Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part VI: Responding to a Comment

I am still not clear on how you get to come up with the judgment of "bigot" on the writers of the Manhattan Declaration.

A bigot is a person who unfairly or unjustly identifies a group of people as being 'inferior" in some way - morally inferior, or inferior in capacity. The bigot pre-judges their inferiority, and then goes around looking for evidence that will lend legitimacy to this judgement.

In light of this, one of the ways to identify a bigot is that the bigot will embrace poor arguments - absurd premises or invalid inferences - simply because they support his prejudice (or pre-judgment).

In this series of posts I have identified a number of arguments in the Manhattan Declaration that fit this description. They are arguments that no fair and just person would embrace. That the authors of the Manhattan Declaration embrace those arguments strongly suggests that they are driven blind to the flaws in those arguments by their craving for something that will give even a shadow of legitimacy to their pre-judgment (their prejudices).

This is the behavior of a bigot.

If you find sufficient evidence to convict somebody of forcefully having sex with another person without her consent, it is quite legitimate to call him a rapist. And if you catch somebody struggling to convince others of something the speaker knows to be false then you are within reason to call that person a liar. Similarly, if you catch a group of people blind to gaps of logic because they are driven to the conclusion by their own prejudice, then it makes perfectly good sense to call those people bigots.

I would think twice before labeling people you don't really know are wrong in their beliefs.

Bigots never see themselves as being wrong. Bigots always see themselves as great benefactors of society, targeting some threat that others in society simply refuse to see. White supremacists see themselves as trying to save the white race from contamination from the inferior races and think that their beliefs that the white race is superior to the other races to be perfectly justified. The anti-gay bigots see themselves as saving marriage from the contamination of inferior unions and think their beliefs that heterosexual relationships are superior to homosexual relationships are perfectly justified.

I wonder how you would feel if someone labeled you a "bigot" simply because you don't believe in God.

It does not matter how I would feel. Truth is what matters, not feelings. I imagine that the rapist feels quite poorly when he is called a rapist. But the real question to ask is not, "How does it make the rapist feel?" What matters is, "Is he really a rapist."

I have made my charge. I have defined my terms. And I have presented sufficient evidence for a conviction. I have identified the specific arguments that support the conclusion that the authors of the Manhattan Declaration embraced arguments that no fair and just person would embrace - purely because those arguments support the authors' pre-judgment in the inferiority of others.

I rest my case.

Well, not quite yet. I have a little more to say and a few more posts to say it in.

In my dictionary, bigot is defined as one who is intolerant of the opinions of others.

So, how tolerant are you of the opinions of the Nazi, or of the child molester? How tolerant of you of the drunk driver who assures you that he can make it home, or of the person who flies airplanes into sky scapers because he sees America as a threat to Islam?

How tolerant are you being of my opinions here? In writing this comment, are you not demonstrating intolerance of my views?

As far as I can tell, what you are saying is, "Anybody who calls somebody else a bigot is a bigot." If we take this argument to its logical conclusion, you are calling yourself a bigot because of your intolerance of my views.

If you want to avoid these types of problems then you need a better definition 'bigot'. I would recommend the one that I use - a person who embraces blatantly false premises or makes grossly fallacious leaps of logic to reach the conclusion that some group of people are inferior. With this definition one can then prove bigotry by identifying those blatantly false premises or grossly fallacious leaps of logic. Which is exactly what I have done in these posts.

And before you bite back, consider this, if there is no God, then there is no equality either. You can't have it both ways. The party with the biggest mouth and biggest stick is the winner, and the losers will just have to put up and shut up. Is that the kind of world you want to live in?

Well, this is one of those wild leaps of logic used to view others as inferior.

It is as absurd as claiming that if there is no God then there is no reason to establish a fire department that will rescue me if my house shall catch on fire, or no reason to establish a police department who will secure my property from theft and vandalism. It is as absurd as claiming that if there is no God then there is no reason to promote a culture that condemns rapists, thieves, and murderers because (sarcasm on), as we all know, atheists have no reason to want to avoid being raped, robbed, murdered, censored, enslaved, imprisoned without trial, or tortured.(sarcasm off).

The type of person who would believe these things is somebody who craves viewing himself as better than others, and for the sake of that prejudice is inclined to grasp onto any absurdity that says, "you are morally inferior to us."

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part V: Kinds of Marriage

The Manhattan Declaration is a declaration written to present a particular religious view on moral issues regarding life, marriage, and religious liberty. The Declaration is so filled with holes and inconsistencies that they easily identify the document as being, not the work (or the word) of some divine wisdom, but the flawed work of mortals - and bigoted, arrogant, self-serving morals at that.

They are the words of people who recognize - either consciously or unconsciously that, "Do as I command," tends to be far less effective then, "Do as God commands and I am the word of God," and so they give in to a craving to assign their bigotries and prejudices to God in a document that they called the Manhattan Declaration.

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

I have identified a number of flaws already - flaws that a fair and humane person would have recognized, but the authors, blinded by their bigotries, their arrogance, and their self-serving desires made themselves did not recognize.

Another of the flaws that no fair and just God would endorse, but which fills the needs of a bigoted human seeking to inflict harms on the interests of others and coat it in an illusion of legitimacy, is the claim that if we permit homosexual marriages we must also permit heterosexual marriages.

They make these argument in spite of the fact that heterosexual incestuous marriage has none of the flaws that the authors suggest are reasons to condemn homosexual marriage. Heterosexual incestuous couples can have children and, in having children, have an interest in seeing the marriage protected so that both parents can serve in raising that child. The child would have a mother and a father. As such, all of the arguments these bigots offer for protecting the institution of marriage are arguments for protecting and preserving heterosexual incestuous marriage.

If there is a reason to reject heterosexual incestuous marriage, then it is independent of the reasons for rejecting homosexual marriage. This places the bigots who use this argument in a logical bind.

If there is no independent reason to justify condemning heterosexual incestuous marriage, then these bigots themselves have provided the justification for recognizing these marriages as proper and legitimate marriages within their definition.

If, on the other hand, an independent reason to condemn heterosexual incestuous marriage exists, then it is not the case that permitting homosexual marriage implies permitting heterosexual incestuous marriage - because heterosexual incestuous marriage would still run afowl of this "independent reason."

The same dilemma applies to plural marriages. Plural messages, likewise, can result in children and for the same of whom the marriage should be protected and preserved. In fact, many of the arguments these bigots give for the value of heterosexual marriage are even more true of a polygamous marriage. The death of a single parent or an accident causing permanent injury, the loss of a job, or severe illness is far more devastating to a two-parent family than to a multi-parent family. So, these bigots themselves provide us with reason to recognize and protect these marriages.

If there is any independent reason to reject these marriages it is not in virtue of what they have in common with homosexual marriages (because they have far more in common with heterosexual marriages), but must be some other reason. This "other reason" buts the bigot in the same bind that they are in with incestuous marriage.

A fair and just person would see these flaws - or at least be able to show that he put a responsible effort into finding them. Any god created by such a person would also be fair and just - a god that also condemned the bigoted, arrogant, self-serving people who irresponsibly blinded themselves to these moral problems.

However, the authors of the Manhattan Doctrine have shown themselves to be too deeply blinded by their bigotry to examine their own arguments for signs of unfairness and injustice. They are not looking to do what is right. They are looking to give their own bigoted, arrogant, cruel, unjust sentiments an illusion of legitimacy. They do this by inventing a God that is just as bigoted, arrogant, cruel, and unjust as they are and then declaring, "These are not my actions. These are commanded by God" - a god the bigot has created in his own image.

As it turns out, there are, in fact, independent reasons to justify condemning heterosexual incestuous marriage (and, by extension, other forms of incestuous marriage). These reasons have nothing to do with the problems of genetic illness. It would scarcely be considered just to nullify a marriage on the grounds of the genetic inferiority of any children that may result.

The argument against incestuous marriage is grounded on the real-world observation of the great deal of harm and suffering that results from incestuous abuse generally. The only way we could permit heterosexual incestuous marriage is if we were to lower the social barriers against incestuous relationships generally. Lowering the psychological barriers against these types of relationships runs the very real risk of causing a significant increase in the amount of overall incestuious sexual abuse. People will act to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires (given their beliefs). A weaker aversion to incestuous relationships can not help but result in an increase in incestuous acts.

So, the many and strong reasons we have for reducing these types of abuse and the harms they cause are many and strong reasons for promoting an overall aversion to incestuous relationships. It is an aversion fed somewhat by a natural disinclination towards incestuous relationships. However, nature's inclination is clearly not as strong as it should be - given the number of events that still occur, and the harms that could be prevented if the aversion were stronger. Thus, morality calls for socially strengthening (though its moral institution) this (amoral) natural aversion.

