Tag Archives: morality

Laws don’t determine what’s right and wrong.

30 Oct

This November 5th some members of anonymous are planning on marching on Washington DC, possibly armed, to arrest the government. As noble as this idea is, in reality they’re going to be arrested the moment they put their hands on any members of the government. If they bring guns, people will be shot because all government authority ultimately rests on the shoulders of someone with a gun. What they’re attempting to do, overthrow the government, is illegal but it isn’t inherently wrong.

However, I feel that if you asked the common Joe/Jane on the street, anything illegal is wrong. I imagine their reasoning would be something as terse as “Well of course it’s wrong! It’s illegal. Things that are illegal are bad!”

Unfortunately, I feel a lot of people in our society have this mentality when it comes to laws. It extends from a view of morality instilled in us from childhood:

Mother and father say something is wrong, therefore it is wrong. Mother and father say it is wrong to break the law, therefore anything illegal is wrong.

The problem is that the law is not some perfect measure of good and bad. It’s written by other human beings, human beings who often have ulterior motives. Governments are living organisms, hive minds, composed of a plethora of smaller beings. All living organisms have a survival instinct. As such, one of the first things made illegal by any government is the overthrowing of that government.

There was a legal academy where I went to high school. Basically, it was some extra-curricular courses students could enroll in if they were interested in going to law school after high school. The idea was to give them foundational knowledge of the American legal system to help better prepare them for law school. The types of people who joined this legal academy were the type of people who loved to watch crime dramas on television, to read about crime mysteries in books, and enjoyed crime fighter comics like Batman and Judge Dredd.

I’ve noticed that later in life these type of people tend to be more conservative and had an obsession with crime and punishment. Their black and white view of right and wrong and over eagerness to punish perceived rule breakers always irritated me. They’re like some annoying self-righteous asshole kid on the school playground that always has to run and taddle on you, desperate for praise and recognition from the authority figure.

The big problem then becomes: What if the people writing the laws write unjust and wrong laws to protect their own misdeeds? What if the right thing is made illegal? Of course this happens all the time in real life. Coercive governments the world over write laws that protect their own interests and attempt to sanction their own crimes. Businesses with enough means bribe governments to write laws to manipulate the market and protect their own interests. It’s common practice.

So how do these crime and punishment types deal with this reality? They don’t. The compartmentalize it, ignore it, or rationalize it away with the just world hypothesis. Such complexities are not within their limited and comfortable range of comprehension.

And so this coming Monday those members of anonymous that march on Washington will experience the government’s monopoly on violence and will be branded criminals by the very people they’re trying to help. Never mind that their crime was trying to do the right thing.

Laws are NOT based off the 10 Commandments

10 Dec

The good Christian congressman from the proud state of Texas, Dan Flynn, has introduced a bill aiming to place “the” 10 Commandments in public schools. Let’s cut the bullshit and drop the pretensions people. We all know this is an attempt to erect a monument to the Christian religion on public school property. There is no sense trying to cover it up by saying “Oh, but “the” 10 Commandments are the basis for all of Western law! It’s just honoring the importance that they played in forming our legal system!”

First of all, “the” 10 Commandments was given to Jews in the Middle East, not twinkling blue eyed Englishmen.  Pagan Rome and their legal code, which was spread all over the West for a thousand years, had a hell of a lot more influence in our modern “Western” legal system.

Secondly, which 10 Commandments? That’s right, in case you haven’t read the bible (which is likely since very few who claim to believe in it have actually done so) there are two sets of 10 Commandments and they say different things.

(Click to enlarge)


The funny thing is that the first set of stone tables, the ones most people imagine of when they think “the” 10 Commandments, was smashed by Moses. God made a second set and changed the Commandments around after the first were destroyed. (But nobody remembers this or brings it up because it’s not convenient for their agenda, or they’re just plain ignorant)

So, ignoring this inconvenient fact, lets look at what exactly the laws are in “the” 10 Commandments.

  1. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You Shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.

Ok, the first 4 of “the” 10 Commandments are explicit religious commands about the nature of this particular god and how you are to serve him. Now please kindly tell me what this has to do with the US Constitution, the 1st amendment separating church and state, and which of our thousands of secular laws are based on these 4 religious commands pertaining to this one particular religion? (Here’s a hint: nothing.)

5. Honor your father and your mother.

Simple enough, listen to your parents. We don’t have any laws about this, except if you are under the age of 18, so again this is largly irrelevant to our legal system.

