Thursday, June 05, 2008

One more time

The Other Hitchens (Peter, not Christopher) on atheism:
Once people don't acknowledge any moral authority outside themselves, they can choose which rules to take seriously and which not to entirely according to their own feelings at any time. ...

There's no rational point, really, in being good in circumstances where being good gets you knifed. It's an irrational act — unless you have been taught to recognise the importance of absolute good.
Sigh. Where to begin?

God doesn't get you to absolute good. It gets you only to a good relative to what God wants. And, amazingly enough, God always wants what the theists want according to their own feelings at any time. And, of course, God doesn't exist, so basing our moral beliefs on the capricious desires of a non-existent being is stupid.

If being "good" really is irrational, what precisely does one mean by "good"? It must mean an act that has absolutely no benefit to the individual whatsoever, concrete or abstract, short or long term. An irrational act cannot have any benefit. If there's some benefit, then the act is a rational means to producing that benefit. The only work this sort of notion of irrational absolute good does is to enable exploitation: to convince someone else to act in my benefit without offering her a compensating benefit in return.

Peter contradicts himself:
One of the key features of atheism is that atheists themselves are unable to grasp this point. We're just as good as religious people, they respond, if not better. Maybe so. Religious people who understand their creeds know perfectly well that they're no better than anyone else. That's not the issue. What is?
I'm still in the dark. If Christians and atheists as individuals are about equally morally good, then in what sense are atheists undermining the "general good"? If the general good is worth having, then it has individual benefit, and it's rational for individual atheists to promote it. If the "general good" doesn't have individual benefit, then in what sense is it the general good?

What Peter seems to miss is authority, the authority of the priesthood. That's the only moral belief that atheists decisively reject. And for good reason: The priesthood is just as prone to the corruption of authority as any other group of human beings.

Priests are perhaps even more susceptible to corruption. Even the worst secular tyrant has to make the trains run on time. (Mussolini was hanged in no small part because he failed to do so.) But an ecclesiastical tyrant, especially one beholden to the apocalyptic scripture that is the Christian bible, doesn't have even that constraint. A secular tyrant can only kill and torture in this life. An ecclesiastical tyrant can threaten eternal damnation; if he's believed, he has more power than any secular tyrant can even dream of.

(h/t to a doofus by way of James F. Elliott)

4 comments:

  1. This is why I didn't address Hitchens' point but rather used the thread as my own inspiration for a different question. I am so tired of treading ground that Socrates blazed three thousand years ago.

    But yes, I drew the same conclusion: it is the atheists' intimation that perhaps we are our own authority that shocks Hitchens.

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  2. Loved this post.

    God doesn't get you to absolute good. It gets you only to a good relative to what God wants. And, amazingly enough, God always wants what the theists want according to their own feelings at any time. And, of course, God doesn't exist, so basing our moral beliefs on the capricious desires of a non-existent being is stupid.

    QFT

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  3. So, atheists are bound to be mistaken about right and wrong, because they're only human, but Christians' powers of moral perception are 100% accurate, despite the same handicap?

    Those who claim knowledge of absolute morality are implying that they are intellectually infallible (in the area of ethics at least). Not a shred of humility there.

    And if Peter doesn't think "God given" standards of ethical behavior change over time, he really ought to read his Bible. I doubt he'd want to live amongst the moral puritans of the Leviticus era.

    PH is typical of those who pronounce moral standards according to religious authority: they want to claim their views are correct without doing any heavy philosophical lifting, while declaring their position immune from criticism.

    And he confuses legal authority with moral authority when he talks about godfathers and gangs without, apparently, realizing those types are as likely to wear miters as fedoras.

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  4. Good post. It's strange how believers need right and wrong to be commanded and absolute...

    ReplyDelete

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