Flipping the Argument Around

A while back, I suggested that one way to see whether an argument for some religion is any good is to turn it into an argument for some other religion, and see whether it sounds convincing. I was just thinking about this the other day, when lo and behold, Ray Comfort came along and provided perfect fodder to try it out:

Ray:

There is a very good reason that [the atheist] isn’t giving up the argument. It is because each night he has a habit of going on the Internet and surfing his favorite sites. He has an addiction he loves. He drools over pornography that is so pleasurable, it takes his breath away. Literally. Besides that, he has incredible sex with his gorgeous girlfriend, any time he wants. He didn’t know that life could be so good.

Flipped around:

There is a very good reason that the non-Muslim isn’t giving up the argument. It is because each night he has a habit of going home and drinking his favorite wine. He has an addiction he loves. He gushes over wine so delicious, it takes his breath away. Literally. Besides that, he can have pork sausages for breakfast, bacon for lunch, and pork chops for dinner, any time he wants. He didn’t know that life could be so good.

Ray:

Think of it now. A stranger has just come along who wants to put an end to all that pleasure. All of it. If he gives up the battle, he won’t be allowed to even look at a woman with lust, let alone have sex with her. This religious nut wants to make him celibate. Horrors! He wants him to sit in a boring church, singing old hymns, listening to a deathly boring priest, and mindlessly clutching a book filled with fairytales. Give up? Are you kidding?So the unbeliever is going to fight this battle with tooth and nail.

Flipped around:

Think of it now. A stranger has just come along who wants to put an end to all that pleasure. All of it. If he gives up the battle, he won’t be allowed to even look at a woman’s face, let alone her hair, hips, or legs. This religious nut wants to make him celibate. Horrors! He wants him to kneel in a boring mosque, kneeling on a musty rug five times a day, listening to a deathly boring imam, and mindlessly cluthing a book filled with fairy tales. Give up? Are you kidding? So the unbeliever is going to fight this battle with tooth and nail.


I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Preachers often make the argument that atheists (or gays) are too enamored of their wild hedonistic lifestyles to submit to God. Apparently they think we’re so enamored of our sports cars and 16-bedroom mansions and trophy wives (okay, I’ll concede that a lot of married atheists are enamored of their wives) that they are unwilling to give them up.

But flipping the argument around illustrates, I think, that the answer to “Why should I follow your religion’s rules?” should be something better than “Because my religion says that you should.”

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13 Responses to Flipping the Argument Around

  1. Eamon Knight says:

    Over the past 25 years, I have tranistioned from evangelical Christian through liberal Christian to atheist. And yet the things I do, the pleasures I pursue and so on, have changed relatively little (other than, say changing hobbies from time to time and details like that). I go to my job every day, pay my taxes, raise my kids, go on vacations etc.

    Other than skipping the boring church stuff (which was frequently enjoyable, actually), what is it I’m supposed to be doing with all this new-found freedom from moral constraints? Apparently, I’m missing out on a whole heap of fun.

    Oh, I know: I’m now allowed to use terms like “demented fuckwit” to describe people like Ray Comfort. Ray: you’re a demented fuckwit.

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  2. arensb says:

    I guess you could call that a successful meme: I did a Google search on the phrase “demented fuckwit” (with quotes), and Pharyngula doesn’t appear until the fourth page of results, although the first three pages all have references to PZ.

    BTW, Eamon, you wouldn’t happen to be Lt. Kizhe from t.o, would you?

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  3. Eamon Knight says:

    BTW, Eamon, you wouldn’t happen to be Lt. Kizhe from t.o, would you?

    Yep.

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  4. Renee says:

    that is the silliest stuff i ever read. i mean – your comments and views. Still Ray has a valid point: without repentance and trusting in Christ you will be judged by God and you will get what you deserve – your wages… are eternal death. You trampled on Christ’s blood and refused to obey God and repent and turn God-ward. He created you and wants you to do what you were created for. Since men and you messed it all up, he has made the way for you to escape the coming wrath of God, but if you reject it you will get your wages. Its the truth and not mean. Its the highest form of love and caring that ever was and ever will be. Both from Jesus Christ and from the followers who share this warning in love. They know and understand what you are in for if you continue in your sinful ways.

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  5. arensb says:

    Renee:

    without repentance and trusting in Christ you will be judged by God and you will get what you deserve – your wages… are eternal death.

    Um, yeah. Everyone who lives, dies, believers and unbelievers alike. So what’s your point?

    Or are you trying to imply, without actually saying so, that your all-loving God will send me to be tortured forever? (“Nice soul you got there, pal. Be a shame if anything were to… happen to it.”)

    You trampled on Christ’s blood

    Thanks. I was wondering what that stuff was on my shoes.

    But seriously, would you care to reply to the substance of my post? If someone said that the only reason you’re not a Muslim is that you love bacon too much and are too lazy or proud to kneel in the direction of Mecca five times a day, would you consider that a good argument for Islam?

    If not, then doesn’t it follow that Ray isn’t presenting a good argument for Christianity either?

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  6. Eamon Knight says:

    ”Nice soul you got there, pal. Be a shame if anything were to… happen to it.”

    Yep, it’s amazing to me that the Renees of this world can go on about how God is so loving to save us from the hell he created to torture us because he’s a control freak with anger management issues, and NOT see it for the protection racket it is.

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  7. arensb says:

    see it for the protection racket it is.

    To be fair, a lot of them are like battered spouses in important respects. (“Honey, you know ah wouldn’t torture you forever if ah didn’t love yah!”)

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  8. Eamon Knight says:

    To be fair, a lot of them are like battered spouses in important respects.

    Yes, that is of course the other good analogy here: the psychology of familial abuse victims.

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  9. Robert Madewell says:

    I was thinking that Ray was actually making a good argument for atheism. I have control over the pleasures I allow for myself and I sure don’t want to give that up. His porn example is a little droll. But, sex with my girlfriend? Of course I don’t want a fuckwit like Comfort telling me what I can or can’t do with another consenting adult. Whatever pleasure 2 consenting adults get from each other is none of Rays business. That goes for gay men and women too, RAY! Keep your damn nose out of others lives. Yes! Life is so freaking good because I have these freedoms. I most certainly don’t want to give them up.

    BTW, I have never got to have sex with any of my past girlfriends anytime I want. Let alone from my wife today. Where in the world does he get the idea that atheists get to have sex all the time? If I wanted to have sex all the time I would have stayed a christian. A Christian girl gives it up much easier than an atheist girl.

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  10. arensb says:

    Robert Madewell:
    The other aspect of this is that supposedly God, designer of the human body and creator of the universe, doesn’t want us to have sex outside of marriage, eat shellfish, etc.

    It seems that it would have been fairly easy to tweak our biochemistry so that we wouldn’t want those things. He could have made pork and shellfish taste bad, so we wouldn’t want to eat them in the first place.

    As for sex outside of marriage, I can imagine a scenario where prolonged exposure to, say, the smell of only one other person of the opposite sex triggers a biochemical change in the body, which in turn switches on the sex drive. That way, people wouldn’t want to have sex until they’ve been courting for a while, and haven’t been courting anyone else.

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  11. Robert Madewell says:

    arensb, When I use that kind of argument on fundies, they give me the old “Freewill Argument”. Of course, I’d say that even if pork tasted like ear wax, I would still have the freewill to eat it or not. Though, usually they use “freewill” as the argument for Heck. “God doesn’t want to send you to Heck, but he gives you the freewill to go there or not. “, they say. Kinda like an abusive husband telling his wife that she must show him affection or he’ll beat the crap out of her. Well, she has the freewill to choose to show him affection or get the crap beaten out of her. If she gets the crap beat out of her, then it’s her fault because it was her choice. Blame the victim!

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  12. Troublesome Frog says:

    Kinda like an abusive husband telling his wife that she must show him affection or he’ll beat the crap out of her. Well, she has the freewill to choose to show him affection or get the crap beaten out of her.

    This is something I have never been able to get my head around in all of these theological arguments. For an omnipotent being who makes all the rules, God seems to be bound by an awful lot of… well… rules. I’m told that it was a huge gesture of love and sacrifice to send his son to die for our sins. Why? Didn’t he make the rules? Wouldn’t any such requirement for sacrifice be his own doing? I can’t see it as anything but, “Look at the solution I’m offering to the problem that is entirely my own creation!”

    This is the stuff I think about whenever somebody points out that we’re all missing the deep philosophical arguments in favor of Christianity. What am I missing?

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  13. arensb says:

    Troublesome Frog:

    I’m told that it was a huge gesture of love and sacrifice to send his son to die for our sins. Why? Didn’t he make the rules? Wouldn’t any such requirement for sacrifice be his own doing?

    As I see it, it’s the result of several traditions that step on each other because of backward-compatibility, with a bit of anthropology thrown in.

    Start with a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherer-herders. They need some way of enforcing social order, which means punishing transgressors. So if you break a rule, something of yours (a sheep, a cow, etc.) is taken away and destroyed. Perhaps the idea of sacrificing the sheep to the tribal god came from an earlier rule that you had to give the sheep to the person you’d wronged.

    Over time, people stop thinking of this as punishment and think of it as a fine, that a sacrifice somehow “pays” for a transgression. A ram pays for a small transgression, twenty sheep pay for a larger one, and sacrificing one’s son pays for an enormous crime.

    Following this progression, if a god were to sacrifice his own son, that would pay for an inconceivable amount of crime. Seen this way, the Passion story makes sense.

    If you then add the idea that God makes the rules, it makes less sense, but you can still rationalize divine sacrifice as somehow proper.

    But when you throw in the Trinity, the whole thing goes pear-shaped: YHWH is Jesus, who is his own father and his own son. God sacrificed himself to himself to create a loophole in the rules that he created.

    “Payment for sin”, “God makes the rules”, and the Trinity are all okay on their own, but when you combine them, the results are absurd. Unfortunately, religion is very big on tradition, so you can’t say, “Okay, this dogma is currently deprecated. We’ll support it for another two releases, but after that, you need to either upgrade or be branded a heretic.”

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