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Posted: 19 October 2007 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi,

What do you think about the argument that one should not criticize religion, because the morals of people depend on it, and if the majority of people will not have religion, they will not be religious anymore?

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Posted: 19 October 2007 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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wandering - 19 October 2007 12:10 PM

Hi,

What do you think about the argument that one should not criticize religion, because the morals of people depend on it, ...

I would repeat Christopher Hitchens’ challenge: “Can you name a moral action taken, or a moral statement made, by a believer that could not have been made by an atheist?”

... and if the majority of people will not have religion, they will not be religious anymore?

Perhaps this part of your question didn’t come out quite right?

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Posted: 19 October 2007 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The quick reply is that this is nonsense. The morals of the Bible are pretty rancid. See HERE and HERE for starters. Your usual believer will throw out much of this as outdated or incorrect, e.g., that we should stone adulterers to death or kill disobedient children. But what criterion are they using to do this? They’re using the same sort of natural moral intuitions that we all share.

The only problem with religiously-based morality is that it is often quite irrational and reactionary, since it depends on belief systems based in the iron-age Middle East. Further, what does it matter if some moral claim is written in an old book? What matters is what we make of that claim now, and whether or not we can justify it by our own lights.

So no, the morals of the people do not depend upon religion, they are part of our larger sociocultural milieu and do not depend on being a believer of any sort.

Further, there is no evidence that irreligious people are any less moral than their religious counterparts. Indeed, much the opposite may be true. Largely secular northern Europe is relatively free of crime. There are disproportionately few atheists in prisons.

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Posted: 19 October 2007 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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A great fear at least among followers of a given religion is that the loss of religion equals the loss of morals (which ranks with me right up there with fear of witches and goblins).  Thus the concern expressed in the current US politcal environment with voters asking candidates about their religious views or stance.  If one is religious, one can say “I pray and read the Bible daily” or “I attend church regularly” and seemingly satisfy the questioner (but not really answering the question).  In court, one swears with a hand on the Bible that they will tell the whole truth, “So help me God”.

If one believes none of this stuff, they can lie, cheat and steal and not have their conscience bothered in the least (some would call that “Being a Televangelist” or being a “Republican Congressman from Texas”  cheese ).

So the question is, how does one who does “not believe” explain to a religious person (in simple terms they might understand) how they “have morals” without referencing anything religious?

Anyone?  Anyone?

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“If there is no sufficient reason for war, the war party will make war on one pretext, then invent another… after the war is on.” - “Fighting Bob” La Follette

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Posted: 19 October 2007 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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PaineMan - 19 October 2007 12:54 PM

So the question is, how does one who does “not believe” explain to a religious person (in simple terms they might understand) how they “have morals” without referencing anything religious?

You say you don’t do certain things because they are wrong. That’s it. Not because you might be punished by some authority figure, but because they are wrong.

If they want to know why they are wrong, it will depend on the case, of course. But to take something simple, you say you shouldn’t barge into line because it isn’t fair to the people who were already there. You shouldn’t hit someone because it hurts them. And so on. This stuff is all common sense and you don’t need some book of iron age fables or a complex theology to get it right.

Really, this issue goes back at least to Plato and the Euthyphro argument. Plato argued (successfully, most philosophers believe) that morality cannot be based on the whim of God or the gods. The gods are good because they behave in accord with the moral order that we all accept as true. That is, even for a believer, what is right and wrong is something that exists outside of God’s control.

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Posted: 19 October 2007 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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You say you don’t do certain things because they are wrong.

That’s good enough for me.  Unfortunately, one can’t count on that explanation being intuitively obvious to a “Bible thumper” and I certainly would not expect them to be familiar with anything Plato ever wrote.

I guess I’m looking for a good, solid answer to a “holier than thou” questioner who I already know cannot conceive of good and bad without referring to the Bible.  And without, in their eyes, “talking down” to them or pointing out the fallacies of using the Bible as a source for ethics (attack the Bible and they won’t hear another word you say).

I did some hunting around and found some interesting things on [url=http://www.ethicalatheist.com]http://www.ethicalatheist.com[/url].  I would think everyone would approach this differently and I’m just curious to see what different people would say.

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“If there is no sufficient reason for war, the war party will make war on one pretext, then invent another… after the war is on.” - “Fighting Bob” La Follette

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Posted: 19 October 2007 08:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The fundamental problem is that believers in an HP think that through devine intervention they can become altruistic. Totally selfless. And that all moral behavior must be absolute selflessness.

I don’t agree. I believe that our history shows that most “moral” behavior can be shown to have rather selfish impetus. And that the rare examples of pure altruism come from intense reasoning of the person being selfless. I would argue that the altruistic passengers of UA93 arrived at their final actions through reasoning, rather than the divine interventive hand of an invisible friend. And I would argue that this fact. Their knowledge of their impending doom, AND their ability to freely choose to act for the greater good, are both required for their deeds to be considered altruistic.

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Posted: 19 October 2007 09:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I would argue that ...

I hope this doesn’t sound rude (because that is not the intent), but I’m looking for something that is not argumentative or “in your face”.

Is there any simple, compelling, no chip-on-the-shoulder, “Why sure, my friend, my ethics are based on ............”  Something that will illicit a response from even the Pope in Rome like “Wow!  With a solid explanation like that I don’t even care what religion you are”.  (I exaggerate to make a point). smirk  Something as a simple explanation, not “fightin’ words to launch into a heated debate or put the listener on the defensive.

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Posted: 19 October 2007 09:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Since when did argue come to mean

2 [ intrans. ] exchange or express diverging or opposite views, typically in a heated or angry way

over

1 [ reporting verb ] give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory,

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Posted: 19 October 2007 10:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I don’t think what you want exists.  Even if one found absolute proof in the non-existence of a god, most religious people would discount it.  Similarly, if you found absolute proof in a god, I’d probably figure it’s a trick and discount it.  However, I’ll try.  Please don’t tell Doug about this because it’s far too simplistic for him, and will require a number of dissertations for him to correct it.

All our behavior is based on self-interest.  If you are alone on a desert island, no problem.  If there are two of you there are a number of choices:  1) Ignore each other and it’s back to no problem; 2) One kills the other, back to no problem; 3) One enslaves the other so the second is just a resource, back to no problem; 4) They compete.  This means each wastes effort that could be used for survival or satisfying self-interest; 5)  They cooperate and agree not to atack each other.  This allows them to each gain more than they could have individually, thus satisfying their self-interest more effectively than they could have in any of the prior situations.  This is the beginning of society, and the most primitive basis for morality — Enlightened self-interest. 

So you can just fill in your ellipses with “enlightened self-interest.”  To expand, “I believe that I can satisfy my self-interest best in the long run by always helping others if I can, and avoiding hurting anyone whenever possible.”

Occam

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Posted: 20 October 2007 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Occam - 19 October 2007 10:04 PM

Please don’t tell Doug about this because it’s far too simplistic for him, and will require a number of dissertations for him to correct it.

LOL

I didn’t see a thing.

PaineMan - 19 October 2007 09:29 PM

Is there any simple, compelling, no chip-on-the-shoulder, “Why sure, my friend, my ethics are based on ............”  Something that will illicit a response from even the Pope in Rome like “Wow!  With a solid explanation like that I don’t even care what religion you are”.  (I exaggerate to make a point). smirk  Something as a simple explanation, not “fightin’ words to launch into a heated debate or put the listener on the defensive.

Yes, I don’t think there is such a claim you could make that would make any/every or even most theists very happy, since they already have it drummed into their heads that religion is the fount of all morals.

You can say something vaguely right and quick such as “My ethics are based on utilitarianism” or “My ethics are based on Kant”, but that would suggest you should do some reading of utilitarian or Kantian ethics first ... (Although Kant does talk about God in his ethics, there is nothing essential about God or religion in them).

The truer picture is, as I say, just to ask the religious person how he or she decides what to accept as good ethical teachings in the Bible. I am assuming they don’t accept that we should kill disobedient children, so they do reject some Biblical teachings ... So anyway if they don’t slavishly accept literally every ethical teaching in the Bible as true (and they can’t anyhow, since they are self-contradictory at times), they have to use some outside source of ethical intuitions to do the choosing. You have those same intuitions.

As to where those intuitions come from, partly they are from our biological heritage (kin selection, reciprocal altruism, etc.) and partly they are learned from our culture, and having to live close together with lots of other people and live happily.

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Posted: 22 October 2007 11:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I would point out a few good moral principles, such as might be found -HERE- and -HERE- and then illustrate some of the many ways in which religious ideas so very often get in their way.

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Posted: 23 October 2007 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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·  We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
·  We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
·  We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
·  We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence. 
·  We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion. 
·  We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

Some excellent points!

But then …

and then illustrate some of the many ways in which religious ideas so very often get in their way

Forgive me but I feel compelled to get up on my soapbox for a moment.  As neither an Atheist/Agnostic nor a follower of any organized religion, I’m going to share my interested/disinterested observation on something that I find troubling.

To me, it is of no consequence and even less interest what a given individual believes as long as they are, to my mind, a “good person” (everyone can apply their own definition, but rather than digress, I shall move on).  If their “moral compass” is the list pointed out by erasmusinfinity, the so-called “Holy Bible”, or a book of David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists, I couldn’t care less.  It seems to me that if I was in a room filled with Atheists and “Religionists” (THERE’S a scary thought!), I would be the ONLY one with that opinion.

There appears to be a tremendous difference between “Freethinking” and being “Open-minded”.  I have asked this same question of people I know as well as on several Blogs, and in NO cases, has an Atheist been able to make a simple statement of their “moral compass” without including an attack on religion.

By the same token, I have attempted similar discussions with religious people I know and in Blogs, and in one case I was called a “pompous *ss hole” and that they “would pray for me even though I was doomed to spend eternity in hell”.  Between the two groups, the Atheists have treated me far more cordially and for that, I thank you.

And because of that I had (and still have) hopes that on the Atheist/Humanist side, the “high road” can be taken.  In the United States, there is a troubling polarity between “Left” and “Right” and Democrat and Republican.  Perhaps it’s our judicial system of presenting the case of “Prosecution vs. Defense” and awarding “Victory” to he/she who presents the better case rather than in a true pursuit of justice and what is right.  Here, rather than actually discuss anything, each treats the other as if they were subhuman.  Each feels compelled to attack the other.

On the religionist’s side, with their dogma that only people who believe their way can be saved and their missionary zeal to convert everyone to their way of thinking, I have little hope that any progress toward Open-Mindedness can be made.

On the other hand, by way of setting the example, I could envision an Atheist showing high moral character and getting people to open their eyes and see that one doesn’t need to resort to ancient poems and stories to be a “good person”.  Imagine an Atheist running for office and NOT making religion an issue, not attacking another person’s beliefs.  Imagine the opposition trying to smear them with their religious propaganda and attacking someone who does not believe what they believe.  Who will come across as the more moral?  Who is more likely to get us to cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding?

I’ve taken up enough space here in my quest for Open-Mindedness.  I’ll get off my soapbox now and let those of you who choose to start hurling your e-rotten-tomatoes at me to commence. shut eye

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Posted: 23 October 2007 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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PaineMan, I think the position you are defending is called secularism. Secularism isn’t an attack on religion or religious ethics. It’s the claim that religion should be separate from the public sphere and politics in particular.

Totally agree that religious people can be good people. The problem is that many (not all) religious people have ethical beliefs that are solely religious in their origin—for example, that homosexuality is immoral, or that conception creates a person. The major problem for creating a secularist society is to come to some sort of global compromise on those sorts of ethical beliefs, at least as they impinge upon the law. If a religious person wants to say that God hates gay behavior, well, freedom of conscience and speech is something worth defending. But if he wants to outlaw gay sex, that’s a different matter.

Insofar as we can overcome that relatively small number of legal issues, I have no doubt that a broadly secularist society should be able to accomodate ethical, moderate religious believers and ethical, moderate atheists/agnostics/freethinkers.

As you point out, the important thing is to cultivate compromise. But one should be aware that the one problem with compromise is that nobody will be totally happy with what comes out the other end. If everyone would have accepted it, the compromise wouldn’t have been necessary.

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Posted: 23 October 2007 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Yes, maybe secularism is the right word.

But if he wants to outlaw gay sex, that’s a different matter.

and

But one should be aware that the one problem with compromise is that nobody will be totally happy with what comes out the other end.

The problem starts when someone has their belief AND wants to impose that belief on others.  If we could get people to stay out of each other’s heads, THEN it wouldn’t require a compromise.  At least a compromise would be a start.  But when it comes to religious fanatics, they’ll never be the ones to take the first step.

That’s why I spend a lot of time arguing for Separation of Church & State and against “Christian Nation” rhetoric here in the US (and get called nasty names by people who think it’s OK to hang a picture of Jesus in a courthouse, but I digress).

Thanks for listening.

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Posted: 23 October 2007 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I also agree that deed ought to come before creed when it comes to whether one is religious or not.  I don’t think that all people who call themselves religious necessarily do bad things because of it, and I also don’t think that people who have removed the label of religion from their self-identity are necessarily free of immoral behavior.  In fact, I would personally think much higher or a religious person who acts responsibly than a non-religious person who acts irresponsibly, and I would identify more so with such a religious person than with such a non-religious person.  The difference is that a religious person can and often does behave immorally because of their religion, whereas a non-religious person can not be reasonably said to behave immorally because of their lack of religion.

Further, if a self proclaimed religious person really does genuinely put “deed before creed” then they are admitting that they have moral sensibilities that transcend the established socio-cultural norms of their religious identity.  As such, it would be better accurate to define them as “not very religious,” regardless of what they call themself.  If they are really willing to compromise their religious beliefs to accommodate planetary ethics, then how religious really are they?

The difference between moderate religion and fundamentalist religion is only one of how serious one is about their delusion.  The less serious a religion is taken, the more benign its bad religious ideas become.  The bible is a bad moral compass, by any rational measure, and the more seriously it is taken the more corrupted ones morality.  So, what is left of religion if we separate from it all of its commandments and rules, all of its scriptures and ceremonies, all of its clergy and all of its authority?

I see one big human family, with less need for barbaric tribal divisions.  I see humanism.  As such, humanism is understood through naturalistic means and is thus not the same sort of compass as a religious one.

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