Are Atheists and Agnostics Destroying The World?

I recently appeared in a pre recorded episode of The Culture Monk Live where we discussed the effects of agnosticism on culture.  Particularly, did agnosticism destroy western culture?  Now, I’m not too sure if western culture has been destroyed. Many aspects of our society have certainly been relegated to the lowest common denominator.  The list is actually pretty long.  Reality TV, the decline in literature, and communication through 140 characters or less immediately come to mind, but there are many, many more problems.  Is this a sign that America is heading the way of Rome, or are these things just the hiccups of a society grappling with the problems post-modernity and advanced consumer technology?

If our society is crumbling before us, are atheists and agnostics to blame?

Has the existential way of life robbed us of the sacred beliefs that we need to create an ordered society?

When people argue that atheism and agnosticism lead to immorality, meaninglessness, and societal degradation, they do so from a viewpoint that insists that you need God or a extra natural order to create positive social conditions.  They cannot imagine why an atheist would want to be good, because, from their point of view, good only comes from God.  Their first premise is usually, “God must exists, thus . . .,” instead of what it would need to be in order to refute an atheist’s view of morality, “If God doesn’t exist, then  . . .”

When I hear a believer begin with the second premise, it is usually followed with the assumption that anything would be permissible: if there is no God, you can do as you please.  You can kill, cheat, or steal with cosmic impunity – Enjoy.  Despite the insistence that atheists must believe this, it is difficult to find one that does.  The only people I have found in my small experience that do believe this were gutter punks that didn’t give a damn about anything – true nihilists.  I’m sure they didn’t believe in God, but they were probably too dumb to care either way.

Most atheists and agnostics are confronted with the same moral decisions that believers are.  Yet, very few say, “why am I thinking about this?  I’m an atheist.  I can do whatever I want.”  Why is this?  From the point of view of the atheist, there was never a good before humanity invented it.  God did not literally die.  It was belief in him and his transcendental good that died.  If this is the case,  humanity actually created morality.  It is probably something bred into us.  It could simply be empathy, which told a different way simply mean, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Does this automatically suggest that morality is completely relative?  I don’t think so.  If humanity is the creator of morality then it was not an individual effort, but a collective one.  This explains why virtues like courage and honor,commandments such as don’t kill and don’t steal, are more or less ubiquitous to all humans.  It could also be, from an evolutionary standpoint, that empathy is part of our genetic make up.  It is not insane to think that without this trait, humans may have died off long ago.

Do atheists have to decide how to live their life?  Of course, but believers do as well.  They first have to to accept their parents religion or choose a new one.  Then they have to decide if they will follow all the tenants or just some.  What does this person do when their religious leader tells them to kill in the name of a higher power?  If they have already decided that they must accept every aspect of their religion, they are liable to choose killing.  Most atheists and agnostics will never face a choice like this.  This is the benefit than secular modes of thinking has brought to our society.  A disposition to question, which most atheists and agnostics possess, makes it more difficult for evils to be committed.  Disbelief does not encourage amoral thought, it supplies a person with the skepticism often needed to choose the right path.

 

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20 comments

  1. culturemonk · February 2, 2015

    it sounds like a great show that you were on..i’m gonna be sure to watch!

    Like

  2. culturemonk · February 2, 2015

    Seriously though,

    when you write, “When people argue that atheism and agnosticism lead to immorality, meaninglessness, and societal degradation, they do so from a viewpoint that insists that you need God or a extra natural order to create positive social conditions. They cannot imagine why an atheist would want to be good, because, from their point of view, good only comes from God”

    I think you’re a bit off. I can “imagine” why an atheist would want to be good; 1. because many of them have been heavily influenced by Western Christianity and do so out of that upbringing 2. because a world in which everyone does whatever they want, is a pretty shitty society. and 3. because most (if not all) atheists and agnostics live hypocritical lives; they don’t truly do “whatever” they want because if they did they couldn’t live with the ramifications of their conscious, aka guilt. ….thus, when you intimate that Christians or “non-athiests and non-agnostsics” can’t imagine, i would say your simply wrong.

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    • jayfel354 · February 2, 2015

      I was using a bit of hyperbole there, of course some believers could imagine such things. But your third reason sort of sums up my intent. It doesn’t follow that atheists should be able to do whatever they want, thus choosing against their baser desires in the name of good doesn’t make them hypocrites. Even when defining a reason atheists would choose to do good, you had to interject a term, guilt, with major christian overtones. It’s just difficult to separate morality for God if ones mind is made up about God.

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  3. Toad · February 3, 2015

    Why is it that we demand that people justify and/or explain their desire to be good and moral people before we’ll accept their good and moral actions as legitimate? Does it really matter WHY people are driven to moral action? Do we have hordes of atheists and agnostics wreaking havoc in our streets, and I’ve just missed that boat? And has anyone ever pointed out that theists also commit immoral acts from time to time? Why not, instead of asking how people can be moral in the absence of God, we ask how people can be immoral given God’s existence? Why is that any less of a brain-teaser?

    I’m a moral person (as moral as any one individual can be), and I don’t believe in God. I don’t need to explain that fact. It’s just the way it is…

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    • jayfel354 · February 3, 2015

      I couldn’t have said it better myself. Before we get into deeper philosophical issues or morality, there is the fact that most people have a moral compass of some sort. Even criminals often have a code.
      I think this is one thing we can take at face value and be glad it is the way it is, rather there is a God or not. I think I also missed the boat. That’s good though.
      I wouldn’t want to be around the hoards of amoral atheists as much as the next guy.

      Like

  4. Coyote · February 3, 2015

    I don’t even know where to start with this post. Maybe list format will help.

    – “Many aspects of our society have certainly been relegated to the lowest common denominator. The list is actually pretty long. Reality TV, the decline in literature, and communication through 140 characters or less immediately come to mind” hello, classism

    – “This explains why virtues like courage and honor,commandments such as don’t kill and don’t steal, are more or less ubiquitous to all humans” I don’t know how to explain to you the problem with resorting to inductive logic out of an eagerness to claim something’s universal, so let’s just go with “citation needed”

    -“It could also be, from an evolutionary standpoint, that empathy is part of our genetic make up.” May evolutionary psychology die in a fire. You don’t need empathy or compassion to see the benefits of the social contract.

    -“It is not insane to think that without this trait, humans may have died off long ago.” mental illness has nothing to do with this

    -“If they have already decided that they must accept every aspect of their religion, they are liable to choose killing. Most atheists and agnostics will never face a choice like this.” your binaries are hobbling you

    Like

  5. jayfel354 · February 3, 2015

    I guess list format is an alright jumping off place if you don’t know where to start.

    -I’m not to sure if this statement has anything to do with classism. Before the decline of literature as both enjoyment and art, a lot of poor, middle class, and upper class individuals read and wrote. There wasn’t a ton else to do before TV. If you are someone who doesn’t read or write, that’s fine. Do your thing. Thinking literature is important is not elitistism or classism. Most of my english teachers in school thought that lit. was important and I don’t remember thinking they were lording it over me. As for twitter, almost everyone uses it. Maybe criticizing it makes me an asshole, but it doesn’t make me classist.

    -Citation sure, Read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I think that was the first time I heard the argument made, but Christians and other theists have been making similar points for hundreds of years. I’m not sure if you are disagreeing with my point or just questioning my ability to reason properly. If you look at cultures around the world, almost all of them have some sort of prohibition on killing, just to take the major prohibition. Theists often infer that this implies some higher moral order is at play. I was briefly responding to this claim. Now, did men like C.S. Lewis and other professional philosophers that thought up these ideas not understand logic? I’d certainly give them more credit than that.

    -Given that it took mankind 5,500 years of written word to think up the term “social contract,” the issue may be a bit complex. But, this highly evolved ape has been wrong before.

    – I’ll concede the point.

    – Not sure what this means. Am I being overly dualistic or something?

    Like

  6. Laughing Dragon · February 3, 2015

    Gold. Simply Gold.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Citizen Tom · February 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on Citizen Tom and commented:
    I suppose I should be answering the comments on my own blog, but I like to read other blogs too. At The End of Ideology is a new blog, and it is quite interesting. Here we have a question: Are Atheists and Agnostics Destroying The World?

    I think the answer is no. The Bible says that before we destroy it God will renew His creation.

    Are Atheists and Agnostics the worst of the humankind? I don’t know. Even if we were wise enough to judge each other, such a label doesn’t tell us enough.

    Do Atheists and Agnostics have any reason to be good? I think the answer is yes. In “Mere Christianity,” C. S. Lewis spoke of an inborn moral law. Lewis observed that each of us knows the difference between right and wrong.

    The problem is finding the motivation to do what is right. Just the belief in God is not enough. Even the demons believe in God.

    James 2:18-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

    18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

    To do what is right we must love God. We show our love for God by loving each other. We learn to love when someone shows us their love. That is why can learn to love each other even before we realize how much God loves us.

    How do “save” the world? We love our neighbors — each other — as we love ourselves.

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    • jayfel354 · February 4, 2015

      Thanks for the Re-blog Citizen Tom!

      I was hoping you could weight in from a Christian perspective. We were discussing the meaning of “the kingdom of God” on the Culture Monk show the other night. All Christians believe what we do in life matters. Some, however, view this world as an extension of the next, where others are just trying to make it to heaven. If the “Kingdom of God” is both present and future, I think believers and non-believers have some common ground. At least in the sense that we can both figure out ways to improve the world now, regardless of what the future holds.

      Like

  8. Pingback: Are Atheists and Agnostics Destroying The World? | Citizen Tom
  9. Sam D · February 4, 2015

    I’d have to agree that atheism or agnosticism does not have to entail a lack of belief in moral or ethical values. A lack of belief in God does not even have to entail a lack of belief in moral absolutes. An atheist, for example, could believe in objective moral values, although I can’t recall many who have articulated such a position.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. narble · February 4, 2015

    My opinion: organized religion is bullshit and has done more to harm all cultures than anything else. Faith is not religion. The difference between faith and religion is profound. Faith is a decision to leap, which bolsters the human spirit. The rest of it is respect for others, which is key to cultural survival.

    Like

    • jayfel354 · February 4, 2015

      I like your use of faith. Even atheists need to “bolster the human spirit.” Even if you don’t believe in God or organized religion, you still have to take leaps of faith from time to time. In fact, even reason begins with axioms, first principles, that can’t be completely proven.

      Like

  11. The Gospel of Barney · February 4, 2015

    No, Christians, have done a pretty fine job of it, by standing by, viewing life as a spectator sport, not choosing to get involved!

    Like

  12. Pingback: GOD GIVES US A CHOICE | Citizen Tom

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