Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Objectively Moral

In any discussion concerning religion's advisability, one of the weapons that features most prominently in the theist armamentarium is objective morality: without God's revelation, humans would suffer at least one of two consequences: the inability to determine right from wrong, or, granting that, no particular reason to choose one over the other.

The Euthryphro Dilemma paints that line of reasoning into a fairly difficult corner. But no matter. Let's take the argument as given.

This, then, is moral:
Over the last six years, hundreds of teenage boys have been expelled or felt compelled to leave the polygamous settlement that straddles Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
Emphasis, at the risk of wholly unnecessary redundancy, added.

The problem occurs at the collision between math and revelation. In Doctrine & Covenant 132, God very clearly insists men must take multiple wives:
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also plurality of wives. HC 5: 501–507. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.
Straight from God's lips to Joseph Smith's ears.

Unfortunately, that revelation creates an irremediable parity error: men with multiple wives mean men without any at all.

Well, as it turns out, not so irremediable, after all:
... the [forced] exodus of males — the expulsion of girls is rarer — also remedies a huge imbalance in the marriage market.

Andrew Chatwin, 39, the uncle who took [expelled] Woodrow in, left the sect 10 years ago. He explained how the expulsions usually happen: “The leaders tell the parents they must stop this kid who is disobeying the faith and Warren Jeffs. So the parents kick him out because otherwise the father could have his wives and whole family taken away.”

...

The problem of surplus males worsened in the 1990s when the late prophet Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’s* father [current leader of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS)], took on dozens of young wives — picking the prettiest, most talented girls, said DeLoy Bateman, a high school teacher who watched it happen.


It must be said that the mainstream LDS church, without a hint of irony, rejects polygamy, and has excommunicated all FLDS members.

Getting past the misdirection, that amounts to the LDS rejecting clear revelation, thereby bankrupting theists' insistence upon revelation as the only source of morality. If that is so, then polygamy, and the contrived expulsion of boys, is just as moral as any other divine diktat: the argument is self-gutting. Revelation is meaningless when humans get to decide which to keep, and which to hurl into the deep blue sea.

This leads, inextricably, to the first defense theists mount when confronted with religions' manifest atrocities, which surely must include forcing mothers to dump their sons off on the sides of roads, as if they were Christmas puppies grown too annoying. Religious atrocities are due to bad religion, good religion would never countenance such things.

Unfortunately, from within the context of faith, there is simply no way of telling good from bad. All strictures and commandments have the same provenance. There is no scriptural argument that condemns the FLDS. None at all. It is the perfect inverse of the Incompleteness Theorem, which, simply put, states that there are true statements within non-trivial formal systems whose truth is unprovable.

Religion turns that on its head, posing a situation where statements can only be shown false outside religion.

In order to condemn polygamy (or any number of horrors trotted out under religious cover), only the symmetry argument, materalist to the core, suffices: if the table was turned, would Warren Jeffs be happy to find himself a teenager expelled from his family?

One thinks not.

Two recent anti-theist books have this revolting nonsense nailed.

Christopher Hitchens argues that religion, particularly of the monotheist stripe, is totalitarian: it demands complete submission to an all knowing, all seeing God. Or, more accurately, to those humans claiming privileged access to God. Which, in this case, emphatically means treating women as property, and boys as toxic waste.

Just so here: Mr. Jeffs exercised totalitarian control, beyond the North Koreans most optimistic dreams, bolstered by The Book of Mormon, over those under his sway.
Warren Jeffs, taking the mantle after his father’s death in 2002, adopted most of his father’s wives and married others, and also began assigning more wives to his trusted church leaders, former members say. Forced departures increased.
In The End of Faith, Sam Harris makes two primary points: Religious moderates provide top cover for "fundamentalists", and religion has unjustifiably placed itself above criticism.

The LDS failure to repudiate D&C 132 -- after all, how could it, without revealing the entire edifice to be built on quicksand -- provides all the cover needed for the FLDS to continue with its town of horrors.

This polygamy story is nothing new, of course. It has been going on, nearly unhindered, ever since the LDS rendered the doctrine "inoperative", preferring to jettison it in the quest for broader acceptance. Funded largely by welfare payments, the FLDS maintains its plural marriage with near impunity from legal hindrance, and astonishing quiescence from the mainstream church.

Should Mr. Harris or Mr. Hitchens try such a thing, they would be in jail in an instant.

One couldn't hope for a more thoroughgoing indictment of divinely revealed objective morality. There is no basis within Mormonism for condemning this behavior, and no means at all within the larger sphere of religious faith to conclude that one set of revelations is any way divinely preferred to another, mutually exclusive set of revelations.

For the anti-theist, unhindered by objective morality, calling BS in the face of this American Taliban is no problem whatsoever.

* Warren Jeff's was convicted today of being an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin.

83 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I take it your problem with objective morality is that it leads to behaviours you consider to be objectively wrong.

September 26, 2007 4:48 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Not at all. It is this:

Unfortunately, from within the context of faith, there is simply no way of telling good from bad. All strictures and commandments have the same provenance. There is no scriptural argument that condemns the FLDS.

(I added a para after this; I'm not sure if it will help.)

My problem with what theists term "objective morality" is that it is neither objective, nor, in far too many cases, moral.

By the very nature of "objective morality" the FLDS polygamists are completely moral, they are acting as God has directed.

On what non-material basis can you argue otherwise?

It can't be done within Mormonism. It can't even be done within the context of faith.

September 26, 2007 5:44 AM  
Blogger erp said...

The argument that without a controlling deity, we would be lawless and immoral isn't compelling. We could have learned how to live what we define as moral lives the same way we learned everything else, trial and error. Our ancestors learned what worked and what didn't and those clans/family groups that didn't have some curbs on violent destructive behavior died out and those that did, thrived.

Don't forget, we had tens of thousands, maybe millions of years to perfect what we call our moral code which morphed into common law. The notion of a heavenly father looking after us is harmless if it's a comfort to people, but as we've graphically seen, the big guy in the sky often demands blood sacrifice.

September 26, 2007 6:15 AM  
Blogger EVadvocate said...

Let me first disclose that I am not unbiased on this issue. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as the Church).

That being said, I would remain silent on the issue if I didn’t think I could add some value. The perspective I feel I can bring to the debate is my belief firstly, that Warren Jeffs was rightly convicted and secondly, that Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) section 132 is still true even if polygamy is not practiced by the Church.

One of the principle beliefs of the Church is that Jesus Christ is that God communicates to each of us through personal revelation and to all of us through a living prophet. That prophet is the president of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley (at present). The importance of a living prophet can scarcely be overstated.

Personal revelation is of paramount import in our lives but our ability to understand God’s guidance is contingent upon our personal righteousness which, as each of us knows from our own experience, can vary over time. It is for this reason that mankind is in need of a designated mouthpiece who will reveal God’s will during those times when we cannot see clearly for ourselves.

D&C section 132 was given at a time when the Church was practicing polygamy, but “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” does not refer to the practice of having multiple wives, it refers to the ordinance of temple marriage. Whether this temple ordinance is used to marry one man to one woman or one man to multiple women is not addressed in the revelation.

