Friday, June 27, 2008

Giles Frasier on Morality and Non-Belief

Giles Frasier wrote an article in Ekklesia on Moral practice and non-belief. In it, Fraier says that atheists can be moral, but adds:

My worry about the way many atheists describe the process of moral decision-making is that it seems to boil down to a sense of moral instinct, informed by a few formulas of general benevolence: i.e. do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Often, there is much talk about being a “good person”.

He objects that:

This seems so naïve, underestimating the extent to which human beings are able to deceive themselves into believing they are doing the right thing, when they are simply doing what they want or what makes them happy.

He compares this to Christian moral decision-making, which he describes as follows:

Christian moral decision-making begins with a strong sense that we often try to fool ourselves, and thus we need some external check. Going to church, regular prayer, reading from scripture, specific times to meet and challenge each other’s moral instincts: all these are forms of external practice which offer checks against the dominance of my own internal moral intuitions.

Except the Bible itself was written by people who were using the same moral system that Frasier complains about when talking about atheists. They did not get their morality from God. They got their morality by appealing to their own moral intuitions and desires – fully under the influence of their human capacity to deceive themselves into thinking they were doing the right thing, when they were simply doing what they wanted or what made them happy.

We can see evidence of the fact that the Bible was written by humans assigning their own beliefs and prejudices to God by the moral code that was written in the Bible. Naturally, church leaders would want everybody to owe them allegiance and to give allegiance to no other religion, so they began with, "Thou shalt have no other God before me." They approved of slavery, as long as they were not the ones being enslaved, so they approved a Bible that allowed the enslavement of people from other countries, but not the enslavement of their own people.

They naturally thought that rape was not a problem since nothing in the Bible explicitly condemns rape as a crime. In fact, the punishment handed out for rape in the Bible was that the rapist had to marry the victim. Certainly, this was useful for a father who had daughters that he needed to marry off – for whom a raped daughter was ‘damaged goods’.

They had a natural aversion to murder and theft so they had good reason to write in prohibitions on murder and theft. Since they wanted their wives and children to obey them unquestionably they wrote commandments and prohibitions into scripture that sais that the husband was the head of the household with a right to rule while others had a duty to obey.

The eating of shellfish is an abomination because – well, have you ever looked at a shellfish? They’re disgusting. My wife has a hard time with peel-and-eat shrimp. So, of course, eating those things must be considered an abomination.

Some of these prohibitions are likely grounded on pure superstition and prejudice. Perhaps past generations thought that planting two different types of crops next to each other meant bad luck. In a religious context, "bad luck" is easily translated into "God's disapproval." If written in modern times, a Bible might well have prohibitions on hotels having a 13th floor or special commandments against walking underneath a ladder.

Of course, once the Bible was written (by people appealing to their own prejudices), it became a standard that future generations can appeal to that is outside of their own prejudice. Yet, we clearly see that the Bible is not used this way.

People pick and choose which parts of the Bible they are going to obey and which they are going to ignore. How do people decide which parts of the Bible represent actual moral requirements and prohibitions, and which can be ignored? We can easily say of those who think that the Bible actually serves as an external moral standard that:

This seems so naïve, underestimating the extent to which human beings are able to deceive themselves into believing they are doing the right thing [when deciding how to interpret biblical text or choosing which text to obey or ignore], when they are simply doing what they want or what makes them happy.

Current bigotry against homosexuals is not something that people get out of the Bible – something that people disapprove of because the Bible calls it an abomination. If people got their morality out of the Bible then they would be just as intent on protesting the eating of shrimp as they would homosexual sex. Instead, anti-homosexual bigotry is a cultural prejudice that gets read into scripture. It is one of the prejudices that people appeal to in deciding which parts of the Bible they want to pretend to be the word of God, and which part they want to ignore.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I do believe in an ‘external moral standard’ in a sense. Morality has to do with which malleable desires people generally have reason to promote or to inhibit. The vast majority of the ‘people generally’ are external. So, determining facts about how certain desires will tend to fulfill or thwart other desires is generally an examination of facts outside of the agent – of external facts, and not something that can be answered by appeal to personal feelings.

I do not deny the power of self-deception or even blatant disregard for moral facts. These things clearly exist, and these are things that we need to combat. Desire utilitarianism, handles these problems to an extent because it is concerned with the manipulation of malleable desires. A person with good desires has nothing to deceive himself about. He gets to do what he likes and at the same time does what he should because moral institutions have brought the two into harmony.

Fraser makes another point about atheism and morality that is true, but he falsely thinks that it is a problem.

Of course, atheists are often part of other traditions — political ones, for instance — that can generate public checks against self-deception. But, simply as atheists, they have little to perform this task.

It is true that atheism itself does not provide any moral checks on behavior. This is also true of heliocentrism (the view that the sun is at the center of the solar system), Einstein's theory of relativity, the theory of plate tectonics, atomic theory, and evolution. None of these provide the person who believes them with moral guidance – because none of these are moral theories. They are purely descriptive theories about how the universe is (or isn't, as the case may be). None of these are theories about how the world should be.

