An Atheist’s Problem of Natural Rights

At the risk of sticking my neck out with a highly unpopular opinion within American politics, I would like to discuss the topic of rights, and how they seem incompatible with an atheistic worldview. This is because rights often seem to be seen as a sort of objective moral standard, while from an atheistic perspective, the world is rather nihilistic, and any morals that exist come from humans, not outside of it.

As we have discussed in my previous post on the argument from morality, objective morality is pretty problematic from an atheistic perspective. Most atheists I have talked to do not believe it exists at all, and while I attempt to argue that it does in the most basic of forms, at the very most all we can establish is an inclination towards certain behaviors and an avoidance of others. The actual morals themselves in practice are largely subjective, and there is a massive amount of latitude that exists in implementation. However, the idea of natural rights is normally seen as a form of objective or deontological morality, and can be justified in one of two ways, or even a combination of the two ways. Some people argue for natural rights by appealing to God, while others just claim they are self evident and can be derived from nature. Both of these justifications are flawed, as I will explain below.

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Some Thoughts on “Rules of Engagement”

I see words like “tolerance,” “open-mindedness” and “respect” bandied about quite a bit by right-leaning Christians, often expressed in the negative (intolerance, close-mindedness and disrespect) with the latter aimed as charges against leftists and atheists. Those words and their adjectival derivatives have frequently been thrown in my teeth, and I imagine that among readers of, and contributors to, this board I’m not alone in that experience. It seems to me that some discussion of these terms is perhaps in order. TOLERANCE In human affairs (as opposed to the way engineers use the word), tolerance is a term that describes legal standing and the limits of governance.

It concerns that which is permitted by law, as its antithesis has to do with what is proscribed.  In the United States, tolerated behaviors are enumerated in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights; the list includes such things as free expression, freedom to assemble peaceably, freedom to worship whatever one wishes in whatever manner one pleases, and the right to move freely about the country and associate with whomever one will (and, yes, the right to bear arms – the most problematic of those Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, and the one most in need of revisiting for the sake of our society’s health).  Those activities are all tolerated by the government: such Constitutional guarantees are a hedge against powerful interests (corporations, religious institutions, moneyed interests) that might seek to curtail such activities.

A cursory glance at history should be enough to make it clear, why such guarantees are precious and worth defending. With this understanding of the term in view, it should be obvious that – allowing for the exceptions of child-rearing and classroom management, in which case intolerance of certain behaviors becomes a matter of parental and social responsibility – an individual cannot, strictly-speaking, be either tolerant or intolerant: tolerance is not mine to extend or withhold. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on “Rules of Engagement””

Bible vs Democracy

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Is the Bible Really Compatible with American Democratic ideals?

Something that bothered me when I deconverted from Christianity two years ago, and still does today, is that the harder I think about certain aspects of the lessons in the Bible the less I find it compatible with many modern, Western ideals that we take for granted, such as democracy and freedom of thought. While in the Bible, God is the supreme, unelected dictator of the universe who must be mindlessly obeyed, here in the United States, we believe that people are free to choose their own ruler and express their own opinions.

The United States was founded when a group of people decided they had enough of a government they had no control over and decided that people should have the right to elect their own rulers. While, admittedly, our declaration of independence from England was in a sense founded in some belief in a god, it was not a theistic god, but a deistic one. When the U.S. Constitution was founded in 1789, God was nowhere to be found, and the First Amendment’s religion clause deemed that affairs of church and state remain separate. The First Amendment also granted people many freedoms of thought and expression, including the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. This was done because mixing church and state often led to oppression in the past. It led to the suppression of free thought in Europe, and even bitter conflicts between people who believed slightly different versions of the same religion. In colonial America, we saw similar repression as those who sought religious freedom ended up denying it to others. There can be no freedom if religion dictates the affairs of the state, or if the state dictates the affairs of religion.

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