It is my contention therefore, that D&C 132 is not a revelation about polygamy and is not invalidated or overridden by the official declaration that the Church will no longer practice polygamy (given in 1888). The Church does not have to choose between polygamy and modern revelation.

In fact, the Church’s belief in modern revelation is what allows it to continue to change its doctrine from time to time as God sees the need. The notion that God’s Church cannot change flies in the face of the many contradictory commandments in the Bible and has no way of reconciling the Old and New Testaments.

Warren Jeffs should not be condemned for believing that God was using him as a prophet, though my personal belief is that God was not. He should be condemned, and has rightly been, for his treatment of minors. In my opinion, his treatment of adults is also objectionable, but in this country we value the right of adults to make and sleep in their own beds.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to revelation. Christ said there would be false prophets, and so there are. But He also said that there would be true prophets and it is our mission, difficult as it is, to discern the difference.

September 26, 2007 7:54 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

"Revelation is meaningless when humans get to decide which to keep, ..."

Not at all.

The only objective "morality" in my opinion is Nietzche's "will-to-power". We humans then build a narrative around what works at the given moment. The concept of deities and the tool called "revelation" are key to the maintenance of that narrative.

September 26, 2007 9:39 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not difficult, impossible, without reference to non-revealed information. As erp says.

Jeffs is in the news, but there are other religions guilty of the same and worse. In fact, just yesterday I posted my review of a formerly well-hidden atrocity of the Roman Catholics: Slawson's 'Ambition and Arrogance.' It's up at Amazon.

My favorite American comic novelist, Harry Leon Wilson, opened his career with a deeply informed, tightly reasoned, ridiculously romantic novel about Mormon polygamy, 'Lions of the Lord,' written in 1904. You can usually find a copy on eBay. I recommend it to anyone curious about Jeffs.

September 26, 2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: I am, as you know, perfectly willing to be provoked, but this isn't provocative.

First, we can all agree that the only religion is mine.

Second, cult really isn't just another word for religion.

September 26, 2007 2:21 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

First, we can all agree that the only religion is mine.

To paraphrase an early sixties western, What you mean "we", Kimosabe?"

Second, cult really isn't just another word for religion.

Distinction without difference.

The basis for the claims of both are precisely the same.

At one time, Mormonism was a cult, now it's a religion.

Are you telling me the same thing is different things?

BTW -- Duck is not to be blamed for this post.

EVadvocate:

The perspective I feel I can bring to the debate is my belief firstly, that Warren Jeffs was rightly convicted ...

Convicted with respect to what? Certainly not God's direction to Warren Jeffs. Nor in regard to D&C 132.

There is no such thing as objective morality without revelation; it absence makes God a complete cipher. However, there is no such thing as objective morality with it, either: if a set of statements contains a contradiction, then any conclusion, no matter how absurd may be proved thereby.

Jeffs was convicted because his conduct offends our evolved, collective, sense of outrage, and because it provokes a parity error of the worst kind.

Personal revelation is of paramount import in our lives but our ability to understand God’s guidance is contingent upon our personal righteousness which, as each of us knows from our own experience, can vary over time. It is for this reason that mankind is in need of a designated mouthpiece who will reveal God’s will during those times when we cannot see clearly for ourselves.

Beware passive voice: designated by whom? How are those who are not designated -- apparently it is God's will and not man's that the designee is never a woman -- to assure themselves that any revelation is God's, and not the deep echo inside the designee's skull?

This brings into stark relief the bye religion gets: until recently, Mormonism epitomized institutionalized racism, and, still, but not alone among religions, explicitly excludes women from leadership positions.

A stance that would, in our evolved sense of right and wrong, be hounded into submission with breathtaking speed if the organization was anything other than religious.

Of course, in the US (although not from lack of trying) membership in a religion is largely a matter of private conscience.

However. So is purchasing the services of any private entity in this country.

Why the difference?

It is my contention therefore, that D&C 132 is not a revelation about polygamy and is not invalidated or overridden by the official declaration that the Church will no longer practice polygamy (given in 1888). The Church does not have to choose between polygamy and modern revelation.

It is your contention. However, and on equally valid scriptural grounds, I am certain there are those who would contend precisely the opposite.

Certainly Joseph Smith did.

You are right, the Church does not have to choose; it can paper over the difference, while pointing in the direction of "modern revelation". But the alternative is no more palatable, as it, without justification, elevates some revelations above others, despite their identical provenance.

It is your personal belief that God was, in objective fact, not using Jeff's as a prophet.

Yet, there is no way you can demonstrate this belief of yours in the face of someone else's belief to the contrary.

In my opinion, his treatment of adults is also objectionable, but in this country we value the right of adults to make and sleep in their own beds.

We. Do. Not. If any other than a religious organization was to conduct open, plural, marriage, and collect welfare from the state to support it, the country would accord that precisely no value whatsoever.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to revelation. Christ said there would be false prophets, and so there are. But He also said that there would be true prophets and it is our mission, difficult as it is, to discern the difference.

The difference is not discernable; there is no telling the false from the true, or, even among the popularly held to be true, which among them are cranial echoes instead of whispers from the beyond.

That the US hosts a functional equivalent of the Taliban is perplexing enough; what exceeds that in sheer bafflement, though, is the continued insistence the God provides objective morality.

September 26, 2007 4:40 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper:

First, apologies to both of you. I'm particularly shamed since everyone used to blame my posts on OJ.

Second, the Duckians certainly think that the only religion is their religion, which is why you constantly make the mistake of thinking that "this isn't rational" is a criticism.

Third, no, really, cult and religion are two different things.

September 26, 2007 5:06 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

The Duckians certainly think that the only religion is their religion, which is why you constantly make the mistake of thinking that "this isn't rational" is a criticism.

Ignoring the first part of your statement, which blanches the word "religion", I don't recall using the word "rational", or any synonym in this post.

Perhaps you could point it out?

Third, no, really, cult and religion are two different things.

In what way?

September 26, 2007 6:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I wondered that, too.

I also wonder, when you have competing revelations, who arbitrates them and how?

I know the historical answer: the guys with the biggest swords.

Assuming that kind of answer is out of fashion except in the Koran Belt and parts of Idaho, what is EV's and other modernists' answer?

'The one that works best for me' reduces to erp's trial and error or to my secularism, so that won't answer the question.

September 26, 2007 10:12 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

I think I am finally starting get it. Objective morality comes from divine revelation and relative morality from whatever Skipper finds revolting.

Skipper:

I know you sleep better believing the faithful are out there all around you sacrificing goats, raping young girls and taking celestial marching orders about how and when to kill the competition, but you really should reserve some time for taking a harder look at exactly where your own worldview comes from. You could start here. It's by a secular soft lefist and is long and dense, but what a mind! He only gets a B for writing skills, but there is plenty to both soar and fulminate over. I'm just a ways into it myself, but he makes it clear from page one that he has no time for the myth about how secularism and the Enlightenment were about dropping the blinders of faith and superstition to reveal cold hard reality in the clear light of day. Modern secularism is a worldview with it's own distortions, irrationalities, prejudices, intolerances and psychological hazards. The second thing he attacks is the notion that the majority of modern religious folks are lost in some enchanted medieval world. In our day, naivit'e is the specialty of the secularist.

