Tag Archives: morals

Sebastion Gunger on the Argument for Morality

This is an excerpt from Sebastian Gunger’s latest book, Tribe.  This section deals specifically with the idea of morality and how it developed among ancient hunter-gatherer tribes.  It serves as a great response to the Argument for Morality often used by apologists attempting to prove the existence of God.

Because tribal foragers are highly mobile and can easily shift between different communities, authority is almost impossible to impose on the unwilling.  And even without that option, males who try to take control of the group – or of the food supply – are often countered by coalitions of other males.  This is clearly an ancient and adaptive behavior that tends to keep groups together and equitably cared for.  In his survey of ancient-type societies, Boehm found that – in addition to murder and theft – one of the most commonly punished infractions was “failure to share”.  Freeloading on the hard work of others and bullying were also high up on the list.  Punishments included public ridicule, shunning, and finally “assassination of the culprit by the entire group” […]  

Boehm’s research has led him to believe that much of the evolutionary basis for moral behavior stems from group pressure.  Not only are bad actions punished, but good actions are rewarded.  When a person does something for another person – a prosocial act, as it’s called – they are rewarded not only by a group approval but also by an increasing of dopamine and other pleasure hormones in their blood.  Group cooperation triggers higher levels of oxytocin, for example, which promotes everything from breast-feeding in women to higher levels of trust and group bonding in men.  Both reactions impart a powerful sensation of well-being.  Oxytocin creates a feedback loop of good-feeling an group loyalty that ultimately leads members to “self-sacrifice to promote group welfare”, in the words of one study.  Hominids that cooperated with one another – and punished those who didn’t – must have outfought, outhunted, and outbred everyone else.  There are the hominids that modern humans are descended from.

For a more in depth look at this topic you can check out Christopher Boehm’s (mentioned above) bookMoral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame.  

Thanks for reading.

Trump and the End of Evangelicals’ Moral High Ground

With the election now thankfully behind us, we can hopefully move forward, let the dust settle, and be thankful elections only come once every four years.  We can also reflect on the lessons learned from this presidential race.  And one of the biggest lessons that we’ve all learned is where Evangelical’s, Fundamentalist’s, and really most Christian’s loyalty really lies.  As Bill Maher so eloquently put it:

“Before leaving this election behind, we must all thank Donald Trump for the one good thing he did – he exposed Evangelicals, who are big Trump supporters, as the shameless hypocrites they’re always been.” 

That’s right.  Watching Christians in America throw themselves before the alter of the most vile, immoral, and bigoted presidential candidate this country has ever seen, exposed the world to the ugly underbelly American Christianity.  Those of us who were once part of the Evangelical ranks are all too familiar with what’s behind the “Jesus is Love!” facade found in most churches, but even we were a bit surprised at just how low they stooped this time.  Making decisions based on fear, ignorance, and tribal rules has always been the Religious Rights MO, but with Trump; they’ve taken it to a whole new level.

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I kept waiting for the shoe to drop.  I kept waiting for Trump to say something or do something that was so outlandish, so immoral, that Christians would finally wake up, see that this emperor has no clothes, and withdraw their support.  But, no.  A full 81% of white Evangelicals backed Trump this election, with other Christian denominations not faring much better.  Even the infamous “pussy grabbing” tapes weren’t enough to turn most Christians.

This election will certainly go down in history for a number of reasons, but there’s one in particular I want to talk about today.  After this election, Christians in America can no longer pretend to have a monopoly on morality.  They can no longer claim to be morally superior than those outside their tribe.  They no longer get to attempt to be societies “designated adults”.  Christians have lost any perceived higher ground they once had to judge how other people live out there lives.  This election has proven, once and for all, that when it comes to morals, most Christians don’t have a fucking clue what that word really means.

“This year much of the Church has been fully complicit in elevating to the highest levels of the political process, a man completely devoid of anything remotely representing Jesus, and passed him off as sufficiently Christian. Celebrity pastors and name-brand Evangelists have sold him as “a man after God’s own heart”, or at the very least a decidedly imperfect tool of Divine retribution in the style of the Old Testament—and they’ve repeatedly bastardized the Scriptures, insulted the intelligence of the faithful, and given the middle finger to the Gospel in order to do it.

And millions of Christians have held their noses and washed their hands while still trying to make their beds and cast their lots with the most openly vile, profane, hateful Presidential nominee in history. The desperate theological gymnastics and excuse making professed Bible-believing churchgoers have engaged in to try and justify it all has been the height of tragic comedy, with all the laughs coming at the expense of the Good News.” – John Pavlovit

And spare me the excuses – I don’t want to hear them.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone trying to make excuses for Christians selling-out to Trump…

“They don’t really support Trump, they just think he’s the lesser of to evils.”  First of all, you don’t get to claim “two evils” when there where four fucking candidates on the ballet!  Secondly, I don’t care by what standard you measure “evil”; Trump wins by a landslide.  This goes especially for those who claim that they “live their lives according to Jesus”.  Can people honestly convince themselves that Trump in any way, shape, or form, is anything that even remotely resembles the life and teachings of Jesus?

Jesus healed the blind, Trump mocks the handicapped.

Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, Trump threatens to sue anyone who speaks badly of him.

Jesus loved his enemies, Trump wants to bomb their families.

Jesus taught not to look at a women with lust, Trump sexually assaults them.

Jesus taught to “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’”, Trump is a compulsive liar.

Jesus taught not to take up treasures on Earth, Trump is a greedy, corrupt billionaire.

Jesus cared for the poor and needy, Trump wants to kick them out of this country.

Jesus taught peace, Trump insights violence.

Another common excuse I hear is that people are voting for Trump because they believe he is “pro-life”.  Please.  Just because he has made baseless claims of appointing a SCOTUS judge who will overturn Roe vs Wade to pander to his gullible voting base, in no way makes him pro-life.  (Never mind the fact that it was a Republican SCOTUS that legalized abortion, and a Republican SCOTUS that upheld it in Planned Parenthood v. Casey)  “At the heart and core of what it means to be pro-life is a deep, unshakable belief, that all life has infinite worth and value,” writes Benjamin Corey, “and that this innate worth should be something we as a culture honor and value.”  Corey continues:

“Nothing about saying, “I like to just grab women by the pussy” reflects a view that all people have sacred value and that they should be honored.

Nothing about mocking people with physical disabilities says that a person holds a foundational belief that all life has worth and value.

Nothing about grabbing a woman and kissing her without consent, telling an employee that she’d “look really good down on her knees,” or saying that it’s hard for women with small breasts to be beautiful, tells us this is a man who believes that the image of God in others must be honored and protected.

Nothing about deporting the undocumented parents of U.S. born children, destroying family units and creating orphans, speaks to a foundational belief about the value of human life.

Nothing about advocating that we kill the entire families of suspected terrorists tells us that he believes that all life is sacred.

To claim that Donald Trump is pro-life is to say that one can belong to a movement without *actually* believing the foundational beliefs that a given movement is based upon.”

Christians are without excuse when it comes to their unwavering support of Donald Trump.  They can claim “lesser of two evils” and “pro-life” all they want, but the real reason Christians support Trump is pretty clear – they’re towing the party line.  The Evangelical church got into bed with the Political Right decades ago and it has been their primary source of “truth” ever since.   Having sold their souls to the Republican party, seemingly intelligent, well meaning Christians all over America voted for a man that is the polar opposite of everything they claim their religion to be about.

So, from now on, whenever a Christian chimes into a discussion regarding social and political issues and wants to claim that they have the all answer, or the “TRUTH”,  because they read the Bible, follow Jesus, go to church, whatever; you can politely remind them that if they supported Trump, they no longer get to claim they have a superior moral standing than anyone else.

Pavlovitz writes in his article 7 Things Christians Are Giving Up By Supporting Donald Trump:  Christian no longer get to talk about “family values” or the “sanctity of marriage” “after supporting a candidate currently on marriage number three, one with a documented history of infidelity. Their continued efforts to deny LGBT people a single marriage on the basis of protecting supposed God’s ordained one man-one woman standard, ring noticeably hollow as they tolerate Trump’s trinity of ever-younger spouses.”

Christians no longer get to claim to be “pro-life” after supporting a candidate who, with his open racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and his contempt for immigrants and the working poor, Donald Trump has shown contempt for a great swath of Humanity. Advocating for him to preside over all the laws of our country and all of its people, is not a gesture that honors life beyond the most narrow definition of it. It becomes more about politics and semantics than defending the living.”

No longer do they get to police people’s “sinful behavior” as societies designated adults.  One of Evangelicals favorite pastimes is evaluating the conduct of other people and measuring their moral worth accordingly. Celebrity preachers and ordinary pew-sitters like to pull-quote Jesus and demand to see “the fruit” in the lives of others as conformation that they are people of Jesus, that they have sufficiently repented, that they indeed have been born again: the proof is in the pudding. To then rationalize away the orchards of rotten fruit in Donald Trump’s personal and business history by saying ‘God looks at the heart’ and warning those who bring these things up by chastising them ‘not to judge’, puts them on really shaky ground and gives them zero credibility to ever critique anyone else again.”  

And finally, no longer do Christians get to ask atheist, agnostics, and “nones” where we get our morals from.  No longer do they get to claim, “No God, no morality!”.  We have all seen what the Evangelical standards for morality are and just how far they are willing to go to excuse one of their own’s behavior, no matter how deplorable it is.  You don’t get to question where my morals come from while supporting a man like Donald Trump.

This election is yet another reminder of why this country needs to become one based on secular principles, not religious.  Secular countries surpass the US in just about every category that matters.  The Religious Right has been the sole obstacle to social progress for far too long.  Let’s hope that this election marks the turning point, where religion starts to loose its power and influence over society and politics.  Want to “Make America Great Again”?  Start by getting religion out of politics.

Thanks for reading.

 

Take Aways: Losing My Religion

(Because of my love for books and the profound insight I gain from them, I thought I would share some of this wisdom with the rest of you.  Not your typical book review, this series focuses more on the things I “take away” from a book)

For those of us who have gone through (or are going through) the deconversion process, hearing other people’s stories is a means of finding peace and solidarity with others who have walked the path before.  I’ve read numerous such stories, and have always enjoyed hearing about others experiences and what life on the other side of religion looks like.  The latest such story I’ve read comes from William Lobdell and his book, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America – and Found Unexpected Peace.

The book tells the story of Lobdell’s religious conversion into Evangelicalism, his life as a Christian, and the eventual loss of faith.  As the title suggests, Lobdell lost his faith over the years of reporting as a journalist on religion in America.  What started off as simple column for the Los Angeles Times, reporting “feel-good” stories about the good that local churches were doing, turned into a “roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul searching as his reporting and experience slowly chipped away at his faith.”

What sets apart Lobdell’s books from others is how well it is written.  Being a veteran reporter and journalist, Lobdell has a knack for telling a captivating story that hits you emotionally while not being sensationalized.  His turning point away from faith came when he began to report on the dark under-belly of religion that quickly came to light in the public eye in the ’00’s, most notably the Catholic sex-scandals and “Prosperity Gospel” megachurches.  All of this led up to him writing a personal essay in 2007 about his loss of faith that ended up becoming an international sensation.

When reading other people’s deconversion, I’m always struck by just how similar the process is, regardless of the individual’s backgrounds.  One of the most common experiences is the persons’ deep desire to hold on to their faith.  Yet, as much as they try, faith inevitably looses out to reason.  As Lobdell explains:

Spiritual suicide infers that people make a conscious decision to abandon their faith.  Yet it isn’t simply a matter of will.  Many people want desperately to believe, but just can’t.  They may feel tortured that their faith has evaporated, but they can’t will it back into existence.  If an autopsy could be done on the spiritual life, the cause of death wouldn’t be murder or suicide.  It would be natural causes – the organic death of a belief system that collapsed under the weight of experience and reason. 

While reporting on the corruption that took place in the Church, Lobdell was struck by the disconnect between what these “men of God” claimed and what their actions demonstrated:

It started to bother me greatly that God’s institutions – ones He was supposed to be guiding – were often more corrupt than their secular counterparts.  If these churches were infused and guided by the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t if follow that they would function in a morally superior fashion than a corporation of government entity?  In general, I was finding that this wasn’t the case.  I started to see that religious institutions were more susceptible to corruption than their secular counterparts because of their reliance on God, and not human checks and balances, for governance.  The answers to prayer or God’s desires… are prone to human interpretation that can be easily twisted for selfish and sinful needs.

His point illustrates precisely why I’m always suspicious of those people demanding their “religious freedoms”, or of Libertarian Christians who want the government less involved in their lives – Christians have a long tract record of doing the most immoral things when left to their own devises.  Far from making them more righteous then non-believers, Christians often represent the worst that humanity has to offer.  Later in the book, Lobdell addresses some of the criticism he received after his personal essay came out:

My piece did receive criticism, the most consistent being that I had witnessed the sinfulness of man and mistakenly mixed that up with a perfect God.  I understand the argument but I don’t buy it.  If the Lord is real, it would make sense for the people of God, on average, to be superior morally and ethically to the rest of society.  Statistically they aren’t. […] It’s hard to believe in God when it’s impossible to tell the difference between His people and atheists.

At the beginning of Lobdell’s agonizing journey away from God, he found that everything eventually boils down to two sides:

Do I side with what I wish to be true?  Or do I go with what I know to be true?

I think that Lobdell speaks for all de-converts with that sentiment.  In the end it simply becomes a matter of how much we are willing to lie to ourselves and put on blinders to retain our faith that often doesn’t seem worth it.  Lobdell eventually walked away from religion, and found that not only did he not need God, but was far better of without him.