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April 2, 2005
Catholics Shepherd-less

The pope is dead.

So is chicken magnate Frank Purdue.

I'm not much for popes, but as far as popes go, this guy was sort of alright. At least he stood up to George Bush over Iraq and apologized for the crusades and the holocaust. It is interesting to watch all the coverage on the TV and consider how anti-Catholic this country was only 40 years ago or so. Seems all about the Catholic now.

It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.


Previous Comments

Unfortunately he is still very anti-gay...

Yes, absolutely I disagree with him on very many issues. Gay rights, choice, etc. My point was just that, as head of the Catholic church, he could have been a lot worse.

The thing I can never get past with JP2 is his constant, absolute opposition to all forms of contraception. That position alone has probably done more harm than most of wars in history. Think of the number of AIDS deaths in Africa that might have been prevented if missionaries had been encouraged to distribute and promote condoms. In some cases, an opportunity lost can be a form of criminal negligence.

Good point. It is truly appalling to stake out a position so contrary to the well-being of millions. A position which, as you say, has literally caused millions of deaths and helped fan the flames of an epidemic.

It would seem that, on balance, his positions did more harm than good, even though he did make some decent gestures and promote peace.

Camerlengo: The pope is dead.

Bishop: No, no.....No, 'e's stunned!

Camerlengo: STUNNED?!?

Bishop: Yeah! You stunned 'im with your silver mallet, just as he was wakin' up!

Camerlengo: Um...now look...now look, mate, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. That pope is definitely deceased, and when I saw 'im lying in state not 'alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to 'im bein' tired and shagged out following 'is operation.

Bishop: Well, he's...he's, ah...probably pining for the fjords.

Camerlengo: Um...now look...now look, mate, I've definitely 'ad enough of this. This pope is dead! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-POPE!!

They didn't use the silver mallot this time..

As you sit there smug with your dismissal of the Church's policy re: contraception, please read this letter from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (some of which I quoted below):


"In a society which seems increasingly to downgrade the value of chastity, conjugal fidelity and temperance, and to be preoccupied sometimes almost exclusively with physical health and temporal well-being, the church's responsibility is to give that kind of witness which is proper to her, namely an unequivocal witness of effective and unreserved solidarity with those who are suffering and, at the same time, a witness of defense of the dignity of human sexuality which can only be realized within the context of moral law. It is likewise crucial to note, as the board statement does, that the only medically safe means of preventing AIDS are those very types of behavior which conform to God's law and to the truth about man which the church has always taught and today is still called courageously to teach."

That's cute, but of course it ignores troublesome reality. Sure, it would be nice, I guess, if you could just teach chastity to everyone, assuming people want to be chaste, which they don't, and everyone would be faithful and all that crap, but it just isn't the way the world is. The church can promote the "dignity of human sexuality" but in this case that promotion overrides the dignity and sanctity of human life. If the choice is between millions dying of a horrible plague and a small chink in the armor of the "dignity of human sexuality," some compromise may be in order. An argument can always be made to keep your eyes shut and fall back on dogma and "tradition" but I for one won't ignore the consequences those attitudes have. Church leaders make a choice to refuse to promote condom use to stop the spread of AIDS, and they should own up to the consequences of that choice, namely millions of deaths that could have been prevented.

The article you quote was written in 1988. Perhaps it would be interesting to evaluate whether the "courageous" policy of teaching chastity as a way of combatting AIDS has been successful in the past 17 years. I would say it's been an unmitigated disaster.

Finally, what the hell do a bunch of celibate priests know about human sexuality? It's like traffic laws being written by the blind.

Friz is right about one thing. (That is, if Fritz can be said to have stated anything; Fritz has a tendency to cower behind quotes from others and avoid staking out any positions himself, which might require rigorous thought on his part). At any rate, regardless of whose ideas are written above, one thing is correct within them: That the true aim of the Catholic Church in opposing contraception has nothing whatsoever to do with the JP2's poetics about a "culture of death." That was just a bunch of hocus pocus. The truth is, as anybody could tell, there is no death involved in contraception. (Death of what? An unfertilized egg? Abstinence kills them, too, sweetheart.) What the Church actually objects to, as Ratzinger makes clear, is sex for pleasure. To which I say: Get laid, Fritz, then we'll talk.

Sure the pope's position on contraception has led to much misery, but this reminds me of a TV report on vaccination in Africa. One needle for all - call that economic healthcare? I call it deliberate murder. How come all those people in Africa are dying of AIDS? Might it be because they use(d) one syringe for whole villages.... just my opinion though

Another quote:

"Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being."

And another:

"Love is a gift of God, nourished by and expressed in the encounter of man and woman. Love is thus a positive force directed towards their growth towards maturity as persons. In the plan of life which represents each person's vocation, love is also a precious source for the self-giving which all men and women are called to make for their own self-realization and happiness. In fact, man is called to love as an incarnate spirit, that is soul and body in the unity of the person. Human love hence embraces the body, and the body also expresses spiritual love. Therefore, sexuality is not something purely biological, rather it concerns the intimate nucleus of the person. The use of sexuality as physical giving has its own truth and reaches its full meaning when it expresses the personal giving of man and woman even unto death. As with the whole of the person's life, love is exposed to the frailty brought about by original sin, a frailty experienced today in many socio-cultural contexts marked by strong negative influences, at times deviant and traumatic. Nevertheless, the Lord's Redemption has made the positive practice of chastity into something that is really possible and a motive for joy, both for those who have the vocation to marriage (before, in the time of preparation, and afterwards, in the course of married life) as well as for those who have the gift of a special calling to the consecrated life."

And another:

"Go fuck yourself." -Dick Cheney

And another:

"A sensational event was changing from the brown suit to the gray the contents of his pockets. He was earnest about these objects. They were of eternal importance, like baseball or the Republican Party. They included a fountain pen and a silver pencil (always lacking a supply of new leads) which belonged in the righthand upper vest pocket. Without them he would have felt naked. On his watch-chain were a gold penknife, silver cigar-cutter, seven keys (the use of two of which he had forgotten), and incidentally a good watch. Depending from the chain was a large, yellowish elk’s-tooth-proclamation of his membership in the Brotherly and Protective Order of Elks. Most significant of all was his loose-leaf pocket note-book, that modern and efficient note-book which contained the addresses of people whom he had forgotten, prudent memoranda of postal money-orders which had reached their destinations months ago, stamps which had lost their mucilage, clippings of verses by T. Cholmondeley Frink and of the newspaper editorials from which Babbitt got his opinions. . ."

-"Babbitt," Sinclair Lewis

WSH said: "The truth is, as anybody could tell, there is no death involved in contraception. (Death of what? An unfertilized egg? Abstinence kills them, too, sweetheart.)"

The reply: "contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment "You shall not kill"."

Fritzy, you must realize that you can't defend religion by using religious texts. It's a matter of faith, not logic. If you believe it, believe it and go bask in your sexual virtue in peace (need a tissue?), but don't present it as equivalent to empirical truth. That's just silly.

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it."

So, what you're saying is that we can never make moral arguments based on religious belief? Which star may we then use to guide our direction in life? And, if human will is to be the only basis of action wheretofor rights, morality, decency, and dignity? If we have nothing to look towards outside ourselves don't we become small? Is this the dawn of the last man?

By the way, even the Founders appealed to faith(nature's God) to ground the natural rights they protected in the Constitution. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" because unaided reason alone is not enough to provide a moral guide.

As you and your readers pretend to be intellectuals, I encourage you to read Mr. Nietzsche's book "Thus Spake Zarathustra" to get a good sense of the dread inherent in a world where there is nothing that transcends human will. The ugliest man in the world, after all, is the atheist.

And to give your position its due, though certainly no recomendation, but for Heidigger, the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism was the rejection of all values and its naked reliance on human will and human reason.

