I couldn’t help thinking my previous post about Odd Innuendo’s piece did some laconic injustice to the crux of the matter:
that theists somehow link atheism to a lack of moral fiber, and typify the genocidal tyrants of the 20th century by their atheism.
Let me just say this at the onset: there is nothing inherent in atheism that perforce leads people to be better people. Atheists might be better people than theists simply because some religious doctrines contain evil moral codes, and the lack of which results in a moral improvement.
However, it is also important to note that theists plant a false dichotomy which is a bit elusive without giving the matter some thought:
theists assume that the only source of morality is the bible. Let’s ignore, for a fact, that the bible is not a singular source of morality, nor is the Judeo-Christian tradition –
who says that people can’t think up of good or bad morals on their own, and try to propagate said morals? Heck, even the bible contains such moral innovations, right at the beginning of the book.
In Genesis, chapter 4, Cain pretty much makes up his own mind on what’s the right way to treat his own brother. God didn’t think this one up, Cain did. Why couldn’t people, outside of the Judeo-Christian world and otherwise, think up of what’s “good” or “bad” themselves?
With that in mind, I will confess to this: as an atheist, I derive some of my moral worldview from the Old Testament. That I do that is expressed in my repugnance at polygamy and adultery (something which is completely run-of-the-mill in other cultures). I also confess that my adherence to material fairness also stems, in part, from the bible – the chapters in Deuteronomy that deal with money lending and earthly possessions made me think twice before I delay a loan payment (although I admit that I sometimes linger too long, so twice isn’t enough 🙂 ).
However, the bible does not tell me how to treat adulterers. The bible does not tell me how to deal with witches or homosexuals.
My morality as a whole stems from various sources such as television, Bushido and oriental warrior codes, 19th and modern Liberalism (hence my take on homosexuals), Thomas Paine, Zen and Buddhism (particularly through the writings of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate-Do). I probably picked stuff up from local peers, and a smidgen from my parents (who did very little in the way of shaping my moral worldview).
So – you could say that my atheism lead me to be susceptible to non-religious influences on my moral worldview. Since the odds of someone running exactly into all these sources is rather slim, how could one really say that atheism logically leads to a worldview based on Thomas Paine and Zen Buddhism?
Isn’t it ridiculously easy to refute by pointing to an Atheist who doesn’t even know who Gichin Funakoshi is?
How can a lack of a belief in something lead to a specific behavioral pattern anyway? Sure, native-born atheism can lead to a lack of Judeo-Christian morals, but these morals aren’t exclusive to Judaism and Christianity! Funakoshi was probably one of the most humble individuals who ever existed, and I don’t recall him quoting the bible.
A lack of something can lead to something. This is not problem when a lack of something has positive controls. A lack of oxygen leads to the positive existence of asphyxiation and death. A lack of belief in a personal God, however, only means that one will not behave according to religious moral codes due a relationship commitment to God. There are plenty of other reasons to love thy neighbor, the first being that loving your neighbor is fun, beneficial and rewarding.
So, to summarize:
A. Atheism doesn’t result in a lack of religious values – only in a lack of belief in a personal god. The adherence to a moral worldview is independent of the belief in God – you can adhere to a religious law as a theist just as much as an atheist – the reasons being different, the results identical.
B. Religion (a particular type of man-made object) is not the only source of morality – which is why the false dichotomy of “religion-no moral worldview whatsoever” is false.