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Atheism, Religion, and Morality: A Serious Look at Our Social Values
Religious Moral Values
In most societies it is believed that the highest moral standards and values are taught by our religions. We pass religious and moral values down from parent to child, generation after generation. Most people in religious societies firmly believe: Their society would fall apart without good, strong religious guidance. Without religion, we would be engulfed in evil. Without religion, all that is good would end and chaos would follow. Without religion, nothing would stop people from committing crimes, and our very lives would be at risk every moment. Belief in God or Allah is the only thing that keeps us safe.
The implied truth of this has been told to us by our parents, our religious leaders, our religious friends, and our holy books (the Bible, the Koran). Many are so certain that this is true that they won't question the validity of their beliefs. And, those who do question (nonbelievers) are obviously flawed and morally fallen people.
The Moral Landscape
Fear of punishment does stop people from doing wrong, but does it make people more moral?
Story: At the end of the day at a small grocery store about to close a young clerk is counting the money taken in that day, having several thousand dollars sitting on the counter. Just as two strangers walk into the store, the clerk becomes suddenly ill and makes a mad dash to the restroom, leaving all of the money unguarded on the counter.
The first man approaches the counter and sees the cash. He has just lost his job and is in financial trouble. The money on the counter is his for the taking. He thinks of how he can survive a little longer with that money. He sees the security camera, then, decides he won't take any money because he doesn't want to go to jail for stealing and walks away.
The second man approaches the counter and sees the cash. He also has just lost his job and is in financial trouble. The money on the counter is his for the taking. He thinks of how he can survive a little longer with that money. Then, he thinks, he would not like to live in a world where people just take what they want. He likes living in a civilized society where people have a right to keep what they earn without fear. He walks away.
Which man has the better moral compass as illustrated above?
The first man lacked an internal, moral value system. He didn't steal because of fear of punishment. If the only reason a person chooses not to commit a crime is because he fears going to jail (or to Hell), he has not internalized his moral values. The second man is more moral. Both of the men in the scenario above could have been religious or nonreligious.
Statistics show that the number of criminals in American prisons who profess to be atheist, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (1997), is only .2%. While the number of people in America who claim to be nonreligious is 10-18%. Percentage wise, there are far more religious people in prison than nonreligious. Fear of punishment does stop most people from doing wrong, but it does not make those people more moral.
Westboro Baptist Church
Religion Teaches Morality
My goal, when we moved to a new city, was to have my children connect with other children with high moral standards and values. So, I took them to church and got them involved in all of the church activities. When my olest daughter, age 16, went on a weekend retreat with her youth group, I was shocked to learn that the only teen in the group to sneak in beer was the preacher's son. The preacher and his wife had only two children. How could children raised in a home with two "religiously perfect" parents go against the church's moral teachings to do this?
Shortly after, my second daughter, age 14, was attending a friend's birthday party when a church friend showed up stoned on drugs. His parents were the most religious people I had ever met.
If religion is the best teacher of moral values, then, the most devoutly religious families would raise the most moral children--based on the moral standards and beliefs of their religion. These children, mentioned above, had not internalized their church's moral value system. Still, shouldn't the fear of Hell have been enough to keep them behaving morally?
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The Moral Loophole
Why isn't the fear of burning in Hell enough fear to keep children from following a church's moral teachings? How can Pastor Ted Haggard preach against homosexuality; then, get caught committing homosexual acts; then, become a preacher again? How can Catholic priests teach morality, then rape children, and still remain Catholic priests? Why isn't fear of Hell enough to keep people moral?
Most religions have moral loopholes. For instance, in Muslim countries it has been documented that men can sign a marriage certificate before entering a house of prostitution, have sex, then, immediately after, get a divorce. In Christian religions people can be absolved of their sins through confession, and sometimes penance. Another way for a "sinner" to avoid Hell is to be 'born again'. Since men dominate and control religions, they have more loopholes available to them than do women. "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." Seneca the Younger, circa 4 BC-65 AD
Religious believers claim they are guided by the "good book" for moral guidance. There are moral teachings in the Bible and in the Koran. In truth, there are more verses in both books that we, today, would consider to be immoral. Here are some examples from the Bible:
In Judges, 21, God gives instructions on how to rape your [non-Hebrew] enemy’s women.
In Numbers 31 and Deuteronomy 20, God encouraged child rape. There are 613 laws in the Old Testament, and not one prohibits pedophilia
In Deuteronomy 22, God punishes rape of an unattached young [Hebrew] woman with a small payment to her dad, then, requires the victim to marry her rapist. What a loving God!
Clearly, the God of the Bible intends for us to have slaves and instructs us on how to beat them (Lev. 25:44, New Testament: Titus 2:9). A man's daughter can be sold into slavery.
We are told to kill our children if they disobey us--in the Bible (Deut. 21).
Women in all religious books are treated like property (1Corinthians 14).
Religion of Peace
If you read the holy books of the major religions, you will find there is no religion of peace. In fact, more wars have been fought in the name of religion than for any other reason. The Koran is full of passages telling followers to kill in the name of Allah, as is the Bible. Matthew 10:34--Jesus states that he did not come to bring peace. Today, Middle Eastern Muslim countries indoctrinate their school children with hate, teach them to use weapons, and instill a willingness to kill and die.
In Saudi Arabia where the Muslim religious law (Sharia Law) is strictly enforced, gender apartheid is practiced. Women are not safe to walk the streets of their town alone. If a girl is raped, her father feels it's his duty to murder her (honor killing). If a woman breaks a law (like lets hair show in public), she is sometimes buried to her neck, then stoned to death. Women can be attacked, even murdered, by men without any punishment to the men. Boys are raised to lord over their sisters and mother. Sometimes they are taught to beat both. The boys are beaten into submission to behave like Muslim men. Men and boys gather in the town square after prayer to watch beheadings or hangings. They call their religion the Religion of Peace.
If you are from a Muslim family, you would not dare denounce your religion for fear of having a fatwa (death sentence) put on your head. Most of us who come from Christian families have great, great, great grandparents who also feared turning from religion under punishment of death. In Europe, instruments of torture had to be blessed by a priest, and witches were burned. If true freedom of religion and from religion had prevailed over the past 2000 years, many of today's staunchest Christians would not have been born into Christian families. When the government dictates that everyone have a certain religion or death, people become strong believers.
Today, people in many Western cultures are finally free to admit to not having a religion. The fear of saying, "I am an atheist," still lingers. But, because atheists in western societies are finally not at risk of losing their lives for speaking out and are free to speak up about their dislike of religion in all aspects of secular life like school and government, Christians are saying they are under attack. For virtually the first time in recorded history nonbelievers, atheists, can finally step out of the closet and ask for a little respect from their oppressors (Christians, Muslims, Jews), and they are told that they are attacking religion. How absurd!
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Where do good morals come from if not from religion? The reason that all religious groups have different rules concerning what is and what is not good and moral is that people decide what verses and parts of their holy books they want to represent them. Even within a church or religious sect, you hear, in free societies, things like, "Well, I'm not an Old Testiment Christian," or "I still have wine with dinner even though my church disapproves of drinking." We all have our own moral compass, so we choose a religious group according what it teaches and practices, if we live in a country where we have the opportunity to choose. People who live where there is a separation of church and state have the opportunity to choose where they want to worship, and if they want to worship at all. By doing this, you are choosing the values you want to follow, so you have a moral compass that is guiding you to make this decision. Your morality comes from within: the way you see the world; the way you want to world to be.
"It is only by dispelling the clouds and phantoms of Religion that we shall discover Truth, Reason, and Morality." Baron d'Holbach
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