September 27, 2007 3:17 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

You have missed entirely the point of the whole post.

It has nothing to do with secularism, or my world view.

It has everything to do with the assertions theists make on their own behalf, and the context within which they make those assertions.

If you wish to attack the way I have characterized the basis of religiously derived objective morality -- that is based upon divine revelation -- or dispute my contention that their is no means within the universe of religious belief to distinguish between "right" and "wrong" revelation, then by all means go ahead.

Perhaps my citing of Hitchens and Harris confused you. It shouldn't. Whatever you may think of their books in toto, between them they are precisely on target with respect to the FLDS.

Of course, that is my conclusion; if you disagree, then by all means make your case.

What I find most surprising, between you and David, is the apparent lack of offense you take towards the fruits of theocratic totalitarianism: boys wrested from their mothers, and abandoned as if they were unwanted Christmas puppies.

Your criticisms of secular morality, and especially of some of its proponents, may well be entirely on the mark.

But that is the subject of another thread, not this one.

September 27, 2007 5:27 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Be assured I take great offence towards the fruits of theocratic totaltarianism, particularly involving wresting boys from their mothers and abandoning them like Christmas puppies.

Not so sure about David, though. Keep at him, Skipper.

September 27, 2007 5:56 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: This is like the Woody Allen joke about the small portion of bad food: "Those poor boys, they're forced to live in a theocratic dictatorship."

"And then they're forced to leave!"

Psychiatrists distinguish between cults and religions every day.

September 27, 2007 8:16 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

At one time, Mormonism was a cult, now it's a religion.

The LDS sect was never a cult, which is why it survived the assassination of Joseph Smith.

If any other than a religious organization was to conduct open, plural, marriage, and collect welfare from the state to support it...

Some communes used to do that in the 60s and 70s; for all I know there are still some around collecting aid.

I had a boyhood friend who eventually lived in a small commune in New England for a bit, in the late 80s, but I don't know if they got state aid - although I would be surprised if they did not, from what he said.

[Mormonism] explicitly excludes women from leadership positions.

Absolutely not.

It's just that men and women are accorded different spheres of influence. A woman will never lead the Church. But women do hold influential positions within the organization.

Further, the LDS Church is a pretty flat organization, from the standpoint of authority. Almost all who hold leadership or service positions are unpaid volunteers, and there's no Byzantine bureaucracy playing games between the lowest-level leaders and the Prophet. (Although there certainly is a bureaucracy).

The difference is not discernable; there is no telling the false [revelation] from the true...

As I have noted before, when we've discussed religion, you have the spiritual equivalent of color-blindness.

Just because YOU have not experienced the Divine, doesn't mean that NOBODY has.

'There are more things in heaven and
earth, Skipper,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'

That the US hosts a functional equivalent of the Taliban is perplexing enough...

A vast overreach. If you truly think that the FLDS is the "functional equivalent" of the Taliban, then you don't know enough about the Taliban.

September 27, 2007 10:27 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Well done, Oro, very well done. Pity you folks are all going to Hell, but I do admire your spunk. :-)

September 27, 2007 2:29 PM  
Blogger David said...

"Hell?" Let's not jump the gun. Once we make up our mind about this Hell proposition, we'll let you all know. It should be any millennium now.

September 27, 2007 2:46 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Stop with the heresies, Cohen! Hell is real, immanent and inevitable. There is no choice in the matter. Scripture makes it self-evident. I never used to believe that, but my good atheist, secularist friends at the Daily Duck have convinced me it is true.

September 27, 2007 3:44 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Psychiatrists distinguish between cults and religions every day.

Fine, then that should make it easy for you to take a stab at it.

Oroborous:

The LDS sect was never a cult, which is why it survived the assassination of Joseph Smith.

Well, of all the characteristics of a cult, survival following the assassination of its leader certainly isn't one I would have thought of. I suppose that means we have to assassinate all cult leaders to find out whether they are religious leaders.

I'm wondering if Psychiatrists have thought of it.

More problematically, though, is considering why Joseph Smith was assassinated, or why the Mormons were driven out of so many places before ending up in Utah.

It is because their neighbors viewed them as a cult. That doesn't make them right, but I doubt you can demonstrate why they were wrong.

No more than David can distinguish a cult from a religion, except by applying the art test.

Some communes used to do that in the 60s and 70s; for all I know there are still some around collecting aid.

For all I know, there aren't. Or, more precisely, for all Google knows, there aren't any within fifteen minutes of reading from the first page.

[Mormonism] explicitly excludes women from leadership positions.

Absolutely not.


You rely on the same dodge the Catholics do. Yes women have a role in Mormonism; yes, that role can be influential

But, not in terms of running Mormonism. SFAIK, and please disabuse me as required, all formal, hierarchical, leadership positions in Mormonism are restricted to males, just as in Catholicism.

[Skipper said]The difference is not discernable; there is no telling the false [revelation] from the true...

As I have noted before, when we've discussed religion, you have the spiritual equivalent of color-blindness.

Just because YOU have not experienced the Divine, doesn't mean that NOBODY has.


As with Peter, you have missed the point. I haven't said in this thread, and I doubt I have ever said, that nobody has experienced the Divine. In fact, one of the fundamental elements of my post is taking as stipulated that there is such a thing as true revelatory experiences.

The point you missed is that, granting the experience of the Divine revelation, neither you, nor David, Peter and any host of theological experts you might care to name can discern which, of all the experiences claimed as Divine Revelation are the real deal, and which are jumped up intra-cranial echoes.

I think I was pretty clear on the point here: If [revelation as the only source of morality] is so, then polygamy, and the contrived expulsion of boys, is just as moral as any other divine diktat: the argument is self-gutting. Revelation is meaningless when humans get to decide which to keep, and which to hurl into the deep blue sea.

A vast overreach. If you truly think that the FLDS is the "functional equivalent" of the Taliban, then you don't know enough about the Taliban.

I do know a fair amount about the Taliban; yes, my statement has a fair amount of the rhetorical in it. But, if you were to read the referenced article, the degree of control within FLDS communities is just as totalitarian as that of the Taliban. The major significant difference is that the FLDS communities aren't renowned for actually killing apostates and those who fail to follow directions.

It would seem, though, that taking boys from their mothers should be bad enough.

September 27, 2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger David said...

Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups - Revised

Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.

Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. The following list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.

Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

The group is preoccupied with making money.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

‪Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

September 27, 2007 6:01 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Fine, that identifies Islam, Catholicism, and Mormonism as cults. Maybe even Orthodo Judaism, too.

Of course, we could debate all day about where to draw the line between "moderate" and "excessive"; we could also debate how many angels dance on the heads of a pin.

