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Religion and Morality: A Personal View

27 February, 2008

In the last week there have been a couple of shootings in and around Wilkes-Barre.  One shooting was across the river at a ‘nuisance bar’ and the other in the town at a ‘nuisance bar’ which had been closed.  Given the lack of real jobs in the area, this, in and of itself, is not surprising.  Nor is the reaction among some members of the community.

This morning on the radio I had the misfortune to hear a local news broadcast which covered the shootings and the interview they used was a muffin-head saying that “This is the price we pay for closing churches.  If more people went to church then this wouldn’t happen.”  I also stopped to pick up a bottle of cherry coke (one of two vices (the other is smoking a pipe and/or cigar)) and overheard a conversation among the people in line.  I can’t recall the exact quote, but it was something along the line of:  “We need more people of faith to stop these atheists from destroying our community.”

Yesterday, I did a quick post remarking on the under representation of atheists among the federal prison population.  There have been numerous posts at other blogs pointing out that the crime rate is not inversely proportional to the number of theists in a country or a community.  This pervasive belief, often treated as a rule, that ‘people of faith’ do not commit crimes, are not mean, do not hurt people, and are always more moral than non-believers has got to be one of the more annoying memes out there.

I don’t plan to look at the broad statistics regarding faith and ‘morality.’  Instead, I’m going to look back into my personal past at theistic encounters (most of which I have written about before, but not here) which I have had over the years and let you, my readers (I can’t say faithful readers since I haven’t even been here a month), decide if these theistic individuals are ALL exceptions to the rule, or if, just maybe, that rule is bunk.

When I was in middle and high school, my family lived in the Cumberland Valley of Western Maryland (which is where I picked up my ‘ya’ll).  This valley is sort of a northern finger (not gonna tell you which finger) of the Bible belt. 

Our Ford van was wrecked by a tractor trailer the first winter we lived back east and my parents bought a Ford Fairmont station wagon (with, believe it or not, a manual transmission).  My mom, being the iconoclast that she was, got a bumper sticker which read, “The Moral Majority is Neither.”  I’m not sure how many times the tyres were slashed on that vehicle.  Our other car, which didn’t have the bumper sticker, was never damaged. Based upon the selectivity, I have to assume that the damage was done by people offended by the bumper sticker.  Now slashing tyres is a crime.  It is a property crime which, since it cost my parents money to repair the damage, is, like all property crimes, stealing.  So what part of  “Thou Shalt Not Steal” were the (presumably theist) vandals unclear on?  Not to mention the crime of vandalism?

Though I had been exposed (occasionally) to Biblical literalism when I lived in Arizona, I was still unprepared for the Bible belt.  Again and again the cruelty exhibited by theists was brought home to me through personal experiences.  There was a girl in my sixth grade class who was a member of a very fundamentalist church.  I don’t know if they were Pentacostals, but snake handling would NOT have surprised me given the other members of her extended family with whom I was acquainted (and I’m not sure if anyone NOT a family member was even in the church).  When she was 12, she got pregnant by her uncle.  Her thirty-five-year-old-married-with-three-children-of-his-own uncle.  Her parents decided that she had to have the child.  She also had to stay in the school while pregnant.  These two decisions were made (according to the multi-source rumours I heard) in order to fulfill ‘god’s punishment.’   Why was she being punished?  Because she had seduced her uncle.  So, what part of  “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adulter” was the uncle not familiar with?  Not to mention statutory rape and child abuse?

Once, while in middle school, someone wrote a dirty word on the wall of a stall, complete with a remarkably bad illustration.  The vice-principal checked all the bathroom passes which had been issued during the hour in which the crime occurred.  I was one of those called to the office.  When I was called in, I said that I had urinated in one of the wall mounts and not gone into a stall.  As I came out, I passed three boys (all deeply religious, all deeply assholious) and one of them said, “We’re gonna say you did it, you fucking Christ-killer.”  Sure enough, the three of them went in and, one by one, reported that they had seen me doing the deed.  Never mind that they weren’t at the restroom at the same time.  Never mind that their hall passes were timed after I was back in class.  It was the word of three boys who went to the same church and were related against one outsider.  One day of in-school suspension for me.  A good laugh for them.  So, what part of “Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness” were they unclear on?

I think that my middle and high school years were the most unpleasant of my life.  Generally, the unpleasantness had to do with religion (specifically, my LACK of religion).  Just a few examples:  Being beaten by three fellow Boy Scouts because I would not say “Jesus is my saviour” while the Scout Master watched (I quit scouts soon after).  I was asked by an English teacher (the same one who said that Tom Sawyer’s mistreatment of Jim the slave was justified by the story of Cain and Abel) in class, “Billy, you’re a Unitarian.  Do you even celebrate Christmas?  You do?  Why?”  Having my locker repeatedly defaced with swastikas and stars of David (because I was a Unitarian?  The stupid hurts.) and having the vice-principal tell me, “Clean it off yourself, you deserved it.”  Except for the locker, these don’t actually qualify as crimes, but on a ‘moral’ level, they are pretty low.

Washington County, Maryland was (and most likely still is) a predominately Protestant Christian area (especially in the hinterlands).  For those who did not fit the majority theotype (if that’s even a word), I suspect my experience was not unique.  My oldest sister experienced many of the same difficulties.  My middle sister became a Roman Catholic (which was at least marginally acceptable (she was a ‘Christian’ and that’s what counted)) but still received more than her fair share of abuse.  For all of us ‘newcomers’ (and if you weren’t related to half the school, you were a newcomer for all time) the harassment and low-level abuse was considered normal and was accepted as such by the parents, scout masters, teachers and school administrators.

I know at least on reaction which this post may bring:  “Those people could not have been real Christians to do those things” or “You can’t condemn all Christians because of a few bad apples.”  They considered themselves real Christians, and I can condemn religion for these crimes and abuses. 

Christianity (and I suspect much of this stems from the persecution of the early Christians by Rome (not because they were Christians but because they refused to even go through the motions to honour the state religion)) is set up as a duality:  us versus them.  The ‘us’ are the members of your congregation and (in some situations) related groups.  The ‘us’ are the real Christians.  The ‘them’ is every single other person on earth.  And the ‘them’ are the servants of Satan, the worshippers of the anti-Christ, the enemy.  Because they are the enemy, the normal rules of behaviour (and even (sometimes) the law of the land) do not apply.  Slashing tyres, abusing children, beating a fellow scout, mocking minorities, and petty vandalism are ALL acceptable ways of discommoding a non-believer.

We are expected to accept (and our news media has accepted) that morality comes from religion.  Morality is only possible for a true believer (never mind that every single Christian sect has been anathematized by at least one other sect so none are true believers in someone’s eye).  I think the opposite to be true.

The abuse and vandalism I have described above were directed against someone who the prevailing majority believed to be outside the fold.  The rules of morality only apply to those within your group (Do not covet thy NEIGHBOR’S goods.  Do not covet thy NEIGHBOR’S wife, Do not bear false witness against thy NEIGHBOR.).  Those outside your group are outside the selective morality of one’s religion and are thus fair game for abuse, murder, rape, plunder, enslavement and theft (read the Old Testament histories, folks).  Even the natural world is outside the selective morality as ‘God’ created man, not nature.

Atheists, however (and at the risk of generalizing (I do not presume to speak for other atheists, only my view of other atheists, nec pas?)), view all of humanity and the natural world of which we are a part as inside the fold.  By viewing all humanity as my neighbor, there is no group which is ‘beneath’ me and my enemy.  Some individuals I consider my enemy – those who use religion and ignorance to abuse their fellow humans.

 And as for the muffin-heads who think that the recent shootings are due to non-belief and not enough churches?  Just because someone believes in God, just because someone goes to church, does not mean that they will not commit crimes or immoral acts.  Besides, maybe the ones who were shot were not considered a ‘neighbor’ by the shooters.  Maybe the victims were outside the fold.  Just as I was.

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13 comments

  1. Thank you for writing this. I am so sick of people equating atheism with no morals. When people ask me why I even bother to do good things since I’m an atheist and it doesn’t matter, I usually reply, ” Wow, thats kind of scary, all these Christians and the only thing holding you back from raping, pillaging, and murdering is one little book. Scary, I didn’t know you guys were only going to church to keep you from killing toddlers.”


  2. Such an annoying attitude. Just this weekend a friend remarked in a conversation about someone who’s child has gone wild with drugs etc that it was unusual because they always took their kids to church. And how it is proven that kids who go to church turn out better than kids who don’t. I had no ready answer 1) because I tend to answer in an angry manner to these kinds of statements and did not want to start a fight and 2) because I am not quick with the rejoinders. Afterwards of course I thought of a number of good (non-angry) answers. But it was too late.


  3. Sabrina: Welcome. I like your comeback regarding the necessity of the Bible for morality.

    Seven Crows: I have also been told that my children will become reprobates because they go to a public school and don’t thump the Bible (sounds almost dirty when I put it that way, eh?). Welcome to my blog.


  4. Let me share a religious bias I recently experienced. Some CoC guy gave the usual bit about evolution and how if you believe evolution then you believe everything had a common starting point. From this he determined that therefore no life is any more valuable than another, which of course leads to thinking life is cheap and disposable (with examples of abortion and shootings).

    Now in contrast, he said he believes everything was made by god and therefore everything is valued.

    Did you catch it? Both ideas as he presented them speak of a common origin, and therefore uniting all of existence, yet somehow one leads to devaluing life whereas the other leads to valuing? The hypocrisy is amazing.

    Btw, the story to shut them all up about the bible necessary for morality is actually in their bible. The story of the good Samaritan. I forget the details but essentially some guy is fucked up and none of the religious guys who walk by help. The guy who helps? The Samaritan, the wild, unchurched barbarian. Hmmm, let me see if I have this straight:
    Churched = no help
    Unchurched = help
    Yeah, the bible sure is necessary for morals. Uh huh. Riiiight.


  5. You’re right that religion, xtianity in particular, while claiming to promote love and understanding of others, actually fosters an “us against them” attitude when it comes to dealing with people with different beliefs. But I think that the intensity of this attitude is somewhat determined by one’s geographical location. Your experiences seemed to have occured when you were living in a section of the country where fundamental/evangelical
    Xtianity is predominant. I, on the other hand, was born and raised in northern New England, where fundamentalists/evangelicals are a minority.

    Most people, when I was growing up, were Catholic, Jewish or some relatively conservative Protestant sect and didn’t care much what religion their neighbors and friends practiced. I’m sure that there were also atheists, but I don’t recall meeting any or hear any discussions about them. But there were plenty of people who rarely attended church. I guess the religious climate where I grew up was pretty diverse.

    I was raised a Catholic and the closest I came to experiencing this “us versus them”
    mentality was when I was in my early teens, and a priest’s sermon was about the parents’ duty to not allow their children to play with non-Catholic children. Even at that age, my bullshit detector was beginning to function and my first thought was “Huh? This can’t be right! What happened to love thy neighbor?”

    Things have changed somewhat now that there are more fundamentalist/evangelical churches in my area, but they are nowhere near as bad as in some other areas of the country. I’ve read the posts of atheist who live in some of the Bible-Belt states stating that they fear bodily injury, loss of job or business, and other drastic results if they were to openly declare their “unbelief.” Fortunately for me, this is not a problem. My family, friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who chooses to bring up religion (especially the local Jehovah Witnesses) know that I’m an atheist, and this hasn’t affected my life in the least.

    Those that are important to me (family, friends, etc.) are still “believers, but they don’t think any less of me for believing as I do. They do, however, seem to avoid religious discussions ;).

    Although I have had limited local exposure to militant Xtianity, I have been exposed to the virulent “fundie” bullshit spouted by Jerry Falwell and his ilk. So, your experiences with discrimination and downright hostility because you were different is not surprising. Although these experiences were extremely painful, you seem to have come through them well and emerged a better person than those self-righteous bigots. Unfortunately, people like them are totally oblivious to the disparity between their actions and their beliefs. Self-righteousness and bigotry are the refuge of those who are afraid to think.


  6. Frizz: No question but that the prevalence and level of intollerance is geographic. Unfortunately, it has spread. I have been hit (as an adult) with the Us v. Them attitude from Maine to Northern California, from Florida to Idaho. The mainline moderate Protestant churches are disappearing. The righ-wing fundogelicals churches are growing. Fast.

    I like your last sentence. 🙂


  7. why do you hate god if you would open your heart ot god instead of opening your mind to nowlege you would acept god as a loving master who who would holp you be accepted into the loving community of jesus who is our savior and lover of all mankind you must open your heart because the heart opens to god the mind opens to the devil educatoin draws people away form god and takew them to the dvil wo worshop the devil. I prey for you adn all who are misguided away from the lord by your site. burn in hell.


  8. Christy: Welcome to my blog. Ummmmmm?


  9. Christy: “I prey for you adn all who are misguided away from the lord by your site. burn in hell.”

    Is this a person’s reaction after opening their hearts to god instead of opening their mind to knowledge? If so, I’ll choose opening my mind to knowledge. And, you’re right. You and all the other delusional believers do “prey” upon all who are misguided.


  10. Christy, please open your heart to “nowlege” and “educatoin”. I’m kind of thinking that was a sarcastic post…but if not..Zeus loves you.


  11. I don’t know if its sarcasm or not, but its not one of the regulars here.


  12. Excellent post.

    Christy:
    Atheists don’t hate God. It is impossible to hate a being in whom one does not believe.

    Speaking only for myself, I don’t hate Christians. Most of my family and friends are devout Christians and most of them actually strive to live up to their best moral ideals. I respect them immensely for that and I love them dearly, even though I don’t share their beliefs.

    I do take issue with Christians who are absolutely certain that they know what is best for my life when they don’t even know me. I also take issue with Christians who say that if atheists would repent, be saved and all the rest, Christians “would holp you be accepted into the loving community of jesus,” then close their comments with the loving phrase, “burn in hell.”

    It’s probably too much to expect you to realize that you’ve proven (parenthetical’s) point for him.


  13. Chappie, Sabrina and Frizz: Thank you. I admit that although I fully expect posts like the on from Christy, it still came as a bit of a shock. I appreciate your comments, I especially appreciate that your comments were respectful of my visitor, while still pointing out the absurdity of her (?) comment.

    Christy said:

    why do you hate god As Chappie pointed out, atheists do not hate god(s). I do not hate god(s). How can I hate something which, based upon evidence, does not exist.

    if you would open your heart ot god instead of opening your mind to nowlege you would acept god as a loving master My heart is open to my wife, my children, my extended family, and my love of knowledge. The idea of a loving master sounds suspisciously like the justifications used by slave owners in the ante-bellum south.

    who who would holp you be accepted into the loving community of jesus who is our savior I have had enough experience with ‘communities of Jesus’ to know that I do not want to do whatever it would take to become a part of that community.

    lover of all mankind Given the horrors done in god’s name and in Jesus’ name, how could such a cruel, heartless being be called a ‘lover of mankind?’ How could a god who asks a man to kill his own son be considered a ‘lover of mankind?’ How does the concept of original sin mesh with ‘lover of mankind?’

    educatoin draws people away form god and takew them to the dvil wo worshop the devil. No, what education does is give us the ability to think critically, to examine evidence, and to make our own decisions. Exactly the things that the more conservative churches do NOT want because it would cut down on converts.

    I prey for you adn all who are misguided away from the lord by your site.
    Thank you for your prayers. I hope that it makes you feel better. It makes no difference to me, but if you want to hypnotize yourself, go for it.

    burn in hell. WTF!?!?!?!?!? After telling me that I am loved and would be accepted, then you tell me to burn in hell? You don’t say that I will burn in hell if I do not change my ways, only to burn in hell.

    Christy: I strongly hope that you continue to come to my site. Please read the posts and think about your comments. You will not convert me, but I am more than willing to discuss religion, philosophy, or any other subject. Threatening me will NOT change my mind. Only evidence will.



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