Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scandle Within the Catholic Church

It's a good thing all those priests molested all those children, because this sure helps atheists prove the inferiority of religion.

After all, we all know that if not for religion, pedophilia would not exist - in the same way that Schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's Disease are also caused by belief in God. Furthermore, as we all know, in the absence of belief in God, no human being would ever act to protect a secular institution he belonged to from bad publicity.

That was sarcasm. I suspect that there are some who might not recognize it as such.

The fact is,"belief in God" and "pedophilia" are not related. Nor is "belief in God" and "willingness to protect an organization that one belongs to." These are both facts about human beings independent of religious beliefs, thus they are not facts that separate the religious from the non-religious.

There are two relevant moral considerations to be drawn out of the recent revelations that, in Europe, as has already been revealed in America, the Catholic Church has covered up allegations of child abuse by members of the clergy.

Divine versus Secular Morality One relevant point is that it provides some counter-evidence to the claim that a belief in God provides a person with a special incentive to do the right thing. In one way of thinking, a commitment to God and church is a commitment to a moral life that brings with a commitment to do the right thing (as described within that religion). Another way of thinking says that agents can be motivated by fear of eternal punishment.

Yet, no religion has ever held that these methods are absolutely reliable. There has always been a recognition that temptation exists and that people might find themselves in situations where "the devil" might urge them to act in ways that God would not approve. So, there is an easy way out for this type of objection. These are cases in which people were not as committed to good as they should have been. They allowed themselves to be seduced by evil forces into acting in inappropriate ways. Now it is time to confess their sins, repent, and resolve to do better in the future.

There is a strong parallel to be drawn here between the temptation to evil and the commitment to do good in terms of conflicts that arise between good desires and bad desires on a desire utilitarian model. The "devil's" temptation can easily be mapped to bad desires. In this case, it applies not only to pedophilia itself, but in the desires that placed the well-being of the church over the well-being of the children. The moral fault within the Catholic church is that its leadership did not have its priorities straight. It cultivated desires that tended to thwart other desires rather than desires that would tend to prevent the thwarting of other desires.

Yet, this secular description - in terms of conflicting desires - tells us that secular institutions are vulnerable to the same forces. Pedophilia exists independent of religious beliefs. Members of secular organizations are also going to have an interest in preserving the good name of those organizations. In certain circumstances, this is going to motivate the members of those secular organizations to act in ways contrary to the interests of children. The best way to prevent these ill effects is to make it clear that this condemnation is universal - that it would not be okay to engage in this type of activity to protect a secualar organization.

Religious Privilege

Another morally relevant issue rests in the fact that religous organizations have traditionally received a type of immunity from public scrutiny that has not been given to secular organizations. The Catholic Church has been subject to civil lawsuits in the United States and its clergy have been arrested for violating the law. There is a strong public attitude of, "Thou shalt not condemn or Church or its leadership."

Well, there is no justification for this attitude. The Catholic Church ought to be subject to the same set of standards regarding criminal and civil responsibility, as well as moral judgment, as any secular organization that has involved itself in the care and education of children. People who participated in this cover-up should be terminated from their positions and replaced by people with a stronger dedication to doing the right thing.


Both of these arguments use this case to deny religion a special place in human affairs. The first denies the moral superiority of the religious - since the religious and non-religious are subject to the malevolent force of the same demons or bad desires. The latter denies that any religious institutions should be subject to the same oversight and be required to live by the same rules as any secular institution.

However, both of these argue for the equal treatment of religious institutions as compared to secular. While it argues against the superiority and privelege of religious institutions, it does not argue for their inferiority.

To illustrate this point, there was another story that made the news this week. This one concerned a 15 year old girl who hanged herself because of bullying and harrassment from classmates. This provides another example in which the members of an institution failed to take action to defend the interests of a child against those who would do them harm.

This time, it happened in a secular setting - a public school - and their is no sign that there was any religous motivation behind the attacks.

As such, it seems, atheist bloggers and commentators apparently fail to find it worthy of their attention. At least, I have not heard much mention of this particular case. This suggests that it is not concern for the well-being of children that is motivating these comments. The welfare of children is as well served by taking a stand against bullying as it is by taking a stand against abusive priests. It suggests that the interests actually rests elsewhere - in preserving or promoting the social status of one's tribe, perhaps.


What we are dealing with here are the possibilities and limitations of human psychology. Everything that has happened to the Catholic Church can happen to a secular institution. Everything that has happened is a result of weaknesses in human nature that are as common among those who do not believe that a God exists as it is among those who do. If, in fact, the protection of children from harm is the dominant motivating interest, as indeed it should be then it is important to recognize that religous institutions are not the only institutions capable of generating these types of risks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Newdow v. Rio Linda: Redefining God

Here is an easy rhetorical trick.

In order to get around the objection that the phrase 'under God' is the endorsement of some type of religious belief, we are simply going to re-define the term 'God' so that it is not religious but, let's say, patriotic.

Let us redefine the term 'God' to mean, a political philosophy whereby a power greater than government grants people their inalienable rights.

Now, how stupid of you atheists to assert that the phrase 'under God' is a violation of a government prohibition on religion. This is not about religion at all. It is about a political philosophy that holds that individuals have certain inalienable rights, and those rights come from a source outside of government. As a result, governments can neither create nor destroy these rights. When you protest 'one Nation under God', you are not protesting a particular religious idea. You are protesting the idea that humans have moral rights independent of government. Which, of course, is something that no decent American would ever do.

If this were a valid form of argument, then I can give another form of argument that is equally valid.

Let's define the term 'white' to mean a political philosophy that came out of Europe, and embraced by our (caucasian) founding fathers, that holds that individuals hold certain inalienable moral rights that find their source outside of government - that governments can neither create nor destroy.

Great. Now we can change the Pledge of Allegiance to be a pledge to 'one White nation', and we can proudly assert that this is an endorsement of the basic principles on which this country was founded. Consequently, when you protest 'one White nation', you are not protesting an expression and endorsement of the white race above other races. You are protesting the idea that humans have moral rights independent of government. Which, of course, is something that no decent American would ever do.

There are some falsehoods that warrent a patient and quite expression of the reasons why the person making that claim is mistaken, and a respectful but diligent attempt to steer them onto the right path.

And there are some falsehoods that betray such a defect in moral character that they do not warrant such a patient response. They warrant our outright condemnation.

This is a lie.

This type of statement can only sensibly be uttered by somebody who says, "I want to use the Pledge to promote my brand of religious/racist bigotry. Of course, my brand of religious/racist bigotry is prohibited by law, by the Constitution, and by morality itself. So I am going to lie and say that the term 'God' or 'white' respectively means 'a political philosophy that holds that humans have certain inalienable rights that come from a source outside of government.'

The only people who would go along with this lie are people who, with a wink and a nudge, decide share the immoral attitudes of those who originated this lie and for the sake of political and immoral expediency agree to assert, "Yes. Yes. Of course. It's perfectly obvious that the term 'white' (or 'under God') refers not a race (or religious belief) but to a political philosophy."

That way we can have our pledge of allegiance to one White nation or one nation under God and pretend, at least in our public lives, that we are obeying the legal, constitutional, and moral prohibitions against racial/religious bigotry respectively.

Two of the three judges who heard the case of Newdow vs. Rio Linda, with their own wink and a nudge, have decided that they are going to go along with this lie and write it into their legal opinion.

Where it can now be found in their statement:

[B]oth the purpose and effect of the Pledge are that of a predominantly patriotic, not a religious, exercise. The phrase 'under God' is a recognition of our Founder's [sic] political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights. Thus, the Pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particuar sect.

Newdow v. Rio Linda, USD p. 3921

Finally, sometimes a typographical error is simply a typographical error. I make a number of them.

However, in this case, I have to wonder what philosophy the judges in the majority were thinking in this case when they wrote about:

our Founder's (singular, capitalized) political philosophy.

We have reason to ask what a person might be thinking - what their particular philosophy of religion and government might be, if they think that the United States had only one Founder, and that a reference to Him must begin with a capital letter.

Newdow v. Rio Linda: The Endorsement Test

In looking at the tests that Majority applied in determining that the placement of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance counts as constitutional, the next test they looked at what the endorsement test.

Under the Endorsement Test, we look to see whether the challenged governmental action has the purpose or effect of endorsing, favoring, or promoting religion, particularly if it has the effect of endorsing one religion over another.

They add:

Endorsement sends a message to non-adherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community."

The case is closed. A Pledge of Allegiance to ‘one Nation under God” is unconstitutional.

Any claim that the Pledge does not endorse ‘under Nation under God’ with its prerequisite belief in a God is as absurd as claiming that the Pledge does not endorse union, liberty, and justice for all.

Any claim that the Pledge does not send a message that those who do not support ‘one Nation under God’ are outsiders, not full members of the political community is as absurd as claiming that the Pledge does not condemn secession, tyranny, and injustice.

Any claim that a Pledge of Allegiance does not endorse religion and brand those who do not believe in God as outsiders and not full members of the political community is as absurd as claiming that if the Pledge were changed to be, ‘one white nation’, that this would not be an act that communicated that white citizens are superior to black citizens and that blacks are not (or ought not to be considered) full members of the political community.

No charge against ‘under God’ being a part of the Pledge of Allegiance is so obviously true or so obvious to defend.

In fact, this point is so clear and so obvious and so easy to defend that, on this point, I am completely baffled to discover that atheists are not making and defending this point. I find atheists preferring to use obscure and difficult arguments that are easy to mangle and counter about separation of church and state or the intentions of the founding fathers.

When, right here, there is the simplest and quickest of all of the possible arguments against having ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. That it is as malicious and prejudiced against the interests of atheists as a pledge of allegiance to ‘one white nation’ would be to African Americans.

Furthermore, it is a message that is reinforced by the practice of having atheists self-select from being included in Pledge ceremonies. It would be difficult to find anything that better communicated that atheists are not full members of the political community than having them sit or stand aside while the rest of the community stands and gives a Pledge of Allegiance.

Throughout their opinion, the judges speaking in the majority concur with the fact that the Pledge is meant to endorse Union, liberty, and justice for all, and the effects that this has had on the attitudes of the political community.

On the fact that the term ‘indivisible’ appears in the Pledge they wrote:

Reinforcement of the idea that this nation is indivisible, a concept most Americans today would not even think was up for debate, reflects the fact that the Pledge was first drafted in 1892, not long after the Civil War.

If the word ‘indivisible’ is a ‘reinforcement’ – an endorsement – of an indivisible nation then it is a flat out contradiction to say that ‘under God’ is a reinforcement – an endorsement – of a religious proposition. If ‘indivisible’ aims to have the effect of creating a nation in which its citizens do not think that secession is even up for debate, then ‘under God’ aims to have the effect of creating a nation in which the citizens do not think that the existence of God is not up for debate.

The fatal flaw – the Achilles heel – of ‘under God’ is right here. This is where it fails. Yet, this is the point that the bulk of atheists and secularists choose to ignore.

If I were asked for a reason to explain why atheists and secularists avoid their easiest argument on this case, I would assert that it is because they are afraid to succeed on this issue. The aversions planted in their brain as young children – placed there by the message and condemnation inherent in the Pledge and the Motto themselves – make obscure and easy to challenge arguments against ‘under God’ far more comfortable than simple arguments that strike to the very core of this practice.

While much of what I have written in the past week against ‘under God’ applies as well to ‘In God We Trust’, here I want to make the case specific.

The Motto says ‘we’ trust in God – which necessarily implies that those who do not trust in God are not (or ought not to be considered) fully qualified members of the group known as ‘we’. Here, again, nothing can be so obvious that a motto that divides ‘we’ from ‘them’ on the issue of trust in God endorses trust in God as a positive quality and sends a message to non-adherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.

Nothing could be more obvious.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Pledge: Preparing the Public

In response to my proposal for a new type of legal challenge to 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, a member of the studio audience, Emu Sam, raised a number of relevant tactical considerations.

For background, my proposal can be addressed by asking and answering the question, "Would an African-American have standing to challenge a statute that changed the Pledge of Allegiance to say, 'one white nation'?"

Emu Sam added that atheists who pursue this method of challenging ‘under God’ should also pursue the following:

1. Spread awareness. Post about it on blogs. Talk about it in clubs and council meetings. Write letters to leaders and other organizations.

2. Consult a lawyer or multiple lawyers.

3. Consult an advertising agency.

4. Raise money to hire experts, including experts in raising money.

As elements in a tactical plan I agree with these elements and the reason for them.

Specifically, if the Court were to declare 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' to be unconstitutional, one possible response would be to amend the constitution. The people itself would have to know and appreciate why that was the correct decision. This would be in spite of a massive advertising campaign filled with lies and distortions on the part of religious organizations against such a decision. It will require public outreach.

It would require reaching a significantly larger audience than that which is within sight of this blog.

However, it brings up another element of concern.

My argument against the Pledge and the Motto focuses on the effect that these have on young minds.

In the context of desirism, we promote desires in young minds through the social tools of praise and condemnation. Once these desires are planted, they carry through to adulthood, even where the agent's beliefs change so that they know intellectually that the foundation for those desires is senseless.

The Pledge and the Motto provide praise for those who support 'one Nation under God' and who trust in God. They promote aversion to those who do not share these values. It is through this effect that the Pledge and the Motto provide an effective filter that is 99.9% effective at preventing atheists from obtaining public office, generates poll results that atheists are the least American group and the people they would least want their children to marry, and the attitude that they are responsible for everything from the Holocaust to every school shooting that happens to take place.

These attitudes are in each of us. Even though our beliefs have changed so that we no longer intellectually support 'one Nation under God' or trust in God, we still have the desires and aversions planted in our brains as children that inhibit us from acting in opposition to these policies. We would rather sit back and do nothing because we carry childhood desires and aversions that make it comfortable for us to sit back and do nothing.

So, there is a danger that this planning would become an excuse for procrastination - a claim that we do not have to take any action today because we still need to study and consult and plan. So nothing gets done.

We need to recognize that the desires and aversions that these practices planted in our brain are still there for the vast majority of us, and decide that there are good reasons to push through that discomfort to confront a policy that is ultimately quite destructive.

This is how we prevent the current generation from planting the same desires and aversions in our children that they planted in us, thus freeing those children from these psychological burdens and giving them greater freedom to do that which is right.

Continued public silence on matters of the Pledge and the Motto, particularly in the company of young children, only serves to help deliver the message to young minds that those who support a nation under God or trust in God are praiseworthy, while those who do not are 'outsiders' unfit for membership in the civic community. Allowing those who do not support the Pledge to remain seated only reinforces this message - those who support 'under God' are accepted and included, while those who do not are unacceptable and excluded.

The first step that Emu Sam mentions is actually quite simple and it is the most important. It is to present and discuss the idea that adding 'under God' to the Pledge makes it not only an expression but an endorsement of religious bigotry, in the same way that adding the term 'white' (as on, 'one white nation') to the Pledge would be an expression and an endorsement of racial bigotry. And then ask the question, 'Would an African-American have standing to challenge a statute that changed the wording of the Pledge to say, 'one white nation'?"

And what would a good person's reaction to such a change a change be? Or, what amounts to the same thing, what should a person's reaction to such a change be?

Merely presenting the case - presenting it, discussing it, and debating it - particularly in the presence of young children - would do much to neutralize the effect of the pledge itself in fitting young brains with bigoted attitudes against atheists. If they know that there are people who condemn 'one nation under God' as they would condemn 'one white nation', then it will be harder for the attitudes that the praise inherent in the Pledge and the Motto seek to plan to take root.

Yes, it will be a long time before 'under God' gets removed from the Pledge and trusting God is no longer the national motto. However, before they are changed they must first be challenged. The fact that change is far off in the future does not imply that challenge must wait as well.

In fact, the longer we allow the attitudes planted in our young brains that make it difficult to challenge these measures to rule our lives, the longer it will take to effect these changes. In fact, they will only be changed by the generation that pushes past those socially planted inhibitions and anxieties and take such a stand. The generation that continues to yield to these inhibitions and anxieties will do nothing.

The Pledge and the Purpose of 'Under God'

In order to get its desired result in declaring the use of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance Constitutional, the appellate court majority decided to pull a rhetorical trick.

Ninth Circuit upholds Pledge of Allegiance in public schools

First, it decided that the whole case hinged on the first prong of the Lemon test. This test stated that, (1) the challenged governmental action must have a secular purpose.. Second, it needed to show that the primary purpose of the law had a secular purpose.

So, first, the majority said,

Next, we turn to the hotly contested issue in this case, whether Congress' purpose in enacting the Pledge of Allegiance was predominantly patriotic or religious.

Then it asserted that:

In contending the Pledge is an unconstitutional religius exercise, plaintiffs erroneously fixate solely on the words "under God" and disregard the context in which those words appear. . . . the dissent would have to ignore the wording of the Pledge as a whole to focus only on one portion of the Pledge, the portion the plainitiffs find objectionable.

According to the majority, the purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance on the whole is patriotic. This is a secular purpose. Therefore, the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional.

The trick here was to find a context so broad that the religious bigotry contained in the act of adding 'under God' can be buried in that larger context. The majority decided to look at the Pledge as a whole, its entire history, and in fact the history of the country from its very beginning, to get a context so large that it can honestly declare that religious bigotry was not the sole or primary objective of that whole context.

Of course, using this line of reasoning, Congress could have added the term 'white' so that school children were taught each day to pledge allegiance to 'one white nation', and the court would have to conclude that this was not racist.

Again, reverting to a hypothetical case of Congress establishing a pledge of allegiance to 'one white nation', the reasoning of the majority would go as follows.

In contending the Pledge is an unconstitutional religius exercise, plaintiffs erroneously fixate solely on the words "white" and disregard the context in which those words appear. . . . the dissent would have to ignore the wording of the Pledge as a whole to focus only on one portion of the Pledge, the portion the plainitiffs find objectionable.

The majority, in this case, would have to argue that it would be wrong for African-Americans to focus solely on the word 'white' - the term that they find objectionable. It would have to say that African-Americans and to think of the Pledge as a whole. That, in this context, a pledge of allegiance to 'one white nation' is patriotic and is not at all an act or expression of religious bigotry.

In fact, the majority in this case would have to be thought of as chastising African-Americans for their narrow-minded conceit in thinking that by adding the term 'white' to the Pledge that Congress had turned the act of reciting the Pledge into an act of racist bigotry. Any African-American who dared to suggest that such a move was racist would be guilty of erroneously focusing only on the words they find offensive.

On logical terms, this form of rebuttal is known as a reductio ad absurdum. It aims to show that the argument that is being assessed is invalid because the same line of reasoning applied to an equivalent set of premises yields an absurd conclusion.

The 'logic' used to chastise atheists for focusing solely on the terms 'under God' in declaring that by inserting these words Congress turned the pledge into an act and expression of religious bigotry would also prove that Congress could add the term 'white' and not turn the Pledge into an act of racial bigotry.

The absurd conclusions that can be drawn from this type of reasoning demonstrates that the reasoning is flawed.

We can also add to the fact that opinions, once published, become precidents for further law.

If this opinion is accepted, and not overturned by the Supreme Court, it means that it is now a matter of law, that Congress may add the term 'white' to the Pledge without making it an act of and expression of racial bigotry in violation of civil rights laws.

There is now no Constitutional protection against such a change, because the majority in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given a published decision that states that even after adding the word 'white', the courts must conclude that the primary purpose of the Pledge is patriotic, and that it therefore cannot be considered an act of racial, or of religious, bigotry.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Lemon Test and the Pledge. First or Second Prong?

In reading through the opinion on Newdow vs. Rio Linda, I note that I have a significantly different tact on the issue of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance than that which is commonly taken. This difference can be understood in the application of the Lemon Test - a commonly used (but controversial) way of evaluating the constitutionality of a statute involving religion.

Under the Lemon test, to be constitutional (1) the challenged governmental action must have a secular purpose; (2) 'its principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion'; and (3) it 'must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion."

The Court quickly goes through two of these prongs. It quickly asserts that the relevant statutes do not create an excessive government entanglement with religion. It then, in one quick paragraph, asserts that the principle or primary effect of the Pledge is neither to advance nor inhibit religion. Thus, it passes quickly over the second and third prongs of the Lemon test.

Finally, it settles down to address what it considers the core issue:

Next, we turn to the hotly contested issue in this case, whether Congress' purpose of enacting the Pledge of Allegiance was predominantly patriotic or religious.

First, my objections have nothing to do with whether Congress' purpose for enacting the Pledge was predominantly patriotic or religious. My interest and my arguments concern the issue that the court glosses over with scarcely a comment - that the effect of the pledge is to advance theism and inhibit atheism.

Specifically, I argue that the effect of adding 'under God' to the pledge is substantially the same as the effect we could expect to find if congress added the word 'white' to the Pledge of Allegiance to create a pledge to 'one white nation'. In just the same way that we can expect the latter amendment to have the effect of expressing and promoting racial bigotry, we can expect the amendment actually made to have the effect of expressing and promoting religious bigotry.

I have pointed out that we see this effect in the fact that the Pledge and the Motto contribute to a social filter that is 99.9% effective at keeping open and honest atheists out of public office. We see it in polls where substantial majority express the attitude that atheists do not share American values and are the types of people they would least want their child to marry. We see it in polls whereby a majority of Americans declare that they would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist candidate and where politicians state that we need common-sense judges who realize that our rights come from God and who will appoint no other type of candidate.

While I hold that it is absolutely absurd to try to argue that a congress passed a law to have children pledge allegiance to 'one white nation' without having any racist intent or purpose to that law, ultimately the question of the intent or purpose of the legislators is of little interest.

If a legislator intends a racist result but proposes methods that are not effect, they are as much concern to me as the person who intends to rob a ban by teleporting by thought the money out of the vault and onto his kitchen table. Such a person is pathetic, not dangerous.

At the same time, even if the intent of a particular piece of legislation were not to promote racism and bigotry, but that was a dominant effect, I would argue that this alone provides good reason to challenge and, ultimately, to remove that law.

Don't get me wrong - the person who intends but fails to rob a bank, like the person who intends but fails to promote racism and bigotry, are not morally neutral people. They are evil, and deserve our moral condemnation. However, in deciding which of the many things that deserve condemnation we should focus on this week, those that cause genuine harm deserve more attention than those who are foolish and ineffective.

And if legislation is shown to unintentionally promote racism and bigotry, it is still the case that all people of good intention would turn their attention against this law as soon as these effects are made known.

Well, it is or should be known that effect of adding 'under God' to the Pledge would have on those who do not believe in God are likely the same as the effect of adding 'white' to the pledge would have on those who are not white. Furthermore, since these effects are prejudicial and discriminatory and of a type that the constitution, the law, and good moral conscience would condemn, it is something that any good person would seek to change.

Except, as I said, it is as laughable to believe that those who added 'under God' and who defend it are as ignorant of its bigoted content and effects as it would be to suggest that 'white' could be added to the Pledge by people who were not already strongly racist. So the question of how such a discover would play out on the conscience of a person of good moral character is rendered moot at the outset.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A New Type of Lawsuit Against 'Under God'

I would like to propose research into a new type of lawsuit against 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' - one that does not allow people to bury the real issues behind irrelevant details.

Any atheist who is an American citizen would be able to initiate this lawsuit.

The lawsuit would challenge that 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' promotes an attitude of public hostility towards atheists that diminishes the degree to which their options in public society. Specifically, it serves as a filter to keep atheists out of public office, and promotes bigoted attitudes towards atheists that costs them economically and socially.

This lawsuit would not be filed by somebody having children in the public school. It would not be about the specific practice of having people stand to recite the Pledge. It is about the government adopting a specific policy of promoting an attitude of hostility towards a group of citizens based on beliefs about God that filters atheists out of public office and positions of public trust and alienates them from their communities.

The evidence for this can be found in the fact that there is only one openly atheist member of Congress and few, if any, on the state or local level.

It is found in the fact that politicians use being an atheist or associating with atheists as a mark of condemnation against their opponents. Evidence is found in a President's claim that he will only appoint judges who acknowledge that our rights comes from God.

It is found in the fact that surveys show that atheists are the least trusted group in America and routinely identified as the group that are least likely to hold American values. They are seen as poor citizens and poor leaders, harassed in America and in public jobs.

The question of standing could be addressed by asking about relevantly similar situations.

"Would the court deny standing to an African American who rose to challenge an amendment to the Pledge of Allegiance that changed to the wording to, 'One White Nation'? Or would it deny standing to a Jew who came to the court to protest a change in wording so that children were being strongly encouraged to pledge allegiance to a nation without Jews."

One response to this would be to hold that such decisions are the proper scope of the legislature. Yet, the very nature of the protest is that the function (and purpose) of 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' is to render atheists politically impotent. By declaring atheists to be un-American, these policies not only declare that atheists are unfit for public office. It advises and encourages the American voters to reject the political views of atheists. As such, an appeal to the legislature is severely crippled.

Again, I ask the question of whether the courts would deny an African American standing to challenge a pledge of allegiance to One White Nation. Particularly if it were the case that every elected official in government but one was white or at least pretending to be white.

The last time this issue came to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist suggested that the unanimity of the resolutions supporting 'under God' in the Pledge provided support to the fact that it was constitutional.

Yet, we could ask the question - if the right type of lawsuit were filed - whether the Court would give weight to the fact that an all-White Congress unanimously gave approval to a resolution supporting a pledge of allegiance to 'one White Nation'?

The courts, as a matter of policy, do not deal with hypothetical cases. However, there is nothing to prevent the people themselves from discussing these types of questions and their relevance to the current Pledge of Allegiance.

I think it would do the country a lot of good to have that particular debate and get the issue out from behind the smoke screen of irrelevancies that currently cloud this issue.

The Alienation of Atheists

I am, I confess, quite surprised at the lack of atheist response to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a daily school ritual including 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, and a national motto of 'In God We Trust' is unworthy of their attention.

I have heard many atheists complain that organizing atheists is like 'herding cats'. This is actually a conceit - a case in which many atheists (and each other) prefer hiding from the truth and imagining themselves as something better than thay are.

In fact, this case demonstrates exactly how easy it is to herd atheists - to get them to sheepishly do that which is not in their own interest. In this case, it is done by controlling the attitudes they adopt as children.

My objections to 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' spring from the effect that praise and condemnation have on the minds of children. Through the use of praise and condemnation, we promote some desires and inhibit others. The desires that we promote and inhibit have an effect on how people act - even on how they act when nobody is looking over their shoulder.

The Pledge of Allegiance - recited daily - gives praise to those who support 'one Nation under God', and condemnation to those who sit or refuse. As such, it promotes a desire to be a person who supports 'one Nation under God' in children, and an aversion to those who do not support 'a Nation under God'

This is quite blatant in the behavior of those who attend ceremonies in which the Pledge is given. Even those who do not support such a nation, rise so as to disguise the fact that they are a part of the shameful group that the Pledge of Allegiance condemns. They may substitute a few words of their own for Under God, or rush over it, and think themselves clever and pat themselves on the back for doing so. However, the objective of this whole charade is to avoid the condemnation that comes from being seen as one who does not pledge allegiance to the United States.

There is a reason why it is so important to have this Pledge in the public schools and at other ceremonies where young children are involved, and for having it on the coins that young children typically handle every day of their lives. By doing so, it plants these attitudes in their brains where they are fixed at a very emotional level. This is not done to plant a belief in the minds of young children. It is done to plant a set of attitudes - desires.

For a young child, supporting 'one Nation under God' becomes a sign of acceptance and belonging. One is a member of the group, welcomed by the group, loved by the group, and cared for by the group. It is safe and secure - a feeling that nature itself has given young children a strong need to acquire. Most of them, anyway. They do not recite the Pledge becaues they mean it or even understand it. They recite it because they need to belong.

However, once these attitudes - these emotions - get attached to supporting 'one Nation under God', the rest comes easily enough. It becomes a test of belonging - of membership in the group - of patriotism itself - that one be willing to stand and give support to 'one Nation under God'.

Those who stand and support and make this pledge are one of us - members of the group - safe and secure within the herd.

Those who do not are outsiders - unAmerican - aliens within their own country and their own culture - adopting a status that is quite appropriately termed 'alienation'.

It is exactly the same message that we see in the Motto.

In God We Trust.

To belong to the group - to be a member - one has to trust in God. Refuse to trust in God, and you are outside the group. You do not belong. You are outside of the community.

Ultimately, I would argue that these basic forces are what caused the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to render the decision that it did. It certainly was not grounded on any type of logic or reason. The posts that I have written in the last three days show how far from reasonable that decision was. So, what forces were involved that caused educated judges to make such absurd statements?

What caused this decision is the comfort that people find in being members of the group - in being a part of the We that trusts in God - in being a 'good American' who supports 'a Nation under God'.

I am not saying that these judges said deliberately, 'I am going to write this insanely stupid nonsense because I want the people to like me.' I am saying that writing this insanely stupid nonsense felt comfortable, and that the comfort that comes with being a member of the group blinded them to the nonsense they put down on paper. The very act of recognizing how insanely irrational those arguments were is too uncomfortable, so the agent blinds himself or herself to its stupidity.

This situation is going to persist - it is not going to change - so long as these practices remain a part of our culture. So long as we continue to plant - at a very basic and emotional level - the attitudes that the comfort and security of belonging is attached to supporting 'a Nation under God - that being a member of We requires trust in God - to that degree atheists are going to continue to be second-class citizens locked out of public office and unable to be seen as having more than a small whiney voice on the outskirts - even outside of - their own community and their own country.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Standing to Challenge the Pledge

"I may have (falsely) claimed that you are a convicted child molester. However, I did not require you to say that you are a convicted child molester, so you cannot say that you were harmed by my actions."

This form of argument can be found in the majority opinion of Newdow v. Rio Linda, where they looked at the question of whether the defendants had standing to challenge the 1954 Amendment to the Pledge that inserted the words "under God."

(See: Ninth Circuit upholds Pledge of Allegiance in public schools)

The dissent argued that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge this law, but the majority disagreed.

Plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the 1954 Amendment because no federal statute requires plaintiffs to recite the Pledge. Even under the School District's Policy, children "may choose not to participate in the flag salute for personal reasons" or they can simply omit any words they find offensive.

Using this logic, Jews would have no right to complain or object to changing the Pledge of Allegiance to say, "one Nation, without Jews" so long as Jews were not forced to cite the offensive words.

Similarly, a pledge of allegiance to "one white Nation, indivisible . . ." would not give blacks any legitimate claim to have been harmed by such a law - even after showing that in the shadow of such a law 99.99% of all elected officials in the country were white, and national polls showed that, in the opinion of white Americans, blacks were the least patriotic of all social groups and considered "the group least likely to share American values."

This is not a posting on what the law says. I am not a lawyer and it is not my interest or intention to provide a judgment on what does and does not count as standing. It may well be true that black people would have no legal standing to challenge a law changing the Pledge of Allegiance to "one white nation."

This is a moral blog, and it is certainly the case that blacks would have the moral standing to condemn such an amendment and to assert that no good person would support it. Jews have a moral standing to object to a Pledge of Allegiance to "one nation without Jews" and to assert that no good person would support it. Atheists have a moral standing to object to a Pledge of Allegiance that defines atheists as unpatriotic, and to assert that no good person would support it.

Yes, it would be one level of wrong for the government to force you to state that you molest children, even though it is blatantly false. However, this wrong is not made right by the government encouraging everybody else to say that you molest children, but grants you the right to refrain from saying the offensive words. You are still going to suffer the harms that come from the attitudes that the government is putting in the minds of everyone else.

You would have solid moral grounds to accuse the government of libel and slander.

Just as atheists have the moral grounds to accuse the government of libel and slander when it decided to teach the American people, and in particular its young children, that a patriot is defined as a person who supports 'a nation under God' - and those who do not support such a proposition are not patriots.

In fact, allowing atheists to refuse to say the pledge does not make the situation better. It makes it far worse. Now, as if to emphasize the assertion that only those who support a nation under God are patriots and those who do not support such a notion are not patriots, we have a scene where those who support the notion pledge allegiance to the United States while those who do not remain seated and refuse to do so.

The government's lesson could not be more clear and forceful if it were to simply post a sign in every school and other government building, "No good American is an atheist, and no atheist can be a good American."

The Beliefs of the Founding Fathers

In defending its decision that "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional, the majority claims that it is relevant that the founding fathers believed that our inalienable rights were granted by a Creator.

Ninth Circuit upholds Pledge of Allegiance in public schools

The Founders did not see these two ideas - that individuals possessed certain God-given rights which no government can take away, and that we do not want our nation to establish a religion - as being in conflict

Let's grant this, for the sake of argument.

And let us also ignore the fact that a substantial protion of them did not see a conflict between the claim that individuals possessed certain God-given rights and slavery.

And let us also ignore the fact that they believed that, literally, all men were created equal while women were created inferior to men.

There is also no conflict between the belief that God granted us certain inalienable rights and, at the same time, it is wrong for the government to push this notion on its citizens.

Seriously look at what the majority is telling us in this opinion. They are telling us that, if you believe that our rights come from God, and if you believe that the government should not establish a religion, then you must believe that a patriotic exercise claiming that atheists are not patriotic is not an exercise in establishing a religion.

They are claiming that there must be a conflict in those two beliefs and the belief that such an exercise is unconstitutional.

Yet, a great many Americans today - and the majority opinion provides no evidence against the claim that a great many of the founding fathers - hold or held that:

(1) Our rights come from God.

(2) Governments should not establish a religion.

(3) A political exercise in which the Government says and in particular insists on teaching young children that those who do not believe in God are not patriots is a violation of those God-given rights.

The majority opinion is not only telling us that 1 and 2 are not in conflict.

They are telling us that (1), (2) and (3) ARE in conflict.

Because that is what they need to establish to support their claim that this proves the constitutionality of 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Furthermore, they can very much be in conflict even thought the founding fathers failed to see and appreciate that fact.

They failed to properly appreciate the fact that their doctrine of God-given rights condemned slavery. They were very keen to blind themselves to that particular contradiction - because it profited them to do so. It also profited the men blind themselves to the fact that there was a conflict between the arguments that established the equality of men and that which established the equality of men and women.

If you accept that everything the founding fathers believed can be the grounds for a court decision, then you must either believe that the founding fathers held no contradictory or inconsistent beliefs, or that there is no opinion that cannot be argued from the foundation of what the founding fathers believed.

Because, logic tells us, from a contradiction, all conclusions are possible.

Which, I suspect, is exactly why some justices like to begin their arguments with a foundation that is inherently contradictory such as the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, because that then allows them to draw their preferred conclusion from whatever side of that contradiction is useful to the at the moment.

There is absolutely nothing in the fact that many founding fathers believed that our rights came from a creator that implies either the constitutionality or the unconstitutionality of declaring that the government may teach the people, and particularly its children, that those who do not support a nation under God are not patriots.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Atheists are Not Patriots

A main argument that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals uses to argue that the Pledge of Allegiance, with the text "under God", is constitutional is grounded on the claim that it is a patriotic exercise.

Ninth Circuit upholds Pledge of Allegiance in public schools

We hold that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress' ostensible and predominant purpose-was to inspire patriotism and that the context of the Pledge - its wording as a whole, the preamble to the statute, and this nation's history - demonstrate that it is a predominantly patriotic exercise. For these reasons, the phrase "one Nation under God" does not turn this patriotic exercise into a religious activity.

They make a point out of the fact that even the dissenting judge agreed that the Pledge is a patriotic exercise.

Even the dissent agrees on this determinative point. Dissent at 4040 ("[T]he recitation of the Pledge both as originally written and as amended is a patriotic exercise . . . . ")

Yes, it is a patriotic exercise.

It is in virtue of the fact that it is a patriotic exercise - that it defines the character of a patriotic Aerican - that it serves its primary role to establish a filter whose purpose is to prevent atheists from obtaining high public office or positions of public trust in the United States.

It is because it is a patriotic exercise that serves the function of denying atheists the equal respect of their neighbors and fellow (patriotic) citizens - by teaching them that atheists were not patriots.

It is because it is a patriotic exercise that it makes it alienates atheists from their government, rendering them politically impotent on the grounds that, simply in virtue of the fact that he is an atheist, this implies he is not a true American, and thus his opinions on matters of public policy may simply be dismissed.

Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance is a patriotic exercise. There is no doubt about this.

It is an government sanctioned exercise that aims to teach the American people, and particularly its young children, that true patriots support a nation under God as they support a nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all. And that any who do not support a nation under God, like any who would not support a nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all, are not patriots.

Court Upholds 'Under God' and 'In God We Trust'

This is a decision a long time in coming.

Ninth Circuit upholds Pledge of Allegiance in public schools

Some long-term readers may remember a series of posts that I wrote when I expected this issue to be decided nearly two years ago.

The Pledge Project

From the beginning, this decision runs into problems.

After reporting that they hold that the Pledge does not constitute an establishment of religion prohibited by the United States Constitution, the majority writes:

the Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded and for which we continue to strive: one Nation under God - the Founding Fathers' belief that the people of this nation are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; indivisible - although we have individual states, they are united in one republic; with liberty - the government cannot take away the people's inalienable rights; and justice for all - everyone in America is entitled to "equal justice under the law.



In this paragraph, the majority all but declares that the contents of the Pledge of Allegiance is not just a description of some historical event. It is a prescription. It is not merely a statement about, "here is how things happen to have been" but a statement about, "here is how things should be in the future."

So, how is it the case that a statement, by the government, that the citizens should proudly support the ideal of one Nation under God not constitute an attempt by the government to establish a particular attitude towards God and the relationship between the nation and God?

Well, it is pure nonsense.

Yet, history shows us how people can embrace pure nonsense when it yields a desired conclusion. They can write a glaring contradiction into the first page of an appeals court opinion and not see the glaring contradiction they have written. Even though it is as plan as writing on the first page of the opinion that 2 does not equal 2.

By calling these ideals, the Court itself is taking sides in declaring that these four qualities are to be found in all good (ideal) American citizens - a belief in a unified republic with liberty and justice for all that is a nation under God.

Any citizen that does not meet these criteria, according to the majority, fall short of the measure for an ideal American. We could say that those who hold all four of these ideas are what we may call first-class citizens. While, those who only accept three out of four may be put in a lower, second class of citizenry.

I will have more to say on this issue as I go through the arguments.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Retreat into Scripture - Protected Sex

What should be the focus of atheist and secular activism in America and around the world?

This question comes up in two contexts. I've addressed it with respect to a meeting that was held last week between the leaders of several secular organizations and some representatives of the Obama administration.

It will come up next week in the World Atheism Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

From a moral point of view, I do not have any difficulty answering this question.

The single biggest problem that these organizations should address is the fact that people who cannot think are determining policies leading to maiming, death, disease, and destruction on a massive scale.

There are lives at stake.

I have objected to the proposition, and I continue to object to the proposition, that "religion" is to blame for this. Religion merely means the belief that one or more supernatural deities exists or has existed. This proposition implies nothing about how we should behave and is fully compatible with the thesis that this deity created a universe that we can know through science.

However, we would not be wrong to say that some sets of religious beliefs are directly responsible for these consequences and it is perfectly legitimate to condemn those religions on those grounds.

From here, let us pick some examples that would probably show up as the most destructive sets of beliefs that some people refuse to question because they have attributed it to a religious source.

One set of beliefs that is leading to the massive spread of disease and poverty in Africa - the unfounded, foolish, set of sexual prohibitions and prescriptions being pursued even by many of even the largest religious organizations. As a matter of their adherence to their outmoded ways of thinking these organizations are contributing to the deaths of literally millions of people due to preventable diseases - including infants - and the orphaning of untold numbers of children.

The easiest, cheapest, and most effective way to prevent the sickness, death, and poverty surrounding sexual transmitted disease is to use a condom during sex. The best way to promote the use of condoms during sex is to make this a part of our moral universe. That is to say, to praise those who use condoms, and to condemn those who do not.

An aversion to sex without a condom in the vast majority of circumstances is an aversion that people in general have many and strong reasons to promote - reasons that relate directly to the effect this desire would have on reducing the total amount of illness, death, and poverty in those cultures that adopt it.

This means praising those acts that exhibit this aversion, and condemning those actions that exhibit the absence of such an aversion.

We hear a lot about how charitable religious institutions and religious people are - about their willingness to help others and take care of the sick and dying and to take in the orphans left behind. We do not hear enough about the fact that they are responsible for the sickness and death and the orphans that they then take care of. If not for their idiotic and outdated sexual attitudes, there would not be so many sick, dying, or orphaned people in need of the care they generously provide.

We also do not hear about the fact that many of these organizations profit from the care they provide to others. It is a loss leader - a willing to get in contact with people that one can then sell a bill of goods that is the Church. By offering a bit of care and kindness, the Church gains a convert, and the contributions to the leadership in terms of money and political and economic control over the citizens is often worth far more than the cost of the care the organization has provided.

We can see how important it is to these organizations to use their 'charity' as a way to grow the church and to profit from the gains of new converts by the shrillness of the wailing we hear when they are told to offer those services without all of the religious marketing that often goes with it. This gives us a hint as to how much interest a particular organization has in helping those in need, versus how much interest it has in harvesting those people.

So, if one is looking for a moral cause - one directly linked to a particularly wide spread set of religious beliefs - one that is responsible for death, disease, and the orphaning of children on a huge scale - the effect that certain religious teachings (Note, not 'religion' itself - this type of illogical overgeneralization is classic bigotry and hate-mongering) has in promoting these ills in parts of the world that can least afford it deserves to be a high station on the atheist 'to do' list.

There are, literally, lives at stake in that particular issue, and children by the millions suffering preventable harms. When the defenders of those policies retreat into scripture to defend their actions then that can also be condemned. "Your retreat into scripture to defend your contribution to this massive wave of destruction across whole continents is as despicable as the retreat to scripture made by suicide bombers and political opportunists. It is worse, in fact, since the bomber will take out a building or a supermarket, whereas your organization takes out huge regions of whole continents. Their body counts are in the tens to hundreds. Your body counts number in the tens of millions."

Now, these organizations would likely counter that, "If people actually followed our advice, then there would be no disease either. The spread of sexually transmitted disease is an effect of sex out of wedlock, which is something we condemn."

Against this, the correct response is that, "Your teachings violate known facts about human psychoogy and biology. We have more than enough scientific evidence to know that the human brain does not function the way that those dead peasant sheep herders who invented your morality thousands of years ago thought that it functioned.”

This is how science works. It compares situations and takes objective measurements. It tells us that there if we use Option A that 100 people per die, and if we use Option B only 60 people will die. In light of this kind of evidence, those who go ahead and choose Option A are morally responsible for creating a situation in which there are 40 more deaths than there would have otherwise been. The way to reduce the incidents of disease, save lives, and reduce poverty is to promote a moral aversion to unprotected sex.

People who insist that scripture gives them the right answer at the cost of human lives and well-being are not people who have any reason at all to demand that their views be treated with respect.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Changing the Subject - Name Calling

I find it interesting how often it is the case in criticism of religion that people allow the subject to get derailed onto a side issue - usually a side issue of the merits of how nice one should be.

Yesterday, I posted a claim that "Some frippen IDiots are going to get a lot of good people maimed and killed."

It's about a group of people who see political advantage into tying the nonsense that they believe into another piece of nonsense - denial of global warming. Both of them, I assert, demonstrate the same intellectual integrity as holocaust denial.

Others have launched a criticism of religion, which ends up triggering a huge international debate - about how nice atheists should be to those whose views they disagree with.

It's a real magician's trick. The magician deflects the attention of the person in the audience, with some gesture or piece of stagecraft, while his other hand does the work.

Our attention gets deflected into a debate over how nice one should be to those who hold religious believes, or the 'lameness' of calling a group of people IDiots, and there the debate over the claim that some of these IDiots are going to get a lot of good people maimed and killed.

