Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Blasphemy Challenge

I just saw a report on Nightline about a group of atheists issuing the "Blasphemy Challenge." Basically, they are trying to get as many people as they can to post videos of themselves saying "I deny the existence of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit." One clip that the report showed had a girl end her video clip by waving at the camera and sarcastically saying "See you in Hell!" Read the story here.

I can't say that I'm surprised by this, but I am tremendously saddened. They reported that 9% of Americans identify themselves as atheist. Apparently, their blasphemy is compelling enough to warrant a major network news magazine to do a feature story on them.

The man and his wife who issued the "challenge" angered me, not because of their atheism, but because of their brash, dismissive, angry, and elitist attitude. Even if I am irrational in my belief (as the atheist claims), there is a civil way to correct me, and this couple's way is is not it. Then again, if there is no God, what basis do I have for demanding civility? I imagine a conversation with this couple may go something like this:
  • Why be civil/kind to others? Because it is the right thing to do.
  • Why is it the right thing to do? Because it is how I would want to be treated.
  • Why should I treat others the way I want to be treated? Because a peaceful world is created by practicing the golden rule.
  • Why should I be concerned about a peaceful world? Because life is more enjoyable/comfortable when there is peace.
  • Why is enjoyment/comfort in life important? Come on ... why?
My point: If there is no God, there is no end to the argument. There is no standard of morality that people can rationally be held to. Everyone's understanding of morality is just as valid as the next guy's.

I remember learning once about the war crimes trials after World War II in Nuremberg. If I remember correctly, the Nazis' defense was that they committed no wrong. They did not violate any law, for their actions were in perfect accord with the law to which they were accountable. Their actions may have violated American or British law, but they were not under American or British law. Therefore they did something wrong. This is cultural relativism; (culture determines morality). They were found guilty and sentenced. But the court didn't even try to convict them of violating a law of MAN. The verdict was that they were guilty of violating a law that transcends geographical and political boundaries. A higher law. What law was that? No international law existed at the time that would have condemned them! Friends, the Nazis were convicted based on the fact that they violated the moral law of GOD! The court was careful not to name or attempt to define God. But do not be fooled, the Nazis were condemned because the court recognized that, at the foundation of all morals is something/someone transcendent.

If there is no God, then we have no basis on which to declare the Nazi's guilty of moral wrong! We have no basis on which to declare the thief, the liar, the murderer, or the rapist guilty of moral wrong either. They simply operate on the basis of individual relativism (aka moral subjectivism), which says that each individual determines his own morality. Moral subjectivism and cultural relativism are just different expressions of the same old, irrational argument which the Nazis used in a failed attempt to defend themselves at Nuremberg.


andrew said...

I have always said that, when I die and leave this earthly life, if I should find out that God and his word were a great hoax then I have still lived a better life. One above the common attitudes of the world, one in which I tried to make this place a bit better, one in which I tried to treat people with respect,and hopefully one in which I was treated as others would wish to be treated. Without God there are no moral absolutes. When we live by our own codes or by the ideals of a government that makes things legal we still fall short of who we can be. Just because something is legal does not make it right.

Uriel said...

"If there is no God, then we have no basis on which to declare the Nazi's guilty of moral wrong!"

Um... NO. Right and wrong are in fact relative to culture, cultures change over time. Christianity has changed its views over time. Morality is a function of social contract. Society decides what behaviors it will punish or accept. If you grew up in a world were slavery was the norm, you wouldn't consider it wrong, or you would be less likely to question it.

The Nazis were evil bastards because western culture said so. It had NOTHING to do with invisible silent wizards in the sky. The Nazis thought your god was on THEIR side. Osama thinks god is on his side. George Bush thinks god is on his side. They can't both be right. You'll say that god is on your side of course, and require no proof other than your faith. How convenient.

i wish i had a book that would justify doing anything i want and feel righteous about it. As an atheist, i have no such luxury. My moral compass comes from reality, my own experiences, what i feel to be right or wrong, but i am accountable to the law, to the morals of those around me. You decide what is right or wrong based on your feelings too, but you have a book written in the bronze age to back you up. Have you ever actually read Leviticus? It's horrible.

You're also presuming the existence of this god. You and i have something in common. We are both agnostic, the difference is that you are in denial about it. You don't know that there is a god, or that there aren't several. It is a hope, a wish, an assumption on your part that there is.

When a terrorist kills an infidel, he does so with faith that if they were innocent, their soul will go to heaven anyway. i believe that if i killed someone, that's it. They cease to exist, forever. Which is a bigger crime: sending someone to eternity in heaven early or utterly destroying a consciousness forever?

Note that i say 'i believe', i say that because i can admit that i don't know.

Since you already invoke Godwin's law, this is fair game: The Nazis and Al Qaeda believe(d) in moral absolutes. We don't need moral absolutes. Humanity is better served with compassion and reason, with adapting to changes in reality.

Jeff said...

To read my response to uriel, go here