Tags: Christian, homosexuality, LGBT, parody, relationships, religion, YouTube
Wait…have you seen this?
So, I found this today via the Friendly Atheist, and I really thought this was a parody. I simply cannot believe that real people, trying to make a real point, could be so unaware.
Wait, yes I can. But it hurts to think about it, because I really want to like our species, but find so many reasons not to.
So, a man admits his infidelity (his “adultery”) to his wife, with his accomplice at hand, and offers the argument that if she loves him, she has to love his adultery. And she accepts it, even so far as to write up some placards to support this publicly. Of course, the primary analogy is between accepting of the sin (of homosexuality/adultery) of the sinners we should love. You know, “love the sinner hate the sin” and other hilariously stupid ideas derived from the absurdity of Christian theology.
But also, this video is hilarious (unintentionally) while simultaneously frustrating. And, of course, the first thing I thought (when deciding whether it was a parody) was that this was a poly triad making a video mocking Christians. But since this seems legit I’m just going to have to pose the question of whether poly people should take offense at this video or not. I mean, this is clearly in the wheelhouse of the argument that homosexual marriage will lead to thing like group marriage, sex with alpacas, and whatever else Christians fantasize about when denying that their worldview is as crazy as a pack of rabid hyenas on coke. But are the Christians who made this even aware of the overt similarity to polyamory here in this video? Is it making fun of us?
Perhaps, but I don’t think any offense should be taken, and I think what Hemant said in response to it is the reason why:
This is the sort of video you would expect an LGBT group to make to mock Christians’ narrow-minded thinking on the subject… Instead, the Christians here went ahead and did the work for them. They’re proving to the world how badly they don’t get it.
They are mocking themselves, without being aware of it.
See, what a video like this does is exposes the lack of self-awareness of people who make it. Think of it this way; could we here at polyskeptic have made this exact video (with us in it, of course), and had it be a parody? Could we have written it much better to make the point of the absurdity of the conservative Christian worldview in relation to such issues as homosexuality? No, I don’t think so.
The nonchalance of the wife in this video, in reaction to her husband admitting adultery while holding hands with another woman is done for the sake of comedy. The tension here is between an obviously not-acceptable situation of direct, in-your-face cheating along side the subsequent calm acceptance, tolerance, and ultimate capitulation to it. Of course nobody is going to respond calmly to such a situation. Of course these things are sinful and wrong. Of course this is comedy gold. Just not for the reasons they intended.
The English idiom “of course” here is also telling. It implies following the expected (mainstream) set of behaviors. Except the “of course” used above is said mockingly, because that set of expectations only occurs within the rigid bounds of a monogamous (Christian, in this case) world. My hope is that the fact that this video misses the point about homosexuality and the standard tropes about monogamy are equally understood by people. I hope that this video is not just absurd because of the stupid analogy between “sins,” but because it teases itself where monogamy lies.
Because my worry is that for many people the calmness and acceptance of the quasi-polyamorous circumstance portrayed here will be missed. That the effect of the joke will be at being offended by the effectiveness of the analogy. The video is saying that just like the idea that your wife would calmly accept your “adultery” is absurd, so is the idea that we should accept homosexuality. And the problem is that, for many people, this will land. I am willing to bet that the producers of this video would be gobsmacked if they saw people who would accept what they would deem as “adultery” with calmness. Granted, the actual act in the video is not polyamory, but the tension of the joke is embedded in the idea that no woman (or man, especially in a patriarchal system) would accept their spouse having another lover. Without that “of course,” the joke cannot land, and we are left with the presentation of the equal acceptability of homosexuality and sexual non-exclusivity.
Sounds about right to me.
When I watched it all I saw was a hilarious pseudo-advertisement for polyamory via unintentional self-parody. I saw the absurdity of having an issue with homosexuality compared to the absurdity of jealousy, exclusiveness, and monogamy. And not only am I not offended but I have a wry and mischievous smile on my face. I love it when Christians do the work for me, I only wish they could understand it.
I never meta eulogy of an idea I didn’t like April 21, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: religion, Religion and Spirituality, religious experience, spirituality
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In dealing with periodic depression and even moments of feeling invincible, powerful, and brilliant (which I know I am not), I sometimes have this sensation of this overwhelming sense of certainty concerning the thoughts which inhabit my mind. When I feel confident, I believe it. When I feel powerless, I believe it. And sometimes, not often but significantly, I have another kind of experience associated with a different kind of certainty; not of the nature of the world, but of my relationship to it.
