Sunday, August 05, 2007

From Diderot to Dawkins – a Tradition of Degeneracy


Denis Diderot, 1713 – 1784

In a previous post I asked a question: “Can anyone find an example of a single prominent atheistic leader who was kind, honest, and sober and had a stable family life?”

One commentator mentioned Denis Diderot as candidate and was even kind enough to refer me to a recent biography . I have finally gotten a hold of the book and I’ve begun reading it.

Basically, this has just confirmed my original opinion.

What about kindness? Monsieur Diderot married Anne-Toinette Champion in 1743 (page 22). From 1746 until 1751 he had a sexual affair with Madeleine de Puisieux, the wife of a friend (page 42). Wasn’t this cruel to both his wife and to his friend?

Regarding honesty, in 1749, Diderot was arrested for publishing heretical and obscene literature. At first, he lied and denied the charges. Then, after two weeks in jail, he admitted to everything and promised, falsely, never to repeat these offences (page 49).

In addition to this he believed humility to be a vice (page 101). “He loved praise, indeed bathed in it, and no writer has seen more deeply into the lengths people will go to obtain praise. Correspondingly one of his leading traits was self-admiration.” (page 102) He hardly needed God when he himself was a god.

Based on a great deal of research and discussions with many atheists, I am forced to conclude that atheism is indeed not a religion or a philosophy. Its followers cannot give us any clear definition of what atheism is. Determinism and materialism are both scientifically discredited. Rather, as is seen so clearly in the lives of well known atheists, atheism is a mental illness, based on narcissism and/or hedonism. It is no more a philosophy than alcoholism. A truly good, moral atheist is a contradiction in terms.

This by the way helps us to understand the fact that no officially atheistic government has had a decent human rights record.

46 comments:

avrum68 said...

"A truly good, moral atheist is a contradiction in terms."

Actually, I know moral atheists. That isn't the problem. The problem is that atheism is a choice due to a crappy upbringing and the resulting depressive symptoms this brings. I have yet to meet a self-proclaimed atheist who isn't miserable. Anecdotal yes, but Dear Lord, reject God all you want, but go to therapy...for your kids at least.*

Since most atheists are materialists, they're probably wondering why I choose therapy over psychotropic meds. Well, they simply don't work very well. So I'd recommend that good ol', long term, "journey of the soul" stuff. Sorry.

jewish philosopher said...

"I know moral atheists"

I am waiting to find a single well documented case.

avrum68 said...

"I am waiting to find a single well documented case."

Ok, I'll bite. Define moral, and I'll tell you if I have an example.

jewish philosopher said...

Well, as I said in the post “Can anyone find an example of a single prominent atheistic leader who was kind, honest, and sober and had a stable family life?”

I would like the example to be someone dead, since then more people are willing to talk frankly about him, and someone famous, since then it's easier to find documentation such as published biographies about him.

If I would take the letter "a" off "atheistic", I could probably find a phone book full of names.

david said...

The issue with what your saying is that unless morals come from as external source they are subjective. They would be mere preferance developed over time and they are then not absolute.
In a religion you believe that morality is given to us by God and that therefore they are truely objective as they come externaly, they are not what we prefer but something that we have as absolute right or wrong.
You judge atheist according to what you hold as moral, and while you or I may not agree with them they are living, what they consider moral lives. I am sure you would also hold many theists as generally immoral such as Muslims.

jewish philosopher said...

I am going a little further than that. I am saying that people who explicitly deny God do so because they are morally corrupt.

david said...

Is that really fair, you could mount a better argument if you said that not believing in God will lead one to become morally corrupt.
I don't think that you can say that you live up to your own moral stanards, does this mean you are morally corrupt.
Maybe you should be saying that atheists are just incapable to admit their moral short fallings.
That said in an earlier comment you mentioned 4 standards to measure a moral athiest, 2 of which you admit in your profile to fall short of yourself, perhaps this is a good reason to write you off as an immorral?
I think your being too simplistic on this one.

jewish philosopher said...

Did I ever claim to be moral?

Joebaum said...

What is JP not moral about?

Joebaum said...

What its in someones past is not present.

avrum68 said...

Ah, I was refering to a colleague of mine. Sweet guy, vocal atheist. No, I can't think of any vocal, well known atheists who are moral. Moreover, the new one's, Harris/Hitchens/Dawkins, are pompous asses who've been called out by their colleagues for being rude and condescending. Granted being "nice" doesn't encompass all of morality, but I think it's interesting that these 3 go on and on about how you don't need religion for this and that and yet they can barely contain themselves from being absolute pricks.

jewish philosopher said...

See what I mean. Even agnostics, like Darwin, seem halfway decent. And imagine how many bona fide good theists you could find.

The nicest guy I've corresponded with yet is probably Kenneth Miller, famous supporter of evolution and devout Catholic, from Brown.

badrabbi said...

Talking about degenerates, I love Rabbi Akiva's story. How he left his wife in the height of poverty with his little child to go to "learn Torah". How he left her for 20 years, to the point that he did not recognize her upon his return. How even when he went back to study, he left her and his son behind.

Very nice rabbi, this pillar of Judaism.

Next post, Rabbi Gamliel.

avrum68 said...

"Very nice rabbi, this pillar of Judaism. "

3 points...

1) From wikipedia: "By agreement with his wife, Akiba spent twelve years away...." Badrabbi, you married? One of the most powerful aspects of a marriage is when partners support each other visavis their goals and aspirations.

2) A lot of my friends need to travel for work. Actually, they don't NEED to travel, but they do so so they can afford their SUV's, home in the 'burbs, etc. And while their reasons are anything but grand, we accept this as being part of OUR culture. I wasn't present during Rabbi Akiba's time, nor were you. Did people leave their homes for great lenthst of time? Did husbands and wives agree to such things? More info would be necessary before throwing around accusations like "degenerates". Kinda disgusting actually.

3) I have friends and clients that have experienced a "calling", and had to become courageous and creative while following this path. Read the bios of authors, artists, folks who turned their back on their careers, etc., etc., the list goes on and on. Nothing too sinister.

To take something completely out of context, purposely leave out the fact his wife was in agreement with his decision, and disregard cultural norms of this time period...only to malign a one of the greatest rabbis in our tradition...your not a badrabbi, your a sadrabbi.

jewish philosopher said...

Besides that Bad, I'm not trying to argue that all theists are great guys. They aren't. I'm just pointing out that atheists NEVER are, at least as far as I can verify.

You wouldn't believe the emails Michael Shermer sent me when I told him this.

badrabbi said...

Hi Avrum;

This is Wikipedia's entry on the subject, and I have confirmed the story from many other sources:

"By agreement with his wife, Akiba spent twelve years away from her, pursuing his studies under Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Joshua ben Hananiah. Returning at the end of that time, he was just about to enter his wretched home, when he overheard the following answer given by his wife to a neighbor who was bitterly censuring him for his long absence: "If I had my wish, he should stay another twelve years at the academy." Without crossing the threshold, Akiba turned about and went back to the academy, to return at the expiration of another twelve years. The second time, however, he came back as a most famous scholar, escorted by 24,000 disciples, who reverently followed their beloved master. When his poorly clad wife was about to embrace him, some of his students, not knowing who she was, sought to restrain her."

My observations are as follows:
1. Going away for 12 years: I submit that this is a lot to ask of a mother and a wife. He could have postponed his study until his son was weened off of milk. He could have taken them with him. At least he could have come and visited once in a while, no? Surely he could have sent some money or support of some kind to his new born son, no?

2. He comes back 12 years later, and overhears a comment his wife makes to another person. He says to himself "that's good enough for me!" and leaves for 12 more years. Dear Avrum, you are a psychologist: if this is not the poorest excuse for being a husband and a father, what is?

3. He allows his house to degenerate into "wretchedness". Later it is said that his wife, because there is no one to support her since women could not work at that time, wears beggars clothing to the point that the Rabbi's students restrain her.

I ask you - you who is talking about the degeneracy of the likes of Dawkins and Harris, who by all accounts are decent but flawed men like we are – you are calling the kennel black?

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, you really need to get a copy of
And Rachel Was His Wife
.

badrabbi said...

JP, I will, I promise.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, you're my man!

badrabbi said...

JP, you are my man!

badrabbi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
badrabbi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keebo said...

JP:

Your entire premise suggests that no one can really be a good person unless they meet your list of qualities that are highly subjective, like kindness, or based on a Biblical standard of morality, like monogamy, sobriety, or honesty.

No one is perfect, except those people you deem to be "holy." Once someone is deemed to be "holy", they mustn't be criticized, or drawn in cartoons, or even had their name written or spoken! G-D forbid! And, in fact, people will happily make-up miraculous deeds in their names!

Actual human beings are a bit more flawed. We have good days, and bad. You can criticize and find fault with anyone, if that is what you have decided you want to do.

Avrum:

Your theory about atheists all being miserable is totally off-base. People have frequently told me that I am one of the happiest, most positve individuals they have met. I have a very close relationship with my family, both immediate, and extended, and I have many, many close friends. I laugh easily, and I am extremely happy.

I figured out the whole "God lie" by about the second grade. Right after I figured out the whole "Santa Claus lie."

jewish philosopher said...

And I suppose the abysmal human rights records of atheistic governments is my imagination too? After all, I guess Stalin had his good days and bad days just like anyone.

avrum68 said...

"miserable is totally off-base."

You an exception my friend.

badrabbi said...

Go to celebatheists.com. There you will find a list of well known atheists, such as Bill Gates and Lance Armstrong, who by all accounts are decent good people, who are atheists and agnostics.

For every good atheist, there are probably 10 good theists. For every bad atheist, there are 10 bad beleivers. This is so because at the moment, atheists account for about 10% of the population.

It is amusing that you can say things like "all atheists are degenerates" and someow think that you can get away with saying it. Yet, at the same time, if someone said something like "all Jews are dirty" you would say that this is a antisemitic statement, which it is. I wonder, as Jews, Avrum and JP, how can your conscious allow you to make statements like that?

Keebo said...

Both Avrum and JP:

My point is, when you go out into the the big, wide, messy world of human experiences, you can find all kinds of negative stories to tell, if that's what you are looking for.

JP: Finding abundant examples of "theistic" governments, with abysmal human rights, is certainly not difficult.

You have set up a standard of what qualifies as a "good" person, that you yourself can't meet. In fact, the Buddha had multiple sex partners. Jesus Christ drank wine. You are judging people by a list of standards that includes one sex partner, no intoxicants, and a subjective idea of what constitutes "kindness." And then you are ONLY blaming the non-religious for not measuring-up to what you subjectively term "greatness." Foregone conclusion.

Avrum: Finding tragic childhood stories, amongst God-fearin' folk, would not be difficult, either. Everyone has a sad story to tell.

I don't buy into your thesis that:
Tragic childhood=atheism.
and/or
Childhood in a rose garden=piety.
But, even if it were true, neither situation suggests anything persuasive about whether God ACTUALLY, TRULY exists. It would only suggest that people decide to believe, or not, based on circumstances beyond their own control.

You guys are looking to justify your foregone conclusions. Not hard to do.

Cameron said...

JP Said: In a previous post I asked a question: “Can anyone find an example of a single prominent atheistic leader who was kind, honest, and sober and had a stable family life?”

CH: Me! (except I am neither prominent, nor a leader).

JP: Based on a great deal of research and discussions with many atheists, I am forced to conclude that atheism is indeed not a religion or a philosophy.

CH: Well, you are half right, it's not a religion, and it's not a philosophy per se, but it is a philosophical POSITION. I'm sure that if this gets repeated enough one day you will eventually grapple with it.

JP: Its followers cannot give us any clear definition of what atheism is.

CH: It is to have no belief in Gods (from the Latin, 'A' or 'Not' and 'Theism' or 'Belief in Gods'). In other words Jacob, atheism means this (and only this) by DEFINITION.

JP: Determinism and materialism are both scientifically discredited.

CH: Really? Science has discredited the notion of cause and effect that underlies 'determinism', and has thrown over the baseless contention that material objects are real and substantial that forms the basis of 'materialism'? If so, this is certainly world shaking news. Sadly, it is simply false.

JP: Rather, as is seen so clearly in the lives of well known atheists, atheism is a mental illness, based on narcissism and/or hedonism.

CH: Typically the claim is that atheists are immoral because we don't believe in God, and thus don't feel bound by Her moral statues, prerogatives, etc., and that this leads us to live lives of selfish pleasure seeking.

Curiously you seem to reverse field whenever you feel like to claim the inverse - that pleasure seeking and self-love lead to atheism.

JP: It is no more a philosophy than alcoholism. A truly good, moral atheist is a contradiction in terms.

CH: So every person who followed the precepts of Confucianism is immoral? Are all the followers of Zen Buddhism likewise immoral prima facie? Is morality no longer a function of what we do, but what we believe? All killings, slavery and genocide are justifiable so long as you believe in God, but no matter what good you do, you are immoral if you don't believe?

Your position is simply absurd, or we are using a form of the word 'moral' that I am not familiar with.

JP: This by the way helps us to understand the fact that no officially atheistic government has had a decent human rights record.

CH: Oh sure, those Canadians are always up in everyones business launching preemptive attacks, holding people without trial, torturing detainees, and generally abusing human rights wherever we find them. Ditto for the Czech Republic, the Danes, the Dutch, and most the rest of Europe.

Yep. That would be all the worst human rights abusers right there all right.

avrum68 said...

"don't buy into your thesis that:
Tragic childhood=atheism."

I'm not surprised, the story-line ain't pretty. And while it's anecdotal, it very much sums up my experience with atheists.


"neither situation suggests anything persuasive about whether God ACTUALLY, TRULY exists."

Absolutely, 100% correct.

avrum68 said...

"all atheists are degenerates"

I didn't say this. Moreover, I personally don't agree with JP's tactics visavis proving the worth of religion/God by demonstrating the weaknesses of atheists/atheism.

"if someone said something like "all Jews are dirty" you would say that this is a antisemitic statement, which it is."

If someone said: "Jews, in general, are overly focused on money/success, ethnocentric, brash, and at times, pushy"...it would sting, but they'd be right. Of course, when the messenger is Jackie Mason, rather than David Duke, we have a good chuckle.

avrum68 said...

"JP: atheism is a mental illness, based on narcissism and/or hedonism."

I've always said that JP is out of his league with respect to his liberal use of DSM criteria. Moreover, as I've stated in another blog, my wife - psychiatry resident - sat through a lecture 2 wks ago whereby the presenter argued that normative religious belief is a delusion and shouldn't be treated as such (He's wrong and petty, but that's another story).

In other words JP, according to this professional, you should be diagnosed with, most probably, schizo-affective disorder with psychotic features and put on an atypical med.

avrum68 said...

"and shouldn't be treated as such"

should read:

"and SHOULD be treated as such"

jewish philosopher said...

I don’t think that it’s bigotry to claim that atheists are invariably obnoxious. Now that I have reached the conclusion that atheism is not a religion but rather a mental illness (The Godless Delusion), saying atheists are difficult people is no different than saying people with bipolar illness are hard to live with. It’s just a fact.

I’m referring by the way to full fledged atheism. Agnostics are not as bad, however someone who declares, “I am sure that there exists nothing more important than me” has a got a major problem.

Have you ever wondered why many atheists choose to remain secretive about it? How often do you hear about secret Jews or Christians?

Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch of Canada and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Has anyone told her that the Canadian government is officially atheist?

Cameron said...

JP: Incidentally, Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch of Canada and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Has anyone told her that the Canadian government is officially atheist?

CH: Pierre Elliot Trudeau (I might add, a well above average Prime Minister) patriated our constitution in 1982 - and since then the Queen has been a figurehead.

Did you think we were a Monarchy?

JP: I don’t think that it’s bigotry to claim that atheists are invariably obnoxious.

CH: I don't think that it's bigotry to claim that Orthodox Jews have low self esteem caused by small penises. In this case, we'd both be wrong, because it is bigotry.

JP:Now that I have reached the conclusion that atheism is not a religion but rather a mental illness (The Godless Delusion).

CH: Come see the newest medical marvel of the 20th century! Watch as Jacob, a man thoroughly untrained in medicine invents new diagnosis with the waive of his hand!

Next you'll tell us you can cure AIDS with your faith.

JP: I’m referring by the way to full fledged atheism. Agnostics are not as bad...

CH: For the record, Agnostics are a sub-class of Atheists. Agnostics claim to make no judgement of God's existence (She might exist, She might not, I'm not sure either way). Since they don't have a positive belief in God (Faith), they are correctly identified as 'weak' atheists.

JP:...however someone who declares, “I am sure that there exists nothing more important than me” has
a got a major problem.

CH: But that isn't what atheists claim. It has nothing to do with 'more important', and everything to do with 'God(s)'. A 'strong' atheist would say 'I am certain there exist no Gods'.

JP: Have you ever wondered why many atheists choose to remain secretive about it? How often do you hear about secret Jews or Christians?

CH: You mean like a 'cabal'?

jewish philosopher said...

Canada is a constitutional monarchy.

"God" seems to mean anything more important than man, as far as I can tell, and that is therefore what atheists believe - nothing is more important than myself. It sounds a little less scientific when you put it like that, doesn't it?

Kylopod said...

"no officially atheistic government has had a decent human rights record"

That's true. However, dogmatically theistic governments also have poor human rights records.

The governments with the best human rights records are the secular ones--and in that category I include not just purely secular governments like the U.S., but also European countries that may have an official "church," but that conduct their day-to-day affairs in a largely secular manner.

Secular, by the way, is not the same as "atheistic"--but I think you'd agree with me about that.

jewish philosopher said...

"dogmatically theistic governments also have poor human rights records"

But compare for example Iran and Cambodia. The Islamic Republic has murdered tens of thousands. Pol Pot killed about two million.

jewish philosopher said...

No nation has a pristine human rights record, however most don't fall into genocide or near genocide, as many Communist governments have.

Kylopod said...

"But compare for example Iran and Cambodia. The Islamic Republic has murdered tens of thousands. Pol Pot killed about two million."

Hitler trumps 'em both, and he was theistic (in his nontraditional way).

"No nation has a pristine human rights record"

Of course, but the point is that on a relative scale the secular democracies generally come out on top. Do you agree or disagree?

jewish philosopher said...

"Hitler trumps 'em both, and he was theistic (in his nontraditional way)."

But Mao, the atheist, beat Hitler.

"secular democracies generally come out on top"

Well, it gets a little tricky there. For example, is killing a fetus a human rights violation? Is putting someone in prison for marrying his 15 year old niece a human rights violation? And how about destroying Iraq because of a suspicion of weapons of mass destruction?

If you're asking whether I would prefer to live in Iran or the US, I do prefer the US.

My point, however, is not that there is necessarily a positive correlation between religion and good government. It's very difficult to claim that, especially considering that religion includes everything. Quakers, Hassidim, Satanists and cannibals are all religious. What I am saying is that every government controlled by outspoken atheists has behaved in a way that we would expect it to behave if extreme narcissists were in power - with incredible brutality. And I think that proves something about the nature of atheism.

Kylopod said...

"Well, it gets a little tricky there. For example, is killing a fetus a human rights violation? Is putting someone in prison for marrying his 15 year old niece a human rights violation? And how about destroying Iraq because of a suspicion of weapons of mass destruction?"

Let me get this straight. The difference between murdering 10 million people and murdering 40 million people is a fundamental distinction that proves the moral decadence of atheism, but the difference between a mass-murdering dictator and a democracy with legalized abortion, anti-incest laws, and the occasional unjust war is a fuzzy gray area?

If there's anything worse than a moral equivalence argument, it's a "moral equivalence when I feel like it" argument.

"religion includes everything. Quakers, Hassidim, Satanists and cannibals are all religious."

The same can be said about atheism. All the examples you cite of atheist governments are Communist governments, and Communism is but one flavor of atheism, just as Islam is but one flavor of theism. Most atheists today have no more respect for Communists than we have for the KKK.

"What I am saying is that every government controlled by outspoken atheists has behaved in a way that we would expect it to behave if extreme narcissists were in power - with incredible brutality."

But the same has generally been true of governments controlled by outspoken theists. (Democracies with politicians who happen to be religious don't count.) The real problem lies in giving individuals too much power. In that position, any dogmatic ideology--whether theistic or atheistic--is dangerous.

jewish philosopher said...

To compare human rights under theism and atheism, let's compare Russia under the Czars and Russia under the Communists. Same place, same culture, same authoritarianism, and atheistic Communism was infinitely worse.

The only question is - which was the problem, Communism or atheism? I would say both: only people as wicked as atheists could have invented something as brutal as Communism.

Kylopod said...

"To compare human rights under theism and atheism, let's compare Russia under the Czars and Russia under the Communists."

You just seem to pick and choose whatever you wish to compare. You can't establish a causal relationship until you've ruled out alternative explanations.

"The only question is - which was the problem, Communism or atheism? I would say both: only people as wicked as atheists could have invented something as brutal as Communism."

"You would say" a lot of things. That's your problem: you simply say whatever you want, without providing evidence, except when it suits your argument.

jewish philosopher said...

I think writing a blog has something to do with interpreting facts, not merely repeating them.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

How is Diderot's lying to the government to get out of jail different from Orthodox Jews glossing over and self-editing comments and theology in the Talmud which some Christians might have considered offensive? Or promising Gentile authorities not to, say, circumcise their children or teach them Torah and then continuing to do so?

Are OJs the only ones allowed to lie for self-protection?

jewish philosopher said...

I guess if publishing heretical and obscene literature was required by Diderot's religious beliefs, then it's the same.