Links and Comments: The Secular Life; Anti-Vax conspiracy theories; demonizing political opponents; the hell of heaven

A couple days ago NYT op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote Building Better Secularists, in which he presumes to instruct those who do not share his religious beliefs how they are obliged to construct the social infrastructure that religion would otherwise provide. (He’d read Phil Zuckerman’s Living the Secular Life, which I also read and blogged about.)

I didn’t get around to responding to that column, though PZ Myers did in some detail, in his typical (rude and crude) style.

Brooks’ column struck me as a typically obtuse and presumptious comment from someone who, like most religious people, *cannot understand* how anyone can live their lives or understand the universe without the mystical religious premises they have, in all likelihood, inherited from early childhood. (There is a deep truth about human nature here, somewhere.)

But today I am inclined to capture the letters in today’s NYT in response to Brooks, most of which take exception. I especially appreciate Daniel C. Dennett’s lead response, from which I will quote:

Secularists don’t have to “build” anything; we can choose moral philosophies from what’s already well tested. If religious people think that their “faith” excuses them from evaluating the duties and taboos handed down to them, they are morally obtuse.

Does Mr. Brooks think that religious people are not “called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions”? Children may be excused for taking it on authority, but not adults.

Mr. Brooks writes, “Religious people are motivated by their love for God and their fervent desire to please Him.” We secularists have no need for love of any imaginary being, since there is a bounty of real things in the world to love, and to motivate us: peace, justice, freedom, learning, music, art, science, nature, love and health, for instance.

Our advice: Eliminate the middleman, and love the good stuff that we know is real.

One more link about the anti-vaxxers: Salon: Amanda Marcotte on 4 Reasons Right-Wingers Are Embracing Anti-Vaxxer Conspiracy Theories. [My emphasis]

Anti-vaccination advocates are, at their core, conspiracy theorists. You’d have to be in order to believe that all major health organizations in the world are colluding to cover up the supposed dangers of vaccines and that only a few non-scientists on the internet have access to the truth.

At its core, the anti-vaccination movement has always been a reactionary one: Hostile to poor people, obsessed with the conservative myth about bodily “purity,” hostile to the expertise of scientists and doctors.

How to argue cultural issues when you have no actual case: demonize your opponents. Again in Salon, also from Amanda: 12-year-olds are fair game: Michelle Malkin and the right’s ugly new smear strategy.

These kinds of harassment campaigns aren’t just immoral, but illogical. For one, the targets seem to be chosen almost at random. … No matter how successful Malkin may be at publicly humiliating a sixth-grader, she can’t change the fact that millions of children get necessary healthcare coverage through SCHIP.

Valerie Tarico at Alternet: 10 Reasons Christian Heaven Would Actually Be Hell

I mentioned, in my review of The Tree of Life a couple years ago, how boring I would think the film’s vision of heaven would get, very quickly. Life is about growing, working toward goals, experiencing change, even if only the raising of the next generation. How could heaven actually work? (Perhaps a daily reset, as in Groundhog Day?) This article expands on these thoughts.

The writer first summarizes the common concepts of heaven, and then spells out the objections. Perfection means sameness; forget physical pleasures; no free will; 98% of heaven’s occupants are embryos and toddlers (according to religion! do the math!); your job in heaven is to sing God’s praises; and it goes on forever.

Forever. Curiously, there’s been religious objection to the mathematical concept of infinity, because, well, infinity is the reserve of ‘God’. But I think it safe to say that, aside from intellectual manipulations of the idea of infinity, human nature has no appreciation of the concept of infinity, and no idea how the idea of existing forever is so counter to the fact of human nature.

This reminds me of Christopher Hitchens’ comment about Heaven, which I’ve quoted before:

Heaven sounds like North Korea — an eternity of mindless conformity spent singing the praises of a powerful tyrant.

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