I am an atheist – and a proud one too. Fortunately, I enjoy the privilege of living at the right time in the right country. After all, a few centuries ago I would have been the center piece of a nice stake, awaiting my just and fair punishment for my blasphemy. Even today I would have to face prosecution or at least discrimination in some countries if I spoke out too harshly against an omnipotent being, which apparently isn’t powerful enough to punish me itself, but who lets his mortal mignons do the job instead. I understand of course. Who wants to dirty his hands with such insignificant infidels?
Usually I am not an outspoken atheist in the sense that I would try to convert people. Nor would I use force or violence to make my point. Have you ever seen an atheist on the streets preaching “On the Origin of Species”? Have you ever heard that an atheist claimed the lives of people as a suicide bomber? Have you ever heard that atheists went to war because it was their atheistic duty? No, atheists usually don’t do that stuff – for good reasons. I would actually consider it as being cruel if you destroyed the hope of someone, let’s say a grieving widow, by telling her that everything she has put her hopes into is a wishful lie. Most of the time I keep my beliefs to myself, unless I am asked to share them, and I would really like to see others doing the same. There are, however, a few crucial issues where I can no longer just sit back and watch theists claim the stage. I cannot stay silent when children are lied to just because some grownups think that they have been raised in just the right belief system out of the hundreds of beliefs that we can find around the world or throughout history. I, as a scientist, feel the need to defend modern science from medieval mythology which did not benefit modern medicine at all. Was it religion that brought us an increase in health, longevity, and better living conditions? Most of all, I abhor the arrogant and demeaning attitude that morals and ethics can only be achieved through religious guidance which means that I as an atheist have to be immoral and bad.
Let’s put this statement to a test shall we? Do morals rely on religion and are religious people better human beings? For the sake of simplicity, the main religion that will be considered here will be Christianity simply because it is the predominant belief in our culture (that is western culture). However, many of the points about to be made apply to most, if not all, supernatural beliefs.
If you get into an argument about the existence of God with a theist, it might happen that they will ask: “If there is no ultimate authority, where do you get your morals and your sense of right and wrong from?” Putting aside that we as social animals are born with a basic set of intrinsic morals and ignoring that our society and our upbringing play a big role in the development of our sense of judging and evaluating, this argument has nothing to say about the existence of God. For the sake of the argument, let’s play along and look at where Christians get their morals from. They would either have to say the Ten Commandments or the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is where the hypocrisy starts: Are you going to believe everything literally that is written down in your holy book? If not, how do you decide which parts to choose and which not? Where is your consistency? Are you genuine and follow the Ten Commandments? If you don’t, why should anyone follow anything that is written down in your dogmas? If you actually do, and I doubt that you do, you will do things that are deemed immoral. Which is more important then, your scripture or an action that is considered as something moral in our society? Wait, am I saying that breaking the Commandments can be moral? I am indeed and if you have not figured that out yet you should rethink your moral judgment.
The Ten Commandments
Have no other gods, have no idols, honor Gods name – How do the first three commandments give you any moral guidelines whatsoever? All I see is a tyrant trying to nourish his vanity by saying: “I am going to punish you if you love anyone but me.” Wow, way to go God, great moral teachings. But maybe that is actually Gods sense of morality: the most important thing is not how you live your life, but how much you enslave yourself for something that is omnipotent but still needs reassurance. How can anyone seriously say that breaking the first three commandments can be immoral?
We find “Remember the Sabbath day” as commandment number four. Yes, don’t work on Sundays or you’ll sin. Isn’t it too ironic that it is Gods servants who especially work on Sundays? Also, should we blame physicians, policemen, and firefighters for working on Sundays? Can serving and helping people actually be a sin? Or did God arrange that no people get hurt, no crime is committed, and no fires break out on a Sunday?
Honor your father and your mother – you can’t argue with that, or can you? Parents can choose their children, but children can’t choose their parents. Saying that not honoring your parents is a sin is in some cases as immoral as it can get. No matter how many times you have been raped by your father, no matter how many times you have fallen victim to domestic violence, no matter how many times you have had to sleep in the dirt with an empty stomach since your parents would rather spend their money on drugs – in all of these cases you are still supposed to honor your parents? You’ve got to be kidding me!
Aren’t there any commandments I am not going to mess with? What about “you shall not murder”? That is a universal rule! Yes, it is, but only if you think that those people who tried to assassinate Hitler or Stalin should have burned in hell if they had succeeded. Hitler and Stalin – too far away to be realistic? Ok, what about somebody running amok in an American school? He has a gun and you know the only way of stopping him from killing more people would be to kill him first. Would it be immoral to do so?
What about adultery? We like to picture marriage as something romantic or even sacred that is based on mutual decisions and feelings. Now, I could name examples of girls in Islamic countries which have no saying in who they have to marry and at what age. They would be burned alive or killed by other means if they didn’t obey; but like the other cases, we do not have to leave the Christian faith to find appropriate examples. Besides unhappy women who have to deal with domestic violence and who can’t leave due to social or other restrains, it is obvious in the Mormon community that women can’t choose whom to marry and when. Many of them are married to much older men when they are still minors only to serve as breeding machines for their babies. Not a problem there since the commandments do not prohibit pedophilia or rape. The feelings and emotions of the women are worth as much as the dirt they walk on for the men in these communities. Imagine that such a woman who has never been able to experience love and joy in her life since she was sold and raped early on; imagine that such a woman meets a nice guy and for the first time in her life gets into contact with respect, love, and happiness. Being with that other man is giving her a branch to hold on to in her sad life. If you tell me you think that she is sinning, you are just one of the many sexist assholes who do not consider women as equal to men. Don’t worry if you do. You are just following the tradition of the old pathetic men which are and always have been the religious leaders. It’s intriguing that Gods alleged will has always coincided with their own interests.
Do not steal! I actually have a pretty recent example for this. Like many other tyrants, Muammar Gaddafi took billions and billions of Dollars from the people and stored it in banks abroad. Now, after the UN resolution against him, Germany is thinking about using the money that is stored in German banks and which belongs to Gaddafi for humanitarian aid. Taking his money would definitely be stealing. Regarding the cause that it would be used for and the way he acquired it, would you call stealing in this sense a sin? If hundreds of people were starving around Rome, would it be a sin to steal some of the incredible riches of the Vatican to feed them?
Number nine brings us to lying. If Catholics were serious about this, many more priests and bishops would be in trouble since the children they have molested would have to speak the truth about their churches. Yet again, since pedophilia and rape are not prohibited by the Ten Commandments, you wonder how long this kind of disgusting behavior has been a common standard. Regarding other examples, I guess God sent those courageous Europeans who hid Jews straight to hell when the Nazis came and asked for them. After all, saying that they did not hide any Jews was a lie.
Lastly, do no covet. Actually, that seems to be a pretty decent goal. I won’t even try hard to find anything against it. My issue with this is mainly the hypocrisy that comes with it, or do all Christians want to stay poor with as little personal possessions as possible?
The problem of the Ten Commandments is the same problem all absolutes have to deal with: It is rather easy to find exceptions and then the big question is: How do you choose? And if you find one reason to disobey an absolute, why hold on to it at all since you know it is not an absolute anymore? Sure, one could say that the Commandments are just a guideline and of course it would be ok to break them under appropriate circumstances – but that would bring us right back to picking and choosing. How do you decide when to follow them and when not? Is it something else besides religious dogmas that helps you decide?
Moving on to the next topic – The selflessness that comes with Religion. I could go on and on about how selfless most religious people really are. Instead of granting others more than themselves, the capitalistic system seems to be stronger than their faith since for most of them their neighbors come second – or do you know anyone who would say in a job interview: “Take the other guy. He deserves it more. I would be happy for him!” Besides the obvious hypocrisy my main point regarding this issue is linked to our purpose on earth. It is just another thing theists like to throw out there: “If there is no God, what is your purpose in life?” Well, what is the purpose of life for a believer? Be good, decent, and humble – but what for? Even though many theists might not put it that way it boils down to this: People are trying to be good to make it into heaven. In connection with the issue of where they get their morals from, I wonder if they would go all berserk on each other if they did not fear Gods wrath. If you say that you do the good things that you do because of your scripture and because of your fear of hell, you are a truly immoral person because apparently you would have horrible moral standards if you weren’t afraid of the punishment. Without that leash would you kill, steal, and rape? Now, if you say you still would be moral without your scripture, the question is of course what moral value your dogmas have in the first place then? If you follow this train of thought you will also have to admit that a religious person cannot – under no circumstances – be selfless. Why? Because everything they do they do to please their God in order to avoid hell. If that isn’t true the whole purpose-of-life-story collapses. An atheist, however, is not afraid of celestial punishment and still atheists can do just as much good as a religious person. Who are they doing it for? After all, their actions do not have an ultimate goal such as going to heaven. Arguably, atheism is morally superior to religion because selfless deeds are actually selfless and not inspired by ultimate personal goals.
Religion fails again when it comes to the topic of responsibility. The basis of morality is that you can be held accountable for your actions – a point well made by Christopher Hitchens in many debates. If I knew I could get away with it I would worry less about right and wrong. Everyone is responsible for his own actions either in front of courts or in front of courts above the clouds. If I did something horrible it would haunt me for the rest of my life. In Christianity, however, there is a loophole. The basic message is that no matter how badly you have screwed up Jesus has already suffered for you and if you accept him as your savior he will welcome you into heaven. Just imagine Hitler feeling deep regrets on his death bed, crying out for help. If he felt as sorry as one could possibly feel and if he truly accepted Jesus as his lord and savior since he was afraid of damnation, would he have made it to heaven? After all, Hitler was raised Roman Catholic and his soldiers pledged an oath to him under God. How can anyone call it moral that worshiping a vain being beats any cruelty committed throughout your mortal life? How can it be morally justifiable that murders and rapists make it to heaven but I won’t even though I have never harmed anybody? Can there be a more destructive argument for morality? If a rapist feels sorry for what he has done and finds his way to Jesus, would he meet the little girl he raped and killed in heaven? If you talk about forgiving the perpetrator, do you ever consider the suffering of the victims and how they feel if the tormentor gets away with what he did? Take away the personal responsibility for immoral actions and you allow bad things to happen. It is not a coincidence that most prison inmates are or become deeply religious. It is just so convenient that after all you did somebody else has already taken the blame. If this isn’t a moral failure, what is? Steven Weinberg said fittingly: “With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”
Cherishing the Mortal Life
Who might cherish his mortal life more? A theist who is only passing through to his ultimate destination, or an atheist who is aware that this life is everything he is ever going to get? The answer seems to be obvious to me. That does, of course, not mean that theists do not enjoy their lives, but if you imagine just for a moment that they follow a lie you come to understand that they spend quite some time and effort on a lie – time which a non-believer would have used otherwise. An atheist has to make his life count since he is not just preparing for the next step. Nevertheless, everyone is afraid to die. If theists are so sure about the afterlife, what are they so afraid of?
Having faith can be a good thing without a doubt because it helps some people get through rough situations. However, we should not ignore the detrimental effects such beliefs can have. If you indoctrinate your youth well enough they will be willing to sacrifice their lives for a holy cause. In that sense, a suicide bomber and a soldier who thinks that it is his God given duty to fight and die are not that different. If God has a plan and my mentor tells me that that plan includes dying for the right cause, what am I waiting for? On the other hand, what can an atheist die for?
On a daily basis all around the world children are taught that sick and dying people are going to a “better place.” It has happened that children jumped out of windows or harmed themselves in other ways just because they were convinced that it was the right thing to do to make it to heaven. Besides such cases, think about children who are sick themselves. We know that the power of will and belief can be one of the most powerful forces fighting diseases. If that statement needs any backup look at homeopathic medicine which is a scam that has reached colossal dimensions and which simply works due to the placebo effect. It is crucial, of course, that the patients don’t know that they are just drinking water. It is their belief in the homeopathic agent that helps them get better. Also, many of us know that children have a better chance of getting healthy again when they are laughing and when they are happy. It is our will that has the potential to activate healing mechanism inside our body. Now, what would a religious person say to a child that is seriously ill? He might say: “When you die, you are going to a better place.” There is nothing more detrimental to the force of the will than such statements. If I am going to a better place, why should I keep fighting? It cannot even be estimated how many young lives ended prematurely just because they were told it wasn’t bad to die.
One could fill books regarding the topic of religion and hypocrisy, but for now I only want to focus on one aspect: Consistency. Religion in many ways tries to interfere with science. Mostly, it is about biology. Why? Because religion has already lost astronomy, chemistry, physics, and most parts of history so there isn’t much left to cling on to. I could go into details and write for hours about this topic, but I just want to make one major point: How do religious people decide when to trust science and when not to? If they are convinced that science is wrong or deliberately lying, why are they taking advantage of so many things that we would never have without modern science? You claim most parts of biology are a lie but still you take the medication that it provides when you need it? Where is your consistency? If you want to bring religion into science ask yourself: Which major achievement has religion ever provided regarding modern medicine? Religion has been around forever but for the longest time human beings lived and died like vermin. It was secular modern medicine which dramatically reduced infant and general mortality and which increased health and longevity. Yes, you can say that many things modern science believes in is a lie, but if you do so please be consistent and do not take advantage of all the achievements that modern science has provided for you such as medication, vaccinations, and hygiene products. Ironically, by taking advantage of all of these things that are taken for granted today you prove again and again how often science has been right and how it has made our lives better.
Shortcut to Hell
I guess it is inevitable that some people will read this and say: “So you think you are better than others?” Well, if you are one of them you just didn’t get my point. I am not going out yelling “I am better than others”. That would just be arrogant. I simply defied the statement that atheists are morally inferior. It is up to you to evaluate if I have good points or not. You are welcome to criticize me, but if you do please spare any religious dogmas. It just wouldn’t be fruitful.
In order to end this with another interesting and serious question, I would like to throw the issue of information in. The question goes like this: If I had never heard or known anything about God or religion and accordingly never did anything to worship him, would I go to hell? Think hard about this one! If your answer is yes, God really seems to be a cruel creature that punishes helpless beings just because they couldn’t know any better – or do bibles grow on trees in uncharted areas of our world where only indigenous people live? And even if they found a bible by chance they probably wouldn’t be able to read it. If your answer to the question is no, you have to explain why religious people tell anyone about it. After all, if our children didn’t know about it, they wouldn’t go to hell – so why for heaven’s sake do we tell them? Of course, you might say that it is your holy duty to spread the word, but does it mean you are going to open up the gates of hell for others? Wouldn’t it be selfless to not tell them and therefore keep them away from the possibility of going to hell? Oh wait, that includes sacrificing yourself and being truly selfless since your punishment might be hell instead. There it is again – if you are a genuine believer you will never do anything selfless but instead you will do things to achieve your ultimate goal. And you question my morals?