Why Original Sin is a good idea

January 17, 2015

The doctrine of Original Sin encourages us to inch towards moral improvement by understanding that the faults we despise in ourselves are inevitable feautres of the species. We can therefore admit to them candidly and attempt to rectify them in the light of day…Enlightenment thinkers believed that they were doing us a favour by declaring man to be originally and naturally good. However, being repeatedly informed of our native decency can cause us to become paralysed with remorse over our failure to measure up to impossible standards of integrity. Confessions of universal sinfulness turn out to be a better starting point from which to take our first modest steps towards virtue.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.82-83

De Botton, as an atheist, admits the helpfulness of Original Sin unlike some of his fellow atheists who see it as ‘repressive’, ‘pessimistic’ etc. As de Botton helpfully points out, if we are all naturally ‘good’ it hardly makes me feel better about my (inevitable) moral failings.


Can education make us love our neighbour?

January 17, 2015

The object of universities is not to make skilful lawyers, physicians or engineers. It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.

John Stuart Mill

(education should inspire in us) a love for our neighbour, a desire for clearing human confusion and for diminishing human misery…(it should give us the) noble aspiration to leave the word better and happier than we found it.

Matthew Arnold

quoted in Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.102

When I went to uni, the students I met (generally) wanted an education to get a high-paying job to feather their own nests. I’m not sure that 3-6 years there changed their heart to love of neighbour…

Secular wish fulfilment

January 17, 2015

It seems clear that the origins of religious ethics lay in the pragmatic need of the earliest communities to control their members tendencies towards violence and to foster in them contrary habits of harmony and forgiveness. Religious codes began as cautionary precepts, which were projected into to the sky and reflected back on earth in disembodied and majestic forms. Injunctions to be sympathetic or patient stemmed from an awareness that these were the qualities which could draw societies back from fragmentation and self-destruction. So vital were these rules to our survival that for thousands of years we did not dare to admit that we ourselves had formulated them, lest this expose them to critical scrutiny and irreverent handling. We had to pretend that morality came from the heavens in order to insulate it from our own laziness and disregard.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.79-80

It is a pity that what is ‘clear’ to de Botton was so ‘clear’ that he felt no obligation to provide evidence. He was not there back then, nor was anyone else alive today. His theory may be nothing more than a comforting thought for unbelievers to avoid the innate moral sense they have that God’s law makes demands upon them.

Secularism has not solved human needs

January 17, 2015

It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting.

We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.

God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.

Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton, 2012, p.12

De Botton assumed that God was ‘invented’ (he doesn’t provide a scintilla of evidence for this). Whilst he is on shaky ground there, he is on sure footing when he points to the needs that remain for the non-believer. An atheist may reject God because of the problem of pain, but he must still experience pain in this world. His admission about the selfish nature of humans fits better with the Christian idea of Original Sin not of naturalistic humanism.

Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone

January 8, 2015

Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.

Although Muslims may not agree about the idea of freedom of expression, even non-Muslims who espouse it say it comes with responsibilities. In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike

Anjem Choudary (published the day after Islamic militants murder 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris)

The threat in the final sentence is hardly veiled. He added:

Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, “Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.”

Freedom is mastery of our instincts, not their indulgence

December 9, 2014

…freedom is illusory if its exercise actually means the freedom to succumb to the tyranny of one’s desire and appetite. Indeed, the illusion that freedom consists in mastery by rather than of one’s instincts is precisely that from which we should liberate ourselves.

Anthony O’Hear, Plato’s Children, 2005, p.225-6

The human body is a temple not a shed

December 9, 2014

…the human body shares many of the properties of the bodies of animals, and can execute many of the same basic activities and purposes. But, as a temple is to a shed, so is the human body to the body of an ape. For the human body is the outward form of a person, capable of behaving with grace, dignity, intelligence, nobility and passion sublimated in the service of art…Modesty about one’s person is important because it signifies respect. In acting with modesty and respecting the modesty of others, one is behaving with respect for one’s higher nature and the higher nature of others.

Anthony O’Hear, Plato’s Children, 2005, p.170

Animals feel no shame. Our sense of shame signals our transcendent nature

Happiness is not a feeling

December 9, 2014

…happiness is not a sort of feeling or sensation, or even a sustained mood of euphoria. So it is not the sort of thing which can be produced or induced by drugs. Happiness is a by-product of living well…It is the result of having done something well or of having achieved something worthwhile.

Anthony O’Hear, Plato’s Children, 2005, p.82

Aesthetic Relativism

December 9, 2014

A work of art is anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, though it may be a work of art for only that one person.

John Carey, Oxford Professor of English Literature quoted by Anthony O’Hear who goes on to point out the consequence:

… if there are no genuine judgments of quality in art, then the whole phenomenon of art…is reduced to the exercise of power relations. The artists who count, like the celebrities that count, are those who have most power over the media and the critical elite, and who are most powerfully promoted by the most powerful promoters and publicists.

O’Hear,  Plato’s Children, 2005, p.64-65

The universe appears to be designed

December 6, 2014

If, for some unforeseen reason, the landscape turns out to be inconsistent –maybe for mathematical reasons, or because it disagrees with observation –I am pretty sure that physicists will go on searching for natural explanations of the world. But I have to say that if that happens, as things stand now we will be in a very awkward position. Without any explanation of nature’s fine-tunings we will be hard pressed to answer the ID critics. One might argue that the hope that a mathematically unique solution will emerge is as faith-based as ID.

Leonard Susskind, in Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion, 2009, p.135

If a naturalistic alternative isn’t found (made to appear plausible) soon, then ID will be incontravertable. And we can’t have that, can we.