Tag Archives: Ethics

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

19 Apr

This is a good book to explore some of the arguments around gods existence, the nature of religion and its effects on people.

The reader is left in no doubt as to his view given the subtitle of the book: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Not as good as watching the Hitch debate live mind. If after reading the book and watching him talk you can remain religious then you clearly must have a screw loose (I recommend the second link – he summarises the book in 10 minutes).

The Hitch (PBUH) calls himself an anti-theist rather than an atheist; a distinction I enjoy.

I heartily agree with most of what he says. I’ve noticed more and more the egregious lack of morals in the biblical stories and the principles espoused therein. Although most Christians (by necessity) cherry pick the nice bits and close their ears to the downright nasty bits, I think it’s important to point out the fact that it condones slavery, selling your daughter, rape, genocide, ritual slaughter of animals, human sacrifice and torture; whether that be to appease god or to punish non believers for all eternity. Indeed the idea that we have the choice to follow god, and then choose not to take that option then deserve the eternal damnation that Jesus first introduces, it is scandalous to claim the christian god is all loving, all powerful and all knowing. Further, if he already knows the future and the choices we will make, he has therefore created us knowing that we will make that choice. Pretty immoral.

And so if people truly do follow the claims of the belief system, and believe the bible to be the word of god, i.e. get a bit fundamentalist, then we’re in for a rough ride.

He argued that putting threats of eternal punishment behind these religious moral exhortations rather devalues them – surely we should do it out of a better motive.

And then christians can somehow claim that the morals and laws in society come from religion. (Granted some come from the church trying to maintain power and control.) In fact, in the fourth century, when christianity was being codified, they borrowed largely from the Stoics. I would argue that most decent laws come from our natural instincts as humans to figure out rules to work together as a society, i.e. we have a moral society not because of religion, but in spite of it.

I think The Hitch could have pushed this point more strongly in his book; he does this to great effect in his debates.

That said, most of the arguments were great, and added to the already big armoury of anti-christian arguments that are fairly obvious to anyone that takes the time to read even a small part of the bible with an open mind. He does it with wit and erudition without getting ranty and so it is an enjoyable and educational read.

His treatment of the assertion that atheistic regimes can also be pretty abhorrent (Russia, Cambodia, Nazi Germany et al) could have been stronger; he draws parallels between the ideologies of these regimes and religion and shows that religious people and organisations didn’t condemn then, and even supported them. He could have done a lot better than that, for example mentioning that Hitler was a christian and his interpretation of christianity was a central motivation for his antisemitism. He could have also used an argument that I prefer: mentioning that Hitler was a vegetarian and by the same ‘logic’ could say therefore vegetarianism leads to evil. Or he could have just shown this cartoon which says it nicely. “Saying that you believe in atheism is like saying you believe in maths. Hitler and Stalin didn’t go to war in the name of atheism, much like they didn’t go to war in the name of fractions or prime numbers.

Again, in his debates he puts forward the excellent two questions:

First, you have to name for me an ethical action or an ethical statement or moral action or moral statement made or undertaken by a believer that I couldn’t undertake or say, I couldn’t state or do. I haven’t yet had an example pointed out of that to me. In other words, that a person of faith would have an advantage by being able to call upon divine sanction. Whereas if I ask you to think of a wicked act undertaken by someone in the name of God or because of their faith or a wicked statement made, you wouldn’t have that much difficulty, I think, in coming up with an example right away. The genital mutilation community, for example, is almost exclusively religious; the suicide bombing community is almost exclusively religious; there are injunctions for genocide in the Old Testament; there are injunctions, warrants for slavery and racism in the Old Testament too. There’s simply no way of deriving morality and ethics from the supernatural. When we come to the question of the absolute, well, the most often cited one is the Golden Rule, the one that almost everyone feels they have in common. The injunction not to do to others as you wouldn’t want them to do to you. This doesn’t in fact come from the Sermon on the Mount or from Christianity, or it doesn’t originate with it. It’s certainly adumbrated by Rabbi Hillel, a Babylonian rabbi, and it’s to be found in The Analects of Confucious, too.

It almost seems like he rushed the latter part of the book. Most though was very good and stuffed full of great arguments and quotes. I particularly loved “if triangles had gods their gods would have three sides”.

Suffice it to say that if you are in any doubt as to whether to pursue the believers route, or have the misguided view that religious values are somehow good for society, then have a read and be disabused of those notions.


