David Wong’s Cracked post a big miss. Part 1

Cracked editor David Wong is a funny guy. However his recent article ten things Christians and atheists can (and must) agree on is unfortunately not nearly as well thought out as it would first appear. This is a rebuttal to point out the flaws in each.  Wong’s chauvinism in ignoring other religions will be put aside.

But first! A statement he makes that “both my atheist and Christian friends… …tell me they agree [with]”:

Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick.

Wong insinuates that there is a hypocritical vibe for most moderate atheists and Christians when on one hand you scorn Westboro Baptist Church for thanking God for killing soldiers due to a dislike of homosexuals but on the other hand celebrate the death of Jerry Falwell.

I couldn’t agree less. There are some deaths in this world worth celebrating, or at least being happy for, due to the gross ‘evil’-ness of the person’s actions when they were alive. I won’t state a fairly obvious name as Godwin already thought of it, but we can clearly accept that the death of, say, Stalin is for the overwhelming positive. Wong attempts to counter this by suggesting that people who could feasibly cause deaths (and hence have celebrate-able deaths themselves) while alive are numerous- from politicians to rappers. Human life, as Wong suggests, is precious. That may be the case, but provided you don’t actually assist in that person’s death, who cares whether you celebrate it or not? We have people we despise in this world and their removal can be cause for celebration based on the fact they are no longer a part of your own life in the same way one would celebrate the incarceration of their rapist. Furthermore, what would we define as celebrating? Do we continue, ritualistically, to keep ourselves in dreary motion of oppression when the oppressor is dead and buried? Or do we dishonor our oppressor and relish in their absence? Clearly not to celebrate in some instances is a violation of rationality and human nature. As Vitellus said, a dead enemy always smells good.

Would I personally celebrate Falwell’s death? No I don’t think I did, but that doesn’t exactly make me feel sad for him.

1. You can do terrible things in the name of either one

Wong removes the statistics of how many people have died (or the proportion of the population as Steven Pinker rightly states is more useful) but that’s not an issue for this particular statement. Wong points out that Christians killed people based on their religion but a modern Christian would say they violate God’s law, and that Stalin did likewise but atheists argue it was a separate issue to his atheism.  Both believe, Wong suggests, that it is a corruption of their belief system that leads to death. Wong further states that it is physically impossible to know what would happen to the death rate if your belief system was adopted.

Any rational atheist can point out the fallacy here. To suggest that other Christians have corrupt values and you have correct ones is of course ludicrous. The Bible is full of passages that encourage violence and moderate Christians pick out the verses they are most comfortable with. There is no comparison to atheism. Sam Harris has frequently pointed out that Maoist and Stalinist states are based on what we could easily call faith-based institutions, embracing ideals like Lysenkoism. Rational atheists on the other hand tend to be liberal and tend to have far less capacity (at least) to commit atrocious acts. How can I say this when it is physically impossible to know if that’s the case? Oh wait, it isn’t. As Steven Pinker points out in the above link, the Age of Reason marks a “tipping point” when death rate reduced (and continues to reduce) significantly faster than previously experienced.

2. Both sides really do believe what they are saying

Wong has this argument piggy-back number 1, but despite its fallacy pointed out we’ll run with this statement on its own terms. I agree with Wong that at least a strong proportion of either side believe what they are saying, but I refuse to accept that this somehow warrants respect. Young Earth Creationists lost the argument– the evidence is so overwhelmingly in favour of an old earth and evolution that there is no way they can be considered honest in their appraisal. Some (not all) may do this because of fear, or because of some spiritual longing, but an iota of genuine scrutiny would point out just how wrong they personally are. It’s not surprising when religion is almost certainly based on faith without evidence. I’ll ignore the fact he feels that there must be some very convoluted machinery in the brain to have the illusion of God’s existence (there is, but its readily explainable) but I will not ignore an enormous error in his judgement. Wong states “I guess you could just call [religious people] crazy, but it’s a little silly to use that word when believers are the norm in human population”. I feel so dumbstruck by this argument, I may have to lie down and make some tea.

3. In everyday life, you’re not that different

I don’t disagree with the title. I’m essentially a very liberal cultural-Christian who believes in peace, free will etc. I also don’t think that most Christians are going to pray to Jesus when their car breaks down (though they might in a moment of unreasoned desperation). What I do take serious disagreement and offense to is the suggestion that based on rational atheism I shouldn’t be concerned with getting ripped off, or worrying who my fiancé has sex with, or that essentially I’m a base creature who should be unconcerned with anything but hedonistic pleasure.  I’ve made posts about why social and ethical matters are more important to atheists than those who are religious so I’ll just briefly point out that the fact we give value to ethical and moral decisions is what makes them valuable. We do not “live as if the absolute authority of a magical lawgiver were true”, we live as the morality and ethical beliefs we hold are things we believe to be worth holding on to, and we have more than enough capacity to use rationality to explain it.

Wong states that Christian’s don’t believe when a tooth hurts it is possessed by demons. If not, why not? Because Christian’s previously really did believe their tooth was possessed by demons. What changed? Could it be an enhanced understanding of the world through scientific and rational means? Most definitely. If you were a real Christian with real, Christian ideals, you would say people with mental illnesses are possessed (Mark 5:9), the apocalypse occurred millennia ago (Matthew 24: 34) and women have no authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12) just to name a few. Today’s Christians would be indistinguishable from atheists by Christians from just a few centuries ago. This speaks reams about what is supposed to be the immutability of God’s word, but also indicates that good, moral Christians of today are not good and moral because of their Christianity.

4. There are good people on both sides
My statements above should elucidate my feelings about this suggestion. Yes there are good Christians, but this is not because they are Christian (I once had a big debate on youtube that MLK could have had more ethical leeway due to his beliefs but this was the exception not the rule). Wong defends atheists by saying that there is a gap between good Christians and the “treacherous, liars and murderers” and it is filled by atheists. Ipso facto, God protects the nonbelievers in some way because they can stave off temptation, meaning that somehow they can get into heaven etc. Of course there are clear cut examples in the Bible where atheists are called out and said that that won’t happen but Wong seems to be unaware of that.

Part 2 is here.

~ by freeze43 on December 29, 2010.

4 Responses to “David Wong’s Cracked post a big miss. Part 1”

  1. I agree. There is no such thing as “this group HAS to agree with that group”. Besides, atheists don’t have a “Book” of something or other that they have to agree with to be atheists. It’s not a team sport.
    It’s perfectly acceptable to celebrate [NO MORE DAY–5/15] (no more hate, no more bigotry… NO MORE JERRY FALWELL) in Lynchburg Virginia. Granted, it is some what of a “minor” holiday at this point, but, mighty oaks from little acorns grow. (We do have bumper stickers)

    When Jerry Falwell was alive he hurt people for profit. I’m happy he is dead. The world is a better place without him in it. But I’m not so foolish as to claim that his demise has some meaning other than … there is a price to be paid for gluttony and obesity.
    It’s a pity he didn’t suffer more.

    With a heart overflowing with love,
    I remain
    Mrs. N

  2. This is a great post. A few things:

    Celebrating the death of somebody you disagreed with pretty much makes you a dick.

    Wong seems to be falling into the old relativist trap – the idea that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, and thus anybody who expresses vehement disagreement is simply having trouble controlling their emotions. Most of the time this is a socially useful fiction: even if you believe the other person to be wrong, it’s still a good idea to politely listen to and consider what they’re saying. However, as you point out Freeze, sometimes the other person is just an evil murdering dick, and it’s perfectly acceptable to dance on their grave.

    The Bible is full of passages that encourage violence and moderate Christians pick out the verses they are most comfortable with. There is no comparison to atheism.

    I think this makes the point clearly enough without resorting to the shakier “Stalinism is just a form of religion” arguments. Christianity is a complex religion with a holy book that explicitly encourages violence and bigotry. Atheism is simply the absence of a belief in god(s). Wong is correct that “you can do terrible things in the name of either one” – you could do terrible things “in the name of” cute kittens, if you wanted to – but only one of these two positions actively encourages evil acts, whether or not Christians actually act in accordance with their Bible.

    the evidence is so overwhelmingly in favour of an old earth and evolution that there is no way they can be considered honest in their appraisal.

    This is a great point. If religious people actually, honestly believed most of the things they said, they would behave very differently. For example, most Christians would say, if pressed, that they believe atheists such as us are going to experience eternal torment after we die – yet very few actually make the effort to “save our souls”. (Most don’t even go to church.) Wong is flat out wrong here: there is overwhelming evidence that almost all Christians do not actually believe most of what they say.

  3. […] The second part of my response to David Wong’s article. Part 1 can be found here. […]

  4. […] like I have to point out why David Wong is wrong again. Ok, that’s a little unfair. David Wong’s recent post is just one part of a greater […]

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