Reason, Decency, Tolerance, Empathy and Hope

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The Vacancy of The Morality of Fear

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Everyday we try to be nice, we don’t steal or lie or hurt or make people feel bad, these moralities are common sense. We do this primarily because of our experiences (upbringing, education…etc.) and our conscience. Morality in a religious context is an issue complicated by fear and reward. Religions that use fear and reward to enforce morality lack integrity and the good feeling of moral behaviour based on compassion, love and intellect. Doing good is it’s own reward and science shows this:

    1. Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin. Michael I. Norton. Elizabeth W. Dun (45 sources)

      Conclusion: The evidence we reviewed is quite supportive: Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop (with happier people giving more, getting happier, and giving even more).

    2. Stephen G. Post (28 Sources)

      Conclusion: The principle has been scientifically established. The welfare of oneself (self-fulfillment) and of others (self-sacrifice) are
      inseparable and interrelated components of the healthy human personality in a healthy environment.

The evidence supports that doing good feels good what about motivation? Why is fear of God, hell..etc. an unhealthy motivation? Common sense tells us that fear creates undue anxiety and all its problems. Also using fear as a motivation is the way of bullies and dictators, it also creates resentment in the people being manipulated. Ultimately using fear as a tool enforce moral behavior is unhealthy and can lead to resentment, defiance and loss of control.

Research also shows that we shouldn’t need fear to enforce moral behaviour anyway. Moral Psychology has been separating ethical behaviour from emotion for decades. Empathy has also been shown to be a natural result of our evolution. While it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to separate emotion from decision making fear is most certainly the worst way to make a moral decision.

A question religious apologists often ask of unbelievers is “What is stopping you from murdering and raping and pillaging as much as you want?’ to which we ask ‘Are you saying that without God you would be doing those things?’  Humanists, atheists and other unbelievers believe that the primary motivator for moral behavior should be love itself when balanced with reason doing good deeds is its own reward (see above) and that can be achieved right here and now. It also takes courage to take responsibility for own actions (integrity).

When I’m raising my children, my job is to get my children to act in ways that are moral when there is no fear and no reward, but to do it for the sake of doing it. When you add everlasting life as the reward, and everlasting torment as the punishment, there can be no morality. We need to treat each other well because we love each other, and not for reward or punishment. – Penn Jillette

When one considers religions so often also use guilt as well as fear and that moral behaviour existed long before and despite religion then we see that religion’s grip on morality has been lost. Instead we suggest that we let our love and our rational faculties be the motivator. We can reap the rewards of being good right now knowing that we did it for the right reasons.

 

The Shame of Body Shaming

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As a humanist I can not imagine making someone feel badly,  especially for something like weight or height or some other result of their genes, their health and their circumstances but this is an all to common occurrence. In fact ‘fat’ has become a dehumanizing insult, ‘Fat’ is the new ‘ugly’. People in western cultures have a new and terrible way to drag other humans down: ridiculing and bullying based on their body. This is particularly nasty when one considers how many reasons a person may be overweight.

Body Type:

  1. Ectomorph:  Ectomorphs are skinny with a small frame, light build, small joints and lean muscle. Usually they have long thin limbs with stringy muscles, narrow shoulders with a fast metabolism making this body type the most resistant to weight gain.
  2. Mesomorph:Mesomorphs have a medium sized bone structure, athletic body, and they typically have a considerable amount of lean mass.
  3. Endomorph: Endomorphs have a larger bone structure with higher amounts of total body mass and fat mass, and this extra fat seems to resist most efforts to get rid of it. The endomorph body type is solid and generally soft, and gains fat very easily. Source and More Info

There are numerous other causes for a person to be overweight:

  • Energy imbalances can cause overweight and obesity. An energy imbalance means that your energy IN does not equal your energy OUT. (.I.E. lack of exercise).
  • Medical conditions: Some genetic syndromes and endocrine disorders can cause overweight or obesity.
  • Several genetic syndromes are associated with overweight and obesity, including the following.
    • Prader-Willi syndrome
    • Bardet-Biedl syndrome
    • Alström syndrome
    • Cohen syndrome
  • Endocrine disorders: Because the endocrine system produces hormones that help maintain energy balances in the body, the following endocrine disorders or tumors affecting the endocrine system can cause overweight and obesity:
    • Hypothyroidism. People with this condition have low levels of thyroid hormones. These low levels are associated with decreased metabolism and weight gain, even when food intake is reduced. People with hypothyroidism also produce less body heat, have a lower body temperature, and do not efficiently use stored fat for energy.
    • Cushing’s syndrome: People with this condition have high levels of glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, in the blood. High cortisol levels make the body feel like it is under chronic stress. As a result, people have an increase in appetite and the body will store more fat. Cushing’s syndrome may develop after taking certain medicines or because the body naturally makes too much cortisol.
  • Tumors. Some tumors, such as craneopharingioma, can cause severe obesity because the tumors develop near parts of the brain that control hunger.
  • Medicines: such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, antiepileptics, and antihyperglycemics can cause weight gain and lead to overweight and obesity. (source)

All of these are out of a person’s control and don’t take into account lifestyle, cultural upbringing and other life situations a person may be in that has lead them to be overweight. For example some people use food to cope with the bullying they are receiving to begin with.

“The next time you see a fat person, you don’t know whether that person has a medical condition that caused them to gain weight,” Thore added. “You don’t know their mother just died. You don’t know if they’re depressed or suicidal or if they just lost 100 pounds. You don’t know.” (source)

This short list should show why shaming someone for being overweight is so ignorant. The same rules apply to being underweight, tall, short or the multitude of other physical reasons people bully and torment other people for. The lack of empathy and understanding in body shaming is staggering. It can have disastrous consequences such as depression, social anxiety, low self worth,  Anthropophobia (fear of people) and other social phobias, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia and suicide.

The problem is compounded by electronic communication and cyber-bullying which provides a bully with a virtual anonymity.

Also cultural glorification of unrealistic standards of beauty such as being skinny or big breasted for women or being muscular and have a a full head of hair for men. Beauty standards  very from culture to culture  as well.

In short regardless of what shape or condition a person’s body is in shaming a person for their body is uninformed and cruel. If anyone ever calls you fat in a disrespectful way you are well within your right to retort with an F-Word of your own.

 

 

 

Dear Vatican, We Haven’t Forgotten

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With so much Trump, Syria, North Korea and so on it’s easy to forget why many call for the Vatican’s dismantling. Since it’s inception the Vatican has been a center of hate, greed and violence.

Historical Crimes:

  • Crusades: For more then 500 years militant Catholics waged war on Muslims, The Jewish, heretics and pretty well anyone different from them. Millions died, including innocent men, women and children.  The Fourth Crusade alone has a death toll in the thousands.
  • Inquisitions:  in 1232 Pope Gregory established a tribunal whose goal it was to suppress heresy and thus began another few hundred years of violence, subjugation and torture.
  • Pogroms:  In addition to the massacres of the Crusades of which the Jewish were a part of the Jewish also faced regular prosecution and violence from the Catholic church through the centuries. (religious tolerance.org)

the Jews, by their own guilt, are consigned to perpetual servitude because they crucified the Lord…As slaves rejected by God, in whose death they wickedly conspire, they shall by the effect of this very action, recognize themselves as the slaves of those whom Christ’s death set free…” Pope Innocent III, 1205 AD

Nazi Complacency: The Vatican’s relationship with the Nazis during WW2 is no secret.  In fact an agreement called ‘Reichskonkordat’  signed by both the Nazi Germans and the Vatican laid out a formal relationship between the two. The agreement between the them made no mention of the Jewish so it’s hard to say if the Vatican was turning a blind to increasing persecution of the Jewish in Germany at the time or if it just didn’t care. German schools were run by the Catholic Church around WW2. Many of the ways the Nazis persecuted the Jewish mirrored Catholic Church techniques used centuries before. Never once did the church ever officially condemn the Nazis. The Independent did a great piece on the increasing evidence of Vatican complacency of antisemitic Nazism.

