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Two Americas

In one America, the President goes to a mosque to deliver a speech that recognizes the multiculturalism that is our country, the right to freedom of religion that is one of the foundations of our country’s founding, and to recognize that Muslim-Americans are exactly that Americans.

In the other, a Republican nominee (Rubio) then criticizes the President for making that speech and “pitting people against each other.”  In the other, all Muslims should be banned from entering this country, including small children orphaned by war.  (Christie)  In the other, all Muslims should be banned from entering this country, including those who are American citizens who travel abroad.  (Trump)

In one America, Americans ridicule Muslims and decry their use of the phrase Allahu Akbar, which means something like God is Great or God is the Greatest.

Oddly enough, in that same America, Republican nominees begin their victory speeches with “To God be the Glory.”  (Cruz)  Make it clear in debates that Jesus Christ is the savior. (Rubio)  And do all sorts of other things that profess the exact same perspective and dedication to God as Allahu Akbar means to Muslims — while living in that world in which Muslims are ridiculed and criticized and demonized for their profession of faith to God.

In the other America, all faiths, including the absence of faith, are cherished and respected.

Need I go on.

One wonders if there ever will be one America.

[Edited to add:  This is the kind of sentiment that Marco Rubio who wants to be your President believes is pitting people against each other.  From Obama’s speech yesterday:

“If we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths. And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.”]

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Confirmation

In the past, I’ve written here about my view that atheists are actually more moral than those with religious beliefs.  This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, particularly in America, that you have to believe in God, particularly the Judeo-Christian view of God, to be moral and ethical.

I’ve believed for a long time that conventional wisdom on this point defies logic.  It’s nice to see that one of my fundamental beliefs has been somewhat confirmed.  (Hat tip to my sister, who sent me the article.)  What I find most fascinating about the article, and believe me there are lots of nice little tidbits in it, is this:

“For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated,” writes Zuckerman. “It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs.”

This has been the foundational concept by which I have tried to live my life, not always successful of course.  It is so incredibly simple and one does not need to believe in a god, the afterlife, heaven or hell, or anything other than what is inherently logical and rational.  That one must treat others the way one would like to be treated.  There needs to be no religious basis for this concept.  It is the only way we can survive and thrive as a people.

The second best tidbit is the statistic about how many atheists are in prison.  1/2 of one percent — significantly lower than the number of atheists in society.  This puts a lie to the idea that the prisons are filled with atheists.  Some day, the conventional wisdom may actually reflect reality.  Some day, maybe we can recognize that those who don’t believe are just as capable of moral and ethical behavior, if not more so, and that maybe, just maybe, there is an aspect of modern day religion that actually leads to the opposite result for far too many believers.

 

Disappointment Lurks

Regular readers know that I’m an atheist, with no fondness for organized religion.  One of my greatest battles is with the religious among us who believe that one must believe in God or have a religious background or faith to be able to act with morals and ethics.  That the whole moral background of Western culture is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic.  Blah, blah, blah.  I always suggest otherwise and I believe you can stack up most atheists against most religious folks, compare their behavior and how they live their lives, and the atheists will do pretty well on the morality scale.  I’d also like to point out that if it truly is the case that the morality of modern Western culture is dependent on the Judeo-Christian ethic, we may want to reconsider that approach.

One of my on-again-off-again efforts over the years has been to explore Buddhism.  I’ve never done it very seriously, but I have purchased a few books on the subject, and have discussed it with people who follow some of Buddhism’s teachings.  Buddhism, to the extent I understand it, has the potential to appeal to me because of its focus on the inner person and on finding a peaceful existence.

In the last few months, I have been doing things that have steered me back once again to consider Buddhism a bit more.  I’ve started taking a weekly yoga class and I’ve started meditating with the assistance of my Positivity Guru.  The second session of the yoga class, the instructor began the session suggesting that we should focus on this concept while we engaged in our practice.  “It’s like this now.”  There is something in that statement that struck me that night and it has stayed with me ever since.  It really gets to the kind of adjustment I’m trying to make in my approach to life.  There is something in those four words that suggests some fundamental truth that matters to me in this moment of my life.

Being the writer I am, I also want to do something with that concept.  To put in words something that connects to the concept.  I’m not sure what it is and I have this feeling it will be a very long-term project, but I don’t want to forget it.  In my efforts to hold on to the concept and build upon it, I returned to one of those Buddhist books I bought years ago and never got around to reading.  The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpooche.  On page 9, I came to this passage:

It has often intrigued me how some Buddhist masters I know ask one simple question of people who approach them for teaching:  Do you believe in a life after this one?  They are not being asked whether they believe in it as a philosophical proposition, but whether they feel it deeply in their heart.  The master knows that if people believe in a life after this one, their whole outlook on life will be different, and they will have a distinct sense of personal responsibility and morality.  What the masters must suspect is that there is a danger that people who have no strong belief in a life after this one will create a society fixated on short-term results, without much thought for the consequences of their actions.  Could this be the major reason why we have created a brutal world like the one in which we are now living, a world with little real compassion?

