Monday, April 13, 2009

The Atheist Tribe

I consider it likely to be the case that the bulk of the people who visit this site - at least on a regular basis - are atheists. This is because of the (unfortunate) fact that people tend to filter what they read – gravitating to those writers who tell them what they want to hear.

That is one of the challenges of this blog. Recognizing that my readers will usually be atheists I write each blog by asking what it is I could tell those atheists that would make the world a better place. Those posts can be broken down into two types.

First, I seek to provide those atheists with better arguments than they would have gotten elsewhere for answering some of the challenges that atheists face.

Second, and more importantly, I warn my atheist readers to avoid some of the moral pitfalls that they might otherwise fall into.

The latter goal does not qualify as "telling people what they want to hear," so it creates a challenge for this blog. There are other blogs that adopt the attitude that theists can do no good and atheists can do no wrong that many atheists will find far more comfortable than this one. However, if I were to feed this psychological disposition for tribalism for the sake of gaining readers, I would ultimately end up betraying my own interests in writing this blog.

I am not here to be a cheerleader for the atheist tribe.

In that light, I want to address the issue of what morality would look like in the absence of religion. On this topic, it seems obvious that the best place to go to answer that question is to look at religion itself.

Religious moralities are moralities that humans invented and then assigned to God. The reason why people see God as morally perfect is because they use their own ideas of moral perfection when it comes to inventing a God. As their ideas of moral perfection change, God’s moral character (God’s values) change with them.

In short, scripture (or the oral equivalent for those cultures that had not invented writing) is a mirror in which the interpreter sees his or her own values reflected back. You can determine how morally good or bad a theist is by looking at the moral quality of the god he or she invents or reads into their religion.

So, if a particular God or religion "values the pursuit of knowledge," this is because that God was invented by people who valued the pursuit of knowledge and assigned that love of knowledge to God.

And if a particular God values giving relief to the survivors of a hurricane or some other natural disaster, or visiting sick friends in the hospital, it is because the people who invented that God valued giving aid to the survivors of a hurricane and visiting sick friends in the hospital, and assigned their values to the God they invented.

Similarly, if a God values invading those who live in neighboring lands, slaughtering or enslaving its people and taking their land for one's own, it is because the people who invented that God liked the idea of invading a neighboring land and slaughtering or enslaving the people who lived there and taking the land as their own.

And if a God hates homosexual acts to the degree that he wishes to condemn any who would engage in those acts to perpetual fire, it is because the people who invented that God hate homosexual acts and wish to see those engage in them condemned to perpetual fire.

All good and evil come from the same source. Some people assign their moral virtues and vices to the god(s) they invent, and some people invent no god(s) to assign their good and evil to. That is the only difference.


Richard T said...

I think there is a third reason why I (at least) read your and other atheist blogs. I do so to seek aspects that have not otherwise occured to me and hence to develop my own thoughts. i am not necessarily seeking conformation but challenge.

Ketan said...

Hi! I'm very impressed with your understanding of the human psyche (your point about atheists following your blog to find corroboration of their beliefs).

I've suspected one more reason for the qualities assigned to a particular God--to suit the purposes of the manipulative leaders of the society; I'm not implying that those purposes always need be selfish; they could have also been in the larger interests of the society--like condemnation crimes like theft and murder of innocent people by most of the old religions also. The reason I suspect this is people also attributing finer tastes and distastes to their God. For instance, say a particular religous community believes that a certain peculiar ritual could please their God, I don't think the common man would actually think that their God would like it, but it'd certainly benefit the priest performing such rituals. So, quite possibly, the idea that the God could be made happy through that ritual would have been propagated by generations of priests as it'd provide them with employment, livelihood and importance in the society. And I've seen such ideas being reinforced by invoking the fear of God's wrath on not performing the said ritual, and God's generosity on performing it. Though, I concede that this explanation would only apply the relatively quirky attributes of a particular God, but not to the overall moral standards a God comes to be associated with.

But yes, on the whole your reason seems much more plausible at least for the modern times, when people are now much less ritualistic.