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Respect is a Two Way Street December 6, 2007

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics.

Republican presidential candidate Mit Romney gave a speech Thursday allegedly intended to clarify his commitment to Mormonism. Instead, he insults and offends most of the people I know. Romney says:

“In John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.’  Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

The idea that one cannot be dedicated to freedom and morality without a religious commitment is not only pernicious nonsense; coming from a presidential candidate it is a prescription for tyranny.

Atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have recently published books stridently and provocatively challenging the dogmas of religion. Many reviewers of these books have criticized Harris and Dawkins for being excessively shrill and disrepectful towards religion. Somehow religion can be criticized only in honeyed tones that assuage rather than confront.  Yet non-believers can be subject to calumny and wholesale indictments of their personhood by people who aspire to represent them.

Mutual respect is a good thing and we need more of it. But respect is a two way street and it must be earned. Someday, when religious folks and their leaders manage to conjure respect for the moral credentials of non-believers, we may have a respectful discussion of religion and its role in public life.

Until then we need to keep windbags like Romney out of office and we need more books like those of Harris and Dawkins.



1. Ani - December 11, 2007

I agree! Not only is it a matter of respect but tolerance! People tend to denote difference as something which is “wrong” or “sinful” instead of trying to understand it. Most people cannot seem to realize the difference between accepting and tolerating something. If only we as humans could learn to tolerate eachother! Not like, not accept, not even understand, just tolerate eachother’s differences!

2. michelle - December 12, 2007

Sociologists at the University of Minnesota found that Americans rank atheists at the bottom of other groups as the “least trusted” in public and private life. (see a summary at http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2006/03/24/67686)

We regularly pat ourselves on the back for being willing (we shall see) to elect a woman or African American, but a candidate would be risking defeat to admit to atheism.

Part of this probably has to do with the broad associations drawn with the label “atheist.” As one blogger about the above study complained :
“the study seemed to lack such a basic question as the following:

“Which comes closest to your definition of ‘atheist’?
(a) a person who lacks belief that a personal creator of the universe exists.
(b) a nihilist who rejects morality.
(c) a communist who wants to undermine America for the benefit of China and Cuba.
(d) a person possessed by demons who eats the children of religious people.”

Surely some such question should have been asked, given that the survey asked whether people privately or publicly approve of atheism. Surely the survey would lose its value if there were confusion about what the respondents mean by “atheist.””

I think Mitt Romney’s statement reflects (b) – the belief that atheists deny morality. To the extent that others agree, or maybe think atheists eat children, it’s no wonder Romney can get away with trying to pass off his views as “religious tolerance.”

3. Moriae - December 12, 2007

Don’t forget “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, 2007. I found Hitchens’ book much more cohesive than Dawkins’ book and much less meandering than Harris’ book.

4. Moriae - December 12, 2007

“The idea that one cannot be dedicated to freedom and morality without a religious commitment is not only pernicious nonsense; coming from a presidential candidate it is a prescription for tyranny.”

What are we to say about this country when the Democratic Candidates for President and Vice-President in 2000 (August) said the same thing about religion and morality as Romney apparently has?

5. Moriae - December 12, 2007

Perhaps I’ll try to address my own question. lol

It is a travesty and an embarrassment in general that comments like the ones offered by Mitt Romney (and all others, including Gore and Lieberman) actually pass for intelligence in this world. The travesty is due to the fact that all these men (I won’t leave out women, but I won’t name them) really are college educated. So how can we account for the fact that it seems quite clear that these people haven’t read or pondered the implications of Plato’s Euthyphro? They went to college, didn’t they? Could it be it was because philosophy is an elective and that most people elect to avoid philosophy? So who do we fault?

I think before we begin to lay blame, we should start by isolating the issue. Why do so many people still overwhelmingly believe that moral acts require religious foundations? Might it not likely be for the simple reason that they have not been confronted with alternatives to this view? The notion that seems firmly embedded in the hearts of countless people is that we need ‘reasons’ for doing or not doing any number of things (Here I think is where evolutionary psychology will come to the rescue eventually, yet for people indifferent to alternative thinking it may, even then, fall on deaf ears). The logic of these people is curious but persistent. Most people appear to think that you actually need a ‘reason’ for not poking your wife in the nose, or a ‘reason’ for not strangling your brother in his crib. For the modest horde ‘morality’ connotes ‘restraint.’ So in the absence of restraint they sense an absence of moral direction. But should the average public boob really be faulted for this? Have they really been confronted with thoughtful alternatives? In addition, if all Democratic and Republican political aspirants spout the same dreadful notions that fill the minds of the boobgeoisie, how are they to suspect an alternative is available? But does philosophy have a ready alternative to offer them? It doesn’t look like it. I haven’t had the privilege of hearing the philosophical discourse at Mesa College, but considering the discourse I have heard over the years, the alternative to Mitt Romney’s notion is sadly lacking. If philosophy is unable to address the crucial issues that confront the lives of everyday people, why should they be inclined to suspect philosophy has any answers for issues less crucial?

Is it a lack of intelligence? Is it a lack of imagination? Why is philosophy impotent in the face of the questions needing answers for the average yokel? On a previous posting on this blog I mentioned an oddity that is symptomatic of philosophy in general. I said: it’s odd that philosophers would agree that it isn’t right to gouge-out the eyes of new-born children with spoons, but that they can’t agree on a reason why. People want answers if questions are posed, and in the absence of better answers they’re likely to succumb to answers that tend to support their inclinations. So if philosophy can’t supply them with a ‘reason’ they can offer a neighbor to undermine his inclination to molest their sister, then religion might be the one practical tool they have left to keep their family intact. It may be a bad answer, and it may not pass Socratic scrutiny, but if a man thinks his family’s life is at stake, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’ll grasp the one rationale that so many others also claim to be the only rationale they’d accept themselves.

6. Forrest Noble - December 21, 2007

Hey Moriae,

Dec. 12 was a good day for you. A lot of verbal action. Truly I think a better question Moriae, would be — did god create man in his own image or did man create god in his————I’m betting my immortal soul on the answer to that question which I believe is an obvious one– simply there is no god. It would be nice; I hope for other’s sake that I’m wrong— but god to me is Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny combined—-a wonderful but obvious fantasy.

There have been some pretty smart presidents–maybe not geniuses but very bright in the last 100 years. I would argue that a great personality, psychological stablility, a good speaker and diplomat, and an optimist would trump intelligence– equivalent to lets say 20 points or more on an IQ test as far as political competition is concerned. There have been some brilliant candidates for president in the last 100 years that didn’t get the nomination because they didn’t have the looks or personality–such is politics.

Respect is a two way street– character is often revealed in politics– the clues, however, are not always apparent to most voters, I think.

Always interesting to hear your point of view Moriae,

Respectfully, forrest

7. Moriae - December 24, 2007

Truth be told I’ve always resisted talk about God. I’ve never really seen it as anything but a solipsist exercise. People use it in peculiar ways that only seem to plug holes in the positions they hold. For instance, I’ve always thought it funny that many well-meaning people often argue that you need a belief in God in order to keep you from hitting your wife with a baseball bat while she sleeps. These people seem to assume that all people seemingly harbour daily thoughts of mayhem while going about their daily business. I must admit the possibility simply for the fact it really is easy to hide such thoughts from our fellow man. I agree it is also fallacious to extrapolate from one’s own experience of life, but never having such feelings myself must make me an oddity. That may very well be the case. People that know me have often remarked that they’ve never quite met anyone like me, but I still resist the idea that most people are constantly mulling over their chances of pulling off an ‘O.J.’ I mean, how am I to know? But I’m willing to risk my life walking on a campus as I did for many years, I’m also willing to risk my life sitting in a class, despite the fact it may actually be the case that the professor really is mulling over his/her options for a sucessful murder. Is it really the prospect of God that keeps the seeming peace? To me it is a very odd way of looking at the world. I’d perfer to believe that most men really aren’t weighing their chances to rape or murder. But not having God’s view of the world I might be wrong. So if it is really the case that Islam and Christianity are the only things keeping their believers in check, then three cheers for Islam and Christianity. I’d hate to think of the amount of crime that would envelope the world should Muslims and Christians begin having doubts. Merry Christmas!

8. Forrest Noble - December 24, 2007

Yeah I agree, the morals you choose, I think, are usually a reflection of the society in which you life rather than your religion. I even became a vegetarian because I don’t like the idea of killing animals. I think that for me regardless of what my religious beliefs might have been, my moral systems and thoughts, it seems to me, would be quit similar– simply do unto others as you would have———–etc. Or the negative golden rule, don’t do to others that you wouldn’t want done to youself.

Your right, they’re out there, but as you said I don’t think most people in our society have those kinds of thoughts. I think “the best” of religious and non-religious people alike, maybe 5% of the total, set a good example for all to follow.

Well Moriae, It’s that time of year. I see that you posted just a little ahead of me on Christmas-eve day. So, have the best of holidays and we’ll be talking on line again soon I hope,

your friend forrest forrest_forrest@netzero.net

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