NB: you are the one who introduced "cult" into this discussion, although its relationship to the point at hand is not immediately clear.

Perhaps the definition for cult could be shortened to:

Religious belief with which the definer strenuously disagrees, and wishes to invalidate, without scoring an own goal.

September 27, 2007 6:17 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper,

I have to say that given your high level of intelligence and excellent command of the English language as demonstrated by your writing, I'm quite surprised that you're unable to discern the difference between the definitions of "cult" and "religion". No matter, at least I know that if I see you write "cult" you simply mean "religion" with none of the other connotations that are usually associated with the word "cult".

September 27, 2007 8:26 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: The fundamental problem here is that your beliefs are betraying you. You think that you're scoring points, but this is laughable to anyone who takes religion seriously. Every once in a while the Duckians start talking amongst themselves. That's perfectly fine, you're entitled. But don't expect us to take it seriously.

And, no, the definition is carefully drawn to avoid mainstream religions and even most alternative religions. The people who horrify you are a cult and no conclusions you draw from them apply, inpso facto, to religion.

September 27, 2007 8:30 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Just because YOU have not experienced the Divine, doesn't mean that NOBODY has.'

Well, I haven't. Whom do I get to blame?

Big Spook been holdin' out on me?

September 28, 2007 12:32 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes Skipper, you are arguing like the fervent teetotaller who insists there is no difference between a boistrous, end-of-the-week office party and an alcoholic bender because no one can identify precisely the drink that converts one into the other. You really should read Taylor to help you see how your respect for the rational, objective, quantifiable and measurable has morphed from a tool that helps you understand the world around you to a conceptual prison that blinds you to many realities everyone else can see clearly.

September 28, 2007 2:16 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Well, I haven't. Whom do I get to blame?

Big Spook been holdin' out on me?


Why, you can blame Him, Harry. Let 'er rip! That's what the scriptural literalists do.

September 28, 2007 3:08 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

holdin' out on me?

Just waiting for an unguarded moment. But Harry sleeps with one eye open, so He's probably starting to lose hope.

September 28, 2007 9:52 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Do you guys realize how dastardly you make your gods sound?

To me, that is the only true mystery of religion: why anyone would find it admirable.

I can understand the poor savage who throws his daughter into the volcano, but not the modern theologian who throws her into a convent, Jeffs house trailer etc.

September 28, 2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

Weenie! You non-believers just hide behind the comfort and security atheism gives you.

September 28, 2007 2:33 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, there's something to that, once you get over being afraid of being punished forever for not having what you never asked for.

September 28, 2007 4:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

True makes admirable irrelevant.

September 28, 2007 8:31 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Inarguable yes, irrelevant no.

Assume there is a god. It does not follow that he deserves to be worshipped.

September 28, 2007 9:24 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

There is a difference between a cult and a religion, but it is a sociological difference. There is no objective difference.

A cult is merely a socially unacceptable religion. All religions start out as cults. Christianity was a cult of Judaism, and also of Hellenism. Now it is a dominant world religion, but theologically it isn't much different from the cult from which it arose. Theology didn't turn it into a religion, social acceptance did.

You could argue that Christianity's true form is as a cult and not a religion. So much of its self image, reflected in the gospels and the writings of the disciples and evangelists, is about suffering for God's truth as revealed through Jesus in a hostile world. "The stone that was rejected by the builders shall be the cornerstone" and all that. Today's evangelists pretend that they are still the outcasts by society, when in fact they dominate it.

Cults arise because social acceptance drains the fuel that intense sprirtual experience requires. Cults and religions are two poles of a dynamic social interaction.

September 29, 2007 9:36 AM  
Blogger David said...

First, allow me to do a victory dance as Harry finally enunciates my vision of atheism:

Assume there is a god. It does not follow that he deserves to be worshipped. (Emphasis most emphatically added)

Bingo! as they say. Most atheists are not people who reject G-d as a concept. They are people who don't like Him because He's not nice. Otherwise, their atheism would be rueful rather than triumphalist.

I also take Duck's comment to be implicitly conceding my point. Obviously, "cult" and "religion" are not unrelated concepts. But they are sufficiently different that when Skipper says, "See, here's a bad religion so all religions are bad," we can skip over the logical fallacy to point out the category mistake. That's not a religion, that's a cult.

September 29, 2007 10:12 AM  
Blogger David said...

And yes, I know that the Duckians think that niceness and goodness are inherent, even definitional, aspects of monotheistic G-dhood. To which I reply with my other point about American atheism: it's a Christian heresy.

September 29, 2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry: Assume there is a god. It does not follow that he deserves to be worshipped.

David: Bingo! as they say. Most atheists are not people who reject G-d as a concept. They are people who don't like Him because He's not nice. Otherwise, their atheism would be rueful rather than triumphalist.

Me: David, atheists are most definitely people who reject God as a concept. But you have to define the concept to be accepted/rejected. You refuse to do so, but the popular concept of God is as a personal being. I would extend Harry's statement to say that it does not follow that God even wants or expects worship. The whole idea of worshipping God is a conceptualization of Him (the gender applies) as an egotistical, jealous, human king.

You may reject the idea of a personal God, but if you do then the idea that this God requires worship goes out the door with the personal nature. You have a different concept of God, different enough to deserve a different spelling. If you can "flesh" this concept of yours out more fully, then I could tell you if I reject it or not.

But if atheism is a Christian heresy, it is only because Christianity is the dominant religion requiring accepgtance or rejection. As Marlon Brando said in the Wild Bunch when asked what he is rebelling against, "what do you got?" Well, Christianity is what we got.

September 29, 2007 10:32 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Another word on cults. A religion can also be a cult. Social acceptance is a local thing. In Utah Mormonism is a religion, but in Alabama it is a cult. Like I said, there is no objective difference.

September 29, 2007 10:47 AM  
Blogger David said...

Of course there's a difference, or your sentence would be gibberish.

If you're right, then we could set "cult" and "religion" equal to "grut" and your sentence would read: Another word on gruts. A grut can also be a grut. Social acceptance is a local thing. In Utah Mormonism is a grut, but in Alabama it is a grut.

So, either there's a meaingful difference, or we're just dealing with tautologies.

As for the other thing, it appears that we agree that atheists are rebelling against the Christian conception of god, rather than against G-d as a concept. I object to both the "King" metaphor and the "He" metaphor specifically because it leads to the type of confusion (of maybe type-confusion) we see on the Daily Duck. On the other hand, the "vengeful" and "jealous" metaphors are main-stream constants of monotheistic thought. Just remember that these constructs are metaphors that allow us to approach an understanding of Him; they result from our limits, not His. This is very much like the way in which our inability to discuss evolution without using the language of anthropomorphism and teleology betrays a mistake in our conception of evolution.

September 29, 2007 11:25 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck wrote: "Like I said, there is no objective difference."

Well, I suppose all meaning is subjective, and when you, like hey skipper, write the word religion or cult, I know not to read the nuances and subtleties generally (though subjectively) understood by most of the population about the differences between the two words.

