Morality of God doesn't hold up to scrutiny
FFRF awarded Hampton $750 for his essay.
By Hampton Gibson
I trust that it wouldn't come as news to any FFRF member if I were to remark that religion is without merit and almost certainly false: Jesus casting out devils into a herd of pigs and Muhammed ascending to paradise on a winged horse are both absurd. One finds Carl Sagan's dictum "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" useful in dismissing religion altogether.
Likewise, I assume it'd be trivial for me to observe that religion's encroachment into the public sphere (e.g., giving creationism a platform alongside evolution in public schools) must be thwarted. Such things, to us, are a given, but the prejudices atheists face are seldom discussed.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky put forth the following idea in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov: "If God does not exist, everything is permitted." Dostoyevsky's idea that without God there can be no morality still pervades public opinion, fueling the stereotype that atheists are immoral.
The most obvious — and perhaps most effective — way to combat this public sentiment is by continuing to oppose religion as an irrational and untenable enterprise. There's a symbiotic relationship between religious belief and prejudice toward atheists. Hence, if we see a decline in religion, we will also see a decline in hateful attitudes toward atheists.
The greatest challenge I've faced as an atheist has been having my honest expression and free inquiry stifled, particularly when I was younger. I dared not voice any questions or doubts about religion — not to my parents, not to my teachers, not to my peers — for fear of generating outrage and being reproached. This has lessened with age, but I still occasionally find myself in situations where I'm effectively forced to swallow my objections for the sake of tact and propriety. Feeling so ideologically isolated that it's as though you're virtually sequestered from human sympathy isn't congenial to a healthy psychological development or forging meaningful relationships, especially in one's youth.
The idea that God is the necessary bedrock on which to ground morality is one that many people are sympathetic to, but it's one that ultimately doesn't survive the rigors of historical or philosophical scrutiny. Christopher Hitchens actually flipped Dostoyevsky's classic adage, pointing out it's not the case that without God everything is permitted. To the contrary, Hitchens said, only with God can the most vile and wicked things be permitted — and done with conviction.
Far from encouraging its devotees to conduct themselves morally, religion instead offers its adherents the ultimate conviction that they are commanded by God. Indeed, to read the history of any religious tradition (or even scripture itself) is to be confronted with a litany of divine decrees mandating slaughter, war, genocide, subjugation and slavery, torture, raping and pillaging, misogyny, tribalism, intolerance, persecution of dissidents, greed, corruption and hypocrisy — to name a few.
To read the history of religion, in other words, is to read a history of God commanding inhumanity toward others. Only when one is enlightened to this hateful history of butchery and bloodlust can one see Dostoyevsky's claim as morally and intellectually vacuous.
Historical criticism aside, the notion that morality collapses into nihilism without God is just bad philosophy. And even most religious people are compelled to realize this when asked the following question: How would you behave differently if you found out there is no God? Chances are, their morals wouldn't suddenly collapse into nihilism or depravity. They would still be, as it were, "good without God."
Hampton, 21, is from Norman, Okla., and attends the University of Oklahoma, where he is majoring in philosophy and Judaic studies. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, but also is interested in religious studies, particularly historical and textual criticism of the bible.