The Limits of Omnipotence

February 20, 2018 2 comments

So my country has had another mass shooting, and I thought it would be relatively easy to speak on that for today’s post, but then I wondered what was the new thing that I could say. Basically, I could just repeat what I’ve said before and just switch out the places. Instead of X I could say “school” or in the case of the Connecticut shooting I could keep the place and just change the age of the victim (my country has a lot of these kinds of shootings). However some politicians and commentators offered  me a new take on it. I was going to come up with the examples but enough people have made the comment that the list is too long and I don’t want to be accused of cherry picking so let’s just say Todd Starnes said it (because he did) and then a whole bunch of other people agreed with him that school shootings are the result of kicking god out of the schools.

Ignoring the fact that “god” wasn’t kicked out of the schools–forced prayer was–let’s examine this claim in detail.

If there is a law which tells me I can’t do X, that doesn’t mean that I cannot do X what it means is that if I do X I can suffer consequences for that action. A law which mandates that I stand for the pledge of allegiance doesn’t force my action by virtue of the law itself, it forces the action by causing me to weight the consequences of the action. If I deem the penalty as too severe I will stand for the poem, if deem it not severe enough than I can choose to sit and possibly suffer the consequence. The same goes for any law or rule. The compulsion is only from consequence avoidance. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once commented that freedom of speech existed in the USSR as well as the USA, the only difference was that in the USA we had freedom after speech. The difference is important especially when we consider what people like Todd Starnes are saying.

Their belief is that the US passed a law by which “god” was no longer allowed in schools. Now, I doubt that they are so devoid of rational thinking that they believe the literal being was denied access to the school…maybe…but that it was illegal to pray, bring a bible, or anything religious based. So a student “John” cannot pray. This has caused a blanket ban on all religious thought, consideration, or feeling in the school. As a result the omnipotent being that John would have prayed to can no longer find His (because we know what god people like Starnes are talking about and it ain’t anyone other than Jesus) way into the school, or even on school property. As a result, this means that the school shooter gets to unload a few clips of his AR-15 style rifle into some students. QED making prayer forbidden in school caused this.

The implication here is that god is bound by US secular law. Once the law is enacted and the court passes its ruling it’s like Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-Dum forbidding the supernatural being from passing. What Starnes and his ilk seem to believe, again because it bears repeating, that god is bound by US secular law. That’s the first possibility. The second is the one they actually aren’t saying aloud and is pure speculation on my part, that, they believe god is causing the mass shootings because we don’t allow enough Jesus inside the school. The second, of course, is not something that most religious people believe and should, indeed, find quite offensive. The problem of evil trilemma is almost never solved by eliminating the Omni-benevolence portion in this manner.*

That returns us to the first possibility which severely limits the power of god to even speeding. This would explain a lot of the absence, but it also means that every person living within the US legal boundary has more power than the divine being that Starnes wants back in the schools. Especially those that are not legally citizens, since their mere presence is more powerful than the creator of the universe. This is not a god worth worshipping since its power is so limited, in fact it’s not a god at all.


*Though sometimes it’s eliminated by way of “god works in mysterious ways.” Which implies that even the worst tragedies are to some greater plan that involves such intense human suffering and our feeble minds will never grasp the true meaning. It’s not a satisfying answer by any respect but if you hear it enough times as a child you learn to stop asking why (at least that was my experience).


Self Inflicted Wound

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

“The reason I believe in free will is because I believe in an all knowing god who knows every decision we are going to make…”

The assignment was a short, one page opinion essay on the student’s thought as to whether or not we have free will. Very easy, very quick…and most of them screwed it up. Instead of talking about free will they talked about decisions they made or didn’t make. This student wasn’t one of those that screwed up, the essay actually addressed the problem. It would be completely unfair of me to expect an answer to the question of free will, people still write their dissertations on the topic and entire subdivisions of academic disciplines are devoted to it. I just wanted their opinion as briefly as appropriate for an introduction to Philosophy course.

I focus on this student’s essay though not because of this specific answer but because of the general type of answer that it is: a self-refuting argument. Or as I call it, taking inspiration from the podcast God Awful Movies, the “jingly keys argument.” Without delving to far into the problem, the student has essentially stated that there is free will but then the reasoning seems to refute the idea of an indeterminate universe. The difference is that while the student is proclaiming a divinely ordered free will universe, there is also the counter claim that everything is already known. So setting aside the omniscience issue with choice, we’re to accept that while my decision to wear a sweater or not is mine, that choice was already made in the future…and more importantly, already known by a being possessing of perfect knowledge. Therefore, my decision had to be one way and could never have been another. This brings us full circle back to the issue we set aside a few sentences ago: was my choice really free?

This has been addressed by the Philosophical pantheon. Augustine said that there was a difference between knowing that something is going to happen and having made that thing happen–thus he can preserve both his religious beliefs and his belief in free will. It takes some mental work and some cognitive dissonance to hold both beliefs, but there we have it. What I wonder is why even come up with this argument in the first place?

It reminds me of the Epicurean paradox concerning the existence of evil and an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing god. Epicurus never said it, the Epicureans did not believe in a god that cared and had little awareness or interest themselves in the burgeoning Christian cult when the school was adopted by the Roman intelligentsia. They had no rivals which postulated such a being so it wouldn’t have made sense to them to offer specific arguments against them. The paradox itself comes from a Christian writer named Lactantius who was using the paradox as a polemic against the Epicurean school to say, “look these idiots believe that an all powerful, all knowing, all good god wouldn’t allow evil in the world so they are a bunch of atheists which is why we shouldn’t follow them.”

Does Lactantius answer his own paradox? No. Why then would he write such a damning thing about his own belief?

In both cases we have authors defending their personal beliefs by developing extremely difficult problems for that belief, but doing so thinking that it buttresses their own argument. Augustine, in his defense, is not making the problem up and then arguing against it, he’s making an argument against an external threat. So while I think his position is weak he’s not shooting himself in the foot with it.

However this does not excuse my student or Lactantius from what they have done. Nor does it scream to the motive of why they came up with it in the first place. The only reasonable explanation that I can offer is that they do not understand what they are saying. This could be for two different reasons: the first is that they are merely parroting what someone else had told them. In the case of Lactantius this might be less probable given the lack of knowledge he was sure to have since while his writings indicate an exposure to the other philosophical schools of Rome (Stoicism is his other target in this same work) they also show a lack of understanding of them (which is something I suspect can be attributed to a great deal of early religious writing in the bible–but that is for a much longer and more researched post), it might very well be that Lactantius developed this argument on his own thinking that the Epicureans didn’t believe in any gods, which he would have been wrong about as they were Deists. With the student it’s more probable that this a repeated argument but I can’t make any conclusions as to the certainty, but since it’s an easily searchable claim–in fact, an essay making the exact claim in much greater detail was the first result with the search terms “free will, Christian, omniscience.”

The second, and I think the more probable explanation is that they think it helps their cause because they haven’t considered the implications of it. Lactantius is looking for a slander against the Epicureans for their naturalism and their denial of an involved god so he throws the ancient slander that the Epicureans were “atheists,” why not it worked on Socrates and Aristotle. However, “atheist” didn’t mean then what it did today it just meant that a person didn’t worship the “right” god the “right” way. The student seems to believe that their god gives free will, but then hasn’t considered that such knowledge leads to a deterministic universe unless they didn’t feel like getting into it, which is a bit problematic for their paper. In either case, the strangest thing is that just a little self-reflection on their own assertions would lead them to understand that they are providing ammunition against the very thing that they are arguing for.


By a Preponderance…

February 5, 2018 Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I’ve hit up this book and believe me I was looking for an excuse today, but since it is only my birthday and not an actual holiday (so far) I decided to crack open this book. We left off at the end of chapter III, so I pushed passed the fictional testimonial into chapter IV titled “the Challenge of Science.” First off I can already guess his argument, not because he’s a theist, but because he’s already thrown it out there back in chapter one and given my experience with this book already I’m going to assume that there’s nothing new in here. In either case, we must push forward and hope that it starts with something new…

…and no, it begins with a screed against naturalism and a case of completely not understanding what “science” is, “If science is the discovery of physical truth…” ok, good start depending on what we are supposed to understand the phrase “physical truth” to mean but that’s me being a bit pedantic so I won’t spend anymore pixels on it. “…it must be intimately connected with the realm of morality and religion.”

