Last night, I watched one of Glenn Beck’s shows, and it surprised me: it actually had bits of thought in it, instead of the distilled lib’ral hating I was expecting. Sure, Beck is unnervingly arrogant and assumes everyone disagreeing with him is an idiot, but, maybe under the influence of his guest Penn Jillette, he followed a coherent train of thoughts and actually was interesting. I’m disagreeing vehemently with most of what both said in the show, but I also understood something.
The number one cliché I hear about atheism is that lacking an objective / transcendent / absolute morality, everything is permitted, and surely we must be eating babies for breakfast. Religious people seem to be very insistent on this point, and all but attempt to push us to be immoral, telling us that we are being inconsistent if we aren’t, and that ours is a self-defeating position.
There are quite a few parts to deconstruct in those assertions. First, can the religious point(s) of view really claim objectivity, transcendence or absoluteness? Second, are the only games in town really religion and extreme relativism?
The little town in a remote corner of Arizona had been living in fear since Jim Coldhands and his band of outlaws had decided to stop here on their way to nowhere. They had taken the biggest house in town at gunpoint and were robbing the bank every week, leaving the townsfolk only the bare minimum to survive. They had the guns, and according to them, it was generous on their part to let anyone live. The sheriff was just as frightened as anybody else.
Religious positions are often compared to a house of cards, meaning that they are elaborate but extremely fragile edifices that can be brought down by the merest gust of wind. They are, however, nothing but. A house of cards has more foundation than substance, whereas religion only has unfounded matter. Blow all you want, it won’t come down so easily. No, there are more apt metaphors to produce on the subject.
There are only two people that I didn’t know, whose death made me cry: Pierre Desproges and Douglas Adams. Both wrote prodigious comedy with surprising depth, but Adams was also an outspoken Atheist, and used science as a foundation of his storytelling. Preferably weird science, like quantum mechanics.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that our so-called democracies really are plutocracies and always have been. But, I hear you ask, aren’t elections the guarantee that we the people are getting represented properly? Of course not.
Despite appearances, there is a fundamental difference between arguments from authority (or from majority) and scientific knowledge. That fundamental difference is that attacks, independent verification and repeatability are not only expected but necessary to the whole process.
You see, if we don’t believe, it must be because we’re angry at God (we’re not: it doesn’t exist; we’re only angry at the people who are trying to impose arbitrary rules on us, on behalf of that imaginary entity). And the thing is, we’re not allowed to be angry. Because, of course, God is infinitely infinite, and we are worthless finite beings. So who are we to doubt His infallible plan that we cannot know?
Yet another response to Ambrose, whose blog doesn’t like that my comments tend to have more than 4,000 characters... He says:
"the underlying argument is that religious freedom is not absolute in the US. There have been Supreme Court cases, such as not allowing polygamy, where it has been limited."
Yes, all freedoms have limitations, which is not a big deal. In the case of religious freedom though, religious people in my experience tend to believe that it means that if their holy book mandates something, it should trump the laws of the state, or that no new law can go against what they believe. This would of course be impossible except in a single-religion theocracy