The fact that plate tectonic theory does not provide us with moral guidance is hardly a problem with plate tectonic theory. It is not a reason to reject the theory and provide it with one that does provide moral guidance. Similarly, the fact that atheism is not a moral theory is not a reason to reject it in favor of some type of religious theory where morality comes from God. It is a theory that says that if we are going to find morality, we must look for it someplace other than in a God that does not exist. We need to find morality in something that does exist

Desires exist. Desires are reasons for action – so they lend themselves quite naturally to claims about what a person has reasons-for-action to do or to refrain from doing. That which fulfills desires are good, and that which thwarts desires are bad. Yet, on this model, desires themselves can also be good or bad. Desires that tend to fulfill other desires are good, and desires that tend to thwart other desires are bad. Furthermore, we can act so as to promote or inhibit certain malleable desires. So, we have reasons-for-action to promote malleable desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibit malleable desires that tend to thwart other desires.

People are mistaken when they try to find morality in God. What they are finding is not an external morality, but a set of prejudices and superstitions that primitive human beings (self-deceived and substantially ignorant of the world around them) made up in their own mind and assigned to God. Naturally, they assigned to God the moral values they liked, or that benefited them in some way.

In order to find morality we have to look for reasons for action that actually do exist – not those that primitive and superstitious people made up. Desires are reasons for action that exist. We find value in relationships between states of affairs and desires. And, finally, we find moral value in good and bad desires – in promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibiting desires that tend to thwart other desires.

39 comments:

Matt M said...

Excellent post.

"...thus we need some external check.2

Surely friends, family and work colleagues would act in such a way? Or does Giles Fraser think that the non-religious are hermits?

bpabbott said...

Reading the following out of context ...

"This seems so naïve, underestimating the extent to which human beings are able to deceive themselves into believing they are doing the right thing, when they are simply doing what they want or what makes them happy"

I'd have assumed Frasier was writing of naïveté of the faithful ;-)

In either event, how is it that this applies uniquely to atheists? ... and how is it that social debate and discussion inoculate Christians from this problem but not others?

Regarding your words ...

"And, finally, we find moral value in good and bad desires – in promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibiting desires that tend to thwart other desires."

Regarding Frasier's desire. Does he desire elevate his personal preference for seeking our morality over the approach of others?

frish said...

"Believers" need to defend their inanity.

Frequently that involves throwing stones at others...

Do Unto Others, as Frasier surmises, REALLY IS BUILT INTO OUR GENETICS.

We're SOCIAL ANIMALS.

MORALITY is the REFLECTION of this fact, it cannot be learned by reading a book, and it defines/proscribes/describes the "right" way to act!

If the "golden rule" wasn't built in we'd eat our own children, the neighbors and their kids too!

So, religions REFLECT the moral underpinnings of humanity, they don't DELIVER it.

ALL WORLD RELIGIONS SHARE THE GOLDEN RULE...which disturbed and fascinated me until I realized...they coopted HUMAN NATURE then proclaim they produce it! it is to laugh...

THE EVIDENCE IS CLEAR...people worldwide most of the time and in every culture...DO THE RIGHT THING! (even if they would find a "good book" best for wiping their illiterate butts...pre-literate societies too!)

There is actual science behind the built in nature of morality including experiments on very young pre-verbal children (a few months old!) who show they know the difference between right and wrong!

I'm the Fearless Leader of the LA Brights (google that and see) and have a couple more gems to share.

The OT's FIRST COMMANDMENT ought to be literally obeyed, by all, forever:

Have no other gods before me!

Consider this statement...
First, god explains - there are other gods!
Secondly, he commands us NOT TO HAVE ANY OF THEM (before having him)

I'm continuously have none, just as he requested.

Finally, from a craigslist haiku I posted earlier today! This was originally part of a response on a philosophy forum to the question "Where did the stuff come from for the big bang"...(since there was no WHERE before the big bang, it's real hard to know!)

BIG BANG HAIKU
Gawd wanted to bang
the horny old goat proclaimed"
"No-Where is Now-Here!"

Creation - gorgeous
Humans arrived, and things slide
Now he fucks with us

Many are easily absorbed into a religious frame of mind, it is an evolutionary artifact!

They are simply following the evolutionary trend to "follow the leader".

Those who were born, way back when, who didn't follow the leader, wandered off and got eaten by wolves.

Those that survived long enough (since they followed the leader) to procreate, helped foster those genes of acquiescence to leaders.

Now they think they can't live without one...and so adopt whatever balderdash they are served, and feel comfortable...

The rest of the mess is just dressing on the salad...
afterlife
sin
souls
visions
hearing to dead grandma
praying
hell
etc. etc. etc.

That stuff just keeps them in the tent...

Sergio said...

Excellent post.

The E O said...

I have read of many Atheists urging us to devise our own individual attitudes towards morality or to "do our own thing" and work every nuance of our behaviour out from rational argument. I do not agree. I contend that Atheists need to form a more proactive community with some sort of hierarchy that will enable the more erudite to inform the rest of us. It is not sufficient to merely oppose adherence to supernatural ideas. Atheists should be constructing a cohesive following able to compete in the political arena. Our aim should be to build an organisation commensurate with the number of religion free individuals. Therefore we need to:

* Create and adopt our own texts on ethics and morality:
* Erect buildings and monuments:
* Establish a hierarchy:
* Establish awards, rewards and promotions:
* Adopt modes of dress, activities and identifying symbols:
* Ensure that our children receive a moral and ethical education free

Anonymous said...

