One of the most common points that is brought up to me when I am discussing god with a theist is morality. Almost as frustrating as trying to explain what a theory is according to the scientific community is trying to explain secular morality. The theist believes that god is the only source of morality and apart from god one cannot have morals and values that are a positive contribution to society. When given one of the countless examples of individuals who have made positive contributions to society without a belief in god, the responses range from ridiculous to the sublime. They will even go as far to say that the Atheist actually does believe in god, but is in denial, which I find quite ironic. The concept of the believer is simplistic in that it can be summed up as, “If you don’t believe in God, there’s nothing to prevent you from behaving immorally or unethically”. Then they will complicate the matter by trying to explain the countless examples of Christians behaving badly by stating that they were never really truly “saved” or are “backsliding”. Either that or they will invoke the always enigmatic “free will” argument.
The believer makes decisions not through the process of intelligent reasoning or taking into account how their actions may effect society, but out of blind faith. It has been said that religion is doing what you are told, regardless if it is right, but morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told. The theist will cite many positive actions they believe to reflect altruism. Examples of feeding the hungry, tending to the poor and other common side-effects of religion are proffered as proof that religion breeds morality. However, pure moral altruism pre-dates religion and psychologically has little to do with what one believes.
Blind faith incorporates the fear of punishment and hope for reward as the motivating factors in the decision making process. When religious fear and hope are used in the decision making process, the result is decidedly both immoral and unethical. While the fear of punishment often has results that only affect the individual believer, the hope for reward has far more outreaching effects. A mental illness known as “the messiah complex” comes from the doctrine that all human beings are born evil and in need of salvation. The believer, in turn, becomes god’s messenger on earth and through dogma and scripture is commanded to convert the unbeliever. The two main world religions go about this in very different ways.
The Christian religion currently sends out missionaries and the Islamic religion sends out armies. The Christians used to send out armies via the crusades, etc., but make no mistake, their change of heart had nothing to do with morality. It was pure self-preservation. Either way, the Islamic terrorist and the Christian missionary both end up having the same effect on the societies they invade, which is the destruction of indigenous cultures. Over the millennia, both Christians and Muslims have been responsible for some eight-hundred-million deaths, the vast majority by Christians. As you can see, this is neither moral nor altruistic.
Albert Einstein stated, “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death”
The problem with believer’s concept of morality is that they are convinced their deity speaks for all of mankind, and thus all of mankind is under the authority of their deity. They believe that the rules that govern their behavior should govern the behavior of everyone else on the planet and the consequences of disobeying their deity should be bore by all of humanity, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. As I stated earlier, the presence or absence of religious belief has nothing at all to do with altruism or morality. These attributes have been developed through the evolutionary process. A moral person who holds the good of society and their fellow human in their best interests will behave in a way that has a positive effect on society.
The indoctrination of helpless children notwithstanding, there exist many reasons why an adult with no previous religious affiliation allow themselves to be converted. The religionists revel in stories of individuals who have spent a lifetime behaving immorally and anti-socially but were miraculously changed by having that “god-sized hole in their soul” filled by their imaginary deity, thus rendering them a “new creature”. All they have really accomplished is adding to the “Borg Collective” and increasing their income base. They have not changed the person, but scared them into changing their behavior. Religion becomes the band-aid on the broken leg while the cure of psychotherapy is not only ignored, but demonized. If a person is behaving badly because of psychosis, the cure is not delusion. That is like putting out a fire with gasoline.
But what about the person who has never behaved anti-socially throughout their life and has always been accepting of others? What about the person who has never committed a crime, abused their family members, cheated on their taxes, been unkind to animals and has always worked hard and is a productive member of society? What do we say about these people who have allowed themselves to be converted to Christianity or Islam? Well, for starters, they were scared into it. Christianity has one of the most effective and immoral evangelical tools in all of religion in their doctrine that salvation from eternal punishment is only available through faith in Christ, and any morality or altruism that the potential convert has exhibited throughout their life doesn’t have any effect on their inevitable eternal residence in hell if they do not convert. In short, one cannot “work their way” into heaven. It is not earned, or deserved and all the good they have done means nothing to god. They will whip out their bibles and point to the scripture in Ephesians that states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast”. Once they have been converted, then should continue doing good things, but now it is not out of altruism, but out of fear. Thus, religion has converted a moral person into an immoral person and religion remains the only venue that can accomplish the feat of making a good person do evil things.
The fact is that we are social animals and our morality, when separate from religion, is the product of evolution. Communities of gorillas and chimpanzees have no religion or belief in god, but yet they behave in ways that show they honor their mothers and refrain from killing their brothers and sisters. And although anti-social behavior exists in all primate societies, so do ethics, morals and altruism, everywhere and at all times. Humans are sensitive to the emotions of other humans, and emotion is contagious. Mentally healthy individuals are happy when in joyful situations and sad when in miserable ones. We are even happier when we are around other happy people, and thus, it is in our nature to make others people around us happy. This desire is one of the reasons some people enter into the field of psychiatry; to help people who are unhappy become happy. They know that happiness is contagious and merriment cannot be forced; not by a missionary, a terrorist or even a god. Like morality, happiness comes from within and a good, competent psychiatrist will do more to bring about happiness to an individual than any holy man can, because religion is based on delusional propositional ideology and the medical science is based on reality.
Morality and ethics revolve around how we solve problems. When we use dogma and doctrine to solve problems it retards the evolution of our species. True morality is goodness that is independent of theology, thus an imaginary god cannot be the source of morality. The task of moral education is not to spew forth a list of commandments from an ancient holy book, but to help people to predict the consequences of actions they are considering. The basis for morality and ethics is making educated decisions based on the perceived rewards or shortcomings that will be inflicted upon society. Religious morality is, in fact, immoral because it is chock full of unnatural degradations, bigotries and intolerance and serves to accommodate human needs by basing behavior on the perceived commands and desires of ancient mythical deities that were invented by ignorant men.
Al Stefanelli is the founder of the United Atheist Front, an international coalition formed to promote an Atheist Worldview and science as the primary venue for enlightenment and discovery. Visit the United Atheist Front on the web, Facebook and Twitter.