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Morality

Positive Atheism

Life, The Universe, and EverythingFrequently, the writings of atheists tend to be critical of religion, theistic beliefs, and dogma rather than positive toward non-belief. It’s a necessary tack to take on a regular basis when confronting religious activism in politics, education, health care, and science. I do it myself. However, sometimes it seems that there isn’t enough written about the positive aspects of atheism… how non-belief is beneficial rather than how theistic beliefs are harmful. Sometimes we’re so busy defending against theistic politicking that we forget about extolling the virtues of atheism.

So here are what I find some of the benefits to be (with occasional criticisms thrown in for reference).

Leaving religion behind lets me actively seek out answers, digging into the world around me to uncover evidence showing how the world works, how it came to be, and where it’s headed. It removes the easy non-answer of “God did it” and opens up the door to a world filled with awe-inspiring explanations based on factual observations… observations untainted and uncheapened by the simple-minded tenants of unfounded faith.

Religion provides an easy way out to the difficult and complex questions about the workings of this world and our surrounding universe. As an atheist, I reject that excuse for intellectual laziness. Searching for real answers provides, for me and many other nonbelievers, far more wonder, awe, and appreciation for nature and our physical world, both visible and invisible, than does the feeble act of claiming supernatural causes.

By allowing me the freedom to discover knowledge about the smallest particles explained by physics, microscopic biological forms, the living, breathing nature around us, our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe, atheism frees me from the dogmatic shackles of religious intellectual bondage and provides me with extraordinary delight in our very existence. I have no need to reconcile observable evidence with ancient texts or untenable beliefs nor do I have a need to reject or explain away evidence if it contradicts the prescribed dogma of theistic organizations.

Leaving religion behind allows me to behave in a way that is truly moral, acting in a way that harms no one and benefits everyone… myself, those around me, and those inhabiting our planet… without being threatened and coerced by a fear of infinite torment. When mistakes are made, I can ask forgiveness from those harmed and then move on without being damned and without obsequious groveling to an invisible master.

Atheism allows me to follow a morality based on reasoning and logic instead of vague, outdated rules and proclamations that were made for a more primitive, unenlightened time. It gives me freedom to treat others with respect regardless of their race, religion, sex, or nationality… freedom, also, to unhypocritically speak out against those who do harm, who espouse bigotry and intolerance, and who promote hatred and violence either through words or deeds.

My mistakes are my own and cannot be dismissed or forgiven except by those whom I have wronged. Therefore, it is always in my best interest to treat others well and do what I can to bring out the best in them. Atheism removes the moral escape hatch provided by religion, making it exponentially more important for me to behave well… now and in the future. I cannot pray and be forgiven. I do not believe there is a benevolent, all-knowing creator who can absolve me of my sins. Only those who have been harmed by my actions can do that.

Since there is no eternal paradise after death, I have this one life to experience as much joy and happiness as I can. My joy and happiness depends, in large part, on my interactions with others. It also depends upon my understanding of the world around me. What makes someone happy varies from person to person, but for me, in addition to the people in my life, it includes a love of the outdoors, animals, science, astronomy, literature, music, food, dancing, writing, and a myriad of other things, none of which have any reliance upon the supernatural (science-fiction and fantasy novels notwithstanding).

Atheism is freedom. Not the freedom to do as I please, but the freedom to act in a way that is globally pleasing… the freedom to act morally… the freedom to see the world as it is… the freedom to wallow in the vastness of the universe… the freedom to be intellectually honest…

…the freedom to think.

Ken Ham Confirms His Moral Bankruptcy

Ken Ham in the Creation MuseumOn Opposing Views, Ken Ham wrote an opinion piece about the creation of the new Answers in Genesis video showing a young boy pointing a gun at the camera while a voice-over says, “If you don’t matter to God, you don’t matter to anyone.”

Along with my opinion that it is a fear-mongering, horrible message to convey, the video has been lambasted here and here and here (among other places). Video aside, however, Ham’s writing shows just how morally bankrupt he is. He asks, without God, why should we protect each other or act with kindness and understanding to our fellow human beings?

Here’s one passage in particular.

If we are truly just evolved from ape-like ancestors, then why should we fight for the sanctity of life and protect and cherish it at all costs? Why is it important for us to exercise self-control when we are angry or frustrated? Why should we deal with problems with love and understanding instead of violence if there is no sanctity of life? If God really doesn’t matter and perhaps does not even exist—if Darwin was right all along and we just randomly evolved from ape-like creatures, if we aren’t fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a divine and loving God, then go ahead—let survival of the fittest rule supreme.

This is an all-too-common refrain heard from fundamentalists. I’ve addressed it here and here already, but just to emphasize the point… if you can’t come up with reasons to act kindly toward your fellow human beings without the threat of eternal damnation, then you’re morally bankrupt from the get-go. If you are only acting “morally” because of the dictates of a 2,000 year old manuscript, you’ve got no moral foundation. Christianity, in particular, is a free pass to sin your life away.

Oh, but there’s more from Mr. Ham!

If the Ten Commandments are ripped off the walls of our schools and courtrooms and disregarded as a basic ethical God-given code of conduct, then who should care if kids are killing kids and men are attacking defenseless women in their driveways at home at night? We watch animals hunt and tear each other apart every night on the Discovery channel. If you don’t matter to God, than tell me—do you truly matter to anyone? If God doesn’t care about what happens to you, is anyone else obligated to care?

If I wasn’t already familiar with Ken Ham’s general shenanigans, I would say the preceding paragraph was satire. Sadly, it’s not. In one paragraph, he displays his ignorance not only of evolution, but of human nature… of human psychology.

I’m sure that a vast majority of parents in the world would eagerly say that, even if a god didn’t give a rip about one of their children, that child would still matter hugely to the parent. The idea of a caring god is not a factor in why people care about their children… or their friends… or their family. At least, it isn’t for people who honestly care about others. Caring based on biblical dogma is shallow at best and intellectually abhorrent at worst.

In addition, I’ll go out on a limb here and speculate that even without the idea of a divine creator, almost all human beings can come up with reasonable distinctions between lower animals and humans. Most people can probably recognize how human behavior is (generally) based on more than just primal instinct.

It seems that Ken Ham is incapable of doing that. If God doesn’t care about us, he postulates, why would we act any differently than predator and prey on the Discovery Channel?

Ken Ham is the kind of person that I would not let near my daughter unsupervised. I wouldn’t feel safe having her around someone who is only acting kindly because he’s just following some ancient rules, fears divine retribution, or believes that a supernatural deity is keeping him under control. I’d hate to think what horrible actions are tempting Mr. Ham, contained only by his faith in a god. His irresponsible statements imply that humans are like barely contained rodeo bulls, precariously held in check only by the surrounding fence of God’s love.

The problem is that the fence is imaginary. If that’s the only reason people act kindly toward their fellow human beings, then as a species, we’re doomed.

Fortunately for us, it’s not the only reason. For most people, it’s probably not even truly a factor. And actually, I doubt that Ken Ham is a dangerous (other than intellectually) person chomping at the bit to steal, rape, and murder. I think he, like most humans on the planet, can tell right from wrong and act kindly without having to reference ancient dogma. People don’t need it to be good.

To be bad, however, and feel righteous about it… almost invariably requires religious dogma. Stephen Weinberg once said, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” I suspect Ken Ham would disagree with that statement, given his apparent notion that God is the only thing that makes us good.

…but he also thinks the Ten Commandments are a good ethical code of conduct.

Fun with Tracts

Faith Baptist Church Tract - Page 1

Click to View Full Tract

Every now and then, I find a religious tract lying around… a movie theater, a restaurant, the top of a urinal at an all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Riviera (seriously). I always pick them up because they usually provide a fair amount of amusement. Chick Tracts are the most amusing with their over-the-top cartoons, but I rarely come across them “in the wild.” More often than not, I find ones similar to the one pictured here (you can view the full tract by clicking on the image). They’re not as exciting as the Chick ones, but tend to be entertaining, anyway.

I do find it interesting to note that I’ve never received one directly from another person. I only ever find them lying around. I assume it’s because that, for most people, it would be a little uncomfortable to walk up to a perfect stranger and hand them a tract, opening an opportunity for dialogue, but also for ridicule or rejection. I used to work in commission sales, so I know that feeling and can sympathize with the tract carrier in that regard. I am, however, always disappointed when I don’t get the opportunity to discuss the tract. I’m not a hostile or angry person, and if I had time available when given a tract, I’d happily take some time to talk to the giver to find out about their beliefs and why they believe them.

Since I didn’t have that opportunity at the all-inclusive resort in Mexico, I’m going to talk about the tract here. It won’t be quite as fun as talking to the original carrier, but I’ll take what I can get.

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Improving the Muslim Image… One Beheading at a Time!

Mr. and Mrs. HassanI remember the good old days when insane, medieval Muslim violence was something that only happened, “over there.”  It doesn’t seem that long ago. Now radical Islam has quickly been making its barbaric global rounds.

A Muslim T.V. mogul named Muzzammil Hassan has allegedly beheaded his wife, Aasiya Hassan. You see, Aasiya Hassan had begun divorce proceedings and filed a protection from abuse order against Muzzammil Hassan due to previous instances of domestic violence.  Apparently, Muzzammil didn’t appreciate that  very much so he “allegedly” did what any self respecting husband would do given the circumstances and beheaded his soon-to-be-ex wife.

Ostensibly, this is the radical Islamic version of an “out of court” settlement.

I haven’t even mentioned the crazy part yet. Mr. and Mrs. Hassan were in the television business together. They started a television station in 2004 to change the way in which Muslims were being violently depicted in the media. What the @#$%! This story broke the same day as the plane crash in Buffalo, so it has received little, if any, attention (which should certainly help Muzzammil find an unbiased jury).

Good old fashioned sharia violence is here to stay folks. Our open society has welcomed these sharia-law-abiding #$@holes with open arms. In their sporadic reporting, these “honor killings” seem rare and insignificant. The United Nations estimates that over 5,000 of these killings are committed every year. That number is not huge, as a percentage of world population, but just one arbitrary and religiously endorsed brutal slaying is one too many in this day and age.

I would be willing to wager that without the threat of eternal damnation, few of these fathers and husbands would consider such horrifically atrocious acts. These honor killings are just another glorious example of what ignorant mammals are capable of when religion is used as a justification.

So the next time you are speaking with a Christian fundamentalist and they ask, “How  could you lead a moral life without religion?”  you tell them,  “I don’t get my morality from a guy who sent his only begotten son on a suicide mission.”

Poor Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort in FlamesAnyone who’s seen Ray Comfort speak or has read anything he’s written knows pretty well that he’s a couple bananas short of a bunch. Aside from the mind-dizzying irrationality of his assertions, he moves firmly into the land of untruth when it comes to speaking about the Theory of Evolution. So far so, that according to Ray’s own preaching, he’s going to Hell.

You’ve heard his shtick. It’s the same one that Kirk Cameron uses. He’ll approach someone and ask him if he’s a good person. Then he’ll proceed to ask if the mark has ever lied, stolen, taken the Lord’s name in vain, or committed adultery (based on his biblical definition). Of course, then he’ll tell the mark that he’s a lying, blaspheming, adulterous thief and is going to Hell… unless… and then Ray gives the whole Jesus solution.

I recently watched a YouTube video of Ray doing some open-air preaching in what might be Huntington Beach (he preaches there a lot, evidently). After the regular bit mentioned above and some of his classic religion-based drivel, he starts talking about evolution and goes way off into the realm of grand liars.

