Friday, December 08, 2006

A Meyers under the skin

I need to start this post with an apology. I recently got an email from Robert Meyer and to my shame, I responded rudely – So Robert Meyer, I apologize. Now, let’s get down to business.

In the culture wars, people play rough. You claim to receive angry atheist emails, and I believe you. I receive them myself. I don’t subscribe to the New Atheism mantra popular today because I view it in the same unfavorable light in which I view all intolerant fundaments philosophies. I preach tolerance, engagement and respect for the beliefs of others.  A few angry atheists have written to express their firm disagreement with my position, a few have been nice, a few downright rude. I receive many more emails from fundamentalist, a few are nice, the majority are just plain nasty. My point is, the culture war is fought on multiple fronts. Your experience is common; in fact I would call it expected. Virtually everything I post that is even mildly controversial results in at least a trickle of Christian hate mail, or in the case of Islam, death threats. It is one of the reasons I write as Mojoey.

You state:

It made me wonder how tolerant a society we would have if such people were ever in charge. It made me ask myself if this was a display of the logic and reason atheists so often claim to have cornered the market on. It gave me no reason to think that the implementation of their “enlightened” utopia would produce a better society than the one created in spite of the “rampant religious abuses” that they so bitterly condemn.

Source: Why I can't be an atheist part I

I have a few points of contention. If 15% of Americans claim to be atheist, then the action of a few hundred web savvy atheist cannot be taken as representative of the whole, nor do you have a basis for drawing a conclusion that Atheists as a whole believe in the “enlightened” utopia proffered by Harris or Dawkins. Most of the 15% are apolitical and not engaged. The world we live in, the world with your people in charge, is an ugly place filled with hypocrisy, greed and crime, beating the atheist straw man to strengthen the perception of your world view is intellectually dishonest.

What will become of scientific investigation? Early scientists saw their inquiries as a method of “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Without a construct in place which binds technology to ethics, what limits on social and scientific experimentation will inform the distinctions between what can be done, versus what ought to be done? Will we see the continued incorporation of the naturalist philosophy and dogmas girding the structure of scientific inquiry? We see this scenario placed out in the current “stem-cell” debate.

What will become of scientific investigation – really? Is this a question that requires an answer? Our world is replete with examples of scientists working to define the natural world in ways that benefit mankind. Your real concern is that scientists will venture into the taboo areas of human cloning. and stem-cell research. It is as if, without the guiding hand of Christian morality, science is destined to assume the role of god. It all comes down to morality and your concern that without God, there can be no morality. Atheists are living proof that this is assertion is untrue. Billions of people life without Christian morality guiding their life's.  

When people find out that I am an atheist, I am frequently asked where I derive my sense of morality from. I’ve struggled with this question for years, at times the reality of my existential existence driving me to depression and hopelessness. I’ve taught myself how to recognize the pathways which leads me to this intellectual dead-end and can now stop the decent. however in doing so, I have come to realize a few things.

Morality is a function of society, I was taught my morals by my patents, extended family, and social groups. I was taught morality by reading the bible and by my experience as a Christian. And, I refined my morality by deep thought and reflection on the nature of good and evil. Some things were easy to understand, like not wanting a sharp stick poked in my eye. Other things were harder, like the nature of love (I’m still working on this, but like pornography, I know it when I see it). In a sense, I am socialized to an American standard of morality. My understanding continues to evolve over time as my experience and education builds. I see this process repeated in the people I interact with. People evolve. So if morality is a function of society, and one sense of morality evolves, then morality must be subjective.

If morality is subjective, then it can be said that ones sense of morality is derived from ones environment. I became morally grounded through my upbringing in America. Later in life I traveled to France to live and work. I was exposed to a different world view, and as a result, a different morality. The same process took place with I worked in Mexico and China. People, and what they believe about right and wrong, evolve their moral sense based on the subjective orientation of their country, racial group, religion, or even tribe. Nobody can claim a lock on absolute moral truth, even though the religious of the world seem to think they can do so.

We define morality, either individually or collectively, and as a result we define right and wrong. Some people claim to base their moral authority on God or Gods, some on natural law, and still others rely on philosophy. I claim to base my sense of morality on the works of man and my own intellect. For those of you who will ask the inevitable "but where does your  knowledge of right and wrong come from", I can only offer that I don't really know, and I don't really give it much thought. I just know. I might add, that when one removes the mystical components of a Christian's beliefs, they would say the same thing. They just know.

But... why do I know?  People always ask this question too. I can only offer that at one time in my life I was severely injured with massive head trauma. In the years since the accident, I have come to realize that what we call conciseness is a biological process that can be dramatically affected by a knock on the head, use of recreational drugs, disease, or other processes. If one can alter conciseness and thereby alter ones sense of morality, where is the higher power?

Much of the immorality attributed to atheism should be directed towards a the group of people who have not adopted an optimal moral compass. 15% of Americans claim atheism (I've heard the number is much lower), of the rest there is a subset of people who I've heard described as the unchurched. Some of the unchurched are raised in broken homes, some run in gangs, and some abuse drugs (among other things). These people need something more, either the benefits of religion or the comfort of reasoned atheism. Anything is better than an defective understanding of right and wrong. It think it makes sense to focus on this segment of the population rather than focusing on those of us who actively reject God and religion.

I do not need the help of Christians to tell me how I should live, nor does my family. When Christians cross the line and start legislating their morality for the whole population, I feel the need to push back, as do many of my peers. Get used to it; we are a few hundred voices today, a million more tomorrow.

Oh and btw - you can't be an atheist because you believe in God.  


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Lexcen said...

Well said. I think that if human beings are capable of creating the notion of GOD out of nothing then surely we are capable of formulating a set of rules of behavior that can exist outside the notion of GOD.

Michael Bains said... is destined to assume the role of god

Hhmmm... We could blow up the planet, but in the scale of things cosmological, it wouldn't be that Big a Bang, eh.

On that note, and more to the point of your post, I 2nd Lexcen. Well said.

Nandes said...

Great post Mojoey!