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June 16, 2006

Are Atheists More Moral -- VII

This contribution to the discussion from Barbara Ehrenreich:

the common religionist view is that religion is the only possible source of morality. Which is a funny idea of morality. That is, that there is no point in doing good unless you're going to be rewarded for it some day, after you're dead, of course.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at June 16, 2006 11:24 PM


The funny thing is that people who argue that morals must be based on religion, and usually argue an absolute moral on this basis, are in fact supporting a relativist moral, since anyone can invent a religion with accompanying morals and accompanying threats if the moral rules are violated. So religious morals aren't less relativistic, they just more based on a more arbitrary foundation than secular morals are.

Posted by: Kristian Z. at June 17, 2006 5:42 AM

This is totally unrelated to your post, but I think it's worthy of mentioning:

Retiring Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers made an interesting speech to his graduates a few weeks ago: http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2006/0606_bacc.html

The second half of the speech is a thinly disguised attack on religion.

Posted by: Kristian Z. at June 17, 2006 5:45 AM

Where might this question take us?

I only contend that function in the mundane must serve as a primary point of departure. After months of petitioning for gay rights in the conservative suburbs of Colorado, I find that this state's predisposition for opposing same-sex marriage is based in purely abstract rhetoric. They haven't stopped to consider the fact that they are passively injuring people whom they will never meet, who will never effect their tax base; who will also one day lose a loved one but may not be able to see them as they lay dying in a hospital.

Are atheists linked much outside the essential definition of what it is to be an atheist? Well, shit, what does it mean to be an atheist? We don't subscribe to a common doctrine and while we may always prefer to engage the challenge of attempting something like individuality, it seems to me that, again, function in the mundane ought to serve as a basis. Otherwise, the question as to whether we're more moral seems oblivious.

Hmm... unless you'll be rewarded later.... again, the question of faith assumes a striking relief...

Posted by: Loranku at June 18, 2006 2:59 AM

Stupid Evil Bastard pointed out that Christianity is a lot like Nigerian spam. "Send us some money now and you'll get untold millions later on..."

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at June 22, 2006 5:19 PM

This assumes two things. 1. That theists base moral decision-making solely on the fear of hell/hope of heaven. 2. That (freed by atheism from the fear of hell/hope of heaven) atheists are free from having to consider rewards/consequences in moral decision-making and rely instead solely on what is right. Both are patently false.

Theists (with the perceived will of G-d as a guide to what is right and wrong) act on their belief that something is right or wrong all the time without having to consider heaven or hell as a consistent or guiding factor in the process. Atheists (like theists)will consider not only what is right or wrong, but rewards/consequences of a more mundane nature than an eternal afterlife.

Usually, considerations of rewards/consequences are considered in conjunction with the person's ideals of right and wrong. This is the most common form of morality amongst atheists and theists, however, there are those rare few who consider only rewards/consequences and those who consider morality solely as an end.

Some questions of reward/consequence that require neither the existence of G-d nor the existence of an afterlife: Will this help me get into a good college? Is it good for networking? Do I get a tax write-off? Will other people condemn or ostracize me? Will my friends think it's cool? Will I go to jail? Is it worth going to jail/dying/being ostracized to stand up for what I think is right in this instance? What's in it for me?

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 15, 2006 10:14 AM

Almost forgot. The traditional framework of Jewish legal/moral determinations excludes consideration of heaven/hell. This is especially true since Judaism has no "official" afterlife (rather, it has multiple theories about the afterlife) and is particularly focused on the duty of "tikkun olam", perfecting this world as cocreators with G-d. This is not to say that Jews as humans don't consider rewards and consequences, only that this contradicts the assumption that the theological framework of morality is simply "Do this to go to heaven." Or "Do that and you'll go to hell."

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 15, 2006 10:27 AM

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