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A popular objection to atheism by theists is the claim that atheism leads to an "anything goes" philosophy. Without knowledge of God's laws, they tell us, we are lost in a moral fog and lack the ability to discern good from evil. How could we know to do right without a revelation from beyond? Where is our standard?
Or how about this one: God, they tell us, gives followers special restraint, or He inspires His followers to do right. When that one doesn't work, the pitch shifts to fanciful benefits of faith: "Facing impossible options? Jesus does the impossible" -- or so flashes that gaud-awful sign at the corner of Twelfth and Sandy.
All this presupposes that mankind is inherently evil. We can only say that we are fallible; we cannot go further. Nobody can compare known humans to any "perfect" specimen. To take our fallibility as evidence that we are inherently wicked is to stretch beyond what we can verify.
But then, this notion of inherent evil comes by faith in a revelation -- and that raises the question of which revelation?
With the atheistic position of what you see is what you get, we learn to think for ourselves and to come up with our own solutions. We develop a system of ethics that we know will work, that we can explain, that we can dispute if unfair, and that we can modify if need be.
And we can more easily live with the decisions of a justice system that we had a hand in building ourselves.
Theism, with its divinely revealed rule book, offers none of these things. In fact, the moral system of theism risks the same criticism that theists usually reserve for atheistic systems.
They accuse us of having an "anything goes" approach, but once we hold a book to be divinely inspired, we can no longer explain or justify our deeds. Neither are we accountable for what we do. God said to do it, we're going to do it, and that settles that -- no ifs, ands, or buts.
If I can convince you that I have word from God, then I can commit any atrocity I wish and get away with it. I answer to no humans and I certainly answer to no gods. In short, anything goes.
Jesus supposedly said: "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." History shows what madness happens when a god makes people "free" from accountability.
This is not the same as Liberty, which always includes personal responsibility.
No. The atheist builds a system with the best possible resources. The atheist, far from fearing judgement, knows this is our only opportunity to do good. Ever.
See also: Comments on Oct. Column by Brett Rice
See also: The October, 1998, Column by Margarita Costa
Copyright ©1998 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon