Morality of Theism vs. Atheism

First. Welcome to an updated version of Kids Without Religion. There are several reasons why I decided to move the blog, but I won’t bore you with that.

I wanted this site to be a place for anyone without god and/or religion, whether they have kids or not. After reading the latest surveys indicating that atheists are still viewed as suspicious, immoral and untrustworthy by the theist public, I figure we need to stick together. Personally, I’m more apprehensive of believers, but I’ll get to that in just a second. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have a question, comment or would like to guest post. If there’s a particular topic you’d like discussed by the community, just let me know. It’s always better to have the ideas of many when trying to find a solution.

One more thing: I’ve added a “Resources” page, which I’ll continue to update. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Onto the post for the day…..

Two recent surveys remind us that atheists are still distrusted and disliked.

In this August 2014 study (and this one a couple months earlier), atheists caused more feelings of “moral disgust” among those surveyed than did “Muslims, gay men and people with HIV,” groups that are also perceived to “threaten” values.

Never mind that America supposedly values individualism. When it comes to belief, we’re supposed to be Stepford theists. Skepticism, the very foundation of science, is not valued as an individual trait.

I understand why we’re a threat. The fear is that if non-believers don’t imagine a god is looking over our shoulders, then we won’t be good boys and girls and play by the rules. God is some sort of adhesive holding together the moral framework of society. Where there is a deity, there is no murder, infidelity, dishonesty, rape or thievery. People do the right thing when they think god is looking, right?

Let’s be honest. It’s theists we should be wary of.

What believers fail to see is their morality is not theirs. It’s not. It requires an invisible god to be “complete.”

Believers are a threat to society because their morality is not self-governing, not independent. They need “guidance” and approval from something outside themselves. And if that something, that God, wants them to kill you—or their kids or their mother—then, like Abraham, they’ve got to man-up and do the deed. This might seem like a joke, but if you believe in God, then you have to obey him and his laws, and that even means doing his dirty work.

These sorts of studies about attitudes towards atheists are always disappointing. They also make me wonder if people like us who don’t believe will be more reluctant to “come out.” I’m certainly concerned about our kids. Will society consider our children untrustworthy or some sort of threat?

This is the reason I wait a little while before telling people that I don’t worship their god. It’s easy to make judgments about people you don’t know, but a helluva a lot harder to make assumptions about the people you do know, especially when they’ve been helpful or kind or they “act just like Christians.”

So how do we overcome these misperceptions? How do we help an uniformed, fearful public understand that people, regardless of what they believe or don’t believe, are capable of doing bad and good and all things in-between? How do we make them understand that we are not a threat to “their morals”?

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34 responses to “Morality of Theism vs. Atheism

  1. “…harder to make assumptions about the people you do know, especially when they’ve been helpful or kind or they “act just like Christians.”

    I have a child that is sensitive/emotional and sometimes has meltdowns, and another with ADHD, dyslexia, and other challenges who has been suspended from school. I always feel that were my lack of belief common knowledge, these issues would be validation of my sins. “Oh. No wonder those kids are that way.” Add to that the fact that we don’t spank…

    • @Erica I understand. When my kids were young, I also worried that teachers who knew would be more likely to point a finger at my kids if there were trouble in the classroom.

  2. I wonder these very same things quite often. I too am slow to tell people of my lack of belief. As you said, it’s easier to judge someone you don’t know than someone who has shown you they really are a decent person.

    • @rlcarterrn And yet, you’re in a profession where you help people…I would think that already speaks volumes about who you are.

      • Haha, yeah, true! I think the best thing we can do to help the world understand that we’re not uncivilized beasts is to keep living our lives in the peaceful, moral way we do.

  3. Less than 1% of prisoners in American jails are declared atheists. Catholic and Protestant Christians make up over 50%.

    So, um, which group is ethically and morally challenged?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/16/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-its-a-lot-smaller-than-we-ever-imagined/

    • @deosullivan3 I liked the Ricky Gervais quote. Of course there could be other answers: Atheists, being guided by the devil, are just more savvy and don’t get caught. Haha.

  4. Another great post and so true!

  5. I can’t even discuss my lack of belief with my husband’s family. Especially his mother and stepfather. This year they have been helping us by taking our youngest to preschool and picking her up and I worry that she is being inundated with Jesus loves me stuff. Honestly, I hate that she is taught two contradicting things as well – Jesus loves everyone, but we don’t love those neighbors of ours because they are “bad” people. How is she supposed to differentiate what is true and what is not when her head is filled with that stuff? Thankfully next year she will start a school in Austin, where we commute to work, and I am hoping that the indoctrination will be eased out of there. Any advice?

    • Hi Isabel–It’s too bad that you can’t talk with your in-laws first. (Of course, they may not respect your wishes.) Can you talk to your daughter? Tell her something like this: some kids believe in ghosts, monster, fairies, etc. But she doesn’t, right? She doesn’t believe in things that don’t make sense.

      Some adults are like that. They believe in things that don’t make sense and that can’t be proven. They believe these things because it makes them feel good and gives them comfort. Our family does not believe in Jesus and God. We do other things that make us feel good. (Hugs, family time, bedtime rituals, loving words, etc.)

      When my kids used to repeat things that their friends would say (for example, the devil lives in the ground and can “get you”), I used to ask them, “Does that make sense?” You could ask your daughter this, too, when she repeats things grandmom says.

      • Thank you, Deborah. Applying to her common sense IS probably the best route to go. I want my girls to question everything, not just to be contrary, but because why should they accept things to be truths without any concrete evidence to back those things up?

        • @Isabel Absolutely. Skepticism fortifies them–so they will be less likely to be taken advantage of….Of course, religions do not like skeptics!

  6. @Syrbal-Labrys You are funny, as always! Would have loved to seen that conversation!

  7. What causes many problems is that when people come to sites like yours, if they are Christian, what they get is a lot of people ranting about how low brow, stupid, weak and unintelligent they are. That could be part of it. As for the morality thing, it is obvious that atheist can be good upstanding people like anyone else. I atheist don’t like being boxed in, why would the think that theist would like it any better. Just because some ignorant people to box in, does not give reason to do the same in return. The shot gun approach does not work. Humility on both sides would be helpful….to know that there is more we don’t know than what we do.

    The atheist/theist debate I believe has hit a dead end. The only ones who are participating, at least in the mode of arguing, name calling etc., is between those who are more fundamental in their thinking. So extreme fundamentalist Christians and Village Atheist are likely to go at it ad-nauseam….mind numbing. It is so repetitious that it is boring for many people and perhaps most.

    If there is a rational position to take on the God question it is not atheism nor is it faith, it is agnosticism. Atheism and faith are both non-rational, not irrational. This is what the dictionary says about non-rational:

    nonrational – obtained through intuition rather than from reasoning or observation.

    Are we wired to believe, if so, are some (a minority) also wired for atheism? If that is true, then why argue the point? Neither side has any advantage over the other. So the whole God question is still open, because of how we are wired making actual communication almost impossible. I think we choose in the end, we are not wired.

    Atheism & Reason Are Atheists More Rational than Theists?
    (http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/reason.htm)

  8. I enjoy this site, learn from you and like your style. I won’t respond anymore to your post but just read. You need a place of peace and quiet I know and don’t need a Christian responding to your post. Also sorry for the typos, wrote too fast on the above.

    Peace
    Mark

    • Mark Dohle, You are welcome to comment any time. You do not offend me or take away from my peace. I think it is good to hear other’s perspective.

      I recently read and debated the argument you laid out above. I don’t agree that we’re predisposed to believe or not believe, but it would be a big discussion. (There may be some personality types that are more prone to things like believing in religion, brainwashing and hypnosis.) Regardless, I think the religion meme is evolving, along with the human brain and consciousness.

      There’s something I want to clarify. I think you misunderstand atheism and what it encompasses. Most of us are agnostic atheists. Agnostic deals more with knowledge, with what we know. I would venture to say the large majority of people who read here would not say god definitely doesn’t exist. How can you prove that? If you cannot prove that god DOES exist, you also cannot prove that he doesn’t.

      What I don’t believe in is man-made god(s). Isn’t it clear that mankind has created god in their own image? Look how many gods there have been and how many religions are geographic-specific.

      The reason why I continue to blog is because we still have legislators in our states, especially here in Texas, who try to weave their religion into our laws and into our schools. We still have parents and friends and neighbors who won’t accept those who don’t believe in their god. And the public still thinks that atheists are somehow a threat to morality. They don’t understand that, no matter what we believe, we are all good, bad and everything in between.

  9. I don’t understand how atheism could be considered non-rational. People who don’t believe don’t do so out intuition, but rather because they cannot see any facts leading them to think otherwise. As an agnostic you still hold onto to some form of faith so I would consider that to be more of an intuitive position. You hope that there is something bigger out there, but you have nothing to found that on except your intuition.

  10. Mark, I am not sure to what or whom your post is responding. You are right, though, that your first posts contain many typos, grammatical errors (I was wondering, in fact, if English was not your first language), and leaps in terms of subject matter. You don’t do yourself any favors by presenting yourself in this light and then coming back on and saying that you’ll just read from now on without responding.

    Do you want to have a conversation, or do you want to just swoop in, plop down a rant filled with errors and half-developed ideas, and then plug your ears?

    If the latter, that’s your choice, but I think that you’re more afraid that angry: you’re afraid someone will make you rethink your worldview. You can keep reading–that’s certainly your prerogative–and hide your thoughts from the rest of us. I think that would be a cowardly way to act.

    If, instead, you’d like to have a calm and rational debate, I offer this: while I concede that I don’t know for sure if god exists, I call myself an atheist because if I had to say that I’m an agnostic about everything in this world of which I do not have 100% evidence for, I’d be an agnostic about many, many things: the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, hobbits, the celestial teapot, the flying-spaghetti monster, etc.

    For all intents and purposes, I am an atheist and prefer to reserve the word “agnostic” for those who are still struggling with the god question. Our son, for example, prefers to call himself an agnostic: he’s not sure (actually, he doesn’t really care) so he says he’s an agnostic. Our daughter, like me, calls herself an atheist (as well as an atoothfairist, an asantaclausist, an ahobbitist, etc.).

    As for irrational vs. nonrational, I believe the second term is properly applied to species that do not have the capacity to be rational–most animals, for example, and plants, etc.–whereas irrational best describes people who are not using their reasoning faculty: an otherwise rational person makes an irrational choice because he did not think through the consequences.

    Or, as we atheists (and agnostics) like to say: religious people act irrationally when they ascribe something to a deity only because another reason is not yet available. Just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean god is responsible for it.

    • Quote:
      (Mark, I am not sure to what or whom your post is responding. You are right, though, that your first posts contain many typos, grammatical errors (I was wondering, in fact, if English was not your first language), and leaps in terms of subject matter. You don’t do yourself any favors by presenting yourself in this light and then coming back on and saying that you’ll just read from now on without responding.)

      Thank you for your reply and for taking so much time to comment. Sorry that I made such bad impression, my bad.

      (Do you want to have a conversation, or do you want to just swoop in, plop down a rant filled with errors and half-developed ideas, and then plug your ears?)

      To say I was ranting is your subjective experience. I have a lot of respect for the owner of this blog and simply like to read what she has to share. I was from my respect for her that I tried (obviously not very well)to share a different perspective.

      (If the latter, that’s your choice, but I think that you’re more afraid that angry: you’re afraid someone will make you rethink your worldview. You can keep reading–that’s certainly your prerogative–and hide your thoughts from the rest of us. I think that would be a cowardly way to act. )

      I think about my world view all the time, and am used to doubt, and appreciate the agnostic position when it is presented to me. It is those who don’t want to face doubt that come across too strong. For instance I believe that when people who are not aware of their doubts meet someone from another viewpoint, it can bring a response that comes across as angry. This anger I believe is based on fear. I could be wrong about my faith in God, you could be right about God not existing, I don’t know, but I choose to believe.Why? Because it makes sense to me, while atheism does not.

      I have read Camus, Sartre, Ayn Rand, Bertrand Russell and none of them have made a case for non-belief strong enough for me to become a non-believer. If I was convinced that there was no God I could live with that. Many on this site are proof of that, since they come from backgrounds where they once believed.

      (If, instead, you’d like to have a calm and rational debate, I offer this: while I concede that I don’t know for sure if god exists, I call myself an atheist because if I had to say that I’m an agnostic about everything in this world of which I do not have 100% evidence for, I’d be an agnostic about many, many things: the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, hobbits, the celestial teapot, the flying-spaghetti monster, etc).

      I can’t resonate with the above at all. I suppose if I was an atheist it would make sense since it can help to maintain a position on the question of God. However for a theist, there is no connection at all. For instance all the above are finite beings, even if made up. They live in an imaginary universe with all the other creatures that we make up for our stories etc. “Mr. Clean” for instance…..should I make him equal to faith in God? It does not fit. It is of a different category all together.

      God is not improbable, for many the existence of God is obvious. I would think to believe that the Universe that had a beginning and will have an end created itself out of nothing is very improbable if not impossible. Anthony Flew became a Deist late in life because of his study of DNA. Here is a quote about this with the site:

      Quote:

      So why has Flew changed his mind? The main reason, he says, is recent scientific work on the origin of life which he believes points to the activity of a “creative Intelligence”. As he explained to the 2004 symposium at which he announced his new beliefs to the world, his change of heart was “almost entirely because of the DNA investigations”.
      “What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together. It’s the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.”
      – See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/one_flew_out_of_the_atheists_nest/#sthash.ZvRtLN9Z.dpuf”

      Unquote

      So the belief in an infinite intelligence is not irrational at all. Nor does it in anyway go against the findings of science who have no say in theological questions.

      :
      (As for irrational vs. non rational, I believe the second term is properly applied to species that do not have the capacity to be rational–most animals, for example, and plants, etc.–whereas irrational best describes people who are not using their reasoning faculty: an otherwise rational person makes an irrational choice because he did not think through the consequences)

      (A man or woman will use rational thought to seek to explain what they believe and why. So one is an atheist, or an agnostic or a theist, then they will use rational argument to back up their claims. Science can be used to back up belief in the God, or it can be used against it. So both or rational and logical in how they are presented. The problem is that it seems that way to those who believe what is presented. For instance I have never been presented with arguments for the non-existence of God that are convincing. It is not because I am afraid of not losing my faith, they are not convincing”.

      Or, as we atheists (and agnostics) like to say: religious people act irrationally when they ascribe something to a deity only because another reason is not yet available. Just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean god is responsible for it.)

      St. Augustine made this statement: “Miracles are not contrary to nature but only contrary to what we know about nature. ”

      The God of the Gaps argument has little effect on the debate about the existence of God. God is not Santa Claus ;-).

      • Hi Mark Dohle, I do remember previous comments from you, and I know that you’re not trying to be antagonistic. I read blogs and books about believing, too, and I also don’t want to become closed to other ideas and perspectives.

        I want to make two comments to your response above. I understand that humans have the unique ability to rationalize; however, we’re not all rational in our thinking (and it doesn’t matter what we believe or don’t believe). We can attempt to rationalize a position, but it won’t necessarily be rational. The other comment is in regards to Anthony Flew. I read his story with interest, and it does not make sense to me that, not only did his move from his stance of atheism to theism, he also believes in Christianity. I find that odd for several reasons.

        I will readily admit to the fact that, when I read science articles, I occasionally will doubt my stance. For example, sometime near the beginning of the universe, there was a time when organisms developed DNA as a way to replicate efficiently. It’s not the how, but the why that perplexes me. Why? Where did organisms get this innate desire to survive and reproduce. And yet, in the end, I don’t substitute “god” as the answer, but I leave that question open and unanswered. For you, God makes sense; for me, it does not because the God answer comes with an entire set of problems and questions itself. Yes, I consider God part of the “imaginary universe.” (Certainly the God as humans have defined “him.”)

        This post was not intended to criticize you as a Christian. I’m pretty certain that you don’t look at nonbelievers and think that they are immoral. You don’t see atheists as a threat, but are really trying to understand, it seems. I know from your other comments that you also have doubt. But there are those who do think atheists are immoral or a threat to society. I’d like to reach them and help them understand that we are all pretty much the same, not just for us but because we have kids who will become adult members of our society.

        • Thank you for your response Deborah, as usual well stated, I love reading you. I think Anthony Flew really went where the evidence showed him. He always had a respect for the Christian faith, however he never became a Christian, nor did he believe in any kind of an after life. Belief in God does not imply belief in an afterlife at all.
          Of course what is evidence for him may not be enough for others, you being an example.

          I agree the word God represents different theories of God, some of them are awful. So perhaps it would be good if for a while everyone agreed not to use the word “God”, but something else when speaking about that reality etc.

          Coming here makes me think along different lines. This is something I wrote this morning on my blog…..so if you are interested here it is. There is no pressure for you to do so my friend…..so much to read LOL.

          http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?app=blog&module=display&section=blog&blogid=895&showentry=29172

          Peace
          Mark

  11. If there is a “creative intelligence” (God)… then one would need to ask….where did and how did this being come into existence?

  12. This was a topic I had with a fellow OCA member. I find Obsessive-Compulsive Anonymous for the most part helpful, but there are times when the God concept seems to be more of a hindrance than a help (I tolerate the God stuff would be my position). For those not familiar with 12-step programs, there are many references to God or to a “higher power” etc… Well during one of the post meetings I got into a debate about morality. I was accused of not being intellectually honest if, as an atheist, I didn’t subscribe to moral nihilism. In the other party’s mind (If atheism -> moral nihilism). Many theists believe they have the ontological and epistemological high ground by virtue of being theists. Euthyphro’s dilemma seems to cut to the heart of the matter, but this seems to be an ongoing problem between theists and non-theists.

  13. @The Scrupulous Atheist. “Intellectually dishonest?” That was quite a statement. Let me get this straight–you are a moral nihilism because your morality has no basis, no moral “backing.” Would that make their god a moral nihilist, too, considering that, their god’s rules have no moral “backing”?

  14. Mark,

    Ah yes, now I remember you. The “Quote” guy. It’s nice to read you again.

    Now, yes, I qualified your post as a rant, because when you quickly put something up with lots of typos and grammatical errors, it’s hard to read intentions. The apparent haste with which such a post is made can be construed quite often as a rant.

    Now who told you that the Celestial Teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster were finite beings? I have a book over here that says they are they infinite beings. Why does your book trump my book?

    Yes, I chose rather outlandish examples just to prove that point: your god claim, barring verifiable, reproducible scientific evidence to the contrary, has no more validity than claims about hobbits or Mr. Clean (who actually might make a neat god–cleanliness is next to godliness, right?).

    Your citation of Augustine is interesting (as well as your allusion to Aristotle in a later post, but remember that arguments from authority are fallacious in the absence of evidence). Augustine was claiming that we are finite beings with finite understanding. Fair enough. But that is not proof of god’s existence. In fact, with the advance of scientific understanding, god’s role in the world recedes. You mention the god of the gaps argument and then dismiss it without really demonstrating anything. But we can see very clearly over time that whenever humans can’t explain something, they will hasten to say, “Well, God did that.” But then when we can later explain the same phenomenon naturally and scientifically, god’s role becomes diminished and recedes by that much.

    It is many people’s hypothesis, as it is mine, that in time, science will explain so much that the god hypothesis will be reduced to zero. The god of the world’s monotheisms will take its place among the thousands of gods that no one believes in any more.

    As for Anthony Flew, yes, he changed his mind late in life. However, for every Anthony Flew, I would wager (not Pascal’s wager, mind you 😉 that there are ten more people like me who were religious but then finally wake up and realize that we’re deluding ourselves.

    • Thank you for your response once again. T

      here are no proofs of God in the way that you seem to be stating. They only state that there are valid reasons for believing in God.

      I am glad that you are not deluding yourself anymore, that can be freeing. Atheist say the same thing when they convert. It is about moving into a larger place, a broader world. I am glad you were able to do that. For me to become an atheist would be moving into a closet and leaving out the rest of the rooms in the house.

      I am content to live my life, my faith, and not be overly concerned who is right. You are being honest, so am I, what more can we ask for?

      In the future, who knows, perhaps religion or faith of any kind will die out, or atheism will not longer be a viable option, or perhaps we will learn to live with each other in peace. The world is filled with people with the answer, each convinced that they are right. Books by the score written by wise and intelligent men who take different sides, yet in the end….we don’t know…..we simply choose and do the best we can.

      Peace
      Mark

  15. First I have to acknowledge that I am in a privileged position, and this directly impacts how I interact with the world. I am male. I am of European descent (white). I am well over 35-years old. I am college educated. All of these traits give me a distinct advantage in many regard, some of which I am completely unaware. Because of that I am allowed to be as brazen as i wish.

    I am totally blunt and unapologetic when it comes to my atheism (as a lot of my posts tend to show). When people throw their religion at me, I instantly start to deconstruct them without fear or reservation. I can judge theists just as harshly, if not more so, then they judge me. One caveat: I never start it. I have no problem publicly admitting my atheism at any time or in any group. I say it and leave it at that. I don’t make an issue of it unless someone else launches the first salvo, and then I turn into badger.

    I personally think theists are slightly insane for believing something so unprovable it is a laughable proposition. When push comes to shove, I have no problem pointing this out. When it comes to morality, I say much of what Debbie so eloquently stated (and far better than I could). I refuse to let theists assume they have the high ground. I challenge their beliefs and thinking as if it is run-of-the-mill, which it is for me, but never make it personal (no matter how many ad hominem attacks they make). I debate the issue and show the logical inconsistencies. I take the game to them and watch them flounder. I love the debate!

    I am one vicious SOB when it comes to someone trying to castigate me for being an atheist, and I make no apologies whatsoever. After all as I like to remind the conceited theists: judge not let ye be judged.

  16. @deosullivan3 and Derrick These are great comments, as always. I appreciate that we all have different “voices.” And I think the more perspectives, the better, to explain a position. We reach different people in different ways. When people stop assuming that their religion makes them better, when polls no longer show that we are a “moral threat,” and when public school boards stop trying to infuse religion into the curriculum, then we no longer need to speak out.

    A couple of months ago, I spoke with a preacher of a large church in town. He said how open-minded he was. He wanted to have a discussion, and he claimed that my views were just as valid as his. But before we left, he said, “I will pray for you that you can make your way back to Jesus.” I just shook my head. I know you all understand why. I wanted to pull my hair out. Sure he “thinks” he is following a script, doing what he thinks is the Christian thing.

    All that time, I was not attempting in any way to sway him from his belief. I answered his questions. I listened. And I didn’t say–nor even think–“I hope you will one day understand that your god is just a myth.”

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