This is a far more detailed post I found on shellfish in the Bible: http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2007/11/24/favorite-dish-of-liberal-theologians-skeptics-shellfish/

It leaves an extremely different impression than “well, have you ever looked at a shellfish?” and shows the claim that “If people got their morality out of the Bible then they would be just as intent on protesting the eating of shrimp as they would homosexual sex” to be, quite frankly, ignorant.

With all due respect, do you even bother to familiarize yourself with contentious points in the Bible? To understand the context and nuance of each before criticizing them? Or do you just take these anti-Bible talking points at face value?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

Your concern wit 'context and nuance' is exactly the type of claim that I am talking about.

'Context and nuance' provides all of the room that an individual needs to engage in exactly the type of self-deception and rationalization that Giles claims to be a weakness with atheist ethics. It provides room for people to invent those context and nuance that suits their ends.

The fact that this 'context and nuance' exists - the fact that this room for rationalization and self-deception exists - is proven by the fact that even devout Christians cannot agree on what they find in the scripture. It is not a case of atheists coming up with one interpretation and theists another. It is a case that even different theists cannot agree. Where there is disagreement, there is room for factions to adopt the conclusions that they find pleasing or useful.

In other words, to say that people can turn to the scripture for an external set of ethical principles seems so naive, underestimating the extent to which human beings are able to deceive themselves into believing they are doing the right thing, when they are simply doing what they want or what makes them happy. - to use Giles' own words.

Anonymous said...

Y’know, I was curious how you’d respond, but I NEVER would have expected you—or anyone—to actually argue against the very concept of considering the original, proper context of things, especially since you presumably want to be taken seriously in the pursuit of “leaving the world a better place.” Wow. Just…wow.

There’s a sliver of substance to what you’re saying—sometimes context changes the significance of things, sometimes it doesn’t; and it’s true that “nuance” is often the first refuge of the politician.

But as even a casual read of the link I provided would have made clear, that sliver is entirely inapplicable to this case.

In this case, we have nuances in the original text lost in translations to English (in this case, the word “abomination”), differences in who Scripture applies the regulations to and why, vastly different consequences, and a direct scriptural explanation for why today’s Christians no longer object to shellfish, which invalidates your explanation. These are directly relevant to the accuracy of your statements.

Inasmuch as I don’t feel like spoon-feeding information I’ve already provided, I’ll simply leave it at that and suggest you bother to read the post I linked to. Actual research into your subject matter might do you some good.

And the existence of differing interpretations among Christians says nothing whatsoever about the accuracy or inaccuracy of each—but it is a convenient cop-out for those who don’t want to delve into the material in detail.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

There is no such thing as a natural law of language. Language is a human invention, where words and phrases gain their meaning by the mutual agreement of the participants.

How many times have you said or written something and been misunderstood by a native speaker of the same language living at the same moment in which you made your statement? Neither of you have the option of looking for a "natural law of language" that will dictate what the statement really means - because there is no such thing. What you intended to say, and what the speaker heard, are simply not the same things.

Consider context. What counts as relevant context in a case? How do you go down a virtually infinitely large list of 'context' and decide what to keep and what to throw out?

Next problem - much of that context are statements, written or spoken. In order to determine what Statement A means, you look at its context, which includes Statement B. So, in order to determine what Statement B means, you have to look at its context, which includes Statement A. Add to this the problems of Statements C, D, E, F, and so on, and you can see that you have a problem.

Philosophers of language realize that there is an infinite number of translations possible for any statement. In order to pair down the possibilities, a listener needs to introduce what is called the "Principle of Charity." This means that the reader is going to read into the statements he is translating what he believes to be true or false. This means that the reader is going to read into a translation of the bible the ASSUMPTION that eating shellfish is not immoral and (for those who hold this belief) homosexuality is immoral.

The reason people find what they believe to be true in scripture is because they use they read scripture under the "Principle of Charity", which means, "That best and most translation is the translation that comes closest to the beliefs that I already hold to be true."

That's just the way language works. All language.

Anonymous said...

This pseudo-intellectual crap is really getting to be too much to stomach.

In 356 words, all you really said was, “this stuff is really complicated, and a lot of variables are involved.” True, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to be found. It simply means discerning the true facts is gonna take a little more elbow grease. That’s what all serious historians, philosophers, and theologians do.

Granted, the minutiae of history is quite daunting, and there’s no shame in not wanting to wade through all that. There’s a lot of shame, though, in casting judgment on serious matters without bothering to figure out whether or not what one’s saying is actually true.

Personally, I think all this gibberish is cover for one fact: you want the simplistic caricatures of religion and its believers to be real, because straw men are so much easier to knock down than the genuine article. When confronted with inconvenient truths, you just whip up a long-winded theory that supposedly exempts you from doing the work any real analyst, debater, or philosopher would in the same situation.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

Thank you for illustrating my point that a person can look even at something written in his native language by a person living at the same time, and still only see what he wants to see.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I was thinking the same thing. I'm simply shaking my head in disbelief at how oblivious you are to what you've just done to your own credibility.

Anonymous said...

I noticed your deceitful claim about slavery, too - here's more education you won't bother to partake in, but maybe someone else will:

http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/What_God_Says_About_Slavery

Eneasz said...

Hi Anon.

Are there christians who are accepting of homosexuality?

If so, why don't they just turn to the bible to discover they're wrong?

The whole point of the post is that they DO turn to the bible... to discover they are right. And (un)surprisingly, whatever they already believe to be right is always supported by the bible! Even on an issue as simple and clear-cut as the acceptablity of owning slaves.

The fact that websites such as the ones you provided even exist is actually proof that people do not get their morality from the bible. Look at how much squirming and mental acrobatics they go through, trying to force the bible to match their moral code! It's kinda embarrasing.

Anonymous said...

Eneasz,

If these biblical explanations are such obvious cases of "squirming and mental acrobatics," then I'm sure it would be child's play to demonstrate where the flaws are in each one. Until you do that, you're simply parroting the charicatures you've gotten from Fyfe, Hitchens, and Harris.

Eneasz said...

You presume too much. I was an atheist long before the current wave of "New Atheist" celebrities began their writings (although I do respect them and their work). I was raised in a fundamentalist christian family and had to come to my atheism on my own. I did so primarily by reading the bible. Well, that's not completely accurate, I left christianity due to reading the bible, atheism came afterwards. I'm parrotting nothing.

And yes, I subscribe to DU as the best morale theory I've found, not because some priest said so, but because it does the best job of describing and explaining the actions of real people in the real world. It is not "parrotting" if you understand why something works. You can parrot back the laws of thermodynamics, or you can understand the laws of thermodynamics and state them (even if you didn't discover them yourself),and there is a world of difference. Differentiate the two.

Anonymous said...

You're parroting nothing? Then prove it.

Eneasz said...

In the interest of not clogging up a comments section with our personal dispute, please contact me at embrodski AT gmail DOT com, and I will be happy to discuss whatever you like.

Anonymous said...

Since when did this become a "personal dispute"? We're talking about subjects Alonzo Fyfe in the body of his post - claims against certain Biblical passages - that he refuses to defend, instead opting to dance around it with bull about "universal laws of language" and such."

If this comment section isn't the place to talk about what was raised in the post, then why even have a comment section?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

You state that context is important in interpreting writing. Indeed, it is.

Part of the context that we are working within here is a statement from Giles Frasier that divine-command theories of ethics have advantage over naturalist theories of ethics in that the former has an external check on moral conclusions and the latter does not.

Against all of your 'squirming and mental gymnastics' one fact holds true - if you ask 10 people what any particular piece of scripture means you will get 20 different answers. Particularly, over time, you see a huge variety in interpretations. Interpretations of scripture change like styles of clothing and of art. It changes like language itself changes.

This does not include the fact that at any particular time you have tens to hundreds of thousands of religions to choose from.

That, and the fact that all scriptures were written or assembled by human beings working on their own prejudices at the time. They did not have any external checks on the choices they made.

Your attempts in this line of argument are always going to fail because they are always going to run up against the fact that people disagree on what scripture says. You tell me one person's interpretation, but, at a different time and a different place, somebody will claim something else.

Let's take the 'shellfish' article you linked to and simply accept it. Let's not dispute any of it.

But eating shellfish just made one ceremonially unclean for a period of time.

But then . . . what? God changed his mind?

What see evidence of here is changing standards over time. In a more primative (old testament) time, people believed this nonsense that there was something wrong with eating shellfish and other primative and superstitious rituals. A few thousand years later in new testament times people realized that those old superstitions were nonsense and repealed them.

Of course, they assigned the fact these changes to God. Yet, what we have in fact is simple cultural changes over time. God did not change his mind. People changed their minds, and they attributed their (changing) sentiments to God.

4simpsons said...

"'Context and nuance' provides all of the room that an individual needs to engage in exactly the type of self-deception and rationalization that Giles claims to be a weakness with atheist ethics. It provides room for people to invent those context and nuance that suits their ends."

I have a phrase for people who think context doesn't matter and that you can't discern the truth: Concession speech.

It is self-refuting, for if it were true then I couldn't understand what you were saying.

"But eating shellfish just made one ceremonially unclean for a period of time.

But then . . . what? God changed his mind?"

Now that is a fair question, provided you really want an answer. I would encourage a serious Bible study (and if you can't answer that question already then don't try to convince me you've taken the Bible seriously). Get a study Bible and review Acts 10-11 for starters.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

4simpsons

Well, apparently, you are having a great deal of difficulty understanding what I am saying, since you keep coming back ith strange interpretations that vary widely from what I wrote.

Of course I never said that "context doesn't matter and that you can't discern the truth."

Context does matter - and, in specific, the context that Frasier claims that biblical interpretation is removed from self-deception is a part of the context that is relevant to this discussion. That context matters.

