Friday, February 27, 2015

The Universality of Morality

It's not 'Christians' who are supposed to give to the poor - it's 'everyone'.

It's not 'Christians' who are supposed to tell the truth - it's 'everyone'.

Lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, abortion, sodomy... take your pick. As far as Christian teaching goes, these are not moral oughts 'for Christians'. They are moral oughts for everyone. Being a non-Christian doesn't mean you operate by a different set of moral rules.

The idea that Christian morality only applies to Christians isn't a biblical teaching. That's just a case of people confusing a secular "separation of Church and State" with Christianity itself.

There's a lot to say here, but I want to zero in on one thing in particular: when I catch people, particularly other self-described Christians, insisting on harsh standards of morality for Christians - but who are absolutely, positively loathe to suggest these standards for anyone BUT Christians, much less hold others to them - I don't just see someone making a minor error. In fact, I see something much more than an 'error'.

I see abuse. Straight up psychological abuse. And I see it being used against a group of people who have been abused quite enough during this and the last century, thank you. And I'm not going to tolerate it, because I consider tolerating it to be immoral.

It doesn't matter if you're all smiles with me. It doesn't matter if you plead to high heavens that you love your Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, yadda yadda, with all your heart. When you start talking about how Christians should gleefully surrender themselves to torment and execution (and indeed, that suggesting otherwise is unChristian and sinful and you're a bad person for suggesting that people, you know, have a right or even a duty to defend themselves and others), I'm probably going to just call you a moral monster and tell you to fuck off.

Because, hot on the heels of a century where Christians were put to death en masse, in a world where the culture at large is hostile to Christianity and heaps emotional abuse on them at the earliest moments, you're going that extra mile and justifying it all. I regard you with the same emotional response as I would some decrepit old fuck of a priest telling a teenage boy to just accept his molestation or Jesus will frown at him.

And if you tell me 'Don't find malice where stupidity or ignorance may be the cause!', don't worry - I assure you, I'm considering all three of those options when I evaluate you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Accepting brute facts makes theism a live possibility...

...even if one is a naturalist.

I never see theists bringing this up, and I think it's for the usual reason: it involves talking about a God or gods that they're not really invested in, and whose existence they'd find unsettling. But it seems to me straightforwardly obvious that the acceptance of brute facts - the acceptance that some things can exist, or come into existence, utterly without cause or explanation - means that the existence of God or gods has to be considered. They're just one more thing that can exist or come to exist brutely.

In fact, insofar as theism is presented as either a view that avoids brute facts, or that is inevitable if one avoids brute facts, there's some unevenness between the theistic and naturalistic worldviews. Theism is automatically true if a theistic picture of the world is true, obviously. But theism isn't automatically false, given the intellectual chimera known as naturalism. In fact, given a naturalistic universe, there seems to be no way to be sure one also lives in a non-theistic universe.

Does that mean we should all be theists by default?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Benefit of Being Crude

I'm not a very pleasant person.

Yes, I know - what a shock, right?

It's as true as it is obvious, and I'm as aware of it as anyone else. I have a pretty short temper for what I consider bullshit, and my definition of 'bullshit' overlaps with what many other people call 'politeness'.

Beyond that, I handle bullshit in fairly direct ways - if I suspect someone is full of shit, I generally only spend so much time trying to carefully, masterfully tease them out of their labyrinthine network of claims and contradictions in the hope of forcing them to admit that they are, in fact, inconsistent. I'm more likely to walk, tell them to piss off, or some combination thereof. I do this a lot quicker than most people, and to be perfectly frank, I even sometimes do it when I shouldn't. I do make mistakes. Unfortunately, those mistakes are mixed in with the prudent judgment calls, and they aren't always the easiest to sort out. If you ask me, my batting average is pretty damn good on this front.

I make no apologies for any of this. In fact, the point of this post is not to explain myself, or even defend what I do, but to go further and suggest that you, too, may well benefit from sometimes telling people 'I think you're full of shit, and I'd rather not deal with you anymore.'

I especially advise this of people conscious of the culture war. If you believe that's a war worth fighting, then consider shaping the culture you exist in, to whatever extent you can. If recent events have shown anything, it's that the paeans to the joys of intellectual diversity in who you associate with or tolerate are only sung when you hang out with the right people, and only until someone feels an adequate tipping point has been reached.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What God wants of non-Christians...

...Is the same thing He wants of Christians.

