Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Are all religious arguments a bad basis for laws?

It seems to me that the expression "religious argument" can mean one of two things. It can mean that the argument is based in its entirety on the specific teachings of a particular religion, such as the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses that blood transfusions are wrong, or of Catholics that birth control should not be used. These make bad laws, to be sure. But it could only imply that human beings have a purpose for their existence which is not of their own making. Would an argument that implied that "religious" in the negative sense and therefore an inadequate basis for law? This would be affirmed, it seems to me, by most any theistic religion, and rejected only by atheists or materialists (the doctrine that everything is matter). Is it necessary for a claim to be acceptable from the standpoint of materialism in order to be acceptable basis for law? 

18 comments:

Crude said...

It seems to me that the expression "religious argument" can mean one of two things. It can mean that the argument is based in its entirety on the specific teachings of a particular religion, such as the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses that blood transfusions are wrong, or of Catholics that birth control should not be used.

Catholic teaching about contraception isn't Catholic-specific. You get to similar conclusions with natural law reasoning, and other secular pathways. Hell, take the irreligious culture with a breeding-below-replacement problem. It may be culturally unpopular, but it's pretty easy to see such a nation suddenly frowning upon contraception and being very insistent on people settling down and raising families.

The biggest problem I see with the 'no religious laws' argument is that it fails to treat anti-theism, materialism and atheism as the religions they are, and alongside that, fails to take seriously the fact that most of the hot-button social issues that people scream 'religion' over can be translated into secular versions pretty easily. "Pass this law because I think it's right" is as secular as you can get.

B. Prokop said...

I don't think there's a one size fits all answer to this question. Surely a law requiring all people to attend church services on Sunday would be a bad law. But a law requiring businesses to close on Sundays (like they used to have in Germany until quite recently) can be defended on both religious and purely secular grounds.

During the Vietnam War, potential draftees were able to claim a conscientious objector status on religious grounds, and I believe that to have been a good law, and the only justification for it was purely religious.

So like so many other things when it comes to government, it's not a matter of absolutes, but rather one of where to draw the lines. No law should be either accepted or rejected simply because the argument for or against it is religious.

John Moore said...

What is an example of a law that cannot possibly "imply that human beings have a purpose for their existence which is not of their own making"?

I mean, a religious person might interpret any law to imply such a thing. For religious people, the world's very existence implies God.

How can we draw a line between laws that imply something higher and those that don't?

oozzielionel said...

In a democratic society, all citizens are invited to participate in the law making process - from voting to testifying in the legislature to holding office. Their opinions are valued. There should be no standard to censor their opinions. There should be no religious standard to restrict their participation. Religious arguments are entirely valid. In the past, popular opinion virtually required a religious justification. Now, religious arguments are less effective.

jdhuey said...

Are all religious arguments a bad basis for laws?

Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Hell, Yes. Even if you come up with a good law it is still a bad basis. A religious argument per se is not based on facts of reality so you can never verify that a religious argument is sound.

B. Prokop said...

So, djhuey, would you then compel religious pacifists to fight in the next war? The "logic" of your comment leads to such a conclusion.

There is no conceivable argument in favor of allowing conscientious objection other than a religious one.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Crude said...

A religious argument per se is not based on facts of reality

Since when?

Stanley Fish makes a persuasive case that while religious/first-principles reasoning behind law has its problems, it's also the only game in town.

B. Prokop said...

Thanks for the link, Crude!

jdhuey said...

Since when?


Since the first gay person was killed because the religous used God to justify their own prejudice.

Since the first person was burned at a stake for being called a witch.

Since the first heretic was killed for not adherring to the powerful's orthodoxy.

Since the first blasphemer was stoned to death.

Since the first virgin was tossed into a valcano to placate Pele.

Since the first baby was sacrificed to ensure a good harvest.

Since the first shaman told people not to pee inside the village because it would displease the spirits of the ancestors.

Since the first victum was killed for Kali.

Since the first person was thrown overboard to placate a angry sea God.

Since .... well, the list is endless. But to sum, it up: since when have religious arguments not been based on the facts of reality? Since the first time a persom made up a religious argument.

Crude said...

jdhuey,

Nice bit of grandstanding, but it doesn't answer my question at all. You just listed 'a bunch of things you dislike and ascribe to religion'. But you know what? I can play that game too.

Since the first gay person was killed because the religous used God to justify their own prejudice.

Since the first gay person was sentenced to an asylum because secular science declared same-sex attraction as a sign of utter insanity.

Since the first person was burned at a stake for being called a witch.

Since the first person was killed by an enemy for secular reasons, like 'I want his wife, his food or his money'.

Since the first blasphemer was stoned to death.

Since the first person was executed for speaking against the secular authority.

Since the first virgin was tossed into a valcano to placate Pele.

Since the first child was raped by the atheist who believed might makes right.

Since the first baby was sacrificed to ensure a good harvest.

Since the first time contemporary secular science insisted eating a bunch of random herbs was how you cured a venereal disease.

Since the first shaman told people not to pee inside the village because it would displease the spirits of the ancestors.

Since the first naturalist told people to drink their own urine to balance out their humors. (And is 'don't pee in your home' a bad rule'?)

Since the first victum was killed for Kali.

Since the first family was slaughtered for the good of the communist state.

Since the first person was thrown overboard to placate a angry sea God.

Since the first person was convicted of a crime they couldn't commit to placate a vengeful public.

Since .... well, the list is endless.

The list of secular crimes, insanities and abuses is a hell of a lot longer than the religious list.

And it doesn't answer my question. That could be because you don't have an answer: you just know you dislike religion, and that's all the reason in the world you have to attack it here.

Behold - the basis and motivation of secular laws!

jdhuey said...

Crude,

I included the rule about urination because it is a good rule but that the religious basis for it is unsound. If we lived in a different reality where urine was somehow a good thing to have underfoot then this secular basis would argue to change the rule. Not so with the religious basis.

We no longer consider homosexuality a mental illness but gay people are still attacked and sometimes killed using "God hates Fags" as a rationale.

People can do bad (horrible) things for secular reasons, no one claims otherwise but secular reasons can be looked at, examined, modeled, tested, corrected, changed, substitued, obviated - not so with a religious reasons. You can never look at reality and determine if a religious reason is sound. God may indeed hate fags but no one can tell for sure. With religious reasons, the best you can hope for is that some other unsound but kinder religious reason becomes more widely held.

B. Prokop said...

"We no longer consider homosexuality a mental illness but gay people are still attacked..."

Total non sequitur. Why would anyone be attacked for being ill? We don't attack people who have the measles or the flu.

Also, who's this "we" you're talking about? The Catechism explicitly states that homosexuality is an "intrinsic disorder". If that ain't another way of saying "illness", then I don't know what is.

Jezu ufam tobie!

jdhuey said...

Bob,

Total non sequitur.

Not at all. Read Crude's comment above that I was responding to. He was showing that people can do bad things for secular reasons; specifically, that the mental health profession treated homosexuality as a mental illness and cause great harm to gay people. My point was that the mental health profession, with a better understanding of homosexuality and a recognition of their own prejudice, changed (at least in Western Developed Countries).

Why would anyone be attacked for being ill? We don't attack people who have the measles or the flu.

Nobody here has suggested any such thing. Read what was written.

Also, who's this "we" you're talking about? The Catechism explicitly states that homosexuality is an "intrinsic disorder".

The "we" that I was referring to is the Western secular mental heath profession. This is implicit in the context. Again, my point is that secular things like the DSM V change and improve based on our revised understanding of reality - things like your Catechism don't.

Crude said...

My point was that the mental health profession, with a better understanding of homosexuality and a recognition of their own prejudice, changed (at least in Western Developed Countries).

It was largely a change of political and emotional sensibility, along with a redefinition of what constitutes 'harm' to begin with.

But let's get to the meat of the matter:

People can do bad (horrible) things for secular reasons, no one claims otherwise but secular reasons can be looked at, examined, modeled, tested, corrected, changed, substitued, obviated - not so with a religious reasons.

This is, simply put, flatly untrue. Because the things that can be modeled, examined, tested, corrected, changed and substituted - read Fish's article here - tell us /nothing/ about what's right and wrong, what's just or unjust, or even what's harmful or not.

Really, all that's needed here is to look at philosophy, politics and otherwise. There's all that talk of justice, good, right, goals and otherwise. Keep it entirely secular - remove 'religion' from the scope altogether. What a surprise - it turns out that all of that 'secular' shit like justice is immune to all those nice, 'secular' measures.

Hell, just look as far as the Cult of Gnu Leadership. It's a pack of guys who, more and more, attack each other. Supposedly not a religious bone in any of their bodies, yet they disagree vehemently about what 'counts' as feminism, as justice, as good behavior, as a good law, or even what counts as atheism or evidence for God's existence.

The great secular world of progress, agreement and objective fact is a myth. The bigger myth is the idea that 'religion' causes violence while 'being secular' does not. The secular crimes of history absolutely dwarf the religious crimes.

but gay people are still attacked and sometimes killed using "God hates Fags" as a rationale.

And they were locked up and thrown in asylums in secular countries - even atheist ones - until quite recently. Unjust, I say. But what was that you said? Even if they somehow found the 'right' answer, their basis is still 'wrong' because there's no way to really verify it thoroughly?

Bad news - that line applies to secular 'reasoning' as well as any other kind.

B. Prokop said...

jdhuey.

It is clear from your last comment that you are no different than Skep, who would clearly say one thing in a first posting, then totally deny the plain meaning of his words in the very next posting. I do not wish to play that game once again. It was bad enough with Skep; I see no need to step in the same mud puddle a second time. I'll leave the field clear for crude to spar with you, but it's already clear he'll make no headway either.

I'm through with trying to nail jello to the wall.

Crude said...

Bob,

Yeah, I'm going to be pretty slow to compare anyone to Skep. Maybe you're right, maybe you're not, but I think the principal problem here is that jdhuey is saying something demonstrably wrong - but often repeated.

There are no special problems with 'religious laws' in general that do not also manifest for 'secular laws' in general. And the caveats and addendums that are added to swoop in and save secular laws tend to save the religious laws too.

There's this idea that the only people who ever had a problem with sodomy were horrible religious people. That's utterly, ridiculously wrong. And the idea that psychologists (second to sociologists in terms of being the softest of the soft sciences) suddenly discovered that nope, anal sex is totally normal and healthy and A-OK with the power of science, is likewise a joke.

It's unfortunate for some, I suppose, but secular thought is anything but immune from the supposed failings of religious thought. If anything the difference is that the religious tend to admit their limitations, while the wholly secular all too often pretend the problem doesn't even exist.

B. Prokop said...

Crude,

It's almost as if the problem were one of labeling. It seems that secularists will swallow anything, as long as it doesn't have the dreaded "religious" label associated with it. This whole non-issue about whether "religious" arguments can be used in determining law is a perfect example. Call it "sociology" or "behavioral science" or "psychology" or some other scientific sounding name, and they'll lap it up. But if you present theexact same reasoning alongside a citation from St. Augustine or (Darwin forbid!) The Bible, and watch the horrified cringing, like Dracula confronted by a Crucifix.

Jezu ufam tobie!

JaredMithrandir said...

Any argument for Laws that restrict Freedom is a bad argument.

Fortunately as a Christian I reject all Religion.