No, that's not what I'm saying. You can make all the moral arguments you want based on religious belief, but you must recognize that they are based on faith, which is not universal. There are certain facts involved in the issue of human sexuality, AIDS, birth control, etc,. which the church ignores or confuses to promote its theology. What you believe is "proper" is not always the same as what will do the most good for the most people, and the implicit idea that they are better off risking death and spreading a plague than possibly thinking it's okay to fuck each other is arrogant and sad.

I have values, they are my own. My values do not include dictating what others may choose to do with their genitals.

Finally, your little Nazi dig there is fascinating considering your past responses to such comparisons.

How crude. The notion that an atheist cannot have morals is practically medieval. One might just as well say that the religious fanatic has no morals, because his morals are not truly his own, but merely the dictates of his faith. For the atheist, there are no false, easy answers, no reassuring commands or artificial mores handed blindly across the seas and ages. His morals derive from inner searching, from personal doubt and private wonder, not the wormy screed of some first-century zealot. He must determine what is right and what is wrong on the basis of his own judgment, which is to say, he can only evaluate an idea or a behavior by asking himself, would this behavior make the world more beautiful or more ugly. To be sure, this is more complicated and less certain than what the religious fanatic claims to have; in searching without the promise of answers, without the crutch of a Holy Book, the atheist acknowledges his own small capacity to know. Through his very lack of faith, he practices the humility which the religious nut preaches, but cannot practice, thanks to his unwavering confidence in knowing the Ultimate Truth. The atheist claims no Ultimate Truth, but doubts anyone who pretends to have it. He is not guided by his temporal will; the atheist knows as well as the religious fanatic that the right decision may not be the easy one, but unlike the religious fanatic, when he does the right thing anyway, it is out of nobility and true conscience, not coercion or the threat of eternal damnation. You ask what star the atheist may follow? Why, no star, of course. The atheist can do much better than that. He is able to think.

WSH: take a few days and read Thus Spake Zarathustra. Carefully. Then read it again. Carefully. Read some of Heidigger's gloss. Soak it up. A morality based on human will is no morality at all. Man is small, and without something that transcends himself, he grows smaller still. Zarathustra is not a human possibility.

The Last Man is the reality for a world without transcendent moral truth.

Now, if you want to criticize particular relgious bigots, feel free. Their mistakes, exagerations, and strange enthusiasms do not touch on the inner truth of religious belief. In my own case, the Creationists drive me up the wall. Be that as it may, don't fall into the typical psuedo-intellectual trap of tarring all with the same brush.

"Would this behavior make the world more beautiful or more ugly?" What, pray tell, forms the criteria for judgement? With will as the only guide, could a person not overthrow commonly accepted notions of beautiful and ugly and create his own scale? Wouldn't we all have our own scales infinintly at odds with one another? If then, does that not throw down the whole possibility of beauty and ugliness?

Fritz, read my post above. Carefully. Than abandon your false God and find beauty in human reason. Sure, it's fragile, and not everyone agrees, and the answers aren't always right. That's what differentiates the liberated mind form the shackles of religious tyranny. The ability to accept that fact, and be at peace, rather than fabricating comforting illusions.

You don't really understand atheism, the kind of giving up of hope that it really represents. Freethinking and freedom from authoritarian structures are one thing, the "drinking up of the ocean" refered to by Zarathustra is quiet another.

Its rather high school level philosophizing to suppose that religious belief and rigorous thought are mutually exclusive. Read Kant's Introduction to the Metaphysics of Morals to get a sense that a very strict, authoritarian structure that relies on transcendence (the catagorical imperative) as its very basis is no foe to rigorous philosophic inquiry. Kants God's is the super-Reasonable, pure reason removed from any particular context, and only in His light is true "human being" possible.

Plato's Socrates is another argument for the idea that free inquiry and a transcendent moral truth are not contradicitions. Socrates never for one moment doubted the existence of a divine law. He just spent his whole life trying to figure out what that law was and whether human beings could know it.

Oh, bosh, Fritz. You're making so many assumptions and semantic leaps it's hard to know where to begin. Of course you can apply rigorous thought to religious beliefs. You can also, if you like, apply rigorous thought to Star Trek, but that doesn't make it true. The question that separates the atheist from the religious person is not whether you can have fun with premises like, "If God existed, then what?" or, "If teleportation existed, then what?" The question for the atheist is, "How can anyone think God is more real than teleportation?" If it is your hope to debunk the atheist's world view, and to make silly his disbelief, you'll have to do a lot better than quoting people who share the same assumptions as you. You argue that, just because Socrates assumed "the existence of a divine law," therefore we should all assume it. Well, my Uncle Maury assumes the existence of flying pigs. Are you in? And if not, why not? And why should I be with your guys? Also, to make your side look good, you choose to rewrite the definition of atheism, calling it, "giving up of hope." Actually, ERRRRRRRNT, not the definition of atheism. The word for "giving up of hope" is, "hopelessness." A definition of "atheism" might be "giving up of God." Of course, you could argue that without God there can be no hope, but then you'd be assuming the conclusion again, wouldn't you? The truth is, you can't get to religion through reason; even if somebody could, you can't. You, apparently, can't even try. Which is why it's a waste my time to try to explain to you, when all you're doing is making more assumptions and quoting others who share them. So I'll leave you the last word, if you like, and I'll even promise to skim through it. Just be sure to quote somebody important! It makes you sound so learned!

If you can't get to God through reason, can you get to human rights? Human dignity? The natural law? A moral law which is true for all people in all places in all times?

Do these things have more truth value than flying pigs and the Pope's God?

If so, how so? If not, why should we respect them at all?

"Alas! There cometh the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man-and the string of his bow will have
unlearned to whizz!" Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Sure, Fritz, it's easy.

To get to human rights and dignity, you only have to be human. Think of yourself - know yourself - and then extrapolate. Reason.

As for a moral law which is true for all people in all places at all times, I'm afraid morality isn't quite so neat and tidy. If there were such a law, it sure would have a lot of 'excepts...'.

We respect human rights because we know what it is to be human, and we have compassion because we can see ourselves in others. We recognize similarity of experience. These things have more truth value than flying pigs or anyone's god - which have none - because they are based on real life, not made up shit.

Nice discussion. As an atheist, I don't find it difficult to know my ethical norms. I ask myself, "Am I treating this person as I would want to be treated?", "Am I treating this person as they want to be treated?", and "If all human beings were to act the way I do, would that be good or bad for the experience of the human species over the short, medium and long term?"

The answers to these questions is what tells me that religious tolerance is good, that prohibition of contraception is bad, that driving a gas-guzzling SUV is not good.

These are not always easy questions. When they are hard, I make my best educated guess, and I strive to be more educated. By being more reasoned, I can be more ethical. Far from giving up hope, atheism (particular secular humanism) encourages a virtuous circle for those who refuse faith sans reason and engage their minds in their ethical choices.


Other than your personal preference, is there any reason to value freedom over slavery? Is there any further reason for preferring Einstein and Aristotle to Hitler and Stalin OTHER than your personal bigotry? What non-arbitrary reason can we give for why the choice for Hitler is a mistake? What makes your compassion more than mere bigotry?

Following Harry Neumann’s book Liberalism (1991): For the atheist, “no nonarbitary reason exists for anything. Nobody’s moral-political passions (“values”) are more than empty prejudices. Strongly political or moral men use all available force and propaganda to discredit opposing prejudices (“values”). Life is a war of conflicting bigotries. Nothing is more bigoted… than the claim to want to be free of bigotry!”

Here Neumann continues: “I prefer Kierkegaard’s frank admission that Christian faith in salvation from reality’s nothingness is a desperate leap into the impossible!” Without a non-arbitrary standard of right and wrong “contemporary egalitarian concern for suffering mankind is trivial sentimentality.”

