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March of the Missionary

Missionary2

Rejoice benighted savages

Raise your voices loud in song.

We’ve come to tell you of our god

and how your lives are wrong.

Give thanks and pay us homage

Do us service ,raise us high

We are the voices of creation

Only we know what happens when you die.

You say you’ve got your own gods?

A history and tradition all your own?

You’ve been bewitched by demons!

And without us you’d never have known!

We’ll save your souls and make you right

If you’ll do exactly as we say

Dress and speak and act as we

And pray always as we pray.

Repent of your many blasphemies

Know your worth is less than none

Beg my god for mercy evermore

Or your torment is never done.

My god is a god of mercy

He’ll save you from your sinful mire

But if you do not submit to him

He will punish you with fire.

We will bring you peace and salvation

And the love of our living lord.

We’re going to give you Jesus

Either with the book or with the sword!

Atheism is Impolite

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Atheism is impolite. We’ve all heard some variation on this idea whether it’s “Atheists are rude” or “Atheists are overly aggressive.” Or “Atheists have something to prove.” Most often you’ll get this from theists who are threatened by the conversation or from some non-theists; those who have no particular faith but disapprove of discussion and debate on the subject. What I find most difficult and frustrating about this position is that it’s not actually wrong. That they aren’t wrong isn’t especially frustrating, the frustrating part is that it’s only so because the religious have somehow managed to change the rules of discourse. They’ve managed construct a social bulwark around their beliefs that is entirely unique and completely unavailable to beliefs or assertions made in any other category of human experience. It has actually become impossible to challenge the beliefs of the religious within the bounds of civil discussion.

First things first, a slight correction is necessary in order to proceed. When I say Atheism is impolite I should be more specific, Atheist activism is impolite. It is not inherently impolite to be an atheist, the problem only arises when one chooses to speak about the subject, or dares to question anyone else’s beliefs. There are a great many atheists out there who would be regarded as perfect pillars of good behaviour. They don’t question anyone’s beliefs, don’t challenge irrational statements, or demands for special treatment, and will in fact castigate those of their fellows who are too “militant” about their lack of belief.

I say that the theists and “polite” non-theists aren’t wrong because it actually is impossible to politely point out to someone that their core beliefs are false. You cannot, within the bounds of good manners, tell someone that they have devoted their lives to a sham. No matter how soft your language, or how gentle your manner it is impossible to broach the subject without being rude. This is because it has somehow become the height of high-mindedness to assert that “people should be able to believe whatever they choose.” But should they? Really consider that.

Should people honestly be able to believe whatever they want to believe simply because they want to? What if I want to believe 2+2=5 for instance? Should I be free to assert this as truth? In spite of the mountainous pile of evidence to the contrary should I be free to teach it to my children? What if I can convince others that 2+2=5? Should we then be free to demand that “fiveism” receive equal teaching time in math class? Does basic mathematics then become a matter of opinion, and does my right to hold this nonsensical opinion trump your right not to have to put up with said nonsense?

In every other area of human endeavor you have to have reasons to think the things you do. Your beliefs have to be grounded in some kind of verifiable demonstrable truth. If an engineer decided to forgo measuring and instead provided his builders with figures that came to him in a dream the project they were building would fail and the engineer would be censured. If a history student declared that he felt deep inside himself that Napoleon was in fact an Asian woman rather than a French Caucasian man he would be told quite plainly that regardless of his feelings the evidence did not support such an insane claim. We spend a great deal of time teaching our children to defend their opinions with evidence. Any statement that begins with “I think” is often met with the response “Why?”

How many of us heard as children or have said to our own children “‘because’ is not an answer”? Yet it seems that it is a perfectly acceptable answer when discussing theology. “How can you possibly believe in spite of piles of evidence that the earth is only six thousand years old?” is met with “Because.”  “How do you know that this book you esteem so highly has divine origins?” “Because.” And yet asking the obvious next question “Because WHY?” is the height of impropriety. “How dare you challenge my right to believe that the universe was created just for me and those like me!” the theists shriek. “Why do you have to be so unpleasantly forceful?” the politically correct hand-wringers whine. Why? Because theism claims answers they don’t and can’t have. They claim privileges and exemptions from rationality that no area of human interest should have, and they claim that reason and rationality is somehow inferior to blind belief or “faith”.

It is that last point that makes Atheist activism so necessary, regardless of how impolite it may be. More of us need to put aside the politically correct idea of respecting someone else’s opinion and question the value and virtue of “faith”. More of us should be asking loudly why it is better to believe in spite of evidence. Why is it better to ignore or bury evidence in favor of tradition? Why isn’t it ok to question this one particular area of human experience or to measure it against the rest of reality as we understand it when it is not only ok but absolutely essential that we do so in all other areas?

Don’t be afraid to be thought rude or impolite. Question, challenge, and seek. That is the most important freedom you have. It may be rude to challenge someone’s most personal beliefs but that’s only because we, the secular minority in society have allowed our opponent to weight the dice in their own favor.  As Sam Harris says:

“When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn’t  Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.”

I contend that there is no “other standard” there is what is demonstrably true, what is verifiably untrue and that which we do not know. Nothing else, and no area of our experience should ever be beyond discussion.

Hateful Things Good People Say…

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Christopher Hitchens once pointed that “religion makes morally normal people say and do disgusting and wicked things.”  As far as I’m concerned the sentiment in the picture above is a perfect example of that truth. A little more than two weeks ago twenty children and six dedicated teachers were gunned down in an act of madness that shocked and saddened the world. Not even a full day passed before the religious decided to capitalize on the tragedy and remind us why this horror occurred. It wasn’t because of the lacking programs to identify and treat mental illness, or because of the ready availability of firearms and ammunition, no it turns out that the reason that those twenty-six people had to die is because we’ve separated education from belief. Those kids and their teachers died because we don’t allow organized school prayer in public schools?! Can these people really think this? Can people who believe in a benevolent and all-powerful god honestly believe that it would be so spiteful, so hateful that it would stand by and allow the mass murder of children just because we’ve separated prayer from education?

Keep that word “separated” in mind because that’s all we’ve done, we haven’t done away with religion or religious teaching in spite of the theist’s assertions that our society has “abandoned god” or their declarations that this abandonment  has opened up a void which has become filled with immorality and violence. This is the sort of alarmist nonsense one has to expect from the more fundamentalist theist. As a matter of fact though there is no “void” if you’re a religious person and you’re raising religious children there are entire structures where you can go to celebrate your beliefs. There are massive, extremely well-funded infrastructures where you can celebrate whatever baseless tradition works best for you. We’ve separated education from religion for a reason. That reason being that education should be concerned with facts verifiable, testable, reproducible truth. Religious belief is not fact; it is a belief and an incredibly subjective belief at that. It has no place in the world of fact and knowledge, and to dress it up and shelve it next to actual knowledge is to mislead those you would teach.

Whether you agree with removing religion from public school is beside the point though. Whether you believe in god is really beside the point as well. Even if you believe in an all-powerful overseer who is watching the world every second your own life experience must have demonstrated to you that god doesn’t stop bullets, just like it doesn’t avert tornadoes, or stop buildings from burning to the ground. As a matter of fact most theists will tell you that god doesn’t work that way… there’s a plan, and even when we don’t understand it it’s for the good. So in that case the tragedy had nothing to do with the lack of prayer, it was part of the plan…right? Doesn’t that mean that these people have just decided to use a well publicized tragedy to peddle their agenda?

The ultra-fanatical hate group that calls themselves “The Westboro Baptist Church” announced plans to picket the site of the shooting and the funerals for the dead. Though sickening it was not surprising as this “Church” doesn’t have respect for anything at all. They hate homosexuals, and anyone who doesn’t hate homosexuals. They hate the country that gives them the freedom to spout their bigoted nonsense, and they hate the soldiers who die to defend them. One could reasonably expect them to celebrate the massacre of children, or any other unimaginable atrocity. In a way their insane and hateful jihad against…well…pretty much everything is less offensive to me than the drivel that starts off this post.

The simple fact is that the Westboro Baptist church is made up entirely of ignorant, hateful, indoctrinated bigots. One comes to expect any kind of nonsense from them, but trying to use this shooting to preach about school prayer? That’s not the work of wild-eyed zealots, that’s the work of as Hitchens said “Morally normal” people saying wicked things that they can’t really believe in order to promote their own viewpoint. This is much more offensive to me than Westboro for one reason: because these people should know better. Your god, real or not, has nothing to do with this, and even if those kids had been laying on their faces in prayer all day not one bullet would have been moved aside or one life spared and you know it. To pretend otherwise is wrong, callous and disrespectful to the dead and their families.

