Monday, June 15, 2009

The case for atheism, part 1

I hope this post blows your mind. It blew my mind when it came to me so I thought I'd share it with you:

The moral and ethical case for vegetarianism is not difficult to make. There are probably hundreds of different ways to make the case but let's examine one:

No animal wants to die. In particular, no animal wants to be killed by another animal. Turn on any nature show and see the gazelle running in terror to escape the cheetah and you'll know this is true. Even the lowly cockroach seems to follow our gaze and dash from the underside of our angry shoe. Now, different animals have different pain thresholds and different levels of intelligence but it is obvious to everyone but a psychopath that no animal wants to be killed by another. Can we all agree on that point?

So there is a strong moral and ethical case to be made for vegetarianism: it is obvious that the killing of any animal is cruel. We want to live in a humane world with less cruelty and violence. So we choose to eat only plants. It's a pretty strong case. And indeed if we all had to kill our food ourselves, many of us would likely become vegetarians pretty quickly. Nothing complicated about that argument, correct?

Okay but here's the thing. The earth is designed for animals to kill other animals. Cheetahs eventually do catch a gazelle or a zebra. The shark is never gonna become a vegetarian -- it has to eat other fish in order to survive. The history of this planet is filled with lots and lots of predators -- animals who kill other animals against their will.

So God if there is a God, designed a world filled with predators.

But as I just showed above, even the most basic understanding of morality shows that it is cruel to kill another animal.

So by even the most basic definitions of morality -- YOU (or at least people who can understand vegetarianism -- which is pretty much everyone) have a HIGHER system of morality than God does (if there is such a thing).

That's an idea that is incredibly painful to comprehend -- there may indeed be a God and that God might just be an asshole. Most ancient people could understand this concept -- indeed pantheistic religions -- with multiple gods often in conflict with each other, have the ability to account for whimsical deities whose ethics are worse than our own. But the moment people embrace monotheism -- we experience the theodicy problem -- why do bad things happen to good people (the good and the bad of creation are located in one creator causing cognitive dissonance for the rest of us). The All Loving Santa Claus God (TM) that is popular in America today seems to leave no room for the fact that the hand we were dealt by creation can be incredibly violent and cruel (and totally lovely other times, it's true).

The alternative of course is to say that we can't explain creation through appeals to anthropomorphized God(s).

I'm not saying I have an answer, only that whatever answer we come up with for how we got here and why we are here necessarily needs to also explain all the evil, violence, and cruelty that seems built into the natural world.

Update #1: Indeed, isn't that what the Genesis story attempts to explain? Faced with the possibility that God is just an asshole (how else to explain all the violence and cruelty around them) the ancients took one for the team and said, 'oh no no, God is really good and things were really peaceful here once -- but then WE messed up by eating an apple and now we're gonna be punished for eternity.' Ya gotta hand it to them for trying -- a lifetime of guilt being a more desirable emotion than existential dread I suppose. But as we unearth dinosaur bones with really really big teeth for eating other dinosaurs -- we see that there likely never was a peaceful time -- violence and cruelty were the plan BEFORE we ever showed up on the scene.

5 comments:

kc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kc said...

So God if there is a God, designed a world filled with predators.

So, I’ll step out and be the likely unpopular voice of the Christian perspective. (Please do not equate with right wing.)

The creation account in the book of Genesis, whether taken as literal or metaphorical, shows a creation in which God, humans, and animals are in peaceful relationship. God and humans even have an intimate relationship, and animals are created as companions for humans. The whole thing gets messed up evil enters into those relationships. And, evil enters through another being. It’s not just an abstract concept. There are real, spiritual beings that bring about, and influence humans to bring about evil. Good and evil did not originate from the same place. This planet and the time we live in are a battle ground for a war between spiritual entities. We’re in the middle of the war whether we like it or not. We are the prize for which the war is being fought. One side loves us and will do anything to demonstrate that love. The other side will do anything to destroy love. The problem is as westerners, in general, we no longer acknowledge a spiritual realm. It’s hard to know how to interact with something when you don’t even believe it exists. We can interact with both sides. Whether we want to or not, we do engage with both sides on a daily basis. It might time to learn to speak the language.

As a side note, I’d be interested in being a vegetarian if I could figure out how to do it. When I’ve tried to be a vegetarian, I’m just stinking hungry all the time and I gained a lot of weight. And, I tend to be anemic (to the point of needing IV iron infusions) so I need a diet that’s high in iron. Tips appreciated.

