I just read the article in which this extended quotation occurs and thought this was an interesting, eloquent summation of many recurring thoughts on secular morality. Philip Kitcher writes:
The overwhelming majority of the world’s moral practices are intertwined with religious views. One of the ways of making moral progress consists in freeing ourselves of the need for this system of enforcement, in rejecting the false religious presuppositions, and in disentangling and dismissing the special injunctions that the religious framework has introduced. In part, this is simply a matter of replacing superstition with true belief (or with the absence of judgement) – and notions of truth and falsity apply directly here because of the religious claims purport to describe the decisions and volitions of person-like entities. It’s also a matter, however, both of reinforcing our altruistic dispositions, preventing irrelevant moral commands from interfering with the plans and interests of our fellows, and of expanding the range of opinion available to people. We should think of our moral system as a spare and streamlined device for developing the dispositions that first made social beings of us, unfortunately overlain with excrescences that were once useful in ensuring conformity, but that can now be scraped away to benefit effect.
The last part reminds me of the famous Heinrich Heine quotation, from his Gedanken und Einfalle (that also appears in Hitchens’ god is Not Great)
In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.
I’m currently busy exploring how sanctity was used in Western society as method of latent social control, thus becoming equated with the “highest good”. One of the arguments I am making is that we are better off without sanctity and Kitcher has attempted to formulate a normative reason for this – as the quotation highlights at least.
Kitcher, P. (2006). Biology and Ethics. In D. Copp (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 178-179
In her book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby constantly highlights how often great thinkers are neglected from the American historical canon due to their criticism of religious authority or social norms. This may seem odd to anyone who knows even a little about the Founding Fathers and, for example, Abraham Lincoln – but we know of these gentlemen due to their role as presidents and founders of the very nation itself, despite their antagonism toward organised religion and its “truths”.
During the late 18th century, many thinkers – prominently those fighting for abolition and women’s equality, which were often united causes – optimistically presumed that the deliberate neglect of powerful activists would be eroded, since the values themselves would come to fruition; and, thus blooming, all would recognise those who originally distributed the seeds of such knowledge. But even today, the names William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine L. Rose, are quite forgotten by those who more confidently remember other names within the era.
UPDATE: Prof. Pierre de Vos has written an excellent post detailing the idiocy of still having royalty in South Africa, who receive millions from the government for having the right genetics.Start a slow clap for these people…
Can you imagine any public figure saying on a public platform that all black or coloured people “are rotten”? Not only are these statements false (and I think meaningless), they are insulting to the group of people in question. But insult or offense isn’t a measurement of a statement’s strength. Anyone reading those statements, whether they are part of the targeted group or not, would rightfully think such statements unjustified and bigoted – and it’s these two conclusions that matter. In this same way, I look forward to the day when we take a similar hard-line approach to those who make homophobic statements, as King Goodwill Zwelithini has done.
The Zulu monarch – Brits aren’t the only ones with these strange titles still in existence – has recently said:
Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex relationships. There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten.
And in case you didn’t quite understand him or feel different, it doesn’t matter: “I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable.”
Image Courtesy of my great friend and creative partner Damien Worm
The year began with a life ending. My grandmother was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and died quickly – but, thankfully, painlessly – within a few weeks. Her bodily deterioration scraped down the iron exterior of her social self. I had grown up with her presence always filling any room or event that we attended. The gaps of silence between withdrawn family members forced to interact, the awkward distances moulded by time apart between once close siblings and cousins, were filled by her incredibly sharp – usually scathing – wit, creating a bridge on which interaction could take place. She was someone who was lucky enough to have more people love her than she loved; not through malice but through being unaware that so many did.
News24.com is one of those websites that makes you ashamed to share a species label with other humans. The comments sections often reads as though a bunch of blind, three-fingered lunatics have been set alight and told that typing really fast on a keyboard will put the flames out. Oh and someone is hitting them on the head with a hammer. Regardless, sometimes a brave soul emerges from the cloud of nonsense to write something comprehensible. Recently the user ‘Increasingly Annoyed’, wrote an article ‘Ask an atheist’. I have a number of small problems with it, though I think it is fairly well-written (though it uses some unnecessary phrasing) and refreshingly sober.
Green points out that banning something does not eliminate it. This can be drugs, pornography, and so on. As he puts it, “to say there should be a law against a thing is often no more than saying there should be a spell against.” He clarifies further and says that should something be successfully banned, “it just means the legal system will be engaged in a way it otherwise would not be.” This truism highlights that just because the law is acting differently does not, by definition, mean we have ridden ourselves of banned items.
My argument is that we allow religions to have bizarre laws within secular states. If we relegate marriage as a whole to religions, we ought to tolerate whatever views the religious groups have on marriage. With regards to the State, we ought to just have a civil union, which is sex-blind. If religions then want to maintain their opposition to gay marriages, that is their business, not those of us focused on secular policies. It would be disgusting if they did continue to oppose gay marriages, but we tolerate disgusting views – as long as they don’t infringe on the wider laws – anyway.
The main reason to oppose homosexual discrimination usually has to due with inconsistent application of the laws or rules applied. That is, if sexual orientation truly does not effect whether someone is a better citizen, worker, friend, and so on, then he ought not to be discriminated against if he happens to be gay. This would constitute unfair discrimination, by definition, since you would be treating those who happened to be straight without worrying whether their sexual orientation would lead to a worse friendship or poorer work performance (or you take it for granted that straight people perform better or are more trustworthy, etc.) Unfair discrimination or prejudice is what we (ought to) oppose – but not discrimination by definition, since that would actually be absurd. Continue reading →