Sunday, October 1, 2017

Profile In Courage As Profile In Abstract Depravity

At least once a week I get an unhinged challenge to something I said in the assertion that I claimed that it's impossible for an atheist to be a moral person.  It's phrased in different ways, not all of them as unhinged as most but they're always coming up with some assertion that so-and-so is an atheist and a moral person.  In some cases I could have chosen a better example than the one chosen, you can do the same thing with religious believers and those who present themselves as religious but whose flexible, always self-interested view of something they call "morality" leads me to doubt the sincerity of their professions of faith.

One of those accusations was leftover down the list of pending comments which I haven't had time to deal with this week or so and it happened to come that I'd just listened to a sort of debate between the Yale University ethicist, Shelly Kagan and the Baylor University philosophy professor William Lane Craig on the question Is God Necessary for Morality?

I do have to say that it was nice, for a change, to be listening to Craig arguing with someone else trained in philosophy instead of a big name scientist or so-called scientist (social "scientist") and who had the kind of grasp of the problems that a PhD in some STEM topic doesn't generally carry these days.  It was nice to hear something other than the cartoonish arguments of eminent scientists who don't deal with these matters in a rigorous fashion. I can't say that I was entirely happy with either Kagan's or Craig's presentation, though I clearly agree with Craig that for any significant morality to exist that there has to be an ultimate giver of moral law.  As he pointed out sometime during the exchange a number of atheists had come to the same conclusion, I recall he mentioned Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell and Sartre and how they faced their conclusion that there was no objective morality.

But I'll let you listen to the debate except for one point which I'll get to, later.

I kept feeling annoyed by the tone of the debate, particularly Kagan's assertions about the possibility of atheists acting morally, something which Craig pointed out he hadn't denied and which was a distinct difference from the question under debate.  That gets back to the comments I get on this in which so-and-so is given as an example of an atheist of high moral character.  Sometimes the example chosen I'd pick a bone or two over,  sometimes I'm tempted to present another atheist as a better example to illustrate the assertion.  But that's not really what's important in my thinking on the subject.

Listening to Kagan's complex, detailed, nuanced, not all that convincing arguments which would require the mastering of a lot of complex vocabulary and the ideas which those serve, I was wondering just who he thought was going to adopt it as their reason for doing the right instead of the wrong thing.  One of the problems of academic theology is that sometimes, quite often, in fact, it is talking about God of the specialists, by the specialists and for the specialists, quite often having not much to do with the morality taught by Jesus and the other prophets.  I doubt Jesus would be able to get into any university theology program in the English speaking world, certainly the apostles couldn't, with the possible exception of Paul.

My question is just who is supposed to adopt Kagan's basis of morality as their guide to being a moral person and just how effective it is going to be in doing what is, after all, the point of the matter, not doing what is bad and doing what is good.   My question always boils down to how do you get people to treat other people as they would want to be treated even when it's decidedly not what they want to do?  How to you get the to make the choice to not do to others as they would not want done to them but to, in fact, do even for the least among us as they would God, if they believed in God.

I doubt there is any secular, atheist, materialist, etc. substitute for religious morality that is going to have even the spotty success that religions have at influencing the behavior of their members.  I do think that having any hope of having that happen on the most consequential level, the community, the society, the country and, ultimately, the world can only happen through a religious articulation of moral laws in the form of moral absolutes.  Simple enough to be widely understood by non-specialists, really believed in so as to have a real effect in producing moral behavior.


Someone engaged me in a short spat on another website yesterday over something I've mentioned here before,  John F. Kennedy naming Robert Taft as a "Profile in Courage" due to his opposition to the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals on the legalistic basis that the genocidal murders, the crimes against humanity, morality and even the most basic decency were all legally legal in Nazi Germany and under their own imposition of law where they had invaded.  The person I argued with pointed out that William O. Douglas had come to the same conclusion.

The Nazis, as mentioned in the debate, the stand-in of choice as example of evil, came up in the debate and the place that the denial of moral absolutes play in such evil.  I think Craig's arguments on that, especially him citing a Soviet concentration camp guard saying that he loved that what he took as the fact that there was no God, no prospect of an accounting in an afterlife meant  meant that he was free to give free reign to the evil that filled his heart.  If I'd been debating I'd have pressed Kagan to say what there was in atheism that would hold he wasn't correct.  But I do most of my arguing online these days where things aren't as decorous as they are at a university debating hall.

In my last comment in the spat mentioned, I said that anyone who held that if they'd survived and been captured that Hitler and Goebbels should have been allowed to walk because under their dictatorship they'd made what they did legal was someone I found it impossible to take seriously.  Though such people, if pressed, apparently comprise not an inconsiderable number of American's legal minds, scholars, politicians and, as in the case of Douglas, even Supreme Court Justices and icons of some kind of liberalism sufficiently comfortable with depravity to contain that POV.

I think that thinking is entirely compatible with what, in that totally abused words, "secular" academic culture has been led to by, first, its formalistic adoption of materialist secularism and, in the end, its universal secularist-materialist-scientistic and intellectually hegemonistic, required view of the world.

I've mentioned this before, but the scene of Winston going to the movies and enthusing over the actual footage of an aerial attack on a lifeboat, the technical achievement of watching children's body parts flying through the air came to mind when I was reading the responses in that spat supporting the view of Taft and Kennedy and Douglas.

There is no realistic code of fairness or niceness or academic openness or secularist pseudo-virtue that requires me to pretend that just because there was no existing legal convention under which to hold the Nazis accountable that there was no absolute moral necessity to do so.   And, oddly, even someone as cold and cynical as Francis Biddle found that to be a necessity when confronted with the crimes of the Nazis.  It took Harvard trained lawyers and politicians - remarkably enough a decorated war hero - to pretend that wasn't the case.  Such is the effectiveness of the kind of training that allows people to assert depravity deserves to walk and get another chance as taught in the secular university that it overcame his own experience.


  1. Sartre tried to recreate religious morality by establishing a moral system predicated on being responsible for others by the moral decisions one made. It was a rather neat system, but it never got anywhere, because it required so much acceptance by the individual for responsibility for others.

    It was, basically, a religious ethic without a deity. The latter is, frankly, hard enough; the former, with Sartre's effort as an example, is impossible. And so, in general, we rely on laws and market forces and electoral response (in politics). Given the guy in office who is ignoring ethics and the Constitutional (emoluments clause), how's that working out?

    1. I was a little surprised to hear Craig, who is pretty conservative, noting the amorality of Trump. I don't know what his politics, actually, are but I'd always figured he was more comfortable with Republicans than I'd feel comfortable with.

      I think the abandonment of religion is going to prove to be fatal to democracy. It's worth noting that before the Athenian aristocratic haters of as much democracy as they achieved there in the classical period started by attacking religious sensibilities. In the modern context, as proven by modern scientistic materialism, you attack the very character and value of human beings, free will (Kagan's statements about "compatibilism" in that context was one of the more unsatisfying points in the debate) to their identity as a locus of rights, in the phrasing of an earlier Yale philosopher, Paul Weiss. I have become completely convinced that egalitarian democracy is, inherently, a product of a particular religious conception of people and God and the nature of reality. I don't think you can start out with other foundations and come up with the same thing. I don't think atheism gets you there, at all.

  2. "My question always boils down to how do you get people to treat other
    people as they would want to be treated even when it's decidedly not
    what they want to do? How to you get the to make the choice to not do
    to others as they would not want done to them but to, in fact, do even
    for the least among us as they would God, if they believed in God."

    My question always boils down to how do you manage write so incoherently so consistently.

    As to YOUR question, it's very simple, asshat. We secular Jews have a saying -- don't be a schmuck.

    1. And who exactly has your approach kept from being a schmuck when they wanted to be a schmuck and they figured they could get away with it? I have pointed out that the atheist idea of a moral expert, the nuclear physicist Steve Weinberg has declared that there is no morality on pretty much the same basis that WLC noted was an inevitable result of scientistic, atheist materialism. He said it's all a matter of what you feel like doing and he feels like not acknowledging any moral responsibility to anyone outside of his family or his university department. So, pretty much the morality of a Nazi who could kill thousands of people by day and go home and play with their children at night.

      I'll feel inhibited from writing when I decide to identify myself as a writer. Not when two of the biggest liars at Duncan's time wasters for whine wasters pretend I don't research what I do write about.

  3. And what exactly has kept people in the faith-based community from being schmucks when they figured they could get away it? Since time immemorial, BTW.

    In case you haven't figured it out yet, the answer if "nothing."

    1. The ones who have been schmucks acted as if they believed in the atheist position on that which is your "nothing". The ones who acted according to their professed beliefs didn't act like schmucks. There is something in religion that can inhibit that where there is nothing in atheism that does. Atheists who don't act as schmucks in that way could be said to be following morality as taught by the monotheistic religions, just as "Christians" who act like schmucks could be said to be following moral nihilism as produced by materialism.

  4. "The ones who have been schmucks acted as if they believed in the atheist position on that which is your "nothing". The ones who acted according to their professed beliefs didn't act like schmucks."

    To quote the Church Lady --well, how conVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENient.

    1. You should write a book, "Everything I Know I Learned At Saturday Night Live."

      No, it's not a matter of convenience, it's a matter of fact. People who act amorally are acting in line with the amorality that is an inevitable conclusion of materialism, people who act in accord with the morality of The Law, the Prophets and the Gospels and, I'd point out, the Koran, are acting in line with that, it's a simple matter of correct application of facts, not convenience.

      It might be inconvenient to atheists that that's the case but it is the case. Frankly, I'm happy when atheists act according to monotheistic morality because they're not schmucks when they do just as I'm unhappy when Christians act like materialists. That's not a matter of convenience.

      Really, Simps, I hadn't wanted to write another piece on the Stupid Left and the part that TV and pop culture plays in creating it. You could be its trade mark. "Simper" with his ear cocked up in front of a TV.

  5. You're making a nonsensical argument totally unsupported by historical fact or logic. It's nothing more than an expression of your own ideological blinders and the fact that you are, on this subject as on most others, completely full of shit.

    1. Stupy, that approach that works so well to get the knees jerking and the heads nodding among the mutual admiration society at Duncan's and on the pseudo-left of which it's a very minor piece doesn't work at all when someone doesn't already agree with your creed.

      I think anyone who reads my blog and reads the comments I decide to let you post here will know that your assertion is just blowing smoke. You're the one who, when challenged, can't back up what you say and so you don't even try to go through the motions. AS Molly Ivins said about Camille Paglia, "the sweeping generalization is her signature. In fact her work consists of damn little else. She is the queen of the categorical statement." Only you're more like the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the same. You're too lazy to appear regal.

  6. No True Christian™ meets No True Atheist™!

    It's two -- two! -- two mints in one!!!!!

    1. I wish your audience at Duncan's were not so stupid as to understand the stupidity of your comment.

      That "no true" stuff, as popularized for the idiot-atheist audience by PZ Myers doesn't work for anything with moral teachings because all anyone has to do to be an "untrue" Christian is to act in violation of the moral teachings of Jesus or those Jewish teachings he articulated. You can't be a real Christian and violate the requirement of treating other people as you would have them treat you. You can't if you shaft the poor instead of feeding and clothing an sheltering them. To do those things is the definition of being a "true Christian" to refuse to do them is the definition of a phony Christian.

      I'd continue "you know, Stupy?" except it would be a lie because I know you don't know.

      Come up with something better than a Saturday Night Live -
      Hitchhiker's Guide level inanity or I'm going to make more sauerkraut.

  7. "You can't be a real Christian and violate the requirement of treating other people as you would have them treat you"

    In other words, No True Christian™, you hick nitwit.

    Jeebus -- Everything you write is the intellectual equivalent of making sauerkraut.

    1. Healthy, all natural, nutritious and prevents scurvy. Everything your.... um... writing isn't.

      Did you learn how to do that from that moron Trademark Dave? HTML, as close to expertise as you get.

  8. He doesn't even understand the concept of the argument, does he?

    1. Argument to someone like him means enforcing the common received POV in his in-crowd. In other words, he's 12.