The moral institutions for strengthening that aversion catches incestuous marriage in its net. An inversion to incestuous relationships necessarily implies an aversion to incestuous marriage. The result is a moral prohibition on such marriages.

However, this moral prohibition says nothing about the morality of homosexual marriages (other than to say that homosexual incestuous marriage should also be prohibited - a conclusion argument that the 'genetic immorality of incest' theory cannot handle).

This argument will not appease the bigoted, arrogant, self-serving authors of the Manhattan Declaration. It will not justify the harms that they seek to inflict on others. They want an argument that will give an illusion of legitimacy to their own behavior, motivated as it is by their own unjust and unkind prejudices. The clearly flawed argument that they wrote into the Manhattan Declaration serves that purpose – as long as they blind themselves to its flaws. But blinding oneself to reason is something that bigots have historically shown themselves to be quite good at.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part IV: Government Obligations Respecting Religious Beliefs

Religious liberty means that the government has an absolute obligation to ban the raising of pigs and the selling of pork, demand the wearing of hats, the practice of giving patients blood transfusions, and working on the Sabbath. Failure to do so is not only a violation of the religious liberties of those who hold that these prohibitions come from God, it abuses the rights of parents to teach their children that these practices are immoral.

There are certain arguments that virtually scream I'M A BIGOT because no fair and just mind could ever embrace such an absurdity. A couple of them appear in a recently released document called the Manhattan Declaration in the section that discusses marriage.

These are arguments that are so absurd that no fair and just person could embrace them. These are not the types of arguments where a good person could ponder and say, "Ah, yes, I see your point." There is no point to see. Something other than reason has to be seducing the agent into thinking that these claims are justified, and that "something" is a deep-seated bigotry that craves anything that will give his bigotry an illusion of legitimacy.

The Declaration contains the following quote:

Marriage is an objective reality - a convenantal union of husband and wife - that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow. First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlighten understanding recognizes as "marriages" sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

If this argument made any sense at all, it would be an argument for the government stepping up and prohibiting by law anything and everything that any religion.

Blood transfusions should be banned.


Because failure to do so violates the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience.

Furthermore, the rights of parents are abused as programs in schools teach children that an enlightened understanding of medicine recognizes blood transfusions as legitimate medical practices that many parents believe are immoral.

The eating of pork must be banned of the same reason. It is a violation of the religious liberty of the Muslim to allow the selling of pork. Furthermore, if it is not prohibited, then the rights of Muslim parents to teach their children is compromised by a state that, in refusing to ban the practice, sends those children the message that the eating of pork is legitimate.

The proper principle to apply in each of these cases is that different religions are free to accept whatever prohibitions their religion tells them to adopt, but they are not permitted to force those prohibitions on others. A religion can tell its followers not to accept blood transfusions, but it cannot justify prohibiting blood transfusions across the whole society. It can tell its followers not to eat pork, but it cannot ban the buying and selling of pork. It can tell its followers not to marry others of the same gender, but it cannot prohibit people generally from marrying somebody of the same gender.

A fair and just person - a moral person - would have begun this assessment with a presumption of liberty. He would start by saying, "I will not interfere with the liberty of others unless I am forced to the conclusion that it is necessary to do so."

On hearing an argument that says that liberty must be restricted, his first instinct would be to look for the flaw in that argument - to assume that the restriction of liberty is a mistake.

It is only when he is forced to the conclusion that a violation of liberty is necessary that he will reluctantly yield to that conclusion.

If, instead, a person too eagerly accepts an flawed argument for violating the liberty of others, we have reason to suspect that in place of a love of liberty, he has a desire to do harm to the interests of others. The more absurd the argument that the agent embraces, the more likely it is that the agent is acting on a hatred and prejudice that is so deep that he craves anything that would give the harms he seeks to inflict on others the illusion of legitimacy. No leap of logic is too great, no claim too absurd to be believed, as long as it gets the agent to the conclusion that he may inflict the harms on the interests of others that he so deeply craves to inflict.

The absurdity above is an excellent example of this.

A fair and just mind would look on how we handle these issues and come to the conclusion that religious liberty means that the followers of a particular religion are free to adopt any restrictions on their own behavior that they think comes from God, but may not force those restrictions on others. The Muslim may refuse to eat pork but must not prohibit others from eating pork. The Christian Scientist may refuse blood transfusions but may not ban others from accepting blood transfusions. The Seventh Day Adventist may refuse to work on Saturday but may not prohibit others from working on Saturday. The Catholic and Evangelical Christian may refuse to marry somebody from the same gender but they may not prohibit others from marrying somebody of the same gender.

This is the lesson that a fair and just person - the moral person - would draw from these conclusions.

The hate-filled bigoted person, on the other hand, would draw a different set of conclusions.

I have been writing this series under the overall theme that morality does not come from God. Morality comes from man, and those men create God in their own image. A kind and compassionate man will create a kind and compassionate God and will see himself as being commanded by God to act in a kind and compassionate manner towards others.

A hateful and bigoted man, on the other hand, invents a hateful and bigoted god. He then declares that the hateful and bigoted acts that he craves are the commandments of this God that he has created.

The more absurd the argument that an individual tries to grasp onto to give his harmful behavior apparent legitimacy, the deeper we have reason to believe his bigotry goes. Because nobody actually likes to admit that they're a bigot. They like to think of themselves as good people who have good reasons for what they do. They grasp on to absurdities such as this in order to say - as much to themselves as to others, "I am not a bigot." Yet, they are like the man with clenched fists shouting at the top of his lungs, "I am not angry!"

We can know you by your actions, and these actions scream, "I AM A BIGOT!"

Gods are created by man in his own image. Bigoted men create bigoted gods so that they can claim divine guidance in doing that which is based, not on divine guidance, but human bigotry.

The people who think that the argument found in the Manhattan Declaration actually makes sense are hateful and bigoted men. The God they have created that tells them to act in this way is a hateful and bigoted God, created in their own image. That God is imaginary.

However, the people harmed by these individuals who have invented such a God and use this invention to demand an unobstructed right to inflict the harms their God commands are real.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part III: Infidelity

I have been writing this month on the Manhattan Declaration - a document outlining a set of principles on matters of life, marriage, and religious liberty.

The Declaration contains the following line:

To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love.

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

On this, the Manhattan Declaration is correct.

Of course, I would not put it in those same terms. In desire utilitarian terms, we have many and strong reasons to promote an aversion to promiscuity and infidelity, and to promote stronger desires for tight marital bonds between individuals.

A basic long-standing objection against adultery is that it involves the breaking of a promise. The wedding vow itself is a promise not to sleep around with others. A person who then has sex with violates that promise and this, in itself, involves doing something that no good person would do.

But what do we say about the people who never make such a promise? They enter into a marriage in complete agreement that each may have sex with others, No promise is done, so there is no wrong.

Another way of stating the issue with respect to adultery is that it is not a question of whether a promise, once made, should be kept. It is a question of whether the promise should or should not be made - what the promise (or the lack of a promise) itself says about the moral character of the individual.

The desire utilitarian case against adultery is that people have many and strong reasons to praise those who make (and then to keep) a promise a marital (or relationship) fidelity, and to condemn those who engage in sex without that fidelity - engage in promiscuous and adulterous behavior.

A large portion of those many and strong reasons comes from the many and strong reasons we have to prevent the spread of disease, and the desire-thwarting that those diseases bring. We get many of these reasons from preventing the spread of disease such as syphilis and AIDS. Recent medical research is showing that many forms of cancer - cervical, pancreatic, oral, anal, and even potentially some breast cancers - are cause by the spread of sexually transmitted viruses.

(See: Stanford University series on Darwin's Legacy Lecture 8)

We have many and strong reasons to hope that we, ourselves, do not get these diseases. We have many and strong reasons to hope that those we do not care about get these diseases, We should have many and strong reasons to hope that we can keep these diseases out of the future of any child's life. So, we have many and strong reasons to promote strong desires for extended monogamous relationships, and to condemn those who are promiscuous or adulterous - as well as those who promote and glorify promiscuity and adultery.

We have many and strong reason to hold that those people who make a promise of marital fidelity and keep that promise are better people - far better people - then those who show those values that have in the past and will continue to contribute to the spread of these diseases and the desire-thwarting that result from them.

These points argue that there is a virtue in promoting institutions, norms, and policies that have the effect of encouraging long-term monogamous relationships and of discouraging those things that tend to break marriages apart.

This idea of promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires (such as promoting an aversion to promiscuity and adultery and promoting a desire to be in a long-term monogamous relationships) is one that has to take the scientific facts into account. People like to imagine all sorts of harms and benefits circulating around the fulfillment of their own desires.

While abstinence-only sex education is certainly consistent with promoting an aversion to promiscuity and (later) adultery, we cannot ignore the evidence that says that this option is so drastically opposed to our biological natures that the attempt does more harm than good. We get more disease, more misery, and more death trying to teach abstinence then we would get by supporting long-term, mutually caring, relatively safe monogamous relationships.

If you wish to absolutely avoid any chance of getting in an automobile accident then this can be done by totally abstaining from ever getting into a car or being near a road. However, insofar as this is completely impractical, the next best option is to teach people to drive safely.

Consistent with all of this is the fact that those who oppose homosexual marriages are the true enemies of marriage itself. The many and strong reasons we have for promoting long-term monogamous relationships are reasons for promoting long-term monogamous relationships among both homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Our institutions should be (a moral person would insist that they are made to be) just as strongly supportive of the long-term monogamous homosexual relationship as it is of the long-term monogamous heterosexual relationship.

People who are not supportive of long-term homosexual relationships through the institution of homosexual marriage have placed themselves on the side of promiscuity, disease, misery, and death instead. In at least this part of the lives, they bring evil into our society, and the suffering that comes along with it. If they are unable to see the evil that they do, it is because their prejudices and bigotry as well as their own egos refuse to admit the vicious truth of what they do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part II: Marriage

Religious moralities do not come from gods. They come from human beings. They are assigned to gods as a way to give them an illusion of legitimacy - because history has shown that "You must obey me," tends to be far less effective than, "You must obey God, and I am the voice of God."

Religious moralities come from human beings, and human beings put into those moralities all of their prejudices and biases, their lust for power and to be served by others, their likes and dislikes and their arrogant presumption that they have figured out all of the truths to be known and any who disagree with them are not only wrong, but wicked, and must be punished.

One of the prejudices that nature has given human beings is the prejudice to view the objects of their own desires as having intrinsic merit - as being not only, "That which I like," but "That which deserves to be liked because of its intrinsic qualities." This leads to the attitude that "different is evil." When confronted with others whose likes are not compatible with one's own the tendency is to view those likes as "perversions" - as a warped and disgusting tendency to pursue that which has no or negative value.

"And I know it has no or negative value because I do not like it or actively dislike it."

The vast majority of us are heterosexual. Nature has created in us a strong desire for heterosexual acts. As I think back on my ancestors across millions and millions of generations I can tell you very little about a great many of them. Yet, I can say that, since the evolution of sex, none of them - or almost none of them - died a virgin.

Combine this with the unfortunate prejudice mentioned above and we see people reaching an unfortunate conclusion that heterosexual relationships are intrinsically good and tht there must be something defective in those who do not pursue that which intrinsically ought to be pursued.

This is an unfortunate prejudice in that it causes some people to do harm to others who do not deserve to be harmed. they do harm to others because it pleases them to see themselves as superior and "the others" as inferior. However, if there is any clear line in the moral universe, it is that doing harm to others merely because it makes us feel good sits on the far side of that line.

There may be a natural human disposition to view "different as evil" but it is a disposition that good people will try to hold in check. The institution of morality was invented for the purpose of establishing a set of institutions that hold our poorer nature in check and to allow our better natures to flourish (to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires and inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires). This means holding in check the disposition to view "different as evil" and to grant liberty to those who are different, so long as they are not dangerous.

Even here we must be wary, because the disposition to view different as evil - the good feelings generated by holding "us" as superior and "them" as inferior - will seduce us into seeing a threat where no threat exists. We WANT to believe that we have reason to do harm to those who are different, so we accept things as evidence even though they stand in bold conflict with reason and responsibility.

The Manhattan Declaration contains the following quote:

[Permitting homosexual marriage] would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life.

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

There is nothing in this but an expression of the attitude, "Different is evil." This is an expression of people who have taken what they like and assigned it extraordinary or supernatural virtue, so that they can generate in themselves the "good feeling" of seeing themselves as superior to those who are different.

This is bigotry and prejudice in its true form, prejudging those who are "like me" as superior, and prejudging those who "different" as "defective" and "worthy of condemnation."

It is accompanied by claims that "the others" are dangerous that make no sense when held up to the light of reason. They are claims of harm accepted by those aching for an excuse to act in ways harmful to others, and will grasp at any straw that can be offered as "justification" - to people who are similarly seduced by their own bigotries to accept.

They claim that marriage is meant for procreation and for raising a child.

Yet, nothing in a childless homosexual marriage is a threat to a heterosexual couple raising a child. And the belief that a homosexual couple must necessarily do a poorer job of raising a child has little or no basis in fact. People accept these claims, not because the research forces them to accept these claims, but because the pleasure of seeing themselves as superior to others seduces them into accepting these claims.

The most blatant irrationality with respect to the claim that these bigots have the best interests of the children at heart is the fact that many of those children are homosexuals. There is a very real harm being done to the interests of those children to put on the scale against the imaginary harms and benefits that spring from the bigot's imagination. It is a clear and obvious harm that is ignored because . . . well . . . "those who are different from us" are inferior and inferior interests do not need to be considered.

Even if there is a difference of opinion on this matter, morality demands that we give those who may be harmed the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof is never on those who say that harm may not be inflicted, but always on those who say that harms must be inflicted. Furthermore, the moral person demands that the proof be something more substantial than, "It kinda feels like it might be a good idea." Harm requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The bigot's standards for evidence are much, much lower.

The authors of the Manhattan Declaration have made the situation worse. They have created a god in their image. They have assigned their prejudice to a god, creating a god that shares their prejudice and who, then, sanctions and defends the unjustified harms that the bigots would cause to "those who are different from us."

They pump up their chests with arrogant and false pride over the declaration that, "We have devoted ourselves to a higher power. We have devoted ourselves to pursuing God's will."

No, you have devoted yourselves to acting on natural prejudices and bigotries that you only imagine to be God's Will because that combines the good feeling of doing harm to those who are "different from us" to the good feeling of "serving a higher power who smiles on us when we do harm to those who are different from us."

When humans assign their prejudices and hatreds to a god, they then wrap those prejudices in an armor of faith where they can close their ears and refuse to listen to any argument that suggests that they are wrong. "God said that we may . . . indeed must . . . harm those who are different from us, and God cannot be mistaken."

Perhaps God cannot be mistaken. But humans can - and the gods that humans invent are prone to all of the same weaknesses and faults - prejudices and bigotries - of those who create their gods in their own image.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part I: Religious Liberty

According to a recent declaration on Christian principles, if a person were to stand up in a crowded room, shout "Allah Akbar", and start shooting everybody present, it would be a violation of his religious liberty to duck and cover and head for the door, or to shoot the person who is doing the shooting.

A group of Christians have released a proclamation that they have titled the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience" in which they talk about a number of moral concerns regarding life and death (abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research), marriage (homosexual marriage), and religious liberty.

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

I have no doubt that the authors of the text would protest the above account. However, their discussion on religious liberty leave this as a logical implication of the principles they put forward.

No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

What the shooter in this example is doing is expressing freely and publicly his deeply held religious convictions. Apparently, according to this declaration, he has a right to do so. To say that somebody has a right is to say that others have a duty to interfere. Clearly, when the authors of this declaration argue for a right to religious liberty, they are arguing for a duty on our part not to interfere with them. A direct application of this principle to the example of the shooter implies that we would be morally prohibited from taking any action that would interfere with the shooter's interest in expressing his most deeply held religious sentiments.

Clearly, the authors of this declaration would not declare that the shooter has such a right. However, this leaves them with a choice. If they are going to deny that such rights exist, then they need to alter their principles accordingly. Sometimes it is permissible to interfere with somebody else's expressions of deeply held religious convictions.

In this declaration, the authors state that Christian doctrine requires that they obey the law and to engage in civil disobedience when the law is unjust. However, this is a Christian doctrine. To impose this doctrine on others would, it seems, be a violation of the prohibition on "worshiping God according to the dictates of conscience." So, even though a Christian who would sign this declaration may not be an advocate of the use of this type of violence, the declaration gives moral sanction and permission to those who would.

Should a person whose conscience permits such violence be prohibited from worshipping God according to those dictates? If the answer is "sometimes yes", then the prohibition can clearly sometimes be violated.

One of the great advantages of having an inconsistent and inherent moral philosophy is that the agent gets to appeal to that half of the contradiction that is most useful at the moment in justifying their actions. If a health care provider wishes the liberty to refuse to provide abortion services to somebody who may want an abortion, prohibiting them from refusing is a violation of their religious liberty. If a homosexual couple wishes to get married according to the dictates of their conscience, apparently, then it is the religious liberty of the Christian signers of this document to prohibit such unions that is at stake.

For some reason the authors of this doctrine have adopted a set of principles in which they get all of the liberty, while everybody else gets all of the burdens. Yet, they claim that this self-contraditory and self-service doctrine does not come from man (specifically, not from the brains of the authors guided by their own convenience), but from God.

