Monday, March 4, 2019

On Vitriol: This Zak Smith Thing

Almost four years ago, Zak Smith and wundergeek had a very public fight about gender politics. At the time, I had been away from blogging due to the health of my child, but decided to use the situation as a launching point for a meditation On Vitriol in the digital age.

Ironically, at the end of this past December, right before Christmas, my youngest again had a surgery and has been in and out of the hospital since. Having walked away from blogging again to deal with this situation, Zak Smith is again at the middle of a storm within the OSR due to accusations launched at him by his girlfriend, Mandy Morbid. Again, I feel compelled to say something about this whole Zak Smith thing.

Let me be blunt. I do not like Zak. I find him to be an abrasive personality that I would not wish on anyone. I experienced this first hand when he leaped onto the comment section of my first meditation On Vitriol. While actively ignoring and dismissing the message of the post, he attacked the means in which I delivered that message and kinda proved the point I was trying to make in that post. While something I would be willing to do again, I cannot say that it was a pleasant experience.

Let me be even more blunt: I don’t even like his gaming material. I bought Vornheim way back when, didn’t find it particularly useful or inspiring and have never been much interested in anything he’s authored since. Thus, I wouldn’t miss much if he disappeared from the gaming community altogether and the world never saw another RPG-related publication by Zak.

Having said all that, I am still troubled by the reaction many have had to Mandy’s accusations. Cutting Zak completely off is not an answer I can endorse. Let me explain:

When I read the Facebook Post that started the purge of Zak Smith from all things gaming, I saw a bunch of broken people. Zak, Mandy and everybody else involved in this mess are broken. They were broken long before Zak ever did a thing to Mandy. It was this brokenness that led to Zak behaving in such a reprehensible way towards others. It was this brokenness that led to Mandy going along with the abuse as long as she did. This brokenness has also led to this community cutting Zak off. As James Raggi said in his announcement that LotFP won’t be publishing Zak’s stuff anymore:
[Everyone I talked to] was bummed out. They recognized this was a tragedy from top to bottom. Even the people who agreed with my course of action here, hell, even someone that thought I wasn't going far enough, recognized what we were losing, even while they said we needed to lose it. 
I recognize the brokenness for what it is because of my Christian world-view. We are all sinners. I also believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to repent and to allow God (who went to the Cross to give all of us a second chance) to transform the sinner into a saint. I still hold out hope for Zak that he can use this disaster as an opportunity to turn around his life and become a person we can all enjoy at the gaming table.

I say this, of course, as a Christian; however, we no longer live in a Christian society. As an openly practicing Christian who brings Christ to the gaming table I am acutely aware that I am in an extreme minority both within the OSR’s corner of the internet and gaming at large.

So, I have a serious question, not only for those who have cut off Zak, but for anyone who embraces secularism/atheism: How is it that abusive behavior (especially against women and children) is universally condemned?

As a Christian, I can answer this very easily. As the source of all good things in the world, God provides us with a standard that is eternal and universal. For secularism and atheism, answering this question is a much harder task.

Without the existence of God, there is no such thing as an eternal, universal standard, because all standards are generated by humans. Since humans are finite and mutable, any standard that we make is also finite and mutable. Considering that we have around 7 billion possible standards in the world (one for each person who lives on the planet), to expect any one of those standards to stand the test of time and continue to endure generation after generation is, well, folly.

Indeed, if we insist on the relativism of “my truth,” Zak’s opinion that breasts of a certain size have no value is perfectly valid. My truth may disagree with Zak’s truth, but since the source of these truths in both cases are human beings (the only real source of truth in a world without God), each is just as legitimate as the other.

Further, if we insist on organizing a society around one version of “my truth” over and against other versions of “my truth,” there is only one avenue for ensuring that one supersedes the others: force. As such, Zak’s abusive behavior is completely justified. He was imposing his version of “my truth” on everyone around him in hopes that his version would prevail.

Instead, we are all condemning Zak’s abusive behavior in the same way that humans have condemned abuse (especially against women and children) generation after generation after generation. Even if we refuse to acknowledge His existence, we are all using God’s eternal and universal standards to judge Zak’s behavior.

Due to the fact that this standard is actually God’s and not our own, I would invite everyone to consider the reality that this very same God knew who Zak would be when he went to the Cross. Despite all the vitriol and all the abuse, Christ still got up on that Cross for Zak.

