Challenging Religious Myths 1: No Morality without Religion

December 7, 2007 at 1:10 am 51 comments

Fireworks 1Myth 1: Without religion we would have no moral values and our society would be worse off.

Surely, the argument goes, the benefit of having a god in your life is that it gives you rules to live by. “If God does not exist then everything is permissible,” said Dostoyevsky, and indeed, without the threat of eternal toasting what’s to stop us? And without a moral backbone based on religion, our society would suffer.

Of course, there are plenty of things to stop us from behaving totally selfishly. With, or without religion, human beings have tremendous capacity for empathy and often modify their behaviour because they know of the pain that they might cause others. And although religion is good at shunning, society is good at disapproving of behaviour in order to protect itself too. We have survived in our present form because we are good at stopping those things which are threatening to our tribe. With, or without a god, we are capable of love and altruism and nobility because of choice, rather than the desire to avoid the ultimate, eternal, divine shunning. I am sure that both theist and atheist would agree that morality based on positive choice is preferable to one based on fear.

There is also growing evidence that religion appears to have little clear positive benefit on society, and there is a case to be made that it is, in fact, very detrimental. Although there have certainly been many individuals from a religious perspective working tirelessly to promote good, there have been atheists doing the same, and the cumulative damage done by religion seems to far outweigh any societal benefit.

From a developmental perspective, it can be argued that the West went into the Dark Ages in the fifth century as the church stifled activity in the fields of medicine, technology, education, science, and it took over 1000 years for it to recover. And of course, the present obscene immorality of religion abounds – the decades of slaughter in Northern Ireland and the bloody clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslims over who has the best way of worshipping the same God; the thousands of Africans who have died of AIDS after following the proclamations of Catholic priests that condoms would not protect them against HIV, and the thousands of victims of Catholic sexual abuse; the warped version of Islam that led the 9/11 hijackers to believe that they would be spiritually rewarded for murdering thousands. The human, financial, and societal developmental costs of all these things are huge. No sane government would want to argue that they were somehow benefitting their country.

The financial cost alone to society is enormous, representing a huge drain on limited resources (particularly for poorer nations) – resources that could be better used for the benefit of humankind. In an interesting paper John Perkins tries to assess the economic cost of religion – keeping women from the workforce, time spent on religious activity, cost of defence resulting from religious conflict etc. He concludes: “While religious beliefs may be implausible, counter-factual and irrational, and while religious institutions may be immoral, may encourage outdated cultural practices and may stimulate dangerous conflicts, these faults do not entail religion’s most serious shortcoming. The main negative impact of religion on the world community today is its enormous economic cost, estimated here to be a fixed cost exceeding $US200 billion, which falls mainly on poor countries, and an annual cost, again exceeding $US200 billion, which falls mainly on the industrialised world. The cost of religion is not just a shameful waste of human potential, but also a waste of economic resources often by those who can least afford it. These are resources that should otherwise be used to improve the human condition.” Religion is a developmental brake.

There is mounting evidence from several sources continuing to challenge the myth that religion is somehow helpful to society. Gregory Paul compared data on the level of religiosity of people in 18 developed countries with data on various social ills. If religion is beneficial the level of faith in the population should correlate with people doing fewer bad things. But it doesn’t. The analysis revealed that higher rates of belief in a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion.

A larger analysis by Gary Jensen compared homicide rates with measures of religiosity in 54 nations and found that nations with high numbers of people believing in both God and the Devil have the highest homicide rates. A third study published in 2003 found that levels of conservative Protestantism in cities in the southern US states correlated with homicide rates there: more conservative Protestants, more murders.

Of course, the correlational data between measures of ‘health’ and a lack of religion do not resolve questions of causality. Belief in God may lead to societal dysfunction; societal dysfunction may foster a belief in God. However, they suggest that atheism is compatible with the basic assumptions of a civil society, whereas the case for religion has yet to be proved. The above data certainly kicks the idea that faith automatically makes for a better and more moral society firmly into touch.

- A Thinking Man

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I’m a better Christian now that I’m not a Christian My purpose is clearer now without religion

51 Comments Add your own

  • 1. saintlewis  |  December 7, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Personally, regarding your first myth, I don’t know ANYONE that believes that. I DO know plenty who believe – as I do – that there can be no objective morality without God – but this is quite different than the myth you refute here.

  • 2. maralorelei  |  December 7, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    I am grateful that this post was highlighted on the WordPress page, for I believe I will be coming back to this site to read more in the future, and maybe even ask to be a contributor after my school work is completed for the term.

