Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cal Thomas: An Immoral Moralist

I was recently perusing the opinion section of my local newspaper The Sioux City Journal when I came across Cal Thomas’ column "Death of an Atheist". At the time I read the article I was not that familiar with Mr. Thomas’ work so I eagerly read through an article about the late Christopher Hitchens, of whom I have much respect. Unfortunately, the contents of the article were marred with posthumous insults, pejorative stereotyping, and worst of all shady arguments for the existence of God. 

If any of these were used against Hitchens when he was still alive, Thomas would have been eviscerated. Convenient then, that he waited until after the man was dead to write an attack piece. Now while Hitchens himself was known for continuing attacks on his adversaries post-mortem; these were attacks he conducted while they were still living and knew full well they had an opportunity for rebuttal. Thomas did nothing of the sort and, like the invertebrate he is, waited until the prolific polemicist was dead before conducting his assault. This was both cowardly and immoral. 

Further (and possibly even more infuriating) the arguments that Thomas used don’t even hold their weight. First, Thomas assails Hitchens for being “unoriginal” in his unbelief and states that the wisest people of our time have responded to these accusations. This is rubbish. Cal himself consistently quotes a book that is over 1500 years old in constructing his argument, so there is nothing original about his belief either. As far as the wisest people responding to disbelief, that may have flown as late as the 19th century but I have a hunch that most if not all contemporary analytic philosophers disagree. In other professions, great minds such as Einstein, Freud, Crick, and even bastion of the right Milton Friedman have expressed their disbelief. 

Thomas then asks, and I quote, “Why contribute to charity or perform other good deeds? Without a source to inspire charity, such acts are sentimental affectations, devoid of meaning and purpose. If survival of the fittest is the rule, let only the fit survive.” Now I want to be crystal clear here; what Cal has just said is despicable. Essentially, if he isn’t going to get into heaven then he doesn’t want to be bothered helping people. Without God, there is no incentive. What a bastion of good will this man is, what convictions. If eternal punishment doesn’t await me...then I see no reason to be altruistic. Scrooge indeed. 

Cal then cements his ignorance with the statement, “To object to God is to create morality from a Gallup Poll. In Gallup We Trust doesn’t have the same authority.” Surely the intersubjectivity of morality doesn’t have the same authority as a divine being, but I would argue that it actually has better outcomes. God was willing to sit idly by while we hashed out whether or not slavery was moral, for instance. Take Leviticus 25:44 where clear instructions on how to buy a slave are spelled out and the moral authority to treat them as livestock is granted. If we were content with Biblical morality we would still own slaves (Leviticus 25, Exodus 21, Ephesians 6, Timothy 6), women would still be subjugated by patriarchal dictum (Colossians 3, 1st Timothy 2, Titus 2) and rape would be condoned in certain circumstances (Judges 21, Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 20). “In Gallup We Trust” isn’t looking so bad now, is it Cal?

Finally, Thomas sums up his comments by saying, "Who is the author of evil? And if God is nonexistent, why do we call it evil? Is one person’s evil another person’s good? Does such a view lead to ethics that must inevitably be situational?" This is, in essence, the Euthyphro dilemma which Aaron Friel already covered in another post back in October. I won't go into this because he did a much better job than I ever could elaborating on divine command theory...which is essentially what Cal Thomas is proposing. The fact of the matter, though, is that human beings are actually quite resourceful in negotiating moral norms amongst themselves and have no need for divine intervention in this respect. Stating that Hitch isn't brilliant because he came to terms with this fact while Mr. Thomas is still unable to is ignorant and childish. Cal, you've raked a good man through the muck without much to show for it. I hope you're proud of yourself.