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Michelle Motoyoshi

Michelle Motoyoshi
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March 22
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I don't know anything about this blogger business. I'm just a concerned nobody with something to say and access to the internet -- What? That's what a blogger is? Oh...

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MARCH 11, 2010 5:39PM

Common Misconceptions about Atheists (agnostics, too)

Rate: 46 Flag

Today I’d like to talk about religious stereotypes.  Well, actually, I should say non-religious stereotypes. Okay, atheists.  I want to talk about atheists. 

Yeah, I know. That topic sounds about as inviting as a naked soak in a cesspool with a hepatitis-infected leper, but indulge me a moment.  My proposed job here is to get us to examine our assumptions and beliefs.  And I would bet pretty decent money that most of us have a stereotype or two about atheists floating around our brains.  Granted, those stereotypes aren’t nearly as colorful as those that attend the big three -- Jews, Christians, and Muslims – (God seems to prefer uniformity of practice). But I think any attempt to combat misconception, no matter against which group, is a noble pursuit, particularly if it encourages mutual understanding.  Or at least mutual diminishment of blatant ignorance.

One of the most common misconceptions about atheists is that they are amoral; they are callous beasts driven wholly by self-interest. This misconception is born from the fallacious assumption that morality cannot exist in the absence of God (or gods).  If there is no higher being to hold you accountable for your deeds, religious folk reason, then what could possibly keep someone on the straight and narrow?  Why not live for the self? Why not say “screw the world, I’m living for me,” if no divine justice awaits you at the end of your days?  Why should the godless ever do the right thing?

Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do. 

Contrary to popular belief, one can believe in a greater good without subscribing to a greater being. And it is this greater good (the betterment of society, of the environment, of man himself) that motivates the atheist to behave unselfishly.  In a sense, the atheist subscribes to the fundamental tenet of most religions – to treat others with the same respect and compassion that you yourself want to be treated with – without seeking to please a divine creature in the process.  The reward is the action itself, is the good it propagates here and now, not some prize that awaits one in the after life.  Likewise, the punishment for wrongdoing is the harm and horror it wreaks here on earth. 

Furthermore, the atheist doesn’t reserve his love and respect only for those of the same belief; he isn’t kind just to other atheists. Nor does he offer his good deeds with a sermon attached; no attempts at conversion accompany his compassion. The atheist doesn’t see saved and unsaved, believer and infidel….us and them. Instead, he sees only humans, some misguided perhaps, or even willfully blind. And yes, there are some that he may harbor prejudicial attitudes toward (atheists are human after all).  But in the end the atheist respects the religious person’s right to believe as he believes and doesn’t make proselytizing the cost of altruism.

Part of what propagates the view that atheists are selfish, amoral, hell-bound savages is the fact that atheists are not organized. There is no atheist canon, no church to attend, no rituals or traditions to follow. While there are numerous atheist and secular organizations that perform and fund charitable work around the world (see the end of this article for a very partial list of such organizations), atheists have no visible institution to unite them or identify them with their shared belief. Thus, when atheists engage in good works they do so independently or under the banner of other organizations that have no atheist affiliation.  As a result, atheists do not garner the credit; other organizations or sometimes even other religions do.

So what’s the take-home of my baby rant?  If you think all (or even most) atheists are heartless monsters that don’t give a crap about anyone but themselves, check yourself.  How did you arrive at that conclusion? What sort of experience and knowledge is that assumption based upon?  More important, ask yourself how such an assumption isn’t as condescending and prejudicial as many atheists are accused of being toward the religious? If you cannot judge atheists on the quality of their character rather than on the perceived stigma of their belief, then how are you any better than they are?

 

http://techskeptic.blogspot.com/2007/12/atheist-charities.html

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My experience has been that atheists tend to be practical and somewhat skeptical (and speaking only of those Atheist I do know - certainly not categorically) they are quicker to forgive.

As for me I do not believe in Atheists
I think you should thank ol' Jeffy their for proving your point ;)
I agree with everything you've written in this post. Atheists rule!
Hi there deffrey dach,

As an athiest, I like this post and I'll offer a respectful disagreement. I'm an atheist. I'm also a good person who loves her dog, her husband, her children, makes cookies for the neighbors, volunteers at school, helps to run a nonprofit, and generally participates in society. I send money to Heifer International. I donate to my local women's shelter.

I don't do these things for power, material objects, or status. I do these things because of the people I love, the organizations that do work I care about, to make the world a better place. I'm as idealistic a person as you're likely to come across. (Too idealistic. Just ask my husband.) I don't watch American Idol. I don't worship myself, or anyone else for that matter.

I participate fully in life on this planet, without the addition of a deity. And I don't conform to the rules of society to avoid punishment. I do it to be safe, and to participate in a lawful, orderly society.
Jeffrey, I would disagree. I think there is something qualitatively different about believing in a greater being vs. a greater good. One major difference: those who believe in a greater being believe that being acts in their lives, bestowing blessings and punishments, guiding them down particular paths , i.e. their god does a lot of their thinking and deciding for them. For those who believe simply in a greater good, their decisions and thinking remain their own responsibility. The consequences for behavior in each case can be quite profound.
Bugga-buggah! I'm an atheist. As if to prove the point of Ms.Motoyoshi's title, you guys are mostly off the mark. I'd like to share some perceptions that formed within me after I came out of the 'no-God' closet.
#1. I felt a sense of profound exultation from the realization that I am entirely responsible for my own moral conduct.. #2. Liberation from the terror associated with mortality (which I didn't expect) 3. Release from interpersonal isolationism based on religious separatism. 4. The recognition of the long historical role of religion in contributing to the horrible foolishness of mankind. I offer these are just to name a few. I don't really feel less enthusiastic about life. Nor have I experienced a diminished sense of consciousness. Quite the contrary, both these human benchmarks have become enhanced in me. Enough said. The last thing I wish to do is force anyone to take a "naked soak in a cesspool with a hepatitis-infected leper". (Jeez, Louise!)
As this posting explains, atheists are perfectly capable of exhibiting altruism and charity. And they do so just as readily as anyone else. An atheist's good acts are intrinsically more pure and real than that of someone driven by the need to please their diety, simply because they're not doing it out of fear of some sort of divine punishment or the hope of being smiled upon by their god(s). When one does the right thing out of a sense of human kindness, rather than because they are supposed to because their religion says so, it is a powerful thing.

Only the ignorant or insecure equate atheism with greed and self-worship. Jeffrey Dach, I am an atheist and abhor American Idol and anything like it. Even if I did watch it, I cannot imagine ever praying to it. But I imagine you pray to idols of Jesus and Mary on a regular basis.
the important part about atheism is they don't spend much time talking about it, anymore than they read children's stories for information. unless they are richard dawkins, who seems to have a second job debunking the believer's nonsense.

it's a matter of psychology, sociology, maybe even genetic predisposition. what it isn't, is worth trying to convince people either way, through logic.
Wrong Jeff, on many counts. For example, most atheists have enough common sense to ignore American Idol. And you.
@Jeffrey Dach
"This statement is paradoxical. An abstract entity such as the 'Greater Good' is a surrogate for the monotheistic Deity."

This makes no sense whatsoever. Please explain.
while i admit i am an agnostic more than an athiest (i spend all my time slogging thru the grey zones) i have never read such twaddle as that from jeffrey dach.

i do good because it is the right thing to do. i have never watched american idol (tho i have visited a lot of christian sites that have forums devoted to it along with dancing with the stars).

the religious members of society has a horrendous history of doing deplorable things in the name of GOD. sort of tough love, i guess.

at least when i do something wrong i own up to it, take responsibility. no 'god made me do it' excuse...
Hi Michelle. I liked your post. As an atheist of many years' standing, I'd say you've summed up atheistic morality quite well.

I see the moral sense, or conscience, as akin to the aesthetic sense or the sense of humor. It's a feature we have that guides us in our actions.

As for jeffrey dach md, what ridiculous twaddle (perfect term MissingK8). "A primitive form of religion". Right. And if we were just a little more enlightened, we could believe in Odin or Zeus just like you. Do you actually believe this stuff or does it just unexpectedly erupt itself out? The rest of it is no better. I've read plenty of willfully ignorant posts on global warming, Obama etc., but yours deserves an exalted position in the annals of stupified nonsense.
Thank you for telling the truth about atheists and agnostics. When I stopped attending my church it was with the realization that they were never going to move into the 15 th Century. The Pope that was selected was the dealbreaker for me. The pedophile thing was downright scary, but the idea that I was being told to vote only on pro-life candidiates (who are pro-death penalty, anti gun control, and against any other government programs) pushed me over the edge. Sunday mornings became a time of celebrating my wonderful husband and kids, not rushing to mass to be fed a lot of drivel. I truly object to churches being tax-exempt. From all evidence they are businesses just like any other, only they sell 'supposed salvation' and massive amounts of guilt.

Sunday mornings became a time of celebrating my wonderful husband and kids, not rushing to mass to be fed a lot of drivel. Instead we celebrate life, love and each other.
Jeffrey Dach, M.M. wrote:

"Atheism is actually a primitive form of religion in which the monotheistic deity is replaced with worship of self, money, idols, material objects, status, power, etc."

Do you have any DATA to support this ridiculous assertion? You do not. Now we know how seriously to take your assertions on any other subject.
Being a confirmed polytheist myself (which, by the way, I find completely consonant with a simultaneous ethical atheism), I find Dr. Dach's assertion that atheism is a primitive form of religion to be somewhat paradoxical. A religion, per se, is a specific dogma to which a specific group of people adhere. Without codification, there's no religion present. There being no hierarchy to impose a behavioral standard on atheists, atheism cannot be termed a religion.

What Dr. Dash describes is actually called animism, which is a very ancient belief system in which a wide variety of creatures, forces and inanimate objects are imbued with various magical powers. (Totemism differs from animism in that totems are representations of natural creatures that are thought to be imbued with the same powers as the natural creatures they represent. Animism worships the godliness within the objects of the material world.)

The difference between animism and atheism is quite simple. Animists worship everything; atheists worship nothing. Liking things, wanting things, elevating things to great importance in your personal estimation is not the same thing as ascribing existence itself to the work of a divine entity.
I see you've run into the good doctor.

How did American Idol become the devil? It's a friggin' singing competition.
Since we don't believe in there is a God looking after the world and the human race, atheists know that the only way to make the world a better place for us, our children and grandchildren is if we work to make it better.
I was once told by someone that I only thought I knew the difference between right and wrong, but because I didn't believe in her god I could never actually know the difference.

To answer her, and Jeffery above, I don't believe you can be truly moral if your actions only come from the fear of being punished, whether by society or divinely. That is the kind of morality little kids practice before they've learnt better.

I don't believe good religious people's morality comes from that source either. A truly good person acts from principle, not from rules and policing.
Quite liked your essay's bent and the way you expressed yourself.
Three points to add:
1. Although your point about the non-exclusionary nature of atheism (in contrast with the superiority complex of most major organized religion) is excellent, I'd like to propose a slight detour and a new concept "anti-theism". The uncontestable fact is that active gospel-observant participation in mandated daily religious ritual is at best a waste of time better spent on more constructive endeavours. At worst, it promotes divisiveness.
2. Unfortunately, as good as your post is (and as excellent as the discourse that ensued), we are unlikely to persuade anyone who is not already on-board, to wit the witless - and humourless -
jeffrey dach md; which brings me to:
3. If this fervid physician uses analogous logic in his diagnosis of patients' illnesses to the kind he uses in his posted dissent than all I can say is God (oops) help them.
Thank you, Michelle!
Thank you, thsnk you, thank you!
Great post. Loved it. Rated it.

However, right after the cesspool sentence I had to take a shower.
Great post. To defend your point further, I think atheism is the natural order of man. Those who subscribe to religious dogma are only segregating [from the holy afterlife] peoples of other beliefs.

-DH Austin: Nobody cares if you believe in Atheists, because they actually exist. If you meant to say Atheism, then you're just as incorrect. The religion you follow is only one of thousands. What makes you think you're better than the rest.

And Jeff: the greater good isn't a specific entity. That is YOUR perception of what she wrote, and I must say it is blinded by your bias. Atheism is the practice no worship. NO worship. Ask any Atheist, and maybe your arrogance [and/or] ignorance will vanish.

Michelle: Great read. It's nice to see there's people on here with an open mind for what the world is. To me, religion and religious fanatics are the thorns of humanity.

rated.
Speaking as someone who has been an atheist since a very early age (the more I was taught about religion in school the less it made any kind of sense whatsoever) I couldn't agree more with this article. Atheists, contary to whatever the bigots on Conservapedia think, do not drive around setting fire to churches, shooting old ladies and sticking kittens on spikes. I know the difference between right and wrong, I contribute to charities and I am not driven by self-interest - I always consider the people around me, especially my wife.
Jeffrey's comment makes no sense to me either by the way.
I am an Agnostic. I know, this is the easy way out because we simply say "One cannot know whether there is a God". Atheism is just another form of religion.
But I fully agree with author. Are those who stay on the straight and narrow path because they are afraid divine punishment for misdeeds more moral than those who do so because it is the right thing to do? Frankly, I feel superior to those who need a threat of punishment. I am also not tempted to kill my fellow man simply because he is of a different religion. Religion has brought more bloodshed and suffering to humanity than any other factor. OK, competition for resources has always been a reason for man to kill those of other tribes, but religious zealotry has been the tool to drive people to do heinous things. Indeed, many of today's conflicts are caused by competition for resources but religion, faith remove inhibitions against killing.
Hey maybe someone can help here:
Is not atheism the denial of the existence of a higher power.

Meaning that if some entity appeared in the clouds with all power and all knowlege--the athiest would deny the existence of that being as being a god?

If that is the case (and I'm not sure it is)--then does not the athiest claim perfect knowlege. The knowlege that the being in the clouds is not a god, but something mudane.

How does the Athiest reconcile this claim to perfect knowlege with the fact that humans are concretly limited in the scope of their knowlege.

So, with that--I ask: Is Atheism a flawed construct because it assumes perfect or special knowlege.
I REALLY hope Jeffrey Dach's understanding of medicine is better than his understanding of religion and atheism. If not, his patients are in serious danger.

Atheism is actually a primitive form of religion in which the monotheistic deity is replaced with worship of self, money, idols, material objects, status, power, etc.

Really? Have you witnessed any atheists "worshipping" any of those things?

When was the last time a propminent atheist went on TV begging people to give him money otherwise he'd be "called home?"

Can you name even one atheist who has accumulated as much money -- for as little return -- as Oral Roberts, "al Qaeda Pat" Robertson, or Jerry Falwell, let alone the Vatican?

The atheist conforms to the rules of society and is lawbiding in order to avoid punishment, not because of a belief in a greater good.

And a Christian, Muslim or Jew who believes in eternal punishment in a place called Hell is law-abiding because...?

Atheism as a form of primitive religion has been with us since the beginning of human civilization and hasn't really changed over the past two or three thousand years.

"Atheism" is the absence of positive belief in a supernatural being. What is there about the absence of a belief that CAN change? (Oh, and "human civilization" dates back a bit more than "the past two or three thousand years.")

What is the most popular TV show? American Idol. We are a natio of idol worshippers.

It's a SINGING COMPETITION. And you've made no attempt to show us how it's relevant to the price of tea in Baghdad -- let alone your tired old anti-atheist bigotry.
oh, god help us all - to evolve.
@ Mr. Mortimer,

Before you call agnosticism a "cop-out," break the word down as you did a-theism.

A-gnostics are simply people who declare they don't know. And they are right: I as an agnostic do not know whether there is a god or gods, and neither do you.

As to Dr. Dach, his argument is so internally inconsistent and clearly founded on personal opinion and prejudice that I can't believe anyone bothered to comment on it. Sure gave him a few more seconds of attention, didn't we?
Is not atheism the denial of the existence of a higher power.

No, it's the admission that there is insufficient evidence to prove the existence of a SUPERNATURAL being.

Meaning that if some entity appeared in the clouds with all power and all knowlege--the athiest would deny the existence of that being as being a god?

That would depend on what, exactly, appeared in the clouds.

If that is the case (and I'm not sure it is)--then does not the athiest claim perfect knowlege.

That is indeed not the case, and even if it was, the answer is still no. Rejecting a claim due to insufficient evidence, is not a claim of "perfect knowledge."

The knowlege that the being in the clouds is not a god, but something mudane.

Again, that would depend on what appeared in the clouds, and what knowledge would be gained from its appearance.

How does the Athiest reconcile this claim to perfect knowlege with the fact that humans are concretly limited in the scope of their knowlege.

No such claim of "perfect knowledge" has ever been made by any atheist. (Such claims ARE, however, routinely made by believers, based on evidence that invariably turns out to be laughably thin.)

So, with that--I ask: Is Atheism a flawed construct because it assumes perfect or special knowlege.

Short and final answer: No. Your question is based on bogus assumptions.
@Motherwell:

Thanks for the info. But how does this:
"...No, it's the admission that there is insufficient evidence to prove the existence of a SUPERNATURAL being..."

...differ from agnosticism?
If I remember correctly, a week or so ago there was an athiest group on a college campus that was giving away porn for any type of religious documents. Now thats moral! If you talk about good and moral, then there has to be evil. What and who defines these things. Does man? If that is the case then my definition of good and evil is the only one that has any merit. If that is not true, then the two do not exist at all.
As a Buddhishly-inclined atheist steeped in the Abrahamic cultural traditions of my surroundings and upbringing, I've had an interesting time raising my son to challenge the notion of imposed faiths and beliefs. Although I live in a society that claims to be staunchly secular but also preaches freedom of religion (though not necessarily freedom *from* religion), it is fascinating to see the extent to which faith and culture have intertwined. Additionally, it is both interesting and ironic to note the number of abjectly amoral actions people regularly justify as being the will of their chosen deity (war, oppression, and genocide all immediately spring to mind).
I think many of you would enjoy the book God Is the Good We Do by Michael Benedikt, where the difference between God as a being and God as a doing is nicely explored.
@Post mortem-
Is not atheism the denial of the existence of a higher power.

Atheism is the recognition that no evidence exists to support the existence of any supernatural beings, especially the one commonly called "God".

Meaning that if some entity appeared in the clouds with all power and all knowlege--the athiest would deny the existence of that being as being a god?

If this being were actually to appear, then there would be evidence. Its existence would be based on knowledge, rather than faith.

If that is the case (and I'm not sure it is)--then does not the athiest claim perfect knowlege. The knowlege that the being in the clouds is not a god, but something mudane.

So you see, it is the believer who claims perfect knowledge. He claims to know with certainty something for which there is zero supporting evidence.

How does the Athiest reconcile this claim to perfect knowlege with the fact that humans are concretly limited in the scope of their knowlege.

Yes, please. How do you reconcile this claim to perfect knowledge with the fact that humans are limited in the scope of their knowledge, and there are no facts to support your claim?

So, with that--I ask: Is Atheism a flawed construct because it assumes perfect or special knowlege.

The only conclusion must be that religious belief is a flawed construct because it assumes perfect or special knowledge.
This recovered Roman Catholic isn't out to convert anyone but in fact there are a form of "Ten Commandments" of Humanism, a kissin' cousin of Atheism. You'll find them in Free Inquiry, a journal of those who subscribe to Secular Humanism.
Here they are:

WE ARE COMMITTED to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
WE DEPLORE efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
WE BELIEVE that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
WE BELIEVE in an open and pluralistic society and thet democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
WE ARE COMMITTED to the principle of the separation of church and state.
WE CULTIVATE the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
WE ARE CONCERNED with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
WE BELIEVE in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
WE ATTEMPT to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
WE WANT TO PROTECT and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
WE BELIEVE in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
WE BELIEVE in the cultivation of moral excellence.
WE RESPECT the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise their reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health care, and to die with dignity.
WE BELIEVE in common moral decencies: Altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
WE ARE ENGAGED by the arts no less than the science.
WE ARE CITIZENS of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
WE ARE SKEPTICAL of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
WE AFFIRM HUMANISM as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a rich source of personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
WE BELIEVE in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt of sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
WE BELIEVE in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

You will note that these ARE NOT commandments. For a proposed update I recommend reading Christopher Hitchens on the TEN COMMANDMENTS in the current issue of Vanity Fair. It's available online.
Isn't one acting out of self-interest if one's behavior is motivated by avoiding hellish punishment and/or obtaining heavenly goodies? Seems to me like the *ultimate* self-interest.
I've finally become able to say: I know there is no god.
For the LONGEST I was afraid to say that because... I can't prove that!!! AND... so many freaking people believe it.
But, those same people have no problem telling their children that their really is no Santa or Rambo.
So, yeah... there is no god.
Evil Planrt, and Michelle,

My comment, "I do not believe in atheists" was a poor attemtp at humor and not ment to be dismissive. I apologize

DH
What and who defines these things. Does man? If that is the case then my definition of good and evil is the only one that has any merit. If that is not true, then the two do not exist at all.

Wrong again. ALL morality is defined by humans, with or without postulating a God to back it up. A valid moral code is one derived from OBSERVATION of the REAL benefits or harm done by various actions. If an action is seen to be consistently and predictably beneficial to people, it tends to be ruled "good." If an action is seen to be consistently and predictably harmful to people, it tends to be considered "evil." We humans are perfectly capable of figuring out moral codes based on clear and verifiable objective factors.
@jeffrey dach md

You are practicing transference. The way I view it is that people who are convinced that atheists lead amoral lives, despite all evidence to the contrary, are the ones who would run amok if there was not an imaginary bully in the sky ready to punish them were they to transgess. Yet when they do run amok and transgress, the sky-bully forgives them.

This is why so many religious people are hypocrites who so often break the moral code their god sets out for them.
Well put and true. Regardless of what someone thinks about Ultimate Reality, they should be measured by WHAT they DO, not the purported metaphysical justification for their action (or lack thereof).

CONGRATS ON THE WELL-DESERVED EDITOR'S PICK, MICHELLE. It couldn't happen to a nicer person!

~R~
Thank you, Michelle. Gives my eyes delight to see this raise its head to speak. I'm 63, and read Ayn Rand at 21, which solved all the puzzle pieces that didn't fit, and never looked back. Open all these decades to the arguments, but I've found science and logic to be much more rewarding and warm.
@Bonnie Russell - I have heard such statements put that bluntly, granted not often and usually from someone who is almost rabidly religious, but I have heard it. Most often, though, it comes in questions like "why aren't there atheist charities?" "How are your kids going to know right from wrong?" They're not saying it, but you know what they're saying.
@Bill Rohan - yes, I was a bit hyperbolic in some of my statements, and what I said can't be applied to all atheists, just like you can't say all of any group is something. But I was still feeling offended by a statement I heard recently by someone who claimed atheists (and he threw in Muslim and Hindus, too) would not take the time to go to a third world country and build homes. Only Christians would. So, yeah, I was little bent by that, and I guess it showed.
Thanks (both of you) for your comments!
@Bonnie Russell - I have heard such statements put that bluntly, granted not often and usually from someone who is almost rabidly religious, but I have heard it. Most often, though, it comes in questions like "why aren't there atheist charities?" "How are your kids going to know right from wrong?" They're not saying it, but you know what they're saying.
@Bill Rohan - yes, I was a bit hyperbolic in some of my statements, and what I said can't be applied to all atheists, just like you can't say all of any group is something. But I was still feeling offended by a statement I heard recently by someone who claimed atheists (and he threw in Muslim and Hindus, too) would not take the time to go to a third world country and build homes. Only Christians would. So, yeah, I was little bent by that, and I guess it showed.
Thanks (both of you) for your comments!
I don't think we can attribute any one attribute, be it kindness or cruelty, to one large, diverse group of people. There are mean atheists. There are nice ones. And I think, as with religious peoples (that is, people who believe in a Significant Other Creator of some sort), there are many different kinds of atheists.

I will say I am not fond of any person, believer in whatever or not, who is smug and makes fun of others for their beliefs. That person, whoever that might be, is not, as he or she imagines, superior but instead, clearly, incredibly insecure and very dumb to imagine he or she knows everything. I dated someone like this once. It is not attractive or even interesting, believe me, to be exposed to 'smug, angry young man/woman syndrome' day after day.
Actually, thanks everyone for your comments (except you spammers. you're annoying). I do truly appreciate it!
@Cymraeg:
"Atheists, contary to whatever the bigots on Conservapedia think, do not drive around setting fire to churches, shooting old ladies and sticking kittens on spikes."

Speak for yourself. Me, I love a good old lady-kitten shishkabob.

^_^

Rated.
motherwell, you made my point. According to your theory, if the majority of the people in this country see abortion as "bad", then anyone that sees this action as "OK" is evil. That does not hold water. As for athiest, you better hope you are correct in your beliefs. If I am wrong, guess what? Not a problem. If you are wrong, well, good luck. Oh, I forgot, there is no wrong in your world. Well, good luck anyway. Oh, there is no good either.
The issue is not whether or not atheists are moral or not? The question is whether or not a God could exist? All knowing and all powerful are contradictory attributes and cannot exist in the same entity. If you focus on what people believe why no consider why they believe as they do?
Faith is what keeps otherwise honest people from looking for the truth.
With all the great advances in science and technology; I think it is a perfect time for the religiously faithful to question their faith. This certainly applies to all religious faiths; Christian, Islam, Judaism, and all who believe in a supernatural controlling God.

With all the DNA evidence that has been repeatedly duplicated within various scientific specialties; the arguments against evolution should be questioned by people honestly looking for the truth.

There is now so much repeatable evidence that the universe, and all matter, were created in a big bang; that here again, the religious faithful must question their faith.

What a shame that we are still killing one another over differences in religious Dogma.

This is one big world and we are all related. Let's learn to live together.
It seems to me, that as we evolved and our brains and thinking ability
improved, we started to ask: "Where did we, and those like us, come from."
The images on the walls of he caves in Europe and the written record left
by the Egyptians and other Middle East civilizations certainly ask that
question. Over several thousand years the Egyptians revered several
different Gods. The Greeks and the Romans worshipped several different
Gods. Only in the last 50 years or so did we learn that the Aztecs,
Mayans, Native Americans, and other civilizations in this hemisphere
worshipped various Gods. It wasn't until the Israelis discovered their
own personal monotheistic God, that most people exposed to those ideas
accepted that theology. Why didn't this God influence the earlier
civilizations?

Since the God of Israel told the Israeli priests that they were His chosen
people, non Jews had to find some way to be included and the result was
Jesus and Christianity. The Torah and the Bibles are now the two
guidelines for the growing idea of a monotheistic God. Mohammad was from
another ethnic group and he had his vision and the result were the Koran.
Muslims and the Islamic religion grew at an extremely rapid pace. The
resulting differences in these theologies came to a head when the Pope
decided that Islam was a false religion and it had to be stopped. That
battle is still going on. When the King and Queen of Spain decided to
spread Christianity around the world, Christopher Columbus gave them the
golden opportunity. The result in the Western hemisphere was the near
elimination of the great civilizations in this part of the world. Joseph
Smith then discovered the golden plates and The Church of Jesus Christ and
The Latter Day Saints resulted. This loving God neglected all the
previous theologies.

Many, if not most, of the differences in attitudes and values among the
people of the world, are the result of differences in religious dogma.

Modern science has given us a rare opportunity to realize that we are all
closely related and our differences in attitudes and values should be
resolved peaceably through negotiations. The big disagreement regarding
religion, life styles; homosexuality, abortion, etc., could be individual
choices and not dictated by those who differ.

When we accept the fact that there is no supernatural Deity, and we humans
are going to have to rely on one another, there may be peace in this world.
@ PostMortem

Thanks for the info. But how does this:
"...No, it's the admission that there is insufficient evidence to prove the existence of a SUPERNATURAL being..."

...differ from agnosticism?

Response: I guess it doesn't when Atheism is described that way.

My understanding is that the term agnosticism is based on our ability to KNOW whether or not a deity exists.

Atheism is the belief you have based on your knowledge or lack thereof.

Agnostic Atheist - this person could respond with something like "I don't think we can answer the question as to whether God exists but I don't currently believe in any of the Gods that have been presented with"

Atheist - This person may respond with something like "I'm sure someday we will know whether or not there is a God but until there is some sort of proof I am not going to believe in one"

Does that make sense? One term lives in the realm of knowledge and one in the realm of belief. I might also be out in left field - it's been know to happen every now and then.
@holmescc

"As for atheist, you better hope you are correct in your beliefs. If I am wrong, guess what? Not a problem."

Ummm, with thousands of different religions out there - if you are wrong and the atheist is wrong then you are both up shit creek without a paddle. It's not an either or situation - it's a this, or this or this or this or that or maybe that other thing situation.
Well said. Who's more moral, the person who does the right thing simply because it's the right thing, or the one who needs the promise of heaven to choose the right?

I wrote on this subject myself a while back.
http://open.salon.com/blog/capn_parrotdead/2009/09/27/my_dudeism_sunday_sermon-_morals_and_religion

Jeff Dach is a moron.
Oh, forgot to mention. Loved the article. Thx.
"This misconception is born from the fallacious assumption that morality cannot exist in the absence of God (or gods)."
Quite clear that the neurotic wafer munchers & other brands of them confuse 'fallacious" with "fellatio".

In the past I told about an experience I had while finishing up a job of repairing an appliance for an elderly lady who couldn't afford my service and not charging her anything.
The typical nosy three axe handle assed churchlady neighbor waddled over as I was loading my truck and told me that she knew what I was doing for some of the elderly poor and that I was a christian and would surely fgo to heaven.
I told her that I was an atheist and just a decent person.
She "gasped" and said that I would go to hell.
I had to get out of there before I puked trying to not laugh in her face.
Also what Sandy fox said what froggy said.lol

Sagemerlin, I think you ought to see a therapist.
You said you're a polytheist.
Anyone who thinks their parrot is god needs help.

Does anyone else wonder whether, if they walked into Dr Dachula's office they'd be deafened by the loud quacking?

Finally, I watch Jeopary.
In yesterday's episode, they had a bible category.
All the questions had to do concerning which book of it was described by how many people this god character killed.
I thought it was hilarious.
The answers to that category can be found
CLICK HERE

No wonder the religiomatics are so scared shitless.

Michelle, great post.
For a long time in this country, being an atheist was associated with communism and anti-Americanism. While that is not true today, if I had a dollar for every time one of these far-right religious nutjobs spouted off about the founding fathers, I'd be rich. One of my best friends is an atheist and she is one of the most moral, ethical and caring human beings I've ever met. I don't consider myself an atheist; more like an explorer. But I admire and try to emulate a lot of standards that atheists offer.
Without necessarily saying as much aloud, most adherents of any faith partially share a mindset with athiests: they know in their hearts that the core beliefs of all religions are pretty much arrant nonsense, grounded as they are in laughably specious folklore, superstition and ridiculous dogma people could only swallow if spoonfed before they had developed enough common sense to know better, and unlike a belief in the Tooth Fairy, were never subsequently disabused of. All religions, that is, but their own, whose nonsensical tenets are sacred becuse they are, well,Gospel.

Ever wonder why the religions of the world are so geographically concentrated? People are indoctrinated or infected early with the local strain before they are old enough to (a.) objectively evaluate claims from those they must trust for their welfare,or (b.) travel.

What parent, for example, Christian or not, would believe his or her own pregnant daughter if she contended she had been impregnated without intercourse, with God as the father? And yet, any parent would at least have some basis in experience for judging the daughter's trustworthiness.

As many others have pointed out, atheism does not depend on an assumption of perfect knowledge, but on a recognition of insufficient evidence for drawing a different conclusion. While the agnostic is open to more evidence, I think, the athiest recognises
that whatever case can be made probbly has been by now, and it is woefully insufficient.
Religious adherents rely on circular reasoning in demanding belief: you must believe any given dogma because it is true, and it is true because they believe it. Thin.
Mr. Jeffrey Dach represents the perfect expression of what Christians are truly like. He is an insecure, angry little man, who believes that he and all of mankind are basically evil humans, kept in line by an angry God. Atheists and other non-religious folks seem, on the other hand, more secure about themselves, and find less need to denigrate others of a different ilk. When they do good, it is out of a shared belief in humanity and that doing good is in and of itself a good thing.
How sad a person is Mr. Dach.
This is a rather odd post to have on the cover of Open Salon, because as far as I can tell OS has a largely atheistic and anti-religious membership. Some of the most popular posts on OS are about "how I lost my religion." They are almost as popular as "how I lost my virginity." So this post is mostly preaching to the choir, so to speak.

In fact, I think it is safe to say that a post defending religion, especially one defending traditional Christianity, would never, ever, show up on the cover. If such a post ever were to show up on the cover, it would be a sign of the Second Coming.

The only expressions of religion that are "acceptable" on OS are those that are consistent with the values of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. So one can express religious sentiments on OS as long as one favors same-sex marriage, abortion without limits, and so on. Anything else, and you'll get your head handed to you.

On OS Catholics in particular are popular targets, and posts ridiculing Catholics and the Catholic church have actually ended up on the cover. Around here the pope is about as popular as Hitler, and the only real question about the Catholic church is whether it is slightly better or worse than thermonuclear warfare.

On OS the sins of religious people are cataloged and trumpeted at length, while the sins of atheists and nations that have been officially atheistic are conveniently overlooked, even as the good things of religion and religious people are overlooked. While religious people have been responsible for many evils, my point is that there typically isn't any balance. Around here religious people are typically "guilty as charged," while the offenses of the anti-religious folks never even make it to court.

While it is certainly true that individual atheists can be moral without religion, I think it is also true that to some extent their morality comes from living in a culture with centuries of religious tradition. In other words, atheists continue to be influenced by the moral language, concepts, and images or religion even as they reject the religion.

The interesting question is what happens in a society when the influence of religion finally dies out, and the moral language, concepts, and images of religion no longer exist. Such a society can continue for a while, but I think ultimately the end is not good.

When religion goes away in a culture, what takes its place? Look at what has happened in the black community. For centuries the black community in America was sustained through the worst possible conditions by Christianity. But as the influence of Christianity and the black churches has waned, what has replaced that is thug culture, drugs and alcohol, crime, and promiscuity. As the influence of religion has declined, the black community didn't end up with a bunch of ethical secular humanists. They ended up with the cultural version of cancer.

And this is something that atheists might want to reflect on. When religion dies out or loses its influence, what fills that vacuum? The answer may not be immediately apparent, and the full effect may not be seen for many decades. An airplane that runs out of gas can continue to fly for a great distance, but ultimately the situation ends in disaster.
@ mishim - Speaking as someone who lives in largely secular Europe, I can probably answer what happens when religion dies out - the religious trappings take on cultural significance as they lose their spiritual meaning. Churches become tourism attractions, literature continues to draw on our shared and ancient religious heritage, and people keep booking churches for weddings and funerals. Crime doesn't go up.

You yourself might want to reflect on why the more fanatically religious a country is, the more likely it is to be poor and socially unjust e.g. Uganda, large areas of the Middle East and so on, despite being blessed with natural resources that should make them wealthy.
Jeffrey said... "Atheism is actually a primitive form of religion in which the monotheistic deity is replaced with worship of self, money, idols, material objects, status, power, etc. The atheist conforms to the rules of society and is lawbiding in order to avoid punishment, not because of a belief in a greater good."

I say, "Baloney." You know little about the subject, and even less about those of us who live without a celestial parent-god keeping us in check. "Worship of self, money, idols, material objects, status, (and) power" are not even on my to-do list in this life. Understanding why and how people choose to live and are how they are ABLE to survive this ordeal...THAT is my only interest.
morning star, good luck with that too. See, I know that I am correct. You people are searching.
As for athiest, you better hope you are correct in your beliefs.

I see...you can't refute my beliefs, or convince me of your own, or offer me anything good to encourage me to adopt your beliefs; so instead you resort to vague, laughable threats. This alone proves your beliefs are empty and indefensible.

Oh, I forgot, there is no wrong in your world.

Your ignorance of "my world," demonstrated so efficiently in one sentence, once again proves your beliefs are worthless.
Bill, you said... "Also I think the author "hyperbolizes" and goes to the extreme about the way most religious prople feel about atheists. It's not that bad!"

I don't know where you live, but in the Christian community I live in - predominately Baptist, I am seen as literally in alliance with the devil. I have been shunned at work and when trying to make friends. When they find out I am not Baptist, they are actually frightened of me. I have a statue of Buddha that I think is pretty in my living room. One woman said, doesn't that scare you? Look at its eyes, it's evil. I wouldn't have it in my house. She also wouldn't have ME in her house, as I haven't seen her since.

How is that "not so bad"?

p.s. the other half of the area is Latino/Catholic.
In fact, I think it is safe to say that a post defending religion, especially one defending traditional Christianity, would never, ever, show up on the cover.

Got any proof of that? Oh, and WHICH "traditional Christianity" are you talking about? There's more than one, you know. Roman Catholic? Coptic? Russian, Serbian, Greek, Turkish or Ukranian Orthodox? Lutheran? Calvinist? Gnostic? Southern Baptist?

Also, when you lead in with bombastic self-pity and victimhood, it's a pretty safe bet you really have nothing to offer.

The interesting question is what happens in a society when the influence of religion finally dies out, and the moral language, concepts, and images of religion no longer exist. Such a society can continue for a while, but I think ultimately the end is not good.

Again, where's your proof? (Just a reminder: the Roman Empire declined, and European civilization eroded, at a time when Christianity was ascendant, not in decline. And Europe remained poor, backward, and divided among warring feudal lords long after Christianity established itself all over the continent.)

Look at what has happened in the black community. For centuries the black community in America was sustained through the worst possible conditions by Christianity.

WHICH "Christianity?" That of the slaves, or that of the slave-owners? Oh, and what did Christianity do, exactly, to prevent "the worst possible conditions" from happening to black christians? It certainly didn't stop a solidly Christian United States from ENSLAVING them.

But as the influence of Christianity and the black churches has waned, what has replaced that is thug culture, drugs and alcohol, crime, and promiscuity.

First, you offer no evidence that "the influence of Christianity and the black churches has waned" during that time. And second, you're kinda failing to account for other events, like certain very significant demographic and economic changes that had real and documented effects on black communities (changes which Christianity didn't exactly help to prevent).

Also, you need to address MadamRuth's points. Some of the poorest, meanest backwaters on Earth also happen to be some of the most religious and even theocratic.
Madam Ruth writes: " . . . the religious trappings take on cultural significance as they lose their spiritual meaning. Churches become tourism attractions, literature continues to draw on our shared and ancient religious heritage, and people keep booking churches for weddings and funerals. Crime doesn't go up."

To some extent you're making my point for me. For example, you note that as organized religion has declined, "literature continues to draw on our shared and ancient religious heritage." Religion can continue to have a profound effect on people even when church attendance declines.

Thus, when someone says that an atheist can be moral without religion, it is likely that the atheist is continuing to draw on the "shared and ancient religious heritage" even as he or she rejects religious dogma.

My concern is what happens in a culture when that even that shared and ancient religious heritage is lost -- when those concepts and images and way of thinking about moral issues no longer exist or no longer speak to people is a significant way.
To some extent you're making my point for me.

No, she's not. You're just pretending you're winning an argument in which you haven't got a clue.
Thus, when someone says that an atheist can be moral without religion, it is likely that the atheist is continuing to draw on the "shared and ancient religious heritage" even as he or she rejects religious dogma.

You're basing your argument on poorly-defined and mishmashed concepts. First, not all "heritage" is religious; second, drawing on pre-existing moral codes is not the same thing as adhering to a religion; third, the morality atheists uphold isn't always "ancient;" and fourth, "heritage" or not, it is still possible to devise or update a moral code using objective reasoning, without reliance on ancient texts or beliefs.

The mere fact that some of our ideas come from an ancient religious text, does not mean we need the religion to guide our judgement.
Thank you Michelle for this post. Frankly, I believe a lot of people are agnostic, but too chicken to say so. Maybe articles like yours will give them a little courage.
motherwell, I'm not trying to get you to believe what I believe, and there are no threats in what I say. You can believe what you like, I will say this again. Who defines right and wrong? Whod defines good and evil? You can't answere that question and by not being able to do so, you are the one that does not have the answers. Just because you believe something is ethical or "good" does not make it so. Therefore, you have no argument. I don't need to justify what I believe. You prove with every word you type that you do. Since you say you are an intelect, read the book " A case for Christ". It was written by an athiest. By the way, I wish no ill will. I respect your oppinion although I strongly disagree.
As atheist and agnostic (in the sense that I have no knowledge of a god), this thread has been highly satisfying.
I've considered myself one of the last of the railed-against minorities. I hate the arguments that immediately erupt when I've stated my (lack of) beliefs, thus generally state the I'm not a Christian (which may lead to other types of discussions, but not usually so venomous).

It's wonderful to know that there are so many other thoughtful, intelligent, non-believers out there.

As for Jeffrey, his argument (if it can be categorized as such), is plain silly.
Thanks, Michelle. Great read. It took me a long time to admit that I was an atheist because of the prejudices of believers...or, at least, my idea that they would judge me. Dr. Dach seems to confirm my fears, but logic tells me that I am being prejudiced in that regard, too. Atheist are not perfect, but they are willing to follow the evidence.

I notice that Dr. Dach has not returned to defend his position. That should say it all.
My preconcieved notion about atheists is that they have a misplaced sense of intellectual superiority, and that this sense of intellectual superiorty comes from their preconcieved notion that 'believers' are mindless sheep.

I can also see how religion, specifically the atrocities committed in the name of it, would be total turn off in terms of a higher power.

And, @motherwell, I am a Christian, but I don't believe there is sufficient evidence to support the existance of God. I don't know if this definition is adequate.

I just believe I am too important to be an accident.
How's that for misplaced superiority?
motherwell writes: "You're just pretending you're winning an argument in which you haven't got a clue."

I'm not arguing with anyone. I am simply presenting my view of the relationship of religion to ethics as these issues play out in the culture.

I wrote: "In fact, I think it is safe to say that a post defending religion, especially one defending traditional Christianity, would never, ever, show up on the cover."

motherwell asks: "Got any proof of that?"

I have been on Open Salon since April 2008, and in that time I have never seen a post written from the perspective of traditional Christianity on the cover, however you might want to identify or define traditional Christianity. If you have seen such a post, feel free to point it out to me.

motherwell: "Also, when you lead in with bombastic self-pity and victimhood, it's a pretty safe bet you really have nothing to offer."

I don't know what you're talking about. What I have said about Open Salon is based on my observations during almost two years of participation here. Posts ridiculing and reviling Christianity and religion in general are quite common; sometimes they even end up on the cover. While OS is certainly not an "official" atheist web site, it is fair to say that there is little affinity for religion (especially conservative religion), and overt hostility to religion is quite common. This is not exactly breaking news.

motherwell: "WHICH "Christianity?" That of the slaves, or that of the slave-owners? Oh, and what did Christianity do, exactly, to prevent "the worst possible conditions" from happening to black christians? It certainly didn't stop a solidly Christian United States from ENSLAVING them."

Many people also opposed slavery based on religious grounds. Certainly many Christians supported slavery. Ultimately the anti-slavery view prevailed. Blacks themselves found in scripture and religious worship the strength to persevere, and for generations the black churches were the foundation of their community even long after slavery ended. Black ministers made up a large percentage of the leadership of the civil rights movement.

I don't disagree that religion and religious people have been the source of much evil in the world. What I object to is the lack of balance. Religion has also been the source of much good, and atheists and atheistic governments the source of much evil. But so often the good that religion has done is ignored, and the evils committed by atheists overlooked.

More importantly, while individual atheists can be moral people, the more radical, materialistic versions of atheism undermine even the possibility of morality. If we're all just bags of water and chemicals and electrical impulses, then it is difficult to know how anyone would have a moral obligation to such an object. Much of our moral discourse depends on metaphysical concepts that have no scientific basis. The concepts of "rights," "good," "persons," and so on, cannot be detected by any scientific instrument, but without them it is difficult even to talk about morality. But in a purely materialistic universe, there is no place for them.

Of course, one can be an atheist without being a radical materialist. But to the extent that atheism promotes a materialistic view of life it really does undermine the foundation of morality. While one can have an obligation to a person, one cannot have an obligation to a collection of chemicals. To the extent that a materialist behaves morally, it is in spite of his ideology, not because of it.
Getting caught is a huge deterrent for most; witness the drops in violent crime where shall-issue, concealed-carry laws are enacted (see “More Guns, Less Crime” by John Lott), and the reverse when the potential victims are disarmed (see "The Failed Experiment: Gun Control and Public Safety in Canada, Australia, England and Wales," by Professor Gary A. Mauser, Ph.D.).
Of all religious perspectives, only the Agnostic doesn’t claim to know, but is not closed to new information: religious zealots - including atheists - “know” the answers, and new information meets denial. Religion provides acceptable answers to believers - whether factual or artificial - for those things otherwise beyond the believer’s reach or ability to examine. The Atheist is satisfied in his/her ignorance, demanding scientific evidence, but ignorant of the fact that science itself is based on two unprovable factors of faith: 1. the universe is governed by constant laws, and 2. the faith humanity has the wit to find and understand these laws. I am a Panentheist because that makes sense of the universe and also removes the mysteries of life and purpose for me - and empirical or logical arguments against Panentheism have yet to come to my attention. If and when such ever happens, I’ll again call myself a curious Agnostic in a "New York minute."
Atheism is just a word. God is just a word. Words represent abstract ideas but imperfectly and imprecisely. I am an atheist, that word that defines simplistically my non-belief in big daddy in the Sky; that super being that supposedly knows the total number of hairs on my head. I believe in the innate goodness of human beings, despite the occasional events to the contrary, because the vast majority of us are good and decent regardless of a belief or non-belief in god. We don't consider unintended consequences, maybe; we get misled, frequently; but if we think, if we ask questions, if we don't just accept on faith (a highly overrated and underwhelming concept) but reflect honestly we'll make much more progress as a species (progress being defined as desiring the best for all people and the environment).
This is a most excellent post, thank you.

DH, I think most of us got that you were being fascetious. :)

Dach's arguments are riddled with logical fallacy, not least of which is that he somehow knows that atheists worship "stuff." It does not follow that because we don't believe in god(s), we imbue other things with some sort of worshipful holiness.

To several of you who maybe haven't been around OS as long, there have been some pretty virulent discussions about the impossibility of atheists ever being moral, or acting from altruistic motives, because those qualities only come from god. I guess, then, that we can't be evil either, since a great percentage of the world's historical evils (the crusades, the inquisition, pogroms, the holocaust, the Irish troubles, etc ad nauseum) has been informed by religious beliefs.

I'll close with one of my favorite quotes about our tribe:

You never hear in the news, "two hundred killed today when atheist rebels took heavy shelling from the agnostic stronghold in the north." (Doug Stanhope)
Mishima wrote: "But to the extent that atheism promotes a materialistic view of life it really does undermine the foundation of morality. "
I know of no atheist as materialistic as most of the more (in)famous preachers who appear regularly on television, basically demanding contributions. And I would like to know your source material on atheism promoting a materialistic view?
It can't be from the most famous of the atheistic forms of government, since the basic premise of Communism is 'to each according to his need, and from each according to his abilities'.

Materialism has nothing to do with one's ethical paradigm, it's a factor in one sense of self. Materialistic people can be of any faith or none. From my own experience, the materialistic view of atheists is an argument made to make religious extremists feel superior.
Blacks themselves found in scripture and religious worship the strength to persevere...

How do you know they didn't find that strength IN THEMSELVES? How can you be sure all such strength comes from God(s) or religion? Do you really think a guy who's already decided to get his kids out of slavery needs a book or a priest guiding him to do the right thing for his kids?

More importantly, while individual atheists can be moral people, the more radical, materialistic versions of atheism undermine even the possibility of morality.

Which "versions of atheism" are you talking about? Which atheists, exactly? I've never met or heard of a single atheist -- even the most obnoxious and "militant" -- saying or doing anything to "undermine even the possibility of morality." I have never met a single atheist who said, or implied, that morality was impossible. And quite frankly, I suspect this is just another flat-out lie made up to justify anti-atheist bigotry. I've heard such lies about atheists before, and they flatly contradict my own independent observation of reality; so your credibility is in serious doubt here.

But to the extent that atheism promotes a materialistic view of life it really does undermine the foundation of morality.

Utter nonsense. First, atheism and "materialism" are not the same things, and do not always go together. Second, nothing in a materialistic view of life precludes or undermines morality. There is absolutely ZERO evidence that atheists are less capable of distinguishing right from wrong than theists. And you yourself admit this when you explicitly acknowledge -- these are YOUR WORDS here -- "individual atheists can be moral people." (And, as other have already pointed out, a guy who does the right thing on his own steam is a LOT more moral than a guy who needs an angry punisher-god telling him what's right or wrong.)

While one can have an obligation to a person, one cannot have an obligation to a collection of chemicals.

What does this vapid argument have to do with atheism?

To the extent that a materialist behaves morally, it is in spite of his ideology, not because of it.

You cannot make that argument without explicit reference to specific points of "a materialist's" ideology. Until you can come up with such references, your argument is as bogus as it is insulting. There are plenty of "materialists" whose ideology demands that they don't do things that are observably harmful to others; that alone disproves your claim.
Thank you for this post Michelle. Quite a lively debate you've fostered here. And surely I'm not the only one to have noticed that one who is really trying to stir the pot here is called "Mishima 6 6 6"? What is UP with that?

If I were to sum up my beliefs, I guess I would just say that I believe in humanity and in mankind. I genuinely believe that people want the best for others - they can despise other groups (i.e., religions - or groups lacking religion) in the abstract, but it's really hard once you get to know them as people. My favorite line in the book (and movie) "Blind Side" was when Baptist Sean Tuohy said, "The Mormons may be going to hell. But they really are nice people." That kind of sums it up for me.

There is room for all us in this world. But I am so tired of those who seek to foist their beliefs on me. Why do they think they've seen a greater light and that - if they can just hammer on me long enough - I'll see it too? Why would I have to believe what some else believes in order to be happy or "righteous"? And why would I even want to be righteous? That's pretty much of the opposite of all I stand for.

Well, I'm sure some additional posts from haters will follow this one, so I'll just close with a link to the recent study that found that those who are more highly intelligent are more likely to be both liberal and atheist. Rationalize that one folks.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224132655.htm

"General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions," says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science. "As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles."
There actually is a "church" that welcomes atheists and agnostics who share beliefs such as justice, equality, democratic process and environmental responsibility. Unitarian Universalists subscribe to seven principles but no creed--there is nothing you need to "believe" to be fully accepted. I'm surprised that they are not growing as a denomination; I suspect many people just don't know about them. Check it out at http://www.uua.org/
Funny, I dislike both radical materialists and radical christianists, wonder what that makes me? I like to think it makes me a more reasonable, moderate person with nuanced thinking living in a complicated world where truth is never capitalized.

I haven’t read all the comments, hope I am not repeating.

It is certainly a waste of time to engage in logical argument regarding a belief system which is based on faith.

Personally, I just don’t believe in deities. It’s that simple. I don’t care what other people believe in so long as they don’t try to shove it down my throat. I just wish all those people who have shoved it down my throat all my life felt the same way in return.

And am I the only one who read Social Intelligence? There is excellent data available which demonstrates that our brains are hard-wired for empathy, which is a necessary element of social cooperation, which is a big part of how humans operate.

I learned “morality” from my own innate sense of empathy. When I was a toddler I harmed an animal by trying to play with it, and when I realized that what I thought was a fun game was actually hurting him, I was utterly horrified and I stopped immediately, and I have never forgotten it. I am not perfect, I don’t always consider the consequences of my words and actions on others, but I strive to live according to the principle that I don’t want to hurt others and I don’t want to be hurt. Knowing full well, of course, that imperfect humans can never fully succeed at this.

The Golden Rule exists because of this empathy – the ability to step outside of yourself and understand the experiences/thoughts/feelings/desires of another being besides yourself.

Having said all that, I will agree that not all of Christianity is bad and not all Christians believe anyone who is different is in league with Satan. Can’t we just agree to ditch all the black and white thinking which would posit every issue in the most extreme and oppositional terms possible? Aren’t we smart enough to do that, if we want to?
The Atheist is satisfied in his/her ignorance, demanding scientific evidence, but ignorant of the fact that science itself is based on two unprovable factors of faith: 1. the universe is governed by constant laws, and 2. the faith humanity has the wit to find and understand these laws.

First, I've never met an atheist who was more "satisfied in his/her ignorance" than a religious zealot who thinks his holy book contains all knowledge.

Second, those "two unprovable factors of faith" you mention are not factors of faith; they're conclusions based on observations conducted and corroborated by humans everywhere since prehistory. We CONCLUDE that the Universe is governed by constant laws because we OBSERVE that it consistently ACTS this way. And yes, we CONCLUDE that we can understand these laws because we OBSERVE that our attempts to do so work very well.

Your attempt to misrepresent observation as "faith" is typical of the lies that religious bigots repeat to try to undermine our ability to think for ourselves.
Wow what an amazing dialog. That said I want to add something from a non-Christian, non-Atheist perspective. See where I have the most trouble is in understanding the various arguments about the possibility that there will be a punishment after death for choosing to be an Atheist. I (I consider myself a Buddhist, but that is a misnomer because I am not a monk, I only choose to live by Buddhist principles, as a lay person this would be the 5 Noble Principles, and not the 230+ rules for actually becoming a Buddhist monk) can accept the possibility, for reason of dialectic, that there could be an after life where I will be punished because I made the wrong choice on the argument that this God that the Christians speak of is real, and the soul that they tell will be punished came from him, well who am I to argue with that. If he gave me the soul and not the information to determine which one of the hundreds of religious groups are actually the right ones (and for being unable to figure this out using the mind he gave me) then he can do with that soul what ever he wants. Besides if he is the God that they say he is, and that his will is absolute, then being punished must be part of his plan for this soul, and again who am I to argue with this God.

What I am trying to say here is simply this. As a Buddhist I am unconcerned with who shot the arrow, where the bow was made, what kind of string was used, what class the archer belongs to, or anything else I feel is irrelevant to taking out the arrow and treating the wound. (That is poorly paraphrasing a parable from The Kamata Sutra – whoa now fellas I said KAMATA Sutra not Kama Sutra). It is irrelevant to me whether there is the possibility of a punishment in any after life that may exist. I concern myself with doing no harm NOW, and breathing life every instant it is a gift to me. It is not relevant to me if there is or is not a Christian God, or as the Chinese saying goes, “Man’s obligations to his fellow man precede God.” What is most relevant to me is to enjoy life now, and not live in fear and self loathing because I might be in pain later.
Jeffrey is proving that you don't need to be an atheist to be amoral.
This is why I should proof read, I meant to type Kalama Sutra not Kamata
Or was it the Culamalunkya Sutta, See this is why I should not call myself a Buddhist
seem the charities you list are not really Atheist orgs. i belong to the ACLU as i am sure do many people of faith not to mention many of the other groups you listed. i work a a local soup kitchen and have had good friends who are non believers help out but they recognize that the whole effort is organized and maintained by the local churches. the"atheist community" if there is one has yet to open any thing like a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, food and clothing pantry or day care center that i have heard of. the atheists while willing to volunteer leave it to the religious folks to set up and run such programs. at least so far . let me know of a program like those above run by atheist so i can pass the word to my pals.
There's not a punishment after death for being an Atheist, you just fail to reap the rewards. C.S. Lewis's Narnia books were pretty spot on about that.

Mishima is spot on, as usual, but to add...

The problem with Atheism is that everyone has to base their morality on something. When you don't believe in a higher power there are only a few other options.

Logic, emotion, leadership.

If it's logic alone, then ideas start popping into your head such as sterilization of criminals and the physically and mentally handicapped and arranged breeding. Eugenics is an extremely logical path to follow to evolve the human race into something greater than it is.

If you rely on emotion, well, I don't even really need to go there. I think we can all agree that would be bad.

If you rely on leadership, then you will experience the same sort of sickness that afflicts many christians, that atheists love to point out as if it means a damn thing. Any power will be abused. There will always be someone willing to be a charlatan. The only reason we haven't seen this in atheism is because it's not yet big enough for it to happen. People will always want guidance and some of them are dumb enough or misled enough to go to the wrong people for it. Actually, we have seen this. Anyone that's been on a college campus knows it happens all the time.

I would much rather base my morality on a standard that's stood the test of time and that continually astounds me as to its ability to inform me of what I should do in this situation that appears, to me, to be some big new thing.

I've realized it's kind of a pointless argument though. The bible states that those of us that are christians were called even before we were born to believe in God. Those that weren't never will be, there's really nothing anyone can do about that. All any of us (christians) can be expected to do is to get the word out so that those that are called can realize it.
With "Contradiction's" latest post, it's occurred to me that it's impossible to explain how atheists can be moral to those who base all their morality on a book.
They have the assurance of that book (the Bible) however many contradictions there are in said book (and this likely isn't the place to mention that both homosexuality and non-virgin brides should be put to death according to the Bible).

These believers cannot fathom how others can find a perfectly acceptable ethical paradigm without having recourse to something codified centuries ago. It's like trying to explain green to a man born blind.
I don't know if mishima is right, as I am too lazy to go through that many EPs to discover if any prominent Christian posts have gotten the a-okay, but I will say, if you want beautiful writing and beautiful posts about faith, whether you are agnostic, atheist, Protestant, Buddhist, Taoist (Daoist), Catholic, Jewish, or any other darned thing, I recommned Monte Canfield's posts, if I may be so bold. His sermons are beautiful.

As someone who practices the Way, albeit not very well, I think knowledge is of each others' beliefs is our best bet against becoming intolerant of each other. Monte's words give me belief in humanity, a real gift in these cynical days. Go read his work if you have some time. :) http://open.salon.com/blog/monte_canfield
Michelle, you've stirred up some feeling this time. That's good. I was somewhat surprised by the misconceptions, though, because they don't fit my experience with atheists at all. Possibly because they have had to work through all the religion built into our culture, the atheists I know and have know have been thoughtful, caring people. It was easier to claim Christianity (or Judaism or Islam) than to profess a belief that there is no god.

In many cases, the atheist has been taught god is x or y and has rejected that and anything that smells like it. I reject those, too, and have whatever god is, god can't be understood by me, much less defined. That leaves me with little what I learned as the foundation of Christianity, and yet Christianity is the road that got me here. Is that atheist or not? I haven't figured it out. Does a god whose language is silence exist? And does it matter?

I haven't tried or wanted to conceive a logical argument about all this. Instead, it leads me to work on myself and care for my relationships with other people and the world. Is that the greater good? Atheism or not? At least for now, it doesn't matter to me, and I don't think it matters to this undefinable god.

I'll stop rambling now. Thanks for the post.
The problem with Atheism is that everyone has to base their morality on something.

And theists don't have this problem? What, theists don't base their morality on anything?

When you don't believe in a higher power there are only a few other options. Logic, emotion, leadership.

As thousands of years of history shows, believers have exactly the same problem. What, you think believing in a God makes you immune to conflicts of logic, emotion and leadership?

What's really beyond ridiculous here, is that believers are trying to pretend they're more "moral" than atheists, at a time when the most blatant immorality is being committed by -- and in the name of -- religion. Terrorism, blaming earthquakes (and 9/11) on non-Christians, lying about atheists, lying about evolution, lying about global warming, making laws that punish gays with death, preventing women from choosing whether or not they get pregnant, gleefully preaching about the End Times, calling Obama the Antichrist, lying about the effectiveness of torture, invading Iraq and saying God commanded it...has any of this been done by atheists?

There may be "no atheists in foxholes" -- but there are DEFINITELY no atheists crashing planes into buildings.
Is it just me, or are all these comments about morality a bit weird? Humans are moral animals because, among other things, we are wired for empathy and we can reason out consequences. Morality has also clearly got a cultural component - Protestant Europe opposes the death penalty on moral grounds, while there are Protestants in the USA who believe in the death penalty on moral grounds.

If you honestly believe that humans can only be moral if they are offered the carrot and stick of heaven and hell, then you're basically saying that humans are fundamentally amoral. Which, forgive me, is a very nasty and misanthropic view to take.
Dach, dude, stick to your bio-identical hormone stuff, which is actually quite interesting (in a non-"mainstream science" sort of way). :)

To categorize people as "atheists" is a bit awkward--as Dawkins might agree, why should theists (or greater-powerists or whatever) be allowed to brand those who simply do not subscribe to this schtik as a-theists, as if something were lacking (or, by your initial response, present without their acknowledgment)? Surely you are not conflating beliefs and archetypes of "otherness" with the psychological contentment embraced by some who realize that to live a life good to oneself and others a person need not accept any group's brand of ethereal authority (or vengeance)?

As for the the fearing corporeal punishment, god is mammon thing, I present you with much of evangelical America as promoted by its mega-church leaders in order to keep their flocks in tow--and the coffers filled!
Michelle, great post and congrats on the EP. The next time someone asks you about atheist charity, send them to the 'Communities' page on Kiva:

http://www.kiva.org/community

Have a look at the first two groups and their respective statistics. Says a lot to me.
From some of the negative comments, I can only assume that there is a great disconnect with reality with some Americans. These rather pithy counter pieces, can't call them arguments, reveals that the opinionated cannot and will not tollerate independent thinking. Humanity rose to great heights prior the advent of monotheism. China achieved it's exalted status long before Europe and you yanks seem to forget that your country was not founded by the Pilgrims and that your constitution is a product of the French Enlightenment. The pithy hairsplitting by some is so mundane I am appalled that is the best they can do. So 20/10 for a neat little essay. We won't mention Locke or Hume or Kant or Hegel. It might confuse the evolutionary challenged...
Thanks for the link, Late Again. Was looking for something like that!
There is a sequence of moral development that is associated with growth and maturity. In the beginning babies do whatever feels good. Eventually they learn that some things have negative consequences if mommy sees them doing it, so they behave only if mommy is around. Eventually they learn that mommy will find out anyhow so they behave even when she isn't around. As they get older, they sometimes mature to the point that they behave morally because they can put themselves in other people's shoes. Finally a few get to the point that they behave morally because that is what a human being does.

Many never get beyond the stage where they behave only because they are afraid of being punished. These are the people who require a belief in a supreme being in order to behave morally. While not all theists by a long shot fall into that category, those who argue the strongest that belief in some supernatural being is necessary for moral behavior generally do.
Mishima:
I don't think churches lead morality for society, but the opposite. See my post, http://open.salon.com/blog/malusinka/2008/09/26/atheists_and_morality
Where I explain why.

Eric, Atheists don't believe there is a god. Agnostics don't know. But, before people get caught up in the word "believe" and claim atheism is a form of religion, I don't believe in the Christian (or any other) God the same way I don't believe in Jupiter or Amun-Ra or any other God whom the majority of the known world believed in.

As for atheists in foxholes, I've heard of people who became atheists in a foxhole. One commented he saw so many men fervently praying and God didn't answer.
First-rate: breezy Voice, compact and accessible writing.

You and I are on the same page. I am profoundly anti-faith. Faith means believing things you know ain't so, said Mark Twain. I am an empiricist.

But I refuse to give up my feelings of grace and the infinite, and deep compassion and connectivity. All religious ideas and beliefs are a subset of human experience and thought, and I possess and am possessed by them all.

I just posted "Deus, Redactus" in which I explain God and everything.

I suspect we listen to the same podcasts.

Thank you!

(ignore Dach. everyone else does. he uses OS as a networking tool for his quackery. He believes in creationsim, nuff said.)
Most of the comments seem to be refuting Jeffery Dach. Why?

I would rather comment on the article. I loved it. I grew up in a religious family and went to a religious school. The more I learned about religion, the more is saw the fallacy in it. I have made a life long quest to find a religion which is not full of superstition and which really explains the meaning of life. None, so far, have even come close.

Religion was a nice prop to allay my fears as a child. I am no longer a child and can accept that the meaning of life resides within us, not from a book or preacher or religious philosophy. In walking away from religion, I feel I have grown up.

It causes me pain to see the horrors commited, present and past, in the name of god or religion. I do not need a religion to tell me that war and descrimination and family violence and a hundred other actions are wrong. I don't respect any religion who accepts or promotes such actions. I see god worship as primitive and often juvenile. This world will grow up when it stops mindlessly following mindless philosophies.

I do not see atheism or theism. I see mature and immature.
There are many good things that come from some thiests but there are many more atrocities that often out weigh that good. I have seen many good things, as well as bad, come from non-beleivers. I often wonder who are the real infidels. To me they are anyone who would intentionally hurt any other human being. These are the primitives. I do not see our kind (humans) ever becoming mature. We will never outgrow our need for the crutch of organized religion. A few of us will and we will always be demonized by the "believers".

the fact that I do not believe in or follow a specific religion does not necessarily mean I do not believe in something greater than myself. It only means that I am not wise enough or knowledgeable enough to define such an entity. I do not attempt to confine that entity to any limits that my understanding will allow. I don't know if that makes me an atheist or theist. I don't really care how people may wish to define my beliefs. I have out grown that need to be classified. Maybe that is why we don't organize. The only real organizing principle would be that we have the self knowledge that we don't need organizations to define our worth.
As someone who has no theistic and/or supernatural inclinations, I abhor the term 'atheist'. I also enjoy the common assumption that 'Greater Good' is some sort of surrogate for a 'Greater Being'; the fact that I believe in anything, I suppose, is what upsets others who are religious. So, to those nameless folks who claim atheism to be a belief system, let's all come up with a name for folks who have no belief in leprechauns. Agreed?
As someone who hopes someday to be a candidate for the priesthood in the Paratheo-anametamystikhood Of Eris Esoterica I submit that the name for those who do not believe in leprechauns be designated as "Phylis Lowenstein"
Whenever I hear people define what atheists believe I always think they should add the word “most”, which I’ll take the liberty of adding to your post then it makes sense. Once you add that word then most of the new stereotypes you attribute to atheists are probably true. The problem is there is no way to poll atheists since as you say they aren’t organized for the most part.

The reverse may be partially true as one responder indicated. Not all people believe the bad stereo types about atheists no thanks to God or the demagogues that preach their version of his word. But there has been an enormous amount of demonizing of atheists over the centuries so you’re comments on stereotypes about atheists is accurate as well.