Thursday, February 24, 2011

Back to the grind

I was quite surprised tonight when I logged in and realized it's been three weeks since I posted anything! That (along with a long-winded comment over at George's site I spent my lunch hour on) prompted me to post something that's been sitting in my inbox as a reminder to make a comment on (I often email things of interest to myself - sadly, they rarely seem to actually make it onto the blog).

Anyways, over at Pharyngula, PZ posted a link to Paula Kirby's Feb. 15th column on "Faith - the ultimate tyranny." I recommend reading the column, but I'd rather focus on one comment left over there:

This piece sounds less like a cry for freedom and more like a rant against authority. For people like Paula, a rule by definition is a bad rule (which amusingly enough is itself a rule). They consider concepts like obedience to be abhorant by their very nature. And througout this rant about the follies of submitting oneself to the tyrany of religion, Paula misses the whole point of freedom.

Freedom is not the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want without any consequences. If my thoughts, words, and actions never affect the nature of an outcome, then I am a slave to that outcome because I have no way of altering it.

On the contrary, freedom allows individuals to know what the choices are, to know what the consequences of those choices are, and to have the confidence that choosing a particular choice will result in its corresponding consequence. Thus freedom permits an act of free will to alter the outcome.

Religion concerns itself with the nature of the God to Human relationship. It teaches that certain thoughts, words, and actions bring us closer to God or distance us from God. Religion shows that we all have the freedom to seek God or to reject God. By rejecting the authority of God to give us a choice that is articulated via religion, we reject our own freedom.


This comment is a great example of a Christian is so close to "getting it," but they missed the mark because their allegiance to their Great Lawmaker must take precedence over everything else.

Most atheists (or most people, for that matter) don't consider obedience to be "abhorrent." Otherwise, how could society even function? Not all atheists are anarchists (nor are all anarchists atheists). However, what many atheists (not all of them, either) consider bad, or at least negligent, is mindless obedience. The idea that we should behave a certain way because it was decreed upon us from on high, that our every choice must be monitored without any justification or examination of why that must be, is generally undesirable to most freethinkers. We're no longer children - we can understand why a certain act might be considered wrong or right if it is explained to us. "Because I'm the God and what I say goes" should never be a good enough reason, in the same way a child should never let a parent off the hook for an explanation when they say "because I'm the mother/father, that's why!"

The idea that "freedom is the ability to do what I want whenever I want without any consequences" is a total strawman argument. Few atheists would argue that there is such thing as a consequence-free action or decision. Instead, what a belief in God does is take away some of the thought process that goes into decision-making. It creates a cognitive shortcut by making the decision maker more worried about what God would think of a certain action than what the actual, real-world consequences that would occur. Instead of actually thinking through what would happen if a person were to take a certain action, the desire to turn choices into black and white options, for fear of being condemned for making the wrong decision can become the major impetus behind the final decision that gets made. This can actually prevent people from learning how to think critically about their situation, instead having them hobbled by expecting to always be told how to make their decisions.

This is one of the myriad reasons why I eventually left Chrisitianity: I slowly discovered that what the Bible had to say affected very few of the decisions that I had to make day-to-day in my life. The Achilles heel of many beliefs is irrelevancy; once you realize that there's many more important things to think about while making a decision in life than whether a deity approves or not, it's easy to toss the Bible aside and begin focus on sorting through the shades of grey that make up the real world.

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