Friday, September 30, 2011

Theist and Atheist Grief

All human beings in the world; Atheist, Christian, Muslim, and Jew, experience grief. It is a major part of our human experience. But the social way that grief is viewed and dealt with is unique to culture. Since the beginning of history, religion and mysticism have monopolized on this necessary function, and it still mostly remains in the powerful clutches of religion today. We human beings need explanation; it’s helpful to know that when shit happens there is a good reason for it. But this human desire does not go well with the human brain, which is irrational, and sees patterns and cause when none are there. Our brain is well adapted for survival, but not rationality.

Emotional pain is irrational. It makes sense that irrational ways of dealing with irrational pain would be the most popular. But popularity is not an argument for the best or the most beneficial. Theism and religion’s grief management style is archaic. I find the way that average theists deal with pain in everyday life to be emotionally harmful.

One of my coworkers and good friends recently caused a car accident. My friend was fine, but the other driver had severe medical issues and permanent damage. Although the accident was my friends fault (failure to yield), it could have happened to anyone. He felt horrible, and took a few days off to deal with the shock. I can only imagine the emotional sting he felt as he woke up each morning remembering the awful ordeal. The other guy’s mother was in the police station when my friend was there. She was furious and was yelling at the police officer asking why he had not been arrested.

Of course we can understand the pain this mother felt for the suffering of her son. It would be emotionally difficult. But this leads to my main point; when theists experience grief they are also weighed down with the additional pressure of figuring out why their misery is all part of God’s perfect plan. After heart wrenching grief, theists must justify their pain while protecting the assumption that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good.

The only justification left is that the injury and agony are really good and they are part of Gods plan, ta da! And this is why I am angry enough to care. Are you fucking kidding me!?!?!?! The accident that my friend caused was good? All of his emotional pain and his heavy financial consequences were good?? My coworker and friend spent two years for God, he donates 10 percent of his tiny income for God, he takes a day off his busy schedule for God, and that’s how God repays him? And what about the victim and his mother? The accident will cause him to loose months away from school and work lying in the hospital with long term disability.  Is permanent damage and months of pain really the best way for an omniscient God to teach petty earth lessons?

Some will say that we only have a small picture, that we cannot understand the lessons God wants for us. It is out of our cognitive reach. Everything is in Gods blueprint. It is good because God made it. In moral arguments the end rarely justifies the means. Why is it acceptable for God? Why is he not called a sadist?

And just to be clear, I am an Atheist. I am not really angry at an old white man with a beard above me. I am angry at religion, and the social concept of God. To me that is all God is, a social idea. And yes, I am damn mad at that.

Atheists experience grief better; it still hurts, and it is still painful, but we do not have the additional burden of justification. When shit happens, we know there is no reason. There is no grand, perfect plan where your misery is required; and no supernatural, all powerful, being is watching you suffer. It just sucks. And that acceptance, I find very peaceful and liberating in the face of grief.

So much of my anger toward Christianity and religion involves offensive ways for justification. Justifications are religions only defense barrier. For centuries Christianity has been fighting the battle against empiricism. Each time a supernatural explanation is replaced by a natural one, religion loses ground. Christianity fights back with justification. No matter what happens in our physical world it is proof for religion’s supernatural claims. This defense works; religion is still around, but the good, average theists are the collateral damage.
Yes I am angry, just like
the Angry Birds

I am angry because a car wreck is evidence for a loving God. I am angry because theists must work their brains in circles to maintain faith when they should just feel comfort from friends and loved ones. I am outraged that horrible suffering must be called good to protect the holiness of Yahweh’s name. And I am pissed that theists feel unnecessary emotional pain because religion says it proves their claim. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Culture Relativism Versus Moral Relativism

To me this seems like an impossible distinction. Morals are culture and vice versa. Of course I can see the value of stepping outside your culture to broaden perspectives, but this will require stepping outside of your morals as well. However with this said; I do not believe that all culture and morality are on equal ground. In other places around the world children are taught to fear  monsters, trust in untested medicine and drink veritably harmful water; as well as undergo genital mutilation and restrictive gender norms. Many of their beliefs are utterly inconsistent with reality and it causes them great harm. Sometimes the point is made that our beliefs from our culture and theirs are on equal ontological ground. I completely disagree. When it comes to sickness form water, I have seen bacteria through a microscope, I have seen moldy bread, and I have experienced the foul smell of mildew. Culture and morality are not universal, but that does not mean they are equal ground. Some cultures cause great harm and dispassionately observing would be immoral.