Homophobia: The Church has a long and sordid history of homophobic hatred. Allowing, even officially sanctioning all forms of persecution, torture and death.(source). Even today the Vatican still views homosexuals as suffering from some kind of ‘moral disorder’.

HIV in Africa: Before 2010 the Catholic Church was vehemently against condom use in any situation. The preaching against and condemnation of condoms in Africa resulted in millions of Africans getting sick with the disease. They even went so far as to say condoms cause HIV by lulling people into a false sense of security.  Christopher Hitchens said this when he confronted a Vatican cardinal in 2011:

“I think it will one day be admitted with shame that it might have been in error to say that AIDS is bad as a disease, very bad but not quite as bad as condoms are bad or not as immoral in the same way. I say in the presence of his grace and I say it to his face the preachings of his church are responsible for the death and suffering and misery of millions of his brother and sister Africans and he should apologize for it, he should show some shame.” -Christopher Hitchens

Residential Schools: Shortly after settling in North America, violently stealing native territory and murdering, starving, kidnapping and torturing their men women and children the church setup residential schools. The schools stole children from native tribes and forced them into a program intended them to assimilate them into European culture.  This part of the effort to eradicate a culture they viewed as much lesser then their own was brimming with hate, violence, neglect and sexual abuse. Though the Catholic church oversaw three-quarters of Canadian residential schools, it was the last church to have one of its leaders officially address the abuse. (source and brief history)

Sex Abuse Scandals: Several years ago investigative reporting revealed a widespread problem with sexual abuse of children by priests and covering up by Vatican Officials. Typically once sexual abuse was reported the church would simply move the offending priest to another region. Even Pope Benedict himself was caught actively encouraging his bishops to make very effort to keep the scandal within the church. A Google search reveals the depth and scope of the scandal of which only recently did the Vatican begin changing it’s policy to properly address the issue and punish it’s offending priests.

Church Wealth: The Vatican is a multi-billion dollar organization. The entire Vatican city and all the Church property, valuables..etc is worth billions more. Praying for the poor and hungry is just immensely hypocritical while this fact is true.

The Vatican lost its moral authority centuries ago., if it  even ever had it. Throughout time it has been guilty of murder, torture, robbery, rape, greed, lust,hate, subjugation and all of the things it hypocritically preaches as immoral. The Vatican continues to be mired in homophobic hatred, misogyny, greed and other scandals. They come out with apologies far too late and do far too little make amends. The Vatican would like us to forgive and forget but no moral person can do that, its too late for that. The only right thing to do now is for the Vatican to shut its doors and spreads it’s wealth to those in need and until that happens we will not let them off the hook.

 

 

The Decline of Self-Ownership

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Imagine a world in which self-ownership is denied. You would have no freedoms, no control of your life. With no self-ownership you would face an eternal struggle to find happiness and success that only happens when someone or something allows it. Some would argue that self-ownership is the foundation of our human rights and freedoms. There is no denying the importance even though there are some valid criticisms of the extreme libertarian ideal which denies compromise and promotes selfishness.

For the sake of clarity let us look, briefly, at the libertarian definition of self ownership:

‘In the most general sense, libertarianism is a political philosophy that affirms the rights of individuals to liberty, to acquire, keep, and exchange their holdings, and considers the protection of individual rights the primary role for the state. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)’

The Libertarian ideal extends to property and for this reason becomes problematic. While one should no doubt have rights over their products, property…etc if rightfully obtained libertarians feel that no one should be allowed to have this property without their permission under any circumstances. Self-ownership under libertarianism does not allow, for example,  someone to enter their property even in an emergency. Libertarianism, in its extreme form, doesn’t allow for a society that makes exceptions or provides charity. Obviously a society that does not allow exceptions under the right circumstances and does not allow charity is not a society that would function very well. So this blog does not embrace this concept of self-ownership instead we prefer the following:

Every individual owns all aspect of themselves. Self-ownership means a person has  right to ownership of both their bodies and  their minds (emotions and intellect). Self-ownership means every person is free to set their own goals and determine their own values. Self-ownership crucially involves recognizing the same rights in others and acting accordingly.

