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Author Topic: As atheists know, you can be good without God
Stephen
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Post As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 2, 2011, 16:36
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Jerry A. Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago, is an articulate opponent of religion. In a recent blog in USA Today's Forum (see http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-07-31-atheism-morality-evolution-religion_n.htm), he argues that morality can't come from religion because "morality itself — either in individual behavior or social codes — simply cannot come from the will or commands of a God ... because if God commanded us to do something obviously immoral, such as kill our children or steal, it wouldn't automatically become OK." (Nope, I don't get it either.)

Where does morality come from? Surprise! Evolution and secularism!

So where does morality come from, if not from God? Two places: evolution and secular reasoning. Despite the notion that beasts behave bestially, scientists studying our primate relatives, such as chimpanzees, see evolutionary rudiments of morality: behaviors that look for all the world like altruism, sympathy, moral disapproval, sharing — even notions of fairness. This is exactly what we'd expect if human morality, like many other behaviors, is built partly on the genes of our ancestors.

Stein
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 3, 2011, 23:11
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Why think that religion is necessary for morality? It might be thought that people wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong if God did not reveal it to them. But that can’t be right. Every society, whether or not it was founded on theism, has acknowledged the basic principles of morality, excluding religious observance, which are laid down in the Ten Commandments. Every stable society punishes murder, theft, and bearing false witness; teaches children to honor their parents; and condemns envy of one’s neighbor’s possessions, at least when such envy leads one to treat one’s neighbors badly. People figured out these rules long before they were exposed to any of the major monotheistic religions. This fact suggests that moral knowledge springs not from revelation but from people’s experiences in living together, in which they have learned that they must adjust their own conduct in light of others’ claims.

Perhaps, then, the idea that religion is necessary for morality means that people wouldn’t care about the difference between right and wrong if God did not promise salvation for good behavior and threaten damnation for bad behavior. On this view, people must be goaded into behaving morally through divine sanction. But this can’t be right, either. People have many motives, such as love, a sense of honor, and respect for others, that motivate moral behavior. Pagan societies have not been noticeably more immoral than theistic ones. In any event, most theistic doctrines repudiate the divine sanction theory of the motive to be moral. Judaism places little emphasis on hell. Christianity today is dominated by two rival doctrines of salvation. One says that the belief that Jesus is one’s savior is the one thing necessary for salvation. The other says that salvation is a free gift from God that cannot be earned by anything a person may do or believe. Both doctrines are inconsistent with the use of heaven and hell as incentives to morality.

A better interpretation of the claim that religion is necessary for morality is that there wouldn’t be a difference between right and wrong if God did not make it so. Nothing would really be morally required or prohibited, so everything would be permitted. William Lane Craig, one of the leading popular defenders of Christianity, advances this view. Think of it in terms of the authority of moral rules. Suppose a person or group proposes a moral rule—say, against murder. What would give this rule authority over those who disagree with it? Craig argues that, in the absence of God, nothing would. Without God, moral disputes reduce to mere disputes over subjective preferences. There would be no right or wrong answer. Since no individual has any inherent authority over another, each would be free to act on his or her own taste. To get authoritative moral rules, we need an authoritative commander. Only God fills that role. So, the moral rules get their authority, their capacity to obligate us, from the fact that God commands them.

Sophisticates will tell you that this moralistic reasoning against atheism is illogical. They say that whether God exists depends wholly on the factual evidence, not on the moral implications of God’s existence. Do not believe them. We know the basic moral rules—that it is wrong to engage in murder, plunder, rape, and torture, to brutally punish people for the wrongs of others or for blameless error, to enslave others, to engage in ethnic cleansing and genocide—with greater confidence than we know any conclusions drawn from elaborate factual or logical reasoning. If you find a train of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that everything, or even just these things, is permitted, this is a good reason for you to reject it. Call this ‘‘the moralistic argument.’’ So, if it is true that atheism entails that everything is permitted, this is a strong reason to reject atheism.

While I accept the general form of the moralistic argument, I think it applies more forcefully to theism than to atheism. This objection is as old as philosophy. Plato raised it against divine command theories of morality. He asked divine-command moralists: are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right? If the latter is true, then actions are right independent of whether God commands them, and God is not needed to underwrite the authority of morality. But if the former is true, then God could make any action right simply by willing it or by ordering others to do it. This establishes that, if the authority of morality depends on God’s will, then, in principle, anything is permitted.

This argument is not decisive against theism, considered as a purely philosophical idea. Theists reply that because God is necessarily good, He would never do anything morally reprehensible Himself, nor command us to perform heinous acts. If we take the evidence for theism with utmost seriousness, we will find ourselves committed to the proposition that the most heinous acts are permitted.

Stein
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 3, 2011, 23:23
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Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16–18). He regrets His creation, and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the earth (Gen. 6:7). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh’s decision. (So much for respecting free will, the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world.) He kills all the firstborn sons, even of slave girls who had no part in oppressing the Israelites (Ex. 11:5). He punishes the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great-grandchildren of those who worship any other god (Ex. 20:3–5). He sets a plague upon the Israelites, killing twenty-four thousand, because some of them had sex with the Baal-worshiping Midianites (Num. 25:1–9). He lays a three-year famine on David’s people for Saul ’s slaughter of the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1). He orders David to take a census of his men, and then sends a plague on Israel, killing seventy thousand, for David’s sin in taking the census (2 Sam. 24:1, 10, 15). He sends two bears out of the woods to tear forty-two children to pieces, because they called the prophet Elisha a bald head (2 Kings 2:23–24). He condemns the Samarians, telling them that their children will be ‘‘dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open’’ (Hosea 13:16).5 This is but a sample of the evils celebrated in the Bible.

Can all this cruelty and injustice be excused on the ground that God may do what humans may not? Look, then, at what God commands humans to do. He commands us to put to death adulterers (Lev. 20:10), homosexuals (Lev. 20:13), and people who work on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2). He commands us to cast into exile people who eat blood (Lev. 7:27), who have skin diseases (Lev. 13:46), and who have sex with their wives while they are menstruating (Lev. 20:18). Blasphemers must be stoned (Lev. 24:16), and prostitutes whose fathers are priests must be burned to death (Lev. 21:9). That’s just the tip of the iceberg. God repeatedly directs the Israelites to commit ethnic cleansing (Ex. 34:11–14, Lev. 26:7-9) and genocide against numerous cities and tribes: the city of Hormah (Num. 21:2–3), the land of Bashan (Num. 21:33–35), the land of Heshbon (Deut. 2:26–35), the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ( Josh. 1–12). He commands them to show their victims ‘‘no mercy’’ (Deut. 7:2), to ‘‘not leave alive anything that breathes’’ (Deut. 20:16). In order to ensure their complete extermination, he thwarts the free will of the victims by hardening their hearts (Deut. 2:30, Josh. 11:20) so that they do not sue for peace. These genocides are, of course, instrumental to the wholesale theft of their land ( Josh. 1:1–6) and the rest of their property (Deut. 20:14, Josh. 11:14). He tells eleven tribes of Israel to nearly exterminate the twelfth tribe, the Benjamites, because a few of them raped and killed a Levite’s concubine. The resulting bloodbath takes the lives of 40,000 Israelites and 25,100 Benjamites (Judg. 20:21, 25, 35). He helps Abijiah kill half a million Israelites (2 Chron. 13:15–20) and helps Asa kill a million Cushites, so his men can plunder all their property (2 Chron. 14:8–13).

Consider also what the Bible permits. Slavery is allowed (Lev. 25:44– 46, Eph. 6:5, Col. 3:22). Fathers may sell their daughters into slavery (Ex. 21:7). Slaves may be beaten, as long as they survive for two days after (Ex. 21:20–21, Luke 12:45– 48). Female captives from a foreign war may be raped or seized as wives (Deut. 21:10–14). Disobedient children should be beaten with rods (Prov. 13:24, 23:13). In the Old Testament, men may take as many wives and concubines as they like because adultery for men consists only in having sex with a woman who is married (Lev. 18:20) or engaged to someone else (Deut. 22:23). Prisoners of war may be tossed off a cliff (2 Chron. 24:12). Children may be sacrificed to God in return for His aid in battle (2 Kings 3:26–27, Judg. 11), or to persuade Him to end a famine (2 Sam. 21).

I find it hard to resist the conclusion that the God of the Bible is cruel and unjust and commands and permits us to be cruel and unjust to others. Here are religious doctrines that on their face claim that it is all right to mercilessly punish people for the wrongs of others and for blameless error, that license or even command murder, plunder, rape, torture, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. We know such actions are wrong. So we should reject the doctrines that represent them as right.

Stein
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Posts: 10
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 3, 2011, 23:45
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Every year in my town there is a summer art fair. Not just artists, but political and religious groups, set up booths to promote their wares, be these artworks or ideas. Along one street one finds booths of Catholics, Baptists, Calvinists, Christian Orthodox, other denominational and nondenominational Christians of all sorts, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’i, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews for Jesus, Wiccans, Scientologists, New Age believers–representatives of nearly every religion that has a significant presence in the United States. The believers in each booth offer evidence of exactly the same kind to advance their religion. Every faith points to its own holy texts and oral traditions, its spiritual experiences, miracles and prophets, its testimonies of wayward lives turned around by conversion, rebirth of faith, or return to the church. Each religion takes these experiences and reports them as conclusive evidence for its peculiar set of beliefs. Here we have purported sources of evidence for higher, unseen spirits or divinity, which systematically point to contradictory beliefs. Is there one God, or many? Was Jesus God, the son of God, God’s prophet, or just a man? Was the last prophet Jesus, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or the Rev. Sun Myung Moon?

Surveying the religious booths every year at the art fair, I am always struck by the fact that they are staffed by people who are convinced of their own revelations and miracles, while most so readily disparage the revelations and miracles of other faiths. To a mainstream Christian, Jew, or Muslim, nothing is more obvious than that founders and prophets of other religions, such as Joseph Smith, the Rev. Moon, Mary Baker Eddy, and L. Ron Hubbard, are either frauds or delusional, their purported miracles or cures tricks played upon a credulous audience (or worse, exercises of black magic), their prophecies false, their metaphysics absurd. To me, nothing is more obvious than that the evidence cited on behalf of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is of exactly the same type and quality as that cited on behalf of such despised religions. Indeed, it is on a par with the evidence for Zeus, Baal, Thor, and other long-abandoned gods, who are now considered ridiculous by nearly everyone.

It follows that we cannot appeal to God to underwrite the authority of morality. How, then, can I answer the moralistic challenge to atheism, that without God moral rules lack any authority? I say: the authority of moral rules lies not with God, but with each of us. We each have moral authority with respect to one another. This authority is, of course, not absolute. No one has the authority to order anyone else to blind obedience. Rather, each of us has the authority to make claims on others, to call upon people to heed our interests and concerns. Whenever we lodge a complaint, or otherwise lay a claim on others’ attention and conduct, we presuppose our own authority to give others reasons for action that are not dependent on appealing to the desires and preferences they already have. But whatever grounds we have for assuming our own authority to make claims is equally well possessed by anyone who we expect to heed our own claims. For, in addressing others as people to whom our claims are justified, we acknowledge them as judges of claims, and hence as moral authorities. Moral rules spring from our practices of reciprocal claim making, in which we work out together the kinds of considerations that count as reasons that all of us must heed, and thereby devise rules for living together peacefully and cooperatively, on a basis of mutual accountability.

Morality, understood as a system of reciprocal claim making, in which everyone is accountable to everyone else, does not need its authority underwritten by some higher, external authority. It is underwritten by the authority we all have to make claims on one another. Far from bolstering the authority of morality, appeals to divine authority can undermine it. For divine command theories of morality may make believers feel entitled to look only to their idea of God to determine what they are justified in doing. It is all too easy under such a system to ignore the complaints of those injured by one’s actions, since they are not acknowledged as moral authorities in their own right. But to ignore the complaints of others is to deprive oneself of the main source of information one needs to improve one’s conduct. Appealing to God rather than those affected by one’s actions amounts to an attempt to escape accountability to one’s fellow human beings.

Elizabeth Anderson

Stephen
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 4, 2011, 13:00
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Hi Elizabeth:

You are saying a lot, and it is going to be hard to reply adequately. But let me try to address some of your main points. Before that, let me make some points of my own.

1. First of all, religion both historically and now, has been the main way that society has addresses moral training and moral issues. Any realistic - or meaningful - set of arguments about morality has to consider how societies convey it to their members, both young and old. What are the alternatives (family, schools, media, courts) and how effective are they?

2. Secondly, our families and societies have a heritage of morality from historical religious sources. For example, my father - an atheist - had a rich and strong moral sense from his mother whom he loved very much, a woman who was a devote fundamentalist Lutheran of the old school. Across the board, in country after country, our moral heritage is bound closely with our once strong religion's moral teachings. As a scientist, I know that that has to be part of any of our discussion.

So let me address your first point:

Why think that religion is necessary for morality? It might be thought that people wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong if God did not reveal it to them. But that can’t be right. Every society, whether or not it was founded on theism, has acknowledged the basic principles of morality, excluding religious observance, which are laid down in the Ten Commandments. Every stable society punishes murder, theft, and bearing false witness; teaches children to honor their parents; and condemns envy of one’s neighbor’s possessions, at least when such envy leads one to treat one’s neighbors badly. People figured out these rules long before they were exposed to any of the major monotheistic religions. This fact suggests that moral knowledge springs not from revelation but from people’s experiences in living together, in which they have learned that they must adjust their own conduct in light of others’ claims.

Where is your evidence for this? Or maybe I should ask the more fundamental question, what is your understanding of how "God" does all of this? I'm supposing here that religious teachings come in several different ways - through revelation, i.e., the ways that the great monotheistic religions proscribe - but also through inspiration, dreams, tradition, etc. Please don't oversimplify!

All pre-monotheistic-religion societies that I know about had strong spiritual traditions. I suppose that you could argue that somehow belief in multiple Gods is somehow to be without religion or belief in God, but I don't think that this is very persuasive. The older, multiple-God religions are just older versions of more advanced modern religions.

Anyway, I'm out of time. Will have to get back later!

Stephen Friberg

Stephen
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 4, 2011, 15:39
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Elizabeth:

I wanted to reply a bit more to your comments:

You say:

Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16–18). ...

I find it hard to resist the conclusion that the God of the Bible is cruel and unjust and commands and permits us to be cruel and unjust to others. Here are religious doctrines that on their face claim that it is all right to mercilessly punish people for the wrongs of others and for blameless error, that license or even command murder, plunder, rape, torture, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. We know such actions are wrong. So we should reject the doctrines that represent them as right.

On issues like these, it is helpful to understand the nature of stories in the Bible, an understanding of which has been widely available for at least 200 hundred years and is part of the repertory of any educated student of religion. And in the past, the allegorical nature of these stories has been understood by educated folk from before the time of Christ.

Just to briefly review: the books of the bible have been written by scribes or other educated folks either at the behest of Jewish political or sectarian leaders, or by Christians eager to preserve traditional oral accounts. In all cases, they are a record of oral traditions mixed with commentary and interpretation driven by various and diverse political ends. This doesn't mean that there is no real content. It does mean that the biblical books, especially pre-Christian ones, reflect tribal and national preoccupations and the mores of the time mixed with growing and increasingly powerful values and teachings of an emerging monotheism.

With Christ, they convey an immensely powerful set of mores and commandments that continues to command the allegiance of a goodly fraction of the world's population.

What that means for your conclusions above - frankly - is that they have no grounding. To claim otherwise doesn't reflect on the nature of religion.

I'm sure that you agree, and that you are floating the above interpretation to try it out.

Stephen

Maya
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 7, 2011, 12:41
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Quote from Stein on August 3, 2011, 23:23
Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. ....
I find it hard to resist the conclusion that the God of the Bible is cruel and unjust and commands and permits us to be cruel and unjust to others. Here are religious doctrines that on their face claim that it is all right to mercilessly punish people for the wrongs of others and for blameless error, that license or even command murder, plunder, rape, torture, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. We know such actions are wrong. So we should reject the doctrines that represent them as right.

Why should we first consider God's moral character as revealed in selected parts of the Bible? The Bible is a relative newcomer when it comes to thought about revealed religion. Why not start with the Vedic tradition or the Bhagavad Gita which gives a portrayal of God that is consistent with the utterances of the Hebrew prophets and with those of Christ? Eg.: "Not by the Vedas (Scriptures), or an austere life, or gifts to the poor, or ritual offerings can I be seen as thou hast seen Me. Only by love can men see Me, and know Me, and come unto Me. He who works for Me, who loves Me, whose end Supreme I am, free from attachment to all things, and with love for all creation, he in truth comes unto Me. -- Bhagavad Gita 11:53, 54

According to this religious source: "This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain." — Krishna, Mahabharata 5:1517

Why not consider God's moral character as revealed by Moses and summed up by the Rabbinical scholar, Hillel: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary."

Why not consider God's moral character as given by Christ? "So in all things, whatever you would have men do to you, do also to them, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Even Bible scholars don't unitedly view the Bible as the inerrant word of God. They are well aware that human rationalization and interpretation has gone into many of the "historical" books. Putting this human justification on the same level as the principles stated by the Prophets themselves is a questionable practice. The Bible is a particularly difficult study in this regard because of its piecemeal construction and the wide diversity in the types of books it contains -- proscriptive, historical, prophetic, etc.

It certainly serves a dogmatic viewpoint (theist or atheist) well to insist that we regard every verse as of equal value and as equally representing God's POV, but that doesn't hold up under even cursory exploration. As theologian Washington Gladden noted as early as 1891, to accept descriptions of Hebrew atrocities as exemplary of the God described by Moses and Christ is nonsensical at best. The inclusion of such books in the Torah and Christian Old Testament (Esther, especially) was argued by Jewish theologians before the time of Christ; later, the argument about what books should be considered "canon" was continued by Christian theologians.

To say we would be moral without religion is academic at best. Whether we created religion out of whole cloth or received it from God, we have done a singularly poor job of adhering to its precepts and instead prefer to impose our cultural filters and personal goals onto them (witness the trend toward "prosperity" doctrine in some Christian sects). In fact, I think the idea that we'd be moral creatures without religion is undermined by the fact that even WITH all of the revealed guidance about how we ought to love each other as cited above, people claiming religious affiliation can find reasons to hate.

And yet, though we're poor at follow-through, those ideals have still permeated our society to such a degree that even secular society claims them.

Well done, then.

Maya
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: August 7, 2011, 13:05
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Just to briefly review: the books of the bible have been written by scribes or other educated folks either at the behest of Jewish political or sectarian leaders, or by Christians eager to preserve traditional oral accounts. In all cases, they are a record of oral traditions mixed with commentary and interpretation driven by various and diverse political ends. This doesn't mean that there is no real content. It does mean that the biblical books, especially pre-Christian ones, reflect tribal and national preoccupations and the mores of the time mixed with growing and increasingly powerful values and teachings of an emerging monotheism.

I you make a good point about the state of these ancient societies. I think what we see in the "historical" books of the Torah is the state of tribal society at that time with its own forms of xenophobia and tribalism. This, as Elizabeth notes, is a people clearly comfortable with wiping other tribal groups off the face of the planet. Among Moses' commandments are those that militate against this including an early form of the Golden Rule (do as you would be done by).

Here's the essential point: In the same way that you can't turn an aircraft carrier on a dime, (or force a species to evolve in the blink of an eye) neither can you turn a human society well-used to fighting for what they want or need (and justifying it in terms of faith) from conflict to the fine art of unity in diversity.

Look at us, after all, centuries later and we STILL haven't gotten the hang of it. YET we are evolving toward that ideal voiced by all revealed religion.

In the teachings of Baha'u'llah, the unity of the human family has been give primacy and focus. It is an idea whose time has come. And it is an ideal that would have been unthinkable (even inconceivable) at the time of Abraham.

Stein
Padawan
Posts: 10
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: November 7, 2011, 18:56
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Stephen, "First of all, religion both historically and now, has been the main way that society has addresses moral training and moral issues."

Religion has been one source, but it hasn't been the sole source as you point out. Families, community, socialization, public opinion, and legal sanctions influence morality.

Stephen, "Just to briefly review: the books of the bible have been written by scribes or other educated folks."

Yes, this suggests moral values spring not from the literal Word of God but from people’s experiences. Dozens of research studies in the last half-century demonstrate religious belief and moral reasoning are not related. For example, from 25 years ago (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 208-214):

"Historically, many philosophers and theologians have maintained that religious belief is the progenitor of moral judgment and moral conduct. However, the emergence of an applied research base in the social and behavioral sciences has strongly challenged this contention and in some cases repudiated it. Studies comparing religious belief and moral conduct (Hartshorne & May, 1928; Kilpatrick, 1949; Black & London, 1966) suggest that religiosity is not a crucial determinant of situational honesty. Other studies correlating religious beliefs with social attitudes indicate that religious persons show more intolerance of other ethnic and racial groups (Allport, 1966; Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950) and no more humanitarian concern (Cline & Richards, 1965; Rokeach, 1970) than do nonreligious persons. [However,see Gorsuch and Aleshire, 1974 for evidence which suggests that not all religious persons are intolerant of other groups.] Finally, Kohlberg (1967), in a crosscultural study of moral development, found that religious variables were unrelated to moral development as Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims did not differ on levels of moral development."

Stephen, "With Christ, they [biblical books] convey an immensely powerful set of mores and commandments."

We should examine, then, the quality of the love that Jesus promises to bring to humans. It is not only Jehovah who is jealous. Jesus tells us his mission is to make family members hate one another, so that they shall love him more than their kin (Matt. 10:35–37). He promises salvation to those who abandon their wives and children for him (Matt. 19:29, Mark 10:29–30, Luke 18:29–30). Disciples must hate their parents, siblings, wives, and children (Luke 14:26). The rod is not enough for children who curse their parents; they must be killed (Matt. 15:4–7, Mark 7:9–10, following Lev. 20:9). These are Jesus’ ‘‘family values.’’ Peter and Paul add to these family values the despotic rule of husbands over their silenced wives, who must obey their husbands as gods (1 Cor. 11:3, 14:34–5; Eph. 5:22–24; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:11–12; 1 Pet. 3:1).

To be sure, genocide, God-sent plagues, and torture do not occur in the times chronicled by the New Testament. But they are prophesied there, as they are repeatedly in the Old Testament. At the second coming, any city that does not accept Jesus will be destroyed, and the people will suffer even more than they did when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:14–15, Luke 10:12). God will flood the Earth as in Noah’s time (Matt. 24: 37). Or perhaps He will set the Earth on fire instead, to destroy the unbelievers (2 Pet. 3:7, 10). But not before God sends Death and Hell to kill one quarter of the Earth ‘‘by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts’’ (Rev. 6:8).

But we don't have to bother with such details since we don't take these books literally and acknowledge its human authors. Unfortunately, some people do take scripture literally.

Stephen, "What that means for your conclusions above - frankly - is that they have no grounding. To claim otherwise doesn't reflect on the nature of religion."

Whether you are unaware of accumulating historical and scientific research or adopt selectional observation bias, there's plenty of evidence, but it may not agree with your personal experience of the nature of religion.

Stein
Padawan
Posts: 10
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Post Re: As atheists know, you can be good without God
on: November 7, 2011, 20:36
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Maya, "Why should we first consider God's moral character as revealed in selected parts of the Bible . . . Why not start with the Vedic tradition or the Bhagavad Gita?"

No reason, simply because most of the Western world is Christian.

Maya, "It certainly serves a dogmatic viewpoint (theist or atheist) well to insist that we regard every verse as of equal value and as equally representing God's POV."

I agree, but there are those who believe their scriptures literally reflect the Word of God.

Maya, "To say we would be moral without religion is academic at best."

There are decades of published research studies in sociology, psychology, and religious journals demonstrating morality and ethical behavior exist in the absence of religious belief. There are other studies and historical evidence linking religiosity to intolerance, prejudice, and persecution. In Iran, Baha'is are imprisoned and teenagers are hanged for gay sexuality.

Maya, "Whether we created religion out of whole cloth or received it from God, we have done a singularly poor job of adhering to its precepts and instead prefer to impose our cultural filters and personal goals onto them."

Yes, that is exactly the point. We have to be detached enough to put aside conflicting dogmatic and absolutist visions of Authority--Divine or secular. Religious belief can impede public debate if adherents decide a priori that atheists, secularists, agnostics, or others are immoral. Elsewhere you wrote, "Here's part of the problem: I've had a number of secularists tell me that they discard ANYTHING that comes from a religious source out of hand. They will not judge it by its merit, consider how it might answer their desperate search for solutions, or even pause to notice that their own rhetoric . . ." It cuts both ways, doesn't it?

Look at some of the rhetoric on this site toward atheists and secularism. Many academics question the truisms and shallow research arising from sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, but ridicule isn't appropriate. Religious belief is not common to all, but concern for ethics transcends religion. Claims that discussions of morality or ethics depend exclusively on a religious context are inaccurate and outdated. Medical ethics is an example. Religion will not be abandoned, but believers cannot ignore rational and evidentiary concerns of others without being excluded.

Part of the problem may be that some believers literally think their religion is the answer to the world's problems. If that is your starting point, what kind of engagement with others is possible? If anything coming from a religious source is dismissed out of hand--which it shouldn't be--perhaps it's because people want to work on solving problems without the weight of religious public relations efforts. I mean this as a gesture of goodwill, not as a criticism.

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