Other than the fact that the dictionary has different definitions for the two words (though there is obviously some overlap) and David's comment regarding the psychological differences, to me the most important differences are longevity and destructiveness.

To me, any religious organization that has lasted hundreds or even thousands of years is a religion. A closely related measure is that any religious organization that is very destructive to its members and to itself is a cult. (Note that a religion can be arguably somewhat destructive to its members and still qualify as long as its not so destructive as to ensure the collapse of the organization and its members).

Christianity is a religion. The Branch Davidians under David Koresh were members of a cult. It seems pretty clear to me. Almost "objectively" clear.

September 29, 2007 11:28 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,

Sure, just as the words "free-spirit" and "slut" are two different words. In Manhattan Madonna is a free-spirit, in Alabama she is a slut.

Having two words for something doesn't mean that the words describe two objectively different realities. The words describe the opinions of the subject, not the object described.

Bret,

Early Christianity was very detrimental to the health of its believers. It still is for believers in China, or Iran or Indonesia. So is Christianity a cult or not?

September 29, 2007 12:01 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

And let us not forget that the word has more than one meaning and that those sneaky Duckians are prone to lean technically on one while taking full advantage of the negative connotations of another.

The word can suggest nothing more than a small, breakaway group challenging orthodoxy and possibly persecuted for it. Christianity was certainly that long ago. In its modern sense, it implies mind control, abuse and virtual enslavement by a charismatic leader. No, I don't think so.

September 29, 2007 12:03 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm not rebelling against anything or even rebelling against nothing. I ain't rebelling at all.

I guess I thought I should not have had to spell it all out, but 'it does not follow that he deserves to be worshipped' does not exclude the concept 'it follows that he does not deserve to be worshipped.'

I have in the past instanced Inanna, a loving mother goddess, who -- in that early aspect at least -- was not necessarily undeserving of worship or admiration. (She deteriorated later on.)

I just don't know of any attractive gods. Not all are as repellant as the god of the Bible, but at best they rise to the status of indifferent tree-spirits.

And I have always been careful not to use teleological or anthropomorhic language with respect to darwinism. I agree, falling back on it is a weakness in its expositors, but it does not follow that it is a weakness in the idea, which does not need it.

September 29, 2007 12:17 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Just remember that these constructs are metaphors that allow us to approach an understanding of Him; they result from our limits, not His. This is very much like the way in which our inability to discuss evolution without using the language of anthropomorphism and teleology betrays a mistake in our conception of evolution.

But when we discuss evolution using anthropomorphic terms, we know that we are using metaphors. People who believe in God aren't believing in metaphors, they're believing that the words they use to describe God are describing the reality of his being. If you think that God is a metaphor, then you don't believe in God but something else that you're not naming.

The problem with using personal metaphors to describe God is that the metaphor doesn't map. Metaphors work because there is a mapping of concepts. Design can be used as a metaphor for evolution because there is a correspondence of outcomes, of form and function.

But using a personal metaphor to describe a transcendent, eternal, timeless reality won't work. Kings demand worship not because they are all powerful but because they are weak and insecure. Creating a cult of worship distracts a kings subjects from the very natural human reaction to anyone who tries to impose his will on one, which is to rebel. To believe that God is a being similar to a king demanding worship is to believe that He too has feet of clay and is insecure in his position as eternal lord of the universe. The two concepts don't map. If god is an eternal and transcendent being, he can't possibly share these traits with human kings.

I object to both the "King" metaphor and the "He" metaphor specifically because it leads to the type of confusion (of maybe type-confusion) we see on the Daily Duck.

Then you object to the metaphors that form the very heart of theism, either mono or poly. The fact that early kings and emperors portrayed themselves as gods should alert you to the inescapable relationship between the two.

September 29, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

People who believe in God aren't believing in metaphors, they're believing that the words they use to describe God are describing the reality of his being.

You are just proving David's point that it is a very Christian concept of God (actually, more a traditional Christian cosmolgy) that upsets you, to which I would add, a very Catholic Christian child's concept. Not everybody runs away just because they can't figure out the Lisbon earthquake or because they come to accept "a personal god" doesn't seem to mean a combination of an endlessly patient therapist and that old TV hero, "The Equalizer". Ever hear of the Reformation, Duck?

This reminds me of that stock character in British comic novels, the fuddy-duddy Anglican vicar who wakes one day to find he can no longer believe in the thirty-nine articles. It's always all thirty-nine at once and results in a complete collapse of belief. It's never, say, fourteen followed by some spiritual growing up. Although today, of course, belief in the thirty-nine articles would disqualify him from the job in the first place.

The fact that early kings and emperors portrayed themselves as gods should alert you to the inescapable relationship between the two.

Not Jewish, Christian or I believe Muslim kings and emperors, which should alert you to something.

September 29, 2007 12:55 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

"You are just proving David's point that it is a very Christian concept of God (actually, more a traditional Christian cosmolgy) that upsets you, to which I would add, a very Catholic Christian child's concept."

Seeing that I grew up as a Catholic, what concept of God should I be rebelling against?

And as for child's concepts all I can say is: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

But believing that God is a personal being is pretty mainstream for Christians across the theological and age spectrum. So where do you stand on this question, Peter?

As for the Reformation, I'd say that reformed and evangelical protestants are some of the most childlike in how they envision God. The only sect of Christians that I know of where the image of God as an impersonal entity is entertained is Unitarianism.

But if three of the 39 theses can be discarded, on what basis should one believe in the other 36? This gets down to Skipper's question. Where is the objective evidence to believe in anything Christianity has to say? There is no objective evidence, it's whatever you choose to believe. So why do Christians continue to claim that they have an objective basis for morality?

If sophisticated, grown up adults are picking and choosing which parts of revealed truth they will believe in, then the whole notion of objectivity has been thrown out the door. Sohpisticated yes, but not sophisticated enough to realise this. The truth is either revealed, which means that you have to accept it as is, or it isn't, which means you're making it up.

September 29, 2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger save said...

Serious question. Is Martin Luther considered divine revelation?

September 29, 2007 1:44 PM  
Blogger David said...

If it weren't for red herrings, you wouldn't have any herrings at all.

I should clear up one thing. Just because "king" and "lord" and "He" are metaphors allowing us to approach an understanding of G-d (metaphors that have outlived their usefulness because now they take us farther away from that understanding), does not mean that G-d is a metaphor. G-d exists. I don't understand G-d. I use metaphors to help me approach understanding asymptotically.

Also, "objective" doesn't mean what you think it means. Gravity is an objective fact. Gravity is a creation of G-d's. I can't explain how it works, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't work, that it would stop working if I started disbelieving in G-d or that I get to choose my own gravity -- unless, of course, I claimed that I did choose my own gravity, but it just happens to share all the attributes of G-d given gravity.

September 29, 2007 1:45 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,
Gravity is an objective fact because everyone experiences it, and everyone who performs the same experiment to measure its effects gets the same result.