So that sentence took a hard left didn’t it? Let’s just say this, no it doesn’t. That’s not the realm of science. Whether or not gravitons exist has no reflection in the realm of morality or religion unless a particular religion does not believe in the existence of such particles (or it does). The same applies to the function of the pineal gland, or the resultant affect on an individual with regard to chemical substances. It is not the job of science to determine religious doctrine or morality, and any attempt to do so should be met with extreme skepticism. The author basically admits that this is the current view of “science” but then claims this is wrong without giving any basis for why. In a different book I’d not make this a criticism expecting it to be followed up in later pages, but he’s dropped claims before and I have no reason to think that this will be any different.

“A lord of only the subjective is necessarily the god of only the irrelevant.”–I agree.

We then get a very superficial but not inaccurate summary of the idea of naturalism. The author describes it as the view that only natural causes exist, we are all the product of accidental forces, and that life has no meaning other than what we give it. Ok, I’ll leave some of my problems with that aside since their heavy philosophical issues with this idea of “meaning” but this is not something I would mark wrong on a student’s paper.

We are treated to a light expansion of this idea with a quote by genetics professor Richard Lewontin about getting “them” (it’s unclear from context who “them” is) to reject supernatural causes. I have to guess about the context but this makes, at the very least, practical sense which is why scientists since Newton have been trying to excise unnatural causes from explanations. Why? Because you can’t measure the non-material causes. You can’t offer a predictive progressive research programme that offers a theory which is either verifiable or falsifiable based on spiritual entities. The reason the domains of religious and scientific knowledge do not overlap is because they have utterly different goals. Show me a non-naturalistic explanation that actually makes a prediction and I’ll push those circles a little bit together but until then I’ll take the material explanation since it makes my cell phone work and gives me medicine. Aligning the harvesting of crops with the moon didn’t change agriculture, knowledge of soil consistency, botany, chemistry, and biology did. Disease cures don’t emanate from “pray on it” they are directly caused by the scientific method which has rejected, since the writings of Hippocrates the idea of unnatural causes.

He also thinks that anyone who accepts the naturalistic view has to ignore the “increasing weight of scientific evidence coming to light in so many areas of inquiry; evidence that points patterns of intelligent design in the universe and its component parts.”

First off, he offers none of this evidence. Secondly, he can’t because it doesn’t exist. Proponents of ID will point to what are patterns in various cherry picked natural phenomenon. The shape of a galaxy, the shape of a hurricane, and the growth of a conch shell roughly (very roughly) correspond to the golden ration (or theta) and they point this out saying “look there’s a clear design here.” If we assume that they are right then this being of omniscient intelligence needs to get back to the crafting table because the execution of the design isn’t that well done. Further we can also comment that the design of parasites while seemingly based on a pattern is evidence of malicious design serving no purpose other than to propagate species whose sole existence is to thrive off the pain and suffering of other life forms. Finally, there are explanations for why these patterns exist and usually that explanation is gravity. Accretion discs of nebula, galactic star fields, and even galactic clusters–it’s all gravity. However, one could and without contradiction point out that these laws were set in place by the omnipotent creator (as the view of the Vatican is currently). Fine, but that still doesn’t remove us from naturalistic explanations of the world, it just sets up a prime mover argument.

The problem with this argument is that it is a) self-contradictory because we then have to assume a self-created thing and b) doesn’t get us to Christianity it only gets us to some divine power which could be anything. Of what value would assumptions of a natural cause be to the human genome? Zero.

What he’s driving it is a lamentation that there isn’t enough Jesus in the classroom. He remarks that Christian thinkers are dismissed from academics. This is just false. What is dismissed are religious explanations for the natural world. I teach philosophy, my department does not lack in religious individuals or even in religious philosophy (well the one that I am enrolled as a PhD student does not, my current department does not have a religious philosophy person). I would have a nice long talk with my department chair and then human resources if I dismissed or failed students based on the Christian beliefs. Our author’s main problem is that he fails to understand that religious explanations are not used in science anymore merely because of their religiosity but because they aren’t useful at explaining things. You have to already accept the premise and the conclusion then shoehorn all the physical evidence into it. The challenge of science isn’t that it claims god is dead (because it doesn’t) it’s that it’s been proven to be more useful than relying on a 2000 year old book for the natural world.

The New Religious Liberty

January 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Imagine that I’m a medical doctor working in the trauma unit of an ER. A woman comes in with a host of serious injuries, ruptured kidney, multiple broken bones, internal bleeding and I begin doing my thing. As I begin cutting through her clothing to get to the source of the problem I put my scalpel down, clap my hands together and walk away. The woman dies. Now, I should be fired from my job, this wasn’t negligence as though I left a sponge inside her, nor was it a mistake, I didn’t take out the wrong kidney or begin treating her for X when it was Y. I simply refused to do my job. The procedure was just starting and I just up and quit it. Of course, whatever the procedure for dealing with me is deserved.

It’s a simple cut and dry case, wherein the doctor just didn’t do his job. However last week the HHS decided that the issue isn’t so clear cut. If, in the same scenario, I refused to do the job because I could determine that the individual on the table in front of me was a fortune teller (I saw some tarot cards in her jacket), the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division would tell me that because I have a sincerely held religious conviction in following the bible (Deut 18:9-14, 20-22, Lev 20:27, among others) that I have a right to refuse my services. I also can if the patient has a tattoo (lev 19:28) or any number of other things that I can twist into a claim of religious freedom.

Let’s be real clear here: this isn’t about the above examples. This is about making sure that one particular religion gets special treatment over and above other religions especially when it comes to their right to discriminate against people they find “icky.” This position, a long time plank of the GOP platform, is designed for this express purpose. What other possible reason could the HHS have for instituting this kind of division and “enforcing” its policies.

I’m not a libertarian, I don’t agree with a high number of their ideas but am sympathetic to some of their positions–and this is one of them. If you don’t want to operate on certain individuals you have two options: don’t become a doctor or find a place that doesn’t take them. Go work in a religious community. What you shouldn’t be allowed to do is go to city, get hired as a doctor in a hospital and then claim that you can’t do your job because your religion says you can’t. As a medical doctor your job is to help people suffering from bodily injuries and sickness, that’s the job.

Now some of you may object and say that my scenario above isn’t realistic because that’s not what is going on here. This is about forcing doctors to perform abortions and how they should have some kind of protection against that. Well, here’s the thing, while I’m sure most doctor’s are familiar with the existence of the procedure they don’t specialize in it. Just as every doctor is familiar with a human spine, they all aren’t scrubbing in for back surgery. Secondly, they could just work for Catholic Health Systems, one of, if not the, largest healthcare providers in the US who do not allow elective abortions as a provided service (by elective I mean non-medical necessity related).

If a Hindu doctor refused to operate on a patient because they worked at a Beef farm the HHS would surely be protecting that right? Of course not, because this policy is as transparent as it is wrong. The biggest problem is that right now no one seems to care about this. As an atheist I was aware because my newsfeeds/podcasts all covered it. However this hardly made a peep on the national news because we’re all so worried that the president may have paid a porn star to keep quiet. Noah Ludgeons at the Scathing Atheist podcast made a very good point about this: this isn’t the time to lose focus on the “smaller issues” it’s the time to concentrate heavily on them because it’s so easy to get distracted by the “larger issues.”

Though this isn’t a small issue, it just seems like it. This is just another attempt to give one group more rights then the rest of us have. Think about it, now a group of individuals has the right to not do their job, still get paid, still maintain their position, because they have a belief that contradicts what they are supposed to do. No one else has this privilege. To repeat an earlier sentiment, this will very likely be selectively enforced as well. The right to practice religion or to not practice religion was not under threat, the only difference between now and then is that now, there are different groups of people asserting their right to be treated like everyone else. Those people are starting to become very audible when their rights aren’t respected and this is scary to some but it doesn’t take away from anyone else’s right. Other people gaining the same freedoms that you have doesn’t harm you in anyway, except to recognize that you don’t enjoy more than they had. Which is why this kind of thing seems necessary to them.

This is also pragmatically difficult. Does this mean that before a doctor will see a patient he/she will need not only their patient history but also their religious background, marital status, sexual preference, their history of planting vegetables, any tattoos, their clothing choice, etc.? I mean, we don’t want to offend any of these people into accidentally helping someone that they may not share the same religious beliefs with right? This story is really telling of our times because any other administration that tried to pull this, it would be front page news which is why it needs to be given attention.

