Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MORALS OF AN ATHEIST

The issue of morals and ethics have often been a subject of contention, particularly amongst theists of just about virtually every creed and religion.

Ask the average Muslim, and he or she will tell you that praying five times a day, in the direction of Mecca, Islam's holiest city, is a moral, religious duty. Christians and Muslims, by and large, regard women's submissive roles as being in tandem with the state of morals, enshrined in religious texts of some long-forgotten era.

In short, every theist will have you know that religious guidelines are crucial as to how homo sapiens behave, and possibly, at the end of their rather monotonous, law-abiding lives, they get to meet their makers with the hope of a reserved seat with their lords/gods, living their eternal lives in relative bliss, as a reward for living a pious, mortal life.

In short, there is a code of conduct, albeit sometimes outdated and not in sync with the standards of modern society, that binds religious people together. Atheists, however, enjoy no such luxury.

Unlike religions, atheists do not live by a codified rule of conduct, written specifically for this infidelic group. While atheists generally have no problem with that (and in fact, thrive on this freedom), our theist counterparts seem to have a problem with our perceived lack of morals. They reckon that, without the moral hand of deities and the comforts of specific religious rules, atheists have no affirmation nor obligation to live a codified, moral life.

In short, the monopoly of morals is being laid claim by theists, and atheists have, in fact, been viewed as being devoid of this over-rated virtue.

This is what a Christian has to say about his atheist counterparts:

If you're going to be an atheist, at least get it right

By DALE REICH
Posted: Jan. 29, 2006


A few days ago, I took off my religious beliefs and locked them in a closet.


Then, in a further act of mental gymnastics, I put on the robes of disbelief. I wanted to see how I looked and felt without my lifelong commitment to Christianity.

It was pretty chilling. I didn't like the emptiness, the disconnectedness, the lack of direction and the prospect of it all ending when I die.

It wasn't long before I reached back in that closet. I had gotten religion, so to speak, and I was glad to be back under the umbrella of my faith.

I know lots of non-believers, and I like a lot of them. They're generally nice people. A few have made fun of me for my beliefs and even implied that I'm intellectually inferior for believing in things as seemingly irrational as God and creation. ("Dale, have you ever been inside a whale? Do you really believe someone could live in a whale for three days?")

I haven't minded their challenges, but now, I have one for them.

Friends, if you're going to be atheists, start thinking and acting like it. Get rid of your own irrational beliefs and embrace the world as you say it is: a purely physical and random place where goodness and evil don't really exist and where the rules set down by organized religion and thousands of years of human history are no more meaningful than two rocks colliding at the bottom of a mountain after an avalanche.

What I learned from my foray into disbelief was that most atheists have it all wrong. They've merely substituted their own irrational belief system for the one I was given from 2,000 years ago.

Pretty scathing, I must say. First, the writer starts off with a quaint, mental challenge of sorts. He claims to pretend, or a make-belief exercise of sorts, to be an atheist.

He then speaks of his infidelic experience as "emptiness, disconnectedness, and lack of direction", and his relief of being back in the comfort zone, i.e religious faith.

It seems that, there is more to it than a mere disconnected sense of direction, as the writer continues:

One of my friends told me the other night that he had stopped to help a stranded motorist.


"Why would you do that?" I asked.

"Because it was the right thing to do. She needed help."

"But," I protested, "that doesn't make any sense. You wasted your time and efforts on a complete stranger, and for what? You got nothing out of it. You should have kept right on driving."

He gave me a puzzled look.

What I meant to say is that God is the basis for good and evil, and once you reject him and his rules, you're left with nothing but self-serving and self-preservation. In short, you're left with being your own god.

It's funny. Calling my beliefs irrational hasn't kept virtually all of my non-believing friends from coming up with a set of beliefs on their own. They find them in tradition, in rational thought, in politics, in philosophy, in the moon and the stars, in Tarot cards and even in the cookies where they get their Chinese takeout.

More insinuations of the bigoted kind.

Of course, moral rules, as the writer suggests, can only come from a deity, GOD. The writer implies that, short of the moral rules spelt out by his religions, atheists have absolutely no reason to do good deeds, like, say, stopping to help a stranded motorist in need. Hell, the atheist isn't going to heaven anyway, why does he have to be that nice guy?

In short, no rewards, no good works. Its like saying, humans are no better than donkeys: They have to be driven by a carrot dangling in front of them via a stick an a string, with a whip on their ass (pardon the punt). He enthuses that, without God, man is a genuine, self-serving individual, with no thought of society as a whole.

Dale further expounds that, in an attempt to substitute their loss of religion, atheists seek alternatives to for solace: tarot cards, rational thought, politics, and even Chinese fortune cookies.

In short, any passionate issues that are acquired by the individual infidel becomes a substitute for something lost, i.e religion.

In sum, Dale's assumption is that, without a belief in God, Man ceases to exist as a law-abiding, compassionate, human being.

As an atheist, how am I, and my fellow atheists, have to say to address such frivolous, hare-brained presumptions?

THE CONCEPT OF MORALS

Perhaps, before I commence, let us perhaps dissect the meaning of "moral", not from a religious viewpoint, but an entirely secular one:

According to Oxford's:

• adjective 1 concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character. 2 conforming to accepted standards of behaviour. 3 psychological rather than physical or practical: moral support.

I guess, then, morals have a close, or perhaps mutual, relation with standards. Standards of right and wrong. Standard principles. The question arises: Whose standards should we apply in relation to our behavorial instincts?

The Christians, along with other theists, point out that their respective scriptures are their individual sources of codified codes of conducts. So, what standards do atheists abide by?

While I may not speak for every atheist, the average atheist derives his or her morals from several secular, less malignant sources:

1. Laws of The Land (Secular law, for most countries): First and foremost, the laws of the land. No one wants to be punished by the rule of law, so this is the first guideline to follow.

Morals arising from secular law provide a general outline to the survival and orderliness of society, without which, chaos and anarchy ensues.

Certain laws, such as those pertaining to crimes, such as robbery, theft and murder, are standard universal laws that are to be abided at almost all costs.

Of course, some would argue, that laws of the land may or may not be the most relevant guide to sensible, astute morals.

Say, for example, you live in Burma, where freedom of speech and other rights are severely curtailed. Would that imply that bowing down to unfair laws, laws that subjugate the rights of man, be obeyed, in order to achieve a state of morality?

Or laws, such as those prescibed by muslim nations, that call for women to wear compulsory, restrictive clothing (e.g burkas)? Should such laws be abided?

Or, in the case of Singapore, anyone found making public speeches without a due, valid permit could be hurled up in court and incarcerated. Should such laws, then, be adhered to?

Unfortunately, I do not have hard, fast answers for every predicament. Every nation has its own set of laws, so it is imperative to use common sense. When faced with laws that are as unreasonable and despotic, it is best to exercise prudence to avoid unnecessary punishment.

2. Morals Pertaining to Common Good
:

Morals, or otherwise standard, behavorial principles, should be aligned to what I term as "The Common Good".

What this means is: Morals are prescribed not for the purposes of religion, nor to please any number of deities, but simply to serve the masses in whichever shape and form.

For example, donating to charities helps the poor and underprivileged, and can be considered as good, moral deeds pertaining to the general welfare of society.

Likewise, helping the motorist on the street is a good moral deed, since it involves helping a down-trodden fellow in need.

Unlike the religious mode of conduct, the principle of the Common Good does not enshrine the "rewards and punishment" system so favored by the religious folks.

In short, morals must serve mankind and his needs, not as a tool for gratifying imaginary deities.

That morals which align with the common good often come into conflict with religious morals is hardly surprising: Religious fanatics, faced with the inevitable tide of social change brought about by the Scientific Revolution and other philosophical ideals, have often reacted in a way that is often conservative, archaic, and resistant to change.

Scientific advancements bestowed upon mankind, through hours of hardwork with stem cells and embryos, are deemed to be murderous and unethical, for reasons that are as ridiculous as "treating embryos as full-fledged human babies".

