On the nature and source of morality

morality sign

I was attracted to an article written by Elizabeth Picciuto that was posted at the Richard Dawkins Foundation – It’s Official: Religion Doesn’t Make You More Moral.  It was accompanied with the message you see above.

First, I must admit that the graphic containing the words shown above is what I found so attractive.  Its truth value, at least for me, was intuitively and instantly felt.   It reminded me of the indisputable truth value in words of the late Victor Stenger: “Science flies you to the moon.  Religion flies you into buildings.”  I loved this insight so much that I bought the T-shirt!

But, I digress.  Thanks for indulging me.  Back to Picciuto’s article.  At the tail end of her short piece she made the following claim: “People who don’t fear that justice will be meted out in an afterlife are apparently no more vicious, cruel, or licentious than a believer.” On the surface there would appear little reason to offer a criticism of her words.  But there is, and it’s this: her words soft pedal the harms known to be associated with a belief in magic and at the same time place non-belief in the same loopy grouping.

She also claims that, “atheists are apparently as moral as believers.”  “Apparently as moral?”  Really?  If atheists are just “as moral” as she asserts that believers are moral, wouldn’t prison cells be occupied with an amount of prisoners proportional to the social order from which they sprang?

I’d like to assert that atheists are probably much more moral than their deity worshiping counterparts, and the makeup of our nation’s prison population demonstrates that fact.

Need evidence?   Ponder, for just a brief moment, who occupies the nation’s prisons.  Clearly, it’s not heathens and blasphemers.  The clear fact is that the nation’s prison cells are overwhelmingly occupied by people who call themselves devout Jesus or Mohammad worshipers.  It’s definitely not occupied by atheists, agnostics, freethinkers or the sundry of other lone-wolf heathens and blasphemers who take great umbrage at being even marginally aligned with the magic thinkers.   We don’t see atheists organizations bangin’ the prison doors down in order to creep in and search for lost souls in need of “spiritual healing” (ala Chuck Colson, the infamous nutbag sent to prison for too short of time for his role in obstructing justice in the Watergate scandal).

The only conclusion that I think we could possibly make in recognition of this fact is that heathens, god-scoffers and blasphemers most definitely commit an infinitesimally lesser amount of vicious, cruel or licentious crime compared with their magical thinking counterparts.

Think I’m mistaken about this?  Please, show me where I’ve gone amok.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Heal the World – from Child Abuse

At the risk of being denounced for asking the question: Which do you think is worse: sexual abuse or physical abuse?

Sexual child abuse is of course inexcusable. But I suspect there are other crimes that can do as much or more damage to a child as sexual abuse, crimes that we routinely forgive.

Michael Jackson was abandoned by most of his fans over allegations of child abuse. He was never convicted of anything so it is may be unethical to speculate, but one biographer argues that the worst impropriety probably involves a phone call with a teenager. Put that alongside the established fact of Joe Jackson’s physical abuse of Michael and all his siblings (vicious whippings for borrowing a guitar or missing a dance step), that went on throughout the kid’s whole childhood as documented in the TV miniseries “The Jackson’s: An American Dream.” (And this is the version of events approved by the Jackson family!) Why is the public so much more outraged when they think there is sexual abuse and than when they know there has been physical abuse? I suspect it is because a similar outrage at physical abuse would require that we condemn more people we actually know.

To hate all child abusers, while recommending that children be beaten for good discipline, is like hating all drug addicts, while extoling the benefits of smoking. Between sexual and physical child abuse, it is understandable that we demonize the one rather than the other : one behavior is more unusual, more deviant from societal standards. But that says nothing about which behavior is the bigger societal problem.

Of course we should condemn sexual abuse and recognize that it can destroy lives. It is a complete betrayal of the child by a caretaker, which undermines their trust in people generally and their belief in the possibility of a healthy love. It can damage the victim’s own sex life when sex becomes associated with memories of abuse.

It is not obvious to me that physical abuse is much different on these counts.

