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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Savage Exodus

April 30, 2012 1 comment

What kind of journalism student can’t tolerate listening to dissenting viewpoints?

Categories: gay rights Tags: ,

Everyone’s an Evangelical!

August 9, 2011 1 comment

Reza Aslan has another attack on “the new atheists” that repeats all the standard criticisms of the movement. He observers, along with every other detractor, that the new atheism is just like religious fundamentalism. Bus ads and other campaigns serve as his examples of proselytization. Critics find it endlessly clever to compare atheists to the evangelicals they often target. I’m always curious if they say that just because they know it will annoy atheists or if they actually think they’re offering a meaningful objection. Either way, the comparison is so broad as to be almost completely trivial.

You know who else has bus ads?

Zoos:

Flower shops:

Ambulance companies:

Aslan goes on to claim that the new atheism is a “particularly zealous form of fundamentalism.” He can’t be bothered to provide a single quote that demonstrates his allegation that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and others believe “they are in sole possession of the truth.” The charge is almost self-evidently false; “the new atheists” disagree with each other on many issues. Sam Harris, arguably the first “new atheist,” regularly argues that everyone (and atheists in particular) have a lot to learn from the spiritual experiences of mystics. The new atheists simply argue that people should provide reasons for their beliefs – a standard that the On Faith section of the Washington Post would collapse under.

Aslan wistfully remembers the atheism of the past that didn’t give “atheism a bad name.” Yes, Reza is actually arguing that Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett give atheism a bad name, but Marx and Nietzsche didn’t.

After that historically oblivious nostalgia, Aslan does his best liberal theologian impression:

What if one viewed the recurring patterns of religious phenomena that so many diverse cultures and civilizations–separated by immeasurable time and distance–seem to have shared as evidence of an active, engaging, transcendent presence (what Muslims call the Universal Spirit, Hindus call prana, Taoists call chi’i, Jews call ruah, and Christians call the Holy Spirit) that underlies creation, that, in fact, impels creation? Is such a possibility any more hypothetical than say, superstring theory or the notion of the multiverse?

I’m not sure what his first question is even asking, but I’m positive that “such a possibility” is, yes, more hypothetical than theoretical physics. This is due mainly to the fact those religious myths are either disproven already or completely untestable. Although many hypothesis in physics are indeed hypothetical they are qualitatively different from religious myths. Physicists construct them based on mathematical models that must be consistent with observable nature and rise and fall on the scientific method. Of course, scientists are often the harshest critics of theoretical physics. The models are also acknowledged to be hypothetical and won’t be fully scientifically accepted until they make accurate testable predictions. In a rhetorical move seemingly designed to embarrass the science-is-another-faith crowd, string theorist Brian Greene asks himself if he believes in string theory. His answer: “no.”

Do Christians, Hindus, and Muslims admit that their “religious phenomena” are hypothetical? Have they withheld believing in them until they clear standard evidentiary hurdles? Can Reza obscure the difference between science and religion any further?

Reza continues to push falsehoods about the positions of prominent new atheists. He writes, “new atheists will say that religion is not just wrong but evil, as if religion has a monopoly on radicalism and violence.” Again, no quotation is provided for the allegedly monolithic atheist view. In actuality, Sam Harris says that Jainism’s “core doctrine is nonviolence” and religions are as varied as sports. Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, “Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.” In his most famous polemic against religion, Christopher Hitchens explains that “Humanism has many crimes for which to apologize.” Hitchens and others openly acknowledge that nationalism and other non-religious ideologies can be dangerous; they just point out that faith-based beliefs are harder to correct and that no society has ever suffered from being too reasonable.

I’d love to see Aslan’s evidence for the “stock response” of the new atheists:

The new atheists claim that people of faith are not just misguided but stupid–the stock response of any absolutist.

Here’s Harris in a debate with Andrew Sullivan:

You have also made the false charge that I think religious people are “fools” or “idiots.” Needless to say, I do not think Blaise Pascal was an idiot (nor do I think you are, for that matter). But I do consider certain ideas idiotic, and idiotic ideas can occasionally be found rattling around the brains of extraordinarily intelligent people. One of the horrors of religious dogmatism is that it can produce a Pascal–a brilliant man who was irretrievably self-deceived on matters of profound importance.

Here’s Hitchens in The Portable Atheist:

I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim–so modestly and so humbly–to possess. It is time to withdraw our “respect” from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.

Yes, many atheists think certain believers are dimwitted or ignorant of science, but they don’t make any across-the-board claims about the intelligence of religious believers.

For all the noise about atheists caricaturing the religious, I’ve yet to find a criticism that substantively attacks what the new atheist authors actually argue. Instead, pundits like Chris Hedges and Reza Aslan bumble around like media copycat criminals showcasing a version of the crimes that they fictionalize atheists having committed. Aslan’s stock criticisms, editorial proselytization, and accusations of ignorance litter every scene where he leaves his stamp.

Categories: Atheism Tags: , ,

The Right Side of History

June 24, 2011 5 comments

New York state lawmakers voted 33-29 to legally extend marriage rights same-sex couples. Now the sixth state in America treats its citizens as more important than dogma. Good people across the state of New York won’t allow the godly to settle for bigotry and moral poverty.

God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage, a long time ago. -Senator Ruben Diaz, the lone Democrat opponent

Everyone that fought for this bill should be joyous that we continue to write our own history.

Here are some of my past posts on same-sex marriage. Feel free to search around the blog for others.

Homophones, Homosexuals, and the Essence of Marriage

Judge Walker: A Modern Jeremy Bentham

The Wisdom of Silence

It’s All About Tradition, Right?

(photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times)

The Corrosion of Normal Moral Thinking, Pt. III

Kirk Murphy’s mother became worried about her son’s behavior:

I was becoming a little concerned about playing with the girls’ toys and stroking the hair – ya know, the long hair and stuff. I was seeing effeminate mannerisms. That bothered me because I wanted Kirk to grow up and have a normal life.

In order to give her child the most normal life possible she subjected Kirk to experimental behavioral control therpy, emotionally neglected him, and allowed her husband to beat him as part of a reward/punishment plan. His brother says he became empty, couldn’t relate to people, and was never a happy child again after the age of 4. Kirk killed himself at 38.

Watch the beginning of Anderson Cooper’s 3-part series on George Rekers’ homosexual cure therapy.

Categories: Anderson Cooper, Religion Tags:

An Imperfect Argument

April 21, 2011 8 comments

I finally got around to watching the “Does Good Come From God?” debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig. There are a number of interesting aspects of this debate – Sam’s thoughts on it are here – but I want to challenge Dr. Craig’s foundational assumption, which I thought could have been more clearly undermined. Every apologist that wants to argue that morals come from God need to answer the Euthyphro dilemma: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” In other words, if God commands an evil act would it be good? If not, the good is clearly independent of God.

To escape this Dr. Craig asserts that God by his nature is perfect and good and cannot issue an evil commandment. But that just begs the question of what it means for something’s nature to be comprised of moral goodness. If kindness is by nature good then God – the divine commander in Craig’s view – is unnecessary for morality; we only need to refer to the good itself. Good by Craig’s logic is more fundamental than God – thus, Good doesn’t come from God.

Possibly even more problematic for his view is how “goodness” is defined by nature. If love and kindness is self-evidently a property of perfection and goodness, why again is God necessary for moral foundation? Staying true to theological tradition, his answer just pushes the question back a step. Let’s look at this game Craig plays: (I interjected some questions after Craig’s points – Craig never argues his positive case beyond these contentions) Seeing his arguments in print have a way of exposing their deficiency.

Where does good come from?

Craig: “Objective moral values are grounded in God.”

Skeptic: What if God commands something evil?

Craig: “Far from being arbitrary, God’s commandments must be consistent with his holy and loving nature.”

Skeptic: How do you know God’s nature is good?

Craig: “As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore, the highest good.”

Skeptic: How convenient, but what defines goodness?

Craig: “He is by nature loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth.”

Skeptic: But why are those attributes morally “good”? Why aren’t hatred, jealousy, and cruelty “good”?

Craig: [God] is not merely perfectly good; he is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured.”

Skeptic: You haven’t answered anything.

All these theological gymnastics illustrate the absurdity of the religious project. How does Craig or anyone else know that God is perfect or good by nature? How do we know perfection or goodness are defined in the way Craig says they are? If God’s nature (whatever that even means) was evil, would love still be good? If God really did issue morally obligatory commandments how would we be certain of their divine origin? As Dr. Harris points out throughout the debate, the bible repeatedly gets major questions of morality wrong (e.g. slavery) so we don’t have any obvious source to learn His commandments.

This improvisational fiction is not unique to Craig. The latest issue of Time magazine chronicles the debate between evangelicals on whether hell really exists or not and if so what its nature is. No one seems to notice that no one has any clue. If it wasn’t so consequential, Time might as well have reported on the debate between my alarm clock and my iPod.

When Cruelty is Kosher, ctd

February 21, 2011 4 comments

Back in November I explained that kosher and halal slaughter methods are needlessly cruel. Well, here’s a video to prove it.

It starts off with the comparatively “humane” bolt killing of a cow – then we get to see the ways god is satisfied by animals writhing in pain as they drown in their own blood after having their throats “naturally” slit. It’s just another example of how faith and dogma can get well-meaning people to proudly support gratuitous barbarism.

(video via Pharyngula)

Categories: Animal Rights, Religion Tags:

The Corrosion of Normal Moral Thinking, ctd

January 31, 2011 2 comments

In his New York Times opinion piece Nicholas Kristof highlights how religious thinking can cause people to care more about dogma than living human beings.

The National Women’s Law Center has just issued a report quoting doctors at Catholic-affiliated hospitals as saying that sometimes they are forced by church doctrine to provide substandard care to women with miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies in ways that can leave the women infertile or even endanger their lives.

Of course, stalwart apologist of the liberal religious Kristof champions his version of Jesus against those rule-sticklingly traditionalists.

The thought that keeps nagging at me is this: If you look at Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret as the protagonists in this battle, one of them truly seems to me to have emulated the life of Jesus. And it’s not the bishop, who has spent much of his adult life as a Vatican bureaucrat climbing the career ladder. It’s Sister Margaret, who like so many nuns has toiled for decades on behalf of the neediest and sickest among us.

I happen to agree with Kristof about the absurdity and callousness of the Church’s excommunication of a nun for saving a woman’s life, but how does he justify his judgement on religious grounds? Many sincere believers consider an embryo or a fetus to be an unborn human child equally deserving of moral compassion as a fully conscious adult. From their premises, they are being perfectly rational. Yet, Kristof summons the Nazarene in his court of moral opinion even though Jesus never told us what he thinks on this issue. However, there is certainly some biblical warrant to suppose God isn’t supportive of abortion. It’s not my burden to resolve this issue for either side. This thick haze just doesn’t obscure morally normal vision – there is no need to try to look through it. An unconscious blastocyst does not have the same moral weight as a breathing pregnant woman.

Sadly, it appears the Republican Party is lost in the fog and continues to exhibit more symptoms of moral vertigo with their push to redefine “the definition of rape and incest” in order to limit federal assistance for abortion.

For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.”

The sooner we abandon the notion that religion has a purchase on morality the better.

(1st piece)

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