Morality: Let’s Compare, Shall We?

What is morality?

mo·ral·i·ty /məˈrælɪti, mɔ-/
Noun:
1. Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.
2. Behavior as it is affected by the observation of these principles.

So we should conclude that a moral system effectively differentiates between right and wrong behavior in those circumstances where such distinctions are meaningful. Great. What makes a thing moral? If you’re a Christian, it’s generally adherence this list of ten rules:

  1. 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  3. 7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  4. 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. 12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
  6. 13 Thou shalt not kill.
  7. 14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. 15 Thou shalt not steal.
  9. 16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. 17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

I, on the other hand, adopt this* much more concise list:

  1. Harm is bad.
  2. Well-being is good.
  3. Intending to do harm is bad.
  4. Intending to cause well-being is good.
  5. In moral arithmetic, consequences matter more than intentions.
  6. All things being equal, harm done outweighs well-being caused.

Which principles better describe morality? Which list covers more territory, behavior-wise? Which standard forbids the abuse of children? Which construct includes commandments that do not actually pertain to “good and bad behavior?” Which model better values human life? Which option is more moral?

* This list may not be final. It is subject to revision upon further consideration. Like all things properly rational, it is not set in stone. If you have suggestions for revision, I am eager to engage them.
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Presuppositional Apologetics

I don’t have anything even remotely positive to say about the nature of presuppositional apologetics. When you base your entire argument on the “presupposition” that Christianity is true, and from that, you conclude that Christianity is true, that isn’t forming a rational argument—it’s begging the question like a complete asshat.

I’ll let my bro* NonStampCollector handle this one. Highlight that absurdity, bro!

Top tip: This argument works equally well to argue for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. When that’s true, you may wish to rethink your beliefs.

* Disclaimer: Not really my bro.

Respect my Freedom to Boss You Around!

I’m really sick of believers insisting that their right to religious freedom allows them to force their doctrines on everyone else. Believers: Stop it! What, you don’t think this happens? How about this crap as an example?

Some schools have decided not to allow girls to be offered the vaccine, which protects against a virus spread through intimate contact which causes cervical cancer. They have cited ‘strict Christian principles’ and that the girls ‘do not practise sex outside marriage’ and so do not need the vaccine.”

This is the sort of child abuse that Richard Dawkins rails against—the presumption that the children of religious parents will just magically share their religious beliefs. “Mommy and daddy are idiot literalists, so I’m an idiot literalist too! Yay!” No. This paradigm isn’t even remotely acceptable. For one, parents don’t always send their kids to religious schools because they’re explicitly religious; sometimes, parents do so because the schools have a better reputation than public schools, and neither the parents nor the children actually practice the school’s preferred religion. All of that aside, do you know how successful “Don’t have sex!” sex education is for kids? It completely isn’t.

Most people will have sex before they die. Most people will either sleep with more than one person or sleep with someone who has slept with more than one person. (Feel free to disagree if you’re in some weird situation where most of the people you know deviate from this statistic.) What does this mean? It means that denying a vaccine because “true” Christians don’t have sex with anyone at all ever except for their spouse is completely, hopelessly wrong.

In sum, this boils down to the school announcing, “We’re adopting a hostile stance to our students to actively punish any girl who has sex for violating the brand of Christianity that we’re trying to impose on her.”

The UK isn’t alone in this, of course. I wrote previously about Catholic resistance to birth control coverage even for non-Catholics. This hasn’t gone away. These Christians still want to impose their absurd stance of contraception as an immorality on everyone else. When government agencies have illegally endorsed Christianity by giving preferential treatment to Christian services or hosting Christian iconography and secular organizations have lobbied to have these violations of everyone else’s religious freedom, the Christian persecution complex has kicked into high gear. They should be free, those who object to secular governance say, to have their religion displayed in public spaces, without even the slightest consideration of what effect this will have. The message implicit in these sorts of government-sponsored religious displays is that the US government endorses that religion above others (hint: it doesn’t and may not). More globally, however, the message is loud and clear: “My religion is superior, and you should obey it.

“Religious freedom” does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that you are permitted to force me to abide your dogmas. In case you were wondering why I get angry about the pervasive infection of politics by religion, all of this (and more!) is why. You should probably be angry too.

Jesus-Colored Glasses

Caution: Angry late-night rant ahead. You have been warned.

The thing I hate most about religion today is that it teaches people to view the world through an incredibly twisted lens. It teaches its adherents that it’s okay admirable to reject other people’s views and hold one’s own up as inherently superior.* “You are a member of the elite—God’s chosen people. You alone have the true moral code of the universe, and everything you do to uphold this code is service to God.” To someone holding such an idea, empathy is not just unnecessary, it’s an act of defiance against one’s religion.

Take the recent Chick-fil-A debacle as an example. In the event that you haven’t heard of this, Chick-fil-A is a fast food restaurant owned by asshat Christians who oppose equal rights for homosexuals. (God sez gays are teh abominnayshinz, so tey is bad, kthxbai.) They’ve contributed to anti-gay causes for years, so it perplexes me that it’s taken this long for public outcry to happen, but there’s been a wave of anti Chick-fil-A sentiment over this recently. As a result, corporate sponsors (the muppets) have removed their support for this “biblical values” company, and many individuals have announced that they will be boycotting it. Not content to let supporters of equality express their outrage unanswered, religious apologists have responded by saying, essentially, “Chick-fil-A should be allowed to express their values, just like everyone else,” calling for a “National Eat at Chick-fil-A Day.”

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How Not to Respond (Again)

Here’s a follow-up to my last post:

This is pretty much exactly what you should not say to survivors of a shooting:

I’m very, very happy God spared you.”

So, what, God descended from heaven to intervene to “save”* some members of a church, but not to stop the shooting in the first place? What this vestment-shod sociopath is saying is that God’s opinion is, “Yeah guys, y’all are cool, and I’m willing to alter reality to save your lives, but those other people who got shot? Yeah, I couldn’t care less about them. Sure, I could’ve stopped the whole thing at any point, but those other poor bastards just didn’t love me enough.

Sigh.

If you attempt to reason that God saved someone because of X, you’re also implicitly saying that God did not save everyone else because they lacked X. By thanking God for sparing you from this sort of tragedy, you are thanking God for bestowing it upon someone else in your stead. Frankly, that’s quite morbid.

What I also find fascinating is how no one ever seems to attribute malicious acts to God, even though he’s said to be a vengeful angry god—one who regularly destroyed the lives of a multitude of people in the Bible. How eager Christians are to overlook those atrocities, though! I’m so incredibly sick of hearing “God is all-powerful and all-good.” Reality disagrees.

Feelings of helplessness are miserable indeed, but this is not the way to cope with them.

* Saved from physical harm, that is. Who knows how much mental trauma the survivors will have to endure.
Sure, it's better than death, but it's hardly protection is it?

One Dimensionality

I have noticed a disturbing trend among the faithful (one that I am deeply thankful is not universal): a proclivity toward seeing the world only in terms of black and white. To these pitiable sheep, that which does not fit neatly into their preconceptions must therefore be interpreted as bad. God, after all, is said not to be the author of confusion, so if something is confusing or otherwise aberrant, the obvious conclusion is that evil is afoot. In such a scenario, the believer has no recourse but to retreat to the comforting ignorance of childish simplicity.

Religions teach their adherents to categorize everything into discrete boxes, which can be understood as the sacred and the profane. In terms of classical definitions as laid out by Durkheim, the sacred is that which a religion holds to be special—significant and “above” mundane affairs. By contrast, the profane is everything else, encompassing both the spiritually neutral and the purportedly unclean. It speaks volumes that this word has come to bear a negative connotation in contemporary parlance; to call something profane is now to suggest that it necessarily stands in opposition to the sacred.

With such beliefs, it can come as no surprise that so many refuse to see the world in hues of grey. In an environment where any given thing is either inherently good or inherently bad (for example, the fundamentalist Christian tendency to see that which glorifies God/Jesus as good while everything else is worldly and thus bad), we should expect a polarization of thought. It’s precisely this simplistic approach that bothers me so much about believers of this stripe.

This tendency becomes incredibly dangerous when, as is so often the case, the believer’s preconceptions are inaccurate—the pernicious belief that nonbelievers are intrinsically immoral, for example. When such a simpleton encounters a challenge to this misconception, they are expected, in keeping with the social pressures imposed by their faith, to respond with pugnacity. To doubt anything is to doubt all; questioning the wisdom imparted upon you by your betters is nothing short of an affront to God himself.

Allow me to say it in no uncertain terms: this dogma is deeply immoral. Such a person is incapable of moral reasoning in their present state. It is human nature to be curious, to question, to wonder. Such religions demand that we not only demolish this urge, but to apologize for even feeling it in the first place. Tis better to be a simpleton, the message clearly reads, than to seek any truth that has not been expressly approved by the appropriate theologian.

Fuck that.

The world is not black and white. In attempting to force the rest of humanity into these narrowly conceived narrow minded boundaries, one can only spread the disease of misinformation and mistrust. The doctrine of “they are not like us, for we alone are special in the eyes of our god” is nothing but a tactic of dehumanization, meant to justify the abuse and oppression of the unbeliever. Anything an outsider says must be immediately reinterpreted in the grammar of  the faith. The proponent of this doctrine communicates to all who would disagree, “I do not need to know your perspective, for my god has told me that you are a tool of the Great Enemy, and until you seek my truth, your ideas are without merit.

Yet those who fall victim to this barbarous predisposition will rarely see that their words have this effect. The faithful are taught to compartmentalize and juggle contradictory beliefs with the most astounding of alacrity. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in one moment, but in the next, “the sinner is the tool of Satan, so he cannot be trusted.” To the credulous, the only form of compassion is that which comes inscribed on the pages of a centuries-old collection of fables. One can be no more permitted to see the contradiction in the message than in the doctrine that spawns it.

Until the non-believer embraces ours, the one true religion, he is to be kept at a distance. His ideas are not to be attended, for he cannot not know that he is but an unwitting pawn of the devil. Take heart, however, for God’s word is true, and in sharing it with the heathen, you will surely open his heart to the Lord. Speak, then, but do not listen.

It is perhaps the do not listen that carries the most weight in that message.

And why should they listen? They are told incessantly that they have the only knowledge that truly matters in the world—their religion is the single most important facet of existence and their faith the only noble purpose. They need only repeat their mantras until the infidels are gone or converted, then God will smile upon them. To understand the unbeliever is only acceptable insofar as it allows you to more swiftly reach this end. One certainly must not dare to see the world from another perspective, for such a thing invites doubt, and doubt leads to ruin.

Their beliefs separate them from the rest of reality, and they profess that this is exactly how they prefer it. Knowing nothing about the world outside, they preach a message of superiority, but this claim must never be critically evaluated, lest one risk offending God, for which the punishment is eternal torment. Thus they seek their naïve comfort in the illusion of a dichromatic world; their indoctrination becomes a tool to bleach away all color, yet the world resists their attempts to sanitize it so. Ours is a world filled not with black and white or even shades of grey, but instead with marvelously bright colors.

The colors must not be seen.

The Necessity of Secular Governance

I disagree with you. So does most of the world. I can make these claims without knowing any of your actual beliefs because it is almost entirely certain that you and I disagree about at least one thing (probably many more than one). How comfortable are you with the idea of my creating laws that mandate behavior in accordance with my arbitrary whims? In terms of religion, how comfortable would you be with the suggestion that prayer in public should be made illegal?* I assume you feel some discomfort at this—at the very least, the idea should unnerve you. Intertwining religion and government is a universally bad idea. If government has the power to mandate prayer, it has the power to prohibit it. When a government takes a stance to promote one person’s religious practice, it is acting against the religious liberty of everyone else.

Many believers think this is a good thing. I do not because I have no interest in living in a theocracy. Theocracies are inherently discriminatory and oppressive, and anyone who attempts to introduce theocratic legislation into a secular government clearly has no interest in democratic principles. Case in point:

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” [Louisiana Representative Valarie Hodges] said Monday. “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

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