Saturday, July 5, 2008

Anti-Theism, Some Personal Thoughts

A particularly good AvC Post by DevilIam in response to Rupert's comments which follow.

Hey, Rupert.

First of all, I hope you find time to drop by here more often. That
was an honest, thoughtful post and I certainly understand your

Funny you should mention species discrimination. I wouldn't say I
agree with you but I wouldn't say I disagree with you, either. I eat
meat. I'm not of the mind that all living creatures are equal, but I
do think all living creatures should be judged as individuals. So when
I talk to a disingenuous, hypocritical, stupid asshole human I don't
consider them more worthy of life or respect than, say, a dog or a
dolphin (or sometimes even a poisonous insect) simply by "virtue" of
the fact that they're technically, biologically human. I'd fight for a
dog's right to live, in other words, if it was a good dog. I get
yelled at a lot on this group for asking people why it's okay to kill
a cow but not kill, say, Keith MacNevins, but I have yet to get a
rational response.

Anyway, getting back on topic. Like I said, I eat meat. I don't have a
moral problem with eating animals, but I do try to cut back on the red
stuff when I think of the environmental perspective. The higher up on
the food chain we eat, the more energy it expends. I can't argue with
the reasoning of a hardcore vegan, and even if I did strongly disagree
they at least have a position based on reason and ethics. I can't
really enjoy a meal without eating meat, and believe me I've thought
about this--by eating meat, I'm not living as ethically as I could be
because of my personal desire to enjoy food. I'm not one to
rationalize this kind of thing--I know it's essentially a character
flaw. So where do I get off demonizing theists?

I think we should be at least as critical of ourselves as we are of
others, but I don't see the benefit in letting certain things go by
unchecked. None of the great "freedom fighters" in history were
perfect, and some historians and journalists make a career out of
reminding us of this. But nobody ever says, "Where did those civil
rights guys get off criticizing other people like they were so damned
perfect?" The difference is between somebody getting up in arms about
racism and somebody getting their panties in a wad about another adult
smoking. The former is noble, the latter is obnoxious. But I consider
being a theist more akin to being a racist than being a smoker, or
even a drug addict. I actually consider being a theist worse than
being a racist, because theism contributes to racism _and_ a whole
bunch of other stuff that's evil. Pretty much every great evil in the
world--genocide, rape, child abuse--is exacerbated by theism. To truly
be against anything that's clearly evil, the way I see it, it's
hypocritical _not_ to be an antitheist.

Theists, unlike drug addicts or a schizophrenics, believe their state
to be superior--otherwise, they wouldn't be theists. To acknowledge
theism as a flaw is to acknowledge that there probably isn't a God, in
which case you aren't really a theist at all. So it makes me laugh
when theists whine about the "arrogance" of atheists--both sides think
their position is superior to the other, and our side simply has the
entirety of reason and knowledge and sanity to back us up. Many, I
dare say most, theists believe that you and I deserve to be severely
punished in the worst way for our positions. Even if I tell these
theists to go fuck themselves with chainsaws for what they believe,
there is no way I can lose the moral high ground because I don't
believe in Hell. It is an absolute double-standard that the mainstream
religions teach that we deserve to go to Hell, but if I say
"Christians deserve to be shot in their heads" I will be labelled an
absolute bigot, especially considering getting shot in the head isn't
supposed to be _nearly_ as bad as their Hell. Of the minority who
thinks "all paths lead to Heaven" and whatnot, knowing that I tend to
go easy on them, but they still by nature lend credibility to the
other ones and probably even respect their fire-and-brimstone beliefs.

Theism and racism are analogous in that they are both groupings of
ideologies, in which any racist or theist who perpetuates racism or
theism is partially responsible for the consequences. We tend to
accept this about racists, and condemn anyone who preaches racial
"hate speech" for spreading the kind of thinking that results in
racist crime. But we have a double-standard for theists. Whenever
theism has drastic consequences, which is often, theists can get away
with saying they had nothing to do with it. But they did have
something to do with it--they are perpetuating exactly what causes
those things to happen. When theists criticize the 9/11 bombers, they
are essentially holding them to a higher standard than they hold
themselves--it is okay, in other words, for _them_ to believe they
know what God wants and act on it but not for the terrorists to hold
equally irrational beliefs. There is no way to envision a scenario in
which the "fundamentalist" or "extremist" theists would have the
influence they have, or even exist, without the "moderate" or
"liberal" theists. Still, when the few of us atheists point out the
double-standard, we are ironically compared to racists--which makes as
much sense as saying being opposed to racism is like racism.

If theists were treated like racists, I wouldn't be so aggressive. If
theists were treated like drug addicts, I wouldn't be so aggressive.
If theists were treated like children or schizophrenics, I would not
be making a point to even call myself an "antitheist". But that's not
how the world works. Here in the US, polls show that most americans
wouldn't even vote for an atheist. Most of them think I deserve to go
to Hell.

