Okay, I love Condescending Wonka as much as the next connoisseur of sarcasm, but sometimes its difficult to separate the crap he rightfully calls out from the crap he obscures in the process.
Case in point?
Look to your left.
The thing about this gem is that it skewers a pretense for which I have absolutely no sympathy. I’ve been asked far too many times why I don’t commit great acts of cruelty dishonesty, or outright villainy, all on the assumption that failure to believe in God apparently means you are well on your way to doing the worst things imaginable. It’s a pretty common theme in the amateur apologetics camps, and some folks keep coming back to it no matter how often (or how reasonably) you answer their questions.
And yes, the people who insist that all sense of morality goes out the window once you walk away from God scare me, …more than a little bit.
So, I have no sympathy for the mindset mocked by this little meme, none whatsoever.
But Wonka’s argument here is a little troubling in itself, because of course nobody really does figure out that murder is wrong, all by themselves. It might be easier if the category in question were simply ‘killing’, but it isn’t. It’s ‘murder’. And murder is a social construction. (How many people are really against ‘killing’ in all its forms anyway, or even ‘killing sentient creatures.’ No. Most of us are quite willing to kill under the right circumstances, even if we might find it difficult to do so.
If you’ve ever tried to sort the difference between killing that is acceptable from killing that isn’t you can see how very quickly a simple question leads to a very complex maze of possible answers. Issues of self defense, defense of others, and military or police service all skew the simple answer in a variety of ways. Add in possible mercy killings and a mix of government and business polices that lead accidentally or by design to deaths of innocent people in one part of the world or another, the whole damned thing gets that much more messy.
I’m not even suggesting that you can’t sort the mess. What I am saying is that social conventions are a big part of the means by which this mess does get sorted. We don’t figure out that murder is wrong all by ourselves; we learn what murder is from those around us. Others are actively involved in helping is form an orientation towards the prospect of killing another person, helping us decide when and under what circumstances we would be willing to do so.
It’s worth noting that references to God(s) serve as a pretty common part of that social process by which this and other moral questions are sorted out for a lot of people. One could question, as I do, whether or not gods are an essential part5 of that equation, and even conceding the role that gods do play in communicating ethics for many people does not entail belief in the literal existence of any of them. But there is a big difference between suggesting you can be good without God, or even questioning the role of divine entities in ethical lessons and the pretense that it’s all so perfectly obvious you can settle the whole matter all on your own.
It’s a particularly obnoxious fellow that insists we would all go conky-wobble with each other in the absence of God. More reasonable theologians have asked whether or not non-believers can produce an adequate explanation for the ethics that we do have. …I think the answer is yes, but that’s a response to a different kind of discussion. It’s hard to tell what to do when one runs into someone who insists that we are all one god shy of an shoot-out at the K-Mart Corral. Their position is crap, and their arguments are profoundly disturbing.
Still, it isn’t quite true that each of us handles the moral questions of life on the strength of our own individual conscience alone. We get a lot of help from our friends and loved ones.
The answer to both Wonka and the target of his abuse turns out to be the same; it’s more complicated than that.
Dude, that’s an awesome post. Well thought out and a good read.
Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
Another good post at northierthanthou. He’s making a very good point here in how we think of values, what vantage point we hold. Don’t hesitate to mosey on over there to read more of his post.
Juliana Lightle said:
Actually, I think most people are born with a conscience that is nurtured or not by their social and cultural environment. That is also true of other primates. One of the downsides of drug abuse by pregnant mothers is that for some drugs and also alcohol, the result is children born without a conscience.
Dean K Miller said:
We enter the world at a point of our own choosing, certainly with life goals in place, and essentially whole-heartily good and pure. But then “life” takes over, and well, sometimes the result isn’t too pretty.
I enjoyed this post…didn’t get terribly lost in the words!
Daniel Digby said:
But God is necessary. How else would we know to kill those who don’t believe in Yahweh? He also gave us so many other incredible laws to live by. I don’t understand why Congress hasn’t adopted all 613 of them.
AnElephantCant argue with this post
Although AnElephant does not want to kill
He believes in no God
Which isn’t so odd
But he is well aware that he has free will
Well reasoned debate.
AnElephant takes a slightly different view of Gods in yesterday’s ridiculous rhyme.
Sword of Apollo said:
It’s certainly true that most people get their moral ideas by social osmosis, without really thinking them through. Developing a fully rational morality, by which to gauge moral culpability and distinguish murder from justifiable killing, was a great achievement by Ayn Rand.
Very well constructed and written blog post! I look forward to reading more from you.
Great Ape Thoughts said:
This was a great read. I’ve always hated the argument that says God is the only source of morals and that non-believers can’t be moral. It’s always made me fearful of what those people think of the world. You really hit the nail on the head with this one.
Also, I love the attempted murder picture. I always love some good word play.
Serious subject! I have my own spiritual beliefs, which are quite different than yours, but I suspect as human beings we are quite alike. My not so serious take on this is, murder is okay if its a flea, ant (if they just keep coming) or mosquitos (although luckily there are few where I live). I am a total vegetarian and will not eat anything that I has to be murdered no matter how well it has been fed or tended before being slaughtered.
Thank you for a good read and I’ll follow along! 🙂
I appreciate that you pointed this out about Wonka. But, I don’t think you’d disagree with this (could be wrong) … I think we need religion mocked on every level … we need the light-hearted and ambiguous spoof and the pointed and bitter satire. Would you agree?
Mr. Wonka’s naively obscurant words are not going to persuade anyone (in fact, most will pay no attention), but they may plant a seed here and there, no?