Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why Morality for God is like Money for Shareholders

A morality based on pleasing God is like money made for pleasing corporate Shareholders.  In both situations morality and money shift from being the means of achieving a civil, prosperous human society, to being the ends, that society must serve no matter the human costs.  The morality of God requires human sacrifice, so the Christian would have us believe, and shareholders require ever more money, even if they have to sacrifice their own children to get it. Both obsessions see human beings as simply the means of serving deities with appetites that are equally infinite.

Shareholders are obviously an amoral group, for their sole focus is one thing and one thing only – increasing share price. They are generally unconcerned with the costs to human life in the process, unless those costs negatively impact their share price through bad publicity. The point of a company is not to foster security or a sense of community, after all, but to make a lean, mean, economic machine that chews up people and spits out profit in service of the holiest of corporate holies, the almighty shareholder.

A God based morality is not so different. A morality based on keeping the holiest of Holies happy is one that ultimately detaches itself from serving humanities sense of right and wrong, and instead seeks to serve ideas of right and wrong that are not only above what mere human reason can understand, but forever beyond what human beings can ever achieve.  This is how Kierkegaard rationalizes God’s command to Abraham to slaughter his own son Isaac, and how countless numbers of Christians equally rationalize the story of Noah and the flood.  Even the saints could not agree about what such a morality required, with St. Jerome disagreeing with St. Augustine almost as much as he detested St. Ambrose.

Indeed, an unachievable morality based on God even contributed to The Great Schism of 1054 because of disagreements between the Western and the Eastern Orthodox Church over questions of iconoclasm, differences in liturgical practices, clerical celibacy, and whether the sign of the cross should be made with two fingers or three.  These were no small matters, of course, since even the smallest error in service to God could be enough to cast into hell the souls of all those the church was charged with shepherding to salvation.   Likewise, a terrorist who flies a plane into a building is not engaged in an act of immorality, as he sees it, but is instead serving a God whose morality far exceeds the limits of human empathy or understanding.

 In either situation, whether serving God's morality or increasing shareholder earnings, human beings are divested of the power of taking responsibility for their actions and become mere pawns in a game that serves an unseen master. Such a master cares first and foremost about our service to their agenda, and only incidentally about how we treat each other in the process. Whether we are securing a paycheck or a place in heaven, people have demonstrated all too often a willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive.  And God knows that morality and money are little more than the means of doing just that. In fact, whenever money or morality become instruments that serve themselves, the rest of us become expendable as a result.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why an Atheist can Pray

Sometimes I tell people I will keep their friends or loved ones in my prayers, even though I'm an atheist. I don't say it to be polite, nor do I say it because I can't think of anything better to say that might comfort them. I say it because I mean it, even if what I mean by "prayers" is probably different from what they mean.

Believers think of a prayer as an invocation or an action to build a rapport with a divine entity that will intercede on our miserable behalf if we bother him enough. That's not what a prayer is to me. While I don't believe in God, I do believe in beliefs. In fact, in some ways, our beliefs are even more real than the material world around us. That material world is shaped, after all, by our immaterial beliefs and ideas.  Hence it is with the phantom limb of thought that we paint the world, and give our dreams an existence all their own.

That being the case, I believe that thoughts are real.  They are certainly more real than God, unless by "God" you mean God as an idea, which I admit is quite real indeed. I also believe that there is far more going on with our existence, our reality, and our universe, than I am even infinitesimally aware of.  Yet I do not say I pray because I invoke a being and ask that being to intercede for me. Rather, I merely encounter someone in my thoughts the way you may encounter someone in the park. In both situations, the proper thing to do is extend some common courtesies, and upon departing their company wish them well. An that is what I mean by prayer.

Freud said that, whenever our minds are not burdened with the troubles of life, the default operating mode of our thoughts is to think about relationships and the people we know. This is part of why we enjoy gossiping, for example, because it is the mode of thinking that everyone is well familiar with and we all know it.

The thoughts are real in that I possess them, at that moment at least, in the same way I could possess a tennis ball in my hands. And in the same way that I can only hold a certain number of tennis balls in my hand, so I can only hold my focus on so many ideas in my head at one time. In this sense, my thought is not only something that my mind is possessing, it is likewise something that is possessing my mind as well. Eventually the thought will fly away, much like a moth would do, or I will put it down, as I might a tennis ball. Yet when it does, or when I do, I prefer that it do so in a better state than when I found it, or it found me.

I do not really think of an idea as a moth, mind you, the way I believe Richard Dawkins does, although he may be right. Instead, I think an idea is simply a thought we spot walking along one of the many synaptic boulevards that crisscross and connect our consciousness to our subconsciousness. And if there is no God, than the person who believes there is one, by praying for someone they love, is merely engaging in the same process that I am when I happen to think of the same person. The difference is that my thoughts are not trying to reach outside my own skull, to communicate with some intelligence beyond myself, but theirs are.

 Either way, we are both talking to ourselves, in a sense, only I recognize that my inner dialogue is only a monologue, while they think their inner monologue is really a dialogue. Nevertheless, for both of us, our thoughts are alive, active, and real, even if they may not be that way to anyone else. Yet because I know I do not know what my thoughts are, where they come from, or where and if they go, the fact that I had a thought of someone and hoped for them to get better, is to me the same as the believer who prays for a God for someone in the same hopes.

I do not think my thoughts will help that person but by the same token they will not hurt them either.On the other hand, my thoughts are real to me, and can therefore do me harm. So I treat my thoughts of others as I would wish the thought of me to be treated by others.  To respect someone in deed and thought, then, is what I mean by prayer. In this sense, I think the believer and the atheist both pray in exactly the same way, and perhaps even to the same God.


Baptismal Castration

Catholics believe that everyone is born with the stain of original sin. They also claim that all life is a gift from god. Hence, life is li...