This came up recently in a conversation I started on Facebook. First I posted a link to this article, with the comment "You can almost feel the Christian love. Oh no wait, that's nausea." The conversation quickly turned to morality and a very religious, very smart, very nice friend eventually trotted out the old "If you don't want to follow the Christian path you can go ahead living your greed ridden life, pursuing hedonism with no regard for anyone but yourself, for the consequences of your actions, and with no understanding of the war between good and evil." (I paraphrase because I don't have permission to reproduce the comment, but some of those exact words were in there). He brought up Paradise Lost and the quote "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
And I saw red. It is bad enough when some anonymous god-botherer I've never met accuses me of being an amoral scumbag, but when someone I've known for 6 years does it? That pisses me off right there. I responded as politely and calmly as I could, and did pretty well. Here's my answers from Facebook, and I want to expand on it all here:
there's a lot there that I can't do justice to right now, but I will get to it all. Suffice to say I don't recognise your version of a life without religion or faith - are you saying that without your faith you would be a child raping murderer? No, of course not. And I hope you don't think that of me - but that is indeed the implication of you're closing paragraph. Furthermore, a great many people of religion and faith have committed a great many immoral acts, hence faith and religion can't be the source of morality - the Bible itself relates a great many immoral acts committed gleefully by or for God, so I question it as the source of morality too. And don't get me started on whether we deserve God or not. The question should really be whether, if he exists, he deserves us.
I followed this comment up with these two later on, edited to make them less Facebook like, but I've left all the spelling and grammatical errors in:
I have a couple of problems with what you wrote. First, there is no proof that before you, me and the world there was God, this is just an unsupported assertion. The only evidence we have for this is the word of the Bible, and the only reason we have to believe the Bible is true that it is the word of God, and the only way we know the Bible is the word of God is because the Bible says it is the word of God. Its circular reasoning. And I'm afraid to say I just don't find anything compelling in those lyrics [for this song - he referred to the two spoken parts], I've heard similar arguments before.
Secular humanism doesn't say man is the source of meaning and purpose, if it says anything it says there is no great and all encompassing purpose and meaning but if you want one, go ahead and find your own, you just don't need religion to do so. We are the product of a big cosmic explosion, the evidence is overwhelming, denying the science of the Big Bang denies much of the foundation of modern physics. But them, why can't a product of this be the source of meaning anyway? I find all kinds of purpose in my life, and life itself is meaning enough for me. I don't need to believe a holy book to find purpose and I'll be brutally honest, I pity anyone who NEEDS religion to give them purpose and meaning. Asking how can a man be the source of meaning is like asking how can a man be the source of the Mona Lisa, or a symphony, or Shakespeare's plays. Asserting that humans are created with purpose is just that, an assertion. There is no reason to suppose that we are, other than some religions claim that. And religions say all kinds of crazy things.
Finely, I genuinely find it insulting when people say that I must be selfish and amoral without religion. In short, that's bullshit. It makes me genuinely scared of religious people if they think the only thing keeping them from being selfish vile monsters is a 2000 year old book written from stories told by illiterate goat herders who thought disease was caused by evil spirits, that it was OK to stone to death disobedient children and that the Universe was created in 7 days. If morality comes from the Bible, I'd be proud to be immoral because it's just as monstrous as 'Mein Kampf' - ethnic cleansing, genocide, racism, sexism, cruelty, homophobia, violence, incest, murder, rape - the list goes on. As a source of morality, the Bible makes a good teapot. I don't need the Bible to love my fellow man - plenty of cultures have come by similar ideas without it after all. More importantly consider this - who is more moral: the man that does the right and moral thing because he carefully considers his actions and acts in accordance with what is best for those around him, or the man that does what he's told by a 2000 year old book, no matter what it says, because that book is claimed to be the word of a god? I know what my answer is. I really get annoyed by that argument.
And I forgot to mention last night, in order to tie this back to the original post, christianity, religion and the Bible quite obviously don't make people more moral, since I have never attempted to give anyone an incurable disease. Unlike the "we pray you get breast cancer' christians. I think their effort is laughable because prayer does nothing. They on the other hand think they are actually helping to get people cancer. Very moral.
