An atheist in support of religion

I am an atheist, yet I’m more than comfortable with the fact that most people in this country are God-fearing Christians. Why? “God-fearing” is a good thing for a person who has no innate sense of morality on his/her own. If they weren’t fearing retribution from God, some of these people would be committing all sorts of egregious crimes because they truly would have no idea that there was anything wrong with them.

I am always struck by a question posed by Christians to atheists: “But how do you know the difference between right and wrong?”

Yes, how do we know not to murder people, rape our neighbors, or steal from starving children if the Bible didn’t tell us these were bad?!

Jesus Christ! (pun very much intended)

The fact that you’d have to turn to a book for instructions on what seems to me to be a fundamental set of morals scares me. Maybe they need to follow “the Book”. If the Bible weren’t telling them that killing people was wrong, they’d be gunning down people they didn’t like. Or at least more than they already do.

The fact that a huge number of so-called Christians still violate so many basic teachings of Jesus, such as loving and tolerating people who are different from you, does not make me believe this any less. Without Christ, these naturally-born bigots would even be more violently intolerant towards things that are different from themselves. Religion provides a somewhat tenuous safeguard against the sorts of crimes they would commit otherwise.

I mean, imagine what Jerry Falwell would have been without having to at least pay lip service to Christ’s teachings!

Don’t get me wrong. I fully advocate atheism for rational, sensible people who have an innate sense of what’s right and wrong. The problem is that, it seems, you can’t make the assumption for everyone. And it seems those that gravitate towards religion the most strongly are those who are afraid of what their instinct would drive them to do if it weren’t for religion.

And I think we atheists should be afraid, too.

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    Comment by Auto Loan — February 21, 2008 @ 12:58 am

  2. “But how do you know the difference between right and wrong?”

    This doesn’t accurately raise the underlying philosophical problem your interlocutor was getting at (although I’m sure that is how many Christians put the question).

    The real problem atheism faces is, if there is no higher source of objective ethical standards other than individual preferences, then on what possible basis does anyone say that one person’s idea of right and wrong is any better or worse than anyone else’s?

    The innate sense of morality you mention is nonetheless subjective, and without a self-existent eternal Someone to declare an objective standard by which all lives will be judged, then nature red in tooth and claw (suffering) is only nature being nature, the strong dominating the weak.

    Martin Luther King Jr. understood this. So did Jean Paul Sartre. So did Kant.

    Comment by David — August 24, 2008 @ 6:38 pm

  3. David,

    Thank you for your insightful response. I disagree, though.

    We, like ants and bees, are social animals. There is something innate in us that does make us work towards the common good. Complete selfishness is an untenable behavior unless you’re living like a hermit. The social contract that arises in every society, Christian or not, commands us to look out for our fellow community members.

    In fact, in my experience, I have found that non-Christians and the nonreligious (MLK Jr notwithstanding) are more likely to take care of the weak than Christians are, despite that tolerance and caring for those who need help is a central tenet to the Christian ethos.


    Comment by JM — August 25, 2008 @ 12:50 am

  4. @JM

    If there’s something in us that makes us work for the common good, then why aren’t Christians the same? What’s the difference between an atheist and Christian? NOTHING. Both are humans and both have been developed the same. Sadly, the former is normally bigoted and intolerant of religions or anyone who believes in a higher power and – just as you have perfectly expressed – will childishly insult religion or God whenever they get the chance.

    I think you’ve never come into a position where you must kill someone. I’ve thought about killing murderers and pedophiles and I’m a devout Christian and when I see their crimes on the news, I think to myself, “I would love to kill these people so they could never harm anyone again.” but when I think about it further, I knew that if ever presented with a situation where I must kill someone evil, I would not like it even though they deserve death – especially if they continue with their crimes and express no remorse to stop – so don’t judge all for the actions of a few. We Christians always choose the diplomatic option before the violence which is a last resort. You atheists act on raw carnal nature and justify it with your belief in evolution.


    Comment by Gabriel — July 23, 2011 @ 9:08 am

  5. Gabriel – You are generalizing. There are obnoxious, nihilistic atheists, but the vast majority of atheists are good people who simply don’t believe in G-d. As for Christians, it’s the same: there are obnoxious, violent Christians who will ascribe all sorts of deplorable behavior to their religion, but the vast majority are good people who simply believe in Jesus.

    By the way, I’m no longer atheist – I’m a Jew.

    Comment by JM — July 25, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

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