Category: Paragraph of the Week

“Can Civilization Survive Without god?” was the sensationalized title given by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life to a 2010 conversation/debate between Christopher Hitchens and his brother, Peter Hitchens. That the Pew Forum, a project of the nonpartisan and respected Pew Research Center, would hold a conversation on this topic is by itself revealing. No respectable organization would hold a symposium on the topic “Can Civilization Survive Christianity?” or “Can Civilization Survive Islam?” At least no organization could do so without engendering severe and immediate public criticism. Atheism, though, not only threatens many people, but it is still considered acceptable among some to label it as a threat. Even if it is conceded that the individual atheist may be a good person, there is an abiding concern that the spread of atheism bodes ill for civilization. The spread of atheism is regarded like the spread of the plague – or perhaps the invasion of the body snatchers. ”

–Ron Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism, pg 148


“Why does life have to have a point? If there were a point, then whatever makes the point would itself need a point. If whatever makes the point has a point, then whatever makes that point would have no point in itself. And so on. Eventually, we have to come to a place where we stop asking, “What is the point?” and just start accepting life for what it is. If there is a god, he (she/it) would be in the same situation. He would have to say something like, “My life is my life, and that is that,” with no further explanation, no ultimate meaning. Why can’t we do the same thing, simply accepting the good fortune of being alive? Life is not only beside the point, it is above and beyond the point. It is precisely when we realize that there is no point, that we should not want there to be a point, that we can smile and say: ‘Life is life.’”

–Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose, pg 168


“The principal argument that has been advanced for the view that the First Amendment permits the government to deviate from is secular character and involve itself in religious matters, at least to the extent of supporting religion in general, is the so-called nonpreferentialist interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Pursuant to this interpretation, the government can support religion, even financially, as long as the government does no favor or prefer one religious denomination over others.

Although this interpretation of the Establishment Clause has had its adherents, including some justices on the Supreme Court, the non-preferentialist reading of the Establishment Clause has been rejected repeatedly by a majority of the Supreme Court, and with good reason. In interpreting the Constitution, as is true in interpreting any legal document, we should of course, focus on the final language of the document, but the evolution of that language can also be instructive. A review of the proposals that were considered in the House and Senate reveals that one of the specific proposals that was rejected was a draft amendment that limited itself to forbidding Congress from giving preference to one religion over others. In other words, the First Congress considered a nonpreferential version of the First Amendment but declined to adopt it. ”

-Ron Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism, pg 35-36

“Even if the spirit does exist in some unknowable way – in spite of my impertinence in asking for a definition – what do believers mean when they say it is “outside” of nature? Exactly where is that? If a spirit is outside of nature, it still must be somewhere, in a region “beyond.” And that is a still a place. Something might indeed be outside our own observable universe in the wider cosmos, but how can anything be outside of nature? Universes within the multiverse would certainly be outside of each other, but they would still be part of the natural cosmos. If we don’t have a coherent definition of “outside of nature,” then it is meaningless to suggest that that is where the spirit or supernatural exists. ”

-Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose, pg 151

But if it’s someone else’s personal space, such as their Facebook page or twitter feed or blog, they have the right to not listen to you blather about atheism, just like you have the right to not listen to them blather about religion. In their own space, they have the right to tone-troll, to shut down discussions that are making them unhappy, to ban atheists or Star Trek fans or people whose names begin with W. You can make your own decisions about whether their guidelines are okay with you, and whether you want to participate in their space. And of course, you can try to persuade them that their guidelines are problematic. But do it with basic respect of their right to curate their space any damn way they please. Pulling the “You can’t handle the truth!” number just makes you look like an entitled douchebag who thinks they have the right to spew anywhere they want.”

–Greta Christina, Coming Out Atheist, pg 186


“I think “religious morality” is an oxymoron. Morality is morality, and qualifying it with the word “religious” does no strengthen it. It weakens it. (The same is true with the phrase “alternative medicine.” Medicine is medicine. Sometimes “alternative medicine” actually works, and when it does we call it “medicine.”) As I mentioned in the previous chapter, “religious morality” reduces human behavior to a monochromatic one-size-fits-all orthodoxy that is actually more dangerous than the broader humanistic principle of reducing harm. I think religion actually compromises moral judgment.”

–Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose, pg 118


How do moral norms serve these functions? In following moral norms we engage in behavior that enables these functions of morality to be fulfilled. When we obey norms like “don’t kill” and “don’t steal” we help ensure the security and stability of society. It really doesn’t take a genius to figure out why, but that hasn’t stopped some geniuses from drawing our attention to the importance of moral norms. As the seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and many others have pointed out, if we always had to fear being injured or having our property stolen, we could never have any rest. Our lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Besides providing security and stability by prohibiting certain actions, moral norms also promote collaboration by encouraging certain actions and by providing the necessary framework for the critical actions of the “promise” – that is, a commitment that allows others to rely on me. Consider a simple example, one that could reflect circumstances in the Neolithic Era as much as today. I need a tool you have to complete a project, so I ask yo to lend it to me. You hesitate to lend me the tool, but you also believe you are obliged to help me if such help doesn’t significantly harm you. Moreover, I promise to return the tool. You lend me the tool; I keep my promise to return the tool. This exchange fosters trust between us. Both of us will be more inclined to cooperate with each other in the future. Our cooperation will likely improve our respective living conditions.

Multiply this example millions and millions of times and you get a sense of the numerous transactions among people that allow a peaceful, stable, prospering society to emerge. You also can imagine how conditions would deteriorate if moral norms were not followed. Going back to my tool example, let us imagine you do not respond positively to my request for assistance. This causes resentment and also frustrates my ability to carry out a beneficial project. I am also less likely to assist you if you need help. Or say you do lend me a tool, but I keep it instead of returning it as promised. This causes distrust, and you are less likely to assist me (and others) in the future. Multiplied many times such failures to follow moral norms can result in mistrust, reduced cooperation, and even violence. If I do not return that tool peacefully, you may resort to brute force to reacquire it.

–Ron Lindsay, pgs 78-79, The Necessity of Secularism