Vaccines treating diseases related to sex, such as cervical cancer vaccines, have also been vehemently opposed by religious groups (click here), on the pretext that such vaccines promote sexual promiscuity by providing a false sense of security to women.

While the average atheist would no doubt feel appalled with the existence such archaic, non-sensical religious views, these arcane views have often been the bane to scientific advancement, particularly under the Bush Administration in America, who have exerted their influences over many scientific and medical institutions, so much so that abortions have been curtailed (Third tremester abortions banned).

3. MORALS IN ACCORDANCE TO CIRCUMSTANCES

Atheists are generally more in tune with nature and its mysterious ways; hence most of us would generally avoid the practition of absolute morals.

Morals, in any shape and form, must be subjected to the circumstances that may or may not justify a certain act.

Take, for example, theft. Secular law spells it clearly; thievery is a crime. Under certain circumstances, however, it would not be considered a travesty even in the court of law.

Having said that, I doubt any lucid mind would heap criminal accusations against a man who steals from a 7-11 store in a flood-ravaged county (Think Katrina).

For the same reason, while does not deem a person a murderer for killing another man in the name of self-defence(provided, of course,the act of self-defence has been proven by the court of law).

MORALS: FROM A NON-RELIGIOUS POINT OF VIEW

Given the unorganized nature of atheists as a group, it is hardly surprising that atheists haven't exactly have a textbook of morals to subscribe to.

While it is not my intention to start introducing one, what I have done is perhaps provide a rough mental sketch of the average atheist's mindset.

In any case, morals are subjective issues; while some have endured the passage of time (E.g: murder as a crime), others, such as the crimes of blasphemy and heresy, amongst others, predate to an era of widespread superstition and religious oppression, and do not stand the test of time.







5 comments:

Sportin' Life said...

What's really interesting about this character's column is the view he takes of religion. He doesn't make any claim for his belief system as something that is actually true--he just likes, or thinks he needs, to have something to believe in--Hey, why not christianity? It's old!

It's very much in keeping with the times, isn't it? "Faith," as such, is the important thing.

shrimplate said...

The so-called Christian writer simple suffers from a moral developmental lag.

Some people are only able, according to Kohlberg, to act morally when subject to notions of a reward/punishment system, instead of relying on their own inner moral compass, which of course they have not developed.

Summary

At stage 1 children think of what is right as that which authority says is right. Doing the right thing is obeying authority and avoiding punishment. At stage 2, children are no longer so impressed by any single authority; they see that there are different sides to any issue. Since everything is relative, one is free to pursue one's own interests, although it is often useful to make deals and exchange favors with others.

At stages 3 and 4, young people think as members of the conventional society with its values, norms, and expectations. At stage 3, they emphasize being a good person, which basically means having helpful motives toward people close to one At stage 4, the concern shifts toward obeying laws to maintain society as a whole.

At stages 5 and 6 people are less concerned with maintaining society for it own sake, and more concerned with the principles and values that make for a good society. At stage 5 they emphasize basic rights and the democratic processes that give everyone a say, and at stage 6 they define the principles by which agreement will be most just.


I personally do not regard people who must rely upon god to enforce their morality as somehow "more moral."

Actually, I am inclined to think of people who have a strong moral sense, free of fatherly notions of reward and punishment, as those who are in fact morally superior. They are innately moral.

Perhaps this is what some religious people think religion gives them: an inner sense of right vs wrong. As long as it is governed by some big daddy in the sky.

It's unconvincing.

Brandon said...

Personally I wish these so called Christians would stop telling me how moral they are when the advocate torture and sexual sadism in the name of national defense. I think the truth of the matter is that they hide behind the name of Jesus but get off on blood, death, and suffering. These p[eople talk a good sermon but they haven't got the morals that a pig could spit.

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beepbeepitsme said...

RE morality and disbelief:

Put Your Morality To The Test
http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/2006/08/put-your-morality-to-test.html