Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Altruistic Roadblock

Inevitably every discussion I enter on the topic of religion as a evangelical atheist comes back the the point of ethics and virtue.

"How can you be an altruistic person of virtue without belief in the almighty? Society would go to pieces and we would all be unkind and mean."

I also find it interesting that people are more receptive to my selfish hedonist argument when stated in terms of deriving happiness instead of pleasure. For some reason pleasure in our society is considered a sin and conjours images of orgies and greed but happiness is considered a virtue and I would defy any of you to define the difference between the two.

But I digress I worry not of the fate of society because I believe that altruism is itself governed by hedonism and game theory.

And while I believe events are equally controlled by both of those things I try not to evoke the game theory argument for two reasons one people often dismiss it as rational and when dealing with religion rational arguments don't work as well for most believers and two it is a little more complex and it easily loses some of the audience. For that reason I appeal to the emotional side of the argument using hedonism and selfish drive to explain why the world will not unravels and go to dark side without religion.

Logic statement: Hedonism is doing that which derives happiness and makes us feel good. Helping people feels good.

Think about a time that you helped someone. Gave that homeless guy a five spot. Donated blood or brought in food for a shelter..... It felt good didn't it? Even if you didn't wear the sticker after you gave blood, or tell anyone about what you did....it felt good...admit it. It dare I say derived you some pleasure.

I wonder why we have such a hard time with the concept of helping people because it makes us feel good. To say that is to invoke the evil word of selfishness a word from the the time we are very little is taught as taboo.

I will get the argument back often I do it cause it is the right thing to do. Can't it be the right thing because it feels good?

Or without religion how do we know what is good to do so that we can feel good doing it? The answer to that is a little harder since we often surround ourselves with people like us....but if you look you will find non-believers doing the same thing that makes us feel good but this side of the argument is game theory and better had in person.

Remember if you go to church cause it makes you feel better...you are hedonist and we should not even be arguing.


Tom said...

That last statement was a killa, Brian. Way to fuckin' go!!!

EC said...

Um, you know I love you and all Brian... but um, huh?

My eyes started to glaze over somewhere around the first couple of lines, but I think you made some excellent points! hehehehe

the108 said...

I think it says more about a person who dies it because they like to help people than those who do it because "it's the right thing to do".

the108 said...

I mean "does" it. It's hard to type with a cigarette in one hand and a bloody mary in the other.

Brian in Mpls said...

I wish I was smoking and drinking a bloody mary...

Rocketstar said...

The real question is this, Is it more virtous to do good because one enjoys it, or because one thinks that if they don't they will burn in hell?

Altruism is an innate characterisitic. Alturism has been seen in Chimps and they have no beleif in God, that we know of.

That arguement is total bullshit.

Ma said...

what we should really be defining here is happiness - is it merely a fleeting moment of joy brought about by an act whether it be one that helps ourselves or others, or a more constant state of being like the opposite of depressed - I think we can learn a lot about our true motives if we really consider this.... remember that happiness is a journey not a destination
that which brings enjoyment must be questioned - why does it bring enjoyment? and is it lasting or brief?
(sorry - long posting warrants long responce - haha)

lauren said...

I'm trying to follow this, but I think I lost the thread here. I have to say, though, that you can do something because it feels good and do it because you believe it is the right thing to do.

How do you feel about doing the right thing even if it is something that doesn't make you feel good?

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Brian,

I think this is true. We derive lots of pleasure from good acts as bad. Some of the most moral people I ever knew believed in nothing. I have total respect for that way of thinking. Hey, to God, y'all are the loyal opposition to steal from Woody Allen in Deconstructing Harry. I'm a deeply religious person, but I'm also a bit of a hedonist and see nothing wrong with it at all.

Toryssa said...

I think it's the word hedonism that throws your whole argument here. Which you kind of touched on when you said you find better reception with "happiness" vs. "pleasure".

And really, this is understandable. Pleasure, it does evoke an image of sensuality, it's a physical word... where-as happiness is an emotional word.

Before you can get too bent out of shape with semantics, you've got to take the context of the culture we live in. Right?

The word hedonism alone, dictionary definition aside, conjures up all kinds of images that some people are going to find hard to swallow.

That said, not being religious myself, I find it hard to believe that people would fight about the selfish motivation behind doing "good". The end result is what matters right? Whether you are doing it to feel good, or to get to heaven. Why is one reason better than another?

BTW, Erin sent me. She wants to get married and have your babies.

Colette, aka Lil Sis said...

This is to circular for me to get right now with my mind on other things. I'll get back to you on this one. ;-)