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Al Einstein's Ethics
"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectively on sympathy, education, and social relationships; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." --Albert Einstein, NYTimes Mag, November 9, 1930

Posted by aalkon at December 26, 2005 12:18 PM

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> Man would indeed be in a poor
> way if he had to be restrained
> by fear of punishment and hope
> of reward after death.

Well, Golly, Al... What if he were restrained by poverty, and his own social inertia? What if .crushing punishments were already being delivered for no reason? What if the outlook for the world was so dark ...say in 1930 or so... That he resisted taking economic and intellectual risks because he needed to protect his family from dire threats?

Quotes like this make atheism seem like an upper-class parlor game. At this point Einstein was already a quarter century past his annus mirabilis, a respected genius across the globe, and was going to have his own needs met no matter what. But for most of the rest of the western world, life was threatening to become spectacularly shitty. And the remainder of the planet was already there....

Posted by: Crid at December 26, 2005 12:38 AM

"Be good for goodness' sake" doesn't seem that controversial to me. Even Dante put brownnosers in the 8th circle of Hell.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 26, 2005 7:25 AM

Crid,

Sounds like you may be stretching the point a bit.

My take on Einstein's views is distilled in the phrase, 'motivation matters'. Believing because of fear, because someone has convinced you that taking Pascal's wager is the best choice, is the moral equivalent to making a decision with a gun held to your head. You're not choosing because of faith, but because of fear, and when you do so, you've surrendered your autonomy to the one with the gun.

Even in poverty (and I've been there), there is still the freedom to make your own decisions. You can choose to give poverty all power over you and justify any manner of behaviour, and say it's in the cause of survival. Or, you can choose, not merely to survive, but to thrive. You may see resistance to risk as a bastion against threat, but I see risk as a mechanism for facing that threat, and surmounting it. If I fail, it will not be for lack of trying.

But even that does not address the central point. Einstein, in his own way, *was* a believer. What he was saying, is that if you believe just in case, out of fear, what is it that you truly believe? If you believe, merely because you fear the alternative, do you truly believe at all?

Posted by: Dale at December 26, 2005 9:36 PM

I'm atheist, and I try not to be an asshole about it.

When you think about the "restraint, fear and punishment" that the world was facing in 1930, what comes to mind?

Posted by: Crid at December 26, 2005 11:18 PM

I'm an athiest as well, largely for the reasons I stated above (albeit in a slightly different context (don't think I was being an asshole about it either, but perceptions can differ :o) )).

It's your segue into the 'restraint, fear, and punishment' that some segment of the world endured at that time that seems at a disconnect from the point of the posting. Einstein stated, clearly and accurately, that the doctrine of most religions (christianity in the quoted context), claiming that moral character can only be produced in the aegis of the chosen religion, is of questionable foundation. His statement wasn't intended to address anything apart from the tenets of organized religion, let alone any other systemic concerns that might afflict others.

As bad as the '30s were, there were worse times (and still are, for some). As tragic as their lot was, it was made worse by those who would argue that their suffering is somehow enobled because they can look forward to 'something better' after they die. And I do think that, in part at least, this was the thrust of Einstein's statment.

It may be that you're arguing that it was easier (in both social and survival contexts) for Einstein to make that statement (and decision) than for some of the poor unfortunates, and I would largely agree, but it doesn't change the truth of the statement itself.

Posted by: Dale at December 27, 2005 1:07 AM

> It's your segue into the
> 'restraint, fear, and punishment'

Albert's words, review the passage.

At no point does he say organized religion demands that morality comes only from belief... Though I didn't follow the link. Amy offered it as a snacky, nuggetlike bitch-slap of athemism, so it deserved refutation in kind.

(BTW, can we stop using the term organized religion with teenage airquotes for snark? All religion is organization. People who proudly announce that they've composed their own faith by superhuman discernment and individual sensitivity are always dorks.)

> it doesn't change the truth
> of the statement itself.

OK, fine. It's true. Now STFU, Albert. My whole family's out of work and a Nazi's got his boot on my throat... And I think he's secular.

> As tragic as their lot was,
> it was made worse...

Lunacy. It's ridiculous to pretend that the core evil of WWII was religion. Do you suppose that in those dark hours, anyone took comfort from their faith?

The world is complicated, which is why we admire Einstein's insight. To carry on as if religion is the source of evil, particularly given the dateline of that quote, is childishly simplistic.

Posted by: Crid at December 27, 2005 10:31 AM

Posted by: Crid at December 27, 2005 10:47 AM

I think I might have to consider Atheism an unorganized religion. Since you can't prove God doesn't exist any more than you can prove he does, that would make it a faith of some stripe. I don't think they don't get tax breaks though -- maybe that should be criterion.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 28, 2005 10:00 AM

Why should any religion? Or why should those who are clearly big business? For example, the Catholic church is a major real estate owner. If somebody else owned the billions in property they do, taxes would be paid. Should my life be tax free because I believe in imaginary friend, but mine happens to be a trannie named Claude(ia) who pops up to advise me when my clothes get a bit to "matchy-matchy"?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2005 10:19 AM

"Since you can't prove God doesn't exist any more than you can prove he does, that would make it a faith of some stripe."


Oh nonsense - if I'm going to make the outrageous claim that an invisible pink unicorn is standing in the corner, it's up to me to prove it's there, it's not up to you to prove it isn't.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 28, 2005 1:25 PM

Thank you, PJ. Yes, the person with the extraordinary claim is the one who must prove it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2005 1:29 PM

How did you know about my pink unicorn?

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 28, 2005 3:35 PM

By the way, I just posted elsewhere that, basically, agnosticism is for sissies. At this moment, there COULD be a flying pink unicorn exiting the freeway at Robertson. However, until I see proof of said unicorn, I will be not only atheistic, but a-pinkunicorn-istic.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 28, 2005 3:55 PM

And you should definitely write your Congressman about getting a tax break for your tranny overlord. If they don't give it to you then this country has no soul.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 28, 2005 4:02 PM

Agreed, agnosticism certainly is for wimps. Fortunately, my faith in Atheism is unflappable.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 28, 2005 4:12 PM

"Lunacy. It's ridiculous to pretend that the core evil of WWII was religion. Do you suppose that in those dark hours, anyone took comfort from their faith?"

You do know that "Gott Mit Uns" was on every Wehrmacht belt buckle, don't you? Have you forgotten the concentration camps, too?

Posted by: Radwaste at December 29, 2005 3:02 PM

So what? There may have been some religious people involved, but if you argued the Third Reich was a religious movement, you'd be dismissed out of hand, righteously.

Anyone still reading here? I been outta town.

Posted by: Crid at January 2, 2006 9:11 AM

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