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Column 84
Helping stranded motorists

Good, evil and self-preservation

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 800 words
Publication date: November 19, 2006

Like every other net junkie, as I flick through the web I mark some pages as interesting. Months go by and when I eventually look through them half the time I forget why I had tagged them.

Sometimes, however, the point is clear. Back in January I came across an article by Dale Reich in the online version of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Reich comes across as a decent man who has thought a little about his faith but who completely fails to understand atheism.

“I wanted to see how I looked and felt without my lifelong commitment to Christianity,” he begins. “It was pretty chilling. I didn’t like the emptiness, the disconnectedness, the lack of direction and the prospect of it all ending when I die. It wasn’t long before … I was glad to be back under the umbrella of my faith.”

An honest statement, but nothing to do with God. Reich tells us that he is a believer not because he has proof of God’s existence, but because he does not like the alternative.

But the fact you do not like something does not mean you can wish it away. I am afraid of violence and cancerous disease but they will not magically disappear if I do not believe in them. Reality exists irrespective of my personal desires.

Similarly, the fact that Reich wants God to exist – to protect him from “emptiness, the disconnectedness…” and so on – does not mean that there must be a God.

Sometimes we have to accept unpleasant reality. One hurdle that all atheists must overcome is the realization that life is finite and meaningless. For a time we rebel against the inevitable, but once we accept that death is the end, we finally stop being children cowering in the metaphysical dark and become adults fully responsible for our own lives. 

Reich’s next point is to question why a non-believer should help a stranded motorist. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he protests. “You wasted your time and efforts on a complete stranger, and for what?”

His argument is that God is the basis for good and evil; without him, humanity has nothing but self-preservation. “In short, you’re left with being your own god.”

We can quickly dispose of that last sentence. No atheist believes they are immortal, omnipotent or omniscient. And no atheist who has given it more than five minutes thought believes that their needs and rights are any more important than anyone else’s on this earth.

Self-preservation is indeed the atheist’s goal. (I bet it is also Reich’s…) But atheists know that we only survive and prosper as a part of a community, not as individuals.

My well-being depends on customs and laws that defend everybody’s well-being. If we care only about ourselves, everyone is at risk. In stopping to help the stranded motorist, the atheist helps both the motorist and him-(her-)self.

Atheists – at least in theory – make better citizens than believers precisely because we do not subscribe to the myth of an afterlife or a God. We preserve this life because there is no afterlife to compensate us. And we respect laws because they – not religion – are the closest we come to true morality.

Reich’s assertion that God is the basis for good and evil is easily demonstrated as false.

If we define good as the welfare of human beings and evil as anything which harms them, the Bible gives plenty of examples to demonstrate that religious-based morality harms many more people than one based on reason.

The many massacres perpetuated by God and his followers in the Old Testament are proof that the mythical deity is as evil as he is good. Meanwhile, Biblical and Koranic commandments consistently privilege one group of human beings – older, richer, heterosexual married men with children – over all others.

Lastly, Reich makes the basic mistake of accusing atheists of believing in Tarot cards, fortune cookies and the like.  Sorry, Mr Reich, these are not atheists; they are believers who reject Christianity and who are consoling themselves with some other superstition.

Like many Christians, Dale Reich may be fundamentally good but he is mentally lazy. He finds it easier to accept given statements, such as God is the source of good and evil than to make the effort of asking if the statement is really true. What is the proof? Why do others think differently?

At the end of the day, Reich’s belief is based on fear (of the alternative) and prejudice (the assumption that morality comes from God). These are not strong grounds for faith…

One day, perhaps, he and his fellow believers will start listening to what atheists actually say. They will start to think. It will be their first step towards learning something of value, their first step towards mental adulthood.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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