Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moral Relativism

I want to point out briefly what I think is a decent reply to an oft heard criticism of atheists.  One of the last ditch efforts by the religious to defend their superstition is the allegation that atheists either have no morals or engage in moral relativism--which is to say that we are accused of not believing in fixed and immutable moral values.

The religious attach a lot of value to this notion because they believe it is the area in which they are inherently superior to us and in which their superstition is inherently superior to all other world views.  (This claim is, of course, a lie.  Their morality is every bit as subjective.)

But what good are fixed morals without an objective attempt to determine the facts to which those morals are to be applied?  If one can change the "facts" to suit one's self, then having fixed morals won't matter because then one could simply change the facts so that the morals don't apply to one's behavior.

One of the best examples of the way the religious change facts to excuse otherwise immoral actions occurs in the context of the supposed reverence for human life that the religious claim to have.  The religious spend a great deal of time and energy trumpeting their belief in the sanctity of human life.  Their record shows, however, that they are quite capable of killing.  They have killed millions and often in ways that are horrible to contemplate.

Particularly egregious, and particularly revealing, is the way in which the religious have treated non-believers.  They have done their best to exterminate non-believers whenever possible.  The religious in Western societies have stopped doing this, but that was a relatively recent development.  In other societies (Islamic ones), they still maintain this policy--though some claim that it is not always carried out in those countries.

When the religious kill non-believers, they historically have chosen the most heinous and painful methods of death they could devise.  Particularly, I want to focus on the way in which the supposedly pro-life christians have treated non-believers.  For centuries, they had an official policy of exterminating us by burning us at the stake.

Not only is burning people at the stake fairly strong evidence that christianity is NOT pro-life, it is also evidence that they don't follow their own morals--you know, the ones they claim are fixed and immutable.  In addition, I think this particular aspect of the history of christianity shows rather conclusively that christians do NOT follow the "golden rule" of treating others as you would be treated.

Personally, I cannot think of anything that could possibly justify burning anyone at the stake.  It is probably the most cruel and barbaric form of punishment imaginable.  I cannot imagine a situation where I would think it was appropriate.  I suppose you could make an argument that those guilty of something horrific (such as burning someone at the stake) deserve such a fate.  I would not do this to anyone under any circumstances, however, and I don't see how anyone who actually believes in the golden rule would do so.

How did the religious justify their behavior?  Simple, they used made up facts.  In particular, their belief in an eternal afterlife that will be spent either in heaven or hell.  If one accepts as fact the idea that we all face the choice between an eternity in hell or an eternity in heaven, then doing everything possible to make sure you and those you care about don't go to hell makes perfect sense.  Even burning some people at the stake doesn't look so bad in that context.

Think about what that means.  It means that anything can be considered moral if it can be said to serve the alleged purposes of the religion.

The religious are guilty of the same subjectivity with regard to their "fact" finding as they accuse non-believers of being with regard to morals.  They accuse us of "moral relativism" (of which they are just as guilty as anyone--if not more so--see my earlier posts on religion's lack of morality), but their "factual relativism" renders any "objective morality" irrelevant because the determination of which morals to follow is determined by the facts.

A "factual relativist" can simply choose to believe in "facts" that absolve him of moral guilt.  If that fails, all he has to do is as "god" to forgive him.

Thus, when accused of moral relativism, you can point out that the religious are themselves moral relativists based on the way they pick and choose which parts of their religion and holy writings to take seriously and you can also point out that they are factual relativists, as well.

See also:

Religion and Morality IV

Are People "Basically" Good?

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