But everyone who experiences God's revelation doesn't get the same result. Some get no result. Some get the result that he is an angry male who goes by the name of Allah and who doesn't like his picture taken. Some get the result that she is a loving woman who will give eternal life to all creatures. Others think that he is a 2000 year old jew who was nailed to a cross. Still others think, or thought, that he is the sun.

Religion fails the test of objectivity.

September 29, 2007 2:14 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I should clear up one thing. Just because "king" and "lord" and "He" are metaphors allowing us to approach an understanding of G-d (metaphors that have outlived their usefulness because now they take us farther away from that understanding), does not mean that G-d is a metaphor. G-d exists. I don't understand G-d. I use metaphors to help me approach understanding asymptotically.

David, how do you know that the metaphors help you approach an understanding? What feedback are you getting to clue you into the notion that a given metaphor is getting you closer to a truer understanding? How do you know that the king and lord metaphors take you farther away?

Using metaphors in science is helpful if the metaphors can produce theories that can be tested. But there is no testing with God. All a metaphor about God can do is fill a mental void for something that is unknowable. It doesn't help understanding, it's just a substitute for understanding. It is pretending to understand. It's like the drawing of a sea serpent on a map of an undiscovered sea.

September 29, 2007 2:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck, I enjoy dueling and even taunting you heathens, but I don't think I have ever said anything like: "If you really are atheists, you have to believe in the altruistic gene." What is with this fixation with the details of what believers believe?

So most people have a childlike image of God? So what, most secularists have a view of darwinism that doesn't go beyond the slug-to-fish-to-chimp-to-man charts on the walls of their science class. Most people don't study either darwinism or theology. But we here do, or at least pretend we do.

Duck, there are two things all religious people have to confront. The first is evil or bad things that don't have an apparent purpose. The second is that the divine nature and purpose is largely hidden from us. He doesn't put an especially bright star in the sky on Christmas Eve. This has been known and pondered from the beginning--it is all part of religion. It was not first discovered by clever post Enlightenment modernists. Many people can't get beyond these two problems and they become non-believers. Many people do get beyond them in some way and remain religious. Neat, eh?

September 29, 2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter, I enjoy your erudite taunting, but not so much your maddening refusal to argue a point. So tell me this. What objective evidence is there for the claims of Christianity, or for any religion for that matter?

And if you think that traditional images of God are mere metaphors, then what do you actually believe about God?

September 29, 2007 3:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'What is with this fixation with the details of what believers believe?'

There wouldn't be any if believers didn't use the Big Spook to trump any objection to their imposing their details, which otherwise rest either on 1) because I say so; or 2) this is the voice of experience.

Neither requires a deity.

Big Spook knows I do not try to keep the details of all the creation stories I have ever encountered in my wet data sticks.

September 29, 2007 5:18 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

What objective evidence is there for the claims of Christianity

You're serious? You want evidence? Oh sorry, you want something called "objective" evidence? Is that a code word for dismissing evidence you don't like by saying it isn't evidence? Sort of like when someone makes some really good criticism of something and is told that, sadly, the criticism isn't "constructive"?

There are many, many scholarly works on general Biblical accuracy. Concerning Christianity itself, there are many impressive analyses of how extremely unlikely the whole story would be if it were just made up by a charlatan or a product of some mass delusion. After all, it is the mother of all counter-intuitive stories and runs completely contrary to the social, political, ethical and spiritual zeitgeist of the era. Spielberg couldn't have made it up on his best day. Then there are the histories and testimonials of the age, which many say simply could not have been made up in tandem for many reasons. When you have finished with those, you can start wading through the libraries on what has happened since. Nothing to measure with a slide rule, though.

if believers didn't use the Big Spook to trump any objection to their imposing their details,

Poor Harry, pining away for his carefree, lustful, raucous youth when he was surrounded by attentive Christians trying to impose their details on him. Now he sits alone blogging and watching the flies in his garden speciate, and nobody calls. Harry, want us to send a priest or rabbi over to pay a little attention? How about one of each?

September 30, 2007 2:27 AM  
Blogger erp said...

... wet data sticks???? Do I want to know what this means?

September 30, 2007 5:18 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: I can show you plenty of things that go up. Can you show me one successful atheist civilization?

September 30, 2007 5:46 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You're braver than I am, erp!

September 30, 2007 7:44 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You're serious? You want evidence? Oh sorry, you want something called "objective" evidence? Is that a code word for dismissing evidence you don't like by saying it isn't evidence?

No code words, it means dismissing evidence that can only be found inside of a person's head. Don't you think that what to believe about God deserves the highest attention to detail? Or is any old hearsay good enough to direct one's commitment to any of the multiple competing versions of religious truth out there?

There are many, many scholarly works on general Biblical accuracy. Concerning Christianity itself, there are many impressive analyses of how extremely unlikely the whole story would be if it were just made up by a charlatan or a product of some mass delusion.

That's what you don't get, Peter. Such stories get generated all the time. What is unlikely is that a period of more than 50 years goes by without some new cult arising with a new set of miraculous revelations. It's happening today. The unlikely part is for one to stick and become a major world religion. Turnover in the major religion category doesn't happen too often. People are primed to hear and believe miraculous stories.

"After all, it is the mother of all counter-intuitive stories and runs completely contrary to the social, political, ethical and spiritual zeitgeist of the era."

That's not true. The Jesus myth contains elements that were present in existing Jewish and Hellenic religious traditions.

Then there are the histories and testimonials of the age, which many say simply could not have been made up in tandem for many reasons.

All of it doesn't have to be fiction. It is very possible that there was a Jesus who went about preaching, gathered disciples, and was executed by the Romans. Nothing supernatural or unbelievable about that. But the legendary aspects of his life, the supernatural add-ons, developed over many decades in an uneven manner, documented by second and third hand authors. These accounts were written by devotees and believers, not objective historians.

When you have finished with those, you can start wading through the libraries on what has happened since. Nothing to measure with a slide rule, though.

And what does what happened since prove?

September 30, 2007 8:02 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David: I don't get the "things that go up" reference.

As far as atheist civilizations, how many atheists does a civilization have to have to count as an atheist civilization? Europe is getting there, and contrary to the dire, self serving warnings of religious conservatives in the US, it is in no serious danger of collapsing.

Since people are by nature primed for religious belief, the question doesn't really shed much light on the matter. Until the present age all have been religious, and there have been a whole lot of unsuccessful religious civilizations. (Not to make you feel bad, but the Jewish civilization hasn't done all that well for itself. But it is hanging in there.)

What constitutes success, anyhow? As with two men running away from a pursuing tiger, neither has to outrun the tiger, only outrun the other guy. When you subtract the failed religious civilizations, then the successful ones are the ones that outran the unsuccessful ones.

I can't predict the future, but by extrapolating from the trendline of the last century the future will see increasing success for secularism. "None of the above" is the fastest growing world religion. Christianity is shrinking on a per-capita basis worldwide. Islam is the only monotheism that is still growing, percentage wise, and that is due to birthrates, not conversions. If you can wait half a century or so, you may get a partial answer to your question.

September 30, 2007 8:21 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Hardly brave. Foolhardy, is more likely.

