Harris’ argument on Christian moral sentiment

There is an line of thought on Letter to a Christian Nation (Sam Harris) that I find an interesting point about Christianity.

Harris makes a point about how the Christian Right in the US spend much effort campainging on what might be seen as marginally morally important campaigns particularly concerning sexual morality and promoting pro-life ideals. While someone on the Christian right may not see this as a marginal issue, it seems ephemeral an issue to the more important global issues of human rights abuse and poverty. Christianity (or bettter put, Christians) have the flaw of overemphasising these self-indulgent national issues over the global human catastrophes.

A lot can be said about Harris’ argument, one can direct it in many ways, and as such, pull it apart in many ways also. Responses include:

i. The critique of Christian-believer behaviour says nothing about the character of Jesus
ii. This only applies to a sector of the Christian contingent

There is, however, a very powerful thought in this line of argument. Something we often forget are things distantly in the past, to which some or many are still affected by. Often, the issues in the public’s consciousness only involve those issues which are directly or closestly reminded to them.

Stephen Fry made the point once that the plight of HIV/AIDS victims are slowly becoming forgotten by many. It is seen less as a problem compared to something like obesity. There are various reasons for it, one, is the newness of it fading as years passed.

HIV/AIDS is becoming slowly forgotten, and we often need reminding about global poverty. Indeed there are many campaign issues in the world, and I suppose, there are so many that we often must dedicate ourselves only to a few. Those few that we consider are often those that have immediate or distant impact upon us (breast cancer, for instance). Otherwise, they are then dismissed and forgotten.

That seems to be the most salient point about Harris’ appeal to the poor moral sentiment of Christianity in his Letter.


New phrases: The “New” Atheism

Well, seeing that Sinistre* and Antisophie have given their own posts on new words and phrases (and how typical for S* to use pwnd as a word! I considered one of my own. I, along with many other philosophers, have recieved an invitation to write articles for an internet encyclopaedia, and one of the articles that they asked for writers on was: the “New Atheism”. Given that I spend most of my house in solitude reading modern philosophy by candlelight, I hardly get to come across new words, or people, for that matter.

The notion of a “New Atheism” on the one hand was new, that there was such a phrase, was, at one, a sort of validation of this phenomenon that is going on; namely, of the sudden emergence of writers and publications who write on the issues of religion and secularity and things around it. But on the other hand, I thought it such an odd term; what is new about the new atheism?

One response is to say that it reflects a growing acceptance, and change in shift of societal trends. Back in Jesuit school, it was heresy of the highest order to say one was an atheist; now, apparently, I look at many of my friends facebook profiles and find they are an atheist. Many people think I am an atheist, but, as with most things, I can’t just give a straightforward answer. Normally when I think of something, I try to reflect on it, see how it impacts on other issues, and see various facets and tensions of an issue, very often either I just stop thinking about it or get confused, or just follow a thought until the phone rings, to say that I ever come down on an issue and say something like “I have such and such …. as a position” is far too flippant. I don’t work that way.

For instance, once, someone asked what do you think of error theory? I didn’t give a one-sentence answer, I just thought out loud, what did they mean? what is at stake? what issues are at hand here? By default I tend not to favour error theory, but not because it is an anti-realist thesis, but because of its specific denial of truth condition statements of morality. But I may reply to say error-theorist about what?

I don’t do this whole thing about “having a position”. Yes, I may come down consistently on the same conclusions on the same issues, for instance, Metallica is a shit band. But I will always be willing to put my cards on the table and see my hand before I put them down to play. Cos sometimes the hand may not be good enough to win and we have to stick. I find that this “New Atheism” consists of many philistines, both culturally and intellectually. Oft repeating arguments that need not be repeated, just read Hume and you shall find this argument there, you are not original, furthermore, if you learned from the past you avoid repetition, further to that, you avoid their own pitfalls that you yourself may invoke.

That’s what I liked about the Jesuits, always cultured, always aware…