Christians may pretend to think that we atheists are all "this" close to committing rape and murder, but the fact is we don't commit rape and murder, any more than they do. 

When people ask "why should atheists be moral?", that is a misleading question.  They should really ask, why ARE atheists moral?  [Why do they hardly commit rape and murder at all ...?]  

Good question.  Why.  

Why do you, personally, always try and do the right thing?  Why do you, personally, sometimes do the wrong thing?  Do you go against your own moral code?  

Christians seem to spend a lot of time agonising over moral issues.  I think that is great.  We do the same thing here on Think Atheist.  Both Christians and atheists explicitly feature the study of morality as part of their belief systems.  I think it's fair to say that the two groups are roughly equal in moral standards and behaviour.  

I'm not looking for theories about society or stuff Richard Dawkins says or anything like that.  I just want to hear about your personal experiences of yourself.  I'm hoping some patterns might emerge.  After all, we're all human beings, and there's only a limited number of reasons why we do things.  

The reasons I try and do the right thing are probably that:  I want a clean conscience and an orderly life.  I don't want to s*** in my own bed.  I think I derive confidence from feeling I'm doing the right thing morally.  I feel empathy for other people and don't want to hurt them unnecessarily.  If I love someone, I'll move heaven and Earth for them.  If I have a strong belief that something is right, I will aim to uphold that belief.  

I would go against some of my normal moral beliefs if I thought it was justified and wouldn't cause too much trouble.  There would have to be a very good reason - beyond just getting my end away, for example. 

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Because this world is made of love and peace!

people just don't realize it yet.

I want to make this world a better place, and happier place, I am tired of all the guns a'blazin and the murdering and the hating. I am tired of seeing hobos hungry in the streets, of dogs being beat. I am a moral person because I cannot imagine living any other way. I love too much, to let my morals go, to let my sense of right go.

Well I do not have a moral code - You need to have an openmind and be conversion willing :)

What I do to keep in line? I have list of things I tend not to do, but I am willing to do them if need, the list i very short:

1. I do not kill / harm humans - Do not harm animals unless I am killing for food 

2. I do not lie

3. I do not steal

4. I follow the law (almost :D)

But if needed I will break them all. So I guess you can not call me moral :D 

I'm not moral. I'm ethical.

I don't follow rules by rote, which describes morality. I try to do what's best all things considered, which describes being ethical.

I try to do what's best because it's the best. There's never a good reason to be a bad person who behaves unethically,.

I dont try to be moral I try to be kind

The easiest answer to that question is to ask the theist if they would go out and rape and murder if they stopped believing. Talk about low self esteem! Then again, self-loathing goes hand in hand with religion, otherwise how do you keep people believing they need saving? But to give you a serious answer:

First, I totally agree that morals and ethics are different things. Of course, there's likely as many different definitions for both as there are people on this board, but I'll give you mine. Morals involve modifying behavior to avoid bad things. Cautionary tales have morals; "don't do what the man in the story did, because bad things will happen to you just like they did to him." Christian 'ethics' are, in fact, morals because they involve structuring behavior to avoid bad things - "follow God's law or you'll go to hell." They don't require understanding, only obedience. And we all know how this works - it's like Santa. "Better watch out..." It's a simple system, based on reward/punishment, that is suitable for teaching young minds good behavior. Funny how we outgrow the need to believe in Santa. We learn to behave because we understand WHY it's better not to hit our little sister, break our toys, lie to our parents. We learn to think through our choices, instead of act out of fear. We learn to formulate ethics (well, we hope so anyway).

Ethics, in my dictionary, are principles for choosing right actions through reason, evidence, and reflection. We choose to act ethically because the reasons to do so are evident to us. We understand that it's better not to hit our sister because she's a person with feelings that will be hurt, and we know that having our feelings hurt is a bad thing, so we choose not to do it to her. We also understand that we may actually cause physical harm, and we understand that's not a good thing to do based on actual reasons. We understand that if we break our toys, we won't have them to play with anymore, and that if we break this toy, our parents may not be so quick to buy us another one. We even understand that our parents spent money on it that we should not waste, because that causes harm to them.

It's not even that ethics is distinct from self-interest, nor is self-interest always a bad thing. It's that ethics must be arrived at by reason, and must consider other factors alongside self-interest. Now I know that theists will be quick to point out that religion does so much charity, and Christians are commanded to love their neighbors, etc. I would counter by suggesting that those who are tirelessly devoted to helping others would do so without religion to tell them to - plenty of atheists devote time, effort and money to charitable activity. I would also argue that caring for others because one has been commanded to do so is still the same Santa reward/punishment problem. Someone who cares for others from either fear of punishment or hope of reward is not acting ethically.

So, ethics consists of using reason and evidence to choose actions which will cause the least possible harm to others as well as ourselves, because we understand why harm is not a desirable outcome. Ethics requires self-reflection and intellectual honesty. It requires responsibility for not only one's actions, but for the consequences of those actions. Therefore, it also requires critical thinking to be able to consider those consequences beforehand, and enough humility to see where we make mistakes and learn from them.

Mith - I agree, it's crucially important to understand the simple, basic principles of morality in order to make the best decision on what to do; and also that critical thinking, humility, intellectual honesty are also crucial.  In my experience, the Christians whom I admire are those who apply these qualities in their thinking.  This throws up an important point about why many Christians end up acting like idiots, or worse - they learn their morals fully-formed out of books, an end-result: and that just doesn't work.  First principles are required every time.  If a Christian can get in touch with good first principles, then that's fine.  If not, then we're in trouble. 

First principles are required every time. If a Christian can get in touch with good first principles, then that's fine. If not, then we're in trouble.  

You may be right, but I hold a more skeptical view here. For one thing, I am a little leery of the term 'first principles.' I don't consider myself to be a hardcore relativist, but I can't really put much stock in absolute ethical standards, either. I'm not certain if that's what you mean, so maybe I'm responding to nothing on that.

More significantly, I remain skeptical about the abbility of the theist to practice ethics over morals. The primary reason is that if ethics do derive from evidence, reason, and critical thinking, the theist seems to be at a disadvantage already.

Theism makes some very big claims about the nature of reality, and none of those claims are supported by evidence, or hold up under the scrutiny of reason and critical thinking. So already the theist has accepted that claims can be believed without evidence or reason. How is that individual then supposed to apply intellectual honesty and critical thinking to questions of ethics?

This is where I perceive the core danger and harm of religion - that accepting these core claims predisposes a person against the need for evidence or rational thought in decision making. But that's a topic for a different thread.

absolute ethical standards

Again, what's that?  I personally don't believe in making absolute ethical standards, even though I myself hold a number of absolute ethical standards.  I'm not into someone else making me follow their absolute ethical standards without a good reason why.  

I think that's a good neutral phrase which avoids the word "morals", even though it's maybe a bit bland and government-department.  (well done. kiss from Simon.)  



So already the theist has accepted that claims can be believed without evidence or reason. How is that individual then supposed to apply intellectual honesty and critical thinking to questions of ethics?

#  This is where I perceive the core danger and harm of religion - that accepting these core claims predisposes a person against the need for evidence or rational thought in decision making. But that's a topic for a different thread.

Absolutely brilliant point.  (you want to be careful now...)  The whole damn point is, that Christianity possesses a superb first principle, the "correct" one.  They are fully free to be rational in this case.  If Christians stick to this principle, they won't go far wrong, and it's the same one I stick to.  Basically, Jesus' gospel of love.  I don't care if the rational basis of religion looks completely screwy.  It is screwy, but then, people only seem to want to be rational as long as they agree with the answer.  It's easy to "rationalise away" (ie. dismiss without listening to) something we don't like the sound of.  Atheists do it every five minutes.  (hmm... bumper sticker?) 

This is where I perceive the core danger and harm of religion - that accepting these core claims predisposes a person against the need for evidence or rational thought in decision making. But that's a topic for a different thread.

Mith - that's an excellent idea.  "Can a Christian be rational?"  or something like that.  It's kind of central to atheism.  Also, "How rational are atheists?"  Not too rational, in my opinion. 

Reply by Mith Barnes 2 hours ago

... Now I know that theists will be quick to point out that religion does so much charity, and Christians are commanded to love their neighbors, etc. 

An accompanying point is that in spite of the message to ALL Xians to help others, only a small percentage actually do so. If all Xians were charitable America (and others) would be a very different and much better country.This is another point where morals prove lacking. Especially since they can just ask forgiveness for their failings instead of actually doing something to make up for those failings.

Excellent points, thank you for adding them! 

I always did think that whole asking forgiveness was rather an ethical get-out-of-jail-free card, and tends to seriously impair the development of personal responsibility...

I am moral because I only have one life with no post-death "do-over", so I have to cope with the consequences of my actions right here and now. I also wholeheartedly reject the ridiculous notion that suffering is noble, so I seek to minimize it for myself and for others.

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