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Being an Atheist part II: Atheism is not a Belief or a Religion!

August 30, 2012 1 comment

There are arguments for god/gods, there are arguments which attempt to justify religious belief, and there are arguments which are against both the belief in god and religion. I’ve heard most of them, both as a student, an adjunct professor, and as a person who pays attention to these sorts of things. Curiously, the more atheism is accepted, the more a new series of arguments has been emerging: arguments against atheism.

I’m not going to imply that these are foolish arguments offered by people with little understanding of what they are talking about: I’m going to flat out say it. They are foolish arguments, and not because I disagree with them, but because everyone does. It’s foolish to argue against non-belief when you ought to be arguing for belief. It’s the direct approach, the active voice, etc. For instance, would a person be better served arguing against anti-evolution or presenting the evidence of evolution? The former method is that which conspiracists argue: they put factual evidence on the defensive and then argue against them as if siding with reality requires some sort of leap of faith. It has the appearance of working, and in the moments of debate is effective, but we all have that l’espirit de l’escalier, the hole in the argument comes to light almost as soon as the argument is finished. It also makes no sense and changes not one atom of the objective nature of the situation. the most popular of these arguments is this: “well, Atheism is a belief too,” or “Atheism is just like religion, it requires belief as well.”

Although someone who says this is just trying to confuse the issue, let us assume that atheism requires a belief. What is the point of taking that position? Taking the position only means that the atheist is believing that there is no god and thus is just as religious as the religious people that the disagrees with. I can think of three possibilities for why one might think that this is a good move to make, and all of them are illogical refutations that contribute nothing to the debate.

Possibility the first: Atheists are guilty of a self-contradiction therefore their position is wrong. This possibility is, at least, somewhat related to logic, a position cannot be logically held if it contains a self-contradiction (i.e. you can’t have a four sided triangle). What is being claimed is that Atheists believe that all belief is meaningless, which is, in itself, a belief. This would be a great refutation of the atheist argument if atheists were Nihilists. Nihilists believe that any system which possesses meaning or value are, at their core, without basis. Now, a Nihilist must, it seems, be an Atheist, however the reverse is not necessarily true. I am an atheist, I am not a nihilist. I have values and morals which are based on something, the only difference is that my values are not based on the threat of punishment or reward yet they are based on reason and rationality. I can find aesthetic value in something which is based on scientific reasoning which is, again, not devoid of meaning or value. I am not a Nihilist. The confusion is not  that far fetched either, in a way I can kind of get it: since Atheists hold the position that any belief in god is meaningless and theists assume that anything of value is ultimately derived from god then atheists must not have any value in anything. It’s a mistake, hopefully. When it’s not, it is just a segment of the population who thinks that anyone that doesn’t share their belief is immoral…such as the American Taliban.

The second is that they are making the equivalence argument, in informal logic terms it is the fallacy of “tu qouque,” or “you’re another.” It’s an assertion that admits, “fine religious belief is silly but you have religious belief just like me so you are silly too. Or you can admit that it’s true and everyone is fine.” While not even close to being true it makes little sense to argue that I am wrong and you are wrong as well. Congratulations, we are now both idiots. And that’s all that kind of argument makes.

The third possibility is that they are trying to offer some sort of different equivalence argument. One that is saying that Atheism is a belief so that there must be an organization of those who believe in the non-belief. So when the angry theist tells me that I am part of a religion they are trying to rob me of my ideas by explaining that I must have learned them from somewhere, like they learned theirs. You hear this among crazy people like Michelle Bachman who think there’s an atheist-Islamist conspiracy to destroy America. Somewhere there exists a well financed organization that gives atheists money to oppress Christians (which, if I am wrong and it does exist, could I get some of that money?). Which is a ridiculous assumption because it seems to operate under the idea that all beliefs require some sort of organization. I became an atheist on my own, no one turned me, I didn’t walk into a history museum and was berated by tour guides and curators until I laid on the floor shaking out the words “there is no god.” My visit to Boston didn’t fill me with the spirits of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine exhorting me to shed my belief in an active and involved god in the world. I have no organization, there seems to not exist one…maybe JREF, but atheism isn’t their focus. Right now someone is googling an atheist group to post as a comment, so I’ll just head it off now: great you found one. I can walk to four churches and two temples from where I live.

