Jump to content

Does Justice Matter To Atheists?


Recommended Posts

Someone asked me recently what meaning atheists derive from life? If the answer is life is meaningless, then why do we bother to have a justice system, my friend asked. Why don't we as a society just do as we please according to what each individual deems right in her/his eyes. And that includes anarchy for the sake of anarchy, murder, rape and other dark deeds. If for example, I'm an anarchist, murderer or rapist and I believe I'm not held accountable for my actions to anyone, then does justice matter to those on whom I trample? Is that how survival of the fittest work?

 

(P.S. By the way, I've been MIA for the winter and have been in a part of the globe where internet wasn't readily accessible. I did check in to this site from time to time, but missed being able to interact. Anyway, it's nice to be back!)

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I understand that kind of reasoning but now that I'm on the other side of the fence, I have two thoughts on it.

 

1. If I don't believe in an afterlife and believe that this life is all we have, why would I want to make it a hellish place to live? Why wouldn't I want to see as many people as possible live a full life just as I get to? Far too often, I ran into situations as a Christian where someone refused to take responsibility to do what is right for others because it didn't really matter, that they were going to heaven which is a much better place. Pastors I worked for would justify raping the land and screwing the environment because it was all going to just go up in a ball of fire anyway. 

 

2. Do we really need religion to give us a moral law? Isn't there something within us that says killing and raping and pillaging are bad things? Survival of the fittest is true on a genetic level, I'm not sure it's how it works on a moral level.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Moderator

I understand that kind of reasoning but now that I'm on the other side of the fence, I have two thoughts on it.

 

1. If I don't believe in an afterlife and believe that this life is all we have, why would I want to make it a hellish place to live? Why wouldn't I want to see as many people as possible live a full life just as I get to? Far too often, I ran into situations as a Christian where someone refused to take responsibility to do what is right for others because it didn't really matter, that they were going to heaven which is a much better place. Pastors I worked for would justify raping the land and screwing the environment because it was all going to just go up in a ball of fire anyway. 

 

2. Do we really need religion to give us a moral law? Isn't there something within us that says killing and raping and pillaging are bad things? Survival of the fittest is true on a genetic level, I'm not sure it's how it works on a moral level.

 

I agree on both counts: since I think this life is all we get, and there is probably no dispenser of cosmic justice, I want justice to be done as much as possible in this life.  Why instead don't I just look out for #1 and take whatever I want by whatever means necessary, doing my best to escape justice in this life and being confident I won't face it after death?  Plenty of people do exactly that, of course (and most probably are theists of some kind) but most people do not live like that.  I don't know by what evolutionary process I acquired a conscience.  Could it have somehow been instilled in me by a deity?  Maybe, but probably not.  While survival of the fittest might not seem to explain things like self-sacrifice and altruism, I think there's a lot we don't understand about how we evolved.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

But there are consquences. Some people just think there are consequences in some speculative next life. Are there? Maybe, maybe not but we as society have laws and there are consequences for breaking those laws. Do whatever you want until you break the law. Break a bad enough law and you may end up dead from the process of breaking it or as punishment in the end.

 

For whatever reason, religious people seem to think that outside of God exacting punishment in the afterlife, there are no punishments in this life. It's like they aren't aware of the prisons or a judicial system. 

 

Being a Nihilst isn't bad. Depending on the extent you behave like one, could get you into a lot of trouble.  

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Super Moderator

Are there really people who restrain themselves from committing rape and murder solely because they hope to get into Heaven/avoid Hell? I seriously doubt it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just look at the statistics re. religion in prisons. There are fewer atheists there in proportion to their number in society, and more Christians than their respective number.

 

And then there was the gangbanger who said he didn't worry about what he did because Jesus would forgive him in the end.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Certain religious people are only more "moral" when it comes to stuff like abstaining from masturbation. When it's about being a nice person, not so much.

 

The whole discussion on morals without religion (by which they mean christianity, because all other religions are false and immoral anyway) is stupid and was moribund the very second some stupid fundie came up with it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Super Moderator

Justice, as we normally define it, doesn't even resemble what's presented as "divine justice" in the Bible. I think I'll just take human justice, thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone asked me recently what meaning atheists derive from life? If the answer is life is meaningless, then why do we bother to have a justice system, my friend asked. Why don't we as a society just do as we please according to what each individual deems right in her/his eyes. And that includes anarchy for the sake of anarchy, murder, rape and other dark deeds. If for example, I'm an anarchist, murderer or rapist and I believe I'm not held accountable for my actions to anyone, then does justice matter to those on whom I trample? Is that how survival of the fittest work?

 

(P.S. By the way, I've been MIA for the winter and have been in a part of the globe where internet wasn't readily accessible. I did check in to this site from time to time, but missed being able to interact. Anyway, it's nice to be back!)