So of course my response, to all of them, is this:

"I'm not the delusional fucktard. You are. I don't base my life around
a belief that, if it can't be called stupid, then nothing in the
history of human belief can be considered stupid. I grew out of the
fairy tales. You didn't. I think rationally and live in reality. You
don't. I can explain, with _reason_, why the terrorists were wrong
without being a hypocrite. You can't. I don't perpetuate an
unnecessary way of thinking and not thinking that provides no real
benefit to the human race but has tormented it forever and torments it
today and could very well kill it off. You do."

At which point I kind of want to kick those smug, self-righteous
smiles right to the other end of their faces.

But I digress. Being an atheist yourself, you probably understand this
perspective--although maybe not as well as someone who grew up
surrounded by practically nothing but theists, having grown out of it
on his own at an early age, would. I like some theists, but only when
they aren't being theists. When the subject turns to religion, their
eyes glaze over and it's like talking to the living dead.

On Jul 4, 9:08 pm, Rupert

Rupert wrote:

> Hi Dev, sorry I have been meaning to get back to you on this one but I
have been caught up with various stuff.

> I guess first of all I should mention that my girlfriend says she
believes in God. She doesn't go to church or identify with any major
religious tradition, but she says she believes in God. Most of my
extended family would be atheists, including my parents and my living
grandparents, and my paternal grandfather while he was alive, but my
great-aunt may possibly be a theist, and my maternal grandmother may
have been while she was alive. I don't think I have any especially
close friends who are theists apart from my girlfriend. Used to sing
in a choir and hang out with a few theists there, that was quite a few
years ago. Also got involved with a girl in that choir who appeared
not to take her Catholic upbringing very seriously, but you know, once
in an email she said "Oh, I didn't know you were an atheist, why?" So
she might be a borderline case. Also the first girlfriend I had in my
adult life was in a transition period when I met her and we had some
fairly intense arguments about the issue, she didn't like me saying it
wasn't intellectually respectable.

> Anyway, my current girlfriend is a theist and I guess I should
acknowledge that this makes it a bit hard for me to be objective about
> what you're saying.

> So, a theist is someone who believes that some sort of intelligent
being with superhuman powers deliberately designed and created the
universe and everything in it, including us, are you happy enough with
that definition? And I'm thinking that probably covers my girlfriend.

> I'm not aware of any defence of theism that a rational person would
regard as adequate, no. I checked out Richard Swinburne's book "Is
There A God?" and one of these days we should have a talk on this
board about what's wrong with it, but my position would be that it's
not an adequate defence and that a reasonably objective, rational
person would recognise it as not being an adequate defence.

> Richard Swinburne is not the most intelligent philosopher I've ever
read but I guess you'd have a hard time saying he's not a smart guy.
And Ludwig Wittgenstein, a lot of people say he's a major figure in
the history of Western philosophy and will continue to be regarded as
such, you probably have to agree that he's a smart guy, the poor chap
was tormented by religious guilt about his homosexuality all his life.
Very sad, that. I brought this up with Dag Yo, I see he's replied but
I haven't had a chance to read his reply yet, we'll see what he says
about that one.

> I was having a chat in the pub with a guy the other week, and he was
going with the memetics model, it's a virus. I guess saying "it's a
virus" doesn't by itself explain very much. I know in my own case,
when I was about six I started thinking to myself "I'm not so sure
about this stuff they're teaching me at school", so I discussed it
with my parents and they said "No, we don't believe in it either".
Theism has never been a live proposition for me since then. That's me.
But there would be those who would say "Well, that's just your
background". Obviously my parents were an influence but I think it's
more than just that. But yeah, I just don't get how anyone can take it
seriously, and I guess I'll probably be getting empathy from you on
this point.

> The whole thing of, it's a major influence on your decisions about how
you live your life, but you don't subject it to the ordinary standards
of rational scrutiny, yes, I'd be with you there, that's a serious

> I was having a chat with a co-worker the other day, a Catholic, and I
was just thrashing it out with her. I and another atheist co-worker
initiated the conversation. Anyway, I said "So masturbation is
immoral?" and she said yes. She's sleeping with another co-worker,
they're not married. And she says, "well, I'm a sinner, but if I
repent and ask for forgiveness it will be all right". And then I say
"Pragmatically speaking, what should I do to avoid hell?" and she says
"You should marry your girlfriend". So I'd be thinking that deep down
she doesn't take this hell idea too seriously.

> My own version of that problem would be that I have this thing where I
don't think that discrimination on the basis of species can be
justified, but on the other hand for example I use electricity, and
power plants kill trillions of fish. But at least I'm making an effort
to sort that one out, I'm thinking the problem over and I may ending
up changing my position or my behaviour. But yeah, this would
illustrate how this whole secular humanist project of, you live a
reflective ethical life, you think reflectively about the rules that
should govern your behaviour and take responsibility for your own
actions, I myself don't necessarily always find all that easy, I often
find myself running into confusion and inner conflict. So I'd hesitate
to be excessively harsh when condemning others.

> Just a few thoughts.


jones said...

In your post you stated "I get yelled at a lot on this group for asking people why it's okay to kill a cow but not kill, say, Keith MacNevins, but I have yet to get a rational response." and I have the rational response. You are taking the wrong line of questioning. What do you mean by "okay to kill a cow." Their is no "okay" or “not okay" it is based on personal judgement. It may seem like a moral absolute that is never okay (or it is wrong) to kill but I disagree. The universe kills all of the time and I would never proclaim such a bold and ridiculous assertion that the universe is not okay, or morally wrong. To borrow some current language of the streets, “It is what it is.” I think you can agree with this.

If you read this and had a problem with it, allow me to delve further. I’m no murder advocate and I see no reason why anyone reading my post would think I am. Nor am I trampling on our fragile civilizations moral code. I am simply stating that decisions are insights into the priorities of an individual. You cannot possibly get a decision wrong or right. You can make a decision that has a less than desirable outcome, you can be deemed an asshole, or a self-centered (translation unintelligent) jerk but you didn’t get it wrong. To say it was wrong implies an all encompassing right (and I don’t have to tell you where this kind of thinking leads). To believe (A personal note - If you believe in anything you are an idiot) in a set of invisible standards just to lend yourself some motivation to “do what’s right” isn’t a good thing. It’s denying your true self and that saddens me. That would fall into the category of a life decision that has a poor outcome. Once again, that saddens me. I’ve even taken to the verbal laziness of calling a decision like that a “wrong” decision. I think it is of extreme importance that we all stay mentally sharp and discourage such lazy discourse as it can lead to potentially dangerous outcomes for truth seekers. Masking the truth in cloudy and unintelligible jargon making it that much more difficult to put a final stop to stupidity.

I make my decisions based on my intellect. I am considered by most to be a somewhat solid representative of humanity. I give to charitable causes, am compassionate, and I actually care about others. I sincerely want to help others, it makes me feel good. Not because I’m pleasing some imaginary super-being with my actions. I just like it. I do what I do because I want to. I also work a job that I do not care for. I do this to make money for my family that I love dearly. So even though I really don’t care for my job, you could say I want to work there. The choice is clear to me since I value my families well being and financial security above the minor inconvenience of having to work an unfulfilling job.

Let’s go back to my earlier statement “The universe kills all of the time and I would never proclaim such a bold and ridiculous assertion that the universe is not okay, or morally wrong.” We are all of us, just pieces of the universe. The particles that comprise my being were once a part of The Big Bang and have since fused to become simple elements and fired in a stars belly into more complex or heavier particles. All of these particles have for now come together to make me. If I kill, I am by definition, the universe taking a life. This is all minutia and semi-boring. Either you get it or you don’t. If you don’t, chances are somewhere along the way you made some decisions that had less than favorable outcomes to get to where you currently are. This saddens me, again.

The Devil I Am said...


Dogmatic moral relativism is amusing to me. "There is no right or wrong, and I'm right about that" just strikes me as a funny thing to say.

Moral standards may be pliable, subjective, and all those things--although if two people agree on a goal, these standards are dictated by the simple facts of how that goal is achieved (i.e. less suffering by sentient creatures on planet Earth, longer lives for all humans or the human race, etc.)

So yours is not really an argument against the existence of moral standards, which may differ from person to person but are nonetheless real. In this discussion with Rupert, I was using the terms "right" and "wrong" based on assumed notions of shared goals and consistent standards by which shared ideals can be maintained.

One thing that can definitely be referenced in terms of right or wrong is consistency. If someone has two moral views that are inconsistent, it can be said that one of those views is "wrong".


jones said...

I agree that dogmatic moral relativism implies and subsequently assigns zero value to an individual’s personal judgement. I was simply putting the question back onto your personal judgement. I was purposefully careful in never asserting that “There is no right and wrong.” I value the individual’s choices and conclusions.

I am often times perplexed and even frustrated by these outcomes and then I find myself wondering why someone would come to such conclusions. I question intelligence levels, intent, underlying desire, etc. and find that the answer is never wholly evident. This is, at least for me, my primary problem with the majority of individuals out there. I see them adhering to doctrines that are cross purposed against what I would ascertain their true nature is. The majority of the time this behavior goes so far as to become self destructive.

Then I truly see where these religions were conceived. If I could just step in and make these decisions for them, or tell them what to do, they would be better off. I could even lie and make up outlandish punishments for any that faltered. Then I decide that if we left choices to the chooser we wouldn’t be in this religious quagmire we find ourselves in. That is why I value the personal judgement of individuals, even when I disagree, even when it is plain to see, even when it makes absolutely no sense. I will instead offer my opinion when it asked for and hope that humans haven’t stopped evolving.