September 30, 2007 10:08 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'wet data sticks' = memory in the brain. like 'wetware'

Peter, are you seriously arguing that the stories about Jesus are contemporary with the alleged life of this alleged person?

The earliest physical texts are hundreds of years later.

It is certainly remarkable how careless the Jews and Christians were with their divinely given documents. Not one original remains.

This is handly for the Fundamentalists, who, when the obvious impossibilities are pointed out, claim that these are introduced errors and the 'original autographs' were infallible.

If we had to depend for our information about what's in the Declaration of Independence on the same documentation we have for the preachings (let alone the miracles) of Jesus, we would know of it only via oral traditions.

The NT and the OT are all hearsay.

September 30, 2007 11:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: The Fundamentalists believe that the Bible as it has come down to us is the inerrant word of G-d. It's the rest of us who accept that there have been transmission errors and that different verses are aimed at different times.

Duck: My point about "things that go up" is that, from a functional point of view, gravity is much less objective than morality. Your point about it not being a fair test of atheist civilization because there haven't been any, um, misses the point, which is that there haven't been any.

The Jews have done well and done badly but here we are, which proves something. Jewish civilization, on the other hand, has become the dominant word order. In any event, the point isn't how any one religious civilization does among many, it's how all successful civilizations are religions. Religion might not be sufficient for success, but it does seem to be necessary.

Nor is Europe going to save your secular bacon. If it continues to succeed, it will be because it is living off its religious patrimony. If it fails, it will be the atheist's fault. My money, though, is on its becoming Islamic and failing because, as you and Skipper refuse to acknowledge, not all religions are equal.

September 30, 2007 12:41 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Nor is Europe going to save your secular bacon. If it continues to succeed, it will be because it is living off its religious patrimony. If it fails, it will be the atheist's fault.

Heads I win, tails you lose. That's a great game, if you can find someone dumb enough to play it with you. Europe entered the twentieth century as a Christian civilization, a civilization at it's peak. So what happened?

The ultimate judge of a civilization's success is if it can sustain itself over time. Whatever happens to Europe, the judgment on its Christian civilization is in. It failed. It's not there anymore, in any semblance of its former self. That which remains is hardly the stuff to stiffen Europe's spine. Its the atheists who are manning the ramparts. Europe's bishops are rolling out the red prayer carpet.

But if Europe succeeds as a secular civilization, then its patrimony from Christianity wasn't dependent on any religious component. I take your point that atheism is a Christian heresy, but that just shows that Christianity gave birth to its own replacement. Sure, Christians further developed the philosophies, inherited from pagan Greece, that gave rise to science. Unfortunately for Christianity, it was a development that was too successful for its (Christianity's) own good.

I don't see that Christianity or Islam will disappear from the world anytime soon. But neither will secularism. Of the three, secularism will gain the most over the next 100 years.

September 30, 2007 1:34 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't get the idea that atheism is a Christian heresy, on either historical or theological grounds.

Atheism was thriving among the Greek eggheads before Christianity was invented.

Heresy is a concept alien to any form of atheism I can imagine. That it is antichristian we have been told often enough, but if Christians were to disappear (as they have promised to do -- I read it on a bumper sticker), atheism would remain.

September 30, 2007 2:40 PM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Its the atheists who are manning the ramparts.

It's the atheist, I think you mean. Hitchens is splendid in his isolation on the secular left so far as I can see. As for the people actually pulling a trigger and stopping a bullet for Europe, they are disproportionately American, and quite likely to be folks like these.

September 30, 2007 3:52 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Just to keep in mind the point of my post:

objective morality: without God's revelation, humans would suffer at least one of two consequences: the inability to determine right from wrong, or, granting that, no particular reason to choose one over the other.

Accepting objective morality as given, polygamy and the attendant abandonment of boys are both moral.

Distinctions between "religion" and "cult" are irrelevant to the discussion.

(And meaningless in effect: when Mormonism was new, it would have fulfilled every aspect the the definition for a "cult."; its basis has not changed, yet somehow it is now a religion. As a matter of practical fact, it is easy to label extreme religious beliefs as "cults." Wonderful. But irrelevant. The basis of both cults and religions is revelation. Labelling a set of revelations invalid because they happen to be employed by a cult only serves to destroy the whole concept of revelation in detail. By employing that argument, David, you only make my point for me.

Bret: the label "cult" is used to invalidate a specific set of religious beliefs without invalidating the whole basis for religious belief. Is Scientology a cult, or a religion? Ask Pope Benedict is Mormonism is a cult or a religion. What about Islam? Ultimately, what you end up with is religionists labelling those who adhere most closely to revelation as being the cultists. Even given a great deal of time I would be left breathless trying to think of something more damning of the entire enterprise.)

To reiterate: the FLDS and polygamy break the back of objective morality: the combination serves to demonstrate that all such claims are simply wrong, and survive only because donning the mantle of religious belief acts as a shield against rigorous analysis.

To reiterate further: the plethora of revelations, in all their contradictory glory, means every moral conclusion, no matter how absurd, may be based upon revelation.

So, for the theists among you, the task is not to debate atheism or theism, or whether atheists are rebelling at some simulacrum of God.

Rather, your task is to, having accepted the theistic basis for objective morality, demonstrate why it is not fatally flawed at the outset -- why it is nothing more than humans cherry picking among an undifferentiable mass of revelation and solipsistic intra-cranial echoes.

Saying things like The fundamental problem here is that your beliefs are betraying you. You think that you're scoring points, but this is laughable to anyone who takes religion seriously. proceeds in no way towards that destination, as it fails to elucidate which beliefs, how, or in what way taking religion seriously relieves the dilemma at hand.

Similarly for you, Peter. When you say Yes Skipper, you are arguing like the fervent teetotaller who insists there is no difference between a boistrous, end-of-the-week office party and an alcoholic bender because no one can identify precisely the drink that converts one into the other. you are missing the point entirely.

Which is this: use the terms "cult" and "religion" in whichever way you prefer. In so doing, tell us which revelations are in fact revelations, and which are jumped up delusions.

Neither you nor David can manage that feat without leaving the concept of revelation as intact as a champagne glass after forcefully confronting a brick floor.

The diversion into the concepts of atheism and theism are wholly beside the point; I am happy to take the theists at their word.

Having done so, theists, please rescue Objective Morality from self inflicted collapse.

September 30, 2007 5:21 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

You see? You asked for evidence and I suggested some. Better and more informed minds than yours and mine have been both impressed and unimpressed by it. Didn't say it was a proof, and you and both I know no proofs in the carefully designed and circumscribed sense you meant exist or were ever claimed to exist, which is presumably why you asked. Don't you atheists ever tire of setting exams that guarantee God will fail? I guess not, it's just too much fun roaring back with a blanket dismissal cribbed from some 18th century atheist dissident's pamphlet. Duck, are you really interested in all this or just in doing battle for the American Kulturkamph alongside the left? I'm beginning to think you dream of being a senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Truth. "OK, so let's take a vote. All in favour of being polite to the religious for three more years, say aye."

