16 November 2009

LFACC - On moving to become an advanced society

Letter from a Christian Citizen was written in 2007. There is a very interesting paragraph on pages 42-43
A quick comment on your comparisons of advanced societies (as the “least religious societies on earth”) to the third worlders (bringing up the rear) which you identify as “unwaveringly religious.” What you left out of that evaluation is what worldview was predominant in all the advanced countries you mention when they first attained that advanced position. All of the nations you mentioned (with the exception of Japan) were Christian at the time of their ascendancy. Not only so, but many of the nations you mention, having abandoned their Christian heritage, are also on their last legs. Europe, the remains of old Christendom, has about twenty years left before they go under the Islamic flood.

First, US of America is founded on the "separation of state and church", explicitly stating that it is NOT a christian nation.

Second, the spectacular collapse of the financial institutions in late 2008 occurs 18 years earlier than the predicted over flooding by muslims. :-)

The book also created a very interesting thought experiment (page 44-46):
Let us suppose we have two men of atrocious character—they have both raped and murdered repeatedly and have expressed their contempt for the dignity of mankind in many other secret ways as well. They are both of them a piece of work, but one is a convinced atheist and the other is (in his intellectual commitments anyway) a Christian and a member of a Christian church. Now suppose further that because these two men are very clever, or because they were lucky enough to have incompetent cops assigned to their cases, or for whatever other reason, they both got away with their crimes, with no suspicion falling on either one of them. They both reached eighty years of age as respected members of their communities. Both of them successfully managed to live a double life. They have both come to their death beds, their crimes hidden and their intellectual commitments intact. One is still an atheist and the other still a Christian.

The first thinks to himself, “I made it through the obstacle course. I did whatever I wanted to do. I am about to die, and I will never have to answer for anything that I ever did.” The second man is increasingly troubled in his conscience because “I got away with everything here, but I am going to a place where everything will be made manifest and judged.” The former believes that he will not be judged for any of his crimes, and the second man believes that he will be judged for all of them. Now, given your atheism, which man is correct? This reveals that the wicked Christian lived an inconsistent life, while the wicked atheist lived a consistent life. His consistent lifestyle is not binding on you personally, but you are in no position to reject it for him.

Now my question is not “Are you a horrible criminal like the first man?” The question is not whether or not you as an atheist are promoting the same criminal choices that this other atheist made. I am not like the Christian in this illustration, and there is no reason why you have to be like that atheist.

My question is simply this: having made those choices and congratulating himself on his death bed, where is he wrong in his reasoning? I am not saying that his reasons provide a good rationale for you to go live that way—you obviously don’t want to. But he did want to and what in your thinking can persuade him to think differently? And the use of this phrase “want to” identifies where the problem is. Given atheism, morality reduces to personal preferences. You don’t need to protest that you don’t share those preferences. I grant it. But the man in my illustration doesn’t share yours either. Any reason he should?

Without checking my copy of Sam Harris' book, I cannot remember the point Wilson is referring. The interesting thing I find in this thought experiment is why a devoted christian would have committed the crimes in the first place. The reason would be the same for the atheist in the thought experiment! Anthropologist has shown that there are 5 foundations of morality irrespective of culture and belief. The atheist criminal, so is the christian criminal, in the thought experiment is obviously lacking some or all of the basic human moral instincts. Now to answer Wilson's question: where is he wrong in his reasoning, my answer would be the christian believed he could beg for forgiveness in the last moment and escape the eternal punishment in the name of Jesus. If the fear of punishment was so great, the crimes would not have been committed in the first place! The problem is in the vicarious redemption which Christopher Hitchens has pointed out to be the biggest moral crime advanced in the new testament.

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