This is not an argument, which I have been protesting against in the past week, that says that religious moderates are to be condemned for the wrongs of religious extremists. This is an argument that looks at a specific declaration that has been set forward and shows the logical implications of that declaration. It is no different than raising objections to act utilitarianism on the grounds that it would authorize a doctor to kill a healthy patient to use his organs to save five patients who would otherwise die.

I assign my criticism only to the argument itself, and to those who endorse this argument – specifically its signers, but also any who would endorse the principles even without signing.

The principles in this policy ultimately implies that there is no limit on what a person may do, since any opposition or interference would, on these principles, violate the agent's right to "express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions."

That is exactly what the 9/11 hijackers were doing . . . expressing freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.

That is exactly what the terrorist who detonates a nuclear weapon in Washington DC would be doing . . . expressing feely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.

Certainly there must be religious convictions that people must not be permitted to express freely and publicly. Yet, the Manhattan Declaration gives us no such limit.

There is a reason why the Declaration does not give us any limit. This is because it is not actually a doctrine of religious liberty. It is a recipe for religious tyranny. It was written by people who, in the first two sections of the paper, wish to impose their religious beliefs on others even to the point of doing great harm to the interests of people who do not share their religion. It is quite certain that people with those types of values are not going to want to declare that there are limits in the harms that religious people may impose on others.

Instead, they are going to cap their declaration of religious tyranny with a set of principles that say that "We support religious liberty. This means that we have the liberty to do whatever pleases us and the rest of you have an obligation to submit."

No, I did not forget that they are not actually speaking about a right to "do whatever pleases us". They have a right to worship God according to their own conscience. Yet, there is no God. Nobody gets any moral law from God. Instead, people assign their own wishes and desires to God, and they do so according to their own pleasure. So, while they declare, believe, and certainly wish us to believe that they are acting on a higher moral value. They are, in fact, acting according to their own pleasure and using God in an attempt to justify the harms that they would have others suffer.

That is certainly what we find here. We find a declaration written by people who would be pleased with the liberty to impose their values on others without regard to the people made to suffer. To give their actions legitimacy they tell us that they are not actually acting according to their own pleasure. Instead:

The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it is God that grants them to do these harms. These are not being inflicted at the pleasure of those who created the Declaration. They are God's will. So, they must be legitimate. And we have an obligation to "religious liberty" to allow them to inflict those harms it pleases them to inflict.

It is a very convenient theory.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blaming the Moderates - Considerations of Rationality

All fiction should be condemned. If not banned outright, we should at least universally condemn all fictionists - people who create and distribute works of fiction.

The reason we should adopt this attitude is because all works of fiction are basically lies. To tolerate fictionism is to tolerate lying. Those who tolerate lying, in turn, are enablers for all of those who engage in fraud and other forms of deception. If we condemn all lying - even fiction - then there is no way that the fraudster, the deceptive advertiser, the political manipulator, or the public relations specialist can get the idea that the lies they engage in are somehow permissible.

This argument is meant as a reductio ad absurdum of the claim that religious moderates must be condemned as enablers of the actions of the violent religious extremists. Blaming the former for the actions of the latter is as absurd as blaming "fictionists" for the actions of liars and other forms of malicious manipulators of the truth.

It has been my position in this blog that all moral condemnation must be tightly focused - that only those who are actually guilty are to be condemned. There is a human tendency to divide the world into tribes of "us" and "them", and to take the wrongs committed by a subgroup of "them" (or even imagined wrongs) and apply it to all of "them". This is used to "justify" intertribal conflict - such as conflict between the atheist tribe and the theist tribe.

The way to avoid this outcome is to constantly focus attention on keeping condemnation tightly focused only on those who are guilty, to be on guard for the tendency to make irrational leaps from the subset to the whole, and to attack them when and where we find them.

Which is one of the things I try to do in this blog.

The claim that moderates are to be condemned for the actions of the extremists is one of those irrational absurdities embraced, not because they make sense, but because they mask tribal hatreds in a cloak of apparent legitimacy.

If it is permissible to condemn the moderate for the behavior of the extremists, then it should be just as permissible to credit the extremists for the behavior of the moderate. Consider two extreme cases - one of a deeply religious doctor who thinks that God wants him to provide medical care to the impoverished children in third world countries, and the other a violent jihadist who seeks to blow up a crowded shopping mall.

What argument can we give for saying that the doctor deserves to be condemned for the actions of the terrorist that is not also an argument for giving the terrorist moral credit for the actions of the doctor.

The argument is the same. Just as the doctor who promotes devotion to God is an enabler of the terrorist, the terrorist who promotes devotion to God is an enabler to the doctor. To claim that the argument is valid when used as a reason to condemn the doctor for the actions of the terrorist, but invalid when offered as a reason to praise the terrorist for the actions of the doctor, is itself irrational.

If irrationality is the true enemy, then this is an example of the true enemy. Only, this time, we are talking about the irrationality of atheists.

Rationality says that these inferences are invalid. If rationality is a virtue (and I hold that it is a virtue, though it is one we have only a limited ability to practice), then no good (rational) person would embrace this argument. In fact, the good (rational) person would condemn those who use this argument - particularly when it is used to give an illusion of legitimacy to what is used to condemn (to promote and, in some cases, sell) hatred of all members of a target tribe.

Which is what I am seeking to do here.

Please note, this is not an argument for being nice to religious moderates because it is politically expedient to do so. This is not an argument for promoting niceness at the expense of reason. This is an argument that embraces the position that rationality is a virtue and irrationality is a vice, and condemns a popular form of reasoning because it is irrational.

The claim that we must blame the moderates for the actions of the extremists is irrational - it is an invalid inference and for that reason no friend of rationality would embrace it. For that reason, any friend of rationality would condemn those who practice it.

From here we actually start down a long train of irrational arguments.

Why not credit the terrorist for the good done by the doctor? Answer: Because people can do good without God.

However, people can also do evil without God, so that argument doesn't work.

Ahhh, Alonzo, but what you are missing out on is that religion is required to do evil in the name of God.

Yes, but religion is also required to do good in the name of God, so that argument still does not work. We still do not have anything that a friend of rationality would embrace - that an enemy of irrationality would not condemn.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Religion, Condemnation, and Appeals to Scripture

In light of some recent discussion, I think it is time to specify some basic propositions.

(1) There is no God.

Some people may be distressed by this fact. However, I am under no obligation to bury the truth simply because someone cannot handle the truth. In order for people to best fulfill the most and strongest of their desires, given the fact that they act to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires given their beliefs, they need true beliefs. Belief that a God exists is not on the list.

Even if there is a God, we know nothing about its qualities. It could be a childish God who created the earth and its occupants at set us to war against each other for its own amusement. Or it could be a bored God concerned with something else in some other part of the universe where we are an unforeseen side-effect that God cares nothing about. Or it could be a God who is more impressed with the human who uses its brain and available evidence to conclude that it does not exist than with those who shamelessly assert that faith is a virtue. All claims about what God is like have to be justified separately from the proposition that a God exists.

(2) Belief that a God exists is not morally objectionable.

We all have false beliefs. None of us have time to hold all of our beliefs up to the light of reason and sort them all out, so we all have unfounded false beliefs.

Consider a person with no beliefs. How does he hold that first belief up to the light of reason to judge whether to accept it or not? He cannot. Our first beliefs are acquired arationally. Later beliefs are evaluated in part based on their coherence with these early arational beliefs. They help to select subsequent beliefs. It is a method prone to error. If people are to be held in moral contempt for every false belief they adopt, then we must hold everybody - even ourselves - in moral contempt.

(3) People who base behavior harmful to the interests on others on scripture are evil.

If you are going to do something harmful to the interests of others - if you are going to do anything that has a reasonable chance of harming the interests of others - you have a moral obligation to provide good reason to do so. You have an obligation to begin with the assumption that others are not to be harmed unless the value of doing harm is proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and to provide that reason.

Religious texts offer no good reason whatsoever for behavior harmful to others.

As soon as somebody quotes scripture in defense of a law or policy that is potentially harmful to the interests of others, that person has done what no good person would do. that person has violated the moral prescription against doing harm without good reason.

Religious beliefs are fine for people who apply them to their own lives. If you want to use scripture to decide what to eat, when to eat, what to wear, when to work, when to refrain from working, and the like, you are free to do so. Just as you are free to base these decisions on your horoscope, tea leaves, tarot cards, or the role of a die, if that pleases you.

However, if your scripture tells you to do harm to your neighbor, your act is no more justified than that of the person who looks at his horoscope, reads, "CANCER: Your neighbor must die today. Do anything in your power to make sure that he does not survive to see another dawn."

Killing your neighbor and appealing to scripture makes you a murderer. This includes those who support capital punishment who quote scripture that calls for "an eye for an eye." They are murderers, because they have killed without providing good reason to kill. They are murderers for the same reason the person reading the horoscope above and acting on it would be a murderer.

Maiming your neighbor and appealing to scripture makes you guilty of malicious assault. Taking your neighbor's property and appealing to scripture makes you a thief. This applies to anybody fighting over land where they base their fight on the claim, "God gave this land to us." You are thieves. And if you kill others whole engage in an act of theft then you are guilty of murder here as well.

The instant a person appeals to scripture to justify harm to others, at that instant they have done evil. Even if the person harmed actually deserves to be harmed - even if they are actually guilty, the person who has appealed to scripture to justify doing harm has still committed an evil act. This is because it is still the duty of every human being to presume that others are not to be harmed and to use only good reasons to show that they should be harmed.

Again, it is just like the horoscope case. Even if the neighbor turns out to be somebody who deserves to be killed, the fact that the killer did not have good reason to do so makes the killer a murderer.

Yes, this means that there are a lot of people around the world patting themselves on the back and puffing out their chests with pride over how great they are because they are fighting God's war should be ashamed of themselves. Their arrogant false pride is wholly undeserved. For the sake of their victims - those to whom they do harm without justification - it is not only permissible, it is obligatory to stick a pin in that inflated sense of pride and tell these people what type of people they really are.

The Christian conservative who looks to scripture and finds justification for banning gay marriage is guilty of the same moral crime as the Muslim who looks to scripture and finds justifiation for flying an airplane into a skyscraper.

If your reasons are not the type of reasons that are admissible in court, then they are not the types of reasons that should be permissible in Congress.

However, this applies ONLY to those who appeal to scripture to justify harmful actions. As I have argued, a rancher who gets drunk and drives around his ranch - where there are no other people to hit - is NOT guilty of any type of moral negligence, because he does not put others at risk. Similarly, people are free to be as intellectually reckless as they wish with beliefs that do not threaten others. It is when people put others at risk that they acquire the obligation to act (and to think) more responsibly. It is when they consider policies harmful to others that they become evil if they seek justification for those harms in scripture.

So, if we are going to condemn people, the people who deserve our condemnation are not "the religious". It is "the people who base behavior potentially harmful to others without good reason" - a group both broader and narrower than "the religious" and likely includes a good number of atheists as well.

If a person commits an act of attempting to justify behavior harmful to others by means of appeal to scripture, then this makes that person a member of the group, "People who have attempted to justify behavior harmful to others without good reason" - all of whom have done something evil and can justly be labeled as such.

This is true in the same way that a person who commits rape becomes a member of the group, "Rapists", all of whom have done something evil. And anybody who commits theft becomes a member of the group "thieves", all of whom have done something evil. There is no bigotry involved in labeling these groups what they are or to say that they all deserve condemnation based on that fact.

But nothing in this - nothing at all - justifies extending condemnation to anybody outside of the group, "rapists", "thieves", and "those who seek to justify behavior harmful to others without good reason."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pledges, Promises, and Prescriptions

Pledges, Promises, and Prescriptions

A 10 year old boy, Will Phillips, is getting attention because he has made a principled stand not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because America does not provide “liberty and justice” for homosexuals.

(See: Arkansas Times A Boy and His Flag)

Technically, this involves a misunderstanding of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge is not a mere description of America that happens to be false. The Pledge is a prescription – a statement on what the pledge taker will try to bring about. A person who refuses to say the Pledge is a person who refuses to promise to support liberty and justice for all.

This does not imply that Phillips was wrong. A part of the purpose of a protest is to generate publicity for a message – and Phillips has certainly accomplished that. Furthermore, Phillips’ protest is a statement of moral condemnation of those who treat homosexuals unjustly. It is quite refreshing to see such a widely publicized statement of moral condemnation of a group of hate-mongering bigots coming from a 5th grader.

In this sense, the statements that follow may be seen as pedantic, but they have important implications.

The Pledge of Allegiance is not a values-free description of what America happens to be as a matter of fact. It is prescriptive. It is meant to set forth an ideal – to make a statement of what America should be. It should be one nation, with liberty and justice for all. To the degree to which we fail to provide liberty and justice for all, to that degree we have fallen short of our goal, and the Pledge is a promise to work harder to obtain that goal.

All of this applies to the phrase, "One nation, under God" as well. This, too, is meant to set forth an ideal – to make a statement of what America should be. It should be one nation under God. To the degree that we fall short of this objective, the Pledge is a promise to work that much harder towards that goal.

Of course, we can never be a nation 'under God' because there is no God to be under. People who demand that we be a nation 'under God' typically see themselves as God's self-appointed magistrates on Earth. So, the promise to be ‘under God’ is a promise to be ruled by those who claim the authority to speak for God, which means being 'under' a religious institution of some sort.

As long-time readers of this blog will note, I hold the Pledge (as written) and the Motto in particularly high contempt – as I do anybody who supports these bigoted hate-mongering prescriptions.

Pledge of Allegiance is a promise on the part of those who take it to fight against the four great anti-Americanisms; atheism, secession, tyranny, and injustice.

It is unconscionable, particularly in a nation that pledges religious freedom, to have children promising to devote their lives to fighting atheism, or for the government to call decent citizens un-American simply because those citizens do not believe in a God.

I count this as hate-mongering, or the selling of hate for profit, because those who sell this particular brand of hate profit by establishing a filter that is 99.9% effective at keeping atheists out of public office – or, at least, keeping out atheists who will admit to being atheists.

And the Motto is pure tribal divisiveness. Its purpose is to divide the population into two tribes. It declares that the primary requirement for being a member of the favored 'us' tribe is to trust in God. If you do not trust in God, you cannot be one of 'us'. You must, then, by the process of elimination (and I use the term in its fullest sense) be one of 'them' – beneath 'us', unworthy of membership, unworthy of respect, worthy only of contempt.

It is precisely because the Pledge of Allegiance and the Motto are prescriptive that they are so contemptible. It is because they prescribe bigotry. Furthermore, their most important function is to teach bigotry to young children, where its lessons are planted at a deep and emotional level that they will find difficult to shake even as rational adults. It is one of the major contributors to the fact that atheist adults, though substantial in numbers, are so politically impotent – because of the shame that makes them admitting what they are even to themselves, let alone to others.

Just as anti-black bigotry was successful even at turning blacks against other blacks, and anti-gay bigotry is successful at turning gays against themselves (leading to high suicide rates among teenage homosexuals and other forms of self-destructive behavior), we see atheists hiding meekly in the closet ashamed to show themselves in public, turning on each other, and, in many cases, ashamed to admit their atheism even to themselves.

In this sense, it does not matter whether the law or social pressure requires people to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. The law, at one time, required blacks to sit at the back of the bus, to attend black public schools, to eat only in the 'colored' section of restaurants, to use only those bathrooms set aside for 'colored' people, and prohibited from buying houses in neighborhoods that had racial covenants.

When it comes to unjust laws and social customs – when it comes to laws and social customs that are built on a foundation of hate-mongering bigotry and whose primary aim is to turn the next generation into bigots as well – when the law can be broken without violence and without harm to any person or institution other than the institution of bigotry from which it sprang – then there are times when a good person would not obey a particular law or custom. These are times when a good person, in fact, identifies himself as such by his decision to refuse to obey a law or custom.

Even if the law required American citizens to promise to become bigots (or at least act as bigots act), we can still ask the question of whether good people would obey such a law. And even if legislators insist on posting signs in public buildings that declare, "Those who do not trust in God do not belong amongst us," this does not obligate any citizen to show that message any respect.

I once answered the question, "Why don't you stand for the Pledge of Allegiance," with the question, "Why do you stand? Are you such a fan of bigotry that you are willing to make a promise to the state and to your fellow citizens to support it. Because the Pledge of Allegiance is a promise to treat one who does not believe in God the way one would treat secessionists, tyrants, and the unjust."

A person with good desires - a person with a proper aversion to hate-mongering bigotry - just would not be willing to stand for that type of behavior.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The New York Terrorist Trials

A great many Republican politicians and pundits, and a few Democrats, apparently think that rights are the blessings of government - that government bestows rights and governments can freely take rights away for even light and transient reasons.

Since the announcement came out that some of the people captured and accused of involvement in the 9/11 hijackings were to be tried in civil court in New York "like common criminals", many have protested that such a move is objectionable on the basis that it grants the accused certain rights. There is no talk of these being inalienable, human rights - that governments are instituted to secure rights such as these. Instead, the argument is grounded on a seemingly unquestioned premise that rights are to be spoken of only as conveniences one has at the whim of those holding political power.

The theory that rights are government blessings is the theory that there is no such thing as a just or unjust government. Government can do no wrong if right and wrong are determined by what the government does. The possibility of just and unjust government requires that there is a standard outside of government that dictates what governments may or may not morally do.

At the same time, desirism denies that there are intrinsic moral properties - some type of fundamental moral ought that comes from some sort of great law-giver (either God or evolution) that dictates universal moral oughts.

Rights, in desire utilitarian terms, are facts about relationships between malleable desires and other desires. They are facts about the value of aversions to governments committing certain types of acts - curtailing free speech, arbitrarily arresting and imprisoning citizens at the whim of the head of state, denying people a say in selecting who will make the laws, etc.

These people who object to a public trial are people who clearly have little or no desire to see the government as a protector of rights. They have little or no aversion to the government simply sweeping away rights as a matter of convenience. If they have no desire to see rights protected generally, then they have no desire to protect your rights or to see governments sweep your rights aside on a whim. And they broadcast the same attitude to the rest of the world - telling the whole global community that humans have only those rights that their government tells them they have and no more.

Clearly, there are some circumstances in which there may be reason to deny a prisoner an open trial. Let us assume that somebody working for the German army is captured early in 1944 trying to smuggle plans to Nazi Germany, or somebody captured today needs only to broadcast the activation code for a nuclear bomb he has hidden in a major city. We clearly have good reason to deny that person an opportunity to broadcast the information he wants to get out. Absolute rules fail absolutely.

However, rights do have a weight, and they are not to be violated for trivial reasons.

We hear reasons like:

(1) We do not want to give these people a platform at which to speak. We do not want to give them a platform that they can then use to mock their victims.

Obviously, the right to a trial can be revoked by the government whenever there is a risk of the accused making statements that the government disapproves of what they say. This is not a case of the accused giving some vital piece of information to those who would use it to do great harm. This is a case of shutting people up because those with power do not want them to speak.

There are legitimate reasons to keep people from speaking. However, "Because I do not like what you would say" is not a good reason. It is, in fact, a reason that substantially denies that there is a right to freedom of speech. If the government has the right to silence people who might say something those with power disagree with, then none of us can claim a right to speak. We must all, instead, accept that we may be silenced as well if the government should not approve of our message.

The right to freedom of speech means nothing if it is not construed as a right to say things that others might not want to hear.

(2) The trial will be a circus. It will be out of control.

Again, these protestors are asserting the principle that the right to a trial can be revoked whenever the government declares that it cannot have an orderly trial. Of course, I can think of a great many circumstances in which the government may declare that it cannot have an orderly trial. They correspond to any case in which the government might want to lock somebody away without a trial.

Let us imagine, as a hypothetical example, that the Democrats have set up their campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, and a group of Republicans then get caught trying to bug the Democrats. Let us assume that the President is somebody who wants to protect himself from what might be revealed in any public trial or hearings of those involved. All that President would have to do, if we establish such a principle, is declare that the trial would be a circus and, for that reason alone, must only be held behind closed doors where the words of the accused cannot be heard by the general public.

A politician or pundit who has particularly warm feelings for tyranny and for the government's ability to silence its critics is going to have particularly warm feelings for the idea that it can suspend any trial that the government declares would be a 'circus'.

The biggest circus that a tyranny has to fear is one that exposes the depths of its tyranny.

There are others, but this is a fine start for such a confined space.

In all cases where people are arguing against such a trial, I invite you, he reader, to look for the principle that lies at the heart of their alleged reason to deny such a trial. Look at what it says about the speaker's desire for fair trials and his aversion to the arbitrary exercise of government power. Then ask yourself how secure you would be if those sentiments became universal.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Smith vs Parfit Part 14 of 15: The Desire to Enjoy Happiness

I am sorry for the delay in this series. My evenings have been taken up with another project. However, I wish to continue to discuss these types of topics.

In this series of posts I am commenting on an article sent to me by a member of the studio audience. These are, in a sense, notes written in the margin as it were as I highlight passages in the article and explain my agreement or disagreement.

I highlight the following quote:

If someone believes that a certain episode of happiness could both feel the way that happiness does and be his own, then he desires that he enjoys that episode of happiness.

And I make the following scribbles:

Once again, what happens if the beliefs are false?

Let us assume that a person believes that a certain episode of happiness could feel a particular way, but he is wrong. Or he believes that the episode would be his, but it turns out to be somebody else’s? Do false beliefs still generate desires? Or does the generation of desires require true beliefs?

In past posts I have argued that beliefs – whether true or false – are not relevant to the formation of desires. Beliefs can imply beliefs about desires, but do not imply actual desires themselves.

Also, what role does the term 'could' plays in the above proposition?

Is it true that the mere fact that something could generate a particular feeling that gives one a reason to pursue it? Let’s say that it could generate such a feeling but does not. Then is it the case that achieving that end is an example of a fulfilled desire, or an example of something that could have fulfilled a desire but failed to do so?

A third and final question that I have about this quote is: What is 'happiness'?

If we equate happiness with a feeling, it is an open question of whether we desire that feeling or not. Let us assume that, because of some genetic change, the feeling produces an effect that is fatal to the evolutionary fitness of those who experience it. In this case, those who experience an aversion to this feeling would survive and those who desire this feeling will die out. In that case, we would have the feeling, but a desire to avoid it.

On the other hand, if we equate happiness not just to the physical sensation but the fact that it is something that we desire, then there is no mystery to the fact that we desire happiness. It would not be happiness if we did not desire it.

What Is Not Bigotry?

A member of the studio audience posited the question

The question in my mind at that point was, is all generalization bigotry? . . . Saying that the sky is blue is a generalization. That is not bigotry.

It is not the case that all generalization is bigotry.

"All bachelors are unmarried"


Take the claim, "All atheists believe that the proposition, 'At least one God exists' is certainly or almost certainly false."

Both of these are generalizations, but they are not the type of generalization that would count as bigotry. They are not even the count of generalization that will count as false.

Or, let us take the claim, "All swans are white"

It is a generalization. It also happens to be false. However, a person who believes this is not a bigot. She is not even bigoted against swans. She just happens to believe something about swans that happens not to be true.

Even false generalizations about people - men have one fewer rib than women - if believed, would not count as bigotry.

So, what does count as bigotry?

The fact that bigotry is a legitimate object of moral condemnation means that bigotry has something to do with desires. Specifically, the bigot demonstrates by his actions that he has desires a good person would not have, or lacks desires that a good person would have. Furthermore, these desires tend to thwart the desires of others.

Ultimately, bigots aim to sacrifice the desires of the target group for their own benefit. They seek to create a society in which whites rules over blacks, men rule over women, where only heterosexual relationships are given social recognition, or where only theists can get elected to public office. They do so by making unjust and unjustified claims about the target group that aim to justify this attempt to divide society into classes, a superior class of "us" and an inferior class of "them". Of course, the bigot's group is always the superior "us" group.

Bigotry involves denigrating people - devaluing them, making them an object of contempt or ridicule - based on general claims that are false or sometimes false. It involves an unfounded and reasonable claim that "they" are not as good as "we". The bigot may claim that the target group shares some characteristic good people have reason to condemn (e.g., they are responsible for the Holocaust). Or it may be that the target group has some deficiency of some sort that they are not to be blamed for, but still makes them less capable (they lack intelligence).

It is not bigotry when these statements are true. All murderers unjustly take an innocent life. It is a true statement, and it is a statement that identifies the target group (murderers) as people who are to be looked down upon. In this case, they share a moral failing.

Liars are parasites who feed off of the will of others for the fulfillment of their own desires. This is another generalization that happens to be true and, thus, do not count as bigotry.

Young children lack the capacity of reason and, thus, are incapable of making decisions for themselves. Those decisions instead should be trusted to a competent adult who shall act in the best interests of the child. Again, this is a generalization about a deficiency that happens to be true. It is not bigotry. It is not bigotry even though we may find a few instances in which it is false. This is because we have good reason to make this generalization - that this is a generalization that even a person with good desires (a desire to protect children) would make.

In all cases of bigotry, the generalization is unfounded. It does not represent a conclusion based on an objective, fair, and impartial view of the evidence. It is a generalization grounded on the generalizer's own desire to see himself as superior.

This topic came up in this blog because of my condemnation of the anti-theist bigot. It is an attitude that I hold to be too common among vocal atheists that "we" are the superior group and "they" are the inferior group, where "their" inferiority is justified by means of arguments that are invalid (and the conclusion is unjustified). It is an attempt to hold all people who believe in a God morally responsible for the 9/11 attacks or the Fort Hood massacre because it feeds this desire to view "us" as morally superior to "them".

It has also come up recently in the actions of several branches of the Catholic Church promoting anti-gay bigotry. And we can see bigotry written into the National Motto (“We who trust in God are superior to those who do not”) and the Pledge of Allegiance (all good Americans promote “one nation under God”).

