Can Atheists Live Moral Lives?
A subject that is very often brought up in discussions between Theists and Atheists is the issue of morality: “Can Atheists live moral lives?” There is a perception among Theists in general that the only reason why Atheists refuse to believe in god, is so that they can indulge in sinful behavior and run after the lusts of their flesh. After all, if you don’t believe there is a god, who will hold you accountable for your actions? What is to stop you from doing anything your heart desires? Atheists are therefore prone to destructive, licentious and lustful behavior and if the world didn’t have any religions to lay down at least some form of moral standard(s), the world’s population would eventually destroy itself if everybody became Atheists.
The question I always ask people who reason like this is: “So are you saying that if your religion didn’t forbid you to steal, kill, rape and destroy, would you want to run out and do all these things? Is the Bible (or whichever other holy book you read) the only barrier standing between you and full blown depravity? Do you really need the threat of eternal torture to be a good person?”
Let’s take a step back and look at where the belief that Atheists are evil, baby-eating monsters, came from.
At the core of the Abrahamic religions is the belief that every person who enters this world is sinful, fallen and desperately in need of a savior or god to “fix” them. But like so many other religious concepts, there is no evidence for this. It’s something a person needs to believe in order for it to be true to them. It’s a tailor-made package of condemnation that sets you on the back foot from the moment you are born, and something you will spend the rest of your life making up for. Suddenly god, who is responsible for setting things up this way in the first place, becomes the object of your affection and adoration for saving you from the damnation he allowed you to be born into.
All Babies Are Born Atheist
The reality is that all babies are born Atheist. They have no concept of god, sin, religion or of heaven or hell. All these things are taught to them somewhere during their lifetime.
Some only discover religion later on due to a need to find “purpose” in this life. But if they were to go through their whole lives without anybody telling them about it, they would never know about Jesus Christ, Mohammed, the Holy Spirit, Allah, Buddha, God the Father, Zeus, or any of the other gods. They would never learn that they need to believe in an invisible deity in order to be saved from their sins, in fact, they would never even think that they have “sin” to be saved from or forgiven for.
The very concept of sin is actually something which was invented by religion so that it can control the masses. If you can be convinced you are indebted to someone, you can be manipulated to believe you need to repay, honor and revere that person; in this case, god.
What Percentage of Prisoners are Atheists?
A very important indication to see whether there is a correlation between religion and morality, is the amount of Atheists who are in prison. Surely if Atheists are more inclined to immoral behavior than Theists, the Atheist vs Theist percentages in prison would reflect it? Well, in several surveys undertaken in the USA, it was discovered that the percentage of inmates in US penitentiaries who view themselves as Atheists is less than 1%. This is for new, incoming inmates, not for people who change their religious views inside prison.
This is telling evidence that religious affiliation certainly does not act as motivation not to commit crime. If it did, the prisons would be full of Atheists or at least have a substantial majority of Atheist inmates, and not the 28.7% Protestants, 24% Catholics and 5.5% Muslims that currently make up the prison population.
In a recent discussion with a Theist I was asked whether the lack of any form of written or verbal moral code in Atheism could not be construed as an excuse for Atheists to hurt other people. Here is how the conversation went:
THEIST: “One of these problems of Atheism to me is morality. Atheism seems to give no base for the existence of objective moral values, which strangely Theists and Atheists both hold dear. If Atheism is true, one ends up with no morality as Dawkins admits himself:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
(- Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden, page 133.)
I think we need to seriously think about the consequences of such a world. I hate to use this example, but Andre, if Atheism is true, you cannot call your daughter’s situation “evil”, but only a situation were blind physical forces and genetic replication caused someone to get hurt….”
ME: “Again the age old argument that an Atheist cannot be a good person.
Well I am a living example that they can. It only takes a little bit of common sense to figure out that if you are going to run around killing, robbing and hurting people, sooner or later you won’t have any friends left and end up running into the extent of being persecuted by the law. Every single country in the world has some kind of civil law in place to ensure that common ethical, humanistic and general moral standards are upheld. Our parents drilled good behavior into us from a very early age, we don’t need religion to do it.
You need to realize that not all Atheists out there think like Richard Dawkins. He definitely has some valid points, but he certainly has a passion and an “agenda” against religion (can you really blame him for it?). Every baby born into this world knows nothing about good or evil, about the existence of Jesus Christ, Zeus, Allah, Mohammed or whatever other gods there are. All of this is drilled into their brains by their parents or their circumstances. In the end, everybody’s perception of morality is shaped by their living environment. Some people add religion to the mix as well and claim THAT to be the definitive element of being a good person. But if this were true, then there would be no religious people in prisons and no divorces, molestations, murders or any other forms of crime among religious groups. On the contrary, we know this is certainly not the case. We also know that Atheists are very much able to live moral lives and additionally they are able to actually see other people through less judgmental eyes, because they have no interest in “converting” others to their beliefs (because they don’t BELIEVE in anything). The bottom line is that morality is not dependent on the existence of any god, and also that the belief in a god does not necessarily imply it will influence a person for the better.”
THEIST: “Do you agree with Dawkins on the statement I have quoted?”
ME: “To a degree, yes. But I should ask you something here… If you believe that knowing the difference between good and evil is such a great thing, why was this the exact reason that god kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden in the Bible?”
I never received a reply after this…
Morality Not Directly Related to Religion
Morality is a concept which is largely influenced by a person’s upbringing. Someone who is raised in a family or environment who has no regard for common ethics and human decency, will need to be taught these traits later on in life, just like any other skills which can be acquired by practicing them. An “evil person” can be taught to love, care and show compassion just like a “good person” can be influenced to start indulging in immoral behavior. Religion might at best cause a person to be more aware of morals, but religion in itself might not necessarily be good. By simply looking at the situation in the Middle East we can see what effect religion can have on the fate of entire countries. Then there were also the Dark Ages, where non-believers were tortured and killed for not converting to the ruling religion of the day…
The Irony of What Religion Is Trying to Impose
The great irony (and often a point of great embarrassment for Christians) in trying to promote their religion as a religion of peace, is found in the very pages of the Bible. In his dealings with mankind, we see Jehovah slaughtering millions of people throughout the Bible in a blood-frenzied rage. According to statistics by several websites, the total number of people killed by God amounts to over 2.4 million, and that excludes the estimated 20 million who were killed in the great flood.
God then has the nerve to implement laws preventing his subjects from murdering other people, except when they murder other people for breaking the laws he implemented.
It’s very tricky to convince an Atheist that you serve a God of love when he promises eternal torment if you don’t love him back.
The bottom line is that Atheists all over the world are free to be moral and good apart from having an angry god who threatens them with hellfire if they are not. Atheists do not purposely walk around looking for opportunities to harm other people, well no more than Theists who have had a similar upbringing. Religious affiliation is not the deciding factor for a person to be good or bad, it’s simply a set of beliefs that help them to make sense of the universe and their purpose in this world.
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