And you can derive a reasonable theory as to what another person has written or said (understood what they said) - but it requires the Principle of Charity - the assumption that, in cases of ambiguity, assume that the proposition being intepreted is true.

Abandon the principle of charity, and you can interpet what somebody else has written however you want.

However, with the principle of charity, some of the truths that one finds in any document are assigned to it by the speaker - ambiguities resolved on the side of (what the reader/listener believes to be true.

Eneasz said...

Anon -

I wanted to take this off-site because disputing the accuracy of select bible passages has almost nothing to do with morality and is really more of a literary dispute. It is trivia that doesn't have any impact on how people live their lives.

Moreover, it is a long topic which can (and has many many times in the past) filled hundreds of pages of books, blogs, and discussion forums. I got off-topic like this in the Expelled post and over 200 comments went up trying to explain basic evolution but without really touching on the actual subject of the post (that being Science denialism result in increased misery and death).

But ok, let's do it here. I'll try to keep it brief. Can you quickly sum up what you'd like me to reply to? From what I gather it's that I don't accept your favorite interpretation of the bible as the correct interpretation as intended by god?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Concerning this project on how to interpret some particular part of the bible . . .

To defeat the point that is relevant to this post, one must demonstrate that there is no room for "self-deception" in biblical interpretation. It does not matter if Enasz can come up with a 'better' interpretation of a specific piece of the Bible. What matters is whether Anon can come up with an unquestionable interpretation of all of the Bible - one that avoids possibilities of "self-deception."

Appeals to the New Testament themselves will fail this test, since there are Jews who do not believe that the New Testament has any validity and Muslims (and Mormons) who believe that the New Testament has already been superceded by further revelations.

frish said...

With all due respect, it is easy to read the bible OT or NT and get all the meaning available:

The lord god said:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

1. There are other gods therefore.
2. I'll have none before having any, just like he commanded.

Literal, accurate, unassailable, first commandment, start living it, since it's truth!

Calvin said...

RE: Alonzo,

“Your attempts in this line of argument are always going to fail because they are always going to run up against the fact that people disagree on what scripture says. You tell me one person's interpretation, but, at a different time and a different place, somebody will claim something else.”

Guess I was wrong when I thought this debate couldn’t get any stupider. I can’t even think of another argument that bad—at least, not counting what goes on during the average elementary school recess.

No matter what someone says, someone’s always going to disagree? That little insight ain’t unique to religion. No matter what the topic—every field of science, the historical record, public policy, criminal trials, secular philosophies—disagreement comes up very, very often. In any of these areas, would we even consider that the existence of disagreement or ambiguity meant that ultimately, there was no right answer?

Of course not. In all these cases, serious thinkers (as opposed to followers and/or con men) confront disagreement and trudge through ambiguity via reason, debate, and research. They don’t throw up their hands and assume there’s no right answer—and they sure as hell don’t pick whatever interpretation’s most convenient to their interests and use it as if they’ve found a right answer.

RE: Eneasz,

How accurately people characterize Scripture isn’t “trivia” when people make arguments based on those characterizations.
I’ve already said what claims about Scripture I object to, and I’ve provided information explaining why. What I called detailed examinations of the text, you called “squirming and mental acrobatics.” That’s what I want you to defend.

Calvin, the Formerly Unknown Blogger

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Calvin

You are going to need to address your objections to Mr. Frasier. He is the one who claimed that scripture was somehow immune from the problem of self-deception; more so than other branches of learning such as science.

The objection is not that people disagree so there is no truth. The problem is that where people disagree there is room for (and evidence of) self-deception. Which means that scripture does not have the advantage that Frasier claimed for it.

If you are going to claim that disagreement and the possibility of self-deception is not a problem - if you are going to dismiss the possibility of self-deception as an objection to the possibility of truth, then you have eliminated Frasier's objection to a secular ethics.

So, take your argument that dismisses the problem of self-deception and give them to Frasier, because they defeat his argument.

Calvin said...

“The problem is that where people disagree there is room for (and evidence of) self-deception.”

Which means what? We’re not supposed to notice when you make false statements about the Bible? Nobody’s dismissing “the problem of self-deception.” I’m saying it’s absurd to claim the problem exists to such a degree that we can’t determine accurate statements about what the text actually says.

But I’ve repeated myself enough. The bottom line is simple:

You erected straw men about Christian theology—falsehoods that basic knowledge of the subject matter would have prevented.

You made criticisms of Christians based on those falsehoods.

When challenged on those falsehoods, you didn’t defend your characterizations on the merits. Instead, you bandied about abstract philosophical principles that were largely inapplicable to this case.

I believe that was a deliberate attempt to create ambiguity and nuance, to mask your breach of moral and intellectual conduct.

If you continue to believe your efforts down that line are convincing, you’re only deluding yourself.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Calvin

You are attempting to create a red herring - diverting the conversation onto an irrelevant side trip that then ignores the argument that I actually made.

I am curious as to whether you could actually name a false statement that I made about the Bible. What you will discover is that you read into my writings the false statements you sought to refute. This is a skill that many religious people have developed to a very impressive degree - the ability to read into things what they want to find written there.

