Friday, March 14, 2008

Crystal Balls, Sex Toys, Judas Cradle, Rhology and the Nihilist

Thanks for the reply, Rhology. Because you admitted that, due to my wording, you misunderstood my position vis-à-vis morality, I shall eschew further comment on that. Should you attack my position, I shall defend it. Be mindful of this, though: My embrace of moral relativism does not flow from my unique possession of moral truth; rather, I am a moral relativist because I recognize our collective moral ignorance, and a relativistic view flows naturally therefrom.
Because your post oftentimes responds directly to statements I made in my most recent offering, I think the statements in question should be included, to provide context. I hope the formatting is clear: First, appearing in italics, will be the statement to which you are responding. That shall be followed by your response and, finally, my new rebuttal. Here goes….

“Nobody reading my essay could possibly think I was directly comparing suicide bombing with Alabama’s infantile law.”

Rhology: You yourself said this, though: "Of course, Rhology, you must recognize that my comparison was not of methods but of mindset."
But I agree that religious freedom (which I believe the US should have) should exist and that your statements about it are correct.

You have quoted me correctly, but taken it in the wrong context. I was comparing Christofascists to Islamofascists, not the sex-toy ban to suicide bombing. In fact, I immediately followed up the quote you selected with a clarifier: “That is, for both Christofascists and Islamofascists, there is an assumption that they have a right to inflict their arbitrary moral opinions on those around them.” This type of authoritarianism—I call it moral narcissism—is the point of comparison. But let me assure you, I am happy to know that you believe in religious freedom. However, if that truly is your stance (and I hope it is), then you must join me in condemning the Alabama law to which I am opposed. It is inarguable that the state’s sex-toy ban is inspired by the Christian moral construction. In that construction, unconventional sex is sinful—and introducing toys into coitus is unconventional. If Bible-inspired statutes, such as the one in Alabama, are applied to Christians and non-Christians alike, religious freedom is retarded. If I lived in that state, I would be an atheist in name and belief, but would have to be a de facto Christian if I wanted to avoid legal harassment.

“I readily admit that, at this moment and for the last few centuries, Muslims behave far worse than Christians do.”

Well, I'm looking for more than that! :-D Islam behaved VERY badly its first 2 centuries of existence, as an institution. The medieval RCC was bad; institutional Islam was pretty bad too, enslaved and killed far more people, and took far more territory with the sword. In the name of God and in line with their religion (see the link I posted), as opposed to the Inquisition and Crusades, neither of which are fully justifiable on biblical grounds (though the Crusades are justifiable to a decent extent).

Does that make sense?

On this point, we are in substantial agreement. At least since 1700, Islam and its followers have been far worse than Christianity and its masses. I would argue that, from around 1250 to 1700, many self-proclaimed god-fearing Christians engaged in hideous evil, directed particularly toward people accused of witchcraft and those who did not acquiesce to the controlling church powers. However, I concede that, after that point, things were substantially “cleaned up,” as it were.

Nevertheless, looking at the period when both institutions were behaving badly (according to my confected standards, that is), I think it is rather a waste of time to talk about which was more horrible. Suppose that a terrorist group sets off a bomb in Los Angeles and kills 500,000 innocent civilians. Suppose another cell detonates an explosive in New York City, but only kills 300,000 innocents. Is the latter cell “less evil” than the former? Such a question, to me, seems beside the point. And, although my knowledge of Islam is limited, I do know that some of the torture devices supposedly used by Christians are absolutely shocking in their heinousness. The website describes the Judas Cradle as follows: “The Judas Cradle [was] a terrible medieval torture where the victim would be placed on top of a pyramid-like seat. The victim's feet were tied to each other in a way that moving one leg would force the other to move as well - increasing pain. The triangular-shaped end of the Judas Cradle was inserted in the victim's anus or vagina. This torture could last, depending on some factors discussed below, anywhere from a few hours to complete days.” Just ghastly.

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” [1 Corinthians 11:3 (KJV)].

It's a distinction of role, not of nature.

