Friday, August 13, 2010

Billy Graham is right

Billy Graham said, "a true atheist has no real reason to believe in right and wrong or to behave sacrificially toward others." He is correct, although being — like all Christian leaders* — a lying sack of shit, he leaves out important qualifications. A true atheist** really does have no real reason to believe in objective right and wrong, and has no reason to behave sacrificially without any compensation in this world towards others.

*Christian followers, in contrast, are usually ignorant dupes.
**With some additional qualifications that follow from a skeptical, empirical metaphysical system.

Objectively true propositions are by definition true without regard to the subjective preferences of people evaluating the truth of the proposition. Even if everyone thought it was completely terrible that people got cancer (and they do), even if everyone thought it was absolutely impossible to get cancer, people would still get cancer. "Cancer exists" is objectively true, whether we like it or not, and whether we believe it or not.

What Billy Graham would like you to believe is that there are reasons to believe in objective right and wrong, moral beliefs that are true regardless of anyone's subjective preferences. If, for example, homosexuality were* objectively wrong, then it would simply be irrelevant that a substantial portion of the human race finds homosexual activity pleasurable and satisfying, and that homosexuality** does no one else any material harm.


*Updated 8 Mar 2012 from "is" to emphasize the counterfactual subjunctive.
**With the uncontroversial conditions of safety, sanity and consent that apply to
all sexual activity.

In contrast, we consider stealing to be wrong because we subjectively want to keep our stuff: we all mostly agree there is considerable subjective benefit to having stuff immediately at hand, and there is considerable subjective harm when our stuff goes missing. We don't need any sense of objective right and wrong to object to stealing: we can rely entirely on our subjective preferences. (Note that communism, which tends to be "anti-property", is not about not having stuff immediately at hand, it is about particular ways to more efficiently allow more people to keep more stuff immediately at hand.)

One could, of course, make a purely subjective case against homosexuality: one could argue that just the thought of other people having buttsecs causes him severe subjective distress. While this is a valid subjectivist argument, it's not going to be at all persuasive: the response is just going to be, "Get over yourself, you bigoted asshole, and mind your own damn business." The only way to avoid this obvious response is to claim not just that one personally dislikes homosexuality, but that homosexuality is objectively wrong, without regard to anyone's subjective preferences, "If it were up to me, I wouldn't care, honest! It's just that God doesn't like homosexuality. Yeah right.

(To be fair, the process of legally and socially privileging some preferences a posteriori is non-trivial, and beyond the intellectual comprehension of even most atheists and skeptics; religious people, who tend to be either profoundly stupid or capable of amazing feats of self-deception, don't have much of a chance. C'est la vie.)

Similarly, Graham wants his followers to make sacrifices without any compensation in this world. There are sacrifices and there are sacrifices: I'm happy to "sacrifice" my ability to arbitrarily take other people's stuff without fear of reprisal for the larger compensation of keeping my own stuff immediately at hand. But Graham wants his ignorant sheep to sacrifice their material well-being and their happiness, to receive nothing in return, at least not in this world.

There is only one reasonable underlying motive for promoting such a view: to allow a "boot in the face" morality, to justify actively oppressing and brutalizing at least some people. We do not need God, indeed we do not need any conception of objective morality to justify wanting to be happy, and it doesn't take all that much brain power to realize that (apart from a few sociopathic or sadistic assholes) each of us will be happier if all of us are happier.

Billy Graham is indeed correct: an atheist has no reason to believe it's objectively true that Billy Graham and his bigoted followers should deny happiness and fulfillment to millions of homosexual people. An atheist has no reason to believe it's objectively true that a woman should be a slave to her husband, her father, and her uterus. An atheist has no reason to believe that millions of working people must sacrifice their material well-being for the benefit of the capitalist ruling class and their parasitical apologists.

And an atheist has no reason to believe that he or anyone else must sacrifice his happiness so that Billy Graham can go to bed satisfied that he has made someone unhappy.

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