The Price of a “Right”

Today another gunman climbed out of wherever it is these people come from and shredded the ever tenuous peace of the United States. This time it happened in Connecticut, once again a heavily armed citizen of that country took up those arms and vented his rage, frustration, anger, inferiority, madness, or some combination of those things on his fellow citizens. Reports are saying that the body count of today’s insanity is at twenty six people, eighteen of those being children between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.  How does a person walk into a grade school with weapons and start shooting at anything in sight you ask? I honestly have no idea. If you’re wondering what could possibly be wrong enough with a person to make such an action possible my guess would be: quite a lot.

I’m a new parent, my son is just over six months old and seeing this today I can imagine all too clearly the horror, anguish, rage, and helplessness experienced by every parent of every child at that school or in that community. It’s too easy for me to imagine my boy huddled in a corner with a bunch of other young kids, all of them panicked, confused, terrified, and at the mercy of some angry, broken, crazed individual who has decided to avenge themselves on the world. I can imagine the horrors, the nightmares and the traumas that he’d have to deal with for long years following that ordeal, and I can imagine the even darker possibilities and it makes me sick to my stomach. My deepest regrets and sympathies go out to those who have lived what I have just been imagining.

In the days and weeks that are coming there will be calls for tighter restrictions on weapons. There will be renewed calls for stronger gun violence laws. There will also be those people who will argue that these measures are unneeded unnecessary and ultimately will do little to prevent horrendous acts like those we’ve seen today and so many other times in the recent history of the United States. There will be those people who will  trot out the Second Amendment to the U.S  Constitution. They’ll state that the law protects their ” right to keep and bear arms” and there will be those who will say that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Both of these positions are technically correct but deeply flawed interpretations.

The Second Amendment of the U.S Constitution actually contains the words ” a well regulated militia” the amendment’s purpose was to ensure that the citizens of the new country would have the ability to defend themselves from tyranny by the new government. It was not designed to ensure every citizen’s right to keep an m-16  in the hall closet, or to collect enough firepower to turn a US street into downtown Beirut. It also has to be pointed out that the amendment was written when the height of firearm technology was the musket. The framers of the constitution never envisioned a world where one man could devastate an entire building in minutes, they couldn’t have.  Should we perhaps look at this “right” through the lens of it’s modern effects? Should we not ask ourselves if the cost of this “right” is too high?

Am I saying ban all firearms? No, I’m not. What I’m asking is why does any civilian need more than a handgun? Or at most a hunting rifle? Why does anyone need more than say two guns maximum? Why is it easier to buy ammunition than it is to board an airplane? Why doesn’t a firearms licensing require at the least an annual mandatory psychological examination? Why, if you’re going to be granted the ability to carry a weapon, shouldn’t you have to demonstrate regularly that you’re capable, knowledgeable  responsible, and sane enough to be trusted with that privilege?

As for the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument, absolutely true. I agree. If every gun on the planet disappeared tomorrow there would still be stabbings,  bludgeonings, poisonings, and any number of other forms of one human killing another. However,  does anyone honestly think that if we limited the number of guns, or more realistically the number of bullets in the world, that the number of violent deaths wouldn’t drastically decrease? Does anyone think the death toll today would have been near as high if a twenty four year old man with a cavalry saber had burst into a grade school? Of course people kill people, but it’s a bunch easier to do when you’ve just got to reach out for your semi-automatic, squeeze the trigger and spray a room.

It should be harder to get a weapons license, harder to keep that license, harder to get a gun, and easier to  track a bullet. The simple fact of the matter is that most citizens have absolutely no need to be armed. The war is over, the red coats aren’t coming, and while I understand defending your rights I also understand that the “right” to bear arms shouldn’t be a right. “Rights” are for everyone and clearly not everyone should have a gun. Gun ownership should be a privilege, a privilege that has to be constantly earned by those who would have it. How many times are we going to wake up to the news that a lone lunatic has decimated a structure full of people before we come to the conclusion that this power needs to be regulated and controlled much more tightly than it is?