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Swearing on the Bible

Steve Wells over at Dwindling in Unbelief has a great post about Obama’s second round swearing in.

During “Take Two” of the Oath of Office, there was no Bible used for the ceremony. “So help me God” was still tacked on the end, despite the words’ glaring absence in the Constitution, but the lack of a Bible was a step in the right direction.

As Steve puts it…

The Bible, of course, is worse than useless when it comes to consistent advice on morality. But the New Testament (to avoid confusion, ignore the Old Testament on this one) is pretty clear about one thing: Christians shouldn’t swear. Not to God and not on the Bible or on anything else.

He then quotes Matthew 5:34-37

34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

…and James 5:12

12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

…to back up his argument. That seems pretty clear to me. Not only shouldn’t the Bible be used (according to the Bible itself), but the swearing in shouldn’t happen at all! Evidently, it’s a pretty UN-Christian thing to do.

So if our Constitution requires our President to take an oath of office, which is contrary to what the Christian religion allows, does that mean that our country isn’t a Christian nation?

I love irony.

Attempted Christian-Imposed “Morality”

From Reuters UK: Another example of Christians attempting to force their prudish ideological morality on others.

A group of conservative politicians is making headway towards a ban on topless bathing on some of Australia’s best known beaches.

Christian lawmaker and veteran morals campaigner Reverend Fred Nile has won backing from key politicians in New South Wales state, home to Sydney and its famed ocean beaches, to tighten existing laws covering nude sunbathing.

The move has provoked strong reaction from easy-going sun worshippers.

Penny Tweedie reports.

I particularly like that Reverend Fred Nile claims that a woman who sunbathes topless “demeans herself” and is “taking away her own self respect.”

Isn’t that something you should ask the woman sunbathing? How could he possibly know? Could it be, rather, that he himself somehow finds the issue titillating (pardon the pun) and is afraid it might awaken some inner urges that he feels are not proper given his “Christian” morals? And if so, could it be that he wants to impose restrictions in order to keep others from feeling the same amoral urges that he’s feeling in order to save their souls? It can’t be that he feels God’s creation is appalling, can it?

Politician Dave Clark also feels that children would be offended by seeing a woman’s breasts. He claims that there are people who want to be at the beach, but can’t because they’re concerned about their children “seeing it.” Amazingly, he said it with a straight face, too, which might indicate that he actually believes the nonsense he’s spewing. What child (who is not an evangelistically brainwashed fundamentalist Christian) would be offended by a woman’s breasts? “Taking offense” is a learned behavior.

The article says that topless sunbathing has been common on most beaches since the 1960’s and that nobody really complains about it. Perhaps the only ones complaining are the morally questionable Christians and politicians. Everyone else seems to be having a grand time getting a nice all-over tan.

A Dark Journey

Unreasonable Faith is in the top three of my favorite blogs and Daniel Florien has completed four parts (so far) in a series called “An Evil God? A Journey Through the Dark Parts of the Bible” in which he points out some (many) of the problems with the Bible… especially when it comes to using it as any kind of moral guidebook.

He does a great job of laying out his arguments and it’s definately worth a read.

License to Sin

Anyone who’s been an atheist for more than a few weeks has heard the accusation that without religion, there’s no basis for morality. Therefore, we’re told, we can run around like crazed hedonists, raping, stealing, and killing to our hearts’ content. We know it’s nonsense and generally speaking, the person who makes the accusation must know it’s nonsense, too, because it’s just not happening.

What I find ironic is that religion provides the biggest license to sin that any self-respecting, lascivious, lusting hedonist could possibly wish for. Atheism, having no dogma (since it’s not a religion and is purely the lack of belief in a deity), gives no free pass. Because of that, atheists must maintain a much higher interest in practicing moral behavior than religious folks do.

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