Sunday, June 3, 2012

Having Gotten That Out Of The Way

Having officially "come out" as one of the most (if not the most) distrusted groups in America today ( ) I have to face the fact that there is a MAJOR disconnect in the way atheists are viewed.  And rather than take the time to single out any one faith, or mount specific arguments against one or the other, the general consensus that I think feeds into this perception is that of morality.  Specifically that atheist morality is arbitrary and selective and since it's not based on the decree of a higher being that it somehow is less valid.  Obviously I am an opponent to this view, but what really baffles me is how so many people (specifically religious people) who on a fundamental level make the exact same conscientious choices on morality don't see that this is what they are doing.  In fairness, I must say that a large majority of the religious people in my life do not fit this identity, there must be a large group out there that does. 

Allow me a brief divergence to my past if you will.  Growing up, faith was almost optional.  Not in the sense that atheism or agnosticism was hoisted as an alternative, but in my little circle, people who went to church were just people who went to church.  People who believed in God were just people that believed in God.  There was a fundamental separation between a persons faith (or lack thereof) and any implied sense of morality.  I never once looked at a church going friend and thought less (or more) of them as a consequence.  And I hope that the corollary is true.  That it was my actions in their entirety were what defined me, not my allegiance to this deity or that, or my belief in the words of any specific book.  It wasn't until later that I started to realize that there were people out there (more than I would have ever thought) who would fundamentally judge a person based solely on their choice of faith. 

So where am I going with this?  Why do I feel compelled to bring up this point as my opening salvo?  Mostly because I think any and all issues I have with faith boil back down to this point.  The seed of my discontent I guess boils down to this question?  What is it about someone who chooses to be an unbeliever that categorically makes them less trust worthy?  I hope, and pray (okay, not really, but you get the point) that it's not as simple as the question "If you don't believe in God, why do you bother to be good?".  Beyond the direct implications about ones own morality and whether or not doing good so as to avoid punishment is just pandering vs. doing good because it's the right thing to do.  Shouldn't it be enough to want to do good regardless of the ultimate motivation.  If someone cares for the sick and dying because the message from their deity is that it's a virtue to do so, who am I to judge their motivations.  Why would I proactively object to good deeds at the behest of these individuals?  But I feel like the exact opposite is a commonly held belief about we infidels.  That if we do something good, it comes with an ulterior motive.  So fine, you might say.  You want to do good, but if your morality is based on your own perceptions, how can I trust that what you think of as moral is actually moral.  What's to stop someone from saying that murder is moral, and then killing people on account of that perception.  I have heard this argument far too many times and it baffles me every time.  It implies that humans (at least the overwhelming majority of us) are born without a moral center, and we can only be moral by following the preachings in our holy texts.  Ignoring the argument of "which religion" then, knowing full well that our societal norms would be different if we happened to be born in a different country.  I ask this.  Do we really need God to tell us that murder is wrong?  Or that stealing is wrong.  If we could boil the golden rule back down to it's core, treating others with love and respect as a tenet of morality, the rest is just details.  We shouldn't kill.  Yep, passes the golden rule.  I wouldn't want to be killed, so killing is fundamentally an immoral concept.  No matter what side of the coin I'm on in the act, it's wrong.  Whether I'm religious or not.  Stealing, same thing.  And while I agree that morality in this sense is subjective.  It is also subject to revision as society changes.  I think this notion may be the core of it, that many people want to think that because the word of God is unalterable and final that there are ultimate truths that we can count on to be true today, and every day since and hence.  But again, we have to at least acknowledge that geographically we are subject to discrepant accounts of this same ultimate authority, and in truth, someone has to be wrong.  And the truth is that holding onto a religious text that one is steeped in from birth, neither side is likely to just have the revelation that they have been wrong lo these many centuries.  I mean, we fight wars over the different interpretations of the same texts.  And this is the problem with absolute texts.  Especially the ones where we both have the "the word of God is perfect" and "man is fallible" in the same argument.  Because whether we like to admit it or not, the religious may glean what they thing of as their morality from their doctrines, but the majority of them do omit certain aspects that they know are immoral. 

Stone disobedient children to death.  Man put to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath.  Where is the morality in either of these?  If you could take "the word of God" out of the equation, we would all fundamentally reject them.  They are repulsive on any moral level until we invoke God to justify them.  That's why we don't do this anymore.  These are not laws in our constitution, nor in any of our other legal documents.  Why?  Because they are immoral to the core.  So as a society.  As individuals, specifically the religious followers of these texts are practicing just as subjective morality as we atheists.  And surprise, surprise the fundamental morality that the bulk of the religious do follow as tenets are fully embraceable concepts to all.  I said it above, and I'll reiterate it here.  I would not deny any religious person the right to use their text as a foundation for good behavior, but the minute you can pick something out of that same text and deny it fundamentally why deny anyone else that same right to selective morality.  And please, let's not get into that whole Old Testament vs. New Testament argument here.  All I'm saying is that if one group can read a religious message and choose to deny immorality in the text, any other group should be given the same freedom. 

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