Thursday, August 4, 2011
Myths About Atheists (2)
We now continue looking at more myths - apart from the one illustrated in the graphic - which assumes atheists are all unforgiving "grumps".
3. Most criminals and insane are atheists
In a way, this is derivative from the preceding myth. After all, if one doesn’t adhere to a God, it’s possible s/he has no morals and may be criminal or insane because of it. I used to think this had only a small following until I accidentally got a glimpse of Tucker Carlson’s MSNBC show(The Situation: aired on June 23, 2005 under the segment header “Doctors.”), in which he presented survey statistics that disclosed a majority of physicians “believed in God.” He acknowledged (to an atheist guest or at least someone playing Devil’s Advocate) that this was a “good thing” since otherwise doctors might think they were gods.
Leaving this foolishness out, since the existence of a single, uniform deity hasn’t yet been proven or even minimally demonstrated, he then went on to assert it was a good thing for people in general to think someone was “looking down on them” since otherwise: Who knew what they would do?
I refer to this as the “Big Daddy in the Sky” motif, since it’s predicated on an infinite version of Celestial “Homeland Security” where each human is tracked every second, every minute in every thing he or she does. It’s also totally preposterous, apart from being insulting, debasing and childish. Certainly, from a rational point of view, anyone who avoids wrongdoing because of fear of being “caught by Cosmic Daddy” has a much more primitive and degenerate morality that an upstanding atheist who simply acts decently because he believes all humans merit respect and basic tolerance.
One can query why any God worth Its salt would accept such a loser into his “Heaven.” I mean, this person isn’t obeying out of innate love of God, but because s/he fears getting caught and ending up in the eternal barbecue pit! Is there a real case to be made here for the divine to embrace cynical, exploitative cowards?
But let’s return to this “Homeland Security of God” racket. Despite Tucker Carlson’s childish TV slot endorsement, it actually has had a long history in the Roman Catholic Church. That is, early on in Church history “sins of thought” were incorporated into the “mortal sin” transgression matrix. The architects of these “sins of thought” pointed to a biblical verse for validation, noting that even Christ said that a man who merely looked at a woman with lust in his heart had committed fornication, at least in thought.
From here it was but one step to introduce the ubiquitous “impure thoughts” as mortal sins in their own right, meaning that if one entertained them then died in a sudden accident his (or her) soul was as Hell bound as if actual illicit, premarital sex acts had transpired.
To reinforce this point, a former Franciscan priest named Emmett McLoughlin once cited statistics to show Catholics were more preponderant in mental hospitals than other religious populations. He noted that “sins of thought” were at least partly to blame for this. (McLoughline, Emmett, 1962: Let the Statistics Tell Their Tragic Story, in Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church, Lyle Stuart Books, New York, pp. 189-214.) Thus, a Catholic teen that entertains “impure thoughts” knows he can as easily be earmarked for the eternal toaster as if he had actually committed fornication.
The beauty of “thought sins” is they open the gateway to perpetual mind control. As each xxx thought registers it becomes the 800 lb. gorilla in the room (your mind). You try your best to ignore thinking of the latest Playmate in all her nude splendor, but she’s sitting right there in your consciousness, so you can’t. The more you try to avoid her, the more she returns, until you finally relent and give in to the wicked thoughts. When you do, the attendant thought that “God has recorded it” instantly impinges. You must then run, not walk, to the nearest confessional! “Bless me, Father, my last Confession was five days ago. I just thought of that naked July Playmate again!”
As the cycle of thought betrayal and confession continues, one becomes more paranoid that in the next permutation he won’t make it to confession in time and will end up as Satan’s fodder. This leads to a persistent mental torment that afflicts all devout Catholic youths, sending them into precarious mental states and neurosis.
Had I not escaped the mental straightjacket of Catholcism's “thought sins” I’ve no doubt I’d have remained a virgin at least to the age of 35, and perhaps much longer. I’m also convinced my frustration levels would have metastasized to a critical breaking point, as well as mental instability driven by fear, shame and guilt. So, to me, leaving the Church was a matter of personal survival and one might even say “personal salvation.” I had no choice but to do it, or spend decades in the looney bin.