6. You shall not kill.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet.

Finally, something sort of related to our laws, but here’s the catch: these are universal concepts. I often hear Christians say “The 10 Commandments are the basis for morality!” to which I respond “Murder, stealing, and perjury were wrong before they were ever written down in stone.” Those are really the only three commandments that have any bearing on our legal system, 6,8, and 9. Three! Three out of ten! Adultery is not a crime in our legal system. (And thank goodness because it’s human nature to cheat (unfortunately) and in the countries that do have it as a crime, they often stone the women to death and let the men go)

As for #10, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that our good congressman Dan Flynn, being a republican, is a big fan of free market capitalism. Capitalism, the economy, everything would fall apart if people did not covet other people’s possessions. Do you want to destroy capitalism Mr. republican congressman? Didn’t think so.

So now that we’ve established that 40% of this document is comprised of religious edicts, 10% on how to treat your parents, 10% on sexual conduct, 10% on destroying capitalism, and only 30% on concepts that are universal in morality, does this religious document (if it ever existed at all since we don’t have the originals and there are no mentions of it outside of the myth that mentions it) belong in public schools or on public property as a monument to one particular faith? No. If you’re going to erect a monument to one faith on government property, then you must erect a monument to all faiths on government property. To not do so would be to favor one religion over another, and the constitution (which I’m sure Mr. Flynn claims to adore, just like so many other conservatives) strictly forbids such action in the very first line of the very first amendment.

 

Empires and Faith

21 Oct

People have been warning that “society is going to collapse” since the dawn of societies millennia ago. Despite a track record of failure spanning longer than recorded time, some modern day religious people like to pull out this gem to argue that refusing to adhere to their world-view will cause the downfall of life as we know it. In actuality, it is the world view of the religious person that will collapse if everybody ignores him; but what can you expect from someone who has the infinitely arrogant view that the entire universe was created solely for them, that they are the chosen creature of an invisible god, and that they alone hold the keys to truth, knowledge, happiness, and everlasting life?

The “logic” of the religious person making this claim is thus: God it watching us and demands worship. If we worship and honor him he will favor us. If he favors us our society will flourish. If we don’t honor god then things will go wrong and our society will crumble. Assumably god “favors” a society be subtly intervening to make the crops grow, the buildings stand, and the trains run on time…you know, stuff that would normally happen in a well managed civilization. The whole thing has an African witch doctor feel to it. No matter how you try and disguise it, what the religious person is suggesting is just an advanced and dressed up version of a rain dance.

Now anyone who actually takes the time to study civilizations will know that there are many reasons why they collapse. These reasons usually contain a mixture of economic, environmental, and political factors, but “failed to appease the sky god” is never a valid factor. At this point we can expect our rain dance shaman to chime in “but god causes those things!” This claim is unfalsifiable, untestable, and completely lacking in evidence to support it so it can safely be dismissed.

Before we continue I must point out a seldom thought of fact about civilizations: The idea of “civilizations” is an arbitrary delineation made by historians in order to neatly classify specific periods of activity in a given area. When a civilization collapse, as many have, it is not like a tsunami suddenly comes and wipes them off the map. There are no trumpets on high that announce to the people of a civilization when their civilization has fallen. The buildings, people, and customs remain. Sometimes people move out of an area, but they still exist. In rare cases a city is hit by a natural disaster (like Pompeii). However, more often than not the political system changes and those who used to belong to political system X now belong to political system Y. When the Roman empire collapsed all the Roman citizens around the world did not vanish; they simply assimilated into the local political system. Bottom line: civilizations don’t end like the apocalypse.

What I would like to do today is take a very brief look at some civilizations to show that the collapse independent of religion. However, when religion does play a role in the collapse it is often the over zealous practice of that religion that ends up harming the society. (contrary to the claims of our rain dance shaman)

One of the most obvious examples of an extremely religious empire collapsing is the Spanish Empire. At it’s height in the 16th century Spain was a superpower. Their army and navy was unmatched, and they had a monopoly on the riches of the new world. The effects of the Spanish empire can still be seen today. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world! Spain’s rapid growth and mismanagement in the 16th century ended up crippling her in the 17th. She collapsed primarily from economic and political problems, but these were exacerbated by religion.

Spain was a shining example of a society that put god first in every aspect of life. Forged in the bloody crusades of the Reconquista, birthplace to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, and mother to the fanatical order of missionaries, monks, and assassins, the Jesuits.  Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, was on the front lines of the split between Catholics and Protestants. He was the champion of the Catholic church and swore to return the protestants to the fold, at the edge of a sword if necessary. When he failed to force the protestants back into the church he retired to live out the rest of his days at a monastery. His crusade was passed on to his son, Philip II who pursued it all the more fervently.  Most famously Philip bankrupted his country and cut down entire forests to build his great armada. This massive fleet of ships was to take thousands of soldiers, the inquisition, and god’s fury to England. When the armada was destroyed Philip started building a second one, but died before it was finished. Philip’s confessor once told him that it was better to lose his whole empire than to lose his salvation. It would take Spain centuries to pull out of the economic downturn set off by the mismanagement of their empire and the ultimately pointless wars over religion.