A long quote from Spinoza provided by Neumann: “The natural right of the individual man is determined not by sound reason but by desire and power… we do not here acknowledge any difference between mankind and other individual natural entities… nor between fools, madmen and sane men… natural right prohibits only such things as no one desires and no one can attain. It does not forbid strife, hatred, anger, deceit or any of the means suggested by desire. This we need not wonder at, for nature is not bounded by the laws of human reason which aims only at man’s benefit and preservation; her limits are infinitely wider… If anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd or evil, it is because… we want everything arranged according to the dictates of our human reason. In reality that which reason considers evil is not evil in respect to nature as a whole.”


Okay, first, it gets pretty tiresome to have you make arguments based on nothing more than quotes from other people, though it does fit nicely with the idea of basing morality purely on the "word of god" or whatever. There is no original, rational thought here, no examination of what these things mean to you, only what they mean to someone - or some god - else.

The problem with everything you quote is that it presupposes the existence of god, as do all so-called rational arguments concerning the divine. These arguments are meaningless if god does not exist, and you can't prove that he/she/it/they does/do.

It basically all boils down to, "If there is no god, well, that would be so sad and I would feel so empty, so there must be one." This is extremely flimsy. If you strongly believe that without god, there is no basis for morality, this still proves nothing.

The values expressed by Luke, WSH and myself above are not arbitrary. Luke's humanistic analysis of what one might call the Golden Rule is far from arbitrary, it is specific and thoughtful, and often produces predictable results. Of course, a nonarbitrary moral philosophy does not require having an easy, pat answer for every moral dilemma. In fact, I would say that the simpler morality is likely the more arbitrary as it allows for no further input or discussion. Right is right because it's right, and that's that.

As for your first questions... In a certain sense - a very narrow, limited, unhelpful sense - sure, preferring freedom to slavery and Einstein to Hitler is a "prejudice" as is just about everything else. But this is no more useful than pointing out that it is entirely possible that the pull of gravity will suddenly reverse itself and we'll all go flying off into space where we will die like miserable swine. It may be literally true, but it's still bullshit.

In a more realistic sense, there is plenty of sound reason behind preferring freedom to slavery, etc. It is possible to determine good without god, and Luke has shown a successful way of doing so above. You can malign it by calling it 'bigotry,' but you're using a negative word in an atypical way. In the sense that bigotry is simply the preference for one's own ideas, fine. In that sense, though, everyone, religious or not, is as bigoted as anyone else and the word has lost all meaning.

To put it simply - what makes compassion more than mere bigotry is the COMPASSION.

I find it astounding that you would argue that without religion there is no basis for understanding why slavery is preferable to freedom. This is not a difficult question. I'm not aware of anyone, ever, who truly wished to be a slave. I also know that I fervently wish to be free. That works for me. You can semantically equate this with bigotry if you like, but all you show is that you have a firmer grasp on what it is to be a philosophy student than on what it is to be a human being.

What you say is true and I realize that it's a very flimsy argument. Thus my citation of Kierkegaard: it is the leap into the impossible. My main point is to show that atheism is not an attractive alternative to religious belief. People who call themselves atheists, unless they be the overman, should mourn His passing. I would like you to take the lesson of Zarathustra who declines to tell the Saint in the forest that God is Dead: he is not worried about giving a gift, he's worried about taking something away.

Not many people may wish to be slaves, but how many people wish to be masters? I tend to side with Hobbes: as many as think they have the power. Why is your desire to be free more valid than their desire to be a master?

Every soul, if I may be permitted to use that apparently archaic word, has something of every possible soul in it, just in different mixtures: that is how we can understand other people, even tyrants. For example, when we watch Oedipus Rex we are struck by the tragedy insofar as we can appreciate Oedipus's humanity, though I don't suppose many of us have killed our father and married our mother. If compassion is the hook upon which you hinge moral action I shudder, because while we can understand Ghandi, we can also understand Hitler. There are bad souls in the world and the question we must ask: how do we know which souls are bad?

You fervently wish to be free. I may fervently wish to be a master. Why ought your wish hold more moral weight than mine? The Myth of Er at the end of Plato's Republic shows a scene where men pick their souls. As Plato points out, there are those who would pick to be tyrants even knowing that it would mean that they ate their children and committed all sorts of horrible crimes. In the same book there is Thrsymachus who, when asked to define justice, answers "The Good of the Stronger."

What criteria does Luke use to determine good or bad? You talk about compassion. Hitler's compassion? Ghandi's compassion?

If there is no non-arbitrary standard then there is no morality. Nihilism.

Is this an argument for God? NO! But it is a reason to hope and to show that religious belief, if a kind of bigotry as you say, is at least a bigotry that looks outside itself and steps beyond the illusions gained by empty experience.

This is not about "attractive alternatives," it's about faith. If you believe in god, fine. I don't. I didn't "decide" not to believe in god any more than you decided TO believe in god. I simply don't. I can explain why, in a certain way, but not in a way that will satisfy a religious argument. I don't believe in god for the same reason I don't believe in flying pigs. Whether it's attractive or not is completely irrelevant.

That Zarahoohoo decided to allow someone their comfortable fantasy instead of shattering it is fine. Nice guy. Who cares?

Compassion does not equal understanding. That we can recognize a facet of the human condition in Hitler or Oedipus does not mean that the moral value of their actions is the same as that of Gandhi's. I would also offer that, from a moral perspective, I don't understand Hitler one bit.

You shudder to think of hanging morality on compassion? What do you suppose is the root of Christian morality? I'm no biblical scholar, but I believe it's something pretty damn close to compassion. Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor and all that. Hanging morality on the teachings of long-dead mystics is less shudder inducing? Not to me, buddy.

Slave vs. Master - Again, we know that freedom is preferable because we know ourselves. They who would want to be masters also desire to be free, specifically to be free to master others. So the desire to be free would appear to be universal - insofar as all desire is, by definition, a desire to be free - while the desire to master is not universal, and it precludes the universal desire to be free. Masters lose. Same logic as yelling fire in a theater versus free speech. If the expression of your freedom (to own slaves, for example) prevents others from enjoying a freedom that all would wish for (not to be slaves), your desire can be restricted and potentially said to be immoral. That some would choose to be tyrants does not make it any harder to determine that tyranny is wrong. I know this because I live and breathe.

As for Luke's moral criteria, which I share, he already answered your question:
"I ask myself, 'Am I treating this person as I would want to be treated?', 'Am I treating this person as they want to be treated?', and 'If all human beings were to act the way I do, would that be good or bad for the experience of the human species over the short, medium and long term?'"

The fact that these questions don't always provide simple answers in no way argues against it as a moral system.

Hitler lacked compassion; Gandhi had it in abundance. This comparison is absurd. Again, compassion does not equal understanding.

How is a religious standard of morality any less arbitrary than a non-religious one? You base yours on the supposed word of an unseen god, I base mine on the experience of being alive. Which is more arbitrary?

My morality DOES look outside of itself; religious morality often tends not to. Experiences inconsistent with the framework are dismissed or explained away. Imagining a divine will or authority is no more "looking outside yourself" than is worshipping toadstools. There are many things beyond my understanding, but I don't require a mythology to act as a catch-all explanation.

Finally, you blithely suppose that experience without religion is "empty." On the contrary, my experience is far from empty. It is rich, passionate, and full of hope.

“That we can recognize a facet of the human condition in Hitler… does not mean that the moral value of their actions is the same as that of Gandhi’s." My point exactly. Why is this true? Because every person does not create their own morality out of whole cloth from force of will. There is a universal standard that is true in all times, for all people, and in all situations. These rights stem from our creator, nature or nature’s God.

My problem with Luke’s moral criteria is not that they don’t make sense, or that they don’t have a certain charm, or that I think obeying them would be a bad thing. Luke is apparently a very well behaved person. Rather, my objection is that he cites no criteria of duty that stems from anything but an arbitrary decision on his part to act respectively towards others. As a mere anthropological detail, one of the interesting aspects of slave societies is the continuous fear of open rebellion. The Spartans, for instance, stoked this danger among their Helots quite purposefully in an effort to mold themselves into the most virtuous warriors in Greece. In their hierarchy of value the desire for the conditions to develop a Spartan warrior elite trumped any desire on the part of the Helots. Their law taught them that this was true for them. They argued that they had an absolute right to oppress the Helots.

Sitting here today, we say to ourselves: “Well, that just isn’t right.” But why can’t the Spartans just come back and say, “You just don’t understand our culture, our way of life. We have our law, you have yours. Respect our law. You’re a bigot.”

Is my loathing of chattel slavery, female circumcision, and child marriage a mere sign of bigotry? Did I arbitrarily decide to be against those things, or is there some universal argument that any reasonable person could understand that would show that they are wrong?
Another way of stating this: is there a non-arbitrary, transcendent moral standard?
Can I decide not to be compassionate? Is there any duty that calls me to show compassion? Nature is not a democracy. Hobbes argues that in a state of war, that state where there is no government and no authority to adjudicate in disagreements between persons, men begin to feed on men. In the Leviathan we learn that governments are formed not out of desire for freedom, but from a fear of violent death. You can read the argument. It’s Chapter 8 I think. Men give up the absolute freedom they enjoy in nature in exchange for the protection they receive from governmental authority. In nature, freedom is less than useless because men’s lives in that state are, in the famous phrase, “nasty, brutish, and short.”

If my will to power is stronger than my compassion can I then enslave people? What non-arbitrary standard requires me to respect the rights of others? Consistency? Why should I care about consistency? Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds: passions are a hierarchy and my desire for mastery trumps my fear at losing my freedom. I accept the self-annihilating repercussions of a mad desire for mastery. Why is this wrong?

From your arguments I can see that you do in fact believe in a non-arbitrary, transcendent moral standard. Slavery is always wrong. Genocide is always wrong. Incest is always wrong. My deficient compassion aside, I am called by a moral duty that stems from outside myself, to restrain my deviant desires and respect the rights of others.

Despite your protestations to the contrary, you are NOT an atheist.

Now we can sit here all day and argue the ontological status of God or from where moral duty stems. Islam’s God? The Jewish God? Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Nazarenes? Nature’s God? These are all open to question. There is one thing I think is clear and that you should realize. You look outside yourself for moral guidance to a non-arbitrary standard that is true for all people. Morality does not stem simply from your will. While human beings often ignore the dictates of moral duty, they do not create them and they cannot destroy them. These moral duties exist outside the human soul.

You do not refute what I said above, you merely disagree. You present your opinions, however, as irrefutable. They are not. It's just arrogance. I do not argue, as you do, that my moral system MUST be true.

You do the same when you incessantly quote all these dead people. Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass what Hobbes thought. Hobbes is not Truth. Examine your word choice: "In the Leviathan we learn..." What we learn in the Leviathan is what Hobbes thought about the formation of governments. It is far from the final word on the subject.

Greek history is equally irrelevant.

In the end, this argument is futile. You've basically devolved it into semantics. What does bigotry mean? What is an atheist? You seek to take any argument and reform it to fit your position or redefine the terms to do the same. It's just a stupid game. You'll claim I'm not an atheist by redefining god as just about anything you want. It's silly.

Morality "outside of myself," even if we accept your terms, which I don't, still does not imply god. My morality comes from my knowledge of what it is to be human, as I've said, and nothing more. It is based on countless assumptions about how other people feel, which may be wrong, but I doubt it. My morality may also evolve, and it does. It may also be wrong. I'm comfortable with that. I don't need absolute truth, nor do I seek it.

You insist that morality based on experience is arbitrary. I disagree. I think that morality based on religion is arbitrary. You disagree.

I'm sure one of your old friends can resolve the dispute with some nice absolute certainty.

Bigotry: adhering to one standard over another when there is no non-arbitrary means of differentiating between the two. Especially when you condemn standards that disagree with yours. Example: “I like chocolate ice cream. People who don’t like chocolate ice cream are bad.”

Atheism: rejection of any non-arbitrary transcendent moral standard.

Why is your knowledge of what it means to be human authoritative? What give it its authoritative character?

I would dare say that your experience is particular and limited, as is all human experience. That is why we read books. If there is the possibility of communication among people then there is also the possibility of communication across time through books. In your rejection of lessons from philosophy and history, you also apparently are against reading the books of those that have come before and tried to make sense of this world, limiting your horizon even more.

I’ll just let you know this right now: no philosopher of any repute or renown has taken the theory of moral sentiments seriously since David Hume. The weight of philosophical opinion is not against me, Anthony. It is against you.

Here’s a question: are you denying that you know the Truth, or are you denying the possibility of knowing the Truth? If you are only denying that you known the Truth and, by extension, also denying that I know the Truth, are you also denying that anyone should be searching for the Truth? If so, why? Why don’t we need the Truth? Shouldn’t we examine and investigate the metaphysics of morals in order to improve ourselves?

By the way, your presentation of religion, as the home of bigots, idiots, and the uninquisitive, is a strawman. Take a moment and look at Catholic and Jewish theology and philosophy. I think you will be suprised at the depth of investigation, the centuries of inquisitive yearning for Truth.

Atheism: Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.

Anybody can go around declaring what words mean, but it don't make it so.

Again - My standard of differentiating between one standard and another is no more arbitrary than yours. Yours is based on religion. You have yet to explain how that is non-arbitrary. Bigot.

Obviously, I don't reject books, knowledge, or "lessons from philosophy or history." I do reject them as being authoritative and absolute. I read books to stimulate my own thought, not to tell me how or what to think. What has been written in books is an arbitrary standard.

I have a degree in philosophy, if you care to know, though this makes me no more inclined to be swayed by "the weight of philosophical opinion" than I am by the weight of religious opinion. Or the weight of redneck opinion. Or circus clowns. The weight of opinion is an arbitrary standard.

Searching for Truth does not require a belief that you will find Truth. Improving yourself does not require absolute certainty or even a belief in it.

You rest everything on this idea of arbitrariness, but you fail to show that your standard is any less arbitrary than another. It derives its authority from faith only.

Your accusation that I have employed a strawman is itself a strawman, as is your declaration that I reject history, books, etc., and that I condemn those who disagree with me. Show me where I have presented religion as the "home of bigots, idiots, and the uninquisitive." Bigots, idiots and the uninquisitive are clearly at home just about everywhere, and by no means limited to the realm of religion, though it certainly houses its share.

Take a moment and look at non-religious thought. I think you will be surprised at the depth of investigation and the centuries of inquisitive yearning to be found among those who do not believe in god.

It is nice to see you making reasoned arguments, Fritz, even if they are wrong. Far more interesting this way. Still, I think you're missing something critical here. You ask, repeatedly, "Is there a non-arbitrary, transcendent moral standard?" For the sake of argument, let's say that there is one. We will presume one with you, for a moment. This will be a non-arbitrary, transcendant moral standard, or law, which is divine, which supercedes human will, and is true for all people, in all places, at all times. Now, what does this mean? To begin, it means that, if we hope to be moral, we must adhere to the tenets of this moral law. Correct? But how can we do that? How can we know the tenets of the moral law? Certainly, we've already said that we cannot rely merely on compassion, judgment, and reason to discover the transcendant moral law, because these are arbitrary; bigoted. So how can we discover the divine law? Do we ask God? Do we ask the church? Which church? There are many competing notions of divine law, how do we know which one is right? We cannot use our judgment to decide this either, because then we would be subject to our own bigotry again. We cannot ask, for example, which church feels right to me? Or, which divine law seems to be just and good and reasonable? Or, which value system conforms to my own intuition and experience? This would be as arbitrary as asking which behavior feels right. But what other basis do we have? Even if we do not use our reason and judgment and compassion to dictate our specific behaviors, we still must rely on these things to determine which rigid moral code we choose to follow? We have, by assuming the existence of a divine moral law, accomplished nothing toward the goal of becoming moral. We remain hostage to our own experience and reason. Either we guess at the right behavior, or we guess at the right moral law. What is the difference? How can you believe that one is more or less arbitrary than the other? You talk about the need to "examine and investigate the metaphysics of morals." Do you not realize that this "examination" is precisely what Luke and Anthony and I do every day, with regard to every decision we make, and that it is no more or less "bigoted" and "arbitrary" to choose a God and a Law than it is to choose which divine law to follow?

First of all, Anthony, half of the ski-instructors in Aspen have Philosophy degrees, so I would like to stay away from comparing credentials if you don’t mind.

Secondly, WSH your quote: “Certainly, we've already said that we cannot rely merely on compassion, judgment, and reason to discover the transcendent moral law, because these are arbitrary; bigoted.” With the follow-up: what can we rely on then?

I never said reason, compassion, or judgements were arbitrary or bigoted. They are our most important tools. I said that a moral law based SOLELY on reason, judgement, or compassion was bigoted, because it begged the question: what standard do you use to guide your reasonable or compassionate judgement of good and evil? Previously, Luke said something like; “I imagine whether my actions will create a better rather than a worse world.” To Luke, I reply, better or worse on whose terms? Following Aristotle: the city comes into existence for the sake of mere life, it continues to exist for the sake of the good life. Luke’s “moral” decision might meet the criteria for the first kind of city, but does it satisfy the requirements of the second?

One of my professors has the following example: applying their reason using the scientific method, men have finally perfected the technology of cloning. Now, can the scientific method also tell us whether we should clone Hitler or Churchill? What about cloning Cicero or Caesar? Reason, especially applied in terms of science, is powerful, useful, and discovers many interesting things about the world. However, what information would we need to make the kind of moral distinction that guides the application of science? Does unaided reason that looks to nothing beyond itself contain the information necessary to make moral judgements or must it appeal to a standard outside of itself? (And let us not make the mistake of assuming that it is easy, simple, or straightforward to know that standard, make sense of the standard, or apply that standard.)

Anthony wrote: “Searching for Truth does not require a belief that you will find Truth.” In some strict sense that is correct, you don’t need absolute confidence that you will find the truth. Modesty may prevent you from affirming that you will, indeed, find the Truth. Maybe you just aren’t smart enough. Socrates never claimed to have found the Truth, and he was a heck of a lot smarter than you or I. However, like Socrates, to search for the Truth you must assume that there is a Truth to be found. Philosophy begins with the assumption that there is a Truth to be found, otherwise all is nihilism.

Without the axiom that there is a transcendent moral standard rooted in nature that is true for all people in all times, human thought is not possible. The alternative is solipsism (followed by nihilism for the more thoughtful).

[I won’t pursue the argument, but I wonder if your picture of religion is too simplistic. You often talk about rigid moral laws, made fun of the celibacy of priests, etc… By the way, compassion in the Catholic Church is a moral obligation or moral duty. Now, it would be preferable that you have the right kind of character and feel compassion in the right situations, but you still have a moral duty to practice compassionate actions whether you feel the emotion or not.]

As for methods for philosophizing about the nature, status, and identity of the moral law, they are manifold: Socrates began with examining common opinions. Kant imagined a disembodied pure reason separated from all particular experience, context, or emotional state. Hobbes and Locke abstracted from the behavior of men and rooted politics in natural law. All assumed that there was a transcendent moral standard, true for all men in all places and all time. None assumed that they knew perfectly what that standard was. (Socrates was wise not because he knew what justice was, but because he knew that he didn’t know what justice was.) They all claimed to discover the nature of morality, not create it. Whatever their method, they all thought they were talking about the world, and man’s place in it, not just about their own, individual, limited soul.

In any case, I have yet to posit a standard of any kind. While I assume that there is a Truth to be found, I have not at any time indicated that I know what that Truth is. Unlike you, I will not presumptively dismiss those who claim to know: i.e., the Catholic Church or religious people generally.

Instances where Anthony has unfairly maligned those who adhere to a religion:

1.) God as made up shit: “These things have more truth value than flying pigs or anyone's god - which have none - because they are based on real life, not made up shit.”

2.) Blaming the Church for deaths from AIDS: “An argument can always be made to keep your eyes shut and fall back on dogma and "tradition" but I for one won't ignore the consequences those attitudes have. Church leaders make a choice to refuse to promote condom use to stop the spread of AIDS, and they should own up to the consequences of that choice, namely millions of deaths that could have been prevented.”

3.) Presenting religion as the realm of simpletons who ignore philosophical difficulties, conflating the worship of God with the worship of fungus, and dismissing other’s religion as mythology: “My morality DOES look outside of itself; religious morality often tends not to. Experiences inconsistent with the framework are dismissed or explained away. Imagining a divine will or authority is no more "looking outside yourself" than is worshipping toadstools. There are many things beyond my understanding, but I don't require a mythology to act as a catch-all explanation.”

Oh balls, Fritz. Is that the best you can do?

Your definition of maligning those with religious beliefs would appear to be not agreeing with them.

1. As far as I'm concerned, god is "made up shit." I don't care, though, if you believe otherwise. As for truth value, I'm sure you'll agree that we need some basis for such determinations, and that the accepted basis is empirical evidence. Spiritual value is a different matter and entirely subjective.

2. How does this malign religious folk? Pointing out the negative consequences of religious teachings is not allowed? I find the church's doctrine on contraceptive to be barbaric in that it has kept condom availability in many parts of the world tragically low and contributed to the cultural resistance to condom use in those places. People will have sex, whether the church likes it or not, and they insult the intelligence of people everywhere with this "promoting condom use encourages promiscuity" crap. What it encourages are life-spans beyond 35.

When the Pope apologized for Roman Catholic community's silence or complicity during the Holocaust, was he maligning the church?

3. Again, in my eyes, worshipping god is not fundamentally different than worshipping a mushroom except in its cultural and organizational aspects.

Anyway, this is pretty lame. I have my opinions about religion and observations about the (very) general tendencies of religious people I've encountered. Just because you disagree doesn't make my opinions malignant or unfair.

And really, I'm sure I've said much worse than these quotes. My posts on Intelligent Design would be a good place to check.

It is rather unbecoming to argue something and then pretend you didn't. You write, "I never said reason, compassion, or judgements were arbitrary or bigoted." Indeed, you have said precisely that. There's no point pretending otherwise. You have argued very clearly (albeit falsely) that a moral system based on reason, judgment, and compassion is arbitrary and bigoted unless there is a "divine law" to back it up. By necessity, this means that, without a divine law to bolster them, reason, compassion, and judgment are arbitrary and bigoted. I'm not reading into your posts. You've been very lucid about that, to your credit. That's why you wrote, "What makes your compassion more than mere bigotry?" But let's not try to back off now, just because the glaring contradictions are starting to become apparent. Let's be honest about what you're saying. What you've been saying all along is that, without a transcendant moral law, reason and judgment and compassion are arbitrary and bigoted. A moral system based on those things is, to you, empty and unattractive. Yet you seem unable to explain how a religious moral code is based on anything but reason, judgment, and compassion.After all, the religious person may believe in the EXISTENCE of a divine law, but he has no more KNOWLEDGE of it than you or me or Socrates. Yet he still has a moral code, doesn't he? Therefore, his moral code CANNOT be based on the divine law, which makes it just as bigoted and arbitrary, in your view, as atheism or secular humanism.

Likewise, you have argued that atheism itself is "ugly" because it has no "Truth" and depends purely on human "will," which leads you to horrible images of the "Last Man." Fair enough, atheism is not comfortable to you, then. But that doesn't make it inaccurate, or wrong. There is no reason to believe that, just because you find the possibility of a Godless world to be depressing, therefore there must be a God. You brush off the extreme irrationality of this position by calling faith, "a desperate leap into the impossible" but that strikes me as a cop-out. A better phrase for this argument might be, "a desperate leap into logical disconnect." How can you claim to seek truth and then, when it turns out that it might be ugly and unattractive, leap into the impossible?

Let me put this simply:

Reason is a tool. Like all tools it can be used for good, evil, or indifferent ends.

A standard of judgement for the use of reason exists outside of reason.

Human beings do not create the standards of judgement from force of will, they discover them.

In addition, how we choose a moral law, or determine the correctness of a particular moral law, is a different argument and not at all dependent on what makes morality POSSIBLE. Maybe I should have followed Kant and called this the groundwork of the metaphysics of morals.

Atheism denies the possibility of moral law because it denies the possibility of a standard of judgement existing outside the human soul and reduces all ends to those chosen by human will. Individual humans are limited in experience, myopic in their field of vision, and variable in their egotistical preference of their own: they are not good judges. Even if humans were Gods, with none of these limitations, they would still be subject to Socrates’ question from the Euthyphro: Is it good because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is good?

Atheism makes man the measure of all things. Measures of good and evil are based on the arbitrary decisions of individual human souls at the prompting of human will.

(Nihilism goes even further and denies the possibility of measurement.)

Let me restate the argument with more subtlety:

Axiom of the metaphysics of morals: In so far as a moral system is true, it is based on a non-arbitrary transcendent moral code, discoverable by man, that is true in all places at all times.

Now, the religious person, among others, including the Kantian, etc…, have the basis of a moral law. They do not will a moral system into existence, they discover it. Whether their moral law is the correct one or not is determined by a lot of philosophical heavy lifting that I’m not willing to do here. And I don’t really need to because my concern is with the axiom.

Let’s say it again: this is an axiom that makes moral thought possible.

I’ll use an example to try and get it across: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Now, how did the signers of the Declaration of Independence know these things? What, exactly, does self-evident mean? Interesting questions all and the sound basis for an investigation into the metaphysics of morals. Is appeal to self-evidence a copout?

Now, without this axiom, all the reasoning in the world will not allow you to boot strap yourself to any moral law, mainly because you will not be able to determine any criteria of moral judgement. Democratic ethics, Nazi ethics, Cannibal ethics? Who can tell? Just go with whatever makes you feel good, i.e., whatever it is that you will.

If you follow the Founders, and allow the possibility of a self-evident, non-arbitrary, transcendent truth, you can begin to philosophize. What did they really mean by Life? Is this a consistent principle? What would be a better principle? 200 years of Constitutional law should put to bed the idea that dealing with moral principles is neither easy, stultifying of thought, or pat.

The point is that you have to begin with the axiom that moral law is possible or you are left with nothing but solipsism.

Now, if atheism is true, then statements like “It is rather unbecoming to argue something and then pretend you didn’t” are worse than wrong, they are meaningless. You think it is unbecoming. You “Will” it to be “unbecoming.” But is there some shared standard where I should recognize it as unbecoming? Not according to you, because you make-up all of your moral judgements based on personal experience with no guiding standard. On your grounding, any sort of truth claim that you would like to make is not even wrong because my personal experience is different than yours. Any time you offer a criticism, make a judgement, refer to facts in the world, or rely on a notion of good or evil you are just making noise and telling the world about the state of your soul.

Now, one of my professors actually agrees with you: nihilism is true, in so far as something can be true when true or false have no independent meaning, existing only as expressions of the will. His name is Harry Neumann. He wrote a very interesting book called, oddly enough, “Liberalism.”

Really, Fritz, I'm sick to death of this. It has so little to do with actual life it's staggering. If you are satisfied that you have proved that an atheist is not capable of living a moral life, so be it. It's absurd in any sense but that of your silly navel-gazing.

How is it that you can have a "guiding moral standard" and yet you can't tell anyone what it is? How then, does it guide you? You punt WSH's criticism; you never address it. You have not shown how a religious moral code is anything other than arbitrary. You just keep restating your premise.

Oh, and tell your professor I said that he should work with you on your writing style. It's quite arrogant. More flies with honey, sweetie.

I agree. Beneath the veneer of jargon and re-stated premises, Fritz, your core argument is: That because the atheist does not believe in absolute truth and divine law, therefore he is incapable of "discovering" absolute truth and divine law. This is both highly circular and patently false. For one, the atheist does not seek absolute truth or divine law, so it is inconsequential to him if he doesn't find them. (Likewise, it is inconsequential to me that the things I find "unattractive" are different than the things you find "unattractive" - you say atheism is unattractive, I say disavowing your own arguments is. But you make my point when you agree that both of these are subjective notions - it is subjectivity I champion and which you find intolerable.) Second, even if the atheist is wrong and there IS a divine law or absolute truth, there is still no reason to believe that the atheist is less likely to stumble upon it - using his reason, judgment, and compassion - than the religious person. After all, just because the religious person believes in divine law does not afford him with any special tool to discern what it might say, if it does exist. Like the atheist, he is dependent upon his reason, compassion, and judgment - those horribly bigoted and arbitrary tools. At best, he has the same chance of finding truth as the non-believer. Finally, it is almost incalculably absurd for you to suggest that anyone who does not share your premise that there is a divine law is, therefore, incapable of "human thought." It is one thing to disagree with your opponents; quite another to re-define "thought" so as to exclude (from humanity, no less) anyone who disagrees. This strikes me as cheapening the dialogue with rhetorical bullying. But that's just my subjective judgment. Ahem.

The atheist's position is more than "not believing", atheists DENY the existence of the divine law. Atheists don't say, “Hey, I don't really buy all that Catholic stuff,” they say, "Religious worship is tantamount to worshiping toadstools." If an atheist allowed for the possibility of absolute truth and the divine law she wouldn't be an atheist, she would be an agnostic.

Also, if a person accepted the premise of the divine law, but denied that she knew what it was and tried to figure it out, she would be a philosopher.

And I'm not saying that an atheist couldn't live a moral life. Plenty of people stumble in to good forms of behavior, especially if they have the right kind of education. However, atheists couldn’t justify or defend their choice of a moral life based on anything other than their own preferences, which is really no justification at all.

Errrrnt. Nice fly pattern, but I'm not chasing it. The distinction between "not believing" and "denying" is wholly irrelevant here, and serves as little more than a distraction. It may be relevant in a debate between an agnostic and an atheist, but here it is merely the difference between two levels of serious doubt about the premises that you assert. For the record, I do deny the existence of a divine law. It is also true that I don't believe in a divine law. The two things are no more mutually exclusive than, say, the Catholic Church and homosexuality. They coexist. That said, I do not have a problem with the word "deny" and we can use it, especially if it will help you in some way to address any of the serious issues I've raised above. For at least three posts now, you have declined to respond to any of the criticisms that Anthony and I have raised about your position. Absent some kind of interaction between what we write and what you write, I'm afraid we are all reduced to the very solipsism that you are so quick to condemn, and then equally quick to create.

Before we can determine the dictates of the moral law, or how we come to know the moral law, or whether anyone actually knows (or has known) the moral law, we must first determine what a moral law is and what its characteristics must be.

If a moral law exists then it will have the following characteristics:

1. It will be non-arbitrary (not determined by force of “will”)
2. It will be transcendental (independent of any particular experience)
3. It will be universal (true for all times and all people)
4. It will be obligatory (imposes a duty)
5. It will be intelligible (knowable, though not necessarily known)

Ignorance of all or part of the moral law will not invalidate the above definition. If the above definition is true, then moral law exists whether one knows it or not. Obviousness is not a necessary characteristic of the moral law.

My argument: the philosophical investigation of the moral law assumes the above definition at the same time that it retains a skepticism regarding whether we know the moral law.

If one does not accept the above definition then one is not talking about moral laws, one is talking about moral preferences, feelings, or values. A world with nothing higher than preferences, feelings, or values is fundamentally nihilistic.

For nihilism I will use the following definition:

"Nihilism means that nothing—and only nothing!—has an identity or nature, a being not subject to radical change at any moment. No natural or divine support exists to reinforce the common-sense faith that anything is more than nothing. Nothing is more than what it experiences or what is experienced about it. Nothing is more than empty experiences (thoughts, perceptions, feelings, etc.), impressions as Hume called them. Nihilism is not solipsism nor does it make man the measure of all things. The nihilist “self” or “man” which experiences its “world” is itself no more than empty impressions. It too is nothing (Neumann, 1991, 27)."

Of course, this all begs a couple of questions: Do we live in a world of moral law or nihilism? On what grounds can we make a distinction?

Suppose we live in a world where there is a divine moral law that is unknown. Would the religious person - being aware that the law exists but unaware of its content - be any more likely to behave morally than the atheist?

Suppose we live in a world without any divine moral law. Aside from the fact that this would be "unattractive" to you and "nihilistic," is there anything implausible about the possibility that we live in that world? Any reason to think we don't?

Must I keep asking these questions indefinitely?

"Suppose we live in a world where there is a divine moral law that is unknown. Would the religious person - being aware that the law exists but unaware of its content - be any more likely to behave morally than the atheist?"

Yes, the person who accepts the existence of the moral law will be more likely to act morally than the person who denies the existence of the moral law.

A distinction:
1. Philosopher (accepts the moral law, denies that she has adequate knowledge of it)
2. Skeptic (neither accepts nor denies the possibility of a moral law)
3. Atheist (denies the existence of the moral law)

In rejecting the moral law the atheist rejects the notion of duty or obligation stemming from a non-arbitrary source. Even if the atheist acted in absolute accordance with the moral law, memorized the Catechism, learned the Talmud, or obeyed Sharia without fail, they would be deficient in that their actions, while strictly and legalistically correct, stem from the wrong motivation. The atheist rejects the moral law qua law.

The moral law requires that one perform the correct actions for the correct reasons. The atheist’s actions would stem from arbitrary choice and not recognition of moral duty. In so far as an atheist acted from duty they would cease to be an atheist because they would accept a non-arbitrary standard as existing. (I could go on, but the general thrust of my argument would be that for a moral standard to be obligatory, it must be transcendent, intelligible, and universal.) They might not become a Catholic, but they would certainly cease to be an atheist.

The interesting case is the self-professed atheist who makes claims that follow the rules of the moral law. Example: “One ought not practice female genital mutilation.” I would say that these people are using the word atheist incorrectly. They may reject particular religions, but they don’t reject the possibility of religion or of moral obligation. An example that might illustrate my point: A Christian who accepts the obligatory nature of the moral law but denies the authority of the Talmud because it does not recognize the special divinity of Jesus Christ. What ever the actual state of affairs regarding the divinity of Jesus, that Christian is not an atheist because they accept the existence of a moral law.

My argument isn’t really in support of any particular religion, it’s against the unthinking rejection of all possible religions simply because they are religious.

"Suppose we live in a world without any divine moral law. Aside from the fact that this would be "unattractive" to you and "nihilistic," is there anything implausible about the possibility that we live in that world? Any reason to think we don't?"

I’m using nihilistic in a descriptive, not a pejorative, sense, so you don’t need to put it in quotes. I am, however, using “unattractive” pejoratively, though I also mean it in a descriptive sense. I’m also connecting atheism and nihilism.

Mu: If we live in a nihilistic world then my preferences, feelings of attraction or denial, and questions of plausibility lose all meaning. They lose all possible meaning because they have no identity: the question of something vs. nothing becomes nonsensical. Talk ceases to be communication and becomes gibbering. Neumann has this great line:

“Question: Does not your claim that nihilism is true require a non-arbitrary distinction between truth and falsity? Answer: No. The gist of your objections implies that genuine communication and community is possible. It implies that the “we” who communicate and “things” communicated—including this exchange!—are more than nothing. In reality they are meaningless impressions, dreams whose dreamers are themselves dreams (Neumann, 1991, 28).”

Later in the dialogue the question "Isn't this all self-contradictory?" comes up. Neumann's answer: "Yes."

I think it’s safe to say that we all experience ourselves as free (which, according to Kant, reciprocally implies the existence of the moral law but I’m not competent to lay out that argument). Freedom implies a nature that is non-arbitrary. Our experience of freedom is a practical, though not a logical, objection to nihilism. If you take nihilism seriously, though, then experiences, reason, arguments, and logic all lose any possibility of meaning. Dreams whose dreamers are themselves dreams.

Is an action good because you prefer it, or do you prefer it because it is good? It’s hard to have all these experiences of preference without wondering if they are anything more than arbitrary choices without support or foundation in the world. These lead me, at least, to suspect that something is more than nothing, even if I don’t know what that something is.

Where to begin?

"The moral law requires that one perform the correct actions for the correct reasons."

This is a wild premise, eh? It's so wild that a few days ago you didn't believe it. That was back when you wrote:

"It would be preferable that you have the right kind of character and feel compassion in the right situations, but you still have a moral duty to practice compassionate actions whether you feel the emotion or not."

Back then, morality didn't depend upon motive. But we'll let that slide.

Let's take a look at this new one: That you cannot be moral unless you do the right thing FOR THE RIGHT REASON. If you insist upon this metric, you are not only rejecting the possibility that the atheist can be moral, but that anyone who follows a different religion than your own can be moral. After all, they may follow a moral law, but it is not the correct moral law. As a result, they are not behaving well FOR THE CORRECT REASON. This is so absurd as to warrant no more attention.

Then this little gem:

"Mu: If we live in a nihilistic world then my preferences, feelings of attraction or denial, and questions of plausibility lose all meaning."

Rubbish. My preferences have plenty of meaning - to me, and to the people who share them, and to the people who care what I think. Here, you are trying to be clever by using "meaning" as a substitute for "absolute truth." But it is a slippery substitution, isn't it, since absolute truth is the thing we're debating. It doesn't do much good to create definitions that depend upon my agreeing with your premises, especially when it's the premises we're debating. Preferences have plenty of meaning, as I define it. By your definition of meaning - absolute truth - of course my preferences do not have that. That's the point, love. There's no such thing as absolute truth.

My preferences for, let's say, freedom and democracy and the things I consider civil rights are utterly subjective notions. There is no divine law to back them up. They have no absolute truth. They are merely preferences. As it happens, they are preferences shared by most people in this country, and probably most people in the world. Most people also share the preferece that, if so many of us can agree about these things, we should make them the law of the land. Maybe somebody doesn't want these things to be the law of the land. He or she would rather be a master, or a tyrant, or a dictator. But there are enough of us who think these things to overpower that person. Mob rule? You bet. Lucky for us, the mob also seems to value civil rights, or it would be a lot harder to have rare preferences than it is.

Are you following me? You need to understand what you are debasing. To me, your definition of nihilism, and your conflation of it with atheism, raises no hackles. It doesn't matter to me if this is less comforting than, say, Catholicism, with all those heavenly white clouds awaiting. It's what I believe because, in the absense of any reason to suspect a divine moral law, or anything else divine, I am not willing to make that leap into the impossible. Not without cause, love. And I see no cause. The world as a platter of competing preferences? Yup, looks that way to me. Any chance of creating a government and civilization that values the same things as me, and has the power to defend those preferences from inner and outer challenges? Yup, we're trying. Make any difference to me if I'm totally wrong and there is a God and a heaven and a divine law? Not really. Even if there is a God, and I'm dead wrong, it doesn't really change much, now does it, love?

You write:

"It’s hard to have all these experiences of preference without wondering if they are anything more than arbitrary choices without support or foundation in the world. These lead me, at least, to suspect that something is more than nothing, even if I don’t know what that something is."

Does it, now? Not me. These experiences of preference strike me as - guess what? - experiences of preference. It seems reasonable to me to assume that others have experiences of preference, and that if we ask them what preferences they have, and we all get together, we can find a way to allow most people a life that is mostly as they prefer. That's not bad. Better than jihad, or Crusades, or any other rigid dogma that claims knowledge of a very specific divine law (which cannot be reached through reason, only faith) and insists, among other things, not only that everyone follow its command, but that they do so for the "correct reasons."

Fucking scary, love.

Your first objection is easy enough to answer: subjective emotional states are not necessary or sufficient for moral action. Recognition of one’s duty, and then acting in accordance with one’s obligation, is the only necessary and sufficient basis for moral action. It would be nice if you felt good about doing your duty, but not at all necessary.

Second, is rejecting the notion that not as many people are right about moral things as may think as absurd as replacing it by the notion that people are NEVER wrong about moral things? If nothing is higher than preference then I can never be wrong, can I, given that it’s awfully hard for me to misjudge my own preferences? If you accept this that’s fine, but I think you should mull over the consequences of setting preference as the basis of moral action. And by consequences I mean what you can and cannot say about other people’s actions.

Third, you are denying the possibility of determining between moral claims or preferences. That’s just a matter of logical necessity given what you’ve said. I just want you to admit that without an overarching standard there is no essential difference between the Nazi’s preference for putting Jews in gas chambers and your preference for civil rights. Lucky for the Jews (or any other minority subject to being the scapegoat), I guess, that most people in the United States don’t prefer to put them into gas chambers and instead prefer civil rights. I hope that most people never change their preferences. Unfortunately, there is, in fact, no logical necessity that people will never change their preferences. So, minorities have no protection, no appeal to justice, other than the good will of the majority.

In the end, to follow that old nihilist Harry Neumann:

“Here the paths of men part. Either you believe (1) that nothing, including yourself, is more than what is experienced about it or (2) that things, including yourself, exist in themselves apart from what is experienced about them. To me, it is obvious that there are only experiences or impressions but not “things” or “beings” apart from experience. So far as I can see, neither side can “disprove” the other to the other’s satisfaction. Their conflict concerns what constitutes the first principle, the basic premise, of any proof about anything (Neumann, 1991, 30).”

This is getting pathetic, love.

You write:
"Recognition of one’s duty, and then acting in accordance with one’s obligation, is the only necessary and sufficient basis for moral action. It would be nice if you felt good about doing your duty, but not at all NECESSARY."

But above, you wrote:
"The moral law REQUIRES that one perform the correct actions for the correct reasons."

Get it together, love.

You wrote:
"I just want you to admit that without an overarching standard there is no essential difference between the Nazi’s preference for putting Jews in gas chambers and your preference for civil rights."

Wrong again. Of course there is an "essential difference" - to me. What doesn't exist is an absolute standard by which to measure that difference. There are no absolute standards, love, because there is no absolute truth. Been trying to tell you.

You say:
"You are denying the possibility of determining between moral claims or preferences."

Wrong again! Of course I can differentiate between moral claims. With a little effort, you can too. But we might not agree.

You proffer:
"If nothing is higher than preference then I can never be wrong, can I?"
And again - word salad! Of course you can have opinions that I think are wrong. But you can't have opinions that you think are wrong. And neither of us can have opinions that are wrong by an absolute measure, because there is no absolute measure.

You say:
"I hope that most people never change their preferences (for civil rights, democracy etc.)
Me too. So what?

You crib:
"So far as I can see, neither side can “disprove” the other to the other’s satisfaction. Their conflict concerns what constitutes the first principle, the basic premise, of any proof about anything."

I crib:
"The problem with everything you quote is that it presupposes the existence of god, as do all so-called rational arguments concerning the divine. These arguments are meaningless if god does not exist, and you can't prove that he/she/it/they does/do."

And another:
"It is possible to determine good without god, and Luke has shown a successful way of doing so above. You can malign it by calling it 'bigotry,' but you're using a negative word in an atypical way. In the sense that bigotry is simply the preference for one's own ideas, fine. In that sense, though, everyone, religious or not, is as bigoted as anyone else and the word has lost all meaning."

I don’t know about you, but I have been fundamentally mistaken about certain moral matters. I’m not talking about making a mistake in applying my moral understanding, i.e.; not realizing that downloading music off the internet constitutes theft. It seems to me that at various times, especially when I was younger, I held moral views that I realize now were mistaken at their very basis.

Now, it seems to me that there have been people and cultures in the world that have been fundamentally mistaken about certain moral things. The best examples are, of course, the Nazis, but I’m sure you could come up with a number of different, less emotionally laden examples. For example, George Wallace asked those he had maligned and harmed in his battle to continue segregation for forgiveness and became something of a champion for civil rights. He repented his racist views. He realized that he had been fundamentally mistaken about the proper relationship between men and that he had fought on the wrong side of this very important issue. He argued that his racist opinions had been wrong.

With this in mind it is possible that I could have opinions that I do not realize are fundamentally wrong. But, if morals are really nothing more than preferences, and thus subjective, how is it that I could have this realization of being wrong? Not just disagreements with other people that cannot be resolved: a fundamental realization of my own mistaken views. Shouldn’t we remain humble and admit our capacity to be fundamentally wrong about morals? Doesn’t that position make more sense given how we experience the world?

It seems unduly arrogant to assume that a person who forgets where he puts his keys, can’t always remember important appointments, has done things he now regrets, and sometimes gets angry in traffic, can be infallible when it comes to morals.

It’s just weird to me that you malign religious folks for taking the easy way out: of adhering to a set of rules so that they never have to worry about being wrong (and never have to think about being wrong), but your own moral precepts makes each man fundamentally infallible because morals are nothing more than preferences (application of those preferences being set aside). You wrote: “you can't have opinions that you think are wrong.” In your thoughtful way of life you mentioned before, are you thinking about the fundamentals of your morals, or merely of the triviality of their application?

Now, it seems to me that you said before you have been wrong, that you have made mistakes, and that was an attractive part of your way of thinking: that you didn’t require certainty. You used that as a justification for your way of understanding moral things. Were you wrong in terms of trivial matters, the application of moral thoughts, and always correct in the more important aspect: the content of your moral thoughts? Or, have you ever been wrong about the fundamental, basic content of your moral thoughts? Did you ever change your mind about something really important?

Finally, I was wondering, is there ever a reason for believing an argument? I mean, if someone says to me, “Fritz, at sea level, water boils at 100° Celsius.” Is there any reason I ought to believe that statement? They could say that on June 5, 1944, the Allies invaded Europe. I reply, “Prove it,” and they sit down and explain the physics, show me the data, written accounts of the invasion, etc… If their argument is sound, is there any reason I ought to believe them, especially if I didn’t know those facts previously? I could perhaps see for myself that the water boils at a certain temperature, but I can’t go back in time and personally witness the Normandy invasion. Is there any standard I could use to evaluate that argument such that it should lead me to believe it? Let’s not forget, I can’t always remember where my keys are, so perhaps following a complex argument about the physical properties of water is a little beyond me. But even if I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own, or I’m being purposefully obtuse, it seems to me that there is an evaluative standard that this argument meets that means it OUGHT to convince me. Now, if there is an evaluative standard for arguments like that, isn’t it reasonable to believe that there is one for moral arguments as well? Doesn’t the standard of judging an argument exist separately from the argument itself and my preferences regarding the argument?

I can't give you a standard to determine what will and won't convince you about things, love. You'll have to do that for yourself. I know what convinces me, and while I could probably draw some general conclusions about characteristics that tend to tip the scale, it wouldn't necessarily apply to you or, for that matter, Anthony and Luke. That's because there are no absolute standards, love. Keep trying to tell you.

While we're on the subject, though, maybe you can illuminate the standard of evidence that convinces you that God exists?

As for changing my mind, sure I do. Not as often as you do (I don't think I've made any diametrically opposed claims on this page, for example, but I might have.) Anyway, you may be shocked to learn that as far as I'm concerned changing one's mind is - you guess it - changing one's mind, nothing more. It does not in any way imply that the person was wrong in some absolute way previously, any more than it implies that they are right in an absolute way now. There are no absolutes, love. Got to get it in your head. Changing ideas, opinions, preferences, is just more evidence to suggest that those of you who think you have tapped into an Absolute Divine Law are wrong, and you're just tapped into your own preferences, regardless of how unattractive that seems to you.

A toast. To the one-week anniversary of Fritz's silence. Ahhh.

I will so second that. Cheers.

Enjoying the kool-aid, guys?