And you're right - it's SERVANT leadership, much like Christ, the Lord and Creator of the universe, space, time, matter, and energy, washing the disgusting, dirty, and manure-encrusted feet of His disciples and then dying for them, abandoned by them.
That's my calling as a Christian husband.

I would not say that the gender roles prescribed by Christian doctrine are misogynistic per se, but they certainly are antithetical to modern ideas about absolute equality (save for the obvious plumbing differences). In my last post, I simply was making the point that, even though you argue against what I consider to be Islam’s mistreatment of women—and you make your arguments with eloquence and insight—you subscribe to a religion in which wives are supposed to submit to their husbands’ headship. Again, there is quite a difference with respect to degree, but not much difference in the overall gist.

But let me add something here. As evidenced by your comments later on about Jeffrey Dahmer, an individual you believe might currently be in heaven due to his being born again, you are a Christian who adheres slavishly to scripture. It seems to me that, in your mind, your beliefs need not conform to popular wisdom, modern mores or even common sense. That is, if a biblical prescription seemed to fly in the face of common sense, you probably would err on the side of the Bible and presume that your common sense was somehow faulty, at least this once. Bearing that in mind, what if Jesus had explicitly preached that women should walk ten steps behind men, or that they never should show their faces in public, or that they never should shake hands with men? If Jesus had made such pronouncements, would you live in accordance with them? I ask not to be antagonistic but because, to me, your devotion to scripture seems uncompromising, nay, absolute.

“702 were tried and executed in Protestant territories”

OK, I didn't realise that about Prot territories. Of course, the Salem trials were Prot, (and executed a whopping [less than] 20 witches) but this still compares very favorably with Islam. It's not as simple as this, though. The state and church were not separated or barely separated at that time. Principles like American religious freedom were more or less unheard-of; it's anachronistic to judge them by our modern standards. Finally, I'll just remind everyone that you said above that you can't extend moral judgments beyond yourself anyway.

My position is not that I cannot extend moral judgments beyond myself. Rather, I simply have no pretension that my moral opinions are objective facts. In my opinion, murder is horribly evil. In my view, torture is anathema to civilized existence. In my judgment, donating $1 million to underprivileged children is morally righteous. However, if you asked me to prove those opinions to be factually accurate, I could not. There is no known way to prove a moral statement or moral code; as such, we are left only with opinion.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”

It's not that I deemphasise certain psgs b/c I feel like it. The key is that this law and so many others in the OT Law were CIVIL laws given for the governance of OT Israel, which was a nation, a theocracy. OT Israel no longer exists. Those civil laws don't apply.

Fair enough…point well taken. I do maintain, however, that such passages provided “theological cover” for the torturers, butchers and murderers. I would be willing to bet a large sum that, at the height of the witch-hunts, the aforequoted passage was recited more than once. However, your clarification vis-à-vis Old Testament law made me think of Leviticus 18:22 and its condemnation of homosexual activity. Is not Levitical law also “out of date,” as it were? Would not the new covenant of the New Testament supersede Levitical law? Should not that particular verse be retired from the contemporary gay rights discussion?

“Neither [witchcraft nor sorcery] exists and neither ever has.”

I disagree with this statement. They do exist. Why else would the OT Law prohibit them?

Shoot, they exist TODAY! Have you never heard of a séance, channeling, Ouija boards, mediums, Tarot card readers, thaumaturgists...?

There appears to be a chasm between our definitions of witchcraft. Yes, some people use tarot cards, Ouija, crystal balls and the like. However, none of those trinkets has the powers attributed to it. Tarot cards offer as much mystical insight as a deck of Bicycle playing cards, and Ouija is a children’s toy playing on the ideomotor effect. So, by “witchcraft,” you apparently are referencing adults who indulge in children’s folly. Perhaps the Old Testament, too, was referring to such exemplifications of stunted intellectual growth.

“the pious people who tortured and murdered “witches” centuries ago, in your judgment, are presently in that place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Witchcraft was illegal in those areas at that time and was (I'd argue more or less rightly) considered a threat to civil security, so it was treated as a crime. It's not how I'd do it, but it has a fair amount to commend it - the nation would be freer of the evil influence of the occult, the people would be holier in conduct, the gross immorality that usually accompanies witchcraft would be less present, etc.

