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View Diary: Atheist in a Moral Foxhole: The Conscience of an Atheist (153 comments)

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  •  On no atheists in foxholes... (51+ / 0-)

    As a lifelong atheist I've heard that one again and again.  When it's cited to me as a challenge, I've customarily replied, "You mean you have to be in a panic, in fear of your life, to believe in God?  What are you so afraid of?"

    The look of confusion on the interlocutor's face never fails to amuse.

    I take the view that universal moral principles derive from our evolution as a social species, in which moral principles were essential to a band's survival.  As with most evolutionary behavior principles ("Drives" in the old psychological term), cultural overlays dilute and obscure the basic principle.  Religions both reinforce moral principles and obscure and divert them, because of these cultural factors.  For this reason I am always careful on insisting on a distinction between religion and morality, which also tends to confuse more doctrinaire believers, many of whom were brought up believing there is no difference.

    We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

    by Dallasdoc on Wed Oct 30, 2013 at 07:32:35 PM PDT

    •  It's a Variation of Pascal's Wager In a Way (10+ / 0-)

      In a foxhole, with shells bursting around, in mortal fear, with no idea of a means of survival, a person indifferent to religion and the God concept or a person whose religious beliefs have lapsed may well start praying to someone, something, anything that might bring surcease of the danger. All prayers offered under those circumstances are undoubtedly sincere. If he doesn't survive, the supplication has cost him nothing. If he does survive, he may or may not find himself in a "post hoc" situation.

      "A famous person once said, 'You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' But as I once said, "If you don't teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like." – Max Headroom

      by midnight lurker on Wed Oct 30, 2013 at 08:19:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A different response: (25+ / 0-)

      The saying isn't an argument against atheism; it's an argument against foxholes.

      (Paraphrased from James Morrow)

    •  That moral principles are useful to a social (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Selphinea, boofdah

      species is not a very challenging claim - but where do you see a transition from that to an obligation to follow those principles? Why should someone care whether or not the species continues?



      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 09:23:39 AM PDT

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      •  Most people (8+ / 0-)

        who are aware of their surroundings sooner or later recognize the necessity of a moral social contract.  Not all, of course, and many talk themselves into limitations and boundaries.  The stated "running red lights" and going over the speed limit and such are well known fudge factors on the rules society operates under.  Banking and insurance are more extreme examples.

        What bugs me is how so many buy into the idea that morality and religion are somehow connected.  This is a widely held belief, but one that I have never seen any evidence for.  It is like believing that tax cuts are always the best option when questions of economy are raised - a belief pushed by those with a vested interest in others believing it.

        I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

        by trumpeter on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 10:05:20 AM PDT

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        •  This is interesting to me (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          boofdah
          What bugs me is how so many buy into the idea that morality and religion are somehow connected.
          Do you have any links that delve into it further?  I'm sincerely interested.  But also then, how are we defining religion?  Or if you will tolerate a potential counter example, isn't the 2nd commandment of Jesus ("Love thy neighbor as thyself."), given the moral nature of it and the religious context/author evidence of a connection?

          I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

          by Satya1 on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 10:37:12 AM PDT

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          •  That's part of the problem. (9+ / 0-)

            Many religious leaders make moral pronouncements.  The Dalai Lama, for instance.  He has many good things to say.

            But the idea that you have to go through them to find morality is:

            A)  An idea they promote, for obvious reasons, and

            B)  Otherwise not really apparent.  I have heard many very moral ideas proposed by Mark Twain and Robert Heinlein and David Gerrold, and none of them were at all religious.

            As for definition of religion... that's a hard question.  I consider something a religion if it either calls itself one, or promotes the supernatural as an answer, but that's just me.

            I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

            by trumpeter on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 11:30:31 AM PDT

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            •  Well I agree (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Selphinea, boofdah, RiveroftheWest

              that one doesn't have to go through religious thought to find morality.  It certainly isn't the sole cause or maybe most of the time not even the primary cause.  But just as religious thought and influences in history are part of the social fabric of humanity, there is a connection.  The connection shows  up in the constructs of language used to discuss morality and other ways.

              Thanks for your thoughts.

              I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

              by Satya1 on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 04:01:31 PM PDT

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          •  My husband, a truly moral man, (5+ / 0-)

            and upstanding proud atheist, was once asked how, without the benefit of religion, he could stop himself from doing evil?

            The question's premise still haunts him.

            The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each. (Chlldren's Defense Fund, 2013)

            by nzanne on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 01:39:35 PM PDT

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            •  I get that (5+ / 0-)

              (see my response just above)

              Maybe I wasn't clear about the reason I'm asking.  I also don't presume that religious is required for being a moral person.

              But whether from natural philosophy or social influence, we learn lessons about morality.  I think in a culture that formed with such heavy influence of religion it is hard to parse the various secular influences from the religious ones.  And there is certainly a connection between religion and morality but not necessarily one based on causation.

              I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

              by Satya1 on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 04:07:26 PM PDT

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              •  I think the bases of religion and morality are (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                boofdah, RiveroftheWest, Tonedevil

                actually quite similar.

                Both are based on understanding others to have thoughts, feelings, motives, goals, etc. In the former case, however, it's seeing those things behind the world itself.

                "I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others..." - Bertrand Russell

                by Selphinea on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 04:20:17 PM PDT

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                •  I disagree. (0+ / 0-)
                  Atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris said Wednesday night that religion could make acts of psychopathic evil seem rational and even moral.

                  “What I would argue is that there are actually cultures which are — for all intents and purposes — psychopathic, in which you can put perfectly normal individuals, people who are neurologically intact, who don’t have any of the anatomical problems of psychopaths, but put them into a system of poorly aligned incentives and bad ideas and they essentially act like psychopaths,”

                  http://www.rawstory.com/...
            •  How was the asker "moral" if he needed threats (6+ / 0-)

              to do the right things?  It is the religious person who presupposes that people are evil and need the threat of "omniscient" watchfulness and "eternal" punishment to be good.  

              ...  No wonder they don't mind losing the 4th Amendment and living in an NSA spying state.  They're already there in their own minds.

              •  Congressional oversight SHOULD be the "omniscient" (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                boofdah, RiveroftheWest

                watchfulness they receive, and firing or prosecution should be the worldly punishment for their Constitutionally immoral behavior.

                "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

                by Kombema on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 04:55:00 PM PDT

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              •  That was exactly the point that (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                boofdah

                astonished my honey.

                Are existential threats all that holds this man's evil inside?

                The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each. (Chlldren's Defense Fund, 2013)

                by nzanne on Fri Nov 01, 2013 at 06:21:56 AM PDT

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            •  The irony is, many use religion to rein in their (5+ / 0-)

              propensity for evil. A lot of religious people have the potential to lose control and commit heinous acts, and know that they are not morally mature enough to not do it without guidance by religion. Whenever I catch myself thinking that religion is all bad, I remind myself that it often serves to keep a lot of would-be sociopaths in check.

              On the other hand, it often empowers sociopaths to great evil in the name of religion, so definitely a double-edged sword. In my experience, most atheists are far more morally sophisticated than most religious people -- who get to take the lazy, unthinking way out in the most extreme (fundamentalist) instances.

              "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

              by Kombema on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 04:52:40 PM PDT

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            •  Penn Jillette brought that up in one of his books (4+ / 0-)

              ...about atheism, and he argued with this typical question brilliantly. As an atheist himself, he has had people confront him about how he feels that, without religion, he can't just go and rape, murder and steal as much as he wants?

              I am paraphrasing here, but his response was wonderful and succinct. He answered that he DOES rape, murder, and steal as much as he wants--and the instances in which he wants to do these things is ZERO.

              Again, I'm paraphrasing and probably lending a bit of my own interpretation to Jillette's conclusion, but he wrapped up his argument by stating that maybe people's worry about lack of religion wasn't as much of a problem as their being complete assholes as human beings.

              "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy

              by boofdah on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 06:54:26 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  We know that the (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, boofdah

            vast majority of the population is religious.  To confirm the thesis to which you're responding we only need to take a statistical sampling of those who commit immoral acts such as adultery, lying, breaking contracts, murder, theft, cruelty towards others, and so on.  Inevitably we find that religious populations are no less likely to engage in immoral acts than any other population.  We might even find that rates of immorality are even higher in these populations!  For example, in evangelical circles, the emphasis on faith over deeds might function to actually diminish moral acts.  At any rate, the conclusion that follows from this is that there's no relationship between religious belief and morality and that religion serves a function other than that of morality.

        •  There are numerous secular philosophers who (6+ / 0-)

          concern themselves with morals, and several different bases for a secular morality. The claim that you need religion to be moral seems to be most common among literalists and fundamentalists; I don't know any Episcopalians (for one example) who would make that claim.

          There does remain a real philosophical question about how to get from a claimed moral rule to the point of action on the part of an individual.



          Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

          by Wee Mama on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 11:01:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Nearly the entire history (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, Wee Mama, boofdah

            of ethical philosophy is secular in nature.  Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Epictetus, and Mill-- to name but a few --speak of religion or God in developing their ethical philosophies.  Off the top of my head, the only philosopher that argues God is integral to ethical thought is Kant, but his reasons are peculiar.  Kant argues that God, freedom, and immortality are necessary postulates for ethical thought; however God is a postulate by providing an ideal of perfection (i.e., he's not thought as a judge) and immortality must be postulated because becoming morally perfect requires, in his view, infinite time (i.e., immortality isn't thought as a reward but as a condition for endlessly continuing moral progress).  

        •  A revealing and inconvenient point (6+ / 0-)
          What bugs me is how so many buy into the idea that morality and religion are somehow connected.  This is a widely held belief, but one that I have never seen any evidence for.
          Two things: 1. This concept is one of the many coils of razor wire most religions surround themselves with to impose "order," and guarantee orthodoxy.

          2. more importantly, it answers the question: If there were no God, then what stops us from killing (robbing, kidnapping, cheating, etc) someone.

          Number one above joins all the other control mechanisms which keep "rational" human beings believing in totally non-empirical, non-evidence based (even counter-intuitive--raising the dead, walking on water) stuff. Number two is by far the more disingenuous because it assumes that we need an omniscient god keeping an eye on us every second or we'll just get into all kinds of mischief.

          In other words...we can't be trusted without active oversight...a very cynical view.

          "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana

          by GEldridge on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 01:44:37 PM PDT

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      •  Because it's imprinted upon (most of us) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, boofdah

        from birth.

        Objectively, though? We shouldn't.

        The law is only as real as you believe it to be.

        by Selphinea on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 10:42:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  A really great question, doc. (5+ / 0-)

      The only honest answer from a Christian is "death, and judgement of my soul. I might end up in a lake of fire for all eternity."

      Christians don't like admitting that they live in mortal terror of their Savior, but it's one of the two cornerstones of their theology. Christianity comes completely unglued without fear of punishment.

      Fear of punishment is behind their other cornerstone belief -- that this world had an historical Creation Day and will have an historical Ending Day. To Christians, Earth is an ongoing experiment in a test tube, conducted by their deity. One fine morning, out comes the stopper and He sorts and disposes of whatever souls are inside.

      What a screwy idea.

      But let's get serious here. Behind fear of punishment lies the deepest human fear, the nameless fear at the core of human consciousness -- the fear that things are not at all within our grasp or control. That existence is completely random, is meaningless in any time frame we relate to, and without any particular aim at any given instant. It just is. And we are here, looking at it and looking at ourselves.

      The inherent chaos of reality is the greatest fear of the human psyche, and most people cannot or will not genuinely face it or live with it. And no, you are not facing it by saying, "God's will be done." You are hiding by saying that.

      Real peace of mind, and freedom from fear, comes only through facing this random, erratic universe as it is and accepting that it is out of your control. You possess nothing but the moment, and are only really alive in the moment. You have nothing but this instant that will never be again. So be here. Don't be in an imaginary place. Be here.

      This is atheism. This is real humanity.

      But I digress. We were discussing whether there are any atheists in foxholes. Damn straight there are. I've been there and seen it. They're the grownups doing something effective about the situation instead of weeping to Jesus or their mommy like a lost child. I've seen atheists surrender their lives for their buddies without flinching. I've heard atheists laugh at the chaplain when he came to put oil on their foreheads and mumble magic at them.

      And I've seen the randomness of war take all the religion out of young men in a few seconds. They left their Bibles in the latrine so their buddies would have something to wipe with.

      We all thought that was very decent of them.

      "The 1% have no wealth. They have our wealth."

      by antifa on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 12:34:16 PM PDT

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      •  Hey, I think it's actually a really neat idea. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        boofdah
        To Christians, Earth is an ongoing experiment in a test tube, conducted by their deity. One fine morning, out comes the stopper and He sorts and disposes of whatever souls are inside.
        Hey, what better way to create the most perfect and efficient specimen than by setting up an environment designed to eventually produce said specimen?

        "If we set these bacteria in a big mound of plastic and leave them for long enough, we'll eventually have bacteria who are really good at living on plastic!"

        Except with humans and souls.

        "I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others..." - Bertrand Russell

        by Selphinea on Thu Oct 31, 2013 at 12:45:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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