Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Bayer and Figdor's Atheistic 10 Non-commandments Cannot Make a Theist "Happy"

In response to my post B writes:

“I fail to see how the statement 'there is no God' would place you into the category of unhappy people. Could you please clarify? I don't think that the claim of existence or non-existence of any deity is directly linked to happiness. I know miserable theists and atheists, and happy theists and atheists.

Thank you B for your question. I’m going to try to clarify.

We need to define “happiness.” In a utilitarian theory such as Bayer and Figdor’s “happy” means “pleasure” and “unhappy” means “pain.” “Good” means what gives most people pleasure most of the time, and “bad” means what gives most people pain most of the time. (Note: I have not read the book, just the review. But it’s easy to see they are utilitarians. If they mean something different by “happy” then I’ll need to be corrected.)

Pleasure and pain can be physical and emotional.

Beliefs can cause emotional pain. This includes both true and false beliefs. If I believe the lump under my skin is cancerous I may experience emotional pain, regardless of the truth or falsity of the belief. Or, e.g., a young woman in our Monroe community has been missing for several weeks. The beliefs that she may have been abducted and held captive, or that she might not be alive, cause great emotional pain.

Bayer and Figdor’s non-commandment V is a belief, perhaps the core belief of atheism. This belief gives me, as a theist, no emotional pleasure or happiness. I think belief V is false, and significantly so. This is much like Richard Dawkins’s existential displeasure and profound unhappiness at, e.g., Antony Flew’s book There Is a God. The fact that people have certain beliefs that are significantly false can make one “unhappy.”

My belief that there is a God is the source of pleasure and a life of flourishing. Everything changed for me when I converted from a practical atheism to theism. I transitioned from existential pain to existential pleasure.

If non-commandment VIII is true (which I doubt because of problems with utilitarian ethics) – “We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy” – then, on this non-commandment, the atheistic belief that there is no God makes me unhappy. In itself this poses no problem for me, because all beliefs marginalize. But some marginalize more significantly than others. The atheistic core belief V dis-affirms my core belief that God exists. To expect theists to be happy with this worldview strikes me as naïve. (I would never expect to bring happiness to atheists by affirming the 10 commandments and the worldview that makes sense of them.)

Finally, this means that the atheist acts immorally (given V and VIII).

Why am I now thinking of John Lennon’s culturally and sociologically sophomoric song “Imagine?” This song envisions a non-possibility, at least in this life and in this world.  What we really have is something more like Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.”