Friday, May 25, 2012

Three Cheers for the Defenders of Atheists in Barbados

When any minority group in a nation has aspersions cast upon it, it is important that rational and ethical citizens object strenuously, lest that out-group be further demonized into inhuman entities. And we saw what befell such groups in the Third Reich. Thus, I must extend kudos to both John Wickham and B.C. Pires who courageously took the Editors of The Barbados Nation to task for their scurrilous April Editorial demeaning all atheists inhabiting that island nation.

The main part of The Nation editors' rant was in asserting there was no place in the island (as a 'Christian nation")  for atheists who were  rendered "base and ignoble" beings by their disbelief. Of course, any editor who'd write such claptrap in a major national newspaper has to be himself questioned concerning base and ignoble motives.

Thankfully, sometime columnist John Wickham pulled the editors up for their blatant hypocrisy: taking them to task for claiming to respect unbelievers, while labeling them "base and ignoble". Meanwhile, B.C. Pires in his separate Nation column noted that Barbados "is no longer a Christian nation, if it ever were". Pointing the large Jewish and Muslim contingent, as well as nearly 15%  of the 280,000-odd populace who are either professed agnostics or atheists. (Well, at least some of the battles I waged against over the top religionists in 1990 in the island's papers appears to have borne fruit.).

Again, the error made by the Nation's editors, as well as so many others (including in this country), is that of assuming because a group professes no belief in a deity, they have no morality. But this puts the cart before the horse, because it is not the existence per se of any deity that defines the Good, or the Moral, but whether in fact an act is good or moral on its merits. This is what the hate mongers don't get and likely never will.

In line with this, any persistent observer of human social interaction will note that the vast majority of people are law-abiding and decent folk who naturally practice a common-sense, utilitarian ethics similar to what has been described. No supernatural law or commandment ordains this behavior. Instead it is the conscious and deliberate recognition that the promotion of the welfare of others is directly linked to one's own welfare. Compromise others' security, and you in effect compromise your own. Undermine their welfare and you also undermine your own. No god is necessary.  This has often been articulated under the ancient Hammurabi code credo: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." - which, alas, many Christian mistakenly attribute to Jesus Christ.

By contrast, religious morality is predicated on some formal codification of expected human behavior in terms of absolutist propositions, not subject to debate. The typical moral code of a religionist, whether Muslim, Pentecostal, Catholic or Jewish, isn’t subject to evolution or variation based on contingencies, or externalities. This blindness probably results from a 'control' meme that proclaims the morality as ‘god-ordained’ or revealed in some scripture or other. If ordained by a god - whether Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh or whoever, it cannot be compromised or altered no matter what.

But, as Kai Neilsson has asked in his book (Ethics Without God, Prometheus, 1992):

"Is an act good because God did it, or is it good independent of such action?"

For a genuine ethical basis, any human action must be totally independent of whether a god did it (in scriptures) or ordains it. It must be good on its own merits.

A first test, as Neilsson observes, is ethical choice predicated on a humane standard. Consider: if a human parent knows his child is trapped in a burning house, s/he will try to save it however s/he can. There is no way the human parent will simply walk out and allow 'fate' or "free will" of the child to make the decision. If the human parent has an ounce of common decency s/he must intervene.
However, god-ists generally seem quite happy to let their deity off the hook, when and where it suits their fancy. Start then with the standard deity template, say espoused by most Christians. This entity is posited as both omniscient and omnipotent (all knowing and all powerful). But when churches are destroyed by tornadoes, as occurred in Ala. in 1994, all sorts of excuses are proferred - and also "it's not our place to question the Divine". Why the hell not?

If you are going to attach supreme ("omni") attributes to its chracter, then make excuses when those attributes aren't manifested, we have every right to question not only the behavior but the putative existence.

Thus it follows, even from the most generic examples (presupposing a supernatural, omnipotent force) that human ethics trumps divine ethics on its face. If it does so, then it must also trump any and all human extensions of divine ethics. Whether in the ten commandments, canon law or wherever.
Hence, it follows that human ethics and ethical standards can exist independently of invoking any divine or religious fluff, affiliations or baggage.

Ethics without god then, is ethics elevated to its highest consistent standards without the need for baffling with bullshit.

A very good article for the basis of a godless morality:

Maybe the Nation's editors should study it carefully before they next sound- off on "ignoble" atheists!

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