Archive for the ‘ Religious ’ Category

The Supreme Court and Marriage

Is there anything more pathetic than having a panel of geriatric neo-scholastics as society’s self-proclaimed ultimate arbiters of right and wrong?

We should be immediately suspicious of this black-clad gang as they are supposed to use sane first principles, the facts of reality, and reason to arrive a just decisions, and yet not one of them is an atheist. In fact the currently represented religions (6 Catholic and 3 Jewish, I think) are demonstrably expert and ginning up internally consistent bullshit whirlwinds that can avoid, dismantle and adapt to any reality based objection–other religions aren’t slackers in this department either, but certain religions have truly raised this nonsense to an artform, or more aptly, an academic pursuit.

Supreme Court deliberations also sound remarkably similar to the early-bird dinner hour at Luby’s.

Reading the court transcript has much in common with reading a sci-fi forum about who would win in a fight between the Enterprise and a Star Destroyer. In both instances, the participants have powerful intellects that can make coherent, compelling arguments about anything, no matter how fanciful the context. In both instances a baseline fantasy story is held by all the participants, each then adds a few individual fantasy premises and then the reasoning process begins. In both cases, the conclusions are meaningless outside of their fantasy settings and nothing about reality has been decided at all. To be fair to the sci-fi folks, only the Supreme Court has millions of armed brutes enforcing their arbitrary conclusions.

As a quick demonstration of what a reality-based court transcript might look like (courtesy of a friend’s Facebook post):

I don’t know what kind of vaguely legitimate arguments anyone could make in defense of the DOMA. I take an adult’s right to enter into a contract of any kind–marriage or other– with another adult as so much of a given that trying to explain myself would be like trying to explain why slavery is wrong. If you’re still one of those people who believes that a Bronze Age collection of stories justifies you imposing your hangups on others’, I got nothing for you. Please go fuck yourself in the most hetero way you please.

Case closed.

Freedom of Conscience

I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my head to little effect. I’m going to disgorge it here just to see what it looks like written down and also to drop a March post for my weird Archive column length vanity thing.

I don’t know the origins of the concept of “freedom of conscience.” I associate it with 17th/18th century enlightenment authors writing about religious freedom. The topic was hot after hundreds of years of “religious” warfare based on the premise that a monarch or government could discern which of a number of unprovable, highly subjective religious experiences were true and which weren’t. I haven’t heard the phrase in use much lately, but it is a good stand in for a whole category of problems/decisions that belong in the hands of the individual–which is all of them.

You should be able to believe any ol’ crazy thing.

Nobody really knows *exactly* how dangerous Waziristani goat herders are to the health and well being of a westerner. My estimation is that I endure nearly 0 risk from said goat herders. My conscience says that it’s wrong to kill somebody like that–somebody who poses absolutely no risk to my well being. If I were allowed the freedom to follow my conscience, I would spend 0 dollars attempting to kill the goat herders and their coreligionists on the far side of the planet. However, I am not allowed such freedom and my future labor has been used as leverage to incur trillions of dollars in debt (well, not just *my* labor) by people who supposedly believe they’re protecting me from some awful menace. On the flipside, other than denouncing you for a dangerous lunatic, I’ll not stand in the way of your spending however many 10s of thousands of dollars you wish trying to exterminate the muslim menace on your own.

Nobody knows how important a building-code compliant structure is to a given person. Sure, it’s nice to live in a safe structure with modern electrical and plumbing, but there are costs associated with doing so. I might find it more important to eat healthier food and save money for my child’s education than to spend money ensuring that my windows are the appropriate distance off the ground or to build a fence around a camper in my driveway. Maybe another person would prefer precisely the opposite for their own reasons. We should both/all be granted the freedom to follow our own consciences in these matters–the idea that a rule can be made that enforces the correct priorities for thousand or millions of people is laughable on its face.

Nobody knows when life begins, there’s a near consensus that, after being born, a human should be given a shot at living. Except under situations of extreme large scale deprivation, there are people willing to take custody of a child that would otherwise die. Before birth, however, this is a matter of debate and each person has their own opinion about “when life begins.” Each person should be allowed the freedom of their conscience in this matter. Nobody should be compelled to give birth or to abort a fetus against her will. It seems silly to even have to say it.