    My religious views are scattered to the point where I don’t know which way is up anymore. I was raised Lutheran and followed that path until college, then I fell in with Campus Crusade for Christ and was “born again” on a retreat. Came home and scared my mother over winter break because all I did was read my Bible–she thought I had been brainwashed! When I went back for spring session, I had Intro. to Philosophy and World Religions, and was utterly confused by all the similarities between the religions and by all saying that they were the one true religion. Fell away for awhile, but was brought into a Full Gospel church and then a Christian Fellowship church for a few years–two churches that contradicted each other with one preaching no alcohol–I still remember a girl yelling about how everything from movies, to books to music was “Foul!!!”– and the other group the youth didn’t follow that route. And the couple that lectured me and a boyfriend about premarital sex, but they had done it themselves before marriage.

    Too much hypocrisy, too many people doing things and saying things “in God’s name” or “because it is the Christian thing to do, and then talking behind the person’s back. I still don’t know if those people were really my friends or if they just pitied me or wanted to keep me in the fold to monitor my then somewhat wild behavior.

    Now I lean mostly towards Eastern religions and philosophies and any group that allows me to embrace all religions and peoples and not send me out to condemn and convert other people. I do not want to be condemned for my Tarot cards or belief in possibly God was an alien (by true definition of one who is not of this world, he is) and that is how so many cultures that didn’t have contact had such similar religions or gods.

    But I digress . . . I am so glad that I found this blog! Thank you for being out there and banding together!

  • 3. Introduction to Deconversion.com « Marching 7/4  |  December 7, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    [...] Introduction to Deconversion.com I am writing here to create more awareness of a really cool blog on WordPress that I found today when a post of theirs was featured on the main page.  The blog is De-conversion: Resources for Skeptical, De-converting or Former Christians. [...]

  • 4. chmd  |  December 7, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Agreed. Evolution can easily explain moral behaviors. It’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors’ clans or tribes were more successful if they didn’t kill each others off, collaborated on tasks, shared resources, etc. Natural selection ensured that these traits were passed on to the next generations. I believe in God, but I do not need to fear His wrath to know that conducting myself morally is what I want and need, and try to aim for (even if I know that I often fall short of this ideal). In fact, the true mystery is why I am not good more often, knowing how good it feels to be good.

  • 5. Quester  |  December 7, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    there can be no objective morality without God – but this is quite different than the myth you refute here.

    Saintlewis, I don’t see the difference. Could you outline it for me?

  • 6. salymander  |  December 7, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    I’m not positive. Maybe SaintLewis doesn’t like the way your opening sentence is phrased?

    I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but your criticism of the Argument from Morality should say, “There can be no morality without God” Not religion. Since I believe most religious people would argue religion is imperfect while God is perfect.

    I’m an atheist, but I used to be Christian. I’m used to arguing both sides ;)

  • 7. Rachel  |  December 7, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    “In fact, the true mystery is why I am not good more often, knowing how good it feels to be good.”

    Calvinists would call that Total Depravity. :)

    Moral behavior is very good for improving the human race, which is why I find it very interesting that after thousands of years of naturally selecting out behavior that is not good for community survival we still have the war in Iraq, widespread genocide, people who go into schools and shoot little kids, and slimy companies like Enron. And before you attribute it all to religious zeal, there are plenty of non-religious people who have contributed to the horror. Hitler sure thought he was doing the world a favor. People do plenty of raping, backstabbing, and bombing without doing it in the name of religion.

  • 8. evangelistbillybolitho  |  December 7, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Blessed Assurance

    Today there are many leaders in our Churches that have some knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, but do not have the blessed assurance of the living Christ living in their hearts. Through one way or another they have heard and accepted the knowledge of God, and their knowledge can be quite outstanding at times but they have not accepted Christ personally as their Lord and Saviour.
    Jesus spoke about this type of people in St John 5:39-40. “Search the scriptures: for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me that ye might have life.”
    Many of these leaders who hold prominent positions in our churches will speak great words of vanity, telling us how to be rich, trying to make us dissatisfied with what we have, yes, teaching great error, they promise freedom but they themselves are servants of corruption. When they first heard the Word of God they embraced it, and it did clean up their lives, yet, they only embraced the knowledge of Christ, not Christ Himself, by repenting and making Jesus the Lord of their lives.
    The scripture says that they will be entangled again and overcome by wickedness, and their end will be worse than their beginning. “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the Holy commandment delivered unto them.” 2 Peter 2:21.
    We can tell the difference between those who have a religious spirit {some knowledge of Christ}, or those who have the Spirit of Christ {born again, Spirit filled, Bible believing Christians}. The easiest way to know the true Christians is in the way that they bare fruit in obeying Christ’s commandments, for the true meaning of the word Christian is a follower of Christ.
    One of the biggest, deceiving lies that the devil has ever orchestrated in this world today is that many believe that the knowledge of the scriptures, is enough to save them, when in fact they are only saved by a personal experience of Jesus Christ Himself living, dwelling and reigning within them. For it is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10: 9& 10.
    You can see from this scripture very plainly that we must not only confess with our mouth the knowledge of God, but we must also believe in our hearts, which makes us true followers of Christ. That is why even a young child who has learned very little Bible scriptures, but has received Jesus into their heart are saved so wonderfully when they received the truth of the gospel, Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
    We must witness to those who have the knowledge to go all the way by receiving Jesus into their hearts fully, so that they will have the blessed assurance. We see many responding to alter calls, with no change in there lives. but this won’t save them.
    We see many raising their hands in services and great meetings, also with no change, but this won’t save them. Yes, it may be a witness of receiving the knowledge, but, my friend only a truly repentant heart given to Jesus Christ can ever save you. Then you will receive from Him the blessed assurance that Jesus is yours, your Lord, your Saviour, your Redeemer, you’re everything.

  • 9. geopoop  |  December 7, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Morality is completely ground based and inertly ground into our biology. Evidence is piling up to prove this.

    (Reason Article, Times Article)

    Personally, I’m neither theist, nor atheist. I do not object to a god, nor worship one. Though I do take offense at people who actively preach either way, as it is counter-intuitive to try to actively force change in peoples minds. Truth be told, there are always going to be people who feel they “need” religion, though in opposition there will also be those that feel they do not.

    It is true that the major religions have a bloody past and present, but one cannot simply blame the religion. Whether it be Constantine or Mohammed people have used religions to do these things. People, not words did these things. Throughout history people allowed illogical and immoral actions to be taken due to the misuse and misinterpretation of these scripts. not to say that some of these documents are completely harmless (Read Leviticus) but it alone has no power. We cannot just blame religion for all the madmen that have misused it’s power.

    Truth be told, religion is an easy answer philosophy. God did it, Period, some will say, citing a chapter in the book and a page line. It’s not emperical, rational , and in most cases logical, but it’s their opinion and they can live whatever way they want. However, when the line gets blurred into politics, that’s where things get hairy. It’s no longer an issue of difference, but of intolerance, when one persons values are pushed onto society. In this case, religion drops all meaning, and becomes a veil for a political agenda.

  • 10. geopoop  |  December 7, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Crap, forgot a closing block on the link, Sorry made the entire thing a hyperlink

    http://reason.com/news/show/123608.html

    http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1685055_1685076_1686619-1,00.html

  • 11. Gary Glass  |  December 7, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Here’s a challenge. What if Jesus was saying more or less the same thing? What if what made him so remarkable to those who knew him was that he pulled the rug out from under their comfortable (and not so comfortable) assumptions about the necessity for belief in supernatural things? I submit that this is a defensible reading of the gospel stories. I illustrated that argument in a retelling of the old time story here: Only Begotten

  • 12. Jersey  |  December 7, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    I have met nontheists who are moral, I have some who are amoral. Same thing with people who claim any religion as their own: I found moral and amoral people professing Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, shaministic tradition…

  • 13. OneSmallStep  |  December 7, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    And before you attribute it all to religious zeal, there are plenty of non-religious people who have contributed to the horror. Hitler sure thought he was doing the world a favor. People do plenty of raping, backstabbing, and bombing without doing it in the name of religion.

    I don’t think Hitler falls into the category of “non-religious.”

    And it is true that religious and non-religious have each committed horrors. However, the non-religious don’t do so in the name of a God that is supposed to be the source of all morality/goodness.

  • 14. Yurka  |  December 7, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Saintlewis, I don’t see the difference. Could you outline it for me?

    Quester, I believe SLs point (which Salymander indirectly addresses) is this: people may obey their conscience without religion (Romans 2), just as one may watch television without knowing anything about electricity. But they would not have a conscience in the first place if it didn’t have a transcendent source (God).
    If there is no transcendent source (ie if materialism is true) then morality is an illusion, and one is free to disobey it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

    As to the actual article, there are several problems. It gives examples of religion having ‘negative benefit’ but it hasn’t really shown that in the absence of religion, there would not have been even more negative consequences – it is pure speculation. In other words your last paragraph doesn’t go far enough in admitting causality doesn’t come into play. The nations with higher homicide rates may be even higher if those regions were completely secularized.

    Another problem – the author judges the ‘benefits’ of religion by a standard of his own invention. It’s not really a valid point to say that secularism is ‘better’ and then define better such that secularism will come out ahead of religion – that reasoning is circular. So when he says that religion ‘costs’ poor countries because of time spent on worship, restrictions, etc. I would disagree with his values. Religion in those areas may be producing more virtuous people than in the more developed areas, in which case I could say it has more positive benefit than secularism.

  • 15. Rachel  |  December 7, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    “However, the non-religious don’t do so in the name of a God that is supposed to be the source of all morality/goodness.”

    The Catholic priests who molested those children didn’t do it in the name of God, they did it because of their own selfish, perverted desires….the same reason why anybody, believer or non-believer, does something immoral. Religious fanaticism is in a category all its own.

  • 16. Thinking Ape  |  December 8, 2007 at 12:32 am

    The Catholic priests who molested those children didn’t do it in the name of God, they did it because of their own selfish, perverted desires

    Was that an example used – oh my! I think the examples usually used for the idea of “the non-religious don’t do so in the name of a God” argument are the crusades (done in the name of God) and murder/genocide (see various stories in the Old Testament/Tanakh) – not to mention polygamy and slavery.

  • 17. Rachel  |  December 8, 2007 at 1:44 am

    No, it wasn’t an example that was used, but this whole post kind of implies that whenever Christians do something bad it’s in the name of God. There are tons of reasons why people do evil things and a lot of them don’t have anything to do with God. Humans are more than capable of being idiots without religion’s help. ;)

  • 18. OneSmallStep  |  December 8, 2007 at 11:39 am

    but this whole post kind of implies that whenever Christians do something bad it’s in the name of God.

    I think the problem is that as soon as there’s a religious name associated with the person who is acting, there might be a perception that God is on one’s side. I read a study somewhere that said something along the lines of those who felt they had God’s forgiveness were less likely to seek out the forgiveness of those they had wronged.

    Or it’s like the Catholic church that simply moved the priests to a different area, rather than restricting contact with the children completely. As soon as one feels they are a spokesperson for God, or on God’s side, it seems it can become much easier to justify horrific acts.

  • 19. Thinking Ape  |  December 8, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    There are tons of reasons why people do evil things and a lot of them don’t have anything to do with God.

    I couldn’t agree more!

    it wasn’t an example that was used, but this whole post kind of implies that whenever Christians do something bad it’s in the name of God.

    Only if you want it to. With the exception of a few, the majority of nonbelievers do not believe that Christians cannot be moral or accuse Christianity of being inherently evil. It would only take a short trip into even a moderate Protestant churches to find out the same can not be said about the vice versa. This is what this post was addressing.

    I personally believe if there was some such device as a “ethical reader” or a “moral indicator,” one would find the same rating among believers and non-believers – the only difference is that Protestant and Evangelical Christians would THINK that people of their group are more moral, but inside they would know that they personally are not.

  • 20. Matt  |  December 8, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Religion has been used to commit atrocities. That is FACT. But Religion also has been used to preserve societies.

    When secularism begins to fail, Religion comes in and rescues society and builts it back up. When Religion befins to fail, Secularism comes in and rescues society.

    Religion is a society thing, a communal thing, and whatever religion preserves life, (makes babies, keeps people alive to make more babies) indeed preserves the religion itself.

    Abrahamic faiths have taken a lot of flak, but if they were indeed a failure, then they could not be passed down because those under it’s influence would be unable to pro-create.

    While Religion can and will cause pain, it can also equally preserve families.

    If a Secular Government fails to protect it’s people, and if a Secular Government fails to provide food and clothing and sustainability, and where there is more suffering, you can find more Religious activities and rules holding people together. This I know has been observed, but please do correct me if I’m wrong.

    If a Religion begins to rip apart society, cause strife, cause criminal activity and so on and so fourth, AND a Secular Government is in force to protect the people, to feed the people, provide work, jobs, etc, then the Secular Government gains more control over the people then the Religion.

    This is my little mini-thesis on Religion and it’s impact on people, trying to be non-biased towards religion or secualrism.

  • 21. Thinking Ape  |  December 8, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Matt,

    Abrahamic faiths have taken a lot of flak, but if they were indeed a failure, then they could not be passed down because those under it’s influence would be unable to pro-create.

    They aren’t passed down. Today’s Christianities are perverted versions of yesterday’s Christinaities. Today’s Judaisms are perverted versions of yesterday’s Judaisms. Today’s Islams are perverted versions of yesterday’s Islams. The religions of today deviate so much from that of 200, 500, 2000, 4000 years ago that to call them “Abrahamic” is nothing more than simplistic propaganda, alluding to some sort of golden age tradition.

    And may I ask who says that someone who believes in something that is false cannot pro-create and pass that down to their children anyway? Religion does not make babies, people having sexual intercourse for whatever reason make babies.

    I’m sorry but I find this mini-thesis not only simplistic but somewhat offensive to the complexities of history, religion and society.

  • 22. Matt  |  December 8, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Thinking Ape, sorry to offend you, was just an idea, not really facts. Also, I wasn’t trying to imply that truth, or facts preserve people. I’m saying that society, and ways of life preserve people. Especially in the neolitithic era where science was very weak, and superstitions kept people alive and families in tact.

    I am saying that Religion has preserved life. That is a fact, and I’m not saying that ONLY Religion has.

    In ancient days, before medical science, before knowledge of germs. Supersitions like staying away freom the sick because they have “demons” kept people alive. It wasn’t staying away from the demons that kept them alive, but it was staying away from the germs. However, they nevr found this out.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that I’m alluding to a golden age tradition, that was way out fvrom left field. Seems like I hit nerves and I’m not sure anyway how.

    Also, where do you get the idea that I’m saying someone that believes somethin is false can’t pro-create? I’m simply saying there are many dogmas within religions around the world that preserved human life and maybe you should edit wikipedia and correct them, funny how the artciles on Histories of religions arent under “dipsute” either.

  • 23. Matt  |  December 8, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Also, Abrahamic faiths are not a failure, when looking at all the religions that failed. Looking at this stuff as “memes” under the guise of “natural selection” – You can clearly see that Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam are very successful in the memetic world. Thats what I meant by not a failure.

    Also, I’m not saying a success is knowing the “Truth” because really, knowing the truth hasn’t prevented us from making babies, preserving families, and making more babies, and continuing to preserve families, and making more babies! Obviously if Truth was the onlyh way for the human race to Survive, then we’d be extinct.

    The fact is society as a whole has used religion to preserve people. You know, I wasn’t just talking about making babies, I was talking about keeping those kids alive, safe, and teaching them to become adults that fit within society so they can continue the lifeline.

    I’m a little insulted for you to attack me as sayhing someone whose insulting history, when I’m just gathering information from secular texts regard the HISTORY OF RELIGION.

    It sucks that someone on this staff has to attack people just because they make a mistake or miscommunicate.

  • 24. karen  |  December 8, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    Humans are more than capable of being idiots without religion’s help.

    Ain’t that the truth! :-)

    The problem, for me, is that there’s this little thing called the holy spirit. If you are a fundamentalist, like I was, you believe that the holy spirit is supposed to provide guidance and comfort and help the believer stand out from society in a positive way.

    “And you shall know them by their love” is a line in a song we used to sing, reflecting our belief that all Christians should manifest the “fruits of the spirit.”

    So, when we see that Christians don’t really manifest those wonderful fruits any more than Jews, atheists, Hindus, Muslims, we have to ask “where’s the holy spirit?” (Several of us here have posted columns to this effect, in fact.)

    When I see priests and Protestant youth leaders engage in sexual activity with vulnerable minors – and worse, when I see the higher-ups excuse and cover up and sweep the crimes under the rug, I just don’t have much confidence in the reality of that whole “holy spirit” thing.

    Also, I believed that god “called” and “appointed” the men (yes, the MEN) who were to be the leaders of the church. Why the heck does god and his magic spirit put so many pedophiles in charge of his work in the church on this earth? Isn’t that a bad decision? Okay, I could imagine a handful slipping through, or a few bad apples who aren’t “true Christians” in the first place – but we’re talking a LOT of people!

    Either god’s not paying much attention to what’s going on in the church, and the holy spirit takes vacation time like W., or he/it isn’t there in the first place.

  • 25. Thinking Ape  |  December 8, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Matt,
    Nothing you wrote was offensive to me. What I read was a reduction of religion to various sorts of essences, especially with the use of a capital “R” in “Religion.” “Religion” is a category – a label which we put on a group of belief systems that have various ambiguous attributes. “Religion” is not a “thing.” Religion does not preserve nor destroy lives: people preserve and destroy lives. I have no doubt that early humans would create religious ideologies to explain aspects of their lives that helped them survive, but “Religion” itself does nothing, yet your argument seemed as though you were making a case that without “Religion” we could not continue as a species.

