50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
p 323 Udo Schuklenk - "Human Self-Determination, Biomedical Progress, and God"
Udo took the time to make a comment on an earlier blog, so I thought I would start the second phase of this project with his essay. He begins with two questions:
“Why am I an atheist? Why do I think it is important to speak out against the harmful consequences of religious interpretations of the world and of our place in it?”
I think his focus is more on the second question, and the answers to it lead to the answer of his answer of the first question. He prayed to God when he was young for youthful wishes such as help with his homework and, regarding God, figured that,
"If you are omnipotent and omniscient, helping a desperate teenage out of the claws of 'malevolent' Latin teachers should be a walk in the park."
His thoughts on God became more sophisticated and led him to the big theological question of “why is so much going so wrong so often?” In later studies he found that many people had asked the same question. Eventually he could not reconcile the existence of a God and the facts of events such as the Holocaust. He refused a Leibnizian interpretation.
I had to look up Gottfied Leibniz. He was 17th century philosopher and mathematician who had met Baruch Spinoza. I hope to find the time to study more of Spinoza, but the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument did not appear to offer much. Udo Schuklenk recommends Voltaire’s “Candide” whose character Pangloss has this view of the world. Udo would have been at peace just leaving it at that, but he could not ignore the “harmful consequences” of those who continue to believe. He goes on to list a few of these consequences.
He starts with abortion, and tells of Catholic hospitals that are prepared to sacrifice pregnant women’s lives for the purpose of rescuing embryos. I have never heard of this before, and he does provide a footnote (Judith Hendrick, “Law and Ethics in Nursing and Health Care” [New York: Nelson Thornes Ltd, 2005] p. 54), so I could research it myself. He has another footnote when he states that Muslim women “frequently” die in labor because their husbands do not permit a c-section.
Both of these cases seem extreme to me and say very little about 6,000 years of human history. By citing extreme examples, he skirts the issue of whether or not it is ethical for a couple to agree to abort their pregnancy. Our laws vary from state to state regarding how old a fetus can be when it is aborted and people’s responses to questions of abortion vary when a pregnancy is caused by incest or rape. These moral questions do not have definitive secular answers. Claiming that religion muddies the waters appears more like avoiding the question to me.
His next set of reasons for having a problem with religion I am in partial agreement with, but again, he takes an extreme position, which I think weakens his overall argument. He brings up the issue of homosexuality. I agree the United States has been slow to deal this and the church has been on the wrong side of if for too long. I also agree that the religious justifications for not doing stem cell research are just plain crazy (that is my extreme language, not his).
He then makes a statement that I can’t really argue with, “Churches routinely campaign against civil right protections that would guarantee the equal and fair treatment of all of a country’s citizens”. HOWEVER, I don’t attend those churches. I attend the churches that have a Peace with Justice Committee, the ones that march in the Gay Pride parade, the ones that organize campaigns to raise awareness about the School of the Americas and in the tradition of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., support civil rights.
He goes on to discuss “conscientious objection”. This is a law that allows for protection of professionals who choose, for religious reasons, not to provide services. Again I had never heard of this before, and he provides many footnotes for those who would wish to look into it. This goes beyond just not serving in the military, it extends to not providing services, such as abortions or even condoms because you object to them on religious grounds. Apparently precedence has been set in the US and UK. Then he provides a hypothetical example that gets a bit tough to swallow:
“An Aryan Nation church might well give its members a conscientious reason to refuse treating Black patients. Why should their conscientious objection be any less acceptable than that of members of any other church?”
He does not answer his rhetorical question, but I will. That would not be acceptable because it would violate laws that were fought for and debated over for generations by citizens of this country, many of them good Christians. I don’t think choosing not to abort a potential life and refusing to help a grown person even belong in the same class. This is a “slippery slope” argument, a logical fallacy.
His third and final reason regards death with dignity. Here we are in agreement again. The strange relationship Christians in particular have with death was demonstrated in 2005 when Pope John Paul II was on his death bed. At the same time, in Florida, people were arguing over keeping Terry Schiavo alive, someone who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years. Many people could not accept that we should “play God” and decide if she should live or die. The Pope, who lived 85 wonderful years, had deteriorated to the point that heroic attempts to resuscitate him and prolong his life would have been cruel. His final words were, ““Let me go to the house of the Father”.
So Udo is one of the strange partners that I have in a very confused world. We live in a world where thousands are mobilized to keep a feeding tube in someone who has no recognizable brain function, but just a few hundred miles away children are dying of hunger and none of them notice. We live in a world where criticizing a Muslim for abusing the women in his life is misconstrued as racism. I agree with him that we should vigorously confront the political activism of these fundamentalist regardless of race, creed or color. Church should not interfere with human rights. Mr. Schuklenk and I part company when he claims the solution is to confront belief.
My recent reading of David James Duncan’s “God laughs and plays” has helped me understand this form of atheism. He abhorrence with stories of a God that are sometimes violent and followers that feel it is there duty to choose how grace is distributed led him to reject anything related to religion and find and expose the worst of it. He does this in honor of his humanity. I hope he can understand the humanity of those who continue to honor the traditions.