What is it?

Is it that a decision to link one's own idiocy to another piece of idiocy that has real-world life and death, life and limb consequences isn't a subject that is worth debating? The question of whether 'namecalling' is 'lame' more socially useful than whether one is going to purse a public policy that could potentially lead to significant harm to millions - and potentially destroy whole cities?

If we must turn this into a debate about name-calling; if whether people live and die is of lesser concern than such an act, I would note that desire utilitarianism (desirism) has an honored place for name-calling.

Desire utilitarianism is concerned with evaluating desires, then promoting malleable desires that tend to fulfill other desires, while inhibiting those desires that tend to thwart other desires. We use social tools to promote some malleable desires and inhibit others. The tool we use to promote and strengthen good desires is praise, and the tool we use to inhibit and weaken bad desires is condemnation.

Namecalling is a form of condemnation. It attaches a flag to a particular type of person and then says to the world, "Do not be that type of person. Adopt an aversion to being that type of person such that you will not be inclined to behave as he does."

In this case, the type of person that I wish to condemn - and thus inhibit people from becoming - is the IDiot who makes nonsense claims about the origin of life that are so absolutely without intellectual merit that any morally responsible person - any person with desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others - would think of uttering.

Instead of name-calling, I should "engage" their arguments?


You engage the arguments of somebody who has enough moral integrity to actually engage in a meaningful discussion of the issue. When you are dealing with people who make claims that are so far beyond reason as one finds among the IDiots, you already know that you are dealing with somebody utterly lacking in intellectual integrity.

When you find somebody like that, you should recognize that you are not dealing with an issue of bad beliefs as much as with an issue of bad desires - as a lack of moral character.

Deficiencies in desire - in moral character - are not subject to reason. We can reason ABOUT them. We can use reason to determine what are and what are not defects in character. But we cannot use reason to turn an evil person into a good person, or to prevent a person from becoming evil. That job requires a different set of tools. That job requires praise and condemnation.

The commandment, "Thou shalt not condemn another human being" is equivalent to saying, "Thou shalt utterly disarm yourself in the quest of promoting those desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibiting those desires that tend to thwart other desires."

Or, in other words, "Thou shalt give evil free reign to grow and prosper regardless of the harms that may come from it."

When I called these people IDiots, I meant to convey a specific idea. I meant to identify them as people who are so lacking in intellectual integrity that good people would condemn them. Good people note the degree to which these people shun political debate and sees that it is a threat to the health, wealth, well-being, and even the lives of a great many people, and good people condemn them for it.

Now, having said this, name-calling - like fining them, inprisoning them, or even executing them, is something that should not be done lightly. The accused have a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on those who condemn - whether they condemn through legal penalties or simply through social acts such as this one. In many cases, name-calling is far worse than lame, it displays a poor moral quality itself - in the same way that imprisoning somebody for 10 years is far worse than lame.

These people are engaging in a form of behavior that threatens to kill and maim a great many people - as well as inflict other harms on them. Because they are using speech, they have a right to an immunity to violence in response to what they say. However, they do not have a right to immunity from criticism - not only a criticism of their beliefs, but a criticism for a moral character that allows them to avoid intellectually serious and responsible discussion.

To give these people immunity from condemnation as well as their rightful immunity from violence, is to morally sanction their behavior, and to be a co-contributor to the maiming and killing that comes from that type of behavior.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Death By Stupidity

Some frippen IDiots are going to get a lot of good people maimed and killed.

A group of creationists are trying to get around objections that they are trying to use government money to impose religious teaching on public school students by tying creationism in with global warming denial.

(See, New York Times, Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets By LESLIE KAUFMAN)

The strategy is that they want to say that they are not trying to impose religion on students. They are taking a stand against dogmatic science where liberal scientists take a dogmatic stand on some issue and refuse to present any type of conflicting data on that issue. By tying global warming to evolution they prove that their goal is not religious and, thus, cannot be condemned as a violation of church and state.

While they're at it, they might as well demand that school techers present both sides of the issue with respect to holocaust denial as well. After all, there are history teachers who dogmatically insist that Hitler and the Nazis rounded up Jews and killed them by the millions either directly or thorugh slave labor.

Those serious academics who insist that this story is a fiction invented and promulgated by the Jewish community to elicit public support and sympathy are scarcely given the opportunity to present their considerable evidence. We must have legislation to correct this injustice and to allow holocaust denial a place in all history classes.

What these people actually want us to teach children is to be as incompetent at linking evidence to conclusions as they are.

They claim they want fairness. This is a lie. A fair presentation of the issue would involve presenting students with the idiotic claims that come from these people, and explaining to the students why they are idiotic.

I am actually in favor of presenting both sides of these issues. I think that a decent education should include educating students on exactly why no intellectually competent person would adopt the positions of the creationist or the global warming deniar (or the holocaust denier). Including lessons on why such claims are the claims of idiots would help to ensure that this class of students graduates fewer idiots.

Unfortunately, when people with this type of incompetence get ahold of the power to make public policy, they get innocent people maimed and killed. At the very least, the weaken our ability to prevent maimings and deaths.

In other words, they want to pass legislation requiring that teachers lie, and present incompetent nonsense as if it is a meaningful alternative to any of these views.

In the case of climate change, they're risking the destruction of whole cities with the potential for considerable loss of life.

Saying that this policy is being pursued by idiots is a compliment. The alternative is that these people are intellectually competent enough to see the potential harm in what they do and they do not care. So, either they are selfish, or they have a malicious disregard for a potential loss of life that will make Hitler and Stalin look like cub scouts.

The one major test that these idiots fail is the ability to make reliable predictions.

Where science has proved itself time and time again is in its ability to make reliable and verifiable predictions of the future. To whatever degree we can reliably predict the future, to that degree we can reliably choose among our current options which will lead to an improved future and which will not.

To what degree we fail to competently predict the future to that degree we deprive ourselves of the power to pursue the best possible future, and the potential to avoid futures that are bad.

Creationist/global warming deniars - and, in particular, the intellectual follies that they practice and which to teach to others, including in some cases a love of outright lies and deception - is utterly void of any capacity to make reliable predictions. It is utterly void of any competence in helping us to avoid bad futures and pursue a better future for ourselves, our children, and our children's children.

As I said, these IDiots are going to get a lot of good people maimed and killed. Either they truly are IDiots, or, worse, they have no sense of the moral responsibility that is required to match evidence to conclusions competently so as to avoid doing things that risk getting innocent people killed.

The Value of Truth

The best possible life that one can hope to obtain is to have one's brain put into a particular state, then locked in that state and placed on a shelf, to sit there undisturbed until the universe itself comes to an end.

In my last few posts I have been arguing against Chris Heathwood's theory of a good life on the basis that it leads to this type of absurdity. It is a mental-state theory; a theory that says that the only thing that matters is that the brain be placed in a particular state. Getting the brain into that state, and keeping it in that state, is the be-all and end-all to human existence.

(See Desire Satisfaction and Hedonism by Chris Heathwood (Philosophical Studies (2006) 128:539–563).)

Heathwood is aware of these types of objections

Some philosophers do not like mental state theories . . . [because] a person can be radically deceived about his situation and still lead a good life according to such theories.

Heathwood attempts to answer these objections by suggesting that different mental states have a quality associated with them that is associated with (for lack of a better word) their truthiness.

On the revised theory, pleasure taken in, or the subjective satisfaction of desires for, true states of affairs enhances the value of the pleasure or the subjective desire satisfaction.

First, truthiness is not an inherent property of mental states. The truthiness of desire that P requires a state of affairs that is often quite independent of the desire in which P is true. That state of affairs in which P is true is not a mental state.

Second, what is it that gives truthiness its value? Why is truthiness what matters, and not, say, redness of currentness or being-near-my-50th-birthdayness?

Perhaps the reason that truthiness matters rather than any of these other qualities is because God said so. One of the criticisms often made of atheist ethics is that it ultimately pulls its values out of thin air. Atheists are inevitably driven to a point where they insist that something matters (truthiness), but can never say why it matters. This is because atheists deny the existence of the source of all that matters, and that is God.

I do not know Heathwood's religious persuasion. Perhaps this is the answer that he would give. However, this then would fall to the objection that "God did it" is also a completely empty explanation. No matter what answer one gave - whether it be because of its redness or its currentness or its being-near-my-50th-birthdayness - whatever quality one decides to name one can say that this is the quality that has value because God says so.

Heathwood tries a similar tactic in addressing the question of how some desire-satisfactions can have more value than others.

One natural way for the theory to go would be to assign a number to every state of affairs, one representing how worthy of being desired the state of affairs is, or how appropriate it is to have pleasure taken in it.
Okay, then, how does this number represent and how did it get into those states of affairs? When we assign a number, what does it take for this to be the correct number to assign to that state of affairs? How do we determine correctness? And what are we actually saying when we say that a particular state has a 'worthiness of being desired' of, say, 3.7?

Heathwood does not give us an answer.

When faced with the objection that his theory fails in the face of objections based on deception, he simply asserts that truth matters.

Why does it matter? How does it matter? How does your theory account for the value of truth?

Heathwood does not even start to give us an answer these questions.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Realistic Response

In response to my complaint that secular organizations did not use the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Obama organization to point out the bigotry in national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance, Transplanted Lawyer made the following comment:

Let's assume for the sake of argument that you were among the representatives of the group who was there, and that Obama stepped in to the room and said "Hi." You would, I assume, deliver the remarks you put at the close of the post. Ideally, he'd respond by agreeing with you. Realistically, though, he won't do that -- as you point out, it would be politically suicidal for him to do so. What would you realistically hope for by way of a response?

I do not see any particular reason to explore this hypothetical because this is not what I objected to. Let's stick with the fact that the representatives of atheist organizations met with representatives of the Obama administration.

The fact is, the President has decided to let atheists in the door, but he knows and we know that he cannot allow himself to be caught in the same room with us. If I were to imagine that the President had come into the room I would either have to imagine that he is politically inept, or begin with the assumption that there is more political tolerance of atheists in this country than there is in fact. Either assumption would have to taint my response.

But, think about it . . . we still live in a country where the President does not dare enter a room which contains a group of atheists. He can invite religious leaders to his hotel room and have a special conference of religious leaders at the opening of the Democratic Party convention, but he cannot enter a room containing politically active atheists.

That says something.

But it says something that even the atheist organizations who went to the Whtie House decided not to acknowledge.

So, let's stick to the real world in which walking into a room with a group of atheists itself is political suicide. The best one can do is to send political representatives. It's a step in the right direction, but let's not ignore how far in the wrong direction we must have gone for this step to count as a step in the right direction.

Now, given that this is the world we live in, what would I have said to these representatives of the Obama Administration if I had been invited to be in the audience.

First, I would point out the fact that we live in a country in which a President can invite religious leaders by the score to sit at the table with him but does not dare enter a room where politically active atheists are convened. To drive the point home I may ask if there are cleaners and fumigators ready to remove all trace of atheist cooties from the room before the President will be permitted to use it again.

Second, I would ask why (rhetorically) why this is the case.

Third, I would then make the case against the Pledge and the Motto that I made in my previous post.

"The Obama Administration is in the same position with respect to atheists that Franklin Roosevelt was with respect to blacks in the 1920s. He did not dare take a stand against racism, because that would have host him too much southern support, which would have hampered his political agenda. And it is an important political agenda. I recognize your need to throw atheists under the bus for the sake of health insurance and climate change legislation.

"However, the fact that it would be political suicide for the President to walk through that door, when it would be political suicide for him NOT to walk through that door if we were religious leaders, oes not mean that we are wrong. It means that you must reject our claims no matter how much merit they have, but it does not mean our claims have no merit.

"So, I will take advantage of this opportunity to point out to you that one of the reasons atheists are political lepers - one of the reasons that the President cannot walk through that door and speak to us in person unless he did so to condemn us - is because the public school system and the federal government are involved in a massive campaign to teach its citizens - and particularly its young children - that atheism is anti-American.

"They print this lesson on the money - that to be a good American one has to trust in God. They post it in public buildings in, in many places in public classrooms. They require a ceremony built around a pledge to keep atheists out of public office and out of public influence because being a good American requires supporting a nation 'under God'.

"The government does such a good job of teaching its citizens to hate atheists that the President does not dare walk through that door to speak to us, while, at the same time, he could not refuse to walk through that door to talk to a similar group of religious leaders.

"And if Obama thinks that it does not matter that the Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to one nation under God - and that this does not denigrate atheists, ask him if he would also hold the view that a pledge to 'one white nation, individual' would not denigrate blacks.

"Atheists will have political and social equality in this country when the President is as willing or as reluctant to come to this room full of atheists as he would be to come to this room when it is full of religious leaders."

I would not expect any official reaction to this from the Obama administration. I would not expect the representatives present to do anything but nod and say, "We will take your comments into consideration."

But, in the lower-level discussions far from the President, this argument may make its rounds and affect a few mines. And, given the fact that this meeting is newsworthy, I would get these words into the press even if I could not get them into the President's ear. It might even help the President for me to do so - for people to hear an atheist complain that the President does not dare enter a room with atheists in it, when he would not dare refuse to enter a room with a like group of religious leaders.

It does not matter what response the Obama Administration gives to this argument. What matters is that it has been made in such a way that people heard it.

This is the gift that Obama provided in arranging this meeting. It was not the gift of allowing atheists into the White House. It was the gift of allowing atheists into the press. That is the gift that was squandered by people who went to the White House thinking that they were talking to the Obama Administration and ignoring the fact that they were being given an opportunity to talk to the American people themselves.

That is how you begin to change minds. You do not do so by refusing to talk about what others do not want to hear.

Journeys and Destinations

In response to my claim that the value of a means is determined entirely by the value of the ends that the means realizes, a member of the studio audience wrote:

I fundamentally disagree with that, because it seems tantamount to claiming the journey is only meaningful if one reaches the destination.

Actually, this is not true.

What an agent desires-as-ends may well be the journey itself.

I am very much a person who tends to find more value in journeys than in destinations. For me, it does not really matter much where I am going as much as it matters that I realize particular values on my way there.

I prefer to walk. I hate being rushed. I like to have enough time to experience what is going on around me at more than a superficial level. I want time to look and to become more familiar what the territory I pass through on my way to a destination, more than I want to get to the destination itself.

At least, this is often true.

In fact, I view this as a good attitude to take towards life in general. You might as well enjoy the journey; there is not a lot that you can say in favor of the destination.

However, in saying this what I am really saying is that I have more than a desire-as-end to reach the destination. I have other desires-as-ends as well. Specifically, I have a desire-as-end to experience what I pass through on the way to that destination in greater detail - to become more familiar with that which I encounter along the way. This is a goal - but it is a goal that describes a state in which the journey takes place. It is not a goal that describes a state that what I value in a journey, not a goal that describes a state that exists only when the journey ends.

The mistake found in this concern is the mistake of relating "journey" to "means". Journeys are often means to an end, but they can also be ends in themselves.

There is probably nothing in the universe that counts as a pure end or a pure means. Something valued as an end (e.g., a good night's sleep) is also a means to functioning well the next day. Something valued as a means (a new car) can also be valued for its beauty or some other quality that is desired as an end.

In fact, desirism is built on the fact that ends are, at the same time, also means. It says that there is no such thing as intrinsic value, so a desire-as-end that P cannot be said to map correctly or incorrectly to some type of intrinsic value property. However, every desire-as-end is also a means to fulfilling or thwarting other desires. Desires are tools that make the fulfillment of other desires easier or harder.

Because of this, we can take desires-as-ends and aversions-as-ends - such as an aversion to lying or a desire to help those who are in a desperate state - and evaluate those desires-as-ends according to their usefulness as a means. A desire-as-end to provide charitable help is a desire-as-means for bringing about the fulfillment of a great many other desires on the part of those who receive the charity. With this desire being widespread, giving to charity not only fulfills the desires of those who receive charity, but it fulfills a desire of those who desire-as-end to provide charity.

This idea that ends are also, at the same time, means plays a significant role in desirism to answer a common objection to desire fulfillment theories.

The objection states, "You are telling me that all value depends on desire. Does this mean that you are telling me that all desire generates value? If a person likes torturing young children and listening to them scream then you are going to tell me that this is good? If one person desires to play pushpin, and another desires to read poetry, that there is nothing but these desires on which to evaluate pushpin versus poetry?"

The answer, according to desirism, is that there is no basis on which to evaluate 'desires-as-ends' as ends. There are no intrinsic values that allow us to say that some desires are 'correct' and others are 'incorrect'. However, we still have the ability to evaluate 'desires-as-ends' as means, and see that some desires tend to fulfill other desires while some desires tend to thwart other desires.

This, in turn, gives us reason to promote certain desires and to argue for making them more common and stronger through praise and commendation. At the same time, it gives us reason to condemn certain desires and seek to make them less common or weaker through punishment and condemnation.

In short, the distinction between means and ends - between journey and destination - is not that sharp.

Sometimes the journey IS the destination.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Intrinsically vs. Relationally Good Lives

Chris Heathwood has written an article in which he tries to defend a particular theory on the value of a life.

(See Desire Satisfaction and Hedonism by Chris Heathwood (Philosophical Studies (2006) 128:539–563).)

His theory focuses on the idea that a good life is one in which there is the most subjective desire satisfaction. This is a state that obtains when an agent has a desire that P and a belief that P is true.

An instance of subjective desire satisfaction is a state of affairs din which a subject (i) has an intrinsic desire at some time for some state of affairs and (ii) believes at that time that the state of affairs obtains.