It is a feeling of transcendence, being able to comprehend issues in a way which are barely articulate, but which my mind is able to dance with freely for a little while. And then it goes away, and I am unable to describe it well in many cases. Sometimes, these ideas turn into blog posts. This is not an example.
In fact, the idea I did have earlier today, while at work, fizzled away as I had no time to jot down the mnemonic phrase which would have stored it for me for later. This post is, in fact, started as an attempt to resurrect this idea, but is turning into a meta-idea about a dead idea. A eulogy of sorts.
The ideas contained here are the neighbors of this idea, vaguely related by adjacency and possibly kinship, but missing it almost entirely. Like the dead, I can now only speak of it in vague, impersonal terms. I knew this idea, for a moment, but it is gone now perhaps to never be met again. So, rather than merely despair at it’s loss, perhaps we should meet it’s family and perhaps a piece of it will shimmer through them.
There is a feeling that I have, sometimes, which I could call spiritual. In fact, I used to think of it in this way (sort of), until I started to think about the concept of spirituality and found it to be an empty, meaningless term. It simply does not point to anything. It seems to point to something, and this seeming is tied to very powerful parts of our mind, and so this seeming is overwhelming and convincing.
I am not sure, but I think that this type of experience is what people refer to when they talk about having spiritual experiences. I’ve had them all of my life, but never associated them with either god or anything else supernatural. What association I used to have with them, while younger, would have been with some sort of Buddhist enlightenment, Taoist insight into the Dao, or perhaps even apprehending a part of Tillich’s Ground of Being.
But don’t worry, you have not lost me to any religious rebirth, or even a crisis of lack-of-faith. In fact, I have been aware of such concepts, both intellectually and experientially, for many years. I just never interpreted them as anything (much) more than my brain being weird. In centuries past, I might have had little choice but to choose a religious life of sorts, having the proclivities to think about things in the ways that many mystics have in the past. I’m glad I’m alive now. This life is much more to my liking than that of a monk or strange religious hermit.
Yeah, I’m some sort of atheist mystic. HA! Saint ShaunPhilly, indeed.
This sensation usually leaves me with a strong feeling of community and connection to others. I feel stronger emotional ties to people in my life after such experiences. I have the sensation of being tied to people around me by some bond, almost tribal in nature, which is almost compelling enough to give the spiritual-but-not-religious some slack.
But because I’m also very prone to self-challenging moments of skepticism (OK, cynicism too), I realize that this sensation is an illusion. And so when I talk with people who get caught up in describing things this way, and tie it to some religious worldview, vague spirituality, etc I am both amused and annoyed. In such moments I’m watching people rationalize a completely natural brain phenomenon (an interesting one, no doubt) as a spiritual experience, and they are interpreting it as some truth about the universe, and not just a truth about how consciousness often does NOT correlate with reality.
Yes, such experiences teach us things about ourselves, but usually mostly in the context of how the brain processes which make us up operate in relation to reality, and not about reality itself. Self knowledge and perspective are important, but we do need to have a skeptical method (science) at hand to check our conclusions against. We need to check our biases, as well as we can, to make sure that we don’t draw the wrong conclusions.
Because when we draw conclusions (which often occurs in a cultural context which is drenched in religious and theological baggage) without skeptical checks, we start to divide ourselves into doctrinal tribes via the similarity of our conclusions. But we have to be careful to not think I’m talking about religion per se here, because this is a thing we all do (atheists included) and is not limited to religion.
The tribalism which religion utilizes in order to build community, but also to build walls, seems tied to this sense of connectedness which I was describing above. Granted, for some this connectedness is associated with a human family (these tend to be liberals) rather than a nationalistic or truly tribal connectedness (conservatives). This sense of tribalism is more fundamental than religion, but religion uses it well.
Religion is not the source of anything accept its own peculiar theological logic puzzles. Religion is, rather, a strange combination of various cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors and processes. Getting rid of religion would solve nothing. Instead, we need to be focused on improving our awareness of how the basic parts of human behavior–emotional blind spots, cognitive biases, and social herd behavior–influence our worldviews and beliefs, so that we can be sure that those beliefs are rational.
In short, we need to be more aware of how our private experience leads to emergent properties in human behavior. We only have control (limited though it is) of our own mind, and our influence of others will grow from this.
Have you ever been socially talking with a bunch of liberal-minded people about religion? You know, the types who are not religious themselves (or only vaguely so), but who will speak very respectfully about religions and view criticism as some angry and irrational hatred of other people’s beliefs? They don’t believe any of it (or most of it, at least), but they will not tolerate criticism of people’s sacred cows. You know, those shouting “Islamophobia” recently.
