Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morals and Religiocentrism

My boyfriend Dylan is an atheist and a skeptic. Since those words define a big part of his life, when I try to describe him those are some of the first words I use. However, I've started to recognize a pattern in the responses of others when they hear those (to me) innocuous words; when I say “atheist”, they often hear “person without morals”. The first few times I heard a response indicating this concern (to one degree or another), I was pretty much just baffled and wanted to defend him... but after hearing it a few times I started to really think about it.
To me, it just seemed kind of jerky and religiocentric at first glance. But the implications are chilling. The fact that this association is so common says something – something bad – about our ability, as a culture, to take personal responsibility. Instead of being willing to make their own decisions, to really think through their actions and be ready to explain or defend them (or make amends) should the need arise, a great many people are content to simply do as they are told. Not only are they content to do so, but they consider it morally superior. While I can intellectually understand that this is based on the belief that God is morally superior to human beings, I think it is an incredibly slippery slope. If people are consciously seeking an outside source for moral correctness, one which they consider infallible (as God is supposed to be, by his very nature), then they are:
a) not practicing small decisions about morality – the results of which inform bigger, more important decisions, and
b) giving up all personal responsibility for their actions.
This means that those people are actively promoting a culture in which individuals are less able to make morally correct decisions, more able to place blame, and more willing to accept the dictates of an authority figure without first judging the merits of said dictates. A strong leader could very easily take that culture and bring ordinary people to do incredibly immoral things under the guise of being moral. They wouldn't know how to judge for themselves.
Is that not terrifying? Especially when you think of how that has played out historically.
I guess the best thing to hope for is that those people are only making logical errors instead of projecting their own flaws on others. If that is the case, then most of them should be able to think for themselves in any extraordinary event, and behave in a moral way... but history doesn't support that hope.
I suppose I have been guilty of believing that our society is more morally advanced than ever before, when the more likely explanation is that technological advances and a strong government have caused our moral decisions to be fewer and easier than they could be.
By the way, Dylan is also a blogger – one who actually writes regularly and takes his blogging responsibilities much more seriously than I do – and you can read his work at www.skeptimusprime.com

1 comment:

  1. After reading this, I thought about the bad rap atheism gets from a lot of people, and I saw a parallel between the way that society has treated atheists and gays over the past 30 years or so. 35 years ago, it seemed like it was more or less acceptable to treat both groups as if there was something inherently wrong with them. Not everyone was of this opinion, but I think the majority of America was.

    It also seemed that many people of both groups kept quiet because they didn't want to be harassed. Those who chose to draw attention to themselves were generally the most vocal and combative members of their respective communities. So, almost every time I saw a gay person on T.V., he was dressed like a freak, and actively trying to offend people. This reinforced my prejudice against gays. It was only perhaps 17 years ago or so that I started meeting gay people in the course of work, and without exception, saw them to be normal and healthy. I'm sure there are bad gay people, but probably not in any greater proportion than with straight people, so my anti-gay bias abruptly died from a sudden lack of evidence to support it.

    There is a parallel with the way atheists have been viewed, as well. 30 years ago, it seemed like atheists didn't want to identify themselves unless they were trying to pick a fight. They wanted to get 'In God we trust,' off of money, throw people in jail for setting up nativity scenes, and demand that society conform to atheist ideals.

    Now, more and more normal people are identifying themselves as atheist. There are still militant atheists, who refuse to make any accommodation with people of faith, but it's becoming more and more obvious that atheists are by and large as normal and healthy as anyone else.