4. Atheists Always Recant Near Death.
I confess that I haven’t been able to address this for myself yet, mainly because I haven’t come close to death. However, I would hope that if and when that fatal hour comes, I would hold firm to my principles and not simply cop out and squeal for the nearest priest to administer my insurance policy in the form of Extreme Unction because I feared some vague eternal fate.
Giving optimism on this score, are the deaths of two foremost American atheists: Isaac Asimov, and Carl Sagan. Neither capitulated to superstition in the final hour, though the prospect of death did bring further opportunity for reflection as it would for any sentient and intelligent being.
Nevertheless, those who embrace the traditional form of “Pascal’s Wager,” assume I am merely being an obstinate idiot. “What have you got to lose?” they ask. “If you believe you lose nothing in this wager. If you’re wrong and there is no God after all, so what? All you forfeit is your pride. But if you don’t believe, you stand to lose everything!”
Hence, they argue, the sane bet is to believe, rather than withhold belief.
I disagree. Let’s consider it from two viewpoints: one of which assumes a real infinite (non-local) entity and one that doesn’t. In the first case, and ironically, the most plausible basis for a real deity is that quantum non-locality governs consciousness. The result is a transpersonal and super-conscious state that precludes localized classes, or manipulations of such.
In this super consciousness, all times are immediately accessible, the past as easily as the future, because in hyper-dimensional consciousness all times are linked. This consciousness is not locked into a serial process of events that unfold one at a time. It “sees” everything at once. Ego-less, it’s without a sense of personal identity or self in the sense of asserting power/status, occupying territory or projecting hegemony over nature. In addition, language and logic, with their built-in divisiveness are not comprehensible to this entity. The separation of subject from object, as well as logical categories, would be perceived as purely illusory artifacts.
Physicist Henry Margenau has compared reality perception for a finite being (such as a human) and a boundary-free being on the basis of “time slits”. In particular, he notes the latter would lack a time slit and this absence is precisely what makes all times instantly accessible. Humans, meanwhile, “are constrained by a narrow slit in the time dimension”. This narrowness of temporal dimension creates our sense of isolation, along with our limited three-dimensional body and sense apparatus. This can be understood better by reference to the diagram below:
The wider expanse brackets (visualize in 3 dimensions and actually infinitely wide) enfolds a tiny human "time slit" (center) which is all the human consciousness can access of reality. The minds that we have (finite as they are), obviously, can only process within the limits of our time slits and the perceptions attendant on them. Thus, asked to envisage some eternal “punishments” compatible with our God-concepts we invariably arrive at those emphasizing isolation and separation first, and extreme punishment (“Hell”), second.
The problem is that this limited time slit version of Hell, which is a human byproduct, doesn’t square with the only genuine transpersonal or non-local entity that might pass as a God! Indeed, it contradicts it! What it does, essentially, is demand that the non-local, time-slit liberated version of deity revert to a narrow time-slit version of deity when applying punishment – presumably for those who eschew belief in it. The problem is that if it reverted to this time-slit version it would have to contradict its own nature!
One is led to conclude that the most reliable concept of a deity: a transpersonal entity with zero time constraints (consonant with an infinite, non-local nature) would be incapable of applying punishment to lesser beings in its firmament. The reason is that such punishment requires actions on the level of “isolation” or “separation” that are incompatible with non-locality. A Being that so acted, therefore, would be cognizant not only of its creatures’ isolation but its own! Hence, recognize its own finitude and limits and could not therefore be omniscient or omnipresent!
To make this more concrete, if such an entity (which is more or less analogous to Bohm’s “Holomovement”) existed, it would have to be literally blind to any transgressions against it, and certainly to puny human disbelief. This “blindness” arises not from overlooking human deficiency, but rather from its non-local nature that cannot at once be boundary –free and also localized in perceptions, to the extent of isolating a part of existence for “punishment".
In the end, if this entity existed (and I reiterate we’ve no evidence it does, only that the attributes are most consistent with the traditional “infinite, eternal” Being) then the atheist has nothing to fret over. At death, his limited temporal existence is simply subsumed into a greater, timeless existence. In effect, belief or no, he (like all the billions of other humans who’ve ever lived) must be integrated within the same boundary-free, non-local existence. The bottom line is that orthodox Christians simply can’t have their “cake and eat it.”. If they want unbelievers to suffer eternal torments, then they will have to part ways with an omnipresent, eternal deity!
Pascal’s Wager for an atheist, based on such a nonlocal entity, is a “gimme.” But how can one be certain its vengeful, toting up snubs and sins counterpart doesn’t exist? We can’t, but there are many sound reasons for asserting that it doesn’t, and that the vengeful deity is really simply a vengeful construct fabricated by limited human minds. Isolated and constricted minds that have projected their own ego needs, personal defects and need for vengeance and “justice” onto it. As we already saw, one reason is that an eternal entity would have to have an infinite temporal “slit” rendering it essentially blind to temporal events. Alas, finite human minds with their presumptions, biases and faculties can’t deal with this.
Such limited and finite minds are bound to see concepts such as “justice” and “morality” in predefined, human terms. To these constricted minds, “an eye for an eye” sums up pretty well their entire theology. Besides, what fun would is it be to always act righteously, then finally get to Heaven and discover you’re denied seeing unbelievers roasted over an eternal furnace and hearing their screams? Not much!
The rational atheist takes a more expansive view and declares that faced with the prospect of eternal “torment” (especially in the form of perpetual “loss”) or keeping the company of a petty tyrant who’d burn any human for mere disbelief, the former is surely the better bet.
Michael Martin actually turns this choice on its head in arriving at an alternative view of Pascal’s Wager, based on a negative deity he calls the “Perverse Master” which (he imagines) acts in consistent contradiction to the “just God” of orthodox Christians(Martin, Michael: 1990: “The Wager Refuted,” in: Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Temple University Press, p. 232.) For example, rather than rewarding belief or faith in itself, especially if such belief is predicated on fear of torment, this entity punishes it for any supernatural being (including itself) while rewarding disbelief with eternal bliss. (Clearly this “PM” prefers not to have millions of “yes men” surrounding it, who’ve only espoused belief to save their sorry hides!)
In presenting a three-option truth table (based on probabilities, e.g. p1, p2 and p3) for the Wager, Martin is correct in observing that the problem with Pascal’s original version is there are other variants that he didn’t consider. None of those variants is ruled out a priori by Martin since, in the absence of irrefutable evidence for any one, all others have at least a finite probability. So it is with the “Perverse Master.”
Martin’s truth table ends up as a 3 x 3 matrix that carries within each ‘cell’ a choice resulting from the product of the individual probability and the consequence. The choices include: belief in the Perverse Master, belief in the traditional Judaeo-Christian God and belief in neither.
Next place in the table is for the Socinian deity, which is limited by never knowing more than the most advanced consciousness existing in the universe at one time. If limited in consciousness, the Socinian deity will also make errors. Physicist Freeman Dyson describes this entity almost like a child (Freeman Dyson: Infinite in All Directions, Harper & Row, p. 119.):
“The main tenet of the Socinian heresy is that God is neither omniscient or omnipotent. He learns and grows as the universe unfolds”.
Making a long story short, if we regard Martin's table globally, we see at a glance that the infinite utility and disutility for Pascal's "god" cancels out. In the same manner, the high and low probabilities (for SG and HG, respectively) cancel out, or essentially so. The (+, -) expectations for NG (“No God”) reflect that a negative disutility with negative finite probability (- P/2) attaches to having a belief in no God. Meanwhile, (+ P/2) with positive utility and positive, finite probability is attached to disbelief or withholding belief in a deity. (For reasons that have already been discussed in this book, e.g. that the theist is the one making the claim to add to the reality, the atheist merely passively responds by withholding investment of his intellectual resources)
When all is said and done, four positive expected values (including one infinity) cancel four negative ones (including one infinity), leaving only null expectation values or zeros. This not only refutes Pascal’s traditional wager, but also the basis for a Wager belief in any other halfway credible deities!
From these expectation results we conclude the atheist is on very firm logical grounds for his disbelief, and making the traditional Pascal Wager is knuckle-headed and a waste of time. It merely discloses that the Christian’s “mark” hasn’t done his or her full set of homework!
Aside from the theoretical and logical analyses, one need only read various soldiers’ journals and accounts (many of which have appeared in newspaper letters, or magazine articles) to see that there are, in fact, many atheists inhabiting foxholes! Probably as many or more also inhabit cancer wards (as the late astronomer Carl Sagan once did). Again, the myth that no atheist would dare do so really pivots on the orthodox Christian’s own perception of what s/he would do! But truly, a Christian attempting to put himself in the deathbed atheist’s place to decide on how he’d do the wager is preposterous, not to mention presumptuous. This is because it will always be skewed by the projections of the Christian’s own fears on the choices!
5. Hitler was an Atheist.
This myth is intended to achieve exactly what it appears to do: slander atheism by association with the most monstrous human imaginable. If, therefore, Hitler can be painted as an “atheist” and if Hitler’s deeds were so cumulatively vile, it follows (in a bizarre sort of logic) that atheism can only produce vile deeds. However, technically Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Robert Payne notes (Robert Payne: 1973, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, Praeger Publishers, p. 15):
“Adolf Hitler's birth certificate records that he was born at six o'clock in the evening on April 20, 1889, and goes on to record that two days later, at a quarter past three in the afternoon, in the presence of Father Ignaz Probst, the boy was baptized in the local Catholic Church”
As is known from standard Roman Catholic doctrine, once one is baptized a Catholic, he or she technically remains a Catholic unless excommunicated, or until death. Payne later documents Catholic Church attendance by a number of Hitler's luminaries, including Gregor Strasser, Erich von Ludendorff and others (op. cit., p. 386).
Ian Kershaw (1998, Hitler Hubris - 1889- 1936, W.W. Norton & Company, p. 34)documents Hitler's regret and "mistake in antagonizing the Catholic Church". Primarily because Karl Lueger's Christian Social Party had made such a "deep impression on him" given that it "was soldered together to appeal to Catholic piety and the economic self-interest of the German speaking lower middle classes."
Both Payne and Kerhsaw also document the extensive fertile soil provided by the anti-Semitic Vlksich movement (which Hitler played to), by the German Catholic Church itself, i.e. in depictions of the Jews as "Christ Killers" such as in their Passion Play at Oberammagau etc.
While it is true that Hitler was probably no more than a nominal Catholic by the time of the invasion of Poland in 1939, this doesn’t mean he was an “atheist” any more than the two Columbine killers (who professed being “atheists”) as they threatened any peers that refused to budge from their faith during the 1999 Colorado killing spree. Obviously these killers merely postured unbelief, invoking the red-flag word “atheist”, as a vehicle for their anti-social acts or to garner more media attention.
In fact, given Hitler’s hatred of Communists (clearly and historically associated with atheism), it makes more sense that he would have grouped both in the same undesirable category. And, by that I mean earmarked them for “final solution.” Let’s also bear in mind that it was the Vatican that assisted Nazi war criminals to escape Europe along the infamous “rat lines” to south America, just after World War II.
Closer to the mark, but no less egregious, is the epithet that “Stalin was an atheist” and hence we atheists ought to feel terrible because of Stalin’s murderous reign. Again, the key point is missed. That is, conflating and confusing the deeds of voracious mass-murdering individuals (who manage to gain control of state machinery) with the coincidental philosophies they may claim to embrace at the time.
Let's also bear in mind that the Inquisition, for example, met with the blessings of actual popes who gave it their seal of approbation and essentially determined that it was consonant with the doctrines of the Church itself. (The rationale being to spare any heretics from the far worse fate of eternal torment!). Pope Innocent IV, for example, issued a famous (or infamous) Bull known as Ad extirpanda, which provided the machinery for systematic persecution as part of the state itself. This included seizure of property, possessions.
This is at wide variance to Stalin et al, who merely seized the power of the state machinery available but invoked NO godless doctrine per se to rationalize it. It was merely his own paranoia and lust for consolidating power, combined with megalomania and bloodthirstiness. But no doctrinal benediction as was the case with the Inquisition!
(To be continued)