Letters

 

Two Nations, One Abyss

Re: Tom Flynn’s article, “Two Nations, One Abyss” (FI, Decem­ber 2015/January 2016). I subscribe to Free Inquiry to get fresh views of freethinkers, and so I was disappointed that the article not only contains inaccuracies but also recycled lies, not to speak of Flynn’s biases.

I am Hindu and am completely comfortable with my identity because my faith allows me to think freely, question everything, and practice it my own way, peacefully without harming anything or anyone around. It is a naturalistic philosophy with a cosmic outlook and consequentialist ethical system. People outside the faith have been abusing it for the last 2,500 years.

For the last 1,200 years, Islam has been slaughtering us freethinkers. And Christians are busy deceitfully manipulating Sanatan Dharma (called “Hinduism” today). Sometimes I wonder if they have taken enough time to read with an open mind the philosophical traditions of Sanatan Dharma.

India’s first prime minister, Nehru, who never was a secularist, started appeasement politics by courting Muslims and other minorities with guaranteed vote banks. His family has been practicing this ever since his death. The English media in India are either controlled or heavily influenced by foreign powers, both Muslim and Christian. Proselytizing religious institutions in the more than forty Islamic countries and more than fifty Christian countries all have eyes on India, seeking converts by buying academicians, politicians, musicians, and almost anyone who can help their cause.

Now to Narendra Modi and his leadership: the incident of 2002, where fifty-four helpless travelers were roasted alive in a railway compartment, was planned by local Muslims, ready with kerosene with assistance from Pakistan. Modi was the chief minister for barely two months when this unprovoked violence occurred.

The media and the central government at that time were against Modi. Many of the social activists got funding from Arab countries to relay fake manufactured stories of horror. A classic example is Teesta Setalwad, who got funding from Arab countries and anti-Modi encouragement from the Congress party. She manufactured horror stories, which were ultimately revealed by her deputy just two years ago. Flynn recycled the same manufactured stories in this article.

It seems that to be recognized by the West, all the seculars in India have to be anti- Hindu. So, for many years to come, you will hear the outcry against minorities by Indian secularists, funded by sources outside India.

At the very least, I would expect that Free Inquiry would fact-check statements and claims before it runs an article.

Harilal L. Patel
Monroeville, Pennsylvania

Tom Flynn responds:

Judging from recent events in India, among them the killings of Muslims by Hindus on the strength of unproven allegations that the Muslims had slaughtered a cow or consumed beef, it surely appears that (contrary to Mr. Patel’s protests) India’s Hindu tradition is as capable of producing hatred and intolerance as Islam. The Indian secularists I know are equally opposed to either Hindu or Muslim sectarianism, and that is also Free Inquiry’s position.

 


 

Catholicism and Moral Modernity

What a delight it was to read Daniel Maguire’s article, “Godless Morals: The Challenge of Ivan Karamazov” (FI, December 2015/January 2016). With a great sense of humor—missing from so many books, articles, and debates on faith—Maguire zeroed in on the fallacies that undermine faith in “God” and the premise of Dostoevsky’s moral dilemma. Maguire elucidates what Peter Boghossian has been saying from a philosophical point of view: faith as an epistemology is useless. An imaginary god, or belief in that god, does not give us any knowledge or new insights. We can decide on our own what is right and wrong and have, as Maguire pointed out, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I was pleased that Maguire tied all of this talk of morals into our treatment of “the good Earth.” However, for someone who has “spent decades prodding America’s Catholic establishment” (Tom Flynn, p. 17), Maguire missed giving Pope Francis some credit. In addition to his “moral mission against poverty and militarism,” Francis has used the power of the pulpit, and the United Nations General Assembly, to address climate change, calling for a “right of the environment” based on the idea that “we human beings are part of the environment.” Defense of the environment, therefore, has to be recognized as “a moral law written into human nature itself” (UN speech, September 25, 2015).

Greg Hladky
Cincinnati, Ohio

In “What Pope Francis Got Right: Undergoing Ecological Conversion” (FI, December 2015/
January 2016), Hector Sierra writes: “I respect and admire Pope Francis’s brave effort to harness the power of religious conviction for the common good” (my italics). Unfortunately, his effort is not brave, his good not or far too common. While I endorse the attack on consumerism, it is nothing novel. Moreover, overconsumption is
only one of the horns of the beast responsible for the de­struction of nature, the other horn being human overpopulation. However, mistaking the bull for a unicorn better fits the biblical narrative, a mythology ignorant of any form of natural equilibrium.

Sierra regrets that the encyclical Laudato Si “does not contemplate important actions such as a reduction in birthrates.” Heavens, this is precisely where the pontiff could have been brave (and useful): point at the disastrous effects of population growth, not instead of (as demagogically insinuated) but in addition to consumerism. No, the most revolutionary thing ever uttered by Jorge Bergoglio is that Catholics do not have to multiply like rabbits.

M. V. van Mechelen
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A thought experiment: what consequences would ob­­tain if the Vatican forged a binding international agreement that prevented access to “artificial birth control” and abortion worldwide, underwritten by the charade of saving “souls and persons” somehow implanted in embryonic cells or fetal tissue? Bringing to term forty million abortions performed globally each year and adding the surviving live births to scores of other millions of “unintended” children conceived annually dur­ing unprotected sex, average fertility would spike upwards of 4+ children per woman. World population projected to reach ten billion around 2050 would double every thirty years to forty billion by 2110 and continue to grow infinitely. But only on paper. Not on this dying planet called Earth.

Jim Valentine
Woodland Hills, California

 


 

More on Trigger Warnings

Re: “Greta Christina’s ‘Trigger Warning’: A Response,” by Kristine Harley (FI, December 2015/January 2016). Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once remarked: “. . . The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning, but without understanding.” This is an excellent summary of what is happening in many of our colleges and universities. Well-meaning but naive in their striving for a campus inclusive of ethnic, philosophic, and religious diversity, students attempt to minimize, ameliorate, or even eliminate divergent views with euphemisms, trigger warnings, or in many cases outright censorship. The end result is not tolerance for diversity but rather the absence of a need for tolerance by creating an ideologically uniform and politically correct monolith. They are actually creating the “undemocratic beast” that they had hoped to destroy.
s for censorship in the classroom, this is absolutely unacceptable. Were students allowed to control what faculty has to say, there would be no sense in their seeking an education in the first place. They would appear to know it all, so who needs a professor? Notwithstanding the fact that students should be allowed to debate ideas as they deem fit, we do need to circulate novel ideas through academic faculty. Otherwise, we are simply indulging our preconceived and possibly ill-conceived ideas.

It is through untrammeled debate that we learn, correct our mistakes, and make progress in education and everyday civil life. This is the pragmatism of growth-oriented maturity that eventually supplants the unbridled idealism of youth. Giving credence to so-called trigger warnings in alleged free speech eliminates the need for untrammeled debate and only institutionalizes ignorance and misconception.

I commend university faculties for combating censorship on campus—no matter how politically correct and civilly accommodating it may seem. Censorship in any form no matter how subtle is always a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

John L. Indo
Houston, Texas

Methinks Kristine Harley’s fine article against trigger warnings should have carried a trigger warning . . . for Greta Christina!

Dennis Middlebrooks
Brooklyn, New York

 


Determinism In Free Will

Re: “Determinism vs. Free Will: A Middle Ground,” by Dan Davis (FI, December 2015/January 2016). Davis suggests that recent scientific findings pointing to randomness support the case for free will. If science one day conclusively proves that there are true random—causeless—events in the universe, it might be an unhappy fact for me and those who have been very comfortable thinking that every effect has a sufficient cause. But if it is so, it is so. I don’t see any real harm. The real importance of the free will debate is that it is the most important moral question imaginable. For the overwhelming majority of Christians, having free will is indispensable to salvation—if there is no guilt there is no need for salvation and no reason for Jesus! It is vital to Islam and Judaism too. Randomness would have no bearing on the moral question since if it is the cause of action, it can confer no freedom on the agent nor, certainly, blame or guilt.

Other than randomness and various mere assertions, Davis offers nothing to support his astonishing statement that “The fact that free will must emanate from physical processes does not change the likelihood of its existence.” How can one be responsible for the “physical processes” in life that he could not have chosen?

Julian W. Haydon
Warrenton, Virginia

Dan Davis summarizes Robert Doyle’s two-stage model for decision making as a hybrid of determinism and free will. Yet he says the first stage, which is supposed to be the non-deterministic one, is influenced by factors that can all be seen as 100 percent deterministic themselves. This invalidates the entire model.

Here’s an approach to the question: put in an identical situation with the exact same set of circumstances, are you free to act differently? If you believe there is free will, then you’ll want to answer “Yes,” but you now have to identify what it was that made you decide differently. Unfortunately, that something has to be random—since everything that could be causal and deterministic is included as a part of “the exact same set of circumstances”—and the only real random process is at the quantum level.

Instead of fearing the loss of free will and struggling to reconcile it with determinism, we need to celebrate the absence of free will. We want to be fully-caused beings that base our decisions on preexisting conditions, whether that’s experience, education, genetics, the weather, mood, or being distracted by that song on the radio. The alternative is, well, there really doesn’t exist one past the quantum level. Why does this bother some humanists so much?

Dan Cogswell
Shepherdstown, Ws Virginia

 


God and Rape

Regarding the article “God and Rape” by Gary Whittenberger (FI, December 2015/January 2016), the argument the writer makes against the existence of God is rather superfluous, since it does nothing more than restate the theological problem of the existence of evil if there’s an all-good, all-perfect, all-powerful god. Although men raping women is indeed immoral and evil, it is no more so than human beings of either sex murdering, torturing, and otherwise badly mistreating their fellow humans. What makes this particular subset of evil shine any new light on the subject?

By the way, the existence of evil is a problem only for those who posit a single god, and then only if that god is claimed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and entirely good. It can easily be solved by positing two (or more) gods, one all-good and one all-evil. It’s only the monotheistic religions that are threatened by the problem of evil, and even then, only if that single all-powerful god is claimed to be perfectly good and loving. Belief in the existence of an evil and exceedingly vicious all-powerful god would not be threatened at all by the existence of evil in the world around us. If anything, the followers of that god would find the existence of good to be a theological problem.

Kerwin L. Schaefer
New Bern, North Carolina

While I agree with Gary Whit­ten­berger’s conclusion that there is no God, his argument from rape leads to a question I have often pondered. I challenge Premise 1: “If God exists, then he is perfectly good.” Why? Why has mankind consistently attached a list of superlatives to its deities? I see no basis for this, and it certainly doesn’t fit the evidence, including religionists’ sacred writings.

Whittenberger posits “God” as “eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good,” your basic God of Abraham. I disagree with the definition. “Eternal”: there is no data, but we can assume that belief in a deity is as old as man’s ability to cower in fear of a thunderstorm. The all-knowing aspect is called into question by several passages in the Jewish Old Testament: Who told you that you are naked? Who told you to eat of the tree? Where is your brother? These all come to mind. Genesis says God repented of creating mankind, which indicates he did not know how badly we would turn out. Further, Satan appears to have deceived God at least once.

Is God all-powerful? If God is powerful enough to stop a hurricane, tsunami, or ebola yet chooses not to, then he is a monster. Perhaps he lacks the power.

The idea of God being perfectly good would be laughable were it not so tragic. The Hebrews believed their god required child sacrifice (Abraham and Isaac, Jephthah and his daughter) and engaged in genocide (the Flood, Sodom, Gomorrah, Ai, Jericho, and other cities of the Canaan plain). He apparently enjoined the Hebrews to kill all people in the cities except the young women who were to be raped. The Bible has God describe himself as jealous and he has a hair-trigger temper. His constant need of praise speaks to his incredible vanity and narcissism. And he clearly raped the Virgin Mary.

Since the God of Abraham is no more than a Neolithic myth with all the expected attributes of a tribal war lord, the point is moot. However, if there were a God, he’s got some ’splaining to do.

Curtis Bass
Apex, North Carolina

Although a nonbeliever, it is my oiin that trying to prove that God does not exist is as illogical as trying to logically establish that God does exist. Thus I approached Gary Whittenberger’s essay with reservations. In it he rehashes the oft-used argument that because of the existence of evil in the world, the rape of girls and women in this case, God does not exist. How to explain the existence of evil in God’s world has long challenged believers, and they have frequently risen to the occasion. Whether one accepts them or not, explanations as to the existence of evil in our world abound.

One such explanation is found in The Malleus Maleficarum by Frs. Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers. The two Masters of Sacred Theology examine the practice of witchcraft. Published in 1486, the first part of this lengthy treatise establishes the fact that witches do exist and outlines their activities. Further, they examine the Divine Permission by which God allows the Devil, Author of all Evil, to Sin, from which the Works of Witches are suffered to take place (capitalization as in the Maleficarum). Why is it that Almighty God permits evil? The authors cite the Bible and numerous theological philosophers in answering this question.

To fully understand, one must read the Maleficarum; in part, if evil did not exist, good could not be known, and Almighty God is so omnipotent that he can bring good even out of evil. Whittenberger opines that if God is good, He would not commit an immoral act. That argument was dispensed with centuries ago.

Ken McCaffrey
Brattleboro, Vermont

 


 

Death

Re: “Death” by R.G. Dumont (FI, December 2015/January 2016). I understand that people raised in the Catholic traditions have more beliefs to submit to logic than those of us who were not subjected to such teachings, but having a greater number of inconsistencies would seem to allow earlier questioning than our mere moral dictates.

However, we can share the contemplation of death and “who will remember.” I’m eighty-five and have had no fear of death since my legal maturity. I am in quite good health, and so I do not seek the relief from pain. I have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but as Dumont noted, they will likely remember me personally for only a couple generations.

Many of the figures important to history left little of themselves behind because of the difficulty in doing so, but today it is possible to leave a flash drive for each of my progeny containing both narrative and pictures.

Don Burk
Tucson, Arizona


Letters in response to Free Inquiry volume 36, issue 1

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