Atheists are Differently Religious – and No, Atheism is not the/a Religion

A main focus of this blog is to consider and compare different political and ethical philosophies so as to promote better understanding of one’s own worldview and those of others. I frequently focus on progressivism/liberalism and libertarian conservativism, arguing that these incompletely overlapping moral/political philosophies each have their own internal logic and validity, but that when viewed from the perspective of the other, each is libel to look stupid and/or even evil.

Close to a year ago, I posted Atheists are Religious. Here I re-post it with modifications. In this article, I argue that while lack of a belief in this or that God is not itself a religion, any value system that an atheist may hold is ultimately ungrounded in any sort of empiricism. Rather, these and all value systems rely on circular self-validation and assumptions and assertions that are themselves unscientific. As I will argue below, this doesn’t make them wrong or deserving of dismissal; it just means that subscribers cannot claim that their values are rooted in nothing but reason and logic. Reason and logic, in these value systems, are applied based on unempirical values, which can be conceived of as faith claims about an implied moral/existential reality. Continue reading

Where do Observant Jews and Conservative Christians get their Morals, Theologically Speaking?

Bill Maher pointed out the irony of American Right Wing Christianity when he said that if Jesus were a Presidential candidate, the Christian Right would NEVER elect him because he’s a long-haired, sandal-wearing liberal hippie Jew. Uncomfortable with the conflicting tasks of reconciling their Christianity with charges to cut social safety net funding to the barest of bones, the honesty-impaired crew over at Conservapedia have taken it upon themselves to literally begin re-writing the Bible, claiming that previous translations have packed it full of liberal spin. Of course, the Conservapedia answer to this alleged problem is not to create a balanced Bible, but to create a Conservative Bible – hence the name of the project, the Conservative Bible Project.

Daniel Florien, ex-Christian turned atheist, recently posted some of the more liberal, socialist New Testament passages on his blog, Unreasonable Faith. Here are a few of them:

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things in common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

Acts 2: 44, 45

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.
14 You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Luke 14:13, 14

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Matthew 19:21

24 You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 6:24.

In addition to these quotes are Jesus’ famous endorsements of forgiveness, compassion and acceptance, rather than grudge-holding, retribution-seeking and judging (e.g., Let he who is without sin cast the first stone; judge not lest ye be judged; turn the other cheek).

When you look at these sorts of quotes, it is perplexing to fathom how Conservative Christians could see themselves in Christ and how they could appreciate let alone revere him. How do they square their widespread antipathy for government assistance programs and homosexuality with these iconic passages? Now, it’s true that the Bible may well be the most cherry-picked, quote-mined text of all time. Given this,

Are there New Testament passages that Conservative Christians can interpret as endorsing their political values?

We’ve all seen Conservative Christians site verses from the Old Testament, perhaps none more so than Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man lies with another man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.”). Indeed, the more grim, authoritarian theme of the Old Testament appears – to me, at least – to jive far better with modern day American Conservative values of respect for authority, tradition, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and thoroughly retributive justice. The New Testament, judging by mainstream cultural folklore, sounds to be far more liberal, socialist, egalitarian, compassionate, and forgiving. Am I wrong? I’ll admit that I’ve only read parts of the Old Testament and none of the New, so my question is not rhetorical. What exactly is the Right taking from the New Testament?

What About Jewish Moral Theology?

The Old Testament is often viewed as hellishly harsh and unforgiving. If a country today were to use it as a strict policy guide, said country would rightly be considered to be a stunningly cruel, vicious, totalitarian state. Many Christians today, in my limited experience, seem to downplay the moral significance of the Old Testament, pointing to the New Testament as the relevant Christian moral framework. Accepting this, I can’t help but ask:

Where is the warmer, more humane side of Jewish Theology?

For Christianity, it’s the New Testament. The New Testament gives license to Christians to move past authoritarian barbarism toward less judgmental forgiveness and acceptance. Where does that come in within Judaism? Where is the feel good part of Jewish Moral Theology? It’s got to be in there somewhere. Is it burried within the OT, or in a sister scripture? I don’t for a minute buy that people get their morals from scripture. But there are plenty of people who do. So from this perspective,

Where do observant Jews get their morals?

Share your views and knowledge in the Comment section!

How much do you notice the politics of your fellow city dwellers?

In a few months I will be moving to California for my first job as an Occupational Therapist (Edit: This never happened. – Ron – December, 2012). During my job search a key factor I considered was the political leanings of cities. As a politically oriented progressive atheist I applied to positions in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, LA, Anaheim, San Diego (yes, I know that SD is relatively conservative, but still California), Hawaii, Halifax, Toronto, and various other locations in Ontario, Canada. By contrast, I did not apply to any postings in Texas, Alabama, Florida, or Utah, and only applied to a couple in Alberta. Liberal bias much? Much too much. And I’d do it again.

Here’s what’s interesting. I currently live in London, Ontario, a city which I’ve heard referred to as “ultra conservative” (at least by Ontario standards) on several occasions. I’ve never really felt like I live in a conservative city. There was one time when I went to an Ann Coulter speaking event in London and was pretty stunned by how many far-right conservatives came out. But by the same token, I’m sure that if Michael Moore had come to town, I’d have been surrounded by Lefties. The Coulter event was the only time that I’ve ever felt like I was in a conservative space.

On the other hand, I have been living in London as a graduate student. Liberalism tends to run high in universities. Furthermore, the occupational therapy field can be argued to be left-of-centre at its core. These have no doubt been key factors in affecting the degree to which I perceive myself to be living in a conservative city.

Another factor that has significantly affected my experience is that being a strong atheist progressive, the people I hang out with have tended to be secular and left-of-centre. I have progressive religious friends, but I don’t know that I have any conservative friends. Unless a person lives in an incredibly polarized place, they will probably have a disproportionate number of friends of similar moral/political opinions (including relative indifference) to themselves. What is more, when I have interacted with people of significantly differing social/political/religious opinions, these differences often do not come up in conversation. A few days ago I spoke with a Christian Conservative. The subjects of our conversation: Charlie Sheen, winning, hot sauce and restaurants. It was delightful. All of this has got me thinking:

How much do the political views of a populace leak into day-to-day life?
If you live in a liberal city or town, to what degree does it feel liberal? The same for conservative cities and towns.

Is Obama a Fauxgressive – a Fake Progressive, or Simply a Non-Progressive?

Obama is no progressive. Not even close.

A progressive wouldn’t load up his front office with corporatists like Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel; he wouldn’t look the other way when Chief of Staff Emanuel calls progressives “retards”; he wouldn’t spend years prior to his Presidency being mentored by, of all people, Joe Lieberman – every corporatist Republican’s favourite “Independent” “Democrat”; he wouldn’t give up the public healthcare insurance option (which had massive majority support of Americans across the political spectrum, which by the way, he rarely or never mentioned) without a fight; he wouldn’t support corporatist/Republican efforts to cut Social Security, MediCare and Medicaid, three of the most popular social programs in American history; he wouldn’t continually accept Republican framing of issues and perpetually treat Republicans and “Conservative Democrats” (read: corporatist Democrats) as honest actors whom sincerely want to do what is best for America; he wouldn’t hire on the people who broke the banks to run the banks; he wouldn’t waffle and wain over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; he wouldn’t pretend to close international CIA black sites and then turn a blind eye to those in Somalia; he wouldn’t continue and escalate Patriot Act policies; he wouldn’t pass Financial Reform that fails to put a stop to many of the most risky and system-threatening financial practices (e.g., bank over-leveraging, intermixing of depository and investment banking, continued poor regulation of derivatives trading); he wouldn’t outspend Bush on defense; he wouldn’t extend the unpopular “temporary” Bush tax cuts to the rich; he wouldn’t further lower corporate taxes; he wouldn’t continue funding Faith-Based Initiatives; he wouldn’t derisively refer to progressives like Bernie Sanders as “you progressives”; he wouldn’t escalate the fight in Afghanistan at a time when there were no more than 100 Al Qaeda operatives remaining there; he wouldn’t largely ignore and completely excuse the egregious economic mismanagement, international law debasing and civil liberties destroying practices of the previous administration and then continue the very same practices himself; he wouldn’t pretend that the Dems and Republicans are equally at fault when policy discussions come to stalemates when only the Republicans are being obstinate.

It’s  not his lack of success in advancing progressive causes that make him not a progressive. It’s his perpetual lack of effort and capitulation. There is nobility in trying and failing. There is no nobility in playing the role of the jobber in professional wrestler: the pre-determined loser of every match.

Some may say that it is unfair to call Obama a fake progressive, or a fauxgressive, because he so clearly distances himself from progressives and progressivism. Continue reading

In Defense of Abortion

In this month’s Canadian federal election, abortion was not an issue. However, whenever election time roles around in North America, the issue of abortion tends to garner at least a little bit more conversation than normal, even if it is not a specific policy issue. Social conservatives will want to elect politicians who may one day make it a policy issue again, if and when they get enough people in office to be able to make an effective policy run. Pro-choice citizens, on the other hand, are made nervous by the prospect of that happening, and thus are libel to remain slightly weary even when the leader of the conservative party clearly states that he has no interest in bringing abortion back to the table, as Canadian Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper has done. Given that the Harper’s new term will see the appointment of multiple new Canadian Supreme Court justices, some may be wondering if abortion could be the subject of further political discussion some time down the road.

In this post I will argue on behalf of the legality of abortion. I will consider the issues from the stance of the unborn fetus, the parents, and society. In addition to considering the issue from a qualitative experiential perspective, I will also reflect on the notion of the fundamental right to life and freedom from unprovoked harm from others. Lastly, I will consider the issue of abortion in the case of rape. I will not, however, consider abortion from the perspective of religion. While I am perfectly willing to consider moral arguments from religious texts, I will not give the arguments any special priority simply because they came from the Bible, the Qur’an, or some other religious text. Continue reading

Huge Slant On The Young Turks

For a few years I have been a HUGE fan of The Young Turks, a progressive online news commentary program. However, in recent months my enthusiasm has abated significantly. The leading reason is a perceived one-sidedness in the show’s coverage of certain issues, most notably tax cuts for the wealthy. Continue reading

Bush’s Book: A Book on True Crimes

In the video below, Dave Koller talks about a new movement that he has taken part in, wherein participants take it upon themselves to move copies of George W. Bush’s new book on his presidency to the True Crimes section of the bookstore.

This brings to mind a practice of some “militant” atheists of moving copies of religious texts such as the Bible to the library or bookstore’s Fiction section…

Atheists Are Religious.

Just because one does not believe in a God, Gods, karma, reincarnation, astrology, L. Ron Hubbard, or eighteen year old “elders” who knock on your door on Sunday mornings to bring you the good news from Utah, that doesn’t mean that they are not religious. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an atheist who wasn’t religious in their own way. I certainly am. Like other atheists, I subscribe to a sort of religion that is both different and similar to what we conventionally refer to as “religion”.

How are atheists religious? Continue reading

A Liberal/Progressive Case Against Minimum Wage

A person truly concerned with helping others have a duty to make sure that their plans actually help them.

– Alonzo Fyfe

Alonzo Fyfe is doing thoughtful writing about issues at the heart of disputes between progressives and conservatives. In this article he argues that minimum wage policies intended to help low wage earners actually hurts them in a number of ways, such as by:

  • Forcing companies on the edge of viability into closure, leading to layoffs;
  • Forcing companies to increase their prices which, in turn, will result in them losing customers and subsequently laying off staff. I would add that this will also increase the cost of living, which could have a disproportionate effect on people near the bottom of the income distribution;
  • Incentivizing investment in automation. Low-wage positions are often the ones most amenable to automation. By increasing the cost of hiring a person to do a job, a minimum wage policy inadvertently supports the case for investment in automation.
  • Attracting more people to the labour market, thereby increasing competition for jobs.
  • Disincentizing education, as artificially high wages can be earned without education. Of course, minimum wage is far from high, but a teenager living at his parents’ home making $8/hr may feel less need to pursue educational career advancement than if they were making $5/hr. Relatedly, one alternative to minimum wage offered by Fyfe was to provide educational funding assistance such as loans to those making below a certain amount, thereby incentivizing and aiding them in acquiring skills that will benefit them and the broader society.

Fyfe’s line of reasoning is not intrinsically liberal or progressive, as the title of this post might have implied. But it’s the kind of reasoning capable of speaking to those who want a society that lends a helping hand to those on the edge of subsistence.

What do  you think?

There Will Be War.

“I believe in world peace. I believe it is possible.”

– Every politician or beauty pageant contestant ever.

Highly unlikely. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t be desirable. It’s just not going to happen. Even in an idealistic world where everyone had enough food, followed the Golden Rule, did not covet status, wealth or luxury, politicians weren’t corrupt, organized religions did not divide us, and everyone was perfectly honest, rational and considerate of the opinions of everyone else, and moreover, everyone knew that everyone else was being as morally upstanding as they could be, world peace would not happen.

Why not? In short, a lack of resources tomorrow, and irreconcilable disagreements on what is moral and best for society. Continue reading