Finally we can ditch the assumption and return to the original premise: atheism is NOT a belief nor is it a religion. To say that Atheism is a belief is to say “that it requires an act of volition to regard proposition “X is true” as being false.” An equivalent statement would be to say that regarding Centaurs as not existing requires a belief. Centaurs exist only as a conception in mythology. We do not need to assent to the belief to deny that they exist anymore than we need to believe that mermaids do not exist. The non-existence of Centaurs is the default state of reality it does not require our agreement to establish its veracity. This is unlike religion. Religion requires belief to exist non-religion does not. That statement ought to be obvious that it would require no explanation, but for some reason there is confusion on the issue.

This confusion is easily remedied when you point out to a religious person that they engage in it as well. A Christian does not require a specific belief to not be a Hindu; a Muslim does not need to have a beleif which negates Mormonism, etc. While some may say, in reply, that it requires a belief to not be an Atheist, I reply, exactly. That’s the whole point, Atheism denies all religions, religions only deny all of them minus one. Ontoligically if you believe in a deity, any deity, you are not an Atheist.

The other response runs something like this: a Christian must believe in Christianity to not be a Hindu, so yes a special belief is required. The quick witted answer looks good but it hasn’t been thought out. The belief in Christianity (Jesus, virgin Birth, etc.) only makes one a Christian. It bears no importance on Hinduism. In other words the faithful Christian is a Christian but they don’t have to create a series of special beliefs which negate Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. By the logic of the “Atheism-is-a-belief” argument a Christian who was unaware of the existence of Hinduism (for example myself when I was much much younger) would be considered a Hindu because they haven’t specifically declared a belief in the denial of Hinduism. That would be ridiculous to consider, a Christian is a Christian even if they have no denial-belief in other religions. Just as an Atheist who has no belief in anything is not a believer in atheism.

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Categories: philosophy, religion

The Road to Atheism part XVI: A Confirmation of Social Pressure

August 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The first sacrament that a Catholic really has control over is the sacrament of confirmation. Confirmation, as simplest an explanation as I can give is that it’s Re-Baptism. The applicant reaffirms the baptismal vows that were said for them while they were infants. What the sacrament recognizes is that what was said for another person may not hold for them now, thus they have to affirm that they want to be members of the church. It makes sense, and in theory it ought to weed out those people who aren’t really into the doctrines of the Catholic church, such as the hierarchy, infallibality, it’s utterly un-democratic method of doing things, the tenets of Christianity in general, I could go on. By the end of the ceremony the only people in the room (other than heathen family members) ought to be real true Catholics. Yet, there is always that important difference between theory and practice, that difference being practice.

Confirmation takes place during the applicant’s “age of discretion.” This is the age when, in the eyes of the church, a person is morally responsible for their actions. It seems to me that the sacrament of Confession ought to have occurred at this time as well, but I guess I wasn’t responsible for everything I did up the age of 16. I suppose that the church wanted me to practice admitting that I was a sinner, unworthy of god’s grace or something. That’s not exactly fair, there is a discrepenacy in the age of discretion, which means that it varies from parish to parish. At some council (I imagine Vatican II), the rule changed. You used to get three sacraments at the same time, First Communion, Confession, and Confirmation. This seems to make better sense to me but there is another wrinkle. The local Duke has to perform the sacrament, I meant bishop. The bishop must be present, while in the other two it’s merely the priests who can perform it. So changing the age freed up the Bishop’s time, or at least allowed some of the sacraments to be performed while awaiting the age of discretion. It still seems awfully arbitrary. Our Bishop decided that the age was going to be 16.

What’s really odd is that we are talking about an age that changes your status in the eyes of a deity, however if I drove from the diocese of Buffalo over to the next one I may still not be of the age of moral responsibility. If an Italian national moved to Buffalo, and they were already confirmed then how do you explain the discrepency (they do the age of 7 over there)? It’s not a matter of legal fiction, it’s taught as divine fact. Unless god favors some countries over others (although empirically this seems to be the case as Cicero would point out).

Part of the deal about being confirmed is that you don’t just show up and get confirmed. You have to demonstrate knowledge of the religion which means classes. At the time I was 16, I was attending a high school–a Catholic high school mind you, taking religion five days a week. At this point in my life I have been taking religion classes for ten years, at five days a week. I went to a summer camp run by the Catholic church, and I was an altar server for Odin’s sake. I didn’t need religion classes on a Sunday night. It’s not like they were going to throw “City of God” or “Summa Theologica” at us. It was going to be more of the same discussions about the trinity, church history, and rehearsal. Now I’m taking religion classes six days a week, but at least this class had girls in it, so there was that.