Categories: Uncategorized

Pope Francis Update

January 22, 2018 4 comments

It’s been a bit since I’ve checked in with our favorite dude in the pointy white hat. Since no one will pay for an assistant who will go find all of my previous Pope check ins, I’ll say this much in summary: as an Atheist I’ve been told I’m supposed to like this guy. He’s publicly commented that I’m not necessarily going to hell because I’m an atheist (Catholics are typically deeds not words Christians), that the science of Evolution and the Big Bang explain life and how everything came about (which were publicly explained as not opposed to Catholic doctrine by previous Popes), and his commented about how the vast inequality in the world is the root of all social evil. However, and again, I’ve said this repeatedly: it’s always one step forward two steps back with this guy.

You can’t start talking about how god isn’t some magical wizard that creates everything and then publicly call for the ordination of new exorcists so that we can fight the demons. The two things do not really work together. So now we have the Pope wrap up for the last several months.

First story and the one that gained the most attention: his comments in South America about the accusations against Bishop Juan Barros, that it “was all calumny.” The facts are this: Barros is accused not of sexual assault but of covering up accusations of assault and improper conduct against Fernando Kardima a priest in Santiago, Chile. Kardima’s case is the same old story of all the cases, initial accusations were brought up in the 80s only to be discarded until 2004 when the Vatican opened up its own investigation…which was then suspended for three years because of a statute of limitations concern with regard to Chilean law. Finally, a proper investigation was opened by the Chilean government in 2010 and the Catholic Church removed him from his position forbidding him from performing in public and any kind of spiritual advising. Notice that there judgment does not include defrocking or removal of his title or status within the church. The accusers of Kardima claim that Barros was not only aware of the accusations but that he was direct witness to them. I cannot speak to the truth of falsity of the claims but given the “punishment” of Kardima, the history of cover ups within the church, it would stand at the very least as a public relations move to not accuse Kardima’s victims of slander against Barros. Even within Chile, a heavily Catholic country, there is a large resistance to the Vatican’s appointment of Barros as Bishop and a general reluctance to send children to Catholic school because of the known and systemic problems in the Vatican of dealing with these issues. Yet the Pope has offered an “apology.” The typical, “I’m sorry if you were hurt by my words but…” type of apology in which the first part of the statement is negated by the second part.

The second piece of news, from December, was largely uncovered by the news media for reasons that I’m not aware of. Boston Archbishop Bernard Law died at the age of 86 and was given a full Cardinal’s funeral in the Vatican presided over by Pope Francis. Law, if you don’t remember, was the villain in 2014’s Oscar winning Spotlight which told the story of the investigation into the sex abuse cover up in Boston which broke in 2001. Law, whose name I’m just realizing is ironic, is not directly responsible for any sexual abuse of children in that he isn’t accused of actually doing it. What he’s accused of his allowing and abetting it to continue by shielding the accused from the law and merely playing a large game of three card monte with those who have perpetrated the child rape. Law resigned his position in 2002 and then went on to live at the Vatican as an arch priest at the St. Mary Major Papal basilica in Rome. He got a nice retirement package and then a full honors funeral all presided over by the current Pope.

Is it hypocrisy, or just lies that we are dealing with because I can’t decide? On the one hand the Pope has set up a council to deal with sexual abuse amongst the church but on the other hand, these continued actions along with allowing Cardinal Pell of Australia to hide out in Rome as Vatican treasurer for a number of years (they’ve since sent him back). Still on the other hand that council has effectively been abolished since the “term limits” on the appointments had expired. The Vatican is really good about keeping track of legal time limits.

Once again, this Pope is all talk and no action. Sure, some of the things that he says sound really good–an expanded role for women in the Church, progress on social issues that aren’t abortion, and a reformed manner of conduct with regard to sex abuse; but when it comes down to action I’m wondering when we’ll see any.

This is just another brick in my foundation for refusing to like this guy. He’s like a bar friend, sure I’ll listen to him talk for a bit but I’ll never make a specific plan to see him. By now, the atheist infatuation with this new hope has long passed, but the mystery to me was why it ever existed in the first place.

