Friday, April 21, 2006

Anybody see my morals?

I woke up one day to find I had lost my morals. Oh, I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back, I could not even tell you what day it exactly was. But to my chagrin, I realize now that sometime ago they left me.

I felt the same. Dressed the same, went through the same morning routine. And I sat down before my computer with my coffee, reading the happenings of the night before. And I read a theist say:

“If I was an atheist, there would be nothing to stop me from robbing a bank, and murdering the guards.”

This, of course, did not move me in the slightest. While I am an atheist, I certainly have no intention of ever committing such acts. My retirement plans most definitely do not include prisons and long, hot showers with an angry mob of men. All I could think is that I am glad this theist believes in a morality based upon some God-concept, or else they would be a raving lunatic. I could only imagine the frustration they felt, sitting in church Sunday after Sunday, champing at the bit, wishing to kill someone and being restrained by that moral system.

And more and more, as I read on-line, and books by certain authors, I read how they, too, if they were atheists would have the opportunity, and even the desire to completely disregard morality, and become raving criminals. It amazed me how many of these people seemed to be so restrained by this pesky moral system that kept them from doing all the wonderful evil things they seemed to enjoy. How this moral system was the only basis by which they could lead productive lives.

It struck me: “Hmmm. I am an atheist. Apparently to all these people that grants me a license to do what I want, when I want and how I want. Aren’t they afraid of the justice system? I am. Don’t they consider other humans, regardless of some mandate of some humans telling them what God says to do or not do? I did and still do. But if all of these people are telling me this is what an atheist is supposed to be—who am I to disagree? I am somewhat new at the occupation.”

I looked at my wife. Now that I am an atheist, and have lost my morals, it seems I must want to rid myself of this nasty institution of marriage, and get a divorce. But I don’t want a divorce. Regardless of what some musty book says, or what some fellow in a suit tells me on Sunday Morning, I love my wife. I want to stay married to her, because of who she is, because of our commitment to each other, not because I “have to.”

I am sure I am a big disappointment to all the other morally depraved atheists by actually staying in my marriage, rather than abandoning it for a life of casual sex, TV dinners, and lonely bottles of wine.

I still give to charities. I hope no other atheists read that. I would be in severe danger of being kicked out of the atheist-club, I fear. No self-respecting, non-moral person, having ever lost their absolute and God-given determination of right and wrong would EVER bother to do that! There is no law requiring it, no prison sentence hanging over my head. Why, there is no self-gratification in that at all.

I could swear I still have morals, but theist after theist after theist insist I do not. I must have lost them somewhere. Sigh.

Sometimes I am asked, “What are your morals, now?”

“Oh, I think the Golden Rule---“
STOP! That is in OUR Moral System. You cannot borrow from our worldview!”

I can’t? I had no idea that moral worldviews were copyrighted, patented and protected. What else am I prohibited from borrowing? I am especially fond of the number “four.” It is in the Bible more than 250 times. Can we no longer use that number either? Is that borrowing?

In the recent Supreme Court cases, there has been uproar about the appearance of the Ten Commandments in Government buildings. We have heard how the law is “based” on the Ten Commandments. I would have thought by now some clever Christian group would have patented the Ten Commandment Moral System, and raked in the royalties every time a law was passed.

“New legislation on tax cuts for the rich? That’ll be $450,000 for use of our patent on the Ten Commandments.”

And how exactly can I “borrow” from a moral worldview?

“Hey, neighbor, little low this month. Can I borrow a cup of charity?”
“Aren’t you an atheist?”
“Uh, yeah.”
“Well, I am a Christian.”
”Whoops, sorry. I’ll try a house that actually has some charity.”

Personally, since many theists presume I have no limitations whatsoever on my actions, I would think they would be relived I use any part of their system at all. They are free to use mine—I wonder though if actually caring about other humans is too hard?

Or, I have been informed that once I lost absolutes in morality, I am left with no morality at all. Now, to me, I figure relative morality is just as binding, but apparently that is because I have lost all morals, and have no clue what I am talking about.

If some fellow is robbing me, and I explain how that is immoral, do I really care that he determines it is immoral because of relative morality or absolute morality? I think not. If I say spouse abuse is wrong, because of relative morality, does that make it less so than the person that says it is wrong because of absolute morality?

Apparently, once one loses one’s morality, there is hardly any sense in attempting to regain a portion of it. You can see how I never knew I had lost my morals, and could not comprehend the predicament I was in.

Recently a new wrinkle has appeared, revealing what dire straits I found myself. In debating with theists, I am informed that because I have no absolute morality, I must have no absolutes, so everything is relative, so everything I say has no meaning.

Wow! I really, really, really did not mean to lose my morals. I did not know it would be so debilitating. I look down, I can still dress myself. I think I can still determine the volume of a cube. I operate my motor vehicle, and other drivers are not honking and flying out of my way because of my inability to function. I can still read the Bible and see what it says.

I had no idea those items were tied into my morality. I truly must appear as a raving lunatic to all those individuals.

Further, I have been informed that the reason I deconverted was because of my sin and depraved nature. Finally! A glimmer of hope. See, I thought I had lost my morality. Turns out that I never had morality in the first place. Why--I haven’t lost anything at all!

I am so relieved.

Therefore, with a smile on my face, I can face the world. I help other humans, I try to be as gracious as I can, and I apologize when I have hurt others. I help others less fortunate than I; I enjoy life, love, family and friends. All with my complete lack of morals firmly in place.

So, to all of you claiming I have no morals—you are right; I don’t. Not a one. I can do what I want, when I want, where I want. Instead of having morals imposed on me, I choose to impose morals on myself. I did not lose morals, I gained them.

If you are helping me to look for my morals, just ask me. I will tell you. If you believe that I don’t have any, or didn’t have any, or have the wrong kind, or simply don’t know what I am talking about, that’s O.K. I have plenty of charity. You can borrow a cup of mine anytime you want.


  1. You better stay away from Hellbound Alleee. She argues that morals are absolute, and based on facts.

  2. Dagoods - as always, a brilliant post.

    I wanted to ask your opinion of the following ideas. It's not what I believe perse, but its certainly been on my mind:

    Theoretically, the all-powerful God could do anything, including be misleading, contradictory, or confusing, to humans. So long as God is conceived to be all powerful, s/he can at the very least never be disproven.

    If one cannot disprove God absolutely, then they cannot be a "strong" atheist. Moreover, atheism should be regarded, not as a lack of faith, but as a different type of faith altogether.

  3. steve, thanks.

    I don’t normally do this, because I can see why theists find the comparison insulting, but bear with me:

    Theoretically, we give Santa Clause magic, which means it is possible that he hides at the North Pole, delivers gifts to needy children, and is an actual person. However, the possibility of such an entity is so remote, we do not say, “The evidence fails to convince me there is a Santa Clause” we simply say, “There is no Santa Clause.”

    Do you know how many millions of strong atheists there are? Almost every single theist is one! They have picked their god, and affirmatively state, as to other god-concepts, “That God does not exist.” Every Christian is firmly convinced that Allah (as depicted by Islam) does not exist. They don’t just “lack the belief” they are confident he is a human creation. The Mormon God does not exist. The Christian Science God does not exist. The Aztec Gods, Greek Gods, Hindu Gods, Roman Gods, Druidic Gods, Egyptian Gods, Babylonian Gods—all do not exist. Of course, on the flip side many people hold the Christian God does not exist either.

    Regardless of what theist god I am debating at the moment, more people have stated that god does not exist than have stated it does.

    But does that mean there can’t be any god?

    You state “theoretically, the all-powerful God can do anything…” Well, not anything! Can God logically exist and not exist at the same time? By our conventional understanding of logic, “existence” and “non-existence” are contradictory, and therefore the statement, “God can logically exist and not exist at the same time” is impossible.

    In discussing theism, at some point, we must agree to the terms we use, and how to use them, or the entire discussion breaks down. We may not agree, but if we can use any term to mean anything, and throw out the laws of logic, then our discussion will be in vain. It would look like:

    Me: What about the Problem of Evil?
    Theist: Ah, but God can snork with a trifling, and he has contained both Evil and Good, which means there is no Evil, only Good.
    Me: What does any of that mean?
    Theist: God is not bound by definition or logic, so this is a defense that there is such a god.

    Argue with a mystic sometime. It like a bad drug trip from the 60’s!

    If there is some God out there that does not conform to any standard by which we can talk about it, I guess it arguably could exist. But why bother talking about it?

    As to a God of delusion, yes it is possible that such a God exists, and within its power, and not only deliberately all traces of its existence, but equally places evidence completely contrary to its existence.

    But how could one argue in favor of such a God? One would have to concede that every proof against God was viable, just not true. That every proof FOR God was human creation, since God is hiding all proof. OR one has to devise a method by which we determine what proofs for God are divine, and what proofs for God are human.

    Which, then loses the God sending delusion, because the claim would be God is sending only some delusion.

    Further, I could debate with such a theist and claim that aliens are actually controlling us with strings, and then hiding all traces of their existence. This is equally as viable as the delusion God. Or any other theory as to what is happening about us is just a delusion for some other reality.

    How could the theist argue I am incorrect? I use the same method, and some level of proofs to come to my conclusion.

    No, I cannot disprove God absolutely. However, the chances of god are so remote and so slim, that I confidently state no such creature exists.

    Faith? Hmmmm….

    Faith is the belief in something with the complete absence of evidence. Most importantly, not “trust” (belief in repetition based on past experience). The evidence that I do have points very strongly that there is no God. Is it some form of faith, though to stay that the chances are so slight, that I use the terms “There is no god”? That there is an absence of evidence of a absolute proof against God?

    Not so sure about that.

    I do not believe aliens replace my wife with an exact replica every night. But I have no absolute proof. I do not believe my toenails scream in a frequency I cannot hear when I cut them, but without absolute proof, is it this faith?

    For me, personally, I would avoid this term of faith, because I think it diminishes what theists mean by faith (even their stating “You have to have faith to be an atheist” diminishes their term of faith) and we start to get back into that area where we lose the ability to communicate because we cannot agree on our terms.

    I would like to see you flesh that out a bit, though. “Do atheists have faith?”

    Final note: I understand and defend the position of the atheist that says “lack of belief in a god.” (I hate the term “weak” atheist, only because of its implications. Same reason I don’t use the term “Old” Testament.) I most certainly do NOT say that all such atheists should adopt my position. It is just where I fall.

    Of course, I know you are not stating that I should not be a strong atheist, either.

  4. (dagoods – sorry for the long response, but I think you’ll find it well worth it)

    Okay, “Steve” – I’ll see if I can wrap my mind around these incredible ideas you’ve put forth… and answer your questions without being too condescending.

    No guarantees.

    If your curiosity is genuine and not some cut-and-paste drive-by from a fundagelical sheep in pseudo-intellectual clothing, then I apologize – because I’m kind of working under than general assumption.

    Your first point about the perceived “all-powerful” god: you’re absolutely right. He/she/it could never be completely disproven. Whoop de fuckin’ doo.
    The same can be said about an “all powerful” invisible leprechaun ghost that lives on my head because I am the chosen one.
    Or about my personal favorite god-figure, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    However – and this is key, so pay close attention – these kinds of “all-powerful” entities can also never be completely proven! Think about it – being “all-powerful”, encompassing good and evil, lies and truth, Miles Davis and Vanilla Ice… means you have no definable boundaries, no clear purpose; all-powerful in the way you describe also means there can be no proof. There will always be an excuse available for the absence of it. And since we live in a world based on rational, testable, observable reality, the person making the irrational, supernatural, incredible claims (like the existence of an all-powerful, purposeful, conscious god-being) bears the burden of proof if they want other people to believe them.

    In layman’s terms: you’re talkin’ crazy, so you’d better have something solid.
    And the wilder your claims, the more detailed and supported the proof had better be.

    That’s the way it’s supposed to work, anyway.

    In your argument, Steve, you posit an “all powerful” god figure who seems to be the most useless fuckwit ever conceived: demanding belief in its existence despite creating contradictory and misleading information to the very “humans” that it supposedly rules over and demands attention and obedience from. If we don’t clearly get a message delivered by an all-powerful figure, then what damn good is the message? No significant advance in the whole of human history has ever worked that way.

    And the familiar child-parent dynamic of understanding and obedience (commonly used as a default comparison by theists) falls apart when one points out that children learn, grow, and become adults themselves. They reach that level of understanding in a finite, observable amount of time. The student becomes the teacher.
    It is not at all the same as the commonly posited relationship comparison of human is to god as child is to parent. Human does not become god.

    If all our questions about “god” and “problems of evil” and “meaning of life” are simply answered with “mysterious ways” and “we’re not meant to fully understand” type claptrap, then your idea of god is useless to humanity except as a supernatural babysitter for the ignorant and fearful.
    We already have developed better ideas and greater understanding than that on our own.

    The only benefit of your mysterious “all powerful” god is as a tool used by priests and shamans to control their subjects through psychological fear. Taking their money, holding their attention, being revered, respected, and (most important) obeyed by their subjects despite doing very little to actually prove the basis upon which their “god” supposedly exists. I wouldn’t put up with that BS – would you?

    As to your second claim – do you even understand the words you’re using, or are you just making shit up as you go along? What the hell is a “strong” atheist? Why is “completely” disproving god a requirement for non-belief? As I point out above, proof of a negative is nonsense – proof of a defined concept is demanded by the rational world. By your argument, all religions should abandon their current belief systems to explore the wondrous mysteries of my leprechaun ghost or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They’re on equal footing, evidence-wise, with your “god”.

    Atheism simply refers to an absence of theistic (god-based) belief. It is very similar to agnosticism, except it infers a person’s decision that until that incredible, clear, undeniable proof of a god-being’s existence is presented… there is no need to believe in god and no need to continue an intellectual search. Unsubstantiated belief serves no purpose to rational people until further notice. You got proof? Show me!
    Until then, I got no use for you.

    Your use of the word “faith” seems to refer to any system of beliefs… at all, anywhere.
    What the hell do you mean by “a different type of faith altogether”? Faith in what? In our own ability to discern real-world proof and evidence from wishful thinking?
    There is no need for faith! In anything. For any reason.

    Sure, we use the word in a poetic sense, as in: “have a little faith in me”, but that use is not the same as what you are suggesting. At all.

    Instead of “faith”, we have trust based on past experience (including the proven past experiences of others) to guide our behavior and personal choices.
    We don’t have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. We have the evidence of consistent, daily sunrises back to the origins of recorded history, and the inference based on scientific experimentation and discovery beyond that. I don’t have “faith” that my brother is going to help me out with a weekend project – he’s done so many, many times in the past, so I trust that he will do so again. If he doesn’t, and continues not to, then my trust wanes.

    Some people equate “faith” with belief in the principles of science.
    Some people even see science itself as a form of faith.
    Some people are ignorant as dirt, too.
    Science defies faith. It exists completely outside of it. There is no need for it.
    Every discovery, every advance, every accomplishment humanity has made in this world has been done in accordance with scientific principles. Not faith.

    Science works whether you believe in it or not. It doesn’t care how long you’ve worked on your research, or how much you sacrificed personally for your experiment or equations – it either works or it doesn’t. That’s it, thanks for playing. The hard and fast rules of reason and scientific rigor are a lot harder to deal with than the supernatural blessings and love of a mystical “all-powerful” god figure that is impossible to completely prove or disprove. But reason and science are really the only things that truly accomplish anything of significance in this world.

    Certainly, people may cite “faith” as a motivation for their own behavior and actions, but that type of “faith” isn’t the same thing as what you’re describing… I don’t think.

    Honestly, what you’re describing makes very little sense to rational people.

    You clearly have very little understanding of what atheism actually is. It may be that you have difficulty thinking beyond your own current belief system. Most people do.
    When that belief system is a great comfort, filling you with metaphysical warm fuzzies when the world keeps serving up heaping platefuls of harsh reality, it can be especially hard and even painful to try and imagine that it might all be crap. But when you do open up your imagination to that idea, your understanding of the real world takes a quantum leap forward. Not a leap of faith, but real progress.

    Atheism is the absence of religious faith and belief. It simply isn’t there. In a world not fixated on religion and the supernatural, non-belief would simply be the norm – you wouldn’t need a special word for it. Religions are much more intent on sectarian definitions of their “chosen/true faith” group apart from everyone else. Atheists define themselves apart from the religious norm because a) religious people seem to demand it, and b) we got tired of being preached at when we defined ourselves as “agnostic”.

    Lastly, James, one of the great skills many atheists possess is the ability to look at an issue from opposing points of view and create what is known as an “informed opinion”.
    Debate courses in high school and college can help people develop those skills, but strangely many people don’t bother to use them when it comes to rational debate about the very foundational principles of their own behavior and beliefs. So, before trolling around atheist internet sites asking questions that have been answered literally thousands of times already on hundreds of other websites, try doing some of your own research. is a fantastic resource for your philosophical questions about atheism and the nature of faith, god-concepts, and supernatural belief.

    When you don’t work at developing your own informed opinions, there are many people who are more than happy to get you to buy into theirs. That practice makes you into what is known in the business as “a sucker”.

  5. moe hammered,

    steve is an atheist. He just likes to make me think. :-)

    Traditionally, “strong” atheists positively assert, “There is no God” and “weak” atheists say they are unconvinced by the evidence that there is a God. Pragmatically, both tend to be naturalists, so we seem the same.

    Good arguments can be given as to why each is the more rational position. I just can’t bring myself to say, “I lack belief in a god” when I am firmly convinced there is no such creature.

    It is, however, important to recognize the differing positions.

  6. Nice read, dagoods. I have visited this site before and like the balanced and thoughtful writing.

    I waver between strong and weak atheism for a variety of motivations, some of them straight up political defiance in a time of great turmoil.

    I came here tonight to read what pal MoeHammered had to say. Seems Steve was just playing devil's advocate with the strong and weak positions. Moe made great points -- if he had been arguing with a drive-by theist. It seems that he wasn't.

    Give him a break, though. Over at God is for Suckers!, we are a wee tad more confrontational and have seen every type of theist wolf-in-sheep's-clothing you can imagine. It makes us a bit jumpy sometimes. I guess we kinda bring it on ourselves. But that is the tone we have set and it's our lot. No more valuable or invaluable than your fine site here. I love to get down in the trenches, and then climb to the mountain. It all nourishes the "soul."

    High five, Moe.

    Keep on keepin' on, Thoughts from a Sandwich.

    (BTW, I feel like a sandwich very often myself, on a variety of issues, including this one!)

    - Sean from GifS

  7. Yeah, what Sean said.

    Sorry, Steve, but I get the woo-woo heebie jeebies when people start talking about atheism or science as a "different kind of faith". It sounds like someone trying to get religion into public schools based on their idea that "faith is everywhere" and an a-religious, secular public forum is not possible.
    Like I said at the top of my post - I was working under certain assumptions. But fuck it, you're an atheist, man! You're made of tough stuff.
    High five back at you, Sean.
    And high five to ya, Sandwich.
    Mmmm... thinking sandwich...

  8. Moe said:

    but I get the woo-woo heebie jeebies when people start talking about atheism or science as a "different kind of faith".

    Agreed. I usually avoid rhetoric like this even when playing devil's advocate, because my ideological opponents will often use it as weaponry against me. I would love to hear more elaborations on using such a position to drive a point, especially in the context of the blogosphere.

  9. I did not mean to come across as hard on moe hammered. Just wanted him to know that steve was an atheist. He wrote good points as it was.

    I keep a low profile with a name “thoughts from a sandwich” that does not attract too many drive-by theists.

    And I agree, I like the trenches and the high ground as well. “Variety being the spice of life” and all!

    victorycheese, elsewhere I just read about how atheists also have faith. I agree, and as I responded to steve, I am stumped on this one. What do I believe with lack of evidence? Unless every crazy possibility that could ever exist, including the moon’s core is not made of cheese must be on “faith.”

    Steve, love to see you blog this out.

  10. Moe Hammered - No problem. You made some good arguments. I've been in many hostile debates on this issue as well. When I took a world religions class five years ago in college, one girl turned to me and said "so what's it like to be so unhappy, and lacking meaning?" I was really struck by the hostility and completely BS assumptions. From then on, I took a different view of theism. Still, i try to understand where they come from. I've studied Islam extensively in school, and can honestly say that in my opinion atheism still triumphs. You may have already felt that way, but when I left Christianity it was a very hard process, I needed to know that there was NO GOD, not just that my God wans't real. In the end, I came to the conclusion that atheism was for me.

    Dagoods - Excellent points, you should really consider writing a book.

    I see what you're saying. By arguing that faith is a lack of rational thinking, you quickly deal with the problem of atheism being considered a form of faith. Atheism is not rooted on a hope, but on reason, and therefore is not faith even if not certain (we're not 100% certain about evolution either, given the lack of intermediate species, it's just really damn likely and the best explanation).

    And then you point out that if its simply conceivable, despite ALL CONTRARY evidence that God exists, then its basically such a pointless concept that we might as well not talk about it. If God were that manipulative, for all we know he is the devil as well. Good is evil, evil is good - without any parameters on God he becomes formless and therefore meaningless.


    My view is essentially that God is a loaded question created by people for self interest in history. Call him the opiate of the masses, or the ultimate form of legitimacy for early societies (which needed to ban together and act in a hierarchy under God and King as a matter of survival) God was constructed in such a way that he can never be absolutely disproven, because it deals with topics inherently 'unknown'. And in the unknown, like death, there are limitless possibilities. But, as you say, must these possibilities include logical absurdities?

    Further, theists posits themselves as ahumble, almost "wise". That's why theists say all the time "What makes you think you know as much as God?" For me, it's quite the opposite. If God exists in this unknown, then he transcends our simple thought processes. Going so far as to say not only do we understand God, we know what religion describes him best, what his commandments are, etc, strikes me as arrogant more than humble.

    I am not sure if I am a strong atheist, or a weak atheist. When I left Xianity it was because I felt lied to, manipulated, and treated as if I was dumb. A big reason why I have rejected the concept of God personally is it comes from the same people who taught me religion to begin with. Once you begin to see the obvious contradictions in the Bible, it all starts to unravel. If thats not true, then is this true?

    I asked myself, ok, God is not a provable/disprovable proposition, but where did you get the idea of God to begin with? Who planted it in your head? When I was finally able to view the concept of God as this infinite loop that should just be removed from my programming, it was very liberating intellectually.

    I know longer needed to refute the existence of God, because the burden of proof was now on theists to have him re-enter my life. And once the burden of proof shifted to prove God, then the "loaded question" aspects of God to me made his existence deeply unlikely. And after more soul searching (just an expression), I guess I came to believe God couldn't exist, because if he did he'd have a lot of damn explaining to do.