If a generalization can be defended as true, or at least well motivated – or if it is a generalization that has nothing to do with denigrating a group of individual and casting them as inferior – then it is not bigotry.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Catholic Church's Villainous Blackmail in Washington DC

The Catholic Church in America has decided to be an instrument for the perpetuation of bigotry and injustice in America today, and is to be regarded as such by any moral American.

Imagine that you are running a hospital. You have found a highly qualified black surgeon and you want to hire him. However, when you announce your decision to do so, an organization that contributes substantially to your hospital says that they will pull their funding if you should hire any black person.

Or, you and your young daughter have been taken hostage. The hostage taker points a gun at you and says, "Either you rape your young daughter while I watch, or I will pour lighter fluid on her and set her on fire while you watch."

There are two moral questions to be asked here.

One question is, "What should you do if somebody puts these types of demands on you?"

(Aside: Desirism concludes in these cases that the moral agent will have a strong aversion to both options. These strong aversions - combined with the fact that these are aversions an agent should have implies that the good person will be deeply and emotionally torn as to what to do. The specific action to take depends on the specific circumstances.)

The other question is: "What attitude should we as a society take towards people or organizations who place those types of demands on others?"

It's the second question that I want to focus on here, because it defines the attitude that a moral person should take with respect to the Catholic Church.

According to the Washington Post:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

(See: Washington Post: Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum)

In other words, the Catholic Church has decided to play the role of the bigoted philanthropist.

On the issue of homosexuality, the Catholic Church has the moral facts wrong. They are as wrong about the immorality of homosexual acts just as they were about the Earth being the center of the universe.

They are also wrong for substantially the same reasons - because their Bible are the transcripts of stories made up by illiterate tribes who had a very primitive knowledge of both the physical and the moral universe.

The Catholic Church is certainly capable of ignoring the moral errors that made their way into its Bible. It no longer defends the view that God, through Ham, condemned all blacks to serve as the slaves of Europeans, it no longer demands the death of those who work on the Sabbath, it no longer condones the selling of one's daughters into slavery, and it no longer condemns the charging of interest on money.

It can easily add one more moral error to this list - unless it, like the KKK and Nazis - identify so strongly with a particular prejudice that becoming moral individuals would require giving up that identity.

I am not saying that the Catholic Church is like the KKK or Nazis. I am saying that they have a choice to make - to either be like the KKK or Nazis in their close identification with bigotry and prejudice, or cast this bigotry into the trash heap along with other moral mistakes found in scripture (or re-interpret scripture in such a way that it is more in tune with the moral facts).

People have no obligation to respect a religion that says that blacks must be enslaved or that children may be raped. It has no obligation to respect a religion that preaches bigotry against homosexuals and uses its power to promote unjust and immoral laws that do them harm.

"Charity Without Bigotry"

At the start, I said that how those who are subject to villainous blackmail should react depends on the specifics of the situation. I think that the specifics of this situation dictates a particular response.

The best response against the villainous blackmailer is to do what one can to take away the power that the villain is using as leverage. In this case, since the Catholic Church has decided hold the beneficiaries of its adoption, homeless, and health-care services hostage, those services should be transferred to organizations who can perform just as much virtuous charity, without poisoning it with vicious bigotry.

We should separate those who make contributions to charity for the sake of promoting bigotry from those who make contributions to charity for the sake of helping those who need by promoting organizations that can boast, "Charity Without Bigotry".

In fact, I would like to see that phrase used as a slogan.

This is the same attitude that a moral person would take toward the racist philanthropist and the kidnapper in the two examples that start this post. There, too, the right thing to do, if possible, is to deprive the villainous blackmailer of power so that his victims have the freedom to do what is right - or the freedom to not be forced to do evil themselves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fox News' Deceptive Manipulation

Jon Stewart has caught Fox News in another lie.

(See: Crooks and Liars: Jon Stewart totally busts Sean Hannity for using old footage to inflate size of Bachmann's teabagger rally.)

In a broadcast on a recent rally at the steps of the capital, Sean Hannity used footage from a previous rally where there was a much larger audience, and presented it as if were footage of this rally. At the same time, fellow commentators made exaggerated claims about the numbers of people present – numbers consistent with the deceptive footage shown at the same time.

The problem is not with this one act. The problem is with the values expressed in this one act. The type of person who would do such a thing is a type of person who has no personal aversion to manipulating others through deception. It is somebody who does not care whether he gives the people the truth. He cares about other things – such as personal profit – and is willing to deceitfully manipulate others in the pursuit of those other things.

In exhibiting these values themselves, they teach these values to others – such as our children. Sean Hannity’s message to people is that manipulating others through deception is a perfectly acceptable act – and that people in general ought not to be concerned. People who praise and reward Sean Hannity or fox News for this bit of deceptive manipulation are ALSO telling people (particularly children) that it is a virtue to engage in these types of practices.

Those types of attitudes are responsible for a great deal of avoidable pain and suffering. Those who care about their own well-being and the well-being of others will be intent to see to it that deceptive manipulation is not met with praise and reward, but condemnation and punishment.

(Standard disclaimer: The right to freedom of speech limits the response to immoral speech acts of this type to condemnation and private actions – such as refusal to purchase services from or refusal to purchase services from supporters of those who perform such actions. Specifically, it prohibits violence as a response to immoral speech acts of this type.)

For everything that gets put on the screen and every line of text that is read or statement that is spoken, we have proof that the agents responsible for those images and text are people who have no aversion to putting lies in front of the American people. Agents with an morally responsible aversion to lying would not have put those images into the report or exaggerated the numbers. Agents who put those images into the report and exaggerated the numbers are agents with little or no aversion to deceptive manipulation.

Decent, respectable, moral individuals will look on these antics at Fox News and say, "How dare you adopt values that put America and Americans at risk? How dare you think it is permissible to try to manipulate us with distortions such as these? Without an apparent ounce of embarrassment or shame - without a twinge of conscience that we can see - you sit back and count your money while your victims act on the lies that you have fed them.

People are manipulated by lies when one wants to do something that they would not do if they were given the truth.

People act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of their desires given their beliefs. Lies aim to manipulate people to act to in ways that fulfill the most and strongest desires of the liar, sacrificing the desires of the person being lied to. A liar is like a parasite who feeds off of the effort of others. He fools others into thinking they are fulfilling the most and strongest of their own desires, when, in fact, their own desires are being thwarted by actions that fulfill the desires of the deceiver.

This is the role that Fox News is playing in our society today – manipulating people into doing things that are harmful to those being manipulated or harmful to others, but which helps to fulfill the most and the strongest of the desires of those at Fox News.

The company who sells products through Fox News is showing that it shares the values of Fox News - the value of deceiving and manipulating others through profit. It might not be a surprise to find so many companies that can turn a blind eye to deceit and manipulation for profit. However, the fact that it is surprising does not make it good or right. The fact that it is not surprising does not change the fact that Americans have many and strong reasons to condemn those who value the deceitful manipulation of others.

If somebody is seeking evidence that America is not a great nation, they can find it in the fact that this type of manipulative deception for profit, causing its citizens to act in ways harmful to themselves and others, is generally accepted. Whereas a great nation would condemn these types of actions (and the motives behind them), America raises little or no objection to these manipulations and deceptions.

In fact, Americans continue to heap praise and rewards on the deceitful manipulators – it allows lying deceivers are allowed to succeed even when they are caught. That which is rewarded will grow and prosper, it is of little wonder in this country that deceitful manipulation is a growing industry in this country. The more deceitful manipulation we get, the more examples we can find of Americans acting in ways harmful to themselves and others.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Obama's Speech at Fort Hood

"But this much we do know - no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor."

President Obama made this statement at the event honoring those killed in the shooting at Fort Hood yesterday.

(See: Washington Post, Obama's Speech at Fort Hood: The Transcript

The statement is true. Faith justifies nothing and there is no God.

However, we should ask how many people actually believe this to be true?

I would like to commission somebody (who has more familiarity with the relevant text than I do) to put together a post that has Obama's quote at the top, and a list of biblical passages in which faith justified mass slaughter and/or God looked upon them with favor. Any slaughter where the number of victims is greater than 13 will do.

I would simply like to put the list and those quotes side by side so that people can see the conflict between them.

This would not violate the prescriptions I have established so far in this blog. It does not make or attempt to justify any type of leap to a conclusion that all religion is bad. It does not seek to blame everybody who believes that a God certainly or almost certainly exists for the shootings in Fort Hood. It only aims to show that there is an inconsistency between Obama’s statement and some biblical text.

A religious person can still condemn those mass slaughters while holding that a God exists.

However, as people who may well suffer the from the ill consequences – and who cares about others who may suffer the ill consequences – of those whose faith makes it difficult for them to condemn certain mass killings, we have a right to ask the question.

"Do you condemn these murderous and craven acts (that are found in the Bible)? Or does your faith drive you to condone them? Does YOUR God look upon them with favor? According to your faith, did the entities that perpetuated those mass murders meet with justice, if not in this world, then in the next?"

As an atheist, I have no trouble condemning those mass murders that appear in religious text. Religious texts were not dictated by any God, they were written by morally fallible human beings. They were written in part, by people a lot like Nidal Hasan, who sought to justify a mass slaughter by assigning the reasons for committing that slaughter to a God that he (they) invented. So, I can look upon those descriptions and say that they were unjustified acts committed by evil men, and that the God described in the Bible as looking upon them with favor (and even performing some of the mass killings Himself) is no God worthy of worship.

I suspect that others might have some difficulty.

We have many and strong reasons to morally condemn those who find it difficult to condemn the murderous and craven acts committed in the Bible, because they lack aversions that would prevent them from supporting murderous and craven acts in the real world today.

"Do you REALLY condemn mass slaughter? Well, then, here are some excellent examples of mass slaughter that stand waiting for your condemnation."

It is time to bring some moral pressure to bear on those who do, in fact, condone mass slaughter - whether as a matter of faith or for some other reason.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nidal Malik Hasan and the Bigot's Fallacy

Now that the news is stating that Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shootist, was a Muslim with strong religious convictions, I can already see the Bigot's Fallacy popping up in a number of atheist writings.

The Bigot's Fallacy begins with premises that are true of an individual or a group of individuals in a group, then suddenly leaps to conclusions that are applied to the whole group. A black man commits theft so then all black men are thieves. An atheist leads a campaign of genocide so atheism endorses genocide. A Muslim shoots a group of people in a Texas army base so theists are mass murderers.

The link that these bigots are trying to make is a belief that a God exists caused the agent to kill 13 people. Consequently we are supposed to fear and hate all people who believe that a God exists.

Typically, if somebody where to argue that A causes B, the presence (in America alone) of a couple hundred million examples of A and not-B would be taken as pretty good evidence that A causes B is not true - or, at least, that the situation is more complex than simple (minded) causation.

However, the quality that bigots share is bigots forego reason, If a fallacy gives even an illusion of support to a favored conclusion, then the bigot shuns reason and embraces the fallacy.

This might create a bit of cognitive dissonance if the bigot is also somebody who professes that rationality is a virtue and that people who shun reason for faith - or who otherwise embrace an irrational defense of a favored belief - deserves condemnation. However, this bigot avoids this problem with a display of hand-waving and cherry picking to give his use of fallacious reasoning an illusion of legitimacy that rivals the work of some of the best theologians and creationists on the planet.

Many of the people who embrace the Bigot's Fallacy in this case are quick to argue that nobody has ever done any harm in the name of atheism. The argument (the version that makes the most sense) begins with the premise that atheism is a belief that the proposition that "at least one God exists" is certainly or almost certainly false. This belief alone doesn't tell anybody to go establish a dictatorship and slaughter millions of fellow citizens. Therefore, it makes no sense to blame these atrocities on atheism.

The anti-religious bigot simply ignores the fact that the same argument applies to theists. The parallel argument begins with the premise that a theist is one who believes that the proposition that "at least one God exists" is certainly or almost certainly true. This belief alone doesn't tell anybody go fly airplanes into civilian sky scrapers or to murder people in a processing center at an army base. Therefore, it makes no sense to blame these atrocities on theism.

The problem, in the latter case, is a set of specific beliefs that one attaches to the belief that at least one God certainly or almost certainly exists. It has to do with beliefs about what that God wants. However, there are also belief sets that include the proposition that no God exists that are just as capable of motivating a person to establish dictatorships and promote mass murder. So, still, the two arguments are parallel.

Among the various atheist philosophies there are a few that put a premium on reason and evidence. Among members of that subgroup of atheists, there should be some way to introduce a moral objection to the Bigot's Fallacy and similar breeches of reason. These options are to be shunned - not because it is politically useful to be nice to theists, but because good people condemn the use of fallacious inferences in themselves and others.

Having said this, the Texas shooting does provide good reason, not to go after 'theism', but to go after any specific religious teachings that seemed to support the shooting, and any person who speaks for a specific religion who praises the shooting.

For example, according to the New York Times:

"He felt he was supposed to quit," Mr. Reasoner said. "In the Koran, it says you are not supposed to have alliances with Jews or Christians, and if you are killed in the military fighting against Muslims, you will go to hell."

Does this imply that, in a dispute between an unjust and violent Muslim and peaceful Christians, one must side with the unjust and violent Muslim? This is a view that is definitely worthy of condemnation. If anybody should then answer that if he rejects this he would have to reject all of Islam, the proper response would be to shrug one’s shoulders and say, "I leave it to you to work out the details."

This has nothing to do with claiming that there is some sort of virtue to be found in being nice to theists, or arguing that it should be done for the sake of political expediency. What I am talking about here is the virtue of sound reasoning and embracing the conclusions that reason and evidence supports. The problem with the Bigot's Fallacy as atheists use it, or the other inferences discussed above, is that they transgress the virtue of reason – and in doing so also transgress the virtue of justice and fairness to those who become the victims of unjustified accusations.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Goodness and the Catholic Church

The atheist blogs are filled today with reports of a debate over whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. (Note the use of the present tense in the proposition. It means that prior harms are not relevant to this discussion.)

(See: Common Sense Atheism We've Moved Beyond Christian Morality)

With the audience being polled both before and after the debate, the polls show that the team of Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry won the debate. They were able to cause a substantial portion of the audience to adopt their proposition.

I often pay no attention to debates. There seems to be a huge gap between one’s ability to convince people to adopt a proposition and whether the proposition is true. I can imagine Hitler winning a debate over whether the Jews have been a force for goodness in the world, or Dinseh S'Souza convincing an audience of the same claim about atheists. The question that interests me is not whether a particular agent or team successfully convinced others that something is true. I am more interested in whether it is true in fact.

Also, as I have stated before in this blog, do not like generalizations. Generalizations lead to bigotry, and it deflects attention from specific wrongs. I see little merit in debating the proposition of whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. I would rather focus on the specific (and significantly more defensible claim) that the Catholic Church is doing evil in the world and the world would be a better place if it would end these projects.

Three of those projects are:

(1) Bringing grief to the lives of homosexuals and to block them from securing long-term relationships with those that they love, supporting barriers that interfere and aim to “tear asunder” these relationships.

(2) Promoting death and disease, particularly in Africa, by opposing some of the most effective methods for fighting the transmission of AIDS, such as the use of condoms.

(3) Promoting death, disease, and injury by putting barriers up against embryonic stem-cell research, which promises to be the most potent avenue of medical research for understand, preventing, and treating a wide range of illnesses and injuries.

I do not know what percentage of the resources of the Catholic Church are devoted to these projects. Therefore, I cannot weigh the evil that they do against the good in order to make an overall assessment. One would also have to consider the fact that some of the evil that they do weighs against the good. The good done from Catholic hospitals and orphanages, for example, must be weighed against the fact that the Catholic Church itself is creating more sick people to hospitalize, and more orphans to take care of.

The fact that the Catholic Church believes it is doing good is irrelevant. Even Hitler believed that he was a great man who was doing great things – promoting that which had read value and clearing away those things that did not have value.

We all do this. I write this blog in the hopes that I am promoting that which has positive value and helping to get rid of that which has negative value. I, too, may be wrong.

That is why the fundamental question that anybody who is concerned with doing more good than evil in the world must begin by asking, "How do you know?"

That was the question that got me into this situation. When I decided that I would try to make the world a better place, recognizing that I was surrounded by people fighting against each other where both sides believed the same of themselves, I asked how I could know that I was on the right side.

Ultimately, the evil that the Catholic Church does springs from the poor answer it provides to the question, "How do I know?" It insists that one can know moral truth by looking at a book that is, in fact, the transcriptions of the oral stories told by a group of bigoted, ignorant, self-aggrandizing farmers and sheep herders. Then, it struggles day in and day out to try to reconcile facts in the real world so that they somehow corroborate those ancient myths and superstitions – trying to cast as 'divine truth' what is, in fact, human error.

In fact, we could add a fourth force of evil here.

(4) It seeks to legitimize the practice of twisting and distorting evidence to try to match some ancient superstition, taking some very good minds away from the project of actually solving problems in the real word.

Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?

It doesn’t really matter. Regardless of the answer to that question, it would become more of a force for good and less of a force for evil if it would alter its position on the three issues that I mentioned above.

There are, of course, other issues that we should talk about. However, these three would make a good start.