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Why Your Life Does Not Belong to You

Harvard

It was revealed this week that, for the first time in its history, Harvard University, which had been founded for religious purposes and named for a minister of the Gospel, has admitted a freshman class in which atheists and agnostics outnumber professed Christians and Jews. Also this week, the House and the Senate of California passed a provision that allows for physician assisted suicide in the Golden State. As I write these words, the governor of California is deliberating whether to sign the bill into law. Though it might seem strange to suggest as much, I believe that the make-up of the Harvard freshman class and the passing of the suicide law are very really related.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that non-believers have come to outnumber believers among the rising cohort of the American aristocracy. For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism. Though they have benefitted from every advantage that money can afford, they have been largely denied what the human heart most longs for: contact with the transcendent, with the good, true, and beautiful in their properly unconditioned form. But as Paul Tillich, echoing the Hebrew prophets, reminded us, we are built for worship, and therefore in the absence of God, we will make some other value our ultimate concern. Wealth, power, pleasure, and honor have all played the role of false gods over the course of the human drama, but today especially, freedom itself has emerged as the ultimate good, as the object of worship. And what this looks like on the ground is that our lives come to belong utterly to us, that we become great projects of self-creation and self-determination.

As the Bible tells it, the human project went off the rails precisely at the moment when Adam arrogated to himself the prerogative of determining the meaning of his life, when he, in the agelessly beautiful poetry of the book of Genesis, ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Read the chapters that immediately follow the account of the Fall, and you will discover the consequences of this deified freedom: jealousy, hatred, fratricide, imperialism, and the war of all against all. The rest of the Biblical narrative can be interpreted as God’s attempt to convince human beings that their lives, in point of fact, do not belong to them. He did this precisely by choosing a people whom he would form after his own mind and heart, teaching them how to think, how to behave, and above all, how to worship. This holy people Israel—a word that means, marvelously, “the one who wrestles with God”—would then, by the splendor of their way of life, attract the rest of the world. On the Christian reading, this project reached its climax in the person of Jesus Christ, a first-century Israelite from the town of Nazareth, who was also the Incarnation of the living God. The coming-together of divinity and humanity, the meeting of infinite and finite freedom, Jesus embodies what God intended for us from the beginning.

And this is precisely why Paul, one of Jesus’ first missionaries, announced him as Kyrios (Lord) to all the nations, and why he characterized himself as doulos Christou Iesou (a slave of Christ Jesus). Paul exulted in the fact that his life did not belong to him, but rather to Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “there is a power already at work in you that can do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine.” He was referencing the Holy Spirit, which orders our freedom and which opens up possibilities utterly beyond our capacities. To follow the promptings of this Spirit is, for Paul and for all the Biblical authors, the source of life, joy, and true creativity.

All of which brings me back to Harvard and legalized suicide. The denial of God—or the blithe bracketing of the question of God—is not a harmless parlor game. Rather, it carries with it the gravest implications. If there is no God, then our lives do indeed belong to us, and we can do with them what we want. If there is no God, our lives have no ultimate meaning or transcendent purpose, and they become simply artifacts of our own designing. Accordingly, when they become too painful or too shallow or just too boring, we ought to have the prerogative to end them. We can argue the legalities and even the morality of assisted suicide until the cows come home, but the real issue that has to be engaged is that of God’s existence.

The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed, for the more our society drifts into atheism, the more human life is under threat. The less we are willing even to wrestle with God, the more de-humanized we become.
 
 
(Image credit: Business Insider)

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    There are many very strange things about this article. I found two especially worthy of comment:

    As the Bible tells it, the human project went off the rails precisely at
    the moment when Adam arrogated to himself the prerogative of determining the meaning of his life, when he, in the agelessly beautiful poetry of the book of Genesis, ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

    And God let him. When the government of California allows people to assist in suicides, aren't they in this manner following in the footsteps of God?

    The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed, for the more our society drifts into atheism, the more human life is under threat. The less we are willing even to wrestle with God, the more de-humanized we become.

    Would Bishop Barron then advocate that state would be in its rights to take action to suppress atheism in order to preserve the public good? What real evidence is there, beyond some blabbering sophistry, that rising atheism threatens human life?

    • ClayJames

      And God let him. When the government of California allows people to
      assist in suicides, aren't they in this manner following in the
      footsteps of God?

      Paul, I have never heard someone put it like this and I have to say that it is very powerful. I am eager to see people´s response to this assertion.

      • Mike

        God gave us free will, the Government of California ain't God...at least not yet!

        • ClayJames

          The problem is that as Catholics, we impose our moral precepts in certain cases and not in others. For example, I have never heard from a Catholic that divorce should be illegal. Jesus spoke against divorce more than he did against homosexual unions and in one case we don´t impose it civily and in the other, we try to.

          I would draw the line at ¨moral evils¨ that affect someone not making the decision, like abortion. However, when the person making the decision is the only one affected (I am not conceeding that euthenasia is necessarily a moral evil), then it should be fair game.

          Why am I wrong?

          • Mike

            Do you know what some groups want put on the death certificate? that it was a natural death! and you know why? well among lies given bc they are, i hope you agree lies, that the life insurance company may not want to pay and that if they list the truth then their kids or other family members may be embarrassed or upset!

            legalizing murder affects ALL society! if you can't see that then i am sorry to say i think you're being willfully ignorant.

            just think of the PRESSURE that's going to be put on poor hispanic elderly folks!!! just imagine what's coming!

          • ClayJames

            Everything affects all society if you want to be obstinate about it.

            I am clearly speaking about a certain degree of consequence.

            How does my great grandfather choosing to end his life because of a painful illness, affect you?

          • Mike

            how does my gay marriage affect your marriage?

            how does my grand dada being killed by his friend affect your grand dada's life?

            who knew you folks had such laissez - faire attitudes!

          • ClayJames

            Your gay marriage doesnt affect my marriage and therefore I have no problem with your gay marriage.

            Your grandfather getting killed by his friend doesn´t affect me unless he gets away with it, which is why I al all for killers to be punished.

            Answer my question, why is divorce legal and why as Catholics are we not fighting for it to be illegal?

          • Mike

            do you mean no fault divorce?

          • ClayJames

            Any kind of divorce.

            What God has joined together, let no one separate.

          • Mike

            i thought you were talking about the law no?

          • ClayJames

            I am, laws the permit civil authorities to separate married couples.

          • Mike

            ok so are you against no fault divorce?

          • ClayJames

            No, I am not against it.

            My question is that, using your same logic, why are Catholics not against civil divorce? Jesus was very clear about his thoughts on this subject, but when talking about divorce, most Catholics are fine with the legality of divorce, but have problems with the legality of other things, like gay marriage or euthanasia.

          • Mike

            catholics are NOT against civil divorce? huh? have you ever head of a place called malta?

            when did divorce become legal in italy? was it in 1735 or 1970 something?

          • ClayJames

            Exactly, so divorce is a civil option for 99.9% of Catholics and in general, Catholics do not fight against the legality of divorce with the same level of gusto as they do against gay marriage.

          • Mike

            you don't remember the 1960 and 1970s do you?

          • ClayJames

            Who cares about the 1960 and 1970s, I am talking about now. And just because divorce in several countries was illegal in the 1960s it says nothing about Catholic´s incongruency regarding their treatment of divorce and gay marriage today .

          • Mike

            ok ok go check the catechism it still says marriage is for life and btw why can't 3 men marry?

          • ClayJames

            Exactly, the catechism is that marriage is for life, so why as Catholics, do we not fight for our laws to reflect that? When it comes to heterosexual marraige, we separate between god´s law and civil law. When it comes to homosexual marriage, we fight so that god´s law is reflected in the civil law. Why are we incongruent?

          • Mike

            but we do "fight" for marriage for life, maybe you spend too much time on dissident catholic sites.

          • ClayJames

            Could you post some links of Catholic leaders and groups fighting to make divorce illegal in the US?

          • Mike

            how much time do you spend on dissident catholic sites?

          • ClayJames

            What does this have to do with anything. You made an assertion, I am asking you to back it up and now you are completly avoiding it and instead asking a ridiculous question
            I am catholic, I dont even know one catholic dissident site.
            If you can´t answer my question, lets stop wasting each other´s time.

          • Mike

            i see you're obfuscating the issue.

            can you point me to even 1 bishop who supports even more liberal divorce laws?

          • ClayJames

            Mike, you are being disingenuous because you made an assertion that you can´t back up and instead, you are trying to change the issue.

            You claim that Catholics in the US are fighting against the legality of divorce in the same way that they fight against the legality of gay marriage. I asked for proof of this and you do not want to give any (because there is not any). Asking me to point to a bishop who supports more liberal divorce laws has nothing to do with what I am asking.

            Last chance, or I am done. Could you post some links of Catholic leaders and groups fighting to make divorce illegal in the US?

          • Mike

            "You claim that Catholics in the US are fighting against the legality of divorce in the same way that they fight against the legality of gay marriage"

            but gay marriage was never illegal anywhere on earth? if 2 gay men got married in a liberal protestant church no one arrested them! Dude, where do you get your info?

          • ClayJames

            Done.

          • Mike

            huh?

          • Raymond

            I think the distinction is that Jesus didn't speak against divorce per se. He said that if a man divorces his wife and marries another woman that he commits adultery against his first wife. The idea being that even though you can get a "civil divorce" in the eyes of the Church you are still married to your first wife. Hence the penalties against divorce and remarriage in the Church. If a couple gets a divorce but live separate lives and live in chastity, I don't think the Church cares.

          • ClayJames

            Right, when it comes to heterosexual marriage, the Church makes a clear separation between god's law and the civil law. However, regarding gay marriage, the Church says that god´s law must be man´s law. What gives?

          • Raymond

            That is a really good question.

          • ClayJames

            I have asked this question to Catholic intellectuals and clergy and have yet to receive a satisfactory response.

          • Lazarus

            A really fascinating question.
            If you allow me an uneducated flyer at it before I go and try to find a more academic and theologically sound explanation :

            With a heterosexual couple divorce is not encouraged and it has adverse consequences, but it nevertheless does not close the door to procreation. Given the value and importance that the Church attaches to procreation a heterosexual divorce is less damaging (?) to society than a gay marriage. For this reason gay marriage should be opposed with greater focus than divorce.

            The perceived relative merits and strengths of the respective families, gay and heterosexual, could also maybe feature somewhere in that answer.

            Meh, I'm not satisfied with that. Needs work.

          • ClayJames

            I agree with you that it does need work.

            Divorce is basically a statement by both parties that they are completly closing the door on procreation. I realize that there is still a chance of procreation (something that is not true with gay marriage) but that to me seems to be nothing more than splitting hairs. Also, even though the jury is still out on the negative effect of children being raised by a same sex couple, this has been proven regarding children of divorced couples. I also would venture to guess (even though I have no proof), that children grow up in a much healthier environment in a same sex household than if their parents are divorced (in general, of course).

          • Robert Macri

            Forgive my verbosity below, but I want to make the point clear, in as much as I can, to any and all who might read it. (That is, I am not assuming any lack of knowledge on your part.)

            The Church rightly teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that the pair are joined in a way that cannot be undone by man. Just as you cannot un-ring a bell or un-birth a child, you cannot un-marry a couple, because marriage is not a contract; it is an indissoluble covenant between souls as well as bodies for as long as life shall join them.

            Contracts (I give you this; you give me that), which are empowered by human authority, can be dissolved by that same authority.

            Covenants (i give you me and you give me you in the permanent loving unity of God), which are adjudicated by God, cannot be dissolved by any but God alone, but, being God, even He would not do so, for the covenant bears the weight of His unbreakable promise as well.

            For this reason, the church teaches that "divorce" does not in actuality effect what it claims: the dissolution of a marriage. And thus, the church does indeed oppose divorce.

            However, the Church recognizes that there are cases in which a physical and even legal separation may be required (e.g. to protect a spouse and/or children from a physically or mentally abusive situation, or to protect the family from the financial ruin of a persistent gambling addiction, etc.).

            That is, the Church does not demand that a person suffer needlessly for the sake of fidelity to their marriage. Indeed, the duty to protect one's children (or indeed one's self) may in some cases demand that a person take concrete steps to effect physical and legal separation.

            And the Church must mercifully permit this.

            Yet even in this case, the marriage covenant itself remains valid and indissoluble, for the civil divorce has no power to rend it. Thus though the Church permits civil "divorce" in certain situations it nevertheless reminds us that the marriage covenant itself has not been dissolved and, thus, no remarriage can be permitted (until the death of one party).

            Think of it this way: the state may take a child from an abusive mother, but she will always be the child's mother, if only in the biological sense. The state's actions, even though they be justified and necessary, cannot undo that fact of birth. Thus it is with marriage as God established it.

            Now, the case of "homosexual marriage" is utterly different. For here we are not speaking of what we must grudgingly permit in certain destructive situations (such as civil divorce in the case of abuse), but rather whether or not such a covenant can be struck in the first place.

            Think of epoxy: mixing a resin with a curative results in the desired bond; mixing two curatives or two resins can not and does not do so, and to say otherwise is folly. A man might wish to live with another man as though the two were spouses, but except by the most profound redefinition of what marriage itself means, we can in no way say that they have entered into the "bonding covenant of one man and one woman instituted by God for the purpose of spousal unity and procreation".

            Lastly, while the church must grudgingly allow civil divorce in certain cases to protect the family, it must work against homosexual "marriage" for the very same reason: in defense of family.

            The purpose of marriage, as taught by the church, is both procreative and unitive. It is the very gift of family itself, bonded together in love, with God, and bringing to bear all the gifts that God distributed when he made us male and female. Just as epoxy requires resin and curative, family works best with a mother and a father (and every child deserves both).

            When a mother or father is lost to early death we call it a tragedy and mourn for the child. Shall we now cheer on a secular movement that would see stitched-together "families" where adopted children are denied either mother or father by design? Or lull two men or two women into a life that by its very nature must fail to satisfy? No, the church must oppose this.

            Many will certainly take issue with much that I have stated here, but I hope that I have at least shown that there is no hypocrisy in opposing homosexual marriage while permitting civil divorce in certain cases (and that even then, the church certainly abhors divorce).

          • David Nickol

            There are many Catholic organizations which hire "non-Catholic" employees and provide benefits to those employees' families (insurance being one of the most common). If a Catholic organization hires a non-Catholic who has a same-sex spouse, and refuses to insure that spouse on the grounds that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage, is the organization not being hypocritical if it does provide benefits to the spouses of the divorced and remarried? Such people are living in adultery, are they not? Is recognizing adulterous unions as valid marriages not doing harm to "real" families?

          • Robert Macri

            First, the church does not "recognize adulterous unions as valid marriages". I would say this is about picking your battles, not hypocrisy. Every time you or I go to the ballot box to elect our civil government leaders we have to hold our nose to some extent and cast our votes for the lesser evil. Does that make us hypocrites? If not, then why would the church be hypocritical if it begrudgingly complied with certain government requirements while resisting others? After all, the church is not changing its teaching in any of these areas, but rather making judgment calls about which forms of aggressive social action are most prudent or necessary for the time. Remember, there are many ways of opposing something... you don't always bring out the big guns.

            Second, there are many so-called "Catholic" organizations. Few of them are owned and operated by the church, but are Catholic merely by association, and the church has no direct control over what they do (take Notre Dame University, for example). We have to be careful about attributing the actions of secular "Catholic" institutions to the church itself.

            Divorce has been an unfortunate reality for centuries, and which organization has taught and battled against it as vociferously as the Catholic Church? But now there is a newer, larger battle: one that not just diminishes marriage but utterly redefines it. Of course the church would be expected to take a vigorous stand.

            Besides, the church has to exist and act in the world, even if it is not
            of the world. Catholics cannot all retreat to Vatican City just to
            avoid being subjected to any civil law which is contrary to our beliefs.
            We teach what we can and resist what we can, and when we comply it is "under duress" so to speak, but we are always looking for the time and opportunity to positively affect culture and law.

          • David Nickol

            First, the church does not "recognize adulterous unions as valid marriages".

            I don't believe I said that. One always has to be careful when talking about "the Church," because it can mean many different things. What do maintain is that many Catholic organizations (for instance, various branches of Catholic Charities) will accept divorced and remarried couples as married (for the purpose of spousal benefits) but will not recognize the spouse of an employee in a same-sex marriage as a spouse. In the case of divorce and remarriage, they seem content to recognize a purely legal union as marriage, even though in the eyes of the Church, there is no "real" marriage, and the couple is living in adultery. But in the case of same-sex marriages, even though they are just as legitimate legal marriages as the marriages of the divorced and remarried, the Catholic organizations do not want to recognize them. Some Catholic Charities organizations have simply stopped providing spousal coverage for the spouses of all employees so they do not have to provide coverage for same-sex spouses. This is like the old days in the south when governments, in order not to discriminate against blacks who wanted to swim in municipal swimming pools, simply closed the pools. It is not discrimination if you don't let blacks swim and you don't let anybody else swim!

            I would say this is about picking your battles, not hypocrisy.

            It's known as discrimination.

            Second, there are many so-called "Catholic" organizations.

            I am talking about Catholic Charities.

            But now there is a newer, larger battle: one that not just diminishes marriage but utterly redefines it. Of course the church would be expected to take a vigorous stand.

            The Catholic Church has had no problem in making a distinction between civil marriage and "sacramental marriage." With the divorce rate as high as it is, and with other Catholic impediments to a "true" marriage being what they are (for example, a marriage is not valid of a couple intends not to have children), perhaps half of all legal marriages in the United States are not "real" marriages in the eyes of the Church. According the the Catholic understanding "real" marriage cannot be redefined. Civil marriage is not "real" marriage. Gay people make up perhaps 5% of the population, and may never marry at the same rate as straights. Same-sex marriage is really a very minor "problem" if indeed it is a problem at all. The Catholic Church has given it wildly disproportionate attention.

          • Robert Macri

            First, the church does not "recognize adulterous unions as valid marriages".

            I don't believe I said that.

            Then I must have misunderstood your question:

            Is recognizing adulterous unions as valid marriages not doing harm to "real" families?

            To your next rebuttal:

            It's known as discrimination.

            The "discrimination" attack is much too widely and inappropriately wielded these days. There are, after all, perfectly legitimate forms of discrimination, such as when we forbid adolescents to drive, or when we suspend the right of felons to own a firearm. We necessarily discriminate every time we make any policy or decision. Thus, the claim, "It's discrimination" is utterly useless unless you also supply reasons why such a discrimination is unjust.

            Same-sex marriage is really a very minor "problem" if indeed it is a problem at all. The Catholic Church has given it wildly disproportionate attention.

            Disproportionate to what? If you mean disproportionate to the problem of heterosexual divorce then I remind you that there have in fact not been any supreme court hearings or proffered legislation on this issue in recent years upon which the Church could have had the opportunity to opine, but there has been much ado about homosexual "marriage". If a burglar is intent upon stealing your living room lamp, then it is not at all "disproportionate" behavior to protect your lamp even if you do have more valuable things elsewhere.

            Besides, I think your analysis or the size of the problem wrong. A fuse is extremely small compared to a powder keg, but I don't think our response would be wildly disproportionate if we did everything in our power to quench the lit fuze atop a powder keg.

            In 1968 Pope Paul VI warned against the "culture of contraception" in his encyclical Humanae Vitae. The secular world laughed at his claims about the resulting rise of conjugal infidelity and the decline of morals, the rise in abortion, the devaluing of life at all stages... I'm sure they thought his response was "disproportionate" to the issue, especially since they thought contraception was a good thing. But the pope was right. The divorce rate has more than doubled. More than 56 million babies have been aborted in the US alone (since Roe v Wade). We now in politics seriously engage in discussions of assisted suicide.

            But now the attack on the family has reached an entirely new dimension. I do not think that you can justify your assertion that homosexual marriage is a small problem. As marriage itself is redefined, and as modern culture devalues it, more and more people will think nothing of divorce, or of cohabitation. (Why not, if marriage is just a commitment or contract, and not a covenant or sacrament? What's so special about it?) If marriage is nothing more than a tax break, society will decline even more. There will be more and more children raised in broken families, and less of a cultural taboo against infidelity.

            I think the problem is far greater than you acknowledge.

            I am talking about Catholic Charities.

            I do not wish to disparage the good work done by Catholic Charities, but in recent years there has been a bit of a stink about some of their practices not living up to a high enough standard of Catholic values, and the Vatican has been urging greater oversight and "Catholic identity" regarding that organization. Thus, I do not think it fair to hold the practices of such an organization against the church as a whole. I'm sure you can find a few pro-abortion nuns, too, but would you then say that the church is hypocritical for holding on to it's pro-life stance?

            The Catholic Church has had no problem in making a distinction between civil marriage and "sacramental marriage."

            I think we have to make an important distinction here. The Catholic Church does not teach that there is nothing wrong with civil divorce. It does, in some rare instances, grant a dispensation for a couple who have some dire need of civil divorce (for example, to protect children from an abusive environment or to protect the family's finances from a gambling addictions, etc.) But that is not in any way an endorsement of civil divorce. It is more like an executive pardon in extreme cases.

            By the way, the separation of civil and religious marriage is a concept imposed upon the church by the state, not the other way around.

          • David Nickol

            The "discrimination" attack is much too widely and inappropriately wielded these days. There are, after all, perfectly legitimate forms of discrimination . . . .

            This is a frequent response (usually from Catholic sources) to charges of discrimination. In context, accusations of discrimination such as the one I made are clearly meant to imply unjust discrimination. I researched this usage some time ago, and the use of the word discrimination alone to mean "unjust discrimination" goes back (as I recall) to the 1850s. Here's definition 4 of discrimination from Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (online)

            4 : the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually

            <waged a lifelong campaign to end discrimination against women>

            <relieved the working class of economic and political discriminations found in other countries — T. S. Barclay>

            : such as

            a : the according of differential treatment to persons of different races or religions (as by formal or informal restrictions imposed in regard to housing, employment, or use of public community facilities)

            b : the act or practice on the part of a common carrier of discriminating (as in the imposition of tariffs) between persons, localities, or commodities in respect to substantially the same service

            You say:

            We necessarily discriminate every time we make any policy or decision.

            At this point in the discussion of civil rights for blacks, women's rights, gay rights, and so on, such statements (in my opinion) amount to equivocation (that is, the informal logical fallacy) and are time wasters. It is perfectly clear in virtually all cases that when someone makes a charge of discrimination, he or she means discrimination in the sense of the definition I have given above. Did you honestly doubt that I meant "unjust discrimination"? If not then it is a pure waste of your time and my own to say, "Why, we discriminate all the time. Are you saying that's a bad thing? You must make yourself more clear. Did you mean unjust discrimination? Really? Oh, then you must prove it is unjust discrimination."

            If I seem a little cranky, please forgive me. Do you know how long it takes to format dictionary definitions with < and > in them??? I will try to respond to the rest of your comments soon.

          • Robert Macri

            David,
            sorry if I seemed to be playing "gotcha" with semantics, that's not my intention.

            Anyway, I didn't bring up the distinction between discrimination and "unjust discrimination" because I was confused about which you meant; I brought it up to illustrate the necessity to demonstrate why a certain discrimination should be considered unjust.

            In any case, I just don't think it is unjust in the cases we were discussing. I wholly sympathize with the desire to err on the side of mercy and freedom, but just because we think we are doing that does not in fact mean that we are offering any kind of mercy at all.

            Permit me to put forth a rather extreme example. I just read a report of a woman who poured drain cleaner in her eyes to deliberately blind herself. She suffers from "body identity integrity disorder". (Those who suffer from this sometimes refer to themselves as "transabled".) They crave the state of dependency as well as the care the disabled receive.

            Now, surely it would be a great crime for us to support the "right" of people to maim themselves in the name of some supposed mercy towards them (which is what we would be doing if we were to say, "It's her choice. After all, if that's what makes her happy, who are we to say no? Why should we force her to live life fully-abled and miserable? We have the right to pursue happiness, so we should not discriminate against the transabled!").

            In fact, I don't think that would be mercy at all. The true act of mercy would be to help her to come to terms with her condition, to treat it, to teach her about the far greater blessing of her health and the independence it brings.

            Again, I admit that bringing up the transabled seems like an extreme example (although maybe not if we consider the current debates on physician-assisted suicide and right to gender reassignment surgery), but it adequately illustrates my reasons for supporting the church's position on divorce and remarriage, same-sex unions, transgender surgery, etc. I just don't see the mercy involved in cheering someone on towards a behavior which I am convinced is harmful to them and to society as a whole. (Nor can I consider only their physical health and ignore the spiritual.)

            I think a far greater mercy would be to teach the beauty of the church's doctrine on the indissolubility of one-man-one-woman marriage, the beauty of the human body and natural gender distinctions, etc.

            That is, I do not support the church's teaching in these matters out of some Pharisaic hard-hardheartedness; I do so because I believe that those teachings are exactly what will bring relief and true mercy to those who embrace them. I cannot do otherwise but to proclaim those truths. If I did do otherwise I would not be merciful; I would be "turning a blind eye".

            If I seem a little cranky, please forgive me. Do you know how long it takes to format dictionary definitions with in them???

            Ha ha, my hat is off to you! And no worries. I'm sure I seem quite cranky very often myself. Written text can come across that way all to easily, so I didn't read anything like that into your posts.

          • David Nickol

            They crave the state of dependency as well as the care the disabled receive.

            It's interesting that you brought that up, because I have just been reading about Bodily Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) in The Man Who Wasn't There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy. Based on what I have read, I don't think your statement above is accurate. The case histories Ananthaswamy presents show us people who have suffered terribly for years (decades even) with a very strong sense that, say, a leg does not belong to them. Ananthaswamy meets with a surgeon whose identity and location are carefully concealed who has agreed in many cases to perform the desired amputations, and without exception, the amputees are instantly relieved. (He tells us that for others, amputation is a psychological trauma that requires a significant recovery period.) The surgeon tells him that if ever one of the patients regrets the operation, he will never do another one again.

            Although Ananthaswamy cautions us that correlation is not causation, there is evidence that indicates the mental "body map" of such patients is faulty. It is quite common for those who have limbs amputated, and even some people born without limbs, to have a "body map" that includes those limbs (hence the phenomenon of "phantom limbs"). So it seems that some people who lose limbs (or are born without them) still experience them as present. Consequently, it does not seem at all improbable that people with BIID experience existing limbs as alien. (The "body map" is not a hypothetical construct. It can be discovered in each individual by stimulating different areas, and those with BIID have been shown to have distorted maps in the areas where they perceive limbs to be alien.) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4df5f9b4f32e3ab1c8ef948f6467c7b974707e2a2d162abcb6e2f2f85b95aa28.gif

            On the one hand, I agree that (at least at first glance) it is close to unthinkable to amputate a healthy limb because a persons does not want it. But as far as I know, there is no therapy to alleviate the suffering people with BIID experience.

            So it seems to me that many people don't adequately allow for the possibility that people who experience BIID, or the various kinds of transgender conditions, or homosexuality are almost experiencing something very real and fixed. There are no agreed-upon therapies for these conditions, because they are quite possibly as innate as their more "normal" (in the statistical sense) counterparts.

          • Robert Macri

            Wow, BIID surely is a very unusual and worrisome condition. And your point that there may be no effective therapy is well taken. I agree with you that such things, including transgender conditions and homosexuality, are real things. I'm not sure if I'd call them fixed, at least not in the sense that a change in condition is in principle impossible. But even if such a condition is effectively fixed (in the sense that a person lives with it for his/her entire life), I would look at it as something that should not define or control the person.

            Supposing for instance that I had a condition that made fidelity to my wife next to impossible (thanks be to God, that is not the case!). Even if there were no effective medical therapy, I am confident in the Catholic doctrine that there is no challenge that cannot be overcome by grace, and that God would assist me in my struggle, to the great redemptive value of myself and others.

            I heard a priest say something at Mass that resonated with me recently: the wicked man does not suffer temptation (I'm paraphrasing). That is, if he gives in to every whim and desire, he never experiences any kind struggle against a temptation. So looking at it the other way, it is the struggle against temptation (removing ourselves from the occasion of temptation wherever possible and turning wholly to God even if we fail), and the eventual victory over it, that sanctifies us.

            So I would hope that in my own struggles, whatever they could conceivably be, that society would assist in making my victory easier, not seek an expediency that put me in the service of my condition.

            In the case of something like BIID, I think that a strong support group and continual prayer would be far preferable to amputation, and, I believe, far more effective.

            At the same time, I don't want to belittle anyone's struggle, which may be very difficult indeed, but rather to err on the side of hope and grace.

          • Michael Murray

            In the case of something like BIID, I think that a strong support group and continual prayer would be far preferable to amputation, and, I believe, far more effective.

            Do you have any evidence that prayer would be more effective than amputation ?

            What would you advise someone who had a child that was physically male but insisted that she was female and that her body was just malformed ?

          • Robert Macri

            Do you have any evidence that prayer would be more effective than amputation ?

            Certainly, though your acceptance of this depends on your criteria for evidence. The history of the church is rich with testimonials of the power of prayer, many of them thoroughly researched, as is the case for every potential miraculous healing put forth in a canonization process. I admit that such an affect is difficult to pin down empirically, but that is because studies to determine the efficacy of prayer are problematic (see http://www.strangenotions.com/prayer-science-and-the-existence-of-god/ ). Prayer has helped vast numbers of people to change their lives for the better, including me. Sometimes that even means physical healing.

            We also have to be be careful when we speak of the effectiveness of an action. If one discounts all spiritual effects then the discussion is skewed. For example, a person who is missing a limb can pray for help and never grow back the limb, but they may find it easier to live with their situation, and perhaps more easily adjust to life with a prosthesis.

            What would you advise someone who had a child that was physically male
            but insisted that she was female and that her body was just malformed ?

            I would treat this in a similar way in which I would deal with a boy who dreams of being an NBA star but is far too short or otherwise physically incapable. I would not encourage him to hate what he is and to embrace some different mental image, but would try to help him see his own dignity and value.

            Now, I admit there is a subtle difference here, because if medical science was capable of helping the boy grow taller and stronger (replace a limb, etc), it would not necessarily be wrong for him to take advantage of science to help him achieve his dream (I guess that would depend on his specific reasons). Because in this case he would be trying to make the best of his God-given attributes, but in the case you mention he would be seeking to mutilate himself to alter his very gender, which is something deeper that external physical form, deeper even than DNA. Male and female are equal in dignity and value, and wonderfully complimentary in their differences. There are things that my mother could do for me when I was a child that my father never could, and vice versa. (There are also studies now that point out significant differences in male and female brain physiology.)

          • David Nickol

            What if it is the case, and there are at least some indications that it's true, that a transexual with a male body has a "female" brain, and a transexual with a female body has a "male" brain. Do you think that this is utterly impossible?

            Say it is the case that the brain is not in conformity with the body. Why should someone with a female brain not identify as a female, in spite of male external genitalia?

          • Ken

            Up untill the '90's the scientific community was telling us just the opposite about gender identity. The prevaling view was that if you raised some one as a girl they would become a girl. If you raised them as a boy they would become a boy. Now those same people are telling us that gender identity has mothing to do with how they were raised, that there is something innate inside them that does not corrispond to phisical gender or how they were raised. Psychlogests have very little credibility with me. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer

          • David Hardy

            It is important to distinguish what the predominant view within the field of psychology is and what the media presents the predominant view as. The idea that nurture plays the only role in shaping behavior came out of strong behaviorism, which reached its peak in the 50s and was in decline by the 70s, and is now recognized as a discredited view, although many principles discovered within behaviorism are valid. Two of the students of B. F. Skinner, a central figure in promoting strong behaviorism at the time, identified instinctive drift, which is when a learned behavior is overtaking by instinctive actions.

            The importance of genetics was recognized within the field even at the time, but separating the influence of genetics and environment is more difficult. Some of the best data comes from studies of identical twins who were raised apart. Others come from traits that are identifiable early on and are stable despite environmental changes. At this point, we are able to actually test DNA and look more closely at genetic markers, but there is still a lot more to learn, which will further clarify the role of genetics and environment.

            In terms of gender, some qualities have a genetic base - girls are more often verbal and social earlier than boys, boys tend to be more physical and aggressive. The between group differences, however, are not greater than the within group differences. In addition, there are also many social factors that shape the specific expression of gender, such as expectations of how to act due to a person's sex.

            To bring this back to your comment, the scientific community as a whole does not accept either that environment or genetics define gender identity, but rather that both play an important role. Those who argue for either pure genetics or pure environment are not expressing the consensus. However, many such people are actually referring to a specific factor within gender identity that is predominantly shaped by genetics or learning, not gender identity as a whole. How the media represents this, however, is prone to misunderstandings.

          • David Hardy

            Touching on David Nickol's point, sexual orientation is strongly genetically influenced - it manifests in a stable way, and is highly resistant to any environmental effort to alter it. The person may learn to behave in a way inconsistent with the orientation, but that does not alter the attraction to the same sex or the lack of attraction to the opposite sex (which is not always either-or, but may exist on a continuum). A few decades ago, when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness, a number of therapeutic approaches were developed to try and "correct" the orientation. None of them worked, and many could be harmful, to the point that it is now unethical to try them. Even a direct environmental intervention following the most effective methods to alter thoughts, emotions and behavior were not able to have an effect, because sexual orientation is primarily genetic.

          • David Nickol

            Psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, and so on, are all in their infancy. There is an amazing amount yet to be discovered. If every science got everything right the first time, we would already know everything knowable.

            I am currently reading a book on cosmology (The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? by Paul Davies), and most of the story takes place within my lifetime (1964, Penzias and Wilson detect the background radiation from the Big Bang). Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA when I was in elementary school. There has been a tremendous advance in knowledge in my lifetime, and yet in many respects, humanity has just scratched the surface. It should be no surprise when it turns out something that once was believed turns out to be not as solid as it once was, or even that the opposite is true. This is especially true of nutrition, which seems to have about one reversal per day if you read the newspapers. How many people at margarine for years because butter was allegedly bad for you, and then it turned out trans fats are much worse. How many of us switched from whole milk to skim milk to avoid the fat, only to read a few days ago that people who drink whole milk live longer? The optimal amount of exercise you are supposed to get changes every day, it seems.

            Everything is changing all the time, but if we don't trust psychologists to know psychology, whom do we turn to?

          • Ken

            The biggest problem I have with psycology is that years after Dr Money's study was shown to be false the psycological comunity continued to teach it as true. By 1980 the study proved the exact opposite, yet thatfact was held in the dark. I took psycology in 1991 and we were still learning it as true. He had to come out on Opera to make.them.stop teaching this.stuff. After i saw him on Opera i asked a friend who was a few years younger than me who was getting her Phd in psycology, what she thought of the case. She looked ar me with a blank look and said she had never heard of it. An instition who is not only wrong, but continued to teach and propigate a lie has no credability with me. Not only that, but once the lie was discovered they erased it from history.

          • David Nickol

            I hear what you're saying, but whereas they say war it too important to be left to the generals, I can't see to whom psychology can be left other than the psychologists!

            It is not uncommon for out-of-date information to survive in textbooks for quite some time after it has been contradicted by newer research. This is true not just in psychology.

          • Ken

            The psychologests flip flop every few years. Back in the '70's homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Today they say it is normal. It used to be that a child was just nerdy, now psychologests tell us they have autism. Fifty years ago a child might be "restless" so they would give them an extra P.E. class to calm them down. Today they are told they have ADD a disorder and are given harsh medication. What was normal is now a disorder and what was a disorder is called normal.
            The Catholic church has had the same basic teachings for two thousand years. While our understanding of these teachings has changed, the core teachings have not, so for my money I will go with church teachings more than psychologists if there is a contradiction.

          • David Nickol

            While our understanding of these teachings has changed, the core teachings have not, so for my money I will go with church teachings more than psychologists if there is a contradiction.

            But the Catholic Church insists that there can be no conflict between science and religion. Also, the Catholic Church has no body of teaching that I know of that could be called "Catholic psychology." The Catholic Church may call homosexuality "disordered," but that is quite different from calling it a "mental disorder." Does that Catholic Church have any teaching about ADHD? Is it for or against drugs for ADHD? As far as I know, the Church leaves it up to psychologists and psychiatrists. So I don't know where you are going to find "Catholic psychology."

          • ClayJames

            Robert, thank you for your thoughtful response.

            Even though you give many differences between the two examples that I call incoherent, unfortunately these are differences without fundamental differences and these only bring up more questions as to the lack of coherence between views.

            You point out that divorce is necessary because it can be worse for children to be brought up in abusive and dangerous households. But surely you must know that statistically, these reasons make up, at the most, 15% of all divorces (its closer to 10%). It seems like the lack of nuance you are applying here would be the equivalent to saying that all assisted suicide should be allowed because it should be fine to unplug people in a vegetative state. Surely, the church can support some reasons for divorce, while rejecting the majority of invalid reasons.

            Also, your idea that the church mercifully allows divorce for the sake of the children, does not seem to apply to something like contraception. Why can't the church mercifully allow the use of contraception, understanding the reality of the human condition, in instances where there is a risk of STDs. Why can't we be merciful there?

            I disagree that there is truly a fundamental difference between man separating what god has joined and man joining what god wants separate.

            Finally, I will conceed that if the homosexual marriage is a bigger danger to children, then it should be banned and illegal. The problem is that the jury is still out on this (there are studies that point both ways) partly because there is not a big enough sample size yet to come to conclusions. But this once again, leads to other contradictions. If the children are the most important consideration, then the church should definitely fight to make divorce illegal in all but the aforementioned cases. Also, if it is shown that kids of homosexual couples are as well off as heterosexual couples, it should follow that the Church should mercifully allow homosexual marriage. Another component that should be considered is the fact that it a child is probably better off with two moms than with no parents in a foster home, so we should apply the same level of nuance and permit gay unions for the purpose of adoption.

            I still don't see the overarching principle that would coherently explain these different ideas that still seem incoherent to me.

          • Robert Macri

            Let's take a moment to consider your initial question:

            Right, when it comes to heterosexual marriage, the Church makes a clear separation between God's law and the civil law. However, regarding gay marriage, the Church says that god´s law must be man´s law. What gives?

            I interpreted that as such: "Is the church hypocritical for not opposing heterosexual civil divorce in all cases while opposing homosexual marriage in every case?"

            Thus, the overall point of my response was to argue against the charge of hypocrisy on the part of the church with regard to these two issues, not to defend the idea that "divorce is necessary".

            To that end, I wanted to clarify the nuance between the dissolution of marriage and civil divorce. That is, I sought to offer examples of why the church is justified in granting a dispensation to permit civil divorce in some circumstances without embracing divorce. At the same time, I was trying to argue that no such circumstances exist in which the church could support homosexual "marriage".

            By the way, though I neglected to use the proper language before, I do so now: it is not so much that the church "allows civil divorce". It is more proper to say that it has the power to grant a dispensation from the normative law when circumstances warrant. Think of it as something of a "presidential pardon", not as some kind of approval or acceptance of the violation for which the person requires pardon.

            In any case, the circumstances in which the church should grant such dispensations are rare, and the church should, and does, teach and defend the truth about the indissolubility of marriage.

            Surely, the church can support some reasons for divorce, while rejecting the majority of invalid reasons.

            Yes, and it was precisely my point that the church is not hypocritical for doing so. But I do think we should re-frame the discussion in terms of dispensation, not "support".

            You point out that divorce is necessary because it can be worse for children to be brought up in abusive and dangerous households.

            I hesitate to use the word "necessary" in this context, but let's move on to the latter part of your statement: the children.

            I used the idea of protection of the family as a case in point, but I do not think that this is the only reasons we can give for supporting traditional marriage. "Male and female he made them", after all, and I do believe in the equal dignity but unique and complementary character of the sexes. The differences between men and women are not restricted to genitalia, general psychology, or even our chromosomal makeup. There is even a difference in brain structure:

            http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/males-and-females-differ-in-specific-brain-structures

            It would be a grave mistake to dismiss these differences and say that men and women are completely interchangeable in every circumstance. After all, it takes one man and one woman to make a baby. However much some may wish otherwise, even a homosexual couple must in one way or another rely on that principle if they want to have a child. I argue that it also takes one man and one woman, with gifts unique to their sexes, to father and mother a baby through adolescence and into adulthood.

            Another component that should be considered is the fact that it a child is probably better off with two moms than with no parents in a foster home, so we should apply the same level of nuance and permit gay unions for the purpose of adoption.

            First of all, there are far more heterosexual married couples wanting to adopt than there are available infants, so I do not think that opening adoption to homosexual couples serves any need here.

            Second of all, it is not at all obvious that being raised by two moms would be as good or better than being raised by a single mom (or suitable foster parents), or, for that matter, that being raised by a single mom is as good or better than being raised by a mother and father,.. Certainly we can find individual cases of success in any circumstance, but that does not mean that there is no ideal to be sought. The fact that some responsible and successful people were raised without both a mother and father does not argue against the ideal of having both a mother and father. Some successful people were raised by drunkards, but we do not then say that drunkards are just as effective as sober parents.

            Finally, I will conceed that if the homosexual marriage is a bigger danger to children, then it should be banned and illegal. The problem is that the jury is still out on this

            What jury would that be? The American Psychiatric Association used to classify homosexuality as a disorder; now they do not. Is the newer APA correct just because they are newer? Should we say that the older APA doctors were bigots? Or if they simply lacked knowledge, can you show me the modern science which can determine whether a behavior is or is not moral? Since you cannot (as morality is not a scientific question), should we just go with the flow of modern perception and political correctness? It would be all too easy to mistake cultural changes for "science".

            Furthermore, what criteria would such a jury use to make any such determination? Would they consider only income and education of the grown children, or would they take into account the role of faith in their lives, the change in percentage of heterosexual versus homosexual relationships, the rate of childbirth out of wedlock? I am certain that you and I could find "juries" that come to completely different conclusions on this issue, but in the end, are we to form our consciences based on polling data?

            I still don't see the overarching principle that would coherently explain these different ideas that still seem incoherent to me.

            Well, I tried. :) Thanks for engaging in the discussion.

          • ClayJames

            Robert, I find myself having no problem accepting a lot of what you are saying (except a point about children that I will adress later) and yet I don´t think it does much to solve the problem.

            I understand that the Church does not ¨support¨ adoption (bad choice of words) and I am completely on board with you about looking at this as a dispensation. Let me use another example that I alluded to and you didnt adress, contraception. Not offering a dispensation in cases where doing so might prevent the spread of Aids is one the Chruch´s gravest sins. I admit that the necessity for this dispensation is a lot more pressing than gay marriage, but you also have to admit it is also more pressing than divorce. To simply explain why the Chruch is against the use of contraception does nothing to show why they don´t give a dispensation in this matter. The very fact that we are talking about dispensations, implies that the Church has a moral problem with the subject at hand.

            Likewise, to simply explain the moral problem with gay marriage, completly misses the point. I am not saying that men and women are interchangeable or that difference is simply restricted to bodily or genitalia. For the sake of this argument, I am fine to accept the Church´ moral problems with gay marriage. But we are talking about dispensation to not fight this in the legal realm, not whether it is moral or not.

            Finally, in your first response to me, your main objection for offering a dispensation was the following:

            That is, the Church does not demand that a person suffer needlessly for the sake of fidelity to their marriage. Indeed, the duty to protect one's children (or indeed one's self) may in some cases demand that a person take concrete steps to effect physical and legal separation.

            And the Church must mercifully permit this.

            Like I said in my response to you, these type of situations make up a bout 10% of divorces in the US. Surely you must see that there is a lack of nuance between this situation and other situations I have mentioned. If the Church can offer a dispensation for all divorces because of a situation that can lead to 10% of them, surely they can offer a dispensation for contraception in the frew cases where the lack of their use can lead to a deadly disease.

            Another main point of contention in your first reply was that ¨whether or not such a covenant can be struck in the first place¨. To me, the difference between giving a dispensation between the breaking of an unbreakable covenant and the joining of unjoinable covenant is a bit like picking knits. But this also bring up another point. Similarly to gay marriage, the Church also believes that a covenant between a divorced person (not annulled) and someone else is also a covenant that cannot be struck in the first place and yet there has been no effort by the Church in the current climate, to try to make this illegal.

            So to me, this all comes down to the wellbeing of the innocent party, the children. Like I said, if there really is a negative effect for children of same sex couples, I completely conceed my point. But as of now, there is no concensus and I believe the current research points more to the side of there being no negative effect on children. There is much literature by sociologists in determining and quantifying the well being of children (and people in general).

            Here are some studies regarding the issue: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/gender-society/same-sex-marriage-children-well-being-research-roundup

          • Robert Macri

            Clay,

            I’ve been digging around a little and suspect that it might be technically inaccurate for me to say that the Church “grants dispensations” for civil divorce. That would seem to imply that there must be a hearing and ruling first. I am not a cannon lawyer, but I think it is more accurate to say that the church permits temporary physical separation of spouses and suspension of conjugal living in certain cases, and could grant a dispensation to extend that separation if necessary. From the Code of Cannon Law:

            Can. 1153 §1. If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.

            §2. In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise

            Anyway, I just wanted to clarify in case I’ve given anyone a false impression. Perhaps someone else can correct my language on this.

            But technicalities aside, I still think the general concept of dispensation is closer to the truth of the issue than that of the church simply condoning civil divorce. (So thanks for raising the initial question! I’m learning a lot just trying to respond!)

            Let me use another example that I alluded to and you didnt adress, contraception. Not offering a dispensation in cases where doing so might prevent the spread of Aids is one the Chruch´s gravest sins.

            I must heartily disagree here. The church cannot condone one sin for the purposes of avoiding a potential consequence of another. To do so would be to say that the church cares more for the health of the mortal body than the health of the immortal soul, which the act of contraception threatens. We will be on this earth suffering various things for a few decades (eight or nine for the healthy ones), but what we do here will determine our state for an eternity. No, the church cannot condone sin even if it is claimed to benefit health.

            Furthermore, there exists a perfectly acceptable alternative to preventing the spread of aids, one that is indeed far more effective than contraception: abstinence. It works every time it’s tried.

            Also, your position on this strikes me as quite utilitarian. I caution that we must be very careful with utilitarian thinking here for (at least) two reasons:

            (1) If the Church condoned contraception for utilitarian reasons, it would undermine its own moral authority and the world would suffer far more serious consequences, in countless ways. The already unruly sheep would be without any shepherd at all, except for the subjective concept of utility.

            (2) Utilitarianism is a poor philosophy of ethics which can lead to grave errors. If, for instance, we take a purely utilitarian stance, the Pharisees could be said to have been justified to insist upon the death of Jesus: a rabble rousing, cult-like figure who upset the status quo and threatened the delicate relationship with Rome. How would a utilitarian respond to them when they argued that we should crucify Christ for the sake of peace on earth?

            To simply explain why the Chruch is against the use of contraception does nothing to show why they don´t give a dispensation in this matter.

            But it certainly does, as I hope I explained adequately above. But I really want to hammer on this point: the church has the authority to forgive sins, but does not have the authority to condone sins or to counsel anyone to sin, for any reason. If we think of a dispensation as something like a presidential pardon (as I said before) the distinction becomes clearer: The church can be merciful and grant absolution after the fact, but she cannot counsel anyone to sin (even with the promise of a dispensation) any more than the president can hold out the promise of a pardon and ask someone to commit a felony. If he did that, he would be in grave violation of the law. The dispensation extracts someone from an otherwise intractable situation; it cannot place someone in that situation.

            If the Church can offer a dispensation for all divorces because of a situation that can lead to 10% of them, surely they can offer a dispensation for contraception in the frew cases where the lack of their use can lead to a deadly disease.

            I don’t think we can say that the Church “can offer a dispensation for all divorces”. If I somewhere stated or implied that then I erred. The church has reasons to permit spouses to separate in certain extreme circumstances (though they remain bound in marriage), but that is not the same as permitting anyone to obtain a civil divorce for any reason whatsoever.

            Besides, there is a difference between separation of spouses and contraception. It is not a sin for a man and wife to forgo the conjugal life under certain circumstances, but it is a sin to contracept.

            And in what cases would contraception be the means to prevent disease when abstinence cannot?

            But we are talking about dispensation to not fight this in the l egal realm, not whether it is moral or not.

            To be fair, we cannot say that the church hasn’t fought against divorce. It’s been a centuries-old battle. One can certainly argue that there is less Church activity on this in the secular front in recent years, but a general commits troops to the battles he can win right now, and strategizes for the others. So the fact that we see much more resistance from the Church on homosexual marriage than we do on the secular legality of divorce simply reflects the current state of battle. Besides (and forgive me for cut-and-pasting from another of my posts here), “there have in fact not been any supreme court hearings or proffered legislation on this issue in recent years upon which the Church could have had the opportunity to opine, but there has been much ado about homosexual ‘marriage’.”

            You may have a point in saying that the church should fight against divorce more visibly and aggressively. Maybe. I’m generally a fan of shouting the truth from the rooftops. But considering the number of people that are now interested in the Church because of the gentle, merciful demeanor of Pope Francis, I have to admit that there may be better strategies than the “100% offense at all times” approach.

            But as of now, there is no concensus and I believe the current research points more to the side of there being no negative effect on children. There is much literature by sociologists in determining and quantifying the well being of children (and people in general).

            Here are some studies regarding the issue: http://journalistsresource.org...

            Physical or even some arbitrary measure of emotional wellbeing perhaps (though the latter is highly subjective), but what of spiritual wellbeing? I’d bet that most secular sociologists would say that St. Francis of Assisi was not a success story by modern standards (he was impoverished, half-starved, and physically ill), but it’s hard to find a greater example of spiritual success. If a modern secular family raises children to be wall street executives, doctors, and senators, I would nevertheless not call their childrearing “successful” unless those children also grew in faith, love, and charity.

            Furthermore, if society accepts divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, and shifting sexuality and gender identity as normative, would that not greatly skew their assessment of “wellbeing”? The life praised by the hedonist is not the life praised by the priest. For me, I strongly side with the priest.

          • ClayJames

            I must heartily disagree here. The church cannot condone one sin for the purposes of avoiding a potential consequence of another. To do so would be to say that the church cares more for the health of the mortal body than the health of the immortal soul, which the act of contraception threatens. We will be on this earth suffering various things for a few decades (eight or nine for the healthy ones), but what we do here will determine our state for an eternity. No, the church cannot condone sin even if it is claimed to benefit health.

            Except in the case where trying to outlaw the legality of divorce can affect the well being of children (like you claimed in your answer to me). This goes against what you are saying here.

            Furthermore, there exists a perfectly acceptable alternative to preventing the spread of aids, one that is indeed far more effective than contraception: abstinence. It works every time it’s tried.

            And there exists a perfecty acceptable alternative to preventing divorce, working together as a couple to improve each other's faults, strengthen your relationship together and honoring the covenant that you chose to go into in the presence of God.

            Besides, there is a difference between separation of spouses and contraception. It is not a sin for a man and wife to forgo the conjugal life under certain circumstances, but it is a sin to contracept.

            Divorce is always a sin according to the Church, just like contraception. An anullment is not a sin, but we are not taking about anullments, we are talking about legal divorce without an anullment.

            You may have a point in saying that the church should fight against divorce more visibly and aggressively. Maybe. I’m generally a fan of shouting the truth from the rooftops. But considering the number of people that are now interested in the Church because of the gentle, merciful demeanor of Pope Francis, I have to admit that there may be better strategies than the “100% offense at all times” approach.

            I find this line of thinking a lot more honest and more effective than your previous attempts to show a difference. It can certainly be the case that the Church must pick its battles and just because they legally fight against gay marriage and generally do not fight against the legality of divorce, does not make any meaningful moral claim about divorce itself. But this proves my point. In this case, the Church is not being coherent in how it fights against the legality of each of these issues. The justification here would be that this lack of coherence is simply practical.

            Physical or even some arbitrary measure of emotional wellbeing perhaps (though the latter is highly subjective), but what of spiritual wellbeing?

            What about spiritual wellbeing? Where are the studies that show that, from a spiritual point of view, children of divorced parents are better off than children of gay couples. One group witnesses their parents break an unbreakable covenant that they made with God and the other are raised by two people that cannot possible come into a covenant with God. How do we establish this difference in spiritual well being?

          • OldSearcher

            Just for your information:

            Spain legalized divorce in 1932, but under General Francisco Franco, who abided by the Catholic teachings, it was prohibited. In 1975 Franco died and, following the liberalization of many social policies, divorce was again made legal in 1981.

            Source:

            Divorce, Annulments, and the Catholic Church: Healing Or Hurtful? Richard J. Jenks. Page 35.

          • ClayJames

            I am aware of this, however, I am talking about the hipocricy between divorce and gay marriage today (more specifically in the US), not 50 years ago.

          • Mike

            you only think that bc you spend too much time on dissident cath sites.

            the cathecism and the USCCB still wouldn't'ya know says that marriage is indissoluble and that in the first instance we should as a society agree that no fault divorce has been a disaster.

          • ClayJames

            I don´t know a single catholic dissident site. You keep bringing this up as if it means anything to me or the point at hand.

            I apologize to atheists on this site who have to put up with disingenuous and childish attacks from some of my fellow catholics because of a lack of objectivity and openess. Its a good thing these type of people are a minority here.

          • Mike

            "disingenuous and childish attack"
            HA! You folks are AWESOME! LOL

          • Galorgan

            What do you mean "You folks" here?

          • Mike

            obtuse atheists.

          • Galorgan

            But Clay is a Catholic.

          • Mike

            does he "self - identify" as one LOL! ;)

          • Galorgan

            Are you implying that he's not really Catholic?

          • Mike

            no, only that he may be a dissident ie protestant catholic.

          • Galorgan

            But then he's not an obtuse atheist.

          • Mike

            really? ;)

      • Jane Woods

        And God let him. When the government of California allows people to
        assist in suicides, aren't they in this manner following in the
        footsteps of God?

        Paul, I have never heard someone put it like this and I have to say that it is very powerful. I am eager to see people´s response to this assertion.

        Clay,

        Following this logic people of faith should have not intervened when Hitler marched though Europe... or when children die of hunger in the 3rd world today.

        On this regard, I agree with Mother Teresa:

        Christ has no body but yours,
        No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
        Yours are the eyes with which he looks
        Compassion on this world,
        Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
        Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
        Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
        Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
        Christ has no body now but yours,
        No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
        Yours are the eyes with which he looks
        compassion on this world.
        Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

        • ClayJames

          I would draw the line at ¨moral evils¨ that affect someone not making
          the decision, like abortion. However, when the person making the
          decision is the only one affected (I am not conceeding that euthenasia
          is necessarily a moral evil), then it should be fair game.

          So in this case, trying to intervene during the Holocaust, feeding those that are starving or fighting for the lives of the unborn, are not the same as euthanasia as there are victims that have nothing to do with the moral decision that a person is making but that are suffering because of that decision.

          • Jane Woods

            So, you are saying that you disagree with Paul's comment, as it was stated?

          • ClayJames

            I will let Paul speak for himself, but I don´t think that your initial response to me follows from what he wrote.

    • Mike

      Check out world history: cuba = atheist russia = atheist romania = atheist albania = atheist north korea = atheist and on and on and on.

      If there is no God anything is possible.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Do you think atheism should be suppressed for the sake of the public good? If not, is it because it's not that dangerous, or because you just don't think it's practical?

        • Mike

          you mean by gov force? of course not!

          • George

            but why not? how much conviction for your beliefs do you have?

          • Mike

            bc ppl should be free to make up their minds.

          • Galorgan

            Just not about their own lives?

          • Mike

            teenagers should be allowed to decide to die with dignity too right?

            have you noticed how little media attention is paid to teenage suicide now that all the folks in power, the rich, old, white folks have decided that they want what they want and to hell with the rest of us.

          • Galorgan

            In the same way teenagers (under 18) have limited rights (voting, military service) so too would they here. Although that's not to say there should be no option to die with dignity if they are in the final stages of a terminal illness with no hope of recovery. It's a complicated issue that deserves nuanced thought.

            I notice no more or less media attention than normal. Do you have any actual evidence of this, or is it just something you've noticed yourself?

          • Mike

            but who are you to judge that their life IS worth living? where do you get off judging their mental anguish?

            if they feel depressed they too can kill themselves, why not?

            http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/suicidal-woman-wins-right-end-5966056

          • David Nickol

            Do people who commit suicide go to hell?

          • Mike

            no they have to spend eternity engaging obtuse atheists! ;)

          • David Nickol

            Once again, for the record, I am not an atheist. And I dare say that in grades 1-12, I had a better Catholic education than most Catholics in succeeding generations. I was not among the "poorly catechized."

            Paragraph 2283 is most interesting.

            2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

            2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

            2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

            Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

            2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

            The implications seems to be that it is in some ways possible to repent after death.

          • Mike

            of course God will forgive anyone and wants to but MANY ppl don't want forgiveness bc they don't believe they have done ANYTHING wrong.

          • David Nickol

            have you noticed how little media attention is paid to teenage suicide . . . .

            No, not really.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Is this primarily for moral reasons (it is wrong to suppress the beliefs of others no matter how dangerous), of pragmatic (it is ineffective or counterproductive to suppress the beliefs of others), or is it because atheism isn't that dangerous? Also, would you feel unsafe living in a country like Norway with a much higher fraction of atheists?

          • Mike

            well moral. but i would welcome a decrease in atheism generally in society very much.

            atheism is dangerous imho as has been clearly demonstrated in the 20th century.

            norway is a christian nation; it has a bleeping cross on its flag!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It has a much larger fraction of atheists than America, and I suspect a larger fraction of nonbelievers than Harvard. Would that worry you if you lived there? Would you fear for your safety?

          • Mike

            i don't know how much you know about norway but not very long ago it was STAUNCHY christian and i mean like even in the 50s and for about a thousand years before that. Go to some places in the us where there are many Norwegians and you'll see you christian they are - very protestant.

            can you name 1 Scandinavian country that does NOT have a christian cross on its national flag?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The U.S. is still strongly Christian. Much more so than Norway. What are you worried about?

          • Mike

            about 5-4 rulings that impose a lie on the nation that 2 men are in no important ways different from 1 man and 1 women for example.

          • David Nickol

            The topic here is atheism and assisted suicide. Why do you frequently try to hijack discussions by bringing up homosexuality and same-sex marriage?

          • Mike

            bc they are the biggest lies.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm not aware of that ruling. Are you referring to the ruling about same-sex marriage? If so:

            Same-sex marriage became legally recognized in Norway on 1 January 2009, when a gender neutral marriage bill was enacted after being passed by the Norwegian legislature in June 2008.[1][2] Norway became the first Scandinavian country and the sixth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_Norway )

            Although I don't know why you would worry much about this sort of thing no matter where you lived. That's not so much an especially atheist position. Many Christians advocate same-sex marriage. At least eight of the nine supreme court justices are Christian. I think five of them are even Catholic.

          • Mike

            6 are catholic and 3 jewish; no protestants but i suspect that 2 of the jewish are actually atheist as many secular jews are only culturally jewish.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Oh, I didn't know Alito was a Catholic! I probably should have known that. I think Breyer might be an atheist or agnostic from statements he's made during oral arguments. I have no idea about Ginzburg or Kagan. I don't know any of them personally. Scalia could be a closet atheist for all I know ;)

      • George

        If there is a God anything is possible. Woah look what I just did there.

        • Mike

          oh you have a flying spg monster in mind...oh ok i get it!

      • Doug Shaver

        If there is no God anything is possible.

        I have seen no limits on the possibilities with God.

        • Mike

          bc you haven't been paying attention probably.

          • Doug Shaver

            It's possible. Why don't you enlighten me? Tell me something that no theist has ever done, but at least one atheist has done.

          • Mike

            believed there was moral law and no punishment for doing evil.

          • Doug Shaver

            You mean, no punishment in the afterlife? Sounds like Christian universalism. They may be heretics, but universalists do believe in God and a moral law.

          • Mike

            sorry i meant that they will be punished...ppl who sin and do not repent and ppl who don't believe in sin will be punished by God.

          • Doug Shaver

            ppl who sin and do not repent and ppl who don't believe in sin will be punished by God.

            I know you believe that, but I don't see the relevance to my comment. Indulge me while I recap the discussion to this point. I was responding to this comment:

            Check out world history: cuba = atheist russia = atheist romania = atheist albania = atheist north korea = atheist and on and on and on.

            If there is no God anything is possible.

            Perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought you were claiming that when people don't believe in God, there is nothing they won't do. And my response was:

            I have seen no limits on the possibilities with God.

            By which I meant that when people do believe in God, there also seems to be nothing they won't do.

          • Mike

            right and i said you weren't paying attention to all those places on earth that have done that which other folks haven't bc they didn't believe in God.

            if there is no God there can not be any morality in which case anything at all is allowed.

          • Doug Shaver

            you weren't paying attention to all those places on earth that have done that which other folks haven't bc they didn't believe in God.

            I wasn't paying attention because it was irrelevant. Nothing that happens in any particular place at any particular time has anything to do with the point I was making.

          • Mike

            ok sorry i think i've missed the original point them...my bad.

          • Mike

            no sarcasm intended in last reply.

          • Doug Shaver

            if there is no God there can not be any morality

            With or without God, as long as people have morals, then morality exists. Whether it is a morality that you would agree with is beside the point.

          • Mike

            well yeah but that 'morality' i maintain is just a useful fiction not the real deal, now they deny the real deal exists but that's to me just beg the q.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm guessing that you're talking about the objective existence of moral principles. Atheism does not entail its denial. Some atheists do accept that concept. I don't, because it's too platonist for my philosophical taste. But I don't think it follows that morality has no existence of any kind. If it makes a difference in how people behave, then there is something real about it.

          • Mike

            ok i agree there's something real about it but what that is is that it is just a real fiction.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, we disagree about the ontological status of moral principles. I don't see a difference in consequence arising from that difference in ontology.

          • Mike

            i don't think we agree on the ontology but we just keep going around in circles.

            anyway thx for engaging.

    • "Would Bishop Barron then advocate that state would be in its rights to take action to suppress atheism in order to preserve the public good? What real evidence is there, beyond some blabbering sophistry, that rising atheism threatens human life?"

      Bishop Barron has explained this connection several times in past articles here. Most recently, he devoted a whole piece to it:

      http://www.strangenotions.com/the-death-of-god-and-the-loss-of-human-dignity/

      Also, for the sake of charity, please refrain from dismissing arguments you don't agree with as "blabbering sophistry". I'd expect that from Richard Dawkins, but you're better than that, Paul.

      • George

        I'm curious, do you think atheism should be made illegal for the social good?

        If gays can be stopped from marrying, in the christian perspective, and can be stopped from adopting, and can be fired from their jobs for being open, what should atheists be stopped from doing?

        • Mike

          from teaching scientism as metaphysical truth.

          • George

            what is the truth? science has to share with theology? fine, how do we check the answers of the people who analyse the bible and make assertions based on that?

          • Mike

            take it easy i was just kidding around a bit.

        • joseph3982

          Actually Christianity never "banned" same sex marriage. The whole argument is over the ontological nature of marriage itself. Christianity claims gay marriage is not possible. Gays have always been free to marry. But marriage requires a member of the opposite sex.

          • Robert Macri

            Well and succinctly put. Bravo.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I understand you see my comments as being uncharitable. They were directed at some of the arguments made on this site and not at the person who made them. If they are uncharitable, I cannot imagine how this article can be seen as anything but uncharitable fear mongering. Definitely no love shown to atheism!

        Would you be willing to publish an article that argues that the Catholic Church is dangerous to American democracy?

    • What real evidence is there, beyond some blabbering sophistry, that rising atheism threatens human life?

      I would say that assisted suicide "threatens human life", but I would make no necessary connection between this and atheism. I'm not sure whether you meant your two comments on the article to go together or not.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        No I don't intend the two statements to go together. I don't support physician assisted suicide. I also don't think atheism itself is dangerous to society.

        • Thanks for the clarification on assisted suicide.

          I would say that falsity is dangerous to society in the long term, so if Christianity is true, being an atheist ultimately is dangerous, while if atheism is true, being a theist is ultimately dangerous. Things are almost certainly made more complex by the fact that one can hold ostensibly the true position but hold to enough false beliefs, combined with few enough true beliefs, that those holding the other position are better off.

          At times, Christians have held that there is a strong connection between words and reality, and thus between beliefs and reality. When this belief is running strong, the motivation to track a person's actions and compare them to his/her words was high. In such a situation, we might have a chance of winnowing truth from falsity. Sadly, we don't seem to be anywhere close to such a situation, now. Lies have been institutionalized in government, and rampant discrimination has been institutionalized in academia.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm curious about your thinking on false beliefs. Having false beliefs does seem potentially dangerous. But why would false beliefs always be dangerous in the long term? I might have two false beliefs (the example is borrowed from Plantinga): (1) all tigers are friendly and won't harm me, (2) the best way to react to friendly tigers is to run away from them or hurl sharp things at them. Both beliefs are false, but held together, they seem to accomplish the same as the true beliefs that tigers are dangerous animals and that I should protect myself from dangerous animals.

            Do you think a lack of true beliefs is dangerous? Atheism, by some understandings, is a lack of a belief in God. If God exists, then atheists lack a true belief. This doesn't seem to require that all atheists have false beliefs also. Lack of true beliefs doesn't seem generally dangerous. It's dangerous if I don't believe that red lights mean stop. It's not so dangerous (as far as I can tell) if I don't believe that "lendrumbilate" is a word.

            Finally, I'm not sure it would be a good idea to compare actions and beliefs as a way of determining the truth of the beliefs (not saying that you claim this; just clarifying my own position, and maybe you agree). After all, most people don't consistently put into practice what they believe. I don't think people ever have.

          • Galorgan

            Just pertaining to the thought experiment: in (2), the use of "friendly" is redundant if all the tigers are friendly. So (2) can be restated as "the best way to react to tigers is to run away from them or hurl sharp things at them." Now either this is true regardless of (1) or it isn't. I'm guessing for the thought experiment we are assuming it's true that that's the best way to deal with tigers in the real world. Well then, we only have one false belief, the first one.

            Furthermore, for (1), if tigers are friendly and won't harm me, then what does it matter if I do (2) or not? If they are friendly and won't harm me, why can't I go up to pet one even if it's not the "best" way to interact with them? That belief could still be harmful because there exist other possibilities other than the "best way." Given the premise of (1), petting one might not be the "best way," but still could be a good way. Obviously then, this belief is potentially dangerous.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Well, don't blame Plantinga if I misstated the puzzle. I think, though, that you picked on a technicality of the argument rather than the heart of the problem. Maybe I'm wrong, but please indulge me with another example.

            Another example (hopefully) without the technical problem: Tim lives in a place with a bunch of different plants, some of which are harmful and some of which are good for him. He believes (1) that all the harmful plants are healthy and taste terrible, (2) that all the healthy plants are harmful and taste delicious, (3) that it's better to eat delicious things than healthy things.

            Now, I'd love an answer to this, a connection between beliefs that are good for you and beliefs that are true, because this would definitively dismantle Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism, and that would make me happy.

          • Galorgan

            I'm very interested in having this dialogue with you because I find these things fun. However, I'm not sure I have a grasp on the problem. I'll try to answer anyway, but please correct any misunderstandings I have.

            First off, I guess we just take it that even though he has it backwards, he's accurate (or perfectly inaccurate) in determining which are harmful and healthy. I.e. we could ask Tim if this blue plant is healthy and if he says, "No! It tastes delicious!" we would know it to be healthy 100% of the time (and vice versa). Basically, by going against what Tim believed, we would be correct 100% of the time?

            I understand the need for this simplicity in thought experiments, but obviously there are issues when compared to reality (some harmful foods might taste delicious and some healthy foods might taste disgusting - kale to some people). In the tiger experiment, avoiding tigers would naturally keep you safe from tiger attacks (not as sure about running away and throwing sharp things at them though). Naturally, eating only delicious things (Krispy Kreme donuts) is not necessarily the best way to health. Basically, my problem with this thought experiment is that we are contriving a world where healthy plants are always delicious and harmful plants always taste bad - whereas in the tiger thought experiment, it was based on (potentially) how the world actually works.

            It may also be the case that the thought experiment needs to be drawn out more. For instance, what does harmful mean? Does it mean deadly, or does it mean a plant that grows into McDonald's hamburgers (or something in between)? We can't really assume that Tim thinks harmful means deadly, can we? If we did then the third premise would be insane. He would also be proven wrong every time he didn't die. Let's assume the plants will "slowly" kill him over the course of two months - causing harm to his internal organs along the way.

            I don't have an easy rebuttal like I did for the tiger problem. It matters how much we bring in real world thinking. What if Tim naturally gets the flu? He thinks, "Oh no, the food I've been eating has made me sick. Clearly I was wrong to choose deliciousness over health. I will start eating the food that tastes bad." Tim starts to eat the food and because his flu gets better he gets better too, at first. However, he slowly gets worse and worse. Now maybe he realizes and reverts to his old method, or maybe he dies. Either way harm was done by having false beliefs.

            Perhaps this may not seem (or be) fair because I'm effectively just having Tim reverse his third premise. Still, I think it's a realistic example that shows that if Tim had correct premises and then got the flu, he would not cause himself harm. Within the thought experiment itself though, yes Tim is safe. However, like I said, the thought experiment does not conform to reality like the Tiger one did.

            Edit: Sorry, wanted to add. This thought experiment also uses a similar device to the other one. Namely it uses "better" and the tiger used the word "best." Neither indicates that this is then the necessary way somebody would do things. We don't always choose the better or best way. Now, in this one what if Tim just got really hungry and was far away form any delicious plants, but close to bad tasting plants. I promise you I've made healthy not-great tasting meals at home even when I was in the mood for a pizza because I didn't feel like walking down the street. :)

          • Galorgan

            I just thought of something else, which may be another technical trick for this example :). Just as (2) could be restated in the tiger problem, (3) can be restated in the plant problem. (3) could be restated as "it's better to eat delicious things than gross things, regardless of health content." This just spells out that if Tim came across a plant that was delicious and was also convinced that it was healthy, he would still eat it.

            Thus if Tim has belief (3) and lives in a miraculous world where all delicious plants are healthy, then I wouldn't say that premises (1) and (2) are usefully false, I would say they are irrelevant (but still false). He could believe any number of true or false things about these plants and it would have no effect on his choice (if we are keeping this as a closed thought experiment) because he'd always choose to eat the delicious plants. (3) can't be actually considered a false belief, since its a value judgement.

            Now this, again, is confining it to a closed thought experiment. My other post had to do with what would happen if we opened it up to real world possibilities. I think that post goes to the heart of the matter, but both show that these thought experiments oversimplify reality in order to try to win an argument. We can think of numerous reasons why it would be very important for Tim to have the correct (or at least a more correct) understanding of the plants around him (what if he has children he cares about and prefers them to eat healthy over delicious), but only one incredibly contrived and oversimplified way to where his "false" (and irrelevant) beliefs are beneficial.

            Edit: Just wanted to add this concluding thought. The thought experiment as it is has (1) and (2) being irrelevant. The moment those beliefs become relevant, they are harmful. I cannot think of a way where they are both relevant and beneficial. If you can, please let me know.

          • But why would false beliefs always be dangerous in the long term?

            Errors build up over the long term. Some delusions are stable in the short term, like Appeasement was. The examples you give from Plantinga seem unrealistic: you'd be ok not running away from all "friendly" animals except for tigers. It seems to me that humans generally try to use words in something approaching natural kinds, especially those people who work on clarifying ideas and expunging irrationalities.

            Do you think a lack of true beliefs is dangerous?

            Contrast the lack of true beliefs which allowed the death toll for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami to be so high, and the new, true beliefs which allowed the death toll for the 2013 Cyclone Phailin to be so low. Or consider what happened before we understood the germ theory of disease.

            Finally, I'm not sure it would be a good idea to compare actions and beliefs as a way of determining the truth of the beliefs (not saying that you claim this; just clarifying my own position, and maybe you agree). After all, most people don't consistently put into practice what they believe. I don't think people ever have.

            But people do this all the time in science. Of course there is error. And when you get out of carefully controlled lab environments, ideally where only one thing is allowed to change at a time, to the wide world where things are in Heraclitian flux, there's a whole lot more error. Even so, I claim that the Founding Fathers of the United States had some good beliefs which were reliably turned into action such that the beliefs can be thereby judged. It takes wisdom, but so does any intense form of truth-seeking and excellence-seeking.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            For the tiger: It wouldn't be only that belief, the tiger and plant examples are artificial. The plant example is probably better to use. Plantinga's argument is that false beliefs can be just as beneficial to survival as true beliefs, and so there's no way on evolution and naturalism to expect that our evolved beliefs tend to be true. Galorgan's got some more objections to these arguments, and I'm working through them to see if they are only technical problems or if there's something fundamental Galorgan settled on.

            I very much want to find out that false beliefs are generally bad and true beliefs generally good. I think that's probably true and would also dismantle Plantinga's argument (which would make me happy).

            For the lack of true beliefs: Granted (I also mentioned this in the comment to which you replied), there are many cases where a lack of belief has a clear negative effect on society. However, I can think of where a lack of belief doesn't seem to have much of a negative effect on society. Most people have never seriously thought about metaphysics, higher mathematics, chess strategies, they may not know how to play all sorts of board and card games out there, or what various stars are like. Lacking true beliefs about these things doesn't seem generally harmful to them (even if having these true beliefs may some cases be helpful). Do you think a lack of true belief is generally harmful? Even in these instances?

            Finally, I'm not sure it would be a good idea to compare actions and beliefs as a way of determining the truth of the beliefs (not saying that you claim this; just clarifying my own position, and maybe you agree). After all, most people don't consistently put into practice what they believe. I don't think people ever have.

            But people do this all the time in science.

            If that's the case, then it seems the crusades and inquisition have effectively proved the Catholic Church to be a false religion.

          • Plantinga's argument is that false beliefs can be just as beneficial to survival as true beliefs, and so there's no way on evolution and naturalism to expect that our evolved beliefs tend to be true.

            Well, you can differentiate between "adaptation to the environment" and "digging beneath the environment to what is true". An organism maximally adapted to the environment hasn't necessarily gotten anywhere close to the truth. In control theory, you learn that really bad models can actually be perfectly fine for controlling dynamical systems. Now, this "adaptation to the environment" only works in some regimes; there are plenty of evolutionary dead ends. So I'm not sure there is a deep contradiction between Plantinga's argument and my claim.

            However, I can think of where a lack of belief doesn't seem to have much of a negative effect on society.

            Sure. I might ask whether your relationship with your significant other is healthy if you've stopped learning true things about him/her, though. :-p

            If that's the case, then it seems the crusades and inquisition have effectively proved the Catholic Church to be a false religion.

            Can you demonstrate that ceteris paribus, the Crusades and Inquisitions were worse than their contemporaries? If you cannot, then I question the expectation that God would, if he were around, make people automagically perfect. If you can, that would get interesting. We could, for example, look to see whether the RCC has ever repented. If not, you would have an argument that in their theological/​cultural DNA is something inexcusably evil. I would want to talk a bit more before ending at "false religion". (I'm a Protestant, BTW.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            So I'm not sure there is a deep contradiction between Plantinga's argument and my claim.

            If false beliefs are generally bad for people, then they would seem to affect people's/culture's survival negatively (given your objections to the tiger and plant examples, it seems you would agree). This would provide a general evolutionary preference for true beliefs over false beliefs.

            Sure. I might ask whether your relationship with your significant other is healthy if you've stopped learning true things about him/her, though.:-p

            I agree with your point there. :) Relationships with people you don't believe exist are already going to be pretty bad, though.

            Can you demonstrate that ceteris paribus, the Crusades and Inquisitions were worse than their contemporaries?

            No, I can't. I'm not an historian. I suspect I couldn't anyway, because it's probably not hugely worse than what was happening in the rest of the world. But that's the thing. If I can tell whether beliefs are true or not by the actions of those who believe, then the Catholic Church has failed. That everyone else fails would simply mean that we haven't found the right answers yet.

          • If false beliefs are generally bad for people, then they would seem to affect people's/culture's survival negatively (given your objections to the tiger and plant examples, it seems you would agree). This would provide a general evolutionary preference for true beliefs over false beliefs.

            How would evolution cause us to believe what is true, rather than merely what well-adapts us to the environment? Evolution doesn't have foresight.

            Relationships with people you don't believe exist are already going to be pretty bad, though.

            Of course. The Christian might say that cutting oneself off from God is analogical to erecting a total solar shade around the earth. Things can keep running for a while, but they will end up breaking down. There is thermodynamical entropy, but there is also another kind, which one can observe in living vs. dying organizations of people. One might even be able to deepen the analogy by talking about synchronization between parts, which in the people example would be based on trust. Entropy increases as this synchronization is eroded. In the US, the number of people who trust each other has dropped remarkably, from 56% in 1968 → 33% in 2014. Some think this isn't a problem, that where trust reigned, law can pick up the slack. Christians would have some things to say about trust in law vs. trust in persons.

            If I can tell whether beliefs are true or not by the actions of those who believe, then the Catholic Church has failed. That everyone else fails would simply mean that we haven't found the right answers yet.

            I don't think the RCC claims to have figured everything out. If you judge them by the standard of perfection, they will of course fail. The metric I propose is whether they seem to be drawing closer to God. If there is change going on, then we can see where it is pointing. Then we can compare and contrast this with the major conceptions of God which are available.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            How would evolution cause us to believe what is true, rather than merely what well-adapts us to the environment? Evolution doesn't have foresight.

            If true beliefs help increase our chances of survival (believing that the tiger will kill us, believing that certain plants are poisonous, etc.), then a group of people that have true beliefs is more likely to survive in the long term than a group of people with false beliefs. The more true beliefs a group has, the more likely that group is to survive. Natural selection takes care of the rest.

            The metric I propose is whether they seem to be drawing closer to God. If there is change going on, then we can see where it is pointing. Then we can compare and contrast this with the major conceptions of God which are available.

            From what I can tell, the average Catholic doesn't seem to follow his or her beliefs better or worse than the average person in society. I'd say on average some groups more consistently live out what they believe than Catholics.

          • If true beliefs help increase our chances of survival (believing that the tiger will kill us, believing that certain plants are poisonous, etc.), then a group of people that have true beliefs is more likely to survive in the long term than a group of people with false beliefs.

            This doesn't provide a means, a mechanism, for acquiring those true beliefs. Suppose we examine the Scientific Revolution. Many of beginning results were not helpful for survival. It was only the long-term hope that they would be helpful that allowed for this to happen. There was deep foresight involved. Evolution has no foresight.

            There is also the matter of true beliefs resulting in sacrifice now for benefit later. What does evolution do when the time between sacrifice and benefit is multiple generations?

            From what I can tell, the average Catholic doesn't seem to follow his or her beliefs better or worse than the average person in society. I'd say on average some groups more consistently live out what they believe than Catholics.

            2 Tim 3:1–5 always applies.

        • Jane Woods

          I also don't think atheism itself is dangerous to society.

          I think that some social scientist might disagree with that statement:

          http://news.sciencemag.org/archaeology/2015/08/feature-why-big-societies-need-big-gods

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The article you link says nothing whatsoever about whether or not atheism is dangerous to society. Probably, if you were more careful in your citation mining, you could find a paper arguing that atheism is dangerous. So what?

          • Jane Woods

            I thought the article was kind of obvious: A society without a god with the characteristics described will not prosper to become what the researchers call a big society. An atheist society is simply a sub-set of those societies without a moralizing god.

            Did you actually read the article?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            A society without a god with the characteristics described will not prosper to become what the researchers call a big society.

            Where is this claim made?

          • Jane Woods

            You don't even have to have a suscription.. it is in the very first (free) paragraph:

            By combining laboratory experiments, cross-cultural fieldwork, and analysis of the historical record, an interdisciplinary team has proposed that belief in judgmental deities was key to the cooperation needed to build and sustain large, complex societies. And once big gods and big societies existed, their moralizing deities helped religions as dissimilar as Islam and Mormonism to spread by making groups of the faithful more cooperative and therefore more successful.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The proposal is that that belief in judgmental deities was key to building societies. Even if it's true, it doesn't establish that the lack of that belief will in the future be bad for society, and leaves open the possibility that different non-theistic beliefs can accomplish the same goals.

            In other words it doesn't argue or even suggest that atheism is dangerous for society.

          • Jane Woods

            So, let's make it a bit simple. Take two societies: Society A has a moralizing god, Society B is atheist and does not have a god at all. Start observing those two societies today, and come and check again in, lets say, 500 years (i.e., the future). According to the article, Society A should be more prosperous that Society B. Can we agree on that?

            and leaves open the possibility that different non-theistic beliefs can accomplish the same goals.

            Yes, in theory... but the researchers who wrote the article did not find a single example.

            In fact, it has not worked in practice for very distinct societies: all the way from France during the Reign of Terror, to Mexico at the turn of the 20th century, to North Korea, to the USSR. These societies are (were) very different in terms of cultural, economic prowess, etc., with the exception of being atheistic.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            So, let's make it a bit simple. Take two societies: Society A has a moralizing god, Society B is atheist and does not have a god at all. Start observing those two societies today, and come and check again in, lets say, 500 years (i.e., the future). According to the article, Society A should be more prosperous that Society B. Can we agree on that?

            No, we can't. There are two problems. First, the article is about the development of past societies. The researchers did not apply their results to the trajectories of present societies. We can fix this problem simply by altering your summary:

            So, let's make it a bit simple. Take two past societies at 500 years ago: Society A had a moralizing god, Society B is atheist and did not have a god at all. Compare these two societies from 500 years ago to today. According to the article, Society A should now be more prosperous that Society B.

            This would solve the first problem. There's a second problem. Society B could be an outlier. There's no quantitative comparisons yet, the dataset is too small, so the researchers are planning on doing this next. As they say in the feature "If we find there's a systematic pattern where most societies in the world scaled up without religion, I would worry," Norenzayan says. "I would say that's a falsification of the hypothesis." This means that they do expect to find exceptions to the rule: they expect that there exist some successful societies without judgemental deities. They just suspect it's not a systematic pattern.

            As the article also mentions (paragraph following the quote), other researchers believe counter-examples have been identified and do indicate a systematic pattern.

          • Jane Woods

            1,- Granted, the article is about the development of past societies. Keep in mind that social scientists cannot put a whole society in a test chamber; hence, their way of doing research is by looking back.

            2.- In summary, we have examples indicating that that moralizing gods have helped societies in the past.

            3.- We do not have examples of atheist societies that have prospered in terms of human rights. Even societies that had a great deal of trust in science and reason, like Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, eventually failed. Hence, I still stand by my original comment, that is, that the writers of the cited article might disagree with your original comment. The data simply suggest (as of now) that societies with moralizing gods have done better than those without it.

            4.- You say that current atheist societies (China, Cuba, North Korea) might fare differently than previous ones. Why? (You should provide evidence for your assertions also, right?)

            5.- Nordic societies are still nominally christian. Hence, I do not think that they should be counted among the atheists societies yet.

            6.- On the more speculative side, it makes sense to me that atheism destroys societies for the simple reason that societies have limited resources and it does not make sense to use those resources supporting members that will not contribute any quantifiable societal good (like children with severe mental retardation). In fact, we already have data supporting this last point if we look at how handicapped people feared during Nazi Germany. As we all know, Hitler was atheist:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler#Views_on_religion

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            From what you've said, you seem to agree that it's not really the result of the paper or the position of the researchers that atheism is dangerous: they don't say it, they don't even weakly imply it. Lots of words spent to find out we actually agree. Now, you also have your personal opinions, which have presumably been formed by applying some of this research.

            You did settle on one interesting topic; what is the empirical evidence that atheism is dangerous/not dangerous? I don't know what it means for a society to be an atheist society. Is enforced atheism in society dangerous? Doubtless. Enforced belief or non-belief in any society would seem to be dangerous. But is atheism in a particular society particularly dangerous or not?

            If atheism itself is dangerous to society, then societies where atheists are prevalent should be more dangerous for people. If 90% of a society don't believe, it should be worse than if 50% don't believe, than if 10% don't believe.

            We can plot the percentage of atheists in a country vs. average life expectancy, to see if there's a correlation or anti-correlation. We'd do it for all of them where data exists. Iran, Norway, USA, North Korea, China, India, etc. Would you agree that this would provide evidence on whether atheism is or is not dangerous to society? If so, I'll make the plot.

          • Jane Woods

            1.- About the weakly implications of the paper, please notice that societies are dynamical systems with very large-time constants; hence, looking for (historical) patterns is one way in which social scientist study them. Please also notice that, given the large time-constants
            of societal systems, past evidence becomes our best predictor of future outcomes.

            2.- I like your idea of finding empirical evidence about the consequences of having a great number of atheists in the population. In order to do that, though, we have to establish the proper causal links. So, are the policies and institutions that increase life expectancy (hospitals, soup kitchens, orphanages, etc.) the result of the now living atheist majority or the result of the religious majority who lived a couple of decades before? At this point a social scientist will tell you to look at the historical data… but you don’t seem to like that approach.

            3.- Hence, I propose a different approach to try to predict the consequences of a large number of atheists in the population. Let’s use logic. Firstly, we should define our terms. I define an atheist (for societal purposes) as somebody who has a materialistic conception of man. That is, man possess no soul, spirit, or divine element; there is nothing like a life-force or karma. Our atheist man acts upon reason and logic alone (given enough time for him to reconsider if he gets mad), and he pursues what he understands is good for him and for those he cares about. Having defined our atheist man, I can think of 2 main questions (or cases):

            a) At the societal level, why would our man spend resources to keep in our genetic pool the genes of people that natural selection seems to want to eliminate? This same point has being argued by people like Hitler and Nietzsche. Please notice that if you are interested in the well-being of future generations, the moral thing to do is to manage our limited resources wisely. Dawkins hinted at this when he tweeted about aborting children with Down syndrome.

            b) At the personal level, why is it irrational (or illogical) the behavior displayed by people like Richard Rich (1st Baron Rich) or Bernie Madoff (assuming he would not have gotten caught)? That is, to get ahead by perjury or financial dishonesty against people who you do not care about, and assuming (like in the case of Baron Rich) that you will never experience negative consequences for these actions in this life.

            These questions have plagued me for some time now... and I look forward with anticipation to your answers to these questions.

            Jane.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'll be happy to switch the direction of the discussion, so long as we can agree that there is no empirical support for the assertion that atheism is dangerous to society. Sociology is too inexact, and the comparison between percentage of atheists in a country vs. life expectancy showed no significant trend (I'll link the plot for the data in a bit; it's interesting). We can't answer this question in terms of sociology. We need to go to moral philosophy. If you're in agreement about the lack of empirical evidence that atheism is dangerous for society, at least for the sake of argument, we can move on to talking philosophy.

            By your definition of atheist, I'm not an atheist, but I'll be happy to argue as one for the sake of this conversation. I think there are good answers to both (a) and (b).

            Does this sound good to you?

          • Jane Woods

            Good. Please answer the questions.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Emphasizing that this is not my own position, I'll start with a couple questions of my own, to lay the groundwork and figure out the direction I should go answering your questions.

            (1) Are people who believe in Jesus and follow Jesus's commandments generally miserable people, or do they find a deep joy or happiness in life?

            (2) Do you think atheists who live a virtuous life are on average happier than those who live a vicious life?

            (3) Do you think humans are social animals?

          • Jane Woods

            The answer to (3) is 'yes'.

            I don't understand the relevance of the other 2 questions to this conversation. Could you please go to the point?

            BTW, are you familiar with the lives of the people that I mentioned and my reasons for mentioning them? You understand the questions, right? I am purposely not using terms like 'virtue' because we will have to agree on definitions. Could you please answer without using this kind of terms?

            Finally, please notice that these are common questions and that a lot of people face them.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            From your responses and non-responses to my questions, I think your goals and pacing for this conversation are different from my own, so I'll bow out. Maybe we can pick this up again sometime in the future.

          • Jane Woods

            I think your goals and pacing for this conversation are different from my own

            1.- My goals are to try to understand (in principle) if we can hope to find atheistic societies that do not self-destruct. In order words, is the rise of atheism a societal good? Is it bad, or it does not matter? This conceptual understanding will help me understand the data. I thought that this was about your goal as well.

            2.- Your comment about pacing is very interesting. Aren't you busy with other stuff? If you are not... would you please take the time to answer these questions as we agreed? If you are busy... could you just go to the point, please? ...let's talk about logic here ;)

            3.- Finally, you said: I think there are good answers to both (a) and (b). You also liked a comment by William Davis where he is saying that atheistic societies have good tools for contributing for the common good. I just what to know how those tools could be used to answer the (very common and timeless) questions that I presented.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm not defending my own position, since I'm not an atheist. Therefore I need you to answer the questions to find out which way I would go at one possible ethical theory that is consistent with materialism. You seem to be in a rush, so I don't want to waste your time.

            If you do decide to answer the other two questions, I can clarify about virtue. I just mean Aristotle's idea of virtue. So, to rephrase without using the word 'virtue', do you think that someone who lives by Aristotle's ethics would generally be happier than someone who did not?

          • Jane Woods

            Paul,

            Thank you taking the time to go over this. I really appreciate it.

            About your question no. (2), and since we (I) are interested in knowing how an atheist would respond to the questions that I presented previously, I would say that utilitarian ethics is preferred over virtue (Aristotelian) ethics. So, in case you want more specificity, let’s say that Friendly Consequentialism, as it is defined in the website below, is the ethical system of our hypothetical atheist.

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/conseque/#SH3a

            As a note, isn’t utilitarian ethics actually more commonly accepted among atheists? I honestly do not know, but I have that impression. BTW, am I properly understanding this question? Please let me know if that is not the case.

            About your first question, I think that our hypothetical atheist would say that truly believing Christians are indeed happy (although he might think that Christian are living a lie). It is important to point out, though, that depending of the location (China, Middle East, etc.), to live according to Christian principles might lead to real hardships. I think that Christians endure these hardships because (pardoning the possible oversimplification) they see them as an investment in a life of perfect joy in heaven. But if that is not the case, I think that our atheist (and myself) would say that enduring these hardships is simply silly (to put it mildly). Does this answer your question? If not, please let me know.

            BTW, in case you are able to respond over the weekend, I probably won’t. So, please do not think that I am not interested.

            Thanks again.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'd agree with your assessment, although I've known quite a few atheists who accept virtue ethics. My question for (2) wasn't whether atheists tend to accept virtue ethics, but whether an atheist who followed Aristotle's ethical system would tend to be happier than one who did not. It's not a trap question (none of them are). Some atheist friends think that Aristotle's ethics are the key to the happy life, and personal happiness is all that matters in ethics. Others mix consequentialism and virtue ethics. A few don't think Aristotle's ethics results in happiness, and some think that ethics isn't about happiness at all. Since atheism is primarily a lack of certain beliefs about God (and with your definition, it also entails a materialist/naturalist metaphysics), it contains a very wide range of ethical beliefs.

            So do you think Aristotle's ethics, if lived out, tends to increase one's happiness?

            I think you've answered the first question.

            I'll close by saying that I think I can adequately answer your questions (and I think I can start without a more detailed response to (2)). I'm not sure I can, and this will give us both an opportunity to find out if I'm right. So I don't mind if we move slowly.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I'm presenting below a simple ethical framework that I think will answer both your questions, about atheism not having a justification for our intuitions about the social good and the personal good. It is not the only answer and is probably not the most common answer. Quoting the questions:

            a) At the societal level, why would our man spend resources to keep in our genetic pool the genes of people that natural selection seems to want to eliminate? This same point has being argued by people like Hitler and Nietzsche. Please notice that if you are interested in the well-being of future generations, the moral thing to do is to manage our limited resources wisely. Dawkins hinted at this when he tweeted about aborting children with Down syndrome.

            b) At the personal level, why is it irrational (or illogical) the behavior displayed by people like Richard Rich (1st Baron Rich) or Bernie Madoff (assuming he would not have gotten caught)? That is, to get ahead by perjury or financial dishonesty against people who you do not care about, and assuming (like in the case of Baron Rich) that you will never experience negative consequences for these actions in this life.

            Along with the definition of an atheist:

            Atheist: somebody who has a materialistic conception of man... Our atheist... acts upon reason and logic alone... and he pursues what he understands is good for him and for those he cares about.

            It makes most sense to start with (b), the personal level, and then go to (a) the societal level.

            Neither of the two historical figures you cite in (b) qualify as atheists under your definition, although that's not very important to your question. Your question is, if an atheist were to observe their life, what sort of moral objections would he or she come up with, and why wouldn't the atheist do the same?

            Our atheist acts under self interest. What decisions are most likely to make this guy happy?

            From the third question (about people as social animals), we've figured out that people are social, so this guy isn't going to be very happy if he's totally isolated. He needs to be social. He needs to make and keep friends. This is part of his own self interest. One of the best ways to make and keep friends is to treat people well, at least those people who you would like to become your friends. This involves a certain measure of treating people as they would like to be treated (treating no one the way they would like will result in isolation), and also a certain measure of forgiveness (everyone makes mistakes, and forgiving no mistakes will again result in isolation).

            From the second question (about virtue ethics), we might find out that following Aristotle's virtue ethics happens to make people happy. If this is the case, then a life of moderation is the ethical life. Honesty, hard work, respect of other people's property ultimately leads to a happier life. Aristotle emphasizes family life and friendship, and if he's correct that a healthy family life and strong friendships are key to happiness, then these relationships especially need to be cultivated. The atheist should do these things.

            The third question was about living the Christian life. Our atheist is rational, as you say, so he accepts evolution on the basis of the evidence. His own personal happiness is determined in large part by the way his brain works, which is determined in large part by his evolutionary history. Human society will have developed tools over the past tens of thousands of years, adaptive methods to maximize personal happiness. Religious ethics would be one such tool. A good atheist would look at the world religions, find out the way that the practitioners of these religions live their lives, and emulate the practices of those religious people that seem happiest. Maybe our atheist thinks that Christians are the happiest. Even martyred Christians seem to have a joy about them, as the stories go, and that's pretty powerful. So our atheist would then try to live a life consistent with Christianity, at least insofar as the practices in question do indeed lead to greater personal happiness and don't compromise his rationality.

            Going now to (a):

            a) At the societal level, why would our man spend resources to keep in our genetic pool the genes of people that natural selection seems to want to eliminate? This same point has being argued by people like Hitler and Nietzsche. Please notice that if you are interested in the well-being of future generations, the moral thing to do is to manage our limited resources wisely. Dawkins hinted at this when he tweeted about aborting children with Down syndrome.

            Dawkins and Nietzsche would almost definitely qualify under your definition of atheist. Hitler is an ambiguous case, but again, this isn't all that relevant to your question. There is an evolution-motivated answer to your question and then there's an answer from (b)

            Evolution-Motivated Answer: If we are interested in the continued survival of the human species, first of all, we probably don't want to help natural selection along. Natural selection selects those who are not well adapted to this environment. When the environment changes, different genetic traits will be selected for. It is therefore in our best interest to maximize genetic diversity, in order to have a greater chance of surviving unpredicted environmental changes. Secondly, the human species isn't so much at the mercy of the callous hand of natural selection. We invent and discover ways to beat the odds. These discoveries are the product of original thinking and inspiration. In this respect also diversity is our strength. Reducing diversity puts us at risk, both in terms of our genetic diversity and in terms of the diversity of ideas.

            (b)-Motivated Answer: Why should our atheist care all that much about the long term future of the human species? It's no skin off our atheist's nose if the human race dies off in a thousand years vs ten thousand. What matters is what makes our atheist happy, and our atheist, as a social animal who is evolved to find happiness by following Aristotle's ethical philosophy and a generally Christian ethical practice, will be made miserable in a world where genocide is practised. Additionally, there's always the risk that genocidal policies our atheist encourages will someday include the atheist among the victims.

            When figuring out how your sort of atheist would prefer to live, you mentioned the lives of:
            Richard Rich
            Bernie Madoff
            Adolf Hitler
            Friedrich Nietzsche

            In light of the ethical framework I've outlined above, this provokes a simple question.

            If you found out tomorrow that there was no God, that all you are is atoms, and there will be no afterlife, but you were offered the chance to switch yourself with any of the people in your list, would you do it? Would you choose to take over the life of Adolf Hitler? Bernie Madoff? Friedrich Nietzsche? Richie Rich?

            I wouldn't.

          • Jane Woods

            Paul,

            Thanks for your well thought answer. First off, three clarifying
            questions:

            (1) Is your definition of an atheist the definition that we agreed upon (for
            the purposes of the original questions), that is, he has a materialistic
            conception of man?

            (2) Is this atheist, like the majority of atheist, a Consequentialist? The
            answer to this question seems obvious from your answers… but I want to confirm it.

            (3)If our atheist is not a Consequentialist, are you implying that there are not answers to the original questions in the way they were originally formulated and within the previously indicated constraints? In other word, your flourishing society of atheists does not have a majority of people like Sam Harris, Peter Singer and … Richard Dawkins?

            Having cleared that out, I would like to make a couple of comments.

            One of the best ways to make and keep friends is to treat people well, at least those people who you would like to become your friends.

            Could we say that if our atheist purposely hurts some
            people it means that he did not care about them? Since white-collar crime exists, I think it is safe to say that many people are perfectly fine with taking advantage of those they do not care about. In fact, a father not having enough money to buy medicine or food for his children would not make be categorized as white-collar crime since the criminals are very well off most of the time. This makes me think that white-collar criminals commit these crimes because they derive
            pleasure out of them… that is, committing these crimes make them happy. The question then remains, why is it illogical to commit white-collar crimes, if (for whatever reason) they make you happy, assuming that you won’t experience bad consequences, and you don’t care about those you are hurting?

            From the second question (about virtue ethics), we might find out that following Aristotle's virtue ethics happens to make people happy. If this is the case, then a life of moderation is the ethical life. Honesty, hard work… ultimately leads to a happier life.

            I am assuming that among the virtues you are including compassion for those less fortunate. If so, why? I guess that Hitler (and most of Germany at the time) considered himself a very virtuous person. I think that he certainly was hard-working and honest toward those he cared about. Hitler was called Führer, i.e., guide or leader. In fact, I think that had he achieved this goal, he would have died a very happy person. Nevertheless, he was not compassionate.

            I find it interesting that an atheist would follow a virtue-based
            ethical system since there are many unanswered questions without some sort of prime example(e.g., Jesus, or a saint, etc.). For instance:

            Critics have noted that Aristotle merely indicates “the
            whereabouts of virtue.” He is not prescriptive enough about what we, as virtuous people, are supposed to do in his famous volume,”The Nicomachean Ethics (350 B.C.E.)” Who is the good person, and how can she be recognized? The good person, invested with the virtues, is supposed to know what to do in a given situation, but the argument becomes somewhat circular. The good person will know what to do because he is good.

            source: http://atheistscholar.org/ethics.aspx

            respect of other people's property ultimately leads to a
            happier life.

            Robin Hood and the Merry Men?? :) (OK…fine… they were fictional…
            :) )

            Aristotle emphasizes family life and friendship, and if he's correct that a healthy family life and strong friendships are key to happiness, then these relationships especially need to be cultivated. The atheist should do these things.

            I don’t disagree with this… and neither would our hypothetical atheist. So, the question is not how to treat your family and those you want to be friends with? The question is why not to take advantage of those you don’t care about (assuming that there are not bad repercussions)?

            Natural selection selects those who are not well adapted to this environment.

            Is this a typo?

            When the environment changes, different genetic traits will be selected for. It is therefore in our best interest to maximize genetic diversity, in order to have a greater chance of surviving unpredicted environmental changes.

            But Paul, even religious people agree that it is good to eliminate certain genes (or their expressions) if by doing so certain maladies (like hereditary diseases) could be eradicated. If we could cure a genetic disease, wouldn’t you do it because that would certainly reduce genetic diversity? Of course we want diversity, but we want good diversity; that is, a different way of solving a (biological or anatomical) problem without possible drawbacks. Also, if my memory does not fail me, we will have genetic diversity anyways because of random mutations. The question is, when we cannot isolate the particular gene(s) that nobody wants (even religious people), but we know that those genes are present in a human being, why wouldn’t an atheist society get rid of the human being? I see that you are saying that we should keep the human being because of the genetic diversity that she brings… but, I don’t know… I don’t think it flies due to the reasons mentioned above.

            What matters is what makes our atheist happy

            Agree. Then, Paul, based on readily observed evidence, there are people out there for whom swindling others seems to make their day. Why shouldn’t they engage in these activities if they derive joy out of them if we assume that they won’t experience negative consequences?

            our atheist, as a social animal who is evolved to find happiness by following Aristotle's ethical philosophy and a generally Christian ethical practice, will be made miserable in a world where genocide is practiced.

            Are you saying that our atheist is pro-life?? Maybe this is at the core of the issue. For our atheist, who is worth his time and effort? Who does he consider his kin? Would he say that skin color, or creed, or racial features, or developmental stage, etc., mark the difference between those of within his group, and those outside. If I go by the empirical evidence, it seems that there are plenty of cases where people do not care about their neighbors and seem totally nonchalant about it.

            Additionally, there's always the risk that genocidal policies our atheist encourages will someday include the atheist among the victims.

            Agree. That is why I think that an atheistic society would eventually cannibalize itself.

            If you found out tomorrow that there was no God, that all you are is atoms, and there will be no afterlife, but you were offered the chance to switch yourself with any of the people in your list, would you do it? Would you choose to take over the life of Adolf Hitler? Bernie Madoff? Friedrich Nietzsche? Richie Rich?

            Because of the way how I was brought up, it would hurt me psychologically to abuse innocent people. But the fact that these (immoral) people existed tells me that not everybody has been brought up the same way. Now, they were very smart and logical. The question is, was their behavior illogical? I think that if there were a logical reason for them not to act in certain way they wouldn’t have. What do you think?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Great feedback, and lots of things to discuss a bit further:

            (1) Is your definition of an atheist the definition that we agreed upon (for the purposes of the original questions), that is, he has a materialistic conception of man?

            Yes. In fact, I think I quoted your definition in the beginning of the response. For our atheist, people are made of matter. There's body, and no such thing as mind that isn't completely grounded in matter. Possibly more relevant to our discussion, our atheist is self-interested, and uses reason and his senses to determine what is in his own best interests.
            (logic and the senses)

            (2) Is this atheist, like the majority of atheist, a Consequentialist? The answer to this question seems obvious from your answers… but I want to confirm it.

            Not fundamentally, and mostly because it would conflict with the definition for atheism we agreed upon. Someone who is motivated to:

            [pursue] what he understands is good for him and for those he cares about.

            will tend to be an ethical egoist, and will be motivated to do whatever is best for himself. Interestingly, an ethical egoist could also be a consequentialist, if he determined using his senses and reason that he would be happier as a consequentialist than if he held to a different ethics.

            But he wouldn't fundamentally be a consequentialist. He wouldn't adopt consequentialism because it's the right thing to do, but rather because it makes him happier and actions that make him happier are the right thing for him to do.

            (3)If our atheist is not a Consequentialist, are you implying that there are not answers to the original questions in the way they were originally formulated and within the previously indicated constraints?

            Absolutely nothing in the original questions requires consequentialism. In fact, your definition of atheist practically excludes the option.

            In other word, your flourishing society of atheists does not have a majority of people like Sam Harris, Peter Singer and … Richard Dawkins?

            It might have a majority of people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Sam Harris especially fits into this sort of framework. Ethics is about what we do in order to increase our happiness, and the best way to find this out, for Harris, is to learn evolutionary biology to determine what happens to make us happier. Science provides the best key to determining the ideal ethical system. Dawkins, insofar as he would subscribe to this sort of notion, would fit in as well. Singer is effectively not an atheist because he doesn't fit the definition we agreed upon.

            I'll let you respond to these answers, and (if you choose) modify the definition of atheist, so we can revisit these issues, before moving on to the rest of your response. Maybe I misinterpreted your definition. We should get the basics sorted before delving in.

          • Jane Woods

            I am bit confused. You say (apologies if re-quoting is confusing):

            Absolutely nothing in the original questions requires consequentialism. In fact, your definition of atheist practically excludes the option.

            In other word, your flourishing society of atheists does not have a majority of people like Sam Harris, Peter Singer and … Richard Dawkins?

            It might have a majority of people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Sam Harris especially fits into this sort of framework.

            So, are you saying that Sam Harris is not a consequentialist?

            The following quote is from this source: http://atheistscholar.org/ethics.aspx

            There are many influential neo utilitarian moral philosophers at present: Sam Harris, Peter Singer, and Kai Nielsen, among others.

            Why do you say that Dawkins is not utilitarian? He has been quoted as saying:

            If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down's baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child's own welfare.

            Finally, you say:

            Interestingly, an ethical egoist could also be a consequentialist

            But according to this wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_egoism, all ethical egoists are in fact consequentialist:

            Egoism, utilitarianism, and altruism are all forms of consequentialism

            I think that this quote (taken from the wikipedia article) goes to the heart of my point:

            Ethical egoism does not, however, require moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others.

            So, the aforementioned quote could be read as:

            Ethical egoism allows for, however, moral agents to harm the interests and well-being of others when making moral deliberation; e.g. what is in an agent's self-interest may be incidentally detrimental, beneficial, or neutral in its effect on others.

            Thoughts?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I was sloppy with my terminology. Sorry about that. When I said consequentialism, I meant impartial consequentialism (the sort that Singer advocates). Singer defends impartial consequentialism from the view that there are normative reasons for actions, independent form our desires and motivations.

            How can a materialist motivate such a position?

            It really doesn't matter to me who accepts what here, or how many atheists hold which position, because that's not relevant to your questions. Your questions were about the social and personal motivations of atheists (as you define the term), and I'm offering a position that an atheist can rationally accept.

            It doesn't matter if no atheist actually does accept this position. The point is it would be rational for an atheist, as you defined the term, to do so.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Could we say that if our atheist purposely hurts some people it means that he did not care about them? Since white-collar crime exists, I think it is safe to say that many people are perfectly fine with taking advantage of those they do not care about.

            I don't see how this follows. People do things that they believe will make them happy, that may even provide some pleasure in the short term, but that end up making their lives miserable. For example, if Madoff was happy perpetuating fraud, why confess this to his children? In what I've read of his confessions, he didn't sound very happy doing what he did. More importantly, I believe that most people would not be happy with a life perpetuating fraud. Therefore our atheist, if he's like most people, should avoid this behavior.

            I don’t disagree with this… and neither would our hypothetical atheist. So, the question is not how to treat your family and those you want to be friends with? The question is why not to take advantage of those you don’t care about (assuming that there are not bad repercussions)?

            If taking advantage of other people makes someone miserable, and they understand it would make them miserable, what would motivate them to do it? Taking advantage of other people makes me miserable. Other people taking advantage of people makes me miserable. Therefore, if I were to act only with the motive of furthering my happiness, I would not take advantage of other people and would encourage others to do the same. So long as the majority of our atheists are the same sorts of people, how will they be dangerous?

            Natural selection selects those who are not well adapted to this environment.

            Is this a typo?

            Yes.

            But Paul, even religious people agree that it is good to eliminate certain genes (or their expressions) if by doing so certain maladies (like hereditary diseases) could be eradicated. If we could cure a genetic disease, wouldn’t you do it because that would certainly reduce genetic diversity?

            Personally, i would. I'm not motivated by a sort of evolutionary naturalism, that thinks that maximal species survivability should motivate ethical decisions, and that controlling the genetic pool is the best way to ensure this survivability. If I thought this, I would fight against any sort of blanket genetic cure for survivable genetic 'defects', since maximizing diversity is best for the long-term future of our species.

            The question is, when we cannot isolate the particular gene(s) that nobody wants (even religious people), but we know that those genes are present in a human being, why wouldn’t an atheist society get rid of the human being?

            For three reasons. Because genes that nobody wants only apply to what nobody wants in this environment. If the environment changes, maybe those genes are what everyone will want. Because the person is more valuable to society than the sum of his or her genes (thanks to our ability to innovate, we are generally not so beholden to natural selection as we once were). Most of all, because killing people makes people miserable.

            Are you saying that our atheist is pro-life??

            Possibly but not necessarily. Do you think that people who are pro-life are generally happier than people who are not? If so, then our atheist will generally be pro-life.

            The atheist will, all else being equal, act in the best interests of society, since the atheist is part of society. Any policy that targets a specific group of people negatively could eventually target our atheist. Since our atheist is rational, he won't support any such policy, all else being equal.

            Agree. That is why I think that an atheistic society would eventually cannibalize itself.

            Only if atheists are irrational. Only irrational people would set up a society that would self-destruct. But, since you defined atheists as rational, atheists cannot by definition institute societies that will predictably self-destruct.

            The question is, was their behavior illogical? I think that if there were a logical reason for them not to act in certain way they wouldn’t have. What do you think?

            Only if their behavior made them miserable. Hitler seemed pretty miserable. Madoff seemed miserable. Nietzsche was miserable, although much of this may have been due to mental defects. He also wasn't exceptionally logical, especially near the end of his life. I have no idea if Richard Rich was miserable or not, but I certainly would have been if I had done the things he did, and I think most other people would be as well.

          • Jane Woods

            Paul,

            Is this a somewhat decent summary of your argument:

            1.- The pursue of happiness is in the self-interest of rational people.
            2.- Taking advantage of other people makes rational people unhappy.
            3.- Hence, rational people will not take advantage of other people.

            In case this was an OK summary, a simple 'yes' will suffice. If not, please modify accordingly. I have some follow up comments after your reply.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I would modify it as follows (D - Definitions, A - Axioms, P - Propositions, C - Conclusion):

            D1. Atheist - somebody who... acts upon reason and logic alone... and he pursues what he understands is good for him and for those he cares about.

            A1. People act with the intent to bring about a desired state of affairs.

            A2. When rational people act, they will, to the best of their knowledge and abilities, choose actions with the greatest chance of achieving their desired state of affairs.

            A3. For most people, the improvement of the state of affairs of others has a greater chance of improving our own state of affairs than otherwise.

            A4. A hypothetical atheist is not different from most people as regards A3

            A5. This hypothetical atheist is aware of A3.

            P1. Atheists are rational people. (From D1)

            P2. Atheists act with the intent to bring about a desired state of affairs. (From D1 and A1)

            P3. Atheists choose actions, to the best of their knowledge and abilities, with the greatest chance of achieving their desired state of affairs. (From P1, P2, and A2)

            P4. The hypothetical atheist knows that the improving state of affairs of others has a greater chance of improving his own state of affairs than otherwise. (From A3, A4, and A5)

            C. This hypothetical atheist will choose to act to improve the state of affairs of other individuals, will not act otherwise, and will act to frustrate the actions of those who would worsen others state of affairs. (From P3 and P4).

            -----

            Now, this is a skeleton argument, one that isn't as robust as the argument I presented (for example, it doesn't distinguish between passively observing people improving vs actively helping others to improve their lives), and it certainly doesn't get into the practical details of how this is to be carried out.

            I take as obvious that someone who reaches C will not be a social Darwinist (answering your first question) and will not hurt others for his own perceived gains (answering your second question).

            If you agree that the premises are true and that the argument is valid, I'm not willing to debate that the conclusion answers your questions; I consider such a task to be trivial and unproductive.

            I'm very happy to discuss the premises of the argument or the validity of the argument, and am happy to respond about my previous comments here.

          • Jane Woods

            Paul,

            I apologize since it seems that my previous post was not very clear. I apologize for my sloppiness. Is this your summary argument to the 1st (social), the 2nd (personal), or both questions? The skeleton argument that I presented today was my understanding of your response to what I called the Personal Question. I am coping the question below for reference:

            b) At the personal level, why is it irrational (or illogical) the behavior displayed by people like Richard Rich (1st Baron Rich) or Bernie Madoff (assuming he would not have gotten caught)? That is, to get ahead by perjury or financial dishonesty against people who you do not care about, and assuming (like in the case of Baron Rich) that you will never experience negative consequences for these actions in this life.

            As you can see, in this question I am taking about specific people. I am bringing this up because of your premises A3 and A4 (mostly A4).

            In your previous responses you seem to have answered this question by indicating what I mentioned in my second premise, that is,

            2.- Taking advantage of other people makes rational people unhappy.

            For instance, you said (in bold):

            The question is, was their behavior illogical? I think that if there were a logical reason for them not to act in certain way they wouldn’t have. What do you think?

            Only if their behavior made them miserable. Hitler seemed pretty miserable. Madoff seemed miserable.

            So, referring to what I called the Personal Question, which talks about specific people, how would you summarize your argument?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            No worries.

            Is this your summary argument to the 1st (social), the 2nd (personal), or both questions?

            I think it answers both, in the sense that, someone who gets to the conclusion couldn't rationally be a social darwinist or think it is rational to take advantage of people.

            I don't know enough about those specific people to answer. I thought in both questions you were asking a general hypothetical. We can speculate about Richard Rich.

            First, Richard Rich probably doesn't fit the definition of an atheist, so he may not make decisions on reason or logic alone, or pursue what he understands is good for him or people he cares about. Richard Rich may be one of the minority who do not find happiness in the happiness of others. If he is at all like the character portrayed in A Man for All Seasons (one of my favourite films of all time!) then he certainly seemed to make many irrational choices, choices that conflicted with his desires, and that resulted in an unhappy state of affairs for Richard. The Richard Rich of history may have been very pleased with himself, for all I know.

            People who take pleasure in the pain of others, or who do not care about the wellbeing of others at all are rare, and I suspect that moral codes (religious or otherwise) would not have that much of an impact on their lives. Maybe I'm wrong about this. The way any hypothetical character, fictional or not, could avoid my argument, would be if they were ignorant of A3, or were one of the few people for which A3 is not true. If that's the case, there's nothing necessarily irrational about their actions.

            In the extreme case, a non-atheist might want to make life as miserable as possible for himself. If A3 held for this person, and this person knew A3 held, then it would be rational for this person to make the lives of others miserable, in order to make his own life more miserable.

          • Jane Woods

            Paul,

            I would like to make several points... but, If you don't mind I will comment later... I need to catch up at work.

            Thanks beforehand.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Take your time. I'm busy too. I like that we can have this conversation slowly.

          • Jane Woods

            Paul,

            I have given some thought to your proposed ethical system without a moralizing god.

            I have several points, but instead of blasting them all out I will proceed point by point. It seems that when I mention all my points at once they do not get across and the discussion gets diluted and aimless. Besides, my family and work are not allowing me a lot of extra time for these blogging endeavors :).

            Let's begin.

            For all we know Richard Rich (RR) was very aware of his actions, and was very rational and smart... how would you explain his rise to prominence in a society where social mobility was so limited? Also, the historical record indicates that what RR did was indeed beneficial for him and his family members. Hence, he might not be somebody for whom A3 holds. In this case I see that you do agree that his actions were not illogical.

            Now, let's assume (for the sake of discussion) that RR was a psychopath.

            1.- Would you say that it would be beneficial for society if psychopaths actually believed in a moralizing god, that is, a god that would punish them for hurting innocent people?
            Please remember that what started this conversation was not if God exists... but if atheistic societies can be as prosperous as societies with moralizing gods.

            2.- Now, if you answered positively to the previous question and considering that, although psychopaths tend to be few, they tend to be powerful and influential (think of CEOs), are atheists actually hurting society by trying to convince everybody (psychopaths included) that moralizing gods do not exist?

            3.- If this is the case, is atheism actually non-utilitarian and hence, the majority of atheists are contradicting themselves?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            For all we know Richard Rich (RR) was very aware of his actions, and was very rational and smart...

            Do you think Richard Rich was happy? Do you think he would have been happier if he would have taken Thomas More up on that teaching position?

            If he would likely have been happier taking up Thomas More's offer, then declining it was irrational. He made an error in reason, or maybe he was ignorant of the facts, and had a deficient understanding about himself and/or the world.

            If he found greater happiness torturing women in the tower than he would have found as an honest school teacher, then I would submit that Richard Rich was abnormal; he certainly wouldn't abide by my A3.

            1.- Would you say that it would be beneficial for society if psychopaths
            actually believed in a moralizing god, that is, a god that would punish
            them for hurting innocent people?

            This isn't so much a philosophical question as an empirical question. Do people with criminal tendencies benefit from religion? Prison statistics suggest that the nonreligious are moderately underrepresented in prisons compared to the general propulation (5-15% in prisons vs about 23% in the general population; see Q22 of the Front Page Report of the Pew Forum and Wikipedia). Interestingly, Christians might be slightly underrepresented as well (65% in prisons vs 70% in general population). The difference seems to be made up by Muslims (9% vs 1%), those of Native American faith (3% vs negligible), and Pagans (2% vs unknown, but probably less than 1%).

            This would seem to suggest that religious faith has little effect on people with criminal tendencies, but may weakly suggest that Christian belief and non-belief both may have a positive social effect on those with criminal tendencies.

            This isn't much related, but Spinoza thought along the lines of your first question, that belief in Christian superstitions (or, more generally, the common superstitions of a healthy society) is good for people who are ignorant of reality and rational ethics. So he'd probably answer in the affirmative, at least for the sort of society he lived in. More developed societies, comprised of people who are rational and free, would be able to throw off the shackles of superstition. I suspect that Spinoza is not correct about this, but his position on religion and the state does have his contemporary defenders.

            What would be the theoretical motivation for a non-religious person who genuinely finds happiness in taking advantage of others, to not take advantage of others? I think it would be because A3 is true for the majority of society, and therefore social rules have been set up to restrict harm to others, and there are severe consequences for breaking these rules. A non-religious person who finds happiness in taking advantage of others might nevertheless avoid taking advantage, because the payoff doesn't make up for the risk and the cost.

            Alternatively, I can imagine a religious person who finds happiness in taking advantage of others, and who also believes in the power of deathbed confessions (a way to get out of the punishment).

            Finally, I suspect most people with criminal tendencies are irrational, and may know that there are likely long-term negative consequences for committing crimes, either in this world or the next, and commit crimes anyway.

            All that said, my answer to your question is I don't know if it's beneficial or detrimental for psychopaths (or generally people with criminal tendencies) to believe in a moralizing god, due to insufficient data either way.

            Since I did not answer positively to your first question, I will refrain from actually answering your second question. I'll simply comment that if it was established that Christian beliefs are better for society than other beliefs and if it is possible for people to convince others of beliefs that they themselves think are not true, without greater social consequences, then it would be good to convince people to be Christian, regardless of whether it's true. Spinoza thought this. He thought rational people should convince irrational people to be superstitious because irrational superstitious people are safer.

            3.- If this is the case, is atheism actually non-utilitarian and hence, the majority of atheists are contradicting themselves?

            I do suspect that the majority of atheists are utilitarians, but most of them also seem to think that true beliefs are healthier and better for society than false beliefs. Some atheists worry about this, however, and do speculate that false beliefs may motivate people to act in their own best interests and may ultimately improve society, even if they result in sometimes making irrational decisions. See http://rationallyspeakingpodcast.org/show/rs140-kenny-easwaran-on-newcombs-paradox-and-the-tragedy-of.html

          • Jane Woods

            As a follow-up to my previous post, I wonder also how P4 works in the specific cases mentioned (i.e., Bernie Madoff or Richard Rich). Again, I am talking about the Personal Question.

    • Jane Woods

      What real evidence is there, beyond some blabbering sophistry, that rising atheism threatens human life?

      Could the USSR, China (in terms of human rights), France during the Reign of Terror, Cuba and North Korea serve as some sort of evidence?

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        How can I disentangle the beliefs of these different cultures? Maybe these cultures are harmful because of what they actually do believe instead of what they do not believe.

        Otherwise, we would expect a correlation between the fraction of atheists in a society and the threat to human life. Would a person's life be more at risk in Norway, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, etc.? What fraction of these populations are openly atheistic?

        I asked with real interest in the answer, what actual evidence is there that increasing atheism threatens human life?

    • Jane Woods

      And God let him. When the government of California allows people to
      assist in suicides, aren't they in this manner following in the
      footsteps of God?

      I am glad that people of faith did not follow this logic when Hitler marched though Europe... or when children die of hunger in the 3rd world today.

      Hmm, maybe Mother Teresa actually did not to follow in the footsteps of God!!

    • gigi4747

      "And God let him. When the government of California allows people to assist in suicides, aren't they in this manner following in the footsteps of God?"

      You seem to be comparing apples and oranges a bit. That God lets us choose our own behavior doesn't mean that cultures don't have an interest in putting boundaries on the way we interact with and act on each other. With regards specifically to the assisted suicide issue, I am a nurse and shudder to think of anyone in health care being given the power and authority to help end patient lives.

    • Gunnar Thalweg

      It threatens human life and dignity at every stage: Birth control. Abortifacients. Abortion on demand. Fetal-body-parts trafficking. Pornography. Slavery. Suicide. Assisted suicide. Euthanasia.

      If you prefer a more liberal view: Human trafficking. Child labor. Pollution. Exploitation of the poor. Banning labor organizing Totalitarian and authoritarian government systems.

      Basically, sin with no fear of consequences.

  • From my perspective neither of these developments is a bad thing. Laws criminalizing assisted dying were found unconstitutional in my country earlier this year.

    "For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in
    the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism." Really? is America immersed in these things? I don't think so. I think religion is ubiquitous and the Catholic Church's presence is not negligible, especially in Boston.

    I am sorry, but I don't get my psychology and human cultural history from the book of Genesis. But feel free to refer people to it and remind them that God's justice for "going off the rails" was to kill virtually all of us, burn our cities, confound our language for the crime of wanting to be near him, and so on.

    "If there is no God, our lives have no ultimate meaning or transcendent
    purpose, and they become simply artifacts of our own designing." Perhaps, I am not sure that there cannot be naturalistic transcendent or objective purpose. But I can grant this.

    "Accordingly, when they become too painful or too shallow or just too
    boring, we ought to have the prerogative to end them." No. No one is saying this and this has never been the result of such thinking. Catholics, Atheists, Islamists and Nihilists have committed disgusting atrocities. Assisted dying has been legal in many parts of the world for many years. Particularly in countries with very little religious belief. It has never resulted in people thinking they have the prerogative to end someone else's life. Rather, it allows respect for someone's own wish to end their life. The respect for human life in these nations is such that they consider the death penalty for any crime to be beyond the rights of society to choose. A moral principle the United States has yet to adopt. And certainly one that is not adopted by the God of the Bible, rather that God seems to think it is just to destroy any human life he wants, whether for touching his Arc, being the first born of a non-Jew at the wrong time and place and so on.

    • Mike

      "The respect for human life in these nations is such that they consider the death penalty for any crime to be beyond the rights of society to choose."

      but in belgium if you're depressed you can get a doctor to murder you!

      http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/suicidal-woman-wins-right-end-5966056

      either way europe is old and dying and lots of young ppl from the middle east are only too happy to help in its demographic transition.

      • LaDolceVipera

        You forgot to mention that we also kill babies if they are not blond and blue-eyed.

        • David Nickol

          You forgot to mention that we also kill babies if they are not blond and blue-eyed.

          This is, of course, utterly false. It is the kind of nonsense that makes those of us who are highly ambivalent about abortion want to leap to its defense. The reality of abortion is troubling enough without making up lies about it. There are good statistics about why women choose abortion, and while I can respect those who feel abortion is never justified, I have no respect for those who simply "make stuff up."

          And of course one of the great ironies of the "pro-life" advocates is that while some of them make claims like the above, the last thing they want to see is the law holding women who choose abortion legally accountable for their actions.

          • LaDolceVipera

            Good God! Don't you even recognise sarcasm when you read it?

          • David Nickol

            "Anti-aborts" (like Carly Florin) make such outrageous claims that I just always take them at their word.

          • Jane Woods

            You forgot to mention that we also kill babies if they are not blond and blue-eyed.

            This is, of course, utterly false. It is the kind of nonsense that makes those of us who are highly ambivalent about abortion want to leap to its defense.

            Could we at least agree with the fact that we are indeed killing babies if they are not the right gender?

          • David Nickol

            Could we at least agree with the fact that we are indeed killing babies if they are not the right gender?

            First, I would ask who "we" are. I would agree that abortion is legal in the United States, but I don't perform or procure abortions, and I would assume you don't either.

            Second, I would also not agree that abortion is "killing babies."

            Third, there are indeed some countries in which women abort daughters because they want sons. If any women in the United States are aborting daughters in hopes of having male children, the numbers are too small to detect—that is, the ration of male-to-female live births does not show evidence of sex-selective abortion at work.

      • Indeed. It is suicide though, not murder. No one is allowed to kill anyone in Belgium without consent.

        • Mike

          the person doing it murdering/killing the other person this is plainly obvious unless you're an ideologue imho.

          just bc you really really want something doesnt mean that it is good or moral.

          • Murder is illegal killing. This is not illegal. killing someone in war is not murder. The labels don't matter.

            This is a good issue to draw out how we both assess morality. I assess consensual assisted dying as being moral and compassionate and respects human dignity. This is because it avoids inevitable suffering, allows the person to chose their death, so that their last moments are not incoherent, incontinent, on pain meds, or devastating delierium. Often surrounded by loved ones having said good bye. This avoids otherwise inevitable suffering, this respects the individual's choice about an important, really the most important issue in their lives. It avoids dangerous self-help and criminalizing those who would do such things. I've explained to you the basis for my applying these moral principles and the weakness of my being able to justify these moral values. But I don't think you disagree with the moral values themselves. But perhaps you have other principles you are applying?

            What is your basis for saying it is immoral?

          • Mike

            "assisted dying as being moral and compassionate and respects human dignity"

            all your terms are vague and "assisted" is a euphemism for killing some one.

            plus all you say just begs the q big.

          • Like I said these are labels, I don't deny it is killing.

            No it doesn't beg the question.

            why are you so shy about justifying your moral positions?

          • Mike

            ok well i don't want to legalize killing ppl on purpose bc they are sick.

            it is wrong to kill ppl on purpose and we shouldn't allow it. hard cases make bad law remember?

          • George

            you left out the most important detail there mike.

            stop making strawmen.

          • Mike

            you mean "extremely" sick?

          • Rob Abney

            I'll try to help Mike with a Catholic perspective.
            Murder is unjust killing in addition to being illegal. Suicide is unjust killing even if it has been deemed legal.
            Justice is the virtue of giving to each person what belongs to him. From Bishop Barron's perspective and the Catechism, our life belongs to God not to us, we are stewards of that life and not in the position to end it in a just manner.

          • So it can be just to own someone else's life? I don't agree with that. As a moral principle, under any circumstances. I guess it is a special virtue or privilege god gets? Why is morality different for him than us? Power?

            Killing in war then is also unjust in all circumstances? In self defence?

          • Rob Abney

            Yes, it would be a special privilege for a god to own someone else's life. But it is a part of the being of God who gives life to us all.

            Killing during war or in an act of self defense can be just, was it implied that such instances could not be just?

    • Assisted dying has been legal in many parts of the world for many years. Particularly in countries with very little religious belief. It has never resulted in people thinking they have the prerogative to end someone else's life.

      From Raphael Cohen-Almagor's 2015 Journal of Medical Ethics article First do no harm: intentionally shortening lives of patients without their explicit request in Belgium:

      In 2007, the use of life-ending drugs with the intention to shorten life and without explicit request occurred in 1.8% of deaths and in 2013 it was 1.7% of deaths.

      There is also the question of whether "terminal sedation" ought to be considered to be the same as "assisted suicide", and how often terminal sedation is enacted without the patient's request.

      • I'd have to look at that sturdy, for instance, what does "without specific request" mean, and is it the same as contrary to consent. Even if it were the case, I think I would prefer this to the 98% being deprived of an early exit and being forced to endure a long, painful inevitable.

        • What % would be too big? I also wonder if you'd be ok with a similar failure rate with capital punishment, or some alternate system where a few people dying without their consent (this is typically called "murder" or at least "manslaughter") [allegedly] greatly enhances the well-being of many others.

          • I have looked at the paper and this is not an either-or as you suggested, so my comment is irrelevant. The shortening of lives without specific consent was actually higher before physician assisted-suicide was decriminalized. It was between 3 and 5%. The paper also notes that it was, and continues to be illegal in Belgium.

            The assisted dying law in Belgium requires explicit consent and a number of other requirements.

            So, in fact, rather than showing the enactment of physician-assisted suicide resulted in doctors ending lives earlier, what this paper shows is that this was always happening and happens less now that physician assisted-suicide is legal.

          • Ok; no evidence has been presented that legalization of assisted suicide increases the rate of assisted suicide murder masquerading as euthanasia. (It is not clear that 'euthanasia' = 'assisted suicide'.) This shouldn't be surprising; what is legalized is the right of the patient to decide to get help committing suicide. What psychological rationale has such legalization increase the rate of something that isn't what was just legalized?

            However, this narrows the conversation too much. The very idea that euthanasia can be a good thing is what provides a veil of legitimacy for [some] murder masquerading as euthanasia. I'm not sure how interesting it is that some patients who would have been offed without their consent now give their consent. Murder is still murder. The decrease you notice is at most a happy coincidence: sometimes doctors guess properly when patients want to be offed.

          • You need to read the paper you cited, because again you are getting it wrong. If we can drop the hyperbolic language. Yes, in Belgium after the euthanasia act was passed all assisted dying increased, but hastened death without specific consent went down.

            You and I are going to disagree on this and calling it murder is not helping. The moral question is: when someone wants to die, usually in cases where death is coming in the not too far future, it will be painful and undignified. Should we prosecute physicians who help them do it safely, so they go, surrounded by loving family, before they lose their mind and faculties due to disease or pain medication. This allows them and their family to say goodbye to the person they love and die peacefully. Rather than watch them struggle in pain inconvenience or drooling madness, which is universally devastate ting and serves no one. Except God of course who has perfectly moral reasons for this rampant suffering to be ubiquitous on our deaths.

            These issues are not brought by those who want to wean off the sick or unproductive. They are brought by those who want to die. As was the case in our Supreme Court ruling on the subject.

            Instead of cherry picking paragraphs from papers that you haven't read or don't understand, maybe spend some time considering why so many people are in favour of this? Did it ever occur to you that it actually could be something that just lessens suffering and could be on the balance a good thing? Or is your theology closing your mind to this idea?

          • LB: Ok; no evidence has been presented that legalization of assisted suicide increases the rate of assisted suicide murder masquerading as euthanasia. (It is not clear that 'euthanasia' = 'assisted suicide'.)

            BGA: You need to read the paper you cited, because again you are getting it wrong. If we can drop the hyperbolic language.

            What did I get wrong? I'm differentiating between when a patient asks to be offed (= assisted suicide), and when a patient makes no such request and is yet offed (= murder). Both of these things are sometimes called 'euthanasia', which serves to obscure the relevant issues. Note that one euthanizes animals without asking their consent. The word is slippery.

            The moral question is: when someone wants to die, usually in cases where death is coming in the not too far future, it will be painful and undignified.

            I haven't criticized the cases where someone makes known his/her wishes to die to a physician. I have criticized "murder masquerading as euthanasia". Perhaps the confusion is that suicide can be understood as self-murder; for purposes of this discussion, you can model me as trying my best to be a good little liberal, respecting people's decisions as long as they harm nobody else. Under this paradigm, self-murder is not wrong, just like voluntarily blinding oneself is not wrong.

            Instead of cherry picking paragraphs from papers that you haven't read or don't understand [...]

            On the contrary, I see no error. Instead, I see you apologizing for a 1.7% murder rate:

            BGA: I'd have to look at that sturdy, for instance, what does "without specific request" mean, and is it the same as contrary to consent. Even if it were the case, I think I would prefer this to the 98% being deprived of an early exit and being forced to endure a long, painful inevitable.

            I don't know what your "contrary to consent" has to do with anything (I missed this the first time around); I suggest insisting on that extreme measure when it comes to the whole rape issue that's raging in American colleges and universities. I suspect you'd bring rage down on your head.

            Oh, and according to the former president of the Society of Intensive Care Medicine Council, Jean-Louis Vincent:

            “euthanasie non demandée” (“euthanasia not asked for”) exceeds considerably the few thousand cases of “euthanasie demandée” (“euthanasia asked for”) that are registered in Belgium annually.[56] (10)

            Of course the lines do blur when it comes to the ICU, so it would be very difficult to say that the murder rate is that high. But surely you understand that putting more deaths into the statistic which in 2013 was 1.7% would be... uncomfortable. We also have to ask whether 'terminal sedation' ought to be equivalent to 'euthanasia'. The matter is messy.

            Or is your theology closing your mind to this idea?

            My theology requires I face the truth even when it's terribly uncomfortable. It also requires that I not use euphemisms when there is any chance of harming anyone by doing so. My theology refuses to execute Jesus even if it will maintain social order, maintain current power structures, and allegedly save thousands of lives.

          • What you got wrong was in fact legalizing euthanasia as it is called in Belgium did increase the overall rate of physicians ending the lives of patients. The rate without specific consent went down but overall more people died because physicians helped them.

            The word is indeed slippery, which is why I don't use it. Physical assisted dying more accurately reflects the practice I think is acceptable.

            It is obvious you haven't read the article carefully, or my comments. The 1.7 % figure is death by sedation without specific consent, it is down from3-5%. As the article points out it is and was illegal. Physician assisted suicide is a different thing it requires specific consent and is not done by sedation.

          • What you got wrong was in fact legalizing euthanasia as it is called in Belgium did increase the overall rate of physicians ending the lives of patients.

            I acknowledged this. Here's the relevant discussion:

            BGA: Assisted dying has been legal in many parts of the world for many years. Particularly in countries with very little religious belief. It has never resulted in people thinking they have the prerogative to end someone else's life.

            LB: From Raphael Cohen-Almagor's 2015 Journal of Medical Ethics article First do no harm: intentionally shortening lives of patients without their explicit request in Belgium:

            In 2007, the use of life-ending drugs with the intention to shorten life and without explicit request occurred in 1.8% of deaths and in 2013 it was 1.7% of deaths.

            BGA: The shortening of lives without specific consent was actually higher before physician assisted-suicide was decriminalized.

            LB: Ok; no evidence has been presented that legalization of assisted suicide increases the rate of assisted suicide murder masquerading as euthanasia. (It is not clear that 'euthanasia' = 'assisted suicide'.)

            Initially, I had conflated two things:

                 (1) the attitudes which render any euthanasia acceptable
                 (2) legalization of assisted suicide leading to an increase in "murder masquerading as euthanasia"

            Note that (1) can contribute to (2), but (2) does not necessarily lead to the "any" of (1). Now, if (2) reinforces (1)—if it is taken to support the idea that doctors are ok to "guess" for their patients instead of strictly require them to clearly indicate a desire for assisted suicide—that would provide a mechanism. However, the research I cited does not support such a thing (it does not negate it, either).

            It is obvious you haven't read the article carefully, or my comments.

            At this point, I'm concerned that actually the opposite is the case. I carefully ceded the narrow point that you were correct on. I did not go beyond that. Perhaps you wanted me to?

            The 1.7 % figure is death by sedation without specific consent, it is down from3-5%. As the article points out it is and was illegal. Physician assisted suicide is a different thing it requires specific consent and is not done by sedation.

            I don't know why you think this is relevant; your "people thinking they have the prerogative to end someone else's life" is manifestly not "physician assisted suicide" and I will not accept that "people thinking they have the prerogative to end someone else's life" only applies if the method is something other than death-hastening sedation.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    It is interesting to me that, anecdotally, it seems that most people agree that putting a dog or cat to sleep when it is reaching the end of its life is morally permissible. In fact it is considered a humane thing to do in many cases. However, many people have trouble doing the same to a human, even when the human has a say in the matter (pets are euthanized without their consent.) An action is considered humane for animals, but not for humans.

    • "An action is considered humane for animals, but not for humans."

      Why is this odd? Are you suggesting there is no morally-relevant difference between animals and humans?

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        No I do not suggest that. In fact, that is what makes it seem so odd. Usually, people want to treat humans more humanely, and more compassionately than animals. If we say that euthanasia is an act of compassion, then it is odd that this compassion is extended to animals but not humans.

        Of course, I recognize that the issue can be looked at from another angle - one could say that animals are less deserving of life than humans and that their deaths are more morally acceptable. From this angle, it makes sense. However, it seems to me that many people do take the first view, that euthanasia is compassion, while not extending that compassion to humans.

        • "If we say that euthanasia is an act of compassion, then it is odd that this compassion is extended to animals but not humans."

          It's only odd if you think animals and humans were morally identical, at least in regards to end of life decisions. In that case, you're right--the decision would be arbitrary.

          But it's not at all odd if--as most people know--humans and animals do not have the same moral value.

          • Doug Shaver

            But it's not at all odd if--as most people know--humans and animals do not have the same moral value.

            Whatever my condition, if you have good reason to believe I do not wish to die, then I welcome any effort you can make to prevent anyone from killing me.

            But if I am suffering from a condition that cannot be reversed and have stated publicly that I would rather die than continue the suffering, and you then prolong my suffering by preventing anyone from helping me die, then I will be cursing you with the last breath I take.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Right. Most people would say that humans have more moral value. Therefore its odd that we give animals more compassion in this regard.

          • Mike

            you're begging the q.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I'm only reporting what I have heard others say. Many people give humans higher moral value. Many people see putting pets to sleep as compassion. Many of those same people are against allowing the same for humans.

          • Mike

            we kill them BECAUSE they are animals not inspite of.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Yes. I recognized in my second comment that that was a different and valid angle of looking at it. I don't really want to repeat myself incessantly.

          • Mike

            ok me either.

            ok let's compromise..let's say ok for terminally ill ppl who are at most 6 months from 100% definitive death but in any other circumstance and if there is ANY suspicion of coersion it is a crime and the person must serve jail time and if a doctor they immediately lose their licence and go to jail AND all communication must be videotaped?

  • The “Right to Die” can easily become the “Obligation to Die” in time and with proper marketing pressure. Anti-life campaigns can work over time just like anti-smoking campaigns.

    Stage 1: Voluntary – Passive
    Once legal, physician assisted suicide (PAS) is voluntary, but not applauded or encouraged.
    Stage 2: Voluntary – Active
    We live in a free country and no one can force you to do anything, but as a society we have an obligation to encourage what is “right” and actively promote PAS for the common welfare.
    Stage 3: Mandatory – Passive
    As our population ages and health care costs consume ever larger amounts of money, at least some legislation must be considered to help address the root cause. Just a few carefully worded laws to help guide people through their final stage of life and their final obligation to the society just makes sense.
    Stage 4: Mandatory – Active
    Physician assisted suicide need not be limited to only desperate pain. The very old, very sick and severely physically or mentally handicapped should all be considered for legal and mandatory euthanization once the quality of life has been properly assessed by government health professionals. We must actively promote the common good and do the “right thing” no matter how difficult it may seem.

    Don't think it can't happen.

  • George

    At least be honest and just say instead of people having a "right to life", what they actually have is an obligation to life.

    • materetmagistra

      I think you are actually speaking of two different things.

      Because every human being inherently holds a right to his own life, other human beings have the duty to respect that right.

      However, no human being has given himself his life, nor has given himself his natural rights - as such, the debt (or duty) for these things cannot be owed to himself.

    • Mike

      so why is UN-assisted suicide illegal in every country on earth?

  • George

    does Barron think the genesis story is actually true? why does he believe that?

    one of the consequences of the fall was jealousy? but I thought that god was... nah, forget it.

    "If there is no God, then our lives do indeed belong to us, and we can do with them what we want."

    You believe there is a god, and people still kill themselves with no god stepping in to assert ownership.

    (oh what a silly unsophisticated thing to say! doesn't he know the suicides will be punished in the afterlife?)

    "If there is no God, our lives have no ultimate meaning or transcendent purpose"

    how would the existence of God give you ultimate meaning and transcendent purpose?

    "The denial of God—or the blithe bracketing of the question of God"

    you assume the question was not wrestled with and a reasonable conclusion made that was apart from catholic dogma could not be made.

  • I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that non-believers have come to outnumber believers among the rising cohort of the American aristocracy. For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism. Though they have benefitted from every advantage that money can afford, they have been largely denied what the human heart most longs for: contact with the transcendent, with the good, true, and beautiful in their properly unconditioned form.

    While I'm not sure that Harry Lewis, former faculty-then-dean of Harvard, would agree with your solution, he would probably resonate with your problem statement. See his Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?

  • Mike

    Will catholic hospitals be allowed to not participate if this becomes legal across the country? what if it is deemed a constit. right to die!

    Will all those atheist harvard grads know how to take pity on catholic orgs and allow them to be themselves?

  • David Nickol

    The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed, for the more our society drifts into atheism, the more human life is under threat. The less we are willing even to wrestle with God, the more de-humanized we become.

    What is the evidence that this is true? Were atheists responsible for passing the assisted-suicide legislation in California? Is there any legislation in the United States that atheists can take credit for enacting?

  • David Nickol

    Why is Catholicism doing such a poor job of holding on to educated people in the West? There seems to me a tendency among political conservatives to judge teachers (in public schools) by the performance (or lack thereof) of their pupils. If the Catholic Church is the teacher, and the increasingly nonreligious people are their pupils, it might be good to ask what is wrong with the Church?

  • David Nickol

    The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed, for the more our society drifts into atheism, the more human life is under threat. The less we are willing even to wrestle with God, the more de-humanized we become.

    Actually, the problem we have currently in the United States is that we spend too much money on end-of-life care, while getting nothing for it. There was a study recently showing that patients who went into hospice care instead of remaining in the hospital to have aggressive (expensive) "life-prolonging" treatment actually lived longer and died more comfortably than the hospital patients.

    If human life is under threat, as Bishop Barron asserts, it is strange that life-expectancy keeps increasing.

    I can't help pointing out that it is the "religious" right that is nervous about the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, while it is the "heathen" left that is looking forward to it. How many have read George Will's column Pope Francis’s fact-free flamboyance?

    A sample:

    He [Pope Francis] stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources. Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.

    • Alexandra

      Hi David, George Will is an athiest, not "religious" as you say.

      • David Nickol

        Yes, George Will is an agnostic. But even Catholic conservative politicians are nervous about the pope. He has not changed any Republican minds on global warming.

        • Alexandra

          I don't know much to speak to this, but I do always trust your judgement and information on things. :)

          I do think it a mistake (not by you) to evaluate the Pope and the Faith first and foremost through a political lens, rather than a spiritual one. It leads to much misunderstanding.

    • "If human life is under threat, as Bishop Barron asserts, it is strange that life-expectancy keeps increasing."

      Not when you account for abortions or the human embryos destroyed through IVF treatments or embryonic stem-cell research. When you account for the full picture, the average human lifespan is shorter than ever before in recorded history. Tens of millions of human lives are intentionally terminated within their earliest months.

      • David Nickol

        When you account for the full picture, the average human lifespan is shorter than ever before in recorded history. Tens of millions of human lives are intentionally terminated within their earliest months.

        Life expectancy is not now, nor has it ever been, calculated from the moment of conception!

        I'd be interested in seeing you take a stab at doing the math to try to back up your assertion. The best figure I can find is that 54 million legal abortions have been performed in the United States since Roe v Wade (1973). So it would be accurate to say tens of millions of lives have been intentionally terminated over the past four decades or so, but by putting it in the present tense, you make it sound like you are giving something like a yearly total.

        One thing you'd have to determine in order to be at all fair is the number of illegal abortions that were performed before Roe v Wade. The estimate I run across most often when searching is that prior to Roe, there were somewhere between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions per year. If the highest estimate is true, then your assertion is automatically disproven.

        Of course, the purpose of IVF is to create babies, not to kill them, but of course some embryos die or destroyed in the process. It seems to me it would be very difficult to determine what the rate of natural embryo loss is in infertile couples. We know it is high even in fertile couples, so I think it would be very difficult to determine whether fertility clinics contribute to the death rate or lower it. (Why, by the way, do pro-lifers never march outside of fertility clinics?)

        Then you'd have to take note of the falling birth rate (and falling conception rate), the falling infant mortality rate, and the increase life expectancy for those who survive childhood.

        I do not think the calculations would be easy, but in saying "the average human life span is shorter than ever before in recorded history," I think you have made a very wild claim. You made the assertion, so it's yours to prove, but I would only note that one source I checked put the life expectancy in Europe in 1500 to 1800 as between 30 and 40 years. Wikipedia tells us that in Classical Rome, "life expectancy at birth was 20–30 years. If a child survived to age 10, life expectancy was an additional 37.5 years, a total of 47.5 years."

        Let's say "recorded history" begins about 3500 B.C. Do you really think life expectancy was higher back then than it is in 2015?

        • cminca

          In order to compare "apples to apples" with Brandon's inclusion of abortions and IVF deaths you would also need to calculate those children saved due to modern medicine who would, historically, been lost. Therefore you would need to look at historic rates of stillbirths and miscarriages that would now be prevented.

          • David Nickol

            Yes! I am looking forward to Brandon's calculations to demonstrate that "[w]hen you account for the full picture, the average human lifespan is shorter than ever before in recorded history."

      • Doug Shaver

        Your objection is irrelevant, because life expectancy has always meant life expectancy at birth. You may argue that it ought to mean something else, but until it does, "life expectancy keeps increasing" will be a true statement as long as progress in the medical sciences continues.

      • Darren

        Brandon wrote,

        Not when you account for abortions or the human embryos destroyed through IVF treatments or embryonic stem-cell research. When you account for the full picture, the average human lifespan is shorter than ever before in recorded history. Tens of millions of human lives are intentionally terminated within their earliest months.

        And how does that math stack up when accounting for the 80% or so of "human lives" that end before we even know of their existence? Considering "Act of God" still has a much higher body count than Planned Parenthood could hit on their best day? considering how many Act of God Abortions have _not_ happened since Sanger?

        Not committed to any particular result, mind you, just thought you might be so kind as to do the math for us.

    • Jack

      Sounds like a great argument for hospice care...something that I'm sure you know the Catholic Church endorses as an option for end of life care.

    • Rob Abney

      David, have you read the Pope's encyclical, Laudato si'? If so, do you get the same reading from it that Will did?

      If you haven't read it then consider this summary from one of your favorite Bishops: http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/fr-barron-on-pope-francis-new-encyclical-laudato-si/4802/

      • David Nickol

        I have read about the encyclical, and I think there may be something to Will's contention that "Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises." But I rather doubt that the nation's premises are compatible with the teachings of Jesus or the social teachings of the Church. I would say just off the top of my head that capitalism as it is practiced in the United States is not in conformity with the teachings of the Church.

  • Doug Shaver

    Good sermon. Not so good apologetics.

  • Michael Murray

    So students entering Harvard who are religious are at an all time low, California is trying to sort out euthanasia laws and students are being exposed to more science and developing a materialistic outlook.

    Things are looking up in the US it seems.

    If there is no God, our lives have no ultimate meaning or transcendent purpose, and they become simply artifacts of our own designing.

    I don't think this logically follows. Our lives could have ultimate meaning and transcendent purpose without a God. Reincarnation and movement towards Buddahood or something like Asimov's Childhood's End maybe? But even though I don't accept the logic of the argument I do think the conclusion is correct. Not sure where the simply comes in though.

  • VicqRuiz

    This website has now been in existence for some two and a half years.

    Can a single atheist be named who has converted to Catholicism as a result of participation here??

    Jus' askin.........

    • Alexandra

      I for one am incredibly grateful that Brandon created this site. Thank you so much Brandon! So many intelligent, insightful, thought provoking ideas here. And being here is inspiring my Faith.

      I know you and I haven't had a chance to chat, but I hope that changes. Your ideas, such as "emotional" vs. "intellectual" Catholics, are intriguing. Take care.

  • cminca

    Question for you Bishop--

    How many incoming freshman at Harvard did you speak with before you decided that "For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism." ?

    These incoming freshman have passed rigorous testing, provided references and essays, engaged in extra curricular activities and advance placement classes. And you've defined them, based on one criteria, as couch potato stoners who spend their days at the mall and playing video games.

    IMO you are making sweeping generalizations based on no evidence. And while that may pass as sweeping oratory when you are preaching to the choir, it doesn't pass any objective criteria as actual fact.

    • And you've defined them, based on one criteria, as couch potato stoners who spend their days at the mall and playing video games.

      How did you reach this conclusion? Perhaps you ought to look up the word 'materialism'; the more updated word would be physicalism.

      • cminca

        "Relativism" alone would cover my conclusion. But you are (purposefully?) ignoring the forest for the trees.

        The point is that Barron has decided that lack of Judeo-Christian affinity, (and that alone), means that the incoming class of Harvard proves are somehow tainted with what he alleges is the worst of society.

        He is "arguing facts not in evidence" and, I would venture to guess, without ever attempting to gather evidence of any kind.

        • The point is that Barron has decided that lack of Judeo-Christian affinity, (and that alone), means that the incoming class of Harvard proves are somehow tainted with what he alleges is the worst of society.

          Suppose we take the prison ranking of "the worst of society": those accused of sex crimes, especially against children. Do you think Barron is associating atheists with child molesters?

          What I see Barron arguing is that breaking with "contact with the transcendent" has grave consequences. But you could easily construe that as "contact with illusion" and consider such a break to be an excellent thing. Perhaps you think that us being "great projects of self-creation and self-determination" to be the pinnacle of human achievement. You could interpret Barron's "de-humanized" to be precisely the opposite.

          • cminca

            What I see Barron arguing is that only his approved version of religiosity makes a person worthy of a first quality education. That because the incoming class of Harvard has more members outside his approved version of religiosity we may automatically infer that they are unworthy of serious consideration as human beings or intellectuals.
            All of this, mind you, without ever haven spoken to any of them.

          • What I see Barron arguing is that only his approved version of religiosity makes a person worthy of a first quality education.

            I don't see this at all, so would you be willing to step through the logic?

            That because the incoming class of Harvard has more members outside his approved version of religiosity we may automatically infer that they are unworthy of serious consideration as human beings or intellectuals.

            Neither do I see how this follows.

            I would also like to see you define "the worst of society" and demonstrate that Barron indeed argued that atheists are "the worst of society". I provided one definition which seems absolutely unsupportable by what Barron has said, here.

          • cminca

            First--You are missing the point--Barron is making sweeping generalizations about the incoming class at Harvard without having met any of them. He made those sweeping generalizations based on how they answered one question on a questionnaire. His statements speak for themselves. My inferences are valid.

            Second--When I referenced the "worst of society" I meant his remark "the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism."

          • First--You are missing the point--Barron is making sweeping generalizations about the incoming class at Harvard without having met any of them.

            Barron would be justified in making this inference by knowing the demographics of the population from which Harvard gets its students. He might also be aware of works such as Harry Lewis' Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?, which is written by a faculty-and-dean of Harvard. It strikes me that you would be better served by asking questions than jumping to conclusions on this matter. You could be right that his generalizations are wrong, but not on any basis you've provided.

            Second--When I referenced the "worst of society" I meant his remark "the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism."

            That's quite the jump. I'll bet Barron knows quite well that the kind of person who graduates Harvard is much better served to obey the laws of the land, for the benefit him/her much more than the average person.

          • cminca

            My criticism of Barron is that he made sweeping generalizations about the incoming class of Harvard freshman without having spoken to them.

            Now you are attempting to redirect the conversation from Barron's uninformed and unsupported remarks about the incoming freshman--who have no history at the university--to the school's failure of their duty to those students according to one author. How is Lewis' book possibly germane to the criticism of Barron's statement?

            Short answer--it isn't.

            I accused you of missing the point but I was wrong. You are clearly an apologist for Barron and are attempting to divert the argument on purpose.

            I'd suggest you try and do a better job than the fairly artless manner you displayed on this occasion.

          • My criticism of Barron is that he made sweeping generalizations about the incoming class of Harvard freshman without having spoken to them.

            That certainly is one of your criticisms. But you also said this in your original comment:

            cminca: And you've defined them, based on one criteria, as couch potato stoners who spend their days at the mall and playing video games.

            If you wish to retract that, as well as what you said in a later comment—

            cminca: The point is that Barron has decided that lack of Judeo-Christian affinity, (and that alone), means that the incoming class of Harvard proves are somehow tainted with what he alleges is the worst of society.

            —then we can talk about whether Barron has enough knowledge to make the generalization about incoming Harvard freshmen. I could see it going either way.

            How is Lewis' book possibly germane to the criticism of Barron's statement?

            Lewis has extensive knowledge of the kind of person who matriculates to Harvard, as well as what Harvard does for them, or fails to do for them. One can make the relatively simple assumption that Harvard will do a good deal of catering its education to the students' states of being and arrive at a generalization like Barron made. I know of similar catering at another top-tier research institution, so this isn't completely unreasonable.

            You are clearly and apologist for Barron and are attempting to divert the argument on purpose.

            Oh I see, that's why I said this to you:

            LB: You could be right that his generalizations are wrong, but not on any basis you've provided.

            Or this to David Nickol:

            LB: These are good clarifying questions. I do not think it aids in truth-seeking to speculate beyond them in the way that cminca has done. Indeed, I think that cminca's strategy is likely to produce more heat than light.

            Your behavior well-matches the model that you are in this more for heat than light.

          • cminca

            #1--The stoner description was based on his remark about the "corrosive acid"--as I've already explained and which you attempted to divert into a discussion of what Barron allegedly know about the person who graduates Harvard.

            #2--"then we can talk about whether Barron has enough knowledge to make the generalization about incoming Harvard freshmen. I could see it going either way." I'm sure, as an apologist for Barron, that you can "see it going either way.' Unfortunately for your argument that still doesn't change the fact that Barron has made a sweeping generalization based on no first hand knowledge of the freshmen he was dismissing.

            #3--Lewis may have knowledge of Harvard's freshman. That doesn't mean that Barron does. Nor does it mean that a discussion of Harvard failing its students is, in any way, germane to a discussion of Barron's ignorance of the freshman class.

            Since you entered into this discussion with a disingenuous purpose there is clearly no light to be found in conversation with you.

          • At this point, I can only rely on readers to discern whether the story you tell is a better fit to the evidence, the story I tell is, or some other narrative. The evidence I observe in no way implies that Barron has "no first hand knowledge of the freshmen he was dismissing", nor that he has no knowledge which justifiably lets him say what he said. Apparently you think you do have such evidence, and not merely the absence of evidence.

            As to your imputations of 'apologist' (likely with negative connotation†) and 'disingenuous purpose', that reflects poorly on at least one of us.

            † As far as I can tell, the negative connotation is a late addition and is frequently reinforced by internet atheists. Perhaps you believe that it is only wrong to "make a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc." if it's pro-atheism? Otherwise you're criticizing me attempting to construct a defense—that is, arguing rationally.

          • David Nickol

            I think the central point is how Bishop Barron claims to know that "[f]or the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism." There is nothing I can find in the survey that would seem to indicate these students come from any particularly unique background. I suppose Bishop Barron could say that everyone who might possibly be eligible to be accepted into Harvard has been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism their whole lives.

            I wonder if by "materialism" he means "physicalism" or "a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values."

          • These are good clarifying questions. I do not think it aids in truth-seeking to speculate beyond them in the way that @cminca:disqus has done. Indeed, I think that cminca's strategy is likely to produce more heat than light.

  • David Nickol

    It seems that the question of whether or not your life belongs to you has been little discussed in the comments. If we belong to God, and are slaves of God (as Bishop Barron says), the question then is, "How well does God treat his slaves?" Since the Christian belief is that we are immortal, we actually can't judge from "earthly" experience. But apparently (and here we go again), slaves who are not subservient are punished for all eternity with no chance of relief or forgiveness. It doesn't seem good to me.

    Perhaps God as the ultimate slaveowner is not the most helpful metaphor for understanding what God is truly like. Perhaps St. Paul wasn't thinking clearly. He lived in an age in which slavery was sanctioned. To us today, it is one of the most disturbing of evils.

    • Rob Abney

      A careful reading of St. Paul and the early Christians will show that slaves were treated as equals by early Christians.

      God treats all mankind as equal. But not equal to him.

      "slaves who are not subservient are punished for all eternity with no chance of relief or forgiveness".

      We have many chances for forgiveness and relief, we've discussed that elsewhere.
      Our life and our promise of eternal life are gifts from the master, we can refuse the gifts by such things as suicide and atheism and try to make it on our own as "free men".

      • David Nickol

        A careful reading of St. Paul and the early Christians will show that slaves were treated as equals by early Christians.

        How can a slaveowner treat a slave as an equal?

        We have many chances for forgiveness and relief, we've discussed that elsewhere.

        The Christian belief is that this life is infinitesimally short compared to the life to come. All the "any chances for forgiveness" come in this life. All the punishment comes in the next. On top of that, the Christian belief is that because of original sin, the deck is stacked against us in this life. We see "through a glass, darkly." And in this short time, in this hobbled state, it is expected that we make our choice that will last for all eternity. It is fundamentally unjust.

        • Rob Abney

          You strayed from the subject that you re-directed us to but I'll try to continue to assert that Bishop Barron is correct when he says this life does not belong to you.
          As you point out, we have very little power and very little time here on Earth, but during that short period of time you want to reject your maker because it seems unfair? Even though you see through a glass darkly, you still want to be the one who decides what is good and what is evil?
          What would be more just? More time? More power? More light?
          From a Catholic viewpoint the correct answer is more light!

          • Doug Shaver

            but during that short period of time you want to reject your maker because it seems unfair?

            No. I am not rejecting any maker and it has nothing to do with fairness. I am rejecting your claim that I have a maker because you offer me no good reason to believe it.

          • Rob Abney

            "because you offer me no good reason to believe it"
            I'll be glad to help you if I can.

            Who/what is responsible for creating you as a unique, unrepeatable being? And why did that entity create you?

          • Michael Murray

            Who/what is responsible for creating you as a unique, unrepeatable being? And why did that entity create you?

            I think this is what is called a loaded question. Well two of them actually. Still I will be interested to see what Doug's answer is.

          • Doug Shaver

            My answer was that they were unresponsive to what I had said. But it would have been: Nobody/nothing; and in that case, "why" is meaningless.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're offering questions. Questions are not reasons.

          • Rob Abney

            That's true. I'm not sure how else to start though since I've never interacted with you before. I've noticed that you reject most arguments on this site so I don't think I can give you my list of reasons, I'll try sticking to the subject of the above article.

            If my life belongs to me then I can control everything about it including when to end it; but I had no control over when it began - another did. In fact, I don't even have control over ending it, philosophy tells me that my soul is immortal and theology tells me something similarly. So, I reason that my life does not belong to me.

          • Doug Shaver

            If my life belongs to me then I can control everything about it

            I don't see how that follows. If your life belongs to you, then you have a right to control those aspects of it that are within your control, but much about our lives is not within our control, and that would be a fact no matter who our lives belonged to.

            I've noticed that you reject most arguments on this site so I don't think I can give you my list of reasons

            What? You can't tell me anything without some assurance that I'm going to agree with you?

            philosophy tells me that my soul is immortal

            Some philosophies say that, yours among them, obviously. But there are others that don't.

            So, I reason that my life does not belong to me.

            I don't know how one would deduce "My life is not my own" from "I'm going to live forever." I suppose I could guess at an argument, but maybe you could just show me one?

          • Rob Abney

            I introduced too many aspects for a good discussion, let's stick to the one. I would like to hear your reasoning that concludes that your life is your own. I don't think that you have to be able to control everything that happens to you, but it seems to me that to say that your life is your own then you will have been responsible for the creation of that life.

          • Doug Shaver

            it seems to me that to say that your life is your own then you will have been responsible for the creation of that life.

            I don't see why. The computer I am using at this moment is my own, but I had no responsibility for its creation.

          • Rob Abney

            You bought the computer somehow; how did you buy your life?

          • Doug Shaver

            how did you buy your life?

            I didn't, but since when was payment necessary for ownership?

          • Rob Abney

            Since the beginning of time!

          • Doug Shaver

            So, anything you have that you didn't pay for isn't yours?

          • Rob Abney

            Such as?

          • Doug Shaver

            For starters, such as any gifts you have received. By definition, if it's a gift, you didn't pay for it.

          • Rob Abney

            That's a good point Doug. Catholics believe that life is a gift and we are stewards of that gift. I can see where a gift could be considered a change of ownership too.

          • Doug Shaver

            Catholics believe that life is a gift and we are stewards of that gift.

            Catholics can call it whatever they like. Even if I was made responsible for it, if it isn't mine, then it was never a gift, at least not to me.

          • Doug Shaver

            I can see where a gift could be considered a change of ownership too.

            That is precisely what it is. If there is no change of ownership, there is no gift.

          • Rob Abney

            My reasoning leads me to believe that this gift we are discussing is not just a change of ownership from one to another but a change of ownership from sole owner to shared ownership. The gift we were discussing is the gift of life. My suggestion is that you don't own it because you didn't create it or buy it but it was given to you. It is a shared gift though and even though you now share in the ownership you do not have the authority to end it.
            (Sorry for the delayed response).

          • Doug Shaver

            (Sorry for the delayed response).

            Not a problem. I have an offline life, too.

            Being an atheist, I don't believe there is any other entity who could own my life or share in its ownership. I will note, however, that not all theists reason as you do regarding God's ownership of our lives.

          • Rob Abney

            Is your reasoning based upon you being an atheist or are you an atheist based upon your reasoning?

          • Doug Shaver

            Both. I used to believe in God, and when I did, I felt obliged to live my life the way he wanted me to live it, insofar as I could determine how he wanted me to live it. But the time came when reasoning led me to doubt God's existence. After that time, my life seemed to be my own to do with as I wished.

          • Peter

            I too found myself seriously questioning God's existence and decided to test it through reason alone, not the subtle philosophical reasoning of scholastics but straightforward reasoning based on what we know today.

            In simple terms, I see a universe which appears designed from the beginning to produce the building blocks of life. Crucially for me, every new discovery made reinforces that impression instead of weakening it. There is nothing which contradicts it.

            Now I am more confident in my faith than ever before. I need not rely on revelation alone, nor theology, nor philosophy, but on what I see with my own eyes, and what I see justifies the rest.

            My faith is not a straight jacket as it was for you. On the contrary, it provides a great sense of freedom. It is a platform which strongly motivates me to seek out more truth about the world.

          • Doug Shaver

            My faith is not a straight jacket as it was for you. . . . It is a platform which strongly motivates me to seek out more truth about the world.

            But it wasn't a straitjacket for me, either. It would have been, if my mentors in the church had had their way, but it was because I sought out more truth about the world that I began to doubt what they'd been telling me.

            In simple terms, I see a universe which appears designed from the beginning to produce the building blocks of life. Crucially for me, every new discovery made reinforces that impression instead of weakening it. There is nothing which contradicts it.

            I cannot think offhand of anything that contradicts it. However, I have never considered failure to disprove X as sufficient reason to believe X.

          • Peter

            If X appears to be the case, as it does to me, failure to disprove it is sufficient reason to believe it.

          • Doug Shaver

            If it appears to you to be the case, then that is your reason to believe it. I don't have that reason because to me, it does not appear to be the case.

          • Peter

            I've always wondered how sceptics explain away the appearance of design in the cosmos without resorting to a multiverse.

          • Doug Shaver

            And I've always wondered what the difference is between explaining something and explaining it away.

          • Peter

            I'll take that response as an admission that you are reluctant to do either.

          • Doug Shaver

            The universe appears designed because: it is complex, and we are accustomed to associating complexity with design.

          • Peter

            This is an old argument against creationism, since complex things within the universe are found to be the product of evolution rather than special creation. But the universe itself is not within anything and therefore cannot be the product of evolution, unless you posit a multiverse.

          • Doug Shaver

            complex things within the universe are found to be the product of evolution rather than special creation.

            That depends on what you're calling evolution. Biological evolution is not the only kind of evolution there is. Perhaps you've heard of stellar evolution?

            But the universe itself is not within anything and therefore cannot be the product of evolution,

            There is a useful sense in which the universe itself has indeed evolved.

          • Peter

            I mean all kinds of complex things, stars and animals, since the former lead to the latter, or at least to the building blocks of the latter, in one continuous process. The universe is essentially one vast process of evolution from its inception.

            The question is, how can a process of evolution itself evolve? A thing can evolve within that process and lead to another more complex thing, giving the illusion of it being specially created. But the process of evolution itself, complex as it appears, where does that come from?

          • Doug Shaver

            The universe is essentially one vast process of evolution from its inception.

            We're on the same page there. Good.

            The question is, how can a process of evolution itself evolve?

            I don't see why it has to. Evolution is just change of a certain kind. The changes happen because of certain properties of the things that are evolving. The existence of those properties is a sufficient condition for evolution to happen.

          • Peter

            It is true that the properties of the early universe, the finely balanced low entropy conditions, have driven the universe towards creating more and more local complexity in order to generate a greater overall entropy. That, I believe, is the mechanism behind the evolution of the universe. The properties of the early universe were indeed a sufficient condition for evolution to happen.

            However, these properties occurred at the beginning of the universe, at its inception, and could therefore not have been the product of ongoing evolution. A universe with a beginning 13.8 billion years ago began with these properties built in, properties which lead to life. That is the mystery.

          • Doug Shaver

            However, these properties occurred at the beginning of the universe, at its inception, and could therefore not have been the product of ongoing evolution.

            Yes, obviously. The properties of the universe could not have existed before the universe existed. Nor could they have evolved from anything that existed before the universe existed, because nothing could have existed before the universe existed. The very notion of anything existing before the universe existed is incoherent. It's like talking about something being located north of the north pole. It isn't even wrong, it's just meaningless.

            A universe with a beginning 13.8 billion years ago began with these properties built in, properties which lead to life. That is the mystery.

            It raises a few question that have not been answered yet.

          • Rob Abney

            Those are not two incompatible positions Doug. The truth, as I see it, is that you are living your life the way you want right now and you don't own it. What do you see as incompatible between the two?

          • Doug Shaver

            It's not about what I'm doing right now. It's about my right to do otherwise. According to the OP, there are some things I may not do with my life, e.g. terminate it, just because it is not my life.

          • Rob Abney

            Are you looking for a way to support your decision to terminate your life someday? Or just trying to support those who want that option? Is that the only way you live your life differently when you were a believer vs. when you are not a believer?

          • Doug Shaver

            I have made no decision that I will terminate my life. I have made a decision that, in certain situations that I could find myself in, I will terminate it if I am able. And I'm not looking for a way to support that decision. I believe I already have all the philosophical support that anyone needs for such a decision.

            Is that the only way you live your life differently when you were a believer vs. when you are not a believer?

            Not by a long shot. My life as a Christian was different in lots of ways from how it is now.

          • Rob Abney

            I'm sure that you consider your life not only different but also better now, will you give an example of how it is improved?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm sure that you consider your life not only different but also better now

            On the whole, yes, but there is no free lunch. Religious faith has some advantages over skepticism.

            will you give an example of how it is improved?

            I will in a moment, but I'd like to note that I don't attribute any improvement to my not believing any particular article of faith, concerning e.g. God's existence or Jesus' divinity. I think the benefits derive instead from my applying, to all important questions, the same methods that led me to doubt religion's answers to the questions it tries to answer. Those methods have led me to doubt a great many very prevalent and popular notions having nothing to do with religion. To pick a somewhat trivial example, I have come to believe that the stories about King Arthur have no connection whatever with any fact about the history of England except, trivially, its literary history. Even in the loosest possible sense, the Arthurian legends were never about any man who actually lived.

            Among the benefits I perceive to this approach, I feel more confident about whatever beliefs have survived this kind of scrutiny. It isn't just a matter, either, of keeping whatever has not been eliminated. Insofar as I have been able to, within my human limitations, I have similarly scrutinized the methodology of my skepticism. One result of this has been an increased appreciation or understanding of alternative methodologies. I once had the typical skeptic's disdain for religion and other popular beliefs that didn't pass my credibility tests. But the harder I worked to justify my own beliefs, the more I realized that I could not dismiss those who disagreed with me as mere fools or ignoramuses. To oversimplify a bit: No matter how justified I may be in thinking that my adversaries are mistaken, I cannot think that it is because they are in general less smart than I am, or less concerned about finding the truth, or less capable of critical thinking.

          • Rob Abney

            I agree with your thinking, we should not make judgements about the truth based on inadequate information, and we definitely shouldn't make judgements about the truth based upon what we think about the sources of information personally.

            Keep seeking information with an open mind, the judgement of the truth of God is too important to end up with the wrong answer.

          • Doug Shaver

            and we definitely shouldn't make judgements about the truth based upon what we think about the sources of information personally.

            If the only information I have about X is that someone says X, then I cannot avoid considering the source's credibility when evaluating the likelihood that X is true.

            the judgement of the truth of God is too important to end up with the wrong answer.

            If God cares what I believe about him, he knows how to get what he wants, and he doesn't have to impinge on my free will in order to get it.
            .

          • Rob Abney

            You said:"No matter how justified I may be in thinking that my adversaries are mistaken, I cannot think that it is because they are in general less smart than I am, or less concerned about finding the truth, or less capable of critical thinking."

            Then you said: "If the only information I have about X is that someone says X, then I cannot avoid considering the source's credibility when evaluating the likelihood that X is true."

            I would guess that you, like all of us, get almost all information from others!

          • Doug Shaver

            I would guess that you, like all of us, get almost all information from others!

            Yes. I judge some of those others to be credible and some not so credible, always depending on context. I may trust a particular source in one context but not others. When Dawkins talks about evolution, I tend to think he knows what he's talking about. When he talks about religion, I tend to think otherwise.

            But in no case do I suppose that any source is infallible about anything.

          • David Nickol

            As you point out, we have very little power and very little time here on Earth, but during that short period of time you want to reject your maker because it seems unfair?

            If an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists, I wholeheartedly approve of everything he does and all the reasons he does these things for. I do not pretend to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Whether or not there is a God, I don't know, but I lean toward believing there is, which is why I correct anyone who refers to me as an atheist. But I certainly do not have to believe that everything said about God is true. I don't have to believe everything Catholics say about God is true.

            When I say that something like eternal punishment is unjust and cruel, I am not saying I believe God is unjust and cruel. I am saying, "If that's your conception of God, then I find that conception very problematic, because it seems to me that, as you conceive God, he is cruel and unfair." That is not a criticism of God. It is a criticism of what is claimed about God.

            I hope very much that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God who, if I only understood him, I could embrace without reservation. However, as things now stand, I find that what is often taught about God is not consistent with his being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Since the idea of a God who is not those things is perfectly horrifying and unthinkable, I am left with the conclusion that either God does not exist, or that God does exist and certain things taught about him are not true. I do not draw the conclusion that God exists and I am morally superior to him!

            I once had a long talk with an Evangelical Christian who was a co-worker of mine and an amiable guy and very committed to his religion. He quite firmly believed that it was necessary to explicitly acknowledge Jesus as your savior (and be baptized) in order to be saved. So all of the peoples of the world who had no chance at all to hear about Jesus—for example, Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas—all went to hell when they died. He had no problem defending this idea. It's right there in the Bible. That doesn't mean I have to believe it. It doesn't even mean the Church teaches it (although there are still archconservative Catholics who claim that "outside the Church there is no salvation").

          • Rob Abney

            Great answer David!
            We're on a journey, it's not as simple as your evangelical friend says it is.
            Keep searching, and as we say at Mass each time something difficult is about to be asked of us, May the Lord Be With You!

          • Michael Murray

            Whether or not there is a God, I don't know, but I lean toward believing there is, which is why I correct anyone who refers to me as an atheist.

            Maybe this is the wrong place to ask this question but I'd be interested in knowing why you lean that way and what sort of God you have in mind ?

          • David Nickol

            I honestly can't think of anything intelligent to say. It's just a gut feeling, and undoubtedly at least partly due to the fact that I was raised Catholic, attending both a Catholic elementary school and a Catholic high school. It's difficult to shake off that kind of background entirely. (Lenin said, "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.") I really do feel, and somewhat resent, that I was so thoroughly indoctrinated that it is now difficult for me to know what I actually believe and what seeds were planted so deeply that they can't be entirely uprooted. Still, although I find the "problem of evil" pretty much unanswerable, I have a gut feeling that the state of the world can be consistent with an all-good God.

            What bothers me most is "religious people" who are so sure of what they believe that they give brief answers to tough questions as if Catholicism were a set of simple and self-evident facts. (Example, with apologies to whomever said this recently: "God's infinite justice cannot be overruled by his infinite mercy.") What bother's me also is people who give lengthy "canned" answers that I am already thoroughly familiar with. But much the same thing applies to atheists who claim to be as certain, in their own way, of things nobody really knows.

          • David Nickol

            I would add that given what we know about the size and age of the universe, it is difficult to think that a God/Creator would be as interested in the human race (the alleged "pinnacle of creation") as was believed when the earth was considered the only planet! This of course raises questions about Jesus being God incarnate. I think it is probably that there is other intelligent life in the universe, and should we make contact with alien races, will the idea that God himself now is a man still be tenable to anyone? Of course, it fits very well with a great deal of science fiction, in which human beings, with all their faults, are still superior to any other race. Captain Kirk's "intuition" always winds up being more useful than Spock's obviously superior intelligence.

            But of course none of the above is proof of anything.

            It is often said that Galileo, Darwin, and Freud gave human thought (and religion) three major jolts to which (at least in my opinion) a great deal of human (particularly religious) thought has not adequately adjusted. I would add a fourth—my personal hobby horse—which is that apparently most human beings die within a few days of conception. (This is, of course, only true if you believe that human life begins at conception.) To find out that most humans never live a "life on earth" ought to come as a major shock to those who believe life begins at conception and lasts for all eternity. For the Catholic Church, this means that the eternal fate of most humans is unknown.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for the thoughtful replies David.

          • Rob Abney

            Its difficult to practice humility, Catholics should always know there is something greater/superior than themselves. Maybe for those that lean toward atheism its harder to easily admit that there is something greater/superior.
            I always disliked platitudes from religious people, until I learned a lot more about the foundations of religion, then it was easier to decipher those platitudes as "short-cuts", ways to explain something without having to explain everything that supports it. Still its relative to who you are talking to.
            However, when you think about it, how can justice overrule mercy or vice versa? It seems self-evident to me! (and St Thomas Aquinas) “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; [and] justice without mercy is cruelty.”

          • David Nickol

            Its difficult to practice humility, Catholics should always know there is something greater/superior than themselves. Maybe for those that lean toward atheism its harder to easily admit that there is something greater/superior.

            I think a good argument can be made that those who lean toward agnosticism find it easier to practice humility. The attitude of a good agnostic, it seems to me, is, "I don't know, and you don't know either, so stop pretending you know!"