An 'intrinsic desire' in Heathwood's sense is what I call a desire-as-end. It is the desire that agents have for states for their own sake and not for their usefulness in realizing some further end.

According to Heathwood, this type of value is what makes up a good life. He states:

Each instance of subjective desire satisfaction is intrinsically good for its subject.

My first objection is that there is no such thing as intrinsic value.

Value exists in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desires. A state S has end-value (to A) if and only if A has a desire that P and P is true in S.

I illustrate this denial of intrinsic value by calling upon readers to imagine two universes. In Universe 1, there is an agent with a desire that P and a state S in which P is true. In Universe 2 there is no agent, but it is still the case that there is a state S in which P is true.

Intrinsic value theory states that Universe 1 is better than Universe 2. This is because Universe 1 has desire fulfillment (which has intrinsic value), and Universe 2 does not.

The theory that I advance states that State S has value to A in virtue of A's desire that P and P being true in S. A himself has no reason to choose Universe 1 over Universe 2, because in both universes there is a state S and P is true in S. A would look at both universes with indifference because both of them fulfill his desire that P.

Nobody else other than A has a reason to choose Universe 1 over Universe 2 except in relation to their own desires.

We may prefer Universe 1 over Universe 2. We may look on this situation and say, "Yes, clearly, Universe 1 is better than Universe 2." However, we are making that choice based upon our own desires. If we take away those desires, then we, too, will be indifferent with respect to these two universes.

In fact, if we take away our desires, we will become indifferent about just about everything.

There is no intrinsic value. There are only relationships between states of affairs and desires.

This means that a state of, "A desires that P and A believes that P" has value to an agent only insofar as an agent has a desire that Q, and Q is true in "A desires that P and A believes that P."

I agree that, when an agent has a desire that P and believes that P, that agents tend to get a jolt of pleasure. And the state of feeling pleasure is a state that a great many of us desire. However, by and large, this jolt of pleasure is more than what is needed for a good life.

Heathwood's theory cannot pass the experience machine test. The experience machine is a virtual world generator that gives an agent the belief that his desires are being fulfilled. He lays himself on a couch, hooks himself up to the virtual world, and is then fed sensations that his brain interprets as him being a successful political and business leader loved by everybody and incapable of failure.

Heathwood, it would seem, would have to grant that this is an extremely good life. It is filled with subjective desire satisfaction - with desires that P and beliefs that P - though it is a world in which P is seldom true.

However, a great many people would consider this to be a pathetic and wasted life. Yes, it would feel good, and they would admit to a desire to feel good. However, they would prefer to feel good for the right reasons.

The reason that many people find little value from the experience machine is because, if they have a desire that P, then they are motivated to realize a state in which P is true. Stepping into the experience machine is not a way to realize a state in which P is true. In fact, for most of our desires, inside the experience machine, P is false. To the degree that people have desires that cannot be fulfilled within the machine, to that degree they have no reason to act so as to choose a life in the machine.

Different people have different desires. There may well be some people whose desires are such that they do have more and stronger reasons to enter the machine.

However, this does not change the fact that many would not enter the machine. They would prefer to live in the real world. It is a world in which "A desires that P and A believes that P" is less common and requires much more work - particularly insofar as the desire that P motivates them to adopt methods where they are likely to reject the belief that P unless P is true.

However, they would still view this as the better, more meaningful life.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Primary Concern Regarding Atheism and Public Policy

Members of the Obama Administration met with representatives of atheist organizations in the White House yesterday in what some have called a historic event. It is the first time that a President has given any type of official recognition to those woh do not believe in a God and offered to listen to their (our) concerns.

It seems that my primary concern was not addressed in this meeting.

At least, the press release I received in the email did not list my primary concern.

I'm concerned about a pledge of allegiance that states and teaches young children - people who learn things at an emotional level and not simply as propositions being true or false - that the only good American is one that supports a nation under God, and that those who do not trust in God are not to be counted as good Americans.

I know the counter to this. It is not politically viable for a President to agree with atheists on either of these two issues. It would be as politically suicidal as speaking out against slavery in Georgia in 1850, or as speaking against segregation in Alabama in 1940. The political culture at those times was so steeped in bigotry and prejudice that a politician had to support bigotry and prejudice to get elected.

It is one of the nature of a democracy is that the government can never be better than the people who elected it. Democracies do not put its best people in power. It puts in power those who will enact the will of the people - without respect as to whether the people will that which is good and just or that which is evil and unjust.

However, it is still possible to express an objection to these policies in a context that respects the political facts. There is nothing wrong with saying, "We are opposed to the teaching of anti-atheist bigotry to children in the public schools and to the posting of bigoted signs in public buildings and on the currency.

"Yet, Mr. President, we recognize that in a democracy where such bigotry is so widespread we recognize that you must make a choice. You must choose between being a President who supports policies you know to be be evil and unjust, or you must choose not to be President.

"We recognize your predicament, Mr. President. And yet the political facts of the matter and the position that you must take to preserve your Presidency does not change the fact that the Pledge and the Motto as they exist were put in place for the purpose of teaching prejudice to young children. That is a fact - regardless of whether you are in a position to do something to correct that injustice or not."

Regulating the Sale of Scripture

I received an email this evening from some people apparently in Europe who do not understand the meaning of freedom of speech.

Our organization is suing the bible and the koran for sexism, homophobia, call for murder etc. . . . to support a text that would regulate the sale and distribution of those two books in Europe.

To regular readers of my blog, it is almost like a chant.

A right to freedom of speech is not a right to freedom from condemnation for what one says or writes. Indeed, condemnation is itself speech and one of those things that people have a right to.

However, a right to freedom of speech is a right to freedom from violence. It states that the only legitimate responses to words are words and private actions - those actions that one my freely perform without justifying them to anybody.

This lawsuit is a threat to use violence against people for what they say. It is a promise on the part of those who launch the lawsuit to respond to words with violence.

Lawsuits, like the ones being advanced in this email, are attempts to shut people up with threats of violence. "If you are caught saying these things that I hold ought not to be said, then people will come over intent on doing you harm and will do more harm to you if you should also decide to offer resistance."

I not only condemn the lawsuit, but I think that the people who are behind it should have known better. They should realize that any time a culture adopts a policy of using violence to shut up ideas they do not like, they will inevitably shut up some good ideas with the bad. They should also know that they are replacing argument with weapons and potential bloodshed or, at least, threats of bloodshed.

These are not good places to go and this is nowhere that a person with good desiers would want to take us.

Atheism and the Texas Arsons

It appears that an atheist book was discovered among the possessions of one of the people accused of setting fire to a number of chuches in Texas. This is apparently big news, because several headlines have reported this as the dominant and most important fact in the whole story.

Of course, this immediately became the headline and, for those who form opinions instantly upon reading headlines (the bulk of the population) this instantly reenforces a stereotype that atheists are inherently immoral, even dangerous.

This is the vicious circle of bigotry. Hatred filters the news to reenforce the hatred that filters the news.

As many writers have pointed out, this method of reporting betrays an attitude of bigotry on the part of those who write these headlines. The authors are either assuming a connection btween atheism and the arsons, or they are trying to profit from the public desire to buy (and buy into) anything that casts atheists in a bad light.

Both options are morally despicable.

Why is the presence of an atheist book so newsworty? Because obviously atheists are a dangerous and violent people and the atheist book must be the cause of their decision to set fires to these churches. These people are hate-mongers in that they are selling hatred to a public willing to buy that particular good. They do so for profit - the same way a fish monger profits by setting up a stand to profit from the selling of fish.

One possible explanation for the church arsons is that a pyromaniac and an otherewise lonely and vulnerable friend wanted an excuse to set some fires. They wanted a target that they could cast in their own minds as deserving of this type of treatment. They put aside concerns for the well-being of people who might be inside the buildings because their interest in the fire was more important than their interest in the well-being of other people.

Because most people are religious, people with these types of psychological problems tend to find the justification for their actions in religious scripture. This is simply a matter of playing the odds. If a person wants to see their hateful or violent acts justified, they will naturally turn to the most widely accepted forms of justificaiton within a community. In a religious community, they will tend to look for evidence of justification in religious text. If the text has passages telling them that they may aim their hatred towards homosexuals or atheists, then homosexuals and atheists become the target.

However, as atheism itself becomes more legitimate, then we can expect more and more of these people to find justification for their actions in the writings of atheists. For somebody seeking an excuse that makes his dispositions to hatred or violence seem legitimate, the widespread acceptance of the message that religion is evil and society would be better off by getting rid of it provides them with a potential target.

These are simple psychological facts. Those types of people exist and will seek justification for their actions in the dominant views of the day regardless of what those views are - regardless of whether they are theistic or atheistic, for example.

Responsible writers pay attention to these types of facts in their writing. They ask themselves if they are making claims that such a person could use, and they make sure to add reasons why no good person would make such a connection.

"The right to freedom of speech is not a right to an immunity from criticism. It is, however, a right to immunity from violence."