Religion is not a motivator for good, part 2

In the first part to this post, I defined religion as an influencing factor in terms of people doing good. This is opposed to the idea of a motivating force. I compared them as such:

There is a key difference between a motivating force and an influencing factor. The former is the direct cause for something that happens (or said, thought, etc) and the latter is an indirect cause. To put it into other terms, my hunger is a motivating force for why I might buy a sandwich. An influencing factor, however, would be a commercial I saw for Subway. My procurement of food is directly motivated by my hunger, but my specific purchase is influenced by another factor – that is, my motivation exists independently of a given influence.

The reason, I’ve argued, that people do good deeds is that it’s in human nature to have empathy, sympathy, concern, and interests in the well-being of others due to our evolutionary history and status as a social animal. That isn’t to say we don’t have good reasons for those good deeds, but I am saying our tendencies as humans should not be viewed as fundamentally different on a biological level than the tendencies of any other animal.

As it happens, religion has had a long history of getting people to do good things. I would hazard that most charities are religious in their nature, and if not, then they at least make up a sizable portion of the total. We see church and mosque and synagogue groups traveling to help out developing nations and other places and people in need every day. It isn’t uncommon for someone to help out a neighbor while citing God’s will. The fact is, religion has influenced a lot of people to do good things.

Unfortunately, as it also so happens, religion has had a long history of bringing people to do bad things. We have The Inquisition, the Crusades, yet another war brewing in the Middle East, the current situation in Nigeria, Northern Ireland for quite some time, the Church’s devastating restriction of science for so many centuries, and on and on and on. The fact is, religion has influenced a lot of people to do bad things.

But here’s the kicker: There isn’t anything to stop a person from being influenced by religion to do bad things. The two primary reasons for this are 1) the subjective interpretations that are demanded by holy texts and 2) faith. Let me quickly break these down.

Subjectivity in Holy Texts

Unlike science or history or a number of other legitimate fields, theology and religious studies have no objective methods for determining what any piece of holy writ is meant to convey. Sure, there are textual critics, such as Bart D. Ehrman, who do perfectly valid work that has perfectly valid conclusions, but that’s because they have a real methodology and objective argumentation. The biggest advocates of what this or that piece of holy text means are little more than literary critics. That isn’t to say literary criticism is necessarily vapid, but there is a lot of empty air in the field. I mean, there’s a reason why two people can write two conflicting theories on a Shakespeare play and yet each have acceptable arguments. Or fifty different people with fifty conflicting theories. It all comes down to personal, subjective interpretation. Really, that’s art. And there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but problems do arise when people begin to pretend they’re using objective means to come to their conclusions – which is exactly what we see with theologians and priests and others of the like.

Faith

I still haven’t heard a better definition of faith than “belief without evidence”. Because that’s exactly what it is. Stories in the Bible (and presumably other holy books) support this (but maybe arguments can be made against this claim and I can’t really say boo, what with the subjectivity of it all), and the words and sermons of believers are overwhelmingly in favor of believing x could be true, even when there is no good reason to suppose it actually is. So given this fact, it isn’t surprising that we see religious people influenced by their religion to do bad things every day. Because, why not? If a large premise of religion (and belief in God) is that one doesn’t need to use reason and rationality to come to bold conclusions, then what stops a person from going a step further and saying that God wants his followers to take x’s land, or oppress y’s people, or kill people of belief z? Indeed, arguments leading to these conclusions have all been made using religion – Christian and Muslim invasions, Christian-based slavery, 9/11. It may be argued that these are incorrect conclusions, but 1) there’s no objective way to determine that and 2) if the religion says faith is a virtue, then there is no need to enter something as wacky as reasons into the debate, is there?

So to conclude, it is our humanity – our very nature – that leads us to the tendency to do good things. Everything else is sauce for the meat – though, to be clear, not all sauces are equal. Some will tend to bring us to do more good than bad, to even be restricted from doing bad because of those crazy things called reasons. Others, however, are not so positive. Enter religion. This influencing factor is subject to the interpretations of countless people who have come to countless conclusions. (Just imagine if science worked that way, where two scientists working independently with the same information rarely came to the same conclusion. It would be mayhem.) Moreover, religious belief has this awful tendency to be underpinned with faith. Faith, as described earlier, is nothing more than belief without evidence. And if a person is willing to believe something for no reason other than hope or wishful thinking or fear or whathaveyou, then what sort of basis is that for doing good? More importantly, what sort of basis is that for not doing bad? The fact is, it isn’t a good basis for either – but anyone can (and has) made it a basis for any number of acts, good or bad. That’s what faith inherently allows.

Advertisements

Dissent on feminism is not like dissent on evolution

One of the popular memes out there in the feminist blogosphere is to compare a person who disagrees with a feminist position to a creationist who disagrees with all of evolution. There are two problems with this.

First, there is a general attitude amongst caricature/Internet feminists that if a person dares disagree on even a single feminist point, that person must be a rape culture apologist who just wants to rape. Also, rape. And elevator rape. Rape. Rape. Rapey rape. Rapedy rapedy rape rape rape. That, of course, makes no sense, especially in the context of comparing dissent on feminism to dissent on evolution by creationists. A person who disagrees with one or even a few parts of feminism is not like a creationist because a creationist rejects virtually every bit of science discovered since Darwin. (If we get more specific and go with young Earth creationists, we can include every bit of science since the beginning of the Enlightenment.) A person who disagrees with some part of feminism does not think women are second-class citizens by default, nor does such a person necessarily reject other parts feminism. More importantly, such a person does not necessarily reject the basic idea of equality. This is unlike the creationist who can only reject evolution by rejecting vast swaths of science.

Second, feminism is – at best – a philosophy. It is not science. It is not fact. It isn’t any more provable than anything Kant ever said about the good being found in good will itself. That isn’t to say it isn’t useful, but it is not some established, objective observation of the world. (I have to include that last line because omitting it means I think feminism is nothing but garbage and rape is awesome.) Evolution, on the other hand, is science. It is fact. It is an established, objective observation of the world. To express dissent to it is to express an ignorance that can be countered with objective facts and education. Feminism does not enjoy that same, dare I say, privilege. If it did, then so would egalitarianism. Or any other philosophy. It would be an inherent contradiction: Philosophy is a subjective interpretation of the world, so to say it can be objectively true makes no sense. It certainly uses facts and the latest knowledge of the world to support and build its propositions, but from that use ultimately comes non-scientific, subjective interpretations. Moreover, virtually all philosophies make or are developed for the purpose of making normative claims. That is, they make value claims. The subjectivity is unavoidable.

The only reason this ‘feminist dissent is like evolution dissent’ meme is popular is because cheap rhetoric is so easy. The two topics enjoy a cross section that would be the link on a Venn diagram labeled “liberal/progressive”. By attempting to appeal to what much of that link already accepts – evolution – the feminist side of the aisle is attempting to invent a shameful comparison: ‘Why, you’re just like a creationist! Don’t you feel silly now?’ It’s hardly any different from the argument that atheism is a religion. (Oh, hey, look. Many feminists share my position that there is no God and that religion is bad, so I know a lot of them have been accused of having a religion. I also know that that accusation is annoying, so no one in her right mind would want to make it herself. Yet here we are, with feminists making just that sort of argument. I have exploited my own Venn diagram link. Isn’t lazy rhetoric fun?)