Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Let's Get Angry

Story here.

I read about this about a year ago. While this example is particularly horrific, it's nothing all that new - some horrible cult (this one happens to count a very low percentage of the world's population among its members, so the rest of the world is calling it a "cult" as well, instead of a respectable institution) murders a child for its religious beliefs.

Usually you see this with faith healing types. Medicine and treatment are withheld, the kid dies, the parents say, "Not our fault!" and the rest of the world says, "Yes it is!" and to jail they go.

Frequently, those same parents will try to claim religious freedom in their defense. Of course, as noted by Judge Vincent Howard in just such a case, "The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects religious belief, but not necessarily conduct."

Here, however, we see a court playing into the delusions of the murderers.

A Maryland woman involved with a group described as a religious cult pleaded guilty in the starvation death of her son, but insisted that the charges be dropped when he is resurrected.

Bold mine. That's her plea agreement. They agreed to that.

Let's think about the message that sends to anyone watching - it's not okay to kill your child in God's name if you're wrong, but if your beliefs turn out to be right then we'll accommodate you.

The problem with that is simple. There's are some people on this planet who are absolutely convinced, 100%, that they are right. I call them "everyone." This does absolutely nothing to deter such murders in the future. If anything, from the perspective of the people who really, truly believe that it's really going to work this time, this is a stamp of approval.

Do you really believe what you say you believe? Then what are you worried about? Starve your child to death if he doesn't say "amen" before or after a meal. God wants you to, and the courts will back you up. But only if you really think you're right. Only if you believe with all your heart. Only if you know for sure that God's on your side.

Also, if it turns out that your neighbor's dog really did make you go on a killing spree, we'll set you free and arrest the dog. So, you know, make sure that dog's telling the truth.

What really happened here is likely one of two scenarios:

1) The prosecutors agreed to throw this clause in because they thought they'd get something useful out of the bargain. They figure no harm, no foul, and this way more bad people go to jail. To some extent, they're right. We do want all of the people responsible thrown in jail for as long as possible, but I don't know that we can call legitimizing a claim like this "no harm."

2) The prosecutors feared that they might lose their conviction on the grounds of religious belief. After all, it's difficult to prove that resurrection will never happen. A lot of the people in the jury probably believe it happened at least once. Isn't the defendant entitled to her belief that it was going to happen to her? The answer, of course, is "Yes, but she's not entitled to act on it." It's the difference between thinking dozens of people deserve to die and actually killing them. But they feared a stupid jury, and decided to compromise, setting a disturbing example for the future, so they could sidestep that possibility.

Good thing we don't rely on court decisions for precedent or anything.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grasping For Meaning

Thomas Aquinas suggested that a proof for God's existence was the absurdity of infinite regression. Everything has a cause, but at some point there had to be a first cause. His way out of this was to assign that first cause the name "God".

Atheists have since contended that this only dodges the question. Even if we agree to call the first cause "God" we have failed to demonstrate any characteristics of that first cause. We can't even know if it's intelligent. To try to draw any conclusions from this assertion is impossible.

Similarly, theists will claim that the universe cannot exist eternally (for various unconvincing reasons) and so it requires a point of Creation. That point of Creation must have been enacted by a Creator, who is God and who is eternal. But the question then goes, "If the universe cannot be eternal, why can God?" Again, we have failed to demonstrate anything by the assertion, and we have failed to provide any evidence for the assertion.

The illusion of meaning, or purpose, is something taken very seriously by the religious. An argument that atheists hear time and again is that God must exist, because otherwise we would all be simply biological machines and everything we do would be ultimately meaningless and without purpose. They, of course, assume that life is not meaningless and without purpose as a foregone conclusion. Atheists respond to this by suggesting that the religious try to enjoy life for what it is, rather than for what they wish it to be. I think we can do better.

To suggest, somehow, that the existence of God solves the problem of purpose is deflecting the question. If we are unable to imbue meaning in our own lives (which, I would argue, we are), what makes us think God can? What makes It the final arbiter of purpose? The universe, if "Created", would simply be a grand experiment, or play, or argument. Its Creator, though having authored something of extraordinary magnitude, is without intrinsic value. To put it plainly, God is as empty as we are. To suggest that It is somehow able to imbue meaning and purpose into anything is to stop the infinite regression at an arbitrary spot, because the alternative hurts our heads (or, in this case, hearts).

God, if It exists, is a lonely, solitary, empty entity playing with Its own illusions. There is no other way to view a being like that. Theists must be so depressed and anxious, trying to search for approval and validation from something that never gives direct answers. I'm glad I'm an atheist so I can kiss a girl, eat a steak, laugh at jokes, and appreciate life for what it is.