A further requirement was the community service that we “volunteered” to do. Of course, as some of us pointed out, you can’t “require” someone to “volunteer”–that’s a contradiction. It’s either a required action or it’s a voluntary action, it cannot be both.

My problem ultimately is related to the above idea. Remember, at this point I was pretty devout. What we were being told in the class was that somehow I wanted to be in the room, that I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t want to. This claim was being made by the teacher of the class, a lay person and it was utter horseshit. It’s always been said to me that it’s the little things that make all of the difference, this was certainly one of those little things that shook my devotion to religion. My problem was that, I was not there willingly. My self excluded, I would bet that only 25% of the people in that room even cared about the sacrament at all. If this was really about free will and volition–then why did they even bother with attendance?

Maybe I wanted to be Confirmed, maybe I didn’t; but for damn sure I was not in that room willingly. I was in the room because of social pressure. My entire extended family, that I know of anyway, is Catholic. It was expected of me that I was going to kiss the Bishop’s ring and be confirmed. At the time, I probably even expected it of myself, at this stage in the game, Religion had become a habit. I didn’t have the benefit of seeing it from an outside perspective because there was no outside perspective. This was just something that was just going to happen to me, and saying no was out of the question.

This is why everytime the teacher reminded us that this was a sacrament about free will and making a personal commitment to the Catholic church I became more and more detached. Now, we could have been there of our own free will but our attendance could not be divorced from the expectations of our social environments. Technically, of course, I was in there of my own free will. I won’t argue that on a metaphysical level. I could have just walked out of the room but there would have been consequences to such an action, which is why none of us did it. Familial pressures aside there was also the habit that I have previously mentioned. We grew up in it, and it doesn’t go away. This would be like dropping out of school, eventually, it seemed, you would have to go back. The habit makes you go along with it not matter how wrong it might be. Like seeing turkey legs at a Renaissance faire, not factually correct (there are no turkeys in Europe prior to 1500) but everyone just seems to go along with it so you do as well. Confirmation, for me had become just like that.

The sacrament itself is just like a Baptism, only with the Bishop, his mitre, and crosier. We do our thing, say the vows, and proceed out. You don’t feel any different, but there’s some kind of difference present. You can elect to conduct yourself in the way you see fit…as long as the way you see it is the same way the See sees it. Nothing really changes, although I could have elected not to attend mass every week…but then there was that social pressure. It seems rather odd now that this is even an undertaking, nothing really changed pre-confirmation to post-confirmation. Although I can now be a godfather, so there is that.

Ultimately confirmation is a rite of passage, it makes you an adult. Yet there was no big step or feats of daring or even, really self-reflection. Although I guess all of those times I reflected on the notion of whether I was truly there of my own free will was that self-reflection but it turned out that I wasn’t.

Categories: philosophy, religion

On the Road to Hell: Being an Atheist II

August 21, 2012 Leave a comment

I was at a funeral once, sitting in the chapel, listening to the minister drone on and on about Jesus and how happy he was that he was a follower of Jesus, not really mentioning the deceased for an odd reason. I should mention something before I get too into this post, anyone that knows me in person knows that despite my dedication to philosophy I have no social anxiety and am quite affable. Even my biggest idealogical opponents will have a hard time refuting that, it’s not braggadaccio I’m just stating what alot of people already know. I can talk to anyone about anything, i.e. I don’t have to talk about philosophy. Most of my free time is spent surfing the net, reading fiction, watching movies of the more explosion-y type, or brushing up on anything that I am unfamiliar with. I do this purposely in case I get stuck in a bar or on a plane and can just look to the person next to me and strike up a conversation. I bring this up, because at funerals I am utterly at a loss socially. I dislike funerals, wakes, etc. and would rather not go to them if I had the option. It’s not disrespect for the dead, I just have literally no idea how to act at them. Usually I do what I see most people do; be quiet and do the funeral nod (you know what I mean by this).

