TIA: The Enlightenmenati

Perhaps it’s merely a reflection of my personal taste in reading material, but I have to say I have rarely had the privilege of witnessing such a lurid display of paranoid hysteria as Chapter 4 of The Irrational Atheist. It starts out reasonably enough, pointing out that public opinion of atheists may have declined slightly since some of them started rocking the boat. But it quickly goes downhill from there. Vox has apparently convinced himself that the Enlightenment is some kind of secret conspiracy to undermine public morals and, I don’t know, pervert justice and destroy all that is good and right and holy, etc. etc.

On the other hand, hmmm… Enlightenment…enlighten…illuminate…ILLUMINATI!!!!1!1 (Cue the Home Alone kid in 3…2…1…)

Aaaaugh!!!

Vox seems to have been listening to Christian slanders against atheists for so long that he is no longer able to distinguish them from the truth. Take politics, for example.

Most Americans wisely distrust politicians on principle; after all, the country was founded upon the basic principle of limiting the power of those who have been successful in obtaining office.

Regardless of what one thinks of a politician’s religion, the mere fact that he has one offers the voter essential information about where his moral and ethical lines are theoretically drawn. This doesn’t mean that he is actually bound by them in any way, but at least the voter has some idea of where his limits should be.

In other words, religion makes it easier for politicians to gain the voters’ confidence under false pretenses. And Vox sees this as a good thing, a point in religion’s favor, as opposed to those dastardly, sneaky atheists.

In the case of the atheist politician, however, the voter not only has no information, he has no easy means of obtaining that information.

What? Atheists aren’t telling us what their moral values are? How suspicious is that? There can only be one explanation: it’s all a vast, secret conspiracy!! Whenever anybody expects voters to put any effort at all into researching a candidate’s record and position statements, instead of just picking candidates based on their superficial religious affiliation, you just know they can’t be up to anything good!

But that’s just a hint of the anti-atheist paranoia to come. For example, did you know that atheists are “moral parasites”? Oh yes, they’re so evil that even when they’re good, they’re only stealing someone else’s goodness.

Most atheists abide by the morality of the culture that they inhabit, not because they have taken the effort to reason from first principles and miraculously reached conclusions that bear a remarkable similarity to the moral system of those around them, but because lacking any moral system of their own, they parasitically latch onto the system of their societal host.

That’s right, this evil atheist conspiracy, led by the clandestine Enlightenmenati, has latched on to society like a tapeworm and is attempting to suck away all the moral virtue! They’re not just evil and secretive, they’re invasive! Feel violated, America! Feel very violated.

Vox is apparently laboring under the misconception that morality isn’t a matter of doing right and refusing to do wrong, but rather is a matter of somebody writing down an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts that other people can point to and say “That’s morality.” Christians have a list they call the Ten Commandments, so they’re “moral,” but atheists don’t even have a Scripture, much less a divinely-appointed list of do’s and don’ts, and therefore they are parasites, stealing their morality from the surrounding Christians.

In the real world, of course, all morality is based on the desirability or undesirability of the expected consequences. If someone lies all the time, people will cease to trust them, causing the liar more harm than good; lying is therefore bad. If someone practices hard work and self-discipline, people will come to respect them, and their status and opportunities will rise accordingly; hard work and self-discipline are therefore good. If you wear a green tie with your white shirt, few people will care much one way or another; the consequences are neither beneficial nor harmful and therefore wearing a green tie is morally neutral, neither good nor bad.

This explains why, with minor superstitious exceptions, morality is pretty much the same everywhere. Murder was bad long before the Bible was written (or the Vedas, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, etc.). Christianity came along, adopted the same moral standards as everyone else, and then gave itself credit for having invented them. And Vox calls atheists “moral parasites” for embracing the same secular moral standards as everyone does, regardless of religion? Please.

But Vox rants on:

[A]theists in Christian cultures behave according to an individual morality that has more in common with the surrounding Christians than with Hindu atheists or Islamic atheists with whom they theoretically have more in common. In practice, this tends to work out as the dominant local moral system minus the proscribed behavior in which the individual really wants to engage, which is usually something involving sex or money.

*cough*larrycraig*cough*tedhaggard*cough*jimbakker*cough*jimmyswaggert*cough*richardroberts*cough* Sorry, I must have choked on something. But seriously, what are these so-called “moral differences” between atheists and “Hindu atheists” or “Islamic atheists”? He says that atheists have more in common with Christian morality than with other forms of atheism (whatever he means by that). So what are these moral differences which are so much greater between different atheists than between atheists and Christians? Seems to me that most people share a common view of right and wrong, regardless of religion or lack of religion. The points of variation are largely to do with the superstitious objections that believers have to things for which secularists can find no objective evidence of net negative effect (e.g. working on Saturdays, or allowing gay marriage).

So, while atheists indubitably possess morals, it is the inability to know which specific morals they personally subscribe to and which they reject that renders them rightly suspect. The problem is rooted in the fact that no atheist possesses a universally applicable morality, since one cannot be derived from either his atheism or from science.

There’s that darn conspiracy again. Yes, atheists are deliberately hiding their moral standards. It’s all a big plot. They don’t have a Holy List of Do and Don’t, so you just can’t trust them. They’re “rightly suspect.” After all, who wouldn’t be suspicious when faced with such an obviously secretive and nefarious bunch of infiltrators?

Well let me bust this case wide open. That’s right, I’m going to spill the beans and reveal the secret moral code that every atheist swears a blood oath never to reveal. Ready? Atheists have the same morals as everyone else, minus the superstitious demands and prohibitions intended to satisfy the arbitrary desires of the Invisible Guy in the Sky.

Yep. That’s all there is to it. If Vox weren’t so blinded by centuries of Christian slanders against non-believers, he could very easily discover that, for example, atheists regard lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, murder, assault, torture, and violations of human rights, as wrong. And honesty, integrity, fidelity, fairness, and so on, as good. Cause and effect, Vox. Cause and effect. If the consequences are beneficial, the thing is good; if they’re detrimental, it’s bad. Everybody knows this.

But that’s too easy. Of course an evil conspiracy would pretend to embrace real morals. What they’re really after is “disgusting dog-torturing and corpse-carving.” Yada yada yada. (Sigh.)

Well, this post is getting long, so we’ll break here. Next time, we’ll continue in Chapter 4 with a look at the evil leadership of this vast, secret conspiracy. Stay tuned.

 
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Posted in TIA, Unapologetics. 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “TIA: The Enlightenmenati”

  1. mjrobbins Says:

    Surely as an Atheist I’m more trustworthy, since I’m not being “good” just because I’m scared of what will happen if I’m “bad”?? People like him make my head spin.

    Still, I’m curious to find out who our leadership is.

    It’s funny, I wonder, if this quest to find our “leadership” some kind of projection? It’s almost as if this guy is so given over to an outside authority (God) that he is unable to conceive of a person following their own moral judgement, and therefore insists that Atheists must secretly be following some authority of our own.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Well, I’ll give you a hint: one of them was Abraham Lincoln. ;)

  3. prazzie Says:

    Sickening stupidity.

    One would hope that his readers will see through this nonsense, but I guess no one will read this book for educational purposes.

  4. blacknad Says:

    Vox has a far better developed understanding of morality than you do.

    And why use so much hyperbole to make his arguments sound ridiculous – CONSPIRACY etc.

    You have attached this to a much more reasoned argument – a bit straw-mannish.

  5. blacknad Says:

    “In the real world, of course, all morality is based on the desirability or undesirability of the expected consequences.”

    Woah, Woah!

    Evidence???

    What about unreciprocated altruism?

    And a study has recently concluded that subjects will act spitefully towards others for no reason and with no possible reward.

    You seem to rely upon so many unsupported assertions that I have come to the conclusion that your thinking is untrustworthy.

  6. blacknad Says:

    “Well let me bust this case wide open. That’s right, I’m going to spill the beans and reveal the secret moral code that every atheist swears a blood oath never to reveal. Ready? Atheists have the same morals as everyone else, minus the superstitious demands and prohibitions intended to satisfy the arbitrary desires of the Invisible Guy in the Sky.”

    Isn’t this what Vox is saying?

    Atheists have the same morality as the religious. Essentially atheists have a morality set down for them in the Bible. This is the basis for Western morality.

    Just as Dawkins admits he is a ‘Cultural Christian’ you are a ‘Moral Christian’.

    Atheists are moral parasites because they suck the morality from Christianity whilst trying to destroy it.

    You said:

    “But that’s too easy. Of course an evil conspiracy would pretend to embrace real morals. What they’re really after is “disgusting dog-torturing and corpse-carving.” Yada yada yada. (Sigh.)”

    Unbelievable! You have totally misunderstood what Vox has said. You may be able to lead anyone who reads this blog astray, but I have read The Irrational Atheist and I know you have either unwittingly or dishonestly misunderstood large parts of it.

    Incompetence or dishonesty?

  7. Common Sense Atheism » The Irrational Atheist (notes in the margin, index) Says:

    [...] comprehensive review of The Irrational Atheist, in a whopping 56 parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, [...]

  8. IL Says:

    I know this is old but I actually just had to comment on this and my surprise that no one called you out on it.

    “What about unreciprocated altruism?”

    The altruist was still acting on an outcome considered desirable.

    “And a study has recently concluded that subjects will act spitefully towards others for no reason and with no possible reward.”

    What sort of reward? One could argue that being a dick to someone for the gratification of being a dick is a reward.

    “Atheists are moral parasites because they suck the morality from Christianity whilst trying to destroy it.”

    Beale’s claim that atheists are “moral parasites” is complete nonsense. The big three (assault, theft, fraud) were opposed on moral and legal grounds long before Christianity and in lands which never heard of Judaism. In fact, they’re very easy to reason out as requirements for a functional society. In this regard, it’s very easy to reason out that a person oughtn’t commit assault, theft, and fraud because it’s a requirement for the polite society that they enjoy. Or you could start with a position of self-preservation. These crimes are shunned by the majority and committing them increases the chance of that person or society at large extracting retribution for this breech. Of course, you could also argue that natural selection is responsible for selecting traits which enforce a sense of guilt and shame at committing them. Or even that this guilt and shame is the result of many millenniums of tradition proscribing these actions.

    But to claim parasitism on the part of atheists to Christian morality is to stake a claim in these morals. And, as the author of this article put it, Christianity did not invent these morals. Rather this seems to me another incident of Beale covertly nodding an argument for the existence of their god to the faithful. If Christianity did not always exist, but these morals existed before Christianity, then the only conclusion left is some inane explanation that “goddidit” and stake a sneaky claim to Christian moral victory and the existence of their god.

    Anywho, back on topic. One has to wonder at the logic of claiming moral parasitism on the part of atheism to begin with. I’ll agree with Beale that we overwhelmingly are opposed to traditional Christian morality proscribing homosexuality, sex before marriage, etc. That should be enough to make it very clear that we aren’t ripping off Christian morality. Even Beale’s own argument can be summed up as “atheists are leeching off of Christian morality, except for the stuff they aren’t.”

    There is, of course, a very simple alternative to sucking at the teet of the divine command theory of morality for atheists, namely moral realism. Which, to make it simple, is the position that moral sentences express propositions. Simple, effective, and avoids that nasty tendency of apologists to lump all atheists in as moral relativists.