Well, I have. Hell, I graduated from a Quaker school in liberal Philadelphia, so this was my upbringing. What I learned, over the years is that in many cases what is happening in such encounters was that these spiritual thoughts, feelings, and experiences are somewhat common, especially among sensitive and educated liberals (remember, I’m a liberal in many ways myself, so this is in many ways an internal, and in some ways a self-,criticism). To criticize the concept in general, and not just specific theological claims, is to criticize their own experience (and thus to criticize them).
And I hope I don’t need to tell you that while liberals are much better, at least where politics comes in, at maintaining a rational scientific literacy and understanding, they fail in many ways. Profoundly. Big Pharma, sophisticated theology, theistic evolution, and…dare I say it…New Age….
This “spiritual” awareness it pretty ubiquitous, and pulling away the curtain to reveal the “wizard” behind it is pretty unsettling. And when people are unsettled, they act tend to act poorly. All people have qualities, deep inside and unchosen, which are good and bad. The problem is that religion allows you to rationalize the bad ones, while giving you the sensation of having provided the good ones in the first place. The sense of community of an idea, of connectedness and belonging, makes it feel acceptable to rationalize terrible thinking. Because while most of us have the impulse to think certain things, having an organized group of people who call that idea the truth is a means of escape from thinking more about it.
Skeptics and atheists are not, qua skepticism or atheism, mean or overly-critical people. But without a doctrine to appeal to, a skeptic is forced to use reason (and hopefully they will do so) when faced with a challenge. But those who are attached to the spiritual, the religious, and to theology have a bubble around them which keeps them further away from the skeptical tools they have access to. They are capable of using those tools, but when emotions come into play, they seem to be too far away to get hold of.
Here’s to more people abandoning that bubble.
And here’s to an idea, lost, but which was born within the family of these ideas and which may one day be raised again.
Maybe on the third day. I do go back to work then, so it would make it most annoying for it to be then since I’ll likely forget it again.
I swear, if the universe is somehow conscious, it’s a total dick….
The Devil, Lies, and Atheism March 20, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: devil is a liar, god, New Testament, religion, Religion and Spirituality, theology
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“The Biggest ruse of the devil is making us believe that he doesn’t exist,” said Baudelaire. Except the devil does not exist. The ruse here only makes sense within a very specific framework; Christian mythology.
There is a meme, a lie, really, within much of the Christian world that atheists are Satanic, or at least deceived in this Baudelairesque fashion. According to this meme, the devil is a liar, thus atheism is a lie. This idea is rooted in Christian scripture where Satan is seen as the father of lies:
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”
So, if you accept this mythology as true, or at least inspired by a god that tells the truth, then thinking of atheists as living a lie makes sense, right? Well, I suppose, but let’s look at it this way. The devil is a character in a set of stories–the mythology which emerges from the biblical collection of books. This character is, by definition, evil and wrong; the narrative of the story is such that he loses, eventually, and in the mean time his power in the universe is based upon deception and lies. Those who do not believe the story of YHWH and his various acts through “history” are seen as, essentially, conspiracy theorists who do not accept the “truth.”
But this myth cannot be stretch onto the terrain of reality. Christianity is simply not true, and to try and live it as real can only go so far before the fabric tears and reality pokes through. But for those who are deluded in this strange and inhuman form or LARPing, those of us who are not playing by the rules of that universe will be pegged as a kind of “muggle” who has been projected as wearing a devil mask.
We can’t seriously despute the reality of the story, can we? We can’t really actually not believe that God exists and that Jesus is our savior, Mohammed is the seal of prophets, or whatever Mormons believe, right? Because they are convinced of the truth of their worldview, when we enter their periphery we are forced into their role-playing and seen as playing characters which represent us in their narrative.
We are devils, liars, and we have been draped with a cloth of deception to make us fit into their worldview.
But from the atheist point of view, we are a bunch of people who wandered into their D&D, Harry Potter, or Christian universe where everyone within it is LARPing fully in character. So while we know it’s all pretend, from the point of view of the players we have to play the role of muggles or devils, otherwise they have to break character.
Except, in the real world, there are people who don’t know they are playing a character, they think that the role-playing is real. And that’s religion. Atheism is simply being aware that the script(ure) is just pretend, and we cannot believe that so many people take it so seriously. We simply want them to break character, and enjoy reality.
Vote for Optimus! February 11, 2013Posted by wfenza in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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The Pope is retiring. Paul Fidalgo is throwing his pointy hat into the ring:
Oh, and I’ll put an immediate end to the church’s tolerance and enabling of sexual assault; its treatment of women as second-class; its adherence to Bronze Age notions of morality; its hoarding of wealth for no purpose but its own aggrandizement (except for me, of course); its persecution of homosexuals; its intentional miseducation of developing nations ravaged by ignorance, overpopulation, superstition, starvation, and illness; and its utter failure to promote the ascension of robot-human hybrids.
