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"How can you be moral without believing in God?"

"Isn't atheism just a religion?"

"Why are you atheists so angry?"

One of the challenges that Atheists face, just for identifying themselves as Atheists, are the questions people ask about Atheism. The challenge is that some people ask these questions sincerely trying to learn more about Atheism, but others are asking out of a sense of condescension and denigration, and how Atheists might answer these questions often changes depending on these distinctions.

By way of the diarist Karen, I read this post by Greta Christina: 9 Questions That Atheists Might Find Insulting (And the Answers).

This reflexive dismissal of our anger's legitimacy does two things. It treats atheists as flawed, broken, incomplete. And it defangs the power of our anger. (Or it tries to, anyway.) Anger is a hugely powerful motivating force -- it has been a major motivating force for every social change movement in history -- and when people try to dismiss or trivialize atheists' anger, they are, essentially, trying to take that power away.
It is definitely worth reading in full whether you are a believer trying to learn more about Atheists, or a non-believer who would like a resource to point to instead of answering these same questions time and time again. It provides reasonable, succinct answers, it highlights the dehumanizing effect of these questions, and covers the majority of the major questions Atheists face.

Because basically, these questions often boil down to, "Why are you different?" and the answer is generally, "We're not that different, really."

Atheists still face a lot of hostility in this country. The LGBT community can be seen as a parallel situation. Until not too long ago, the majority of Americans disapproved of same-sex marriage. However, through fostering understanding and spreading the perception that LGBT couples are no different from heterosexuals, the community has slowly gained much wider acceptance. Only by encouraging believers to learn more about and empathize with Atheists will we reach the same level of acceptance.

Originally posted to Progressive Atheists on Mon May 20, 2013 at 12:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Republished to Street Prophets. nt (6+ / 0-)
  •  Obedience is not morality. (13+ / 0-)

    Acting due to fear of punishment or promise of reward is not morality, it is obedience.

    If you cannot fathom why people wouldn't rape and murder if there was no god, then you might be a sociopath.

    Fox News: Math You Do As A Republican To Make Yourself Feel Better

    by Pooter03 on Mon May 20, 2013 at 12:25:10 PM PDT

    •  I don't think that is all there is to a believer's (6+ / 0-)

      morality. To once again use Greta's words:

      This question is also hugely insulting to religious believers. It's basically saying that the only reason believers are moral is fear of punishment and desire for reward. It's saying that believers don't act out of compassion, or a sense of justice. It's saying that believers' morality is childish at best, self-serving at worst. I wouldn't say that about religious believers... and you shouldn't, either.
      •  I wasn't (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gentle Giant, AoT, pvasileff, linkage

        I didn't say anything about believers.  I'm merely concerned by those who specifically ask why atheists don't murder/rape/plunder if there was no god.  

        Those who ask this question appear to be unfamiliar with concepts like sympathy and empathy.  I wasn't implying that all religious people are like this as I feel it is a small minority.  But, the fact that this question seems to pop up every so often scares the crap out of me.    

        I don't need a religion to want to be nice to people, but I'm scared to think of what will happen when those people decide they don't need religion either...

        Fox News: Math You Do As A Republican To Make Yourself Feel Better

        by Pooter03 on Mon May 20, 2013 at 12:47:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Here's a thought experiment on the subject (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        skohayes

        A Christian (or other theist) gets insulted at the thought that there is indeed a reward/punishment system (heaven/hell) that motivates their actions and that therefore, they're doing good simply to get a reward and avoid a punishment.

        Pose this question to them next:
        If you're not being good to just get into heaven and avoid hell, then what would be your reaction if you lived a good life, died, and then God said, "yeah, you did pretty good but I think I'm not going to let you into heaven."  Basically, would you be disappointed if did what you were supposed to do but got denied the reward or punished anyway?

        It's not childish to say that one's actions are reduced to fear of punishment or desire of reward.  That's life.  In the secular world, the threat of prison, fines, or sanctions serve as official punishments while rewards are things like money, friends, family, and popularity in general.  To be honest about that these mechanisms exist and impact societal behavior is not insulting.

        Proud to share my name with Howard Dean

        by DeanNC on Mon May 20, 2013 at 01:45:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't murder people (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pierre9045, barleystraw

          And the reason I don't murder people isn't because it's illegal, it's because it's wrong. It is childish to say that rewards and punishment are the sole reasons for acting. Clearly they have some effect, but equating something having an effect to it being the sole reason is a huge jump, gigantic.

          If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

          by AoT on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:26:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  It's not even obedience. (10+ / 0-)

      Since it is a direct response to fear, it's more like cowardice.
      I got sick and then angry of "Fear of God" in my teens, but still "kept the faith" as I was raised.
      As it says in the link to the nine questions, sometimes actually reading a religion's holy book is what converts believers to nonbelief. I have read the New Standard version 3 times. [Though some claim the King James is the "true bible" (how the F@$& could you know?), I call bullshit. Talking like the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock spoke makes nothing truer, only more difficult to understand, which I guess adds to the whole mysterious/not being able to fathom God idea that is a fundie argument for believing asinine things.] Anyway, I read it three times at 3 different eras in my life.

      But what truly drove me away from organized religion was not the mythology or the lack of understanding by most adherents that it IS mythology, was not even the counter-intuitive way the organizations of churches behave in order to maintain or justify their existence. It is religions' role in society, together with the similar-in-nature themes of patriotism and the assumption that wealth is evidence of a higher nature, to placate the masses and manipulate people to conform to be easily led by certain powers that exist in most human societies.
      Opiate of the masses indeed.
      If one believes God gave Man the ability to reason, to think, why then sublimate that ability as a prerequisite to serve Him?
      That millions after millions of human beings can't see that blatant conundrum... well, it boggles the mind.

      That being said, I have had spiritual experiences that I can't ignore or explain away that lead me to believe there is something more beyond this physical existence. So I don't buy the idea that when you die, thud, it's done. One of these experiences was shared by my wife.
      So I'm an atheist (first time I've said that) when it comes to organized religion. But I'm open-minded to other possibilities.

      No matter what the circumstance, I find anyone's refusal to think to be shameful, illogical, stupid...

      Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

      by Gentle Giant on Mon May 20, 2013 at 01:18:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  agree (4+ / 0-)

        I too have been convinced by experience that there is a spiritual dimension. And likewise reject most of organized religion.

        •  Perhaps (4+ / 0-)

          There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

        •  wilderness voice, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wilderness voice

          Thank you for sharing that you've also had, as you so aptly put it, "experience that there is a spiritual dimension. The first experience I had revealed exactly that, but left no avenue of proof. How could it? The second showed my wife and me that these dimensions can coexist or overlap- that given the right circumstances, one can experience the spiritual aspect in an all but physically tangible way. The second experience relieved me of all fear of dying. I wish to live, of course, especially since my older son & his wife are starting to talk about having children, something I yearn (quietly) for. But if/when I am faced with my final time, fear will not be part of the experience. There may be longing to remain with my loved ones, but no fear.

          I've been in a couple of crashes since the experience, no harm done, but in the slow-motion midst of the rolling and tumbling, there was no fear.
          I owe this state of being to my late father-in-law, who, when only a half hour dead, "embraced" my wife's and my souls before joyfully fading from us.
          My father-in-law, for all his nearly 97 years, was an atheist.

          So much for appeasing God with worship to store up treasure in Heaven. My brother, a pastor, did the service. He opened by saying, "The thing I admired most about () is that he was an atheist." (My brother rocks!) And then he proceeded to outline how he lived a selfless, truly righteous life with no assistance from organized faith. We miss him- his kindness & generosity, but his final gift to us, that unprovable knowledge that there is more than our existence... I can't begin to set a value on the peace, comfort and perhaps wisdom that has brought us.
          Thanks again for letting me know we're not alone.

          Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

          by Gentle Giant on Mon May 20, 2013 at 06:00:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I don't mind answering them again. (7+ / 0-)

    "How can you be moral without believing in God?"

    The definition of the word "moral" according to Merriam Webster is "sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment".    An atheist has a conscience and a sense of ethical judgment, just as anyone else has.    A large part of our social nature is instinctive, and atheists have the same biological instincts to be social as anyone else.   Our moral sense is informed and reinforced by our "empathy", the biological mechanism within our brains that attempts to mirrors what another person is feeling when we observe them, and by our own rational assessment of how belonging to a society benefits the individual, and therefore, what is required of the individual in order to belong to and enjoy the benefits of belonging to a society.

    However, atheism only refers to a lack of belief in God.  The moral nature of atheists varies just as widely as it does among the religious.      

    "Isn't atheism just a religion?"
    NO.  Atheism is the absence of religion.

    "Why are you atheists so angry?"

    Atheists are no more angry than any other person.  However, any person who is bullied, harrassed, or subjected to discrimination, is more likely to become angry, and it is true that atheists are more often subjected to these types of experiences.  

  •  Leonard Susskind (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anodnhajo

    Check out this 3 minute answer from Susskind.

    Btw, how in the hell can a person imbed a video from youtube?

    What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. SAM HARRIS

    by Cpqemp on Mon May 20, 2013 at 01:00:45 PM PDT

  •  Is this a diary? (0+ / 0-)

    Seems to me to be just a post posing 3 questions and then linking to an external article.  

    Here are my answers:

    Question 1:
    Atheists are no more moral or immoral than any other person.  There are moral atheists and immoral atheists just like there are moral Christians/Jews/Muslims and immoral Christians/Jews/Muslims.  You don't need to believe in superstition or invisible beings to recognize that treating another person as you would prefer to be treated leads to a more peaceful, secure society.  It's laughable that 2000 year old books and organized religions in general have any sort of monopoly on morality or how everyone should act.  

    Question 2:
    No, the absence of a religion is not a religion.  There is no such thing as an atheist prayer, an atheist church, an atheist organization that determines doctrine for all of atheism to follow, nor any god or supernatural phenomena that they proclaim fealty to.

    Question 3:
    Atheists are people, just like theists are.  To say that all atheists are angry people based on a personal experience with one would be like me saying all Muslims are angry people that want to blow me up with suicide vests because that's what I saw on TV.  Some atheists are nice people, some are dicks, and most fall somewhere in between.  That said, we are a minority living within a society that is by far majority theist, which often have very negative impressions of us due to their religions' doctrine and they've never met someone to challenge that conception.  Atheists who have no problem identifying as such are usually people who have greatly considered and studied religions and therefore, have very strong opinions on the matter.  Strongly advocating and arguing for a position is not anger unless someone resorts to personal attacks.

    Proud to share my name with Howard Dean

    by DeanNC on Mon May 20, 2013 at 01:18:51 PM PDT

    •  Diary rules (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wilderness voice

      changed significantly with the last upgrade of the site a couple of years ago. This is perfectly acceptable. Even a single line and a link is fine (though some may frown upon such a practice).

      Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you're always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and take you away. - S. Stills

      by ask on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:16:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As an Atheist, I'm angry for many of the same... (5+ / 0-)

    ...reasons that religious folks are angry, and religious folks (including priests and nuns) have been angry for a long, long time, and have expressed that anger rather forcefully.

    So one might as well ask, "why are religious folks so angry"?

  •  We've seen it here before (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pierre9045, wretchedhive, A Citizen
    Isn't Atheism a Religion?
    If Atheism  is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    As my father used to say,"We have the best government money can buy."

    by BPARTR on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:05:41 PM PDT

  •  Angry Atheist Myth (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, happy camper, pvasileff, barleystraw

    I'm an atheist. I'm also a generally happy person. I am not angry about anything related to religion or lack of religion. Why do you push the myth that atheists are angry people?

    A waist is a terrible thing to mind.

    by edg on Mon May 20, 2013 at 02:20:12 PM PDT

  •  what i want to say sometimes (0+ / 0-)

    i have an ethical distrust of christians like christians have an ethical distrust of atheists. when i hear someone proclaim their christianity i basically assume they are a hypocrite and engage, or once did engage, in irresponsible behaviors such as drug abuse, sexual manipulation, theft, and physical abuse. i assume they think they are above the law because they think they have a personal connection to God that allows them to justify their own behavior and be blind to their own hypocrisy. i see this manifest in their endorsement of blatantly unethical power structures and immensely self-contradictory dogma, and in their actions when they assume positions of governance. i don't understand why they think morality should be incentivized, because i believe in morality for it's own sake, nor can i see how they can endorse an organization that was basically engaged in a constant stream of large-scale property theft, quashing of intellectualism, and occasional murder from about the year 350 AD to the year 1800 AD as the arbiter of their moral system.

    the suicide question is idiotic. by definition, wouldn't an atheist be infinitely more afraid of death than a christian who believed in the afterlife?

  •  I'm a Christian and I'm not too concerned (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pvasileff, linkage

    about personal salvation.  I enjoy the ritual of the traditional Lutheran liturgy and find mild comfort in the personal connection with other Lutherans and Christians of all denominations.   Historic aboriginal populations almost always developed a complex theology involving a creator deity; thus the introduction of Christianity historically involved only a shift in perception but not an entirely new conceptual construct.

    I've met atheists who are wonderful people, and Christians that are smug jerks, and the other way around.  Despite dark moments in church history, I think that our civilization has benefited more from religion than not.  

    My personal philosophy is to listen more than I talk and laugh a lot.

  •  People find out about my morality before (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pvasileff, linkage

    they learn about my religious beliefs.

    I wish more would do the same.

    I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.…We're better than this. We must do better. Cmdr Scott Kelley

    by wretchedhive on Mon May 20, 2013 at 06:48:58 PM PDT

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