Atheism and the Bonds of Society

“An atheist is a person who questions every kind of authority, and this is the thing that is important. Because, if we can, without blinking an eye, question the ultimate authority, God, who must be obeyed; then we can question the authority of the state, we can question the authority of a university structure, we can question the authority of our employer, we can question anything.”

–Madalyn Murray O’Hair (quote from here)

“A being, independent of any other, has no rule to pursue, but such as he prescribes to himself…”

— Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England

“Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.”

“For in all states of created beings capable of laws, where there is no law, there is no freedom; for liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law: but freedom is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists: (for who could be free, when every other man’s humor might domineer over him?)”

–1. John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration,  2. John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

“For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.”

–Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England

The law of human nature is not, in all points, a limitation of human freedom but a direction of a freewill agent toward his proper interest. That law does not deserve the description of confinement which prevents us from falling off of cliffs and getting stuck in ditches. It’s aim is to preserve and broaden our freedom, not only to restrain.

If no God exists, then no law of human nature exists. If no law of human nature exists, then all government of human society is arbitrary and has no objective foundation or obligation upon men.

Moreover, there is no foundation for the establishment of government by free discourse in light of atheism because there is no objective and equal value of human persons to respect concerning each other’s jurisdiction or dominion over one another. Others need not respect the property (life, liberty, and estate) of their neighbors because no one has laid equality upon them or an obligation to respect.

The only reason, outside of the law of human nature, that can be maintained concerning respect of property, is only in the pursuit of certain social ends: i.e. If it is the case that men are pleased to preserve their property, then they need only confine their actions in such a manner as to meet those ends. But, let it be clear, if there is no superior being to lay an obligation upon them, then the choice to confine one’s action toward the preservation of property is arbitrary, and only holds so much as men are pleased to do so.

Also on atheism, outside of society, freedom is to do what one lists. There is no security within which one may conduct one’s affairs without constant threat of harm, and that harm cannot be considered illegitimate. There is no law the victim may appeal to, neither has he right to punish the offender, although, he may punish the offender if it so pleases him.

Furthermore, since rules of society are arbitrary, in a democratic society where the social end is peace with one another, those who think themselves outside this arbitrary law can rightly consider it tyranny. Tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, and right cannot be defined by arbitrary decision if a person is not pleased to accept that arbitrary decision.

This is why John Locke states that promises and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, cannot hold for an atheist. He has no law but such as he prescribes to himself and it holds as long as it pleases him to hold it.

The objection may arise, “But there are, indeed moral atheists. Are you saying that atheist are inherently immoral?” No. Because there is a law of human nature and they can apprehend it as much as the religious man can. They can be just as moral or even more so than the Christian because the same law holds for both and both understand it. Not only does the law of nature govern them, but the laws of the society they are in confine their actions as well. However, since the atheist has rejected God, the only foundation for moral obligation; the option is left open to him to reject the law of society and the bonds of nature’s law, even in the smallest of measures, because his true foundation is whatever pleases him.

Advertisements

The Enemy Within

 

The Adversary Culture, as Lionel Trilling indicates, believes “a primary function of art and thought is to liberate the individual from the tyranny of his culture… and to permit him to stand beyond it in an autonomy of perception and judgment.” In this view, society and government are thought to have negative characteristics such as force, compulsion, control, and coercion while the individual is thought to have positive qualities such as liberty, independence, will, and goodness.

(Lionel Trilling, Beyond Culture [New York, 1965], p. xiii.)

But let us not forget the reason for society in the first place. Our short lives here on earth are of an uncertain duration, frail, and fleeting. This being the case, we have need of several outward supports that the pain of hard work can provide in order to make our lives comfortable. For these “supports” are not provided to us by nature nor do they spontaneously appear in front of us prepared for our use. We must work to attain them. Crops don’t plant themselves. However, there are men who violently take the fruits of other men’s labors rather than put in the work to attain these things for themselves. Therefore, the possession of what honest work has acquired needs to be preserved, as does liberty and strength. This state of affairs leads men to enter into a society that by mutual assistance they may secure their property, liberty, and outward things pertaining to this life while providing a defense from external violence. This can hardly be thought of in negative terms.

What is not so easy to defend against is the inward threat of violence to the very fabric of society. For people who desire the overthrow of a particular society do not couch their intentions in plain terms, but rather they emphasize liberty and equality. Liberty and equality can be rightly used to change an unjust law or tradition in society and improve parts of society. But this is not the aim of these particular people. If their real intentions were known, the public would be aware of it and provide a defense against it.

It is curious that movements of “liberation from society” tend to emphasize group identity which gives rise to new traditions and conformities; and given enough power, these movements would replace the old tradition with a “tradition of the new”. And presumably, after a sufficient time has past when the “new society” has been established, another liberation movement would develop to oppose that culture. This attitude of “counter-culture” hinders the members of the movement from bargaining with the current society or the next one, or suggesting a new code of law to follow, or presenting a new constitution, or even demonstrating how their way is somehow better. This is not improvement. This is liberation for the sake of liberation, and speaks more of discontentment and envy than a sensible improvement in society. Instead, it is the dissolution of society in order to violate the protection of honest men’s possessions and make lawful the unlawful deeds of thieves. This is what lies behind slogans like “We are the 99%” in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It is the duty of the civil officer to secure the just possession of the things belonging to this life and to execute laws equally and without partiality and to preserve the commonwealth. Therefore, words contrary to the main aim of society, which is each of its member’s well-being, and the moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of our well-being should not be tolerated by the civil officer. These words are doubly not to be tolerated when accompanied with actions that demonstrate violence toward rules of civilized society and indicate that on the occasion that they seize the government, they would possess themselves of the estates and fortunes of their fellow citizens thereby making insecure what we thought to secure in the first place: our money, lands, houses, and such like that we obtained with our hard work.

And what sense would it make to allow these harmful words or actions on the grounds of free speech? Individuals who enter into movements or groups of this nature admit implicitly that their allegiance lies not with their fellow citizens nor their protection or safety, but to another. For the civil officer to allow this, is to allow a kind of foreign jurisdiction in his own jurisdiction, and enlisted soldiers, as it were, against the people he is sworn to protect.

 

(picture from TheBlaze.com)

The Age of Manipulation

This is the age of information, but more like the bombardment of information. From the internet to the millions of books, everyone who can write wants their voice to be heard and given as much consideration as the millions of others who want to be heard. The public processes information too fast and with so much volume, it is hardly surprising that people know very little about a whole lot of subjects. In previous times when words and information were scarce, people put time and labor into their reading. The public, then, knew very well the value of every word and the implications that could be drawn from each one. Now, the public is pushed on every side by words. For each modern word touts an agenda and a bias. Feeling a responsibility to give every writer equal audience, the public gorges itself on more and more information. And just when it is just about to vomit, it forces more down its collective throat. As a consequence, the public has become indistinguishable from a lazy man who, because he cannot manage to govern himself, is manipulated not by the man with the wisest words, but by the man who speaks the most often.

The Problem of Human Government

People have usually styled Capitalism as a “Christian friendly” economic system. And it is, in that Capitalism makes similar assumptions as Christianity about human nature. Christianity says that everyone starts out with an evil nature. This nature must be dealt with by a righteous, albeit forgiving, God. Christians believe this to be self-evident because, for instance, you don’t have to teach a child how to lie. But if you want him to tell the truth even if it hurts, you must train him to adopt the principles of honesty in daily living. Capitalism makes a similar assumption by saying that human nature is generally fallible based on historical precedent. It does not say necessarily that everyone will be bad. Instead it says that in any society of humans, there will invariably be those who justify taking advantage of other people.

Capitalism may be “Christian friendly” in the sense of the two “matching up” in it’s claims about such realities. But Christians are dissatisfied with the outcomes of Capitalism. Sure we like the fact that people get to decide their own level of risk. We are all for the idea of personal responsibility. But inevitably there will be people who fall short of the merits of the Capitalist system, or in essence, fall off the radar: people who are “at risk”, according to sociologists. Empathic Christians feel it is their responsibility to do something to help these “at risk” individuals or groups. Although we may agree with some of Capitalism’s viewpoints, if we are intellectually honest, we must inevitably be disgusted by some of it’s outcomes.

If capitalism, then, does not fit the bill, what else is there? Many who disagree with capitalism find communism a better alternative. The question must arise, where should Christians stand on this thing called Communism? It certainly appears to be a good thing, everyone working together and sharing everything equally. It sounds great. It definitely fits the picture many Christians have of their own church. Many churches strive for a communal inner atmosphere. We believe we are meant to enjoy each other and help each other, just like we are meant to enjoy God forever. It appears that although capitalism may line up with Christian realism, communism is the system of government that most closely matches Christian idealism – they just don’t call it communism or may not know that it is a form of communism. It may work in the church or a commune where many folks volunteer and agree on the same standard of social morality. But this begs the question, is the rest of the world up to it?

To answer this we have to look at what Marx predicted. He claimed that all resources would be collected and distributed by the ruling class – socialism. Then the working class would become aware that they are being exploited and take power from the ruling class in a bloody revolution, ushering in communism.

Now, some will agree that communism is the best form of government on paper. Some might praise the merits of capitalism. But who amongst us is ready to take the step of socialism to get there? It may be for good intentions. However, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with such things.

Socialism is a form of total government – or totalitarianism. Total government attempts to put “all” under it’s rule. This is for any number of reasons. But let’s consider the implications of only the ‘good’ reasons. Benevolent socialism might be done in an attempt to curb all manner of poverty and illness – basically to decide the level of risk for it’s citizens. Does it accomplish this task? Consider an analogy –

A lake full of some toxin may be cleaned up if enough money is spent. The lake may be 99% toxin free once the clean up is done. That one percent left, or some number less than one percent, is nearly impossible to attain. The trace amounts left of the toxin are so elusive that one might spend a fortune just trying to eliminate that last one percent. In some cases it’s like what mathematicians call a tangent – a line curving infinitely closer to zero (the axis) but never getting there. No matter how much money you spend, you can’t quite eliminate that last one percent.

Socialism is like the tangent that demonstrates the infinite dollars spent in trying to clean up the last little bit of toxicity. Or, in our case, poverty and illness. So by the time socialism has culminated, poverty and illness has not been eliminated and in the mean time we have taken away everyone’s freedom to choose their own level of risk (clean up their own toxins) for a solution that is unsustainable, economically speaking. It can’t be sustained by wealth unless wealth is being created. If the creation of wealth plateaus so will the amount of wealth we can tax.

But even if somehow we make this step of socialism successfully, true communism, as it’s successor, may still be deterred by human nature. A revolution to take power creates a power vacuum. According to communist ideology, that vacuum is never again filled by a government. There is no government in true communism. The only thing left is simply the shared principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” – Marx and Engels. Communism never accounts for human corruption or selfishness. It claims that those things are caused by people owning what we now call “property.” But even if all “property” is eliminated they can never eliminate the feeling that we are our own property. The ultimate thing we think we own is ourselves. It is the alleged ownership of that property which makes us consequently selfish. It is that selfishness which bites us back and reminds us of it’s existence every time we think it can be done away with by some trick of government or even no government at all as it were. And if there is no government in this great communism, how will we be protected from others’ selfishness if they at once decide they want or deserve more?

This leaves us with a problem. How are we to handle human nature? The options are either to eliminate human existence all together, leave the flaws alone, or somehow fix human nature. This is where both capitalism and communism part ways with Christianity. Communists don’t think the human nature itself needs to be fixed but only it’s environment. Capitalists think human nature is impossible to fix and adjusts policy accordingly. Christians, on the other hand, believe that human nature is the very thing to fix and that it really can be. Christians also believe that it is for the ultimate individual and collective good that human nature must be fixed. Of course, we believe that it’s fixing is no doing of our own and that it is not really fixed but forgiven first and then dealt with as it is till it is something different.

All government systems may eventually fail. However, they may survive longer if they account for the inevitable flaws in government that human nature will create. Capitalism admits to these flaws. We’re heading towards socialism because in a capitalist system were always trying to fix the flaws. Fixing the flaws in a Capitalist society can lead ultimately to communism. Fixing the flaws in a Communistic society can lead to Capitalism. If Marx was right and we see Communism on the other side of Socialism, how will we then account for the flaws without perpetuating the cycle?

Dear Morally Average Atheist,

An atheist said the following:
“Do you find it at all questionable that, since you can’t offer any evidence that Christians who claim a higher moral standard, actually live to a higher moral standard, and that if anything, the evidence shows that they, Christians, actually live a moral standard that is lower than the moral standard of non believers?
Why is it that you pretty much shrug off actual evidence? I am guessing that if you could show that Christians actually lived to a higher moral standard, you wouldn’t hesitate, but since you can’t, you just ignore the fact that the evidence shows that proclaiming to have a higher moral standard is futile and meaningless, since it (the higher moral standard) has no affect on how believers (Christians) behave.”

Surely, you are not saying it’s useless to try to follow a better standard because no one else does. Your observation does not diminish your responsibility in this area. For instance, if no one in the world got their math completely right and everyone averaged about the same amount of mistakes, striving toward perfect arithmetic would still be good. If, however, a group of people were told the right way of doing math, and chose to ignore the instruction, and still averaged the same amount of mistakes as everyone else, should a math enthusiast be content to be average just because it’s average? No, he should find out what is the correct way, and continue to do what is correct to do. That’s when real progress is made. The ones who know what is right and willingly do wrong should be counted as rebellious, deceived in some way, possessing a hindered mental ability, or persuaded the opposite way to the point of exhaustion.

It is the same with morality. A higher morality of the mind exists as instruction for the “human machine” to be run smoothly. If we are only concerned with others, we will do just enough to get by, and no progress will be made. Also, if the human machine isn’t run in proper order, men will hinder society eventually. The man who does right because his mind is right is in better working order than a man who does right because he is made to. The latter will eventually collide with other men and do harm.

In response to the statement that Christians do not follow their own higher moral standards, I initially did not know what to say. I could cite my own experience and show how I have progressed but that would be lifting myself up. I could have cited other men whom I know have followed this higher moral standard, but again that would be lifting up other men. Pride would be noticed in either statement, and my efforts would be useless because this pride would indicate the opposite of what I was trying to say.

Christians (who follow a higher morality of the mind), of all people, count themselves the vilest of men. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. This is common sense, really. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. The man who strives for right knows where he has gone wrong. The man who is completely wrong in the mind, knows neither right nor wrong, but views all he does as acceptable until someone says otherwise. If men know to do right, they should do it, regardless of what others around them are doing.

(This post is a continuation of the post “Dear Moral Atheist”)

Dear Moral Atheist,

I wonder if your morality is the better morality. Morality for the atheist is undefined much like atheism has no real definition. Each atheist goes about living the way he sees fit. There is no atheistic code of ethics. Your morality starts from a sort of “ground up” scenario. All presupposed morality is dismissed as fabrication, and the morality that emerges is chosen by you to either benefit you or society. If it so happens to wrong someone in any way, then you consider dropping that particular moral standard or altering it so as to avoid contention. But, you can also reason that particular standard to be fair no matter what the consequences to the other person if it benefits society. Let us examine one such moral standard.

Society today decides when a proper amount of value for a human life is given to that life. The fetus has less value at a certain point than later when it has developed well enough to have obtained some human value. However, isn’t it more advantageous for the fetus to have the attribute of human worth at the moment of conception so it is less likely to be aborted? Don’t misunderstand me here. This conversation is not about abortion. It’s about morality.

Generally speaking, a higher moral standard is better than a lower moral standard. If we say there is no higher or lower standard, just a particular set of standards that I choose, then there was no real reason for World War II. Surely Hitler and the ethnic cleansing he was doing was considered wrong during that time period. And surely the way the Jews were treated could only have happened if a different set of morals were adopted by the Germans. By the same token, the married man who sleeps around with other women is considered to have lower moral standards. Be that as it may, even though we set moral standards for ourselves, we don’t keep them 100% of the time. No matter how low or high one’s morals may be, they aren’t always kept. However, keeping a higher standard is a preventative measure so that our margin of error won’t destroy us.

But, what are we really doing when we evaluate someone else’s moral standing? Is there not some imagined morality that is the best we could adopt? Are we not heading somewhere toward a better and better morality till we eventually get it right? If no perfect morality exists, then the whole idea of the evolutionary process is has lost its ground, for by it we should be continually improving and maturing. If not, what’s the point? And, what about the evolutionary imperative? It’s supposed to cause us to keep the traits that are good for reproduction and societal living. It seems, though, that we are not following the evolutionary imperative or the natural selection process when we continue the act of abortion. We don’t let the “natural” take its course. If you justify the act by saying that we are controlling overpopulation or honoring the rights of the woman, are we not overstepping our bounds here? Are we not taking on the role of evolution itself, and in a sense become impatient with it? It seems humans aren’t just content to be their own gods, but they want to control the evolutionary process as well.

The Christian’s morality is built with a “top down” scenario. We examine the morality found in the Bible, and perceive these standards are high. We may choose not to follow them, or even alter them in some way (indeed, some Christians support abortion), but the standards are always there. They are unchanging and unrelenting in their call for us to follow them. In regards to the fetus, value is attributed at the moment of conception, making the destruction of the fetus at any point inhumane. It would seem that the Christian standard of morality does a better job of supporting the human race than the morality brought about by the evolutionary process. In fact, I challenge you to find a morality better than ones found in Biblical principles. (I’m not talking about the actions of individuals or groups recorded in the Bible, or orders from God confined to one point in time.) If, however, you can’t then you must logically conclude that the evolutionary process will eventually lead your morality to the become the same as the Christian standard. And should you not jump the evolutionary ship to join a more advanced one?

Have a look at atheistic morality in this video: