Thursday, September 23, 2010

Morality in the Real World: Episode 2

Luke has posted Episode 2 of our joint podcast, Morality in the Real World on his site. You can get to it at:

Morality in the Real World 02: God is Not the Ground for Morality

I would also like to add that every fifth episode will be a question-and-answer episode so, if you have a question, leave a comment on Luke's site or call the number he provides and leave it on voice mail. Make sure it is relevant to the specific material covered in the episodes. We may include it in the Q&A episode.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Evil of Complimentary Overgeneralizations

I have quite frequently complained about the bigotry of atheist writers who make "derogatory overgeneralizations" about religion - taking denigrating facts about some small segment of theists and applying them to all theists in order to promote a hatred of theism in general.

There is, however, a similar form of bigotry that I have not written about, but which involves roughly the same type of thinking.

This involves making complimentary overgeneralizations - to speak about all theists in positive terms.

At a basic level, this represents the very same evil as the bigotry that I expressed earlier. While the former has the effect of tarnishing theists who are not guilty of the wrongdoings assigned with the stain of actions they did not commit, the latter compliments those who are guilty by painting them in glowing colors they do not deserve.

I am referring to comments such as this:

So far I hope the general public is waking up to two ideas. First, that Catholicism is a beautiful religion with, at its core, the idea that we should all love and help each other, and although there is deep disagreement within its ranks about a few core issues, these – in time – will be resolved.

(See: Ed West, Papal visit: Romophobes, atheist extremism and Nazis)

The fact is that "Catholicism" represents a wide range of beliefs - and some of them are quite despicable. Far from being a "beautiful religion" is it a cornerstone for lessons on bigotry and hatred, and for the teaching of ideals that lead to widespread death and destruction.

Some Catholics are decent people. Some are hate-mongering bigots or advocates of a religious primitivism that still carries echoes of the Dark Ages.

If it is wrong for an atheist to take the evils of the latter sort and paint all Catholics with that brush - effectively making the bigoted assumption that all Catholics are alike, it is equally wrong to theists to take the goods of the former sort and paint all Catholics with that brush.

Catholicism is not "a beautiful religion". It is a spectrum of religions - and some of (but not all) of the elements of that spectrum are quite putrid.

To refuse to acknowledge that fact is to fail to correct those failings - to allow the evil to hide behind the skirts of the good, and to use the good as a shield for deflecting much deserved criticism.

"How dare you criticize me. I am religious - just like them! That, alone, should be enough to protect me from your wrath."

Because of its ability to hide evils that should be confronted and eliminated, complimentary overgeneralizations are no less bigoted, in their own way, than derogatory overgeneralizations.

The proper trick to use in both of these cases is to speak specifically, of the specific claims and actions of specific people, and to resist the urge both for complimentary and for derogatory overgeneralizations and for the evils that either find protection or promotion by these two forms of rhetorc.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Morality in the Real World

Luke Muehlhauser, over at Common Sense Atheism and I are creating a series of podcasts to describe Desirism (a.k.a. Desire Utilitarianism) from the ground up.

You can find a link to a podcast index and access to the podcasts at Morality in the Real World

Morality in the Real World is a series of dialogues about what kinds of moral value do and do not exist in the natural world, how we can examine these issues carefully, and how we can (really) make the world a better place.

This is actually the project that I wanted to do for a long time - to describe desirism from the ground up in detail. And - truth be told - is a project that I would have never been able to do without the significant efforts of somebody like Luke providing a level of quality control and discipline I have seemed to be lacking.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Defense of Indiscriminate Violence?

The most recent comment I received to my posting on burning the Koran has come from a severely morally challenged individual.

First, note that my previous post was in opposition to the practice of responding to private actions with promises or indiscriminate violence in response to private actions when even discriminate violence is evil.

In that case, what does this commenter think he is doing? DEFENDING indiscriminate violence?

He starts with....

Liberal democracy is the utmost of aim of species that the U.S claims to have and claims that it has a wholly liberal democratic government. Does the end of the world and history conclude in the U.S?

So, we are starting with a premise that is so far from fact it can only be accepted as such by somebody wholly accustomed to embracing fiction as truth.

These statements are paradigm examples of what I have called hate-mongering bigotry. The author seeks to market or sell hatred of a whole group of people and to do so employing the technique of making derogatory overgeneralizations. In this case, the target is “liberal democracy” and “the US” – and the marketing tool is to make claims that all its members are guilty of some set of crimes, ignoring the fact of disagreement and even condemnation by some of the members of the target group.

Even though there are a great many people in the group he has targeted for hatred who do not agree with, and who even condemn what he has selected to use in his marketing campaign, that doesn't matter. Hatred is the goal, and neither truth, reason, nor justice will get in the way.

Of course, one of the common objectives of marketing hatred is to market the legitimacy of indiscriminate violence against the target group. All of them. So, any denigrating qualities have to be overgeneralized to cover the whole group.

We can clearly see the author's love of hate in his statement about "reopen and research about the holocaust case." This person is obviously unwilling to allow the evidence determine his beliefs. He is going to let his love of hatred dictate his beliefs and the "evidence" that will be used to support it.

[W]hat kind of Liberal democracy is this that doesn’t even allow anyone to reopen and research about the Holocaust case?! And according to this case and religious lie, every year hundreds of Muslims are sentenced to death.

This person is truly not living in the real world – and it would be wrong to condemn all Muslims because this person represents all Muslims. He represents one deluded individual.

In that context, I realize that nothing I can say will change that reader's mind. That which does not support his hate will be dismissed. No doubt, I have either been brainwashed or I am a co-conspirator in whatever delusions the author has dreamed up.

Yet, it is still possible to use his letter to illustrate some important points.

One of those points is the rhetorical practice of using the wrongs done by others as justification for being just like the people one condemns.

We saw this in the protests to the Park51 complex (or whatever its name is this week). some people sought to actually defend their protest by pointing out that Saudi Arabia does not permit the construction of Christian churches at all in its country.

How does that argument work? Are you saying that this religious bigotry represents moral virtue and we should seek to match their greatness by adopting religious bigotry in America?

The only moral conclusion to draw from the wrongness of Saudi Arabian bigotry is to resolve to be better than they are by refusing to accept that type of bigotry in America.

I am of the opinion that it would be wrong to move the Park51 complex because it is important that the bigots not win - that they not score any victories in the name of bigotry.

But this so-called liberal government allows any kind of insult to the holy book of Quran. And under the names of liberalism and freedom of speech, and with the aid of its police, offends more than one billion Muslims around the world.

Yes. That is how freedom of speech works. Just as you have the freedom to condemn me and my beliefs, I have the freedom to condemn you and yours.

You want his so-called 'respect' to be a one-way street, where anybody who criticizes you and your beliefs is ripe for slaughter, but they must passively accept any and all criticism you make of theirs.

As for the 'ripe for slaughter' comment, I remind the reader that what I wrote about in my last post and what provides the context for this discussion is the practice of responding to private actions with promises of indiscriminate violence. And I did not condemn 'Islam' - I condemned how it is practiced in some morally backwards and barbaric parts of the world.

This falls under the moral crime of hypocrisy. You want to be treated as special – given to moral rules that apply to you and you alone but which you are not willing to grant to others.

Do you want to deny the charge of hypocrisy? Of demanding some sort of moral favoritism?

Tell me, if I were to discover that some Muslims in Ryadh who objected to something that I wrote printed off copies of this blog and burned them, would you then conclude that this was wrong and I was morally justified in blowing up a public bus in Medina?

Of course not. You’re a moral hypocrite. Whatever morality you have discovered in your religious text, apparently they seem to include sanctioning indiscriminate violence for private acts, hypocrisy, and hate-mongering bigotry in its list of morally permissible – even praiseworthy – characteristics.

There is no law of respect that covers hate-mongering bigotry, hypocrisy, or indiscriminate acts off violence in response to private actions. There can be no respect for these things among civilized people. Civilized people must condemn these things and for Islam to be a civilized religion is practitioners must find support for these principles somewhere in its doctrine.

Those factions of Islam that embrace hate-mongering bigotry, hypocrisy, and indiscriminate violence in response to private actions cannot claim to be following a civilized religion or one worthy of respect.

The right to freedom of speech is not a right to immunity from condemnation. It is a right to immunity from violence in response to speech acts such as the burning of a legitimately acquired book.

NONE OF US have a right to immunity from criticism. NONE OF US have a right to respond to criticism with violence. Those who believe they have such a right are a threat to peace.

I want to close this post by reminding my readers that some Muslims do recognize that there is no moral legitimacy in responding to private acts with violence. While they condemn the burning of the Koran they also condemn violent responses to those who would burn the Koran. Nor do they condone hypocrisy or moral favoritism, nor do they condone hate-mongering bigotry whether practiced against Muslims or when practiced by fellow Muslims against others.

This post is not a complaint against Islam. It is a complaint against hypocritical hate-mongering bigots of all religious beliefs.

Including atheists, by the way.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Burn Koran Day - A Somewhat Different Focus

There is an aspect of this "International Burn the Koran Day" that is not getting the attention that I think it merits.

At this point, a lot of people are getting worked up over the fact that this Koran burning will be a "recruitment field day for Al-Queida" and that it will "Put American troops in danger."

The question not being asked is, "What type of people would do this?"

Some hate-mongering bigot in Florida is going to burn a Koran, so, as a result, these people are going to join a cult that murders innocent people.

Let's be honest about one thing. It's not just American troops in Afghanistan who are being put in danger. You and I are having our lives threatened. These recruits that will be inspired by Terry Jones' action are going to be looking for ways to destroy the airplanes that you and I will be flying in, or destroying the buildings that you and I will be working in. They are going to be trying to kill us, our families, our children, our neighbor's children, all because some hate-mongering bigot in Florida burned a pile of books.

Sometimes you have to pay attention to these types of threats. If you are enjoying a pizza in the park with your 10-year-old son, and some guy comes up with a gun and says, "Give me the pizza or I will blow the kid's brains all over the table," you can enter into a discussion with them over the finer points of property rights. And you can stubbornly refuse on the bases that he has no moral right to take the pizza.

Or you can give him your pizza and figure out how to get this maniac off of the streets as soon as your kid is safe.

Just to be clear, I am entirely opposed to the book burning - in part because it is a book burning and only intellectual cowards will destroy rather than confront the ideas they think are mistaken. In part I oppose it because it is hate-mongering bigotry of the same type that is responsible for the Park51 protests and, in fact, of the same type that made the 9-11 attacks possible.

It is NOT the case that burning these books is as innocent an act as eating a pizza with one's kid. It is more akin to attending a KKK meeting - and having somebody who objects to the meeting threaten to blow the brains out of some innocent child he picked up in a nearby town if the KKK meeting isn't stopped.

But let's not forget to ask the question - what type of person would threaten to kill and maim innocent people to stop something that they find objectionable that is, itself non-violent?

We are never going to live in a safe and civilized society if it is filled with people whose morality allows them to get their way in all things by threatening to kill innocent people.

And as long as we throw our support to those who threaten to maim and murder innocent people unless we meet their demands, we can expect to find the practice of threatening to maim and murder innocent people becoming more and more popular.

At this moment, the only people I hear willing to say something of the form, "Threatening to kill innocent people in order to get your way regarding the burning of the Koran is wrong," are the members of the hate-mongering bigot in Florida.

For the most part, we are all being told we must take sides. We have the hate-mongering book-burning bigot cult in Florida on the one side, and a different religious cult whose members who think it's perfectly permissible to force others to do what they want by threatening to maim and kill innocent people on the other.

And we have to choose.

Which side do you want to be on?

Not that the members of the threaten to maim and murder innocent people cult are particularly averse to destroying the icons of other religions. The Taliban, after all, blew up 1500-year-old statues without a thought to the concerns of the rest of the world. Though, admittedly, the rest of the world - the civilized world - did not threaten to maim and murder innocent people if the statues were destroyed.

(See: Wikipedia, Buddhas of Bamyan)

Somebody should be asking the moral question, "What types of people are these that they are making these kinds of threats?"

And somebody should be pointing out to them, "Hey, civilized people don't make death threats even against the people who burn books - let alone threaten to maim and kill innocent people (including children) - as a way to impose their will on others. That type of behavior is, to say the least, primitive and barbaric."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

James Lee, Discovery Headquarters Terrorist and Atheist

It appears that a some nutball atheist has committed an act of terrorism.

It is easy to imagine what would have appeared on atheist blogs if James Lee, who took hostages in the Discovery Channel headquarters, had issued demands that the station change its programming to provide more "creationist" or other fundamentalist religious programming.

A substantial number of atheist blogs would have then written posts saying, "See how evil religion is that it is responsible for stuff like this."

However, it seems that James Lee was an atheist - somebody quite convinced that, on Darwinian and Malthusian terms, we are sewing the seeds of our own destruction and who wanted to put an end to it. So, without any promise of an afterlife or a heavenly reward, he took matters into his own hands and performed a terrorist act.

So, instead of atheist sites blaming "religion" for this crime, we have theist sites blaming "Darwinism".

And how are the atheists going to respond to this accusation?

They are probably going to accuse those who want to blame all of atheism for this crime that the theists are guilty of making bigoted, derogatory overgenearlizations - that many atheists would never endorse and certainly never commit this type of act. Many would, in fact, use these derogatory overgeneralizations as proof of the immoral nature of religious people in general, that they cannot think straight about these issues and cast blame only on those who are guilty.

None of them will think of taking their response and holding it up as a mirrir where it reflects on their own writings on similar issues where somebody performs some act while ranting about "God".

As atheism becomes more and more common, more and more acts such as this will be put in atheist terms and fewer will be put into religious terms, simply because these types of people with these types of problems must borrow from the ideas that permeate their society.

If that society is substantially religious, then these type of people will wrap their acts in religious terms. If their society is mostly atheist, they will wrap their acts in atheist terms. At least, this is a quite plausible interpretation unless and until somebody can come up with proof that there is an actual cause-and-effect to be had.

But people are not waiting around for scientific proof of an established causes and effects. They are rushing past that step and going straight to, "Person performed acts of violence mentioned God/Darwin. This just proves the moral bankruptcy of all of religion/atheism."

So, let's say we give up this practice of blaming all of religion for every crime committed by somebody who mentions "God", and save our criticism for those people who blame all of atheism or Darwin for every crime committed by somebody who does not mention God?