The March 1st NTCOF service began with its being pointed out that while Freethinkers are atheists, Freethought is a lot more than an absence of belief in deities. Importantly, the NTCOF repudiates the claim of believers that their deity offers an “objective” and “absolute” moral code. NTCOF, in contrast, preaches the vital importance of accepting, as a moral responsibility, the necessity of thinking. We considered these observations of the 20th Century Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper:
“[The main obstacle to recognizing that norms cannot be derived from facts - i.e., the Naturalistic Fallacy AKA Hume's Maxim or Hume's Law] is based upon our fear of admitting to ourselves that the responsibility for our ethical decisions is entirely ours and cannot be shifted to anybody else; neither to God, nor to nature, nor to society, nor to history. All these ethical theories attempt to find somebody, or perhaps some argument, to take the burden from us. But we cannot shirk this responsibility. Whatever authority we may accept, it is we who accept it. We only deceive ourselves if we do not realize this simple point.”
“If you accept the 'Christian' ethics of equality and toleration and freedom of conscience only because of its claim to rest on divine authority, then you build upon a weak basis; for it has only too often been claimed that inequality is willed by God, and that we must not be tolerant with unbelievers. If, however, you accept the Christian ethics not because you are commanded to do so but because of your conviction that it is the right decision to take, then it is you who have decided.”
Believers respond to this by saying that if human being make moral choices then morality becomes a subjective free-for-all where anyone can say that anything is good or bad and no one else can reasonably say otherwise. They could not be more wrong.
For one thing, an ethic based on Divine Command T heory creates a problem larger than the one is is claimed to solve. For how can “God” be recognized as such? Miracles won't do it. Prophecies won't do it. And “holy books” claiming to contain “The Word of God” won't do it either, especially “holy books” where the same alleged deity commands genocide and murder as well as to “love one another.” If believers suppose that human beings cannot recognize and reason out moral choices, it is far more true that human beings are in no position to judge whether a “God” with “mysterious ways” is or can be a standard of morality. Believers who suppose that they can accrately identify what or who is “God” are being far more arrogant than any Freethinker that accepts responsibility for moral decision-making.
The truth is that morality, like science, is a social enterprise. It is something that arises by trial and error out of a bedrock of a common appreciation of the general nature of justice and fairness. Ideas about how to apply this are then subject to critique and argument while continually referring to facts and reason, always critical to progress as facts change or are seen in new ways and people think of better methods of making sense of things. That we all bear personal responsibility for moral decision-making does not mean, or even imply, that morality can be whatever anyone wants. Again, as Karl Popper put it:
“The statement that norms are man-made (man-made not in the sense that they were consciously designed, but in the sense that men can judge and alter them - that is to say, in the sense that the responsibility for them is entirely ours) has often been misunderstood. Nearly all misunderstandings can be traced back to one fundamental misapprehension, namely, to the belief that 'convention' implies 'arbitrariness'; that if we are free to choose any system of norms we like, then one system is just as good as any other.”
We reviewed a fe events I history that happened on March 1st including the beginning of the French Wars of Religion in 1562 and the start of the legal phase of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials.
Then, in taking up the subject of FICTIONAL RELIGIONS we made some general observations and then showed some clips and discussed an extraterrestrial religion shown on the sci-fi series Babylon 5 followed by the curious rise of Jediism based on the Star Wars films and books. The Earthseed religion, based on the Parable books of the late Octavia E. Butler is another religious innovation that began in fiction. Perhaps the most famous new religion is that of Scientology that was started by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard. We watched clips from the animated TV show South Park explaining the fanciful teachings of that sect.
But before Scientology was Mormonism, a not-so-new religion but, again, based on what was, in the early 19th Century, serious speculations about native Americans having descended from one or more of “the lost tribes of Israel.” In those days, after all, “everyone knew” that the Earth was only 6000 years old. It would be another century before it became clear that the native peoples of the Americas came from ancestors who came over and/or lived on an arctic land bridge 15,000-25,000 years ago. But has the obviously fictional basis of Mormonism destroyed that religion? Just as obviously we see that it has not.
We also took a look at two religions that can be, at least for now, considered as parodies or satires of traditional religions: Discordianism and The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster AKA Pastafarianism. The US court case that ruled that the latter was not religion (Cavanaugh v Bartelt) was reviewed and discussed. We had some copies of the decision (and some related things) available as handouts.
There followed some lively and quite interesting discussion. During the course of this it was brought up that, seeing as how we have experience today of how – and how quickly! – new religions get their start, and how initially “bizarre” ideas become more fleshed-out and made to seem “normal,” and how they come to be believed to be based on indubitable facts or are combined with actual facts, why should we believe that established religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam began any differently?
Postings about each monthly service includes topics discussed and an open forum to further discuss those topics.
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