Morality and Atheism
This article is not about whether God(s) exist or not. That subject is saved for another article. The purpose of this article is to open discussion about Atheism and it's interaction with morals and ethics.
A friend and I once had a conversation about religious differences that really caught my attention because it emphasized an important misconception that almost all religious people have.
He was having problems with another person and attributed it to their religious differences. I mentioned that he and I got along great despite our obvious religious differences (he is a devout Christian and I am an Atheist). He retorted that it was easy to get along with someone that doesn't believe in anything.
His response was what caught my attention. The main problem was that he actually believed it. Not that it's easy to get along with someone that doesn't believe in anything, but the fact he honestly believed that I didn't believe in anything.
In fact, I have very strong beliefs. I believe very firmly that there is no God(s). Much of my philosophies are based on that belief.
Does this make me immoral? Does my belief in no God(s) invalidate any good intentions I have toward my fellow human beings? Does this mean I'm not allowed to be a nice person? Does this mean that I will always do the wrong thing?
To many the answer to these questions is "yes". The fact that I, with what I have learned, choose to believe that there is no God(s), means to many that I am a dangerous, immoral, in fact evil person who is destined to commit crimes and be a public nuisance.
This negative view of Atheists comes from a few myths. It is these dangerous myths that I intend to destroy.
One assumption religious people make is that moral and ethical choices are religious ventures only. God fearing people are moral and a non-religious person is a non-moral and non-ethical person.
This myth has been the basis for hate, distrust, discrimination, and in rare cases, crimes against Atheists. It is so wide spread that even the United States Government is guilty of historical discrimination against Atheists. At best, religious people tend to distrust Atheists. At worse, some people have committed crimes against Atheists with the rationalization that those that do not follow their God(s) are the enemy. They feel that someone's refusal to acknowledge their God(s) is a personal attack on them, and so they retaliate. Any attacks to anyone based on religion, or lack thereof, is a bad thing. No one should ever be physically, mentally or spiritually attacked or killed for their religious or philosophical beliefs, yet most of the wars and atrocities in history were the result of religious disagreements.
In fact, morality, ethics, caring for others, etc. comes not from the belief in God(s), but in your desire to be nice to others around you.
My close friends and family have often described me as a very ethically motivated person. In this time of recreational drugs, smoking and excessive drinking, I have done none of these during my entire life. I don't steal, cheat, spread nasty rumors about others, or anything else I feel is mean, destructive, or dangerous to others. (and believe me, I've had plenty of opportunities to these things if I wanted.) I have often been told that I actually go too far to help those around me. Other Atheists I know are just as nice as I am. Many of my closest friends are very religious. Many others are Atheists. I have found no correlation between their religious beliefs and their good or bad actions.
There is no evidence whatsoever that believers in no God(s) are any more of a threat to others than believers in God(s).
Another problem is that religious people tend to equate Atheism with anarchism. These are two very separate issues. I am an Atheist [The belief there is no God(s)], but I in no way support anarchism (doctrine that all governments and laws should be abolished). I fully appreciate the need for governments and laws and do what I can to obey them.
Atheism has also been incorrectly connected to communism. This again is a dangerous myth.
Basic historical research shows no connection whatsoever with Atheism, communism and anarchism. They are no more related than Judaism, United State Pride and Buddhism.
In fact, during the beginnings of Christianity, followers of Jesus were called Atheists because they refused to accept the Roman God(s). Now they, and other religions, turn around and do unto others as was done unto them.
So what, religious people ask, without God(s) is to keep us in line? What dictates our morality and ethics? What can we fear enough to keep us from being an evil person?
In simple terms: Common sense and good will towards others. Good Atheists know that it's best to be nice and helpful to others. They know that being mean and selfish is a shortcut to problems. This is no different than good Buddhists, good Hindus, or good Christians.
Simple research of crime statistics reveals no connection between crime and religion or Atheism.
FACT: Not all "religious" people are saints and not all "Atheists" are sinners. The ability for someone to be good or evil is not determined by their religious preference. It is determined by their personal philosophies which may come from sources other than religion.
The belief that it takes a fear of God in order for us to be kind to others is, to me anyway, a very offensive and cheap statement about people in general. That belief says in effect that people are naturally mean and nasty to each other, and that it takes some kind of divine intervention to keep us from killing each other in mass orgies of violence. I prefer to believe that people can be nice to others for any reason they want. It doesn't take a genius to realize that we can get further in life when we are nice to everybody around us. Then again, maybe it does take a genius to realize that. That better explains the rude, mean, selfish people in the world.
Once we can agree that people can be nice, regardless of which God(s) they believe in or even that they believe at all, we all become a lot closer to improving this world for everyone.
Would typical Christians agree that Buddhists are ethical? I think so. (There are the few that think only Christians are the ones with ethics, but these people are so clearly misguided they don't warrant discussion at this moment. So we go back to those that admit Buddhists can be ethical.) However, Buddhists don't believe in the same Jesus-based God that Christians do, in fact they don't believe in a God at all.
In this case, if Atheism were officially recognized as a religion (we've just shown that you don't need to believe in a God to be a credible religion.) would you feel better about the concept of atheist morality?
Let's take a different look at the concept that morality, ethics and compassion are incapable without belief in God.
All these facts are scientifically observed, video taped, documented, actual facts.
How can the dolphin punish bad behavior without a sense of right or wrong? How can you have a sense of right or wrong without ethical values?
How can a dog show such acts with a sense of love, devotion and yes, compassion?
These animals (and many more examples are available) show natural signs that are classified as moral and ethical values.
So these animals, whom I'm sure pray to no God, are capable of morals and ethics and compassion, yet human beings who learn God does not exist are not capable of the same actions?
Isn't it enough for someone to consider that life itself is precious without God? It seems to be enough for the other animals.
By the way, I just want to say, for the record, that although I do not believe in God(s), the religious texts from all the religions I've read carry good advise for treating others well. However, just because good advice is found in the religious texts is not proof of Atheism moral inferiority. Atheists are just capable of separating the good advise from the "fables".
I'm not worried about getting into Valhalla, Elysium, Heaven or anywhere else after I die. I'm more concerned with making as big a positive impact as possible while I'm alive.
I am available for seminars, debates, interviews or lectures about many philosophical, ethical, scientific or religious issues. Please contact me for scheduling and prices.
I am no longer accepting responses to my articles.
Original web pages and images copyright 2000 Josh Rubak