Some people approach other cultures cautiously. Tip toeing around to avoid causing offense. Expecting to have an Avatar or Dances with Wolves experience with every culture they come into contact with. They mistake moral disgust for ethnocentrism, and think that any objection or argument of another is vile racism.  Morality is complicated, incredibly complex.

Absolute morality is a juvenile, simplified, watered down attempt at right and wrong, and is currently plaguing religion. If things were really wrong, black and white, we would see major consistencies across time and other cultures. This is far from the case. Some morality can be created and explained through geography, like in a hypothetical culture that prohibits the wearing of a metal that can be used to create a medication for a life threatening illness. In our culture that would not make sense. It would seem oppressive and restrictive, and that would be true, because we have no such need for that medication.

Another example can be found in a history of our morality surrounding sexuality. Sexuality before birth control could cause great harm, pregnancy could kill both the mother and child, and syphilis was untreatable and was fatal; it made sense to tie sexuality to morality. This is no longer the case; safe sex is easy and cheap. Pregnancy is almost completely non-fatal now through medical technology and practices. Sexuality no longer has any basis to be under the authority of morality. Safe, responsible sex should be taught like any other behavior, of rational consequences but not moral harm. But religion will have a long fight before they finally let go of it.

Morality is completely subjectively created. We are social animals and we need rules to interact with each other, but this subjective creation can go bad. Other culture’s morality can be downright vile and atrocious. But relativism is no savior. Morality is socially and subjectively created, but we can objectively look at the consequences of a culture moral norm and analyze its effect on the population’s human rights. Morality is like language, completely socially created, but has objective standards of grammar and syntax. Just because morality is subjective doesn’t mean we should be afraid to compare and critique.

Our world is filled with horrifying offensive violations that are widely accepted moral norms. Using objective human rights standards we can critique offensive moral norms.  According to CNN, 2,500 cases of bride burning are reported in India every year. Bride burning is when the husband decides the dowry received is not enough. Killing the bride allows him to remarry and try again for a dowry. My culture is thankfully superior to that one.
In Escape, Carolyn Jessop describes her life living in the FLDS culture. When she graduates high school, she is excited to go to med school and be a doctor. Instead she gets chosen to be wife number four to a 50 year man high in the FLDS hierarchy. Over the course of around ten years she has 8 kids. Four of which had severe medical issues and the last one nearly killed her. Our culture is objectively more moral than this one.

In some Islam countries today, religion continues to cling to barbaric gender roles. Women are treated as property, and are taught to hate and fear their body and sexuality. Rationality and secularism is a superior morality, in regards to harm minimization and good maximization.

In the Christian Old Testament every "sin" required the punishment of death. Even minor violations and crimes without a victim demanded this disproportional consequence. Blasphemy, cursing your parents, and working on the Sabbath were all punishable according to this Bronze Age moral guide. The Old Testament is not concerned with justice and human rights, but only the whims and wishes of a vain supernatural child. These examples in no way blinds me to the problems here, now, where we live. But it infuriates me when others use relativism as a tool for tolerance.  

Sometimes people will respond by saying that the victims are really happy. That those pregnant FLDS woman are actually content, and the Muslim woman feel honored that they are part of a religion that respects woman enough for modesty. Hegemony is oppression that is so perfect the oppressed will defend the system that enslaves them. Morality is not determined by whether or not the victim says it is "OK," but an evaluation of human rights. This is because reality is constructed by the powerful. In Plato's allegory of the cave in his The Republic this point is made clear. Men are tied up in a cave, viewing the shadows from a fire behind them. This is their reality; all that they know. One of them leaves and his eyes burn from the sun of the new ontology. When his vision adjusts, his perspective is corrected. He goes back to the cave to try and share his new freedom with his tied up friends. They refuse because the shadows on the cave wall are their reality. Choice is not liberating around so much ignorance.
Let me say again, some cultures are just different on an equal moral ground. This is can be a fascinating look into what our society is and lets us question our seemingly objective moral norms. This does do good. Margaret Mead had an extreme positive impact on our western gender norms, and allowed us to begin to work toward sexual equality. That is not why I care enough to write this.

When does it become immoral to let a society harm itself in ignorance? When is it morally necessary to put this cultural relativism stuff away, and educate (dogma for rational thought, not dogma for dogma) to reduce categorical harm? Yes tolerance is good, and peace is wonderful, but let us not shortcut our route there. Tolerance is not achieved by turning a blind eye and ignoring human suffering. Let us not delude ourselves into a faux of tolerance. Let us rationally attack human right violations anywhere and everywhere we find them, to promote the greatest level of peace for the greatest amount of individuals.