Quantcast

«

»

Jul 11 2013

Hear, Hear, Mr. Fidalgo

I read Paul Fidalgo’s Morning Heresy most every day and I often find material for the blog in the links he provides. But the Monday edition began with this brief editorial comment that I found very compelling.

I was horrified this morning, as I clicked on a news item in my Twitter stream about the beheading of a boy in Ghana, whose stepfather allegedly thought he was a wizard or something. That’s horrifying enough, but the article also contained, much to my shock, two photographs of the body. (No, I am not providing a link.) I turned away as quickly as I could, but at this moment, and I suspect for some time, that image is seared onto my brain, and my heart beats faster and more nervously every time it crosses my awareness. It reminds me that even while we haggle over tactics and what to emphasize and “mission creep” and freethought taxonomy, the real work is to get people to a) stop believing in the patently nonsensical and b) remove it as a justification for heinous acts for those who may or may not believe it, but do things in the name of the nonsensical. Yes, I want the values of humanism to be ascendent, and I want us to stop being fooled by gurus and prophets and fake alt-med, but I know we have to stop, right now, whatever it is going on in human existence that causes something to happen like this murder in Ghana.

It’s not an either/or, of course. We can — must — do both. But let us not lose sight of the fact that much of the world is irrational in a very dangerous, malevolent way. And this kind of thing only fuels my commitment to pursue both atheism and social justice with equal effort, guided by humanist principles.

18 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    aaronbaker

    I’m a little conflicted here. Of course religion should be furiously resisted whenever it causes or threatens actual harms. Unlike some unbelievers, however, I don’t feel it morally incumbent on me to strip other people of their consoling illusions–absent some evidence of harm to others. Life is, much of the time, pretty awful, and if you need a narcotic to get through it, what business is it of mine?

  2. 2
    smhll

    I was kind of thinking the same thing as I listened to a piece on Boko Haram on NPR this morning. “Let’s burn down schools and shoot the kids as they come out because modern education is evil” (my paraphrase) is a dreadfully dangerous world view. Using fatal force to try to stop the spread of knowledge is about as low as a person can go in terms of being a negative force in the world.

  3. 3
    shockwaver

    I don’t feel it morally incumbent on me to strip other people of their consoling illusions–absent some evidence of harm to others.

    Like say … beheading your son because you think he is a witch?

  4. 4
    Alex

    I understand that he is shocked, as would I be, after seeing that, and his reaction is of course understandable. But the conclusion is so obvious and has been with us for a long time. I just don’t want to give in to the sentiment also famously shared by Dawkins that somehow the issues we still have in “first world” countries concerning religion, feminism, social justice, and so on, pale so much in comparison to those horrors elsewhere that one should effectively drop them. Maybe that is not what is meant here, but I get that vibe…

  5. 5
    Alex

    Unlike some unbelievers, however, I don’t feel it morally incumbent on me to strip other people of their consoling illusions–absent some evidence of harm to others.

    Then again, when I read this… wtf

  6. 6
    eric

    Tyrant:

    I just don’t want to give in to the sentiment also famously shared by Dawkins that somehow the issues we still have in “first world” countries concerning religion, feminism, social justice, and so on, pale so much in comparison to those horrors elsewhere that one should effectively drop them.

    Its a tough situation, in that we are all resource-limited. Someone can always take pot-shots at ones’ chosen charities, and ask why (to make up an example) you spent that $1 fighting to get “under God” removed from the pledge when you could’ve spent it to try and stop a child getting beheaded for witchcraft.

    Fortunately, the first order solution is relatively generic: start by giving more (of either time and money), rather than reprioritizing. Most of us don’t spend much or charities or good works to begin with – maybe a couple percent of our income. So increase it. If yesterday you spent $1 on Pledge improvement, and today you spent $1 on pledge improvement AND $2 to help reduce witchcraft killing, you have not shorted your own first world issue-fighting one bit from what you were already doing – but you have still recognized and contributed to solving the bigger problems that exist outside of the west.

    This is intended to be a non-judgemental post, offering a possible solution to the problem you’ve identified. Just to be clear, I’m absolutely NOT implying that you don’t ‘do enough’ at the moment. I don’t know how much time or effort you give to good causes. I don’t know what percent of your overall income charitable giving is, or what your family situation is, or..or..or. My point is more general and less targeted: most of us (me included) could be doing more. Just adding to our efforts is likely to be more globally helpful than re-prioritizing the effort we currently put out.

  7. 7
    aaronbaker

    To clarify: I’m not responding to the report of the beheading; I’m responding to element A of Fidalgo’s proposal: “get people to [ ]stop believing in the patently nonsensical.” I take this as a call to a kind of evangelical atheism. And again, barring harm to others (and by “harm,” I mean something worse than merely inculcating (in one’s children, say) a probably false belief), I’m not convinced this is a duty of mine or anybody else. I genuinely DO NOT CARE what other people believe, unless it harms them or others (e.g. beheadings, not simply having implausible beliefs).

    I have a number of reasons for this:

    1) as I’ve already said, it’s really none of my business how my suffering fellow-humans render their lives endurable;
    2) intellectual modesty requires some acknowledgment that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we might be wrong (i can’t speak for anyone else, but this possibility puts a damper on my desire to proselytize);
    3) a peripheral issue I realize, but evangelical atheism is often accompanied by a distressing amount of ego-tripping: look at how smart (or “bright”) and brave I am–unlike those poor, benighted theists! I am pretty smart, and maybe that has something to do with my being an atheist, but it’s obviously not a necessary accompaniment to it–and I’m certainly NOT an atheist because I’m brave. It wasn’t bravery, but the obvious and overwhelming indifference of the universe to my petty problems that made me an unbeliever.

    So, again, I see no duty here.

  8. 8
    shockwaver

    aaronbaker:

    1) as I’ve already said, it’s really none of my business how my suffering fellow-humans render their lives endurable;

    I actually tend to agree with you in theory – I don’t particularly care what someone believes in as long as it doesn’t cause harm to anyone but themselves. The issue I find is I can’t just not care in practice because the viewpoints that people hold do cause harm to other people. Everything from the Christian fundies trying (and succeeding) to legislate womens bodies, to not getting their children blood transfusions or even medical treatment. And then you have stonings, and acid attacks, and beheadings too.

  9. 9
    unemployedphilosopher

    I understand well what the author means about having a horrible image burned into his mind. My first teaching job was as a lab instructor for first-year Nuclear Engineering students. I left that field after I saw the film of what happened to the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: dying of radiation poisoning, they cried “mizu, mizu” (water, for those who don’t speak Japanese). I still have nightmares, and it’s been fifteen years.

    Oh, and if slc1 is watching, the US nuclear arsenal is mostly composed of 355 kT MIRV warheads. Bombs in the mT range are very inefficient. You should update your plans for nuking Iran. Given its population distribution, it’d take about six to commit your proposed war crime.

  10. 10
    raven

    I was horrified this morning, as I clicked on a news item in my Twitter stream about the beheading of a boy in Ghana, whose stepfather allegedly thought he was a wizard or something.

    The child wasn’t much of a wizard.

    If he was a real wizard, he would have turned his stepfather into a frog and that would have been the end of it.

    The number of alleged child witches killed in Africa isn’t too well known but estimates run around 1000 a year. Quite often the churches are involved in facilitating this. There are a few groups that rescue kids and are trying to stop this superstitious murder. They appear to be…seculars.

  11. 11
    raven

    It’s not just Africa.

    The fundie xians do something similar here in the USA, human child sacrifice.

    1. Around 100 children a year are sacrificed in a gruesome ritual known as “faith healing”, killed by their parents by withholding medical care.

    2. A few kids are killed by prolonged torture murder in another ritual called “raising up a child, the fundie xian way”.

  12. 12
    aaronbaker

    @8:

    I understand your point, but I think that the great majority of Americans with some tincture of religious belief are NOT doing that horrendous stuff. To give one example: would I prefer it if my Baha’i wife and her Baha’i friends didn’t repose their trust in an imaginary benevolent deity? Sure. Do I think her friend’s children are the worse for being brought up in a faith that preaches universal brother- and sisterhood? Probably not. I’d also prefer my daughter to be an unbeliever, but what I principally want her to be is someone who figures this stuff out by her own mental efforts.

    In our atheist outreach, we are understandably pointing to atrocity after atrocity–and, again, I’m all for combating those–but I think this emphasis can lead to a somewhat skewed view of the generality of believers.

  13. 13
    redmann

    aaronbaker, I think we must actively try to convince religious people that their beliefs are based on delusion because even the most harmless forms of that delusion allows more harmful delusion to have credibility, which allows more harmful forms support and so on. At what point to moderate delusions turn into more harmful delusions. In this country it is still OK for Christian delusions to vilify gays and atheists and for their delusions to try to eliminate abortion, contraceptives and birth control. How big is that step from sitting in church minding no one else’s business to actively trying to impose their beliefs on society at large. Once you believe that your god talks to you and guides your life, it’s an easy step to joining in with the anti whatever group. Every day we see the results of religious fervor, schools burnt, car bombs, acid in faces, destructive riots. In this country we deal with a steady stream of lies from multiple Christian organizations and their political puppets. Religion is a cancer on humanity, sometimes its is benign, but most of the time it is malignant. This cancer seems to be metastasizing at an alarming rate and bodes ill for the human race.

  14. 14
    JT Eberhard

    *clap*

  15. 15
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    aaronbaker:
    I see where you are coming from but do not agree.
    Going back to the OP, a father beheaded his son. Why? He believed the child worked magic. He held an irrational belief taken to an extreme. One of the ways to try and avoid tragedies like this is to criticize these irrational beliefs. I think the approach of criticizing irrational belief because it leads to a continuum of bad decisions or outcomes is better than only criticizing those beliefs when something really bad happens. Also, who determines when a situation is really bad? Bringing Dawkins back up, he thinks more life threatening religious extremism is more pressing and urgent to worry about than these “lesser” problems many in the west deal with. But believing one situation is horrible does not negate another really bad situation. And saying “this irrational belief is bad when taken to this extreme, but it is tolerable if it does not go that far” does nothing to address the actual problem: the irrational belief. By not challenging even the milder examples of irrational thought, those thoughts continue to remain normalized, which helps provide justification for the more extreme examples.

  16. 16
    aaronbaker

    I do appreciate the points made at 13 & 15 above.

    I still think we don’t have to paint with such a broad brush.

    I should perhaps add another reason for my attitude: a very pronounced pessimism about human capabilities in general and the possibility of eliminating irrational beliefs in particular. I should stress that this pessimism is NOT a counsel of despair or inaction–but rather it inclines me to favor some discernment in choosing our fights. The vague, vaporous religiosity that Americans these days call “being spiritual” annoys the hell out of me sometimes–but, hey, witch hunts, beheadings, and the lesser evil, but evil nonetheless, of the Radical Right–that’s where our limited resources and energies need to be concentrated. If or when the “spiritual” folk among us start trying to deny rights to others, I won’t object one bit to focusing on them.

    But, once more, I do appreciate all the above responses.

  17. 17
    aaronbaker

    i re-read what I just wrote above, and–ughh-it sounds patronizing–please know that’s now what I intended. Expressing respectful disagreement is an art form I don’t pretend to have mastered.

  18. 18
    aaronbaker

    “that’s NOT what I intended” I should have written. Yeesh.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site