For example, the Bible did declare the eating of shellfish to be an abomination. The fact that a different set of authors did not share this prejudice does not change the fact that at least one author did write that the eating of shellfish is an abomination. Nor does any interpretation that challenges slavery change the fact that the Bible condoned slavery and did so in such a way that it had Christians defending slavery for over 1800 years.

It is sad to think what could have been accomplished if only the Bible had said simply,

"Thou shalt not allow the institution of slavery,"

Or:

"Thou shalt allow freedom of the press. So shall you allow the freedom of people peacefully to assemble and to petition their government for grievances."

Or:

"Thou shalt not hold a person answerable for any serious crime without a trial of his peers."

Similarly, it would have been better if only the authors of the Bible had not made mistakes on, for example, the morality of homosexual relationships or the morality of mixing church and state.

But the real issue is the issue of self-deception. Frasier asserted that self-deception is less of an issue for religous ethics than for "the morality of non-belief". That was his thesis. Evidence that there is a great deal of room for self-deception in religious ethics (particularly the deception of assigning one's own prejudices to an imaginary God and calling it 'objective morality') is enough to defeat his thesis, which was the goal of the piece.

Eneasz said...

Oh bother, I suppose I should reply to this before going to bed tonight. I will attempt to keep it brief.

How accurately people characterize Scripture isn’t “trivia” when people make arguments based on those characterizations.

I believe we've already established that nobody actually makes arguements based on what scripture says (see your own arguements about scripture supposedly NOT endorsing slavery as an example). They make their arguements based on what they already believe, and then read into the scripture whatever supports their pre-existing beliefs. Therefore whatever the scriptures may say is, in fact, trivia, as it has no relation to what people actually believe.

What I called detailed examinations of the text, you called “squirming and mental acrobatics.” That’s what I want you to defend.

Ok. Let's start with your acceptance of the eating of shellfish. The basic premise (again, please correct me if I'm mistaken) is that there was an error in translation, that the word "abomination" doesn't actually mean "abomination" as most people define it, it merely means "bad form, in a ceremonial sense".

First and foremost, I accuse you of selective translation disputation. Do you dispute the transalation of ANY passage that you already agree with? No? Only the ones that don't match up with your accepted morality?

What is your basis for challenging the translation of one particular word and not another? It seems that the only basis for saying "Wait, that must be a translation error!" in one case and not another is whether or not that particular passage agrees with your current views on morality. Let me ask you - are you a historical linguist? Do you have the years of training and education needed to translate an ancient text in a dead language? Or do you simply say "Wait.... that doesn't sound right..." and then flip open your Biblical-Hebrew-to-English translation guide to find the translation that most suites your needs, ignoring the ancient context and years of research it would take to understand it?

If you DON'T have the PhD in ancient hebrew that is required to correctly translate these texts, what makes you think that you are more qualified than the men who actually translated it? These are people who spent (literally) years of their lives, a commitee of at least a dozen scholars working in unison to produce the best translation they could, and you dispute their choice of words? There are a lot of words in English with a similar meaning to "abomination" but without the same connotation, you think they were unaware of them? If you honestly believe they erred, why do you still use their translation of the bible? Why don't you provide us with a version of the bible that has better translations that meets your standards? I don't believe ANY bible is infalible, give me the version YOU prefer and I will work with it.

Also... "cermonially unclean"? What does that even mean? Is it worse than screwing someone of the same sex? Or not as bad? How can you tell? If you die while cermonially unclean, are you damned to hell? If not, who cares? And if so, what is it about shellfish that actually makes you unclean? It sounds to me like there is no basis for god disliking shellfish aside from some ancient hebrew chiefs saying "man.... those things are pretty damn icky!". That may sound flippant, but I mean it seriously. If you touch a women while she's menstrating you are deemed ceremonially unclean for a week. Why is that? Supposedly god created women, and knew the consequences of human fertility, but put a price on it anyway? Because it was just sooooooo icky to touch a woman on her period that he couldn't allow men who'd done so into his temple? Why is it that a woman is ceremonially unclean for TWICE as long after having given birth to a female as to when she's given birth to a male? Are you kidding me? Let's face it - "ceremonial uncleanliness" is complete bullshit. It's another way of saying "This is icky... and god agrees with me!"

On to slavery. I would like to direct your attention to the following verses:
How to mark your slaves: Deut. 15:17
How slaves should act: Titus 2:9
Don't forget to circumsize them! Gen.17:12-13
If a slave has children, they are your property. If he loves his wife and children, you can bamboozle him into being your slave for the rest of his life: Ex.21:2-6
It's ok to beat your slaves to death as long as they don't die the same day you beat them (cuz they are your property after all): Ex.21:20-21
Non-hebrews are slaves for life: Lev.25:44-46

New Testament:
Slaves should respect their masters: Eph. 6:5-7
Slaves should respect their masters, because it makes Jesus happy: Col. 3:22-24; 1 Tim. 6:1-2
Slaves should respect their masters, even when they're mean and beat them: 1 Peter 2:18-21

Verses where Jesus denounces slavery and says that it is immoral (perhaps even an "abomination"?) for one man to own another: none.

Jump through mental hoops all you like, the bible never reached the level of justice that humanity discovered on it's own in the 1800s. Perhaps if God In The Flesh had said something about how slavery is bad it wouldn't have taken humanity another 1800 years to figure it out on their own.

You say:
I’m saying it’s absurd to claim the problem exists to such a degree that we can’t determine accurate statements about what the text actually says.

I'm saying that you don't give a damn about what the text ACTUALLY says. If you did you wouldn't make these silly claims that the text just happens to exactly coincide with what you already believe, and go through exactly the sorts of squirming and mental acrobatics I mentioned to try to prove that god is on YOUR side. What the text actually says is pretty barbaric (and sometimes downright stupid) by modern standards, which is exactly why you go to such lengths to deny it.

Calvin said...

RE: Eneasz,

“They make their arguements based on what they already believe, and then read into the scripture whatever supports their pre-existing beliefs. Therefore whatever the scriptures may say is, in fact, trivia, as it has no relation to what people actually believe.”

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description of Alonzo…

“Do you dispute the transalation of ANY passage that you already agree with? No? Only the ones that don't match up with your accepted morality?”

If I find a substantive, convincing argument against a particular translation, then I dispute it. Simple, eh?

No, I’m neither a linguist nor a Bible scholar. But that doesn’t mean I can’t find arguments for and against things, and judge them on the merits. That’s the effort I’ve bee talking about all this time. I never demanded that you or Alonzo get a PhD on the subject before opening his mouth (but in his case, a refresher course or two would be nice…); simply that he bother to find those arguments. Barring that, the very least someone who values truth can do is to examine information seriously when the possibility of getting a fact wrong arises. Self-reflection is a virtue.

Next you complain about God deeming shellfish unclean. Again, it doesn’t bother me that people criticize any given religious belief. I didn’t come here to make the case for any particular religious belief, only to ensure that it’s the ACTUAL BELIEF that people are talking about, rather than a straw man or misconception. It’s enough that y’all at least seem to realize now it was a ceremonial regulation, and not a moral value.

That said, I won’t pretend to understand everything in the Bible, or even to know every word of it. I don’t know what made shellfish unclean, but based on reading I’ve done in the past on OT food regulations, I’m confident “because it’s icky” isn’t even in the right ballpark. Certain foods had connotations with life and with death. The idea is that God wanted to reorient in His people’s minds the value and emphasis of life and death, and the relationship between the two, especially as opposed to the Egyptian conceptions of life and death. Regulations on what could be eaten, when, and what foods could be eaten in conjunction with one another were meant to reinforce that message through the power of symbolic repetition. The reason God lifted such regulations for Christians in the New Testament is because they served their purpose, and were no longer needed—NOT because Christians are simply picking and choosing what they want to believe, as Alonzo insinuates.

I realize this is a rather bare-bones answer, and not necessarily a satisfying one. But the mere presence of actual rationale behind a regulation is enough to disprove that the regulation was the result of a simple whim or prejudice. Also, it should be enough to pique intellectual curiosity. There is a wealth of serious exploration—not “mental hoops”—into the meaning of the Bible, just waiting for anyone with a true desire to learn, to challenge himself, to broaden his horizons (all reasons why I visit this site to begin with). Anyone who thinks Christianity is a bunch of lemmings deluding themselves simply isn’t looking hard enough.

As for slavery…*sigh* again:
http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/What_God_Says_About_Slavery

RE: Alonzo,

“I am curious as to whether you could actually name a false statement that I made about the Bible.”

Fortunately, you’ve just re-summarized them for me:

“For example, the Bible did declare the eating of shellfish to be an abomination. The fact that a different set of authors did not share this prejudice does not change the fact that at least one author did write that the eating of shellfish is an abomination. Nor does any interpretation that challenges slavery change the fact that the Bible condoned slavery and did so in such a way that it had Christians defending slavery for over 1800 years.”

I’ve already given the background information that’s persuaded me they’re false. You’ve had more than ample opportunity to provide counterarguments to those articles. You’ve taken great pains to avoid doing so, and I’m not going to wait for you to do so any longer.

You’ve provided an illuminating case study in how far men will go to rationalize the use of straw-man arguments, out of a desire to discredit their opponents and a dogmatic unwillingness to truly learn. It’s clear this website won’t be the place for serious Scriptural analysis, and my future attempts down this road would be in vain.

Goodbye, Alonzo.

frish said...

I don’t know what made shellfish unclean,

DIFFERENT CULTURES HAD PROHIBITIONS ON DIFFERENT FOODSTUFF.

FOR EXAMPLE, POLYNESIANS WORSHIP PIGS

NOT SO IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

THAT'S BECAUSE PIGS COMPETE WITH PEOPLE FOR GRAIN, BUT IN POLYNESIA THEY ATE LEFTOVER YAMS...

Eneasz said...

"Therefore whatever the scriptures may say is, in fact, trivia, as it has no relation to what people actually believe.”

Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description of Alonzo…


That's a pretty accurate description of all atheists, as none of us think the scriptures are any more special than any other book. What's your point?

“Do you dispute the transalation of ANY passage that you already agree with? No? Only the ones that don't match up with your accepted morality?”

If I find a substantive, convincing argument against a particular translation, then I dispute it. Simple, eh?


Either you are intentionally trying to dodge the question, or I didn't communicate it effectively. To re-phrase:

What makes you look for "a substantive, convincing arguement against a particular translation" in the first point? Obviously you don't go looking for arguements against the standard translations of every single verse in the bible. You accept the majority of them as written, and only try to find "a substantive, convincing arguement against a particular translation" in certain cases. What is it that makes you look for the arguements only in particular cases?

I've already stated that it seems pretty obvious that the only criteria for when you'll accept something as written vs. when you'll go looking for "a substantive, convincing arguement" is simply whether or not the scripture (as written) already agrees with your morality or not.
Yes, it is simple. When you don't like something in the bible you search until you find some interpretation that you like and puts your fears to rest. The actual strength of the arguements is irrelivant. You can use the same standard to convince yourself of a 9/11 govt. conspiracy, or that we never actually landed on the moon.

I didn’t come here to make the case for any particular religious belief, only to ensure that it’s the ACTUAL BELIEF that people are talking about, rather than a straw man or misconception.

The ACTUAL BELIEF, of course, is defined by you. By what you are most comfortable with. I take it you have some special insight on what the ACTUAL BELIEFs of ancient hebrews were that is not available to the legions of scholars who've worked on translating the bible as accurately as they could? Oh that's right... what feels right to you.

It’s enough that y’all at least seem to realize now it was a ceremonial regulation, and not a moral value.

You completely dodged the point where I asked what ceremonial uncleanliness was. The phrase is meaningless on it's own. You skipped when I asked if it was worse than gay sex or better, and what punishments (if any) come with this ceremonial BS. I mean... if breaking a "ceremonial regulation" is punishable by death, then it's hard to argue that it isn't the equivilant of a moral value. (Please see 2 Sam. 6:6-7.)


That said, I won’t pretend to understand everything in the Bible, or even to know every word of it. I don’t know what made shellfish unclean


So basically you only searched around for "a substantive, convincing arguement against a particular translation" just long enough to feel good about how the bible *really does* endorse your own moral code, and then just went about your merry way without bothering to look into it further. Bravo.

I have to go, but I'll return to the slavery issue later tonight.

Calvin said...

Eneasz, there are numerous points in your latest response which indicate you didn't read it that closely and don't really understand what I wrote. I don't have the patience to indulge that sort of thing anymore, especially when it comes from the kind of creep who'll throw around insinuations of racism and mysogyny with reckless abandon, as you did on my blog.

So much for debate...

Eneasz said...

Hello again Calvin (maybe for the last time?)

So I re-read the slavery article, just in case I missed something. You reposted the link, so I figured maybe I hadn't been attentive enough in my reading. But no, it's the same old slavery arguement that apologists have been putting forward for years. I encourage anyone who wants to see this sort of squirming and mental acrobatics in action to follow the links. All in an effort at self-deception. It's a wonderful display.

To sum up: the arguement is that "Well.... ancient slavery wasn't all THAT bad." Really? That's your defense? That slavery wasn't all that bad? I only wish you were kidding. To quote the conclusion on that webpage - "This backward principle of using evil for good is part of the very nature of God" ...!

As for your last comment...
Eneasz, there are numerous points in your latest response which indicate you didn't read it that closely and don't really understand what I wrote.

That's interesting, because all I see is you ducking and dodging the issue and refusing to answer anything. I wonder why that could be. Keep dodging! Maybe they won't notice....

especially when it comes from the kind of creep who'll throw around insinuations of racism and mysogyny with reckless abandon, as you did on my blog.

I apologize for nothing to someone who would go so far as to defend the institution of slavery simply because it makes him feel better about his beliefs. Take some responsibility. While you're at it, why don't you approve the latest replies I posted to your blog?

So much for debate...

Flee! Flee while you still can!

Calvin said...

I'm not going to waste any more valuable time on the likes of you. I'm fully satisfied as to how the course of this debate reflects on the both of us.

For the record, though, my Blogger page shows no unmoderated comments. If you want to re-post them, have at it.

frish said...

THANK THE INVISIBLE PINK UNICORN, CALVIN "GAVE UP"!

Calvin said...

Glad we have Frish to provide such thoughtful analysis....

frish said...

I seem to recall Calvin suggesting:
"I'm not going to waste any more valuable time on the likes of you."

Yet he posted again.

Therefore, the time he spent posting that wasn't valuable, or he's a liar...

I posted what I thought was insightful comment early on this string of comments, and received not one response, yet Calvin wants to defend a 1700 year old document, created when those in Nicea cherry picked from hundreds of documents that purported to explain some events that probably never even happened, and then served it up as "gospel" truth...

Tragic. And a serious waste of my valuable time.

If the OT and NT are truth, why are there 10 (or maybe 100) varieties of Judaism and 22000 xtian sects?

"Truth keeps gettin' harder to find" I suppose...