Archive for the Ethics Category

Sorry, Mr. Dawkins, atheism is not the answer.

Posted in Christianity, Ethics with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2008 by carriedthecross

One of the things that often frustrates me is that people, even incredibly intelligent people, often pose simple answers as solutions to very complex problems. Anyone who has read any bit about this blog knows that I am an unabashed agnostic-atheist. Over at d-C, Karen wrote an interesting article that I think adequately sums up where I stand as well. I recognize that I will never be in a position to be a prominent spokesman for atheism, nor would I really want to be. I am often frustrated, however, by those who are prominent spokespersons for atheism.

In 2007, Richard Dawkins gave a speech at TED in which he received a roar of laughter when he kiddingly announced he is suggesting “militant atheism.” Dawkins’ speech has a two-fold message: (1) Darwinism is corrosive to religion, (2) atheists should ‘come out’ and be confident about attacking religion as a whole. One of the fascinatingly naive underpinning philosophies of the major voices for atheism today (Dawkins, Hitchens, the fine folks at the “Rational Response Squad”) is that if humanity eliminates religion from the world, everything will simply ‘work itself out.’
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Further Thoughts on Ethics, Post Jesus

Posted in Ethics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2008 by carriedthecross

When I was a Christian, I would oftentimes become frustrated while attempting to understand a moral sentiment put forth through biblical text.  Why in the world would God make absolute morality so ambiguous?  When Moses wrote, “thou shalt not kill,” did he mean “thou shalt not kill” or did he mean “thou shalt not kill without just cause?”  What about abortion? War? Poverty? At times a golden nugget in Scipture would pop out that seemed to make things clear, but there was always a level of ambivalence that I felt was never fully appreciated by the mass of Christianity.

Upon looking to my struggles through developing a proper hermeneutic of Scripture to find a moral system fair to the text, and the supposed author of the text, I cannot help but laugh.  Wading through the waters of religious dogma to discover an absolute morality seems so much easier than developing a moral system beyond a conception of a divine transcendent being which by necessity decrees certain actions “good” and certain actions “bad.”  When I left Christianity–in fact, in my preparation to leave Christianity, even–I recognized that I would somehow need to construct (or not construct, perhaps) a new moral system.

So where to begin? Well first I had to assess if in fact there was morality.  Without Christianity, is moral nihilism the path to go?  Or perhaps there is morality, but it is subjective.  Maybe there is still some sort of objective morality existing independent of humanity.  What a mess!  As I collected my thoughts and began to sift through the arguments and counter arguments, I found myself most convinced by the though of Spinoza (there is nothing that is inherently ‘good’ or ‘evil’), Hume (moral values simply correspond to our social engrained sentiments and passions) and more recently Bernard Williams (actions are described as “good” or “bad” not in a universal sense, but through individual passions and social construction).

In other words, no objective morality exists.  Continue reading

Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #3: Abortion

Posted in Ethics, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2008 by carriedthecross

Abortion. Perhaps the most hot-button issue among evangelicals.  You don’t have to walk past many cars at my college to see an “Abortion is Murder” bumper sticker.  The Honors Seminar at my school last year did a session on abortion.  The students taking the seminar were required to read a pro-life and a pro-choice article before listening to a speaker on the topic.  One problem: only one side of the issue was honestly presented.  The speaker was an avid and open pro-lifer.  The pro-life article was well written and substantiated.  On the other hand, the pro-choice article looked like it had been ripped out of a 6th grade civics class.  A blatant straw-man, the pro-choice article they chose was filled with spelling and grammatical errors and full of poorly defended claims. 

Why do I mention this?  Because evangelicals are almost unanimously opposed to abortion.  Even the most liberal among them.  When asked about abortion by Barna Group, 94% of evangelicals and 73% of born-agains took the position that abortion should either be illegal in all circumstances or in all but a few special circumstances. 

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For much of my time as a Christian, I was firmly planted in the pro-life camp.  As a high school student, I remember railing against abortion as the greatest attack on the sanctity of life since the Holocaust. During college, I became more sympathetic to the pro-choice movement.  It seemed to be an oversimplification of the issue to claim that all abortions were morally wrong.  Most of the arguments I heard from Christians were from the breed of ad populum (in one class, a group presentation once included photos of aborted fetuses; while these photos did little to substantiate their case, it did rile up like minded pro-lifers in the class).

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Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #2: Torture

Posted in Ethics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2008 by carriedthecross

In the past year in particular, the notion of torture has held an interesting place in American politics. This ambiguous tactic (what exactly is torture, anyway) resurfaces from time to time in American politics. Opinions on the topic of torture have very serious implications for ethics and public policy. As a Christian, I found the idea of torture appalling. Completely repugnant was the idea that a civilized government (or non-governmental organization) would employ the tactics of torture on citizens or foreigners for any reason. Something that still surprises me to this day, I was in the minority opinion (to the best of my knowledge) among my fellow Christians.

So what is torture? Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture define it this way: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” (emphasis mine)

As a Christian, this issue seemed simple. Under no circumstances would torture be acceptable. The utilitarian concept of using any individual as a means to an end, in this instance, seemed unacceptable. If human life is sacred, after all, under what authority would any man be justified in demeaning that human life? Since I have lived in America my entire life, it is normal form me to interpret issues and events through the paradigm of my national identity. As an American, it seemed almost unpatriotic to surrender the moral high ground and employ those tactics which I might expect from a terrorist abroad.

When I first left the faith, my opinions on this issue did not immediately change. The idea itself is still reprehensible. But utilitarian ethics make more sense to me now. Individuals seem to have potential value rather than innate value. The danger here is that this can become very subjective, but in my eyes Hitler surrendered much of his own rights, liberties, and indeed human value. In much the same way that I believe a nation-state can surrender its rights to sovereignty, I believe an individual can surrender their rights, even to life. Perhaps.

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Ethics, Post-Jesus

Posted in Ethics with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by carriedthecross

One of the key issues I had to deal with while I was in the process of becoming more psychological amiable to the idea of embracing atheism was the question of morality without God. The issue of morality without God seems to have been beaten to death, and so I don’t want to discuss it per se, but I do want to put down some thoughts on morality that does not stem from objectivist religious authoritarian ethics.

The basic dichotomy seems to be between whether morality is objective (morality as an entity that exists in itself, a moral statement is objectively true whether anyone believes it or not) or subjective (morality is an entity that exists only in the mind, there is nothing beyond the moral opinions of persons that make normative judgments true).

As a Christian, the latter notion was frightening, and perhaps with good cause. As Ravi Zecharrias, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell and other ‘Christian Generals’ would have their audience to believe, without God there is no way to develop morality without relying on personal whims. If morals are subjective, if the ‘goodness’ of an action depends on the acceptance of an individual or culture, than the Holocaust was logically moral from the perspective of citizens of Germany during the Third Reich. As a Christian, I was taught time and again that subjectivism leads inevitably to moral nihilism, the view that no moral values are better or worse than others and that there is no true ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’

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Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #1: Capital Punishment

Posted in Ethics with tags , , , , on January 30, 2008 by carriedthecross

When I de-converted from Christianity, I was forced to slowly and thourougly review many of my fervently held beliefs in all aspects of my life. I’ve decided to go ahead and put some of them down on paper… well, sort of paper. The first issue I want to explore is the death penalty. As a Christian, I ardently opposed the death penalty in all forms. Though that put me in the decided minority of evangelical Christians, I came to this anti-death penalty conclusion based on my Christian faith.


In Matthew 5 Jesus repeatedly makes claims that indicated to me that he was opposed to the death penalty. He follows the pattern of, “You have heard that it is said…, but I say unto you…” It signifies to me that Jesus opposed the death penalty. More personally, in John 8, Jesus defends a women from the death penalty. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said. For years, I was unable to figure out how evangelicals were so overwhelmingly in favor of the death penalty. Perhaps it is a bit trite, but I was also concerned with the idea of cutting someone off from redemption. Since I believed hell to be a real place, I could not comprehend why Christians would support a policy that would ‘send people’ to hell sooner rather than allowing them an opportunity for salvation later.

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