A dear friend, who is a devout Baptist, sent my husband and I a Christmas card this year. He’s recently found out that we’re now atheists, both queer and probably that we’re also polyamorous. This was probably a bit of a shock to his system, but I thought that the inclusions of the following in his Christmas card was not necessary:
He hasn’t forgotten you and neither have we
“If there is no God we must conclude that we live in a randomly generated mechanical universe in which moral judgements are merely a matter of preference and a moral objection to the holocaust has the same weight and validity as a dislike for lemon cheesecake”
The last quote is unattributed, so I don’t know if it was something that he wrote, or something that he quoted and failed to attribute. I’ve done a quick google search and am unable to find the source of the quote, so if you do know, tell me and I’ll attribute the quote accordingly.
And then today my husband’s guest post received a comment from David which is kinda summed up (in essence at least) in the quote provided by my dear friend. I want to point out to Christians, and believers in any other faith traditions, that this kinda behaviour is really rude.
Ok, first I want to point out that this kind of argument is a Argument from Authority, or appeal to authority, which “is a fallacy of defective induction, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative” (Wikipedia). Because we cannot know everything, this is not always a fallacy, but “[t]he fallacy only arises when it is claimed or implied that the authority is infallible in principle and can hence be exempted from criticism”, such as claims made about a religious deity.
The most general structure of this argument is:
- Source A says that p is true.
- Source A is authoritative.
- Therefore, p is true.
Referring to the philosophical beliefs of Jesus, Muhammad, or any other religious figure: “If (religious figure) said it was so, it is so.” Such an appeal may be based upon the belief that the speaker in question is holy and, by extension, inerrant. Alternately, the figure may be considered to be an expert on the given subject: “Buddha was a great moral teacher and he said that euthanasia is wrong, so it must be wrong.”
An appeal to authority cannot guarantee the truth of the conclusion, given the nature of truth and the Consensus theory of truth, because the fact that an authority says something does not necessarily make it so. The fact that, objectively, a proposition is in fact true or that it has good unrelated arguments supporting it will be what makes authorities believe it to be true. The fallacy comes in when the opposite situation occurs, with authority opinions leading to the belief itself. Thus, an appeal to authority confuses cause and effect. (Wikipedia)
Ok, so back to the rudeness, now that I’m happy I’ve demonstrated this to be a logically fallacious argument. I would like more respect from the religious believers in my intelligence, ethical nature, ability to think for myself and the journey I’ve taken to get where I am. I think it’s really rude, to tell people who have struggled with what they believe in and what they don’t, who’ve potentially lost their access to community and family that they’ve taken some easy way out. It says a lot about the faith of those who make the arguments that it is an easy thing to stop believing. Although determining that no god exists may seem like an easy thing, it isn’t for everyone. Many people feel a deep sense of loss when they come to the conclusion that there are no gods, no divine power to look after them, no deity keeping them safe in the long night, no spirit to pass their problems onto, and a realisation that the world is unfair and that’s the way it is (though that can be comforting as well).
I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours – Stephen Roberts
What is also quite rude, is the claim that as atheists have no fear of eternal punishment for misdeeds, then we have been cast adrift in the hedonistic sea, our moral compass spins freely and we are unable to tell right from wrong, as we have cast aside any religious text which spells it out to us, like we are children. To this claim I say, “well fuck you”. Have you noticed a larger number of atheists in prison for committing crimes than any other religious group? I’d be certain to state (without surveying the Australian prison population) that, aside from the racist nature of justice in Australia, the religious and non-religious breakdown of people in prison would roughly match the religious and non-religious population in Australia – possibly with more religious people. Because, believe it or not, atheists actually have morals and ethics, oddly enough based on the prevailing morals and ethics of the culture they spent their formative years in.
Western morals and ethics (and Christian morals and ethics) have their foundation party in the bible, but mostly in the thoughts of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – great philosophers who weren’t even part of the Christian tradition. and weren’t Christian, and who probably (at one time or another) believed in the Greek Pantheon.
Just because I stopped believing in god, doesn’t mean that I’m going to go and rape, pillage, murder, lie, and steal, and to suggest that that is a possibility is incredibly insulting. I do what is right because it is right, not because I’m scared that I’m going to be punished by some supreme being. I think that people who believe that once you disentangle yourself from religion and step outside that that you lose all ability to have a moral compass really are down on humans. We’re an incredibly social society and those who constantly act against community tend to find themselves ostracised and shunned.
Assignment: What is the “Golden Rule” and its source?
Teacher: OK, class, it’s time for your reports.
Student 1: “Do not to others what ye do not wish dont to yourself” The Hindu Mahabharata.
Teacher: Dog eat your homework, Raj?
Student 2: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor” The Babylonian Talmud”
Teacher: Let’s keep our answers in the ball park, shall we Rita?
Student 3: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” The Analects of Confucius
Teacher: Hmm… It must be “Prank the Teacher” Day
Student 4: “Hurt not others in ways that yourself would find hurtful.” The Tibetan Dhammapada
Teacher: C’mon people, I wasn’t born yesterday
Student 5: “No one of you is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself” The Hadith
Teacher: So much for my coffee break
Student 6: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” The Bible
Teacher: There’s my little genius)
The cartoon on the left demonstrates that no one religion has any special claim to being the most moral or ethical, and that they have pretty much all come up with the “Golden Rule“. As this really is something you do to live in and participate in society, then why would atheists act any differently? I think that doing the right thing because it is the right thing and not because I’m going to suffer for all eternity is a far more mature position to take.
I’d much rather work and live around people who believe that the right thing should be done because it is right than because they’re going to be punished by a metaphorical parental figure/s in the sky/otherworld.
I really do find it comforting that I live in a random and mechanical universe. I feel much better knowing that the bad things that happen to me, whether it be the ectopic pregnancy that almost killed me, or the car accident that I was in (a while ago), were not punishments I earned for some forgotten misdeeds. I find it comforting that the good things that happen to me are a mix of privilege, luck and application. I find it comforting (and terribly sad) that those who are more misfortunate than me are not hated or being punished by a deity for some misdeed they or their parents did at some point in their life. That I can assist with aid and lobbying to improve their situation or to help entire communities through funding projects and the like with NGOs. I do this because I am able to, not because my religion or faith demands that I undertake charity, and because I want to help those who are less fortunate than myself, whether my fortune is through the luck of geography, privilege, education, ability, employment, etc. I do this because I am a citizen of the world and when one of my sisters is suffering, we are all diminished.
I find that many religious people are all to quick to point out the good and beautiful in the world, but ignore the horror and ugliness that also occurs. And to finish up I think I will provide this beautiful quote from one of my favourite TV personalities, the great Sir David Attenborough.
I often get letters, quite frequently, from people who say how they like the programmes a lot, but I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature, to which I reply and say, “Well, it’s funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the almighty, always quote beautiful things, they always quote orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses.” But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he’s five years old, and I reply and say, “Well presumably the god you speak about created the worm as well,” and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful god with that action, and therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the moralities of this thing, or indeed the theology of this thing. – Sir David Attenborough From the BBC documentary Life on Air (2002)