Click here to subscribe to the RSS feed

Human ethics FTW II: Morals and meaning

without comments

New York Times conservative commentator David Brooks, in his Feb. 5 piece titled, “Building Better Secularists,” essentially argues that unlike religious people, who become part of a social and moral framework when they adopt the faith, atheists and agnostics, in the absence of these prepackaged elements, are forced to fashion their own set of ethics and communal activities that give meaning to their lives. An example of this would be Sunday Assembly, which apparently has become popular with some nonbelievers. For sure, when former believers lose the faith they often times also lose a whole network of friends and sometimes report missing certain parts of church, so atheist churches have popped up to fill this void. Going to a secular church seems superfluous to me, but if it helps some people, more power to them I suppose.

Brooks also says “secularists,” atheists, agnostics and the like, must create their own time for spiritual reflection and motivation for doing good, and people who are unable to do this “don’t turn bad, but they drift. They suffer from a loss of meaning and an unconscious boredom with their own lives:”

It seems to me that if secularism is going to be a positive creed, it can’t just speak to the rational aspects of our nature. Secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action. Christianity doesn’t rely just on a mild feeling like empathy; it puts agape at the center of life, a fervent and selfless sacrificial love. Judaism doesn’t just value community; it values a covenantal community infused with sacred bonds and chosenness that make the heart strings vibrate. Religions don’t just ask believers to respect others; rather each soul is worthy of the highest dignity because it radiates divine light.

The only secularism that can really arouse moral motivation and impel action is an enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second. I suspect that over the next years secularism will change its face and become hotter and more consuming, less content with mere benevolence, and more responsive to the spiritual urge in each of us, the drive for purity, self-transcendence and sanctification.

The first observation I have on this is that although some people in the “atheist community” have attempted to tie atheism to other movements like humanism, feminism and civil rights, a person’s opinion about the existence of God is and always has been divorced from moral philosophy. While the world obviously would be a better place if all believers and nonbelievers acted benevolently toward other human beings, this is not the world we inhabit. Religious people are not necessarily more moral just because they think they have God on their side, and all atheists aren’t mired in depravity and lawlessness because they lack a book that gives them a concrete moral code.

Brooks’ column also seems to conflate secularism, which is, by definition, the notion of separating the influence of religion from government or public life, and secular humanism, an ethical system by which many, but not all, atheists attempt to live. Secularism, like atheism, doesn’t include a positive or negative creed and neither does “secular morality,” which is a term Brooks references when he mentions the work of Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College. According to Zuckerman, “Secular morality hinges upon little else than not harming others and helping those in need.” Brooks summarizes Zuckerman thusly:

Secular people, he argues, value autonomy over groupthink. They deepen their attachment to this world instead of focusing on a next one. They may not be articulate about why they behave as they do, he argues, but they try their best to follow the Golden Rule, to be considerate and empathetic toward others. … As he describes them, secularists seem like genial, low-key people who have discarded metaphysical prejudices and are now leading peaceful and rewarding lives.

But the idea of “secular morality” makes no more sense than talking about atheistic morality. There’s no such thing in either case. I don’t want that to be misinterpreted. Atheism is simply the disbelief in the existence of gods and includes no moral or ethical component. For that, most progressive nonbelievers turn to secular humanism.

Although the terminology seems to be misused, Brooks’ main implication is that for nonbelievers to live fulfilling lives, they will need to embrace or borrow certain elements from religion to address the “spiritual urge” he says is inherent in all of us, and apparently in this view, only religion is capable of producing transcendent moments. But he commits the same error as many believers here by assuming that just because a certain religion like Christianity or Judaism exists, that it must be a force for good; that just because a god might exist, he or she must necessarily possess a “divine light” that will be beneficial to anyone who basks in it. Just as we have plenty of examples from history that show the many evils that have been committed in the name of religion, gods that man has invented throughout history, including Yahweh, have in the various stories been, more often than not, petty, capricious, jealous and seething with insatiable anger and bloodlust. So, there’s no reason to think that either religion or divinity is a force for good simply by existing.

The beauty about human morality and finding meaning in life without religion is that people can be good to each other and seek to make the world a better place than they left it, not out of compulsion, obligation or the hope for a reward in the afterlife, but because of genuine empathy, which is not a “mild feeling,” as Brooks claims dismissively, but a vicarious sense of compassion for the welfare and well-being of other people. Not mere sympathy, but empathy for our fellow man is at least on par with the Christian notion of agape love, or brotherly love, if not a higher moral imperative.

As for the quest for fulfillment in life, enough majesty and inspiration is to be found in art, literature, music, poetry and nature to hold us all in transcendence and wonder many lifetimes over. To ignore or fail to appreciate these elements, to fail to be transfixed by the knowledge that we were in a very real sense born of the cosmos and by slow degrees crept up Dawkins’ Mount Improbable from lowly origins to the immense complexity that has now equipped us with the ability to contemplate transcendence itself, to cling to the gods and the religions of our fearful and quivering ancient ancestors, to imagine that churches have monopolized what it means to love, to care for others and effect change in the world, is to betray our own humanity.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 15th, 2015 at 10:04 pm

Human ethics FTW

with one comment

From Atheists United on Facebook:

10 commandments

And here is the late Christopher Hitchens taking a stab at writing a much improved 10 Commandments:

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 14th, 2015 at 9:37 pm

‘In theory but not in practice’

without comments

Those are two keys words in federal open records law, as Hillary Clinton was apparently using a personal email server while conducting the nation’s business as secretary of state. According to this story from the Associated Press, Clinton retains ownership of the emails that are on her personal account, even though they should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act:

In theory but not in practice, Clinton’s official emails would be accessible to anyone who requested copies under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Since Clinton effectively retained control over emails in her private account even after she resigned in 2013, the government would have to negotiate with Clinton to turn over messages it can’t already retrieve from the inboxes of federal employees she emailed.

The AP has waited more than a year under the open records law for the State Department to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat, although the agency has never suggested that it didn’t possess all her emails.

As the AP report also mentions, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law last year that prohibited government officials from using private email accounts to conduct business “unless they retain copies of messages in their official account or forward copies to their government accounts within 20 days.” Although the measure didn’t actually become law until after Clinton left office, this seems to beg the question: Why were government officials allowed to use private email accounts for work in the first place? It shouldn’t matter if a government official claims to be forwarding all business emails to a public account from a private email address. This provides too many opportunities for abuse. Federal employees and officials should have been conducting public business with government email accounts the whole time. The Internet is not exactly a new thing. Where was this legislation 20 years ago?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Welcome to journalism in 2015

without comments

The Dallas Morning News is dictating that its reporters have at least 1,000 Twitter followers apiece. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if 25 of those come from within the office, if half the reporters don’t even use Twitter or if they are just empty, meaningless follows.

Here is what long-time reporter Jeffrey Weiss wrote, ironically enough, on Facebook:

I’m shamelessly trolling here for Twitter followers. The DMN has set a goal of 1K per person. I’m not there. I like FB a lot better than Twitter. But when the company sets a goal, to hear is to obey. I’m a sporadic Tweeter. I don’t post much just to kibbitz. Curated, if you will. So I won’t fill up your Tweet stream. If you have a mind, I’m at @jeffreyweissdmn

This is apparently what leadership in journalism at some news outfits looks like in 2015. Hopeful though I might be, thanks to social media, Buzz Feed, smartphones and the continuing “merger” of print and dumbed-down, lowest common denominator broadcast media, real journalism requiring competent reporting and editing — and folks with the work ethic, diligence, focus and brain power to pull it off — could be a relic 10 years from now.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 4th, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Report: Police misconduct in Ferguson

without comments

I can’t say that I’m surprised by the news that, according to a recently completed Justice Department report, city of Ferguson, Mo., police engaged in racially-driven profiling apparently with the goal of ramping up citations and arresting black folks, which, as a happy consequence, helped boost the city’s coffers. After all, next to sales tax, traffic and court fines are the largest source of revenue for the city, according to the report. The city will likely either settle with the Justice Department or face civil litigation.

A police force that is disproportionately white “protecting and serving” a population that is 63 percent black makes perfect sense if the aim is to keep the city’s bank accounts in the black, so to speak:

Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.

For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become yearslong ordeals, with repeated imprisonments because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city’s second-largest source of revenue after sales tax. Federal investigators say that has provided a financial incentive to continue law enforcement policies that unfairly target African-Americans.

At least as disturbing, or possibly more so, is what seems to be happening in Clanton, Ala., where the city is accused in a lawsuit of essentially running an old-time debtors’ prison to foster a kind of revolving door culture in which poor people continually get locked up or have to remain in jail because they can’t afford to pay the fines, with bail amounts allegedly based solely on the crime, not on a defendant’s “individual circumstances:”

“If Clanton’s bail system indeed fixes bond amounts based solely on the arrest charge, and does not take individual circumstances into account, the court should find this system to be unconstitutional. Not only are such schemes offensive to equal protection principles, they also constitute bad policy,” the Justice Department argued in the filing. …

Friday’s (Feb. 13) Justice Department filing argues that setting fixed dollar values on bail for certain crimes is unfair to poor people who may not be able to pay, and therefore remain in jail while others accused of the same crime, but who have money to pay bail, are free while they await a decision on their case.

“Bail practices that are indifferent to an individual’s ability to pay are incompatible with our Constitution and contrary to our values,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

A lawyer for Clanton didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Since 1966, the federal court system has required judges to consider a variety of factors in setting bail or bond amounts–most important the level of danger a defendant poses or their likelihood they will flee. State court systems vary widely, and the Justice Department argues in its court filing that a number of different bail systems are acceptable, but that one which sets specific dollar charges for specific crimes without regard to a defendant’s ability to pay isn’t.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 2nd, 2015 at 10:35 pm

Senator debunks global warming with snow

without comments

Here is the venerable Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma disproving climate change with coldness:

And just like the snowball in his bag, his IQ seems to be inexorably melting and evaporating before our eyes. I wonder if, in his mind, these other historic snow events also provide compelling evidence against climate change, even though many of them took place before all the mass “hysteria” about climate change erupted.

I also wonder about the series of events leading up to this speech. Did he gather the snow in the bag himself, or did he get a staffer to do it? If the latter, did the staffer gathering the snow feel more like a tool than usual? Did Inhofe worry that the snow would melt before he got his chance to deliver the decisive blow to climate change on the floor of the Senate? And if it did melt, did he worry that this fact would have dealt a serious blow to his own argument? Given my hypothesis about the disintegrating IQ, I would guess not.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 1st, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Fox pack of faux pas

without comments

PolitiFact has provided links to fact-checks for The Daily Show’s “50 Fox News lies in 6 seconds” Vine video. I wish PolitiFact had provided some analysis as it usually does, but by my count, the video includes 49 outright mistruths — blatant or otherwise — one incorrectly aired video and an admission of error from Sean Hannity and a gaffe and clarification.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 1st, 2015 at 11:51 am

Finding Seth Rollins

without comments

Is it just me, or does the man in the artwork for CNN’s upcoming series “Finding Jesus” cut a striking resemblance to WWE’s Seth Rollins? Just an observation.

jesus christ seth rollins

In any case, the Shroud of Turin, which is the subject of the first episode, supposedly depicts the image of a crucified man that some claim might have been used in the burial of Jesus. Despite the fact that we have no idea what Jesus of Nazareth looked like — if he existed in the first place — and despite the fact that untold numbers of men, probably many of them bearing beards, long hair and pre-crucifixion wounds were crucified in 1st century Palestine, some apparently seem to think that the shroud still has some modicum of legitimacy, thus giving rise to what will no doubt be another sham show and rating grab perpetrating the myth that Jesus must have left some ancient clues to his true nature and existence if we are only willing to dig hard enough to find them.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

March 1st, 2015 at 11:01 am

America the ‘unaffiliated’

without comments

Three observations from this new report on religion in the United States:

  • The ranks of the “unaffiliated” were at 22 percent and the most populated group in 13 states. Predictably, most of the “unaffiliated” people reside in the Pacific Northwest and New England, the de facto centers of progress and enlightenment in the United States, in addition to parts of California and Massachusetts, which no doubt came in with slightly higher numbers of religious people because of the Catholic demographic in both states (see map 1).

religion1

  • White evangelical Protestants still dominate the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. Although the white Protestant leaders and lawmakers in the South have rarely had their best interests at heart down through the generations, black Protestants also are still mainly prevalent in the Southeast, with both groups still under the delusion that god is on their side, even though the two “sides” have been, nearly at all times, mutually exclusive.
  • White Catholics have been for decades and still are mostly pervasive in the Midwest and the Northeast (and California, due largely to the Hispanic population). Among their number are so-called religious moderates and social liberals. In contrast to evangelicals in the South, these are supposedly the more humanitarian-minded, learned religious folks in America, although among their number are people who believe in the literal transubstantiation of the Eucharist into the body of Christ, the sainthood of Mary, the divinely inspired word and authority of the Pope and a whole host of rituals, all of which have not led to any kind of meaningful change in the U.S. or the world for centuries.
Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

February 28th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Why not more conservative satire?

without comments

This article from The Atlantic is certainly worth a read, but without any hard data, I think I can offer some quick answers as to why America doesn’t have more conservative satire. In short:

Reason 1 − Conservatives by and large don’t “get” or appreciate irony in quite the same way as their liberal counterparts.

Reason 2 − Liberals and progressives tend to be more irreverent, even toward leaders in their own camp. This itself is ironic because conservatives, who spend a lot of time railing against government overreach and corruption, should be the ones giving leaders the hardest time.

Reason 3 − Conservatives take themselves and their party and politics and life too seriously.

Reason 4 − Even when conservatives try to “do” comedy, it just comes off as preachy and forced for reasons inherent number three.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Written by Jeremy

February 16th, 2015 at 2:21 pm

26 queries in 1.080