RFK Action Front said...

Hi KC:

Thanks for the comment. And thanks for your tone too. You could have whacked me -- my post was pretty caustic I know. But I appreciate the way you present your ideas.

Honestly your argument is better than most that are in the marketplace of ideas right now. It's certain has more explanatory power than the notion of an all powerful all loving God who just happens to let a LOT of evil happen. But it's a polytheistic argument -- which is fine. I hear you saying there is more than one God and it's not clear which God has the upper hand. That seems like an ancient view of things consistent with writings early in Old Testament (where the God of Abraham was seen as competing for attention with other Gods) or even a view more in line with ancient Greece, Hinduism, or early Buddhism. Am I understanding that correctly? It's certainly food for thought.

As for becoming a vegetarian -- that's part of my complaint in the post -- like you I think it's really really hard to become a vegetarian. I think we're built to like the taste of meat and our bodies respond accordingly. Now our highly developed minds can see the moral problems with meat -- while our bodies say, give me protein! I know vegetarians say we don't need nearly as much protein as we think we do -- I just have not found that to be the case.

Again thanks for the comment!

kc said...

To clarify a little more, I'm actually making a monotheistic argument here. From the biblical account the source of evil is created beings- Satan and other angels who chose to rebel against God- not God. God has already won the war. Love has dealt the final death blow to evil. But, in it's death throes, evil is doing all the collateral damage it can. So that falls back to the argument for an all-powerful, all-loving God that allows evil to happen. Not your favorite argument, clearly.
However, I think the reason God allows evil is because we invited it into our lives. The story of Adam and Eve is a story of humanity in intimate relationship with a God who created them for joy and provided for their every need or want with the abundance of an exquisite creation. Yet, when evil said to them, "Hey, God's holding out you, he doesn't really love you. This is REALLY the good stuff, give it a try." They bought it. It's still the daily struggle for people who are in relationship with God. I think it's what the Jars of Clay song "Two Hands" is all about. Anyway, we opened the door to evil. The amazing thing is God didn't say FU and walk away, or zap them with a lightning bolt, or give them completely over to evil. Any of which would have been completely justified. Much as any loving parent would do when their child has made a devastating decision, God acknowledged the fallout of their choice and stayed in relationship with them/us. So, throughout human history God has been present, available, jumping up and down saying, "I'm here and I love you. Come on in." Some people accept the invitation, others don't, others don't even know it exists.
So, the really exciting thing is if you want in on the side of love you're welcomed with open arms. Anyone. Everyone. No exceptions. And we get to participate in kicking some serious ass!

RFK Action Front said...

Oh that KC!!! (It was the Jars of Clay reference that made it click!) Of course I should have recognized earlier -- but I somehow got thrown off thinking of the city KC instead of the initials! Ah well. I thought I had stumbled upon a new (polytheistic!) reader -- instead I'm just alienating someone who I know and care about. Such is the lot of a blogger I guess.

Okay so a couple thoughts. (Darn, the polytheistic debate was gonna be so much more fun!)

1.) I'm totally delighted that you have found a path that works for you. I really am. Life on this rock is complicated -- and if someone finds a path that works for them -- I'm all for it, and I don't want to dissuade him/her otherwise.

2.) That being said, Adam and Eve cannot screw up on my behalf. Did they kill someone? Maybe destroy a whole city or something? No? Just were curious? That seems like pretty severe punishment for curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge.

But as a METAPHOR for EVOLUTION -- I think it's not half bad. Being human, being perhaps the only animal that understands its own existential condition -- is agony. So if the Genesis account is saying, 'over the course of evolution, we came to be aware of our own fate, and that feels like eternal punishment' I'd find that quite interesting. (Just as I'm fascinated by the notion that perhaps the apple is as metaphor for WHEN that shift happened -- namely, when we shifted from being hunter gatherers to raising crops like apples, in an agrarian economy. And what if the snake is a metaphor for a river -- then we could have agriculture -- and it would fit the historical account of where we came from in the Tigris and Euphrates valley quite nicely.) A more literal reading of things -- that we are punished (justly!) for eternity because some gal ate an apple -- seems like a tough basis for founding a religion.

You are very kind to be patient with me in spite of our wildly divergent views on this matter. (-: