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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Get Over It





This poster, meant to show that all religions (and atheism) are equal, and that morality has nothing to do with religion. Fails strikingly, I think, at its object.

To begin with, Christianity. It’s example of a good Christian is Martin Luther King. A good man on the whole, no doubt, but there are questions about his fidelity as a husband. Why not Mother Teresa? For that matter, there are thousands of examples you could cull from the official roster of Catholic saints. Leaving aside other Protestants, like Nelson Mandela, Albert Schweitzer, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Desmond Tutu. And then Hitler as an example of a bad Christian? Hitler was not a Christian. He never renounced the religion in public, true, but he did in private. And chroniclers of the time like William L. Shirer were in no doubt.

Bad Christian

Examples of bad Christians could of course be found. There were Mafia Dons, for example, who nominally held to the faith. How about Al Capone?

For a good Muslim, they offer Malcolm X. Really? When X died, the New York Times obit called him "an extraordinary and twisted man" who "turn[ed] many true gifts to evil purpose" and that his life was "strangely and pitifully wasted" Time called him "an unashamed demagogue" whose "creed was violence."

To be honest, I cannot think of a modern Muslim figure on a par with Mother Teresa. But they could still do better than Malcolm X. How about Muhammad Ali?

Then their example of a good atheist is Bill Gates. That’s almost enough to convince me, at least, that their thesis is wrong, that there is indeed a connection between religion and morality. Everyone into tech knows Gates as a robber baron. It was in fairly unsubtle reference to his Microsoft that Google initially adopted the motto “don’t be evil.” Granted, he has devoted himself more recently to philanthropy. He can afford to. One is reminded of the story of the widow’s mite. For him, his philanthropy is probably a reasonable investment in buying for himself a good reputation.

But then again, I too have a big problem coming up with a good example of atheist virtue. Yes, I know ordinary people who say they are atheists and are decent folks in the normal course of things and good to their neighbours. But nothing like the “heroic virtue” the Catholic church expects of saints.

On the other hand, I can think of lots of alternatives to Stalin as their example of a bad atheist: Mao, Pol Pot, Robespierre, probably Hitler and Napoleon.

Am I just biased? To double-check, I looed up a lost of “great humanitatians” on the Web. No doubt any such list is subjective, but this list can claim to be, for present purposes, randomly selected. The seven greatest humanitarians they thought of were: Norman Borlaug, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Oskar Schindler, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, and Mahatma Gandhi. Six Christians, one Hindu.

Atheist saint

Conclusion: contrary to claim, religion does indeed have a direct relationship to morality. Not that reality comes from religion. Morality is objective and objectively binding on all of us. But religion is, in large part, an act of conscious submission to that morality. One might, in theory, be sincere atheist, in which case you cannot be faulted for not loving God. But even so, not loving God means you have a huge additional reason for ignoring your innate conscience, your awareness of right and wrong, in favour of personal advantage.

And above and beyond that, Christianity seems to have the best track record of all in producing strikingly good people. That matters.

By their fruits, ye shall know them.



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