Why atheists are easy pickings for politicians

"Yay, let's all worship a new idol!"

Out of the frying pan, into the camp fire.

Politicians are having a field day with atheists and secularists, in general. They’re doing it by exploiting a weakness in humans to confuse ends with means.

To explain this position, I’ll need to back up for a moment and talk about religion.

When people believe in holy books, most ethical questions are conveniently addressed within the book’s pages. For ambiguities, an industry of clergy exists to assist with “interpretation” of the book. And the people who rule the masses can then, in turn, use the religiously based ethics to justify political actions. (see Iran or Saudi Arabia for conspicuous examples, the USA for an insidious one)

For politicians, the most useful aspect of religious philosophy is based on the idea of being your brothers’ keeper. If people are born into a state of perpetual obligation, politicians could simply exploit the meme to justify any behavior “for the good of the people.”

Today’s politicians are using same old argument, but supporting it in a secular fashion. You are still born a slave to everyone around you, but not because the bible tells you so. We have a new oracle for that.

The rationale that supposedly supports the new collectivism is “reason.” But reason is a method by which one arrives at a conclusion. Not a conclusion in and of itself. But if the conclusion is already assumed (“how do we maximize good for the greatest number of people?”), how can anyone disagree with reason as the method to get there?

And there’s the trap.

Once the collectivist gets you to bite on the new categorical position of “maximizing good for all” as your goal, you get politicians who believe in imposing higher taxes on those who work to subsidize people who don’t want to work because they’d rather be poets (thanks for that gem, Nancy).

This wonderful trick, convincing you of “maximizing good for all,” hides a dark underside, the presumption that you are born in obligation to the collective good. Theists say you are born in a state of obligation because you’re bad (a flawed sinner). Progressives say you’re born into a state of obligation because you’re good, a natural-born altruist.

Proponents of this position often invoke the idea of cooperation as a proof. They observe that humans are self-interested creatures who use cooperation to thrive. But they drop the “self-interested” part and focus only on the cooperation. Humans are cooperative, they say, therefore this is our highest nature.

Again, they’re confusing means to end. Humans use cooperation because it is often reasonable to cooperate to achieve our own self interests.

Atheists, in particular, are easy pickings for this flawed argument because few have arrived at their political positions by way of a metaphysical one. The thread of the political argument is easy to see for a theist.

God exists (metaphysical position)
God said that my purpose in life is to serve him and his flock (ethical position)
Serve God and His flock (political position, justified by metaphysical and ethical presumptions)

Now let’s try that for an atheist:

There probably is no god, I am probably simply a product of nature (metaphysical position)
My purpose in life is…? (ethical position?)
Serve the state and all humanity (political position)

Many attempt to use cooperation as their purpose in life. But as we’ve already shown, cooperation is not a purpose, it is a means to an end.

Often a secularist will say, the meaning of life is that which you assign to it. Well, if this is true, what if my meaning in life doesn’t entail forced obligation to strangers?

Seems like politicians are still eager to sell you an ethical position that keeps you obligated to others from birth. The college professors are the new priests and reason is the new divination.

And it seems like plenty of atheists are becoming true believers.

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Why Rick Santorum had a broken-clock moment

They say he puts the "ick" in "Rick."

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to ethics lately. It’s tough not to when certain presidential candidates are constantly telling me what I ought to do with my life, and how I ought to do it. This has made me think about the classical is-ought problem (otherwise known as Hume’s Guillotine). Basically this problem involves the lack of evidence that would allow someone to jump from observation or logic (what is) to moral prescriptions (what ought to be).

Upon further reading, most post-Hume philosophers solve this problem by introducing a goal into the mix. For example, if my goal is to lose 50 more pounds, I ought to avoid beer and Funyons. (A, ahem, purely hypothetical example to be sure.) But when the goal rests upon answering questions like, “What are we, why are we here, what is our purpose in life?” a problem emerges because the answers to these questions are usually faith-based or open ended.

The religions serve many purposes – among them, is to provide an answer to the “ought” question. (For more on this, check out this article by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in Standpoint.) Religious texts, albeit clumsily at times, provide a series of answers about our origin, purpose and destiny. Where they fail miserably is in areas addressing observation. When we observed that the earth didn’t revolve around the sun, all hell broke loose. Religion is a weak “is” but a strong “ought.”

Science, on the other hand – and specifically the scientific method of observation, peer review and openness to change – is currently our best “is.”However, whenever I read prescriptive ideas from the non-religious, they sound an awful lot like the religious. (This is where, like a broken clock that is right twice a day, I must begrudingly give Santorum some credit for making this observation about the liberal statists currently in power.)

The church of pure reason has its faith-based positions, too. But they are often in conflict. On one hand, there is a very strong polarity towards altruism. The Left takes the observation: humans tend to be cooperative (an “is”) and then leap to: humans ought to put the needs of the many before the needs of the few, or one (the “ought” in Star Trekparlance).

To be fair to Spock, he used altruism to guide his own behavior, not others. He didn't throw someone else into the warp core.

However, the church of the Left, wary of the crimes against individuals wreaked by totalitarian regimes, does its best to infuse another belief – the belief in (some) individual rights. They say, we ought to provide medical care to women, and women ought to have the right to any procedure they want. At the same time, this creates a dissonance with their categorical truths. If individual rights are an “ought,” then why is it that we ought to forcibly take away the wealth of one individual and give it to another individual (a moral position) simply because the needy individual is in need (an observation)?

How did we get from “person A is in need of a doctor” to “we ought to seize the wealth from person B to pay for it?”

To do so, it seems we have to introduce a new series of “oughts” to justify our behavior – “oughts” that seem to be as based on beliefs. As to whether this “new theology” is any more supported by evidence than the old theology seems to be an appropriate area for debate.

But if we discover that we can only replace one “ought” with another, is our belief system on any steadier ground than anyone else’s?