Religion Promotes Morality: The Evidence

One could argue that atheism leads to immorality. With no God-given commandments, the atheist pretty much has to make up moral standards as he or she goes along… The philosopher John Locke – one of the intellectual forebears of American democracy – once said that atheists can’t ultimately be trusted in their promises and commitments, since they have no ultimate divine authority to whom they must answer.

http://stpaulsamityville.com/messagefeb07.htm

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued a California man and his company for allegedly defrauding a church community by claiming his investment successes were an “obvious favor of God.”

David Souza, 53, described by the agency as a former truck driver and handyman, raised more than $1 million from 28 investors tied to a Redding-based church from August 2007 until April 2008 by promising an annual return of more than 150 percent, the SEC said today in a lawsuit filed at federal court in Sacramento.

…He made more than $100,000 in charitable contributions to the Redding church community, about 180 miles north of San Francisco, where he advertised his fund in materials headlined “Where Business Is Moral and the Miraculous Is Routine.” The agency didn’t identify the church by name.

SEC Sues Man for Defrauding Church Community in Ponzi Scheme

* * *

Some respondents associated atheism with illegal behavior, like drug use and prostitution: “that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the social hierarchy.”

Research Finds that Atheists are Most Despised, Most Distrusted Minority

A Liberty University chaplain is facing drug and burglary charges. Last week, a homeowner caught Scott Ray on surveillance video breaking into a home to steal painkillers. Ray, who is the chaplain for the men’s basketball team and the Director of Convocation, is also suspected in other Campbell County break-ins. In 2005 he was arrested and charged with the same thing.

Liberty University chaplain faces drug and burglary charges

* * *

If you want to live a degenerate life, God is your mortal enemy. He represents a lethal danger to your selfishness, greed, lechery and hatred. It is in your interest to despise Him and do whatever you can to rid the universe of His presence. So there are powerful attractions to life in a God-free world.

Atheism: the End of Morality

Murder charges were filed Tuesday against the man accused of swinging a baseball bat in a church in Wheaton, Minn., killing a 14-month-old girl with a blow meant for her father.

…The charges include two counts of both murder and attempted murder because the attack during a prayer service at Thy Kingdom Come World Ministry on Thursday could be viewed as intentional, and it is a different charge when the crime is intended, said Matt Franzese, Traverse County attorney.

…The fight began with a dispute about $20 that Hankins owed Collins as well as a used washer and dryer that the church wanted Collins to give to Hankins’ family.

Murder charges filed in Wheaton baseball bat attack

* * *

For this reason, the root of the terrorism that plagues our world is not in any of the monotheistic religions, but is in atheism, and the expression of atheism in our times: ‘Darwinism’ and ‘materialism.’

The Real Ideological Root of Terrorism: Darwinism and Materialism

A Bolivian-born man clutching a Bible and claiming a divine mission hijacked a plane in Mexico with more than 100 people aboard on Wednesday…

Flores, 44, smuggled a false bomb on board and threatened to blow up the aircraft if he could not warn the president of what he said was an impending earthquake, police said.

“He said he is a minister and that it was a divine revelation that made him carry out this action,” Security Minister Genaro Garcia told reporters.

Religious fanatic briefly hijacks Mexican plane

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • CSN

    Yeah but those weren’t “real” Christians. [Insert eye-roll here]

    Good thing we have the liberal media conspiracy to keep our misdeeds out of the news. …

  • Richard P

    HAHA, this is so funny. One lesson I learned while I was a christian, was never trust what a christian says until, you see what they do. They always use the scape goat of being able to ask for forgiveness. Christians are way more immoral than the regular joe. The have no consequences for there behavior.But csn is right, those aren’t real christians. Seem to me by my count, there are no REAL christians then.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    As you show, it’s more than just the Jimmy Swaggarts of the religion. When one need not think to arrive at a personal morality, one need not think to arrive at amorality.

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    Christians are welcome to their Morals: my Ethics will do the job just fine.

  • Archimedez

    By gosh, Ebonmuse, I think I see the pattern: Examples of religious ideologues making unsubstantiated claims about the evils of atheism, juxtaposed with concrete evidence of religious people behaving badly.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Ebon, I couldn’t help but get a chuckle from this line by the Amityville pastor that you linked to:

    This is not to say that all atheists are bad, horrible, immoral people.

    Gee, thanks for your generous comments, pastor!

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    With no God-given commandments, the atheist pretty much has to make up moral standards as he or she goes along

    That’s another thing I want to address real quick. Atheists don’t have to make up moral standards as we go along. It’s not like the day I became an atheist I was like “Gee, maybe I need to rethink this prohibition against murder thing.” Good people are going to be good people, whether they are religious or not.

    Second, even someone who believes that the Bible contains “God-given commandments” has to make up their standards or rely on the interpretations of others. A lot of people who consider themselves to be religious don’t have their holy books memorized by chapter and verse. They have to rely on people like their pastors, who supposedly know more than they do, to tell them what is right or wrong according to their religion. One pastor will tell you that abortion is wrong, but that you change the laws my persuading legislators and other voters. Another pastor will tell you that murdering an abortion provider is carrying out God’s will.

    By the way, that Lutheran church in Amityville is not too far from where I live. Maybe I should pay that pastor a visit to show him what a horrible atheist I am.
    :-)

  • Alex, FCD

    Christians are way more immoral than the regular joe.

    Garbage, old fruit; and not only because in the United States and quite a few other countries, Regular Joe is a Christian. You can find plenty of morality and immorality in the adherents of pretty well any religious position you care to look at. I imagine what Ebon was getting at with this post is that belief in God or the lack of it is not a good indicator of a person’s ethical behavior.

  • jack

    —The Real Ideological Root of Terrorism: Darwinism and Materialism

    The nutcase in Mexico is the most recent counterexample, but he’s small potatoes compared to what happened 8 years and 1 day ago. Mohammed Atta was not singing the praises of natural selection, adaptive radiation or genetic recombination as the 737 approached its target. I believe he was muttering something along the lines of “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet!”

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Another thing I noticed about the Lutheran pastor from Amityville’s remarks about atheists is that he relies entirely on the opinions and portrayals of atheists by others who are biased against atheists. Does the pastor even know any atheists? Has he ever spoken to them about their views of morality? Basically, what he did in his screed was seek out the opinions of others to affirm his own biases and then try to portray their view of atheists as objective truth.

    The majority of atheists in this country are like the majority of religious people in this country, we go about our daily lives without trying to trouble others. If atheists like myself, Ebon, PhillyChief, Spanish Inquisitor, the Chaplain and others (apologies to those whose names I left out!) were going around robbing banks, molesting children, dealing drugs, committing rapes and random acts of violence and vandalism, the pastor might have a point.

    BTW, I might do a post in response to the pastor’s comments, as well as write to him personally, assuming he is still at that church. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  • Peter N

    And if we were curious about the question of religiousness vs. morality, what might we use as an objective measure of moral character, or moral behavior? Perhaps the proportion of Christian, or generally religious, to atheist in the prison population? This is just such a study:
    http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm

    The bottom line: Atheists, who make up about 15% of the U.S. population, are about one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. prison population.

    I guess those moral standards “we make up as we go along” are working out pretty well for us.

  • Alex Weaver

    And if we were curious about the question of religiousness vs. morality, what might we use as an objective measure of moral character, or moral behavior? Perhaps the proportion of Christian, or generally religious, to atheist in the prison population? This is just such a study:
    http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm

    The bottom line: Atheists, who make up about 15% of the U.S. population, are about one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. prison population.

    I guess those moral standards “we make up as we go along” are working out pretty well for us.

    To be fair, there may be a confounding factor for this sort of general study, namely that self-reported conversion to deep religiosity is well known to be (groundlessly) viewed favorably by parole boards.

  • other scott

    “Atheists, who make up about 15% of the U.S. population, are about one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. prison population.”

    But most of the prison population come from poor socio-economic backgrounds, the same backgrounds which also have the most religious people. There are correlations between crime and poverty as well as religion and poverty but I would be loath to state that there are any correlations between crime and religion.

    If you want to draw any conclusions about such a study and state that religious people are less moral than atheists then you would also have to draw the same conclusions about any other misrepresented groups/races. This is a slippery slope to travel down.

    I would be more interested in a study which showed from what background atheists come from. I have a fair inkling that atheists on the whole seem to come from wealthier (or at least more middle class) and well educated groups; though I have no statistics to back this up. I imagine that it is coming from a more well off socio-economic background that leads to the small number of atheists in prison rather than our ‘superior moral values’.

  • Alex, FCD

    o.s.:

    If you want to draw any conclusions about such a study and state that religious people are less moral than atheists then you would also have to draw the same conclusions about any other misrepresented groups/races.

    But that’s not the conclusion we’re drawing. We’re drawing the conclusion that atheists are not less moral than the population as a whole. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but lack of correlation implies a lack of causation.

    I still don’t think that’s a particularly good way of going about coming to that conclusion, by the way, since a pretty good fraction of the US prison population isn’t in there for doing anything immoral (people arrested for drug possession, for example), and because of the other confounding variables you bring up. I prefer this article, which compares the murder rates in democratic countries to various measures of religiosity. We come out looking pretty good.

  • other scott

    You’re right Alex, apologies for arguing against a conclusion that nobody made! Haha.

    That link you provided was very good. I have to say that I agree with the Provonsha’s second conclusion that religion is more likely a symptom of a dysfunctional society rather than the cause of said dysfunction. But hey, I’ve been wrong before!

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Tommykey This is not to say that all atheists are bad, horrible, immoral people.
    “Gee, thanks for your generous comments, pastor!”
    You’ll take this backhanded compliment and you’ll be grateful, mister!

    Peter N “The bottom line: Atheists, who make up about 15% of the U.S. population, are about one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. prison population.”
    Didn’t you know? Most atheists convert to Christianity (or, more recently, Islam) in prison, because only when they’re at the bottom do they realize that they need redemption. The fact that I have anecdotes but no statistics to back up this naked assertion merely buttresses my case.

  • konrad_arflane

    FWIW, the “SEC Sues Man for Defrauding Church Community in Ponzi Scheme” story doesn’t actually tell us anything at all about the faith of the swindler. The possibility that he was merely taking advantage of the gullibility of the congregation with respect to the moral character of a self-professed Christian has to be at least considered, I think.

    Not that I disagree with the overall point of the post, I just think you could have found a better example.

  • bassmanpete

    From Word From The Pastor:

    I have always been fascinated by an exchange that took place between General Eisenhower
    (an American Christian) and Field Marshal Zhukov (a Soviet atheist) at the end of World War II.
    Zhukov asked Eisenhower what the American army did when they encountered a German minefield.
    Eisenhower explained that the army’s advance would stop; an engineer battalion would be brought
    forward and would work to clear the mines. Zhukov said that the Soviet army would simply advance
    through the minefield, figuring that the resulting casualties would be no greater than if the Germans
    had defended the area with troops.
    That dialogue between two great generals captures, for me, the difference between a Christian and an atheistic view of life. For Eisenhower, every life was important; for Zhukov, soldiers could be liberally sacrificed for the good of Soviet society.

    For me, this is nothing to do with atheism or Christianity, it shows the difference between an open society and a closed one. If Eisenhower had followed Zhukov’s example, even if the press had not known of it, the survivors would have been free to talk about it afterwards; in the Soviet Union they wouldn’t have dared.

    Also, as an atheist, when you realise that this life is all there is you tend to value it more (your own and anybody anything else’s)than you would if you believed there was an afterlife. Which makes me wonder why religious people don’t just kill each other off so they can all get to heaven/paradise quicker and leave the world to us unbelievers :)

  • keddaw

    1. Only two of the Ten Commandments are illegal in all modern Western democracies, including the US.

    2. Imagine how bad we’d all be if God hadn’t done the moral thing of wiping out the whole human race (apart from Noah’s family) in order to start over.

    Unfortunately we’ll never agree with the devoutly religious over what’s moral, e.g. I think it’s moral to allow gay people (or any bunch of consenting adults) to live as they see fit as long as they harm no-one. Religious people think it’s moral to stone them to death.

  • prase

    There are correlations between crime and poverty as well as religion and poverty but I would be loath to state that there are any correlations between crime and religion.

    If the level of religiosity among criminals is different from that among general populace, then there is a correlation. Whether there is also a causation, that would be a different question.

    Zhukov said that the Soviet army would simply advance through the minefield, figuring that the resulting casualties would be no greater than if the Germans had defended the area with troops. That dialogue … captures … the difference between a Christian and an atheistic view of life.

    Numerous independent objections could be made to this argument, so let me make one. If you can achieve the objective quickly by sending your troops across the minefield, knowing that waiting for the engineer battalion would give the enemy enough time to consolidate, resulting in expected losses greater than what the minefield would inflict, what will you decide? Isn’t practically any attack order given in the war a sacrifice of soldiers for the good of your society? Seems to me that if storming the minefield results in lower casualties, it should be the prefered variant.

  • Alex, FCD

    That dialogue between two great generals captures, for me, the difference between a Christian and an atheistic view of life. For Eisenhower, every life was important; for Zhukov, soldiers could be liberally sacrificed for the good of Soviet society.

    See, in my atheistic view of life, the correct response would be to go home and get drunk because war is bad, particularly the kind of war where you would get the same results by walking into a meat grinder.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Of course, the pastor, ignorant of history, does not seem to notice that Josef Stalin would not have been possible if there had not been an Ivan the Terrible, and Ivan was certainly no atheist.

    China’s body count during the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century is estimated to have been in the tens of millions, and it was started by a Chinese man who failed to land a civil service job and fancied himself to be the son of Jesus Christ.

    As for using people to clear minefields, the Iranians used children during the Iran-Iraq War. They would be given “keys to heaven” and told to walk across the minefield. The last time I checked, the Iranians were rather religious people.

  • Chris

    Does anyone interpreting the Eisenhower/Zhukov anecdote have any confirmation that it’s even true? It sounds like propaganda to me (first national, and then after interpretation, religious).

    Regardless, it seems to me that the correct approach depends on how important it is to get across the minefield quickly. If you are fighting a war at all there may be times when Zhukov’s approach will gain another objective that saves more lives than are sacrificed in it – a common sort of calculation in war.

    It’s surprising that it would be a routine practice, though. Unless the Soviets simply didn’t have (or couldn’t effectively deploy to the front) the technology to sweep minefields safely, in which case they couldn’t really have adopted any other approach.

  • Brock

    Reading the piece by the Lutheran pastor, I notice that he quotes notorious atheist Ivan Karamazov, apparently completely unaware that Karamazov was a fictional character created by the very, very Orthodox Christian Fyodor Dostoevsky as a caricature of what he (Dostoevsky) considered to be the position of the typical atheist. It’s amazing how many times I’ve seen this particular bit of sophistry. Ivan may be the most quoted atheist in history.

  • Justin

    Maybe the third article Ebon linked to should have been called, “Apologetics: The End of Honesty.”

    It really does outrage me that Christian apologists have wasted the last two millennia promoting anti-atheist bigotry.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Does anyone interpreting the Eisenhower/Zhukov anecdote have any confirmation that it’s even true? It sounds like propaganda to me (first national, and then after interpretation, religious).

    Chris, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true. The NKVD used to position themselves behind the Soviet lines with machine guns to shoot down any of their own soldiers who fled from the Germans. Stalin also sacrificed a lot of his men in his drive to take Berlin as soon as possible, because he wanted to end the war with his line of control as far west as possible.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Brock, I made the some comment above, that the pastor’s article was laced with depictions of atheist caricatures by people biased against atheists, and then using those representations as evidence to support his own view.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ konrad_arflane (#17): Does it matter what the media says about the criminal’s faith? If he was taking advantage of [sect x], then of course he’ll try to imitate them; and if he wants to clear their name of his stain, then of course he’ll fastidiously refuse to identify with them. Whether he tries to hide behind his faith, or whether he was infiltrating religious crowds by pretending to be one of them, there’s no way the news can report with certainty what was going on inside his head. You would always be justified in questioning his true beliefs.

    Disturbingly, I fear the day some religious nut tries to claim that all faith-based crimes are actually atheists trying to smear religion’s “good name.” Fortunately, the historical record simply does not bear this out… but ugh, that kind of unfalsifiable bullshit is exactly what theists already go for, and it would make things quite a bit tougher for us atheists and non-bigoted theists.

    Bassmanpete and prase, you both did a good job of showing that people are frelling complicated and can’t always be thoroughly analyzed based on a mere fact or two. For my part, my family believes in belief but disdains fundamentalism; it’s tough for me, because they don’t seem to see how they’re being enablers to the anti-atheist bigotry by trying to avoid taking a strong stand either way. They also have little patience for my philosophical diatribes; fair play to them, I just have to have a plethora of snappy point-provers prepared should X, Y, or Z issue arise. For this subject, it’s been, “Look, people are good or bad independent of their metaphysical beliefs. If Steve Dudeslyman would be a raping, murdering psychopath but for his belief in Jesus, then he is a dangerous person and you need to get away from him!”

  • Eric

    Faith of any kind, religious or not, subverts morality. Normal human sympathy, and even cunning self interest most times, fosters morality. Calm faithless reason refines morality.

    This is why the faithful are not fit to rule.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Eric: I’ve said this elsewhere but…essentially what you’re saying is that the only way to save democracy is to destroy it?

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I should probably explain that.

    A majority of people, in all levels and branches of government, have been one religion or another, and most of them haven’t done too badly…and you’re basically advocating disenfranchising them. They do count.
    Liberal democracy is every person, every background, every opinion and every voice, not just those you approve of.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    MO:

    Agreed, and well-put.

    Chris and Tommykey:

    This anecdote seems likely true in my estimation as well, but it should be remembered that:

    1) the Allies also knowingly sent men into unswept minefields, thus undermining the moral difference inferred by the pastor; and

    2) the were serious differences of opinion in the higher leadership of the US and UK forces regarding which style of fighting was appropriate. Thus, British leaders, sadly aware of their nation’s waning human resources, were loath to engage in combat that might incur high casualties, no matter the long-term gain; while the Americans, having a larger manpower pool, were more willing to run immediate risks, to “save lives later”. No matter what the pastor says, all generals ultimately must perform a cost/benefit analysis which reduces the real lives of troops to the status of variables in an equation. This is why war is immoral.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    By the way, Ebon, here is my post at last in response to the Amityville pastor’s anti-atheist rant:

    http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com/2009/09/amityville-jackass.html

    Thanks for providing me with the inspiration!

  • Eric

    Modus Operandi: I’m not recommending abandoning a commitment to democracy, My claim was a simple statement of fact, people of faith are unfit to rule. It is often the case that legitimate systems of representative government may put people of faith in positions of power. We must suffer this misfortune in order to preserve the advantages of representative government. This in no way means that we secularists should give up. We must struggle to increase our numbers and gain influence beyond our numbers such that people of faith are reduced to an ineffective minority of those in power. They are unfit to rule.

    Of course all bets are off if I get the Gyges Ring.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Eric: Pause for a moment and ponder who wrote the Constitution.

  • Eric

    MO: They were the best we had at the time.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    They seemed pretty cool to me, Eric; better than those I see around today.

  • Von

    I have two close friends who’ve always been agnostic. Both very nice, loyal and long term friends (both since I was 4, I’m now 38). I was involved in a chruch for some 15 odd years. Not one person whom I know from that church is as honest or as sincere as both my long term friends. That says a lot!

    One tried to get me out of that church when I first joined. Damn, I wish I listened.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    And from the Late-breaking News Desk:

    http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/sep/17/naxxfcpastor18/

    About a local pastor scamming a cool half-a-mil from an 86-year-old man.

    Hmph.

  • Marshall Schreiber

    John Locke arguing for divine inspired morals?

    Wasn’t he the brain child of social contract theory: the idea that that morals and ethics were invented by people and are abided by people as part of an implied agreement to make society possible.

  • http://Daylightatheism.org J. James

    Sweet Zombie Jesus, I’m from Redding(is that too much to disclose over the Internet? Aww, who cares, I regret nothing!!). I used to joke that if an apocalypse ever reached Redding then the rest of the world was SCREWED. I guess this religion thing has really hit the fan.


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