Considering what I felt like writing, that's pretty mild. I can't stress enough to people who don't get it just exactly how insulting the assertions that atheists are amoral are - especially from a person who knows that I am nothing of the sort, and have never been greedy, selfish etc. But to also make these arguments in a conversation with evidence that clearly, obviously, shows that Christians most certainly are not instantly moral simply by being Christians just beggars belief. And this guy is smart, I mean really smart. I'd consider him way smarter than me and way up there with the smartest people I know.
Let's not beat around the bush - anyone who thinks that religion makes you more moral is really not paying attention. Clearly being religious might make some people act in more moral ways - but they don't have exclusive rights to it.
To be more specific, being Christian clearly does not make you a more moral person than a non-christian. There are Christian murderers, thieves, liars and rapists. Prisons are in fact full of them. In fact, non-believers make up a tiny fraction of the prison population. Let me guess, the religious ones are all innocent and their lawyer was a crook?
Here is clear evidence that religion does not make you a more moral person, because if it did the figures would be the exact opposite of what they are.
But we don't even have to go to the prisons to see that religion doesn't instantly make you more moral, the evidence is all around us. The Catholic Church is, you'd have to say, a Christian bastion. How are its priests doing in not raping children? But surely priests are even more devoutly religious than the average guy on the street? If being a devout Christian makes you more moral then how do you explain the uncovering of widespread child rape and its attempted cover ups within the Catholic church? How do you explain other instances of corruption within churches throughout the world, committed by ministers and lay people alike?
How do you explain immoral behaviour by Christians if being Christian instantly makes you a moral person? This whole conversation on Facebook was started by an instance of obvious Christian immorality and yet a Christian responded by arguing that Christians are moral and atheists aren't?
What. The. Fuck?
I can tell you right now that this atheist has never deliberately tried to make someone ill with incurable cancer. But I can also tell you that there are in fact Christians who have been quite happy to try and do just that. And I'm supposed to be the one with no regard for other people? Fuck you. I happen to think that the prayers are a complete and utter waste of time, and that the whole thing is pathetic but what counts is that the Christians involved really believe they are going to help give people incurable cancer just because those people don't believe the same superstitions. But I am the one who has no regard for the consequences of my actions? Take a look around any prominent atheist blogs or websites and you will find countless examples of Christians threatening atheists with, amongst other things; rape, murder, violent beatings, torture, imprisonment, theft - check out PZ Myers regular blog posts about emails he receives for starters.
Have you read the Bible? Do you really want to tell me that a religion based on that book can be moral? That this book could be a source of morality? That the god portrayed in here, and the people held up as good followers, can be described as moral? Fuck off. They murder, they rape, they steal, they lie, they get ready to sacrifice their own children because God says so.
How can you describe an individual as moral when they are happily ready to do anything, no matter how horrible, because they think an invisible God told them too? The simple answer is, you can't. Abraham is held up as a hero, I think he's a deranged, disgusting, immoral monster.
Anyone who thinks the Bible is a source of morality is a danger to civilised society. This book is littered with morally repugnant actions committed by God and for God, I would no more use this book as a source for morality than I would use it as a source for technical advice on how to land a space craft on Mars.
And you can go further - many cultures have independently developed the few good moral rules that are in the Bible without being exposed to it, so how can it be the source of morality? If morality has developed independently within cultures and peoples who believe different things, who do not share a religion, then how can religion be the source of morality? The answer is obvious, it can't be. Morality must come from something else, its origin must be more complicated than "God did it."
Strike three. You're out.
And for the win: the whole argument that atheists are immoral because they have no faith in God, the Bible, religion etc can be clearly refuted by atheists acting morally. And we do. All over the place. And we do so not because a 2000 year old book of folk stories from nomads tells us to, but because we have thought about it and consider it the right thing to do.
I'll put my moral standing up against ANY Christian. I did voluntary work with kids for several years. I helped raise over £5000 for a deaf children's charity. I am raising my children to be polite, kind, caring and thoughtful. I've never stolen anything that I can think of. Never been a bully. Never committed any action without regard to how it might affect others. I give to the Red Cross. I've given volunteer time for various organisations for various different causes. In short, I've been a lot more Christian than a great many Christians. I've led a moral life, and I am an atheist. So your argument stinks.
So if you want to accuse me of being immoral because I don't pray to invisible sky fairies or follow your silly holy book, you had better get ready for it.