Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Religion

The amorality of faith

Stanley Fish, reviewing Steven Smiths “The disenchantment of secular discourse” in the New York Times:

the “truncated discursive resources available within the downsized domain of ‘public reason’ are insufficient to yield any definite answer to a difficult issue — abortion, say, or same sex marriage, or the permissibility of torture . . . .” If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand.

Read the full article »

Blessed are the weaponmakers

By now I’m sure everyone has heard the row over biblical passages being enscribed on gun sights for US Troops. Why or how anyone whose read the New Testament could see warrant for putting them on military hardware is beyond me. Anyway, turns out the same manafacturer has been selling them to the Australian Defence Department. Locally, this is an easy mistake to fix, but the excuse given by the Defence Department is truely odd:

Defence Minister John Faulkner has ordered the Defence Department to remove references to biblical passages marked on gunsights being used by Australian troops in Afghanistan. References to New Testament verses were etched onto the gunsights by the American manufacturer, Trijicon, and the department says it was unaware of their meaning at the time of purchase.

Among the coded inscriptions on Trijicon gunsights are JN8:12, an apparent reference to John 8:12: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Another made reference to Psalms 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”.

They didn’t know what “The Lord is my light and salvation” meant? Or twig to why coded references were on their equipment and have someone with some cultural literacy? Obviously we want to keep religious education well away from our soldiers manuals, but surely at school the future generals and officers learnt from the bible. I may not be a christian, but I’ve certainly read the bible and have been meaning to pick up a copy again soon as a refresher. So much of our culture from great literature to daily conversation is peppered with metaphors, similies and analogies from the bible. You almost can’t be considered a literate or educated if you’ve never learnt anything of it.
Yet the Defence Department is really going with a lack of understanding as their justification?

Hitchens less than dangerous idea

In case you missed it, here is the speech by Christopher Hitchens at the recent Sydney ‘Dangerous Idea’s Festival. He speaks for about 40 minutes, with an hour or so of questions from a (slightly disappointing) Tony Jones. Jones claims to play devil’s advocate, but ends up with a lame ‘but the faithful do good works’ line of questioning. If he wanted to really be contrarian in Hitchens style, he’d ask if the idea ‘religion poison’s everything’ is even a dangerous idea as the festival name implies. Hitchen’s extended ovation was guaranteed before he spoke a word. Though in other parts of the world he would still be shot or run out of town for it. Likewise the most interesting stuff in the interview is right at the end when discussing the difference between agnostics and atheists (where I think Hitchen’s claims far more wiggle room than he is entitled to). Either way, what he has to say is still well worth saying, and none do it better. Enjoy:

Not Evil, Just Human…

In an amazing find, a video has popped up on Youtube offering a fleeting image of Anne Frank (posted by the official museum, so its verified).

Last year I did the Australian thing backpacking around Europe, and in our travels visited Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House. I hadn’t read the book, but having been quickly devoured a copy just in time for our second WW2 related tour, of the concentration camp Dachau, near Munich in Germany. Visiting the camp brought into focus something I had only begun to glimpse at via Frank’s diary: That the people had to have known what was going on. Germany has made very admirable efforts to account for its past, but the people in the towns and villages around the camps, or in the big cities with soldiers marching by had to have known what was going on. Where they didn’t know, it was because it was easier not to know, it was safer not to know. But it was known. It was, in Rumsfeld’s great phrase a unknown known. Hitler ran a violent, disciplined and utterly totalitarian regime. But his power was still utterly dependent on the will of the people. The people granted him the legitimacy that the legal documents claimed. They accepted the rules and order via their compliance. They were responsible. Anne Frank and her family died after a neighbour turned them in. History (thankfully) has lost the record of who it was. It does however record the names of those who sheltered and protected them, but they were the rare and brave exceptions, in what was seen at the time as one of the most modern countries on earth.

If the concept of natural evil makes effectively zero sense as an explanation for deadly landslides, earthquakes and tsunami’s, the idea of human evil seems to me to make almost no more. The Nazi’s were not the most repressive or violent aka “evil” people that ever lived. They simply brought organised, industrialization, and discipline to the task of genocide. Where human error normally weakens plans both good or bad, the Nazi’s built in redundancies. Redundancies so that the great ovens never had to stop burning, that work didn’t go missing, that camps didn’t run empty. They were expressing views of discrimination and purity that are as old as the human species, and common to the animal kingdom. To call this ‘evil’ is to claim some unwordly or non-human influence. As if it seeped into their blood and minds and thereby excuses them of their acts. The evil man is hardly a man. This may be soothing, but it is only by an act of hiding. Most of the worlds faithful would dismiss as child like the idea of spirits or deamons taking over the body of a person and causing them to act strangely, but calling someone or some group evil is no different.

The Memorial at Dachau

The Memorial at Dachau

We give such acts a name like evil because we don’t want to believe they could be possibly carried out by a human. But this just weakens our ability to understand, and to prevent occurring again. Words like evil are soothing, because they let us name, they let us categorise, they let us define it as something ‘other’ or ‘non-human’. What the Nazi’s did will remain a stain on the human consciousness long after the last co-operator or agent of the regime has died (likely in the next decade). But it was carried out by ordinary men and women, as human as you or I. They lived in houses like ours, had partners like ours, ate the same food and drank the same drinks as we do. They were human, not us, but not something foreign either. Only when we realise this, can we get a proper grasp on the enormity of the Holocaust, of the rise of fascism and totalitarian societies such as in the USSR, Mao’s China or under the Khumer Rouge of Cambodia. Only then can we realise the importance of each of us regularlly committing to try and rid any similar such elements from our own societies, and those around us. To not simply accept and go along with the flow. Each and every one of us believes that if we saw evil emerging we would recognise it and denounce it. But when the United States started torturing suspects after 9/11, how many stepped up to condemn it? How many still excuse it for reasons of circumstance, or refer back to the essential goodness of the Americans, and the horrific intentions and designs of those who seek to attack them in the name of Islam. By making ‘Evil’ a sensible part of your world view, you lose almost all ability to make rational decisions about your own sides actions, about the complexity and shades of grey that this world forces on us, each and every day. The word and idea of evil obscures thought, obscures morality, and gives false comfort when none should be offered. The concept of evil is one of the most morally destructive ideas in human history and ought to be done away with as rapidly as possible.

If you haven’t yet, go read Anne Frank’s Diaries. They’re about the best common sense view of the war possible. Maybe with this amazing footage now up on Youtube a new generation will be inspired to go read her story.

Photo used under a creative commons licence by user edwin.11

A Time For Leadership

Both of the major party leaders are facing a challenge of leadership this week, that will in some ways define the rest of their careers.

More directly Malcolm Turnbull has appeared to stake his leadership on having the Liberal Party back him on a Carbon Trading Scheme. Turnbull was dying the deaths of a thousand cuts as outliers such as Tuckey, McGauren and the Nationals Joyce, Boswell et have been attacking the idea of such a scheme and making public the very clear divide within the Coalition. The temporary break for Andrew Robb seems to have actually served the party well with Ian McFarlane stepping into the breech, reading the party the riot act, and even emailing backbenchers with the Coalitions 2007 election promise to introduce a cap & trade system. (A fair sign of the way politics works, that fidelity to the leader is always greater than to actual individual belief)

Less pressingly, though of importance is how Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is seen to respond to the Tsunami and Earthquakes to our north. John Howard was at his best as Prime Minister when he was responding to a tragedy. A man normally bereft of any real ability to talk to Australians on social or cultural issues, he could be the father figure in times of grief (Port Arthur massacre,9/11,Bali etc). Rudd did a decent job during the Victorian Bush Fires, but unable to visit and console, he will have to use his language and authority to help guide the nation if there are indeed many Australian lives at risk. Rudd is riding high in the polls for how he has managed the economics, and he is starting to deliver (after much talk) on foreign policy. But in social or cultural issues he is largely untested and untried. This won’t change how he rates in the next election, but could in the long term be an issue of comparison between him and Julia Gillard who seems to have a greater common touch.

Finally, if you have a spare hour, go watch the latest episode (Season 2, Ep 27) of Q&A on http://www.abc.net.au/iview/. It’s an absolute ripper on the role of Religion in a modern society, featuring the irrepressible Christopher Hitchens. It’s rather timely (and deals with this question) that as potentially thousands lie dead to our north, of no fault or wrong of their own, religion still asks us to believe we are in the hands of a moral creator. I lost my own faith a long time ago(though I remain agnostic for reasons I explain here), but the 2004 tsunami where 230’000 died to me is the ultimate evidence that we live in an amoral universe. The world around us simply does not care about our welfare. Humans have always had to endure great struggle to survive. This is not evidence for or against a god, but rather the truth that in this life we are entirely on our own, we must make our own value judgments, based on the here and now and results as they affect other human beings.

Rhetoric and Morality

If you watch much US politics, although some similar elements can be found here in Australia, you’ll notice that the major political players arn’t really talking to each other anymore. Though socratic dialogue on the great issues of the day has never really occurred (or been needed) within modern western democracies, the extent of the gap between the meaning and intent of the language used by the competing groups is stark. There are many reasons for this gap, but perhaps the most critical of them comes down to the issue of morality. Or rather where you seek to measure morality, and the implications that flow on from that. Those in power tend to take morality as a result of outcomes. Those in opposition tend to take morality as a question of intention. The difference between these two is often at the heart of the controversies of modern society, though as shall be noted later, the groups are increasingly hardening around particular takes, the Religious Right around Intention, the Liberal Left around Outcome.

During the time of John Howard or Margaret Thatcher in the UK, Left wing critics of both governments used to point to the cuts in welfare spending, tightening of requirements, stronger support for private services (like health and education) and harsher penalties for those who are seen to be breaking the rules, from ordinary criminals to ‘queue jumping’ refugees. In each of these cases, the government could usually turn around and argue that whilst this looked harsh, that harshness was both needed (like a disciplined parent) and more importantly in the moral stakes, that the outcome of these policies was improved social conditions. Less people dependent on welfare, more money available for social spending, or parents choosing educations in line with their own personal beliefs, and a stronger sense of personal responsibility within the community. Howard and Thatcher both saw themselves as highly moral individuals, but it was demonstrated by their outcomes, not their intentions. Their critics however would rage most strongly at the announcement of individual policies that seemed to offer a harsh intention, within the sometimes counter-intuitive logic of economic liberalism that a lack of control of the market affords greater support for the needy and the wayward. While there are numerous cases of the market and indeed these individual policies causing great immoral harm, their critics were eventually silenced by the clear and successful outcomes. Neither is well liked, but their moral victory rests in the adoption of similar policies by almost all of the mainstream Center-Left (The GFC has given some of the last holdouts a hope of resistance, but its a fleeting one)

Today a similar pattern is evident in the US (and increasingly in Australia) as the Right wing critics attack the government more and more for what they perceive as wrongful intentions, rather than any great concern with outcomes. So Obama’s healthcare policy is dismissed out of hand because it represents a move to big government or away from individual choice, (as was his stimulus package). Torture is seen as perfectly acceptable, because the intention is to protect the homeland, the way this protection occurs of almost no interest. When Obama removes missile defence policies, closes Guantanamo or seeks to negotiate with Iran over Nuclear weapons, the potential outcomes are not a part of the debate, rather they are seen as simply pointers for the troubling moral intentions which are applied to his character. Though 100% of those against him would also be against him where he a white democrat named Bob Jones, or Joe Charles, the difference of his skin colour and background make it easier to apply such devious intentions to his moral character.

Likewise, this view of morality as a question of intention over outcome reflects significantly on the movement that takes on this view. Articulated principles become the guiding lights to the faithful. Not only is it far easier to communicate via principles than complex circumstantial outcomes, intentions as a moral basis allows for greater enforceability as tests can be applied almost any time, to any communication past or present to check for consistency. Morality at this point becomes a question solely of identity. Sarah Palin’s many outright lies have absolutely no impact on the high moral status awarded to her by the Religious Right. She could have an affair and see no damage, but should she endorse anything Obama does, the glass would shatter and she would be seen as immoral and unacceptable. As such you see a far greater willingness to exclude those who come anywhere near agreeing with the chosen enemy, for such an act, even if utterly consistent with one of the principles desired, is taken to be an acceptance of a wayway intention. So while Noel Pearson was of the left and believed in the same social justice ideals as the left, he was instantly discredited for working with Howard (Likewise Frank Brennan for his helping Brian Harradine on Wik). In the US any conservative who gives even mild support for Obama’s healthcare (which will reduce overall costs, and increase the healthcare for all, regardless of income) is ostracized and discredited. If Obama has bad intentions, the thinking goes, only someone with similarly bad intentions could justify supporting anything they do (or at least has lapsed on this cause).

This is a common pattern, Oppositions center around intentions, Governments around outcomes. However, I think we are seeing an increasing hardening of current patterns. That is a big call given Obama has only been in power 8 months, but this is a 30 year change. I had deliberately excluded Ronald Reagan from my first set of examples, because he was a for runner to the Intention driven politics you see in the US. Big government was the enemy, but even as supply side tax cuts sent the budget into deficit, his intentions were seen as still being more moral than his opponents. On the left, the grudging acceptance of capitalism ‘because it works’ has been occurring almost since the early 1940′s when communism lost its sheen, but especially over the last 20 years, as massive economic liberalisation and privatisation has not resulted in a Randian struggle for survival, but increased prosperity, increased support for the disadvantaged, and a more free and tolerant society. The outcomes have forced their change, many may not like capitalism, but there are few arguments from intention (the contest of the market place) replaced mainly by ones of outcome (how to get the poor and disadvantaged the same opportunities the rich are afforded). There is also the increasing social liberalism of those who champion economic liberalism (such as in Libertarians), which is dividing the Religious Right from the vast mainstream of Western Political thought.

In a world where the political divide is seen as a moral one. And a moral divide based not on issues but on how and where you draw your morality, actual civic communication becomes increasingly difficult. One of the primary tasks of all leaders is to communicate how the elites are dealing with the problems faced, and why this is the right course of action for the times. When John Howard was talking economics he was excellent at this type of explanation, and many a left-winger (myself included) would admit to the guilty secret of being swayed by his explanations on economic issues. But when it came to cultural or social issues, he was hopeless, retreating to boilerplate lines about the guiding principles, whilst effectively ignoring them in policy. Obama is much better at this, for he seems to have a clearer vision of the future country he seeks, but he also faces an opposition significantly less inclined to listen than even Howard faced during the Wik or Tampa controversys.

So next time you encounter someone you just can’t reason with politically, or a figure who confuses you in how they could possibly advocate such an immoral position, ask yourself from where they may be seeking to draw their morality. And when communicating with others seek to offer as an explanation the origins of your own morality as an important point of common ground. You probably wont even agree, but recognizing each other as equally worthy moral beings, just utilizing different calculus’s is a vital first step to true public dialog and political engagement.

The Joy of Uncertainty

Interesting fact of the day (h/t Secular Right)

When we distinguished strong varieties of nonbelief, such as atheism, from weaker nonbelief, a curvilinear relationship emerged (see Shaver, Lenauer, and Sadd). Those nonbelievers most confident in their nonbelief tended to be the most emotionally healthy, relative to the “fence sitters” who reported more negative emotions. Similarly, life satisfaction was lower among the spirituals relative to the other three belief labels. Therefore, having uncertainty regarding one’s religious views appears to be associated with relatively greater emotional instability.

Taken from here.
god_help_me
There is an old and prevalent idea that religion makes people happy, the opiate of the masses if you will and therefore ought to be encouraged by government as a social good. If nothing else, this research helps disprove that justification, allowing for a clearer debate about the real social benefit of religion (as opposed to individual benefit, a topic outside the realm of politics).

But I also regard this fact with some sadness, for it suggests that uncertainty is tied to unhappiness. Of course when one does not know what is happening to their job, family, or social identity of course worries seep in and discolour the other moments of joy in life. But why should the question of gods existence induce similar anxiety?

I have long wavered between atheism and agnosticism, eventually coming down as an agnostic. But I do so precisely because I enjoy the debate and uncertainty and arguments that are viable for both sides. I know I am a moral, but (like all others) flawed individual and so I have little doubt that should there indeed be a god I would be judged my merits not adherence to scripture. That is, my day to day ethics. As such contrary to Pascal’s wager, the ‘cost’ for me of agnosticism is very low. Of course I may be wrong and god is a vengeful and spiteful entity (an impression one could certainly get from the Bible) but in that case I see morality demanding I do not worship or endorse such a force within this world, and I defy any to justify otherwise.

Thus for me, the debate about god’s existence brings happiness precisely because it is uncertain. Precisely because it involves, indeed demands engagement with the greatest minds of human existence (almost all of whom have turned their attention to this question in some form) and so therefore standing either in their shadow or on their shoulders (depending on how you value your own contribution) you have a topic of boundless entertainment and importance. I must admit to always being slightly surprised at those agnostics (and many atheists) who assert that the question of if there is a god or not is not important to them. My own belief is that nothing could be more important. Its existence would shape the entire purpose and order of this world towards its orientation. Its non-existence would demand the fundamental reshaping of human values and institutions away from the church and believers and a re-invigorated quest to find principles and ideals upon which we can guide and educate future generations.

A man of course has to eat, and religious scholarship, particularly from the point of view of non-believers is not a high paying job. And so I have turned my attention and study to matters of domestic and international politics, seeking improvements in the wider human condition and living standards of my fellow citizens and international brothers. But on the occasional quiet evening, or when I feel I am ahead in my own work, I often turn to those books in my library on religion and like to delve into these great subjects. Some of the most interesting moments of personal development and reflection for me have precisely involved wresteling over these great questions of the existence of god, and my resulting agnosticism is not a disavowal of the importance of the question, but rather the encouragement of it. A starting point from which I may freely seek evidence, reasoning and insight into the question. The joy is in the uncertainty of it all.

But perhaps I am different in that way. The uncertainty of the abstract for me is of great appeal. I admit to having no idea of how one would build a bridge, or identify a cancer cell and indeed little actual desire to. Far more practical and useful than debates over god, but sciences desire for certainty, often restricting its endeavors to the mundane cataloging of life are largely uninteresting for me. It is the questions of the most uncertainty I desire, and as we witness humanity begin to slowly escape religions fundamentalist grasp, to see people equally flinging themselves into certain non-belief is a poor and disheartening replacement.

So here’s an interesting one to encourage the questioning: What does the existence of tarantula wasps say about god? Responses Here, and on the wider question of ‘natural evil’ see CS Lewis and Stephen J Gould.

Image used under a Creative Commons Licence by user Radiant Guy

First do no harm

This is a welcome rebuff to the recent spouting’s of pure ignorance by the Pope, and echoed by Australia’s own Bishop Pell

The East-West Centre in Hawaii has estimated that if condom use had not been widely promoted and adopted, today 8 million Thais would be infected rather than the 550,000 now living with the virus. That’s more than 7 million lives saved. And have these condoms encouraged promiscuity? Five years into the campaign, in 1997, only 12 per cent of Thai military conscripts reported visiting a sex worker, down from 60 per cent five years earlier.

Similar success stories can be found in Cambodia, India, and Brazil where rates of HIV infection have steadily declined as a result of education about HIV, safer sex and the provision of condoms. In the West African nation of Senegal, the government began promoting condoms in the late 1980s and this has helped to keep HIV prevalence below 1 per cent to this day.

The rest of the story is filled with many more stats & examples.

I’m normally not one who buys the line that there’s a divide between religion and science. I think it’s too artificial, too simplistic and cuts out too many interesting discussions. Questions such as abortion can not be properly answered without both science and religion (or a deliberately secular ethics system in place of).
But given the influence that men such as Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop George Pell have, they ought to be vigorously engaged when they make claims that are simply false, and likely to encourage dangerous behavior.

Personally I don’t really understand the church’s objection to contraceptives. They arn’t mentioned in the holy texts (for obvious reasons), the knowledge & use of doesn’t change teenage promiscuity rates (if anything it makes it riskier), and most critically, contraceptives prevent the creation of a human life, which all major faiths hold starts at conception, and not possibly before hand. (Not to mention that 13% of female deaths during pregnancy are caused by abortions(67’000 women & 20 million abortions), with the legality and religion of the country having little effect)

In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.

So already living human beings will be safer, healthier, no morally worse, and alive, and far far less unborn humans will be brought into existence only to be later destroyed. If in any way your moral system has to do with the actual lives and well being of people as they are here and now then contraceptives are a no-brainer.
Anything less is not a moral system, but mere political doctrine for human behavior, dressed up as being ethically motivated.

It’s for reasons like this that I suggested a little while ago, that as a basis for a new left wing political philosophy, it had to begin with an acceptance of human nature as a constant. I deliberately didn’t link this to a utilitarian moral system, but anyone familiar with the philosophy would have seen it’s imprint on my words.

So let us talk religion and science, let us educate & inform children about religion and it’s possibilities and wonders, lets encourage those of faith to participate in the public debate and discussion, and let us then remind them of the responsibility they have to be honest and place a care for human well being ahead of their own prejudice and impulses. A hippocratic oath for religious leaders: First do no harm.

So good to see the papers running such a story, but it really should have appeared several days before. It’s no exaggeration to say lives depend upon it…

The Modern Indulgences

Running a church is an expensive business. And in the time before marketing consultants and TV call in programs made it lucrative, one practice the Christian Church used to engage in was the selling of Indulgences. Essentially, for a reasonable sum of money one could absolve oneself of any past sins. The worse the sin, the higher the cost.

It’s hard not to think this is the modern, atheist equivalent:

More than 100,000 Britons have recently downloaded “certificates of de-baptism” from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith.

The initiative launched by a group called the National Secular Society (NSS) follows atheist campaigns here and elsewhere, including a London bus poster which triggered protests by proclaiming “There’s probably no God.”

“We now produce a certificate on parchment and we have sold 1,500 units at three pounds (4.35 US dollars, 3.20 euros) a pop,” said NSS president Terry Sanderson, 58.

John Hunt, a 58-year-old from London and one of the first to try to be “de-baptised,” held that he was too young to make any decision when he was christened at five months old.

The male nurse said he approached the Church of England to ask it to remove his name. “They said they had sought legal advice and that I should place an announcement in the London Gazette,” said Hunt, referring to one of the official journals of record of the British government.

But here’s the rub. If you don’t believe in god, then baptism was nothing more than the splashing of some water on your newborn head. The church can’t claim you as a member under the law, or demand of you any involvement. If you choose to stay away you are not associated with the church. But by ‘de-baptising’ you’re essentially granting the legitimacy of the original practice, of which buying an online certificate would hardly disqualify the bound between you and god.

Indulgences were eventually discouraged, and formed the base of Martin Luthers 95 Theses. It was a scam then, and a scam now. Whether you are coming or going in church life, no amount of money can shift your final resting place.

What price truth?

There exists in the mind of much of the public a quite misplaced idea of an incompatibility between science and religion, or at least within the religious and scientific community there feels such a contest is under way, when in fact their questions and methods are so completely incompatible as to be irrelevant to each other (science can not replace the “meaning-gap” which religion fills for some, and the idea of religion as just bad science has always been an a-historical misnomer). Then again scientific studies like this dont really help:

a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that faith may indeed bring us health. People who attend religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any one year than people who don’t attend. People who believe in a loving God fare better after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God. No less a killer than AIDS will back off at least a bit when it’s hit with a double-barreled blast of belief. “Even accounting for medications,” says Dr. Gail Ironson, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Miami who studies HIV and religious belief, “spirituality predicts for better disease control.”

It’s hard not to be impressed by findings like that, but a skeptic will say there’s nothing remarkable — much less spiritual — about them. You live longer if you go to church because you’re there for the cholesterol-screening drive and the visiting-nurse service. Your viral load goes down when you include spirituality in your fight against HIV because your levels of cortisol — a stress hormone — go down first.

Other than the obvious placebo effect here, it still must be remarked how insignificant the benefits of faith truely are. Think about it for a second. Those of faith believe they have been welcomed into the loving embrace of a omnipotent deity who not only created the world, but knows all things that have and ever will happen, and promises you eternal life for your embrace of the true faith. But on earth you get only a slightly lower chance of dying ? It’s not exactly a great pay off is it? The big guy may be on your side, but he’s not exactly helping out around the house is he? I know all faith’s have arguments arranged for why god simply doesn’t reveal his presence and be done with it, that it is the leap of faith that makes it meaningful. But talk about hiding your light under a bushel! Killing all except a few faithful through a giant flood was apparently O.K in ancient times, but now the active benefit of faith on believers wellbeing is no different to that brought through eating more broccoli in one’s diet!

Much like Pascal’s wager, i find the whole idea of selecting beliefs based on personal benefit quite distasteful and illogical. To think that the same omnipotent being who you are prepared to rely on, couldn’t see through your selfish motives. That tis better to falsely adopt a belief so as to be a part of the right club, than earnestly be wrong in your search for truth, in the eye’s of an omnipotent, ever loving god. What price truth then, if it is suggested you sell it for a lower chance of dying (with no chance of a money back guarantee should something go wrong!), even eternal life seems a somewhat ugly reward for the selling out of our belief for the rest of our (confirmed, real, tangible) natural life about the meaning of that life, the structure and form of how it came to be and to what ends you should devote your waking life.

For my own part, I’m agnostic in that I cant accept this world bears anything but a indifferent attitude towards human life. And so whilst intellectually I do not know the answer to the existence of god/gods/a spiritual side to existence (and in this i believe all who claim to know that answer, including atheists as faith bound), morally this universe makes much more sense if it is devoid of such a being (or at least one with any of the positive moral characteristics we bind up in the label “god”). But more than that, I enjoy not having an answer to the deepest and perhaps most important question in all human life. The existence of a god changes everything for human existence. To be certain one way or the other, yet with such pitiful evidence available seems to close so many doors and a fascinating intellectual struggle. But hey, if they’re right, they might at least have a few more years to see out than we wrestlers with the truth. Swings and roundabouts I guess…