Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Atheism and Immorality

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers explains why most atheists are "in the closet":
We are well aware that polls show that voters would trust gays or Muslims over atheists. I've been in conversations with other parents where it was stated that they wouldn't let their child play at so-and-so's house because the parents were atheists (not realizing I too am an atheist).

People aren't worried about proselytizing, they're worried about amorality. Those without faith are assumed to be amoral. Coming out as an atheist is a bit like revealing to many communities that you're a sociopath - it's done with great care if you don't wish to be ostracized.

This is also my experience: religious believers are uncomfortable with unbelief because they think that unbelief equals immorality. Many believers seem to think that without God there is no reason to be good, so they assume that unbelievers will of course do every sort of evil thing. This is, I think, the root of the sentiment one commonly hears in America, that all religions are essentially the same, or equally good -- as long as you acknowledges that good and evil are part of the fabric of the cosmos, and that it is our human study to side with good, you are welcome in society.

I find this quite strange. My reading of history suggests that sincere believers are capable of every sort of evil, large and small, and I have personally found lots of non-godly reasons to be good. In fact I am not tempted by most forms of evil: money, power, liquor, drugs, and casual sex just don't interest me very much. I cannot see why anyone needs god to tell him not to be a drug addict, a drunk, a gangster, or a bully -- those things are bad in themselves and they make people miserable.

Following the Buddha, I find that compassion is the key to morality. The Golden Rule is a valuable teaching whether or not it was taught by prophets. I find that the more positive energy I invest in relationships, and the more I control negative emotions, the better I get along with everyone and the happier I am. Why that has to involve god, I have no idea.


David said...

"Many believers seem to think that without God there is no reason to be good, so they assume that unbelievers will of course do every sort of evil thing." I think, yes, many believers would rationalize their fear of atheists in this way--but I think the fear is much more sub-rational, partly because I sense it in myself, even though I don't believe in God. "Atheist" is an aggressive word. It implies that the person so designated doesn't simply not believe in God, but in fact thinks about the fact a lot, has built it into their worldview, and made their belief a core part of their identity. Atheist to me has the same sound as objectivist, nihilist, and similar "ist" words. It suggests a harsh, brilliant, ascetic, hyper-intellectual, solitary, and very skinny European academic. It suggests a secret policeman who works for a revolutionary regime, the sort who would banter with you about Gramschi before sending you to someplace labeled "the camps."

David said...

Okay, granted, most people probably don't immediately think "An atheist! He's not going to banter with me about Gramschi, is he?" But you get the idea.

John said...

Interesting, I always imagine people fearing that atheists are thrice-divorced alcoholics who spend every spare minute in Vegas whoring and gambling.

David said...

I describe my experience . . . but it does occur to me that many people look at Barack Obama and think, "Potential Stalin." I mean, even if you don't like his policies . . . Stalin? Really? So what do I know?

Linda said...

This has been a question in which I have simply not been able to wrap my brain around. Why do others "NEED" their organized religion to tell them what is right from wrong? I don't get it. Being moral is without a doubt inside of us all. The instructions are written in bold ink and cannot be denied.
Linda J.