I apologize, I know this is not my usual subject matter but it feels connected to me. For me it’s all about looking at what’s in front of you rationally,  and trying to understand not just what happened but why that is what happened. It’s about looking at reality as it is, not as we would have it be and perhaps most importantly it’s about  discarding outdated ideas, traditions, and even “rights” when they don’t fit the realities of life any more.  As I see it today twenty six people died because we haven’t adapted to the changing realities of the world fast enough. It hurts me that it’s so, and it breaks my heart that this time it had to be our children that suffered the consequences of our failure to evolve. My heart felt regrets to the victims of today’s insanity. I’m sorry.

Selling the Dream

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“…And when I sleep I dream of a great discussion with experts and ideas and diction and energy and honesty and when I wake I think “I can sell that”…  ”

The quote is from Jed Bartlet the imaginary President played by Martin Sheen on the TV show “The West Wing.” I think of it every so often because I’ve had the same dream, and because of the way Sheen says the line. There’s an excitement, a longing in the character as he discusses it that I can relate to. The problem is it’s a much harder dream to sell than one would think. It constantly astounds me how many people have no interest in the discussion our fictitious president from above outlines. Ignorance doesn’t astound me, not the run of the mill kind that is simply a lack of knowledge, but the conscious willful type? The kind of intellectual complacency that runs so deep as to not only retard the natural human urge to seek and question but actually deride and dismiss it? I will admit that particular strain of the disease boggles me to no end.

Now I won’t go as far as saying that I feel the debate between atheists and theists is the most important debate we face as a species, after all  we have a great many urgent problems and conflicts that all need to be discussed and worked through just as expeditiously . How to minimize our negative effects on the environment, how to build the just city, how to ensure an honest shot at the promise of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for one group or one country but for every person everywhere. These are just examples of some of the stunningly important and vital conversations that need exploration.

I think of the debate between theists and non-theists as “The Conversation” though, and when I say it in my head I can hear the capital letters.  For me, The Conversation is the longest running and best example of why the other issues mentioned above go unresolved. Only look at how hard some people will work to maintain their ignorance of evolution in favor of creationism, how they’ll stoutly cling to a religious belief even when faced with empirical evidence that points to the strong probability of its being entirely nonsensical. That single example illustrates why we’ve made no significant changes in the way we interact with our environment, even in the face of overwhelming data showing the harm we continue to do.

As a species we’re both incredibly stubborn and incredibly prone to habit. These two things when combined can be mortally detrimental to progress and growth.  When you add to that the fact that most people just do what they’ve always done for no other reason than “because that’s just what you do” and the fact that in both religion and other forms of big business there are bodies of people who control immense fortunes and wield huge amounts of power who actively work to ensure that people won’t evolve in their thinking, it’s astounding that we’ve managed to gain the small progresses forward that we have. That goes for both The Conversation, and our thinking toward the other issues I mentioned.

In 1963 Martin Luther King gave his famous speech about his dream that America would live up to the promise that all men are created equal. Dr King inspired a nation and as a result his dream has come a long way toward being realized. Of course I’m no Dr. King, and I don’t think I’m likely to inspire a social revolution of my own, but like Dr. King I have a dream.

In my dream I see an endless audience, reaching back to the horizon in every direction. People of all races, and creeds, all colours, and social backgrounds, of all levels of material wealth and intellectual ability mingle without distinction or division. There is a buzz of excitement and constructive energy in the air. The world’s greatest minds, thoughtful and educated experts from any number of disciplines, gather before this great host to present and discuss, to share theories and ideas, and outline policies and plans. I see a grand discussion by informed and rational participants based on solid well thought out and well-organized evidences. In the great noise of discovery and exploration the petty self-interested bickering of special interests is washed away. People grow together, united not by fear or ignorance or a need for comforting mythology, but by curiosity and the search for honest to goodness answers. In my dream “right” promotes the best possible good for everyone and “bad” is that which detracts from that best possible good. The careful study of those experts leads to real world action by those in power, and as a result lives are bettered and positive change is realized.  In my dream eyes are opened and blinders cast off. Ancient prejudices, superstitions and artificial boundaries between people melt away in the face of education, understanding, and cooperation. In my dream the thoughtful intelligent work of those first experts spawns exponential cascades of thought study and new research, the boundaries of knowledge are pushed back, the frontiers of understanding are opened up and humankind begins to answer its long-held promise at last. Each new experiment, idea, and discovery ignites a pinprick light; soon those little lights grow to fill and illuminate what was once a vast and daunting darkness. I see a people lifted up, not by the hand of some external god, or on the backs of winged angels. I see a people elevated by its own long ignored ability to band together, to discuss rationally and reach a reasonable accord together, and to overcome the baser, more primitive aspects of our nature.

Unfortunately unlike our imagined president I don’t wake up and think “I can sell that.” I wake and think of the people who are called “Doctor” who believe that the world is only 6000 years old, the parents who refuse treatment for a sick child in favor of prayer, or the college student who straps on a bomb vest in the name of jihad and I despair for the future of the species…

Rising Above Emotionalism

   

      This will be a short post. It’s meant to address a problem in the debate between theists and non-theists. It’s a response to a particularly thoughtless and insulting action by an acquaintance which set off a firestorm within his family( several members of which mean a lot to me) The situation  illustrates a common and recurring  problem with the conversation however and so I address my comments to the wider audience.

I see, and I’m sure anyone else involved in the conversation sees it to, a great deal of anger, animosity, bitterness and name calling in the debate between the theist and the non-theist. I see it coming from both sides, as well as those who claim not to have a side. I really don’t see any purpose or need for this in the conversation.

For the non-theist:

If your position is based on a healthy skepticism as well as a thoughtful examination of fact and probability it shouldn’t be necessary to attack the person you’re speaking to. You should be able to make your case more than convincingly without needing to resort to this kind of overt and negative emotionalism.

For the theist:

If you can’t take part in the conversation in a thoughtful and unemotional way, if your faith can’t stand up to being questioned or challenged then perhaps it would be better if you didn’t take part in the debate to start with.  If you’re going to take part however don’t prate about tolerance and understanding with one breath and then deride and name call with the next. This is disingenuous as well as being just plain hypocrisy.

For both sides of the argument:

The point of this debate should be about improving the human condition. It should be about encouraging thought and skepticism and enhancing understanding of whatever side of the debate you come down on. If your position is based on your emotions, and your feelings that’s fine, but if you can’t control your emotionalism and have a mature, grown-up outlook on your subject then please don’t participate. The rest of us, those of us who have thoughtful, rational, reasoned things to say on the subject are hindered by your presence. These kinds of reactionary and bigoted histrionics are one of the reasons why progress on this debate is so difficult to achieve.

Everybody, we’re not children, this is not recess, can we please stop with the name calling and hair pulling and approach what I feel is a very important and integral conversation with the thoughtful circumspection it deserves and demands? If you want to call people names, and vent your inadequacies on the world feel free, but in doing so you abdicate your right to be taken seriously and any claim to rational reasonable discourse. Everyone, let’s elevate our thinking a little please.

The Parity Disparity

This is Malala Yousefzai, she is a fifteen year old girl from Pakistan who has earned great fame for advocating the education of girls in her country in spite of a Taliban ban against educating females. On October 9th of this year she was the victim of an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman, she was shot twice, once in the head and once in the neck, luckily she was not immediately killed and is being treated in England. However the Taliban has vowed to kill her should she survive her wounds. The extremist Muslim group has issued a statement defending the attempted killing on religious grounds, saying anyone who “campaigns against Islam and Sharia (Muslim law) is ordered to be killed by Sharia.”

Malala is, sadly, one example of a much larger problem within not only Islamic circles but in theistic circles as a whole. It’s just one more example of the crimes and injustices that can be justified by placing your faith in a system which is based primarily on an ancient document riddled with long out-dated strictures, biases and prejudices. Islam and Sharia are no different from Christianity in this respect. Neither of these systems has ever been about promoting equality between men and women, in spite of what modern apologists would have us believe.  The bible is riddled with instances where women are judged to be inferior to men, in many cases property of men, unclean, mentally deficient, morally unwholesome, and generally untrustworthy ( Genesis 3:16 Leviticus 27: 3-7, Deuteronomy 5:21 Deuteronomy 22:23-24  Ephesians 5:22-23 are just a few examples) The quran is no better for this in spite of all the talk about the strictures placed on muslim women being a sign of respect for them, and a desire to keep them pure. The text itself says quite plainly that while a muslim woman has similar rights to a man the man is a step above the woman (2:228) It also says quite plainly that a woman is worth one half of a man (2:282) and that men are in charge of women because allah made men superior to women (4:34)

This is not, as some would have us believe, “misinterpreting the text” or being too literal in our interpretations. This is simply reading the text. There are literally billions of people around the world that hold to faiths that contain these statements. Is it any surprise that the plight of women around the world for centuries has been, and in some places remains to this day, atrocious? These two books have influenced law and culture around the globe for centuries.  Thirteen centuries after the supposed life of Christ Thomas Aquinas wrote the following:

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.”

Aquinas’ various writings on the nature of women have been used by the Catholic church to defend their misogynistic position against female clergy and to justify the male dominance of women for centuries.

This is just another example of the negative legacy of religion. Would there have been universal equality for women if christianity and islam had never existed? No, I am not naïve enough to believe that. The subjugation of women is a common theme in most ancient cultures throughout the world, regardless of belief system. My particular opinion is that without the influence of these systems of belief however the ancient strictures and biases against the opposite sex would not have survived as long as they have, and the journey toward equality would not have been as painful and halting as it has been, and remains to be to this very day.

A Problem of Pluralism

“No one has the right to tell anyone that their beliefs are wrong.” “People should be free to believe whatever they like.” “There are no “right” or “wrong” beliefs.” These are things that you’ll hear a lot if you speak on or debate the topic of faith. This is the concept of Religious Pluralism, the idea that all beliefs and belief systems are equally valid and equally deserving of respect. It sounds, on its face, like a reasonable and high-minded point of view, inclusive, reasonable, a very live and let live sort of outlook. Yet there is a serious flaw with the idea of Religious Pluralism, the flaw is simply this: Each and every religion mankind has ever come up with is absolute. Every one of them claims their doctrine and tradition is right good and true while asserting at the same time that all other belief systems are false, wrong, incomplete, or even evil. Religion by its very nature rejects the idea of pluralism; what’s more it often requires an absolutist perspective from its adherents.

Religious pluralism is the invention of the modern religious moderate. That species of theist who can pick and choose which tenets of their scriptures to believe in while flatly dismissing some and metamorphosizing others into metaphor and poetry in need of scholarly interpretation. Pluralism becomes the shield behind which the moderate can take refuge. “You can’t challenge the irrational things I believe because I respect the irrational things you believe.” At the same time it becomes another weapon in the fight against the rational naturalistic outlook of the non-theist. It’s “impolite” to question why someone believes in something without a basis for that belief. It’s crude and overly simplistic to state that a position that has no rational objective basis for truth is most likely false. Instead, it would appear, the more acceptable and “polite” tack is to accept that religious faith, all religious faith is valid, not only valid but equally as valid as reason. This is, at least to me a fallacy of the most monumental type.

Pluralism only works if the believer is willing to concede that their beliefs exist solely in the province of their own minds for no other purpose than their own psychological wellbeing. If you’re willing to allow that your beliefs have no bearing on the material world, no basis in history or science, that it is a mental construct designed to comfort you personally that is something different.  In this case, as a strictly personal belief, one could make an argument for the case of pluralism. However if you’re claiming that the stories in your text are true, that the bible is historically accurate, and that the dictates of said book are fact and globally binding, then pluralism is an absurdity.  How can you genuinely respect a belief system that you truly believe is wrong, or evil? How can you claim to respect another faith while living in certainty that its practitioners are misguided, deluded and destined for a fiery damnation in the next world?

It’s a smoke screen, a high-minded get out of jail free card that the moderate uses to justify the imbalance between the rational part of themselves that allows them to function in the modern word and the part of themselves that hangs on to bronze age mythology and supernatural occurrence as reality. However not all beliefs are valid, and certainly not all beliefs are equally valid. If I claimed to believe that the mantle of the earth was made of toast for instance no thinking person would advocate my right to hold such a belief because, aside from the fact that we can prove it is not so, the idea itself is simply to ludicrous for anyone reasonable or even moderately informed  to credit. Yet the beliefs that A) Muhammad ascended to Heaven on a flying horse and B) that no such thing ever happened in reality are equally valid and equally worthy of belief? This is the worst kind of relativistic nonsense.

Aside from that it’s also incredibly dangerous. We live in the most dangerous and precipitous period in human history. There exist, at this very moment weapons of such incredible power that a single human being can kill millions, or make entire landscapes uninhabitable for generations. Add to this the fact that there are literally billions of people on the planet who believe that there is an invisible person in the sky who likes some of us better than others and will in fact REWARD them handsomely for killing those others. This is an unsupportable situation. We’ve grown past the point where we have the luxury of being allowed our illusions about the world and how it works. With the powers we now command we cannot afford any view but those founded on reason and rational decision-making.

The moderate who champions pluralism gives defense and tacit approval to the suicide bomber who blows up a bus, or the gang that beats a homosexual to death because he’s a homosexual in defiance of god’s will. The fundamentalist cannot exist without the moderate, shoring up his position, fighting for his rights, fighting against the right of the secular world to impose a moratorium on the very fount and source of his various madnesses, while all the while decrying the actions of those whose only real crime is faithfully  following the dictates of the faith that the moderate picks and chooses from.

The Myth of Religious Morality.

One of the arguments that an atheist, agnostic, or other non-theist involved in theological debate will hear often is the concept that religion is the fount of human morality, that without the steadying and moderating influence of god humankind has no incentive to act morally. While each religion does have a very specific and binding morality I would argue that none of them are really the moralities that modern humans should aspire to. This concept that religion is necessary for moral behaviour would seem to stem from an ignorance of what these holy books actually have to say about human conduct. Let’s take a look at some of the moral teachings of the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quran.

Slavery is Ok

Bible

“When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.Exodus 21:20-21

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

“The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” (Luke 12:47-48 )

* These are only some of the verses in the bible that deal with slavery, some verses even lay out the proper pricing of Jewish and non – Jewish slaves.

Quran

“Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty.” Quran 33:50

“Blessed are the believers…who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them…)…” Quran 23:1

Neither the Bible or the Quran has any proscription against slavery. I would say that most people would agree that slavery is a moral abomination that should be stamped out wherever it is found and yet the Abrahamic religions not only have nothing bad to say about it but actually embrace it.

Intolerance is OK

Bible:

“But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me..”  Luke 19:27

“He that is not with me is against me.” Matthew 12: 30

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16

In the above examples Jesus makes it very clear that there is no room for tolerance of other beliefs. There is only his way, his interpretation. Anyone who isn’t prepared to accept Jesus as lord and master is worthy of death and damnation.

“Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 10: 5-6

 

“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.  But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.  But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.  But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.  And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.  Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Matthew 15: 22-28

These two examples show a blatant isolationism and racism on the part of Jesus. He says straight out that he is only interested in the welfare of Jewish people.

 Quran

“But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein“ Quran 2:39.

“Believe ye in part of the Scripture and disbelieve ye in part thereof ? And what is the reward of those who do so save ignominy in the life of the world, and on the Day of Resurrection they will be consigned to the most grievous doom.” Quran 2:85

Again, no other belief or point of view is to be entertained or permitted. Not only do you have to believe what they believe, you have to believe all of what they believe or not only die but burn eternally.

Neither the Bible or the Quran set any store in tolerance as a moral value.  As a matter of fact both of them state plainly that tolerance of other views is not an acceptable value of the “faithful”

Murder and Genocide are Ok.

Bible

“Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.” (Deuteronomy 13:8-9)

“The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Psalms 58:10)

“Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:2-3)

Quran

Slay them wherever ye find them…Such is the reward of disbelievers.” Quran 2:191

“Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” Quran 2: 193

“If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.”  Quran 4:91

Both texts clearly say that it is more than ok to murder, maim and kill for God. Not only is it ok, as a matter of fact, it is demanded by God.

Conclusion

Without even going into the atrocious  treatment of women by both faiths and both “holy” books I think we’ve seen that religious morality is at best dubious and more often than not atrocious. As for the argument that without religion we’d have no morality I’d say that our morality has long since surpassed the example of both these books. Most of us, religious or not, would say emphatically that slavery is wrong, cultural and racial tolerance is important and that murder, genocide and torture are negative things. Do we really need mythology and superstitious beliefs in celestial overseers to tell us that it’s wrong to hurt people, kill people, enslave people?