Michael Jackson’s many problems, including his reclusiveness, failed relationships, and addictions leading to an early death, are almost certainly rooted in the abuse he suffered as a child. It was heart-rending to watch, across multiple interviews, a grown man become unglued when discussing his father, who he claimed still terrified him to the point that, both as a child and as an adult, he would sometimes “regurgitate” upon seeing him.

It was amazing to me, as the priest sexual abuse scandal unfolded, that no one chimed in about the parallel physical abuse that was an open fact of life, in Catholic schools and beyond. To me, the biggest difference between sexual and physical child abuse seems to be that socially approved reaction to physical abuse is to laugh it off. If you were physically abused, you must turn it into a harrowing yet cute story and hope that someone else chimes in with a beating story topping yours.

Long ago I was listening to a radio talk show, when an old man called in to tell what he recalled as an amusing story, where the nuns were beating every child in his class one by one, in a bathroom for some forgotten offense. The talk show host had no idea what to do with this story, having experienced nothing like it. The punch line was that after having been beaten, each boy left the bathroom and, because of the acoustics, the boys could hear screams of their classmates echoing down the hall, which made them realize their screams had similarly been broadcast down the hall. The old man was chuckling and keep saying, “you know” as if such a scenario would be familiar to the other listeners. The talk show host kept saying, no he didn’t know, but thank you for sharing. Was Catholic school really like that? The host was shocked by all the details, including that these schoolboys had been beaten by women on a bare behind.

The Adrian Peterson scandal has inspired a fresh round of such oversharing, this time on Facebook. One person will post a mean-to-be-hilarious quip about the severity of the whippings they’ve received, adding their caretaker would surely end up in jail attempting such a thing today, given how wimpy everyone has become. This puts the facebook friends on the spot, wondering whether it is worth informing this person that what they have just described is child abuse. (The answer is, it IS worth telling them IF they have kids and also state an intention to perpetuate the abusive practice.)

If you are beaten by your caretaker, you are put in an impossible situation. How do you resolving the feelings of hurt and betrayal. Are you supposed to still love your abuser? Some say you should. Is it OK if you don’t? And how do you trust the next person who claims to love you? The problem is amplified for small children who are trapped with no one but their caregiver for most of the time in their early years. Going back to the Michael Jackson example, friends say that throughout his life he veered between claiming to forgive his father and confessing deep guilt that he would never be able to forgive his father, and that he never stopped struggling with this.

If you cannot see the physical and sexual abuse are comparable, consider this: physical abuse can easily be experienced as sexual abuse. 1) physical abuse is a violation of one’s person; one’s body is ab-used by another to satisfy the demands of the abuser and the point is humiliation, 2) the abuser will often state, and perhaps believe and convince the victim, that the abuse is actually a sign of their love, and 2) for whatever reason, many people (including children) are sexually aroused by beatings or the threat of a beating, and many are aroused by the opportunity to beat someone. For anyone who would deny this, I submit the huge mainstream success of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and that plaid Catholic schoolgirl skirts are a standard S&M fetish. These are inconvenient facts for Christians, whose god has nevertheless prescribed physical punishment for children. It is necessary for Christians to insist that appropriate physical punishment can be securely separated from any sexual innuendo.

An atheist, unimpressed with the so-called intelligent design of creation, is more open to the possibility that for no good, moral reason whatsoever, the brain may be wired to associate some physical humiliations with sex. A similar inconvenient fact is that many women are aroused by a rape. If historically much of human sex was nonconsensual, there may be an evolutionary explanation for these odd facts.

There is a huge dilemma in dealing with the prevalence of physical abuse in this country. As Charles Barkley said, a law against spanking or even just against whippings would transform a large swath of the population into criminals. And former victims of abuse, like Adrian Peterson, would be the group disproportionately sent to jail as they wake up and find they have fallen short of rising standards of decency. Maybe physically abusive parents can be sent off to rehab rather than jail. Maybe we can be proactive with public service messages and parenting classes.

But abuse must be labeled as such; and it must stop. Religion is no excuse; ignorance is no excuse; anti-government sentiments are no excuse. These factors never excuse sexual abuse. Why do these factors still excuse physical abuse? Our first duty is to rescue the child.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We’re living in a whack-a-mole society

WilliamsSteve Williams, Mayor of Huntington, W. VA.

Now this is a real doozey.  Steve Williams, the Mayor of Huntington, W. VA., while holding back a fountain of tears, implores his pastors to round up his constituents to gather themselves together – this coming Sunday at 11:05am, no less – to pray away the region’s drug epidemic!  He’s even asking that everyone pray extree hard for the conversion of the drug dealers into upstanding citizens!

An excerpt from his four minutes of moronacy:
“If history teaches us anything, the most powerful force on earth is the power of prayer. Yet it is our most underutilized resource. Imagine what we can accomplish… together… if we simply set aside all our differences and become one accord praying to our Lord! Nothing will be able to harness the energy created. Imagine!”

Seriously, can a person in a position of government authority get any freakin’ dumber than this without officially being declared brainless and removed from office? 

Sometimes I’m convinced that battling this kind of stupidity is like shovelin’ sand against the tide.  Well, not sand; that stuff is easy compared to the stuff you have to endure living among those capable of living their lives in this level of ignoramity.

It’s an exercise in the purest form of whack-a-molea.  We’re wasting enormous amounts of very valuable time just struggling to contain this level of insanity.

h/t to Sarah Posner at RD for this morning’s contribution to our understanding of the level of insanity that we’re all dealing with in this country on a daily basis.






Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Humanism vs Libertarianism Redux

In my last post, I tried to make the case that libertarianism and humanism were mutually exclusive. One of the responding commenters, a self described “christian humanist libertarian”, took umbrage at my post and posted that he was offended by my post. This in turn led to a somewhat heated exchange in the comments.

I reread my post and realized that I didn’t do a very good job of elaborating on what I thought was one of my most important points – the egocentrism of libertarians. And it is precisely that arrogant egocentrism that is at the heart of most libertarian thinking and that I find the most offensive.
The problem with most libertarians is that they assume that everybody (or at least those that matter) have the same exposure to life experiences, the same access to resources, the same access to opportunity, the same number and types of role models, and the same access to education that they do or have, not to mention the same values and abilities. And that is the primary fallacy in their argument. None of those things are equal between any two people.

Consider these two examples: a white male of European descent, raised in a suburban neighborhood, growing up free from want, deprivation, and hunger, living in a safe environment, free from physical danger, educated in a good school system, with plenty of good, positive role models. Contrast that with an African-American (or Latino) youth growing up in an inner city environment, born to a mother who had no prenatal care, malnourished from birth, living with constant food insecurity, surrounded by nearly constant physical danger, forced to attend a failing school, with no positive role models in his life, with the only successful people that he sees being pimps and drug dealers and pro athletes (if he’s lucky).

There is no way that these two situations are equivalent, so to insist that these two people have equal opportunity is nonsense. So to then assume that these two examples will have the same values, the same work ethic, and will react in the same way to potential opportunities (or, for that matter, even be able to equally recognize opportunities) is utter nonsense. In fact, two people from similar environments but with different psychological makeups will react differently in identical situations. To assume otherwise is to deny human nature.

Now throw in the libertarian ideal of removing what little access the inner city youth had to anything resembling a safety net, take away his access to education (remember, libertarians want to dismantle the public school system and do away with the Department of Education), take away his access to health care (do away with Obamacare, Medicare, and the Department of Health and Human Services) and you have widened the enormous gap between these two examples into a chasm. Now explain to me again how this is alleviating human suffering?

Granted, my two examples are somewhat polar extremes, but they do show the range of human diversity that we need to contend with in our society. And therein lies the difference between the humanist and the libertarian. The humanist wants to humanely work with the diverse elements and try to achieve a society that works for everyone within the context of the diverse cultures/value systems. Libertarians, on the other hand, want to create a homogeneous society where everyone holds the same values that they do, and does what they think they should do in their arrogant egocentrism, using a cold, unforgiving, cruel economic hammer to bludgeon those who won’t get with the program.

(Just as an aside, I find it quite amusing that the stated ideal of limited interference by “authority” is embraced on a voluntary basis by having everybody do what they are supposed to do according to their libertarian beliefs. It’s their ideal that is the “right” one. Nothing quite like arrogant hypocrisy.)
To be continued……….