Earlier I mentioned the Roman empire. Rome was founded in 753 BCE and the barbarian invasions began in the late 300’s CE. This was a civilization that lasted over a thousand years. Between 27 BCE and 180 CE existed the “Pax Romana” or “Roman Peace”, a time of relative stability and economic flourishing. To help put that in persepective, he United States has existed only slightly longer than Rome’s golden age.  In 313 the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and issued the “Edict of Milan,” ending persecution of Christians and making the empire religiously neutral.  Sixty-seven years later (380 CE) Theodosius I issued the “Edict of Thessalonica” making the state religion of Rome Christianity. The imperial city that had lasted for a millennium was sacked by barbarian hordes three decades later. Did Christianity cause the fall of the Roman empire? No. There were a lot of complicated factors that led to the eventual collapse; but it should be pointed out for our rain dance shaman that the collapse of that civilization coincided with the the conversion to and enforcement of Christianity.

 

How about the British Empire? Here was a Christian nation that also once ruled a quarter of the world’s population. The empire was not only a means of transmitting western culture, but the Christian religion. Wherever British armies went, missionaries soon followed. Despite bringing the gospel to millions, England lost her empire after WWII.

What about the French empire under Napoleon? The Ottoman empire? The Japanese Empire? The Mongolian Empire? The Greek Empire under Alexander the Great? All of these empires fell because of natural economic and political reasons, not because they didn’t worship hard enough. But lets look at some smaller examples.

The Puritans: Unhappy with the more moderate and relatively tolerant society in England, they left for the new world to set up a theocracy in 1620. Seventy years later and the colony was hunting and executing their own citizens for witchcraft.

Easter Island: Home to the famous Moai statues. Here was a civilization so obsessed with pleasing the gods that they destroyed their own ecosystem in the process!

 

Easter Island is important because it so wonderfully outlines a major problem with focusing to heavily on religion in your society: you tend to neglect the things that matter, like food, water, shelter, and political/economical/environmental stability. You can see this fact echoed in the Human Development Index. The most religious societies in the world are also the worst places to live.

So where do we stand today? The United States is arguably an empire. Despite it’s secular constitution and first amendment protections, we are an extremely religious country. God has been placed on our money, wedged into our pledge, and adopted as a second national motto. 86.7% of our congress is Christian. 98.7% of them believe in a higher power of some kind. For the majority of the past century our nation was ruled by deeply religious men. Churches have tax exempt status despite meddling in politics. Half the country doesn’t except the scientific fact of evolution. (The rest of the developed world accepted it an moved on over a century ago) There are millions of houses of worship in this country. Religious programing floods the airwaves. Religious lobbies are very powerful in Washington.

All this and our rain dance shaman wants more. The utter saturation of religion in American society is not enough. Things are starting to go badly for America despite our devotion. Some assure us it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. If we only prayed a little more, worshiped god a bit louder, things would turn around. But in reality this will never work. It will never work because it is ignoring the actual causes of our problems. A poor economy, an over extended military (which some like Palin feel are fighting wars that are god’s will!), and a failing school system are only a handful of the actual problems dragging this country down. But the rain dance shaman ignores this. They won’t be happy until the country is turned into a Christian Saudi Arabia. By the time they manage to create hell on earth it’ll be too late for them to be held accountable.

 

The dangers of a god based morality

11 Jul

I have a feeling the majority of people know that they don’t need a god to be good. They know that killing, lying, and stealing were wrong long before it was written in the ten commandments.  There are, however, people out there that feel that without a god telling you something is wrong you couldn’t make that decision yourself, or that it would be worthless. These people really scare me. They live by a completely god based reality. Whatever their god says is right is right, whatever it says is wrong is wrong. If the their holy book said “Blessed is the one who sacrifices puppies to me” then you can be damn sure they’d be killing Fido every Sunday. To these people who live by a god centric morality the only thing that keeps them from killing, raping, and stealing, is that they think an invisible man in the sky will punish them for it. To admit that you wouldn’t do these things even if you knew for sure there was no god would be to admit that morals don’t come from a “holy” book.

To exacerbate this problem, many of the people who do believe in the god-centric form of morality subscribe to the iron age desert god of the bible. Some will say “oh, but god is love!” but if you read the bible you will quickly run into atrocity after atrocity. There is a lot of morally repugnant things god does in there. He commands blood sacrifices, forces abortions, condones incest, commits a number of genocides, the list goes on. The value he places on an individuals life is pretty low.  Apologists have spent centuries trying to work out complicated explanations for why god does some of these horrible things. Yet despite all their complicated answers, the simplest one is true: the god of the bible is the creation of numerous men from various iron age cultures. They wrote their views into the bible and created a god in their image, their misogynistic bloodthirsty image.  The old testament just reads like a laundry list of who’s beating up on the Jews, and how they’re all going to die because of it. The god is envious, paranoid, and egotistical, just like the men who created him.  Now take a character like this and apply his “morality” onto the world in the 21st century. You have a recipe for disaster, and indeed that’s what we see everyday. In the past century we’ve developed the technology needed to exterminate all life on the planet many times over. Can we really afford to entertain people who still hold iron age views on morality?

More imaginary conversations

4 Oct

A: You can’t be moral without god

B: Yes you can. I’m moral and I don’t believe in god.

A: According to my system of morality you’re not moral

B: Well then according to my system of morality you’re not moral.

A: Yes I am, my system is god’s system!

B: Really? And do you have any evidence for this god?

A: You simply must believe, evidence is not needed

B: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

A: Well, what evidence do you have to support your morality?

B: My morality is based on reality. Rape, murder, and stealing is wrong because it is detrimental to the survival of the community as a whole. Plus, these acts are just naturally repulsive to me.

____________________________________________________________

Something else to think about. Here is a situation, who is more moral?

Person A comes across person X who needs $100 to feed their children. Person A simply gives person X the $100 without expecting anything in return.

Person B comes across person X, but is told by person Y that if they do not give person X the $100 to feed their children they will be brutally killed. Naturally afriad of punishment, person B gives  person X the $100.

Person C comes across person X, and this time person Y says that if they do not give person X the money, they will brutally kill them, however, person Y tells person C that if they do give person X the money they will receive an all expense paid vacation to the destination of their choice.

Who is the more moral one?

Sin and forgiveness through Atheist eyes

9 Sep

Growing up in the protestant faith, my concept of sin was that it was to do anything god forbade. What that might be was either what it said in the bible not to do, or what the pastor (who supposedly spoke for god) said not to do. A sin was a transgression against god.

It was at the same time that I learned about the concept of forgiveness. (Mind you I was still very young) I was told that the idea of forgiveness was an exclusively christian notion, that other cultures and people did not have this idea of forgiveness. I can remember the person using Japan as an example for some reason.

The interesting thing about sin is that some people define it differently. For me it was usually  just going against the 10 commandments.  For a few fringe groups, dancing is a sin. (The bible goes both ways on this) The administration at “Liberty” “University” thinks dancing, watching “R” rated movies, and video games are sins.

According to Leviticus 19:27 round haircuts are a sin. Leviticus 11:8 also says football is a sin. Pulling out during sex is a sin. Tattoos, Shellfish, dressing nicely as a woman, and having crushed testicles are also right out according to the bible.

So what about me as an Atheist? What do I think about sin? Does sin exist?

Well since there is no god to transgress against, there can be no sin. This does not mean that there is no such thing as “wrong” in an Atheist’s eyes. I still think that killing, stealing, rape, etc. are wrong. I don’t need a god to tell me that. I don’t, however, think drinking, dancing, sex, games, movies, and shellfish are wrong.

As for forgiveness. I’ve come to realize that this is not an exclusively christian concept. I’m not christian and I still believe in forgiveness. To me, forgiveness is as much about your own healing process as it is about the person who wronged you. You also show higher moral fiber (in my opinion) if you forgive a person instead of holding a grudge.

Why Atheism is bad

13 Aug

Everywhere I go I keep coming back to this one argument. I think it is the most universal arguments against Atheism. It’s really the crux of the matter. The odd thing is that this argument is so blatantly false you really don’t have to argue much to prove it wrong. Any sensible person can look around and see the argument is false, yet somehow, people keep subconsciously holding the false claim in their hearts.

The argument I’m talking about is “You can’t be moral without god”. Yes, this is a worn out topic, but no matter how many times it is refuted over and over again, people keep believing it. I guess most people just never stop to actually think about this. They just automatically have this negative gut reaction to Atheism, and when asked to vocalize that knee-jerk reaction, they blurt out that you can’t be good without god. It’s almost like a programmed response, never thought out, just there.

“You need god to be good” is behind all the distrust of Atheists, why they are hated in America, why they can’t run for public office, why people don’t want them teaching their children, why people feel it is sad when someone looses their faith. I always keep coming back to this one ridiculous claim.