Also, his Pope name will be Pope Optimus Prime I. I’m sold.
The Crommunist’s myth metaphor for the culture wars January 24, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: culture wars, dueling myth postulate, Ian Cromwell, Jonathon Haidt
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I have been thinking about the philosophical, emotional, and historical underpinnings of the culture wars in recent months. I have been try to come up with a way to categorize it in such a way that will make sense to people who don’t understand that it is a matter of different values, and I have not been particularly successful at it. I did write this post last month, but it felt like an incomplete attempt to articulate my thoughts.
In the last few days, Ian Cromwell, over at The Crommunist (one of my favorite FtB blogs) has been writing a series of posts utilizing the concept of myth (which he defines here) in a quite interesting, and I think useful, way. He continues with his next post to define, for this conversation, the concept of fairness and justice–but in a way I have a subtle, but perhaps important disagreement with. Briefly, I think that fairness is a concept which is objectively (or inter-subjectively) definable, but we don’t have access to all the relevant information at any given time, so what appears to be fair may not actually be fair. Because we don’t have sufficient information, or we are under a delusion about the facts, we will not recognize the unfairness of the circumstance until we understand more. I’ll leave that aside for now.
I also appreciated the disclaimer that Ian gave to who his intended audience is. I have come to write for a similar audience recently, realizing that I don’t really care what the others think most of the time. There does come a time when you simply have to ignore some potential readers as being irrelevant to what you are saying, although the irony here is that we are writing about how to think and talk about fundamental mythological and value differences.
On his fourth post in the series, he comes to the meat of his thought, which he calls The dueling myth postulate. here is the gist:
I wish to postulate that it is useful to think of many disagreements as the collision of two opposing myths. The first myth, what I call the ‘fairness myth’ (and will heretofore refer to as f-myth) is very simply stated: the world is a fair place. You will undoubtedly have heard this described as the ‘just world theory’, ‘just world hypothesis’, or ‘just world fallacy’. I prefer the term ‘myth’ for the reasons I spelled out in yesterday’s post – it is a story that we tell about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Those things we have were obtained fairly, and our position is justified according to our understanding of moral axioms.
The countervailing myth is, of course, the ‘unfairness myth’ (u-myth) – that our position in the world is not in accordance with moral axioms, and that we (or others – more on that later) are being arbitrarily deprived of access to a state of harmonious existence.
In the past, I have described this as a clash of values, and while I still think that is true, I think that this approach has merit, and I will gladly steal it in the future, where I find it useful. I don’t think he’ll mind, especially since I will credit him for the idea.
He then goes onto flesh out the idea some more, and comes up with the Ethical dimensions of the dueling myth postulate, which looks like this:
Morality within the Fair Myth framework
If one starts from a position that the world is fair, then any attempt to change the world would bring it into a state of unfairness. It is morally reprehensible, for example, to arbitrarily deprive someone of something that ze deserves. Indeed, it is highly morally reprehensible to take goods or status from one who has earned them and give those goods to someone who has not.
We saw an example of this when people believed that tax money was being used to bail out large banks and give bonuses to wealthy executives whose risky practices had caused a financial collapse. The taxpaying public (largely blameless for the economic troubles) were having their goods and services curtailed in order to reward a class of people who a) didn’t need the bonuses to live, and b) did not face any criminal charges for their malfeasance. It was monstrously unfair to redistribute wealth in a way that rewards irresponsibility and excess.
Indeed, in many cases it is morally laudable to fight to protect a fair system. In the last American election, when new laws were brought in that would disenfranchise voters, a public outcry went up to preserve the existing system (whatever its flaws might have been). The belief that the current system was fair, insofar as it allowed people to vote regardless of their skin colour or age (with the caveat that there is a legal voting age), motivated a strong resistance to change, fueled by a general agreement among proponents that people deserved to vote, and were threatened with having that status taken away from them for reasons that were seen as arbitrary.
Morality within the Unfair Myth framework
Conversely, there is a similar moral dimension to the u-myth. If one has the ability to intervene, it is morally reprehensible to allow an unfair system to persist. The u-myth invokes the image of the ‘Good Samaritan’ parable, where it is morally laudable to take action to either prevent an unfair thing from occurring, or to stop an unfair thing while it is happening.
For example, there are a number of people who believe that the state has a moral obligation to provide health care to its citizens. A state, with its wealth and power, is in a ready position to construct, administrate, and fund a system wherein all citizens receive at least some rudimentary level of care. Most industrialized nations, and many with different economic circumstances, recognize the duty of the state to ensure a level of basic health, and consider it a moral failing when a state does not. The fact that it also makes financial sense for the state is worthwhile including in a discussion of policy, but I wish to focus solely on the moral dimension.
As above, it is morally reprehensible to defend an unfair system. We have precious few people today who would jump to the defence of South Africa’s apartheid system (though there are many alive today who have defended it). We recognize the unfairness of a system that stratifies human beings by an arbitrary characteristic such as skin colour, and would roundly condemn anyone who argues that such a system was fair and/or necessary.
I think this is a pretty good set of frameworks to start with. I am not sure that any one person will fit cleanly into either, and I’m sure we use both of these to some extent depending on the issue, but I think this a is a fair categorization of how many of these issues are, in fact, rhetorically spun. In his four consecutive posts, Ian addresses this framework in terms of the issues of welfare, #IdleNoMore (a movement concerned with First Nation rights in Canada), religious persecution (or privilege), and then feminism. I’ll quote a snippet from the post about religious persecution.
So let’s see if we can break down Mr. French’s [of WND] argument within a competing myth framework. I would identify it as springing from a f-myth belief, and will analyze it thus:
The world is fundamentally fair when it comes to the place of religion in public life (or at least has been up until recently). Overt displays of religiosity are protected free speech under the Constitution. The use of religious invocations, symbols, and practices are part of American history – a tradition that stretches back for generations.
Because the world is fundamentally fair, the attempts to change such a system are morally reprehensible. Conversely, it is morally laudable to resist the changes that threaten to remove religion from public life. Religious people should not have their rights taken from them in order to appease the growing chorus of anti-religious voices.
By opposing these changes to tradition and to American identity, the FRC’s actions/positions are morally laudable. By fighting to change a fundamentally fair system by abridging religious freedom, the actions of the ACLU and the U.S. government are morally reprehensible. By opposing the core of the American identity and long-standing tradition, the beliefs of the ACLU and the U.S. government are morally reprehensible.
For fun, we can also parse Ms. Feinberg’s argument in a u-myth framework:
The world is fundamentally unfair when it comes to the place of religion in public life. Overt displays of religiosity on behalf of state actors is specifically precluded by the Constitution. The use of religious symbols, while popular, is a reflection of an unfair system of religious hegemony and preference – a tradition that stretches back for generations.
Because the world is fundamentally unfair, the state has a duty to intervene and increase the amount of fairness. Fairness, in this context, looks like no religious preference for any group. Public schools are state entities, and as a result they must not be used for religious promotion. Any history of such promotion does not abrogate the duty of the state to ensure that it lives up to its obligation to be fair to all groups.
By acting to ensure that the Constitution is upheld, the actions of the NYCDE are morally laudable. By attempting to uphold or restore a fundamentally unfair system of religious privilege, the actions of the FRC are morally reprehensible. By asserting a right to preferential treatment that would propagate an unfair system, the beliefs of the FRC are morally reprehensible.
So we can see from the above analysis of the example that the specific statements of ‘both sides’ of the argument can be expressed as a function of an underlying myth about the fairness of the system in which the dispute is happening.
I have seen this type of argument between people on one side or the other concerning church/state separation over the last decade, and I think that this, in conjunction with Jon Haidt’s recent work (which I am not in complete agreement with, but I find his Moral Foundations Theory extremely helpful) is a very good way to approach thinking about the culture wars, values, and the myths (or worldviews, as I might call them) we use to construct our concepts of the world.
So, in summary, I think this postulate of the dueling myth postulate, described in the recent series of posts by Ian Cromwell, is at least a useful, if not powerful, tool to use in talking about these types of issues.
In the future I will be thinking more about the relationship that this tool, this dueling myth postulate, has on the conversation about privilege. For example, is privilege the circumstance of being stuck within the perspective of a “air myth framework,” at least in most cases? Do people who argue against shifting our behavior and views about what normal is, what is expected, and what efforts we should make to fix such things a function of feeling like the world is fundamentally fair, and by pointing out the effects of privilege we are trying to upset the apple cart?
In any case, a nod and a thanks to Ian Cromwell for thinking about this and sharing.
I’ll add that Ian added, a few hours ago, a follow-up post entitled The usefulness of the dueling myth postulate, which I am about to read now.
American Politics, old and new. January 6, 2013Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: culture wars, politics, Thomas Jefferson
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Here is a quote from John Ferling’s Adams vs. Jefferson, page 153-154:
The Federalists also fixated on Jefferson’s religious beliefs, maligning him as an atheist. This was grounded on what Jefferson had written in Notes on the State of Virginia, drafted in 1782 and first published in the United States in 1788. Jefferson had lauded the Virginia Declaration of rights of 1776, which provided for religious toleration, but, wishing to go further—he hoped for a law that would separate church and state—Jefferson had dilated on the “rights of conscience,” about which individuals were “answerable [only] to…our God” and never to the state. He then added that “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg.” These two sentences were reprinted endlessly in Federalist newspapers as proof of Jefferson’s impiety. In addition, Federalist scribes cautioned that Jefferson viewed the clergy as “curses in a country.” Primarily, however, they depicted him as a “howling atheist” and “infidel.” Filled with contempt for Christ, Jefferson supposedly embodied iniquities that would bring on the moral decline of the United States. In New England people were told to hide their Bibles should Jefferson be elected, and the warning went out that his election would call down God’s vengeance on the United States.Though more from the pulpit than the press, lurid tales were told of bizarre worship services at Monticello at which Jefferson supposedly prayed to the Goddess of Reason and offered up dogs on a sacrificial altar. One Federalist newspaper advised its readers to vote for “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT or impiously declare for JEFFERSON–AND NO GOD.”
How many current cultural tropes did you notice there?
Thomas Jefferson, never self-identified as an atheist, as far as I know. The conflation of religious tolerance and freedom with repression felt by the dominant religion was as real then as it is now. We are not dealing with anything new, in talking about this religious privilege and the association with separation of church and state with impiety and even lack of patriotism.
There are simply some people, whether in 1800 or 2013, who simply cannot see that asking for religious neutrality from our government is a good idea. Those that declare the United States to be a Christian nation have the precedence of idiots from the 18th century who did not grasp the importance of said separation then, and who wanted a Christian president rather than a supposedly godless president. And those who see the legal foundations of the United States as secular, as its founding documents state, have the precedence of people like Jefferson and Madison on their side. It’s not simply that we were a secular nation and people forgot, it’s that some people simply could not grasp it at the time, and that tradition seems to have run parallel to the actual law and history.
In short, there are always idiots in society, and it may be the case that they will never go away. One of the weaknesses of democracy is that those idiots also get to vote, and thus we have Michel Bachmann and Rick Perry.
Reading Jonathan Haidt as a “New Atheist” December 5, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: atheist community, evolutionary psychology, group selection, Jonathan Haidt, Moral Psychology, new atheism, politics, religion, science, templeton foundation, The Righteous Mind
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A week ago I wrote a quick post about how I was reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, and quoted a bit from early on in the book. I am nearly done the book (I have one chapter left), and although I liked much of the early book and think that some of what he thinks about the relationship between our moral instincts and subsequent rationalizations of them are worth reading, I must conclude that i am not on-board with Haidt’s approach to religion, especially his criticisms of the “New Atheists.”
In chapter 11, Religion is a Team Sport, Haidt tries to deconstruct the new atheist approach, following on his anti-worshiping of reason from earlier in the book, and says we need to address religion for what is is (a group selected set of community-building institutions) rather than what it is not (a set of beliefs, ideas, etc). He thinks that our attention to beliefs as motivators for action is too simplistic, and points out that “belonging” has to be placed along with belief and action, in the matrix of religious behavior.
Well, yes of course it does!
I don’t need to get into the details of what is wrong with the book, at least in terms of the criticism of the new atheists, because that has already been done:
PZ Myers has thoughts about Haidt’s relationship to the Templeton Foundation, and thus to accommodationism in general.
Als0, Helian has a good critique which points to another good critique from the New York Times by William Saletan.
I agree that there are parts of the book which are quite worth-while. I did just get it from my local library, after all, and didn’t spend a cent to read it. If you are interested in moral psychology, evolutionary psychology, and group selection (whether or not you agree with any of those research areas specifically), then I suggest reading at least the first several chapters.
But what was most telling was that Haidt kept on talking about the difference between what makes a group work well and what does not. His conclusion is that religion makes groups work well, at least for members of the group. Atheists who ask us to leave religion, as individuals or as a species, risk losing what Haidt sees as the glue that can hold us together.
Haidt is seemingly unfamiliar (due to lack of mention) with any new atheist thoughts past 2007 or so (the book was published in 2012). Perhaps the problem is that he is unaware that many atheists have been working, especially in the last 2-3 years, on building up an atheist community. No, we may not have anything sacred (not even science), but we are working on creating a sense of what it means to be skeptical, non-religious, and living in a world with potential for beauty and terrible atrocity.
Religion is not the only force for group-cohesion, even if it has the advantage of having sacred spaces, authority, and thus loyalty (what Haidt identifies as primarily conservative values). I believe that care, a concern for fairness/ justice, and a sense of liberty (what Haidt identifies as what liberals tend to prioritize) are means to creating community as well. We do not need to give up a concern for what is true (a value Haidt does not list, interestingly, especially because it is a high value for many new atheists, including myself) in order to create shared group identities.
Haidt, an atheist himself, is not connected to the atheist community. Perhaps if he was, then his arguments would not be so poor. Perhaps we should invite him to the party?
Pwning Bill O’Reilly’s Christian Philosophy November 29, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: bill o reilly, Bill O'Reilly, Dave Silverman, philosophy, politics, religion, separation of church and state, theology
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This hit the interwebs today
Now, this is not the first time Bill O’Reilly and Dave Silverman have met up to create fireworks. Remember the tides thing? I do not know how much of Bill O’Reilly’s on-air personality is an act, or if he really believes what he says in segments such as these, but the things he says are believed by many people, perhaps (in some cases) because Bill O’Reilly says them.
So, O’Reilly claims that Christianity is not a religion, but is a philosophy instead. This is no different than the dozens of times I have heard Christians claim that their relationship with Jesus/God is not a religion, because religion is man-man and this is the truth.
Let’s start by granting that mere philosophical symbols and ideas are fair to display in government space. Much of what the Framers of the Constitution were doing, after all, is political and moral philosophy. Go to the Jefferson memorial and read the walls; that’s philosophy. Seeing images and carvings of Plato, Aristotle, or even religious and historically significant characters (such as Moses or Hammurabi) on government buildings is commonplace, because these figures play a part in our culture’s history—but so does religion, right? So what’s the difference?
OK, so let’s consider a non-Christian ideology such as Buddhism, which is fundamentally philosophical in many respects but also has many of the characteristics of a religion, especially where it is mythologized and supernatural components are included. Would an image of the Buddha, with some quotes from his attributed sayings, be fair game on government property? More relevant here, would Bill O’Reilly have an issue with such displays?
I do not knows what O’Reilly would think here, but my guess is he would be OK with it so long as it does not get in the way of his traditions. So long as Buddhists were not trying to usurp his holiday traditions, I don’t think he’d care. But should secular-minded people care? Should I care?
This is tricky, because the distinction between philosophy and religion is thin in many traditions, Buddhism included. I would say that insofar as any message on government property is not giving privileged or unequal support for any of the mythological, ritualistic, and supernatural aspects of any philosophy or religion, then there is no problem from a secularist’s point of view. That is, so long as Buddhisms presence in such spaces leans towards its philosophical roots, and not its specifically religious traditions, then I don’t think there is an issue.
But we’ll worry about that when Buddhists start becoming anything near a majority. So, probably never.
Unlike Buddhism, however, Christianity is clearly a religion. Yes, it contains elements of philosophy, but I am not sure any religious traditions do not include philosophical ideas. But the essential component to the overwhelming majority of Christian theologies is the relationship between humankind and “God.” Christianity is not a mere collection of rational concepts or methods about finding what is true, beautiful, or wise, it is a set of metaphysical claims about the nature of the universe which has many traditional rituals, stories, and moral teachings.
The major distinction here is the presence of theology. Theology is a type of philosophy–the religious kind–and so if a tradition has a theology it is clearly a religion.
To claim that Christianity is a philosophy is to amputate a significant portion of what it does for believers. Where a thinker such as Plato used logic and dialogue to make propositions and criticisms about ideas, Christianity does this but it does so much more. To imply that Jesus was just a philosopher is to say he was just a man with mere ideas about the world. This view removes the divine messages including the metaphysical significance of the (supposed) sacrifice and makes concepts such as eternal life, eternal punishment, or even ultimate meaning impotent.
Wait…does that mean that this segment of his show reveals that Bill O’Reilly does not believe all of the mythological and metaphysical components of Christianity? Does that make O’Reilly some sort of humanist? Because if he does not think that Christianity is not religious (thus has nothing to do with supernatural claims) then why all the god-talk?
Again, I think this claim that Christianity is a philosophy is part of a set of cultural/apologetic moves to distinguish Christianity from mere religion. It usually takes the form of “I have a relationship with Jesus/God, and religion is a man-made lie!” In this case, O’Reilly seems to be doing something similar. ”Christianity,” he might say, “is not a man-made mere religion, it is the true philosophy given to us by god.” Well, if so, Papa Bear, then that makes it a religion.
I don’t think Bill O’Reilly has thought this through, so let’s consider him appropriately pwned.
Abolishing Resolution 58-10 (Winter displays in West Chester, PA) November 28, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: Christmas, politics, Tree of Knowledge, West Chester
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There is a public meeting in West Chester tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM where people will be able to speak on behalf of abolishing Resolution 58-10. Here’s the information:
313 W. Market St.
West Chester, 19380
Margaret Downey has just sent out a request for help concerning the issue of displays, including the Tree of Knowledge, at the West Chester courthouse. Here is her request:
We have one and a half days to flood the office of Commissioner Terence Farrell with messages asking him to abolish Resolution 58-10. He is voting on Thursday afternoon so we need people to immediately request that he allow other displays on the grounds of the Chester County Courthouse. We want the Commissioners to give us back our Free Speech Zone.
Here is the contact information for Commissioner Farrell who is the swing vote. Please contact Farrell’s office — no matter where you live. Say that if a Tree of Knowledge display was allowed back on the grounds, you would travel to West Chester to see it. This will bring money into the community and proves that the Commissioners understand the diversity of the community! Get passionate about your rights and freedom of expression. Please act now.
Jonathon Haidt on preferences and morality November 28, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
Tags: gay marriage, Jonathon Haidt, morality, politics, preferences, society
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Saying ” because I don’t want to” is a perfectly acceptable justification for one’s subjective preferences. Yet moral judgments are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong. I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you’re doing. I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is our moral reasoning. We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.
This is from page 44 of Jonathon Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind which I am currently reading.
This idea is central to how I have been thinking about morality in recent years, at least in conjunction to ideas very much like those in Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. I take it as axiomatic that preferences exist as the basis for much of our opinions, whether they be about politics, sex, religion, etc. I realize that our values are not chosen, but are the result of fundamental emotional/pre-conscious processes which we don’t have immediate or easy access to.
But when it comes to things like public policy, especially when it comes to things like sexual orientation, I recognize that there is a significant burden on those who seek to limit personal freedoms which derive from our fundamental preferences and desires. Religion is a devastating vehicle for such preferences—preserving and sanctifying them—but it is but one example of the great-grandparent of all vehicles for such things; culture. Culture is not good or bad, per se, but it carries traditions and concepts which we put there, often without knowing why. Culture is the storage space for all of our un-chosen fears, hopes, and everything in between.
It may be one of the great ironies of the human condition that we have to be willing to reject the specific preferences that we have for the sake of personal rights of others. I say it’s ironic, because those same sets of preferences are the bases by which we rationalize morality at all; our personal preferences are the bases for enlightened self-interest, the golden rule, etc. If we didn’t share the universal sets of personal preferences, then morality would not be relevant because we would feel no compulsion towards any particular action, let alone compassion. It is because we care about our own preferences that we can, and feel compelled to, care about the preferences of others.
I cannot change, and did not choose, that I am sexually attracted to women rather than men (overwhelmingly, anyway), any more than another person cannot change that they are attracted to men, all genders, etc. Thus, the same desires I have to create various levels of intimacy and commitment with women are analogous to the desires that gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and even sapiosexual people have for the subjects of their desires. My preferences are mine, and their preferences are theirs. When put next to each other and looked at inter-subjectively, no subjective preferences have a privileged status and all must be given equal initial weight (my like of John Rawls will be apparent here). Thus, gay marriage is as much a right as any other form of marriage between consenting adults, because my preference for women is no more inter-subjectively valid than a preference for men and so forth.
Cultural tradition (specifically religion), the storage space for those bigoted fears, disgusts, and shames concerning homosexuality, are not sufficient reasons to create discriminatory policies against some forms of those desires for intimacy and commitment.
We have our preferences, but those preferences cannot inform, on their own, how we create policies that affect other people, at least in cases where no non-consenting victim exists. And we have to keep in mind that as we dig into our minds (in the sense of Nietzsche’s concept of being archaeologists of the soul), we may find that preferences can change, and that we may grow new ones as we grow and learn. Because while we may not choose our preferences, we can at least expose our mind to new ways of seeing issues which may alter the way our unconscious mind prefers to react.
Pay attention to your immediate and unconscious reactions. Be mindful of feelings of disgust, shame, and fear in the site of things which we cannot find reasons to feel disgusted, shameful, or fearful of. Sometimes interesting facts emerge while probing our preferences. And sometimes our preferences, and thus our values, are actually just wrong and will need to be replaced, if that’s possible.
For the sake of our species I hope that values can be replaced. But if not, I hope that we can at least convince people who have those damaging preferences that they should accept that their preferences will not become laws to govern all.