Friday, February 16, 2007

A Non-Believer's Wisdom

Here's something you don't see too often: Ace has a post talking about Christianity vs. non-Christians. He's not actually a Christian (probably agnostic or atheist), but I actually agree with what he has to say on the matter.

His post is about non-Christians arguing with Christians about their "intolerance" and who ought to be let into Heaven's country club. But the question he asks is, why do you care about what people (who you think are crazy) of a certain faith (which you think is a lie) believe about you going to Hell (which you think is a fairy tale)?

It's a reasonable point. If you don't believe in my God, why do you care that I think he'll end up sending you to Hell? It's not like Christians take this stance out of malisciousness ("Ha ha, stupid unbeliever! You're going to Hell without Jesus, and I'm not giving him to you!"). What's the point?

8 comments:

Mitchy said...

Well I know my problem with it isn't that I'm going to hell, it's that they try to prevent me from going to hell. Christians tend to be in favor of laws and rules that will keep my soul safe from hell by preventing me from engaging in activities that would be otherwise harmless, like abortions, drinking on sunday, suicide (or assisting) and paying for sex.

Harold said...

Well, we can argue about the "harmlessness" of things like abortions and prostitution.

But in general, the point of "legislating morality" isn't to keep people from going to hell. It's because those things tend to be bad. Y'know, like murder or rape.

Yeah, there are some silly things on the books. Sunday prohibition is one of the stranger ones. Still, you'd do well to note that those things come more from the people than from the Bible. I don't recall Jesus ever mentioning any rules against a beer on the Sabbath.

-Murphy said...

I think you're ignoring the fact that there is a difference between "legislating morality" and the examples you gave. Things like murder and rape are, I would argue, malum in se. Things like smoking pot on the other hand, are malum prohibitum. Same with things like prostitution (which, it can be argued, could be much safer if legalized) and blue laws.

And of course, no one who's sane is actually offended by people screaming that they're going to hell. It might be kind of annoying (as with the guy with the bullhorn down on State who apparently think everyone's going to hell, because he screams it at people he doesn't know). Do you worry about the fact that followers of Islam think you're going to spend eternity in torment? Are you kept awake at night by Zoroastrians who think you're going to be cast into darkness? Are believers in the Great Jobu under the Sea who think you'll be struck down by His Wateriness a bother to you? Of course not, because you think what they think is bunk, though I think you'd agree that their freedom to say those things is very important to keep intact. It's pointless to care about who thinks you're going to hell, because by choosing to please one person, you're necessarily angering others. This is why I find Pascal's Wager wholly unconvincing; it presents a false dichotomy. You're upset when those people want to impose their notions of God on you. You've said on here that you'd be somewhat less than pleased if Qu'ranic law were implemented. The same is true of people who think your God is imaginary. Hence, they get upset when Christians try to legislate their religion. Or have it taught as science. Or wish to restrict certain people from participating in civil life (through religious tests for public office or recent presidents who consider people who disagree with him theologically "non-citizens"). Or disallowing certain people the same benefits others enjoy because of perceived "sinfulness". Or who wish to have the government validate their faith (which indicates to me that their beliefs must be rather weak if they need people to constantly tell them how right they are) by putting religious statues in courthouses.



Still, you'd do well to note that those things come more from the people than from the Bible.

Alcohol resrtictions are holdovers from laws which restricted much commerce (and many activities) as part of an effort to enforce "rest" on the Sabbath or to encourage attendance at Christian churches (a clear state endorsement of religion.)

Hal said...

First, please don't blame me for the idiocy of other Christians. I can't speak for them. For a lot of the examples you've cited, I don't agree with those positions and find the lengths to which they go to be silly.

While I don't know what your latin terms mean, you've effectively argued an objective morality: Somethings are just inherently wrong.

Granted, some people will argue that murder, rape, sex with children, etc. are just you enforcing your morality. But most people recognize those limits.

All of that other stuff still falls under the "legislating morality" aspect. But really, I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone in this country argue for or even pass a law purely on the basis of "It'll make Jesus/Moses/Cthulhu cry." Sure, it might come up as one of the reasons for someone to support it, but it's generally a minor reason, supported by other ideas such as "prostitution destroys marriage and spreads disease" or "drugs ruin a person's life." Agree or disagree with those premises, I don't think most of the laws which get passed anymore are passed just because God said so.

You're right about Pascal's Wager, though; you should believe based on the merits of the faith and the strength of the evidence for it. But there are people who, when talking about religion, always end up saying, "What?! How dare you say I'm going to hell!" It's a philosophical dead end because someone wants to be acceptable to everyone.

-Murphy said...

First, please don't blame me for the idiocy of other Christians.

I'm not trying to. I'm just responding to the point that legislating morality doesn't simply mean "you can't murder" and that mitchy may be right in his assertions that what atheists are mad about isn't being told they're going to Hell.

While I don't know what your latin terms mean, you've effectively argued an objective morality: Somethings are just inherently wrong.

Kind of. Malum in se="bad in itself". Murdering someone is bad even if no one notices. Malum prohibitum="bad because it's prohibited."

"prostitution destroys marriage and spreads disease"

To which the counter argument would be that the government shouldn't be in the business of preserving individual marriages, that trying to preserve marriage shouldn't stop single johns from visiting prostitutes and that disease prevention could be much more effectively handled if prostitutes/johns are allowed to get things treated without fear of being locked up/that licensing helps this cause far more than throwing people in jail and trying to shame them on websites. Same with abuses, as you effectively destroy pimping.

"drugs ruin a person's life."

And why should the government be responding to this with jailtime, resulting in the same bit where heroin addicts who are in trouble don't want to be jailed and so believe they can't seek help.

Agree or disagree with those premises, I don't think most of the laws which get passed anymore are passed just because God said so.

I disagree with them, and think you may be right on the second part simply from the sheer volume of laws passed. I would disagree if you asserted that no laws have religion as their primary force, and I think it's the right of the non-religious to get mad about those laws.

But there are people who, when talking about religion, always end up saying, "What?! How dare you say I'm going to hell!"

Those people could be trying for the militant agnostic argument (I don't know and neither do you, so your claim is invalid), but probably those people are just thin skinned. As I said in my last comment, you can't please everyone, so being told you're going to hell be group X shouldn't bother you further than it's a bit annoying to have someone yelling at you, no matter what they're saying. I think, from what I've seen, they're the minority.

What I took mitchy as saying (rather, what I've chosen to superimpose) is that opposition to certain socially conservative policies, whose proponents tend to be conservative, save-your-soul Christians and whose aim is to save people from themselves is often misinterpreted as opposition to Christians. The whole "War on Christmas" thing is the epitome of this, to me. Thinking Wal-Mart should be free to say whatever they want does not equate to hating Christmas or Christians.

yjnsmjwb

It's like your word verification hates me.

Anonymous said...

Regarding legalized prostitution, you all may be interested in reading this short memoir from a now-defunct blog, Prostitution in Nevada - what it is really like.

-murphy:
Great Jobu under the Sea / His Wateriness ... nice.

Anyways, I am interested in your take on Pascal's Wager. I find it to be quite limited, but perhaps for very different reasons.

I agree with Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft that "Most philosophers think Pascal's Wager is the weakest of all arguments for believing in the existence of God" and "If you believe in God only as a bet, that is certainly not a deep, mature, or adequate faith."

However, I do think that there is an element of "wager" in a person's choice of a religion, or no religion, as we can never be absolutely certain we are making the correct choice. In the opening chapter of Introduction to Christianity, Cardinal Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI, 40 years ago) writes of this inescapable uncertainty: “Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world. In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man. Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief, which can never finally eliminate for certain the possibility that belief may after all be the truth. It is not until belief is rejected that its unrejectability becomes evident.”

What about agnosticism, a refusal to 'wager?' I see this as an attempt to "escape from the dilemma of being a man," an ultimately futile attempt: We had no say in the fact that we were born, and we have no say in the fact that we will die. As Pascal wrote, "You must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed." This is where I think Pascal's Wager succeeds, not as an argument for Christianity or theism in general, but as a reminder that agnosticism is not a decision, but indecision, and our time to make a decision is limited.

But since you (-murphy) stated that Pascal's Wager "presents a false dichotomy" then perhaps you don't agree with this dismissive attitude towards agnosticism as an option #3.

A colorful character in the short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor makes a dramatic statement about dichotomy and "malum in se":

"Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead," The Misfit continued, "and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness."

Even if you don't agree with the philosophy, the story is a great and quick read. -Ryan.

-Murphy said...


What about agnosticism, a refusal to 'wager?'


I take issue, usually, with the characterization of "It is not possible to know whether or not God exists" as "a refusal to wager."

This is where I think Pascal's Wager succeeds, not as an argument for Christianity or theism in general, but as a reminder that agnosticism is not a decision, but indecision, and our time to make a decision is limited.

Not in my understanding. Agnosticism is taking a position, that the knowledge of whether or not God exists is inherently unknowable. It's not "I don't know." It's an assertion. "It is impossible to know." Many agnostics I know assert that and then regard the truth (whether or not God exists, which is unknowable) as irrelevant to their lives. Some try to "hedge their bets" by believing that it is unknowable and then picking a fashionable religion.

The problem with your presentation of Pascal's wager is that the decision is so complex as to be meaningless. If your only incentive is Pascal's penalty for not believing in the correct religion, how do you go about choosing that correct religion? Do you pick the one with the worst penalty so that you're safe if either no religion or a religion that doesn't punish you for being wrong is correct? How can you be sure that even if you happen to pick the right religion out of the multitude, you're not going to be punished for believing for betting reasons rather than because you found the religion to be the most true?

Yes, you can simply assert "You must choose!", but then Pascal's wager, taken from a completely neutral standpoint in regard to religion leaves one with no mechanism explaining how to choose. His system presumes a binary choice, but that's far and away not the truth.


Even if you don't agree with the philosophy, the story is a great and quick read. -Ryan.

I'll do that. Probably not now, as I'm very tired from research, commuting, eating pie and listening to the Penguins beat the Panthers (YES! I know no one that would ever read this cares about it but YES!), but soon.

I apologize if my answer is too consise, but it's hard to type much with a busted hand.

Anonymous said...

I apologize if my answer is too consise

There's no apology needed for conciseness - it's usually a virtue in communication, and one that I often lack.

... especially in situations like these, where your words send me into so many different directions all at once. But, I could narrow things down a little bit if I had a brief history of your own religious identity/affiliation(s), for example something like:

I had a Jewish mom and Catholic dad and wasn't really raised as either, then went to some evangelical Christian youth group meetings in high school, read about Buddhism my freshman year of college, after that I considered myself atheist, now I consider myself agnostic ... or something like that.

P.S. Penguins vs. Panthers - what sport?

-Ryan.