In the comments, I'm dealing with people who are arguing that Paul believes Christians should 'submit to legitimate authorities', even if these legitimate authorities are slaughtering Christians Nero-style. Tormenting them in boiling oil, torturing them to death, making examples of them - go to it all with a smile, and not to raise a hand in violent resistance, as that's not Christ-like.

I think this is a tremendous load, and part of the mindset that an act becomes more Christian the more over-the-top absurd and self-effacing it is. But if someone wants to maintain this, I think there's a straightforward reply: God doesn't have a separate set of commands for Christians and non-Christians. There's just one set of command that everyone is supposed to follow, with the Christians amounting to, supposedly, those who are willfully following those commands.

In other words - if it's kosher (ha ha) to expect Christians to sacrifice their lives without violent resistance... if it is, in fact, a sin for them to kill in self-defense if a 'legitimate government' strikes at them (because a 'legitimate government' is an agent of God), then it straightforwardly follows that non-Christians have the same expected of them. Indeed, it's expected of them even if the government in question is a Christian one. If God can make Roman pagans and atheist communists into legitimate agents, even if they're violently suppressing the faith, then full-blown theocracies make the cut as well.

So, I have a straightforward standard here. If it's being claimed that atheist Stalinists, Maoists, and even Nazi regimes (all three of which would deny that they ruled by God's authority, or derived their legitimacy from God) can command the torment and death of Christians, with Christians obliged to follow - on pain of being sinners - then they are likewise able to demand that Jews march into the gas chambers, and atheists submit to God against their consciences.

If this makes someone balk - if it's entirely easy to 'tsk tsk' Christians for defending their lives and the lives of others with violence (as the Catholic Church explicitly allows), but it's impossible to 'tsk tsk' Jews shooting gestapo who've come to take them to the camps... then there's a straightforward explanation of this as well.

The position is being offered as a bluff. It's not sincere. It amounts to a high moral standard, but only and exclusively for Christians - but God's commands were for all people, not just Christians.

Is it easy to kill?

One popular claim is that, while it's easy to try and kill someone who threatens you, it takes real nerve and resolve to not defend yourself. This isn't the most ideal source in the world, but there's good reason to doubt the idea that the willingness to kill comes easily to humans.

It's not always hard. And it's not always easy. In our culture? Passivity, non-violence, even being a victim, is held in esteem. It is praised and treated as superior, particularly where Christians are concerned.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Problem With Apologies...

...Is that I maintain that 2000 years of Christian influence has been, far and away, a good thing. In fact, more than a good thing: a spectacular thing. A hulking tower of accomplishments that, though imperfect, represents the pinnacle of human accomplishment throughout the entirety of history.

In those 2000 years, I see absurd heroics and intellectual contributions. Monasteries filled with men spending their lives copying the best of the best greek works so as to preserve the knowledge for future generations. Yes, I know - they decided that some of that shit wasn't worth the effort, and a good share of Greece's fart jokes and lesbian poetry went up in flames as a result. Considering I'm not the one with the ink and the razor and the limited supply of paper in hand, I'm going to say that the Christian monks are owed a debt of thanks by modern humanity.

I see the historical spread of humanism, the idea that there is an innate dignity universal to human beings, such that each human life has intrinsic value and thus should be treated as something precious - regardless of race, nationality, lineage or otherwise. Yes, I know, this is speciesiest and leaves out (among other things) orangutans, but last I checked the orangutans don't give a shit anyway.

I see the building of thousands of hospitals, of charity work, of the promotion of the idea (connected to that non-secular humanism) that suffering anywhere is a problem, in some way, for everyone, and thus there is nobility in alleviating the ills of humanity. Yes, I know, they also didn't provide abortion services, much less contraception, but for some reason I find the inability to help some people fuck without remorse to be a distant secondary concern to trying to find ways to keep people from dying of their wounds in an era where germ theory wasn't well-established in the minds of men.

I see societies banding together to fight defensive wars against foreign powers that sought to convert the entirety of the west, and the world, to Islam by force - scores of sacrifice, not exactly a string of total victories, which ultimately ended in (thankfully) a stalemate that allowed western civilization to remain and thrive. Yes, I know, you also had atrocities and inquisitions, just like we've had in every goddamn war prior to and after the crusades, but until someone manages to run a successful war with a serious body count and no sketchy decisions being made by any party who ultimately mattered, I'm going to say that on the whole it's a good thing people were willing to fight against would-be invaders.

I see the creation of the university system, the preservation and introduction of brilliant philosophical insights, the birth of science itself, and more. I see, time and time again, accomplishments - lasting accomplishments, ones we benefit from to this day - being had by the dreaded Christians. Why, even (but not exclusively) white, male Christians who apparently frowned upon sodomy.

I'm not denying that mistakes were made, and abuses were performed. I am saying that for every aspect of Christian history that some wag can stand up and say 'That was a bad thing, someone should apologize for that!', there are at least ten things any reasonable person should look at and say, 'Wow, thank God for what they did, we're in their debt - someone should praise them for their accomplishments!'

And this is why I have started to reject, for lack of a better term, the Sorrow Culture that's popular among Christians and "Christians". No, I am not sorry for Christian history. I think it is, by and large, one long list of tremendous accomplishments inspired by a vision of God and faith. I do not apologize for it because it needs no apology. To criticize it without conceding the vast amount of contributions it has made to the world - contributions that we draw on to this day - is an injustice I want no part of. I no more consider it 'noble' to apologize for it without reservation than I consider it fair to leave the description of Martin Luther King as 'serial adulterer' and little more.

To act as if Christianity is nothing but 2000 years of mistakes that modern Christians need to apologize for is to become a psychic vampire on Christian individuals. It is to present a warped, dishonest view of history. It is to give exactly the opposite message that needs to be given to a culture that treats both Christ and Christians as the punchline of a joke. I don't consider this 'noble'. I don't consider this 'a positive influence on the culture'. I'm more than done with defending it or treating it as praiseworthy. 

And if you have any concern about how Christianity is conceived among people in and outside of the Church, you should be done with the Sorrow Culture too.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Papal Apologies

Irish Thomist and others reminded me that Pope John Paul II has a substantial list of apologies to his name. In fact, I dare say I either never knew, or likely forgot, the sheer number of apologies PJPII gave.

He apologized for the treatment of Galileo.
For Catholics' involvement in the slave trade.
For the conquest of "Mesoamerica".
For burnings at the stake, etc, during the Protestant Reformation.
"Injustices against women".
"The inactivity and silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust".
The execution of Jan Hus in the 1400s, which probably led to most people asking "Who the fuck is Jan Hus?"
"For the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating "the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and [for showing] contempt for their cultures and religious traditions"."
"For the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204."

And, capping it all off, apologies for the Catholic sex scandals, the "stolen generations of Aboriginal children", and to China during its colonial era behavior.

I do not deny the Pope's sainthood. Nor do I deny I hold him in esteem. He accomplished much good in his lifetime.

But the above is not an example of that good. They are, for the most part, marks on his record.

There's a lot I can say here, but I'm going to zero in on a single point.

Is there such a thing as collective guilt, or isn't there?

I can understand organizational guilt. Insofar as the Church, as its whole body, was involved in atrocities during the Protestant Reformation, I can understand an apology on the part of the Church. Galileo was an official action, but there's nothing to apologize for there, and Galileo was (like his opponents) ultimately wrong anyway.

But when he's apologizing for 'the sins of Catholics', and he's apologizing on behalf of 'Catholics', period? It does not fly. Rather, it only flies under one condition: the condition that there is such a thing as collective guilt.

In which case, Black America owes everyone else an apology for the crimes of black males.
Women worldwide owe everyone an apology for the number of dead infants that have been butchered in their wombs.
Atheists at large are required to apologize for the sins of everyone from Stalin to Mao to even the far more inconsequential Madelyn Murray O'Hare.

And that's not just owed. If collective guilt is a real thing, such that someone can literally apologize (or demand an apology) on behalf of an entire and diverse people - then I demand those apologies in turn.

If the logic, however, is that there's no such thing as collective guilt, but hey, bad things happened and this 'was a nice gesture' and 'helped encourage dialog', I will say two things: to hell with 'nice feelings' for their own sake, and the Pope's apologies clearly yielded nothing, and therefore didn't even lead to results on the pleaded practical end. In fact, they did damage by perpetuating the idea that Christians should be bending over left and right apologizing, without ever expecting a 'thank you' for their collective acts of greatness - and there are many.

No. Not even Pope John Paul II's endorsement of these things can make them right. The man made mistakes.

