Thursday, April 02, 2009

"The deification of stupidity"

AC Grayling

"""""At the United Nations Council on Human Rights in Geneva, the OIC is trying again to have "defamation of religion" banned. The aim is a universal gag on free speech, blocking the right of anyone to criticise the too frequently negative effects of religion on individuals and society. The OIC has yet to appreciate that if it succeeds in its effort to protect Islam from legitimate challenges to its less attractive doctrines and practices – to say nothing of Islamism with its murderous extreme – the relentless antisemitism from its own side of the street will have to stop too.

If it succeeds in turning criticism of religion and its main beneficiaries into "defamation", we might not be free to express our condemnation of a sentence just handed down in Saudi Arabia against a 74-year-old woman, condemned to 45 lashes, three months in prison, and deportation to her native Jordan, for having two male visitors in her home who were not relatives.

And here is another thing we might not be able to discuss. The Pope's iteration of his church's doctrine on contraception, while on his way to visit Africa where 21 million people in sub-Saharan countries are infected with HIV, millions have died of Aids, and millions of Aids orphans live in frightful conditions of semi-slavery and destitution, has been rightly condemned by many around the world.

But the HIV/Aids tragedy of Africa is only the tip of an iceberg. Opposition to control of family size in the poorest part of the world condemns women to endless pregnancies if they are not – as many are – killed or incapacitated by childbearing in difficult circumstances. The difficulty of looking after numerous children in abject poverty is, on its own, a grinding oppression, to say nothing of the immense barriers to the opportunity for decent lives later on for the children. These brutal facts are as nothing to the Pope: in his view the blight of too many pregnancies, too many children, infant mortality, starvation, disease, poverty and immiseration is all part of the deity's plan. For anyone who goes by evidence, if there is a deity, this suggests that it devotes its spare time to pulling wings off flies.

The Pope's attitude to sex is mainly informed by having to deal with child-abusing priests (latest reports say that in the US complaints against abusive priests rose to 800 in 2008: that's more than a dozen a week), which is why his advice to them – abstinence – seems to be the only thing he can think to suggest to everyone else, and most of all as a guard against HIV infection. Plenty of people lack insight into the deep imperatives of human nature, so let us not blame the Pope for adding this particular deficit to his already rich repertoire of them: but let us ask whether a marrying clergy might not be part of the solution to sexually abusing priests, if there has to be a clergy at all. Best of all as a policy for the Pope and his church on matters of sex might be silence. To adapt Wittgenstein, "Wherof you know nothing, shut up."

The chief point is that Vatican policy on contraception is in every sense a hideous crime against humanity and ought to be treated as such.

And that takes us back to the OIC. The OIC dislikes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the very good reason that religion, not excluding their version of it, is a systematic violator of human rights, not least the rights of women – who are one half of the world, a fact the OIC does not notice, or if it does it applies religious arithmetic to solve the problem: one woman is worth half a man. The OIC is trying to change the Universal Declaration of Human Rights accordingly."""""

To reiterate: ""For anyone who goes by evidence, if there is a deity, this suggests that it devotes its spare time to pulling wings off flies."" An important point, however obvious to many non-believers (technically, the evidentiary problem of evil). Granting, for a few nano-seconds, the possibility of a monotheistic Deity (JHVH, JC, or Allah), He would by definition allow disease, plagues, natural disasters, the deaths of countless civilians during wartime, etc. That does not square with His supposed just nature, so doubts about a deity's presumed existence are more than justified. The faithful in effect pay homage to a Tamerlane- like fictive being (that is, Tamerlane, cubed). That the presumed King-God on occasion seems to afford some Good or justice (say, the allies winning WWII, or the beauty of nature, etc) to humanity does not at all compensate or out-weigh the substantial evidence of the injustice--unmerited suffering really--anymore than a Judge's previously clean record compensates for him taking a bribe, or wrongly convicting someone for a crime they did not commit. Justice doesn't even out in some quasi-utilitarian fashion (though even some high-ranking theologians such as Plantinga seem to think otherwise).

That said, there are possible defenses for the theist, though they depend on accepting supernatural premises. Were post-mortem existence to hold, then perhaps the victims of plagues or tidal waves or collateral damage could be redeemed or offered some spiritual compensation; or, as the "eschatological" sorts claim, in some future state, apparent evil will be compensated for. Until a Believer produces a snapshot of the Hereafter that hypothesis may be ignored, though, yes, some might believe in those mystic dreams, just as many believe in ethical objectivity (ethics a problem for the skeptic who affirms secular Justice, yet has no theological guarantee).

Ala Hume we can of course refuse to play chess (amateur chess, usually), with the theologian, and not grant his existence claim, which is hardly capable of confirmation. The events of Old and New Testaments themselves are not capable of confirmation. Hume takes the issue a bit further: an ancient narrative with writing suggesting the dead come back to life, or virgin births, or seas parting, of demons battling in the skies, or angels speaking to prophets shall not be considered reliable; it's hearsay at best, and also conflicts with the claims of other religions. Per Judge Hume, supernatural testimony shall be considered inadmissable as evidence.

Hume's great essay contra-miracles does not lack a Newtonian aspect: the uniformity of experience precludes the Resurrection, and Reanimated Jee-zuss (and all other supposed supernatural events), except as metaphor or myth (albeit somewhat grand, though probably related more to the arrival of La Primavera--or perhaps, a variation on Osiris).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Blutonius, the hip Houston salesman: work on yr tax fraud, chiropractor hustle, and try to pay off the consumer affairs board .

Yr muzak or that of McKoko's wouldn't get you in a sports bar in Encino, and I'm sure yr keyboards not quite up to depeche mode cover band

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