Thursday, February 19, 2015

On Atheism and Virtue.

Ian Cooper

When Atheism becomes nothing more than an attack platform, an excuse to indulge in bigotry and prejudice against those who disagree, that is when I find it the least interesting.

All you have to do is read the comment section on any story regarding atheism, evolution, creationism, or something merely Biblical, or whatever the subject is. It’s easy to find plenty of examples. There are bigots on both sides of the issue, as well as the merely immature.

I don’t care if people are stupid to believe this or that. I don’t necessarily think they are inherently evil because they think different thoughts. And I think that works both ways—I can look at an atheist from the point of view of a religionist, and guess what?

They really are godless. One might think that is the point.

We are entirely Godless, and yet we wish to discuss certain moral issues.

We would like to discuss those issues with the rest of the world, and atheism is not evolution. It is not science in schools, it is not an attack on gun rights or the right to free speech. Atheism is not communism, nor is it an attack on the nuclear family, marriage or the children and their cute little kittens.

It is a method of making systematic inquiries into questions of a moral character, one which leaves supernatural causes out of the equation.

Atheism has broken the monopoly on morality formerly held by religion.

Look. It does me no good to read an anti-Semite’s views on the Jewish religion within the context of a discussion of atheism. Even Voltaire was a bigot, albeit one who claimed to be a philosopher.

To me that is not its purpose.

The purpose of atheism is, and should be, in my opinion, a method of both learning about, and teaching morality, which might be described as inculcating positive virtues in an individual, as well as within the greater social context.

There are many virtues. Virtually all human virtues are survival traits, but that is evolution, and others prefer to express that in terms of supernatural revelation. Fur surely that is what God is, if in fact there is a God. He exists outside of all of nature. This is the realm of speculation, which is by its very nature immeasurable.

Science is a system of investigation based on the collection of evidence through observation and experiment. Without something to measure and something to measure it with, it’s not much good.

We can still assign certain values to things.

Thrift is a virtue. Industriousness is a virtue. Respecting others is a virtue. These virtues are not the exclusive province of any one religion or world view.

They are in fact common to all human beings at some level. They’re often even expressed in terms of being handed down from above, when in fact they probably arose from mutual agreement over time within the social and cultural context.

Religion is myth, legend and fancy codified into a belief system.

People can and do teach themselves to believe anything they want—literally anything.

Tolerance is a virtue. Like any skill, it must be practiced, and over time the individual gets better at it.

It’s really hard to do, isn’t it? We know that even from within our own group, the people who actually agree with us most of the time.

Human beings are not perfect creatures, and of course we all fall down from time to time—when our tolerance fails us, when our patience fails us, when we ourselves are anxious and under threat.

If nothing else, this might be useful information, as it is helpful in seeing it from the other guy’s point of view once in a while.

Toning down that rhetoric might be the first step in toning down that perceived threat, no matter which side one might choose to be on.

That’s because anger stems from fear.

Anger leads to harsh words, and from there things quickly spiral out of control.


1 comment:

  1. Not all religions emphasize belief. My own faith tradition, Quakerism, has always valued orthopraxy over orthodoxy--in fact, it might be said we have no orthodoxy, and certainly no dogma or creed, at least among the conservative and liberal wings, the only ones that still practice waiting (silent) worship. Actually, I know at least three non-Theist Quakers personally and can testify that they are among the best Quakers I know.

    It seems to me that the basis of any ethical system has to be virtue. Deontological ethics (rule-following) requires accepting an authority, while consequentialist ethics assume not only that we know what constitutes a "good" outcome but that we can have enough information to make a right decision. Only virtue ethics (do that which the person you aspire to be would do) offers a humanly-possible approach, and it can be practiced by theists and atheists alike. But in neither case can it be done without community.

    This being the case, I would like to think that atheists and theists of goodwill can join forces to explode the pernicious present-day myth of atomic individualism, for I think we can agree that we cannot become virtuous or even human without the example and support of other humans, starting with our parents.