Zizek On Moral Atheism

PZ Myers brings to our attention to this fine little defense of atheism by Slojov Zizek:

During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: “Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God.” Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God’s will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God’s favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.

It’s a nice little reversal of the usual take on atheism; presenting a moral analog to religion that is not dependant on the mythology to derive it’s moral weight but possessing an equivalency none the less. He goes on to make a point I’ve been trying to verbalise for some time: that if Theists want to be taken seriously as rational individuals they need to take responsibility for the fundamentalists in their midst just as we atheists need to treat all Theists as, “serious adults responsible for their beliefs.”

Responsable adults take full credit for their actions, good or bad. They don’t blame the Devil for their own selfishness (as it creates complacency in the face of genuine, human evil) or defer to some ambivalent deity in the sky the windfall of good timing and reasonable actions.
Or, as Hume said: to show true respect for God by acting morally while ignoring God’s existence.

There’s much more about Zizek and his writings on Wikipedia. He also has a new book out, for the really curious.

Baby Jesus is Crying Because You Are So Lame

Some Catholics are throwing a hissyfit over the Da Vinci Code movie:

May 13, 2006 –- The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and its America Needs Fatima campaign are inviting concerned Catholics to join a petition against The Da Vinci Code. So far, the effort has garnered 100,946 signatures and steadily continues to gain steam.

“A growing number of Catholics are expressing their unequivocal rejection and disgust of the blasphemous Da Vinci Code film,” said America Needs Fatima director Robert Ritchie. “The more Hollywood mocks our faith, the more it demonstrates a brazen contempt for God.”

The petition addressed to Columbia Pictures is available online at www.tfp.org and states:

“I am deeply opposed to the showing of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as a movie. Please consider that millions of Catholics see this as Christ-bashing and insulting to the Catholic Church. The book, written as fiction, attacks all I hold sacred – the Divinity of Christ, the Gospel, the Papacy and the holy mysteries of my Faith.”

This really is something quite amazing. Here you have people getting uppity over a movie based on a book that has the unmitigated audacity to suggest Jesus did something incredible and unbelievable: he got married and had kids.

As if all that other stuff about walking on water and raising the dead, turning water into wine and curing leprosy and blindness, was just your run of the mill, first century sort of a Saturday night.

Judas: Hay Jesus, me and the guys are going out for a few drinks, want to come along?

Jesus: Nah, I’m gonna hang out at home and transubstantiate for a while, then toss one off and hit the sack. Say hi to Mary, though.

Come on Catholics, are you going to let those Muslim fanatics hog all the faith and glory? They rioted for nigh on a month over a few comics! and all you can manage is a cranky petition? That’s just week. Two hundred years ago, you would have rioted, burned down the cinema, and hanged the projectionist.

Link via Neil Gaiman

I’m Your Boogy Man

Via PZ Myers, a new study that shows atheists are even more feared and hated than Homosexuals and Muslims:

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past– they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy– and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.

Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings. “Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens– they share an understanding of right and wrong,” she said. “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”

This line: “Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public,” really jumped out at me. It’s knee jerk reaction at its most base. “We don’t know who you are, what you believe and couldn’t pick you out of a crowd but we sure as hell don’t like you.”

Which is odd, seeing as how atheists don’t throw bombs into abortion clinics (That would be Christians) strap bombs to their chests and detonate restaurants (Muslims and Jews), hijack planes and crash them into buildings (Muslims), trample people to death in a religious ceremony (Hindus), throw acid in the face of woman who turn you down for a date (Muslims, Hindus), or ritually scar young men (every religion believes in the utterly useless procedure, circumcision*). We atheists just question you’re fairy tale-derived “wisdom” and want a concrete explanation for why things work. And for that we are even more distrusted than Sadr (Muslim Cleric), Robertson (batshit crazy Fundamentalist) and Hitler (German Catholic)?

It’s a funny world.

Will You Take Tom With You?

Isaac Hayes Quits South Park:

Isaac Hayes has quit “South Park,” where he voices Chef, saying he can no longer stomach its take on religion.

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins,” the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said.

“Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored,” he continued. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”

“South Park” co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology… He has no problem � and he’s cashed plenty of checks � with our show making fun of Christians.”

It’s hard to figure out if this is just Hayes being a cranky old man or just an old crank. I’m going with old krank, since Scientology trumps all reasonable expectations of typical behavior (See: Tom Cruise’s crazy ass).

That quote from Matt Stone really nails it though: Mr. Hayes is just fine pissing all over other religions but oh no, we can’t besmirch the name of L. Ron Hubbard and his holy Pyramid scam. Oh well. Guess it’s back to obscurity for Isaac, where he can practice his kooky alien religion without having to be offended by the booming sound of the world snickering behind his back.

They Make Food? The Cartoon Crusade

So, the Saudis are boycotting Danish food, and all because of a tasteless cartoon. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that the Saudis are so thinned skinned, the Danes that desperate for attention or that I’ve inadvertently been boycotting Danish food for years and didn’t even know it. (Seriously, name me some Danish food. besides danish, which is French, I think… Do They make those little powdery cookies? Because I never liked them anyway. Kippers!…? Seriosuly, help me out here, what do the Danes eat, anyway?)


Milla and Bryan in comments have pointed out that, in fact the Danes make some rather fine cheese and sweets. I guess I should actually do a bit of research before I open my big mouth (and this has ever stopped me, when?)

Anyway, I was reading this Wikipedia article on the matter and have since changed my stance. I don’t think the cartoonists did anything wrong. the cartoons are, well, cartoonish. here’s the gist:

The publication of the cartoons has led to significant unrest around the world, particularly in Islamic countries, primarily because depictions of Muhammad are prohibited as a measure against idolatry (see aniconism in Islam), but also because of the perceived sterotyping of Arabs or Muslims.

The drawings, including a depiction of Muhammad with a bomb inside or under his turban, accompanied an article on self-censorship and freedom of speech. Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, commissioned twelve cartoonists for the project and published the cartoons to highlight the difficulty experienced by Danish writer K�re Bluitgen in finding artists to illustrate his children’s book about Muhammad. Cartoonists previously approached by Bluitgen were reportedly unwilling to work with him for fear of violent attacks by extremist Muslims.

Although Jyllands-Posten maintains that the drawings were an exercise in free speech, some contend that regardless of faith, the depiction of Muhammad as a terrorist is culturally offensive and blasphemous. However, many others view the cartoons as a form of non-violent protest in response to the violent threats and intimidation experienced by those who publicly criticise Islam.

Stereotypes are part of the cartoonist’s language. it presents an easily recognizable face on a complex idea. To take the representations literally… look, you know the old argument about figurative vs. nonfigurative work. Besides, the point the cartoonists were trying to make about censorship and extremism? A little on the nose. Probably too close to home.

And really, that’s what this is all about: Muslim fanatics; fanatics of any kind, don’t like to be made fun of. It takes the piss out of them and makes them look like fools. Fanatics hate to look like fools. You can’t burn down a Danish embassy in clown shoes and expect to be taken seriously. Likewise, you can’t put the Infidels to the sword and bring down the Evil Satan of the West when everyone knows you’re just a a bomb throwing kook with a head full of mumbo jumbo.

And truth be told, their kookiness, as is our own, is culturally ingrained. If they didn’t have the ban on depicting the prophet, they’d have had their Protestant revolution by now. Imagine if the catholic Church had the same restriction on depicting Jesus. Piss Christ would have set off a war, instead of just being a dirty, highbrow joke.