be out there, and their use as instruments for whatever purpose.
Also, scientific materialists are not relativists in the sense that you are using the word. The materialist naturally accepts the existence of a material world external of human subjective perceptions. In essence, they reject solipsism. However, they hold that knowledge about this world is generally contingent, and always subject to change. It's not that there is only "our" truth; it is that we can only speak of things in science as they relate to other things, rather than as things absolute and complete in themselves. I do not know of any natural science that acknowledges a "Ding-an-Sich." Hence, we call such speculations philosophy.
Also, I'm not sure why you say that "nothing that a scientific materialist claims can ever be falsified." Can you please explain this?
Then what is science for? If there is no Truth to seek after then then there is no point in seeking it out. A scientist pursues knowledge so that he can determine if his hypothesis is true or not. If the truth of his claim is simply relative, then why bother? If you remove the absolute from truth, then truth becomes meaningless.
"Also, scientific materialists are not relativists in the sense that you are using the word. The materialist naturally accepts the existence of a material world external of human subjective perceptions." Which is relativism. If truth is entirely contingent upon human's perceptions, then the truth is relative.
Nothing that a scientific materialist claims can be falsifiable because its primary premise is that the truth is contingent on human perception. Since everything is relative, then what is "false" by my logic, may not be false in the future. It all depends on one's perception.
"If there is no Truth to seek after then then there is no point in seeking it out. A scientist pursues knowledge so that he can determine if his hypothesis is true or not. If the truth of his claim is simply relative, then why bother? If you remove the absolute from truth, then truth becomes meaningless."
Let me ask you three things.
First, can an Absolute Truth be falsified?
Second, if so, why would it be called "absolute"?
Third, if an absolute truth cannot be falsified, how could a scientist possibly recognize it within the framework of his profession? How could a scientist admit an unfalsifiable fact as "scientific?"
"can an Absolute Truth be falsified?"
No. Obviously, since it is an Absolute Truth, then it cannot be "falsified", in the sense that it is not false.
"Third, if an absolute truth cannot be falsified, how could a scientist possibly recognize it within the framework of his profession? How could a scientist admit an unfalsifiable fact as "scientific?""
You are misusing the term "falsify". An idea that cannot be falsified is one that can neither be proven nor disproved. For example, there is a hypothesis that everyone's perception of colour is different. My blue may be your green. I cannot prove it to be false because the truth is relative to the individual.
If there was no absolute truth, then there would be no foundation to build science upon. Think about it. If I try and create an experiment that involves water, without believing that water is H2O, then I could not make an experiment. The problem with denying absolute truth is that it requires you to deny everything.
Your attempt at trapping me with my own words was not only obvious, but also silly. Think about what you've asked. That would be like asking if a false statement can be proven.
Haha. I have no idea what Lewis said about it, but he was probably correct. If I echo anyone it's Chesterton. I quoted him three times haha.
No offense, Jonathan, but your opinion literally sounds like something you got from Family Guy. Without God, there is no reason to study anything other than the easiest, quickest, surest, and most secure way by which one might become happy on this earth. If you’re made happy by studying science, God bless you. But maybe some other atheist is made happy by something less noble, shall we say. And, if you are an atheist, you would have no moral grounds on which you might criticize him, regardless of what he thinks makes him happy, for nothing, including his ultimate, yet ultimately temporary, and therefore meaningless and benign, misery. I know a few honest atheists, and they tend to be very, very single-hearted, and tend to care little about anything that doesn’t fall within their realm of interest. They also tend to pursue their interests with ruthless and inconsiderate zeal. And guess what? They are acting in perfect accordance with their belief in atheism.
Also, you did generalize. You said: “On a side note, I would think that for someone who believes in an omnipotent, omniscient Creator who has reveled (sic) divine knowledge to man, life would hold a lot fewer mysteries than for someone who thinks that it is all up to us to figure out.” But then you say: “The only mysteries that Christians enjoy that are denied to secularists are the mysteries of absurd apologetic argumentation.” So it seems that Christians, despite your former comment, have more things to figure out. They seem to recognize that they have a lot to discover and perhaps even justify and reconcile–things that no atheist needs to worry his little head about. And I’m sorry that you think religion is absurd.
On second thought, I’m sure we’d all be much happier if we were all able to see so clearly the absurdity of religion. I’ll be at the whorehouse and liquor store if you need me…
No offense taken, Riley. So I hope you won't take offense when I say that your opinion sounds like that of someone who is too eager to let filtered life experiences confirm his worst pre-existing prejudices about a group of people. I've known plenty of atheists who are complex, generous, loving, curious, civic and productive members of society. I also know there are plenty of atheists out there who are made happy by studying science, specifically to improve the lives of other humans. Knowing the worst motive for an action or a person doesn't mean you have correctly identified the authentic one. A wise atheist wrote that.
As for the apologetics comment, it doesn't contradict the one you quote above it. Just because Christians have to work out complex systems of laughable beliefs to square the circle of their own making, doesn't mean they have more mysteries than scientific materialists. It just means their mysteries are all man-made.
Regarding the whorehouse and the liquor store, I can think of things far worse. The medieval torture chambers of the faithful come immediately to mind…
“…your opinion sounds like that of someone who is too eager to let filtered life experiences confirm his worst pre-existing prejudices about a group of people.”
Through good rhetoric, you are making it sound as if it is bad “to let…life experiences confirm” hypotheses/theories. Of course, you do this by having the word “filtered” modify “life experiences” and you use “worst pre-existing prejudices” instead of “hypotheses/theories.” Very nice.
Actually, though, I have many atheist acquaintances and friends with whom I get along well. They know that I think their beliefs are stupid, but, since most of them are intelligent individuals, they don’t consider me prejudiced
and they either don’t talk about it with me, or they recognize that they have no right to call anyone immoral. That’s all I really try to get them to admit. If they are willing to live with the consequences of their
beliefs, what more can I do?
“I’ve known plenty of atheists who are complex, generous, loving, curious, civic and productive members of society.”
As have I. That’s not the point, though. No atheist with any ounce of intellectual honesty will call anyone immoral for any reason at all. Maybe they are made happy by being altruistic (that’s a simple word for “generous, loving, curious, civic and productive”). But maybe other people are made happy by being selfish. Every act committed by every human is, at the very least, thought by the doer to bring the doer to a state of
happiness. If I am made happy by being altruistic, then good for me and the rest of humankind. But if I’m just not made happy by being altruistic, then why should I spend my meaningless life as an altruist? If I’m made happy by burning atheists at the stake, why shouldn’t I do that? Again, it’s MY happiness we’re talking about here. From a purely intellectual perspective, no atheist should really worry about someone else’s happiness, unless said
someone else’s happiness is—inexplicably—directly linked to the happiness of the atheist.
Now, I’ve heard the atheistic argument that a certain code of morality is written in men’s DNA. (Note: As a Catholic, I believe that natural law is written on men’s hearts, so to speak, so I don’t really disagree with
that.) Of course, the argument is that, in order to be truly happy, you have to be moral, according to the morality written in your DNA. But it’s
undeniable that being moral is not easy. I’m sure I don’t need to recount for anyone the various evil actions that would be oh-so-convenient and feel oh-so-good and be oh-so-funny to commit. It’s not easy to deny yourself—to be truly altruistic. It’s not easy to be disciplined. It’s not easy to control your carnal passions. It’s not easy to control your anger. It’s
much easier to give in—even if it means that you won’t be quite as happy when you’re 50 as you would have been if you had been more tempered when
you were 25. After all, who really cares? As soon as you’re irreparably miserable, you can always just stick a .357 magnum in your mouth (trust me—you won’t feel a thing). And if you’re not man enough to do that, then
just wait for your natural death. Compared to the eternity you will spend
in nothingness, the eighty years or so during which you will have lived are nothing.
And spare me the whole “you prejudged my group” nonsense. I have every right to have an opinion on atheism. I would say that I know more about
atheism than most atheists. If you think that I haven’t considered atheism as an alternative route for my life, then you are prejudging me.
And, yes, I too can think of worse pursuits than liquor and hookers. I think you missed my point…
"And spare me the whole “you prejudged my group” nonsense. I have every right to have an opinion on atheism."
I cannot accuse you of prejudging my group because you have not spoken of agnostics yet. And no one is denying your right to have opinions. What my observation meant was simply that you seem to want atheists to be immoral (probably because you approach the issue of atheism as a theist), and therefore you are prepared to take the few "honest" atheists that you know, who "pursue their interests with ruthless and inconsiderate zeal," as symptomatic of authentic atheists. I propose a different standard of authentic atheism (if such a thing is possible for such a heterogeneous group), which is based on the atheists I know, who are overwhelmingly kind, generous, and all those other nice things I mentioned. The point is, as it was with my response to your whorehouse and liquor store comment, that morality doesn't hinge on religious beliefs.
On that note, I have a challenge for you. You boldly claim that "No atheist with any ounce of intellectual honesty will call anyone immoral for any reason at all." The only sturdy justification I can imagine for this statement would be the belief that morality depends on something supernatural. So here is what I propose: demonstrate why no intellectually honest atheist would call anyone immoral for any reason. If that means demonstrating why morality hinges on the supernatural or the metaphysical, explicate that dependence. Don't refer me to Aquinas or Church doctrine; do it yourself, here, and do it in an accessible, non-sectarian context. Basically, I am asking you to define what you mean by "intellectually honest atheist" and what you mean by "morality."
haha, woah I was about to ask if you were an athiest. Athiesim is soo stupid!
First, a concession. For the sake of argument, I am willing to withdraw the following claim: “No atheist with any ounce of intellectual honesty will call anyone immoral for any reason at all.” I still think that I can defend this claim, but it’s turning into more of a distraction than anything else at this point. Hopefully, the reason for this concession will become evident as you read the following post.
“I cannot accuse you of prejudging my group because you have not spoken of agnostics yet.”
First, agnostics are in practice no different from atheists. They are, in my opinion, a group of lost people who don’t want to deny the existence of God outright because they recognize the plausibility of the existence of an Uncaused Cause (what Christians call God), but, simultaneously, they don’t
want to recognize the existence of an Uncaused Cause because they are afraid that they might have to dedicate a good number of years of their
lives to figuring out what that Uncaused Cause consists of. They typically remain stuck in the mud for their entire lives and end up living as they please. They basically lack the courage to act, and therefore suffer the same consequences that atheists suffer.
Second, I don’t think of atheists or agnostics as belonging to a group. I look rather at atheism and agnosticism as patterns of belief, and therefore I feel that I can critique them just as well as atheists and agnostics can critique them. I’m sorry, but I don’t look at you as belonging to a group,
per se, but rather I look at you as holding a certain belief that I believe I can critique just as well as you can.
As far as your challenge is concerned, I believe that I have already done exactly as you asked. Because I believe that I will exist in saecula
saeculorum (for eternity), I think it’s pretty clear why I should do the right thing. I’d rather not spend the rest of my eternal existence burning
in hell. And, as I’m sure you can guess, I believe that God is the essence of goodness. His existence IS goodness. Every good thing is essentially a reflection of God. Everything that’s good about me is essentially God, and everything bad about me is a lack of God. When I feel pleasure, I am experiencing God. When I experience any kind of happiness, I am
experiencing a small piece of God. Even when I sin, the happiness that I derive from that sin is God. The reason any action can be sinful is because the action leads me away from God. Example: Adultery. If I commit adultery, the pleasure I experience from adultery is essentially good, but the act of adultery leads me away from God—away from a closer relationship with God. I
would be closer to God and would therefore be ultimately happier if I refrained from committing adultery. How do I know that adultery leads me
away from God? I just know—morality is written on my heart (it’s no different from you just knowing that committing mass murder is wrong). And, as many, many Christian philosophers have argued, the knowledge of right
and wrong is known even to people who are not Christian. A perfect example is the ancient Romans. They had many values that are very similar to Christian values (e.g., the principle of univira (where a woman only has one husband), they criticized each other’s (perfectly legal) promiscuous
character in court so that they could mar their opponents’ reputations, they had such heroines as Lucretia, they were pious towards their gods, Stoicism was fairly popular, and Vergil even speaks of wicked people who
are tortured in the underworld—you would probably count as one of those because, as an agnostic, you would be considered impious towards the gods).
But now let us approach the issue from an atheistic perspective (yes, I have the ability to do that despite your claim that I “approach the issue of atheism as a theist”). If there’s no God, then the only basis of
morality is the assumption that morality is written in our DNA—there’s just
something about our genetic structure that makes it uncomfortable for us to
commit mass murder. This theory is certainly plausible, but there’s still a
fundamental problem with it. First, genetic compulsions can be suppressed by various things, such as adopting a political ideology (Nazism,
communism, Marxism, capitalism, or any other kind of fanaticism) and therefore we can convince ourselves that our innate compulsions to act in a certain way are nothing more than a result of social engineering. Also, I have even spoken with people who agree that our innate desire to act in a certain (“moral”) way is indeed genetic in nature, but they argue that it still has no logical bearing on how we should act—it’s nothing more than an evolutionary accident to them, and they typically believe that it is in our
power as rational human beings to change the course of our evolution. In other words, it is possible for us to direct the course of our evolution
towards a more selfishly-oriented DNA than our DNA has previously been. They therefore cause themselves to act as they think is rationally correct (according to whatever values they espouse) and not as they feel they ought to act.
The second problem with this theory is very simple: Becoming a good person (i.e., a truly happy person) is hard work—even if becoming happy involves following the direction of our DNA. If I were an atheist, I wouldn’t be
interested in hard work—I can already tell you that I wouldn’t give a crap about anything other than my carnal desires (after all, there is a level of happiness that even the most sinful man enjoys). After all, after I’m dead,
I won’t remember being shallow or untruly happy. And as soon as I contracted HIV from indulging in my carnal desires, I would blow my brains out with a .357 magnum—for after I’m dead, I won’t remember anything I did
anyway—pleasurable or not. Sure, I’ll continue to live while I’m having a hell-of-a-time, but as soon as I become irreparably miserable, then I’ll just end it instead of experiencing meaningless suffering.
But that’s not the worst of it. What if I were German and wanted to become the greatest German (ring a bell?). What if I were enamored by the idea of
a German nationalism and I suppressed my innate sense of right and wrong so that I could create my utopia? In that case, I wouldn’t even care whether or not a sense of right and wrong was written in my DNA because, first, I
would convince myself that I’d be happier in a Nazi state, and, second, when I’m dead it won’t matter to me anyway—so what the hell, why not?
I now have a challenge for you. Prove that morality, assuming that it exists apart from God, actually matters.
"genetic compulsions can be suppressed by various things, such as adopting a political ideology"
Morality founded in metaphysical speculation or revelation is not a corrective for this problem, because, seeing as the worldly enforcement of even metaphysical religious standards is still up to men and women, it is still at the corrupting mercy of ideology and, more importantly, sectarian theology. God doesn't execute his moral laws on Earth, even if he does exist. Men execute moral laws, sometimes based on their interpretations of holy scripture, sometimes totally without the assumption of God in the first place. Seeing as we have more proof of human input than the input of a deity whose existence is of dubious certainty, I simply suggest that we jettison the language of God when we discuss morality, and talk about what we know. In a nutshell, even Christian societies that accepted divinely revealed morality found ways to do horrid, brutal and immoral things to each other. In fact, theological morality was more often a facilitator of these acts than an impediment. And if God doesn't stop it himself, what good does it do to pretend like men stop it on God's behalf?
"If I were an atheist, I wouldn’t be interested in hard work—I can already tell you that I wouldn’t give a crap about anything other than my carnal desires…"
This statement might reflect your own personal disposition, but it has no bearing on and is not reflective of most individual atheists in particular nor atheism as a whole. If most atheists were that way, I could see why you would question the possibility of an atheistic morality. Most atheists, however, are clearly not that way.
Most atheists and agnostics, at least that I have known, believe that morality matters because this world is the only world we have or will exist in (or at least know of). They also accept, as a first principle, that human happiness is the proper end of all of our actions. This is a perfectly reasonable existential belief: we are born ("thrown") into the world, and in the course of creating meaning for our lives we elevate happiness above all other things. But because this world is the only world we know, and because happiness is our prime end, we must use our limited time on this Earth to create and develop as much happiness as possible. This is why morality matters. Humans discover, in the course of the development of both social and individual consciousness, that we need certain rules of behavior to maximize happiness. Without these rules social organization breaks down, and social organization is necessary to provide the greatest number of people with what they need to be happy. We have found that certain rules and codes work better for ensuring this happiness than others: certain prescriptive rights, representative and electoral politics, and certain mandated community support systems are just some examples. Violating these codes of behavior undermines the happiness of a maximum percentage of the population, or it undermines a system meant to ensure the happiness of the greatest possible number of people. We call these violations immoral.
That is one possible formulation of a totally secular defense of morality, drawing on existentialism, utilitarianism and liberal social contract theory. No DNA or God required. Feel free to pick holes in it; I didn't make it flawless, but it's still a defensible and reasonable position. The claim that atheists should only care about carnal desires, on the other hand, is not.
I hesitate to respond, Jonathan, because you are not understanding my main
arguments. And because you’re obviously an intelligent guy, the only explanation for that is that you are not reading my posts carefully enough.
“Morality founded in metaphysical speculation or revelation is not a
corrective for this problem, because, seeing as the worldly enforcement of even metaphysical religious standards is still up to men and women, it is still at the corrupting mercy of ideology and, more importantly, sectarian theology.”
To an extent, I agree. As I’m sure you don’t spend your days reading my posts on the crdaily comment section, I’m sure you didn’t see my comments a few days ago regarding this very topic. When you and Chris Jones were
arguing about the malleability of morality, I threw in my two cents. I said to Chris:
“You both are wrong in two different ways. Jonathan is wrong because he makes the erroneous assumption that “God (does not come) down to us and
(legislate) in all matters civil and ecclesiastical,” whereas you erroneously assume that there can be moral absolutes without a central,
special, and specific highest authority that ultimately can’t be questioned by just any individual (this assumption of yours is implicit in your not being a Catholic).”
You see, that’s where you and I differ. I believe “worldly enforcement of even metaphysical religious standards” is NOT up to men (and women—I’ll be PC, I guess). I believe that God DOES execute his moral laws on Earth. That’s why I submit myself to the Church, which is guaranteed by God not to
teach an erroneous doctrine.
” ‘If I were an atheist, I wouldn’t be interested in hard work—I can already tell you that I wouldn’t give a crap about anything other than my
“This statement might reflect your own personal disposition, but it has no bearing on and is not reflective of most individual atheists in particular nor atheism as a whole. If most atheists were that way, I could see why you
would question the possibility of an atheistic morality. Most atheists, however, are clearly not that way.”
Again, you are missing my point. Just because you are an atheist doesn’t mean that you can’t become morally indignant. You can, of course—it’s a natural emotional human reaction to injustice. But I’m looking at this from a purely rational perspective (not from an emotional human perspective). Rationally speaking, the only reason why anyone does anything is to become happy. And if there’s no afterlife, then nothing that you do and nothing that happens to you (pleasurable or not) actually matters, for, after your death, you will experience nothing at all. That being the case, RATIONALLY SPEAKING, I should only focus on MY happiness, not yours or anyone else’s, unless yours or someone else’s is going to affect mine.
My point, Jonathan, isn’t to say that all atheists are genocidal maniacs, mass murderers, or even just promiscuous STD-carriers. I only mean to say that, rationally speaking, atheism provides no incentive NOT to be a genocidal maniac, mass murderer, or just a good-old promiscuous STD-carrier. Now, that’s not to say that atheism provides an incentive TO be any of these things. I’m only saying that atheism provides no incentive NOT to be.
“But because this world is the only world we know, and because happiness is our prime end, we must use our limited time on this Earth to create and develop as much happiness as possible. This is why morality matters.”
No, again, rationally speaking, I only act according to what makes ME happy. It is utterly impossible to act otherwise. I wish you’d lose your liberal rhetoric for a change and stop with all this feel-good humanist nonsense. Why should I work to make happiness for little children working their asses off in China? After all, if they keep doing what they’re doing, I’ll keep being able to buy Nikes for fewer dollars. I can then take the money I saved by enslaving little Chinese kids and invest it in a nice house. And why shouldn’t I do this? Please give me a reason without referencing your preexisting humanist values. Humanism might make YOU happy, but that doesn’t mean that it makes ME happy.
“Violating these codes of behavior undermines the happiness of a maximum percentage of the population, or it undermines a system meant to ensure the happiness of the greatest possible number of people. We call these violations immoral.”
Rationally speaking, no atheist should care about the happiness of the maximum percentage of the population. As long as YOU are happy, that’s all that matters. (Of course, if knowing that the happiness of the maximum percentage of the population has been attained makes you happy, then go for it—just as long as you admit that such knowledge makes YOU happy and feel satisfied.)
Also, you keep ignoring the fact that suffering and happiness are completely meaningless in a godless world. If you are tortured for 80 years and then executed in a humiliating way, who cares? You’ll not remember it. You’ll not feel it after you die. Now, granted, you certainly won’t want to be tortured for any amount of time (unless you’re a masochist), but once
you’re dead, what happened to you doesn’t matter—good or bad, pleasurable or not. So, as an agnostic, you should stop worrying about little Chinese kids working in factories. They’ll be dead soon and therefore COMPLETELY
put out of their misery. If you divide the number of years during which they are alive by the number of years during which they will not exist, you
get 0—any finite number divided by numbers approaching infinity approaches zero. So, in the big picture, if there’s no God, this world really doesn’t matter. Be rational and stop fighting for the happiness of people whom you
don’t even know.
“The claim that atheists should only care about carnal desires, on the other hand, is not [a defensible and reasonable position].”
Please quote me as saying thus. The fact that you think I said that proves to me that you are skimming my posts at best. All I ever said was that
atheists should pursue WHATEVER they think will make them happy—carnal or not. Look, I’ve said this before on crdaily and I’ll say it again: I know I’ve got long posts and I’ve got a lot to say. But no one is forcing anyone to read what I write. And if I’m too much of a distraction, then I’m sure the good people of crdaily will delete my posts. But if you’re going to engage in this discussion, you need to read what I write or this is all for naught.
I'm reading your posts all right. Maybe I just don't get it. Or maybe you exist on the political and theological fringe, and therefore your ideas are inherently harder to understand. Like the belief "that God DOES execute his moral laws on Earth." I don't know why you believe that, and even if you explained it I would probably find it hard to understand. So would just about everyone else in this country and the entire Western world. (Ironic, huh?).
Since I clearly don't understand where you are coming from, and I find your Modernist textual layout headache-inducing, I'll leave one concluding remark and be done with it. That is, that morality isn't a hyper-rational endeavor. It isn't a matter of breaking everything down to the individual level. When I refrain from an action that might make me happy, I do so because I recognize that certain sacrifices are necessary for the establishment of a community standard that will maximize my own personal happiness. In that sense, what I refrain from is for my own happiness. But that does not mean that considerations of the happiness of others should not factor in to moral equations for an atheist, or that they cannot. You probably find fault with this argument. No surprise there: you're not a liberal, classical or developmental. That's fine. But it means that you're on the fringe. So once again, don't expect people to find your argumentation readily accessible.
“Like the belief ‘that God DOES execute his moral laws on Earth.’ I don’t know why you believe that, and even if you explained it I would probably
find it hard to understand. So would just about everyone else in this country and the entire Western world. (Ironic, huh?).”
I JUST explained it. (If you still can’t figure it out, go back and read my posts that I wrote in response to your argument with Chris Jones. It ain’t too hard to understand, considering that it’s been a part of Catholic dogma for years and years.) And don’t cop out by using the ad hominem attack that I am on the political and theological fringe. Being on the fringe is
completely relative. Maybe I am. What’s really ironic is that, if we were living in a different era, you’d be the one on the fringe. I guess that would make you wrong and me right because the truth is so obviously determined by the opinion of the majority of people alive at any given time. Ah, the irony of a liberal’s conclusions. I certainly hope that most dumbass Americans and Westerners disagree with me…if I agreed with them, then I’d be swallowing the suicide pill as well.
“But that does not mean that considerations of the happiness of others should not factor in to moral equations for an atheist, or that they
I’m sorry, Jonathan, but you really aren’t reading my posts, no matter how
many times you say that you are. As you seem finally to have admitted, the only reason “the happiness of others should…factor in to moral equations for an atheist” is because a certain, specific atheist IS MADE HAPPY by
seeing OTHER PEOPLE happy. It’s called altruism. Again, altruism is great. But what if I MYSELF am not made happy by being altruistic? Why should I
waste my meaningless life doing actions that ultimately NO ONE will remember or even be affected by? There’s no reason why I should care about
anyone else if I believe that humanity and planet Earth and even our galaxy as we know it will one day (relatively soon) be so extinct that no one will
even know we existed, let alone know that I existed.
By the way, my opinions on happiness and on the existence of God are not at all on the fringe if they are compared with the opinions of certain authors in the Western Canon (such as Thomas Aquinas). As a matter of fact, I developed my opinions on human happiness directly from Aquinas. You are the one who’s really on the fringe, if you are compared to more than just the people alive today.
“You probably find fault with this argument. No surprise there: you’re not a liberal, classical or developmental. That’s fine. But it means that
you’re on the fringe.”
I still can’t believe how you retreat to your comfort zone, which essentially consists of accusing me of being different. All I can picture
is a grown man curled up in the fetal position covering his ears and screaming “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!”
“So once again, don’t expect people to find your argumentation readily accessible.”
You’re right, Jonathan. I had too much confidence in you. Hopefully other people reading this dialogue benefitted (I know I did), because you obviously didn’t.
Jonathan, you've missed Riley's point.
Atheists are not required to care about anything other than their own individual happiness. That morals are hardwired into our DNA has yet to (and more than likely won't) be proven. Until you prove where morals come from, you don't have the right to deny the possibility that the supernatural plays a role.
What is about morals that is natural? And if morals are hardwired into us, why is that we see amoral actions on a day to day basis? It simply defies the concept of "nature" to rebel against it constantly.
"In a nutshell, even Christian societies that accepted divinely revealed morality found ways to do horrid, brutal and immoral things to each other."
And yet, you believe that morals is built into our DNA?
"Without these rules social organization breaks down, and social organization is necessary to provide the greatest number of people with what they need to be happy." This is true only if you measure happiness by percentage and what those standards of happiness are. What happiness consists of for Americans is completely different for what consists of happiness for Algerians. To say that morals is entirely contingent on a democratic way of thinking is short sighted. That moral system will inevitably be doomed into becoming what pleases the individual, or anarchy.
As far as the dubious existence of God, I'd be more than willing to open up that can of worms. It hardly seems to fair in a discussion about supernatural morals vs natural morals to suggest that we talk about morals without mentioning God.
The idea that morals are hardwired is Riley's straw man; it is not my argument. I have not claimed that morals are hardwired in our DNA. In fact, in my post that you are supposedly contradicting, I provide a conception of the origin of "morality" in which there is "no God or DNA required." That means that I think we can probably explain the origins of morality without the idea of genetic hard-wiring. Social construction, for instance, is probably a much more important factor.
A socially constructed moral system would require something to be built into your DNA. Because, what is good for society is not necessarily good for the individual (ie the minority in democratic system of morals.)
You say that people would develop a system of morals that helps the largest number of people in society. But why should I, as the individual, care about the rest of world? We're assuming that you are treating man as simply "rational animals". So the rational animal in me would suggest that I care only for my own welfare and let everyone else take case of themselves.
Actually, Jonathan, my DNA theory is not a straw man at all. Certain atheists do, in fact, believe in DNA-based system of morals. The reason I
brought it up was to cover all my bases, not to suggest that you believe in a DNA-based system.
What’s funny, though, is that without God or a system of morality based in our DNA, there is absolutely no basis for morality at all. We can just do whatever we ourselves think is right. A so-called “socially constructed”
system of morality (somehow divorced from our DNA) is a recipe for disaster. According to Hitler’s morality, genocide is good. According to your morality, it’s not. But neither you nor Hitler has a right to criticize the other on moral grounds, for you are equal authorities in the
interpretation or judgment of what’s moral in a “socially constructed” system of morality.
Not to belabor a point that I’ve already made, but perhaps you need to take a bit of the advice that liberals at UNC are so quick to give conservatives and Christians: Think about the issue from a perspective that’s different
from your own. Instead of assuming that God doesn’t exist, why don’t you assume that He does for a change? Even better, assume that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ. If it is, then certainly certain papal teachings and the teaching authority of the Church councils (such as Trent), which are based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will lead us to the truth about what’s objectively right and what’s objectively wrong.
I see what you are saying, but I think we are playing semantics. It serves as a religion for some people.
"Everyone has a "religion" of some sort."
False – a set of principles is not a religion. I am an atheist and of course I have my beliefs and principles, but there is no atheist system, no atheist dogma, no hierarchy or divinity of any sort. I hold no allegiance to any "holy" text or institution. I've never understood why religious people have such trouble grasping this concept.
Also, if you’ll notice, I originally put the word “religion” in quotations to emphasize that atheists clearly don’t believe in a religion like Catholics or Baptists do. But they have arbitrary principles that guide their lives. Maybe those principles are political in nature (e.g., Communism, Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, neo-conservatism, democratism, capitalism, egalitarianism, racialism, etc.). There are endless codes of living that influence this backward world we live in. And, without God, they are completely arbitrary. That’s why I said that you, as an atheist, have no right to criticize Hitler (undoubtedly your boogeyman) on moral grounds. Hitler was just doing what made him happy. And if there’s no God, what difference does anything make? We’re all just going to die, and then we won’t remember anything, nor will we ultimately be remembered. We won’t feel anything. Planet Earth won’t even exist in a matter of time—that’s something Christians and atheists can agree on. Maybe you’re made happy by sacrificing yourself (e.g., paying exorbitant taxes for moochers, not having children(thereby destroying your chances of passing your blood on to the next generation), living a low-quality life so that everyone else can be a little more comfortable, etc.). But maybe I’m made happy by being selfish. Who are you to judge me? I’m just doing what makes me happy—just like you. If you wanted to rid the world of “evil” people like me by murder, then, if I were an atheist, I wouldn’t call you immoral for that. No, I’d just try to rid the world of people like you who would get in the way of my pursuit of happiness. And I wouldn’t give a flying you-know-what what you thought about it. So, yes, you do have a “religion.” A “religion” whose consequences you probably haven’t fully considered. And if you have, misereatur Deum nostri.
A "religion" does not necessarily involve a "system" or "dogma" or "holy texts" or even a god. A religion is "Devotion to some principle; strict fidelity or faithfulness; conscientiousness; pious affection or attachment." (Oxford English Dictionary)
OK, that's the OED's 3rd definition of religion; the first is "Action or conduct indicating a belief in, reverence for, and desire to please a divine ruling power; the exercise or practice of rites or observances implying this." Can you name some religions that do not encompass dogma, holy texts, rites, gods or spiritual leaders?
It's true that you can have a religion without a deity (I think Buddhism qualifies for that) but that doesn't make it any less nonsensical to claim that absence of religious belief is itself a religion.
I highly doubt the third definition is incorrect simply because it is listed third. I suggest you direct your definition concerns towards the Oxford English Dictionary, instead of asking me a silly question about the definition that suits your purpose.
I didn't I say it was incorrect — I'm just pointing out that you cherry-picked a secondary definition to suit your own opinion, when the primary definition is all about divinity, supernatural power, rites etc. — the things that most people are going to think of when you say "religion." Even using your chosen definition, which of those listed qualities do atheism or secular humanism share with Christianity? Atheism has one defining characteristic: the absence of belief in a supernatural deity.
Wow. I am proven right again that Latin is necessary for a Western education. What you just said is equivalent to saying that you can’t use a word in a certain context and in a certain way even if a reputable dictionary says that you can. Who cares if most people are so uneducated that they don’t know all the definitions of a word? Are you seriously going to lump yourself and us with “most people?” Are you a UNC student?
I am flattered that you disagreed with my post enough to respond. Really, I am. But honestly, this is just silly. I say that a "religion" doesn't necessarily involve a system, dogma, texts, or god and I back it up with a definition from the OED. I am sorry that the word religion has multiple definitions. But I'm still not buying that "your" definition is any more legitimate than "my" definition. More widely used does not mean more right.
That being said, I am not arguing that atheism or secular humanism are "religions" per se. Nor am I arguing that they are similar to Christianity. My point is only that "devotion to some principle" is a religion by definition. Your claim that "a set of principles is not a religion" is false.
Since you are determined to play semantics, I'll play too. To be frank, the first definition of religion in an actual Oxford Dictionary is a "particular system of belief or worship". It is the second definition that mentions deities or the supernatural. Religion is not just the belief in God (by your own example, Buddhism). If that is the case, then why is atheism "protected" from the label of religion? It is interesting that you say that there is no atheist system, because the Oxford Dictionary also differentiates between established religions and systems of belief.
Regardless, atheism have evolved into much more than just the disbelief of the supernatural. Atheists have rejected God and set up "science" as their deity. Any time that one argues with an atheist, it immediately becomes a science vs religion, or as most atheists like to put it, fact vs faith.
Everyone does have a "religion" of sorts, in the sense that it is impossible to live without your own set of values. Whether that set of values revolves around God, science, money, sex, you name it, does not matter.
You really don't get it, do you? How can atheism evolve? Atheism is one thing: absence of belief in god(s). Is vegetarianism a religion too?
Is vegetarianism a "devotion to some principle"?
Why yes, it is, or it can be. You guys are the ones trying to argue semantics here, I'm just saying it's dishonest (or stupid, you decide) to call atheism or secular humanism or science a religion when it's clearly not. I'm surprised that people who profess to be religious themselves would be advocating for such an all-encompassing definition of religion, such that "devotion to [any] principle" would constitute a religion. Such an approach seems to me to devalue your own religion.
Religion is not the belief in the principle. If that were the case, then yes, vegetarianism would be a religion. However, I provided a definition that does not allow for vegetarianism to be called a religion. I'll quote myself, since you obviously missed it in my first post.
Religion is a "particular system of belief or worship". One's principles may come from your religion, but the principles don't define the religion.
Here's what you don't understand. Denial of anything requires 2 parts. First, you claim that the original statement is false. You then provide a counterexample or a contrary belief to the original statement. You cannot just claim that a statement is false without providing a counterexample. For example, we'll use unicorns.
I deny that unicorns exist. Unicorns are simply a mythological creature created by the author that first used them.
So, while I may be "just" denying the existence of unicorns, I am also required to provide an explanation. If I disbelieve something about unicorns, logic demands that I believe SOMETHING about it, whether there is a rational explanation behind my denial or if there simply isn't any proof of the claim.
And so begins the battle of semantics. If you’ll notice, I originally put the word “religion” in quotations to emphasize that atheists clearly don’t believe in a religion like Catholics or Baptists do. But they have arbitrary principles that guide their lives. Maybe those principles are political in nature (e.g., Communism, Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, neo-conservatism, democratism, capitalism, egalitarianism, racialism, etc.). There are endless codes of living that influence this backward world we live in. And, without God, they are completely arbitrary. That’s why I said that you, as an atheist, have no right to criticize Hitler (undoubtedly your boogeyman) on moral grounds. Hitler was just doing what made him happy. And if there’s no God, what difference does anything make? We’re all just going to die, and then we won’t remember anything, nor will we ultimately be remembered. We won’t feel anything. Planet Earth won’t even exist in a matter of time—that’s something Christians and atheists can agree on. Maybe you’re made happy by sacrificing yourself (e.g., paying exorbitant taxes for moochers, not having children(thereby destroying your chances of passing your blood on to the next generation), living a low-quality life so that everyone else can be a little more comfortable, etc.). But maybe I’m made happy by being selfish. Who are you to judge me? I’m just doing what makes me happy—just like you. If you wanted to rid the world of “evil” people like me by murder, then, if I were an atheist, I wouldn’t call you immoral for that. No, I’d just try to rid the world of people like you who would get in the way of my pursuit of happiness. And I wouldn’t give a flying you-know-what what you thought about it.
So, yes, you do have a “religion.” A “religion” whose consequences you probably haven’t fully considered. And if you have, misereatur Deum nostri.