 

 

Because our values are not solely defined by some arbitrary set of rules written down by some deranged men thousands of years ago. Those are not even "values," they're just a random assemblage of ideas, most of which have no application to any society that has existed in the last 2,000 years. 

 

I'm not aware of any atheists who say "life is meaningless." That's just a dumb straw man invented by the supernaturalists to slander atheists and justify clutching their security blankets and myths. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone asked me recently what meaning atheists derive from life? If the answer is life is meaningless, then why do we bother to have a justice system, my friend asked. Why don't we as a society just do as we please according to what each individual deems right in her/his eyes. And that includes anarchy for the sake of anarchy, murder, rape and other dark deeds. If for example, I'm an anarchist, murderer or rapist and I believe I'm not held accountable for my actions to anyone, then does justice matter to those on whom I trample? Is that how survival of the fittest work?

 

(P.S. By the way, I've been MIA for the winter and have been in a part of the globe where internet wasn't readily accessible. I did check in to this site from time to time, but missed being able to interact. Anyway, it's nice to be back!)

 

 

Those that rebel against societal norms and take action against societies' laws tend to have less offspring than those that don't.  To the extent such behavior is genetically based, basic evolutionary theory predicts that those genes, and resulting behavior, will diminish within the gene pool.  To the extent such behavior is contrary to the expectations of the society in which the subject lives, the behavior will be admonished, discouraged, punished, etc.  Either way, or in combination, this explains why only a small minority of people behave like this.

 

Flipping it around, humans are social animals.  Certain behavior, deemed moral, ethical and correct within the particular society, is reinforced either though genetics or social pressure, resulting in a higher percentage of folks who act within those norms.

 

Beyond that, the person with whom you spoke appears to be promoting some flavor of Divine Command Theory, a religious assertion (it's not a theory at all) that morals only come from some sky fairy of the proponent's choosing and that it impossible for homo sapiens sapiens to generate morality or ethics all on their own.  Well, the evidence does not support that speculation.  Divine Command Speculation (aka Divine Command Theory) is a common tenet in many religions' and is part of their dogma and indoctrination and is based on xenophobia and tribalism, among other things.  Included in that indoctrination is that those that do not believe or adhere to that particular religion are immoral and have no meaning in life, which, of course is at best a straw man fallacy but more simply a lie.  Many swallow this nonsense hook, line and sinker and, not surprisingly, have never thought about it themselves.

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone for your intelligent replies! SDelsolray, your explanation is very succinct and helpful. Thank you!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But there are consquences. Some people just think there are consequences in some speculative next life. Are there? Maybe, maybe not but we as society have laws and there are consequences for breaking those laws. Do whatever you want until you break the law. Break a bad enough law and you may end up dead from the process of breaking it or as punishment in the end.

 

For whatever reason, religious people seem to think that outside of God exacting punishment in the afterlife, there are no punishments in this life. It's like they aren't aware of the prisons or a judicial system. 

 

Regarding the above paragraph: American Christians readily point out that their judicial system is based on Judeo/Christian law and values inspired by The Ten Commandments, leading their adherents to believe that this law comes directly from Yweh. This is what I was taught growing up in a terribly repressive fundie church.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone asked me recently what meaning atheists derive from life? If the answer is life is meaningless, then why do we bother to have a justice system, my friend asked. Why don't we as a society just do as we please according to what each individual deems right in her/his eyes. And that includes anarchy for the sake of anarchy, murder, rape and other dark deeds. If for example, I'm an anarchist, murderer or rapist and I believe I'm not held accountable for my actions to anyone, then does justice matter to those on whom I trample? Is that how survival of the fittest work?

 

(P.S. By the way, I've been MIA for the winter and have been in a part of the globe where internet wasn't readily accessible. I did check in to this site from time to time, but missed being able to interact. Anyway, it's nice to be back!)

 

My thoughts:

 

As a non-believer the meaning I derive from life is whatever I want it to be, not to be a cookie cutter non-thinker. Maybe my purpose is to perpetually reject evangelism. smile.png Mostly though, I dont sit around wondering how I derive meaning from life. I just live it. smile.png

 

Meaning of life: What meaning do Christians derive from life? A lifetime (or eternity) of kissing the butt of their own imagination? smile.png Ask the Christian to explain what there is to do in heaven and why that sounds pleasant. Why does serving a deity = life meaning or life satisfaction. It's just BS that is passed from Christian to Christian. 

 

"I'm an anarchist, murderer or rapist and I believe I'm not held accountable for my actions to anyone, then does justice matter to those on whom I trample?" - People love their relatives and friends so justice matters when they lose them because of some psychopath's actions. God and religion are irrelevant to the feeling that life matters and that life has meaning. Also Atheism does not equal anarchy, murder nor rape. Atheists like everyone else enjoy a peaceful society and you need laws, police, courts, prisons to ensure that peaceful society.

 

Christians incorrectly credit morality to an invisible deity. Jesus doesnt teach children right from wrong. Parents do that. Ask the Christian if it would be wise to let 'Jesus' (also known as child abandonment) raise their newborn? What they really mean is THEY raise a kid with good morals which generally come from a common sense society and then tack on some bible crap to it then give Jesus the credit.

 

But you knew all that ^^. Haha.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Blood: I'm not aware of any atheists who say "life is meaningless." That's just a dumb straw man invented by the supernaturalists to slander atheists and justify clutching their security blankets and myths. 

 

....

 

If being an atheist caused life to be meaningless then nobody would be an atheist, right? :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The answer is easy and those asking the question haven't thought it through. It's self preservation, pure and simple. I don't rape your daughters and steal your chickens, because I don't want you stealing my chickens and raping my daughters. This has since been codified into a set of rules and beliefs, but it pretty much comes down to this. 

 

Most of us aren't very good at this when it goes beyond our own communities though. It's quite easy to get people riled up to go to war and steal other people's chickens. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The answer is easy and those asking the question haven't thought it through. It's self preservation, pure and simple. I don't rape your daughters and steal your chickens, because I don't want you stealing my chickens and raping my daughters. This has since been codified into a set of rules and beliefs, but it pretty much comes down to this. 

 

Most of us aren't very good at this when it goes beyond our own communities though. It's quite easy to get people riled up to go to war and steal other people's chickens. 

 

Very true. However, I'd like to add that it's not just about reciprocity. Most of us do not want to rape or steal simply because we don't not feel like raping or stealing, not just because we fear repercussions. Most humans have an innate ability to feel empathy, and that's a genetic trait, not a god given one. It's been said before, but it bears repeating: if people only refrain from doing horrible acts because they fear divine retribution, they're not truly good people, and thus their talk about "morality" is just empty talk, devoid of any real virtue.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most of us aren't very good at this when it goes beyond our own communities though. It's quite easy to get people riled up to go to war and steal other people's chickens. 

 

True

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Certain religious people are only more "moral" when it comes to stuff like abstaining from masturbation. When it's about being a nice person, not so much.

 

The whole discussion on morals without religion (by which they mean christianity, because all other religions are false and immoral anyway) is stupid and was moribund the very second some stupid fundie came up with it.

Glad you used the quotes. I was really gonna start guilt tripping again. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Christians say that only true justice matters. Anything else is "moral relativism." Oddly, Christianity teaches that morality is not absolute. It's okay to steal if God says it's okay (Egyptians deserve it). This seems like moral relativism, but William Lane Craig has unusual answers. He says that we can violate a moral principle if God says so, but not of our own volition. He believes utilitarianism and consequentialism filthy if humans follow it, but believes that God is a consequentialist. Therefore, God can slaughter thousands of Canaanite children to save hundreds of thousands of Israelites, but humans cannot violate a moral principle (kill a defenseless baby) to advance the greater good. His justice system is entirely hypocritical. Either consequentialism is right for humans and God or right for neither humans nor God. 

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

Someone asked me recently what meaning atheists derive from life? If the answer is life is meaningless, then why do we bother to have a justice system, my friend asked. Why don't we as a society just do as we please according to what each individual deems right in her/his eyes. And that includes anarchy for the sake of anarchy, murder, rape and other dark deeds. If for example, I'm an anarchist, murderer or rapist and I believe I'm not held accountable for my actions to anyone, then does justice matter to those on whom I trample? Is that how survival of the fittest work?

 

(P.S. By the way, I've been MIA for the winter and have been in a part of the globe where internet wasn't readily accessible. I did check in to this site from time to time, but missed being able to interact. Anyway, it's nice to be back!)

 

 

Those that rebel against societal norms and take action against societies' laws tend to have less offspring than those that don't.  To the extent such behavior is genetically based, basic evolutionary theory predicts that those genes, and resulting behavior, will diminish within the gene pool.  To the extent such behavior is contrary to the expectations of the society in which the subject lives, the behavior will be admonished, discouraged, punished, etc.  Either way, or in combination, this explains why only a small minority of people behave like this.

 

Flipping it around, humans are social animals.  Certain behavior, deemed moral, ethical and correct within the particular society, is reinforced either though genetics or social pressure, resulting in a higher percentage of folks who act within those norms.

 

I've noticed that many of the smartest animals are also the most social. Apes, crows, elephants... they all live in larger social groups. It's quite possible that the main reason we as humans are so smart is that it's an evolutionary side effect of the brainpower needed to keep track of a large social network (that idea is not original to me, but the evolutionary causes of intelligence are still being studied and argued over; this is just one set of ideas I particularly like). We have an entire section of our brains devoted to identifying and reading our fellow humans' faces! We also have a part of the brain called "mirror neurons" that fire when we perform an action, but also when we see other people perform the same action. That's how we learn skills from each other; we can actually "feel" each other's motions and emotions. So evolution did give us empathy, physically hard-wired into our brains.

 

There's this weird idea in the culture that "survival of the fittest" means the strongest and meanest. But it's not that kind of fitness; it's reproductive fitness. Sometimes the more "fit" animal is the one who run away from danger and lives to breed another day than the one that charges boldly into a fight it can't win and ends up dead. Sometimes it means the laid back animal who plays nice with others and has a whole pack around to watch its back, and not the asshole who makes the rest of the pack mad and gets kicked out to fend for itself. So evolution can push animals towards "being nice" well before they get to the level of complex human-style societies.

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've run into this argument many times over the years. It never fails to leave me baffled. Essentially, whoever says it is admitting that I'm a better person than they are, because when they say this, they tacitly admit they need the carrot and stick to behave admirably. 

 

A good friend of mine (nominal Catholic) recently argued that she was a better person for believing in God. She stated that without God, there was nothing to keep her from committing crimes. My response: "How do you know? You have no basis for comparison." From where I sit, people are either good or bad; religion just gives you license to feel good about being a shitty human being. If you're a good person, I don't think there's any value added (maybe? Maybe it makes you better?). 

 

But I'm rambling. I initially wanted to point out that this position (that atheists don't have a moral compass) is based on the assumption that the person speaking gets their morals from God. Once you realize this, you have them right where you want them. Just ask this: If God told you to kill your children right now, would you do it?

 

They will always say, "My god wouldn't ask me to do that." That is, of course, (1) untrue and (2) avoiding the question. (Of course he might; he did it in the OT, didn't he? Abraham? Isn't God the same forever?) The problem is that they know the answer: They wouldn't. Why is this? Because they have a set of morals that not only does not derive from their god, but it is better than their god's. (And if they answer yes, they know they sound like a sociopath, which is why they avoid that answer at all costs.)

 

d

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

American Christians readily point out that their judicial system is based on Judeo/Christian law and values inspired by The Ten Commandments, leading their adherents to believe that this law comes directly from Yweh. This is what I was taught growing up in a terribly repressive fundie church.

 

Hi, Jennifer!

 

I have a response I like to provide for that. First...of course they weren't. We have some laws that match the 10Cs, of course, but that's only because avoiding murder and adultery and such are common sense for any group of people who wish to live in harmony. Otherwise, though, we aren't commanded to "Worship the Lord our God" and "have no other gods before him," etc. What rubbish. 

 

This is usually based on the notion that we are somehow a "Christian nation." My response to this usually begins with the requirement that they explain precisely what they mean by "Christian nation" (which scares most of them away, because it's a buzzword (phrase?) they're repeating but have never really thought about). If they get past that, I like to point out that we are a nation only in direct violation of clear Christian teachings. To wit:

 

Romans 13: 

 

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

While in general agreement with the replies I'd like to go a step further. Literalist Christians are the ones with a morality problem and it goes way beyond the carrot and stick. There is no absolute moral value in a system whose only value is doing whatever God says; actually doing whatever someone tells them God said. Murder women and children? Only when told that God says to. Enslave others and treat them as property? Yes, God's in favor until recently when folks say he isn't. For me these are absolute moral values. For fundies it's all moral relativity. Whatever the preacher says God want done is what is moral.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

They will always say, "My god wouldn't ask me to do that." That is, of course, (1) untrue and (2) avoiding the question. (Of course he might; he did it in the OT, didn't he? Abraham? Isn't God the same forever?) The problem is that they know the answer: They wouldn't. Why is this? Because they have a set of morals that not only does not derive from their god, but it is better than their god's. (And if they answer yes, they know they sound like a sociopath, which is why they avoid that answer at all costs.)

 

I'm quoting myself only to acknowledge that I stand corrected. A friend of mine on Facebook just responded to a similar question with the assertion that he would and we all would, because hell...we will kill if the government tells us to, etc. smiliegojerkit.gif

 

So I altered the question to what I asked here. He has a six-month old child. 

 

d

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I often hear that atheists never believe in moral absolutes. We are supposedly all  radical utilitarians/consequentialists who are willing to torture, enslave, murder, whatever if the consequences of those actions are pure. Christians say, "How can you attack the Canaanite genocide when you believe that there are no moral absolutes. If genocide saves lives, then it's a good thing (if God authorizes it. Craig says we can't without permission)." The issue is that most of us probably believe some moral rules are breakable (lying to avoid hurting feelings, stealing to avoid starvation), but we draw the line at violence. Christians say it's hypocritical to believe that some morals are absolute and others aren't but this is not apples to apples. People are worth more than a stolen apple. You can't replace the people who were supposedly slaughtered in the Bible. That's my way of justifying believing that many (but not all) morals are absolute while being an atheist.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.