Despite What Many Religious People Say, They Don’t Derive Morals or Values From Religion

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Dexter’s beliefs have influenced him to become the devil dog. Run for the hills!

Reza Aslan recently made an argument in defense of religion that I’ve heard often – basically it boils down to religion being responsible for nothing.

It goes something like this (taken from the Friendly Atheist Site):

I think the principle fallacy of not just to the so-called New Atheists, but I think of a lot of critics of religion, is that they believe that people derive their values, their morals, from their religion. That, as every scholar of religion in the world will tell you, is false.

People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity…

It seems like a logical viewpoint — if you are just a person who doesn’t know much about the history, philosophy, sociology of religion — it seems like a logical thing to say that people get their values from their scriptures. It’s just intrinsically false. That’s not what happens. People do not derive their values from their scriptures — they insert their values into their scriptures.

Does this apply to good deeds as well? When religious people say they gave to charity or did some other noble act because they were moved by the holy spirit or their scripture, can we ignore it and tell them it had nothing to do with their belief in God?

I’m pretty sure many would take offense to such a proclamation.

Why do we seem intent on ignoring what people tell us. If I say I was once a Christian (which is true) a segment of the population will insist that I wasn’t. If a suicide bomber says they were intent on killing people to attain heaven, why do some of us say he’s lying or simply dismiss his claims? If a Christian (or other religious person) asks me where I get my moral framework, are they saying this because they don’t believe they get theirs from God and their particular brand of scripture?

As The Friendly Atheist Said in his post:

As Linker writes, atheists take religion seriously. We listen to what devout believers say. We see what’s written in the holy books. We don’t sugar coat it to make it more acceptable.

Aslan is willing to ignore all of that because, in his view, religions are all the same and what’s written in the holy books is irrelevant. That’s a dangerous way to think when some religions — and some believers who take the Words of God literally — pose real threats to society.

It’s the same defense I hear over and over from both atheists and religious people – what the books say isn’t important. It’s what people do. There is no bad religion, only bad people, which I consider to be a weak argument and incorrect view. If religion can be credited for the good things it teaches, it can also be criticized for the bad things. You can’t have it both ways.

The defense that beliefs don’t matter because there are good Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews (insert religious or political affiliation here) is flat out false. Imagine if we used this defense when considering other types of ideologies or belief structures.

  • Nazism isn’t bad, there are only bad Nazi’s. Many Nazi’s are moderate and don’t believe Jews and other groups should be gassed to death. Look at all the good Nazi’s have inspired in their fellow people.
  • There are good communists and bad communists.
  • There are good dictators and bad dictators.
  • There are bad cults and benevolent cults.
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This commercial break has been brought to you by the fiery depths of doggy hell.

Hell, many of the arguments put forth by theists against atheism use the idea that because we don’t believe in a higher power or use their archaic set of moral codes, we have no basis for morality. If they don’t believe that beliefs matter and have an effect on behavior, they wouldn’t be using that argument.

In any group there are good people and bad people. That doesn’t mean that the ideology they’re part of is true and not harmful. It doesn’t mean the ideas they have adopted are good ideas. Of course some of what religion teaches is good, and that’s great, but we can use those parts (most of which can be found outside religion anyways) and honestly point out the harmful things these dogmas say about reality and how we should treat one another. Anyone who has sat down and honestly read the bible, Torah or Qur’an (or most other religious texts) can see the harmful nonsense mixed in with the good bits. You can easily cherry-pick good verses to line up with societal norms, but those bad bits are still there and the person who uses those bits to justify hating homosexuals (for example) are equally as correct as the person who condemns such behavior based on their holy book of choice.

If beliefs didn’t influence behavior, then we might as well stop trying to teach kids morals. Parents who are religious might as well never read the bible to their children or talk about ‘Christian morals’ or a good ‘Christian upbringing’. Humanists might as well give it up – what they’re passing on doesn’t matter.

I remember when I was a much, much younger Christian. I had all types of (what I now consider to be ignorant) beliefs that influenced my behavior.

For example, I was taught that AIDS was a punishment meted out by God because of homosexuality. My behavior  reflected that. I didn’t like homosexuality. I thought homosexuals were immoral and going against the will of God. I could easily find passages in the bible to back up my view, even if I ignored the bits about stoning them because I believed God would handle it once they were dead. My hands were clean. If I told a homosexual they were an abomination, I was actually doing them a favor.

My beliefs influenced my behavior and those beliefs were reinforced through the church community I was a part of. Only later, after I’d been exposed to other ideas, did I see how wrong I had been. Those new beliefs replaced the old ones, and now my behavior reflects my belief that homosexuals are people and deserve the same rights, opportunities and protectuion under the law as heterosexuals.

When I believed that homosexuality was against Gods will, was I a bad person?

I don’t think so. I did many things that were what I consider to be good deeds, but the fact remains that my initial beliefs certainly affected how I behaved.

If you want to argue that religion is beneficial, that’s fine. We can have that discussion.

But arguing that it has no influence whatsoever is nonsense of the highest order. Not even religious people act like that’s true.

If you’re religious, do you think religion influences the way you act?

If you’re an atheist, do you think religion influences behavior in any way?

As always, thanks for reading. I’m sorry for the longer than usual post.

The Silent Treatment Blows Chunks

SilenceIt does!

It drives me absolutely nuts (probably why people have done it to me) when someone decides that the best way to solve a problem is to not talk about it. When has this ever worked?

Look, I get it if someone needs a half hour or even a few hours to calm down during a heated argument. That’s fine. There is nothing wrong with calling time-out until rational discussion is again possible. Very little if anything is solved by shouting names, throwing things, and losing your cool in general, but deciding to go days on end not talking to someone just adds fuel to the fire. I’m not sure why anyone would think it could solve anything.

If you’re one of those people who use this ‘technique’, you might be shaking your head in denial. You might be thinking I’m completely wrong and it’s a legitimate form of arguing, but sorry to burst your bubble – the research backs me up.

For example:

Although researchers say the cold shoulder is the most common way people deal with marital conflict, an analysis of 74 studies, based on more than 14,000 participants, shows that when one partner withdraws in silence or shuts down emotionally because of perceived demands by the other, the harm is both emotional and physical.

“The more this pattern emerges within your relationship, the greater the chances one or both partners experience heightened levels of anxiety or may use more aggressive forms of behavior,” says Paul Schrodt, a professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, who led the study published this spring in the journalCommunication Monographs.

Of course they’re going to use more aggressive forms of behavior or experience higher anxiety. Who wants to fight for days? It’s emotionally and physically draining. The person administering the silent treatment is sending the message (although they might not be meaning to) that the other person isn’t worth their time or energy. The person on the receiving end is getting more frustrated as time goes by.

Why not just sit down like rational adults and talk about it?

 

How Have You Evolved As A Person?

Today I found myself thinking about the person I used to be and how I’ve evolved (for better or for worse) over the course of my life.

Here’s a quick overview of what I mean.

Childhood

As a child, I was very emotional. I cried easily, and I was extremely sensitive. I was also naive to the point of being embarrassing.

For example, I once left my brand new bike at the end of the driveway. I didn’t lock it. I just put it on its kick stand and walked away.

When I returned, it was gone. I had no idea what had happened to it. I frantically searched the premises, thinking I’d misplaced an entire mountain bike.

When I couldn’t find it, I went running to my parents who explained to me that it had probably been stolen. I was about 12 years old at the time, and I’d never had anything stolen before. I couldn’t understand why someone would take something that didn’t belong to them.

Didn’t they know that it didn’t belong to them?

Didn’t they take into account that I’d worked hard to earn the money for that bike?

How could they do such a thing? What gave them the right!?

My mom still brings up this incident and laughs. It’s a prime example of my extreme naivety.

Teens

Things began to change when I reached my teens. In grade eight, I’d come to the realization that something had to change or high school would be utter hell.

Over the summer, I worked on my image. I bought black clothing, listened to different music and adopted a darker outlook. I became obsessed with death and life’s more macabre side. In some ways, I still retain pieces of this worldview, since I absolutely love horror movies and enjoy darker subjects.

When I returned to school, I had become someone else. I became eager to fight and after a few fist fights, the bullies that usually plagued me decided to feast on easier game. I became known as someone people didn’t want to mess with. Some even thought I worshiped the devil – although I didn’t. I actively cultivated the image that I was a bit unstable, and it had the intended effect; people left me alone.

Young Adulthood

As a young adult, my first child was born and she changed everything. I could no longer party or do whatever I wanted.

My roommate died after being thrown through the windshield of a car. It made me realize that life was short and you never knew when your ticket would be punched. His death affected me in ways I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. While my teenage self courted and admired death, my new self came face to face with it and realized I wasn’t immune to it after all.

I was no longer naive. That part of me had been burned away by life experiences. I still retained an appreciation for the darker bits of life, but I no longer actively admired it.

Adult

In some ways, I miss the child that used to be. I wish I could retake that sense of innocence and freedom.

I’ve grown as a person. I’ve read more, studied more and experienced more than I had in the past. I retain a sense of humor, but sometimes I wonder if I’ve lost something in the translation. Each evolutionary change has helped shape the person I am today.

I’ve been hurt badly in the past. I’ve experienced unbelievable joy and love. I’ve realized that I survive and can overcome obstacles I thought would be insurmountable at the time. I no longer cry or become emotional at the drop of a hat. In fact, I hardly ever cry and I loathe showing others that something has hurt me.

I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but regardless, it’s who I am right now. As time passes, my evolution will continue.

How have you changed, grown etc during the course of your life?

If your answer is too long for the comment section, I hope you’ll write your own blog piece and link it here. I’d love to read them.

Breaking News: When You Lie To People, They May Get Irritated

Lie_to_Me_black_and_white_by_Shade_KThe dating website, Tinder, recently conducted a ‘social experiment’ where a man and a woman posted dating profiles using photos that showed them to be slim. They then put on ‘fat suits’ before meeting the people who answered the ad, and at least one writer was offended when the people answering the ad were annoyed when they found out they were being lied too.

Of course, the social experiment was immediately used to call men sexist, while the women who answered the ad were let off the hook. You can view the original videos at the bottom of this post and judge for yourself.

Anyways, the writer in question had this to say in the Huffington Post:

A man doesn’t have to be attracted to a woman to respect her, yet that’s exactly what unfolds in the video. Just because a woman is fat doesn’t mean she isn’t sexy — and encountering a fat woman rather than a thin one does not relieve anyone from practicing human decency.

Simple Pickup conducted the same exact experiment with the roles reversed, using a male participant and female Tinder matches, and the results were shockingly different.

When the Tinder matches met the man who was made up to appear heavier in person, they were not nearly as blunt as their male counterparts. Although each one acknowledged he looked different from his photos, most were nice. Three were willing to continue the date or go out with him again, and one gave him a kiss.

First off, I watched both videos and neither the women or the men who answered the ads and were lied to seemed impressed.

Second, how many reactions were edited out or taken out of context?

Third, ‘Tinder has been criticised extensively for its “appearance based match-making process”, which many have labelled shallow, superficial and vain.’

If the criticism is to be believed, then is it any wonder when the people who use the site are sometimes superficial and vain?

Fourth, when you lie to people, they will likely be irritated. I’m not sure why people are surprised by that fact, or why some people immediately point to the men and cry ‘sexism!’ while ignoring or glossing over the similar reactions of the females who were also lied to.

In fact, isn’t that a form of…sexism?

Neither sex has to be happy about being lied to.

I’m also not sure what planet these people are from. I know you don’t have to be slim to be ‘sexy’. I know bigger guys and gals aren’t always viewed as being sexy.

However, some people find bigger people to be very sexy – sexier than slim people. There’s nothing wrong with that, and no one has the right to tell other people what they should or should not find attractive in a potential partner. I for one would find lying to be an unattractive trait, no matter the weight of the person in question.

Sure, I wish everyone just admired personalities and smarts, but that’s not freaking reality. There is usually a visual appearance component to a relationship.

I also love how the writer says, ‘encountering a fat woman rather than a thin one does not relieve anyone from practicing human decency’.

Is it considered ‘humanly decent’ to lie to people and then blame them for not enjoying the experience of being lied to?

Look, there is real sexism out there and it needs to be confronted and beaten. This isn’t one of them, and it’s cases like this one that make it harder for legitimate sexism to be exposed. We need to stop looking for erroneous reasons to cry sexism and expose real, legitimate cases to the light of day.

