The Dangerous Example of Abr@ham and Is@ac

The point:

The lesson of Abr’ham & Is’ac has surely opened the door to countless acts of unjustified violence that could have been prevented had that lesson not been presented as one extoling blind faith as a virtue.

Caravaggio's 'The Sacrifice of Isaac'

The rant that goes with it:

Let’s start by clearing the air on the issue of belief: For the sake of this article, belief or non-belief is not the issue.  Neither is whether or not the details of the story of The Binding of Isaac are true in whole or in part.  What matters is how the story is percieved as a morality tale and why that matters.  Please keep this in mind as you read on…

Regardless of your belief as to whether or not Abr’ham was actually directed by the FSM to kill his son Is’ac, I will assume that most believers and all non-believers most likely agree that AT LEAST the vast majority of people who hear voices instructing them to commit acts that offend their sense of right & wrong are mentally ill and as such, celebrating Abr’ham’s actions only prevents people from applying critical thinking skills to independently determine whether or not they should indeed kill their family whenever a disembodied voice tells them to do so.

Even if one believes in a superbieng that could possibly be (immorally) testing your allegiance by telling you to commit acts that are offensive to your natural sense of right and wrong, we cannot dismiss the notion that that there are many schizophrenics out there who are hearing similar voices saying similar things.  Even if as many as 1% of these are part of some divine test, this would mean that 99% of those hearing such voices are not part of such test and therefore more likely be from either  internal psychosis, external “3rd parties” using that person’s faith to influence them or any number of other non-supernatural sources (or, if you believe the Scientologists and others like them, supernatural sources of destructive intent).  Those other 99% could result – have resulted – in the death of innocent people for no reason whatsoever except for the fact that the killers were either psychotic or being manipulated.

Indeed this story illustrates the concept of blind faith being rewarded, however this is not a good thing.  Such a lesson discourages people from critical thinking and instead encourages them to succumb to authority by telling them that they will be rewarded for doing whatever they are told in spite of the apparent (real) immorality of the instruction.

So, how are we to independently sort the right message from the wrong?  One can avoid the problem completely by merely ignoring those voices in your head that you know not to be your own.  As this would be extremely difficult to do, at least don’t listen to them without having your skeptical toolbox open, for unless you are a sociopath, your “god”dar should be able to tell you when those voices are telling you to do something that is reprehensible.

Imagine a voice from nowhere has just told you to do something that goes against everything that you believe to be “good”, what are you going to do?  Consider what is more likely:

  1. This being that I trust to make sure that I only do good is instructing me to do something that not only I consider to be wrong, but flies in the face of everything that this same being has taught to be good, OR,
  2. I am insane and these voices are coming from inside my head, or at least it is NOT the voice of the superbeing that it says it is.

Schizophrenics (I have an uncle who is an anti-social schizophrenic, so our family has some experience with this) hear such voices.  Those who are fortunate enough to be diagnosed and treated (unlike my uncle, such as John Nash of “A Beautiful Mind” fame) are able to understand that these voices are not real and they learn to question them as part of their means of coping and integrating with society.  As pleasant as some of these voices might be, reliance on demonstrably wrong facts has a high probability of resulting in disaster somewhere down the road.

The story of Is’ac and Abr’ham is celebrated as being one where Abr’ham’s decision (to put faith in the voice and commit a morally wrong act just for the sake of demonstrating allegiance to an authority) is something to be REWARDED.  This only teaches those people who need the most help to shut out those voices that (a) they should instead embrace those voices and (b) the more ghastly the instruction they give, the more essential it is to carry it out.  These people are being told directly to set aside the few internal (Critical Thinking) tools that they have to sort out their issues and instead give in to them (an Argument from Authority, albeit imagined one).  It is this sort of lesson that makes it so difficult to interfere with a potentially dangerous mentally-deranged person before he commits a horrible act.  Furthermore, it open the door for a cult leader to take advantage of the faithful to give over their freewill to him at the expense of their families and relationships and in more extreme cases, such as Jonestown and the Manson Family, kill themselves and/or others.

As such, the celebration of the story of Is’ac and Abr’ham as a lesson for what TO do has a very real body count.  And yet, one of the world’s most influential faith systems has an annual three day holiday that continues to celebrate Abr’ham’s actions as virtuous and to be a positive lesson for all.

Blindly following voices in your head that tell you to do reprehensible things is NOT a virtue.  Applying your critical thinking skills is truly virtuous.  In fact, even if you have indeed been contacted by some being whose authority transcends the laws of man (or truly believe that to be the case), if he tells you to kill your son without some reasonable justification for it, tell him to go f**k himself and instead follow your evolved social mind.  Perhaps that might be the answer He was testing for after all.

Atheists Can Be Trusted (believe me!)

The point:  An atheist’s finite life is as absolute to him as eternal life is to one who believes in his continuing existence after death and as-such, fear of wasted life by imprisonment or shortening of that life by execution negates the anti-atheist argument that atheists are inherently more untrustworthy than theists because they have no fear of eternal damnation.

The rant that goes with it:

In The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe episode #333, the rogues discuss how…

New research finds that anti-atheist sentiment among believers is based largely on distrust, with atheists being considered among the most UNTRUSTWORTHY, comparable to rapists (and politicians and used-car salesmen and lawyers and…).

Post-poll questioning and further research led the pollsters to conclude that the reason for this singling-out of atheists is because the majority of people believe that if one does NOT believe in…

(a) an afterlife and
(b) a supreme being who will judge their actions and
(c) that the superbeing will determine the quality of that afterlife (he knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good, for goodness sake!)

…then those people will do whatever pleases them – at the expense of others and with perceived impunity.  As such, most people believe that atheists are pre-conditioned to lying, cheating, stealing and killing in pursuit of those self-interests.  Although it may be proven true that people feel this way about atheists, those judgemental opinions are extremely misguided.  In fact, I will demonstrate how atheists might be considered more trustworthy than their theist counterparts, starting with a couple of thought-provoking quotes:

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg

Try to think of a good act performed by a person in the name of FSM or religion that would not have been performed by a non-believer.  Now, try to think of an evil act carried out by a person (or group) solely in the name of FSM or religion that would not have been carried out by a non-believer. Christopher Hitchens (RIP)

If you are not convinced by these ideas (and you don’t have the time to read Sam Harris’s book, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”) I will illuminate the issue by looking at it from both perspectives:

Theists (belief in and/or call to a, b & c above)

  1. Our prisons are filled with theists who have done unspeakable crimes in spite of their fear of a final judgement.  The very material police and courts appear to have stepped in where fear of supernatural judgement has failed.
  2. Some of the most horrific acts in history were committed by theists in the name of their belief that the supreme being they worship was agreeable to what they had done.  The fundamentalist 9/11 hijackers is a good recent example:  They LIED about their intentions when they got on the planes, SMUGGLED weapons on board, MISLEAD the rest of the passengers into thinking the flight would be safe, COVETED the American’s airplanes, MURDERED over 3,000 people and DESTROYED $billions worth of other people’s property, all BECAUSE (not in spite of) of their theist beliefs – many of which are not supported by other readings of the same “infallible” texts.  These people committed their immoral crimes at top speed in anticipation of their eternal judgement.  And before you blame the Holocaust on an “atheist” Nazi party, remember that Hitler was a devout catholic having stated that he was acting in the interest of his church (a position that was encouraged by the support of the Pope), as was 25% of the SS and the only member of the SS to ever be excommunicated was over an issue of divorce.  I daresay that no significant destructive event was ever carried out in the name of atheism.  I daresay that any crime against humanity that has even been committed was done so with theism being at least an excuse for it…whether it be delusional or as a PR device.
  3. The vast majority of people (with maybe the exception of the sociopathic minority) believe they are good and that they do the right thing.   Nobody considers themselves to be the villain.  Even when people do things that go against the moral codes of the community, they tend to rationalize that their case is somehow special.  This ability to delude oneself in to believing what they are about to do (or more often…what they have done) is called “resolution of Cognitive Dissonance” and is a handy trick that we have evolved to make internal peace with the terrible things that we might do to others.  If your group is threatened by another group (or even at the individual level) and you cannot think of a way to justify doing away with them without having “bloodguilt”, then belief that your favorite supreme being is okay with it, if not insists upon it, provides the means to justify the terrible action as “to kill” and not “to murder”.  I elaborate on this in my post “The Monty Hall Problem 1/3”.