For my part, I refuse to condone Zak’s lifestyle or to tolerate Zak’s abuse; however, if he ever needs someone that will listen in an attempt to turn his life around, he is always welcome.


Scott Anderson said...

They have never learned where our morality comes from. They have never learned the underpinnings of secular law. They have no grasp of the miracle of Western Civilization or Christendom upon which it is based.

They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

And this is by design.

In order to destroy, one first must discredit. And so it has been done for at least 50 years in Western secular education.

Nobody knows anything because nobody’s taught anything.

When we cry out at these indignities and injustices, they think we’re crying for what we have lost- but you and I have not lost these things.

We’re crying for them. Midgets crapping on the shoulders of giants.

Branduan said...

Well said Prokopius. The thought occurred to me whether most of the folks so keen on "banning" this person could stand up to the same scrutiny if applied to their sex life, and they have made one's 'sexual relationships' somehow the central part of the hobby of role playing games, are they really prepared for that?

diregrizzlybear said...

Your Christianity was used to justify slavery up until the rest of society wised up and decided it was bad, and then many Christians fought against ending it. You have no universal moral yardstick more than anyone else, theists just reinterpret their incoherent book of stories into their present cultural moral milieu, while pridefully believing they do. Try humility some time.

Scott Anderson said...

Where does morality come from?

John said...

Are you really trying to turn the issue of an abusive partner into an argument about moral relativism? Is this really the best context in which to air your religious views?

Scott Anderson said...

How do you know abusing your girlfriend is wrong?

FrDave said...

Read Paul's Letter to Philemon. He tells a slave owner to receive back his escaped slave as a brother, not as a slave. That slave went on to become a bishop. Christianity has been challenging the status-quo on slavery since the very beginning.

Yes, Christians have misbehaved throughout time, but we have a moral benchmark to tell us when we've misbehaved. Atheists do not.

For a point of comparison: in 160 years of its existence, the Spanish Inquisition murdered around 1080 people. During the Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks murdered the same number of political prisoners in about a month. During the purges of the late 30's, Stalin murdered the same number in a couple of days.

Before you go and claim that it isn't fair to impugn all atheists with the actions of the atheists of Soviet Russia, then why did you try to impugn all Christians for the few that abused Christianity to justify slavery?

As someone wiser than me once said, all of the atrocities committed in the name of Christ are illogical outcomes, because they go against what Christianity stands for. In contrast, the 100 million deaths that lay at the feet of atheist regimes of the 20th century are the logical outcomes of atheism.

FrDave said...

To be blunt, yes. There is great irony in the fact that the moral relativity that Zak so vociferously defended all these years is now destroying him. I am also warning all those that are using this same relativity to justify themselves are just as vulnerable as Zak.

BTW, if I am not allowed to share my religious views about this topic, when am I allowed? If it becomes acceptable to shut me down over this topic, it becomes acceptable to shut me down over any topic. I find the logic of your line of questioning to be quite chilling...

Tom Kilian said...

Scott, secular ethics are a thing. If you were genuinely curious about how secular people make moral decisions, it is in your power to do so. People are capable of moral intuition and empathy, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. It is not conceptually difficult, though it is obviously difficult to behave ethically in practice all of the time. Often you will not be sure! Then you have to use your human judgement, which is what you already do (*you* personally might pray about it, consult scripture, or consult a religious authority, but at the end of the day you're the one who has to interpret that and take action). You don't necessarily need Christianity to draw the conclusion "boy, I sure don't like being hurt myself, maybe I shouldn't hurt other people," or "I did hurt that person, and I shouldn't have done that. I cannot change it, but I can try to make amends". Similarly, it's pretty easy for me as a secular person to tell that kindness, empathy, forgiveness, and so on have a positive impact on both me and the world around me while laziness, indifference, cruelty, and so on have a negative one. "How do you know for sure tho???" You don't. Nobody knows for sure, which is why Christianity requires an act of faith. You do the best you can.

To be perfectly honest, I think that people who say variations of "without an external moral force to prevent people from abusing each other, why wouldn't I act like a dick all the time?" are telling on themselves.

Dave, John's not about to throw you in the gulag here. It's pretty obvious from even a cursory glance at your blog that talking about your religious views is kind of your thing, so I'm not sure why he's surprised, but I am not seeing the direct line between him saying "Really?" and the outcome you imply. If I were going to be similarly disingenuous, I might say that if he's not allowed to criticize you on this topic, then logically he must not be allowed to criticize you on any topic, and oh god it's George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'. You might have responded "yes I do, and this is why," which would have been a better and more informative response that might have some chance of reaching your critic. I'm sure someone somewhere has been converted (whether to Christ or simply to a different point of view) by smugness and finger-wagging, but I've never met them.

I'll grant you both that a lot of secular people don't always engage religious people in good faith or with a great deal of information, but if you're going to ask "how do people answer these moral questions without God" then it may occur to you that people have answered that question, and maybe you should seek that information out.

FrDave said...


Secular ethics may be a thing, but they either have to borrow assumptions from Christianity about the world that a materialistic world cannot provide or become obsolete within about a generation as social mores shift and change. Indeed, I would argue that you borrow heavily from Christianity in your assertion that people are capable of being moral. As I tried to show in my post, morality really only exists if there is a God who provides us with His image and likeness and thus imparts to us His standards on our hearts so that we inherently know right from wrong whether we believe in Him or not.

I don't believe John is going to throw me into a gulag, either. I was just pointing out the flaw in his logic.

I grew up as an atheist. I spent a long time trying to answer moral questions without God. One of the reasons that I am a Christian today was because I was shown the logic of my materialism and where it takes individuals and society as a whole.

Anonymous said...

The only "slavery" condoned in the bible is to pay debt. What would be preferred? Rape camps, crime indoctrination facilities or a combo - modern prisons? Or maybe that people just don't actually pay back unless they feel like it?
The "be the best slave you can be" part that is often brought up is simply a way for an (modern understanding) slave to witness to their "owner". If the "owner" turned Christian that would in all cases be beneficial.

Unknown said...


So sorry to hear your son has been in and out of the hospital again. Hope interacting with us on this blog provides a comfort.

I've enjoyed your blog for many years, and have thought on and off about this particular topic since you first wrote about it. I find your account of conversion in the face of the horrors of war very moving. Still, I've longed to pick the brain of an Orthodox Father about a few questions on this topic since you originally wrote on it:

(1) As Jay-Z asked, “Is pious pious 'cos God loves pious?/ Socrates asked who's bias y'all seek?” Even if, as you wrote, “God provides us with a standard that is eternal and universal,” did He provide us with a standard independent of any divine command? Or are you simply pointing to the only way to know good from evil is through Christ specifically? I totally get the Euthyphro Dilemma is a swerve from your point about vitriol, but since your first post on this topic, I've wondered about your personal take on it.
(2) As far as I can see, you are very ecumenical here about a monotheistic God, but there are religions out there that are atheistic but still claim, at least, that the Divine provides a standard that is eternal and universal. Certainly, I can see how the rational arguments from something like The One of Neo-Platonism would violate the importance you place of the nous, but I wonder what you make of something like The Tao providing it via something like a non-rational nous? Or is it, again, only through Christ?
(3) Even if the irreligious or the atheist has no proper standard to avoid moral error, do you think all of them will necessarily fall into moral error? I can easily see cases where a House-That-Jack-Built moral system will give a virtuous answer, though through the wrong reasoning. Here I am not so much worried about a moral Mr. Magoo stumbling again and again into virtue, but I wonder about something like the dark side of Pascal's Wager, something akin to Lovecraft's Gentleman, morally good in behavior merely because it is the aesthetic of being a gentleman. Is this the standard being given by God in grace? Or is a virtuous atheist just a matter of dumb luck and time? Is there room for you for something like Tolkien's eucatastrophy or just outright synchronicity in the moral reason of atheists?

Thanks again for letting me hear your perspective. And thanks for teaching me the word 'quondam!'

FrDave said...

Thanks for all of your questions, and thanks for reminding me about quondam — I had to look it up again… ;)

To answer your first question:

At the Prayer Behind the Ambon in the Orthodox Liturgy we quote James 1:17, “For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from [You,] the Father of lights.” In other words, all that is good in this world comes from God. St. Basil the Great, in the Anaphora of his Divine Liturgy (which the Orthodox still use several times a year) elaborates on this point by describing the clergy performing the liturgy in this way:

Your sinful and unworthy servants, whom You have made worthy to serve at Your holy altar, not because of our own righteousness (for we have not done anything good upon the earth)”

As a priest and as a human being I can do nothing good without God because God is the source of Good.

To answer your second question:

Christ makes it very clear in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Since the Church is called the Body of Christ, this infers that one can experience this reality through the Church. Note the prayer Orthodox Christians say just prior to receiving communion:

Hearken, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, from Your holy dwelling place and from the throne of glory of Your Kingdom, and come to sanctify us, You Who are enthroned with the Father on high and are present among us invisibly here. And with Your mighty hand, grant Communion of Your most pure Body and precious Blood to us, and through us to all the people. [emphasis mine]

When an Orthodox Christian takes communion, we do not just take it for ourselves, we take it for everyone who can’t (or won’t).

This reflects the Trinitarian nature of God as expressed in the Image and Likeness. God is one in nature and three in persons. Humanity is one in nature and a plethora in persons. Thus, what I do as an individual can and does affect others through our nature. This is why we believe the necessity of Christ taking on flesh. By sharing our nature, Christ is able to unite our nature with his eternity and grant everyone the resurrection.

This is why the prayers found in Orthodox Christian liturgies are so expansive. We try to bring everyone, even those who hate us, before the altar of God in hopes that by partaking of the Body and Blood, Christ might (through us) be an avenue to the Father even for those outside the Church.

To answer your third question:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law,they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. — Romans 2:1-15

Despite denying that God exists, people still know wrong from right. People still have a conscience. This is part of the whole Image and Likeness thing. Of course, it is much easier to understand and accept all of this when one has a relationship with God and it is much easier to justify going against the conscience when one has eliminated God from their life. Evidence of this can be found in the radical difference in body counts when Christians act badly versus when atheists act badly.

Anonymous said...

Morality stems from a combination of:
1. Neurochemical rewards that incent social behavior. These rewards are a product of evolution.
2. A million-ish years of trial-and-error, mostly conducted by pre-human hominids.
3. A couple of thousand years of written philosophical musing.

Christianity is the most popular religion because it works better than the rest of them. But it works not because its mythology is true, but because its teachings promote behavior which is consistent with how things really work.

For example, game theory has shown mathematically that tit-for-tat-with-forgiveness is more profitable then strict tit-for-tat in iterated games of prisoner's dilemma, which is a decent abstract simulation of interactions with strangers. The Christian doctrine of forgiveness--as imperfectly executed by actual human beings--promotes tit-for-tat-with-forgiveness, giving its practitioners a practical advantage. But this has nothing to do with mythology. Practitioners of any religion that promotes forgiveness would enjoy the same advantage.

Also, atheism is not a religion. It is a component of a religion just like monotheism is a component of Christianity. Unfortunately, a lot of fools call their religion "atheism" and assume that because they believe that the divine does not exist, they don't have a religion. This is false; everyone has religious beliefs and religions do not have to be theistic. If I remember correctly, the Buddah's position on the divine is something along the lines of "I don't know if gods exist, but if they do, you shouldn't worship them, because you don't know what they are getting out of the deal." That doesn't mean that Buddhism is not a religion.

Socialism's body count is not due to them having an atheistic religion. It's because they are fanatical believers in a religion that doesn't work, and refuse to admit that it doesn't work. They deal with this by blaming their failures on non-believers and murdering them. But you can't have this discussion with them because one of their core religious beliefs is that their beliefs are not religious.

If you are interested, I have faith that we live in a universe that has no divine, spiritual, or supernatural component, and that there is no afterlife. I believe the good and proper way to interact with strangers is according to the Non-Aggression Principle, and that "minding your own damn business" is one of the highest virtues.

Anonymous said...

Why the hell am I unknown! Stupid Google. My names is James C. Bennett, and I reject anonymity.

Scott Anderson said...

Yes, well said James. There is no such thing as a human who is truly an atheist. Every human has some highest power before which he stands in awe.

jamescbennett said...

At first this rubbed me the wrong way, but you are correct. Deep Time, The Incomprehensible Vastness of the Universe, and The-Laws-That-Govern-The-Matter-Of-Which-I-Am-Composed are all higher powers before which I am humble. They just have the advantage of being observable phenomena. ;)

FrDave said...

Actually, none of these are observable...indeed, there are a host of things necessary for us to use science that are not observable like the Law of Causality, Logic, Mind, Consciousness, etc. This begs the question: where do all of these unobservable realities come from?

FrDave said...

James, I quibble with your use of the word "mythology." Christianity is not based on myth, it is based upon an actual historical event. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Pontius Pilot, was known as a miracle worker and had followers who believed to have seen him risen from the dead. These are all historical facts verified not only by the eye-witness accounts of those who wrote the NT but by both Jewish and Pagan sources. In fact, Jesus is one of the best documented figures in the ancient world. If we insist that he is a myth, then guys like Alexander the Great have to be considered myths, too, because there is less historical evidence of his existence than there is for Jesus.

Sometime, look at what science actually tells us of our universe. Time, space and matter all have a beginning. The Law of Causality demands that everything that has a beginning must have a cause. Therefore, the universe must have a cause that is timeless, without matter and beyond space. That sounds an awful lot like the God of Scripture to me.

BTW, did you ever consider the possibility that the reason Game Theory and the Non-Agression Principle work like they do is because we were designed that way?

One last thing: When Adam (which means humanity) turned his back on God, death followed. Is it any coincidence that when Atheists came to power in the 20th century that death followed in an unprecedented manner?

Scott Anderson said...

Over 1,000 people eyewitnessed his ascension. For the year 30, that has to be as close to proof as possible.

Mighty Veil said...

Your question is what to Atheists and Humanists use as their moral standard?

So we have murder, theft, rape and other bad things.

A religious man says bad things are bad because of religious reasons. I'm fine with that.

Humanist says Man is just another animal but our big brains make us think we have free will instead of us just acting instinctively. Instinctively we know what is bad. I'm fine with that.

Atheist, in some classic liberal sense, would say that a majority of people do not like certain behaviours. If these individuals are a majority than they can enact their POV on what s bad and make them laws. I'm fine with that.

FrDave said...

This doesn’t change my fundamental issue with both the humanist and atheist moral systems. A Christian’s “religious reasons” have to do with the nature of God. Since God is eternal and unchanging, the morality derived from His commands is eternal and unchanging. Thus, abusing people (especially women and children) has been frowned upon since forever.

In contrast, the morality of both humanism and atheism (no matter how they are justified) come from humans. Thus, these moral systems are based upon our nature — they are finite and malleable. Just look at the social mores of secular culture in the last 100 years. Someone from 1919 would not recognize the moral landscape of American secular culture in 2019. Thus, to expect a universal disgust about any moral standard to last more than a generation is completely unrealistic.

This is why I argue that the anger about abuse does not have a human origin. It must come from God because the moral standard against abuse has always been.

BTW I would quibble with your assessment that atheism has any “classic liberal sense.” Most classic liberals were Christian. This is why the Declaration of Independence invokes Divine Providence and why Thomas Paine was rejected by the Americans when he argued against Christianity. Ironically, he was quite happy with the non-Christian character of the French Revolution, which would not only go on to kill political prisoners at an unprecedented rate, but would throw Paine in prison.

Mighty Veil said...

I needed a 3rd answer so joined Atheists and Liberalism since Liberal democracy tries to uses state institutions to be an unbiased judge on matters of morality (I'm not saying it was successful). As for a person from 1919 seeing 2019 as unmoral. Trust me, plenty of 2019 people do also.

I am the wrong person to answer what was the source, the chicken or the egg. I'm indifferent on such matters. I only find myself more at home with one POV over the other. I have eyes, I can see the big picture results, which I won't go into since I come to RPG blogs to read RPG & not politics. I do fail at sometimes, but to error is human. And I'm just a man :-D

I am just surprised how the OSR bloggers are so surprised over the Z+M thing! L.A. angst artist and punk amateur porn girls... what did everyone think would be the result - a happy ending? Broken people, I do agree. Too many broken OSR bloggers. That's why I like your blog. Not broken and your faith gives you a different base to come up with original ideas (the progressive bloggers pretty much say the same ideas. Only their mechanical ideas vary). I like your druid idea.

FrDave said...

Thanks for the kind words...though I must admit that I am as broken as everyone else. I guess the difference is that I know it and have embraced a path that allows that brokenness to heal.

Michael Bugg said...

And then there's the fact that the Abolitionist movement was driven almost entirely by Christians and Jews who opposed slavery ON THE BASIS of the Bible.

Michael Bugg said...

To put it another way, secular ethics commit moral plagiarism, unconsciously taking assumptions about human value and equality from Christianity (because Christianity is the moral underpinning of Western secular culture) without giving credit.

MX said...

You fail to mention that Mandy's reports were backed up by three other individuals.

You say nothing of sympathy or support for the victims, save to state that they are "broken," based on the small amount of information about them.

You talk about Zak being "cast out" and "purged," overlooking the fact that at least some people are trying to avert - whether via financial support or denying him a forum - situations in which the abusive behavior might be perpetrated again.

In short, your deep commitment to universal justice has led to you dismissing claims of abuse, casting aspersions on the victims, downplaying the actions of critics concerned about the safety of others, and concentrating on the impact that this will have on the poor influential white male perpetrator. The whole matter seems oddly familiar.

I'm sorry. You were discussing the moral superiority of your philosophy. Please continue.

FrDave said...

What part of "I refuse to condone Zak’s lifestyle or to tolerate Zak’s abuse" dismisses claims of abuse, casts aspersions on any victims or downplays concern for the safety of others?

Thiago said...

Yours is one of the best blogs in the OSR sphere, although I fully disagree that religion is necessary for moral standard, although I hardly see the point in debating it with you, since I can see that we disagree in very minor issues regarding human acceptable behaviour.

John Higgins said...

>How is it that abusive behavior (especially against women and children) is universally condemned?

I'm not sure the premise is true. I don't think abuse of women and children is universally condemned, certainly not historically. Rule of thumb, sparing the rod spoiling the child -- these were once considered moral goods (at certain specific times and places). They are not widely considered moral today in Western societies. So Western morality has changed; and I don't think it's presumptive to say that it has in fact advanced.

If morality is a body of knowledge, it can advance. Moreover, any body of knowledge that intersects with reality can advance using something like the scientific method, broadly construed, winnowing out bad ideas in favor of good ones. This isn't to make some sweeping claim that morality is objective or scientific (Sam Harris makes that leap; even most secularists disagree with him); but simply to say that like other areas within the humanities (history, philosophy), we can still reject bad ideas and keep good ones, and expect things to get broadly better over time.

Anyway, to your argument:

>Without the existence of God, there is no such thing as an eternal, universal standard, because all standards are generated by humans.

I'm with you so far. No real disagreement here, except maybe to quibble over the specifics of "generated by." One could also argue for "evolved alongside"; or perhaps "imposed by cultures" (which are weird emergent systems that might be generated by humans at root, but certainly do not behave like humans in and of themselves).

>Since humans are finite and mutable, any standard that we make is also finite and mutable.

Agreed, but with a caveat: mutable, but severely constrained. Morality cannot be arbitrary, because it has real consequences. It would be a tricky little sleight of intellectual hand to argue that without universal morality, human morality would be arbitrary, but that assertion would also be totally wrong.

>Considering that we have around 7 billion possible standards in the world (one for each person who lives on the planet), to expect any one of those standards to stand the test of time and continue to endure generation after generation is, well, folly.

Now here, I have some issues. For one, I think it's already adequately demonstrated that moralities don't endure generation after generation. They perpetuate themselves while mutating along the way, just like everything else about a culture.

Culture, incidentally, along with the fact of man's social nature, is going to be one of those major constraints that keeps the number of moral systems being actually practiced far smaller than the number of individuals present on the planet at any given time. Morals are only morals when lots of people agree on them and practice them. You can no more have 7 billion moral standards right now than you could have 7 billion languages or 7 billion cultures or 7 billion societies. The numbers just don't allow for it.

FrDave said...

Thanks for the kind words.

I would clarify, however: I have never argued that religion is necessary for a moral standard. Rather, I insist that God is necessary.

FrDave said...


Thanks for the lengthly response.

In terms of history, note that every time there is a culture that treats other human beings badly, there is a mechanism that allows for the perpetrators of violence to dehumanize their victims. This can be seen in times of war, where soldiers create epithets (gook, jap, hun, yankee, muzzy etc.) to describe their enemy and thus make it easier to overcome the conscience in order to kill. Another example is with the debate over abortion. The pro-choice position spends a lot of effort dehumanizing the baby by labelling it as a lump of cells or merely a fetus. They also fight efforts to allow a mother to see a sonogram, which would humanize the baby. This all is done to make it easier to overcome the conscience and allow for the killing of babies within the womb.

Morality is not a body of knowledge. Our conscience goes beyond reason. Take a look at the Ten Commandments. Everyone of them is about relationships. This is confirmed in the NT when Christ summarizes the entire Law by saying love both God and neighbor. (Note, also, how those who are talking to him try to wiggle out of this by narrowing the definition of “neighbor,” and thus free themselves to dehumanize who ever they want). Relationships exist in human experience outside of reason. Knowing someone is radically different than knowing about someone. A “body of knowledge,” in context of a society, can only ever be the latter. Thus, morality is not a body of knowledge.

To further this point, note how your example of “spare the rod, spoil the child” actually proves my point. By many measures, the generations whose parents have avoided this moral advice are spoiled rotten.

BTW, this whole view of morality as an intellectual, rational endeavor is one of the very reasons I abandoned atheism. It makes society very vulnerable to authoritarian impulses because it starts from a premise that already dehumanizes everyone by arbitrarily determining that what is valuable in human beings is reason above all else. Being human involves much more than reason and intellect. It is a very small step to dehumanize others for a plethora of reasons when all of humanity has already been dehumanized. Once that happens, it becomes really easy to start marginalizing large populations in the pursuit of power.

Thus, I would argue that what you call “morality” really are rationalized attempts by cultures and people to override what I call morality.

John Higgins said...

I don't want to be snarky and say [citation needed], but much of what you assert here is, frankly, doubtful. Nothing quite matches the claim, however, that children who haven't been beaten become spoiled. That one is a howler on par with the old "Jesus is about as historically well-attested as Alexander the Great" chestnut that you repeat up-thread, apparently in all seriousness.

I expect we're operating from a baseline of such different facts that we're not going to see eye to eye on much of anything except this:

>Being human involves much more than reason and intellect.

Granted. But that doesn't let you off the hook for making wild claims, like: secularists value reason above other human qualities; or a secular worldview is uniquely vulnerable to authoritarianism (that one's another knee-slapper); or even that secularists see morality as mostly rational and intellectual.

Burden of proof, Padre; as always, burden of proof.

FrDave said...

In terms of historical, textual evidence there is no historical figure that even comes close to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. If one were to pile up all of the textual witnesses we have for Homer’s Epic Poems (which is by far and wide the most common ancient text we have in terms of textual witnesses outside of the Bible) the pile of texts would be about four feet tall. The number of textual witnesses for the Bible stacks to about the height of the Empire State Building. In addition, accounts by both pagans (Tacitus, Serapion) and Jews (Josephus) witness to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. First century Christians who had contact with the Apostles and their disciples witness the belief that Christ’s followers thought that he rose from the dead (Clement of Rome and Ignatius, to name a couple). As to early attestation, take a look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. This is almost universally accepted as being an early creed of the Church that Paul would have received within 6 years of the crucifixion of Christ. It specifically mentions the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. This was no legendary development.

We have no body for Alexander the Great, whose body was lost sometime in the 5th century. There are fewer texts about Alexander the Great that have the kind of multiple, early and enemy attestations we have for Jesus of Nazareth. It isn’t even close. Thus, if Jesus, with the mountain of historical evidence we have that he was a real historical figure is to be dismissed as a myth, we have to dismiss Alexander the Great as myth because we have far less evidence of his existence than that of Jesus of Nazareth.

The burden of proof has been well met for quite some time now. Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure. He was crucified. His followers believed he rose from the dead. Period.

Alexis Smolensk said...

We have no evidence of your "actual historical event." Why even acknowledge this? It is not by the assertion of historical events that confirms you faith.

FrDave said...


Look at my comment below. No one in ancient history has better multiple, early and enemy attestations as Jesus of Nazareth. He was a real historical person who was crucified. This was attested to by the Gospels, by pagans (Tacitus, Serapion) and by Jews (Josephus). His followers believed Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is almost universally understood to be an early creed that mentions both the death and resurrection of Christ. The latest Paul would have received this creed is A.D. 36.

By what standard are you insisting that Jesus wasn't historical? Crucified? His followers believed He rose from the dead? I can't imagine how we do history at all if the above doesn't verify the historical fact of Jesus of Nazareth.