            Why should we even presume that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God has separate qualities called justice and mercy that have to be balanced one against another? Why should it not be the case that human beings need to break something down into justice and mercy that in God is one quality and cannot cause conflict? Setting up a conflict between God's justice and God's mercy is almost like asking whether God can make a weight so heavy that he can't lift it. According to all of the arguments here (or most of them, anyway) God is simplicity itself. How can he have two infinite characteristics of which one must override the other?

          • Paul F

            Is it humble to argue that you have more humility? (Sorry, it's the irony I like)

            A lot of ink has been spilled over reconciling God's justice with His mercy. But you apparently do not suffer from the same misconceptions as those ink spillers. Don't be shy about sharing what you understand. Not everyone sees so clearly.

          • David Nickol

            The argument is not over personal humility (which I nevertheless possess in great abundance), but whether the Christian view or the atheist view is more "humble." The Christian view is that human beings are the "pinnacle of creation," the entire (perhaps infinite) universe was created for them, and that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son . . . ." The atheist view is that humankind is not the center of the universe, is of no particular importance (except to itself), and that very possibly there are other intelligent races in the universe that would make human beings look pathetic by comparison.

            Individually, a person may be utterly lacking in humility by claiming to be so much smarter than everyone else that he or she knows theism to be true and atheists are either blind or evil, or to be so much smarter than everyone else that he or she knows atheism is true and theists believe in fairy tales. But as I said, the argument isn't over whether atheists or theists are personally humble people.

          • Paul F

            I see what you mean. I think the humility of a viewpoint would have to be measured by its veracity. Since we are talking about existential or transcendent realities, veracity is not obtained empirically. In the case of atheism and theism, neither side can provide verification to the other side.

            Still, among various views, the one that is true I would call the most humble, as the alternative view would be motivated by something other than truth (ego, hubris, personal gain, etc). The problem in this case is that both sides believe what they believe because they think it to be true. So I would call it a tie on the humility scale, because both admit that the truth is bigger than they are.

            The ones who I find lacking in humility are the relativists. When a person claims truth is relative they are placing themselves as the judge of the universe; placing themselves above truth.

          • Michael Murray

            Maybe for those that lean toward atheism its harder to easily admit that there is something greater/superior.

            So on the one hand we have

            (a) life on planet earth is just a purposeless accident on one star in maybe 1(type in 25 zeros) with consciousness possibly just a byproduct of other more beneficial brain changes

            versus

            (b) the universe and all the 1(type in 25 zeros) stars were created so that I could exist and struggle with free will and love the creator of said universe who loves me completely and utterly.

            I think there is always a way of feeling special if you want to.

          • Rob Abney

            who/what is superior in example A? Are you saying that the cosmos is the superior entity that the non-believer has to be humble to, and yet the cosmos is in both examples?

          • Michael Murray

            It was more a question of how anyone believing (a) could come out feeling they are somehow superior to anything. On the other hand I've met people believing (b) who definitely feel superior to many other people and living things although not, of course, to God.

          • Lazarus

            While I agree with every word you say here I personally find it difficult to live in that manner. True, practical agnosticism is a difficult worldview for me, and I find that I feel more comfortable developing (forcing?) that agnosticism into one step further, that it is better (for me) to live as if there is / is not a God. Agnosticism followed up by, what in my view, seems a reasoned further step, which takes that agnosticism into faith.

            But certain, absolute answers - not possible.

          • Alexandra

            Hi Lazarus, interesting insight.

            Would you mind speaking more to:

            "I find that I feel more comfortable developing (forcing?) that agnosticism into one step further, ..."

            I have not found that I've had to force or drive the direction of my beliefs, (or in other words, if it was forced, I probably wouldn't pursue that direction) so I'm curious as to what you've experienced. Thanks.

          • Lazarus

            What I was trying to convey was my own journey from non-theism to agnosticism, which left me (after a while) feeling ungrounded, directionless, so as if agnosticism was a cop-out. Initially I then "forced" myself into faith, very much only because it made provisional sense at the time. In time that forced faith grew into an easy, comfortable and very stable faith.

            Of course agnosticism is a valid worldview, it's just that personally I could never be comfortable with that as an indefinite worldview. I found it cognitively better to push my agnosticism into a direction (and I concede that both directions would be rational and justifiable) and to then live as if that decision is correct, all the while of course remaining open to further evidence, arguments or insight.

            I hope that's a bit clearer.

          • Alexandra

            Thank you. Yes, very clear.

          • Paul F

            It is a very Christian stance to accept critically and discerningly all that you hear about God. You have facts you have heard from Christians that apparently contradict each other: God is just and merciful, and hell is real and humans go there as punishment. You have reasoned that any person in hell is an unjust situation and a just God would not allow it.

            You are not alone in this reasoning. There have been many prominent Christians who have reasoned similarly and come to the conclusion that, in the end, there will be no persons in hell.

            I do not hold to this, because even in eternity God will not force Himself on people. I had a professor who would say, rather graphically, "If hell does not exist, then God is a rapist." His point being that hell is basically the option to not be with God eternally. It is pure misery in every way imaginable, but the irrationality of the choice does not render the choice impossible to make. Look around you at the irrational choices people make every day. Hell is the eternal state of making such choices.

          • Doug Shaver

            His point being that hell is basically the option to not be with God eternally

            An option is a choice. Suppose I offer to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for an amount of money that you could easily pay. If you decline to pay my price, are you choosing not to own the Brooklyn Bridge?

          • Paul F

            Seek and you will find.

          • Doug Shaver

            I did. I didn't.

            And you didn't answer my question.

          • Paul F

            I thought it was rhetorical. I assume it is an analogy between owning the Brooklyn Bridge and being with God, meant to make the point that God does not exist any more than you have the ability to sell the bridge.

            Due to the respect you have demonstrated for the truth, I believe you when you tell me you have sought God and not found him. I hope that you still hold it to be possible for Him to exist. From what I know of God, I believe that He has a plan to meet you. But His time is not the same as our time.

          • Doug Shaver

            I assume it is an analogy between owning the Brooklyn Bridge and being with God, meant to make the point that God does not exist any more than you have the ability to sell the bridge.

            The point was not about what exists or what I'm able to sell. The point was about whether it makes any sense to say that if I go to hell, I will have chosen to go there.

            I hope that you still hold it to be possible for Him to exist.

            I do.

          • Paul F

            Ah, well this is a matter of doctrine. Yes when someone goes to hell it is because they have rejected salvation willfully. Some of the images of hell from Christian tradition do not help with understanding this because those images would be rejected by anyone. CS Lewis gives an alternative conception in 'The Great Divorce' that is illustrative of doctrine.

          • Doug Shaver

            this is a matter of doctrine. Yes when someone goes to hell it is because they have rejected salvation willfully.

            Your doctrine defies reality.

            Some of the images of hell from Christian tradition do not help with understanding this because those images would be rejected by anyone.

            They are not rejected by everyone. But it doesn't matter how they're interpreted. Whatever hell really is, atheists who go there won't go there by choice, and that is a fact. If your doctrine says otherwise, then you need to rethink your doctrine.

      • Doug Shaver

        slaves were treated as equals by early Christians.

        If they didn't free their slaves, they weren't treating them as equals.

        • George

          the apologist answer in my experience is that without a prison system in those days, slavery was the practical way to go to pay off debts or crimes. and because we have a prison system today, we shouldn't complain about slavery in ancient times.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have seen no claim by any competent historian that all or most slaves in antiquity were either debtors or criminals. The usual source of slaves seems to have been military conquest.

        • Paul F

          It would not necessarily have been a kind gesture to free a slave, as they would not have had a way to make a living any longer. Slavery was a part of society, but slaves were not the lowest members of society. To be freed from slavery would subject the slave to a lower state in life.

          Onesimus is a Christian and a slave who appears in the bible. He ran away from his master and Paul sent him back to ask for forgiveness. His master could have legally killed him for the offense, but he instead forgave him and freed him and Onesimus became a prominent bishop of the church.

          Many slaves became Christians in the early church, but not many Christians were slave owners. This is why Paul used the analogy of slavery to explain how to follow Christ: many of his friends were slaves and understood exactly what he was saying.

          • Doug Shaver

            It would not necessarily have been a kind gesture to free a slave, as they would not have had a way to make a living any longer.

            Let's see. I'm a Christian, and I own a slave. Presumably, I'm using him to perform some service for me. And I must be feeding him and providing him shelter, both at some expense to me. If I free him, I can still provide him food and shelter for the same service. What's to keep me from doing that?

          • Paul F

            This question presumes a level of wealth that was virtually nonexistent in the ancient world. There was no such relationship as the people who live in my house for free and don't do any work. The relationship that was extant was the people who live in my house and do their share of the work to provide food and clothing; and this relationship was called slavery.

            Nonetheless, the situation you describe came up in the early communistic Christian community where people from all walks of life came to the community and were fed, clothed, and housed by the community. When asked what to do about members who refused to work, St. Paul said to stop feeding them.

          • Doug Shaver

            This question presumes a level of wealth that was virtually nonexistent in the ancient world.

            Anyone who owned a slave had to have enough wealth to keep the slave alive.

            The relationship that was extant was the people who live in my house and do their share of the work to provide food and clothing; and this relationship was called slavery.

            I see. So let's consider a merchant. His wife lives with him and does the housekeeping. He has a son with a wife, and they also live in the merchant's house. The merchant's son helps him with the business, and the daughter-in-law helps the merchant's wife with the housekeeping. Are the merchant's wife, son, and daughter-in-law all his slaves?

            When asked what to do about members who refused to work, St. Paul said to stop feeding them.

            What does that have to do with whether Christians could have freed their slaves? They could have freed them and then said, "As long as you continue working for me, you'll have a place to sleep and food to eat. Otherwise, you'll be on your own."

          • Paul F

            1. They had enough wealth to keep a slave alive as long as the slave was working and creating wealth.
            2. You are listing other non-slave relationships and asking me if they are slave relationships?
            3. That is why I explained the relationship between a slave and master is the slave works and is fed, clothed, and housed. There is more to the relationship than just that, but that's the skinny. Political correctness did not exist then either, so if the master said "You are free, but you still have to do all your work and I will continue to feed, clothe, and house you", the slave would have thought he lost his mind. It's like saying "you are free, but you are still a slave." Slave simply wasn't a bad word back then. It describes a relationship.

          • Doug Shaver

            1. They had enough wealth to keep a slave alive as long as the slave was working and creating wealth.

            Where are you getting your information about how much wealth anybody had in the ancient world?

            2. You are listing other non-slave relationships and asking me if they are slave relationships?

            I am asking you to confirm what you said about the master-slave relationship. You said: "the people who live in my house and do their share of the work to provide food and clothing; and this relationship was called slavery.

            I explained the relationship between a slave and master is the slave works and is fed, clothed, and housed. There is more to the relationship than just that, but that's the skinny.

            I don't think that "more" is as irrelevant as you're trying to suggest.

            Political correctness did not exist then either

            I'm about as devoted to political correctness as Donald Trump is. I'm asking you why a freed slave could not have continued working for his former master in exchange for, if nothing else, the same compensation in terms of basic life support.

          • Paul F

            I studied some theology and Roman culture in school. Slavery was a part of the New Testament culture and throughout the Roman Empire. I was explaining why Paul used the analogy of slavery to describe how to follow Christ. He did it because he was talking to slaves and people who understood slavery and what virtues it took to be a good slave.

            You seem to be upset that there is no moral teaching on slavery in what Paul is saying. I find it anachronistic to apply modern morality to judge another society, for one. But also, Paul is teaching about following Christ. Should he have been so consumed with the abolition of slavery as to render himself impotent in discussing any other matter?

            So could a freed slave continue the same life after being freed? Of course that is possible and may have happened. But that hypothetical is so anamolous to ancient culture as to render it a distraction to understanding the culture you are asking about.

          • David Nickol

            I find it anachronistic to apply modern morality to judge another society, for one.

            So we should not expect Jesus and St. Paul to be anything more than the product of their times? According to Catholicism, Jesus is God incarnate! According to Catholicism, Paul was writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit!

            If it is anachronistic to apply modern morality to the past, is it not anachronistic to apply ancient morality to the modern world? Is there anything condemned in the New Testament that we now know to be acceptable? If the authors of the New Testament were mistaken about what they didn't condemn, could they not have been mistaken about what they did condemn?

          • Paul F

            Theology is not done in a vacuum; it draws from tradition, the magisterium, and scripture. It employs textual and historical criticism. There are methods for extracting the theology from the story.

            Morality is informed by theology and by the culture. It is not stagnant over time because it has to address different cultures over space and time.

            For instance, in the early church it was declared immoral to eat meat that had been sacrificed to other gods. This had nothing to do with the meat itself nor with the false god, but rather with the impression it gave people. It would have been a scandal to non-believers, and that alone made it immoral.

            So I guess the answer is that, no, one cannot simply take biblical stories out of context and take morality straight from them any more than one can judge biblical characters by today's morality. But there are methods, and there is a teaching authority set up to aid us in reconciling the two disparate cultures.

            Jesus and Paul lived in a common culture and abided by its mores. It does not follow that all they were was a product of the times. In order to understand what their words and actions mean to us today, we first have to understand what they meant in first century Lebanon.

          • Doug Shaver

            Slavery was a part of the New Testament culture and throughout the Roman Empire.

            I don't know what you mean by "New Testament culture," but with respect to slavery, there was nothing special about the Roman empire in general or the ancient Near East in particular. Slavery seems to be as old as civilization itself, as far as I can tell.

            You seem to be upset that there is no moral teaching on slavery in what Paul is saying.

            Oh, I think there is some moral teaching on slavery in the writings attributed to Paul. He tells slaves to obey their masters. Isn't that a moral teaching?

            What I don't find is any condemnation of slavery.

            I find it anachronistic to apply modern morality to judge another society, for one.

            Oh, I'm not judging Paul. If you want me to let him off the moral hook, I can do that. Considering the age in which he lived, I wouldn't expect him or any other prominent Christian of his time to think there was anything wrong with slavery. Just don't tell me that people who thought slavery was morally acceptable also believed that slaves were their equals.

            Should he have been so consumed with the abolition of slavery as to render himself impotent in discussing any other matter?

            No. But if he had believed that it was a sin to own slaves, he could have said so to Philemon.

          • Paul F

            Also, it would help our discussion if you would believe me that first century Christians were not slave owners. The majority were from the lowest levels of society. That is why I keep saying Paul is talking to slaves. A lot of Christians were slaves.

          • Doug Shaver

            Also, it would help our discussion if you would believe me that first century Christians were not slave owners.

            You're not trying to tell me that none of them were, are you? Philemon was a Christian, wasn't he? He owned a slave, didn't he?

            It makes no difference to our discussion how many Christians were slaveowners. As long as some Christians owned slaves, then it is appropriate to ask whether their ownership of those people was consistent with the assertion that they treated all people equally.

          • Paul F

            I do not assert that there has been a sinless Christian on this planet since Christ died, much less that Christians throughout time have treated all people equally. The whole notion of equality comes from Classical French philosophers and the US constitution, not from Christianity.

            Of course there were a very few slave owners who became Christians. I don't understand why that would be the scandal you say it is. It certainly was not for the early Christians. Having a few wealthy people in the community just meant maybe a better meal once in a while.

          • Doug Shaver

            I do not assert that there has been a sinless Christian on this planet since Christ died, much less that Christians throughout time have treated all people equally.

            I didn't say you did. Rob Abney said:

            A careful reading of St. Paul and the early Christians will show that slaves were treated as equals by early Christians.

            And I replied: "If they didn't free their slaves, they weren't treating them as equals." I thought you were disagreeing with my reply, but I get it now that I was mistaken. I thought you were denying unequal treatment of slaves, but you were actually defending it. Do I now understand you correctly?

          • Paul F

            No, I'm neither defending nor condemning slavery in the first century. I have been trying to explain the place it had in society to shed light on what Paul is teaching with his analogy.

            Slaves were very welcome in the early Christian communities and some held prominent positions. I mentioned Onesimus earlier as an example.

            But there simply was no impetus to free all slaves that we know of. Slavery was regulated by Roman law and everyone was subject to that law. Paul was a Roman citizen and a close observer of the law, so he would not have been in favor of slaves rejecting their responsibility under the law. I know that seems harsh to a slaveless society, but it doesn't mean that everything he said was misguided. It just means you can't look for lessons on the immorality of slavery in Paul's letters.

          • Doug Shaver

            No, I'm neither defending nor condemning slavery in the first century.

            You are defending it if you say it was morally unobjectionable. Are you saying that slavery was morally unobjectionable in the places and at the time where Christianity originated?

          • Paul F

            I'm not defending it. It was objectionable in some ways, but it was a Roman institution. It was just a fact of life for early Christians. And comparing ancient civilization to modern civilization simply has no place in an intellectual discussion on history or theology.

          • Doug Shaver

            It was objectionable in some ways

            Was it, in any way, morally objectionable?

            It was just a fact of life for early Christians.

            It was a fact of life for quite a few American Christians during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.

          • Paul F

            By modern Christian values almost everything the Romans did was morally objectionable: conquest of nations, slavery, capital punishment, torture, confiscatory taxation, prostitution, etc. All of that is morally objectionable and has been labeled as such by popes and bishops for generations. Ditto for a lot of what modern American culture does and has done. That is still not germane to understanding what Paul is saying in his slavery analogy.

          • Doug Shaver

            My understanding of Paul's writing is different from your understanding. That probably has something to do with the fact that you believe he was writing under divine inspiration and I don't. You have to interpret him in such a way as to preclude the possibility that he was mistaken. I can interpret him while allowing that he was as fallible as any other writer has ever been.

          • Paul F

            I'm pretty sure you're projecting other conversations into this one because I haven't said anything to make you think that. I don't consider Paul's letters mistake-free or even infallible. I'm just decifering the theology and discussing it.

          • Doug Shaver

            This is a Catholic forum. Catholicism teaches scriptural inerrancy. Do you disagree with Catholic teaching on this issue?

          • David Nickol

            Yes, the Church teaches (e.g., in <a href="http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html&quot;Dei Verbum) that "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." However, it is not clear what that really means. For example,

            However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

            To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.

            But even that doesn't pin down exactly what is supposed to be taken to be without error. And then, many will argue, there is a huge loophole because it says ". . . teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." If it is not something for the sake of salvation, then it is not necessarily inerrant.

            The document is open to different interpretations because there were two factions at the Council who did not agree, and so there was a compromise on wording that they both could live with.

            So two faithful Catholics can say they agree with Catholic teaching on the issue of inerrancy, but they will not necessarily agree with each other.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am aware that inerrancy doesn't mean the same thing in a Catholic context as in a Protestant evangelical context. But however it is construed, if inerrancy means anything at all, it means that whatever Paul wrote, on whatever subject, it was true in some sense. And anyone who believes that is obliged to interpret Paul's writing accordingly.

          • Paul F

            Many thanks to David for that explanation. Perhaps the claim can be made that everything Paul wrote is "true in some sense", but it is possible that the only sense in which some things are true is that Paul believed them to be true.

            The important thing about being Catholic is that we all struggle with scripture, individually and together. But when we are together (with the magisterium) we have a much better chance of getting the message the way it was intended.

            I personally find scripture more helpful for prayer than for theology. Although I also find that the more theology I learn, the more useful I find scripture in prayer.

      • Paul F

        The notion that mankind is treated equally by God is a modern notion that did not come from Christianity. God in fact chooses individuals, families, friends, and societies as His "chosen". This is not in conflict with God treating all people justly.

        Christianity has subsumed this modern notion of equality to teach Christians on earth how we are to treat each other: all humans have equal dignity given them by God. However, the distinction remains that this teaches us how to look upon each other in our ignorance; it does not tell us how God sees us.

    • Paul F

      Good point, David. It's not easy, or rather impossible, for us to understand what eternal life is like. The bible teaches by analogy, and the good things of the world are analogues for the good things of heaven. The problem is that not all analogies make sense to all generations.

      The analogy of slavery was used to explain how thoroughly Paul followed Christ. It was used at a time when slavery had no negative moral connotation; it was just a way of life for some people. And being a good slave was a virtuous life. So Paul uses what would have been considered the virtues of a slave (humility, hard work, loyalty, etc) to describe the proper way to follow Christ.

      As all analogies are imperfect, we must keep in mind that while we are to be "slaves of Christ", it's doesn't mean that Jesus is an evil slavemaster. It is only natural for us to be humble in God's presence, for He is obviously greater than us; it is only natural for us to work hard for God, as He has done so much for us; it is only natural for us to be loyal to God, as He has kept His covenants with us in spite of our failure.

      This is the context to the slavery analogy.

  • David Hardy

    For the whole of their lives, these young people have been immersed in the corrosive acids of relativism, scientism, and materialism.

    We have had very different experiences of how these concepts can affect a person. Used properly, relativism can promote empathy for people of significantly different backgrounds. Scientism promotes the importance of direct, critical evaluation of ideas. Materialism can lead to practical considerations of material needs, such as ensuring people have shelter and food. Each of these views have limits and ways that they can be misapplied, but stand on a foundation that has value.

    therefore in the absence of God, we will make some other value our ultimate concern. Wealth, power, pleasure, and honor have all played the
    role of false gods over the course of the human drama, but today
    especially, freedom itself has emerged as the ultimate good, as the
    object of worship.

    I agree to an extent. However, I would say that the concept of God carries values. For many Christians, I have found that God includes the values of obedience, service and a sort of selflessness. God is an idea that is abstract enough that it does not directly translate to what we should do. Values connected to the idea of God serve this function, and those who do not believe in God can, nevertheless, come to similar values. I would also say that this highlights the importance of learning about the value system of any atheist or agnostic you meet, since there are many different things that may form the core of that person's belief system.

    As the Bible tells it, the human project went off the rails precisely at the moment when Adam arrogated to himself the prerogative of
    determining the meaning of his life, when he, in the agelessly beautiful
    poetry of the book of Genesis, ate of the fruit of the knowledge of
    good and evil. Read the chapters that immediately follow the account of
    the Fall, and you will discover the consequences of this deified
    freedom: jealousy, hatred, fratricide, imperialism, and the war of all
    against all.

    We all determine the meaning of our lives. Some people use belief systems like Christianity to do so, but that does not mean that they are not making this determination. Even with those who use a system like Christianity, people will form unique interpretations of how that system applies to their life. Jealousy, hatred and similar issues plague those who are religious as well as those who are not. People of many different worldviews find reasons to engage in or overcome these human tendencies.

    And this is precisely why Paul, one of Jesus’ first missionaries, announced him as Kyrios (Lord) to all the nations, and why he characterized himself as doulos Christou Iesou (a slave of Christ Jesus). Paul exulted in the fact that his life did not belong to him, but rather to Christ.

    And so Paul saw himself as enslaved to the values he associated to his understanding of Christ. He still made the determination that this was the meaning of his life, and the proper value system to follow.

    If there is no God, then our lives do indeed belong to us, and we can do with them what we want. If there is no God, our lives have no ultimate
    meaning or transcendent purpose, and they become simply artifacts of our
    own designing.

    And this is a difficult concept. It does not, however, say anything about whether it is true, only whether it is desirable to the author. Also, a meaning does not have to be ultimate to be meaningful. There is an odd all-or-nothing thinking happening here -- either meaning is ultimate, or it is meaningless. Either we belong to God, or we will descend inevitably into selfish hedonism. What if we see our lives as belonging in part to others? In this, we have a belief system without God that still rejects selfishness and hedonism as core values.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    FYI: http://star-www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~pr33/affil.jpg The conversation died out but I still found this interesting.

    @disqus_zfj9SMPxxj:disqus @disqus_vk0aSkJaVA:disqus

  • Max Driffill

    Assertion masquerading as argument is but one among this articles many intellectual sins. I only have time to tackle a little bit of this article so let me deal with the final paragraph.

    "The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed, for the more our society drifts into atheism, the more human life is under threat. The less we are willing even to wrestle with God, the more de-humanized we become."

    Why the religious demographics of Harvard's incoming freshman should have a person like the good Bishop worried is beyond me. It augers precisely nothing and implies no immediate change in the valuation of human life.

    For all of human existence human life hasn't exactly been rigorously defended by believers, in the Bishop's faith, or by any other. In fact the world has become less violent and less sanguinary as human societies have shed their barbarous beliefs and would be theocracies behind us in antiquity. That is we are arguably more moral now, especially in the developed world, than we have ever been in our history. We are certainly generally more moral than Moses and his mutinous comrades. And more moral than the god in his story who valued human life very little. If you doubt that think of all the innocents his character slaughters in Exodus, people who can do nothing to influence the behavior of the Pharaoh. Luckily, none of that happened. But if the Bishop is going to claim his God loves human life, he is going to have to solve the riddle of his said deity's bloodthirsty tendencies.

    And who is more willing to "wrestle with the gods" than atheists? I'm afraid I see no wrestling with moral questions on the Bishop's part. I do see him asserting his church's positions are correct, without much evidence (indeed none) to support his arguments.

  • neil_pogi

    if i own my life, then why i will die soon?