Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Virtue

The new Jesus and Mo strip “crime” is a bit problematic to me.  If religion is a sham because it ‘tricks’ criminals into behaving themselves, why aren’t any forms of deterrence or imprisonment the same kind of “tricks”? In one case your fear of God keeps you lawful; in the other case it’s the fear of the law (or fear of diasapprobation). Granted, there’s no God to really punish you, while there are police, but being good is being good. I do realize that it’s always better to act on the truth (i.e., there’s no evidence for a god, punitive or otherwise) and behave on rational than on fictional grounds, but if that’s the artist’s point, it’s very subtle. Besides, the net effect of religion on people’s behavior these days is by no means certain to be positive.

2016-06-01

24 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    My take is simple. Barmaid’s question “tricks” the two of them into agreeing that God and religion operate only as a trick, with no basis in reality. They suddenly see their gaff and try to tug free.

    • Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Yes; religion uses lies to promote (its version of) good behavior. The penal system does not. Even utilitarian Sam Harris has said that motivations matter; for a given action it’s less desirable to be motivated by bad reasons when good (or legitimate) reasons are available.

    • Posted June 2, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      That’s the way I interpreted it too. It might have been more clear if they had said “I mean no” together, with expressions of alarm on their faces.

  2. steve oberski
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    The logical deduction from the barmaids premises being that Jesus and mo must be criminals if they were behaving themselves. They seem to have painted themselves into a corner as is their wont in conversations with the barmaid.

  3. Stonyground
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    “Besides, the net effect of religion on people’s behavior these days is by no means certain to be positive.”

    This has to be the understatement of the century.

  4. Scott Draper
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    “If religion is a sham because it ‘tricks’ criminals into behaving themselves”

    I think you have it backwards. Religion is a trick because it is a sham.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 2, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham!

  5. Kevin
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Anticipating the future, religion will become less relevant in these circumstances because religion, in general, will become less relevant.

    Like a fad diet program. There will be a set of social worker programs that will include a arsenal benefits for rehabilitation and, over time, the pragmatic advantages will disappear with religion, especially as the infrastructure of mainstream religion crumbles.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    IMO, religion has both inauthentic and authentic ways of promoting good behavior, in addition to too often promoting bad behavior.

    When Peter Hitchens (conservative Christian brother of Christopher) says there are all sorts of bad things he would do if he didn’t believe in God, I feel he views even his own religion as more of a straitjacket merely compelling him to do something that is right, that is not transformative. He often says religion is necessary to the social order.

    On the other hand, John Newton’s conversion from slave trafficker to abolitionist as a result of conversion is more genuine. He seems to have gotten a sense of a grander view of life, what Martin Luther King calls a “moral arc to the universe” which motivated him interiorly to be less greedy. (Newton wrote “Amazing Grace”.)

    Finally, the effect of religion on Dominionists and other theocrats (I’m talking about you, Ted Cruz) seems to be nasty and ugly.

    • steve oberski
      Posted June 2, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Or if we reverse the direction of the causal arrow, nasty and (morally) ugly people use religion to justify their bad behaviour.

      I think the causal relationship goes both ways and results in a positive feedback mechanism where bad behaviour rationalized by religion results in even worse behaviour.

      You can see this in the current American political climate where the christian right who can no longer discriminate against women, homosexuals, transgender and people of other races with impunity rally behind a demagogue like Trump despite the fact that they know he does not share their religious values but does allow them to rationalize their religiously inspired bigotry.

      And they do this seemingly in gleeful anticipation of some sort of apocalyptic destruction of society, once again rationalized by religiously based predictions of Armageddon and the end times.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted June 2, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Definitely the causal relation goes both ways.

        This was the source of the impasse in debating terrorism in the infamous 2007 Berkeley debate between Chris Hedges and Christopher Hitchens which generated far more heat than light. Each CH saw the arrow of causality (religion/bad behavior) going in one way only.

        Hedges is one of my least favorite liberal journalists in spite of our being of similar political bent: he is over-generalized and un-nuanced, and Hitchens was heavily inebriated from the beginning of the evening and was at a very low ebb.

    • J. Quinton
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      “When Peter Hitchens (conservative Christian brother of Christopher) says there are all sorts of bad things he would do if he didn’t believe in God, I feel he views even his own religion as more of a straitjacket merely compelling him to do something that is right, that is not transformative. He often says religion is necessary to the social order.”

      That doesn’t even make sense!

      What if Peter Hitchens followed a religion that said showering after 10pm was evil… would he be like “I’m glad I follow this religion, or what’s stopping me from showering at 11pm??? Can you imagine how horrible that would be?”

      The only way he can know it’s “bad” is if he’s using some metric outside of what god says.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 3, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        It’s curious that two brothers can be so different in their metal processes.

  7. garthdaisy
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    As musical beef points out, Sam Harris has the best line on this. “Religion, at it’s best, gives people bad reasons to do good things, where good reasons are available.”

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted June 2, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes. This is pretty much how I understand it as well. But the religious don’t think religion provides bad reasons, only good ones. I have a lot of family members on Facebook who cling to religion as the saving grace of humanity. These are good people, trying to be as good as they can possibly be, and proud of their Christianity. They are proud they’ve brought their children up as good Christians. Many of them are very smart, much smarter than I, but, I suppose, emotionally they can’t seem to take that step back and examine Christianity for what it truly is, or to see morality for what it truly is. They can’t seem to see that being good and being moral does not rely on being religious. I was there once, though, in viewpoint if not in commitment. I thought the religious were morally superior. I knew I was morally decent, but I clung to the notion of religion = great morals. I was often accused of being a Christian without being a Christian just because I was generally a good person. I didn’t drink, I respected people, I cared about doing a good job at work, etc. I was asked more than once, “Why don’t you just go on and become Christian?” I still see people around me that seem to hold this viewpoint of morality is dependent on religion, but thankfully I no longer see people in those terms. Far from it. Now I almost have the opposite problem. I now see the religious as morally inferior. Which they are, truth be told. I want to just shine that light in their eyes that will force them to open up wide and take in the truth, but, alas, it’s not so easy. I take heart in most of the younger folks I know, my children included, that don’t take religion to heart so readily.

  8. Thanny
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    If religion is a sham because it ‘tricks’ criminals into behaving themselves, why aren’t any forms of deterrence or imprisonment the same kind of “tricks”?

    Isn’t it obvious?

    A trick is a false claim made with the purpose of altering behavior which succeeds in that purpose despite being false.

    The person who refrains from committing robbery due to a belief in being sent to hell after death has been tricked. Hell does not exist, and even if it did, you can’t be sent there after death, because you cease to exist at that point.

    The person who refrains from committing robbery due to a belief in being sent to prison if caught has not been tricked. People caught after committing robbery are, in fact, prosecuted and sent to prison.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 2, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. The social contract is real and enforceable. Pascal’s Wager is a scam where the guy holding the money skips town before the payoff.

  9. Stonyground
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I think that the Abrahamic religions have the idea that all humans are intrinsically evil as their starting point. this is a false premise, some people are intrinsically evil but the vast majority of people are not. What follows is the conclusion that humans would behave very badly without religion, a false conclusion that is based on a false premise. It can also be seen that this conclusion is false simply by observing the behaviour of those with no religion.

  10. Johan Mathiesen
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always found people who’d claim they’d go out and commit mayhem if there weren’t a god, to be a tad suspect. I’m not sure I’d entrust them with the keys to the larder.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      Agree 100%. Wasn’t it Penn Jillette who said that he kills and rapes as many people as he wants to, namely, zero?

      As atheists we have got to take the moral argument away from the religionists, by emphasizing that religion does not necessarily make people better (“I think that on balance the moral influence of religion has been awful”–Steven Weinberg), and that atheism does not necessarily make them worse (for example, Scandinavia).

      All of which is simply to develop you excellently phrased comment.

  11. zytigon
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I think one of the biggest flaws in religious texts are the failure to be specific enough. It is necessary to look at each idea or behaviour in isolation. What is good behaviour ? I would say that it is good behaviour to correctly evaluate the likelihood of an idea being true. There is enough evidence to say that organic life on Earth evolved by natural selection – that evolution is true. Holding this view is good so if you hold the view that the species did not come to be the way they are by the process of evolution then you are holding an error in your computer code. The Bible has so many viruses that it could induce many errors in your software were you to fail to recognize them as errors. ( However i know many church goers who have excellent social skills & career skills, brilliant memories etc )
    People are a mix of behaviours and ideas. some folk wreck their otherwise nondescript life by a catastrophic moment of madness, though they may have been on that road due to poor habits in self control or anger management etc.

    It is possible that some people have adhered to English criminal law out of a fear of damnation by Babble god. Well good then because let’s face it what they thought about the Bible stories may never be known to anyone except themselves. However if they adhered to all the Old Testament laws they would break English criminal law. What modern Christians do is form a synthesis where they imagine that their god wants them to keep the up to date law of the land.

  12. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    This is more or less what happened in Morgan Freeman’s “The Story of God”, episode “Why does Evil exist?” At the beginning, he visits a psychopath in prison who can’t be helped and at the end of the episode Freeman visits an ex-racist who found Jesus, thereby showing the audience that there is hope for evil people and that hope is called God.


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