RE: Ethics and Personal Responsibility
(06-02-2014 12:49 PM)Dark Phoenix Wrote: No doubt, if you are a fellow Atheist, you have often heard the question "If you don't believe in god, or religion, where do you get your morals?" We have all answered this at one time or another, and maybe we were prepared for it or not. The following is my in depth analysis of that question, as well as my own answer. My comments regarding religion are directed towards the three major monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
The central idea, as well as the question's main assumption, is "Is religion the source of morality and ethics?"
No. It is not even moral to begin with. Here are my reasons.
1. Religion does not hold individuals responsible for their own actions.
I see personal responsibility as the foundation of morality and ethical behavior. I am responsible for my own crimes, not those of my neighbors or ancestors. No one can pay the price on my behalf and remove this responsibility. Even if they inflict themselves with punishment intended for me. I am still guilty as I was to begin with. The accepting of responsibility by the individual is the only true means of achieving justice in human affairs. Anyone can easily understand this principle in practice. If there are two brothers, one of whom has committed a childish misdemeanor, does his sensible father punish the other brother? Of course not. The boy who committed the crime is to be punished. In this way we all learn that our actions have consequences, and that if we are not careful with our actions, we may harm others or ourselves.
Religion violates the principle of personal responsibility by claiming that all of humanity is responsible for the "Fall of Adam". Religion insists that humanity exists in a fallen state of sin and filthiness. The disobedience of mythical Adam and Eve have caused all of humanity to be punished. Without even a choice in the matter, before we even manage to be born, we are guilty of a crime we did not commit.
Religion violates that same principle when they teach redemption and forgiveness by blood sacrifice. According to religion, the torture and death of Jesus Christ is retrospectively intensified by each and every error humanity makes. At no point is any person given a choice in this matter. We inherit this guilt as a birthright, regardless of what compassionate desire to rescue Jesus from his plight would have seized moral people had they been there to witness the crime. No person is capable of turning the clock back and preventing his suffering, as many of us, if not all, would have done if we were present at Calvary.
An innocent man is supposedly being punished for our transgressions, and we are taught to rejoice in this. This blood sacrifice supposedly washes us free of our many mistakes and evil acts. This belief utterly abolishes personal responsibility, allowing for repeat offences of the most heinous evil, with endless opportunities to have the responsibility for them washed away, as if they never occurred. What context could there ever be for victims' cries for justice to be heard in such a system? The actual victim of the crime is not the party offering up forgiveness, which ought to be their sole right.
Long before the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ was popular, the Jews were offering up animal blood sacrifices to god in the same way. In fact, they were the original inventors of the "Scapegoat". A hapless goat was captured, used in a ritual process of transferring the sins of the tribe upon it, and then driven violently into the desert where it would die of starvation and drought. Thus were all the evil actions of the tribe thought to be "washed clean", until the next time in which another scapegoat would be necessary for a repeat event.
This is not morality. This is denial. Admitting to one's sins and deformities is uncomfortable, humiliating, and even painful. Nobody likes admitting that they are wrong, which is why it is so important for human character to learn how to do so. Humility, honor, responsibility, and honesty are all very desirable and necessary attributes when attempting to live happily with others. What is right is not always what is easy. The worst possible thing we can do is point the finger of accusation at innocents, even if they are innocent goats. Excuses show a lack of desire to admit fault, and thus a likelihood that the crimes will be repeated.
These types of belief are directly harmful to ethical behavior. I find them very troubling considering the culture of denying responsibility that I witness every day where I live, in the United States. It seems like every time there is even the smallest issue, a lawsuit is filed against someone for a poor reason. In 1994 McDonald's was famously sued by a woman who spilled hot coffee in her lap while in the drive through. Her entire suit was based on the fact that no warning label was printed on the cup to notify her of its hot contents, therefore it was the fault of the restaurant that she received third-degree burns. I was not alone in my thinking that what ought to be common sense should alert the buyer of hot coffee, that it is in fact, hot. Had she accepted personal responsibility, no lawsuit would have been necessary.
Whenever there is a problem or a controversial issue, so many Americans start looking for someone to blame, to accuse, and to humiliate. Companies that sell obviously harmful substances, that people choose to put into their bodies anyway, are blamed for the actions of their customers. Gun companies are blamed for the violent choices of their customers. When students don't cut it in the classroom nobody wants to take a closer look at the student's behavior. Instead, teachers are ridiculed, insulted, hated, and often fired for the failures of their students. As an epidemic of obesity and otherwise poor health sweeps America, people turn to government intervention to regulate their food, rather than taking a closer look at their diet and activity. It doesn't seem like anyone is interested in examining their own choices and behaviors. I am witnessing the loss of integrity of a huge majority of my nation, and I can't sit by and let it happen without a fight.
It only makes it harder to do that, when the majority of people believe that they can shift responsibility for what they have done in the past onto someone, or something else. There is no such thing as a blank slate when it comes to diet, or intake of harmful substances. The smoking one does at twenty five years old, culminates in cancer later on. It doesn't come as a result of only the last year of smoking. Believing that a just such a blank slate is possible in all areas of life, because of religion, is harmful to the entire idea of having integrity.
During the shocking child rape and torture scandal perpetrated and then covered up by the Catholic Church, there were a number of rapist pedophiles who went un-prosecuted and un-extradited. They were protected and hidden away by the pope, who made public statements of forgiveness to them on behalf of god. No molested, miserable child victim was able to raise his tiny voice in protest, as these disgusting papal thugs walked free with the false forgiveness obtained from someone not even made to suffer a single moment by their heinous crimes. Sure, they were guilty of child rape, forcible sodomy, molestation, and torture of children, but there is nothing to worry about since all of that has been washed away by the blood of Christ, as if it had never been. Tell that to the suffering victims of those crimes, and see if you can explain to them how it is moral. I certainly wouldn't be able to.
Not only is religion immoral when it comes to personal responsibility, but it's individual members are immoral for their desire for such a proposition to be true. The great human weakness of fallibility and the desire to be considered ultimately good culminate in an obvious and sick manifestation of wishful thinking. An excellent example of this is Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", a movie which I would best describe as Jesus torture pornography. This version of the story of Christ has surpassed all others in on screen brutality and gore. It is also the most popular Christian movie of all time. What are we to deduce about Christian morality when we witness the way in which they worship that scene of barbaric cruelty that supposedly took place on Calvary? What are we to make of this profound relief and comfort that is drawn from the suffering of another? Even to indulge in this pathetic desire to throw off responsibility and sin upon an innocent is abhorrent to my very being, let alone my dignity. I demand a higher standard of myself, and so should you.
2. Religion attempts moral behavior only through totalitarianism.
According to religion, I am born under an absolute, celestial authority which I cannot remove, and under which I did not choose to be born. This authority has already executed a blood sacrifice on my behalf without consulting me. All that I possess is a gift from god, who holds all that is good in himself, and all my life is to be conducted under a total surveillance and fear of impending judgement, and even the possibility of endless torment. In some cases, I can even be condemned for what I think in the supposedly not private corridors of my mind.
In such a situation, morality becomes clear. It is to be conducted under the same circumstances as one who has been abducted by a cruel and brutal slave master. To do good is to please the master, and by so doing avoids the cruel punishment in store for those who disobey. It is this situation, which the faithful refer to as "a choice". It is nothing of the sort. It is the same kind of non-choice that is offered the victims of torture by their captors, or that presented to a man with a gun to his head. The faithful view this as a matter of nature, often referring to the punishment as "natural consequences". This is not morality, and it is certainly not natural.
Under such a dictatorship, if I commit a right action, it is only to evade the punishment awaiting me were I not to do so. If I commit a wrong action, I have condemned myself to that punishment. The only alleviation that might come is at the price of causing another to suffer on my behalf. If I accept this hopeless situation and live in obedience, I will one day be brought to live with the dictator who designed it. I don't know about you, but that sounds like Hell to me.
Not only is punishment reserved for those who do not obey the dictator, but it is the most horrifying punishment ever devised. It is an eternity of torment, ranging from the visceral horror of burning alive, as well as other physical tortures, to the lonely darkness of a cold infinity, to a mere separation from those who one loves. The faithful can never seem to agree on just how horrifying it is, but they paint a telling picture nonetheless.
All the while we are told that we must love this authority. Our love is compulsory, as well as our fear. Both are mandated by god himself. What manner of relationship is this meant to be? Are we to love by compulsion, which is by definition not genuine affection, and also be terrified? Some have tried to square this circle by claiming "fear" is a biblical term for "respect" or "obedience". Is it all that much better with any of those terms? Compulsory respect or even obedience is by definition, not genuine. If left to their own devices, humans would not naturally love or respect god, how is it genuine?
Given this situation, it follows that humans possess no virtue innately. We must submit to the will of another, which is the basis upon which our morality is possible. Religion is explicit about the supposed state of man, calling it a state of filthiness and claiming that all humans are full of desire to do evil continually. It is only by relinquishing this fallen nature that we are considered pure. This concept is the basis for all the many and various totalitarian edicts designed to control every area of one's life. God's will imposes upon our sexual lives, our wallets, our diets, our thoughts, our actions towards others, our wars, our children, and our private time. The claim may be to make humans moral, but the result is compulsion in practically everything, culminating in control. As many of us have learned, it is not easy to get out, and even if you manage it, you are considered to be outside the moral sphere.
3. Religion mandates immorality.
In answer to his critics, Bill Maher, a famous comedian, gave the following list of examples of things religion did and does that are immoral.
"Most wars, the crusades, the Inquisition, 9/11, arranged marriages to minors, blowing up girls schools, the suppression of women and homosexuals, fatwas, ethnic cleansing, honor rape, human sacrifice, burning witches, suicide bombings, condoning slavery, and the systematic fucking of children."
This is by no means a complete list, but it is an excellent start. Religion has a lot it has not yet answered for. Most of us, if not all of us, know about the atrocities committed in the name of God, we just fail to hold religion responsible for its own actions.
The immorality and the negative impact of religion on the world has its roots firmly in my last point, that it is explicitly totalitarian. It is easy to distort morality, if your entire understanding of the subject is based on the edicts and actions of your god. The faithful do not measure morality like everyone else, they believe that whatever god supports is moral, and whatever he condemns is not. With this one twisted standard, discrimination against homosexuals becomes moral, and the healthy use of contraception becomes immoral. Literally the only criteria in either case, is what god has mandated upon the subject.
This reversal of the definition of morality is easy to spot in modern American life. There exists an entire political machine determined to remake America into a nation of Christian morality. They have the power to succeed, if they are not opposed by reasonable and actually moral people. I want to live in a country where morality is a measure of how we treat one another, not whether or not we follow what god has supposedly said. Every day when I read the newspaper I can read about the efforts to legislate all manner of "sexual morality", the constant attack on women and their ability to make decisions regarding their own bodies, and the active discrimination and open persecution of homosexuals. These are merely a few examples of how morality is under attack by the parties of god. Good people need to stand up and oppose them.
The United States, however religious it may be, does not compare to that of the nations of Islam in the Middle East. These are nations where uncovering a woman's hair can get her killed in the street, where homosexuals are beheaded, where changing one's religion is a death sentence, where it is legal for a woman to be sentenced to be gang raped, where talking about certain subjects regarding religion is a death sentence, where the hatred and persecution of Jews, is encouraged and considered just, and where in "defense of Islam" the devout may make themselves a living bomb, destined to destroy Jews and the Americans who are guilty for protecting them. The words "morality" and "civil society" do not apply to any of these countries. The very real suffering of the people is not a matter of great concern for those who rule. God's power, and the power of those who claim to serve him seems to be more important to them.
To those who say that such things are a matter of mere wild fundamentalism, I would ask you. If something is wrong with the fundamentals of something, what is left? Moderation is a matter of choosing which parts of religion to believe, and which parts to ignore. With each cherry pick, you move farther and farther away from what the devout believe, to the point where you may no longer recognize them or understand their behavior. To a moderate, a suicide bomber is a madman, not a representative of Islam. In order to believe this, we must ignore the explicit statements made by bombers and their families, which tell us of their desire to reach paradise, and collect their virgins. We must ignore the promises of taking family members to paradise. We must ignore the public jubilation, the gifts and money given to the family of the martyrs. We must ignore the obvious sympathy and unwillingness to prosecute these murderers which is systematic all throughout the Muslim world. We must ignore the screams of "god is great" which inevitably preface and follow horrendous bursts of automatic gunfire, or the sudden explosion and immolation of a suicide bombing. How obvious does it have to be before people realize that suicide bombing is bound up in Islamic belief, otherwise it would not take place.
A simple test can be made to determine if an action stems from religious belief or not. Remove the belief. Does the action continue? Then it is not religiously motivated. Does it end? Then it was religiously motivated. We must ask ourselves, if no one believed in the truth of the bible, would homosexuals be persecuted and denied basic human rights? If no one believed in the afterlife awaiting god's glorious martyrs, would anyone strap explosives to their chest and destroy a public bus, or a local school?
Faith and the forces of religious morality are the forefront proponents of immorality and chaos. They are the enemies of a civil and secular world.
4. Religion sacrifices personal integrity.
The famous journalist, Christopher Hitchens said the following about friends. "Those who offer false consolation, are false friends." Those who really care for their friends, do not lie to them, or condescend to them. All of my most enriching relationships have been built on honesty and integrity.
Religion is not so careful in its offers of consolation. Perhaps its most human attraction is its many claims to answer human questions that have been posed since our species first began. It is so clearly derived from a fear and intolerable attitude towards death, and from the desire to have a loving parent all throughout one's life. It answers questions of purpose, meaning, and direction. It creates a framework by which human beings are protected from their fears and given purpose and drive. On the surface, this seems like an excellent solution. The fear of death is removed through fairy tales of resurrection and the afterlife. Loss of loved ones is likewise blunted. The fear of being alone and of the unknown is so easily removed through the supposed presence of an omniscient father figure, who understands you. The problem is that none of it is based in reality.
Religion cannot achieve such lofty heights of explanation without resorting to the worst possible means of learning about what is true, faith.
Quote: Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Faith, by its definition, claims hope as reality, and calls a lack of evidence, "evidence". Which of us would consider something to be true simply because we believe it hard enough? Faith is really that simple, and that ridiculous. It can be used as an explanation or justification for literally ANYTHING. There is no need to go hunting for actual evidence, since faith is enough. There is no need to question things, since faith is enough. There is no need to explain how you know what you think you know, since faith is enough.
While in an argument with a user "Anidominus", a Christian believer, on this forum, he said the following.
Quote:People in the US are no longer use to requiring Faith to keep themselves well. They just go to the doctor and get a shot or a pill. I don't need to have faith that this staph infection will go away. I just go get a shot.
Given the truth of his statement, what can we infer about the past before modern medicine? If faith is unsuccessful now, was it ever successful? No. Of course not. Wishing you were well has never been a form of medicine. If one examines the history of modern medicine, from what idea does it stem? The Scientific Method.
The Scientific Method is infinitely better at determining what is true, than faith. Science begins with a question. Faith begins with an answer, or a conclusion. Science uses background research to explore a subject enough to make a hypothesis, or a prediction about what the answer might be. This hypothesis may be vindicated, or abolished. Either way, a discovery has been made. The personal ego of the scientist as a predictor has no place. Faith uses it's conclusion to make a dogma, or an unchangeable "truth". It is explicit that it must be believed, and cannot be questioned. The ego of the believer is bound up in his belief of dogma, since questioning it will offend him to his core. Science tests the hypothesis by running a tangible experiment which will yield results. Faith forbids anyone to perform experiments. Religions often concoct terrible punishments for those who decide to put their faith to the test, or who decide to question dogma. Science draws conclusions from the results, which either prompt further experimentation, or prompt peer review. Scientific conclusion must submit to a whirlwind of aggressive peer review in an atmosphere of healthy competition. Other scientists must be able to recreate their experiments. Faith is not up for debate among peers. Faith wars against those who disagree with it. Religions from the dawn of time have busily excommunicated, tortured, and killed one another in a spirit of unhealthy intolerance. The truth is decided by who is the most brutal, not who has the better evidence or results.
How is one able to have integrity, when one believes unbelievable things? How honest can we be with others when we have no means of determining how we know what we think we know? How can we be honest with ourselves, when we prefer fairy tales to facts? We cannot, and our personal integrity is sacrificed as the price for the whole business. In this state of denial, we raise the next generation, and the process repeats yet again.
As I pieced all of this together (on my way out of religion) I realized the reason for it all. Fiction seems better than fact, because fact is not all that nice. Here is a list of the things humanity doesn't want to deal with.
We are all going to die and we do not know when or how it will happen. We have no idea what is beyond the grave, or if there is anything at all. We do not know if we will ever see our families again, or if we will be conscious in any form in which to remember them. We understand very little about the world and even less about the universe, and that frightens us. We have no purpose in existence and that makes us feel incomplete. There is no overarching meaning of life, which mystifies us. We do not understand every detail of our origins or even the more recent years of our evolution, and that is troubling to us. We have an insatiable desire to know and understand things, yet we know and understand so very little. We are now capable of destroying our planet, using more than one method, many times over. There is literally no guarantee that this will not happen today. Our lives were on the edge of a knife even before that became the situation.
I think we can all appreciate the denial, fear and desire to know the answers to these issues that drive people towards making it all up. However, it isn't good for us. It isn't true. It isn't progress. It is retarding our world every single day, and if we wish to have our integrity as a species back, we need to show courage and determination to know actual truth. The truth ought to be more important than consolation. Truth might bring us so much more out of life, than any story every could.
Thanks for reading. If you got this far, you have a lot of time on your hands, and you have noticed that so do I. I am very passionate about this subject, so I hope you found what I wrote interesting. I would love to read your comments or criticisms below. Thank you.
That's an awesome post that I completely agree with. You hit upon one of my pet peeves with Christianity especially. I often bring up the point that it makes no sense for Jesus to suffer and die in order to somehow atone for sins that others committed. Even being a god doesn't make it fit any better because of exactly what you said - personal responsibility. Jesus wasn't responsible for the sins and those responsible didn't do the atoning. Nor does it makes sense that all of humanity inherits the immorality and guilt of sins committed by Adam and Eve for the same reason. They, not us, had the personal responsibility.
Regarding the totalitarianism of religion, that makes perfect sense. With religion, morality is not defined by some universal, objective "right" and "wrong", but by that which a deity says is right or wrong. That's not morality, but merely a set of rules. And, as you illustrated in your third section, morality is certainly not a guaranteed result from those set of rules even when the rules are followed.
I am not accountable to any God. I am accountable to myself - and not because I think I am God as some theists would try to assert - but because, no matter what actions I take, thoughts I think, or words I utter, I have to be able to live with myself.