Friday, August 10, 2007
Disbelief: Explaining Morality in Atheism to The Religious
Now I've done it.
I was posting a chat on facebook (Yeah, that's what i get), lamenting the loss of my hometown's innocence to the right wing evangelical groups that hijacked it. I got some varied banter agreeing or disagreeing but one kid was very keen on exposing me as a "Trendy Atheist". He replied a few times to different comments i made arguing that facts are different things to different people, and then tying his logic into very silly knots. Eventually however, he asked a question I hear from a lot of people of faith:
"If I am here solely because my ancestors evolved and crawled out of the water, why does it matter if I go walk up to some homeless dude and kick him in the nuts? I'm not accountable to a set moral or virtuous code because who is to say what is really good? "
This comment astounds me, and I figured I might address it, and perhaps give a little insight to my own total fall from religion.
The rejection of my Catholicism is somewhat recent, and it was prompted by a Homily given during mass. The priest was explaining some paintings he saw while in Rome that depicted Christ ascendant with bones at his feet. The priest recounts that he as he researched further, he realized the bones were representation of Adam and Eve who Christ rescued from hell and brought to heaven thereby redeeming original sin.
All was well.
That is, until Spiderman went after the ring of power in the land of Oz and had to defeat a Sith Lord named Pikachu.
After hearing that, i asked myself," Do I really believe that? In my heart, even as a child i've felt they were all stories. Now as an adult, do I have a place for this? Do I need to continue pretending?" Looking into my heart, i knew the answer was "no". I understand world religions and the need for answers well enough to know that the answers to life's questions do not rest in a single source of divine knowledge.
So how could i, as immediately as I rejected my faith and ultimately all faiths, possibly defend the question of my own moral compass? The answer, interestingly enough, has always been there for me.
Here is what I replied to the kid's question:
"The notion that we don't kick people in the nuts only because of a religion or an established set of morals is a fiction that belies the fact that we have human experience and the finest qualities of mankind to look to. In fact it is easy argualble that more immoral and in fact, violent acts are committed by beleivers than non-believers.
For me, and i feel for most non believers, we tend to negate the Absolutism of religion and bring it to its most primal level, In short , it is basic humanitarian grounding that is the basis for religious rationale. The true moral center rests with the recognition of the other, not in the belief of a higher authority. In laymen's terms I see the face of "God" in myself or and "The other".
A respect for mankind and its achievements (Humanism), allows you to work for the betterment of yourself and the world, because of its inherent benefits, not for fear of a vengeful deity or some sort of prize at the end of life. It forces you to deal with things now and enjoy and respect and truly appreciate the value of human life and the journey we all share.
Positing an agnostic or atheisitc universe, even the creation of the Christ story itself shows the redemptive force inherent in mankind. A force that is more elegant or beautiful than any ficticious parables about virgin births, or resurrections."
I think that covers it.