Harry:

Atheism was thriving among the Greek eggheads

Ah yes, but unlike you, Harry, they didn't keep running off to the Oracle at Delphi to rail against the gods they disbelieved in.

Skipper:

Rather, your task is to, having accepted the theistic basis for objective morality, demonstrate why it is not fatally flawed at the outset -

Gee Skipper, with all those points of yours I keep missing, I completely failed to grasp I am on trial and you are making all the evidentiary rulings. For some time I have been intrigued by David's notion that the Dawkins/Hitchens brand of hate-mongering atheism is a Christian heresy, but it's only today I realize how much you have all been inspired by the Inquisition.

October 01, 2007 3:12 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

If they didn't feel a need to rail at the gods, it could have been that in those times, believers did not think they were hearing heavenly voices telling them to kill unbelievers.

According to Peter and David, revealed truth has come a long way since then. True, but in which direction?

(Well, this was the case among the civilized Greeks. Not so much among the Persians. Some things don't change over 2,500 years.)

October 01, 2007 9:19 AM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: The predictions of astrology don't pan out, so science is false.

October 01, 2007 4:43 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That one was unworthy. Nobody accepts astrology as science in the way that, eg, Orrin accepts Islam as a subdivision of Judeo-Christianity.

I don't visit his place often, but I was tempted to see how he squared the circle of Ahmadinijad's remarks at Columbia. Orrin may be confused about the identity of Shia Islam and holy roller Christianity, but Ahmadinijad isn't.

October 01, 2007 11:43 PM  
Blogger David said...

"Nobody" or millions of people?

October 02, 2007 4:59 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, I was wondering about that too, but presumably they are all more or less Kansas types and Harry and his pals just can't figure out what's the matter with Kansas, so they don't count.

October 02, 2007 5:13 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Millions of people -- billions for all I know -- believe in the effectiveness of, eg, rhino horn as an aphrodisiac. Do they count?


Anybody who believes in astrology has taken himself out of the science community, so these people don't count.

But this discussion has been remarkably abstract. If there is an objective morality, then there must be particular situations in which the moral choice is perfectly clear.

Here's one: Is it moral to kill someone for not believing in an unprovable proposition? If he is presented with two unprovable but mutually contradictory propositions, must he be killed?

Discuss.

October 02, 2007 9:41 AM  
Blogger erp said...

It's not moral to kill someone for any other reason than the preservation life or liberty.

October 02, 2007 10:10 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'm not sure that I'd go as far as erp, but the answer to the question asked is "no." Of course, we can distinguish that question from the related but closer (and entirely fact dependent) question about killing someone who, due to his belief or disbelieve in an abstract, unprovable idea, threatens the stability or even survival of the host civilization.

But, of course, in this argument it is Peter and I who are supporting the idea of making distinctions. It is the atheists who seem to have learned their rhetoric from the Cheshire Cat -- an entity that is only intermittently provable.

October 02, 2007 10:45 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Discuss

Splendid idea. I would love to bring these guys in on that, but they are all of a sudden not answering their cell phones.

October 02, 2007 11:30 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

The predictions of astrology don't pan out, so science is false.

How do we know the predictions of astrology didn't pan out?

Answer that question, contrast the answer with the problem of distinguishing true from false revelations, and you will then discover you scored an own goal.


But, of course, in this argument it is Peter and I who are supporting the idea of making distinctions.

No, you haven't. You assert that distinctions are possible only through objective morality, which is impossible without divine revelation.

Except that it is impossible with it, also.

How do we know polygamy is immoral?

Hint: it isn't through revelation.

October 02, 2007 6:36 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

You answer 'no,' but the merchants of objective morality have all answered 'yes.'

So, now, on what grounds do you reject the clear mandates of objective morality? Can I assume they are subjective?

Your 'distinction' assumes facts not in evidence and is unresponsive.

October 02, 2007 7:25 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: You say that it's not a science until it's proved to be a science.

I say that it's not a religion unless it's proved to be a religion.

If it's not a religion, then it can't prove anything about religion.

Harry: There has never been a time when any Judeo-Christian religion has killed others simply for not believing in the same god. And even if they did, what would it have to do with me?

October 02, 2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Sure there has. Until recently, there wasn't any time when it didn't happen. I suppose you are going to claim that Hypatia was torn to pieces because she was plotting against the society?

And it has nothing to do with you. I thought we were talking about objective morality.

You're whistling past the graveyard, and it's a very big graveyard.

October 03, 2007 12:14 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

Not only is relative morality defined as whatever Skipper finds revolting, science is defined as whatever he thinks is true.

October 03, 2007 3:06 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Polygamy has nothing to do with morality. Are Moslem men immoral for following their holy book and taking multiple wives according to scripture? How about African chieftains who keep dozens of wives? Chinese culture also allowed more than one wife.

Modern western culture found polygamy, incest and other "practices" repugnant and outlawed them.

You might say we updated divine revelation.

October 03, 2007 6:57 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Skipper: You say that it's not a science until it's proved to be a science.

Yes, but saying so only serves to contradict yourself, as evidenced by your very next sentence:

I say that it's not a religion unless it's proved to be a religion.

No, at least not in this thread. You have said only it is a cult if it can be proved to be a cult; that says nothing about the mutually exclusive belief systems claiming to be religions that cannot be proven cults.

Here is where you are contradicting yourself, in precisely the same way you did when you said The predictions of astrology don't pan out ...

How do you know they don't pan out?

How do you know Mormonism is a religion, and FLDS is a cult?

From the post: Religious belief is the perfect inverse of the Incompleteness Theorem.

Per the IC, there are true statements within non-trivial systems that are true, but cannot be proven true within that system. (that is, true for all known cases, but not provably true for all possible cases)

Religious belief, and, by extension, objective morality turn that completely on its head: there are statements -- revelations -- within any religious belief system (never mind across them) which are false, but cannot be proven false within the system. What is worse, because there is no determining which revelations are false, there is also no way whatsoever, within the religious belief system, to determine which are true.

Your claim to be able to prove FLDS is a cult is based in no way within religion; rather, you arrive at that conclusion only by stepping outside of religion and relying entirely upon materialism.

Every one of the criteria you cited above is ascertainable only through observing available evidence and systematically applying that evidence so that any other observer -- presumably even FLDS members themselves -- would arrive at the same conclusion.

Okay, I'll buy it when you say it's not a religion unless it is proved to be a religion (and ignore the fact that using 'a' instead of 'the' leaves objective morality just as dead in the water as it was before shoving cults over the side).

Just as you use materialism to sort cult from religion, you also use materialism to sort true revelation from false, and, thusly, moral from immoral: objective morality boils down to merely putting a God-gloss on picking and choosing.

There is no way within objective morality to conclude polygamy is immoral. That both Mormonism and FLDS still hold fast to D&C 132, and Mormon leaders held fast to the divine requirement for polygamy decades after apparently repudiating both show objective morality as the sham it really is.

October 03, 2007 7:22 AM  

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