Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Worst of All

A recent question was posed to a group of atheists on a forum about the worst bits of the Bible.  Among the common counterarguments that any nonbeliever has against the "objective morality" argument is that the Bible espouses some pretty darn vile moral lessons.  Rarely do we ever get into the topic of whether or not objective morality even exists, because that is a topic that can trail off on a wide variety of tangents that can't really be resolved that easily.  The reason the "Biblical morality is reprehensible" argument is used is because it at least points out that even if there is such a thing as objective morality, the Bible certainly isn't the source of it.  The other thing is that it's patently obvious to anyone who has bothered to read the darn thing that it has some pretty deplorable attitudes about just about everything from slavery to misogyny and rape.  That, and it is lacking sorely in even offering a position on several moral question that we know ought be addressed, such as pedophilia or domestic violence.

So the question that was posed partly split the case two ways between Old and New Testament.  Presumably, this is because of the argument about how the Old Testament was a lot meaner and harsher than the New Testament...  despite the fact that the New Testament is where the concept of Hell and eternal torment enters the picture.  It was to ask what people thought were the worst moral precepts of two sections of the Bible.

Well, you get a lot of the unsurprising responses like the advocacy of slavery.  The outright misogyny.  The general attitudes about children as effectively property.  Vicarious responsibility, and vicarious payment for crimes -- that was also a common one.  Things like God seeing a guy as eminently righteous for whoring out his daughters rather than let gay men have sex.  Interesting, too, that the Bible only seems to mention men sleeping with men as bad.  Doesn't really say much about women having sex with women.  There is one bit in the New Testament about women being punished for violating the first commandment by being turned into lesbians so that they could never bear children, but that's about the limit.  I guess that at least indicates that Yahweh is male because he doesn't seem particularly bothered by smokin' hot girl-on-girl action.

There's got to be a Family Guy gag around that, I'm sure.

Anyway, my response was a bit different.  I'll begin with my New Testament "worst" because my rant for it is a bit shorter.  However, both the two "worsts" are pretty closely related in what they teach and why I consider them the worst lessons of all...  and in fact, I'd consider them likely to be the worst possible moral values that could be espoused.

Worst of the New Testament : The "Doubting Thomas" story.  The gist of the story is that after Jesus is resurrected and the Apostle Thomas hears word of it, he is not ready to believe it just on word of mouth.  He needs to not only see the resurrected Jesus, but also his wounds to show that he's actually the same person.  Only after that, he actually believes.  The precept that Jesus confers onto him at this point is the message "You believe because you have seen.  Blessed are those who believe without seeing."

This, to me, is anti-truth, and very explicitly anti-science.  Verifying whether or not something is true by some means other than personal impression is fundamental to learning and gaining knowledge.  It is fundamental to determining whether or not something is true.  I can tell you that I've found the secret to cold fusion.  Me merely telling it to you does not convey anything, nor does it lead you anywhere to truth.  Why on Earth should you believe me?  What the story is really trying to do is give the message that blind belief and faith is the thing that really matters.  One should not seek verification or support, but should simply belief and walk by faith alone.  I can't imagine anything more counter to logic, reason, and truth than that.

Faith is not a path to truth.  It has no capacity to lead you anywhere.  It can only ever be right on something by accident.  It's a horrible moral lesson because it is training people to disregard their brains and be blind to all reality.  You should just believe because believing without question, without thought, without reason is so much better.

I must go vomit now.

Worst of the Old Testament : Straight from the very beginning -- the circumstances of "The Fall".  Oh, I know a lot of people talk about the whole inherited complicity in the crimes of an ancestor (especially an ancestor who provably never existed).  But in my case, I'm having a problem with the purported crime itself.  The "crime" Adam and Eve committed...  the ultimate crime...  the crime that condemned all of humanity evermore...  the supposed source of all death and the reason why hell was created and why god had to make a blood sacrifice of himself to himself...  the single most unforgivable inexcusable sin that taints us all...

...was that they acquired knowledge.

