Sunday, November 28, 2010

on the origin of morals? part 1

Can atheists have morals?

Do rabbits like to fuck?

All the great teachers answered questions with questions. Many also made fantastical supernatural claims. Would you believe I'm the Son of God? I'll stop now before the devotees begin piling up. It's been done before anyway. I don't want to be remembered as the Hollywood rehash of the chosen Messiah. Remakes are terrible unless you believe in reincarnation. In truth (a word that has sadly become diluted through chronic misuse), I'm just an irregular old Joe trying to find his way in the world. But what to do, how to live, when north keeps moving on my moral compass? I am a godless heathen. Tell me, if God is dead, is all permitted (I read the OT and sometimes feel the opposite is true)? The initial forecast is that we have a good chance of petty and/or grotesque violence in the not too distant future, most likely justified by invoking the will of God. Believe me, if God is right than I want to be wrong. Without him things are messy sure, but with him, well the historical record speaks for itself.

I gave up on religion, partly, because all institutions are inherently evil, hmm a little strong perhaps, at the very least they are inherently incapable of performing their intended function without someone getting hurt. I use 'hurt' in the modern liberal sense of the word, as in "I've got hurt feelings", type of thing. Forgive me, I'm still not used to being a sensitive and stuff, so I feel the need to explain myself. No institution can possibly cater to the varying needs of the individuals within them. Six and a quarter billion people is a lot of diversity to deal with. Even in smaller population chunks the number of possible exceptions piled on caveats filtered through loop holes, to make sure you get it right, is enormous. You will hang yourself with all the red tape. So, an outlier case will be processed just like any other regardless of extenuating circumstances. To paraphrase Einstein, if the people don't fit the system, change the people (genocide is a useful method for achieving this end).

Institutions abstract away complexity, reducing what ever needs to be done into normalized standards and so called best practices. It's like science, but in a bad way. For a physicist a cow becomes a sphere, for a bureaucrat a person becomes a number. Admittedly, this is a common mode of human operation. We develop a collection of short hand representations in our minds to help our selves deal with the world. 'Water puts out fire' is a helpful motto for avoiding danger, unless of course the fire is fueled by petroleum*. On an individual scale I find this acceptable. On a larger one, where power, money, and ideology become involved things become dangerous. Religion, at large, at its most successful achieves the most pernicious form of modern institution: a corporation. Do you trust an organization whose primary motivator is self interest to take care of your personal needs? Do we even need to go into atrocities that have been perpetuated so that pious liars could exploit pious zombies for their own gain?

Don't get me wrong, rules are helpful, in moderation. Some institutions are a necessary evil if we want to ensure progress (like all things progress comes at a price, some of us have running water and electricity, while the third world struggles, and our ability to destroy ourselves continually increases), they help us to achieve large scale goals like city infrastructures and avoid generally accepted pit falls. The problem is that the general doesn't always apply well to the specific. I'm a spiritual (and in all other ways) anarchist. Should I defer judgement on ethical issues to what often turns out to be the worst possible case of groupthink that a given committee can churn out at the price of my own sense of authenticity? In the case of Governments probably (I like jail even less than rules), in the case of God, I'm going with: No.

This alleged God sits atop the summit of Mt. Olympus, or whatever other exalted point you choose to imagine as the seat of his panopticon. The great voyeur in the sky. He is the author of the platonic ideal for correct moral conduct. An anchor to all that is good and virtuous in the world. When you begin to examine what has passed for righteousness in the past things become confusing. God is a despot, capricious and wavering. An unchanging being that has a uncanny habit of changing his mind. The source code that produced good little humans in centuries past has conveniently been retooled over time. Inconveniently despicable crimes are still perpetuated in his name, like 9-11. Stoning your children for misbehaving or hacking off a womens hand for accidental groping is no longer acceptable. If these things are in the Bible, which by the way is the inviolable word of God, why do they and other barbaric practices described therein no longer apply? Because it's bullshit. If there was an omnipotent, omni-loving God would it set up its kingdom on earth as a bureaucracy? Stipulating what forms of dress, ceremony and behaviours are acceptable? Manufacturing mass conformity and at it's worst destroying almost all individual thought in it's adherents (one thing the Bible did get right is that Phariseeism sucks).

Well, in a perfect world we wouldn't have to worry about any of that, because, going by the evidence - and something we intellectual types like to refer to as logic and reason - there isn't a God. Which helps to explain why the institutional church has been so inconsistent on what is morally acceptable over the years. So if there's no wondrous place holder out there for goodness, how do we know what is moral? Is there even such a thing as good?

This post is getting a way from me. I need a time out. Next: evolution, morality and human

*an idea borrowed from The Collapse of Chaos


Justin said...

Oh, you'll never get rich with that kind of thinking Loren ;)

I think you're better off just hating people, rather than organisations and churches.

Personally, I attribute a huge amount of freedom I feel in life to my religion.

As far as I know, secular communism was responsible for the most deliberate deaths in the 20th century.

And as far as I can tell, religious justification is usually an excuse for (what I would call)sin... not the real reason. Not that I think all religions are good...

Elder Oaks gave a talk about organised religion at the last General Conference.

Loren said...

Oh I can't stand people.

Those bloody commies, I don't like them much either. The solution to people not killing people is not as simple as defining one set of beliefs or non-beliefs that will ensure peace love and harmony. Dogmatic devotion to any ideology has rarely if ever proven itself to be a good thing (it's probably the most dangerous thing in the world). I'm pretty certain that any free thinking human secularist and those of their ilk that you can find are not recommending the formation of a big brother type nation-state though. This isn't about tallying up who did what to who in the end. This is about finding the best way forward. I think religion has had its day. It's exhausted it's explanatory power. Some people like it, hey more power to them. Just as long as they don't blow me up, fine. I just want a place where it's OK to ask questions, and to really search for answers (even though none probably exist). I don't think religion can abide that type of inquiry, not in my experience.

Justin said...

I can assure you an attempt at a one world government (or at very least, a very nasty big-brother style government in the USA) is already in progress...

Loren said...

you've gotta fill me in on this one

Justin said...

This is a multifaceted topic. Where to begin...

Here's a fun place to start:


You could also check out (a very robust and credible look at the evidence)

Justin said...

You've gotta see this too: