Monday, May 19, 2008

Apologetics and Morality

Due to the arrival of a new atheist in the world, the whole Lord's Prayer nonsense slipped me by. For those not living in Ontario (that's in Canada), the Premier of the province launched a discussion in to removing the Lord's Prayer from the opening exercises of Parliament.

A number of people jumped on this as "political correctness" and "radical atheism". Personally, I was surprised they were still doing this in Parliament. We stopped doing it in our schools sometime in the early 90s - partly out of a sense of religious equality and partly because it was an empty gesture recited by almost no one.

My objection to the Lord's Prayer in a Parliament is that it contains a pledge that the "will" of God will be done on Earth. A quick read through of almost any part of the bible will reveal that the Christian God has some very dangerous "wills" that have no business driving government policy.

I got in to an argument with a gentleman who goes by the name of "Flaggman" here.

There are any number of examples of capricious behaviours but the one I picked, the most morally disgusting story I could think of, was that of Abraham and Isaac. You can read the discussion thread yourselves. Try to ignore the invocation of Hitler and Stalin. I almost managed to do so.

What's interesting is not so much the specific arguments but the way that the devout believer with whom I was arguing went about arguing. (There's no question of what's going on in Genesis 22. Abraham is rewarded by God for his willingness to mindlessly set his innocent son on fire.) The interesting part is the amount of rationalization that was involved in trying to make this story somehow a moral lesson.

First, it was rationalized as a lesson against human sacrifice.

There being no biblical support for this, I was then accused of having a shallow understanding of religion.

Then the story of Isaac was supposed to mean that we have to "spiritually" commit our children to God.

When no evidence could be found of this story being anything less than a literal tale of Abraham's life with a literal willingness to slay a child, it was my fault for not understanding the implied symbolism of any literature at all.

I'm not rehashing this for the purpose of mockery, but to point something out. When religious people go to these lengths to rationalize a totally immoral lesson in to a moral one, they are really just hammering home one of the finer points that I've tried to make since I became an atheist:
You don't need a deity or a religion to be moral. You already know right from wrong.

Of course it's wrong to set a living child on fire. The fact that there's a biblical story that rewards a man for being willing to do so forces the believers to try to reconcile this with their own independant, non-religious, moral centres.

The question is this: if the bible and the deities and religions that go with it are all that give you morality, how did you know that setting your son on fire was wrong?

It's because you have a moral centre.

Now get rid of that crutch you're using, get your eyes on the horizon and start walking properly for the first time in your life.

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John Wilson said...

Sorry for butting in on your thread - your logic was sound, and Flaggman's irrational rationalization irked me enough to throw in my two cents - you didn't need my defense and I think I just ended up sinking to his level but anyway... nicely done.

Greg said...

No need to apologize. I hadn't seen Flaggman's rebuttal of Avi Lewis, but it was interesting that he engages in rational discourse on non-religious topics (though I'd likely disagree with him).

It was his comparative rationalization of this subject that made the whole point for me. He knew that "God" couldn't have meant that! Therefore, he had to work around it ... find some excuse.

Cognitive dissonance is how a lot of atheists are made. It's second only to childbirth for that purpose.