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Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2. 
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Chris OConnor wrote:
Thank you, Geo. :)

I've heard people refer to the terrorists that flew the planes into the World Trade Center as cowards too. But in my opinion people throw the word "coward" around as a tool to belittle their enemy into changing their behavior, making a stupid move, and exposing themselves to a quick demise. I mean...if we call them cowards maybe we will embarrass them into walking right out in the open with a big target on their backs so we can pick them off like ducks in a shooting gallery.

In my opinion there is nothing cowardly about flying a 727 into the side of a skyscraper 1,000 feet over the streets of New York. My heart races just thinking about how terrifying it must have been for the terrorists and the people on board. Those terrorists had large testicles, which is why they were chosen or why they volunteered for such a scary suicide mission. No matter how many times we call them cowards they don't suddenly become cowards.

What do people expect Islamic terrorists to do to show their manliness? Walk up to a US soldier and challenge him to an arm wrestling match? They are out-gunned and stand no chance without employing tactics that we consider barbaric. I'm not defending their actions, but damn they weren't cowards. Those guys had more courage and conviction than most people could ever muster up.

Chris, that's a good point. Normally, we call the actions of the fighters on our side brave, and the actions of those on the other side something else, maybe cowardly. Both sides agree, though, that when their enemies kill defenseless, uninvolved citizens, the word "cowardly" applies to them. That's why I can still see some sense in calling the actions of the 9/11 attackers cowardly. They paid the ultimate price themselves, but that doesn't make their actions brave, because they had no right to decide that innocents had to die with them. If I were an ordinary citizen of Pakistan who had just lost members of my family to a drone attack, I would justifiably feel the same way.



Sun Nov 21, 2010 9:29 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
geo wrote:
As others have said, Harris assumes that people actually believe these things, but as a recent religious survey shows, almost no one really does. Most folks aren't even aware that the Catholic Church claims that at mass the wafer actually becomes Jesus' body, and the wine actually becomes Jesus' blood. So what Harris has failed to account for (so far) is our amazing ability to "believe" the tenets of religion to a very marginal degree. He does say that the terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center were not cowards or lunatics—"they were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be." (67)

Perhaps these people ignorant of basic tenets are the moderates Harris speaks of (and disparages). I can see how, if I liked going to Catholic Mass for the ritual, the music, the bonding, the positive message I've distilled from the Bible, I would just be uninterested in the hard core and would appear to be ignorant about that when questioned. That appears to me, personally, as a type of obliviousness, and I can't bring myself to approve of it, but I can understand it.
Quote:
What Sam Harris does unequivocally argue is that faith should not be taught as a virtue. "Religious unreason should acquire an even greater stigma in our discourse, given that it remains among the principal causes of armed conflict in our world." (77)

Thanks for emphasizing this. Harris isn't condemning "religion," because that is too nonspecific a target. Faith is what has become outmoded and, he strongly believes, dangerous in this age of WMD. To those who say that faith is a natural inheritance of humans, as anthropology attests, and that therefore we have to live with it, I would suggest that before we had the means to explain phenomena naturalistically, we had much less need to exercise faith. Belief in supernatural causes came naturally and was, by the light of those times, reasonable. Faith only came about as the nature of God began to change to something less blatantly anthropomorphic and more centered on the life afterwards. Also, the slow dawning of science created a counterforce that faith stepped up to resist. As science continued its development, the unreason of faith, and the effort needed to maintain it, became ever greater. (You said much the same thing in your following paragraph.)
Quote:
In this chapter, Harris says there is a very thin line between faith and madness. Harris asks: what's the difference between a man who believes that God will reward him with 72 virgins if he kills a score of Jewish teenagers and someone who believes that creatures from Alpha Centauri are beaming him messages of world peace through his hair dryer? The difference is that the second guy is the only one who believes it. So he's crazy. But the first guy's beliefs are shared by an entire culture. And if your delusions are shared by others it's sign of faith, and that's a good thing.

Being in the mental health field, I've been tantalized by the religiosity/madness relationship. On the one hand, mental health clients can be just like the healthier population in receiving a benefit from their participation in religion, a benefit that has no obvious downside. This is all from the purely practical point of view of keeping people out of trouble. On the other hand, we commonly take certain reports of religious beliefs as indications that clients are becoming symptomatic. The striking thing about these reports is their similarity to various figures in the Bible who have visions of God and regular communication with him. These are the revered figures of the faith, but I question whether these days even the devout would not look with suspicion on any contemporary who claimed to have a direct link with God, saw him or Jesus, or whatever. So there is a disconnect between what is approved in the old days versus what is approved now. I think this shows an unacknowledged acceptance that those supposed events are not real. They don't conform to the light of modern reason, which people may do all they can to avoid but really can't escape from.

The classic episode of madness or psychosis in the Bible is Abraham's taking orders from Yahweh to kill his son Isaac. This is clearly, clearly, something right out of the pages of DSM-IV. In the days when this story was written down, there was still a respect for visions of this kind, showing that the person was specially singled out by the god to be his instrument. It was a remnant from the times of the shaman, the role that the priest inherited.



Last edited by DWill on Sun Nov 21, 2010 8:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.



Sun Nov 21, 2010 10:54 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
An aside from the main point of the chapter, but did anyone else find his American Embassy story hard to believe (p. 55)?

He says both he and his fiancee were intent on not visiting the American Embassy because it might have been a terrorist target. But because they partitioned their beliefs, his fiancee specifically asked for a hotel room with a view of the embassy and was disappointed when they didn't have one. They both only realized the contradiction when their friend said something and then they were both astounded.

Not that it really matters, and I think his point about brain function is still valid, but it just seemed like a made-up story.



Sun Nov 21, 2010 6:42 pm
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Dexter wrote:
An aside from the main point of the chapter, but did anyone else find his American Embassy story hard to believe (p. 55)?

He says both he and his fiancee were intent on not visiting the American Embassy because it might have been a terrorist target. But because they partitioned their beliefs, his fiancee specifically asked for a hotel room with a view of the embassy and was disappointed when they didn't have one. They both only realized the contradiction when their friend said something and then they were both astounded.

Not that it really matters, and I think his point about brain function is still valid, but it just seemed like a made-up story.


I don't find this difficult to believe, no. Maybe it's not a particularly interesting story. We do have these moments sometimes when we say, man, what was I thinking?


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Sun Nov 21, 2010 8:47 pm
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
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Geo wrote: Even if you aren't quite persuaded by the second part of this equation—that religion is the principal cause of armed conflict—Harris is absolutely right on the money with his argument that faith is not a virtue. We have talked about this many times before on BookTalk. How did we even get to this point where faith is considered a virtue? I think it is an artifact from the old, old days when we simply didn't know much about the world we live in and we made up stories to explain it. Science came along and filled in many of our knowledge gaps, but many people still hold on to this quaint(?) notion that faith is somehow a good thing.


We are all entitled to our thoughts but I couldn't help thinking here that our thoughts are not God's thoughts on this matter. Even if one doesn't believe in God, He's the one calling the shots and "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." (Heb.11:6). You don't have to have faith--but who gets to define 'virtue'? Wasn't the idea of a virture something that came from a moral Judeo-Christian ethic? Crazy thing is we can toss around the idea of virtue but our (American) culture is built on a moral base that has made us clearly superiour as a nation, something that is not as clear the further we go toward abandoning faith and God...
What muddies this discussion is the object of faith. The faith of Islam calls for killing. It is not based on the God of the Bible. This call to kill is not shared by Christianity. Christians are called to love their enemies, to overcome evil with good, and to pursue a Kingdom that is 'not of this world'... This is a critical understanding to have.


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Tue Dec 07, 2010 12:45 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Quote:
"The faithful have never been indifferent to the truth; and yet, the principle of faith leaves them unequipped to distinguish truth from falsity in matters that most concern them."
-Harris, 68
People of faith are people of revelation, that is, they have a source for truth that transcends man's intellect and latest impressions or popular opinions. This is a curious statement by Harris who from the point of view of the 'faithful' would be seen as someone who is ill-quipped to distinguish the truth in matters that most concern him... Harris speaks glibly of death as coming to all and driving people to religion. There's a reason for this. When faced with death one is more ready to consider their own mortality and inability to know beyond this life by their own intellect. Science is not going to answer questions about 'what next'. Thank God for the revelation given us in the Bible and that we live in a culture that has this Truth as part of our heritage.


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Tue Dec 07, 2010 1:11 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
There are far better reasons for self-sacrifice than those that religion provides. --Harris, 78
Does anybody have any suggestions what those might be?


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Tue Dec 07, 2010 1:13 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Ok, it's always good to find a positive point of feedback... I like this: Harris says there is
Quote:
"little doubt that we come hardwired with a variety of proto-linguistic, proto-doxastic (doxa='belief') capacities."
What in the world for? Is this true of animals?


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Tue Dec 07, 2010 1:23 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Chris OConnor wrote:
With that said I have a few comments about lust. Lust is natural, lust is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should. (George Michael from "I Want Your Sex")

On a serious note...lust is indeed natural. To not lust and desire sexually is abnormal. All sexually reproducing species experience a strong sexual desire. This is nature's way of seeing that we get together, have sex and create more little lustful beings. Wow, I said that in such an anthropomorphic way! Let me revise my words. Those organisms that had a strong enough lust for sexual reproduction did the deed and passed along their horny genes. Nature selects for horniness.

It has always bothered me how the Catholic Church (I was raised Catholic) teaches that masturbation is self-abuse and lust outside of marriage is a sin. If we all stopped lusting our species would be doomed. The Catholic Church has an unnatural and unhealthy stance on human sexuality and reproduction. And people ask us atheists why we don't just keep our mouths shut and let people believe whatever they want to believe! Some beliefs are dangerous and deleterious to society. And keeping in line with the topic of this discussion - many beliefs don't stay inside the believers head. Catholics are continuously fighting to get their beliefs incorporated into public policy. Atheists can sit around and wait for believers to act on their beliefs, which can prove to be too late at that point, or we can attempt to teach believers how to think more clearly and critically. We can attack the weed at the root so it stops growing.


Hi Chris, I know this is an old post but... it caught my eye and I had a comment to add. Lust is indeed 'natural', but consider what makes a better foundation for society--lust outside the bounds of a committed relationship or sex within a relationship prepared to nurture the offspring. The Catholic church has its gross faults (celibacy being required of all priests being one of them) but procreation is one of their specialties. If you're talking about evolution providing lust for procreative purposes, the Catholic church could be seen as providing the boundaries that make it really profitable to society. Religious people have gotten a bad rap for negative views toward sex. I disagree. There's nothing that beats sex in a committed relationship. It's the real thing, God's gift, by design and it's good.


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Tue Dec 07, 2010 1:41 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Sex can be just as good or even better in a more casual relationship. I don't agree that sex should be just for married people. You use the term "committed" but the Catholic Church is more specific in saying that sex is for a married man and woman.

I would never marry someone without having sex first. To me that's like buying a car without a test drive. Sounds humorous, but I'm dead serious. Sex is an important aspect of life, and especially married life, and marrying someone only to find out your new spouse either hates sex or sucks at it is simply irresponsible. It is far wiser to live together and have an established sexual relationship before a lifetime commitment. How wonderful it is to not be burdened by irrational religious doctrines!



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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Dawn,
You made a number of posts, and I'll just try to respond to some of the points you made in them. I observed that generally you assume the articles of your faith to be true and proceed from there. That's the way it's done in a faith outlook, so I understand that, but of course that beggars the question when the others in the conversation are looking for evidence for the beliefs.

I sense that you strongly feel that were it not for the foundation of Christian belief we have in the West, and especially in the U.S., we could not have been as good a country as we have been. Actually, you say we are superior. I disagree that we are superior in any comprehensive way, and I point to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who singled out American exceptionalism as "the persistent American sin." But I don't dismiss what you say about Christianity being in some way the foundation of our country. I think it's likely to be true, even self-evident, that the values of our religious forbears account for much of the strength of our institutions. I'm a humanist, and part of what humanism means to me is that our enduring institutions, religion being one, serve positive purposes for us, as well as those we may see as negative. Although I'm atheist in outlook, I don't think I can choose which influences have come together to form the person that I am. Joe Coffey said that humanists like me are benefiting from the moral capital built up by believing Christians. I know that most atheists probably scoff at this statement, but I really don't. My main belief in this whole arena is that nobody--not believers, atheists, or those in between--has any entitlement to a comfort zone. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that we're groping and uncertain about the truth.

I do strongly disagree with your partisanship, however. It always surprises me how the closely related Abrahamic faiths can be so much at each others' throats. The rule here must be that family feuds are the most bitter feuds. Sam Harris says that currently it is Islam that has the most potential for harm, but that is because we seem to be past the most troublesome phase for Christianity. In the not-so-distant past, Christianity provided plenty of fuel for those who thought non-Christians deserved to die on the basis of belief alone. Elsewhere you said that Islam is based on a lie. There could be no better illustration of what Harris is trying to say about the harm of dogma, where one group will think that its own particular religious narrative trumps all the others. If you want to talk in terms of sin, as Niebuhr did, this tendency for groups of humans to believe they've cornered the market on truth ranks at the top.

You said other things as well, but that's probably enough for now.



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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Chris OConnor wrote:
Sex can be just as good or even better in a more casual relationship. I don't agree that sex should be just for married people. You use the term "committed" but the Catholic Church is more specific in saying that sex is for a married man and woman.

This certainly may be true for a guy but for a girl, not true. And really your preference comes down to a preference, not what's best for a society... but at least you're honest.


Chris OConnor wrote:
I would never marry someone without having sex first. To me that's like buying a car without a test drive. Sounds humorous, but I'm dead serious. Sex is an important aspect of life, and especially married life, and marrying someone only to find out your new spouse either hates sex or sucks at it is simply irresponsible. It is far wiser to live together and have an established sexual relationship before a lifetime commitment. How wonderful it is to not be burdened by irrational religious doctrines!

I've heard this rationale before and it sounds logical--the analogy is even cute but statistics don't seem to support it, this being a random sampling: http://www.leaderu.com/critical/cohabitation-socio.html
Sex is an important aspect of life. I'll stick with the original Operator's Manual :) I've not been disappointed!
Thanks though for your perspectives. Yours is a popularly held opinion.


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Wed Dec 08, 2010 12:15 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Quote:
DWill:My main belief in this whole arena is that nobody--not believers, atheists, or those in between--has any entitlement to a comfort zone. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that we're groping and uncertain about the truth.


DWill, I would refer you to Jesus' own 'thread' on truth in John 8 blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Jhn& ... p;t=KJV#32. It is where my own assurance lies. Am I entitled to a 'comfort zone'? Only because of Him who said we could know the truth and so be set free to really live. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (Jn. 8:32)
Thanks for checking back with my 'slow poke' comments.


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Wed Dec 08, 2010 12:39 am
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Post Re: Is it ethical to kill people for their beliefs? Chapter 2.
Dawn wrote:
Quote:
DWill:My main belief in this whole arena is that nobody--not believers, atheists, or those in between--has any entitlement to a comfort zone. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that we're groping and uncertain about the truth.


DWill, I would refer you to Jesus' own 'thread' on truth in John 8 blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Jhn& ... p;t=KJV#32. It is where my own assurance lies. Am I entitled to a 'comfort zone'? Only because of Him who said we could know the truth and so be set free to really live. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (Jn. 8:32)
Thanks for checking back with my 'slow poke' comments.

Well, thinking about it, I probably gave the wrong impression of my thought. Truth is a word that you can see in many ways, and I meant it in the sense of how we put together all the diverse data, viewpoints, and experiences to make generalizations about life and the world. No one of us has the answer in that regard. Truth in the sense of what to live by as personal value is different and attainable.

I wanted to say something about the sex issue. I believe, too, that sex should occur in a committed relationship, although not necessarily between married people. In other words, love needs to be involved. When I ask myself why I believe this, I really can't say for sure. Is it a holdover from religion? Does such a belief need to be from religion? I don't know, but it wouldn't bother me if someone was to call my belief "religious." That would not be saying anything very specific, after all.



Last edited by DWill on Wed Dec 08, 2010 8:09 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Dec 08, 2010 7:57 am
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