There are a few moral ideals that are common to all social groups, such as not stealing or committing senseless murder. These have lead to many people, both religious (theist and deist alike) and nonreligious, supposing the existence of moral absolutes.
These generalized moral ideals are picked up on keenly, but little attention is paid to the fact that other than these few things, all other moral ideas are blurred, subjective, and mutually exclusive. For example, some cultures seen cannibalism as a moral duty, and other see it as the worst imaginable crime.
The common morals (not stealing, not fruitlessly murdering) can be traced logically back to evolution via natural selection, and that is the reason that they are the only ones truly common to all social groups. They are the morals that help people live together as a group, which in turn helps them to survive as a species. It boils down to basic common sense: if you want to have a successful group, you can’t have people stealing from one another and you can’t have people killing at random.
All other morals enter the realm of subjectivity. Every culture agrees that a baseless random murder is wrong, but they disagree severely over definition of “baseless,” when it is okay to take a life and when it is not. Just a few hundred years ago it was socially acceptable for a brother to murder a man who had sex with his sister out of wedlock. Many countries today still practice honor killings where it is morally justifiable for a husband to kill is adulterating wife, or a father to kill his disobedient daughter. Among the Asmat in New Guinea, before they were influenced by Western society, it was not only considered correct, but a moral and religious obligation to kill and cannibalize your enemy…
The last article I wrote was about the biggest benefit religion possesses: its strong sense of community. That feeling of unity and belonging that the Christian community provided is maybe the thing I miss most about being a religious person. But coming in at a close second are prayer requests.
For the ten years I went to Christian school, every day started with the opportunity to share prayer requests followed by a prayer that dutifully addresses all concerns. Prayer request time was supposed to be time set aside for spiritual introspection and communion with fellow believers, but it always devolved into nothing more than story-telling time. And I loved it. We had a way of taking a story that we wanted to tell and twisting it to make it either a prayer request or an object of praise:
“Last night, when we were coming home from soccer practice, it was really dark outside. A dog ran right in front of our car and my dad had to slaaaam on the breaks! We all started screaming because we thought he had hit the dog. My sister even started to cry. My dad got out to make sure the dog was okay and saw him walking along the sidewalk across the street. He got back in the car and told us the dog was alright. My mom said that maybe we should go pick it up so that it wouldn’t get hurt or cause an accident. So we took the dog home and called the number on its tags and its owner came and picked it up. I’m thankful to God that my family and the dog were not hurt and that it got to go home to its family.”
Human beings love to tell stories. It’s the primary way that we learn and relate to each other. I can still remember the feeling of excitement as I sat at my desk with my hand raised, waiting for the teacher to call on me so that I could tell the entire class my new and exciting story–err–I mean, prayer request…
But what about this site? Is it a help, or a hindrance to mature growth? Are we ex-Christians sulking about, fooling themselves that we are providing positive reinforcements for other non-believers and soon-to-be non-believers. Or is it what we say it is – a resource for former and skeptical religionists? Perhaps health and instruction is not part of what we do. Perhaps we are merely deconstructers, allowing the faithless to flounder in their own philosophies of non-belief. Is it possible for this sort of community to act as just another crutch, another religious-like entity that cannot think beyond itself?
In reply to the questions, I insisted that sites like this do have a positive affect because they provide a sense of community for a very marginalized group. As an American, I am constantly surrounded by the religious. Religious dialogs are impossible to avoid. They permeate our elections, they happen on the bus, they are handed out as fliers and pamphlets. Even if I wanted to “move beyond” Christianity, it would be an impossible task, because religion is simply unavoidable. Aside from the large Christian culture present in the US, my own family are all deeply religious, so religion will always be a part of my life, and I have to find ways to deal with that. One very helpful way is to communicate with fellow ex-Christians…
I’ve noticed Christians are really hung up on the concept of free will*. It’s a very useful tool invoked to explain away everything from the Problem of Evil to the need for Jesus to die on the cross to the reason lives aren’t saved and prayers aren’t answered. Christians explain that God gave people free will which he has promised not to violate. He gives us all the freedom to choose between good and evil and thus eternal life and eternal damnation. He is grieved when we don’t choose the “right path,” but he will respect our decision and not intercede in our lives.
Christians really love this idea, and if you talk or debate with one you will surely hear them invoke their beloved God-given gift of “free will” with a twinkle in their eye that betrays their facade of modest humility and lets you know that they’re unbelievably certain of not only their chosen faith, but also of the usefulness of their apologetic “free will” card which will proved a philosophical answer to any of the difficult questions posed by nonbelievers.
Free will is an essential part of God’s salvation plan for the world. We are supposed to come to God freely, of our own volition, and make an informed and personal decision to accept him as our savior. My question is this: if Christians cherish free will so much, and believe that it is central to the process of belief, why do they also practice and praise childhood indoctrination? Doesn’t this seem directly hypocritical?…
When discussing religion with believers, I often encounter the accusation that science is just another religion, complete with dogma, blind faith, etc. This is a misguided idea. Science is set apart from religion in that it is verifiable by everyday experience. It is also fluid in the sense that scientific facts are falsifiable and theories are subject to change according to the most current observations. Religion, on the other hand is static and considered infallible. Believers are expected to have faith not just in the absence of supporting evidence, but also when the evidence blatantly contradicts the religious tenets.
Someone who considers the validity of any scientific principle has the benefit of being able to verify the claim to their satisfaction. Anyone can retrace the logical steps of any successful theory or repeat any successful experiment and see the results for themselves, but this is not always practical. Because scientific theories and experiments have the tendency to be too complicated and labor intensive for the average person to experience for themselves, many people do take scientific principles on faith alone.
But what is the nature of that faith? I have faith that if I jump off of the side of the cliff, I will fall down and probably be killed. This faith is not blind, it is established from prior evidence…
When I first came to the de-Conversion blog I was afraid to read comments left by Christians. I was afraid that my atheistic position was actually weak, and that they would present some argument for God that I hadn’t considered, or that was so rationally sound that I couldn’t ignore it. And to be perfectly honest, I wanted them to succeed in convincing me. I read the responses searching for a glimmer of truth, looking for some defense that would lead me back into the comfortable faith of my childhood. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that would never happen.
Here is why:
1. They never bring anything new to the table.
I’ve been an avid reader of the blog for over a year now, and I’ve read virtually every comment. I’ve read hundreds of Christian arguments and apologetics, but of those hundreds, no one has ever introduced a new or novel argument. They all use the same hackneyed apologetic tactics and arguments, and to make things even more frustrating, they present these arguments as if no one has ever heard of them before, as if they are completely original and earth-shattering. Since most of us here are former Christians who were deeply immersed and educated in the faith, this attitude is nothing less than insulting.
2. They present no convincing arguments...
I don’t really mean to, but I find myself debating people a lot. Imagine me as some sort of super geek who pushes her glasses against her nose, raises an index finger, and says “Umm, actually…” in a nasally voice. Except I don’t wear glasses. But it’s a usefully tool of illustration, so just pretend that I do. Anyway, in my many debates, I’ve found that I encounter the same stumbling blocks to critical thinking repeatedly. They’re the same ones that I dealt with during my journey from credulous Christian to skeptic, and they are as follows:
Recently I was debating Chiropractic with an intelligent person. I presented her with evidence against the efficacy of Chiropractic and evidence that neck manipulation can and does cause strokes. I tempered that by saying that Chiropractic has been found to be helpful for certain kinds of lower back injuries, but no more helpful than massage and physical therapy, which don’t put you at risk of a stroke. I could tell she was considering what I had to say, and I was hoping that maybe, if nothing else, she’d think again before she let a Chiropractor twist her neck. She didn’t argue or challenge any of my points, and even admitted they were “interesting” but she told me that she was going to continue to visit her Chiropractor. Why? Because “he’s a close friend of the family and is trusted by us.”
Now I’m sure that her Chiropractor is a good person, and I’d bet with certainty that he’s never caused a stroke, but the fact that someone is a friend doesn’t make them right, and just because a friend is a Chiropractor doesn’t lend Chiropractic any actual validity. That’s emotional thinking…