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!