Thursday, 16 September 2010

A Brief Dalliance With Cod-Philosophy

And to think, some of us were worried the Pope's visit might not be the best of ideas. I can only assume the man is working under some strange kind of conservation of bullshit. It must have taken him a while to decide how to balance the scales for admitting to the mistakes the Catholic Church has made over the child-abuse scandals. I don't know if linking vociferous Atheists to the Nazis will quite get him there, but it's a damn good attempt. Richard Dawkins might be a dick, but he ain't trying to fiddle the legal system of the country so that everyone else will have live according to his ideas - something the Pope might want to have a go at trying.

What's particularly annoying is that I hear less extreme formulations of the Pope's formulation all the time. I thoroughly enjoyed the week's worth of religious talks I went to last year (even if the overall tone of the event itself tends to cause ), but a regular feature of the surrounding discussions and testimonies was the idea that the absence of God means there can be no morality, no belief in the importance of humanity.

I've always had a hard time even comprehending this way of thinking. It seems baffling to me that there can be no concept of right and wrong without it being imposed on us from elsewhere. Sure, my ideas of right and wrong are filtered through my cultural heritage, and quite possibly (if not inevitably) flawed our flat-out incorrect. But the same is true of the way in which Christians interpret the Bible. Anyone who claims that they know with utter certainty what God wants in any given situation is a flat-out fool.

In other words, we all might be wrong. We all might think something not because it's true, but because the society we inhabit has considered it axiomatic for so long we no longer even think to question it. We all might know something is wrong, but find a clever argument - either from our own heads or the Gospel, but equally sophistic - to make us feel we should be allowed to do it. I have no problem understanding why Christians believe their millions of different local interpretations of how things should be are superior to ours, but it is a fallacy to argue that we lack them entirely.

Regarding what makes humans special if they just came about by chance, I'd say: nothing. Nothing actually makes a human objectively special, beyond their uniqueness, but a snowflake or a cane toad or a fungal infection can all make that same claim - in other words, literally everything is special in those terms, which sort of defeats the purpose of the word. What matters - all that matters - is our subjective feelings on the matter. And those tell us all that we need to know: the friends we rely on, the family we love, and those people we have wanted and kissed and smiled at beneath our sheets are different. Different in the same way that the Mona Lisa is different from a collection of shaded swirls. Different in the same way that "I love you" is different to "J mpwf zpv". That is to say: no different, except in context.

Which is why empathy is so crucial, of course; it requires you to realise that everyone on the planet has someone who feels that way about them. Everyone is special, because somebody else believes them to be. You don't need one all-powerful being to tell you that, just the summation of experience of the entire human race. Which, of course, is the only thing an atheist like me thinks is at work whenever we wonder about how to live in any case.


Tomsk said...

To play devil's advocate (as it were): if there is an objective concept of right and wrong then it must exist in some platonic realm independent of anything that happens in this universe, so it is in a sense imposed from elsewhere and you might as well call that divine.

If there is no such concept and our notions of right and wrong are really just a product of evolved survival strategies and cultural norms, then aren't they right to claim that there can be no morality?

SpaceSquid said...

I don't see why morality has to be considered as a single monolithic structure, outside the realm of human development. I'd agree that the lack of a divine entity means absolute right and absolute wrong are probably out of the question, but that to me is a separate issue I have no problem with idea that one can be a very "moral" person without their actions requiring verification from the divine.