Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Richard’s Awfully Big Religious Adventure (part 2)

Last night the UK’s Channel 4 broadcast the second and final part of Richard Dawkins’s series about religion, ‘The Root of all Evil?’

This was a much stronger and more challenging programme than the first episode. In that, Dawkins did no more than interview some lunatics on the fundamentalist fringes of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, point out the bleedin’ obvious (that they were lunatics), and express a wish that all religion would vanish from the earth, taking lunacy and fundamentalism with it. The moderate masses in each of the three major Abrahamic religions didn’t even appear on the radar.

The second episode had a bit more to get one’s teeth into: Dawkins addressed religion’s claims to be the foundation of morality, the issues surrounding the religious education of children, and, at last, he spoke to some moderates.

(There were still plenty of loonies, but the tone of the programme was quite different. Dawkins was far less argumentative and far more conciliatory with his interview subjects. This made me suspect that the editors deliberately used all the fire and brimstone to get the series to go off with a controversial, publicity-generating bang at the start.)

Regarding morality, Dawkins observes that the Old Testament – the foundation of most religious claims to moral authority – is internally inconsistent, and where it isn’t inconsistent is quite often wicked. He criticises the notion of doing good out of fear of hellfire rather than for its own sake, and makes the case for an evolutionary origin of morality based on the benefits of mutual cooperation. Nothing I could disagree with and nothing much earth-shattering for anyone who has engaged in this kind of debate.

Education
But his look at religious education (or as he called it, the 'religious indoctrination' of children) did give me pause for thought.

Dawkins put the question: For what reason, other than the fact that centuries of practice have meant we’ve got used to it, do we allow the religious labelling of children from birth? A child of Muslim parents is automatically Muslim; a child of Christian parents automatically Christian, etc. We would never label a child with its parents’ political beliefs, so why do otherwise liberal, choice-valuing societies tolerate this ‘indoctrination’ into a particular sectarian belief system during the most crucial formative years?

Tricky one, eh? Not tricky for the religious, but tricky for someone who, like me, claims to be happy to tolerate all faiths to the extent that they themselves are tolerant, and to place paramount importance on individual freedom to choose.

It’s an easy enough matter when it comes to publicly-funded education. Dawkins visits some crackpot private faith schools where the science lessons have God on every page and include details of Noah’s Ark. Most sane people agree that this sort of ‘education’ shouldn’t be funded by the public purse.

But it’s a more difficult question when it comes to whether communities should be allowed to isolate children and teach them articles of faith as if they were facts. Children brought up in small loony Waco-style cults are considered victims of brainwashing and mental abuse. They have to be reintegrated into normal society when they’re older, often with great difficulty.

Dawkins’s programme raises the question: other than scale and sheer number of believers, what is the difference between indoctrination by a loony cult, and indoctrination by a Muslim or Jewish or Christian community?

Moderates
Over on Think of England I’ve got a reference to a famous joke from the satirical puppet show Spitting Image (if you never saw it, think Muppet-versions of politicians, but much nastier): There was a knock on the door. A man answered. “Do you believe in God?” he was asked. “Of course not,” he replied. “I’m Church of England.”

Dawkins interviews a clergyman from the liberal end of the Church of England – and let me tell you, that is pretty damn liberal. He doesn’t believe in the virgin birth and thinks gay marriage is fine. His reason for these variations from orthodoxy is Reason. Dawkins asks him the obvious question: so why do you bother being a Christian at all? His answer, as is always the moderate answer, is that the essence of the faith is more important than the literal words of Scripture. (He does believe in the Resurrection, but all moderates have their lines in the sand). Dawkins, of course, doesn’t buy this (though disappointingly, neither does he tenaciously argue the point).

Wrapping up
Dawkins finishes the programme with a slightly cheesy and predictable – but genuine – mountaintop plea for us all to enjoy and appreciate the wonder of the one world we live in, rather than enduring it in the hope of a non-existent afterlife.

But more significant was his earlier claim that religion is ‘an insult to human dignity’. After talking at length to another loony – a friend and defender of abortionist-murderer Paul Hill - Dawkins claims to have essentially liked the man, but to have been appalled to see him so warped by a twisted version of the Christian faith.

He quotes US physicist Steven Weinburg:

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

The extent to which you agree with this quote – and whether you suspect it is missing an extra clause, “although sometimes religion can make evil people become good” – will to a large extent determine whether you think Dawkins is brilliant, or misguided, or a menace.

As will your answers to these questions:

1) Would the world be a better place if all religious faith disappeared overnight without a trace?
2) Is there a practical way to make the worst aspects of religion – that is, violent hatred and intolerance – disappear? If so, what is that way?
3) Should we allow children to be brought up in a religious faith from a young age, before they get the chance to decide on these matters for themselves?
4) How do the benefits of religious faith balance against the negative consequences?
5) Is it desirable, or does it serve any good purpose, to initiate a giant debate between Reason and Faith, with the ultimate aim of producing one overall winner?
6) Supposing religious faith had never existed, do you think the history of mankind would have been significantly less bloody and intolerant, or would men have found other reasons to butcher each other?


Dawkins’s answers would be:
1) Yes
2) Yes, by persuading people that all faith is fundamentally misguided
3) No
4) They don’t even register
5) Yes
6) Yes, it would have been much less bloody.

For the record, my answers would be:
1)Yes
2) Hopefully, but persuading people that all faith is fundamentally misguided is unlikely to work and in fact could be self-defeating
3) I’d prefer not, but that’s complicated
4) They do register, but probably not enough to tip the scales
5) No
6) Maybe slightly less bloody, but they would certainly have found other reasons.

143 Comments:

Blogger Duck said...

1). Don't know. Be careful what you wish for.
2). It can't be done from without, religions must reform themselves. Western style secularization of government, liberalization of economic and social life seems to do the trick. But the worst of religion is still tied to the worst of nationalism/tribalism/racialism. If you don't cure these, then it won't matter what happens to religion.

3). Yes. Maintain the primacy of parents as the inculcators of religious and moral education. Keep the state out of it. State sponsored irreligion is as harmful to religious liberty as state sponsored religion.

4). Its a wash. Human nature goes deeper than religion, religion is he icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

5). No. Have debate, but if you force a winner-take-all playoff, religion will win, just because they rule in America and everywhere else but Europe.

6.) Not much changed (see 4 above). Tribalism, or exclusive us/them social groupings is an inbred social trait. Warring with neighboring tribes/clans/nations is the natural thing to do. Being at peace with them is unnatural, and takes an advanced level of cultural development. Religion is a follower, a justifier of social values, not an incubator of them.

January 17, 2006 10:02 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I say you can change religion from without, but it takes drastic measures.

I have long advocated what I call the bonifacian solution to the problem of Islam.

You will recall, I hope, that Boniface chopped down the sacred tree and defied the gods to do anything about it.

If Bush had had any sense, he would have invaded Iraq as the first campaign of a war against Islam as it exists, and some Army general would have said, 'We'r goin' in, and if Allah is on the other side, he'd better look to his knittin'.'

This would, one hopes, have led to a terrible struggle, akin to the Thirty Years' War, among Muslims, but in the long run, they'd have been better for it; and we could stop defending ourselves from these maniacs.

Religion in the American South was vastly changed by federal legislation, first against lynching, later requiring at least lip service to equal treatment.

If you haven't compared the preaching of the typical Southern Baptist preacher (not the exceptional, the typical) in 1956 and 2006, you could not believe the difference.

I do not believe that the actual belief has changed nearly so much. But behavior has, and that's all that counts.

You could say the same, with less emphasis, about American Christians (most of them) and their attitudes toward Jews.

January 17, 2006 10:44 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,

I agree that you can change cultural practices from without through force, but it is up to the theologians and imams and pastors to re-think their religious ideology to support the new practices. That's what I mean when I say that religion is a follower, not an incubator. People figure out how they have to live, then start living that way. Afterwards someone will have a vision or a revelation from God, or will read the sacred text with a new filter, and the new practices will be approved.

January 17, 2006 11:03 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Can't think of an historical example to back that up.

Most especially in respect to Islam, a failed religion in a failed society which has no shortage of reputable models in which it might remake itself.

The history of Islam is not lacking in backsliders from strict practice, but in every instance this evolution to some sort of decent arrangement has only spawned a new and ever more violent and savage puritanism. The Taliban are always presented as some sort of aberrant, extreme version of Islam.

Only the historically illiterate can think this. Talibanism is the central theme of Islam just as Jew-hatred is the central theme of Christianity. Other ideas come and go, but those are with us always.

Peter Brown has a good discussion of change of religion in 'Rise of Christendom in the West,' in the context of both the islamization of the ancient Christian cults of western Asia and of the non-zoroastrianization of the Iranian slaves in Iran and Iraq.

According to Brown, zoroastrianism was an exclusive sect, and Iranians regarded it as too good for outsiders, so made no effort to convert their conquests; nor did they persecute other religions, until Mani arose to create a threat to the state.

The slaves of the Iranians were mostly Christians and were not dissatisfied enough to change. They became Moslem by force, although not overnight.

I'll agree that doctrine is manipulated to make it fit situations, but the example of Jesus (assuming he ever existed) would seem to show that people invent theologies where there is no need or demand for a new one.

I am perhaps the last person in the world to understand why or how people choose to become superstitious, but I can sit on the sidelines and marvel.

January 17, 2006 3:11 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

[Dawkins] criticises the notion of doing good out of fear of hellfire rather than for its own sake...

That's a mistake that many people make with regards to the Old Testament, even most Christians: That the directions are WARNINGS, and not INSTRUCTIONS.

Part of that may have to do with the differences in style between archaic and modern speakers, part due to translation difficulties, and part to do with human nature.

Take, for instance, Exodus 20 - "The Ten Commandments".

One way to read them is "do these things, or God will throw you a beating" - "mess with the stove and get a thrashing".
Another way is "following these directions is the most efficient way to live your life, and things will be a lot smoother if everyone does so" - "that's a hot stove, and I recommend NOT TOUCHING IT".

Well, people have always been more attracted to the intense and controversial, as Brit points out with regards to Dawkin's first episode, and also people are more apt to obey out of fear, rather than from reason, as wrote Machiavelli, so it's not surprising that the moral teachings of the Bible are usually presented as "do it or [external force]", as opposed to "do it or [internal consequences]".

With regards to The Ten Commandments, we get: Don't squabble over competing God-figures, don't kill people out of spite, or for personal gain, don't betray people, don't let yourself get eaten up with envy or jealousy...

All good advice for how to achieve inner peace and contentment.

[O]ther than scale and sheer number of believers, what is the difference between indoctrination by a loony cult, and indoctrination by a Muslim or Jewish or Christian community?

Because those larger communities DON'T brainwash their kids, (at least, not with respect to the society at large), and therefore the kids DON'T "have to be reintegrated into normal society when they’re older, often with great difficulty" - they ARE part of "normal" society.

For most people, religion is a part of their lives, not the whole of life.
Which is either a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on how benign the religion is, but it's definitely the opposite of a CULT thing, where religion is all.

1) No. Religious faith is, in the end, merely an expression of spirituality, and the expression of such brings humans joy, comfort, and hope.
Otherwise, the rational choice is at the very least hedonism, and at worst, narcissism.

Besides, spirituality is hard-wired in humans, and who knows how things would change if we eliminated it ?
As Duck says, it could be "from frying pan to fire".

3) In the U.S., at least, there's no way to stop that.
Also, many people are brought up to be religious, and then ditch that when they grow up, so why is it better for them to grow up without, and then have some of them decide that they WANT to be religious ?

"Religious instruction" for the vast majority of American children consists of visiting a place of worship once in a while, and maybe some weekly "holy book" study for the more involved families.
It's quite low-key, and mostly casual.

There certainly do exist sub-cultures where American families put religion above all else, but they are a SMALL minority.

The Amish, for instance, but not Mormons.

5) No. In the first place, there aren't that many people who are CAPABLE of high-level reasoning - certainly less than half of the adult population - so a "final victory" of Reason over Superstition is flat out IMPOSSIBLE.

Maybe after widespread genetic engineering brings the average IQ up twenty points...

But Dawkins himself is no example of a Man of Reason, he just holds differing irrational beliefs than do most - Irony Meter pegged at 11, Amusement Gauge hovering mid-range.

6) Bloody.

January 18, 2006 1:40 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Otherwise, the rational choice is at the very least hedonism, and at worst, narcissism.

The rational choice need be neither of these things. The rational choice should lead to the way of life that experience tells the individual is the most rewarding and meaningful. Hedonism and narcissism usually prove to be dead ends, leaving people to ask themselves "is there anything more?".

Theistic religion is just one way to fulfill what is generally called man's spiritual needs. As spiritual is a term that is pre-loaded with theistic overtones, I would say instead man's need for meaning.

January 18, 2006 6:29 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Can't think of an historical example to back that up.

Well, once southern Christians were prevented from owning slaves by the Emancipation Proclamation, and northern force, at some point their theologians determined that the Bible doesn't approve of slavery after all.

Once capitalism took off in Europe, Christians rethought the Bible's ban on usury.

After the US cracked down on Mormon polygamy, someone in the church hierarchy determined that polygamy was wrong in accordance with their scriptures.

January 18, 2006 6:46 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Harry:

I’d have thought that one glance at the founding and subsequent development of the teachings of the Church of England will back up Duck’s point. In the West at least, mass religion is as often as not a dedicated follower of fashion.


Oroborous:

...the rational choice is at the very least hedonism, and at worst, narcissism.

Strange how this word ‘rational’ gets bandied about in these debates as if it were a term of abuse.

A look at experience and evidence should show that hedonism and narcissism are thoroughly irrational as paths to happiness.

Meanwhile, if you believe in eternal hellfire, following the 10 Commandments because of it is eminently rational. Pascal argued that it is rational even if you don’t believe in hellfire, just in case you’re wrong.

Your interpretation of the 10 Commandments as a sort of ancient self-help manual is also based on your reasoning faculties.

But you’re right that the fear of hellfire is often a prime motive in Christian teachings. To put it in the context of the programme, Dawkins made the complaint about doing good out of fear rather than for its own sake having just spent the day with a Pastor Keenan Roberts, who feels it his mission to spread the word of Jesus by scaring the living daylights out of US 12 year-olds with pornographic blood and guts ‘Hellhouse’ movies.

Because those larger communities DON'T brainwash their kids, (at least, not with respect to the society at large), .... For most people, religion is a part of their lives, not the whole of life.

Agreed – that is certainly true for most of the moderates.

But the brainwashy element is nonetheless large enough not to be dismissed. Significant numbers of evangelical Christians in America and Hasidic Jews in London are teaching their kids as fact that the earth was created at a point in history some years after the agricultural revolution.

How does that differ from any lunatic cult, and why do we allow it?

January 18, 2006 7:20 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Hedonism and narcissism usually prove to be dead ends, leaving people to ask themselves "is there anything more?"

Ah, but the nonspiritualist knows that there is nothing more.

If a person knows that there is more, then by definition they're "spiritual" and "nonrational", since neither reason nor the mortal coil can support faith.

January 18, 2006 7:22 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Strange how this word ‘rational’ gets bandied about in these debates as if it were a term of abuse.

I intended "rational" to mean "best choice based on a logical analysis of known facts".

A look at experience and evidence should show that hedonism and narcissism are thoroughly irrational as paths to happiness.

How so ?
That's like saying that "money doesn't buy happiness", which is, strictly speaking, true, but it's also true that a LACK of money usually brings unhappiness with it.

If one must derive what pleasure and meaning that one can strictly from one short & mortal life, with no consequence or meaning after death, then whyever would one NOT choose hedonism ?

Significant numbers of evangelical Christians in America [...] are teaching their kids as fact that the earth was created at a point in history some years after the agricultural revolution.

What's "significant"? In America, it's less than a quarter of families, possibly fewer than 10%.

Further, it rarely interferes with "real life" - it's irrelevant WHEN your barber, chef, accountant, lawyer, etc. thinks the Earth was created, or how.
I know for a fact that one can hold that view, and be a functional U.S. Naval Flight Officer.

If it causes no harm, why worry about it ?

Finally, regardless of WHAT American kids get taught at home, they have ample opportunity as adults to disabuse themselves of any dysfunctional notions.
The larger American society doesn't support creationist ideas, (though neither is it hostile to such), and so at some point, people must take responsibility for whatever they believe as adults - they'll have had many opportunities to change their mind, and if they don't care to, then it's THEIR choice, not childhood brainwashing.

How does that differ from any lunatic cult, and why do we allow it?

Well, in today's America, we CAN'T STOP IT, so it's not really a question of "allow", except in the largest societal sense...

January 18, 2006 7:46 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

How so?

I guess I'm making an assumption about what you mean by 'hedonism', but I'm thinking a rejection of family life, binge-drinking, plus sex,drugs and optional rock n' roll.

Our survey shows that 9 out of 10 such hedonists report that while it was fun while it lasted, the net result was liver failure, STDs and a lonely old age, with a distinct lack of meaning and fulfilment.

January 18, 2006 7:54 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

If one must derive what pleasure and meaning that one can strictly from one short & mortal life, with no consequence or meaning after death, then whyever would one NOT choose hedonism ?

There are consequences after death - to those who live after us. My actions on earth will affect my children and their children long after I am dead. Ditto for the world I live in. You might ask why I would care if I have no fear of punishment, but the point is I do. People derive meaning in their mortal life from devoting themselves to other people and other times outside of the confines of their individual life. That is the "more" I am talking about, not "more life for me".

Can you really say that the only reason you care about the legacy that your actions will have on your children and grandchildren is because you fear punishment for not considering them?

January 18, 2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Brit, no my understanding of Anglican religious teaching. I am reading, simultaneously, Jonathan Clark's 'English Society 1688-1832' and Robert Hughes' 'The Fatal Shore,' and you couldn't find two more divergent views of what the mass of Englishmen felt about religion.

I'm with Hughes.

You are closer to the subject, but my understanding is that Anglican doctrine did not change significantly until it lost all believers and became a racket for a tiny band of overintellectualized aesthetes. I hardly believe the 'Red Dean' preached to anybody but himself and London journalists.

Duck, the change in southern Christianity, concerning slavery, was externally driven, which I thought was the point I was making.

January 18, 2006 8:52 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
Maybe I'm making too fine a distinction, but the Emancipation Proclamation was about changing behavior, not religious belief. I'm sure that it took a while for many of the southern Christians to "see the light", if they ever did. But eventually a generation of southerners were far enough removed from the perpetrator of slavery to agree that it was not in keeping with their Christian faith. Changes in belief take longer than changes in behavior, but eventually people have to reconcile their beliefs to their behaviors, and so beliefs are re-aligned.

January 18, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Brit:

1) How hypothetical does a question have to be before rendering an answer pointless?

2) Not completely.

All the existing religions include manifestly evil direction as part of their god's imprimatur. It is very difficult to remove one part of the faith edifice without threatening the structural integrity of the rest. Christianity, for various reasons, has managed this to some extent over the last 400 years. But even so, among other inanities, there are some True Believers desiring some perfectly frightening things in order to hasten the Second Coming.

Islam is way up a creek on this one.

3) See 1) above.

4) In secular countries such as the US, with strict governmental neutrality (as opposed to hostility) towards religion, and a consequently thriving sphere for private religious expression -- a Jeffersonian marketplace for religion (which is somewhere between ironic and oxymoronic, but true nonetheless) -- the benefits outweigh the costs. Not so for the other 90% of the world, or nearly 100% of human history.

5) Yes, but a small debate. Reason has injected a small measure of doubt about possessing Absolute Truth into most believers. Consequently, the population of True Believers is smaller. Given human nature, not only is that sufficient, it is also the only end obtainable absent coercion.

6) Half as bloody. Differences in language and appearance would still be with us, as well as a tribal tendency towards rapaciousness.

However, there many conflicts are simply incomprehensible without the religious dimension adding a whole new level of tribal conflict. As a small example, Mormon history is not without persecution, unexplainable except by religiously based grievance.

Similarly, the history of the Asian subcontinent since India's independence makes no sense absent sectarian animus.

Then there is the centuries long Shia - Sunni - Sufi antagonism ...

January 18, 2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

...the rational choice is at the very least hedonism, and at worst, narcissism.

Those are potential choices, but far from the only, and probably the least plausible from the range available.

Keeping in mind human nature, that is.

People derive satisfaction and enjoyment from a great many things, varying according to the individual, and probably not particularly amenable to religious faith.

For instance, most people derive a great deal of satisfaction from their family, to the extent that while hedonism might be attractive in the abstract, it will never win in reality, because hedonism and family are pretty much mutually exclusive.

As are narcissism and family.

As well, hedonism, narcissism, and a decent job rarely play well together.

Life is a material thing, and very much like an engineering project in that the best outcomes are almost always the result of carefully balancing competing forces. Its kind of like chess -- the rules are pretty easy to explain, but some are far better at employing them than others.

And because Life is a material thing, all actions in life have material consequences.

Which means concluding that a rational choice is merely between hedonism and narcissism is a false dichotomy.

January 18, 2006 10:54 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Skipper,

Per your answer to number 6 above, I would say that you are partially correct to point out that these odd splits between Shia and Sunnis are religious, but only because religion is the preferred prism through which societies choose to project cultural identities and cultural differences. There are ethnic, familial, geographic and historical reasons between such splits that the umbrella of religion is hiding.

I'd liken human societies to the heavy elements. Once a critical mass is achieved, they fission. Societies are unstable in this way. If mankind did not have a propensity for supernatural explanations of natural phenomena, he would still be beholden to his clannish impulses, and would justify us/them divides by some non-deistic philosophical rationale, depending on the maturity & sophistication of the societies cultural development. This is my theory.

January 18, 2006 11:44 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Hmmmm...

Well, I guess that I'm the only twisted perv here, since if I had no belief in Eternity, I'd definitely play more, and contribute less to charity.
I consider ALL humans to be part of my "tribe", but that's due in part to my belief that we're all interconnected at a higher level, whether you want to call it "Celestial" or "The Force" - active or passive.

If I had no such belief, I'd contribute for emergency relief, such as recovering from earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, but nothing towards attempting to help the global poor become more self-sustaining, because what's the point ?

They were unlucky at birth, are going to die anyhow, and will likely contribute nothing whatsoever of value to humanity as a whole...

It's a waste of time and effort, not to mention resources, to help 'em survive.

My use of the word "hedonism" was ill-chosen, since my concept of the meaning appears to be less extreme than everyone else's.
What I meant was that if one lives one's life always in the moment, it makes sense to consume more butter, and invest in fewer guns.

Religion can help people think in terms of a longer horizon.

January 18, 2006 3:42 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Like the "Make a Wish Foundation" - if the kids are going to die anyway, and if there's nothing beyond the carnal, why pay extra for these kids to have experiences that they're going to soon take to the grave ?

January 18, 2006 3:45 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Oh, and forget that "hellfire" nonsense.

Little kids obey their parents because they fear punishment, but older children obey (when they do) because they want their parents to be proud of them.

So too with religionists.
There are many fearful people hewing to the line because they have vivid dreams of damnation, but many (most ?) have higher motivations.

January 18, 2006 3:50 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oroborous:

If I had no such belief, I'd contribute for emergency relief, such as recovering from earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, but nothing towards attempting to help the global poor become more self-sustaining, because what's the point ?

Interesting.

As it turns out, I contribute significantly to emergency relief, and not at all towards helping the poor.

And while I don't think that difference has anything to do with my religious beliefs, it is worth noting you hit the cleavage exactly.

... if one lives one's life always in the moment, it makes sense to consume more butter, and invest in fewer guns.

Absolutely.

But material investment makes sense only in this material life, so the reason for doing (or not doing, as the case may be) certain things today in anticipation of some tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with religious belief, does it?

if the kids are going to die anyway, and if there's nothing beyond the carnal, why pay extra for these kids to have experiences that they're going to soon take to the grave ?

Two reasons, I suppose. First, that is true of all of us; it is just that for some, the grave is sooner, rather than later.

Second, and most importantly, because those who give to these kids (or any matter of charity) derive more pleasure from the act than they would by keeping the money for themselves.

Pleasure being a material thing, of course.

January 18, 2006 4:41 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

This is why I love the Daily Duck. We explore the full scope of intellectual inquiry from religion as an embarassing idiocy we should suffer patiently until the old ladies die out to religion as a lethal menace we should strive to eradicate.

Ain't Western Civilization grand?

January 18, 2006 6:40 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Religion as an embarrassing idiocy?

That's a bit harsh; I wouldn't have put it that way.

Rather, religion as furiously perplexing.

For instance. Above, Oroborous noted there are a couple ways to look at the decalogue, one of which had never occurred to me.

Which is where perplexment sets in. Why is it that all revealed religions mix practical, time-tested, directions on what constitutes a well lived life with all sorts of vicious retribution in the event of incorrect obsequiousnesses?

Granting my blinkered materialist outlook, but for the life of me I can't understand why God cares a tinker's darn about anyone's worship habits, so long as they live a Good Life.

Yet, according to all major religions, their God cares as much about fealty as actions, and woe unto those with faulty fealty.

Does that bother you at all?

That is an honest question, BTW, and the one that as much as any other caused me to discard organized religion.

January 18, 2006 7:28 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Peter - LOL

Skipper:

[M]aterial investment makes sense only in this material life, so the reason for doing [...] certain things today in anticipation of some tomorrow has absolutely nothing to do with religious belief, does it?

Not directly, but religious belief fosters a long-range perspective in humans.

Lack of religious belief lends itself to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

Here's something relevant that Lou Gots posted at the Mothership, regarding how religion effects a positive social environment:

"Of course the mechanism of social advantage is "discipline," but the advantage is that religion provides inner discipline, which is extremely efficient. Replacing it with external discipline is both costly and destructive."

But, the whole is about the interaction of religion, culture, and society.
Muslim Arabs live in highly religious cultures and societies, but they have no modern tradition of scientific inquiry or technological manufacture, so they tend less towards guns and more towards butter, despite their religiousity.

However, they do have a fall-back - copy the West - it worked for Asia, after all.
The House of Saud and the UAE are well along that path, and good on 'em.

First, that is true of all of us; it is just that for some, the grave is sooner, rather than later.

Yes, it's true for all, and much more so in the past; but they still pursued education and enlightening experiences.

The difference is that whether death is frequent or rare, for most of us it's a surprise.
For these kids, it's a near-given.

January 18, 2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

"We explore the full scope of intellectual inquiry from religion as an embarassing idiocy we should suffer patiently until the old ladies die out to religion as a lethal menace we should strive to eradicate."

I don't think Peter's being too harsh - I think he's about right. Though I'm a big fan of Handel's Messiah, so perhaps it should be: Embarrasing idiocy, lethal menace, nice songs...

Harry:

I was thinking along the lines of the ordination of women, the acceptance of gays, gay marriage, gay priests, and soon women bishops. The Anglicans seem to be currently favouring feminist and queer Lit Crit interpretations of scripture.


Orobrous:

religious belief fosters a long-range perspective in humans.

Lack of religious belief lends itself to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die".


Yes, that's the theory - I'd like to see the stats.

I can give you one stat: nobody ever flew a plane into the World Trade Centre without a long-range perspective.

January 19, 2006 1:26 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I could argue that a belief in an afterlife curtails the need for any long-term planning, at least with regards to stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants. If you are going to spend an eternity in Heaven, then this earth is nothing more than a bus station that you'll only visit once. You would have no logical reason for leaving the station in a neat and tidy state once you catch your ride out of town.

Oro, per Brit's question, where's the beef? Where are the stats? If you haven't spent time as an atheist yourself, or haven't done a controlled study of them, then your assumptions about atheist behavior are pure conjecture. I've been on both sides of the divide, and I can tell you that religious belief really doesn't count for much with regard to character or behavior. We've been conditioned to believe that ideas are the driving force of values, behavior and character, generally by people in the idea business, like priests and university professors who want to believe that their work is the life blood of civilization. But things like the will to live, the will to find meaning and to participate in a larger community go much deeper than the cerebral cortex. We'd all like to think that our lives are ruled by logic, but it isn't so. Logic is just a tool, come late to the evolutionary game, that the deeper self uses to advance it's will. It is a servant, not a ruler.

January 19, 2006 6:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, if there's no upside in giving a handout to the poor, there's even less in investing in cathedrals, and even less than that in burying your gold with your corpse.

Compassion may have mysterious origins, but one thing we can be sure of: it came before religion, and religion is the enemy of compassion.