Always remember the alternative. I can honor your freedom of conscience in a matter, or I can compel you to go against it through force or threat of force. Of course there are circumstances, however rare, when I my conscience may dictate that I violently intervene to override your freedom of conscience (maybe you’re walking drunk into traffic, maybe you’re sleepwalking with a loaded gun). Currently, our rulers intervene as soon as we choose to purchase beverages that are too large, or to buy unpasteurized milk, or to visit a un-permitted wilderness camp. People who are brave/foolhardy enough to attempt to withhold their resources from the imperial prison/surveillance/warfare state can have any or all of their possessions taken from them and spend some or all of the rest of their lives in cages.

Of course there are complex and mind-bending rationales for all of these and other crimes against humanity carried out by those calling themselves “government”–just as there are complex and mind-bending rationales for an omnipotent, yet omniscient, god that allows humans free will. The simple truth is, no such god exists, and “government” is simply a group of humans who wish to rule over other humans. A simple litmus test of whether a human relation is just and equal or unjust and hierarchical is whether the freedoms of conscience of all the participants are being honored.

It’s Not a Fact Just Because You Want It To Be

Frequently discussion/arguments between theist and atheists begin with the theist counting off all the things that science doesn’t have a explanation for (What came before the big bang? What causes gravity? How did life begin?). After much circling and probably a fair amount of misdirection, one of two outcomes are reached, a) the theist concludes by saying that both he and the atheist have equally indefensible positions or b) he will simply demand the acceptance of his belief system regardless of its absurdity. God does exist because he has to exist–it’s so obvious only a crazy person could argue against it.
Arguing with a statist, someone who believes that violence is the only possible answer to all manner of social conflict, has much the same feel. The opening position is a list of all the problems that they can’t imagine being solved without a violent hierarchy (road construction, education of children, national defense, more road construction) and the conclusion is either a) “generously” that the arguments are symmetrical and that nobody can be demonstrably correct or b) the statist shouldn’t even have to make the case for government, because it’s so obviously good and necessary!

A case in point, That we need government is just fact, by Amanda Marcotte [1].

It [an article praising the state for not stealing and reselling all of North America to developers] also caused me to want to ball up on the floor and cry. Not because it’s bad; it’s great. But because it had to be written in the first place. That’s how stupid our political discourse has gotten, that people are actually defending the existence of the government. It’s like having a debate about whether or not water is good for you.

It would be like arguing whether or not water is good for you if water had bombed, shot, tortured and imprisoned some millions of people in the last year–and every year since the beginning of time. Generally water doesn’t do that. It’s really only dangerous in huge quantities–especially when driven by wind.

Amanda continues:

In a sense, I feel like defending the existence of government is wasting your breath. If people who are just generally “against” government can’t see how their day to day life is affected by—usually for the better—the existence of government, I don’t know that rational arguments pointing it out are going to make much difference. They clearly live in a fantasy world. Rationality has no influence on them.

Of course, the principled anarchist makes the same argument in return. These may be seen as symmetrical positions, much as the theist’s and atheist’s above. In a context free from reason and evidence, and with a healthy dose of cultural indoctrination, one may be able to squint and say, “yep, there’s no way to decide whether or not God exists.” Of course, if you just fucking look around, maybe read a book or two, and think about it for a bit, it’s pretty evident that there’s no supernatural power that exists outside of material reality and is intervening in earthly events.

It’s equally evident that government is a construct dedicated to the preservation of existing power and privilege, that it is the last remaining “acceptable” perpetrator of violence, and that it always and everywhere grows, heaping increasing misery on the poor until it collapses in ruin; leaving the powerful and privileged to start a new government. Sure, this is a simplified description of a very complex process. The theory of evolution is a simplification of a complex process. You can pick nits around the boundaries of either, but if you don’t accept the reality of the processes described, you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Next comes a challenge from Amanda to the reader:

Seriously, just grab a notebook and put in a hashmark for every time you do something that you couldn’t do if it weren’t for government regulation, funding, and organizing. You’ll find you fill a page up before lunch with hashmarks. I’ve been up for an hour now, and I’ve made coffee(1,2,3), eaten breakfast (4,5), had a glass of water (6), used the toilet (7,8) . . . [the numbers relate to a list included below]

That’s nothing. If you’re one of the 2.5+ million prisoners in the country, you’ll have that notebook filled up by 9am. Oh, except you might not have anything to write with–hey, that’s a hashmark too: seizure of contraband! Let’s say you just counted off in your head. Government provides your wake up call. Government opens the door for you. Government provided you with the door, the bed, the floor. Government arranged for your roommate. Government day planning–what a full calendar! Amanda’s premise is that none of these things would happen, or not nearly as well, if the government didn’t exist. Her evidence is that it just wouldn’t and only a moron can’t understand that.

We all understand, though, that even without a government provided loudspeaker outside you cell, somebody has managed to provide you a means of getting up in the morning; even without a government provided yard to walk around in circles, somebody has figured out a way (probably lots of ways) to help you get your exercise and social interaction. The fact that the government has a monopoly on these services in prison doesn’t mean that a free human being is deprived of them.

The same is true for the items on Amanda’s list. Even without marines enforcing U.S. corporation’s claims on vast swaths of S. America and even without death squads preventing peasant labor from leaving, somebody would grow and sell coffee beans to American consumers. Even without eminent domain being used to throw people from their homes so giant asphalt monstrosities can be built and the surrounding land sold off to politically connected developers, somebody would provide means (again, probably lots of them) for moving goods and people between places.

The same goes for all the items on her list (1-8 corresponding to the above quotation, see her article if you care for more).

1. Clean water.
2. International trade agreements getting the coffee to the U.S.
3. Roads to ship it to the store.
4. Clean water.
5. Roads!
6. Water!
7. Seriously, water.
8. Regulations governing size and other aspects of the toilet.

The idea that toilets wouldn’t exist except that someone will fine you for toilets of the wrong size is kind of weird. The idea that a trade agreement (i.e., not arresting people and stealing their good for crossing a border) is somehow fostering trade as opposed to simply ceasing to stop it is also pretty inexplicable.

The roads are another issue that I’ve touched on here and way back here. But the drum beat for infrastructure from the left has become pretty monotonous lately–I guess due to the “Rebuilding ‘merica” bill. Ivan Illich and I might have to drop another post or two about it.

Anyhoo, to sum up, the existence of god and the need for government are not “just facts” because somebody really, really, REALLY believes they are and wants them to be. God and government are both frauds intended to bully the weak and indoctrinated for the benefit of folks who a) would rather get paid for pretending to solve problems with imaginary solutions than exchange value for value in the real world (or would rather receive huge amounts of money from those people in exchange for patronage) and b) don’t give a shit about shafting other human beings (I’d put this group around 80%), or are honestly so broken that they really think the fantasy to be real (probably mostly on the religious side, but that’s just a guess).

  1. [1] I know Amanda in real life and she is a fantastic human being. I end up responding to a fair amount of what she posts because I try to read everything she writes. I agree with her 100% on all things patriarchal, on everything to do with women’s health, republicans, justice, sex, god(s), the police state, and most things food, drink, music and culture related. Her political writing is instructive because she fully inhabits and owns the role of the unflinching political apologist. She expresses the viewpoint of the very last folks (on the left anyway) trying to keep belief in “the system” alive. I think that position is quietly clung to by a large number of smart and well meaning people. It’s also a fairly flimsy position, and it’sthe last refuge before giving up on violence and allowing oneself to imagine and participate in alternatives. This is why I respond to it, directly or indirectly, somewhat frequently. That said, I can’t recommend her website enough. Skip the political articles if you need to, the rest is gold.

Trust and Obey

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

- Classic Creepy Hymn

For a number of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about my history with religion. I’m perceived as being hostile to (most specifically) Christianity and even accused of “hating” it. I honestly don’t feel like I hate Christianity–I’m not even sure what that means–but I wanted to think through the possibility and explain my opposition to religion and why it is often so fierce.

Most atheists’[1] primary objection to religion is that it’s not true. Believers are like our primitive ancestors who think the earth is flat. The atheist can’t understand why, when faced with very clear, logical, and conclusive[2] arguments against the existence of whatever god(s) are in question, believers refuse to modify their position or admit its obvious absurdity.

The argument is about what is factually correct, and most of the “wrongness” of the religious is thought to be in their lack of understanding of reality. In this context, the argument against religion is like an argument about where the 1928 olympics were held[3] (well, ok, an argument taking place before search engines . . . and away from libraries). Somebody is right and somebody is wrong–or both might be wrong–but if everyone is convinced of their “facts,” then there’s no means by which to end the argument or make progress in any direction.

And of course this is annoying and, if the individuals in the discussion stake enough of their identity in their positions, it can even be infuriating for them. Nevertheless, it’s often enough chalked up to a difference of “opinion,” or a matter of faith, or a to-each-his-own scenario or whatever.

Religion has a much, much darker side however, which is it’s training in obedience in the face of things one is told one “can’t understand.”

This isn’t a trait of hardcore evangelical faiths (aka fundamentalism), but is a common thread throughout all varieties of religion. Religions are premised on the notion that the universe we perceive and can bring our senses and mind to bear on isn’t “real.” Beyond the senses, beyond matter and energy, there is a much greater, majestic, and eternal reality filled with spirits and, most importantly deities, that determine the fate of your eternal soul and are very interested in your choices and actions[4].
Conveniently, these Gods can’t simply tell you what you need to do. Unless you’re a Moses, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, or L. Ron Hubbard, you’re going to want the guidance of an expert–a priest, minister or other clergy. These people will help with the interpretation of religious texts at the very least and may even be in a direct chain of communication to God himself.

Baby praying--super creepy
Even though a cursory lay-persons reading of, for example, the New Testament reveals a pretty simple message–don’t hurt other people, help children, the poor, the sick and the old–the primary message of every religion is, as the song goes, Trust and Obey.

Children, obey your parents; women folk, obey your men folk; slaves, obey your masters; church members, obey the church; and everybody, obey the government[5]. Submit and obey. Obey and submit. You have been put on this earth under the supervision of various god-appointed authorities. They exist to interface with the mysteries and complexities that are beyond your comprehension and to deliver to you divinely prescribed commandments that you are to follow.

Of course, religion is not alone in this endeavor. The other authorities at the top of the previous paragraph reinforce each other. Parents tell their children to obey the church (priests, sunday school teachers) and the state (police, school teachers). The government legislates, public schools teach and elected leaders constantly harp on the need for obedience to spiritual leaders and parents (or adults more generally).

Religion adds the mystery and ritual, however, and goes beyond right and wrong, legal and illegal to a special dispensation on what is transcendentally good and evil.

These two things–1. casting doubt on the biological means of comprehending the material world (senses and reason)[6] and 2. elevating blind obedience, faith and submission to authority into the highest realms of virtue–move religion from the category of factually-and-infuriatingly-wrong to that of fundamentally-destructive-of-human-well-being.

There’s much more to say, and it’s likely that my real-life conversations about religion will inspire future posts, but I’m going to wrap this post up and leave you with the dirge that inspired this post. Warning! If you know this song, think carefully about re-subjecting yourself to it–it can stay in your head for days.

  1. [1] For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to all manner of non-believers as atheists
  2. [2] At least, as conclusive as any argument against the existence of anything can be.
  3. [3] I tried to think of a better example: evolution, global warming, geology, but most break down along religious lines.
  4. [4] One could argue that the “personal deity” is more a description of western, abrahamic religions, but even easterners seem to receive directions to kill based on religious differences, so I’m going to cast my net widely
  5. [5] On very rare occasions these things can be in conflict, but after a brief, usually violent, sorting-out they tend to self-correct and harmonize.
  6. [6] I may follow up about this, but a really good analogy can be found in this Stephan Molyneux podcast.