The definition of self-ownership is very close the definition of liberty that is the foundation of democracy.

Current dangers to self-ownership:

  • Social and Cultural
    1. Social Belonging. You wear clothes and act like others. A basic human need for acceptance within a culture/sub-culture. group, or sect causes this and can only be changed at an individual level.
    2. Traditions: Unquestioning acceptance of tradition can erode self-ownership. Whether it be through accepting a name change in marriage or giving ourselves up to a religion. Many traditions dangerously undermine self-ownership.
  • Political
    1. Collectivism: Rules and regulations that restrict our freedoms. A steady examination of the balance between laws and regulations that keep us safe and keep society functioning properly and the ones that stifle and suppress our fundamental freedoms is crucial.
    2. Corruption: Uncontrolled corporate and other interests that poison our bodies and destroy our environment.
  • Religion:
    1. Mind Body Dualism. The idea that the mind and body are separate. In the Abrahamic religions our mind is locus of filthy, sinful thoughts and our bodies are merely a vessel that does not go with us when we die. Thus we must strive to gain forgiveness from a divine creator in order to achieve eternal happiness. This is profoundly damaging to our self-esteems and forces us to give up control of our lives to external forces and religious authorities.
    2. Faith: A concept that glorifies believing without questioning and to not require reasoning or evidence before accepting something. This undermines our ability to think independently and own our minds.
    3. A Personal God:  An eternal and often wrathful God that constantly monitors and judges is perhaps the most damaging concept to self-ownership of all the concepts within religion.

‘I suggest a replacement of mind-body dualism with a view of mind and body, physical and intellectual, material and spiritual as integrated. Self-ownership embraces ownership of all aspects of my self: my body, my emotions, my intellect, my values. I express my values, beliefs, and emotions in physical actions. I cannot fully own my mind unless I own my body. I cannot own my body if I give up my mind. The two are aspects of one reality and so must be considered as a whole. ‘-Max More

Self-ownership is is extremely important but it is a constant battle to balance self-ownership with sacrifice for the sake of being a functioning, contributing member of society. This blog certainly rejects the self-centered, libertarian concept of self-ownership. We do however embrace the concept that self-ownership is a constant fight for personal liberty  but also carries with it all the psychological benefits (self esteem, success..etc) that kind of liberty provides.

 

Some More Reading:

  1. Libertarianism
  2. SELF-OWNERSHIP: A Core Transhuman Virtue
  3. Self-Ownership

 

Cherry Picking

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Something I have noticed across all belief systems (yes, even humanism) is cherry picking. This is the act of selectively choosing to follow some parts of a belief system but not others. For example, if my religion said not to work on Sundays and to never swear I might choose to work Sunday but I never swear. In this case I would be cherry picking. The same applies moral or political beliefs like how to be kind or what stand you should take on social issues. This happens so frequently it seems prudent to explore whether or not this is acceptable.

There is no hard evidence on how often people cherry pick their beliefs and so logically no one can say how common this is but it can be safely said if someone did document this in some way the results would be that it is a least somewhat common. So why do people do it?

  1. It’s Lazy: Cherry picking your beliefs from a system is lazy. It’s just easier to follow some beliefs than others. To be fair some beliefs systems are so vast it may be just too hard to remember all the beliefs, tenants and so on. However cherry picking is just easier and so it can be intellectually lazy.
  2. Convenience: Cherry picking is also more convenient. By cherry picking your beliefs from a system you can tweak a religion or ideology to suit your lifestyle. In this case it is only cherry picking if you could decide to do otherwise. For example a religion may say it is noble to be accepting of foreigners but you choose not to be because your political beliefs on immigration are stronger. Sometimes you have no choice like in my example above I might be choosing to work Sundays despite my religion saying it’s not allowed because I am scheduled for it and risk dismissal missing them, this wouldn’t be cherry picking.

Cherry picking can also be immensely hypocritical. A recent example of cherry picking would be the Kim Davis marriage license controversy that occurred last year. She choose not to issue marriage licences to gay couples saying it violates her religious beliefs while at the same having been divorced 3 times already, something the bible forbids. In fact as of 2014 divorce rates were highest among conservative Christians.

Cherry picking also opens up the possibility of the no true scotsman fallacy.  This allows people to dismiss anyone else who practices their religion that has done or said something wrong or socially unacceptable.

Cherry picking is not necessarily bad. As we grow as a person and as a society we learn new things and come to a better understanding of right and wrong and so we let go of antiquated beliefs. There are a multitude of examples of this from extremes like human sacrifice to small daily things remembering not to yell at the kids. So it then becomes a question of how many beliefs in a particular system do we reject before we aren’t really practicing the religion or ideology anymore? This may be a matter of opinion but sooner or later when you water something down enough it ends up just water.

In summary cherry picking is only acceptable when it is part of the learning process. In all other cases, especially those that cause others some kind of suffering (i.e. denying a couple’s right to be married) cherry picking is not a respectable act and so therefore can be rejected.

 

Altruism

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Altruism, like the core humanism value compassion,  is a state of caring for another person’s  well being (applies to animal’s and sometimes even things or places  too). Altruism, however, goes one step further and says that our compassion should also involve self sacrifice. In fact, altruism goes so far as to say that people have a moral obligation to place other people’s interest above their own. According to altruism it’s also important that our self sacrifice be done without any desire for praise or reward. This kind of selfless giving to others is held by many as the highest form of compassion.

Auguste Comte is credited with first creating the idea, or at least making it popular.

“The sacred formula of positivism: love as a principle, the order as a foundation, and progress as a goal.” ― Auguste Comte

Comte felt we are actually born with this obligation. Altruist’s, generally speaking, envision a utopian society where everyone selflessly makes sacrifices to help each other achieve health and happiness.

Questions like what constitutes self sacrifice? When does your self-sacrifice obligate others to, in turn, help you and is it moral to obligate them in such a manner? What if someone doesn’t want or need help? and so on have been discussed at length. In fact altruism has had it’s fair share of critics:

Nietzsche: Nietzsche argued that altruism is detrimental to the self. He felt that wanting to sacrifice yourself meant you had no self worth (you don’t want to help yourself). He thought it to be nothing more then a glorified type of pity:

Pity is the practice of nihilism. To repeat: this depressive and contagious instinct crosses those instincts which aim at the preservation of life and at the enhancement of its value. It multiplies misery and conserves all that is miserable, and is thus a prime instrument of the advancement of decadence: pity persuades men to nothingness!
— Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Ayn Rand: Rand also felt that self sacrifice for the sake of others was connected to low self-worth. She said that altruism violates a person’s right to self-direction and robs us of the feeling of accomplishment that goes with accomplishing one’s own goals.

“Altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his own life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others…it permits no concept of benevolent co-existence among men…it permits no concept of justice”

These criticisms are indeed valid. If one sacrifices themselves to the detriment of themselves then, in an altruistic society, others would have to help them. Critics of altruism rightfully state that when we help ourselves, if we are good people, others around us benefit. For example, if I made more money I would be able to give more to charity and be more be sure my children have everything they need. Or when I make myself healthier I am less of a burden of the health care system and my loved ones won’t have to worry about me as much.

True altruism is also unrealistic. Humanity, in it’s present form, is not prepared for a truly altruistic society. Bad people would take this for granted, sometimes with disastrous results. Some one could, for example, use their charm to convince an altruistic person do things with no intention of also doing things for someone else. It then becomes a matter of the selfish abusing the altruistic, robbing them of hard earned money or time. In extreme cases the altruistic person could end up in financial trouble or their personal lives in shambles from neglecting their own responsibilities.  Thus altruism, like many things, must be used in moderation or risk abuse and ruin at the hands of the selfish and unethical.

In summary altruism is indeed the ideal form of compassion and in many cases a noble characteristic but would cause suffering at the hands of the dark side of humanity. Altruism  is also a danger to autonomy and self-direction. Thus this blog rejects altruism except in cases where sound judgement is used (is this a danger to me? Is this person taking me for granted?…etc).

More reading/Sources:

http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_altruism.html

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism/