Positive Atheism Forum
Are There Values In
Religion That We, As
Atheists, Are Missing?
There are quite a few people of a non-religious bent who, nonetheless, see some benefit in giving their children religious training. These people seem to have an opinion that there are values in religion even though these same people have rejected religion in their own lives.
Are there values in religion that we, as Atheists, are missing?
Is it possible that, by teaching falsehoods, we can somehow pass honest and permanent lessons to our children?
Since I was raised in a Christian home, and practically in a church, I can't separate Christian from atheist values. About the only benefit I see from my religious upbringing that might not have been as strongly ingrained if I had been raised without religion is that there are definite (read eternal) consequences for breaking the rules. This is not to say that atheist parents don't teach this but I suspect that having all that fear drummed into you for so many years makes its impact stronger. I often wonder how different I would be now if I had been raised without religion as my children were. That is one question which can never be answered.
Two friends of mine started this discussion with me while they were pregnant with their first child. I asked them why they lacked confidence in the ability to teach their own values and needed the church they had long ago rejected to back them up. Both were the typical "upstanding members of the community." They were unable to answer my question and it actually caused a rift in our relationship. Too bad. (Catholic, by the way, if that helps explain anything.)
I can't think of any. Religious values (at least of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic variety) are mostly negative:
The only positive values taught by some of these religions are, in fact, secular values: be good to other people. Kids don't need big-daddy-in-the-sky (who will getcha if you don't behave) to instill these values. They need only their own experience and common sense.
All values worth anything in religion sprung from reason in the first place. If they were worthwhile values, they'd be reasonable too. Teaching falsehoods leads to a sense of betrayal and the values that are worth keeping may be discarded and lose credibility. Just tell the truth.
Yeah, I'm a Christian Reconstructionalist. And I do believe that if a person is caught in adultery, they should be stoned. Active, practicing homosexuals should be stoned. And non-Christians should be evangelized to, but not allowed to practice their faith openly. If they did practice their non-Christian faith openly, they should be punished by execution for worshiping false gods.
As far as the heretics go, I want the civil government to have the power and the will to execute heretics and blasphemers. It's what God's law calls for -- and its the only viable model for civil government.
I do not advocate beating homosexuals. I advocate stoning practicing homosexuals. There is a difference. The prior is a violation of God's Law. The latter is a faithful application of God's Law. Witches should also be put to death, as you have said correctly.
Rich Askins, PE -- Ethical Culturist:
As I see it, historically long viable traditional religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, etc.} have a not insignificant healthy component to them. I would also be quick to agree with skeptics who at this point would rapidly ask insightful questions or issue strong statements contradicting my position that:
Having partially answered your first question, let me complete it by saying that there is no theoretical reason why Atheists need to miss the ethical values of traditional religions or the social aspects of interacting communally with a group of like minded individuals and family. Moreover, Atheists are free to explore the continued growth of a structured ethical philosophy, whereas Theists are limited by the boundaries of immoralities that infiltrate their supernatural beliefs.
In this regard, a counter-question would be: Is there an ethical "myth" (or "fact") that can be constructed surrounding the universe and humanity as we currently know them that allows for both a continually growing, individually and collectively, ethical understanding of reality, and provides a social setting in which to build personal friendships and explore reality as a community?
As to your second question, the value of a falsehood is only in its being exposed. Falsehood taught dogmatically early in life leads to greater energy (personal will) surrounding the exposure and demolition of the falsehood later in life (a positive consequence) but not necessarily a serene and happy individual existence.
Richard C. Carrier, Jr.:
It is usually argued, of course, that we need religion in order to get humanity to behave and work together. All evidence is to the contrary. Religion has not notably improved human behavior. The pagan Romans were far kinder than the Inquisition Christians. Nor has religion united Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or Jews. It has divided them. In fact, religion will never unite them, because religion requires that they share the same beliefs, without offering any reliable evidence that their ideas are correct. Reason, on the other hand, is the only thing that can unite people of diverse opinions. Reason bases its decisions on evidence available to everyone, and allows people to disagree when evidence is lacking. Religion will never do that.
Greg Erwin, VP, Humanist Association of Canada
I don't think that there are any worthwhile values in religion that atheists do not also share. What religion has is the advantage of incumbency, and tradition. What the atheism, humanism, free-thought movement needs is the same kind of volunteering ethos that maintains church Sunday Schools, aid to shut-ins, and regular meetings for the purposes of socializing. What individuals need is probably time and money.
After seven years of local humanist meetings, even I am getting a bit fed up. Once a month we meet listen to a lecture, or have a discussion. These are often very interesting, but there are hundreds of non religiously inclined people who do not find this an enticing way to spend their time. Even with the socializing afterwards, it is kind of boring. Somehow, we need a humanist community churchoid organization if the movement is ever going to grow. I think growth and the promotion of atheist identification, that is, having people who would be willing and happy to say they belong to such and such a humanist organization because it is doing something they enjoy, is a worthwhile goal and one of the best ways to undermine church and Christian influence. Look at the continental European models, and drool with envy.
As to the second part. It is possible for people to go through a religious education, and pick out the good stuff while rejecting the bad. Obviously, many of us have done this. It is much more difficult to go along with this, if you know that what you're doing is a lie. I don't see how I could send anyone to a church school now without violating too much in the way of truth and honesty. At the same time, I see the value of many of the lessons that I and my children received at various Sunday Schools, and they are now all atheists.
I am hoping that there will be a pool of talent forming from the many people who will hit retirement age soon, as the Boomers reach their late youth. Many people, including me, are being offered an early retirement package to get out of the public service. Living on a small pension and working enough to top that up to a reasonable level would leave (I hope) some time to devote to humanist causes. I hope there are others thinking along the same lines.
Religion is an attempt to explain the unexplained. This statement has stuck in my mind since my sophomore year in high school. Since then, my eyes have seen things with a new understanding of religion and its impact on people.
Fear instilled into children, whether it be a beating or the wrath of God, will work temporarily to keep them in order. It will make them learn some values. But I don't think it's 100-percent positive. They need to learn to think for themselves with reliance and honesty: to be unafraid of asking questions, to be aware of what others believe and know it's okay. They need support from understanding, loving parents. They need an ongoing, simple "what is good and bad" lesson throughout childhood, until they know it for themselves.
I think people who do not practice or really believe in a religion, but insist on bringing up their children with the belief of a religion, do not have enough conWdence in themselves to come across as strong parents envoking their own free thoughts and beliefs. What idea can be more powerful or frightening than an all-mighty, all-knowing, all-controlling God? How can a parent compete with such a high fear? It is hard. That is why the people need to be stronger parents. They need to do the teaching and punishing when needed. They have to show their kids how to reason and have good self-esteem.
This is the 21st century. We'd better be greater parents today if we have any desire to improve our race, and to stop relying on ancient beliefs.
I have a friend of mine with whom I often discuss these issues. He is devout Christian believer, but not a devout pratictioner. One day he presented to me an interesting statement: Morality has no context without religion.
The morals that we use to define good and evil behavior all stemmed from one or more religious contexts. In recent times, many democratic governments and atheists have attempted to collate a moral code from the common themes found amongst most of the world's religions. It is hard to argue that our current moral code is not defined in this manner. But how is it that these common themes exist in the first place? To this, I got the typical "All looking at different parts of the elephant" routine.
Perhaps there is a more practical answer. I would argue that moral code, via religious doctrine, was originally devised out of practical necessity for the survival of the given society. For example, people quickly discovered that allowing citizens to indiscriminately kill each other would quickly spell the end of their civilization. Further, they discovered that if stealing went unchecked, no one would spend the resources to produce anything (e.g. piracy in the late 16th and 17th centuries). In earlier times, the consequence of eternal damnation was an efficient means of enforcing the law. In recent times, we have used fear of incarceration in lieu of eternal damnation as a means of providing consequence. A society requires that it's members act in a generally decent manner in order to prosper. History has shown that religion has always been an effective tool for keeping the masses in check. Morality is merely the means to that goal.
Thus, it is not that there are values that Atheists are missing. Rather, it is that the same values have to be explained and enforced in secular terms.
Is it possible that, by teaching falsehoods, we can somehow pass honest and permanent lessons to our children?
The word "falsehood" makes this question rather tricky. Since belief in the supernatural has no basis in provable fact, teaching children that there "might" be a god is no worse that telling children there might be a Santa Claus. Teaching children to think and reason logically for themselves is the greatest gift that we can give them.
Another reason why religious feelings persist (in whatever local cultural version) relates to the concept of inner narrative structuring in human thought and cognition. Consider the ability to make imaginative and predictive leaps between disparate experiences: we are able to believe in all sorts of abstracts as they form narrative building blocks in wider ideas. Contrary to the Cartesian primacy of doubt vs certainty as characterising human cognition, we actually tend to work on givens. Thus, I don't need to see the ball land to know that if I throw it over the fence it will land somewhere. I don't need to establish certainty in order to 'know' that this has happened. I don't doubt it unless there is reason to. This mechanism is at work in pre-modern explanations of the seasons (Gods) the success of harvests (Gods) and battles (Gods!) and so forth. At a time when the circle of established physical knowledge was so small, all the remaining room was filled with metaphysics, superstition and deity-narratives that tend to glorify putting up with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in the name of something better later. (narratives in theeir very nature suggest and allow for deferral). Similarly it is no surprise that God(s) generally tend to be allowed to be unknowable and unpredictable -- how else are they allowed to allow earthquakes failed harvests and lost battles...
This capability to believe is what I think other correspondents to this page have correctly identified in our post-Darwinian terms as 'hard-wired'. We are able to mentally appeal to unseen forces as somehow causal. If we then trvel forward to modern post-scientific technocracies you notice that God narratives are almost never appealed to for their explanatory force. Science and the public education system have taken this away. The knowledge may often be specialised and couched in difficult language, but most people grasp say the danger of an ill-maintained nuclear reactor and would assume that if one exploded it is human error not Godly will that was the most probable explanation. With more and more information about our minds and bodies coming into the public domain it becomes harder and harder to keep a clear image of what belief might mean beyond a fuzzy warming 'otherness' -- often now presented as a (bogus) point of moral origin from which we have somehow 'fallen' in our quest to be happy in the consumer age. Religious figures when they appear now tend to be viewed with suspicion, because in our modern world their charismatic and persuasive speech can't be accepted as fostering anything other than delusion, playing on other's mental frailty. We regard them thus schizophrenically as being both poor imitations of the "real" thing (Jesus) yet at the same time we exhibit a mistrust of religion suggesting we don't really believe in the possibility of "Him" either. Yet in the version of the Christian story that we get taught in schools no-one points out that the Romans were similarly bemused by Jesus; indeed, for a longtime they didn't consider him even a threat compared to his contemporary messiah candidates. Little is made in our goody-baddy telling of history of the likely Roman viewpoint; that, in their system of belief his self-proclamations were insulting and ridiculous. (The same feelings ordinary people have on hearing Moon, Koresh, Hubbard spouting forth etc. in modern times).
Simply put, our narratives, our common social stories, the threads that explain our situation are no longer being written/driven by the superstitious minority. Rather, politics, economics and increasingly technology and medicine and science provide the moral and metaphysical challenges. However, even with this growth of secular logic the basic mechanisms of imagination and prediction will continue to make room in our much-cluttered minds for all manner of deities and demons, devils and toasting forks because the mind is not a purely rational toolkit.
Athiesm is a considered position in the light of what have firmed up as 'facts' about the human condition physical and psychological in this and the latter half of the last century. One should always bear in mind that before this athiesm was seen as nonsensical -- in fact due to the ascendant position of the church in legal and educational spheres one could scarcely 'think' atheistically. A hundred and fifty years is not long in the history of the human condition -- religion and its psychological wellspring will be with us for a long time to come.
Just thought I'd through in my two cents worth. I think there is a big value in Atheism that theists are missing. That is the fact that moral actions should be taken because they are right, not because you're afraid some god will punish you (many years down the road!). The theist model seems to have little to do with morality and a lot to do with sucking up to a bully.
"Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody is looking."
No, I don't think so. I believe it is wrong to raise a child to believe that if they don't follow Christian guidelines, and follow Jesus, that when they die they will go to hell, and burn for eternity. This is mythological nonsense. It is more important to teach a child to always be honest.
December 18, 2000
No. Here's why:
Religious values, morals if you will, largely come from the fear of this magical being that "will getcha" if you "misbehave" as pointed out by Lois Frankel. So this leads to certain rules/behaviors within a population. However as an atheist I don't have morals, nor this belief in God. So the question is (really) "As atheists, do why do we adhere to certain behaviors without the forecoming (religious) principles" .
To answer that I say, I adhere to a code of ethics prescriped by the National Council of Professional Ethics (www.nspe.org).
January 31, 2001
Perhaps one of the greatest sins of religion, clearly deceitful, are presumptions that areligious people are without moral. I can't truly imagine that a book such as the Bible is capable of teaching any kind of morals to anyone. But more importantly, one need not be a christian to have moral opinions. The age-old presumption that "Christians are clean and decent people" and "everyone else are lost without hope" is absurd. Who has the right to author a moral? Who is privileged to examine one's moral? I can't see that religion offers any values that are of such great importance that non-believers ought to subscribe.
Added: April 15, 2001
To: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, April 12, 2001 5:33 AM
I don't see this as a valid question. Many Christians enjoy reading tales of Noah's ark to their children. I find this similar to reading Nazi backed literature as a bedtime story. God created a flood which exterminated many innocent men, women and children. Hitler exterminated innocent men, women, and children, and didn't even have to use supernatural forces. Both are justified by their supporters. "Heathens and heretics" are seen as less than human by fundamentalists just as Jews were seen as less than human by Nazis.
Added: July 5, 2001
From: "Andrew Boyle"
To: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Are There Values In Religion That We, As Atheists, Are Missing?
Date: Wednesday, July 04, 2001 11:02 PM
Man is a finite creature in an infinite universe. This is the eternal, if unfortunate, state of our existence. It is not likely to change. No matter how much we improve ourselves, our society, our machines, there will always be that which is beyond our comprehension. There will always be the unknown.
The unknown is a simple question mark: the lack of an answer. The best of us push the limits of knowledge: searching for answers, exploring the fringes of our universe, making hypotheses and conducting experiments. When the well-constituted human being is confronted with an enigma, it is enough that he say "I don't know." Patiently and carefully the best human beings push the limits of collective knowledge ever outward.
Unfortunately for our species and its history, the vast majority of people are neither patient nor careful. When confronted by the unknown, the demand an answer: any answer! Thus, led on by charlatans and lunatics, the great masses embraced religion.
Religion is an absurdity. To extrapolate from a question mark the Kingdom of Heaven and the Pit of Hell, God and Satan and all the choirs of Angels is an irrationality without parallel in human thought. The ridiculous nature of Religion becomes ever more apparent as science advances.
Our primitive ancestors populated the world beyond their camp-fires with Ghosts and Demons and all manner of monstrous apparitions. Most of us have progressed little since that time. Men still cling to their outmoded beliefs; they still create Gods and Spirits to inhabit the universe beyond their knowledge. All well and good so long as these nebulous beings do not interfere with the real world, but sixty centuries of human history have shown that this has never been the case. How many wars have been waged in the name of God? How many great men persecuted as heretics and pagans? How many millions murdered because they refused to substitute one set of lies for another?
Even today, religion impedes the advance of science and the betterment of the human race. Genetic experiments on human beings have been outlawed for "ethical" (read moral) considerations. The Holy Fools and their followers fear the consequences of "playing in the realm of God". Because of Christian opposition to abortion it is illegal in America to use aborted fetuses for medical experimentation that might save lives and restore quality to the lives of those struck down with certain congenital illnesses. (Never mind that this is illogical as such experimentation could bring some 'good' from the 'evil' of abortion: the most glaring logic has never impeded the crusader!)
American students have the lowest scores in Math and Science than any other industrialized nation (and a good number of pre-industrialized nations), yet our politicians argue not over curriculum but whether or not students should be allowed to pray in school. In the state of Kansas, the school board has decided to allow the teaching of creationism in schools. Is this understood? Students in 21st century America are being taught that man was created by Jehovah in 4004 BC from dust and ashes, and that woman was created from one of his ribs!
Religion has become the refuge and shield of the Luddite. The technophobe can find "evidence" confirming his most inane fears in the texts of mystics who have been dead for millennia. Wherever a scientist seeks to discover, one finds a priest opposing him. Wherever a philosopher seeks the truth, one finds a Holy Fool shouting, "Blasphemy!"
If this absurdity ever had a use it has long since passed. If men behave and do not murder each other in the streets it is fear of the police, not the fear of God, that enforces them to good behavior. The modern state, equipped with modern technology, is better than a substitute for Religion.
The right thinking and intelligent people of the Earth must no longer tolerate the Tyranny of the religious! To regard religion as a harmless eccentricity is a deadly error of the first order: Religion is a world plague! It is the mental retardation of the human race: a tumor in the brain of humanity, a tumor which must be excised!
It is the duty of the enlightened to mercilessly attack the benighted enemy (Philosophically, of course)!
Religion in All its Forms must Be Destroyed!
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