Atheists (non-belief in a, b and/or c above)

First, a note on the origins of fairness, co-operation, altruism and all that other good stuff that holds civilization together (imagine a plane flying over the Atlantic and instead of people in the seats, they are filled with chimpanzees…you get the idea).  We are a social species.  Not because of such supposedly divine influences as the Ten Commandments, but rather the other way around.  People had been co-operating for millennia before Moses came down from Mt Sinai and it is therefore far more likely that the Ten Commandments are no more than one society’s documenting the fundamental values they held at the time: values that evolved with the species as such co-operation was advantageous in context with the environment and fellow creatures.  Studies have demonstrated that even babies, who could not have possibly understood a word of any doctrinal texts, are born with many of these core values (ie – appreciation of fairness) and as such they are a product of nature more than nurture.  I daresay that if anything, adults often coax their children away from those inherent values.

Consider this thought-experiment:

First, I propose that most of the established laws in western society generally fall in line with a shared value system that is relatively comparable to the values of most world religions.  For example, stealing, cheating and murdering (even with the exceptions granted from self-defence et al) are each frowned upon by these religions, the various states and our inherent appreciation for right and wrong.  Also, all of these crimes are punishable by threat of damnation, imprisonment/execution/fines and the court of public opinion.

Regardless of your actual beliefs, imagine that you have become convinced (as atheists are) that…

  1. the life you are living is the ONLY one you are EVER going to have; that when you die, that’s it, it’s all over – and that the ~80 years that you will be lucky to have is all the existence that you are ever going to experience.
  2. In the planning of (or post-rationalizing) a crime, you are aware that you cannot justify the act by arguing that you are somehow privileged by carrying the favour of a supernatural being who will ultimately condone it even though the “ignorant” people in your community (not to mention the victim) who will despise you for your actions.

With these concepts established, we consider this fact: Chances are very high that if you were to commit a serious crime such as murder, you will likely be caught and punished by either the courts or the friends/family of the victim…and these punishments are often lifetime imprisonment of even death.  No such crime occurs without total material impunity, as even those who don’t get caught spend the rest of their natural lives evading capture or at least watching their backs.  As we live in a civilization where the punishment often matches the crime, it is fair to say that when one commits any crime, it is at the risk of losing an equal part of one’s natural life.  Stealing a car could cost you the years of seeing your child grow up.  Paying a speeding ticket could cost your family a week’s worth of food.  Killing someone could cost you everything you have…and everything you are ever going to have.  Even if you get “life” for murder, the prisons are such that the quality of that life will likely be far more miserable than the life one needs to live in order to stay out of them.

An atheist’s’ finite natural life is as absolute to him as eternal life is to one who believes in his continuing existence after death and as-such, fear of wasting that one short & precious life by way of imprisonment, execution, fear of retribution, nagged with guilt and/or living like a fugitive (all of which are clearly defined in our very real laws and social codes) negates the anti-atheist argument that atheists are inherently more untrustworthy than theists because they have no fear of eternal damnation that has no universal definition.  Rather, setting aside the fear of losing everything, the natural drive to adhere to biologically-inherent moral values without compromising those values with what are often immoral lessons from out-dated texts written by flawed individuals is enough to make atheists far more trustworthy than their theist counterparts.

Simply put, if you believe that the only thing preventing you from doing harm to others for self-gain is the fear of higher judgement (and likewise, you think I will do these things because I do not have that fear), then you are indeed a truly horrible person.

Comments are welcome and encouraged.  However, before you post, please read my Moderation Policy, which I’ve adopted to control Spam.  Basically, if you link to another website AND you do NOT refer to some specific detail about my post or another commenter’s post, your comment will be trashed before it appears, even if you are kind enough to say only, “I like your blog”.  Sorry ’bout that, but the spam-bots have wrecked it for all of us.



A Declaration of Bornagainptcy

The point:  Middle Eastern nations and The Freemasons are not the same thing…believe it or not.

The rant that goes with it:

As part of my application for a visa to work in “a relatively strict Middle East (ME) nation” (rhymes with “howdy…a labia”), one of the questions that I must answer is “Religion:________” and, according to the guidelines provided by my employer, in order for the visa to be granted…

  • I must provide and answer (can’t leave it blank)
  • I may only select from the following: M’slim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu.

Visa Application Guidelines
Visa Application

A very principled friend of mine saw that I had answered “Christian” and had this to say to me in response…

what a hypocrite…don’t let me join freemasons because I need to state that i believe in a ‘supreme being’ yet you put ‘christian’ on your job application!

This apparantly reasonable objection provides great opportunities for considering what are my “principals” and what it means to be a “hypocrite”.  My reply to this is in two parts:  (1) What I consider to be a well-reasoned argument and (2) the knee-jerk response I replied by email moments after having been challenged…

1. The Mason’s and (said ME nation’s) Requirements are Different

MASONS: You have to actually believe in a supreme being in order to be a Mason, not just say that you do. It is a group of like-minded people and that is a core social principal.  I – too – was invited to join the Masons (in 2009 when I was working for SNC) but I declined, in spite of the advantages, on the basis of their rule about belief in a supreme being as a requirement for joining. I continued to refuse even after their agent tried to rationalize (shoe-horn) my position as fitting with theirs (ie – that natural unintelligent forces as the underlying principal of the universe is somehow the same as an intelligent being because they are both “a thing”) because I knew that if I joined under such false pretenses, we would probably not enjoy each other’s company in the long run.

The ME Nation: You have to merely sign a piece of paper saying which of the 5 choices they give you best suit you, which is like answering the question, “which of these numbers is closest to the number of cars you own: 150, 785, 624, 98, 821″. In that case, selecting “98” would not be hypocritical.  Also, they are not hiring me for my beliefs but my ability to ensure their project will be built on time, on budget and to high standards of quality.  One does not have to abide by one of those religions in order to achieve this. Furthermore, I would argue that if one prays for success rather than work for it, he will likely fail. In fact, the saying “Inshallah” (loosely translated as “you’ll be lucky if it gets done and if it doesn’t, I’m not responsible”) is banned from my meetings to the point that I almost got into a fight with one of our Electrical Engineers over it.

Had I encouraged him to refuse the Masons offer and then I turned around and joined them myself…THAT would make me a hypocrite.

Applying similar standards to two different situations and making different decisions for each because of that does NOT make me a hypocrite.

2. My Initial (knee-jerk & emotional) Response:

  1. Every person has his price. $200k+/year is higher than most.  Would the Masons pay you that much to attend their meetings?  I don’t think so!
  2. I put my family obligations above all other considerations, including such petty issues such as religion. I say “petty” because I think of all that stuff as no more relevant than Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. In spite of my soap-boxing, it’s really all just an intellectual game for me. It is the BELIEVERS that take it seriously. Atheists only take such belief systems seriously when airplanes start flying into buildings or science is prevented from being taught in classrooms – and that is not what is happening here (except that Osama B-L was from you-know-where, of course).
  3. I’m not going to let someone’s stupid abstract rules stand between me and a money pile. To refuse to sign this and not take their money gives them power and I refuse to give that to them. I am “a reed in the wind, resisting by bending”.
  4. If there is no supreme being then, even if you are a deist, you cannot possibly offend him and therefore the simple act of signing a piece of paper is meaningless.  Notice from the relative anonymity of this post how I am more afraid of my employer seeing this email than I am of eternal damnation?
  5. Even if there was a supreme being that had any actual power (we are talking theist, not deist here), then it should use that power to sort all this confusion (the fact that the form identifies 5 conflicting perceptions if truth means that at least 4 of them have it wrong) and not leave it up to me to pay to clean up its mess.

Perhaps the best way to do the needful and stand on my “principals” would be to call myself Buddhist, which is actually closer to my world-view than than Christian (because kittens are cute and I wouldn’t possibly harm one…unless it pooped everywhere, then I’d eat it alive) and also challenges the policy by giving a “weird” answer.  However, if I got called on it, I’d be in trouble.

Considering the colour of my skin and that I am not Richard Gere, “Christian” is the believable, “yeah, whatever” null-response.

Comments are welcome and encouraged.  However, before you post, please read my Moderation Policy, which I’ve adopted to control Spam.  Basically, if you link to another website AND you do NOT refer to some specific detail about my post or another commenter’s post, your comment will be trashed before it appears, even if you are kind enough to say only, “I like your blog”.  Sorry ’bout that, but the spam-bots have wrecked it for all of us.