My Cute Dog

So here are a few recent pictures of my Lab, Dexter. I hope you enjoy them.

It's mine punk!

It’s mine punk!

If you're cute and you know it...

If you’re cute and you know it…

I'm just going to chill here, OK?

I’m just going to chill here, OK?

Risky Business, anyone? Sometimes you just gotta say...

Risky Business, anyone?
Sometimes you just gotta say…

Is that a toy or a cob of corn?

Is that a toy or a cob of corn?

At least the humans had the good sense to put this pool here

At least the humans had the good sense to put this pool here

Crazy of The Day: Religious Leaders Who Claim Ebola is God’s Punishment For Immorality

Recently, I’ve seen quite a few news stories about religious leaders who claim the Ebola outbreak is God’s punishment for immoral activity here on our little blue marble.

For example, yesterday we had this from Pastor Ron Baity:

A Baptist preacher says the biblical “End Times” are upon us thanks to a federal judge striking down a ban on gay marriage in North Carolina.

According to Ron Baity of the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., God is so angry over the decision that He’s about to send something even worse than Ebola.

“You think Ebola is bad now, just wait,” Baity warned during his sermon on Sunday.

And if that wasn’t stomach churning enough for you, here’s a quote taken directly from his sermon:

“My friend, we are meriting, we are bringing the judgement of God on this nation as sure as Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed, don’t be surprised at the plagues. Don’t be surprised at the judgement of God,” Baity said. “You think Ebola is bad now, just wait. If it’s not that, it’s going to be something else. My friends, I want you to understand, you can’t thumb your nose at God, and God turn his head away without God getting your attention.”

But hey, no one ever takes the bible literally or seriously. We ALL know that Sodom and Gomorrah was simply a metaphor used to illustrate…err…violent acts carried out by a supernatural bully?

I don’t know. I’m lost. I guess you have to twist the story around quite a bit to try and take anything positive away from a biblical massacre.

And turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for simply looking back is a symbol or metaphor for…

Screw it. I don’t know. I think it’s just another horrible story featuring unnecessary violence in a book full of such stories. Thankfully, no one takes these stories seriously.

And before anyone says that this is just one guy shouting crazy all by himself, keep in mind the Family Research Council awarded him the Watchman Award (top “pro-family” award) in 2012, even though he was on the record calling gay people:

“worse than maggots”, compared them to murderers, wants to ‘save’ them, claims gay people make society more filthy, says gays are “not normal” and embrace a “learned lifestyle”, says gays promote “perversion” in schools and are signing “America’s death warrant”

He sounds like a great guy. I’m sure he deserved the award.

Also recently, John Hagee had this to say on his show:

On yesterday’s broadcast of the “Hagee Hotline,” televangelist and Christians United For Israel founder John Hagee issued a stark warning to America that the Ebola crisis is God’s judgment on America for President Obama’s failure to adequately support Israel.

“I want every American to hear this very clearly,” Hagee said, citing Joel 3 to warn that God will judge any nation that seeks to divide up Israel and declaring that “our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching and he will bring America into judgment.”

You know…the John Hagee that has a church of over 20,000 members and who is worth about 5 million bucks?

Meanwhile, in Liberia:

Religious leaders in Liberia are claiming God has unleashed the deadly Ebola virus as a plague upon the country to punish “immoral acts” taking place there, such as homosexuality.

Various church leaders from the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) reportedly attended a meeting to discuss “an spiritual response” to the outbreak of Ebola, which has claimed 932 lives across West Africa.

It comes as the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced a 90-day state of emergency in the country as she warned “ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices”, are continuing to exacerbate the spread of the disease.

And according to a Chief Imam in Liberia:

A Muslim cleric has opined that the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country is destined by Allah due to persistent violation of mankind’s covenant to be one another’s keepers in the society.

The Chief Imam of the Salafia Mosque, Sheikh Salah Sheriff, said not only is the Ebola outbreak in the country is the result of Liberia’s broken covenant made to God, he sees the disease, according to the Holy Quran, as what he referred to as “Azabolah”, meaning punishment of God.

When something bad happens, I guess we can usually count on religion to capitalize on it. Nothing like a good dose of fear to bring people into the flock, no matter how despicable the methods used to do so.

If I’m a moderate in any of these religions, I’d be wondering why these people think my God is so into slaughter and mayhem that it would visit a deadly disease on people. I thought these Gods were supposed to be loving and peaceful?

 

 

 

Religion is a Set of Symbols and Metaphors?

Even Dexter is a little skeptical that religion is just a set of symbols and metaphors to express the inexpressible

Even Dexter is a little skeptical that religion is just a set of symbols and metaphors  used to express the inexpressible

I just finished watching an interesting interview with Professor Reza Aslan who says that religion is basically a coded language of symbols and metaphors that provide ‘a language’ which allows someone to ‘express the inexpressible’.

You can watch the video for yourself at the bottom of this post.

Anyhow, the host of the interview (Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks) asks a poignant question about why someone would choose to use symbols and metaphors that are both untrue and violent in nature.

Reza’s answer was less than satisfying. Instead of answering the question directly, he asks Cenk why he chooses to use English. He goes on to point out that language is just a way of passing on a message using symbols like religion. Religion (he says) is the language religious people use to pass on their messages of faith etc. He then gives an example of a Christian saying to another Christian that they’ve been ‘washed in the blood of the lamb’. The Christian would know what the other person was saying because they’re using Christian symbols and metaphors, while a practitioner of Judaism wouldn’t know what they were talking about.

Alright, so there is the groundwork to their discussion . Now I’m going to tell you why I think Reza’s comparison to language is a side-step of the issue.

English can be used to construct a metaphor, but it isn’t one by itself. Any language can be used to construct a metaphor, but it isn’t one by itself. I am using English to construct this blog post, but those words – each by itself – does not constitute a blog post.

English doesn’t tell people what to believe, how to believe it or what is true about the nature of reality and what isn’t. Religion often attempts to do that using English or language of any kind.

Cenk’s point is well made – why use those metaphors and symbols if you know they aren’t true and contain many violent passages?

Even if you are merely using your religion as a way of passing on ideas and information, why not use language that doesn’t contain mythology and violence?

And what exactly is Reza refferring to as ‘inexpressible’? If it can’t be expressed, then religion wouldn’t be able to express it either, yet he is implying that it is the only medium able to do so. So is it expressible or inexpressible?

If it’s expressible using one medium or set of symbols, ideas and metaphors, then surely the same ideas can be expressed using language that doesn’t contain falsities and violence. In fact, aren’t there lots of religions, all with their own set of symbols and metaphors, that all try to express the inexpressible?

When something contains ideas, metaphors and claims that can be shown to be factually untrue, and that contain violence, I have no problem calling it what I believe it to be – a bad idea that needs to be challenged.

That goes for any religion, idea, political opinion etc that I might come across.

And furthermore, if these religious messages are merely metaphor, why do so many religious people consistently believe them to be literally true? Why do these beliefs constantly show up when people want to craft public policy?

For example:

In most countries surveyed, majorities of Muslim women as well as men agree that a wife is always obliged to obey her husband. Indeed, more than nine-in-ten Muslims in Iraq (92%), Morocco (92%), Tunisia (93%), Indonesia (93%), Afghanistan (94%) and Malaysia (96%) express this view. At the same time, majorities in many countries surveyed say a woman should be able to decide for herself whether to wear a veil.

Or:

The percentage of Muslims who say they want sharia to be “the official law of the land” varies widely around the world, from fewer than one-in-ten in Azerbaijan (8%) to near unanimity in Afghanistan (99%). But solid majorities in most of the countries surveyed across the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia favor the establishment of sharia, including 71% of Muslims in Nigeria, 72% in Indonesia, 74% in Egypt and 89% in the Palestinian territories.

And if you’re talking about the metaphorical symbols of Christianity:

By the year 2050, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ definitely (23%) or probably (18%) will have returned to earth.

Of course there are Christians, Muslims etc that view their religion as being untrue and just a language for faith, but the question still stands – why use such violent, archaic language to express that faith, when you know it’s patently untrue?

Wouldn’t it be better to use language that is more accurate and less violent?

Tell me what you think, dear reader.

 

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