    My allusion to golden age ideologies was not out of left field, and I explained why I wrote it. Anytime that someone speaks of an “Abrahamic” faith, whether singular or plural, they are harking back to some sort of “golden age” ideology; this particular one is that of a founder of three faiths who was most likely an figurative archetype put into an excellent narrative by the Yahwist author. Perhaps we just have a different idea of “failure.” I clearly agree that the Christian and Islamic faiths have been successful in perpetuating themselves, but neither have much to do with “Religion” or “Truth.”

    Obviously if Truth was the onlyh way for the human race to Survive, then we’d be extinct…It sucks that someone on this staff has to attack people just because they make a mistake or miscommunicate.

    Whenever you put your ideas into the public, expect criticism. I did not attack you, nor do I understand where you see that I did. I am disagreeing with some of your views and giving you explanations why. If you think something is “obvious” such as what I quoted above, many others might think that it isn’t so obvious. Now if I was to critique this statement, which I normally would in an academic setting, you might think I am attacking you.

    I apologize if I offended you by hoping you would explain your points a little further. Just don’t expect everyone to agree with you when you make prodigious statements with little substantiation.

  • 26. bipolar2  |  December 8, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    ** the “divine” impedes moral development **

    You have only to step outside monotheistic thought patterns to understand how much atheists and theists alike operate on a narrow bandwidth of “knowledge”. It’s merely a hangover from imbibing too much xianity. There is no inherent relationship between religion and morals.

    If your model of religion is based on the big-3 monotheisms, you won’t even understand Roman or Greek religious beliefs and practices so vigorously suppressed by the church militant.

    Xian “morality” is irrational, otherworldly, and impractical. It promises much, and delivers nothing. The kingdom of god will be childlike. The pristine world to come would need no Law or Ethics, religious or secular. Jesus’ ‘interim ethic’– “take no thought for tomorrow” — didn’t outlast one generation of dupes.

    The world did not come to an end. The vengeful judge and his 10,000 angels failed to put their official stamp on the great unwashed living in the urban slums of the eastern Roman Empire. Ever since, Pauline puritanism has been the official party line.

    Chinese culture was far luckier. From that very rational, this worldly, and practical book, The Analects, attributed to Confucius (written 500 years before an alleged Jesus!):

    6:20 Fan Ch’ih asked what constituted wisdom. The Master said, “To give one’s self earnestly to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.”

    15:23 Tsze-kung asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not ‘reciprocity’ such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”

    [trans. S.R. McIntyre 2003]

    No god is needed to police human behavior. All “morality” is irreducibly social. Harming others can not be generalized; otherwise, no culture could exist.

    Haven’t you heard of “moral” development? Do you think that all such systems are equivalent? (“Indeed there are no moral facts, only a moral interpretation of facts.” Nietzsche)

    In the U.S., one Civil War (1861-65), the vote for women (1920), one Civil Rights Movement (1956-65) — that’s the turbulent blood-soaked price paid so far for extending equality (reciprocity) beyond the slave owning, white, male, property holders who would not displace themselves from power even as they created a new mode of “representative” democracy.

    There’s no need to invoke evolution (or memes) — unless they’re Lamarkian — each generation of persons teaches the next. There’s openness to “moral” development.

    A religious gene is as absurd as a Kantian category — it simply posits a question-begging “faculty” to gratify wishful thinking. Why does the opium poppy induce sleep — why because it contains a soporific faculty! Moliere. Le Malade imaginaire.

    bipolar2
    c. 2007

  • 27. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 8, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    saintlewis is not quite correct: There’s no such thing as objective morality, full stop. Not even a god can deliver objective morality (see Plato’s Euthyphro): Morality just becomes the subjective properties of the god.

    The notion that morality comes from a god is merely a dodge to justify power and privilege for those who fraudulently claim private, unavailable communication with their god.

  • 28. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 8, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    Essentially, morals and ethics are grounded in contingent properties about human psychology, and thus fundamentally subjective. The causal accounts of these properties are given by biological and social evolution.

  • 29. Gary Glass  |  December 9, 2007 at 7:26 am

    >saintlewis is not quite correct: There’s no such thing as objective morality, full stop. Not even a god can deliver objective morality (see Plato’s Euthyphro): Morality just becomes the subjective properties of the god.

    This is an important point. But suppose even if there is an “objective morality” out there somewhere, whether it’s in the mind of God or written on stone tablets or between the covers of a holy book: even so, it remains somebody’s subjective opinion that there is an objective morality, their subjective opinion that they know what it is, their subjective opinion that they understand it. It is a comfort to believe that we shall know the truth and the truth will make us free. But the only universal truth is this: there isn’t one. That’s not so comforting. At first. But it grows on you. Gradually, you realize that indeed this truth has made you free. Freedom isn’t comfortable. I don’t think Jesus was advocating comfort.

  • 30. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 9, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Gary Glass: Don’t get all postmodern; you’re seem to be extrapolating a radical subjectivism from a fairly straightforward scientific truth about meta-ethics. You seem to be conflating subjective (properties of minds), consistently determinable, and universal. All of these terms have different meanings: We can consistently determine subjective properties (e.g. everyone who knows the facts would come to the same conclusion that I like Indian food), and beliefs are by definition subjective entities, it is their content that references the properties of non-minded things (e.g. mass, volume, etc.).

    It’s difficult to determine the thrust of your comments: Your exegesis of the gospels is interesting (and actually persuasive), but fundamentally literary; the literary value of the gospels does not at all depend on whether they are literally true. (Indeed, literal truth is typically a literary weakness; it is rare that real-life events have the same compelling artistic power as invented fiction.)

  • 31. Is the world crueler for atheism? « Tipped Ear Clan  |  December 10, 2007 at 11:28 am

    [...] is atheism the only beast that had eroded moral values and degraded society? I beg to differ. History too begs a differing record for this perennial deathmatch between fidels and infidels. And [...]

  • 32. Gary Glass  |  December 11, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    >You seem to be conflating subjective (properties of minds), consistently determinable, and universal

    I am attacking the “objective morality” defense, as are several of the preceding responses. If there is an objective morality, no matter what it is, how would we know when we knew it? There would have to be some objective method to validate our knowledge. How would we know that method was valid? We’d have to have some way to validate it… Moreover, morality, by its nature, does not lend itself to objective proof. That’s a red herring, something to think about instead of thinking about freedom. Freedom is scary.

    >Your exegesis of the gospels is interesting (and actually persuasive),

    Hey, thanks!

    > but fundamentally literary; the literary value of the gospels does not at all depend on whether they are literally true.

    Quite so. Nor does their moral value. (I’m with you all the way except for that little word “but”.)

    >(Indeed, literal truth is typically a literary weakness; it is rare that real-life events have the same compelling artistic power as invented fiction.)

    Agreed.

  • 33. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 11, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Gary: I am attacking the “objective morality” defense.

    I understand, and I’m no fan of objective morality either. The exposition in your latest post is much improved.

  • [...] any case, I was reading a blog, and read the first comment was about objective morality. The argument is basically that without a [...]

  • 35. talulah  |  December 14, 2007 at 2:57 am

    although i consider myself to be a believer, who is becoming more and more comfortable with uncertainty and less comfortable with the dogmatism and judgmental attitude that surrounds organized religion…this “skeptical believer” finds your topics are intriguing. i’ll be back often.

  • 36. loopyloo350  |  December 14, 2007 at 10:39 am

    Are morals learned behavior or are they genetic? Without faith that there is a higher power to rectify the imbalance when laws fail to protect those they are designed to protect, what reason would there be to follow the laws or accept that the judgement sometimes fails? If morals are learned, there has to be some reason, some hope that causes there to be a reward for following those moral values. Accepting imperfection and going on with our lives has to be profitable. And if they are genetic, who designed the genetic code. Random selection does not seem to answer all the questions either.

  • 37. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 14, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Are morals learned behavior or are they genetic?

    Both.

    Without faith that there is a higher power to rectify the imbalance when laws fail to protect those they are designed to protect, what reason would there be to follow the laws or accept that the judgement sometimes fails?

    Why do I have to be certain of perfect justice to follow laws? The need to fantasize the certainty of some perfect justice (which always mirabile dictu! conforms precisely to each individual believer’s prejudices and preferences) says volumes about the believer and nothing at all about the world.

    If morals are learned, there has to be some reason, some hope that causes there to be a reward for following those moral values. Accepting imperfection and going on with our lives has to be profitable.

    The writer needs to learn about probabilistic game theory. Even given imperfection, I can rationally conclude that overall, conforming to an imperfect law is profitable.

    And if they are genetic, who designed the genetic code.

    No one. It evolved.

    Random selection does not seem to answer all the questions either.

    Indeed. ‘Tis a good thing, then, that evolution has nothing at all to do with “random selection”. The writer here does nothing but expose his or her own scientific ignorance.

  • 38. loopyloo350  |  December 14, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Barefoot Bum: I ask questions because whether I agree with them or not I like to know the reasoning of other people. I am not a scientist and have never claimed to so “scientific ignorance” fits quite well, thank you. I also never claimed to be so arrogant as to answer peoples questions without denigrating the person themselves.

  • 39. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 14, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    loopyloo: Sorry. It’s just that evolution ought to be as much of a no-brainer as gravity. It is a non-trivial subject, to be sure, but the two fundamental principles are fairly straightforward: Random mutation and natural selection. Natural selection is not random, it is occurs by natural law, reducible (in principle) to the laws of physics. All the rest is how these principles operate.

    If you want to learn more about evolution, there are any number of good books on the subject, aimed at a lay audience. A search for evolution on Amazon will give a number of books with a diversity of views. Dawkins book, The Selfish Gene is especially good.

    Charles Darwin’s seminal works, including The Origin of Species are available online and are quite accessible, if you can get past his Victorian style.

  • 40. loopyloo350  |  December 14, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Barefoot Bum: Thank you for the clarification. I personally have no problem believing in evolution and see no value in denying something that is obvious. People who try to make the world fit into their way of belief are the same to me as flatworlders. I accept the fact that I will never know everything and take great delight in searching for knowledge. i do not see this as a conflict with my belief or my faith. Each person has to find the path that is right for them and not go blindly into the darkness. If we don’t explore and feed our curiousity then we die. I personally love to hear how others define their belief/disbelif. In fact found and interesting blog awhile ago that compares Christianity with Wicca. Who knew?

  • 41. Greg Merrill  |  December 14, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    I totally agree with the claims of how detrimental religion has been upon the face of this planet for the people of the world. I am glad as having been a Christian for over forty-eight years, and a pastor of a church for nearly ten years, that I am not religious. The church so often referred to by historians and atheists is the Catholic Church, a true religion. True Christianity is not a religion, no matter the statements to the contrary by historians and atheists, but a real spiritual relationship to the living Lord, Jesus Christ. All religions are based on being good to be accepted by God. Christianity is based on confessing that you are a breaker of God’s law, worthy of the death penalty, but allowed to be forgiven, if trust is placed on Jesus having died in your place, and having the right to be both your Savior and Lord. To know more go to http://www.centinelabible.org. and may God lead you to He that is the truth, Jesus Christ.

  • 42. The Barefoot Bum  |  December 14, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Christianity is based on confessing that you are a breaker of God’s law, worthy of the death penalty, but allowed to be forgiven, if trust is placed on Jesus having died in your place, and having the right to be both your Savior and Lord.

    This makes absolutely no sense to me. It says to me, “We’re horrible, but it doesn’t matter.” Fine. So I’m intrinsically depraved, but I’m absolutely forgiven. So what?

    The catch is, of course, god’s law. There are only two options: Either this god communicates its law to me directly, in which case my own moral intuition can be taken as authoritative.

    In this case, everyone is entitled to call himself a just as good a Christian as anyone else: you, me, my uncle Fred, Gandhi, Hitler, bin Laden, Calley, Eichmann, Bojaxhiu, Schweitzer, and Darwin. It doesn’t draw any sort of meaningful distinction.

    Alternatively, this law might be communicated indirectly, via scripture, prophets and/or priests. But if you have privileged some external source as authoritative, then you have just established a religion.

  • [...] See also: Challenging Religious Myths 1: No Morality without Religion [...]

  • 44. pericles  |  December 18, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Again, we need to see that humans are both selfish and altruists. It gives us an evolutionary advantage.

    Furthermore, if morality is based on religion then it has negative meaning because such morality is based on fair of eternal punishment.

  • [...] HeIsSailing’s The Bible does not contain a guideline of moral absolutes, AThinkingMan’s Challenging Religious Myths 1: No Morality without Religion, and Stellar1’s You do not need religion to be moral. Of course this is not an exhaustive [...]

  • 46. Christopher Wing  |  April 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    There seems to be something theists forget, starting with Dostoyevsky – just because you may be immoral without your religion doesn’t mean that I will be immoral without your religion.

  • 47. Rosita  |  March 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    The very first comment [saintlewis] asserts that “there can be no objective morality without God”.

    This is absurd because there is absolutely no agreement by people who believe in a god or gods about what this “objective” morality is. There is not even agreement among those who belong to the same congregation of the same branch of the same denomination of the same religious classification. There is even less agreement from nation to nation and complete about faces over decades, centuries and milleniums.

    The more freedom people have to roll their own religion free of the asserted interpretive authority of religious leaders, the greater the degree of dissent and difference of interpretation of exactly the same doctrines and religious texts. The Christian Bible, for example, has been called the Great Big Book of Multiple Choice because it is and has been used to justify just about any moral point of view which an individual arrives at in response to their society, environment, background and early nurture.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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