"Murder" is never justified, so I grant that. Executions after trial are quite another matter.

I don't see why torture would be justified, so I grant that.

The witch-hunt escapade is shocking not only for its brutality and sheer level of hideousness, but also for its absolute silliness. Consider the following passage, from “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions,” by Charles Mackay:
“In 1595, an old woman residing in a village near Constance, angry at not being invited to share the sports of the country people on a day of public rejoicing, was heard to mutter something to herself, and was afterwards seen to proceed through the fields towards a hill, where she was lost sight of. A violent thunderstorm arose about two hours afterwards, which wet the dancers to the skin, and did considerable damage to the plantations. This woman, suspected before of witchcraft, was seized and imprisoned, and accused of having raised the storm, by filling a hole with wine, and stirring it about with a stick. She was tortured till she confessed, and was burned alive the next evening.”
You refer to execution after trial with some degree of approval, but do not forget that (a) torture was used not to punish people for their “crimes” but in order to secure extravagant confessions, and (b) the charges oftentimes were jaw dropping in their ludicrousness. Let us just agree that, in that time, the prevailing standards of evidence were rather flimsy. Then again, maybe the wine-filled hole really did confect the tempest. But probably not.

On a related note, I believe it is documented on better-than-urban-legend grounds that Jeffrey Dahmer converted to Christianity shortly before his death. If that is true, if he placed his faith and reliance on Jesus Christ to forgive him of his sin and give him eternal life, he is my brother in Christ and will spend eternity in heaven in the presence of Jesus. I am a great sinner, Jesus Christ is a greater Savior.

That is a very telling statement, and supports my earlier assertion that you follow a by-the-book interpretation of Christianity. That is, if common sense—or even your innate instincts—seems to be at odds with New Testament teachings, you still stick with the Bible. It again raises the question in my mind: If the Bible had contained different moral prescriptions—ones that your current self finds repugnant—would you have followed them? In any event, I have seen, on more than one occasion, the televised interview to which you refer. Dahmer indeed does profess born-again Christianity and promotes intelligent design creationism. However, given the fact that Dahmer was a serial murderer, rapist, necrophile and cannibal, I tend to be suspicious of anything he said. As we know from Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, just to name a couple, serial killers tend to be diabolically clever…able to gain people’s confidence and seem completely sincere. If my recollections are correct, Bundy, at various times, convinced his victims he was a plainclothes police officer or a handicapped man needing assistance. Gacy, for his part, made his young male victims so comfortable that they were willing to see Gacy’s “handcuff trick.” Might murdering, raping, necrophiliac, cannibalistic Dahmer have pulled one final con job?

These Inquisitors, if they had saving faith in Christ, will be saved. If they didn't, they are condemned and stand in the exact same place as you do - hellbound. I urge you to turn away from your sin and repent, believe in the Savior. You won't regret it; I can promise you that much.

I appreciate your repeated attempts to convert me, but, alas, such represent an enterprise doomed to failure. But worse yet, your attempts at conversion are directed from the weakest possible angle: Somebody who embraces the Christian superstition because he fears damnation to hell exemplifies nothing more than pathetic cravenness. If one must be Christian, one should be so because, in one’s mind, Christianity hits upon truth—not because one is fearful of punishment. In my mind, any creative deity would look more positively on principled, intellectually rigorous skepticism than gutless bet hedging. But let me also stress that I know pain is a function of the nervous system, tissue damage and other physical factors. I have seen no evidence that a wispy, incorporeal essence could be made to feel pain. Even “emotional pain”—the kind that sometimes keeps us awake at night—has to do with brain activity. A wispy, incorporeal essence possesses no brain of which to speak. Therefore, the suffering with which you threaten me seems rather…well…incoherent.


Blogger Tommy said...

I'm waiting for the day when I see a headline in a newspaper that reads "ROOF COLLAPSES AT CONVENTION CENTER DURING PSYCHIC FAIR".

10:05 PM EDT  
OpenID badger3k said...

I assume this is the "Rhology" who has participated in discussions at "The Atheist Experience" blog?

I just had to comment on the Dahmer thing. It seems to me that many people in desperate situations (say, in prison, probably receiving death threats constantly), people will turn to anything they can to avoid facing up to reality. He may have been afraid to die, and so turned to the one thing that may have offered him a chance to escape death - a "conversion" to the one thing that would give him the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. "Why, just say you worship Jeebus and it doesn't matter what you did, you'll be saved and "live" forever in paradise while everyone else suffers. See, doesn't that take away all that pesky responsibility for the horrible crimes you committed?"

Prison conversion stories are a dime a dozen, if not cheaper.

1:18 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Yup, the same Rhology is he who causes consternation at the AthExp.
Of course God knows Dahmer's heart - if he was just trying to weasel out of acctability for what he did, if he didn't really repent from the heart, etc, then of course he didn't get forgiveness. The hottest of levels in hell is reserved for him.
But ****IF**** he really did, then I will join him in heaven one day.
It seems that he made what we would call a credible profession of faith, ie, he said all the right things in more or less the right way. What that means is... that he made a credible profession of faith, nothing more, if his heart was not fully involved in what he was saying.

And yes, I fully understand the skepticism towards such. Happens all the time, you're right!
Hope that helps.


5:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Richard said...

Nature and Convention, What’s the difference!

When it comes to morality the question that is usual asked is “what is true morality”? What is true goodness, true justice and who defines it or how do we even discover it are the questions that must be answered. For atheist’s who believe in a godless universe the concepts of absolute good and evil, right wrong become very hard to define. If one is seeking to find “what is’ and not what some one thinks “ought to be the case” one must study nature. For nature is “what is” it can not be any other way. For the atheist humans have a nature, that is not corrupted or immoral. It acts according to its nature. Our nature has desires and we act on them. Good and Evil are not exactly the products of the will, but they are the reflection of it. The will is blind and can not give us a rational justification for the ultimate ends that we pursue. If one wants to be a true atheist and live according to true morality, then he must live according to nature, which is what “is”. All actions are right as they reflect our nature to desire. If we want an objective standard that reflects a godless universe that has nothing to do with human edict, customs and rules, that is in no sense fabricated or dependent on what anyone says or does. Then we must seek “nature”. The laws of nature are not things that are so because someone has decreed that they should be so, or because people have become accustomed to so regarding them. They are so everywhere, no matter what anyone might think or do. They are not relative, then, to customs, laws, opinions, or conventions. For they are true by nature.
Do atheists want to live according to their “true” morality, that being “anything goes”. The law of nature is basically the law of anarchy. Rape, murder, lust, greed is all part of our nature. This is what our nature desires. Nature also does not show us that all humans are created equal. If one wants to keep to “true’ morality then the idea of human rights becomes an illusion. We are in fact suppressing individual rights to do what they want.
If atheist can’t accept this view of morality then the other option is convention morality. This view enters the realm of relative opinion, no view is better or worse than another just different, and any of them could change over time. In this view morality of what is good is just an invention of people desires. They are clearly man made and could have been other wise. The question must still be asked about conventions, do they correspond with what is right? In the end the idea of goodness becomes an empty concept corresponding to nothing absolute. So how is an atheist to talk about true morality? When both nature and convention can justify any act. What is the definition of an immoral behavior? Are there no actions that we consider absolutely wrong apart from opinions, which destroys the power of the obligation to summit to any rule. The problem with the atheist is that a godless universe is goodness free and evil free world. Humans are not created inherently good nor are they struggling with a sinful nature that is acting against the way it should act. It just seems that atheist cant get away from a moral universe. Our minds just know deep down that something’s are wrong no matter what people views are on it. That some of our actions are wrong, but this implies that we have a corrupt nature fallen from some absolute objective standard of goodness.

10:10 PM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...

Interesting rant, Richard.

How's it go?

"If one wants to be a true atheist and live according to true morality, then he must live according to nature"..."The law of nature is basically the law of anarchy. Rape, murder, lust, greed is all part of our nature. This is what our nature desires"..."The problem with the atheist is that a godless universe is goodness free and evil free world"..."Our minds just know deep down that something’s are wrong no matter what people views are on it".

Wow. You may be undermining your strawman with a contradiction, but you sure know how to project.

6:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Hey JN,

I've responded.

I don't mean to try to overwhelm you (tried to keep it relatively brief); I just feel like I abandoned our last significant convo of a few months ago too early, and that was b/c of time constraints. I'm doing OK on time now... if you're not, I understand. Talk to you later.


9:44 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Hi Rhology,

Thanks for the response. Expect an answer on Friday night.

As for our conversation from several months ago, although it was very interesting and intellectually stimulating, I do not currently have the time to re-engage on that front.

I am about to enter the peak of my trade-show season, which does not conclude until July. I have trips to Florida and Vegas upcoming. Our previous dialogue happened to occur during the months when my workflow slows to a crawl. For now, I can only engage with you on one front.

Again, expect a response Friday night.



6:57 PM EDT  
Blogger Richard said...

Responding to John Morales

I deciding to post my recent posting, titled “Nature and Convention” on an Atheist Web site called I thought I would do this to see what response I would get to my argument. One thinker by the name of “John Morales” responded and I’m not sure by his words if he thinks my post is good or if he is taking the Mickey of me. But for one thing he thinks that I am close to making a contradiction in my thinking. So it is this claim that I will be responding to. For some it might be wise to re-read my post…

John Morales wrote,

Interesting rant, Richard.
How's it go?
"If one wants to be a true atheist and live according to true morality, then he must live according to nature"..."The law of nature is basically the law of anarchy. Rape, murder, lust, greed is all part of our nature. This is what our nature desires"..."The problem with the atheist is that a godless universe is a goodness free and evil free world"..."Our minds just know deep down that something’s are wrong no matter what people views are on it".
Wow. You may be undermining your strawman with a contradiction, but you sure know how to project.

I think John is hinting that if I am making the case “that all our desires are part of nature” then aren’t the desires that feel that some things are just right and wrong independent of peoples opinions just desires from our nature. So what is my point, aren’t I just saying that objective morality is part of nature as well. So in fact my strawman to refute the atheists foundation for morality is basically refuting my own evidence. But I don’t think this is the case and I don’t think my argument is a contradiction. John is right, it would be a contradiction “if” I assumed the atheist’s worldview, but I don’t. There is a great difference between the two worldviews. Atheism’s “true” morality is basically just what “is” and my Christian foundation is that morality is not what “is” but what we “ought” to do and our human nature is inherently good but fallen, which is very different form the worldview of atheism that says our nature just “is”. It hasn’t been made or created to act good, but just according to what it does and feels.

I also think the atheist’s argument fails for a number of reasons,

1.If objective morality theories were just part of our nature, then it would be just another desire among millions of subjective choices one can choose. If this is the case then its claims have no more power or worth greater than any other.

2. From an atheist worldview there is no moral law written on our hearts, our inner being dose not have knowledge of goodness according to our inherent ontological good nature. So is left with intuition reasoning upon random blind choices.

3. Atheist also can’t defend Objective morality independent of human beings, which Michael Martin tries to do. It is one thing to have a knowledge of a good moral subjective theory, but to state it is objective independent of people assumes that it exists somewhere out there and this is the question we need answered, “Where is this standard located”? If it is not part of objective reality then it is just an invention. Can Martin’s or the atheist give us a foundation for these claims, I think not. Morality exists in moral beings, not impersonal parts of matter or atoms floating around in space.

4. Living for the good is also meaningless if there is no such thing as an ontological foundation for human dignity and worth. Responsibility is meaningless without a good nature that seeks an absolute standard of goodness.

5. Also in an atheist worldview, is the ‘good’ good because one says its good or is the act good because it corresponds to what is ontologically good?

5:18 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...


Oh, no problem at all. I don't have time for that previous convo either. I was just saying that I'm trying to be a little more tenacious, a little more faithful, to do this convo that we have now a little more justice than I had time to do last time. If you're busy, no worries.


8:21 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

By the way, I just posted that long-time-in-the-works post on the OT Law and its relationship to today, if you're interested.

8:35 AM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...

I have responded to Richard.

5:38 AM EDT  
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