Thursday, January 07, 2010

Atheist Charity: Teaching Virtue

In doing some online research about the relationship between religious belief and charity, I found a statistic that makes a lot of sense in a desire-utilitarian framework.

People who, as children, are regularly taken into a social environment where the virtue of charity is praised and practiced are more likely to become charitable adults. Even if that child grows up to reject religion - to become an atheist - she will, on average, be a significantly more charitable atheist than the atheist raised by atheist or antipatheist (one who does not care whether a god exists or not) parents who never exposed their child to such an environment.

It is unfortunate that so many of those institutions that teach children the virtue of charity also teaches them contempt for others (homosexuals, atheists), encourages them to devote energies destructive towards their happiness, and teaches contempt for evidence and reason. However, those institutions are not to be faulted for their ability to teach charity.

These results are the results that desirism would predict. If you raise a child and expose them to an environment in which certain qualities are praised and others condemned, then the child will more likely (not guaranteed) grow into an adult who desires those things that were praised and who are averse to those things that were condemned.

The child who is taken religiously (pun intended) into an environment where charity is praised will become an adult who desires to perform charitable acts. The child who is raised by parents who stay home and engage in self-indulgence all weekend will more likely become self-indulgent adults.

Religions have been around for a long time. The vast majority of those religions that have been invented have since gone extinct. What we are dealing with now is a set of religions that have been tested and have proven themselves fit. These are the religions that have survived.

It would be irrational to look at the qualities that these religions have and reject all of them simply because they are associated with religion. Reason suggests that we take a look at what religion does, try to discover what it does that is worthwhile and what it does that is harmful, copy that which is worthwhile, and abandon that which is harmful. Reason suggests that we take those people who argue, "That is what religious people do, so we should condemn it," and look on them as people who are responding to the facts irrationally.

The practice of leading children on a regular basis into an environment where certain virtues are praised and vices condemned is one of the things that religions does well. Many of them to a particularly poor job of picking out what are, in fact, virtues and vices - identifying as virtues some traits that are not worthy of the title and condemning as vice some traits that should not be condemned. However, they do have a very effective way of passing those beliefs on to the next generation - and the next - and the next.

Which is probably one of the main reasons why we are still dealing with those institutions today.

It would be wise for atheist parents to set up groups that they drag children to (against the child's will) where the children are coerced into listening to lessons describing particular virtues and vices, where they will be expected to help participate in charitable behavior and other activities that exhibit virtues and warned against behavior that exhibits vices, and thus formed into adults who will be better members of their community than those children might otherwise have become.

These practices may very well explain why theists are more charitable than atheists on average.

It may also explain, in some cases, depending on the church, why they are more prone to hatred towards particular subgroups and why they share such a disrespect for reason and evidence. In all cases, these were the values that they were taught in this setting, and these are the traits that they carry with them into adulthood.

A similar institution that did a better job of distinguishing virtue from vice should be expected to have a better overall effect - raising children who not only become more charitable adults, but more tolerant and rational as well.


John Doe said...

Wow. Just WOW! You substitute a moron to write your last post?

"prone to hatred towards particular subgroups"? What is this, make up a lie and act as though it is as plain as the nose on your face day? That's like me saying atheists seem to enjoy cooking and eating their toddlers. I'm sure it has happened somewhere, some time, so I'll just paint all atheists with that brush.

And "they share disrespect for reason and evidence."

Why not tell it like it really is: you dimwitted atheists hate people who disagree with you, so you paint them as hatemongerers and imbeciles.

I've already seen enough of your writings to see the contempt that drips off your pen for global warming deniers. You think them a harm to the world, a blight on society, and worthy of condemnation. Just because they disagree with you.

While I don't hate homosexuals, I consider what they do to be morally wrong. Just as I consider what necrophiliacs, animal abusers, those in incestuous relationships, and those who practice beastiality. HOPEFULLY, you "hate" at least some of the practices of the latter group.

If you hate some of the latter groups, and since we know you hate global warming deniers, then you practice "hatred towards particular subgroups" the same as you condemn in Christians. (If you don't hate for instance animal abusers and necrofiliacs, then you are just one sick individual.)

And if you, too, practice "hatred towards particular subgroups" then you are no better than those you condemn. All you really are saying is that they don't hate the same particular subgroups as you. In essence your disagreement with them just devolves into an opinion: In your OPINION Christians "hate" the wrong subgroups because they should only hate the subgroups that Alphonzo The Great hates, and leave the others alone because Alphonzo The Great says so.

"Hate who I hate and no more" sayeth The Great Alphonzo! Snicker. Maybe some of the lightweights who read your blog can be snowed into accepting Alphonzo The Great's opinion as the Gospel, but it won't work out in the real world.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

John Doe

In this case, your response is entirely dishonest.

I specifically and deliberately wrote:

It may also explain, in some cases, depending on the church, why they are more prone to hatred towards particular subgroups...

This is an accusation that I have also made about certain atheist subgroups.

However, the important and relevant difference is that I did not make any blanket statement that applied to all people who believe in God or even all Christians. Whereas you drew a comparison to a statement about all atheists.

Furthermore, you edited your quote to (starting with the word 'prone') specifically for the purpose of excluding that part of the statement that would have revealed your lie.

And did so for the purpose of committing (or, at best, with no interest in preventing) an act of bearing false witness.

John Doe said...

Here, allow me: It may also explain, in some cases, depending on the group of atheists, why they are more prone to hatred towards particular subgroups and why they share such a disrespect for reason and evidence. In all cases, these were the values that they were taught in this setting, and these are the traits that they carry with them into adulthood. How does that make you feel when it is said about atheists?

[Need examples? How about Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao.]

I don't know any Christians who hate subgroups and who share disrespect for reason and evidence. Christians are specifically admonished not to hate, and to love their enemies. Sounds to me like you are talking about people who only claim to be Christians. Hell, they might be godless heathen pretending to be Christians just to give Christians a bad name. Identify these groups of which you speak. Methinks you are constructing a straw man, er a straw church.

Eneasz said...

How does that make you feel when it is said about atheists?

That's entirely correct. Alonzo often says basically exactly what you just did. In fact he did so just a few days back. Your caricature is getting really transparent dude, you can't expect us to be fooled if you pretend to not read the blog you're trolling. Not even an actual idiot could pull that off.

I don't know any Christians who hate subgroups and who share disrespect for reason and evidence.

Yes, I compare prostitutes, I.V. (illegal) drug users and homosexuals.


and who share disrespect for reason and evidence.

I do not believe that there is sufficient proof that say, reptiles evolved into birds.

Your own words, a few hours ago. :) I see what you did there tho, and that actually was pretty funny!

Emu Sam said...

Eneasz, I think you might be right about John Poe.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

John Doe

The fundamental difference is the issue of consent.

Neither a corpse nor a young child nor an animal can become a legitimate party to a contract.

It is absurd to hold that contracts should only be permissible between a man and a woman, and not between two men or two women because, if we permit binding contracts between two men and two women, we would then have to permit binding contracts between adults and corpses, young children, and animals.

dbonfitto said...

John Doe,

Oh, I'm sorry, the answer we were looking for was, "They both have extremely thick skulls." So no bonus points for you, but we do have a lovely copy of our home game and a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat!

If I was politically, correct, I'd call you a bigot. Alonzo, who seems to be unfailingly polite and respectful, will probably think of you as a bigot. Personally, I prefer the traditional term, handed down from generation to generation in my culture. I'll call you a jackass.

Justus Hommes said...

John Doe,

If you are commanded to love your enemies, then why don't you start doing so? The church is full of adulterers, addicts, cheaters, frauds, thieves, violent abusers, and yes, perverts. All are imperfect, and you are explicitly violating Christ's commands by singling out one sin, judging others and focusing on the speck in their eye while ignoring the log in your own. No one cares whether you think homosexuality is perverted, and you are an idiot if you don't see the differences between consensual and coercive acts and how they should be handled differently in society, regardless of your moral beliefs.

That said, Alonzo is guilty of building straw men arguments. The people who make up the church are those that make up the un-churched, the only distinction being that those who voluntarily seek out the church believe they need spiritual help to overcome their imperfect selves. It would be nice to think that as soon as people reach out to religion or to the church for help, their lives transform into perfect reflections of their faith, but such is not the case. In non-religious terms, look at all those that go through (drug, sex, relationship, mental, etc.) rehabilitation and treatment programs with all the intentions of change only to find themselves relapsing. So it is with humans, in and out of the church.

Are there those that rise above and truly change? Can church and religion help? Has the church evolved ahead of the curve of general society in most instance to lead the way on morality, civil, and human rights? I believe so. But we remain a society and people of relapses, and for every surge forward, there are often painful steps backward.

Alonzo, you continue to shape your opinion and writings on religion and the church on the visible relapses and those who hold back the full radical force and revolutionary truth of Christ's message of love. And the thing is, I can't really blame you, as in all other aspects of life, I tend to be heavily skeptical.

With respects to the original post, acting with charity has several functions. First, it is a steps towards rehabbing the "old self" and realizing life is not all about the temporal self. Second, it serves as a witness to God's "work" to others. Third, it is an act of community, neighborly love without borders. I don't know how you replicate the multifunctional purpose of charity this in a purely secular environment.

John Doe said...

Alonzo, I fully understand the "consent" argument, but I believe that you miss my point. All of the names that homosexual advocates use to describe those of us who believe that homosexuality is immoral can be applied to the homosexual advocates and their beliefs towards necropheliacs and pedophiles. You are "bigots" and pedophobes and necrophobes.

And all of the pro-homosexual arguments can in turn be used by the necros and the pedos.

"I can't help it, I was booooorn this way. I just love corpses, always have..."

"Why do you deny 'civil rights' to those men who want to marry 10 yr old boys? Aren't we people too. I love my horse, we've been in a 'committed relationship' for ten years. You DO want to encourage such relationships, don't you???"

And the pro-homo crowd is reduced to replying with such "arguments" as, "well, we disagree with you. We believe that your actions are immoral, and that settles it."

The "consent" requirement is just where you and those like you choose to draw the line.

You say that a child nor a corpse nor an animal can enter a contract. That's because of the way that society chooses to define a contract. But that argument is no different than the anti-gay marriage arguement: Society has for centuries defined "marriage" as the union of one man and one woman. I get it, people want to redefine marriage, but people also want to redefine the age of consent (ever heard of NAMBLA?) and they want to have sex with animals and corpses.

In the end, all you have to say to them is no, we disagree with you. And THAT is my point: it doesn't make you a bigot, or an asshole, or a bad person, it just means that you draw the line differently than they do. If you can at least see that point, then it tends to cause you to not demonize those of us who view homosexuals the same way that you view necrophiliacs and pedophiles.

Justus Hommes, nice try, but you are really making a silly argument. I don't "hate" homosexuals any more than I do adulterers or thieves. They are all equally (or at least equivalently) morally wrong.

The reason I seem to spend more time opposing homosexuals is because they advocate that homosexuality is moral. You do not generally see thieves claiming that it is moral to steal--they slink about and try not to get caught. Likewise, adulterers hide their actions, then act repentent when they get caught. See, e.g., Sen Edwards and Tiger Woods. The first step towards repentence is to realize that what you are doing is morally wrong.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

You say that a child nor a corpse nor an animal can enter a contract. That's because of the way that society chooses to define a contract.

So, do you hold that the difference between rape and consentual sex, or between theft and borrowing, between assault with a deadly weapon and surgery, all rest on a purely arbitrary distinction.

I hold that this difference is grounded on reason. It is grounded on whether it is reasonable to believe whether the state of affairs that will result from an act will conform to the interests of all of those who will be affected.

You have no right to assume that I will consent to give you $500. You must ask. If I say 'no', then it would be an act of theft for you to take the money. If I am incapable of giving informed consent, due to being unconscious or mentally impaired or then you must assume that the answer is 'no' unless and until I am competent to give some other answer.

Corpses, animals, and young children are not competent to give a fully informed answer to the question of whether they wish to participate in such activities. As such, the answer shall be assumed to be 'no' until the agent is in a state where the agent can give a competent answer. With respect to corpses and animals, this will never happen. With respect to children, it happens with adulthood.

Otherwise, we risk living in a state where people routinely perform actions harmful to others - fulfilling their desires at the expense of those who lack the capacity to give informed consent as to how the state relates to their own wishes. We have reason to avoid denigrating into such a state, so we have reason to institute the doctrine of consent in determining whether certain actions shall be permitted or condemned.

John Doe said...

Alonzo, I am not disputing that your version of morality "makes sense" and is founded on a certain logic. I'm using your "logic" against you: I think it breaks down in the case of necrofiliacs and those who have sex with animals.

Certainly, the dead can make their consent known re the disposition of their property after death. Are you saying that if they "consent" to having their corpse be used as a sex object that it is morally acceptable then for necrophelia? People can and do dictate their desires as to how their corpses are treated after death. Burial or cremation, organ donor or body donated to medical school for use as a cadaver. Is there some special reason why they can't donate their body for use as a sex object?

And are you arguing that it would be morally acceptable for humans to have sex with animals so long as they consent? We don't typically need "consent" from our animals as to how we treat them. The only restriction is that we cannot treat them cruelly. To put a crude point on it, so long as the horse seems to enjoy it, is that morally acceptable? Why do you draw the line at sex? People can keep their dogs on a leash, and pen up their animals, against their "consent." Is there some special rule that applies to sex that does not apply to other ways that we treat our animals?

According to your "logic" what "harm" is done by having sex with a corpse or to animals (that seem to enjoy it)? To me, it seems as though you believe that such acts are morally reprehensible per se, but you are straining to find some logical reason to back up your belief.