Atheism, Bigotry, and Politics
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Today’s article is by SASHA member Alex Papulis.
I’d like to consider something in response to Dave’s June 14 post, where he explains that he will stop using the word “homophobia” and instead use “bigotry”.
Atheism does not entail any given political position, or any political position at all. There is nothing requiring an atheist to support either high or low taxes, strict or forgiving immigration policies, capital punishment or its abolition, or anything at all. One cannot be an atheist and support abolition of the death penalty because God says don’t murder, but one can be an atheist and support the abolition of the death penalty. According to moral nihilism, there are no positive moral facts about the world, and as moral nihilism follows from naturalistic atheism (see brief argument at end of post if you like), there is no imperative that the atheist support or oppose any particular policy.
Additionally, though, as all positive moral propositions are false, we should note that the atheist is inconsistent in claiming any political position to be wrong, bad, harmful, etc. Any such claim, that is held intolerantly in the face of opposition, is bigotry on the part of the atheist. For what reason could an atheist hold to a belief for which there is no evidence, in the face of opposition?
So, while an atheist certainly cannot consistently claim, for example, that homosexual behavior is bad or harmful, neither can he claim that anti-homosexual behavior is bad or harmful. Laws expanding the definition of marriage are not harmful, but neither are laws that restrict the definition of marriage. And it’s clear that anyone who says that such law is harmful, and is intolerant of those disagreeing, is behaving in a bigoted manner. There is no evidence for their belief, yet they obstinately hold on to it and disapprove of those who do not share their belief.
But surely, you may be thinking, there are political positions that are worse than others. Some taxes are better than none, highways are better than no highways, and firemen, policemen, ambulances, these are all good things, and policies can certainly be harmful in this regard. Surely we all agree on this. But we have to be careful. It may be the case that most of us like these things, and we don’t like things that lessen them, but that doesn’t get us what would be needed to avoid a charge of bigotry. After all, everyone can appeal to what they like, and the anti-homosexual doesn’t get off the hook because he likes restrictive marriage laws. No, in the end, stubbornly and intolerantly moralizing is bigotry.
So what’s left? For one, there are our desires. We prefer certain states of the world over others. We like what certain policies get us and dislike what others get us, even if none is better than another. And of course, atheism doesn’t entail anything about what preferences or desires one should have. It doesn’t require one be tolerant or accepting of differences, though one may like if atheists are these things.
The pro-gay, then, is fundamentally no different than the anti-gay. The bigots are those who intolerantly assert that one of the positions is good or bad. The two sides are simply two groups with different political desires, and they both try to impose those desires on the other via legislation. There is no place for moral indignation.
Moral nihilism: There are two problems with a realist view of morality for the naturalist atheist. First, moral entities (be they properties, relations, values) don’t seem to fit into the naturalist catalog. A quick way of thinking about it is by dissecting a behavior or act into its physical constituents and then considering where the moral properties might be. We can think about all the physical elements and effects of an action, yet when we try to find the “requirement” or “obligation” or “value”, we are unable. Second, even if moral entities did exist, it is unclear how we would be able to ascertain their existence or character. As moral entities don’t seem to fit into a naturalist understanding of the world, similarly it seems that our perception of them would be impossible without some faculty of perception capable of perceiving non-natural things.
After completing an economics degree at Washington University in St Louis, Alex Papulis just finished a year at Mizzou as a non-degree-seeking, non-transfer Degree-seeking Transfer student. He enjoyed it, and looks forward to starting a philosophy MA program in Milwaukee this fall.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
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