Any of us brought up unwillingly in a religious environment has always had to square our contempt for the church with its 'good works.' Doesn't this redeem its bad works, and don't these good works offset the ridiculous but well intentioned mythology? Since this is a decidedly and demonstrably positive characteristic of religion, shouldn't atheists recognize this positive aspect of religion?


I utterly disagree, and I'll share my argument with the first respondent to this post.

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Comment by Simon Paynton on March 17, 2014 at 5:37pm

Is anybody really selfless, apart from parents / kin?  I like this quote from the Buddha: 

I have through all regions wandered;
Still have I none ever found
Who loved another more than himself.
So is one’s own self dearer than another,
Therefore out of love to one’s own self
Doth no one injure another.

I agree with this, Andy:  "There is a lot of mental malware to be removed on this subject."  and I agree, Belle, that the confusion within the doctrines causes a lot of problems.  People can be truly confused about the right thing to do.  Your recent discussion about "Bragging about yourself" is a good example.  Like Kairan said, people can be taught to be humble and meek without being taught the necessary other side to this: healthy self-confidence. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on March 17, 2014 at 5:46pm

This is why I appreciate the fundamentalist, evangelical end of Christianity.  They try and strip everything back to the basics, and work with and re-examine the basics.  To me this is an honest approach. 

Comment by _Robert_ on March 17, 2014 at 6:37pm

I liken the good deeds of religion to a cool drink of water from the slave master. Except even the slave master doesn't know what you are really thinking.

The 'love' of this imaginary god is so conditional that you are likely to be murdered by him if you do not please him. I have read his wonderful book. He's the ultimate asshole. Good works on his fictitious behalf are a joke and overshadowed by thousands of years of subjugation and genocide in his name by very devious associations who relish their control of the idiotic rank and file.


Comment by Unseen on March 17, 2014 at 10:42pm

@Andy Hoke - 

Unseen, people do good works, but Christianity takes credit. You also point out the compulsory genuflection, the debasing transaction that it is.

What do you mean by "taking credit"? I grew up in an Episcopal regular church-going family and humility was a prevailing value. I don't think there's much "compulsory" about it. Generally speaking, it's not "pray with us or starve."

Religion is certainly not the sole furnisher of social work; all US taxpayers participate. Religion ultimately takes credit for all that it deems as good. Charity exists without mythology, but mythology is a little too quick to claim this moral high ground.

I never claimed that religion is "the sole furnisher of social work." Did I? While your stereotype holds in some cases, a lot of religious good works are done without any chest-beating.

All of this must be reconciled with the gruesome monotheistic atrocities. While some will say that the good works of the church offset the atrocities, I insist and maintain that the church's clam of 'good works' is in fact a declaration of theft.

You're being a little hyperbolic, aren't you? Like I said, I was raised Episcopal. Somehow, I missed out on their "gruesome atrocities." If one is going to paint the entire group with the actions of some, well one could do that with atheists as well. Communists are officially atheist and consider their atrocities. 

If your reply is that the Communists aren't real atheists, I'll call you on the "No true Scotsman" fallacy.

Comment by Unseen on March 17, 2014 at 10:50pm

Belle, I knew many Christians who did good because it was good. Never attached a condition to it. Would help someone out of compassion and not because it was another brick on the road to salvation. 

The main problem with religious folk is that they believe something that is silly and untrue, not that they are conspiring to commit misdeeds upon mankind.

Comment by Andy Hoke on March 17, 2014 at 11:12pm

Belle Rose, you provide a good challenge "Maybe so Andy, but to say that a Christian cannot be selfless is a very broad statement, and I'm just calling you out on your very broad generalization. It's not true."

It is a broad statement to say that Christians cannot behave unselfishly if they believe in heaven and hell. Doesn't God see everything? Believers believe they will be judged on every deed, word and thought of their lives.

How often do believers thank God for food which they bought with money that they earned? We could thank God for the 24 hour grocery store, but would be wrong to not be thankful to the hardworking people of the store. I wonder, should we thank God for genetically modified food??

I imagine that most atheists agree that vicarious redemption is wrong. What is true about sin as a transferable  commodity also applies to virtue. In both cases blame for sin and praise for virtue are spiritual commodities.

Amidst this ecumenical shell game (to provide another analogy), it seems like the house always wins.

I'm testing the idea that any good that can be linked to the church had to have first been seized from the innate good nature of a person. I do believe I'm more cynical than most. This was probably the only debate question for which there was not a great Hitchslap, in my opinion. I saw Hitchens point out that when a believer points out these 'good works, one reduces religion to mere  social work.

This whole line of thought is suprisingly cynical, but given how much the church messes with people's minds, this degree of cynicism seems in order for Christianity, at least to consider.


Comment by Unseen on March 17, 2014 at 11:40pm

My reply is that they didn't commit their atrocities because they were atheists. They did them because they believed a classless society could be created by force, or the rulers believed that creating a God-like state, ruling party or leader was the best way to maintain their power.

Can you exclude that they didn't see religion as a serious impediment to the goals you laid out? I don't think so. Also, a lot of Christian atrocities, while claimed to have a solid doctrinal base, are actually not supported at allor take advantage of ambiguities in the text.

Comment by Omnipotent Feces on March 18, 2014 at 2:00am

@Unseen - Valid point about charity work of hospitals in your country. Where are the atheist-sponsored hospitals? If we had an 'Atheist bank' just like the Vatican's bank, I dare say we would set up hospitals. I think it's the sheer wealth and power of the churches (among other things) that enable them to appear morally superior. Yet, I think that in terms of consequentialism - regardless of their exploitative intentions, the outcome is what matters.

Many people's lives have been saved by religious institutions, along with the influence of the particular institution's dogmatic traditions.   

Comment by Andy Hoke on March 18, 2014 at 2:04am

Hey Unseen. Thanks for the detailed response. If you're not familiar with atrocities committed at the direction of religion, I have some excellent research I could send you way (or maybe you were joking).

I heartily agree that communism shares several ideological flaws with religion which ultimately reduce the quality and quantity of human life. The lack of choice about so many things, the worship, the atrocies, but to paraphrase Hitchens, "At least you can leave North Korea when you die. If you're a Christian, then fun has only started.'

Not sure where the "sole" furnisher of social work idea came from. I didn't mention or even allege such a thing. In fact, I pointed out other varieties of social work. Have I misread you?

Also, God knows everything you do, say and think. He knows if you're been naughty and knows if you've been nice. Each and every single solitary action, thought and word are bricks in the life of a believer. They don't have a choice - Big Brother Boogeyman sees and knows all, and you're guilty no matter what. Why didn't you lay better bricks? Why didn't you lay more bricks? Why did you make so many bad bricks? Every thought, word and deed is on the table. If we disagree on this, I may still be confused about your position, so I look forward to your response.

I'm sure we agree on much more than just communism.

That's the point, they cannot elect to do something out of the eyesight of God, they are responsible for this information and cannot behave as if they did not believe this. The heavenly accounting is flawless, or it isn't. People recognize this relationship as real or they don't.


Comment by Andy Hoke on March 18, 2014 at 2:21am

Belle Rose "@Andy: you are judging a broad group of people based on their beliefs, passing a lot of blanket statement assumptions about people's MOTIVATIONS."

To believe, to give your life to Christ, to become that sheep in the flock, you lose something very fundamental and personal. The church has an unlimited demand for public demonstrations of this variety of sacrifice.

I might ask for pardon from recipients of my pointy elbows, I sincerely relish the exchange of ideas and dialogue.

The villain in Atlas Shrugged points out that doing the unthinkable is the very strategy that let's them get away with it.

My folks are active in their church too. Instead of dwelling on their intentions, I think about the circumstances of their intentions. Most people were brought up in a community where most people were of the same religion, but became aware of the other religions some years later. As children, our parents (like many of us) were told about eternal suffering after you die. As children, our parents were subjected to stories of genocide, polygamy, incest and torture. Our parents were abused people, and by now they are too old to change. I simply tell my parents with a smile that as far as I can tell, they have nothing to worry about.


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