And the best part is, he wouldn't deny it. He'd just apologize.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Strawman Dialogues: Burning the bridge too far

A: I'd sooner die than let the government, or some pack of terrorists, impugn on my civil liberties!
B: Really?
A: Yes.
B: An example, please.
A: Well, you know I'm Christian.
B: Yep.
A: Let's say a government came into power that threatened to imprison, or even execute, practicing Christians.
B: Alright.
A: Well, even if I had to go underground to practice my faith, I'd do it.
B: Bold, bold.
A: And if they caught me and threatened to kill me for continuing, I'd gladly walk to the gallows!
B: Noble stuff. A little old fashioned - not sure anyone uses gallows anymore, but still.
A: Thank you.
B: So, what would it take to get you to kill them?
A: I.. what?
B: Well, you just told me you'd die for your freedom. Will you kill for it as well?
A: That.. doesn't seem very Christ-like.
B: You don't believe in self-defense? Just war?
A: Yes, but still.
B: Here, let me help you out. If someone came to my house, intending to pull me out of it to cart me off somewhere to execute me for being Christian, I'd blow his head off.
A: That's...
B: Hell, he could just want to throw me in prison for that, and I'd do it.
A: I... that sounds wrong.
B: Why? You're no pacifist. You think World War II was just, yeah?
A: Yes, but...
B: But being willing to die for your rights sounds a whole lot better than being able to kill for them, eh?
A: ...
B: Everyone loves a martyr. No surprise it's easy to say we'd be one.
A: It makes you sound like a scary zealot to say you'd kill people.
B: And that matters why?
A: I don't want people to think I'm a scary zealot.
B: And if ever it should happen that a group gets power and forces you out of your faith, and the consensus is that only scary zealots give up their lives for their rights or their beliefs?
A: You know, it's things like this that gives Christians a bad reputation.
B: And Christianity is founded on the willingness of good people to do what's right, even if the world thinks they're crazy lunatics for doing it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Yet more Christians killed by ISIS

But we can't say that, because God forbid Christians are considered victims. They may get uppity, you know. Start to get a chip on their shoulders.

Alan Turing comments

I was asked about a comment I made about Alan Turing a while ago. I can't find the exact comment, but I'm pretty sure I remember the details - there's nothing too amazing or esoteric in them.

So, to summarize...

* The obvious one: Alan Turing was not prosecuted for 'homosexuality'. He was prosecuted for sodomy.

* In particular, sodomy with a 19 year old unemployed man ('A teenage boy', they'd call him if Turing was a priest) who was basically being used as a prostitute by Turing, and who exposed them both by robbing his house.

* This was happening during a period of time where same-sex behavior was considered immoral and mental illness by secular authorities. (People always forget this part, as if Christians in particular are unique throughout history in regarding this kind of thing as 'not right', brutally crushing the secular consensus to the contrary.)

* It was likewise considered problematic since it made Turing - kind of an important figure with state secrets in his head - open to blackmail and manipulation.

* The entire bit about Turing being driven to suicide because of the homophobic attitudes of his time, or even his medication sentence, are largely imagined. That he even committed suicide is entirely speculative, and the coroner apparently decided this on the basis of 'weird guys like this do weird stuff, who fucking knows, he probably was crazy.' That he committed suicide -because of people mistreating gays- is utterly out of thin air. But Godddamn, that makes the whole thing that much more tragic and dramatic and, most importantly, useful - ergo, it's true.

Nothing too surprising here - just read around and you'll see as much.

None of this goes to show that Turing wasn't extremely smart or this or that, but the LGBT activist is so hellbent on animating the dead in service of their cause that they make Herbert West look like a rank amateur.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Christians and Pride

I don't have much patience anymore for Christians who open statements about the history of Christianity with a denunciation of it, and whose defense of Christianity amounts to 'Well we learned our lessons of the past - sorry again, by the way - and, even if we're imperfect, we aren't nearly as bad as we were. Please forgive us.'

There is a school of thought - a popular one - that suggests this kind of self-deprecation is somehow noble, pure and thoughtful. In a word, I find it disgusting. Also unChristian.

I no longer want anything to do with this kind of person.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

You have to pass the smell test

If you tell me that you're morally opposed to X, but are likewise opposed to passing legislation that would outlaw X, chances are I'll take you seriously. Really, I'm in that same position myself, and I think most people are. I'm morally opposed to everything I'm aware of Charlie Hebdo doing, but I've got a free speech commitment that rules out censoring them - even if I think they're quite literally a hate group, publishing hate speech, of the variety that happens to zero in on a group of people I find myself being part of.

Examples like this can be multiplied. Even if I don't disagree with the issue in question, I can conditionally find it easy to believe that someone really holds such a view, despite my disagreements with them. I'm not going to automatically dive to a claim of bad faith.

This is a common enough attitude - most people seem to hold to something like this, since just about everyone finds SOMEthing repugnant that they nevertheless can't imagine themselves outlawing. Maybe they think the law would have no effect, or even a detrimental effect. Maybe they hold some principle that requires tolerance in the public sphere. Maybe a bunch of things, or a mix of things.

So how is it that I can doubt the sincerity of, say... Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi when they talk about being faithful, loyal Catholics who are morally opposed to abortion, but who nevertheless defend 'a woman's right to choose' legally, right up until the latest, fringest of the fringe cases?

Simple: I am not completely fucking blind, nor do I feel the need to pretend that I am.

This is something that really seems to throw most people: the idea that you don't have to automatically take a person's word about their beliefs and commitments, especially if they behave in such ways that give the strong impression that they are bullshitting you. I maintain that Pelosi and Biden are full of shit, and they act like as much.

'But wait!' comes the reply. 'You're not psychic. You're not God! You can't peer into their very souls and tell what they REALLY and TRULY think with utter accuracy. You could be wrong! Maybe they mean every word they say!'

Yeah, but the thing is: I don't need utter certainty that I'm correct in order to reasonably suspect a given state of affairs is most likely true, based on the evidence I have. By the by: 'things people say and do' works mighty well as far as giving an insight into true thoughts, beliefs and attitudes goes. Brian Williams may be utterly sincere in his explanations of his discrepancies - hell, he may have actually been on a helicopter that got shot down, because I'm not God and I can't peer into people's souls. But as it stands, I think I'm well within my rights to suspect he's just a bullshitter.

To give an anecdote: I once was talking with a (naturalist, atheist) friend about abortion. Well, less talking, more like going at it cobra-and-mongoose style. At one point I remarked that materialist atheists are quite at home with butchering infants by the millions, at which point they reared up: how DARE I suggest they're morally OK with abortion. Typical theist, I think that only God-believers have a lock on morality, and just because he's an atheist doesn't mean he accepts abortion.

I replied - man, I've seen you talk about this. Abortion comes up and all you ever talk about is 'reproductive freedom'. You're in favor of it being legal in every fucking case, and I have yet to see you ever criticize abortion. They pull the same card: 'You're not psychic! You don't know what I think! Just because I'm an atheist, just because I'm in favor of it being legal, doesn't mean I accept abortion morally!'

I say, yeah, but I've seen your track record on this topic. But finally, I decide, okay - you tell me. When ARE you morally opposed to abortion? You tell me, right now, ANY situation in which a woman procuring an abortion is behaving immorally. Let's really see where you stand.

So we wait. And a couple moments later they say, well, you know, they can't think of any situation like that right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'd not have a moral problem with it in every possible situation. Why, maybe there's a hypothetical case they have yet to even think up where they'd find it wrong.

Maybe. But also, maybe they were full of shit.

The reason I bring this up is because I come across a lot of people who treat reasoning in this way as verboten. The very prospect of questioning someone's sincerity, regardless of the evidence onhand, is just ruled out as being crass, or far too rude. We're not psychics, we can't peer into people's souls, we can even be wrong. And shouldn't we focus on arguments, rather than on personalities? Arguments stand or fall regardless of who's giving them, after all.

But in a culture war, there's more than arguments at play. There's perceptions. There's morale (as opposed to morals). There's deception, and discord, sockpuppetry, and more. And perhaps most important of all - in philosophical and metaphysical topics, which moral discussions often come back to, the need for sincerity and mutual respect on the part of all participants is paramount, to a degree greater than in other fields of discussion. The sooner you realize you're talking to someone who is shamelessly bluffing you, the sooner you can either move on to a better conversation, or figure out what their real aim is and take the appropriate steps.

Simply put: there's no moral upside to endlessly giving the benefit of the doubt, unto stupidity. It's acceptable, reasonable, even important to ask if someone passes the smell test when it comes to laying out their beliefs. Keep this in mind, and act accordingly.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Imitating our idiot president

I see the Idiot-in-Chief has decided that now's a good time to lecture Christians about the evil 'done in the name of God', so no one gets on a "high horse" about islamists killing and butchering people.

In that vein, a few additional reminders:

* Ladies, I know you feel strongly about spousal abuse and so on. But before you get on your high horse, remember: you girls have killed a tremendous number of children in your wombs.

* LGBT people? While many of you may rage against those who discriminate against you (or, you know, throw you off buildings or execute you in Islamic nations), just remember that AIDS was spread around heavily through male on male sexual contact and bath-house culture.

* Black people? While many of you may object to your perceived treatment by the police, including unprovoked killing of innocents, just remember: black males commit quite a large number of crimes, so don't get all high and mighty.

This is apparently an appropriate way to respond in the face of murder and terrorism, so I'm sure you collective lil' cupcakes will appreciate these reminders.