Tag archives for: atheism

On Trying to Escape Your Past

There's an Irish joke that runs as follows:

A journalist, researching for an article on the complex political situation in Northern Ireland, was in a pub in a war-torn area of Belfast. One of his potential informants leaned over his pint of Guinness and suspiciously cross-examined the journalist: "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?" the Irishman asked.

"Neither," replied the journalist; "I'm an atheist."

The Irishman, not content with this answer, put a further question: "Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?

This joke resonates with me. I think it's both funny and profound. Funny for obvious reasons, and profound because it succinctly illuminates the importance people attach to labels.

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Charter Ramblings

Many years ago I read a book called The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson. The backdrop against which the story occurs is a relatively near future society where traditional notions of country and state have been largely supplanted by notions of "phyles" - tribes or groups having similar ethnic or cultural characteristics. One of the main characters, a Mr. John Hackworth, belongs to the Neo-Victorian phyle who, like their namesake, are a somewhat prudish lot who follow a rigid and absolute moral code.

The book is good, but one scene in particular has stayed with me. Hackworth is having a conversation with a few of his fellow Neo-Victorians. One of them asks him what he thinks about "hypocrisy". Hackworth doesn't quite know what to make of this question but eventually concedes, somewhat half-heartedly, that it's a "vice" - something that should be avoided. This eventually leads to a discussion about our time (the past, from their perspective) which, according to the Neo-Victorians, is characterized by a rampant moral and cultural relativism. It's a time where all philosophies, no matter how depraved, have equal value. In such a world, it's obviously unacceptable to criticize another person's beliefs because doing so would require some sort of objective standard of morality which, in their view, our age sorely lacks.

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Church, State, and Culture

Have you ever wondered why the separation of church and state is good idea?

I'm assuming, of course, that most everyone in my immediate social circle actually thinks it's a good idea, though since I read about that fiasco involving the mayor of Saguenay, this assumption is perhaps on shakier ground than I would have liked.

But, assuming that I'm correct, have you ever sat down and actually thought about why you think it's a good idea?

I've noticed at least two schools of thought among my friends. Some of them are simply anti-religion. They look at, for example, the Catholic Church's history of child abuse, or the practice of sati, and they conclude that the separation of church and state is a good idea for much the same reason that the separation of murder and state is a good idea. Religion is bad and the less it has to do with public life, the better.

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