All well and good, but to a believer certain questions arise. Why, given atheism, is it good to help people?
Why, given theism
, is it good to help people? The Bible is filled to the tippy-tippy-top with examples of Yahweh giving commands to massacre whole populations of people down to the last terrified infant, and stories in which he does the deed himself. You don't even get the excuse that he settled down and hung up his bloody biker jacket when he had the Kid--the Book of Revelation is even more "Old Testament" than the Old Testament when it comes to divinely ordained genocide and (everlasting!) torture. So why help people? They're all wicked and utterly depraved sinners hanging over Hell's abyss by a thread facing the wrath of an angry god. There is none righteous, no not one, and every last one of them is richly deserving
of being tortured in maximal agony for eternity!
Surely that's even worse
than being an agglomeration of water and $36.00 worth of chemicals, right?
We're all just chunks of carbon and oxygen and hydrogen doing our own thing, why is it a good thing to help those other chunks of carbon?
Why does what a being is made of
have anything to do with how they should be treated morally? If they're made of carbon and oxygen and hydrogen plus a pattern-integrity of Astral Vortex Corpuscles
(or whatever a "spirit" is supposed to be made of), how does that make it more, or less, OK to hurt them?
Why is it bad to hurt them? Why should we care about intent, or sacrifice, or attitude? No fair saying "of course it's good" or "if you don't think it's good you must be a terrible person" or "Innate human solidarity" or "I just think so." If you do think that morality can be objectively true the same way 1+1=2 is objectively true, you really need an answer to that question.
You seem to be operating on the premise that there's two, and only two levels of truthiness: "1+1=2" and "anything goes." So, if morality is not as simple as "1+1=2" (presumably, some set of easily-understood phrases preceded by "Thou Shalt Not" that cover every possible circumstance in life), then just go wild! It's The Purge
every day! Mad Max theme park for everyone! If you paid even the slightest attention to what the Bible said, you would know that this is nonsense. For example, when giving the Ten Commandments, Yahweh included among them a command not to make a graven image of anything in the earth or in the heavens...then, not too much later, ordered Moses to make images of Cherubim to affix to the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and to work images of pomegranates and other things into the decor of the Tabernacle fixtures. So which is it? Is it Against The Rules to make graven images, or not? There aren't any exceptions
to "1+1=2," so you don't get to say "Well, graven image-making was OK in that one instance." What about pictures of Jesus? Statues of him? Oh, and let's not forget that the very first thing Moses (supposedly) did upon coming down from the mountain was to gather his Levites and kill 3,000 people for worshiping the Golden Calf. I thought "Thou Shalt Not Kill" was in the Rules!
It didn't include any provisos like "unless they practice some other religion" or "unless they live somewhere between the Nile and the Euphrates."
But of course as a theist you can immediately start bobbing and weaving and saying it was morally good for Joshua to shove his sword through the belly of a pregnant woman at Jericho, but not OK for somebody to do that today, because Times Change. At least you're not like one of those moral relativists who practices Situation Ethics!
This seems to be a common misconception about the argument from morality. Believers advancing this position generally don't say atheists can't make objective judgments between good and evil. Of course you can. You just can't give a reason why those judgments carry any weight, without borrowing from the Christian worldview.
Really? So, right up until Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire (thus making "the Christian worldview" something non-Christians would be obligated to borrow from) there was no such thing as morality, and people just ran around murdering, stealing, and raping at will? The ancient Egyptian Negative Confession never existed, nor did their concept of Ma'at, nor the Code of Hammurabi, nor the teachings of Confucius or Lao Tzu or Mahavira or the Buddha or Aristotle or Marcus Aurelius--because the only way for people to conceive of morality is to borrow it from Christianity?
I can think of only two possibilities here:
1) You're from a parallel timeline in which the concept of morality really did begin with Jesus or Saul of Tarsus or the Church Fathers or some such--in which case, welcome! Just so you know, we have a very different history here; but before we get into that I'd really love to see your timeline-hopping technology!
2) You're under the sway of a combination of massive ignorance and arrogance--ignorance of the vast range of philosophical and spiritual/religious thought of the human species outside of (and in many cases, prior to) your favorite version of Christianity, and the arrogance to think that what you were taught in Sunday School is the beginning, the end, and the apex of wisdom and morality.
Let me use your example. John McCain is certainly a remarkably better person than Hitler, I will grant you (and not just for the sake of argument!) and I will further grant that that truth is just as clear to you as it is to me. But again, given atheism is 100% true, why?Protip:
When attempting to pose some "impossible quandary" to atheists, first make sure your own position isn't equally vulnerable to it. Given Christianity
, is Hitler worse than John McCain? Consider this: what is Jesus doing with all those Jews Hitler killed?
According to the predominant, "orthodox" strains of Christianity, anyone who does not become a Christian and thus receive the benefit of Jesus' sacrifice of himself for the atonement of sins must suffer everlasting fiery torment in Hell. All those Jews are in Yahweh's
concentration camp now
, and it is--literally--infinitely
worse than Hitler's camps. According to Christianity, it is Yahweh--the very epitome and source of all morality--that is doing this. Perfect, divine
morality. What basis do you have to condemn Hitler for doing anything objectively
Given Christian divine-command "morality," it would take only one tiny little thing to turn Hitler from ultimate villain to ultimate hero: Yahweh saying, "Um, actually, I told him to do it." Don't believe me? Let's set John McCain aside for a moment, and compare Hitler to Joshua
from the Bible. The Book of Joshua portrays him as ranging through the Levant exterminating entire cities of hundreds of thousands of people down to the last infant and pregnant woman, sometimes even including the livestock
in the slaughter. He did it because the people there would corrupt the purity of his race
if they weren't exterminated, and so that his own Chosen People would have rich land to settle; "cities which [they] did not build, olive trees which [they] did not plant." The German term for this is "Lebensraum."
"But the Canaanites were evil! They sacrificed their first-born children to their gods!" Ah, OK--so the obvious moral answer is to sacrifice the rest
of their children to yours, right? "No, no, they were really, really horrible! They totally deserved it, even the 3-year-old little girls!"
OK, but did you know that the Nazis believed the same sorts of things about the Jews? That the Jews mixed the blood of Christian babies into their Passover matzo, that they stabbed Germany in the back to ensure defeat in the First World War and caused the massive suffering the Germans went through in the aftermath, that they were engaged in a malevolent conspiracy to establish a global tyranny under their rule (the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
), and that, worst of all, Jews bore the responsibility for the murder of Jesus ("blood libel")? In other words, in the Nazis' eyes, the Jews bore the same sort of contagious taint of impurity that the Canaanites did in the Bible, and their response was the same. Millions of devout Christian Germans, Lutheran and Catholic alike, participated in supporting the Nazi regime without seeing any conflict with "objective" divine morality.
So why, given Christianity
, is Joshua good and Hitler bad?
Team Objective Morality Is One of Many Undeniable Signs That God Exists, Loves Us, and Wants Us to be Happy
Does Objective Morality include stealing a quote
("Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy") and pretty much reversing its meaning without offering a citation of the original or any caveat to indicate honestly that you're doing it?
Objective Morality? You realize that's ridiculous, don't you? Like "Team Gravity" or "Team Force Equals Mass Times Acceleration" or "Team Thermodynamics." I mean, if morality is objective, then it's objective
--it's a set of facts you can demonstrate
, not the sort of thing a bunch of people gather 'round as their own "Team" identifier and say "Yay us!"
Let me put this next section in italics so it's clear it's not me espousing these opinions but my theoretical consistent atheist:
Um, hate to break it to you, but if it's your
"theoretical consistent atheist" and not some actual, other person, it's still you. It's who you are and who you would be, if you didn't think you had a Celestial Cop watching over you at all times.
"What's so wrong about the Holocaust? Lots of people died (that were going to die anyways), and anyways why do you care whether they died or not? They lived a long time ago, way removed from you, and their dying probably barely impacted you at all. Besides, they were just a rather careful arrangement of protons, neutrons, and electrons that changed into a slightly different arrangement once they died. 100 years from now it'll be ancient history. 1,000 years from now (a minuscule amount of time in the Universe) nobody will know their names or care what happened. 10,000 years from now, if humanity is even around by then it'll be long forgotten. Morality is just a human construct that will die when we do; ultimately it matters very little what any of us think of what any others of us do. Who cares?
Now, why is he wrong?
First of all, "his" (your) arguments are all irrelevant. "You didn't know the victims personally" "They were made of protons, neutrons, and electrons" and "It happened a long time ago" have no logical connection to the morality or immorality of actions. Or at least "he" (you) did not demonstrate that any such connections exist. Can you show that there's no reason not to hurt a human made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, but that it would be immoral to hurt a poltergeist or a faerie given some means to do so, because they're made of something else? Can you demonstrate, logically, that people should only care about people they know personally, or that there is some particular time limit that affects the moral status of an action (it's horrible if Daesh chops somebody's head off today and also if they did it last week, but Nazis killing Jews 75 years ago, who cares)?
Your claim is that this sort of psychopathic, hyper-selfish nihilism is the proper, rational, logical, and scientific way for people to be and behave
, unless some deity miraculously intervenes and gives us orders to do otherwise. Can you substantiate it? At this point, it's time for a disclaimer:If it is really true that Biblical commands from the Lord are the only thing that keep you from running around raping, brutalizing, and murdering people at will, close this tab in your browser immediately. Do not return to this site or to any other atheist or non-Christian site. Go directly to your nearest church, get on your knees and pray to Yahweh to continue to make you be a nice person. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00. Do not ever enter any other discussion of the basis of morality as long as the threat of divine punishment is the only thing holding you back from being a monster. Then, as soon as possible, visit a psychiatrist and explain your situation to them. Get. Help. Yahweh will roast your ass in Hell for eternity if you don't!
If the above disclaimer applies to you, stop reading now. You're not ready to enter a discussion and debate about morality. You're still at the "If you're bad, Daddy will spank you" stage, so you're not able to handle the concept of being moral if Daddy (Cosmic or otherwise) won't show up to deliver the whuppin'.
If you're still reading this, I'm going to assume you're asserting your ability to operate above the level of toddler morality, and I take no responsibility for what you do if you should come to question the existence of Cosmic Daddy.
So what basis does an atheist have for morality? Let's say you're walking down a dark street at night, and you see a person coming toward you in the shadows. More than likely, you can come up with a rather complete list of things you hope that person will not do to you because they would result in your death, cause you pain or other sorts of harm, or otherwise result in an unpleasant experience--all without having to consult the Bible. You're not going to stop in your tracks and start flipping through Deuteronomy thinking, "Does it say anywhere in here that they shouldn't shove me against the wall and inject me with heroin so that I'll become addicted and have to buy more from them later? What about just taking my money? Jesus said 'Give to anyone who asks,' so it'd be OK if they mug me, right?"
You can probably even think of some things you'd prefer the other person do, like say "Good evening" and go on past. Behold, the secret of morality: from that other person's perspective, you are the looming figure approaching in the shadows
. You already know how you would like to be treated in this situation, so all you have to do is: reciprocate
. Say "Good evening" and walk on past. Most of the time, and in most ordinary circumstances, you can specify how you'd like to be treated, and how you would not like to be treated. Other people can do the same.
Treat other people how they would like to be treated, expect the same of them, and you and they can work out a pretty solid basis for a moral order together.
You might say, "But what if somebody says they want other people to treat them as a king or dictator, to give them all their wealth, obey their orders without question, and be objects for their use?" Is this person willing to respond in kind?
In other words, are they able to define "how I would like others to treat me" in a way that they willing to reciprocate, in their treatment of other people?
Notice how morality is reciprocal
. That's why the concept of morality and justice has been represented by a balanced set of scales for thousands of years before Christianity existed (e.g. in Egyptian judgment scenes where the heart of the deceased is weighed against the Feather of Ma'at). Immorality happens when a person attempts to reject the reciprocal nature of morality. "I expect those [black people/indigenous people/women/people who believe another religion/people who have different folk dances and styles of dress than I do/etc.] to treat me
right, but I can do whatever I like to them." Or, "these [black people/indigenous people/women/people who believe another religion/people who have different folk dances and styles of dress than I do/etc.] don't really count as people
, so I can do whatever I like to them, but I count as a person and expect to be treated right." But of course those people will
reciprocate if given half the chance, so that person has no right to be shocked--shocked!
when they show up with torches and AK-47's one day.
Sure, there will be moral conundrums in some circumstances, but "Christian morality" doesn't deliver you from this. Is it OK to refuse to give money to a homeless person? Jesus said to give to everyone who asks, right down to the coat off your back--but how many Christians actually
obey this as some kind of Ironclad Objective Rule that is always applicable, as self-evident as "1+1=2?" For that matter, how many Biblical commands are treated by Christians as self-evident, always applicable Ironclad Objective Rules? It's pretty much down to "Don't be gay" and "Women, dudes are the boss of you" these days. I challenge you to find me any Christian outside of a monastery who actually pays attention to anything Jesus had to say about money
. Where were all the Christian turners of other cheeks on 9/11? Love your enemies?
Of course you and other Christians can finesse your way out of any "Eternally Objective 1+1=2 Moral Commands of the Lord" that prove inconvenient, while borrowing non-
Christian morality to navigate your way through everyday life. You aren't actually
guided by some carved-in-stone list of divinely-given moral rules. You just emblazon the notion that you are on your Team Objective Morality jerseys and cheer yourselves as being more moral than everybody else, even though you're not. You live in the same godless Universe we do.
This is why morality (and the basis of morality) is a subject for grownups, and requires a bit more thought than "Do (or don't do) X or Daddy will punish you!"
Another thing to notice about reciprocal moral accountability: no deity is required. It doesn't even require Commandments from a king, dictator or other Authority Figure. Your own understanding of how you would like to be treated, and knowledge that other people have equivalent understandings of how they
would like to be treated, is enough. To really
dumb it down, I give you the Litany of Bill and Ted: Be Excellent to Each Other.