I get a lot of emails and comments from parents who are recently “out of the closet” atheists and are feeling very alone. Many of you readers are the only atheist family you know and are struggling with how to parent and don’t have anyone to talk to. The comments I read always make me feel frustrated – there really are a lot of us out there but we haven’t figured out yet how to form a cohesive group without getting churchy about it. :) I am glad that this site has made some of you feel less alone and I am always happy to hear from you. Continue Reading
This recent comment from Tom:
“Since you are not bringing up your child with religious beliefs or so. I think you would struggle as a parent, as your child will have no bounaries or limits when they’re older as they are not going to be brought up with religious discipline. I myself, am a catholic and found that religion helped me to suceed to the fullest and gave me limits and boundaries to do things and not do things (drinking, wild parties, etc) on an occasional basis. As a teenager, I did drink and went to parties but also had limits which I am so proud of having! Please dont ignore or bad mouth this post with your silly atheist rants. P.S- GOD EXISTS AND HE’S THERE IF YOU DONT LIKE IT!!”
…is a perfect opportunity to address atheism and morality. It is a big misconception that non-religious people must be lacking in either a moral compass or the ability to control their own behaviour. I have always struggled to understand this approach. Partly because it is illogical but mostly because it doesn’t take a lot of observational prowess to look around and see that it simply isn’t true.
In Tom’s case, he suggests that religion has provided him with a code on how to live. It has helped him to make the right choices (one could argue that they are not actually choices since they are religiously and socially driven) and avoid situations and decisions that would be harmful or otherwise “immoral”. I won’t argue that religions provides this for many people but it is not the only way to live a moral life. In my view, doing the “right” thing because you are are either afraid of retribution from the sky or seeking an eternal reward makes the act less moral by nature. Doing something for the benefit for your fellow man or simply because it the right thing to do, in my opinion, carries more weight, demands more respect and is often times more difficult. Blind morality is not morality at all.
There have been many studies done that suggest human infants are born with an already developed sense of right and wrong. Having children has only confirmed to me that most of the time, left to their own devices, children will be kind to one another and have a keen sense of justice. They don’t always know how to behave in a socially appropriate way but they have a raw sense of right and wrong at a very young age. Far earlier than they are able to understand religion.
It is also true that many cultures who are more secular in day to day life (Sweden, Japan etc.) do not struggle with immortality run rampant. They are not having drug-fueled orgies in the streets. They are having children and going to school and living their lives, and they are doing so as morally as anyone else. There are “good” people and “bad” people in this world and only a fool would argue that they can be identified merely by their adherence to one faith or another (or none at all).
Which leads me to my most obvious point. Am I the only person aware of all the human atrocities and decidedly “unmoral” acts perpetrated in the name of religion?! People are being beaten, women are being veiled, children are being abused and countries are being attacked right now. Today. In the name of religion and so called “morality”. When the rights and wrongs of human existence are codified (always by old men I might add) they offer humans an opportunity to divorce themselves from free thought and personal consideration. They are given license to follow, blindly and in many cases, interpret morality for themselves and for others. These codes of course come into conflict when they are forced to coexist. And so, you have one religion preaching one sets of moral codes and another religion, or people, following another set of moral codes. And then you have war. And the most base of human behaviour is put on display for the world to watch in horror (and judgement ironically enough).
There are basic laws which societies tend to adhere to, whether they are religious or not. Murder, infanticide, theft, rape (although marital rape is condoned in many cultures – particularly religious ones) and several others are for the most part, universal. They are social codes that function to keep the tribe united and relatively peaceful. They have been there from the beginning of time and were adopted by religions later on as an attempt to absorb what morality already existed in society. They were not invented by religions nor by the religious. Many other laws, change over time. In the old testament it was immoral to leave your son uncircumcised, to wear clothing of mixed fibres or to cross-breed any animals. Today, even fundamentalist Christians ignore these commands and pick and choose the “laws” they follow. Morality is not an immutable fact – it is an evolving and plastic reflection of the human condition and the state of our social development.
My daughter will be just fine. She will learn to do what is right because it is right. She will learn to evaluate a situation, look within herself and decide what path she wants to take. She will have a strong sense of self and we will foster a respect and love for nature, our fellow humans beings and the health of our planet. My husband and I were moral individuals when we were active members of our respective religions and we are just as moral (my husband would say he is even more so) now that we are atheists. My daughter will learn that as atheists, it is not that we believe in “nothing”. It is that we believe in personal accountability.