Ben’s Talk at the Ethical Society is now on YouTube

After some technical difficulties, I have finally been able to upload my talk about Atheism and Bishop Rice to YouTube on the AYM YouTube page. I had to break it down into 5 parts, which in total run a little over an hour. If you have some time I would encourage you to watch it, or even just part of it.

Here is the link to our channel:

We are in the process of reorganizing ourselves for April, since March ended up not bearing much fruit. When we have all of our ducks in a row, we will let you know.

Ben Conover

Capitalism and Catholicism: Are they Morally Reconcilable?

Before everyone lynches me for being a “damn commie socialist,” allow me to say that I am neither a supporter of the communist social organization, the economic system of socialism, nor the current state of capitalism in the majority of developed nations in the world. Furthermore, I am providing commentary on this topic within the context of Catholicism due to my perception of a major contradiction in its social teaching. Obviously, this critique does not apply to every Catholic faith adherent, but it does affect many of them.  I have avoided the other major sects of Christianity for the sake of the length of this article and my greater exposure to Catholic social teaching.

Ok, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s continue.

Catholic social justice essentially advocates for those with monetary and physical resources (“haves”) to assist and help those without these necessities (“have-nots”) by not only donating via a charity or other organization, but also to help these poorer individuals to attain a level of sustainability in their economic lives.

Well, that sounds all fine and dandy, except for the fact that the Catechism explicitly states,

Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good. 2429

Wait a minute. What is the “common good?” And, for that matter, isn’t the only legitimate authority with the gang with the most guns? The idea of a nation-state is, after all, based on the monopoly of force and force projection within a region.

Modern capitalism caters extraordinarily well to the elite financial class of bankers, money-pushers, and financial entity officers.  These individuals know the rules of the game and they most certainly wish to keep it that way.  From this perspective, the Catholic Church attempts to reconcile its philosophy with that of the unsustainable growth of a post-industrial world. Now, I am not stating that the adherents of Catholicism are being actively hypocritical in this regard (though some certainly are), but rather that the very act of living in a system in which the cards are stacked against the historically poor is a sign of passive hypocrisy.  It seems logical to me that the Catholic faithful should attempt to carve a new and more just system out of this tangled mess of an economy rather than simply living within it.  For instance, most Catholics pay their federal income taxes.  Most of the revenue garnered from these taxes goes towards supporting a massive military that projects force in numerous nations. Often times, these campaigns are not for a “common good,” but rather to secure what are considered strategic resources and regions.

In short, I believe that in order to avoid the passive (and sometimes active) hypocrisy of Catholic social teaching, adherents to the faith should seek to redefine the idea of what constitutes a “legitimate authority” and a “common good.”  I am interested in hearing from Catholics who have moral issues with the usage of their tax dollars, the economic system they live within, and the concept of a universal “common good.”

Judaism: A Result of Bloody Expansion

stardavidThe Bible is a historically inaccurate books constructed by the people who chose to give their beliefs primacy over the competing faiths of the region.

Historiography is the topic of debate for most historians who work in the field today. Historiography is the writing of history by individuals using beliefs, experiences and biases to emphasize their own belief system. For undergraduates and graduate students in the field the true task is to decipher why certain facts are emphasized and some downplayed. One can look at the Bible and ask the same questions.

We must agree that Judaism is the undeniable precursor to Christianity, so one must trace the history of the faith back to the very foundations of Judaism: the Exodus from Egypt and the settling of Canaan. The Exodus itself brings up many points that historians have discussed to show how unimpressive the development of Judaism truly is in the grand scheme of world history. The polytheistic people who wandered into the area of Canaan, the slave from Egypt, wiped out the people who were in the immediate area with devastating force and absorbed beliefs from the people who were fortunate enough not to be destroyed by these newcomers to the land. The freed Egyptian slaves, who were still very much polytheistic until a few hundred years after the Exodus soon began to worship only one god, who was a local god in one of the many regions that these new Israelites controlled. This god was Yahweh. Why did this local deity rise to prominence? The answer can come from any number of historical references.

Any person vaguely familiar with any number of different societies through world history can look to power gained by using the “Mandate from Heaven.” This is an idea that many Chinese, African, European and even Middle Eastern emperors used to keep the mindless rabble of commoners in check. The fear of the king is mirrored in the adherence of the people to the ruler’s religious system. The region of Canaan is no way an exception to this phenomenon. Around 1100 BCE, before the rule of Saul, a local and historically unnamed ruler brought the many different regions of Israel under his shaky yet influential command. The prophets of his region had been calling for the prominence of Yahweh and when he took control over the area he used the belief and fear of Yahweh to bring the people of the region under his control. The rest, as they say, is history. After the settling of this area and the primary expansion by local rulers, Biblical kings like David led the way for militaristic rule.

The large armies of the Biblical David wiped out the surrounding regions spreading David’s sphere of influence. The historians and spiritual leaders under his command constructed the earliest forms of the Torah and, in turn, a more streamlined state religion. So what if another local ruler would have taken up arms and forced his local religion on the surround areas? Would that religion have gained prominence on a local and eventually world scale? No one with an appreciation for history could accurately answer that question. The only thing that made that local precursor to Judaism more prominent than the other local religions that escaped from Egypt is the possibility of economic expansion which every nation or city-state throughout history has lusted after.

This goes back to the Bible. The people who put the Bible together strongly imply, if not explicitly say that the one god of these Egyptian slaves was Yahweh from the moment they left the harsh Egyptian rule, if not before. However, historical records show that the people who entered the region and then controlled the majority of the area in a shattered regional rule were polytheistic with a major god in each major town or city. These local gods shared stark resemblances to the local gods of the Egyptians and of the Canaanites. Both of these ethnic groups held these belies for hundreds, if not thousands of years before Israelite influence. Many historians argue that Yahweh is just a reimagining of one of the gods that the Canaanites or Egyptians worshipped. The ruling class and the Israelites just adopted them for their own needs.

The particular need was military expansion of empirical rule in which these new Israelites soon excelled. After the region was brought under tentative control the line of Biblical kings (Saul, David, Solomon), they expanded the sphere of influence to incorporate more area and people for the ruling class to tax and, in turn, accumulate wealth. When they controlled a large enough expanse of land, a large number of people soon adhered to the kingdom’s national religion. This religion than evolved over time and the ‘chosen people’ propaganda that was found in the Torah exacerbated the religious devotion of the people. Judaism is a religion that was used to dominate and control an empire, not to offer salvation from an unjust world. If the secular history of Judaism points to a polytheistic past that was only converted to monotheism to gain prominence through military success, then the foundations of Christianity stand on shaky ground, making it at least debatable that it is the right path for humans. Why do Christians point to the peace that Christianity offers when their own roots are covered in the blood spilled by rulers who were seeking taxes and wealthy expanses of land? The historical facts put the primacy of Judaism, moral or otherwise, in doubt. If Judaism is the precursor to Christianity, than Christianity is equally in doubt.

“Israel and Judah.” In Tignor, Robert, et al. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A

History of the World, 2nd ed., p. 164. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008

Why God Is Not Beyond Us

cima_da_conegliano_god_the_fatherThe classic Christian apologetics fallback: God is beyond us.
Beautiful, efficient, and successful–but weak.

God works in mysterious ways, they say. When a Christian defender of the faith is defeated in a battle of logic, the only way for him to respond without conceding defeat is to either ignore the critic’s point altogether or to resort to non-logical defenses. The problems with these non-logical strategies include the obvious flaw that they could very easily be used to defend an infinite number of false ideas (also true, to some extent, of poor logic)–but this strategy is always the most successful in swaying the doubtful. We are not half as logical as we think we are, and we are far less than half as logical as we ought to be at times like these.

If God is, so to speak, beyond us, there are two possibilities: he is either beyond our understanding of the universe but within its objective laws, or he is beyond our understanding of the universe and also beyond its objective laws. Emotion-based theologians locked in debate with fact-based scientists often find it convenient to claim the second option, because by definition it invalidates the use of any empirical study into the likelihood of such a being actually existing–it also frees the theologian from the obligation of actually knowing what he is talking about when it comes to science and facts. In other words, theologians not only claim God is beyond us, but also claim he is beyond our universe.

Allow me to explain why this idea of a supernatural god existing beyond the objective laws of the universe makes no sense at all.

Human history shows that as our scientific knowledge of the world beyond and within ourselves grows, increasingly strange phenomena can be explained by natural laws.

Two definitions of the word Supernatural:
-attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.-
-unnaturally or extraordinarily great.-

One relevant definition of the word Natural:
-of or in agreement with the character or makeup of, or circumstances surrounding, someone or something.-

There are many things that we know we cannot explain–the known unknowns–as well as things we do not know we cannot explain–the unknown unknowns. Many things are beyond scientific understanding, or the understanding of any particular person.

But the idea of things existing beyond the objective constraints of the universe (which of course we do not fully understand) is logically impossible–if it was possible, the objective constraints would not be objective constraints.

So by this logic, nothing within this universe can disobey its objective constraints. And as the definition of the universe is -all existing matter and space considered as a whole,- it is not possible for anything to exist beyond that.

So if God exists, and if the universe is everything that exists, and there are objective laws of nature that govern it, God cannot be in conflict with the laws of nature. So if God does exist, he is not supernatural.

Why, though, do theologians throughout human history insist on the existence of the supernatural?

The primal reason is humankind’s limited ability to explain the world scientifically, which leads us to explain things philosophically and theologically–naturally, these intellectual and emotional explanations are always false to some degree, and at best are both socially useful and in some way closely akin to reality. (Christianity gets a moderate score for social usefulness, because it consistently motivates both positive and negative behaviors, but gets a very low score for accuracy in depicting reality beyond the basic workings of human emotions. The holy trinity and quantum physics cannot, as far as we know, work together unless they are separated, hence the supernatural.)

The logical reason for the insistence on the supernatural is the idea that something cannot come from nothing–that the universe’s existence necessitates a creator. I will briefly explain why this idea is false: it commits the logical fallacy of applying a rule (everything must have a cause outside itself) to the world, then inventing a god as the implication of the rule, but not applying the rule to the implied entity known as God. The rule can only be absolutely justified if it applies to everything, and if God does not follow the rule, then he does not exist, which contradicts the implication of the rule, which contradicts the rule. Therefore, the rule is false–not everything necessitates an outside cause, because as I have just logically proven, the universe (in other words, everything) does not.

This could not be used to disprove God’s existence, but it could be used to shine a light of empirical doubt upon certain shadowy assumed qualities of God that were simply invented by theologians because they seemed logical and convenient at the time. What does this mean? It means God cannot defy the law of gravity, cannot move faster than the speed of light, and cannot be the creator of the universe–because the universe explains its creation just fine on its own. This is not the Middle Ages anymore. If God is to exist–and I have proven there is no logical existential necessity for him–he must at least obey the speed limit.

Bishop Rice Targets Atheist Community

De Smet Jesuit High School

De Smet Jesuit High School

by Ben Conover

St. Louis, MO.

On Thursday, February 10th at De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Couer, MO, the students and faculty of the school entered the gymnasium for the Father Pierre De Smet Birthday Mass. The school was honored with hosting Bishop Edward Rice, a newly-appointed bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, as the celebrant of their namesake’s Mass.

Bishop Rice officiated Father De Smet’s elegantly decorated birthday Mass properly. He reached his homily, which addressed the difficulties of faith. He started by emphasizing how the Mass being celebrated in the gym was nearly identical to the Masses Father De Smet gave, and stressed the importance of the traditions of Catholicism. He continued into a part about the difficulties of responsibly practicing his faith and the faith shared by most of the attendees of the Mass.

Halfway through the homily, Rice began what has been described by some as a “tangent” against atheism. The Bishop described atheism as taking “the easy way out” and colored the lack of religious belief as lacking appreciation for moral values or caring about others. He insinuated that atheist have their beliefs to avoid morality and that they have no reason to be good people. Senior Alex Judd, who plans to attend Berkelee College of Music in the fall, was offended by the Bishop’s comments: “His main point was that he wished he could be an atheist so he would not need to worry about being accountable for his actions, the well being of others, or morals.”

*QUOTE REMOVED* Bishop Rice continued by addressing the audience, saying that some of the students might consider themselves atheists, but insisted they were playing into the popularity of atheism. Another anonymous student thought the Bishop missed the mark: “He was out of line, even in an all-boys catholic school setting.”

Bishop Rice also mentioned his volunteer work at a soup kitchen in the St. Louis area. He indicated that if he was an atheist, he would have no reason to go down and help the homeless and starving. *QUOTE REMOVED*

Judd also suggested ideas for the Bishop to improve his message: “I would probably tell him that he should seriously reflect on his reasons for being Catholic.” Particularly, Judd noted that the message was directly against the popularized idea of religious coexistence. “I would point out that he is a lost cause when it comes to the progression of our society towards honest coexistence,” Judd said.

*As of Wednesday, February 23rd, I have removed two quotes from one source in this article at his behest. The quotes were in no way inaccurate nor did they misrepresent the situation or the source, but the request to remove them came at the behest of the source for personal and social reasons.* – Ben Conover