Oroborous: read Rod Colvin's 'Evil Harvest' and then get back to me about how much fear of the hereafter motivates people.

January 19, 2006 12:20 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Oroborous,

Sorry if that last post sounded angry, it wasn't meant to be.

January 19, 2006 2:14 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Presidential libraries are all fine and dandy, but I'm lobbying for public support for the Harry Eagar library. Such a unique collection of scholarship may be lost forever if we don't act now.

January 19, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: We don't have a duck in this fight. I, for one, was enjoying the discussion. It was much like Sister Mary Catherine's Sex Education Class.

January 19, 2006 3:34 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Duck:

No worries.

Harry:

Mike Ryan proves that there are still crazy people roaming the Earth, but not much more.

He had fewer followers than did Koresh, who had fewer than Jim Jones, who had fewer than Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who had fewer than Moon Yong-myung, AKA Sun Yung Moon...

There are plenty of nuts and impressionable, submissive people who fall under the spell of a charismatic and/or intense and/or domineering leader.
That says nothing about how much of the behavior of more-normal people is fear-driven.

January 19, 2006 3:37 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Does that bother you at all?

I assure you there are many things about religion and religious belief in the hands of mankind that bother me tremendously. It ain't for the faint of heart. Do you think we should blame: A) Religion; B) Mankind; or C) G-d?

Take your time.

David:

I agree. Sigh. No ducks on the Daily Duck. How sad. I'll behave.

BTW, don't tell anyone, but I always had this thing for Sister Mary Catherine.

January 19, 2006 4:26 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

It ain't for the faint of heart.

Which part?

Do you think we should blame:

Depends. Let's take a concrete example, Deuteronomy 13:12-16.

Are those words, which direct believers to slaughter heretics solely for faulty fealty, G-d's?

David:

You say you don't have a duck in this fight. It seems to me you do, and are ducking it.

Dawkins is essentially asserting that all revealed religion contains significant elements that would be considered horrific in any other context.

What happens when the god gloss goes on?

Brit nailed it: if you want to get people to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, or blow up people on a bus, or hope for the ultimate conflagration in Israel that will destroy all the Jews and bring about the End Times, then there is simply nothing like religion.

You could convince me otherwise, or demonstrate how those believers have it wrong.


Oroborous:

religious belief fosters a long-range perspective in humans

Does that include dispensationalists (or maybe its millenialists)? The Rapture, due any day now, is scarcely an incentive for worrying about the solvency of Social Security.

Except for the soon to be enraptured, few of us know of our demise. All of us, religious or otherwise, face the same material considerations in filling the gap between now and then.

Lack of religious belief does not lend itself in any way to "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

Unlike going into combat. Which has that effect regardless of one's beliefs.

January 19, 2006 7:13 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Well, I see I'm a little late jumping into the fray, but since I consider myself the resident nonreligious, nontheist who thinks religion is a good thing and that science shares many of the same belief characteristics as religion, what the heck:

1) No. Much worse. Religion acts as rudder and keel for the ship of society. Slows ya down a little, but keeps society from being blown around by every little gust of wind.

2) It can be somewhat mitigated by never tolerating intolerance.

3) Yes, parents should be allowed to bring up their children as they see fit. Careful, many consider the real question to be whether or not parents should be allowed to raise their children as nonbelievers, so I wouldn't go there if I was Dawkins.

4) The negative consequences are totally overblow by Dawkins, etc. I think France is a good example of how a non-religious society would operate and I'd much, much rather live here.

5) Reason can never win in the long run so it's probably pointless.

6) We would've been a different species so it's hard to say. I'm quite convinced that we'd still be pre-stone age, so the violence was well worth it to me because life without flush toilets is not worth living in my opinion. What's wrong with violence anyway? Peace is hugely overrated in my opinion.

January 19, 2006 11:29 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

"Peace is overrated"...

Unless you mean some kind of tense non-violence that technically qualifies as peace, a "Mexican standoff", then I disagree.

I do agree that peace has a describable value, and the cost to avoid violence can be higher than maintaining the peace is worth.

But much of what's been fought over, throughout the millenia, just wasn't worth it.

Even our current Excellent Iraqi Adventure is only the second-best choice; crippling the Arabs economically by ending the need to purchase their ancient go-juice would have worked out MUCH better for the West in the long run.

January 20, 2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Bret:

"I think France is a good example of how a non-religious society would operate and I'd much, much rather live here."

France is officially secular, but in terms of its population's habits is no more secular than the UK and many other western countries.

There's certainly not much in it, anyway. According to this survey, 16% of Britons consider religion to be very important in their lives, compared to 14% in France and 13% in Germany (53% in the US).

Given the fundamental differences in outlook between the French and the British, this suggests to me that religion is overrated as a guide to the attractiveness of the society.

Most cultural commentators go on about the Anglosphere and the 'Axis of Good'. In Australia only 14% regularly go to Church. In the UK it's now about 10%. New Europe is mostly less pious than Old Europe.

Plenty of non-religious societies operate just fine.

100% of Nigeria's population believes in God and 89% go to Church regularly.

Taking your argument to its logical conclusion, Nigeria should be the best place in the world to live - twice as good as the the US and some 10 times better than the UK.

Religion isn't a guide.

January 20, 2006 1:39 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I agree with Brit. The idea of religion as the rudder is just that, an idea, promulgated by religious idea men who want to be in the societal rudder business.

The rudder can be any shared sense of identity and values that has worked well enough for society to form a tradition. Obviously, with the collapse of the CofE as a meaningful cultural force in England, and the obstinate refusal of English society to collapse on cue in accordance with the script, some other secular rudder must be at work.

January 20, 2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Ask any woman to imagine the following scenario: She is lost in a none-too-safe neighbourhood. She is going down a dark street. On each side of the street three men are coming the other way. All she knows is that the group on the right consists of religious Christians or Jews and the other does not. Which side would she go down? What would you advise her?

I imagine Harry would say the left because the Christians are likely to slaughter her, but how about you?

January 20, 2006 7:29 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Oroborous, regarding my comment "Peace is overrated", I actually think we're mostly in agreement, since I did NOT write "Peace is undesirable".

January 20, 2006 8:01 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

I don't see that one at all.

I could just as easily posit this one: suppose one set is a group of young male Muslims with suspicious packages in their backpacks, and the other is the local poetry club.

January 20, 2006 8:05 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck & Brit, regarding your responses to my religion as a rudder comment. I think the time frame you're looking at is too short. The CofE's influence declined last century, while christian values provided at least part of the environment in which the Anglospheres infrastructure evolved for millennia. Second, the United States is the leader and rudder of the Anglosphere now, and the U.S. is pretty religious. Indeed, the United States is pretty much the leader and rudder of the whole world IMHO, and again, it projects values to the world.

Another perspective on the rudder concept goes something like this. I've noticed that (devoted) NY Times readers have a remarkably consistent and constant worldview. In this sense, the NY Times acts as a rudder/keel for that community. The bible (and the torah, koran, etc.) have a similar effect, though over a much, much longer timeframe. There is little doubt in my mind that indoctrination using a constant source of literature acts as a keel/rudder. My ancestors and my children (somehow it skipped me) have read the same passages in the torah (in the same language!) for thousands of years. I'm absolutely convinced that provides some sort of continuity and am amazed that you would think it would not. You might try to say that it's just cultural/traditional, but they are religious stories, not just cultural stories.

I'd like to retract my sarcastic comment regarding France since it did nothing to further the debate and indeed hurt my position by allowing you to throw Nigeria back my way. Religion is one of many factors influencing human interaction. The question is not whether we can find one single example to illustrate our points but whether or not at the margin, religion is a helpful or harmful influence. The influence is so complicated that the answer is really not knowable, but I look at it as a risk/benefit tradeoff. There's no provable benefits and the risk of weakening religion is enormous.

January 20, 2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

the United States is the leader and rudder of the Anglosphere now, and the U.S. is pretty religious. Indeed, the United States is pretty much the leader and rudder of the whole world IMHO, and again, it projects values to the world.

Hey, I'm as pro-American as we Limeys get, but even I draw the line at that level of hubris.

January 20, 2006 8:28 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

Your Honour, would you please direct the witness to answer the question?

Poets vs Islamicists? Tough call, that. But look, to save time, I will readily agree that the bare profession of religious belief doesn't mean much. The situation gets murkier when you start talking about people who consciously try to order their lives according to their traditions and faith. That would also be true of reverent stoics, but the question with them is why they are so few in number.

So, I'm not so much disagreeing as suggesting the question has been posed so broadly and vaguely it can't be answered, even to the extent of asserting it's a wash.

January 20, 2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
I am so glad you asked that question, it is one that Dennis Prager asks all the time, except the one group has just gotten out of Bible study class.

What if the religious guys are Irish Catholics who just left a bar after closing? (sorry to pick on the Irish, substitute any ethnicity known for drinking, brawling and religiosity).

What if the non-religious guys just got out of a book club meeting? Or an astronomy club meeting?

The point is that knowing something about where the guys are going or where they are coming from will give the woman reason to put her mind at ease , if that purpose is something you would associate with a stable, productive, law abiding member of society. No information about them at all will tend to raise fears and doubts.

But most important will be the visual clues that the woman would discern from their behavior, appearance, and dress. If the religious guys look inebriated and are acting rowdy, then anything she might know about their religious commitments will be tossed out the window.

January 20, 2006 8:55 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

I agree. If she can see it's three drunk and naked Jimmy Swaggarts swaggering down the street, she'd definitely be better off with the shy secularists she miraculously knows just finished their volunteer shift at the women's shelter.

Prager's toast against you.

January 20, 2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, Dennis has stopped replying to my e-mails. I actually called into his show once.

Generally I think he is a very thoughtful and reasonable guy, and tend to agree with about 95% of what he says, as far as matters that have some practical application to life, that is. But he just gets stuck on this one hangup that you religious types always bring up - without belief in God, life is meaningless, no need for long term planning, eat drink and be merry and then shoot yourself in the morning, blah, blah, blah.

January 20, 2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Given the original setup, I don't think the woman has any rational basis for making a choice.

Then later posters add various caveats, none allowing for style points.

Who is more likely to rape a little boy, a Catholic priest in his study or a neo-nazi on the street? The question answers itself.

Peter, I actually have an epistemological stance to justify my library. In a world where there are 70,000 new books published each year just in English, not to mention all the emphemera like the Daily Duck, plus the millions of books published before I was born, the idea of being 'well read' loses meaning.

You can read systematically -- my favorite example is the work of the Birmingham physicists who ransacked the library for clues to improving radar and saved western civilization by turning German mathematics against the German army -- or you can just read whatever takes your fancy and apply it sort of systematically to whatever else you read.

This allows me, serendipitously, to make many otherwise unlikely connections, some of them possibly even valid.

The interest to me of the Ryan cult is not that he was a successful powergrabber but that all his recruits were deeply sincere and (in their minds) careful religionists, yet their religions (some were Catholic, some Protestant) offered them no defense against Ryan.

I found Colvin's book extremely difficult to read. You would have to travel a long day to find secularists doing that sort of stuff (although you could). Those of you who do not know the story of the Ryan cult cannot begin to imagine the depravity of it.

The key point is not that it was justified as evil but that it was justified as being good -- the will of Yahweh.

January 20, 2006 10:36 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Watching a group of people whose only connection is their self-exclusion from a group agree with each other about how the world would be better off without the group is not a fight and can't be ducked. This is exactly what OJ does when he seeks to ban some activity from which he takes no pleasure.

You guys don't like religion. I don't care; I'm not even a little bit evangelical and you're powerless to actually effect religion. You do like where western civilization has brought us, but like to speculate that you can pull out one of the foundation stones without destroying the edifice. Yawn. Sometimes these discussions are interesting on their own terms, hermetically sealed off from real life. This discussion I just find boring as argument, though, as I said, entertaining as a nice example of preaching to the choir.

January 20, 2006 1:20 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

Hey dude, you don't need to tell us that this philosophical blogging lark is intellectual onanism. Talk about preaching to the choir.

Brothers Judd - this site's biological father - is one giant, throbbing monument to intellectual onanism.

But you've got to have some sort of hobby once you've given up even the 20 minute weekly bunk-up. And at least, unlike Orrin, we don't do it professionally.

January 20, 2006 2:15 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David, you say that like it's a bad thing.

I'm amused that you show up to comment on how boring you find us.

As Brit has observed, we all need hobbies. This site satisfies my long-unscratched itch to write.

You call them foundation stones, I call them stepping stones. Even during the long Christian era of Western history the stones have changed their shape from one century to the next.

Of course don't forget those vital pagan stepping stones from Greece and Rome that set the stage so masterfully for the Christian era to strike off from. I wonder how many early Christians worried about removing the foundation stones of Greek and Roman religion when they went about contaminating their received heritage with this strange new cult from Jerusalem. Somehow they were able to cherry pick the essential parts just fine.

January 20, 2006 2:26 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Historically, of course, our intellectual/moral forebears WERE able to affect religion.

Most of the traits that today's American Christian considers to be a part of normal, decent behavior are innovations of recent (since 1600) secular thought.

I can instance, among many, many others, antislavery, free speech, personal integrity, freedom of conscience, equality before the law. All unknown, even unimagined, in Christian Europe until the corrosive skepticism of the preEnlightenment began its slow work.

Allow me to dip into the antipresidential library for an instance. (This is from Clark, 'English Society, 1688-1832.')

During the Nonjuror controversies of the early 18th century, a teenage printer uttered a pamphlet justifying the indefeasible right of hereditary monarchs.

This was unwelcome to the incumbent king. The boy refused to reveal who had written the pamphlet.

The Anglicans hanged him in defense of true religion.

As Durante used to say, 'I got a million of 'em.'

January 20, 2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger David said...

Brit: Nothing wrong with intellectual onanism but the wanking material has to appeal. My only point was that I had no desire to join in on this discussion.

Duck: I said the discussion was entertaining, but only as an audience member. As an appealing argument in which to engage, you guys sitting around in a circle jerk (hey, it's a dead metaphor, it must be, er, beaten) discussing where religion falls on the scale of bad just doesn't call to me. I said as much to Peter, Skipper accused me of ducking out on an argument (thems fighting words) and here we are. I certainly had no intention of telling you what to discuss on your own blog.