Back to the funeral: I’m at a funeral inside a mega-church. Right away I know I’m in enemy territory. I can be inside any kind of religious building and feel fine, but mega churches are different. They are home to people asking for their tithe despite the fact, that the existence of the mega-church negates their need for the money (if they constantly need money why did they build the mega church to begin with, whatever happened to that meek inheriting the earth bit in the new testament [matthew 5:5 it’s red letter])? Secondly mega-churches in my experience have been the most intolerant veins of Christianity out there…aside from obvious hate groups with Christian ideology underpinning them such as Christian Identity groups or the Ku Klux Klan. The mega church is usually home to anti-science, anti-gay, anti-reality preachers. I’m speaking anecdotally from the two mega-churches that I have been inside. Yet, the comforting thing is that this is a funeral and it’s not like the guy is going to get all political.

Especially when the deceased was someone who wasn’t that religious to begin with. It really reveals to me that the funeral service has nothing to do with the dead. I have been to way too many of these were the person in the box (or urn) never attended church aside from family obligation and the cleric is acting like the person was a devout religious person that missed once or twice. It’s even worse when the deceased person is the result of a suicide and the cleric has to tip toe around the manner of death and pretend that suicides don’t go to hell and that suicides aren’t technically allowed to receive a Christian burial anyway. Those are some awkward services.

The minister in this case is going on about death, but not specifically, he’s being so vague and generic that to me it seemed that it could have been anyone who died and this guy would have said the same thing. He’s going on and on then he mentions something curious, he claims that the bible is not a book of history but it has been proven historically accurate, and that while it is not a book of science it has been proven scientifically accurate. This was so beyond incorrect that I’m not even sure “incorrect” even covers it. First off, no and no. It has not been proven either of those things, in fact, the bible actually makes no scientific observations. Unless you take creation and the flood literally in which case it’s been demonstrated that it is on the wrong side. Historically it doesn’t fare much better, although it does have the names of kings, empires, and some events wrong, but to say that it is a proven historical book is not an accurate statement any more than calling “The Iliad” a proven historical work would be. (The moon is not a “lamp” as it does not generate it’s own light and then there’s the Herod mass killing which never happened. I’m not being pedantic, he made the claim, not me. And he said accurate, not almost accurate, or sort of in the ballpark. Also, if the book was proven, say, historically accurate then it would be a book of history and regarded as such. That’s why he was beyond wrong. I mention this to dispel a stereotype, as even though it made me physically jolt I remained calm. Unlike the stereotype of the Christian hating atheist who burns churches or whatever.

As hour number 2 rolled around he told the room that the gate to heaven was open to everyone, except me and people like me. The way is open but it’s shut, like the VIP room at a nightclub anyone can get in as long as you’re a member. And if, when you die, you aren’t going to heaven where is it exactly that you end up? There’s only one place I can think of, since no one believes in Purgatory anymore. According to this guy, anyone who doesn’t accept his particular version of Christianity (based, it seems entirely on John 14:6). This idea, that you have to have the right, specific, knowledge to not be eternally tortured has been something of a running theme in this series and I don’t want to retread old ground. Nor would I want to get into the idea that Hell is punishment for the sheer joy of punishing someone since there is no attempt at reform or the possibility of letting the person go. I want to discuss why this person’s view of humanity is anathema to me even though I know he’s wrong.

One of the great misconceptions about atheism is that we-as a group-wish we were wrong. That secretly, in some deep dark place in our brains, there’s this part that apologizes to some god. There isn’t that place. The reason that being told that I am going to hell bothers me isn’t because I fear a hypothetical future where I am being tortured. That would be like a devout Muslim being afraid of being reincarnated, Hindu-style, as a pig. I’m not afraid of it because it’s not going to happen. My problem is in the here and now, the present. This person standing in front of the room, hates me. He hates people that think like me…and the worst part is that he doesn’t even know me. Yet this ignorance of me, doesn’t seem to make any difference about whether or not he thinks I am so evil, so immoral, that I am to be cast into a lake of fire for eternity.

You know what? If that’s the rule of his religion then fine, but isn’t the whole compassion and mercy thing supposed to mitigate his joy that this is the case. I know plenty of religious people that do not share his sentiment, they even think, and get this–that I may actually deserve the heaven part because I they think I am a decent human being, who despite his atheism is generally a moral person.

Yet the minister at the head of the room walking around talking about the eternal love of Jesus for all of his creation seems to be missing the point of the word “love.”

He not only predicts my eternal punishment but he also seems upset that I even exist in the first place. He brought up a littany of complaints about the modern world that I wrote down: that the bible wasn’t accepted literally anymore (even though it never was originally either), that truth is relative (irony of him saying it aside, does anyone believe this?), and that people can have differing lifestyles (I’m guessing that he is referring to homosexuality but he never mentioned it so if you prefer houses to apartments or vice versa you might be joining me in hell). The man was just throwing up strawmen left and right thinking that it was Jesus knocking them down. It was infuriating listening to it because you knew that he believed that what he was saying was the utter truth. 

Which is common of the more zealous of the theists. The more fervent their belief the more the misconception holds. This minister had formulated a worldview himself and then acted as if the world was persecuting him. I wasn’t, and the only persecution that exists is right here on this post. He was trying to offer a fight against an enemy that he constructed, then was proud of himself when he found the solution. That’s why we call it a strawman, because it’s easy to knock down. By the look of the room it seemed that people were either nodding in agreement or just staring blankly. At least some people in the room weren’t going to hell, and that’s something…I suppose.

Categories: philosophy, religion

Being an Atheist part I: More on Moral Responsibility: Without god that is…

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Were going to enter into an odd transition phase for the new face of this blog. While I have been for the last 16 or so entries been charting my transition from devout Catholic toward the nether region of atheism I am kind of running out of those steps to write about. Given that this was an inevitable occurance I am going to begin reflections on what it is like being an Atheist as far as morality, politics, society, etc. are concerned. One of the more important features is going to be to dispel the myths that are propagated about people like me from the opposing view point, today is the first such discussion explaining my view of morality from the outside of religion.

Manicheanism is an ancient religion in which there are two forces: one good and the other evil. These two forces struggle for the world’s inhabitants, we are more familiar with this concept when we picture a cartoon character who has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other each trying to get the individual to do something. That is literally how Manicheanists thought the world worked. If someone were to act immorally they would say that the evil force won that time, and likewise if there was a good action. The further along the action down the moral compass the more we can say that one side or the other won. The reason that this outlook has fallen out of favor, is kind of self-evident. It denies free will, a person’s actions are not the result of their own private deliberation, it’s the result of forces winning a fight that day over the actions of the self. Freedom is placed in the hands of supernatural deities, and moral responsibility doesn’t seem to apply here. Unlike, say, even in the hard determinism of the Stoic schools, the person performing the action, although pre-determined to do so, can at least be punished for something they did; Manicheanism punishes the person for an action that something else decided upon. It’s the original “the devil made me do it” religion.

If a person posits evil, the concept of evil that is, as a metaphysical entity they are doing the exact same thing. In 2008, presidential candidate John McCain was asked by pastor Rick Warren about evil and what he, as president, would do about it, McCain answered that he would defeat it. The congregation applauded his answer. I would have loved to hear a follow up question that went along the lines of, “How?”

As in, how do you defeat a concept? Evil is a concept that relies on perspective, unless you believe that it is a concrete thing. Otherwise, it is a complete matter of perspective. From where one person stands an action is evil, from another it is good. To call an action evil is to instantiate a universal objective norm, and to make the assumption that everyone would agree is to make the assumption that everyone shares your point of view on the subject. To call an action “evil” should mean that that no person could view the action as being anything other than the opposite of good. It posits a force which has as its goal, the performance of actions that are always viewed as immoral. Which could only be the case, as what kind of person could willingly perform an immoral action that they perceived as serving absolutely no benefit to the world or themselves? Even the most reprehensible actions are done by those who found some good (to them) in the action. After all, one nation’s terrorist is another nation’s freedom fighter.

I’m not trying to espouse some ridiculous notion of moral relativism. I do believe that actions are wrong and immoral. However I understand that people don’t perform an action they don’t freely believe in, and if it’s not free than they are not responsible. If they are being compelled the compellor is the one responsible.

My problem, and the problem that other atheists share on the notion of evil, is that if you believe there exists an evil force in the world, that has the ability to force the actions of people, then I ask where does the morality lie? Does it lie with actors or influencers? If evil is in the world than the acting agent isn’t at fault, they are merely the victims of an evil force. So they aren’t responsible for what they have done. With atheism, the full blame is on the agent. They chose the action not some metaphysical force whispering dark thoughts into their ear. It’s on them. The same works for the self, if I perform an evil/immoral action it’s on me for the exact reason. I can’t blame the devil, or whoever did it.

The same goes with good actions as well. If I do something good, it’s not about God, god, Jesus, Mohammed, some angels, karma, etc. No, I did it, I performed the action because I recognized the correct reasoning behind and then performed the action. Personal responsibility has to come from within, not from without. Just as morality must be sourced in the free will of the individual. If metaphysical forces are acting through the individual there is no morality, just a system of influences that we are incapable of judging.

Categories: philosophy, religion

The Road To Atheism XV: Morality, What’s the Deal Here?

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve mentioned it a few times already in this blog; I am frequently asked about morals. Why I am moral, where it comes from, is there a point, etc. Especially the question of why I am moral if there is no afterlife. This question assumes that the only reason that anyone would be moral is because of a punishment/reward system. It also assumes that morality can only be sourced in a divine being. My first philosophy class was a eye opening in the fact that it showed me that not every system of morality is based on religion. These were facts curiously missing from my ethical upbringing, although I did attend a religious school so it’s maybe not that curious.

The very first example of this kind of morality was Aristotle’s Golden Mean. As we simply teach it in Intro to Phil. classes it means that moderation is the surest path to happiness. An immoral person is one who is a coward, but also equally immoral is the brazen person, the moral person is the one who is brave but also knows his own limits. It requires no god, it’s also situational and in that it has its problems, but it’s a system that makes sense and is actually argued for unlike a religiously grounded moral system such as the Ten Commandments which are immoral because you are told that they are immoral. It’s just one, out of many different systems, and right now I am staring at a book on my shelf that is three hundred pages long and discusses moral systems independent of religion (or at least not necessarily linked to them). I return to the subject of morality because one of the arguments that I hear as to why people like me are wrong is because of morality.

Not morality per se, but the fact that there seems to be a universal constant to moral systems. It’s always given by a type of person who thinks that they thought about it first, and are the only ones that seem to recognize patterns. Roughly, Kant has a similar argument, but we aren’t going to touch that now, we will get to that on a later post when we deal with the formal proofs of the existence of god. The argument goes something like this: universally every society has a moral prohibition against murder, if we define murder as “the willful, unjustified, ending of another person’s life by external means.” We use the word “willful,” to make sure that one cannot quibble about accidental murders; and we use “external means” to avoid medical situations in which treatment is refused or life support is removed etc. Given that societies early in the history of human civilization would have no contact with each other, there would be no way in which they could communicate this good advice about not letting people murder each other, there must be some other extra-human source that has told us that murder is wrong.

At this point it makes sense to stop. The argument makes sense, it seems to prove its point, and for the most part people usually do stop there in giving it. On two occassions people have continued with a further conclusion that since religion X specifically prohibits murder that is the one that is the true religion, and religion X has been Christianity. The final step is a reach, which is utterly unsuccessful. Let’s work on proving that god exists and then we can move on to religion. The problem is that the conclusion contradicts the earlier datum where we say that societies all forbid murder, even the non-Christian ones.

The usual Atheist counter is to point out that if religion forbids murder than why do religions commit murder. This is an incorrect counter for two reasons: the first is that it misses the point, we’re talking about the divine here not religion. And the counter to that argument is to point out that it was people that committed murder in defiance of the rules. The second is to focus on the word “unjustified” if a king/pope/whatever sends a person to war, it’s no longer “unjustified” as it is now the law. I know that some people will say that killing can never be justified but that’s a matter of some debate which we do not have the space to get into.

As I have said numerous times, it is impossible to prove a negative, the burden of proof is on those making an assertion not on those countering that assertion. What is our duty is to offer an alternative explanation for how every society in the history of the world forbids the same thing. I would say that the more practical question to ask is whether human beings actually need a divine figure to teach us that murder is wrong? I would answer no, and here is why. For practical reasons it is impossible that any society could survive if it allowed its citizens murder each other. The world that we would live in would be considerably different, it would be a Mad Max style place in which people would be getting shot and stabbed for trivial matters because there would be no consequences. Just as stealing and lying are forbidden, murder is a practical prohibition.

This to me explains their universal presence. The divine has no necessary role in forming the rule, other than to reinforce it, just as Critias pointed out. We need to forbid it or else the first disagreement is going to lead to death. Even in the world of Mad Max, the Thunderdome had rules. Murder is just one of those rules, or else you couldn’t even have a tribe of hunter gatherers.

Categories: philosophy, religion