Sunday, July 10, 2005

Atheist Morality 

One of the big arguments against atheism I hear from theists is this one: you can't possibly have any moral code if you don't believe in god. I would argue exactly the opposite. You cannot have a true moral code if you do believe in god.

For those of you brainwashed from childhood and still not free from the myth of god, that may seem like an impossibility. But, in fact, I would argue that people who believe in god are totally immoral, while atheists can be the most moral people on earth.

It comes down simply to this. Atheists believe that this is it -- this life, from birth to death, is all you get. No rewards in heaven, no afterlife, no golden harps. When you die, game over, and you won't be walking away from the machine in some fancy arcade to go commune with angels. When you die, you're gone. Your personality, your memory, your identity, your awareness, everything.

Consequently... the worst possible thing that any human being can do to another human being is take everything away from them. With no afterlife to believe in, murder is clearly the most heinous crime imaginable. It's the theft of another person's entire being and awareness. I do not have the right to take that from another human being, just as they damn well don't have the right to take it from me. That is an ironclad result of believing in no god, no afterlife. LIFE is sacred. LIFE is all we have.

Following from that argument, yes, I'm against the death penalty -- but for more subtle reasons. Personally, if someone has committed heinous crimes like murder, a much better punishment then snuffing their life out is to lock them in a small room until they die, with no future, nothing to do, no satisfaction. Remove their future but let them live -- and that punishment is far, far worse than turning their lights out with a couple of machine-administered hypodermics, isn't it?

And, really -- how much does this country try to have it both ways over the death penalty? Is it penance? No. It's punishment. And, if it really is punishment, why sugar-coat it? Why try to make the punishers feel less nasty by making the killer's death easy? If we were not hypocritical, then every death sentence would be carried out in exactly the way the convicted murderer killed their victims, in public, with witnesses. Cruel and unusual be damned -- and I could make the argument that, since the convicted killer had carried out a certain act in killing their victim, it would not be unusual as a punishment. But it would teach the killer and society nothing, except that violence is good. Which it isn't. Again, locking someone away for the rest of their life to do nothing and be nothing is a far nastier punishment than freeing them from care and responsibility by turning their lights off.

Now, there's one half the argument -- because this life is all we have, as far as atheists are concerned, our morality is extremely life-valuing. Murder, war, assault, robbery, rape, non-consensual sexual activity, etc. -- things that interfere with the happiness of others -- are all very bad things. And you can do with your life what you want, to the point that it doesn't fuck up my life. That's it in a nutshell. (I'll save abortion for another posting, since it's such a complex issue -- or is made into one.)

Now... what of the theists? They have a double out. First off, since they believe in an afterlife, it isn't game over when life stops. There's some mystic fairyland waiting, and everyone goes there. And, consequently, murder ain't no big thing, if it can be justified. And, believe me, with religion, all kinds of murders are justified. Just read the Old Testament, and you'll see god's favorites killing non-believers left and right with impugnity. The end result is the onoging holy war we have today, where fundamentalist Muslims have no problem killing infidels; where fundamentalist Christians think they can shoot doctors who perform abortions without themselves going to hell. As long as death is not the end for them, murder will never really be a sin, despite the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill." And explain for me for a moment why that's even a commandment when, for example, David is ordered by god to kill one third of his prisoners of war as a sacrifice to the lord. Um... maybe the commandment was supposed to be "Thou Shalt Not Kill Unless I Tell You To."

The second out that theists provide themselves is this: their morality is not based in their choice of wrong or right; it's based in the punitive brownie point system, which will be paid off after they die. In other words, they do no behave morally because they have chosen to do so. They behave morally because of the fear that some invisible being in the clouds will smack them silly at some point after they die if they don't act a certain way.

That's not morality at all -- especially not when the system can have so many exceptions. "I can kill an abortion doctor, but god will forgive me for saving fetuses." "I can kill an infidel and get 72 virgins in heaven." "I can excute that criminal, because god wants him to die." "I can kill that person, because he doesn't believe in the one true god, and my god won't care if he dies."

It's the difference between childhood and adulthood, really, with theists as the perpetual children and atheists as the grown-ups. For example, a child may decide not to do something not because they know it's wrong, but because they know they'll get in a buttload of trouble if their parents find out. An adult will decide not to do something because it's wrong.

Nobody is watching you, people. Nobody but yourselves. And, at the end of the day, the only judge of your life with any merit or value is yourself. You can die a sinner or a saint. Either way, you'll rot in the ground or be burned and scattered; either way, your mind isn't there when your body is gone.

Don't believe me? Okay, ask yourself this. What's your earliest memory? How far back can you remember in your own life? Most likely, it's somewhere between the ages of 2 and 4, when the cognitive centers of your brain developed to the point that the mush in your head was able to distinguish between "me" and "other stuff". And, try as you might, you've got no memory of the fourteen billion or so years that the universe existed prior to your birth, right? Honestly, you don't. Yet, souls are supposed to be eternal. So, what were you doing for those billions of years before you woke up here? What are you going to be doing for the billions of years after you die?

Hey, the concept is scary, I know -- that's the only reason religion still exists. But dump the myths and fantasies and promises for one second, and you'll see that there's only one plausible way to live life -- to respect all other lives, all other people; to let everyone live the way they want to, as you'd wish them to let you live your life. The Golden Rule -- a derivative of atheism, pure and simple.

I'd like now to quote The Prophet:
Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today...
John Lennon died for your sins.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?