What About All The Suffering?

15 Mar

Debate on this perennial question can go on; thankfully Epicurus managed to boil it down to this beautifully succinct set of rhetorical questions:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
– Epicurus

My Story (Burning Flesh)

12 Mar

I really like the smell of burning flesh. It makes my nose happy. If someone does something I don’t like I can get pretty angry. I can’t figure it out but that smell really calms me down. Goats and doves are especially nice.

I’ve got a son. Just the one. I really love him. To make him I had to make his Mum have him though – she didn’t know when we were making him. Some people think that’s bad. Don’t see why. I can do what I want. Her husband was pretty angry too. But then I’m bigger than him so there wasn’t much he could do.

I found out that these days people don’t think so much of my approach to calming myself down. So, I got my thinking hat on. Given how much the smell calms me down when people piss me off, I decided I should find something that smells super nice, to fix my anger problem once and for all.

And I came up with something no one else could have thought of. Watching my son die slowly and painfully calmed my anger down and now I’m able to say those magic words ‘I forgive you’. Who’d have thought it?

Some people think I’m not very nice. Others worship me as a god.

A Discussion On Morals

9 Mar
11th Jaunary 2012
A Facebook Thread
  • SR Absolute morals come from religion? Pur-lease: “Assuming that you have taken the Bible as your moral code, it isn’t especially important what moral authority your assuming but that you have assumed one, then by what method have you verified that it is the correct one. The terrorists of 9/11 had just as much reason to believe there moral authority as you have to believe yours. It may seem that total moral authority grants you the right to assume the one you’ve selected is the correct one, but the truth of the matter is, your applying your own moral intuitions to select a moral code that you then claim comes from an absolute. While at this point it may be tempting to claim that God has led you to accepting the Bible I would remind you that he has been rather less personal in his methods with most people (especially the Muslims it would seem). I will repeat the point because it bears repeating; The act of selecting the Bible as an absolute moral authority is an act of personal moral intuition that itself could not have come from an absolute because the selection varies. If more proof of this is necessary then I suggest you take a good hard at some of the morals in the Bible and ask yourself if you believe in all of its tenets. If yes then you’re a person most of us would like to avoid, if no then by what moral authority have you rejected them. In reality we have no method of absolute moral authority and must instead rely on our own moral intuitions and the realization that certain moral norms are necessary in order to maintain a functioning society. In fact very powerful moral codes can be constructed simply by acknowledging that the purpose of morals is not to please a (mildly) benevolent dictator, but to reduce suffering as much as possible.”
  • MS and MH like this.
  • DG Si, where did this come from?

    11 January at 18:37 · Like
  • SR Comment on a Christopher Hitchens video.

    11 January at 18:39 · Like
  • DG Small step from here to terrorist sympathizer. Be careful Si.

    12 January at 11:12 · Like
  • SR Irony I must presume.

    12 January at 11:52 · Like
  • JT The act of selecting the Bible as an absolute moral authority is an act of personal moral intuition that itself could not have come from an absolute because the selection varies. That’s because we have the choice. You also have the choice, and have chosen to reject the message.

    13 January at 20:50 · Like
  • SR The problem is, only a sith deals in absolutes.

    13 January at 22:51 · Like
  • SR I think my seed fell along the path.It’s a shame that some people have missed the point of my post. Neither apostasy nor even terrorism (?!) are the issue. The point is that the frequent claim of believers that morals can only be derived from religion is fallacious. That somehow morals as derived from a religious text are absolute whereas any study of anthropology will show moral relativism to be a more realistic viewpoint. And the corollary that society would somehow descend into anarchy as a result of secularism is asinine.I would surmise that we have evolved as social animals and so working together necessitates an agreed system of rules by which we must interact, albeit a rule-set that varies depending on the group. In fact neuroscience points towards the existence of a bit in the brain that is primarily concerned with fairness. As such I would reverse the flow here, i.e. morals come from humans and hence feed into religion; a source that bodes well for society.He who has ears…

    18 January at 18:43 · Like · 1
  • DCL Well I definitely get the point dude! As soon as you mentioned the Sith you know I was happy ;-).

    18 January at 19:36 · Like
  • SR Or as the emperor Palpatine put it: Good is a point of view

    19 January at 20:25 · Like
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