Thursday, October 11, 2007

A sterling example of the moral bankruptcy of religion

Recently, Richard Dawkins wrote a piece called "Logical Path from Religious Belief to Evil Deeds." In it, he proposed that the reason religionists can consider themselves morally superior to absolutely everyone who doesn't share their beliefs is that religious belief "changes, for people, the definition of good."

This is how, for example, the 9/11 terrorists were able to do what they did, and still believe themselves and their actions to be as "good" as it was possible to be. This is how psychotics like Fred Phelps and Donald Spitz can do what they do — the former staging his unspeakably vile protests and the latter claiming to be a "pro-life" champion while lionizing a murderer of an abortion doctor on his website as an "American hero" — and think they are the paragons of all that is good in the world. If there's one concept religion — especially as practiced by Christians and Muslims — perverts beyond all hope of recognition, it's the rational understanding of good and evil. To a believer, if you're doing it for your God, it's good, even if it's the most backwards and disgraceful of bigoted beliefs, or the most inexcusable of crimes, including mass murder. It's classic Orwellian doublethink.

This fact has been made clear once again by the latest blatherings of the mentally ill Ann Coulter. Yes, I'm sure all of you are poised to roll your eyes and go "come on!" at my choice of such an easy target. After all, Ann has never said a sane (let alone sensible or remotely factual) thing in her entire manufactured career. Isn't pointing to her idiocies like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel?

Well, maybe. But that doesn't invalidate the basic point, which is this: Ann is a deranged and hate-filled individual. And yet, she embraces Christianity quite fervently, a religion whose proponents repeatedly insist is all about love. But notice: Christianity, contrary to another claim of its adherents, does not in fact give Ann a foundation from which she can understand just how vicious and ignorant her beliefs are, and change them for the better — which is what it would do if it were a belief system founded upon sound moral precepts that provided comprehensible moral guidelines for living. Rather, it simply gives her a comfort zone from which she can continue to hold those beliefs, and then label them moral.

Look at this truly bizarre exchange between Ann and CNBC host Donny Deutsch. On Deutsch's show last Monday, Ann made some of the most outlandishly anti-Semitic remarks to be publicly aired since April of 1945. And yet, with all apparent sincerity, she insisted that these statements were in no way anti-Semitic or the least bit hateful.

COULTER: Do you know what Christianity is? We believe your religion, but you have to obey.

DEUTSCH: No, no, no, but I mean --

COULTER: We have the fast-track program.

DEUTSCH: Why don't I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can't believe that.

COULTER: The head of Iran is not a Christian.

DEUTSCH: No, but in fact, "Let's wipe Israel" --

COULTER: I don't know if you've been paying attention.

DEUTSCH: "Let's wipe Israel off the earth." I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think -- we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we're all sinners --

DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued -- when you say something absurd like that, there's no --

COULTER: What's absurd?

DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I'm going to go off and try to perfect myself --

COULTER: Well, that's what the New Testament says.

Wow, huh? Now, keep in mind, as part of the very same exchange, Ann is able to say this with perfect conviction.

DEUTSCH: You said -- your exact words were, "Jews need to be perfected." Those are the words out of your mouth.

COULTER: No, I'm saying that's what a Christian is.

DEUTSCH: But that's what you said -- don't you see how hateful, how anti-Semitic --


DEUTSCH: How do you not see? You're an educated woman. How do you not see that?

COULTER: That isn't hateful at all.

DEUTSCH: But that's even a scarier thought.

Once your brain stops reeling, you may be given to wonder just how a person can hold such 1984-ish, contradictory attitudes and not have one's head explode from cognitive dissonance. The answer is: religion. Religion redefines "good" to accommodate, legitimize and justify whatever the believer already believes. It is not a rational process in the least. If it were, then yes, it would impossible to make the pronouncement that, compared to you, an entire race of people is imperfect (and, by unavoidable extension, inferior), and simultaneously think that that is not only not a hateful comment, but one that embraces diversity. The moral and intellectual wasteland that is religion is never made more clear than when some religionist openly and proudly espouses these "war is peace, freedom is slavery" attitudes, and then gets all agog with confusion and denial when someone points out just how demented and hateful and just plain wrong they are.

If I've said it once I've said it a million times: religion provides no basis for a system of morals. It simply provides a smug sense of superiority for its adherents, in which the word "moral" is applied to the flock, and "immoral," "imperfect," "sinner," and other divisive and harmful sobriquets are applied to everyone on the outside, irrespective of actual deeds.


  1. OK, so first off I want to say that I am not a Christian, and I'm definitely no fan of Ann Coulter. Quite the opposite actually. However, I feel I have to comment on your post because, even though I don't like Ann Coulter, and even though I don't believe the doctrines of the Christian religion, I do think your assessment of her comments twisted the truth. You said that she expressed the view that "compared to [her], an entire race of people is imperfect (and, by unavoidable extension, inferior)". First of all, she was not talking about Jews as a "race" of people. She was talking about Judaism as a religion. She was referring to the well-known Christian doctrine concerning the relationship of the new testament to the old. In the old testament, God makes an agreement with the Jews: if they follow his commands they can be his chosen people. But since the law of God is perfect and man is not, the agreement was impossible for the Jews to live up to. (This is the story according to Christians. Jews obviously have a very different take on it.) So along comes Jesus and he creates a new agreement, to replace the old one. According to this new agreement, you no longer have to live up to God's impossibly high standards to get on his good side. You just have to admit that you're pathetically sinful and beg forgiveness. I'm pretty sure that this was the "fast-track program" that Coulter was referring to. If so, then when she said that, as a Christian, she wants to "perfect" the Jews, she wasn't referring to racial violence or eugenics, but to plain old religious conversion. She wants to get the Jews on the new program, the "fast track" to heaven. Now you could say that it's bigoted of her to assume that Jews are out of touch with what God wants, and that Christians have the real truth about what he's asking of humanity, but doesn't everyone assume that they have the truth that others would convert to, if only they could get it through their thick heads? Doesn't everyone here at the atheist experience blog feel that way about theists? I'm not saying Coulter or (any other Christian) is right, I'm just saying that she wasn't - in that particular interview, at least - being "anti-semitic" or "hateful". She was just expressing the pretty darned common sentiment that her view of the world is correct and everyone else would be better off if they just got on board. You can criticize the irrationality of her view of the world, but don't play the racism card when it's clearly not on the table.

  2. Hmm, sorry, mto, but I'm not buying it. The comments are no less anti-Semitic for being an accurate reflection of Christian doctrine. Maybe she was referring to the Jews as a religion and not ethnically. But still, the clear and deeply insulting implications of her statement are that she sees Jews as inferior to herself, because she is Christian (and therefore perfect) and they aren't (and thus need to be "perfected"). That her hate speech is a simple by-product of her Christian beliefs doesn't excuse it from being hate speech.

    Comparing what Coulter said to what we try to do here is absurd. Yes, most people "assume" they have the truth, but we don't like to assume things at all, as a general rule. For one thing, we don't consider ourselves perfect (well, not often :-). Atheists and rationalists prefer that the things they think are true are backed up by great heaping piles of verifiable evidence first. We will argue passionately for our convictions, but we don't hold them as convictions in the first place unless they can be defended with reasoned arguments or hard facts, as opposed to religionists, who simply wave around a 2000-year-old holy book which they proclaim is infallible. Despite the whining from people who like to go on about the "new atheists" and "atheist fundamentalists," we aren't strident dogmatists unable or unwilling to see the world other than how we've predetermined it should be. Nor are we out to "convert" all those stupid believers into getting on board with our worldview. If our arguments have merit, they will sway other people to accepting us. But ultimately, the thinking and decision-making part of the deal is up to them. (And we don't threaten them with eternal torture for not being like us either, I ought to add.)

    If one is a rational thinker, one must be open to new evidence and changing one's mind should the evidence warrant it. The day Ann Coulter and her ilk adopt that policy, let me know.

  3. Maybe this is getting tiresome, but I have to respond again. You argue that Coulter's comments are antisemitic, but I argue that on your definition of antisemitism, most of the comments posted on this blog are equally antisemitic (as well as anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, and anti-theist in general).

    What are the criteria you use to distinguish your atheistic views from Coulter's Christian ones, as they relate to antisemitism? Is rationality the sole criterion? If so, assuming that your views are based on a more rigorous line of reasoning, why should that necessarily make them any less hateful? People can be hateful and rational at the same time. Being more rational might make your position more convincing and possibly more accurate, but I don't see why it necessarily makes it more benign. Hypothetically, a person could be an atheist and still hate Jews, just as one could be a Christian and love all of humanity.

    I think that your accusation that Coulter's comments were antisemitic conflates reason and morality. Coulter's views may be irrational, but that does not make them immoral. If you're going to accuse her of being immoral, you have to back it up with evidence, which I don't think you have done.

    You seem to argue (especially in your last paragraph) that her dogmatism is the source of her immorality, and that your views, being less dogmatic, are therefore less hateful. But dogmatism only refers to her inability to change her position. It's not a description of her position itself. Whether or not she's willing to modify her ideas has nothing to do with the content and moral implications of those ideas.

    All Ann Coulter expressed in that interview was the opinion that she was right and followers of Judaism were wrong. I argued in my post that this in itself is not a hateful opinion, and I still don't think you have proven me wrong.

  4. Let me try to make this simple: Setting aside the question of its irrationalism, you think it is a moral or immoral thing for Coulter to say that Jews, because they are not Christian, are imperfect, with its clear implication that because she is Christian, she is perfect?

    She isn't simply saying she is right and the Jews are wrong in the context of differing belief systems. She is saying that she and other Christians are superior and Jews are inferior.

    If you still can't see that, there's really nothing more I can say about it.


PLEASE NOTE: The Atheist Experience has moved to a new location, and this blog is now closed to comments. To participate in future discussions, please visit

This blog encourages believers who disagree with us to comment. However, anonymous comments are disallowed to weed out cowardly flamers who hide behind anonymity. Commenters will only be banned when they've demonstrated they're nothing more than trolls whose behavior is intentionally offensive to the blog's readership.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.