Thursday, October 17, 2002

Shortcomings in attacks on belief in God

Dig down to the root of just about any anti-religion statement and you’ll find at its foundation one of two philosophies: moral relativism or secular humanism. In modern American popular culture, these are the two belief systems that together comprise the intellectual roots of the anti-religion camp. These philosophies are in many ways hostile to each other, but their adherents are united against a common enemy. Both are seriously flawed. Both are in many ways religions themselves, and certainly among their adherents one finds those who are as insufferably self-righteous and dogmatic as any greasy-haired televangelist.

Moral relativism is the belief that moral standards are grounded only in social custom, not in any universal or divine truth, so therefore all beliefs and moral standards are equally true. Sound familiar? It should, it’s the official religion of most university campuses and has spread throughout pop culture. “There ain’t no wrong, ain’t no right,” sang rock group Jane’s Addiction.

This belief is a little problematic. So the Aztec ritual of flinging virgins into live volcanoes is the moral equivalent of, say, Ghandi’s principles of non-violence? And yet, a religious person will often find himself on the business end of a moral relativist’s finger, wagged Church Lady-style in disapproval. The accompanying sermon is usually some version of “I’m superior because I’m so tolerant.”

The truth is that moral relativism invalidates itself. If every belief is equally true, that means I’m wrong for believing in a divine revelation as a universal criterion for human beliefs and actions. But of course, it also means that my religion is just as true as moral relativism. So there’s nothing for a moral relativist to feel superior about or disapprove of, even in reference to a member of the Manson Family.

Secular humanists, on the other hand, hold that only theirs is a valid belief system; namely, that belief in God (and all that follows from that) is wrong because His existence cannot be proved. And indeed it cannot be “proved” by some mathematical formula or scientific experiment; that’s why it’s called “faith.” Humans are left to derive His existence from His creation: a child’s smile, a Virginia autumn, a sunset. The believer finds it difficult to reflect on these marvels and consider them cosmic rolls of the dice.

In secular humanism, human reason is the ultimate criterion, the ultimate source of truth: “…dogmas, ideologies and traditions…must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith,” states the Council for Secular Humanism. But this rather reasonable-sounding tenet is misleading, because to secular humanists, anyone who does accept a faith has not sufficiently “weighed and tested” it, since by definition it cannot be “proved” by the secular humanist criterion. This argument against religion fails because it assumes what it is trying to prove.

Secular humanists describe their belief system with neutral terms, calling it a “philosophy” or “conviction,” whereas they define religions with more loaded terms, as being “dogmas.” In reality, secular humanism and what would be traditionally considered “religions” like Islam and Christianity share a common ground in that they are all doctrines asserting an ultimate criterion of truth. Secular humanists simply dismiss belief in God out of hand because it’s not the ultimate source of truth that they believe in—the equivalent of a Christian trying to objectively prove that other religions are false because they don’t accept the Bible.

All belief systems, then, are not equally valid but they are all equally a set of assumptions whose validity must be judged on their own merits.

To be continued…

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

So sorry

It seems like I've ruffled some feathers and managed to upset some people (That's not me in the pic, that's an upset guy. I just think he sets an appropriately "upset" tone).

So there's a discussion that's been raging on the comments section of this site in response to my Bosnia post. To my delight I find I'm being attacked in random corners of the blogosphere--even in Spanish--which gives me yet another opportunity to gently and tactfully hold the hands of the masses and guide them away from their rank stupidity. (Please don't cry...that's just a little post-modern cynical humor...I'll try to tone it down.)

Tacitus, a guy so phenomenally enlightened he has to refer to himself in the third person, says I'm a "lunatic" because:

"1) Your belief that your proscription [of the marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men] is divinely inspired, and 2) your utter lack of social graces in insulting the marital status of strangers."

First of all, regarding Bill Allison’s marriage. What a bunch of whiners. These people are more sensitive than Woody Allen. Poor ol' maligned Bill Allison asks me to comment about his marriage (granted, probably as a snotty way of proving some point or another), and then cries about it after I don’t tell him what he wants to hear. Sheesh.

Let's try to get to the root of all the fuss. I told Tacitus:

"Intellectual cowardice makes me nauseous. 'In Royer's eyes,' Islam doesn't permit Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, you say. Again, assuming you're not an ignoramus, you know that in fact it is Islam itself that doesn't permit it, NOT 'Ismail Royer.' So what you're really railing against is Islam itself, but of course I'm a more politically correct target. If you don't like Islam, you don't like it, so don't equivocate."

He replies:

“Do I dislike Islam in all its forms? No. Do I dislike Islam as defined by you? Yes. It is a proven enabler of barbarism and tyranny.”

Good for him. I’m a big supporter of cutting through the crap and getting to the root of the matter, whatever the topic.

He doesn't like Islam “as I define it” (and neither do Allison and a big chunk of their fellow "intellectuals.") Fair enough, that’s their right. But "as I define it"? I didn't define Islam anywhere in the article, so there's some inference on their part. Apparently "lunatic Islam" is distinct from "acceptable Islam" in that lunatics believe Islam is divinely inspired. Tacitus says:

“…the movement among Jews [to prevent intermarriage] is based upon a desire to preserve a particular ethnicity and cultural heritage, and not upon an interpretation of a divine command. [This is] hardly lunatic. You cross the line into lunacy (or something like it) [with]…your belief that your proscription is divinely inspired…”

The marriage topic is hardly the most conspicuous or controversial aspect of Islam, unless these people are singularly focused on the "right" of non-Muslim men to marry Muslim women. And he doesn't mind so much the eugenics-style notion of trying to prevent intermarriage if its done out of a worldly motivation to "preserve ethnicity." Therefore its the "divinely inspired" part that's making their blood boil. Ah, finally, the crux of the matter.

An Islam these folks would approve of, then, would be one whose adherents do not believe is divinely inspired. That wouldn’t be much of a “religion” at all, of course. The truth is that by definition you won't find a Muslim who doesn't believe that Islam is divinely inspired, so I guess we're all lunatics in your eyes. Oh well, you can't please everybody.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Tacitus claims I'm a "radical Islamic fundamentalist fanatic extremist terrorist" or some such because I assert that the concept of "democracy" is ambiguous. Uh...how much of a "moderate" can this guy be if he reacts so hysterically to my exceedingly mild critique of HIS religion (oops...I mean "philosophy")?