 

And so, now in a very un-Buddhist approach to things, I want to throw the book against the wall.  I get that not all Buddhists may believe this, that not all “masters” may focus on this, but I read that and go back to this.  Must every religious system, every faith-based set of beliefs rest on the idea that we must believe in an afterlife to compel us to do well in this life?  Never mind that the author gets something fundamentally wrong here.  The vast, vast majority of people in this world follow a faith that believes in an afterlife — Christianity, Islam, Judaism, name the religion — they all pretty much believe in an afterlife and that is the reward or punishment they promise for how people act in this life.  Given that then, how can the author look to today’s world and say the lack of belief in an afterlife is why we have created such a brutal world.

I know, I know, he would say it’s because most people really don’t feel it in their hearts and that is the problem and that is the solution that Buddhism offers.   Yeah, right.  That’s what every religion promises.  Bah!

I’m going to keep reading, but I’m starting off with a major disappointment.

Why Atheists Have A HUGE Respect For Life

It’s rather simple … because this is our one and only chance at the thing.  When you don’t believe in heaven or hell, the afterlife, reincarnation, or anything other than ashes to ashes, dust to dust, you realize your only chance to do right by yourself and this world is to live this one life, the only shot you have, the best you can.

I think this is why atheists have a larger problem with torture than believers do.  If you believe in God, or a supreme being, that there is some reward or punishment in a “next life,” that forgiveness here will get you something there, it becomes easier to justify things like torture.  But when you don’t believe in any of those things, torture takes on such a life-changing, life-threatening, life-destroying thing, we atheists simply cannot get our heads around the evil that it does.  You see, those torture victims, many of them, are permanently scarred, damaged beyond repair, and will never be able to function again.  They will never be able to enjoy life again.  The same can be said for the perpetrators of torture.  Doing these things to other humans can fundamentally alter their relationship to the world.  If you believe in God and heaven and hell, or whatever the afterlife might be, this doesn’t seem as bad, because well, there’s always the next life.  That’s not a perceivable option for an atheist — those people’s lives are fundamentally and forever destroyed.  There is no new life coming that will erase the pain.

So, we atheists value this life we all have beyond anything believers can possibly imagine.  We don’t get do-overs.

I have read a number of justifications for an alternate view.  For instance, Hitler was an atheist and look at what he did.  Yes, well, Christians were responsible for the Crusades.  Christians warred against each other in Ireland for decades.  And Muslims are the current “worst” in the world.  So, if the fact that Hitler may have been an atheist justifies the belief that atheists don’t value human life, I’d suggest there’s a whole lot more of that type of evidence to show that believers don’t respect human life, based on what other believers have done throughout history.

I think there are also arguments occasionally made that most serial killers are atheists.  Only problem is that it isn’t true.  Many serial kills were raised in very strict, religious families.  Hard to say then that they lacked moral teaching or the education religion supposedly brings to bear to cause adherents to value life.  What I think this argument really gets at, however, is that the most staunch believers think that anybody who kills others, like Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, etc., can’t possibly believe in the same God as they do.   So, whether they claim to be or not, they really are atheists.  Or something like that.

I know it’s Christmas around the world today.  Plenty of my regular readers are people of faith who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.  This post is not meant to question their morals, beliefs, or respect for human life.  Instead, it is an effort to continue with my post from yesterday.  As I said, I think there is a reason atheists find torture abhorrent.  It comes down to our respect for human life.  Not human life in general.  This human life.  This one being lived right now.  Today.  Because it is the only one there is.  I couldn’t possibly imagine living my one and only life without trying to do the best and be the best I can.  I couldn’t imagine spending this life hurting people or doing anything that disrespects life in its many forms.  And you know what, there are a lot of atheists like me.

Just thought you should know.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 

I’m an atheist, and one of the things I am absolutely tired of hearing about is how humans need religion in their lives to be and act morally.  It’s outrageous.  So, I’m declaring war on the idea that morality is strictly the providence of the religious.

atheists-torture

You tell me.  Take a look at that chart and tell me who has morality and who doesn’t.  Let me give you a clue … it aint the non-religious folks who condone torture.  In reality it appears to be, well, a huge majority of the religious who condone torture.

So, do me a favor.  Next time you want to spout off about the morality of the religious as opposed to the lack of said morality in us atheists … re-consider the argument.  BECAUSE IT IS FUNDAMENTALLY UNTRUE!

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