Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It's not all of us! - or - Everybody does it!

Whenever anyone criticizes a religion these days, many liberals start calling such critics bigots or even racists (Does religion = race?  I think not!).  Recently a brouhaha on the Bill Maher show prompted one participant to add further "explanation" of his position (note:  Sam Harris linked this essay from his own blog page).  Bill Maher and Sam Harris were taking the position that islam itself bears responsibility for the violent behavior of some islamic adherents.  Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristoff considered that position to be biased and even bigoted.

My friend, RJ Evans, recently put up this essay that describes the situation as he sees it:  if you're willing to believe in a supernatural deity, you can be convinced to commit atrocities.  I came to this realization several years ago about "moderate" believers:  it's likely that if religious fanatics assume control over a government, moderates will be forced to go along with those violent events, or be killed.  They'll be confronted with the inevitable challenge to choose a side, and most of them will cave under that sort of pressure.  Perhaps they're fearful for their lives (and those of their family and friends).  Perhaps they just can't give up their faith, no matter how evil are the deeds committed in its name.  Of course, some might resist a call for atrocities by the fanatics.  But history reveals that few will do so when religion and government become one and the same.

We critics of religion argue that this tendency is an inevitable consequence of belief in a supernatural deity.  Moderates say, "It's not all of us!  They're just a minority of crazies!"  That might well be the case at present, but in the past and perhaps again in the future, it could be the law of the land.  If you believe that can't happen, I can call that belief into question.  What prevents it from happening here and now, as it has in other times and places?  In some nations, it's already happening.  It's not the "holy" scriptures (the foundation of all religions) that will prevent it.  Those writings are the source of the fanaticism that could be inflicted on us all!  You can justify nearly anything with quotes from those "sacred" documents, which to my mind renders them useless in a rational discussion.  In all such scriptures,  the supernatural deity demands complete and total submission, and is willing to kill anyone who doesn't believe as s/he/it commands.  Believers are followers, not leaders!  For each such religion, then, their deity is the ultimate authority figure, and if you accept that ultimate authority as legitimate, you must be willing to do as commanded.  It's inherent in all religions with a super-everything deity.  You can pick and choose those parts of the documents you like with your modern, moderate morality, and ignore the parts that make you uncomfortable, but the religion you cling to is precisely the source for evil deeds done in its name.  Everyone who commits such deeds also believe they, and they alone, know the true religion of their choice.

"But that's not the true ____ (choose your favorite religion)!  My religion is one of peace.  And love."  So your interpretation of your religion is the only true one, then?  What a coincidence that it's your religion that's the true one!  Isn't that the reason for the evolution of religions into many, many different subspecies?  "It's only we who are the true believers!  The rest are abominations, heretics, fanatics!"  Can you not see where such a belief leads?  Anyone who convinces themselves that they, and only they, are the sole possessors of absolute truth is likely to be a willing soldier on behalf of that truth.  When their faith is tested by the fanatics, will they be ready to sign up, or will they refuse, possibly at the cost of their lives?  History suggests the answer.

"But everybody does it!"  By a curious bit of irony, some moderates also argue that both sides of a religious divide have done evil.  They're using the fact that all religions have at one time/place or another,  been in control and committed awful deeds.  Followers of each religious denomination like to think of themselves as being persecuted - typically by some other religion, but any form of unbelief (including atheism, naturally) will serve their needs.   Some claim that religious persecution by atheist regimes is identical to that of theocracies.   I maintain there are important differences, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog.  Religious persecution can be, and has been, cited as justification for violent actions at some point.  No matter the reality of a situation, if someone perceives themselves to be victims of persecution, it becomes easy to rationalize violent responses.  The fact that one side has committed atrocities is no justification for the other side to do likewise - especially if that other side makes the claim they are adhering to a doctrine of peace and love.  Violence always results in more violence, not peace and harmonious co-existence.

Today's moderates evidently are blind to the dangers invariably associated with an absolute authority figure they must follow that wields a sword in defense of absolute truth and seeks to convert all others to the one true religion.  The potential for evil deeds flows from such a source in a fearful torrent, whether or not the moderates actually are participating at the moment.  If they see any criticism of religion as bigotry or racism, they're being misled by a modern sense of morality that doesn't arise from "sacred" religious documents but is, rather, a humanist morality.  A morality not imposed by some mythical supernatural all-everything authority figure who commands obedience on pain of death and rewards the faithful, but rather is based on our sense of shared humanity and empathy for others.

Criticism of religion is not equivalent to bigotry or racism.  It's absurd to equate religion with race, for one thing.  Race is a myth, for another, and modern religions generally accept believers of any "racial" character.  And it's not bigotry to criticize religion - religion is an idea, not a person.  A dangerous idea that needs to remain separated from government.


Just read an essay by Reza Aslan that seems to take a rather elitist stance when it comes to criticizing religion:  apparently, Aslan thinks that only dedicated religious scholars are qualified even to discuss religion.  He says that "Sam Harris, to me, gives atheism a bad name because he comes from a tradition of atheism that is really disconnected from the titans of intellectual, philosophical atheism who gave birth to the modern world. These were experts in religion who, from a position of expertise, criticized religion. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist; he knows as much about religion as I do about neuroscience."

So being a neuroscientist is a strike against his point of view?  This seems rather a self-serving interpretation of religious criticism.  Aslan is a religious scholar, so his views automatically trump those of anyone not a religious scholar?

We critics of religion may not have studied ancient scriptures in their original language or delved into ancient history, but neither have most of the followers of those religions.  In fact, many of the followers have never even read those documents!  There are passages in those scriptures that promote barbaric behavior of all sorts, and those passages are cited frequently to support that behavior.  Yes, we non-religious scholar atheists echo the "fundamentalists" (in part) because at least the fundamentalists take a mostly consistent position regarding those scriptures.  They don't cry "out of context" every time someone cites a scriptural passage that seems to contradict the myth of a peaceful, loving religion - rather, they embrace it, word for word. 

I'm most definitely not in favor of prejudice against islam - I dislike all religions that follow an absolute, all-powerful deity, for reasons I've given in this blog. It just happens that islam is the current world "poster child" for evil deeds done in the name of religion.


Matt Haugland said...

I agree with your main point that criticism of religion is not bigotry or racism. I also agree that religious people often use the No true Scotsman fallacy, perhaps to avoid responsibility for things done in the name of their religion. That's where our agreement ends.

People use whatever belief system they have to justify evil things they do. Muslims use Islam, Christians use Christianity, and Atheists use some sort of secular philosophy (e.g., Communism, moral relativism, whatever). And compared to secular philosophies in general, religion has a pretty good record, at least over the past century.

Sure you can say Atheism is immune to such criticism because it's merely a lack of belief and has no teachings, etc. But that is just convenient semantics. I could play the same game: "I'm an a-atheist, which is someone who merely lacks a belief that there is no God. A-atheism has no doctrines, teachings, etc., so a-atheism can't be used to justify atrocities." It's a pointless argument because everyone has beliefs about how the world should be and how best to achieve it. All such beliefs, religious or secular, are subject to "ends will justify the means" type justification for atrocities by evil people. People can twist secular philosophical concepts just as easily as they can twist words in sacred texts.

Also, as one who's very familiar with Sam Harris and his arguments, I agree with Aslan's main point. Nobody said being a neuroscientist is a strike against him, just that it doesn't give him expertise on religion, and that shows in some of his arguments. That doesn't mean he can't talk about it or that his unique perspective doesn't add something useful to the debate. I (as a non-religion-expert) at least hope not!

Chuck Doswell said...


Good to know we still have points of agreement.

Communism is a religion-like "secular" philosophy, which has clearly identified authority figures and even psuedo-sacred texts, unlike atheism. Communist dictatorships have adopted atheism because religions are seen by them as competition for power over the people. Cults of personality have no room for religion because their leaders are "deified" (by themselves).

Atheism is far from immune to criticism, including much from within its own ranks. I have never made any claim that atheism is immune from criticism. Given your premise is false (i.e. that I made such a claim), your argument against such an immunity is irrelevant. Your hypothetical a-atheist idea is an attempt at reductio ad absurdum, of course. I doubt you would ever make such a claim for yourself because it would be untrue and simply playing a game.

It appears to be pretty unlikely we will ever agree about the role of atheism in Communist dictatorships. I think I understand what you're saying, and from a certain point of view, it makes some logical sense - but I don't share that point of view.

As I read it, the quote I gave from the Aslan essay pretty much says that being a neuroscientist disqualifies Sam Harris from the discussion. Harris is NOT saying, nor has he EVER said, his being a neuroscientist makes him an expert on religion. I agree that he should be able to speak about it and have useful things to say.

And I think I'm entitled to the same: I'm not a religious scholar but still capable of contributing to a discussion about religion. My being a meteorologist clearly doesn't make me a religious scholar, but I daresay I know more about religion than many believers.

Matt Haugland said...

That's why I didn't say "criticism" in general but said "such criticism", referring specifically to the kind of criticism you directed at religion. Atheism per se might not have authority figures or texts/teachings that people use to justify atrocities (just as a-atheism doesn't). Those come from the secular philosophies that many atheists naturally gravitate toward -- maybe because they don't believe in an ultimate moral authority who the state must answer to. You can say most atheists aren't Communist authoritarians, and I'd agree. But at that point you'd be making a similar "It's not all of us" argument as moderate Muslims.

I really doubt groups like ISIS could care less about correctly interpreting and following the Quran. They care about gaining power and (considering the religious landscape of their region) know that justifying their actions via Islam is the best way to gain public support. If the Middle East was mostly atheist, they'd probably be doing the same thing but would with some secular philosophy instead of Islam, just as in other parts of the world. There is a common factor here but belief in God is not it.

Chuck Doswell said...


Atheists are drawn to secular philosophies because they don't accept religious philosophies. I certainly can't speak for all atheists, but I'm pretty confident most of them don't want their governments dominated by a mythical "ultimate moral authority" whose existence and moral code is known only through late Bronze Age writings that are of only marginal relevance in today's world. The moral code of this mythical deity embodied in those texts is subject to the whims of interpretation, and different people (including religious scholars) interpret them differently. Pretty tough to draw up an absolute moral code based on that, in my view.

Insofar as I've observed, atheists are all over the map about pretty much everything - their lone point of unity is disbelief in a deity. Atheists argue incessantly with other atheists espousing different philosophies - there's little or no sense of community values among atheists. And I've not seen any threats of violence by atheists against other atheists whose philosophies differ. There might be some, but I've not seen any. Evidently, most atheists don't believe in "might makes right" approaches to discussion - with the obvious exception of Communist dictatorships.

I agree that ISIS/ISIL is more about power than it is about religion, but the overt deeds of this group, nevertheless, are justified as the will of Allah. And they're following their own interpretation of Sharia law, so far as I can tell. I doubt many of the Crusaders were all that fired up about correctly interpreting the bible, either. Many of them probably couldn't read, for that matter. Religion is an effective way to justify violence and gain support for acts of war, for sure. As argued in the blog, acceptance of an ultimate moral authority makes it easy for someone to commit violent acts and feel they're doing something with the blessing of their deity.

You and I can only speculate about what would be happening if the Mideast were predominantly atheist. You might be right - they might be using some other excuse to visit violence upon each other. But this is only conjecture and the hypothesis is clearly counterfactual, so I don't seem much point to such speculation.

Matt Haugland said...

I see some key points of agreement here. It makes sense that a supreme moral authority would be used as you say. It also makes sense that secular philosophies (and lack of a moral authority above the state) could be used similarly. If you're saying the theistic one is worse, history (even considering Communism alone) seems to strongly contradict that. And I don't understand why you'd assert that anyway in this context if you agree that ISIS, Communist dictatorships, etc. are more about power than religion or philosophy.

Insofar as I've observed, Muslims (like atheists) are all over the map about pretty much everything. Their lone point of unity is belief in a deity and Muhammad as a prophet. Most Muslims don't believe in "might makes right" approaches to discussion - with the obvious exception of theocratic dictatorships and terrorist groups.

Chuck Doswell said...


So everybody does it, and religion therefore is absolved from any responsibility for the actions of its followers? Thought I addressed that one.

Sounds like you're off down the old dusty road of "atheism is just another religion" again. Enjoy your trip, but I'm not going there. If you think that atheism is a religion, then I suppose you have to admit that atheism is also absolved of any responsibility for violent deeds committed in its name (something I've never said).

BTW, I maintain that the violence committed by Communist dictatorships was NOT done in the name of, or for the purpose of advancing atheism. Religions can't claim that.

Are Communist atrocities truly "worse" in the historical record? You seem awfully sure of that. Do we have an accurate count of all the people murdered by Abrahamic believers over the course of history? Or at least as accurate as the estimates of people killed by Communist dictators.

What I find "worst" about the atrocities done in the name of religion is their claim to be morally superior to their victims by virtue of their beliefs. They speak peace and love, but murder and pillage with a sense of justification for their cause. In their writings, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao justified the terrorism they inflicted on their own people entirely on the basis of maintaining their power over the people, not to promote atheism.

theamericanheathen.com said...

Number of people killed by god in the bible... 2,476,636. Number of people killed by satan... 10.

Source: The bible (Drunk With Blood - God's Killings in The Bible by Steve Wells)

This number needs to be added to whatever number Mr. Haugland comes up with for all religious murders. I think the bible and the quran set the stage for religiously motivated killings.

RJ Evans
American Heathen®

Matt Haugland said...

No, not at all what I'm saying. I don't know whether Islam (or secular philosophies) is responsible for what people use it to justify. Maybe yes in some sense, but I think it's a lot like blaming the car for what a drunk driver does with it.

My point isn't that religion is not responsible or that secular philosophies are. It's that you have to apply consistent standards. Saying one is responsible and the other is not, because of various reasons why they're not exactly the same, is just special pleading.

I don't think it matters whether atheism is a "religion" or not. A-atheism isn't a religion either, but I'd rather stay off the semantic merry-go-round. I don't see theists claiming moral superiority any more than atheists do. By claiming moral inferiority of religion, atheists are claiming (de facto) moral superiority.

RJ: Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. killed a lot more than that -- more than Christians and Muslims combined, and over a much shorter period. But again, that's not my point, because I don't think it was primarily their atheism or secular philosophy that made them do it.

Chuck Doswell said...


A car that has some mechanical failure or inherent flaw can be identified as being at least partly responsible for a bad wreck. I'm not claiming that religion, per se, bears the full and complete responsibility for any act committed by an adherent, but you seem to be missing my point made in the blog: religions provide a very favorable setting in which violent fanaticism in various forms can arise. Go back and read the blog again. If religions don't bear total responsibility, nevertheless, they must accept some.

Some secular philosophies promote violence, some don't. The leadership of Communist dictatorships departed quite a way from the original ideas of socialism and marxism - they morphed into cults of personality where the supreme leader plays a role comparable to a deity and they maintained power through state terrorism.

I've never claimed that "one is responsible and the other is not" so this is just a straw man.

If it comes down to moral superiority, the morality of the bible and koran (or however you want to spell it) depart substantially from what would be considered moral by most people today: sanctioning a fearful panoply of evil deeds. I don't have much trouble claiming moral superiority over people who considered such things as normal. Modern religions generally have glossed over these evils buried within their sacred documents, since our culture has moved in less violent directions.

I DO see a lot of christians claiming moral superiority over atheists and agnostics in social media and elsewhere. A LOT of that ... if you don't, perhaps you're just not looking in the right places.

Matt Haugland said...

I think our main disagreement is on degree of responsibility. Yet, we don't seem to share a common method for determining that. We also have different starting points there, because your conclusion presupposes your interpretation of the Bible (and perhaps Quran), which I consider to be a straw man. We probably won't resolve that any time soon.

If you assign substantial responsibility to the teachings of the Bible (or Quran, which is based on the Bible) for what its followers do, shouldn't you also give it similarly substantial credit for the fact that "our culture has moved in less violent directions"? [I'm not saying you give it zero credit, just not enough]

Yes, I do see some Christians claiming moral superiority in social media. In this conversation I see an atheist claiming it. I'm not claiming here, partly because I believe so many of the moral standards held by Western atheists are largely (albeit indirectly) based on the Bible.

theamericanheathen.com said...

Mr. Haugland wrote:
"RJ: Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. killed a lot more than that -- more than Christians and Muslims combined, and over a much shorter period. But again, that's not my point, because I don't think it was primarily their atheism or secular philosophy that made them do it."

Somewhat debatable. You can read a little about the number of killings god may have planned here:http://theamericanheathen.com/2014/10/15/its-all-out-of-love-murder-for-god/

But, I'll go along with you on that for now. But, who killed more isn't my point. I want to know if god's murders are morally corrupt or justifiable. Are god's murders morally justifiable? We can agree on Stalin and Pol Pot here, I'm certain. But, I'd be curious to know if the creator of everything is innocent of morally corrupt behavior.

RJ Evans
American Heathen®

Matt Haugland said...

RJ -- It's a red herring but I'll answer anyway.

I think your number is way too low! God "killed" everyone who has ever died. He could've created us to live here forever but he didn't. As the one who created us, he has the right to make that choice. And he also has the right to choose the means.

You and I may not like it, but that doesn't mean there isn't good purpose for it. For one thing, I'm pretty sure the world would be a lot worse off now had the Canaanites been allowed to thrive. Morality today might look a lot more like that of their religion, which is a downright scary prospect. But that's just speculation. The point is, God has no obligation to make us live forever, and he has no obligation to make us comfortable and happy 100% of the time. If you believe he does, you're talking about a much different God than the one I believe in.

Chuck Doswell said...


I claimed moral superiority to the moral norms of the late Bronze Age - not a universal moral superiority. If you're going to paraphrase me, please do me the courtesy of getting it right.

"I believe so many of the moral standards held by Western atheists are largely (albeit indirectly) based on the Bible." And you were doing so well ... but this one as a generalization is manifestly untrue. The validity of this must be strongly dependent on which biblical passages you choose.

theamericanheathen.com said...

Mr. Haugland wrote:
"RJ -- It's a red herring but I'll answer anyway."

I fail to see the red herring in a question that is directly related to the beliefs and actions of adherents to biblical scripture. This blog post is about whether or not religion should bare responsibility for immoral acts by followers in the name of said religion.

So, please answer the question with a yes or no. Is god's killings in the bible moral or immoral? If they are moral, then followers are justified in following god's lead, and can murder with impunity, so long as they follow (read "interpret") scripture "correctly". If they are immoral, then the religion is immoral and the religion should bear some responsibility.

Mr. Haugland went on to write:
"I think your number is way too low! God "killed" everyone who has ever died. He could've created us to live here forever but he didn't. As the one who created us, he has the right to make that choice. And he also has the right to choose the means."

You are speculating through the entire paragraph, right?. How do you know so much about god? Are you claiming to know the unknowable? Have you spoken with god? What gives god the right to kill "all of us"? You claim he created us, but you have provided zero evidence for that claim. If that creating us is the only condition for god's right to kill us, then do parents have the right to kill their children (which is in the bible btw)?

I have to agree with Chuck. There appears to be a great deal of selective biblical posturing.

RJ Evans
American Heathen®

Matt Haugland said...

I said nothing about the scope of the moral superiority you claimed, as it wasn't material to my point.

If you think it depends on which biblical passages you choose, maybe we can agree that at least some of them helped shape Western moral standards, including those of many atheists.

Ones that reflect "moral norms of the late Bronze Age" generally are descriptive, not prescriptive. Some are commands but clearly are not universal because either the scope is directly stated (and is limited) or they require conditions that don't exist outside of ancient Israel. If violent people ignore the context and misinterpret it because of their agendas and confirmation bias, that's their own fault, not Moses'.

Chuck Doswell said...

Ahh ...the old, familiar, tried and true "context" response. Whatever.

Lisa MacArthur said...

One other reason that criticism of religion is not bigotry or anything of that sort is because religion is a choice. You have a choice to not belong to any religion or to any religion of your choosing. Therefore, whichever fairy tale you believe, if you believe in one, is of your own doing. If people criticize it, tough luck. If you act like a moron and people criticize you, what do you expect? Religion can be dangerous. It's too easy to get caught up in it. What's too bad is that people are getting caught up in something that has actually no basis in fact. If you're going to get caught up in something, why not make it something that is at least based in fact. It wasn't that long ago that catholic masses were in Latin. So, you had these morons that would show up and listen to a mass that they couldn't even understand. Makes about as much sense as going to a theatre and watching a blank screen for a couple of hours. Yes, I know that with some of today's movies, a blank screen would be an improvement.

We need guidelines or rules on what a religion can and can't teach.

We regulate and outlaw drugs of all types in this country.

As Karl Marx said ...Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes

It has the effect of an illegal narcotic, regulate it.

Lisa MacArthur
Riverside RI

Matt Haugland said...

RJ -- Yes. "Moral".

To your second point: I don't know, and neither do you. But if God exists, I see no reason why he'd be obligated to preserve life forever. And if he doesn't exist, he couldn't have "killed" anyone, so it wouldn't matter. If you think God (if he exists) would have such an obligation, please explain why.

I never said creation by itself is a sufficient condition. Genesis 50 is a good example of another necessary but not sufficient condition. Joseph tells his brothers (who sold him into slavery) "you devised evil against me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people". Intent is very important!

Also, humans don't infallibly know what the [indirect] results of our actions will be. Unknown ends can't justify means, even if our intentions are good. But when we do know with enough certainty that killing one person (e.g., a terrorist with a bomb) will save many more, and we do it for the purpose of saving lives, it's not considered immoral.

RJ Evans said...

I wrote in a previous comment addressed to Mr. Haugland:

"So, please answer the question with a yes or no. Is god's killings in the bible moral or immoral? If they are moral, then followers are justified in following god's lead, and can murder with impunity, so long as they follow (read "interpret") scripture "correctly". If they are immoral, then the religion is immoral and the religion should bear some responsibility."

Mr. Haugland's response to the question of whether or not god's in the bible are moral:

"RJ -- Yes. "Moral"."

Mr. Haugland... Then please consider the following piece (ironically) from pastor Martin Niem√∂ller(1892–1984)

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."

Remember this when the ends justify the means of those who truly believe they are called by god to do his bidding (killing).

RJ Evans
American Heathen®

Chuck Doswell said...

No one ever said your deity had an 'obligation' to preserve life forever. The promise of eternal life - reserved for the 'righteous', of course - is something in which most christians believe, right? Do you?

What I'm referring to are the deaths by flood, disease, war, etc.

Your "unknown ends" argument is just another version of the "mysterious plan" response. One either accepts that an invisible omnibenevolent deity with a mysterious plan chooses not to let us know WHY he inflicts suffering and death on us, or you can go with a simpler explanation: your deity doesn't exist and people die in such nasty ways because they're unlucky.

Having children suffer and die by the processes I mentioned above is very different from shooting a terrorist. How many people are saved because a typhoon kills hundreds of people in the Phillipines?

Matt Haugland said...

RJ -- Looks like you didn't read the rest of the comment. I said the ends "can't justify the means". If people do what you described, they're being immoral. It doesn't matter if they think God wants them to.

Chuck -- Yes, I believe in the Jewish concept of resurrection (if I can only pick one possibility). Anyway, I don't think God owes us even one second. He could've, without being immoral or unjust, given humans the same life span as mayflies. If you disagree, then what minimum life span do you think God is morally obligated to guarantee us? 60 years? 75? Why?

I think we agree that the God of the Bible doesn't conform to your view of "omnibenevolence".

What's wrong with "the 'mysterious plan' response"? It's just another way of saying "I don't know". I have no idea how many people are saved because of a typhoon in the Philippines. That I don't know God's purpose for particular disasters doesn't imply non-existence or immorality. You do things of which I don't know the purpose, but I still believe you exist. Also, if I ever learned that you killed someone but I wasn't told why, I'd assume you had a good purpose (e.g., saving someone's life). I don't see any reason to deny God the same benefit of the doubt that I'd give you.

Chuck Doswell said...


Your description of your deity "owing us" a lifespan is your own invention, not mine. I feel no obligation to respond to that bait.

What we're pointing out is that your deity is widely assumed to be responsible for *everything* that happens on Earth, including violent events that cut short the lifespans of many people - i.e., your deity is responsible for killing people with reckless abandon on a routine basis. This deity terminates people of all sorts for no obvious reason - without any explanation.

What's wrong with the "mysterious plan" argument is that it conveniently provides an automatic excuse for all that mayhem. If no one except the putative diety actually knows that plan, then it seems logically incorrect to use it as a way to exonerate your deity.

I suppose it provides some comfort to believers who have lost friends and family to violent events. If the belief that their loss was to serve some good end helps them cope with that loss, I won't deny them that - but I prefer the hard truth to a comforting falsehood.

If there's a mysterious plan, why does it have to be mysterious? What purpose is served by that mystery? Is it because we humans are too dumb to comprehend it? Why were we created to be so dumb? Why does your deity need billions of ignorant followers too stupid to grasp his divine purposes? Why didn't your deity make us smart enough to understand his plan?

Afraid I can't give the benefit of the doubt to a deity that I don't believe exists. The simplest way to explain why bad things happen to good people is that those people are simply unlucky in a dangerous world, full of natural and man-made hazards.

Matt Haugland said...

Chuck -- Those things are tragic to us because the normal human life span is so long. If humans generally lived only 3 years, it wouldn't seem so tragic for someone to die at age 5, just as today it wouldn't seem so tragic for someone to die at age 120. But we interpret things relative to the distribution of human experiences. There always will be outliers, which are tragic and very painful to us. The only way there wouldn't be is if everyone lived to exactly the same age and had the exact same circumstances in life. Again, if you think there's a minimum that God is morally obligated to guarantee everyone, what is it and why???

I didn't say God has some "mysterious plan". There is, however, a lot that we don't know, so you can call that a mysterious plan if you want. The universe certainly is mysterious in a lot of ways. I don't think that's a bad thing. Learning about the mysteries of the universe drives me as a scientist, just as learning about the mysteries of God drives me in studying theology. That's not a purpose, per se, but I can see big advantages over a world where God tells us everything and leaves us with nothing to discover.

It's not an "automatic excuse". It's simply an acknowledgement that we don't know. It's pointless to make moral judgments of God's actions if he doesn't exist. But supposing he does, I think he deserves at least the same benefit of the doubt that I'd give to friends and family who I know wouldn't kill people without a good reason. Why is that so unreasonable?

Chuck Doswell said...


You're obviously determined to show that your deity is under no "obligation" to let anyone live beyond the point s/he/it allows us. If such a deity existed, then it might well be under no such "obligation", and I wouldn't have the power to enforce that, if your deity is what he claims to be. Nevertheless, can you at least agree that causing someone die from a violent event (all of which are under your deity's control) terminates their life earlier than it otherwise would? Isn't this what "killing" means? Please stop trying to deflect this into a semantic trap you're trying to set - that's a construct you're evidently using to dodge the issue. The length of our average lifespan is an irrelevant argument - killing a person or a mayfly in a violent event terminates their life *before* it otherwise would have lasted, right?

If your deity has intentions for us, do those not constitute a "plan"? - which we don't know anything about and is, therefore "mysterious" to us. Many things about the universe are mysterious, but, like we expect a good parent to do, is it not reasonable to expect a benevolent deity to explain this plan to us so we can understand and accept the painful things s/he/it does to us as a part of those plans?

I'm not asking for your putative deity to explain *everything* - just as I would not expect a good parent to even be able to do. Why does this deity insist on our remaining ignorant about the reason for those events that affect us so severely? Is there some compelling need for this particular mystery? Other than to cop a plea, that is: "Just trust me - I know what I'm doing despite the cruelties I'm inflicting on you."

The "mysterious plan" *is* an automatic excuse, as I see it, regardless of your opinion. I'm making judgments of your putative deity precisely because this deity never has made sense to me - it seems quite probable that s/he/it doesn't exist, in part precisely because of the absurdity of the rationalizations people go to in order to "explain" why s/he/it does bad things to good people, despite his purported benevolence.

Your deity is NOT the sort of entity with which I would want to be friends, judging by (among other things) his cruel killings and suffering inflicted on humans. I'm certainly not part of this imaginary deity's family, so I continue to see no reason to give your mythical deity the benefit of my doubt. You can do so freely, of course. But don't expect me to do so.

Matt Haugland said...

What issue do you think I'm dodging? I said because God isn't morally obligated to make us live to any minimum age, it's not immoral of him to not do so (otherwise a moral obligation is implied); and that he deserves the benefit of the doubt regarding his reasons for ending someone's life early. How can I address the issue more directly?

I do believe he has a "plan". I don't completely know what it is, but I know it involves us suffering, adapting, learning, having compassion, taking care of people in need, and discovering ways to reduce pain & suffering. Apparently he created a broken world and wants us to "fix" it, and part of "fixing" it involves truly appreciating those things. Why? I can only speculate. Does it make God immoral? No. Should he have told us more? I don't think so.

"Bad things" are perceived relative to the world we live in. Any world you can conceive, unless it's one where everything is neutral and there is no "good", will have "bad things" that happen. They'd just be different from the "bad things" that happen in this world (although we wouldn't know it if we lived in that world). I don't think God is obligated to give us the best of all possible worlds. Still, I don't think you can say that another one would truly be "better" than ours from the perspective of people who've only lived in that other hypothetical world.

Chuck Doswell said...


This is obviously not getting us anywhere. You think your deity is free of the same moral values that apply to all humans - he can take a life anytime he chooses and can always chalk it up to the plan, in case anyone asks why. I find that sort of deity to be immoral and cruel. I don't see any movement possible from those two very different opinions.

Why would an all-powerful deity create a "broken world" - and then have the temerity to expect weak, stupid human beings (his creations, of course) to fix it? That's ridiculous!

I never said I expected your deity to give us "the best of all possible worlds". I just figured that if he's got this plan that involves good (and bad) people suffering, a benevolent creator would have offered a better explanation than "Trust me. I know what I'm doing even if you don't." That's just my opinion, of course. I suppose I'm too demanding of a creator/deity, I guess - at least if I'm expected to believe the story. For that matter, s/he/it might have dropped some of the mystery about the very existence of her/him/itself, if faith (of the experiential kind, not the unquestioning variety) and worship are required.

Matt Haugland said...

Chuck -- not at all. It's a single universal moral standard. God or humans, whether something is murder (immoral) or killing (sometimes not immoral) depends on the purpose, among other things. Without knowing the purpose, you're assuming (if he exists) God's purpose is evil and I'm assuming it's good. I think my assumption makes a lot more sense.

Speculating here, but I think one reason he created such a broken world is that he wanted us to progress -- to not always be so "weak and stupid" as you put it. That's how nature seems to work. Animals adapt and evolve to survive harsh conditions. For us, the desire to "fix" a broken world drives scientific, technological, and moral progress. Humanity is progressing in a direction that (in my opinion) points toward God -- i.e., as we progress scientifically, technologically, and morally, we become a little more like God.

God doesn't seem to care much about whether everyone believes he exists or worships him, otherwise he'd probably do as you suggested. What he does seem to care about is that whoever does believe he exists truly appreciates him (to which worship is a natural response) and trusts him in how they live (i.e., faith).

Belief in one's existence is not faith. Faith is to trust someone enough to live in a way you wouldn't otherwise live. I think a lot of people believe God exists but don't have faith in him. A good example of that is people who do selfish acts "in the name of God", such as killing people to increase their own power or territory. That's the opposite of faith!

Chuck Doswell said...


Whereas I think MY assumption makes more sense. Tell your excuse for your deity to someone who has had a loved one killed in a violent event.

My understanding of how nature works is that it has no goal for any species. Conditions change, and those best-adapted survive.

The deity I was taught to worship demands your sole allegiance, on pain of eternal torment. It seems to me on that basis that s/he/it cares a lot about what you believe!

As for faith ... see:


Chuck Doswell said...


This thread has moved distinctly off topic. I see no need to continue it unless you want to add a final word. I'll publish no further discourse after that.

Matt Haugland said...

You said, "Tell your excuse for your deity to someone who has had a loved one killed in a violent event." Are you resorting to appeals to emotion now? I think that's a fallacious kind of argument, but if we must go off that cliff, I'd point out that "people are simply unlucky in a dangerous world" wouldn't exactly be more comforting. I'm sure we both would have other (more comforting) things to say in that situation.

If there is a highly advanced being with far superior intelligence who created life, I don't see how it makes any sense to assume he'd destroy lives for petty, arbitrary, or selfish reasons like humans do. It does make sense to assume such a being would know better than us what's best for the world.

That there's no "goal" in nature is a conclusion that follows from your belief that there isn't a God. Circular. But all I meant was that nature adapts to survive in a harsh world and humans do the same. That adaptation, which I call "progress", apparently is part of God's "plan", and I see a lot of value and beauty in it.

The deity you describe sounds like what Santa Claus would be if he was a magician and a tyrant. He bears practically no resemblance to the God I believe in. If the biblical God is so fixated on eternal reward (or torment) for people who believe (or don't believe) in him, why does the Hebrew Bible make no mention of any afterlife except in one or two vague sentences in the book of Daniel, written 1000+ years after the Torah? On the other hand, the concept of repairing a broken world is conspicuous from Genesis forward.

Regarding your link, definition #1 is 100% consistent with how I defined faith in my previous comment.

Chuck Doswell said...


It's not an emotional appeal at all. I doubt if much can be said to assuage the grief someone feels at that loss of a loved one, but I still prefer a hard reality to a comforting myth about some purportedly wonderful place where all the "good" people go, to be reunited in the future, all as part of some unknowable plan.

Your assumptions about a deity are just as valid as mine - a matter of opinion. If such a deity exists, it might indeed be possible to surmise that s/he/it would have a more comprehensive knowledge, but given what I was taught about this deity's clear willingness to inflict suffering to serve ends of its own without letting us know why, I choose to reject that deity as not worthy of that status. We're simply talking past each other and it boils down to your opinion vs. mine.

It's not an argument at all, let alone a circular one. There was no intent to BASE my absence of belief on the absence of goals in nature. Given what I know of how nature works, it seems to be consistent with the absence of a goal of the sort you apparently postulate and I can invoke Occam's Razor to say it's the simplest explanation. You're just trying to discredit my statement, which is simply a difference of opinion. You admit it's a harsh world and claim that harshness is simply your deity's plan to encourage our "improvement" - but there's no reason to accept your assumption that this is the deity's intent - you've already admitted you "don't know" its intentions, so this is (as you described it) no more than speculation. I assert that violent natural events are not moving to some deity's will - they are driven by natural processes and create havoc with humans when humans happen to be in the way. Violence by humans upon each other is a sort of "natural" process as well - the nature of humans as we are.

The deity in which you believe is evidently VERY different than the one I was taught about. Sometime outside of this thread, you might want to lay out your beliefs in detail about this personal version of a deity of yours. It's actually gratifying to me that you reject the version I was taught, as we seem to agree this is a thoroughly nasty deity.