The early church's intention with regard to the Roman Empire was not to cherry pick, but to upend. Both the Romans and the Christians understood that. Christianity was Israel's asymetrical attack by meme.

Harry: All of your reforms were championed by the religious. The Puritans put an end to the heriditary right of kings in the most emphatic way possible.

January 20, 2006 2:47 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

Fair enough. We'll stop flogging this one - though I did agree that it's doubtful whether Reason vs Faith really is a fit subject for a mass debate.

And to also be fair to Duck, he's less a hater of religion than a hater of being told by the religious that his life is meaningless. But don't expect us to stop bashing those Bishops...

January 20, 2006 3:07 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David

Even though you have nothing to say, we're glad you chime in anyway. It's good for the site traffic.

Would OJ allow you to get away with so many masturbatory allusions? If you think about it, Intellectual Onanism pretty much describes the blogosphere.

Back to our Christian foundation- layers. Your point actually shows how much more regressive the Christian influence was on the development of the West. Rather than building upon the existing accomplishments of the Greeks and Romans, they upended them, with the result that it tool another 1000 years for the West to just regain civilizational parity with the Roman era.

Secular modernity has made a much more productive use of it's inherited heritage than Christianity has.

January 20, 2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger David said...

Brit: Don't stop flogging on my account.

Duck: Isn't it pretty clear that our arriving at this point was path dependent?

January 20, 2006 5:40 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Secular modernity has made a much more productive use of it's inherited heritage than Christianity has.

Boy, nobody can beat you guys for definitive pronouncements on the grand sweep of history. You might not be able to always balance the domestic books or figure out your wives and kids, but you do understand perfectly each and every historical force that got us here.

You guys are in anti-clerical fantasyland. Harry imagines some mythical pre-Enlightenment secular hero fighting for freedom and equal rights rather than the semi-educated absolutist feudal lords and artistocrats given over to dungeons, serfdom, oppression and war that the Church jousted with. Sorry, Harry, but each and every one of those noble causes originated with the Church. Who do you imagine they come from, Machiavelli?

(BTW, it must drive you crazy to see so many blacks so attached to their Christian faith. Kind of like post-war Jews embracing Nazism, no?)

Duck, tell us more about this marvellous classical heritage of ours. Is it the slavery, aristocratic privilege, women as second-class citizens, polytheism, emperor-worship, Circus gladiator games, near-perpetual war or dictatorship that attracts you the most? Do you imagine they were all Socrates' and noble Roman gentlemen sitting around the baths discussing stoic philosophy all day?

And just what huge formative influence does classical philosophy have on modern western secular rationalism? It had a huge influence on Christian theology, but I don't see much of a connection with your team. After all, most of it was about virtue.

January 20, 2006 6:14 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, Professor Clark's book sought to establish (and is now, 25 years later, received opinion) that, among other things, the indefeasible right of kingship did not end with Charles I. (I didn't say heredity right, did I?)

Indefeasible monarchy excludes equality before law; the example I gave of the young printer demonstrates that freedom of conscience was incompatible with Anglicanism, etc.

In fact, my list was entirely created from ideas that, when first presented, got their inventors imprisoned or worse by the churches.

My point is reinforced. Ideas that originated with the irreligious (or, at times, merely indifferent) have slowly taken over and tamed Christianity to the point that Christians now think that this is how they always thought. But it isn't.

My list could have been longer, but it was carefully chosen to include only ideas that were generally capital offenses before 1600.

January 20, 2006 6:57 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

You are ordinarily the most perceptive and analytical person I have known. This time, though, you are off your feed. You can't possibly have seriously considered, for instance, my post of Jan 18/1033.

To recap:

1. Religion is such an integral part of human existence that any notion of a religion free society makes flying pigs a sure bet in comparison.

2. Revealed religions contain elements both admirable and evil. Why the latter?

3. The human cost of revealed religions has been significant, and may become unbearable.

4. Revealed religion and Perfect Belief are a recipe for disaster.

Further, my argument is singularly odd, as it is characterized as much by questions as answers. For instance:

Which is where perplexment sets in. Why is it that all revealed religions mix practical, time-tested, directions on what constitutes a well lived life with all sorts of vicious retribution in the event of incorrect obsequiousnesses?

My argument, such as it is, isn't against religion, per se, but an attempt to put forward the case that the notion of Divine Command morality makes one utterly powerless to coherently criticize any element of Islamism.

You, Peter, Pat Robertson, the Pope are equally incapable of taking a position against Islamic terrorism that doesn't run head on into itself even before reaching the door.

Why?

Christianity, particularly after the Holocaust, has managed to whistle past things such as the Deuteronomy verse I cited above.

That is all to the good, with the result being an iteration of Christianity that is essentially wholly positive because of collective amnesia (achieved by reason) filtering out the negative.

Unfortunately, whistling past the nasty bits -- without taking on the task of deciding which Divine revelations are Divinely revealed, and which aren't -- means that when faced with Islamic absolutism, Christians (and Jews for that matter) are intellectually disarmed.

That's why I accused you of ducking the argument, which really isn't so much about Reason vs. Faith, as about Faith vs. itself.

A much more urgent consideration since 9/11. Never mind the urgency that should follow in the event Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

January 21, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

You are ordinarily the most perceptive and analytical person I have known. This time, though, you are off your feed.

I knew it! I said to myself, Peter, if you just wait, they will see through him some day and you will take your rightful place as "the reasonable one." Gotta remember to tell Mom.

BTW, are you doing anything this afternoon? Want to get together and sacrifice a lamb?

January 21, 2006 3:24 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

All right, I'm going to try one more time (hey, call it Christian charity), although I tend to agree with David this may be pointless.

All your lists and analyses remind me of a very funny novel by Robertson Davies based upon a small town Ontario amateur presentation of The Tempest in the fifties. One character is a very shy and socially inept, musty, late middle-aged bachelor professor of some science whose only life outside his test tubes is amateur theatrics. He is paired in the play with a warm and bubbly young girl who is nice to him and the poor booby gets smitten and decides this is true love. He spends every evening in the same local restaurant completely and silently absorbed by her, ordering exactly the same food and making list after list of rational "pros and cons" about whether and how to declare himself. The lists just keep on getting endlessly revised and refined and further and further from reality. He gets increasingly frantic and heated about his completely unsuspecting Heloise, who is off doing whatever young girls do. In the end he makes a hilarious, but very irrational and embarassing fool of himself.

The point is that faith, like love, is not about rationalism and you can't get there from here. You know that, so why do you keep trying to defeat it rationally? And what in the world is possessing you guys to be so fixated, not only with defending reason against faith, but actually correcting the faithful about what they really should believe if they must believe, which you encourage them not to and hope they don't. These increasingly determined efforts to discredit religion and bring it into contempt are turning you guys into some kind of marxist look-alikes who have replaced the class struggle with the battle against the darkness of faith. All your history seems to be filtered through this dialectic, which means even talking the facts of history with you is futile, never mind their significance. Even conflicting primary sources don't give you pause...you just keep on truckin' with wild and sweeping generalities about the sins and horrors of faith and pretend we owe all the justice and other good things we enjoy to proto-Dawkins' from the distant past nobody can name. You will say generally that religion brings some good things, by which I've always assumed you mean a certain overall social restraint and moral fibre, but as this thread shows, when faced with an actual issue, you can't bring yourself to be specific and even admit dark streets are safer when peopled by the religious, even though you know full well what any sane woman would choose if given the hypothetical above. So what exactly are these good things you say you admit religion has given us?

Also, your sense of injustice seems locked in the distant past. It's all fine and dandy to get splenetic over the Inquisition, but I'm struck by how casual you generally are about the injustices of the world you live in. Even an explosion in international sex slavery doesn't move you. Abortion doesn't move you, nor euthanasia, nor fatherless children, the exploitaive and huge porn trade, etc.,etc. That's what your rationalism does--takes the human passion and reality of life on the street out of life and leaves you spluttering about the past but eternally sanguine about, and emotionally distant from, the present, all-the-while making lists of pros and cons while the morally offended listen to their hearts and souls and actually do something or at least speak out. Secularism defeated slavery? Give us a break.

But I have the same question as David. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to debate reason vs. faith or just keep repeating how religion is beyond the pale of intelligent discourse and share more stories about its latest idiocies? It's true we have great "onanistic" fun and sport over at Brothersjudd at the expense of the pomposities of modern science, but the difference is nobody there says science and rationalism are intrinsically evil or useless or screams Ecrasez L'infamme! at them, despite your ceaseless efforts to get us to. So where are you going? And why do you persist in pretending you have some residual respect for religion when you are incapable of saying anything positive about it and just debate, in David's words, its various degrees of badness?

January 21, 2006 5:40 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: This is bull sacrificing season. You Heretic!

All: My only point was that, as much as I enjoy watching the blind men examine the elephant, I don't feel the urge to join in.

Skipper and Harry: I can't tell you how odd I think it is that I have to keep saying this, but I'm not Christian. Differences among the various Christian sects are interesting to me in the same way discussions on the Daily Duck can be interesting: like you guys, the Christians have set up an elaborate theocratic scheme that is interesting to play with in part because I reject its fundamental principle. It is, as I've said before, like those fascinating mathematical systems based upon impossible numbers, like the square root of -1.

Skipper: I understand that you think that the existence of contradictory revelations is a problem for religion. It's not. It's not, first, because I don't care about anyone else's revelation. Mine is true and their's, if it really exists, is false.

This is, as always, ironic, because you don't even realize -- you materialists may be incapable of realizing -- that you are doing the exact thing you are accusing us non-materialists of doing. You guys have a revelation: existence is real and can be explained by reason alone without recourse to the supernatural. The fact that this is easily falsifiable, and that you will readily admit that it is falsifiable (there is no way to come to a reason-based explanation of the Big Bang or any narrative of the events leading up to the Big Bang) bothers you not at all. It is a classic faith-based revelation.

Even more to the point, your faith in reason depends entirely on your boot-strapped belief in the reliability of our perceptions of existence. This despite the fact that our recent advances have all weakened Descartes' solution to this problem. If consciousness and existence are wholly material, than they can almost certainly be spoofed. If they can be spoofed, then we can't know whether they have been spoofed and we are living in that spoof. (There is a nice little argument that, if it is possible to create a virtual world in which the occupants don't know that they are only virtual than it is more likely than not that we live in such a world (i.e., in other words, if there is one real world and at least one virtual world, with the possibility of nesting virtual worlds, than it is no more than even money that we are in the real world).) You haven't gotten rid of G-d, you've just replaced Him with a teenage girl playing Mega-Sims.

Brit: Now this is fun intellectual onanism.

January 21, 2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Duck, tell us more about this marvellous classical heritage of ours. Is it the slavery, aristocratic privilege, women as second-class citizens, polytheism, emperor-worship, Circus gladiator games, near-perpetual war or dictatorship that attracts you the most? Do you imagine they were all Socrates' and noble Roman gentlemen sitting around the baths discussing stoic philosophy all day?

* Greeks & Romans invented the idea of democratic government, which the Christians did nothing with for 1400 years. When the Christians allowed the iron grip of their faith to loosen enough to allow this form of government to flourish, we are supposed to all believe that it was a Judeo-Christian idea to begin with?

* Greek & Roman learning, art & architecture were not approached again until the Renaissance period.

* Roman technology - the aqueduct, cement, indoor plumbing, sewers. All this was lost until the modern era.

Slavery, aristocratic priviledge, second class citizenship for women. Do you seriously claim that Christianity changed these? You've got to be kidding! Aristocratic priviledge was the one of the pillars of the Christian worldview for over 1500 years! Divine right of Kings? The Great Chain of Being? The three estates of the Nobility, the Clergy and the Peasantry? Any of these ring a bell?

Second class citizenship for women? Again, see the Great Chain. I believe that it was an open question among some medieval theologians whether wome were even human, or had a soul. Even our enlightened Founding Fathers, those inheritors of the great Judeo-Christian heritage, would have laughed you out of Independence Hall for suggesting that women be accorded equal citizenship with men.
Near perpetual war on tyranny? Show me a century of the Christian era that did not host a war. I hate to break it to you, but I'm afraid that war is a constant feature of human exstence.

January 21, 2006 9:18 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

And what in the world is possessing you guys to be so fixated, not only with defending reason against faith, but actually correcting the faithful about what they really should believe if they must believe, which you encourage them not to and hope they don't.

Because the religion/reason divide is not just some academic question, but a dividing line in the Culture War. As you say, ideas have consequences. We live in this culture and have an interest in the ideas that rule it.

, you can't bring yourself to be specific and even admit dark streets are safer when peopled by the religious, even though you know full well what any sane woman would choose if given the hypothetical above.

Peter, the Prager hypothetical is a ridiculous test, and just goes to show how self-congratulatory you religious people are. Let's put aside the secular continent and Canada for now and focus on America, where, depending on the survey, 85 to 95% of people are religious. It is a near universal condition. So Prager's test can be restated to ask whether the women would feel safer if she knew that the men approaching her were right handed.

Do you religious people really assume that all of the crime in American society is caused by the secular 10%? Are you that enarmored of the power of your wonderful idea, that there is a God that created the universe, that you believe it is a universally recognized palliative for the human condition?

You ask if it bothers us that the majority of blacks choose to be religious. Does it bother you that blacks are more prone to commit crime than any other group? Does it bother you that the percentage of believers in prison is higher than the percentage in society overall?

The demographics of nonbelievers is that they tend to be more highly educated and wealthier than the general population. Which is a demographic that does not lend itself to violent street crime. So if the woman chose to skew her expectations otherwise, it isn't from a rational calculation of the real odds. It's from a highly emotionalized slander that has been perpetrated against nonbelievers from time immemprial.

January 21, 2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

David wrote: "...like those fascinating mathematical systems based upon impossible numbers, like the square root of -1."

I think that's a good metaphor for this discussion as well. They're not "impossible" numbers, they're called "imaginary" numbers (an unfortunate naming convention since they're no less real than the "real" numbers really). The imaginary numbers lie on an axis that is orthogonal to the real numbers. In other words the dot product between a real number and an imaginary number is zero, indicating no overlap between the two.

In this debate, the duckies are the "real" numbers ("rational" numbers specifically) and the juddies are the "imaginary" numbers. Take the product and you end up with zero - no overlap anywhere!

It's hugely entertaining to read these threads though - I appreciate all the energy y'all put into it.

January 21, 2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "The demographics of nonbelievers is that they tend to be more highly educated and wealthier than the general population."

Perhaps, but they might be be even wealthier if they were believers according to this article in the economist:

"Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims that regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results* (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone's income by almost 10%."

OJ had excerpted this just yesterday I think. Did you miss it?

January 21, 2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Orrin has stopped saying science is useless and antisocial? Will wonders never cease?

I don't care what revelations people choose as long as they behave. Religious peoples are bad behavers.

I don't even care all that much when they behave badly to each other, as long as they leave me alone.

Which they refuse to do.

It is true that I hold one position that could be described as a matter of faith or received opinion and perhaps cannot be proven to be rationally required: freedom of conscience.

David, of all people, might want to share that one with me.

As for the reality of this world v. the possibility that it is all a delusion. A childish argument. Who cares and what difference would it possibly make?

You got another one we can use?

January 21, 2006 10:48 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Also, your sense of injustice seems locked in the distant past. It's all fine and dandy to get splenetic over the Inquisition, but I'm struck by how casual you generally are about the injustices of the world you live in. Even an explosion in international sex slavery doesn't move you. Abortion doesn't move you, nor euthanasia, nor fatherless children, the exploitaive and huge porn trade, etc.,etc.

Peter, you've made a totally inappropriate deduction here. We may individually have different opinions on some of these problems (mainly abortion), but to say we are not moved by these problems is ridiculous.

We just don't attribute these problems to science, or "scientism", as you do. My critique of Christianity is not about saying that it is an evil idea that is to blame for all the evils of the West, (I differ from some of the other Duckians in this regard), but that it doesn't live up to its billing as the idea that made Western Civilization the bright and shining city on a hill that it is.

Read my comments above on the consequences if ideas. As I stated, the grand ideas reflect the culture, they don't determine the culture. The ideas that truly transform societies are those practical ones determined through trial and error over time that solve real problems. Ideas like "usury isn't such a bad thing, if it increases the wealth of the borrower and the lender (win/win)", or "this witchcraft idea is bogus, it's just an excuse to kill women that someone doesn't like". The grand ideas need to play catch-up over time, and generally get in the way of the advancement of these practical ideas.

I will give credit to Christianity in one respect, and this echoes Skipper's post above: as a grand idea, it has developed the flexibility over time to allow the progress of the many little, practical ideas that have led to the civilization that we enjoy today.

I don't promote athiesm as a grand idea that will rid the world of evil, and I think Dawkins is as guilty of tyrannical utopianism as any theocrat. Atheism isn't even an idea in my book, it is the negation of another idea. My "ism", if I had to name it, would be "Americanism", or the accumulated body of those excellent little ideas on how to organize society, economic activity, work, the pursuit of happiness, the spread of freedom to other peoples, respect differences, etc., that defines the civilization we enjoy. These are my foundation stones.

January 21, 2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret,
I read it. There is no conflict with my assertion. The study reflects active church-goers, which is a subset of religous people overall. There are many religious people who don't actively go to church. The small number of athiests who make more money but don't go to church is counteracted by the larger number of non-church-going religous people who make less money than their churchgoing brethren.

January 21, 2006 11:14 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: I don't know why you say "of all people." I'm a big freedom of conscience guy. You guys are free to believe any dang-fool thing you want.

January 21, 2006 11:15 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: American atheists are functionally Christian, and will go out of their way to prove it at the drop of a hat.

January 21, 2006 12:04 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Your response seems only glancingly concerned with my argument. So, at the risk of some repetitious reiteration:

I am not trying to defeat faith. Beyond being a fool's errand, the only result could be depriving many people of the only answers they can tolerate to very forbidding questions.

But it does no one any good to give religion a by when it involves claims that are manifestly evil. In the Deuteronomy passage I cited, God directs believers to do horrific things to those whose only crime is incorrect worship.

Yet it has been a matter of centuries since anything like that has happened in Christendom (there may be exceptions, but the statement is true in the general sense).

Why is that? Because the modern version of Christianity is the product of reason and faith. With respect to the West, Dawkins is putting his shoulder to a barn door long after the horses have left. Modern believers are, almost exclusively, imperfect believers in that they collectively disregard those parts of the Bible that, no matter how Divinely directed, simply don't pass the sniff test.

That is all well and good. However, that particular stretch of Deuteronomy, and many others like it, is still laying around. (Unless, of course, there is some defense for it. If there is, I'm all ears.)

If the whole world was like modern Christianity, that would amount to nothing.

But it isn't. And the fight that matters isn't between reason and Christianity, it is between Christianity and Islam (never mind that it is a fight Christianity neither picked nor wants).

By institutionally failing to fully take on board those parts of the belief system that actively abet all kinds of mayhem, Christianity disarms itself in the face of a foe firmly convinced that its text divinely directs whatever it takes to establish the rule of Islam across the globe.

I take it you don't agree with the Islamists. But in so doing you are using reason to conclude that huge swaths of the Quran -- essentially everything contradicting the Bible -- are simply wrong, that claims to divine revelation are something between mistakes and outright lies.

In that regard you are Dawkins. The only meaningful difference between him and you is that he reaches that conclusion about one more religion than do you.

Even conflicting primary sources don't give you pause...you just keep on truckin' with wild and sweeping generalities about the sins and horrors of faith

What conflicting sources? Are there any that, other than through denial, contradict the notion that a central feature of Christianity through 1945 was anti-Judaism? Or that somewhere between a significant number and a majority of conflicts have at their base fault lines of faith?

but I'm struck by how casual you generally are about the injustices of the world you live in. Even an explosion in international sex slavery doesn't move you. Abortion doesn't move you, nor euthanasia, nor fatherless children, the exploitaive and huge porn trade, etc.,etc.

That is just nonsense. With regard to your link, the real issue is slavery, and it is a phenomena that is at least as common here in the US as in Europe. I am moved plenty by it; but I really prefer to understand what is going on, and why. Ranting is easy. Discovering the cause and fixing it is altogether different.

On what basis do you conclude abortion doesn't concern me? Or euthanasia, or fatherless children?

I must admit the porn trade, so long as it doesn't involve coercion, doesn't bother me much. If there was any link between pornography and any other social evil, than all those evils would have exploded since Al Gore invented the internet. They haven't, so there isn't. Therefore, I am not inclined to regulate others' behavior simply because I find it offensive. Averting my wallet is sufficient.

And why do you persist in pretending you have some residual respect for religion when you are incapable of saying anything positive about it and just debate, in David's words, its various degrees of badness?

The first part of that is simply wrong -- for instance, I have noted on more than one occasion that religion is the most effective means known of transferring a society's moral values from one generation to the next.

But there is simply no excuse for, and no benefit from, eliding religion's sins. As just one example, those who attribute the Holocaust to Darwinism (and there are many besides OJ) are in a state of denial that would make even David Irving blush. If we wish to never again see such a thing, not confronting the actual causes does no one any good.

January 21, 2006 1:00 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,

So you would agree with me that a person's religious status is of no value in determining their propensity for good or evil?

January 21, 2006 1:02 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

I know you are Jewish. In writing my replies, it is sometimes difficult to correctly relate two faiths that are nearly synonymous when they aren't completely at odds. If I gooned up the distinction, and it seems I must have, I apologize.

I understand that you think that the existence of contradictory revelations is a problem for religion

Close, but not quite. I think the existence of revelations that create exclusionary moral communities is the problem. It is a seeming consequence of all revealed religions, and it is a murderous consequence. That makes it a problem for people, the cause of which seems to be something organic to revealed religions.

you are doing the exact thing you are accusing us non-materialists of doing. You guys have a revelation: existence is real and can be explained by reason alone without recourse to the supernatural.

No. That existence is real is an axiomatic assertion for which there is no good explanation. Neither mine, nor yours, nor Peter's, nor bin Laden's. The difference is that materialists, or at least I, happily admit there is no good explanation. Perhaps another difference is that the self-admitted lack of explanation doesn't bother me even a tiny bit.

in other words, if there is one real world and at least one virtual world, with the possibility of nesting virtual worlds, than it is no more than even money that we are in the real world.

Except that, the extent that parsimonous explanations are more likely correct, then it is better than even money existence is pretty much what it appears to be.

But if it isn't, so what?

One should note, though, that a hypothetical discovery of such a thing would upset me (or probably most materialists) in the least. After all, it would supply an explanation to a previously unanswerable question.

Religionists, however, would be in for quite a shock.



As for intellectual onanism, that can't possibly be the case. For one there are too many people involved. And for two, this is exercise for the mind in the same way that 50 miles on my road bike is exercise for the body (never mind that I have learned more than a few things along the way); and to that I am particularly indebted to you and Peter.

Because an echo chamber really would be onanism.

January 21, 2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, of course, you accept freedom of conscience, as you accept many another antireligious idea that was unknown until recently.

Neither your ancestor's religion nor Christianity ever accepted freedom of conscience -- heresy or unbelief was a capital crime -- and a large fraction of today's American Christians still don't.

I say you, of all people, ought to admire this secular invention because for the last 2,500 years or so, your family has had the worst of it when it came to imposing beliefs.

As for antislavery, Hugh Thomas, in 'The Slave Trade,' asserts that the first 'reasoned' argument against slavery was 'Jacob's Coat,' published in 1711 by Samuel Sewell.

Sewell was the only great moral thinker America ever produced. He was a judge at the Salem witch trials but later decided he had been deluded by religion.

He did not abandon religion, but he crafted a theory that was opposed to EVERY other religious thinker of his time.

This is, faute de mieux, a secular approach.

Sewell's journals have been published. A good flavor of what religion meant to a man of his time is the very first entry, in which he attends the hanging of a teenager who had been caught having sex with a mare. The mare also was executed.

You may not like to be informed of the fact, but almost every thing you would think of as common or garden variety human decency was unknown and unsuspected in the Age of Faith.

January 21, 2006 1:51 PM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: I might be able to quibble around the margins, but effectively I agree -- so long as we are talking about Americans.

January 21, 2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

The analogue to Greece/Rome is not Christianity. The analogue is Western Europe. The analogue to Christianity is classical paganism.

So many of your arguments rest on the fallacy that the Church ruled civil society unchallenged in the West until the Enlightenment. That is a common, but huge error and you should make a resolution to bone up on your medieval history. Except for brief periods in Geneva and colonial MA there is no theocratic tradition in the West. Indeed, the whole period is a constant tension beteen Church and state, with the state often prevailing (Savonarolas tended to lose their heads). I note the tendency here to attribute every crime, every horror, every injustice and every incident of ignorance over a period of hundreds of years to Christianity. Why? What glorious ideal state do you see that society living in without it? Are you incapable of seeing pre-Enlightenment men as anything other than automatons enslaved by warped priests with hidden agendas? Once again, I prescribe Shakespeare.

Now, bullets:

A)Greece invented a form of democracy that lasted a short time. (Rome?). They can also be said to have invented oligarchy, classical tyranny and dictatorship as philosophically respectable. Britain invented, without philosophy, a nascent democracy in the 13th century that lasted much longer. I am unaware of any major influence of religious thought or politicking on either. Are you suggesting classical paganism is the philosophical source of democracy?

B) Your own link to The Great Chain of Being reveals it has nothing to do with politics or the organization of human society. If you are referring to feudalism, that was not a Christian doctrine or objective. It was an evolved outgrowth of a weak and rude society's need for order and protection. It was secular in that the Church stood completely outside it and spent a lot of time resisting its encroachments on ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The only democratic (in the sense of equal opportunity) institution in that era was the Church. I think what you are doing is projecting a 19th century illiberal, ultramontane Vatican backwards.

C)Like most moderns, you are selling pre-Enlightenment times short on technological development. The Middle Ages were a period of great creativity and progress in medicine, hygiene, architecture, crafts, banking, trade etc. No aquaducts, but they did put a chapel or two together, didn't they? But surely the point is that, if you are going to fault Christianity for the lack of aquaducts, does that mean you credit paganism for them? Boy, the man from Mars listening to you would never even guess that Rome was Christian when it fell to the pagans. Christianity then had to embark on a five-hundred year conversion campaign among savages like the Goths, Celts and the cute and cuddly Vikings to re-establish a great civilization. It was the sole repository of books, learning, education and art. How in the name of whatever do you peg the Dark Ages on it? Frankly, I think you are just so gripped by a notion of the church as reactionary that you can't even conceive of it as the agent for progressive causes like the abolition of torture, legal process, the dignity of women, anti-slavery, equality of worth and dignity, aboriginal rights and legal and physical sanctuary from very harsh secular exploitation and oppression.

D)You are repeating yourself on Prager. See my response above. You are free to argue with it or ignore it, but please don't pretend it isn't there.

I think Skipper reveals what the underlying issue is here. You guys are pissed, to put it bluntly, that Christianity has not produced some kind of utopia or led to human perfection, and so you fault it for every imperfection you see around it. I understand, it's a common human conceit that also explains American anti-Americanism. I'm not sure you whether you measure it against some ideal Rousseau-like state of nature or an idealized antiquity, but you clearly see sun and light and nobility somewhere in the human past that mucky, sweaty, old power-mongering Christianity messed up. And you seem convinced that if you can get rid of it, the sun will shine again. Weird. Scary.

Skipper:

Not even David backed by innumerable authoritative rabbis, papal documents, the Nazi persecution of the Church and many, many other historical conundrums and ambiguities etc.,etc. can shake you, can they? You just can't bear to confront the truth about where your materialism can and has led. Funny how anti-semitism reached its horrific apex after the Church completely lost all temporal authority. It's going on around us again, you know, and you would be hard pressed to pin it on faith this time. But maybe you and Harry wouldn't. As I said, you have become like marxists on this question (and others). Aren't you the one who insists marxism is a religion?

it is sometimes difficult to correctly relate two faiths that are nearly synonymous when they aren't completely at odds

This is news. I must make a note to remind David of this next Christmas. Or maybe chase down his family on a beach somewhere to spread the word.

David:

Do you think the Vatican appreciates that a proud American Jew and a little Canadian Protestant boy are staying up late defending them? Bloody ungrateful papists! Shouldn't we at least be entitled to expenses?

January 22, 2006 4:43 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

You have misconstrued my argument, which is against a widespread phenomena of revealed religions in general, not Christianity in particular.

Not even David backed by innumerable authoritative rabbis, papal documents, the Nazi persecution of the Church and many, many other historical conundrums and ambiguities etc.,etc. can shake you, can they? You just can't bear to confront the truth about where your materialism can and has led. Funny how anti-semitism reached its horrific apex after the Church completely lost all temporal authority.

Can shake me of what?

I assert that some 2000 years of Christian anti-Judaism made the ground very fertile for the Holocaust. Blaming it on materialism in general, or Darwin in particular is amounts to insisting that if Darwin had never existed, the Holocaust would never have taken place.

The only difference between the Holocaust and previous bouts of anti-Judaism was the presence of modern industrial methods allowed the pogrom's grasp to finally meet its reach.

That so many Germans, and Poles, who, almost without exception, wouldn't have been able to identify Darwin in a one person lineup, were so willing to engage in mass execution based upon nothing but faith cannot have happened without significant predisposition.

It's going on around us again, you know, and you would be hard pressed to pin it on faith this time.

Well, ignoring the recent Iranian fulminations, you are right. There is simply no variant of Christianity, save for some small noxious sects out in cloud cuckoo land, that in any way encourages anti-Judaism.

Similarly, I can't find any materialistic counterpart to Christianity that urges such a thing.

So, other than force of habit, I have no idea why Europeans, despite a history that should make them the world experts on the sheer awfulness of anti-Judaism, persist.

it is sometimes difficult to correctly relate two faiths that are nearly synonymous when they aren't completely at odds

That was in reference to shortcomings in my writing, or intellectual, ability, as reasons for why I must have conveyed some ideas badly.

No news there. Certainly, you will agree with that.

January 22, 2006 6:54 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
You should'nt stay up so late, the lack of sleep is affecting your powers of argumentation.

You seem to be unable to discern the gist of my arguments, even when I spell it out for you. I will repeat myself: My critique of Christianity is not about saying that it is an evil idea that is to blame for all the evils of the West, (I differ from some of the other Duckians in this regard), but that it doesn't live up to its billing as the idea that made Western Civilization the bright and shining city on a hill that it is.

This latest diatribe came about because of David's warning that we shouldn't be tampering with the Judeo-Christian foundation stones of our civilization. I just thought I would run a thought experiment to see how much better western civilization got at building solid foundation stones once it was infected with the Christian meme. It may be an unfair judgment, but Western Civ seems to have gone dark for half a millenium once it caught the bug.

You are deflecting the criticism when you will only judge Christianity on the basis of what the Church specifically ordered or carried out. Christian monarchs acted in the name of Christianity even when they did so in opposition to the Church's wishes. We are judging an idea, a worldview, not just a Church. What was the point of Christianizing the pagan kings if not to realize the promise of Christian love for the betterment of mankind?

I'm sure that the Huguenots living in Catholic France, or Catholics living under Elizabeth 1st or Cromwell would have a hard time with your contention that they were not living under a theocracy. Any state that imposes a single faith on its subjects by force of law and arms is a defacto theocracy. The Romans were far more tolerant of diverse religions than their Christian successors were.

You are using a double standard when you do not chalk up the evil acts of Christians to the influence of their faith, but credit every positive development in the Christian era to the influence of the faith. Either Christianity was an idea that had consequences, or it wasn't.

Even now, you excorciate us for not admitting that every bad thing that happens or has happened since the publication of The Origin of Species is a direct result of that pernicious idea, Materialism. You treat this idea as some kind of brain virus that infects its hapless victims and turns them into undead zombie armies running amok on the planet.

You have to decide on a single standard that you will apply to both ideas, Christianity and Materialism, if this debate is to have any useful purpose. You can't grant exceptions to one idea that you aren't willing to grant to the other.

January 22, 2006 7:56 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Are you incapable of seeing pre-Enlightenment men as anything other than automatons enslaved by warped priests with hidden agendas?

No. But are you incapable of seeing post-Enlightenment men as anything other than automatons enslaved by warped intellectuals with hidden agendas?

Why is it that you insist on conflating murderous political ideologies with the simple philosophy that the phenomena of the universe are explainable by material processes? Why is it that someone who holds this philosophy should be held responsible for the crimes of mad, sadistic tyrants on faraway continents? Materialism does not lead there. It is purely a descriptive philosophy, it prescribes nothing in politics or morality. That is why we have moral and political philosophies.

Materialism does not dictate the contents of these philosophies, no more than knowing the wavelength of red light dictates that you should paint your living room red. Why is this so hard for you to grasp?

January 22, 2006 8:24 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

If we cannot 'conceive of [Christianity] as the agent for progressive causes like the abolition of torture, legal process, the dignity of women, anti-slavery, equality of worth and dignity, aboriginal rights and legal and physical sanctuary from very harsh secular exploitation and oppression' that would be because it wasn't.

I swear I do not go looking for this stuff (I already described how random my reading is), but last night I discovered Hutchinsonianism, which I had never heard of. It was a n explicitly antiNewtonian, Christian physics which was dominant at Oxford in the mid-18th century.

The point was that a Newtonian clockwork Universe removed the rationale for daily divine interference, which in turn made impossible, among other things, divine right of kings.

So much for Christianity advocating for equality of worth and dignity.

It was a criminal offense in England, up to time of William IV, to not believe in the Trinity. The theocracy did not end with Elizabeth I.

As Peter says, there was a tension in society, but it was tactical, not strategic. PreEnlightenment Christianity did not allow for any sort of freedom, just some limited amounts of maneuver with narrow limits.

Materialism does not confer wisdom but it does allow options.

January 22, 2006 8:50 AM  
Blogger David said...

Guys: It is simply not possible for Christianity to be responsible for every bad thing that happened right up until the flowering of the secular Enlightenment, which apparently owes nothing to Christianity. I also note that the success of the various Enlightenment sects varied indirectly with their hostility to religion.

Without in any way underemphasizing the unpleasantness of the Jewish experience in Europe, I note that Jewish Europe did manage to survive for almost two thousand years until the arrival of militantly anti-Christian political movements in Germany and Russia.

Peter: Are we eligible for sainthood?

January 22, 2006 10:59 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Let's be clear.

I have never said that everything religion (not limited merely to Christianity) sponsors is evil, just that with it you get more evil than you get good.

And, specific to Christianity, I never blamed it for every evil thing that happened in its area, just for the extra, bonus evil (like burning heretics) that would never have occurred to men without religion.

That alone is enough to condemn it.

We don't even have to get to the point about whether religion has any claim to be a superior method of ascertaining or teaching morality.

It's possible that religion isn't the worst approach to morality (though I don't know of a worse one), but it sure isn't a good one.

January 22, 2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Jewish Europe did manage to survive for almost two thousand years until the arrival of militantly anti-Christian political movements in Germany and Russia.

And also until the advent of the industrial age and managerial approach to production.

Reach = Grasp.

January 22, 2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Addendum.

There is no doubting that Nazism was far more overtly murderous than anything preceding it.

I don't want my previous reply to understate that in the least.

January 22, 2006 2:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

Peter:

Not everything religion sponsors is evil and Christianity is not responsible for every evil thing.

Harry Eagar, January 22, 2006.

We have won a great victory.

January 22, 2006 3:36 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Wow! Good stuff, Harry. Now, we don't want to rush anything, but there will be a spot quiz on the Beatitudes on Wednesday.

Duck:

You are using a double standard when you do not chalk up the evil acts of Christians to the influence of their faith, but credit every positive development in the Christian era to the influence of the faith.

I assure you I do neither.

David:

Are we eligible for sainthood?

Supercool. But do you think they would be terribly insulted if we just took the expenses instead?

January 22, 2006 5:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I cannot agree that Naziism was 'more overtly murderous' than anything that preceded it.

The extermination of the Cathars went as far as you can go along that line.

It was religionists, not securlarists (who did not then exist) who came up with the line, 'Kill 'em all, let God sort them out.'

You quoted that one yourself on this very thread.

January 22, 2006 8:33 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Doesn't Harry's last comment about the very efficient and systematic destruction of the Cathars give you pause in your certainty that it was only technological immaturity that allowed European Jewry to survive? How about the ability to mount a continent-wide passion for sacrifice and amass an army of hundreds of thousands and send it to conquer Jerusalem? How about the complete expulsion of Islam from the West?

It won't work, Skipper. It occurs to me that you are so deep into rationalist analyses of history that you are having trouble perceiving the very irrational relationship between Christians and Jews in pre-modern Europe. All the horrible stories of (frequently localized) pogroms and expulsions, many (but by no means all) instigated by clerics or even nudged along by offical Church acquiescence, are interspersed with long periods of relative harmony, incidents of both papal and princely protection, remorse and regret, etc., etc. By the 20th century, there were not just millions of Jews in Europe, but an open, rich and flourishing Jewish culture that could hardly have arisen in the circumstances you claim. One doesn't have to try and absolve Christians or Christian society or Christian princes and kings or the Christian Church or even Christianity itself in order to point out that there is really no historical evidence for your basic assertion that systematic destruction was a inherent, consistent, timeless goal of Christianity. But to argue the negative and try to absolve it, as Duck seems to accuse me of doing, is simply to make your error in reverse.

You simply have to put your mind to the difference between fear of "the other" and sporadic bloodlust (hints of which we can feel ourselves today as we wrestle with how to respond to the Islamicists)and the far more cool-headed, murderous, sytematic extermination practiced in post-Enlightenment times, almost always by those who have made religion their enemy and claim to act in the name of reason. It's not an issue of technological capacity at all. It's a function of mindset and the certainty that very fallible humans will travel as far along the road of evil as they are allowed by those mindsets to go.

January 23, 2006 3:51 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

The Blood Libel.

Host desecration.

The Church's notions as to the cause of the Black Death.

The longstanding notion among some religious thinkers that the travails of Jews are God's proof of Christianity.

Writings in the New Testament that are too numerous to cite here, but provide plenty of gist for the anti-Judaic mill. Among them, that Jews were collectively guilty for Christ's death.

The Oberamergau Passion Play.

All of those things, and more, were part and parcel of Christianity through 1945.

In the middle 1800s, Germans were openly suggesting that Germany needed to be purged of Jews by means of conversion, expulsion, or extermination.

To attribute solely to Nazism the Holocaust, as if none of the preceding made any difference whatsoever is what won't wash.

As is the notion that invention of, say, Zyklon B, was somehow irrelevant to killing millions.

There simply isn't enough arm strength in the world to do tha with spears and swords.

No study of Christianity is complete without fully noting its organic anti-Judaism.

BTW, the notion that Nazism, based upon Mein Kampf, as addled a dog's breakfast of nonsense as one is likely to find, is somehow an example of "reason" also does not wash.

January 23, 2006 4:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Peter, at what period before the 20th century did a Churchly government control as much of Europe, with as many resources, as Hitler's Germany did?

None.

One of the things I think most of us agree on is that the broken-up and competitive European environment, compared with the empires of the East, left room for development of local institutions over time that provided the takeoff platform for modernity.

Jews became adept at working the interstices of Europe's fractures.

However, at periods when large national governments managed to free themselves of internal and external broils, they purged their Jews down to the last child -- England in 1190 and Spain in 1492.

Most Jews fled western Europe when they could, even preferring the Turks to Christians. Others went to the East, where the Christians were so backward that the civil governments were willing to exploit their skills. The local populations, however, were not.

Poles and Ukrainians (to name only two of many) had no government above the village level and so were unable to mount wide, sustained, systematic massacres.

When the Germans gave them the tools, they happily adapted.

Skipper nailed the ideological underpinnings.

January 23, 2006 8:59 AM  
Blogger David said...

I keep meaning to mention, and then forgetting to mention, that evolutionary psych is every bit as anti-semitic as Nazism.

January 23, 2006 1:51 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Now that you have remembered to mention it, how about remembering to include the explanation?

Enquiring minds want to know.

January 23, 2006 3:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yeah. Don't know what difference it would make, though.

Evolutionary psychology is a theory still in search of acceptance, unlike the perfidy of the Jews.

January 23, 2006 4:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

The basic theory of evolutionary psych is that everything that is, is right. So, as the Jews keep getting oppresed, it must be a good survival strategy to oppress the Jews. Turns out that it's a good suvival strategy because the Jews are too intelligent, apt to cheat the Goyim, too cliquish and reluctant to inter-marry.

January 24, 2006 1:19 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,
That's not the theory. It is that innate psychological traits that are widely shared by people had their origin in the fact that they conferred some survival advantage that could be selected for. Are you equating survival with morality?

January 24, 2006 1:42 PM  
Blogger David said...

No, you guys are.

January 24, 2006 1:54 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Maybe those other guys. I don't equate survival with morality.

Christianity has survived just fine without being in any way moral.

I have never studied evolutionary psychology -- taking my cue from the evolutionary writers I have studied, who are uniformly derisive of it -- but if Duck's summary is on target, there still isn't ANY connection to morality.

There are no permanently adaptive traits. Previously valuable characters, psychological or otherwise, can become maladaptive in new environments.

I believe Skipper would agree that religion's habit of hunting down heretics started to do so when it got nuclear weapons within its grasp (if not earlier).

January 24, 2006 3:39 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Duck's summary is on target.

Evolutionary psychology is not a moral prescriptive philosophy - it's the study of how certain psychological traits might or might not have their basis in evolution.

"Everything that is, is right" is a slogan.

The two have nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

Is versus Ought. Doesn't seem to matter how many times you explain that difference....

January 25, 2006 1:38 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

In fact, just to show how misguided is the notion that because science sees that something is, then scientists believe it must be right, think about the current example of...squirrels.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4635330.stm


It seems that the extremely successful grey squirrel is currently monopolising the UK's woodlands and is squeezing out the much punier native red squirrel. Greys now outnumber the reds 66 to 1, and also carry the ludicrous-sounding 'squirrelpox' virus.

In other words, the grey squirrels are successful, and the reds aren't. That's what 'is'.

The scientists' response? A massive cull of grey squirrels to protect reds.

In other words, they have observed the 'is' and decided that they 'ought' to prevent the natural desctruction of the reds.

If David's notion that 'everything that is, is right' made any sense, then the scientists should not only not be culling the greys, but possibly helping to speed natural events along by culling the reds, because that, after all, would be what is 'right'.

January 25, 2006 2:15 AM  
Blogger David said...

On evolutionary psychology and the Jews, see here and here.

On you guys thinking that what is, is right, see here:

Let's see now. Here's what we've learned about morality:

The only solid objective basis for deciding whether it is correct or incorrect to apply these terms, is the one that humans have agreed.

[M]orality is not individually subjective. I think that morality exists when humans agree that it exists.

[M]orality ... is only to be found in the relatively flimsy agreements of human societies.

[A]ny particular moral code is a combination of several taboos and many responses of a society to exigent circumstances.

Moral goodness is an admixture of those prohibitions required for humans to exist as social animals, along with codified utilitarian responses to the environment within which the society exists.

Therefore, it is "immoral" because most people think it is. Which, when you get right down to it, is the source of nearly all of what we consider morality.

[M]orality stems from a few seemingly universal (or close as darnnit is to swearing) in-group taboos, combined with the consensus response to shared exigent circumstances.

When I say moral rules are category 2, I mean they are category 2 – they are agreed by people – nothing more. There’s no further claim.

Whatever works is moral. Whatever works is a function of human nature (which is stubbornly resistant to change, regardless of your particular notion of its source) and exigent circumstances.

Moral rules happen when enough moral opinions in a society coincide.

There is an objective grounding to our feelings, as they are the result of millions of generations of successful reproduction and survival. Our feelings represent ingrained habits that have proved necessary to survival and contain much inherent wisdom, whether we understand them or not.

Harry, too, as stated (in comments at BrothersJudd) that morality is whatever works.

January 25, 2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Speaking of "is" and "ought", isn't that the rationale behind Natural Law theory? Aren't we supposed to divine the Creator's wishes based on what we see in nature?

January 25, 2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

You simply confuse two separate questions:

1) How did the moral rules that people have actually adhered to and enforced through history come about?

2) What ought we to do now?

Most of your quotes are answers to the former question.

There is no necessity for those answers to inform our personal answers to the second.

January 25, 2006 8:07 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'd be really surprised if you could show me I said that at Orrin's place, or anywhere else.

I believe you are confusing me with Orrin, who repeatedly said that because I said the Red Army beat the German Army (true) that meant I was a Stalinist (false).

January 25, 2006 8:34 AM  
Blogger David said...

You've got to be kidding:

Harry does indeed ask "what works." And recommends not adopting courses of action that don't.
Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 2, 2004 03:14 PM

Brit: I understand the distinction you think that you are making. I deny that it exists. What is moral is what ought to be moral, and vice versa.

January 25, 2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I cannot make Orrin's search engine work, but asking 'what works' seems to be inocuous, and not adopting courses that don't work only common sense.

Saying don't do things that fail is a long way from saying whatever works is the best course, if only because there is often more than one way to skin a cat.

January 25, 2006 5:42 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

1) Why was usury considered immoral?
2) Should I be boycotting HSBC bank?

1) Why has homosexuality been considered immoral?
2) Should I be out beating up queers?

1) Why was slavery considered morally acceptable?
2) Should I enslave somebody?

1) Why are so many people racist?
2) Should I join the BNP?

January 26, 2006 12:59 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

You will have to work out your 2's yourself, but here's a response to your 1's.

A) usury still is. You don't think loansharking or pressure from finance comapnies to borrow is a moral issue? Your real question is why are rates of interest formerly seen as usurious no longer so seen. The answer is that the consequences of unpayable debt are very different today and we have discovered how to expand wealth and no longer see it as zero-sum. So we define it differently. Big deal, we define almost all crimes and moral offences differently.

B) It never has been. Sodomy was immoral, not the state of homosexuality. We conflate the two only very recently thanks to our very recent belief sex is a basic human need and right.

C)Slavery was almost unknown in the Middle Ages. We see serfs as effectively slaves, but they weren't. Feudalism was a two-way street in theory and they had rights that came in very handy when the Vikings showed up. Chattel slavery came later and was tied into the whole notion of the nature of heathens and infidels. It was controversial from the beginning and condemnation was steadily louder almost every year. Acquiesence is not the same as moral acceptance.

D)Darwinism and man's fallen state and innate fear of "the other". The idea that all men are of equal worth and entitled to equal dignity is, at bottom, a religious concept and not a rational one. It is fought for by many, many of the non-religious, too, but hardly on the basis that they have conducted objective studies and inquiries and are relying on that good old self-correcting science.

January 26, 2006 4:16 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

Your very first sentence in that post proved the point I was making to David.

January 26, 2006 5:08 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oh no, Brit, I just meant I personally couldn't help you. But I can think of lots of people who can.

January 26, 2006 5:25 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

For the most part, I don't know what the answers to the 1s are, but I've got pretty clear ideas about the 2s.

On David's theory, there are no conceptual differences between the 1 questions and the corresponding 2s.

January 26, 2006 5:37 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Big deal, we define almost all [...] moral offences differently.

Which is why there's no such thing as Divine Command Morality, as a practical matter.

January 26, 2006 5:41 AM  
Blogger David said...

Before I begin, I should note that this question is the central question of post-Temple Judaism, and thus something that has been thought about constantly for the last 2500 years.

1) Why was usury considered immoral?

To the extent it was, because G-d said so.

2) Should I be boycotting HSBC bank?

No. The usury ban is fairly technical and has nothing to do with you and HSBC bank.

1) Why has homosexuality been considered immoral?

To the extent it was, because G-d said so, but see Peter's response.

2) Should I be out beating up queers?

No. That's not the commandment and would be its own sin.

1) Why was slavery considered morally acceptable?

To the extent it was, because G-d said so. However, American slavery was always sinful and those who thought otherwise were wrong.

2) Should I enslave somebody?

No. There's no command that anyone must own slaves. If you think that it

1) Why are so many people racist?

Xenophobia used to be a good survival strategy, though it no longer is. It was always immoral.

2) Should I join the BNP?

No.

January 26, 2006 6:17 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

So you accept that:

(1) Why do some people think x?; and; (2) should i do x?

are separate questions?

That's the impression you give, certainly from the last example.

January 26, 2006 6:32 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
If you look closely at the dictionary definitions that you linked to, there are different meanings. Today usury means exorbitant interest, while in its archaic usage it meant any interest.

The taboo on lending with interest was based on a fundamental moral stance that has changed. People considered the charging of interest as undeserved, or unearned income, on par with robbery. It was a zero sum mindset, what benefits you must harm me. It was wrong then as it is now. We now know that lending at interest makes money available for economic development that would not otherwise be there. The interest is earned in compensation for the risk incurred by the lender. It is a win/win, positive sum transaction that, if allowed earlier in societal development would have greatly accelerated economic development.

The ancients just got this one wrong, pure and simple.

January 26, 2006 6:59 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

To say that slavery was almost unknown in the Middle Ages is just flat wrong.

And to start parsing out 'good' slaveries and 'bad' (American) slaveries is an odd gambit, putting our rightwingers in bed with the most extreme hate-America-first leftists.

'Usury' was legislated on a concept of unearned rents, which were treated as immoral in themselves.

January 26, 2006 8:56 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Modern banking, fiscal policy, commercial law, bankruptcy law, limited liability corporations and monetary policy are inventions, not discoveries. They weren't lying around out there like oil in the ground waiting for some clever chap to stumble on them. To say our ancestors got it "wrong" is like saying they were wrong to think horses were the fastest way to travel because we now know airplanes are. It was a zero-sum mindset because it was much more a zero-sum economy when compared to ours.

Usury is the unconscionable charging of interest. The fact that some folks at some time thought any interest at all was unconscionable doesn't change that any more than the fact that some folks think killing animals is murder and most don't undercuts the commandment not to murder. The definition of unconscionable has changed for very down to earth reasons, but the underlying moral stricture hasn't. Would you say the commandment against coveting is no longer applicable because no one needs to keep oxen anymore?

Oroborous:

So the fact that Divine morality didn't come with an complete, eternal criminal code and a thick timeless etiquette manual proves it doesn't exist?

January 26, 2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter, David:

Up through the middle ages, and certainly contemporaneously with the directive, usury was defined as interest in any amount whatsoever.

Which is precisely the same way Islam views it today. We need not note here the laughable extremes to which Islam goes to mistake a pig for a cat in this regard.

And from what I have read, it had nothing to do with zero-sum mindsets, or unearned income (both intuitive, but wildly incorrect notions; odd that God was so culture bound; a few paras from Wealth of Nations could have saved a great deal of bother). Rather, it had to do with the apparent creation of something from nothing (again, intuitive, but wildly incorrect), an act reserved only to God.

I'm not sure which best explains the original prohibition. But at least Islam goes to the effort of rearranging the deck chairs on this particular edict.

The fact that Divine Command morality is so thoroughly culture bound, and is so consistently oxymoronic -- don't hurt those we shouldn't suffer to live; the universal sanctity of life except for faulty fealtors -- while not disproving its existence, certainly brings its utility into serious question.

January 26, 2006 9:57 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Daniel Dennett has some things with regard to the questions Brit raises, as well as points I have previously attempted to make:

those who have an unquestioning faith in the correctness of the moral teachings of their religion are a problem: If they haven't conscientiously considered, on their own, whether their pastors or priests or rabbis or imams are worthy of such delegated authority over their lives, then they are taking a personally immoral stand.
That is perhaps the most shocking implication of my inquiry into the role religion plays in our lives, and I do not shrink from it, even though it may offend many who think of themselves as deeply moral. It is commonly supposed that it is entirely exemplary to adopt the moral teachings of one's own religion without question because — to put it simply — it is the word of God (as interpreted, always, by the specialists to whom one has delegated authority). I am urging, on the contrary, that anybody who professes that a particular point of moral conviction is not discussable, not debatable, not negotiable, simply because it is the word of God, or because the Bible says so, or because "that is what all Muslims (Hindus, Sikhs...) believe, and I am a Muslim (Hindu, Sikh...)" should be seen to be making it impossible for the rest of us to take their views seriously, excusing themselves from the moral conversation, inadvertently acknowledging that their own views are not conscientiously maintained and deserve no further hearing.

...
Many deeply religious people have all along been eager to defend their convictions in the court of reasonable inquiry and persuasion. They will have no difficulty at all with my observations — aside from confronting the diplomatic decision of whether they will join me in trying to convince their less reasonable co-religionists that they are making matters worse for their religion by their intransigence. That is one of the most intractable moral problems confronting the world today. Every religion — aside from a negligible scattering of truly toxic cults — has a healthy population of ecumenical-minded people who are eager to reach out to people of other faiths, or no faith at all, and consider the moral quandaries of the world on a rational basis.
But such well-intentioned people are singularly ineffective in dealing with the more radical members of their own faiths. In many instances they are, rightly, terrified of them. Moderate Muslims have so far been utterly unable to turn the tide of Islamic opinion against Wahhabists and other extremists, but moderate Christians and Jews and Hindus have been equally feckless in countering the outrageous demands and acts of their own radical elements.
It is time for the reasonable adherents of all faiths to find the courage and stamina to reverse the tradition that honors helpless love of God — in any tradition.


As reasonable as I'll bet most of this sounds even to religious readers, it leaves the main question unanswered:

In the land of Divine Command morality how does one get there from here?

January 26, 2006 9:59 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

We seem to have a fundamental difference of understanding whence prohibitions of usury came and how they were justified.

Unless Tawney made up all those hundreds and hundreds of citations in 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism,' the facts are that:

All interest was forbidden

The justification was that the Big Spook did not want man living on unearned rents. (He had to earn bread by the sweat of his brow.)

The confirmation that this was, indeed, the justification comes from 'just price theory,' which not only forbids living on unearned rents but also forbids charging more than your labor has reasonably earned you.

Just price theory lasted longer than the prohibition against usury and indeed continues to exist, in a weird form, in Marxism.

I feel confident in saying that no true American believes in either, no matter how fundamentalist his reading of the Bible.

How could those guys have gotten God's clear message so wrong for so many years?

Although for ordinary believers, this is all a non-issue, for the sophisticates at Daily Duck usury and just price theory raise a really impossible problem:

How can they go around arguing from the wisdom of, say, Augustine, when he got this important item so wrong?

(By gum, I haven't read Dennett, though 'Consciousness Explained' has been sitting next to the bedroom door for over 10 years. I'm gonna have to move him up in the stack.)

January 26, 2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Peter:

So the fact that Divine morality didn't come with an complete, eternal criminal code and a thick timeless etiquette manual proves it doesn't exist?

No, the fact that "Divinely Commanded" morality changes with society proves that it doesn't exist.

You have acknowledged that moral rules are fluid - how do you propose to show that such changes are part of the Divine Plan ?

January 26, 2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

I wanted to do a big sprawling comment on this, but I'mn not going to get to it today.

On usury: The prohibition in the Torah is against Jews charging Jews interest. It's got nothing to do with you guys. We can charge you interest, you can pay us interest, it's all good.

Brit: Yes, Why do some people think x and should I do x are separate questions? That does not effect that, when it comes to morality, ought and is collapse.

Harry: Biblical slavery is a different institution than American slavery. It is much closer to being a highly regulated form of employment than oppressive, race-based chattel slavery. Among other things, the Jubilees make a big difference. But if, as with polygamy, we have decided that Biblical slavery is a bad idea and won't be allowed, I have no big problem with that. That does not make it immoral.

January 26, 2006 8:09 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

Yes, Why do some people think x and should I do x are separate questions? That does not effect that, when it comes to morality, ought and is collapse.

Ok, can you give examples? Specifically, can you give examples where the Duckians you've quoted above are bound to certain oughts by virtue of observing is's?

I can't understand your argument at all. To me, there's a perfectly clear distinction between studying facts and forming opinions. It's the difference between teaching history and preaching.

If a teacher informs you that Napoleon fought the British (is), is he telling you that you should fight the British (ought)?

If I observe that at one point in one society it was morally acceptable to execute criminals by hanging, drawing and quartering them (is), am I somehow bound to advocate the reintroduction of hanging drawing and quartering (ought)? If so, I'm soon going to be in trouble once I find out that another society considered it morally unaccptable.

Apologies for the bleedin' obvious, but to me, the distinction between the study of what is ('moral rules' as I've called them), and the forming of personal judgements (oughts, or 'moral opinions') is just bleedin' obvious, and for some reason you seem to be missing it in my arguments.

January 27, 2006 1:43 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

But if, as with polygamy, we have decided that Biblical slavery is a bad idea and won't be allowed, I have no big problem with that. That does not make it immoral.

So what, pray tell, does it take to make something immoral?

January 27, 2006 6:16 AM  
Blogger David said...

I think that we're confusing three different issues here: dissent, error and mutability.

An individual can dissent from the prevailing moral code, but only on two grounds. First, that he chooses to act immorally. Second, that he is convinced that the moral code is wrong and that he, rather than society, is acting morally.

If we grant all involved their good faith, then obviously, if the individual dissents from the prevailing moral code, one of them must be in error. Similarly, if there is a clash of civilizations with moral codes that cannot be reconciled, then at least one of those civilizations must be in error (though both could be wrong).

But what happens when we add in a temporal dimension? What if the clash is between a contemporary civilization and a past civilization. Time does bring raise the possibility of mutability: that two different moral rules, irreconcilable but seperated by time, are both right.

Which brings us to philosophy. At least, it brings us to that philosophical school that believes that all apparent disagreements come from a failure to communicate. Experience, knowledge and technology do allow us to change our behavior while keeping our morality. The apparent moral inconstancies over time stem from our increased abilities -- never forgetting the possibility that we are simply choosing to act immorally or, while well-meaning, are simply wrong. In Lincoln's phrase, we must do right "with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right."

Thus, for me is and ought collapse. If I come to believe that a moral rule is wrong, then it is no longer a moral rule. I always "ought" to do what I ought to do and the moral code becomes a nullity.

Now, I understand that your problem with all this is that I am assuming that there is a True morality; that there is a standard for judging a purported moral rule. Whether you call it an axiom, or a self-evident truth, or the Golden Rule, that standard is your god. The alternative is to say what, in fact, at least some Duckians seem to be saying: morality is entirely relative and, for any group, is what the group says it is.

Except that our very nature's rebel against that definition. Thus, your insistence on "is versus ought." Homosexuality is immoral (dissapproved of by society as a whole) but ought not to be. But, again, as soon as you say "ought" you are positing a standard against which morality can be judged; you are positing a Truth; you are worshipping a god.

Now, lets get back to usury, which, in truth, is a commandment that I have a lot of trouble with. The actual command is found at Leviticus 25:35-38. The Speaker is G-d to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so this is pretty serious stuff:

25:35 And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: [yea, though he be] a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.

25:36 Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.

25:37 Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.

25:38 I [am] the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, [and] to be your God.

Just cause I have that kind of mind, I can see three or four easy work-arounds without even having to lower myself to argue that "Brother" means brother. But the Rabbis haven't accepted those work arounds and have stuck with forbidding any Jew to charge another Jew any interest or to pay another Jew.

I'm unhappy with this rule. I'm not thrilled with the xenophobia (although that can be overstated, given the circumstances under which this rule was first expounded upon in the Baghdad Talmud (see my discussion of mutability, above)) nor am I happy with the misunderstanding of the nature and function of interest that the Rabbis' interpretation betrays.

On the other hand, how much of an obstacle is a prohibition on inter-Jew lending in the modern world? We have a mortgage from Chase. Is Chase Jewish? Some Rabbis say yes, if any of its shareholders are. (Uh oh) Some say that corporations are Halakicly persons but not Jews, so we're OK. I've decided that we're OK even though I find that second interpretation somewhat suspect. I recognize that I might be wrong.

January 27, 2006 6:55 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: If G-d says so.

January 27, 2006 6:56 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

David:

Thus, your insistence on "is versus ought." Homosexuality is immoral (dissapproved of by society as a whole) but ought not to be. But, again, as soon as you say "ought" you are positing a standard against which morality can be judged; you are positing a Truth; you are worshipping a god.

No, we are offering an opinion. We are saying "I believe it ought not to be."

You can't just slip in things like "you are worshipping a God" without some kind of justification. You say the origin of my opinion - which is probably cultural situation and basic humanitatian empathy - is the equivalent of a 'God'. I say that's nonsense, you're making up definitions. Justify that outrageous claim, man!

Nodoby is insisting on inserting an is versus ought distinction. It's there, that's that, and neither you nor I can do anything about it.

January 27, 2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Now, I understand that your problem with all this is that I am assuming that there is a True morality; that there is a standard for judging a purported moral rule. Whether you call it an axiom, or a self-evident truth, or the Golden Rule, that standard is your god.

Yes, you are assuming a True morality, but at the same time you are saying that it is mutable. The two can't coexist.

I think that we Duckians, without admitting to some Platonic form of moral truth, are saying that there is a common standard for deriving truth, and it is that self evident idea expressed in the Golden Rule. I think that is what we all mean when we say "what works". The rule is based on human nature. That rule won't change over time because human nature really doesn't change over time.

But it is ridiculous to pose this as some truth that exists outside of the existence of humans. It is a truth that is embedded in our natures, and is only realized through our existence. It is meaningless to refer to truths that have no mechanism to be realized.

January 27, 2006 7:31 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'm perfectly willing to sing for my supper (though I will leave it to the audience to decide whether it is fitting that, thus far, the suppers have been somewhat lacking in substance), but I think I'm going to have to limit my posts here to once a day.

January 27, 2006 9:23 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I guess I am an outlier even among Duckians.

I do not accept that even the Golden Rule is some kind of natural construct, although it does seem (to westerners) that (almost) any thoughtful person might eventually pitch up somewhere near that.

But then I look around, and facts contradict assumptions.

For example, in Old Hawaii, it was perfectly obvious that a person whose shadow fell upon a high chief (who only achieved that position by being the product of an unbroken series of brother-sister matings) had to be killed.

That was morality, and if anybody questioned it, he was careful to keep that to himself or be removed from the gene pool.

So, there is no natural, universal morality, not even of the most generalized kind.

(I haven't mentioned this since discovering the Daily Duck, but Skipper and Peter and David will know that I rely in part on Sahlins' 'How Natives Think," which, surprisingly, no one over at Orrin's place ever thought to challenge.)

January 27, 2006 11:28 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Leviticus 25:35 And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: [yea, though he be] a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.

I have lately come to believe that such ought to be my life's calling.

When I was a young man, I felt that "everyone for themselves" was a fair enough everyday social ordering; but at that time I didn't realize the extent to which I had been born into a life of privilege. I thought that almost everyone was more or less like myself, or would be given the right environment.

As I've gotten older, I've learnt more and more about just how much my "genetic lottery" ticket is worth, and I firmly believe that noblesse oblige.
(I've also gradually come to hate evil more than I love mortal life, so I suppose that, at long last, I've officially become a religious nut; "locked, cocked, and ready to rock").

However, I don't intend to strictly follow Leviticus 25:36-37 -
Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.
Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase. -
because I also firmly believe in the validity of the concept of indentured servitude.
(Emphasis because a lot of abuse occurs in the actual implementation of such servitude).

Mere "exploitation" of people or nature isn't necessarily "usury" - it all depends on context and degree.

Harry:

But what about the moral rules of the common Hawai'ians ?
Were those more familiar ?
(Except for the acceptance of theft, of course).

Nobles have always been set apart, with their own set of rules.

January 27, 2006 1:50 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Thanks to the religious sanction, the common people were supposed to -- and apparently did -- buy into this.

There are stories about people turning themselves in for hideous execution because they thought god expected it.

Just exactly what those stories mean in general terms is unclear; there were no sociologists taking surveys.

But even today, the abject behavior of many makaainana (commoners, peasants) toward alii (chiefs) is deplorable.

That's why I don't buy into the notion of 'good' slavery and 'bad' slavery. It's all bad.

January 27, 2006 3:07 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

We can charge you interest, you can pay us interest, it's all good.

I do hope that despite the unhappy history, there is still some small room left for gratitude to us for that. It reminds me of what the premier of Newfoundland once said about the government of Alberta when Alberta was is one of its periodic flushes of oil richness and was looking to loan out the windfall to other provinces:

"Yeah, we kind of helped them out with that one. They didn't have much experience lending, but we sure as heck had lots of experience borrowing."

January 28, 2006 5:31 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Doesn't

how much of an obstacle is a prohibition on inter-Jew lending in the modern world? We have a mortgage from Chase. Is Chase Jewish?

put us right back in the land of exclusionary moral communities?

God-given morality seems pretty frangible: it isn't moral to act in some way (in this case charging interest) to someone within the community, but by all means charge away to everyone else.

January 28, 2006 5:46 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I read that quote from Leviticus as a prohibition on lending for profit where charity ought to be the impulse. You help out people in need without thought of repayment. But economic exchange between people not in need shouldn't preclude interest.

If someone is homeless and can't afford rent, then you extend your home to them or help them pay their rent. But if they can afford rent but wish tho purchase a home, that isn't the same situation. They are not in need, they are in "nice to have". You are not morally obligated to lend out your money without compensation to allow them to upgrade their habitat.

January 28, 2006 8:09 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,
What if you put your money in an investment fund which assets representing debt which has been extended to Jews? What about Mortgage Backed Securities which hold mortgages on properties owned by Jews? Is it possible that you are lending at interest to Jews without even knowing it?

January 28, 2006 8:41 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
I'm not saying that the idea of justice or the Golden Rule is a natural component of human thought or behavior, but that it is a cultural development made possible by an aspect of human nature, the capacity for empathy.

I think that when human communities were small, compact family sized clans or tribes, there wasn't the need for a formal concept of justice. Members recognized the authority of the patriarch, but the patriarch was never powerful enough that he couldn't be overthrown if he became a tyrant.

The idea of justice became necessary when tribes agglomerated into kingdoms ruled by the strongest tribe, and familial fealty couldn't glue individual members to the king. Only fear could. But this state of living in fear was widely recognized by ancients as a degradation from man's true state, and you had legends like the Biblical Fall or the lost Golden Age of the Greeks to explain a social development that was long forgotten in the past.

So societies resorted to self loathing to deal with their fallen state, blaming themselves for the ancestral sins that put them in such a miserable state. When people finally got fed up with their legacy of masochism they invented the idea of justice and killed the tyrants.

(excerpted from "Duck's Really Really Short History of the World, abridged edition".)

January 28, 2006 9:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Hey, I'm right up on that, Duck. The 18th century was rife with discussions about the origin of patriachy and the state, and Clark is all about that.

Yours is the Lockean viewpoint.

I take a darker look. Once societies got bigger than discrete families or bands of progeny of a band of brothers, they seem to have been controlled by war bands.

Those bands were assembled not by fear but by loot, and in most cases they were open to the talents. At least, where we know a little bit about their makeup, in ancient Greece, in Europe during the Beowulf period, in Japan and other places, the war band was not particularly closed related. Any young, strong and ruthless savage could fight his way in.

The oppressed other 95% percent of the population probably usually was closely related, within limited geographic areas.

There may have been alternate paths of development. In fact, I bet there were.

It may be that the first cities of Sumer were enlarged families. The evidence that they recruited members from each other is absent, so far as I know.

So you may be right. Ideas of justice arose, so far as we know, in Sumer, and maybe that's how they did arise.

But not every part of the world inherited Sumer's sophistication.

January 28, 2006 10:52 AM  
Blogger David said...

I don't see much to disagree with here. I agree with Harry that the Golden Rule is unnatural; it is also a remarkable coincidence that the axiomatic basis for Duckian morality happens to be a major tenet of the dominant religion. Lucky, that.

As for usury, I, too, am attracted to the interpretation that it commands charity rather than loans for our fallen brothers, but that's not what the Rabbis say it means. There are any number of elaborate commentaries on what, exactly is prohibited (I've seen one by a Rabbi who is an MIT graduate). Whether or not to pierce the corporate veil is a live question. (That is, if I buy bank stock and the bank loans to Jews, have I and the Jewish borrowers violated the commandment. A few Rabbis say no, but the majority/traditional view is that you do pierce the veil and we are in trouble.

Here's another one: sometimes my wife and I borrow money from our kids' college fund and pay a higher interest rate than we could get in the market. Sin, or no sin?

O: You identify a genuine dilemna. I genuinely believe that the current social arrangement (over all, I don't mean to suggest that we've reached perfection) is best for everyone -- but there's no denying that it's very good for me. I'm not sure that there is a better solution for this than charity.

Skipper & Peter: It's another dilemna. Notice the asymetry. Jews are forbidden to charge or pay interest, but only to Jews. Christians are forbidden to charge interest to anyone, but not to pay it. But I don't have Skipper's dilemna because I believe in a G-d ordered morality. G-d says that it is immoral in one situation, but not the other, so that settles that.

To continue on with Peter's point a little bit, the effect of Judaism and Christianity being mewled up together in Europe for fifteen hundred years is fascinating. Both were changed (Judaism more than Christianity, of course).

January 28, 2006 1:09 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

As a member of the Unchosen People, I don't agree that the Golden Rule, as I understand it, really is a major tenet of the dominant religion.

January 28, 2006 2:46 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry

In defense of the dominant religion, I'd have to say that there is ample testimony on Jesus's part in the New Testament to support the Golden Rule as a tenet of Christianity. I can't point to a source in the Old Testament on this score, but I don't doubt that it is a part of the rabbinical exegesis that guides practicing Jews.

The problem with Christianity is that it is only a tenet, and not the tenet. The Bible is a grab-bag of tenets, and you can choose one to fit any occasion, zeitgeist, paradigm or social arrangement. If they had only written down the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, we'd have been a lot better off.

January 29, 2006 7:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

All true.

But when I read 'others' in 'do unto others' I include ALL others.

Christianity doesn't.

That is, it opens the door to all who wish to be saved. But if they say, no thanks, it turns savage on them.

And not just on complete outsiders. In practice it is just as savage towards the not-quite-right Christians as against the pure atheists.

Islam is the same way.

Any universalizing, salvationist monotheism has to behave that way.

January 29, 2006 9:12 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

But I don't have Skipper's dilemna because I believe in a G-d ordered morality. G-d says that it is immoral in one situation, but not the other, so that settles that.

Setting aside for the moment problems about which translation of God's words, or how many times they are removed from the original hearer, etc ...

How is your position any different from the Good German defense?

(NB -- I don't wish to cause offense with that characterization, I just can't think of any other way to put it.)


Harry:

Deutoronomy 13:7-11 is just one example of excluding a whole bunch of others. And since God said to do so, apparently moral, no matter The Golden Rule.

Like Duck, I was once a Christian: choir boy, altar boy. Coming upon that, as well as similar passages, while a teenager doing Bible study, was what put me off.

January 29, 2006 6:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Because Hitler wasn't G-d, but G-d is.

February 16, 2006 6:38 PM  

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