What People of Faith Share in Common with Atheists

What People of Faith Share in Common with Atheists August 15, 2017

The more I realize why my faith is important to me, the more I realize that these matters of importance don’t primarily rely on my believing anything particular about God, God’s nature, or what happens after I die. For many, coming to this conclusion would require a significant shift in what faith even means.

different faiths 2

About half way through the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) and Terrence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) are in the bowels of my beloved Fenway Park. Ray has brought Terry there in an attempt to involve him in a ludicrous scheme that Mann is trying to resist getting sucked into. Mann was a major player in the 60s civil rights and anti-Viet Nam protests who now, twenty years later, is tired of being everyone’s unofficial guru and voice of the flower power generation. He just wants to be left alone. “So what do you want?” Ray asks Terry.

Terry: I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.ray-and-terry

Ray: (gesturing to the concession stand they are in front of) No, I mean, what do you WANT?

Terry: Oh. Dog and a beer.

Sometimes what we claim to want and what we really want are two entirely different things. Often our expressed desires for lofty sounding goals and achievements are, in reality, a cry for at least some sort of guidance on how to make it through our days and weeks with a modicum of our integrity and character intact. None of us comes into the world knowing how to live a good human life—all of us need as much help as possible. Last semester I worked with my General Ethics students on an article with the attention-getting title “Does It Matter Whether God Exists?” that begins with a provocative quote from John Gray, an atheist philosopher:

In many religions—polytheism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, many strands of Judaism and some Christian and Muslim traditions—belief is of little or no importance. Rather, practice—ritual, meditation, a way of life—is what counts . . . It’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths . . . what we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.

Careful there, dude—the “religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths” who you are stereotyping are the people I grew up with. But Gary Gutting, the author of the article who teaches at the University of Notre Dame, observes that a religious person need not respond to someone like Gray defensively or with outrage.

It all depends on what you hope to find in a religion. If your hope is simply for guidance and assistance in leading a fulfilling life here on earth, then a “way of living” without firm beliefs in any supernatural being may well be all you need.

Gutting’s comment reminds me of something I once heard a Jewish colleague say: “Judaism is the only monotheistic religion that one can be part of and also be an atheist.” What, I asked my predominantly Catholic juniors and seniors, could my colleague have meant by that? Although such a comment was outside the normal frame of reference for many of them, they realized that, despite typical preconceptions and assumptions, there might be reasons for placing oneself in a religious tradition that have nothing to do with God. Judaism, for instance, is a way of life for my colleague, providing the traditions, practices, moral guidance, and community support that every human being seeks, at least occasionally, as we construct frameworks of meaning and purpose around our lives.

There are also many groups of Christians for whom the Christian faith is about how to live a good and flourishing human life now; the texts and traditions of Christianity undoubtedly provide a great deal of guidance concerning how to do just that. And, as the atheist quoted at the beginning of Gary Gutting’s article provocatively points out, what one believes or does not believe concerning God need not be important for such people.

I can imagine, for instance, an atheist finding a great deal of direct guidance for how to live a good human life from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel without feeling obligated to sign on the dotted line concerning anything about God’s existence and nature. Such guidance, of course, can be found in all sorts of place, both religious and non-religious; one’s choice of which framework to adopt will depend largely on one’s history, personality, commitments both social and political, and simply where one finds oneself most at home.

But many persons of faith want a lot more from their religion than just daily guidance for how to live a life. Gutting continues:

But many religions, including mainline versions of Christianity and Islam, promise much more. They promise ultimate salvation. If we are faithful to their teachings, they say, we will be safe from final annihilation when we die and will be happy eternally in our life after death. If our hope is for salvation in this sense—and for many that is the main point of religion—then this hope depends on certain religious beliefs being true. In particular, for the main theistic religions, if depends on there being a God who is good enough to desire our salvation and powerful enough to achieve it.

I have noted frequently on this blog my observation over the years that, for the majority of my students, the primary benefits of being a religious believer are “comfort” and “security about what happens after I die.” That’s certainly the religious world I was raised in. The people I grew up with were obsessed with “being saved,” a salvation that had a lot more to do with what happens after I die than anything that might be applicable to how to live my life today and tomorrow.

As I look back five decades and more on that world, I realize that even then I was far more interested in how the religion imposed on me applied to my daily life rather than what sort of mansion I would occupy when in heaven and what sort of harp I would be playing. Truth be told, heaven sounded pretty boring to me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend eternity there. I was much more interested in whether being a Christian could help me avoid bullies, find a girlfriend, and grow up to be at least a marginally well-adjusted adult.

These days I find myself thinking about atheism a lot, not because I’m thinking of becoming one (I tried that once—it didn’t take), but because the more I realize why my faith is important to me, the more I realize that these matters of importance don’t primarily rely on my believing anything particular about God, God’s nature, or what happens after I die. I don’t know what will happen after I die, and I spend a remarkably small amount of my time thinking about it, even though the amount of days I have left on earth are far fewer than the ones I’ve already lived.

Don’t get me wrong—I believe that God exists, that God is intimately interested in relationship with human beings, and that this requires something important of me. But I also believe that the values and moral commitments that are closely related to my belief in God are available to persons who are of a different faith than mine or of no faith at all. If what people of faith want out of their religion is only available to people who sign on to the very specific beliefs concerning God and more that define their religion, there is little hope for dialogue with those who do not share those specific beliefs. But if, first and foremost, what I want out of my religion is guidance for how to live a good human life now, then I am looking for the very same sort of guidance that billions of other human beings seek. That gives us a lot to talk about—regardless of what we believe concerning God.

"You present a tension between our engagement with the political systems to enact change and ..."

Political Jesus: No, it’s not an ..."
"Thanks, Leah--I appreciate your comments!"

Advent in a Minor Key
"Another beautiful and reflective piece, Vance. As a musician myself, I appreciated your use of ..."

Advent in a Minor Key
"This makes me reflect on how our "familiarity" with the Bible can keep us from ..."

“It has been done in your ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • fr_eric_funston

    Spot on!

  • Clayton Gafne Jaymes

    How could you even claim to know Jesus and ask such a question about being ‘good’ without faith? did you not see Jesus himself reply to being called ‘good’?

    Mark 10:17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone -[ESV
    ***

    I think far too many ppl confuse doing ‘good things’ from time to time with actually being ‘good’ people. That simply isn’t so. The simpe truth of the matter is that most ppl are nowhere near as ‘good’ as they would like tothink themselves to be.

    • Vance Morgan

      Sorry that the essay takes you out of your comfort zone. I suggest that you read it again more carefully. You’ll see that I never say anything about being “without faith.” What I ask is “what does a person want out of their faith?”
      Interesting that you have established yourself as the judge of whether a person is good or not.

    • Tim

      Perhaps ironically, this verse is one of the best pieces of evidence that Jesus wasn’t God.

  • Tim

    Interestingly; regardless of what salvation actually is, none of the requirements for it include certain doctrinal views.

    • Daniel Boome

      Salvation is itself a doctrine, so it sort of does matter what one’s view regarding the doctrine of salvation is.

      • Tim

        In what sense does it matter? One’s view of salvation is not a requirement to obtain it. I think we make a mistake to think that salvation is merely a doctrinal issue. There are doctrinal concepts of salvation, but that doesn’t define it, nor does it mean that those concepts are correct.

        • Daniel Boome

          So if your view of salvation is that a flying lizard has bestowed you with an invisible mark of righteousness that will be your pass-through mark into an undefined afterlife, that doesn’t matter? No, I think it actually matter what one’s view of salvation, i.e. what is one being saved from, what are the consequences of the change instituted, and what does it mean for the future. I didn’t say anything about it being merely a doctrinal issue. It’s an experiential, philosophical, metaphysical and a doctrinal issue. They all go hand in hand. Doctrine is merely a stated principle of beliefs. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s far more than concepts. If it’s reduced to concepts, it’s not actually a “doctrine of salvation”.

          • Tim

            So If I’m drowning, and someone throws me a life ring; My view of what I’m being saved from, the consequences of the change instituted and what it means for the future, determines whether that life ring will save me?

            I don’t think I’m the one reducing it to concepts.

          • Daniel Boome

            How do you figure that analogy works? If you were drowning, I think we could presume you would be aware of what you’re being saved from (water/drowning) and that this knowledge is what leads you grab onto the life ring. The knowledge and understanding that you were saved from tragedy/fear/death of drowning leads you to acknowledge the one who saved you and to be full of gratitude for that person, as well as aware of the dangers of slipping back into the situation that led to your imminent demise. Your analogy only works if you also believe that not acknowledging the God of your salvation and not being thankful to the One who saved you is still possible if you actually have salvation. That and the fact that going back to your old way of life can no longer be an option. That would be an incredible perversion of the gospel if you actually believed that.

          • Tim

            Thank you. This perfectly illustrates the point I was making. The saving comes first, then the acknowledgement. I have no idea why Christianity seems to get it the other way around. This is what I mean by the doctrine of salvation having no effect on the actual thing. We seem to want to put the cart before the horse. The only way we can understand salvation is to have it happen first; it is primarily experiential, not propositional. Either way, the salvation doesn’t occur as a result of how I view it.

            Perhaps a better analogy would involve the actions of a lifeguard, in a scenario in which I am about to drown and am unconscious; therefore not cognizant of the actions of the lifeguard until after the fact.

    • Lark62

      But even the need for “salvation” is a religious concept. I do not accept that humans must be “saved” from anything.

      • Tim

        That depends pretty heavily on what one considers salvation. The Greek word Sozo means (saved), healed, delivered. Don’t know about you, but I know loads of people who could use some healing and deliverance in non-religious senses. I don’t think salvation even in the biblical sense is (primarily) about what happens to you when you die.

        • The Happy Atheist

          @disqus_3DNtrYnzLi:disqus I like what you have to say about this. I totally agree. Sozo has a wide and flexible lexical range. I would frame the meaning this way: it is holistic healing and rescue effective for the whole being at every stage of life. You know what sozo absolutely does NOT imply in any context? The sinner’s prayer or giving your heart to Jesus or a conversion experience or anything like it.

          • Tim

            Yes; in fact, you won’t find “the sinner’s prayer” in the bible. I have no idea where Christianity got this from.

  • Thanks: this eloquently clarifies a difference between religious people I feel comfortable with and … the rest.

  • Josh Cushing

    This is a helpful point for bridging conversation with people of other beliefs. Thank you!

    The conversation, I would argue, can’t stay there forever though. That’s only possible if we keep our individual religions and beliefs at the level of what we think most of us want. If we look honestly at our beliefs, however, they do pull us in different, even consequential, directions, and those directions begin to betray what is distinct about our beliefs. If we are honest, I think we will begin to realize that these distinctions become focal rather than peripheral, because they ultimately pull us in different directions.

    In other words, the only way to leave out our distinct teachings on God and the afterlife is to ignore their consequences, and to do so is to ignore the teachings themselves. If we believe they are true, however, this is neither honest nor helpful. The disposition proposed then only ultimately works if you disbelieve in the distinctions of your worldview.

  • Pennybird

    What matters is not what we believe but how we live.

    • Daniel Boome

      They should go hand in hand.

  • Michel Martin

    Does “the values and moral commitments that are closely related to my belief in God are available to persons who are of a different faith than mine or of no faith at all” being present in those persons point to an intervention of God in those persons? Or am I wrong?

    • Vance Morgan

      No it doesn’t, because I do not believe that basic human morality and values require a divine source. In other words, I believe it is possible for an atheist to be a fully moral person.

      • Michel Martin

        I am sorry, so sorry. Maybe, someday…
        Thanks very much.

  • blogcom

    Regarding your take that non believers can apply aspects of Christianity without embracing the source and His requirements seems odd.

    If you’re so sure people don’t need religion to be ‘a fully moral person’ as you say then you’re your own inspiration and don’t need to cherry pick examples from a faith that comes with specific instructions which you don’t adhere to and obviously at a loss to understand. .

    So what you have is a form of godliness that denies its power and entirely misses the point. .

    You use the Sermon on the Mount as a guide on how to live a good human life which it’s not but the core principles of God’s Kingdom to come which is diametrically opposed to the world’s standards which if you’d read carefully you’d realize.

    • Vance Morgan

      Wow, did you forget to take your pills intended to keep you from being a self-righteous, judgmental jerk this morning? Notice that my post is on a blog called “Freelance Christianity,” on a channel called “Progressive Christian.” I’m not going to take the time to argue with you; instead, I hope you’ll take the time to consider that possibility (likelihood) that Jesus’ mission was never to establish a religion in the first place. It was to show a way of life. Christianity is a very large tent, my friend–don’t become accustomed to thinking that your little corner is its entirety.

      • blogcom

        Well for someone who never intended to establish a religion His requirements were very specific so perhaps its you who should consider.
        On this rock will I build my Church- mmmmm

        • Vance Morgan

          Do a little bit of work understanding the Greek that is being translated there. Also, remember that the book in which Jesus is reported as saying that was written many decades after he lived.

        • The Happy Atheist

          Jesus’s “requirements” were nothing more than standard, first-century Jewish morality with a subversive tweak owing to the context of Roman occupation and Jewish resistance. Jesus did not invent a single iota of what would develop into Christianity. Everything he says or does is a reflection of his adherence to the original covenant, which he sometimes strengthens and sometimes minimizes. And before you hit me with “mnuhmnuhmnuh, BUT YOU’RE AN ATHEIST,” you should know that I’m a historian who spent the first 15 years of my career on textual criticism and the Ancient Near East, so I have a pretty firm grasp of the bible, doctrine, and the history of the Church.

          • blogcom

            Your attempt to weasel your way out of a basic premise notwithstanding, at its fundamentals – i.e.institutional doctrine aside- Christianity rests on acceptance of Christ’s radical claim as to his identity,his mission, his commands and profound teachings and its implications for his followers.

            Any other argument just muddies the waters and is superfluous in any case.

          • Vance Morgan

            I agree with your most recent comment–and none of it requires an organized, hierarchical religious structure (nor was Jesus calling for that).

          • The Happy Atheist

            There was nothing particularly revolutionary about Jesus “as to his identity, his mission, his commands and profound teachings.” He self identified as the Messiah, the Son of Man, and even the Son of the Living God, none of which were new in the first century either before Jesus’s life or after. In fact, the only unique element was his refusal to adopt the traits and behavior expected of the Messiah, who was supposed to liberate the Jews from Roman oppression, restore the covenant based on the sacrificial cultus, and inaugurate the Age to Come. Instead, Jesus insisted that the Jews not fight the Romans, even going so far as to warn them of the apocalyptic consequences of doing so. That is why the Jews rejected his message. To make matters worse, Jesus then turned to the Gentiles, essentially offering them the same deal but without all the strenuous adherence to the cultus. As Jesus’s following grew, it began to represent a threat to the Jewish elite; that is why he was crucified after a perfunctory trial before the Roman governor, who was happy to rid himself of a Jewish troublemaker and avoid the prospect of yet another uprising. Pilate was already on thin ice with the Roman government after causing a massive riot a few years before.

            I’m not saying anything new here. This is centrist, majority scholarship.

      • Daniel Boome

        Wow, did you forget to take your pills intended to keep you from being a self-righteous, judgmental jerk this morning?

        This is one heck of a way to start a response to someone who made a perfectly legitimate point in response to your article. Sadly, it’s pretty much par for the course these days. Anybody who disagrees with you can be cast away and dismissed as a “self-righteous, judgment jerk”. Sounds like you’re the one who thinks that “your little corner is its entirety”.

        Notice that my post is on a blog called “Freelance Christianity,” on a channel called “Progressive Christian.”

        So what? Does that mean no one is allowed to challenge your progressive dogma with an alternative point of view?

        I’m not going to take the time to argue with you

        No, you much prefer to just call names and spout various ad hominems than argue legitimate points. This whole idea that arguing with someone is a bad thing in this type of forum is beyond silly. These are not petty points taking place within a marriage, where the argument is motivated by selfishness or lack of empathy. These are philosophical ideas. Making arguments and responding to counter-arguments should be embraced, not shut down in favor of a creating an echo chamber to reinforce what may (possibly) be false beliefs.

        I hope you’ll take the time to consider that possibility (likelihood) that Jesus’ mission was never to establish a religion in the first place.

        Which is exactly what the poster already did. That was the whole point of their response, so far as I can tell. You just didn’t like a different viewpoint, so you attempted to shut it down. You need to look up the definition of “bigotry”.

        It was to show a way of life.

        Who’s disagreeing with that? Just because you can generically call it “a way of life” doesn’t mean the poster’s point is wrong or that yours is right. A way of life may entail boundaries, ethics, and certain types of relationships. How it’s all supposed to look is not based on your subjective feelings of how it should look.

        Christianity is a very large tent, my friend

        What does this even mean? If you’re trying to argue that the “large tent” embraces things that are not Christianity, then your argument is self-refuting. Regardless, you need to be able to back up what you’re saying. When you say in your article that “the values and moral commitments that are closely related to my belief in God are available to persons who are of a different faith than mine or of no faith at all”, you’re not really arguing anything other than the concept of basic morality being instilled upon humanity because of their creation in the image of God. Whether those non-believers know/believe that or not is not the issue, nor does it argue in favor of Christianity being some big tent. Furthermore, when you say “what I want out of my religion is guidance for how to live a good human life now” and that this is “the very same sort of guidance that billions of other human beings seek”, you’re not talking about Christianity or atheism at all. You’re simply arguing that we all seek our self-interest, as though that’s some sort of revelation. If you wanted to take it further, you could even say we all seek our own selfish desires. Either way, it has nothing to do with your original thesis.

        • Vance Morgan

          If ‘blogcom’ wants to respond to the tone of my response directly, I’ll converse about it with him. I’m sure he/she doesn’t need your defense.

          It strikes me that your real problem with my essay is that it does not fit with your own understanding of Christianity very well. That’s fine–I make no claims that how my Christian faith has evolved is something that will (or should) resonate with everyone. Your response to my “Christianity is a large tent” comment is illuminating: “If you are trying to argue that the ‘large tent’ embraces things that are not Christianity, then your argument is self-refuting.” Implied here is that you are the arbiter of the boundaries between what is compatible with Christianity and what is not. You aren’t, of course–neither am I. Final comment–my observation about guidance for a good human life is anything BUT an observation about self-interest. Seeking to live a good human life is only self-interested if one is an egoist, which I am not (neither, I presume, are you). A good moral life requires considering the interests of others as equal to, often as greater than, one’s own. This is why the Sermon on the Mount can be instructive for Christians and non-Christians alike.

          As long as you proceed from the assumption that you are the arbiter of what is “Christian” and what is not, you’ll receive no further response from me. Exactly what following Jesus requires in real time should be central interest of any person professing to be Christian–the various paths that might lead toward cannot contained within any set of religious doctrines and dogmas.

          • Daniel Boome

            If ‘blogcom’ wants to respond to the tone of my response directly, I’ll converse about it with him. I’m sure he/she doesn’t need your defense.

            My defense is of the truth. I was not responding because somebody did or didn’t need my defense, but because some of the things you were saying in your response were absurd. I responded specifically to your points, as I’ll do now. The “tone” of your response was clear, and it doesn’t matter who you were responding to. It was still incredibly juvenile, whether you want to acknowledge that or not.

            It strikes me that your real problem with my essay is that it does not fit with your own understanding of Christianity very well.

            This is a silly point to try and make. I could just as easily ask: Is your problem with my post that it does not fit with your own understanding of Christianity very well? After all, we only have our own understanding of things. We have our own understanding of scripture, our own understanding of philosophy, our own understanding of history, our own understanding of tradition, etc. The whole point of disagreement is to hash out different understandings among people. You’re not really making a sound argument by arguing that my understanding is different. That’s obvious. Your understanding is different than mine. Water is also wet.

            Implied here is that you are the arbiter of the boundaries between what is compatible with Christianity and what is not.

            There was nothing implied in my statement. If you are taking something that is not Christianity and calling it Christianity, that’s a self-refuting postion. The point we’re arguing here is not what is or isn’t compatible with Christianity, but that what isn’t compatible with Christianity isn’t Christianity. You never mentioned anything specifically, nor was I talking about anything specifically. That would be a separate argument altogether. All I’m saying is that you can’t take something that has nothing to do with Christianity and say it’s Christianity. Just because an atheist gives to the poor doesn’t mean they are Christian just because Christians ought to give to the poor. The atheist certainly wouldn’t claim to be Christian nor would they be claiming to do what they are doing in order to please the Lord. It’s hard to tell for sure, but it seems to me like you would be arguing that this makes Christianity a “big tent”. All it really says to me is that Christian ethics can be followed by those who are not Christians and do not believe in the tenets of Christianity. You try to strain the point by making Christianity some umbrella that anybody can live under.

            A good moral life requires considering the interests of others as equal to, often as greater than, one’s own. This is why the Sermon on the Mount can be instructive for Christians and non-Christians alike.

            Although I don’t disagree with this, where does this definition of what constitutes a moral life come from? The Sermon on the Mount assumes it. So while it may be instructive for non-believers, it doesn’t give them a foundation on which they base their life as far as moral requirements. There first needs to be a conviction about considering the interests of others as being important. That conviction is never going to come the same way for Christian as it does non-Christians.

            As long as you proceed from the assumption that you are the arbiter of what is “Christian” and what is not, you’ll receive no further response from me.

            Why do you proceed from the assumption that I believe I am the arbiter of anything? That’s quite a leap from my response. You probably want to be careful saying such a thing because somebody could say the same thing about your article, that you are assuming yourself to be the arbiter of what is Christian. I’m not arguing that. But using your logic, somebody else would be just as warranted assuming such a thing as you are of me.

            Exactly what following Jesus requires in real time should be central interest of any person professing to be Christian–the various paths that might lead toward cannot contained within any set of religious doctrines and dogmas.

            I won’t argue this entire point except to say that I disagree with some of it. Exactly what you mean by “real time” would have to be defined, as well as what your presumption of “religious doctrines and dogmas” is. Like I said, I don’t want to get into all of that. My response was more to show you that people like me aren’t the only one who can be accused of relying on doctrine or dogma. It could just as easily be argued that your arguments are based on progressive, emergent dogma. We can try and box each other into categories and caricatures, but what ultimately matters is the truth. We’re not going to get to that if we keep dismissing viewpoints we don’t like because it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions. Ironically, that’s what you accused me of doing with your article.

    • Lark62

      Yes. The bible contains some nice sound bites. But these are interspersed with silliness (e.g. no mixed fabrics, 500 zombies roaming Jerusalem after the ressurection) and outright repugnant guidance (e.g. abandon your families to follow Jesus, what to charge when selling your child to a rapist, dashing babies against rocks will make you happy).

      I can find as many good principles by selecting pretty quotes from Lord of the Rings and Watership Down.

      • Joe Monte

        They were not zombies! The Holy Scriptures make no mention of flesh eating, waiting out the Apocalypse in a shopping mall or George A. Romero.

  • MystiqueLady

    Things that Christians don’t understand about Atheists.

    1) Atheists are moral because most feel that all humans have value and worth. Most are more along the lines of treat others as you would want to be treated. This is a concept that predated the Ten Commandments (which was also predated by the Code of Hammurabi). There is an argument that this actually has roots in biology and evolution. We are a community animal. We thrive when the surrounding community thrives. In order for the community to thrive, it’s important that individuals respect the needs of the community as a whole. Yes, there are individuals that do not feel this drive, but they are the excepts, not the rule. For example, I murder as many people as I want to — which is exactly zero. What stops me? I want to be able to like myself as a person. There have been countless studies on the differences between peaceful, safe countries and more violent countries — it has been repeatedly shown that highly secular countries score higher in the area of crime prevention, as well as in areas that are recognized to lead to crime (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-1101-zuckerman-violence-secularism-20151101-story.html cites several studies).

    2) Many religious adherents are moral because they believe that there is a punishment that awaits them after death. Atheists don’t need this threat to act in a moral fashion. Add into this mix the ideas of sin,redemption and salvation. Atheist actually feel that being moral BECAUSE of the threat of punishment in the after life is a pretty shallow morality. For many atheists, these words have no meaning (and for many, it stirs up terrible memories of religious indoctrination). Also we have, as examples, parents who allow their children to die because they turned to their faith in God, instead of calling 911.

    Side Note: The words Sin, Redemption, Damnation,Salvation and Soul have no real meaning to most atheists beyond the vague definitions used by the religious.

    3) As an atheist, I see the reliance on a supernatural being who desires us to act in one way or another as being harmful. It leads one group of people to feel that they, and ONLY they, have the ability to “correctly” interpret the scriptures/gospel (etc.). It then leads the followers of any particular tradition to believe that they, and only they, are living life in the right way. And when that group of followers are large enough, they then try to codify their particular set of beliefs into law (think blue laws). In the US, this is exactly why we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” (James Madison, lead author of the Constitution).

    4) Most atheists will adjust their individual stands on any given issue based on factual evidence, preferably from many sources.

    Side Note: Most atheists consider “biblical” evidence as factual as Bulfinch’s Mythology.

    Now, I am only one atheist, and this is my conclusion. But that’s the nice thing about being an atheist — I don’t have to adhere to any one else’s understanding/interpretation of events.

  • A fish with no hands

    I am a non-theist who believes that living an ethical life and building a better world are the most important transcendent virtues. I am happy to make common cause with people of any belief in which those aims are upheld and encouraged. I have zero respect for those traditions and beliefs that require or encourage the subjegation of the lives and thoughts of others and which see to intrude upon the privacy and freedom of non-consenting others. I am no certain about the absence of divinities, but I see no evidence whatsoever for the their existence. What I do see is that if humans do not try to live well together and to protect the innocent and the earth then there is essentially no hope. It is not irrational to doubt but it is not rational to conflate personal comfort with an unsubstantiated belief with empirical evidence. Peace and safety to all of good will, and hope for the others to cease predation and exploitation.