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Humanist Libertarian? – I think not!!

Earlier this month at our discussion group, we addressed the question: “Is it possible to be both an atheist and a libertarian?” (which is pretty much a no-brainer) and then rephrased the question “Is it possible to be a humanist and a libertarian?” The term “atheist” says nothing about your values or attitude toward your fellow humans; it merely says that you have no theism, or belief in a deity. That being the case, it is pretty much a no-brainer that you can be both an atheist and a libertarian.
But the question of being both a humanist and a libertarian is an entirely different kettle of fish. And the potential conflict was highlighted in the discussion. One end of the table, the one with two libertarian-leaning people said “definitely yes”, and the other end of the table with all social progressives said “definitely no”. (I later received an email from one of the participants at the “yes” end of the table that said that he disagreed but didn’t want a heated argument so he just didn’t say anything after it was clear that it might get ugly.)
I am of the very strong opinion that it is not possible to be both. You can either be someone who believes that we as humanists should always strive to uphold the dignity and well being of our fellow humans. We also have an obligation to help alleviate human suffering and make the world a better place. Libertarians, on the other hand, often express a callous indifference to the suffering of others, preferring instead to buy into the canard that their suffering is their own fault – the result of not doing what they “should” do to succeed in this increasingly complex and often bewildering world, and therefore somehow deserved. (This is a variation of the “prosperity gospel” that conservative fundagelicals promote that Sky Monster wants you to be rich, so if you’re not, it’s only because you pissed it off.) But the notion that anybody “deserves” to suffer is in no way consistent with humanist values.
At the very beginning of the evening, before some of the attendees had arrived and the discussion had actually started, the more strident of the libertarian camp brought up the idea of eliminating food stamps and other government aid programs. When I responded that such an action would create a hardship on many poor people, especially children, some of whom would literally starve. This person then asked me, and the person next to me, if I really believed that libertarians would actually stand by and watch children die of starvation. When I (and Walt) responded simultaneously “Yes!”, she responded “Unbelievable.”
Now I don’t mean that she, or most libertarians or conservatives, would actually watch a child die in person, although I’ve met a few who I believe would. But I do believe that they would be completely indifferent to the suffering of the nebulous “they” in the abstract. As the old saying goes: “out of sight; out of mind”, and as long as they don’t have to actually witness it, it can be easily compartmentalized and ignored.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that for a period of a little over ten years, from the early ’70s until the early ’80s, I dabbled with libertarianism, even voting for Libertarian Party candidates whenever possible. Then a lady that I respected a lot, with whom I had many good political discussions, pointed out that most libertarians tended to be very self-centered people. This sent me on a journey of self examination and after several months, I realized that she was absolutely correct. So I think that I have a pretty good understanding of the thinking of many libertarians.
It is important to recognize that the self-centeredness is not restricted to materialistic greed and/or wealth accumulation; it extends to how they perceive others and their opportunities and access to resources. The old “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps with nobody’s help, and if I can do it, so can anybody else.” You’ve heard those claims. And they are nonsense. Not everybody has the same advantages, or life experiences, or same family support, or native intelligence, or emotional makeup, or opportunities, or….or….
Sure, anytime you have a system designed to help needy or disadvantaged people, you are going to have lowlifes gaming the system. That is just the nature of the beast – just like you have corporations and wealthy people gaming the system in their own ways. But that is no reason to eliminate those safety nets. For some people, they are absolutely essential to their very survival, and to eliminate those programs would cause immeasurable suffering. And the goal of being a humanist is to alleviate suffering – not exacerbate it. And that’s what makes being a libertarian incompatible with being a humanist.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

PSF Ladies Meetup: 7/20/2014 at Big Dog Coffee

Where: Big Dog Coffee (2717 Sarah St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203)

When: 7/20/2014

RSVP at: http://www.meetup.com/Pittsburgh-Secular-Freethinkers/events/184523452/

Pittsburgh Secular Freethinkers (CFI)

Welcome to the PSF Ladies Meetup! :)

We had such a great time at our first ladies meetups, we’re meeting monthly.  Also, one of our members suggested we try a different restaurant each month–a great idea!  This month we’ll meet at Big Dog Coffee on the South Side. They have great coffee, great snacks, and a beautiful patio–especially in the summer.

See you there!

For more fun, follow us on Facebook!  To learn about more secular groups in Pittsburgh, check out the Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason website.

*PSF strives to be an ADA compliant organization.  Please email pittsburghsecularfreethinkers@gmail.com to request accomodations.

Pittsburgh, PA 15203 – USA

Sunday, July 20 at 2:00 PM

Details: http://www.meetup.com/Pittsburgh-Secular-Freethinkers/events/184523452/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2014 convention planning meetings: 7/19/2014 at Panera Bread

Where: Panera Bread (3401 Blvd Of The Allies, Pittsburgh, PA, USA)

When: 7/19/2014

RSVP at: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/194539142/

The purpose of this meeting is to help with the planning of the PA Atheist/Humanist Conference at the end of August.  Look for us in the meeting room, but if it has been taken by another group, we will most likely be in the open room in the back of the restaurant.

It is a business meeting rather than a social event, but newcomers that want to help with conference are welcome to join us.

Pittsburgh – USA

Saturday, July 19 at 12:00 PM

Details: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/194539142/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stand Up Riot 6: Hambone’s Comedy Showcase: 7/12/2014 at Hambone’s

Where: Hambone’s (4207 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201)

When: 7/12/2014

RSVP at: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/193890752/

Come join us for our 6th stand up showcase of the year at the finest ham themed bar in the city of Pittsburgh! Featuring stand up comedy from some of the regions funniest comics. Featuring:
Krish Mohan
Anil K. Bandhakavi
Nicholas Solomon
Ronald Renwick

Hosted by Derek Minto

Door Opens 9:30pm
Show Starts at 10:15pm
Tickets are $7

Pittsburgh, PA 15201 – USA

Saturday, July 12 at 9:30 PM

Details: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/193890752/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pittsburgh CoR New Member & Family Picnic: 7/13/2014 at Schenley Park

Where: Schenley Park (Bartlett Shelter & Playground) (Bartlett St. & Greenfield Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15207)

When: 7/13/2014

RSVP at: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/177402332/

Welcome to the Pittsburgh CoR meet and greet event of the year!

If you’re new to the Steel City Skeptics or to any of the Pittsburgh Coalition of Reason groups, or if you’re a long-time member who just hasn’t been to one of our meetups yet, this event is especially for you! You’ll have a chance to meet our regular members, and for those of you who’ve been asking for more family-friendly events, this will be one of more to come! There is a really nice playground next to our shelter.

This event will be a potluck picnic, and there are grills on site! Alcohol is allowed. Please bring some picnic food to share, and feel free to bring whatever makes you comfortable–blankets, folding chairs, coolers, frisbees, games–or just a big smile. We will have the event rain or shine. (You can use the comments below to say what you are bringing.)

Here is a Google maps link of the shelter, which has portable toilets nearby; click here for park rules. Here is a map showing the location of the shelter, and more information about Schenley Park.

This event is joint with the Pittsburgh Secular Freethinkers and the other Pittsburgh CoR groups.  We hope to see you there!

*PittsburghCoR strives to be an ADA compliant organization. This site is wheelchair accessible.

Pittsburgh, PA 15207 – USA

Sunday, July 13 at 12:00 PM

Details: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/177402332/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2014 convention planning meetings: 7/12/2014 at Panera Bread

Where: Panera Bread (3401 Blvd Of The Allies, Pittsburgh, PA, USA)

When: 7/12/2014

RSVP at: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/193194382/

The purpose of this meeting is to help with the planning of the PA Atheist/Humanist Conference at the end of August.  Look for us in the meeting room, but if it has been taken by another group, we will most likely be in the open room in the back of the restaurant.

It is a business meeting rather than a social event, but newcomers that want to help with conference are welcome to join us.

Pittsburgh – USA

Saturday, July 12 at 12:00 PM

Details: http://www.meetup.com/Steel-City-Skeptics/events/193194382/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment