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Atheists View on Morality
Posted: 19 January 2007 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I wanted to ask a question, and this post is not at all designed to be incindiary in any way towards atheists, but I wanted to know something:

How do atheists define morality?  Is there a certain set of rules or circumstances that all atheists follow to determine a moral standard?  My incling towards that question would be no, simply because moral standards are not the same across any group of people. 

Again, this is not an argumentative stance I am taking at all.  Just curious to know how ethical and moral standards are followed by atheists.

Thanks a bunch!!

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Posted: 19 January 2007 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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It is true that moral standards for people are different across the board. How I define morality is to be honest (that would include no stealing and lying to cover your mistakes or get out of responsibility), and treating others with respect. You don’t always have to respect their opinions, but the person him/herself. Also, to think about the consequences of your actions.  :wink:

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Posted: 19 January 2007 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Thank you, I have very similar standards(although I, being a Christian, would argue that atheists on the whole are probably MORE honest than us in some cases, as strange as that may seem)

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Posted: 19 January 2007 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Morality should viewed in the sense of a secular community. When christian or muslim doctirne dictate our laws and government we have truly lost our democracy. We should be concerned with the health and safety of all humans, or we can do what the bible would and choose to slay and rape those break the almighty christian doctine. So ya basically we all gotta live on this planet, learn respect secular morality cause in the end its the only thing that will keep you safe.  :wink:

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Posted: 19 January 2007 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I’ll start with Sam’s definition/explanation: In our experience, what causes suffering - what does not cause suffering?

———-

It’s very Buddhist, “help others, do not harm others”. Everyone knows what morality is - we’re ingrained with good and bad at birth.

Think of it like this: Instincts are memories/experiences passed down by previous generations of the same species. That’s how baby sea turtles know to head towards the ocean and why salmon swim out to sea and then back up the rivers.

Carl Jung talked about the collective unconscious; Buddhist scholars and spiritual leaders around the world have talked about higher levels of consciousness where you cease being an “I” (the I of ourselves) and you are one with all of humanity - nirvana, “the moment”, whatever you want to call it - that’s where the essence of good and bad manifests itself.

What’s the main focus point of any enlightened person on the planet? COMPASSION. Learning to love that which you hate as much as what you love. Good and bad are grey areas - so, ultimately - we’re talking about suffering, which is eliminated with compassion for all living things.

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Posted: 19 January 2007 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I agree with most of the posts here.  Morality (at its most fundamental) arises from knowing the likely consequences for your actions.  If I kill someone, society will be angry at me and/or scared of me.  This would probably provoke them to lock me up or punish me.  Therefore, if I value my life, health, and freedom, I shouldn’t kill. 

Morality on a higher level is empathy.  If I kill someone I have utterly destroyed all that he is.  I have also caused a lot of suffering for his friends and family.  How would I feel as him or someone close to him?  Therefore, as a compassionate human being, I shouldn’t kill.

These can be applied to stealing, lying, sex, generally being a good person, etc.

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Posted: 19 January 2007 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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My answer:
 

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Posted: 19 January 2007 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Therefore, if I value my life, health, and freedom, I shouldn’t kill.

I don’t mean to pick a fight with you at all.  I strive to stay in the moment and do the next right thing.  Right defined as whatever brings the least suffering to myself and others.

The problem I have with what you wrote was that sometimes, folks do things that require that they be shot dead immediately.  I’m talking about armed robbery, rape, kidnapping, murder, etc..  If I see someone doing any of these things to myself or other innocents, the “next right thing” would be for me to draw my Glock and blow them away.  I could do this and still sleep nights, I fully realize that some could not.

My life, and the lives of others is precious to me, and I would do anything possible to preserve them, even if it meant ending someone else’s.  They forfeited their right to life when they broke the social compact, as far as I’m concerned.

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Posted: 19 January 2007 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Yeah and there are degrees of morality. If you were in that scenario and saw what was going on - you can make the decision - if you’re talking hypothetically, nobody really knows what they would do until IN that situation.

Some people can be rehabilitated to be honest citizens again - most of them can’t. But it would take an entire deconstruction of our laws and the way our nation is corrupt and ran these days to get any true “paradigm shift” in this matter.

For instance, pedophiles get 3-5 years (unless your a Priest then you’re free) and marijuana offenders get 10-15 years? SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE SYSTEM.

Morality is inherent in all creatures. Humans are changed through nuture vs nature - sometimes the effects are good, sometimes they are bad, sometimes an individual just get deranged by the experience…

We all know what is good and what is bad - you won’t find a more “evolved” explanation of it in ANY golden-laced comic book - you will only find it through our discourse with other humans IN THE PRESENT.

Evolution occurs at many, many levels - socially, biologically, geo-politically, etc. Our conversations of morality need to be based in the present moment, NOT in iron-age fairytales like Sam and Richard have said.

...And it’s so easy to see.

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Posted: 19 January 2007 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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It’s a mixture of feeling bad and good, trying to empathize, and putting those together to use rational reasoning to figure out why things should be accepted and why other things should be rejected. Depending on the feeling and the intellectual reaction, the situation creates a signature of the degree of morality. Every situation is different. Empathy and conversation are used to understand common morality among others. It’s a complex, interdependent system that not just atheists use; I’d like to think that we’re the only ones who are aware of it because we try not to make up unrealistic solutions to problems that are too tough to solve.

Theists, I suppose, have to think their morality comes from somewhere else. If I thought my morality came from God, I wouldn’t know what to make of it. Theists probably have the same sort of confusion about this issue that atheists have about their believing counterparts; Morality is the thing that taps you on your shoulder when you read your favorite Bible passage. Whatever it is, it’s not the Holy Spirit. Or if it is the Holy Spirit, it attacks non-believers as well as believers.

Every time you read something the Bible that you agree with you’re noticing its brilliance or its beauty based on your own morality. Believers always say that you have to read the Bible and believe its God word in order for it to affect you. It’s just like watching scary movies with the lights turned off; it adds atmosphere. But that atmosphere is created with any good literature. Personally, I think that Christians way over-hype the Bible because I’ve heard some pretty nasty things about it, literally speaking.

We know when we see or do something right, and we know when something is wrong. When we don’t know, we ask. We ponder, attempt to empathize, and perceive how the act affects. If you are consistently affected by past experiences, no new experience should ever be the same physically, chemically, or otherwise.I don’t think you can fool your biology. Morality is inextricably connected to biology; it’s why torture gets a worse penalty than battery. It’s how why you can make the comparison.

There is no God waiting behind the curtain anxiously waiting to play out my plans of vengeance for his victims in hell who have harmed me in order to make me feel like justice is being served. I’d rather not convince myself I live in such a well-oiled bureaucratic machine because it sure doesn’t appear to be that way.

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Posted: 19 January 2007 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“nothingbutthebloodofjesus”]I wanted to ask a question, and this post is not at all designed to be incindiary in any way towards atheists, but I wanted to know something:

How do atheists define morality?  Is there a certain set of rules or circumstances that all atheists follow to determine a moral standard?  My incling towards that question would be no, simply because moral standards are not the same across any group of people. 

Again, this is not an argumentative stance I am taking at all.  Just curious to know how ethical and moral standards are followed by atheists.

Thanks a bunch!!

God has nothing whatsoever to do with morality.  Read Plato’s “Euthyphro.” 

Here is a quick primer:

Question:
Is an action right because God says that we ought to do it, or does God say that we ought to do it because it is right?

If the first (An action is right because God says that we ought to do it) then any action could be made right just in virtue of God telling us to do it.  So, if God told us to murder the firstborn of every Egyptian, that would be right.
Obviously this is a highly undesirable consequence.  Murder is wrong. And if God told us to murder or to commit genocide, he would be wrong to do so.

If the second (God tells us to do something because it is right), then there is a standard of right and wrong that is beyond and independent of God.  So God’s wishes, commands, interests, or desires have nothing to do with morality at all.  Murder is wrong.  God recognizes this (assuming that he exists and has a pretty good moral sense) and thus tells us not to murder.  He passes his moral knowledge on to us, but he is not the source of morality.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 19 January 2007 09:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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From a devout Christian, that’s a good question, nothingbutthebloodofjesus, and I hope the answers you’ve read help.  I believe the Bible has many good things to say on morality, but those morals can also be found in many societies which aren’t Christian.  Also, to me the existence of morals does not prove the existence of God.  I do not need the threat of heaven or hell to do the right thing, since doing the right thing also has immediate as well as long lasting rewards in this life.  And since I am not placing a bet on the afterlife I’m making the most of what life offers while I’m here.

If you want more on how to be moral in this life without Jesus looking over your shoulder, I suggest readings by the Stoics.  Marcus Aurellius, the Roman emperor and general’s, Meditations is a good place to start, which still has many relevant lessons on how to live a good life, specifically without wondering what happens in the afterlife.

Aristotle has a whole book entitled Ethics, in which he laid out in clear terms on the attributes of a virtuous person, and I don’t remember any mention of God.

Confucius has strongly influenced morality in east Asia for 2500 years, and although his writings can sometimes be outdated or irrelevant to modern US society, there are still plenty of moral nuggets to be mined from his writings.

The Buddha had plenty to say on morality, and his philosophy is still very much alive, and spreading even in the US (the new US Congress has two Buddhists).

None of the men above were particularly religious, but their writings on morality and ethics have influenced moral thought for the better through the ages.

Religion doesn’t hold all the cards on morality.

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Posted: 20 January 2007 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Hi NBTBOJ,

First of all, there is no such thing as an atheist morality. It would be a mistake to view the people on this forum as a coherent group.
Besides our reservations about deities there is nothing that binds us and our morality is vastly different. This becomes apparent when you read the political threads. There are some libertarians here that have morals which are directly opposed to mine and others like me who are left-of-Lenin. :D

Also, our morality evolves.
Our ancestors, even the ones from the previous generation, had different moral views.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t any elementary moral truths, it is just that some societies haven’t learned them yet.

Our ever increasing knowledge also guides our morality.
For example, it has long been asserted that homosexuality is a choice ( and an undesirable one).
We now know this to be untrue. if you are still on the fence on this issue than you should contemplate the following; various animals engage in homosexual sex and we usually don’t attribute the option of choice to animals and also, the more older male siblings a boy has, the higher the chance that he will be gay. This is scientific data that we have.

It is my prediction that our morality will keep extending towards the interests of animals.

Hope this was of some use to you.
Congrats on your open-mindedness. Very refreshing as compared to some of the brain-dead religious robots that roam this forum.

Cheers.

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But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever.”

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Posted: 20 January 2007 05:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Sander”]
Hope this was of some use to you.
Congrats on your open-mindedness. Very refreshing as compared to some of the brain-dead religious robots that roam this forum.

Cheers.

Thank you for the nice comments.  Although I am firmly rooted in Christianity and truly believe that we are all sinners, it is simply irrational and extremely pompous as Christians to say that we will not listen to others views.  That completely and totally defeats the entire purpose of what we believe.  I recently read “A Letter to a Christian Nation,” and I don’t have to tell you that I disagree vastly from Harris’ standpoint, but I found it very disturbing a couple of sentences on the inside cover of the book:

“Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God.  The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians.  That is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more than their own.  The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.”

If it is true that he received thousands of letters hatred and murderous contempt from “Christians,” that is an utter disgrace and a universal embarrassment to our faith.  I will apologize for all of these idiots that did this, and will say that that kind of attitude borders on heresy for Christians.

We can disagree with each others standpoint, but there is absolutely no cause whatsoever to act like a complete and total fool while doing so.  What a embarrassment….those “Christians” should be ashamed….

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Posted: 20 January 2007 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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3n7r0py wote:

It’s very Buddhist, “help others, do not harm others”. Everyone knows what morality is - we’re ingrained with good and bad at birth.

I am not aware of any evidence that shows this. A baby is just as apt to hit as to gently caress, to bite as to kiss. Morality, like Theism is taught, is learned. If this were NOT the case then everyone would have the exact/identical same set of good and bad habits from birth. We have similar responses to stimuli as other infants when we are born simply as a rule of genetic instinct but this is not close to being the same thing.

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Posted: 21 January 2007 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“nothingbutthebloodofjesus”]If it is true that he received thousands of letters hatred and murderous contempt from “Christians,” that is an utter disgrace and a universal embarrassment to our faith.  I will apologize for all of these idiots that did this, and will say that that kind of attitude borders on heresy for Christians.

We can disagree with each others standpoint, but there is absolutely no cause whatsoever to act like a complete and total fool while doing so.  What a embarrassment….those “Christians” should be ashamed….

Well, that’s a breath of fresh air, and we all wish it were true.  However, recent surveys in the US show atheists to have a lower regard than gays and Muslims, so it is not a stretch of the imagination to believe Sam Harris’s assertion about receiving threatening hate mail.  It also explains why, like Salman Rushdie, he does not advertise his whereabouts.

If you need more evidence of this, then give us one currently elected American politician who is openly an atheist.  To proclaim to be an atheist while running or in office is political suicide with an unnerving threat of assassination.  If you don’t believe it, try this experiment: since you can’t tell an atheist by the way he looks, then away from people who know you, openly declare yourself an atheist (not agnostic) and watch what happens to your world.

Most of us atheists are inured and better prepared for the disapproving looks, instant arguments, and shunning, but it would be an eye-opener for you.  Intolerance takes many forms and has many shields.

I would venture that most atheists aren’t actively anti-religious, but would rather just be considered to have an outlook on life as valid as the religious give to their outlook.  Voltaire is credited with writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Which is more important?  Following the correct religion, or the freedom to chose your religion?

For most of us here, we value one’s honesty over being correct, and your honesty is appreciated.

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