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October 26th, 2018

Atheism, Religion And Morality

This article from The New Yorker came across my Facebook news stream the other day.

I’m a subscriber and I need to make some time to sit down and read it. But just seeing this post stirred some thoughts. Specifically, it reminded me of this quote of Penn Jillette’s…

“The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me
from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want.
And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want,
and the amount I want is zero.
 The fact that these people think that if they
didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing,
raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.”

I think there’s probably a little more to it than they don’t act on the every urge of their id because they know God wouldn’t approve. The fact is sometimes God does approve…or they think so anyway…

“You must be eliminated. God doesn’t want you anymore.”
Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the head of Rwanda’s Seventh-day Adventist Church,
who stood trial for luring Tutsi parishioners to his church and then turning them
over to Hutu militias that slaughtered 2,000 to 6,000 in a single day.

He got ten years for his crime, and upon release from prison had the good decency to die the following month. I don’t think so, I’m an atheist, but it is a bit pleasant to wonder if perhaps God almighty had a word or two with him at the gates of eternity, about who and what He wants. Or even better still, The Ghost of Christmas Present…

“Man, if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant
until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is.
Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?
It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and
less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.”

There’s someone who knows how to preach. The scenes with The Ghost of Christmas Present have always been for me the highlight of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Because it’s there Scrooge is taken out of his own life and presented with the lives of others, and the way his life has touched theirs. It was not for the better. And now that he has seen it, he has to know it. There is where he begins to walk slowly, tentatively, toward his salvation. Because there was still some small something within him that we all need, lest we fall into the Pit.

Here’s the thing about morality and all of us atheist or not: Whether or not a God Almighty exists, we know our neighbors exist. We know the poor exist. We know the sick and the infirm exit. We know the refugee exists. We know those fleeing from persecution exist. We can see them. We can talk to them. We can listen to their stories. Belief in God stopped making sense to me some decades ago. But I know my neighbors exist. In my entire life I have never once seen faith turn someone away from the Abyss, or melt a heart of solid ice. But I have seen the tiniest little spec of sympathy awaken the better person within, finally, long after I was certain they were done for. I have seen it turn lives around.

It isn’t faith you need, it’s sympathy. Even if it’s just the size of a mustard seed, it will save your soul.

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