Bad Influence

January 15, 2018 1 comment

Atheists are a bad influence, obviously. That’s why in some countries atheist bloggers are hacked to death by machetes, imprisoned and whipped, and in the US 13 states won’t allow them to hold public office. It’s why we’re the least trusted “religious” group in the US. Yet, sometimes the atheist argument lines up perfectly with a non-atheist argument as I was trying to make clear last week at a family function.

My position was that my cousin shouldn’t have to go to religious education classes for the Catholic Sacrament of Confirmation. Now, wait up. I wasn’t making the “I don’t think anyone should have to go to religious education class” argument–even though I think that is a perfectly rational argument to make. I was making a different argument based on personal experience. Long time readers will know that I went through all of the Catholic sacraments (except Holy Orders and Last Rites–of which the second should be obvious), with Confirmation being that last one.

My cousin is in the “Confirmation prep” stage where he’s having to go to these religious education classes in order to prepare for the sacrament. For those ignorant of it, it’s just Baptism II only this time you are supposed to be aware and making a free choice, provided you don’t count familial and social pressure when you call it “free.” You get up, say a bunch of words affirming your belief in Jesus, the Pope, denying Satan, and pledging loyalty to the church. The Bishop blesses the whole thing and then you get cake. I’m being glib but that’s the nuts and bolts of the sacrament.

So, other than the atheist objection, what could possibly be my problem? The classes are pointless for my cousin just as they were pointless for me because we both attend(ed) Catholic school. Catholic school has religious education classes as part of the daily curriculum and its assumed that all the students are Catholics. This latter part, is of course not true, some people just sent their kids to Catholic school because it can be a better education. Nonetheless the religious education courses in the school take care of the instruction on what Catholics believe, how they are supposed to act with regard to their religion and the various historical facts concerning both the religion and the church. This makes the Sunday night course (that’ swhen my class was) absolutely superfluous for someone who is attending such a school.

For me, the classes were enjoyable for one reason: there were women there. I resented having to go to school on a sixth day for stuff that I already knew because I had learned it in the three years of Catholic high school and the nine years of Catholic grade school (I’m a survivor). Whereas the other students in the room, the ones who had attended the one hour post church classes for their lives, and some that hadn’t; could spout off some the Commandments and maybe knew who the current Pope was, were probably getting taught something. Part of the whole deal of Catholic school was to provide the extra religious instruction so forcing people to go to the other classes also seemed like a waste of the other student’s time as well. The teachers of the course just expected us to know the answers to the questions, but we were usually completely zoned out for the reasons mentioned above.

The further redundancy was the mandatory community “volunteer” project where they forced us to “volunteer” doing something in order to claim that we were ready to fulfill the sacrament. My high school mandated the same thing in order to progress a grade. I forget what the hours were but let’s say it was twenty. The Confirmation class also mandated an amount, let’s again say it was twenty.* Alright, cool, two birds one rolling stone? No. They didn’t overlap, or at least it wasn’t assumed by either organization that it would. The more creative of us (never doubt the ingenuity of a lazy person to work a loophole) were able to connive some sort of overlap, but nevertheless the entire point was rendered meaningless by the forcing of it.

You can’t make a person volunteer for something. That’s a contradiction, a point which upon bringing it up got me sent to the disciplinarians office in high school. I was told that it really was volunteering because I wanted to do it, to which I replied, “No, I want to move up a grade, this is a requirement.” He responded that meant I wanted to, and that I should. Which, earning a detention, I said “No, I will do it but I won’t call it volunteering because it’s not of my own choice (I wasn’t reading Kant on my own, they taught us about free will and choice in religion class).” The point is that the extra religion class was redundant in every respect except that it was a few years behind my other Catholic school cohort’s pace.

So upon making this argument at the family function, I was called a “bad influence.” Here’s the thing, all of those arguments before weren’t originally developed by me,  I was told them when I was going through it by family members and friend’s parents who didn’t think they needed to drive me to school on Sunday night to learn something I was getting taught on Monday. Further, certain people at the function agreed with me. However I’m the bad influence because I’m the only one that would take the argument one step further and say it’s not needed at all.

Now, I’m not trying to air some private family issues (that’s why I’m not using any names), all I’m saying is that the argument makes sense. If there was something, anything, that justified the redundant classes other than “that’s what they say you have to do” I would just have chalked it up to being another hoop that the Catholic Church makes you jump through. However no one was able at the time to give me such a reasoning.


  • I can’t remember what the exact hours were but they were the same amount.

Cartoons and the Like

January 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Well, it’s been a long two weeks of me not realizing that my blog day was on holidays. Part of me wanted to do a year in review of atheism news and such but then the week passed and I just lost interest in doing so. Basically my year in review would have been a run down of stories where American Evangelicals will overlook literally everything as long as the person who is accused of it/convicted of it is one of their people. My atheist person of the year would have been, “The Roy Moore Supporter” for the same reason.

In my day job I’m an adjunct Philosophy professor and during the break I decided that I wanted to change up the political philosophy section of my course concentrating on something that might get some class discussion going. Typically my course revolves around covering subjects and then some disagreements among philosophers on those subjects. In the Philosophy of religion sections I do two proofs of god’s existence and then I do two counter explanations for religion (because you can’t prove a negative). Then I sit back and wait for the class to discuss…which they don’t, so then I have to try and pry a conversation out of them. In addition to a reworking of my Epicurean/Stoicism conversation (in which I just decided to concentrate on whether or not we have free will) I moved the entire conversation to be about free speech.

This required that I come up with examples of when free speech gets “iffy.” The “yeah…but” of the First Amendment. I’ve got a bunch of things, from pornography to flag burning, all based around the central argument of Mill’s “On Liberty” in which he states that the only restriction permissible is that of bodily harm. So in addition to those examples I came to the religious examples. Because, this country doesn’t have blasphemy laws but others do.

In my example list I covered “The Satanic Verses” a book that famously earned Salman Rushdie a death sentence from Iran. A book, that I couldn’t get through, because I thought it was bad but that I only read because of the issue. I discuss the controversy over “Piss Christ” which again, I only was ever aware of because of that specific controversy. That lead me to the Danish Cartoons and the Charlie Hebdo massacre, of which the anniversary was yesterday. The position of the lecture is that Free Speech is an absolute right, following Mill that can only be restricted by a clear case of bodily harm.

The Danish Cartoons were interesting because they didn’t result in the kind of massacre that Charlie Hebdo’s publication did. What’s more interesting is the response from my government (the US) and likewise the Vatican which I stumbled upon during my research.

Let’s start with the Vatican’s: “The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously to any religion.”

The problem is, obviously, the contradiction. If there is a universal declaration that there exists a right to freedom of thought and expression then all expression is part of that right. Expression is on the person who makes it, the offense is on the receiver. If the receiver is offended that is their reaction and I cannot guarantee that the reaction will take place. I can anticipate it, I can think it probable, and I can even intend for it to happen; but I can’t guarantee it. The result of such a position stemming from the Vatican’s statement is that I have a right to expression as long as it is not likely that someone will be offended by my expression. This is ignoring the “thought” aspect of it, that even my thoughts must be subject to the likely reaction of another individual. I get what’s being said here: that offense to religious sentiment is wrong because we’re a religion too and we can’t have such anti-religious displays of thoughts lest that scuttle over to our camp. Whatever happened to the Catholic doctrine of turn the other cheek?

On the US side we have the assistant secretary of state reading from a prepared statement: “Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief [sic].”

Firstly, the images weren’t anti-Muslim they were, generously, anti-Islamic. The images weren’t targeting Muslims just their beliefs and you can always attack a belief. The specific targeting of people, well that runs afoul of the harm principle in Mill. That aside, and borrowing from Christopher Hitchens, it’s nice to see that the sentiment was accidentally correct.

They are just as unacceptable as in they are not unacceptable at all. If an image ridicules a religious sentiment in such a way that the religious believer becomes uncomfortable or offended maybe they should realize their god is stronger than an image, maybe they should look away, or maybe they should realize that what someone else says about their belief has nothing to do with their belief system. The anger over the Danish Cartoons, Piss Christ, and The Satanic Verses was all about protecting other people’s feelings from seeing something that they don’t like. It just has the added emotional support of religious sentiment in it as well.

This translates to the lack of images as well whenever we see a holiday display that, to some, doesn’t display the correct amount of religious symbolism or the proactive expression policing of people who cry when someone tells them happy holidays instead of the correct arrangement of words. It is not an instance of bodily harm, just offense to feelings which is why both official statements are wrong.