A HEARTFELT essay on anti-theism.
A while ago, in about 2006, Our Curmudgeon, Francis W. Porretto (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, not the same person. I maintain the fiction that Dolly isn’t resident inside my skull, too. It’s rhetorical device. Get over it.) made a great post…
Aren’t they all?
Well, yes. But we don’t always have something cogent to say in response. This time we did: a redux of our post of
a couple now six-and-a-half years back, The Legacy of the Faithless. Herewith reposted. Enjoy.
GOT A GRATIFYING RESPONSE
To the Loyalty Oath post. I guess I should say right off, I didn’t compose that oath. In case I didn’t make it quite clear, that’s the official oath that naturalized citizens take at those ceremonies at the Federal Courthouse that the local news runs features about on Flag Day and the like.
Some readers seemed to have some objection to the wording of the oath inasmuch as it concludes with “So help me God.”
My mother used to conclude oaths with “So help me God,” though the only citizenship they had to do with was my poor example of the type. ::grin::
Not picking on Daniel [a commentor on the original thread — probably Daniel Day — ed.], but because he put it most succinctly, I think. He wrote, “Do we have to drag God into it? I would be sincere in saying every part of this oath except the final sentence.”
Personally, I can take it or leave it. But I would urge and argue against a kneejerk rejection of all mention of God. My rationale may itself be just as kneejerk, since it is primarily a reaction to what I see as the repugnant nature of High Socialist Atheism. Call it the legacy of the faithless. However, I have piled a whole host of rationalizations on top of that which, though it make a tropeheavy structure, it nevertheless might serve as a balm for a spirit weary of struggle against what it sees as theocracy.
Pace my atheist friends who are nevertheless not collectivists, I should at the outset differentiate between them and the enemy I seek to excoriate.
Atheism means literally away from the practice of theism, which most sources define as the belief in and acceptance of a divinity or divinities — of whatever nature. Thus an atheist is someone who does not believe in and accept the existence of divinity or divinities. It is a belief, just as is the belief in the divinity of Christ. As such, it is based on faith, since there can be no proof.
But it is not yet a system of beliefs. Some atheists might never come to a system of beliefs, preferring to deprecate all such and found their entire behavior on logic from proven principles. I’m not prepared to argue whether that is possible, but I suspect it is not. For my purpose here, I assume it is not and move on from there.
Anyone who does not wish to live in the eternal “now” of limbic drives experienced by most animals (so we presume from observation of animal behavior), must at some point at least attempt to generalize from experience and the species of desire we call principle. In order to save time and not have to reformulate every rule from “A is A” forward each time one is confronted with a moral dilemma, one must systematize ones conclusions as to appropriate behavior in various circumstances. Thus a system of belief. Regardless of whether one believes that this system is handed down from God or merely handy, it is nevertheless a faith.
Thus, even an atheist may be a member of the faithful.
On the other hand, there is a portion of humanity which seeks to control the lives of others and to force others to conform to some notional ideal. There are many stripes, though they all seem to have certain earmarks in common: They are elitist. They are cruel in that they assume the mass of humanity must be inveigled or forced into cooperation (recognizing that their prescriptions are unpalatable). They are arrogant in the hubristic assumption of their righteousness. They are willing to encompass great evil in the furtherance of their cause, yet blind to the fundamental, intrinsic evil of that cause.
Many of these profess to atheism. However, the difference is that the strain of atheism is not so much away from belief as it is against belief. It is not so much atheism as it is antitheism. It has not concluded on its own that God does not (or may not) exist, but rather admits the possibility of God’s existence and nevertheless demands that belief in Gods be rubbed out, like a blot on the excutcheon of humanity.
These are not members of the faithful, but rather are the faithless.
A slight sidetrack… May I commend for your consideration, Pascal’s Wager?
You may believe in God, and God exists, in which case you go to heaven.
You may believe in God, and God doesn’t exist, in which case you gain nothing.
You may not believe in God, and God doesn’t exist, in which you gain nothing again.
You may not believe in God, and God may exist, in which case you will be punished.
If one applies this to a personal system of principles not founded in a religion, one might come to the conclusion that, though a man might not believe in God, to behave as though God did exist would nevertheless be that man’s best bet.
If that man desires to be a moral man and live in the community of believers in God, he might take his cues from and behave as though he were one of the believers.
And, recognizing that his own liberty is incumbent on his defense of the liberty of others, and finding the actual existence or not of God to be a matter of some indifference, he might find it harmless — indeed, helpful — to… swear an oath by God.
After all, he does not intend to foreswear or deny the oath. His intent is honest. Since he does not believe that God exists (thought Pascal’s Wager, if taken seriously, might tend to obviate that belief), the words of the oath that refer to God are a null signal — useful to some and thus worthy of inclusion, but not to all. Not to our moral atheist.
And I think you can tell from my argument here that I do not accept the contention of some bigoted Christians that an atheist cannot ipso facto be a moral being.
As you can tell from the crickets, Dolly, your argument is being met about like a turd at a banquet. SO appropriate.
Now: back to those collectivist antitheists.
Individualism is the strongest possible system on which to build a society. Each productive member of society acts as a portion of the structure. The whole is strengthened by the power of voluntary bonds between individuals, in a skein of such bonds that is almost impossible to sunder at a stroke. (This is why America was so able to weather the blow of the 9/11 atrocities; individuals acting voluntarily in concert.)
Collectivists find individualism anathema. In order for their vision to be brought about, they must break down individualist societies. To do this, they have hit upon the tactic of striking at those bonds among individuals using a corrosive on the material of which those bonds are built — trust.
OK, Alger. I follow that part. But what does that have to do with oaths and God?
Dolly, you are a joy. I couldn’t have timed that better if I’d written in myself.
In a society based on individualism, how do you know you can trust a stranger? For that matter, how do you know you can trust someone you know or think you know? After all, why is the wisest piece of advice ever to not go into business with family or friends?
The answer is contracts. Agreements. (And it is signally instructive that our homegrown collectivists seek to advance their agenda by attacking America’s fundamental social contract, the Constitution.) The simplest contract is probably a handshake deal, or the word, “Sold!” But the most primitive is the oath. “Swear it!” “By God, I will!” Oaths and contracts are connective tissue, binding society together.
To a moral person — to the faithful — I contend, the form of an oath is irrelevant. It is an external manifestation of an internal aspiration: to affirm one’s intent to perform. So long as the intent is pure, the precise words can be… “singing the Dublin telephone book in Gaelic” and still serve the purpose.
But to the faithless, seeking to attack the bonds of trust, harboring the intent to deceive, the precise, hairsplitting words — the form of the thing — are of greatest import. Thus you get attacks on the presence of the name of God as a grace note in the music of a society. Thus you get the spectre of a man whose entire being exemplifies the placing of style over substance, of form over function, arguing before a court of law that the truth of his words depends on one’s definition of the verb “to be.”
These are people who, by their actions, corrode the structure of society.
So — please, my friend — do not disparage those who swear in the name of God, for that is the legacy of the faithless.