Yep.  That was the single greatest of all crimes that could ever be committed.  Gaining knowledge is the very thing that was so bad that it forever ruins the future.  Yes, it wasn't just general knowledge but actually "eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil"...  that doesn't really change the issue for me.  Either way, it was some specific piece of knowledge that they gained by eating from it, and that was the event that brought condemnation.  That too, Sky Daddy considered it such a severe transgression that not only did Adam and Eve get capital punishment (900 years later), the entire human race was issued a death penalty.

It doesn't really matter to me what the content of that knowledge was...  it matters that the god of Judeo-Christian mythology considers gaining knowledge to be a bad thing.  Now you could say that the real point of the tale was that Yahweh imposed a directive and Adam and Eve disobeyed, so it's really all about the demand for total obedience and deference to the authority of their god.  I have my problems with that lesson as well, but that's besides the point.  Saying that it's about obedience doesn't really change what the directive was.  Why, of all things, did Yahweh decree that not eating of the fruit of knowledge was his prime directive?  Why could it not have been something else like disturbing the environment of some region?  Why could it not have been something about eating of the fruit of the tree of greed?  Why could it not have been a rule about bestiality? or hate? or murder? or xenophobia? or irrationality?  Why did it have to be a rule about not attaining knowledge?

Since when is knowledge -- and I mean knowledge about anything -- a bad thing?  Why exactly would knowledge of good and evil be something to be avoided?  What good is ignorance of it?  If you look through the story a little more, the tempting of Eve was done by convincing her that God did not want them to eat of it because knowledge would enable them to become godlike as well.  Sure, the snake was lying according to the story, but it is a sentiment echoed later on with the whole Tower of Babel thing, where Yahweh decides people working together and achieving a major engineering feat in collaboration means they're getting a little too big for their britches.  So, yeah, the god of the Bible is clearly against human advancement.  That's great.

I can't imagine anything more horrifyingly unacceptable than denouncing knowledge.  How on Earth can you possibly devalue the very thing that is the cause of all things humankind has ever created?  Would we have been better off without knowledge of fire?  Is our modern understanding of engineering and materials science our downfall?  Can we never again value our awareness and understanding science and mathematics?  What could possibly have happened because of knowledge of good and evil?  It seems patently obvious that not having the knowledge would result in unknowingly doing bad things simply because you had no knowledge that it was bad.  At least knowing will prevent that.  Sure, you can make the argument that incomplete knowledge is a dangerous thing, because of Dunning-Kruger and all and the general inability to determine exactly how incomplete your knowledge is without the bigger picture.  But that is not the same thing as saying that ignorance is a good thing.  If anything, it's a statement that you need to always go further in the pursuit of knowledge.  One can safely be ignorant about something so long as you're cognizant of your ignorance and willing to defer to those not so ignorant.  Without that awareness, ignorance definitely becomes a bad thing.  There are simply no ways in which condemning humanity for acquiring knowledge is a reasonable moral precept -- if anything, it's the worst possible principle that can ever be conceived.  Walking by ignorance is necessarily bad for humankind.  And always pursuing knowledge is the single most valuable thing that humanity has ever done.  Everything that we have today is the product of knowledge.  Everything that makes your life easier is the result of people who actually tried to learn something new and find out more.  To put it simply, knowledge is the most valuable thing ever.

And yet, Judeo-Christian mythology not only condemns the first two humans for attaining knowledge of good and evil, but designates it as the ultimate crime that warranted holding every single human being who would ever exist to be morally culpable for it from the moment of their very first breath.  There is no way to make this anything less than infinitely reprehensible.  And any god that would dare to put an imposition on its subjects that demands ignorance is worthy only of boundless and unrelenting rebuke.  That too, making up some rule around it in the New Testament that says that some sort of individual human sacrifice, albeit one where the blood had enough magical power by virtue of its divine substance, was necessary to forgive this horrible transgression of knowing.  Seriously, what ill is actually repaired by human sacrifice?  Can you name one?  Oh, darn...  humans are getting smarter!  We can't have that.  Let's make sure they're gullible enough to believe this kind of crap, and they're gullibility is the thing we reward.  There is nothing you can think of which is more anti-rationality, anti-intellectual, and anti-human beings that this.

I'm sure a bunch of people will crawl out of the woodwork trying to defend this..  Well, you could try, but you would not be successful.  There is no defense, and there never will be.