Above us, Only Sky

Politics, Philosophy, Science, and Everything Else.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Monday housekeeping

First, I'd like to brag that I've been included in the Carnival of the Godless #5, hooray for me, and for all those others with whom I'm lucky enough to be included. Keep the reason coming! Long live the carnival!

I've been away from the blog for a few days, not just because of my continuing addiction to WoW, but also because of a series of long work days and a cold that I’m finally getting the better of. This is my long winded explanation of why I haven't responded to Tom' last comment, which I'm going to do now.

Tom's first point is that we need a higher power creating higher laws or powerful people will selfishly dominate the rest of us. First, I'd like to ask Tom where God was for the vast majority of history on the vast majority of the planet- when powerful people DID selfishly dominate the rest of us. If there is no consistent enforcement of law, it has no meaning. You can say god will punish bad people in the afterlife- but that isn't much comfort to their victims in the here and now. Laws for which there is no credible threat of enforcement are meaningless. As a rational being looking at the world, I have never once seen God or any apparent godly agent do anything, so I can rationally conclude that the pattern will hold and such agents will not punish MY bad behaviour. It's like a red light camera- if you put it up in secret and never tell anyone where it is, and send the tickets out six months later with no specifics, you're going to collect some additional revenue but you're not going to reduce the number of people running red lights. If you do it with great fanfare and publish it's location and put a big sign up at the intersection, you're going to cut down on people running red lights. Surely if there was a higher power who was responsible for the creation of humans, it would understand this aspect of human behaviour and wouldn't expect us to mild our behaviour on vague threats and promises delivered thousands of years ago.

Tom's next point is that reason cannot lead to the creation of laws. I couldn't disagree more. first of all, the powerful have every reason to create and implement laws. This is because laws often benefit the powerful more than the weak- the laws are just another tool for control. Even in the case where laws are fair, they still benefit the powerful. In a lawless state everyone is at risk, the rich man or warlord is just as vulnerable to random violence as the poor. Laws can be developed by reason and selfishness alone with the simple question of whether living in a society governed by that law is better or worse than in one where that law is absent. It is better for me to live in a place where murder is illegal than where it is legal, because the benefit of being able to murder people legally is far outweighed by the cost of potentially being murdered myself. There you have a selfish justification for all homicide laws that doesn't invoke god at all. You can go right down the list of all the things that are taboo or illegal in every society, and you'll find for the most part that they conform to this system. Is it better to be able to steal at will or to have property rights? Is it better to be able to drive any speed you want or to be able to drive on safe streets? There are costs and benefits to every law and we can see them and judge them without any input from higher powers.

Tom points out that he doesn't hate homosexuals, which I felt was implied when he said he hated homosexual acts. Given his view that orientation is a choice, this is at least a forgivable position, but I still can't conceive of how he could believe that sexual orientation is a choice. In the history of the world, the current western society, including the United States, is a shining beacon of tolerance for homosexuality- in most societies, including the western ones, through most of history, being openly gay was in effect a death sentence. It still is in many parts of the world. Yet, despite this, despite the shame of family, the fear of damnation, the guarantee of persecution, there have always been gay people. How is this possible, if it is a choice? Are we so perverse a species that we would choose to bring that down upon our heads? I don't believe so. I believe that it must be a fact of human nature that some people are born with a sexual attraction to those of the same sex, and that they have no more choice than they do about the number of fingers they have or what colour their eyes are.

Tom says that Christianity has always been about love and other nice things. I can believe that Tom’s beliefs are about that, that the beliefs of those he worships with are about that- but I cannot believe that this is the case of all Christians. What about the crusades? What about the gentlemen carrying the ‘god hates fags’ signs at the funerals of HIV victims? These people are not about love. These people see religion as a weapon, those of other beliefs as enemies, and while some of them might mouth words about love and forgiveness, they don’t feel any themselves. These people are the most vocal and obvious face of Christianity to be seen by those of us not involved in a church. So while I’m perfectly willing to accept that many, even most Christians are good people with good intentions, so long as these hatemongers are allowed to go around shoving their crosses and bibles in the face of everyone without an uproar of challenge from the more tolerant Christian community, I will continue to feel free to proclaim my disgust with Christian practices when what I’m talking about is what these people have to say. If you let them speak for you, you cannot ignore the responsibility for what they say.

Regarding Tom’s claims that the human race will die out if we let the behaviour spread, I ask him where is the vast Christian outcry against couples who choose to go childless? Shouldn’t you try to prevent the marriage of anyone who plans to have no children, because this practice will surely spread and result in the extinction of the species? The instinct to reproduce is as strong as any we have. Witness the vast lengths couples go to have children, the huge sums spent on fertility treatments, and so on. Part of the debate over homosexuality comes from the desire of these couples to have and adopt children. If everyone on the planet decided to be gay tomorrow the species would face no threat from dying off because people would still be willing to go through the steps to have children even when those steps didn’t include the fun of sex with someone you’re attracted to. From a human population perspective there is more ill you can say about the people who refuse to stop having children than about those who don’t feel attracted to people they can breed with. Don’t take this as an avocation of population control- I feel that people should make their own choices about how many kids they want and it’s nobody else’s business to tell them how many they should have or what methods they should use to achieve that number.

Tom also made some comments about AIDS which I felt were deeply ignorant. Disease will come in any form that allows it to spread. There are plenty of sexually-transmitted diseases that have not been linked to a particular style of sex. We have diseases of the air, in our food and water, that are spread through every kind of regular social contact. That one disease was first noticed among gay men in the United States is not an indicator of unnatural behaviour- disease is nature at its most basic, and anything we do can become a vector for its transmission. To conclude anything about the victims of disease based solely on their sickness is logically without merit and morally questionable.


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