More ality

In North America today, according to a recent census, there are 27 million people who are not religious and a million and a half avowed atheists. There is no evidence to suggest they are less moral than those who go to synagogue, mosque, and church everyday. Indeed, it is my contention that a truly moral person, who acts morally–not out of fear of damnation or out of promise of reward, but because it’s the right thing–if anything, is more moral. More moral. The atheist or the agnostic who throws himself in front of an oncoming bus to save a child, knowing that there is no eternal promise, that there is nothing but the grave that awaits him, is more moral than Sir Thomas More who made a cost/benefit analysis as to whether or not to face eternal damnation by disobeying the pope or face instantaneous death by disobeying the king.

uh…here. In case you care.

10 Replies to “More ality”

  1. It always rides my shorts a little when people conflate all religion with theism.

    But that aside, it seems a little strange to be complaining about someone feeling superior because of their beliefs by stating that, actually, your beliefs make you feel superior.

    Isn’t the fact that we can imagine an atheist (as well as a theist) endagering herself to save a child more interesting? That morality seems accessable by all people, regardless of belief?

    Theism, in its best sense, is a structure that engenders and supports moral acts. When any system of beliefs (including atheism) is used as a crutch for egotistical claims of superiority, I think it loses its bragging rights in that same moment.

  2. I see the point here, being that the atheist does not believs in any “eternal promise”. But isn’t that sort of the point of theism? It’s the Faith argument – it is not provable that there is a God, heaven, or eternal reward. You just have to believe, and it is this faith that removes the moral ambiguity of the situation.

    I’m not a theologian, so I might be way off, but isn’t this sort of begging the question here? Right action is right action, regardless of motivation. Or are we now judging action based on intention?

    It seems to me that in the longview, intention is virtually irrelevant, as no one can determine how the passage of time will affect the way we view a) the quality of our decisions and b) the ethical implications of the outcomes of these decisions. There are several taoist fables regarding this(I’ll post one below). It really boild down to time, circumstance and the perception of what the best decision is. As in Zen, the answer is that there is not an answer. One acts or does not act. The perception of the “goodness” or “badness” of the effect of an action is coincidental.

  3. There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.

  4. I completely agree with you about the faith thing. That’s the problem with ‘Pascal’s Wager’, which is basically the same thing as the posted text. Being theistic is about faith, not a balance sheet. That would be something else altogether.

    That aside, I’m not a big Zen fan. Sure, I enjoy Li Po and Tu Fu as much as everyone else, the poems about getting drunk and watching the sun rise, or getting drunk and watching the earthworm, etc., but most Zennies I meet seem to be so hypnotized by the notion of no ultimate meaning that they have trouble working with agression or conflict on a daily level.

    Ok, so in the long term, especially in the REALLY long term, we don’t know the exact outcome of our actions. So what? Let’s talk about generalities. We do know that good intention, compassionate intention, generally tends to lead to compassionate action, causing people to suffer less. And then this leads to those helped people being more likely to have good intention themselves.

    Whereas negative intention tends to lead to negative action, which leads to negative intention, and wars tend to be passed on to our children. Can anyone look at the world and dispute this?

    actions snowball, into further agression, or further sanity, or whatever. Not only that, but within an individual person, intentions snowball, building up,likely leading to more of the same intentions in that person, ever increasing the liklihood of acting from those intentions.

    So moral, compassionate intention is relevent. Vitally relevent, even.

  5. Oops. I meant Taoists, not Zennies. Tired. Completely, completely different. Sorry, any Zennies out there. I have issues with you too, but they are very different, having to do with enforced austerity. Make the following switch when reading the above: Tao = Zen.

  6. I’ll go so far as to agree that compassionate intention may increase the likelihood of future right action, but again the action and effect are what are most relevant. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is sort of a semantic argument really, whether the end justifies the means, etc. If you throw the baby out with the bathwater, I don’t think anyone is going to heap compliments on you no matter what your intentions were.

    As for the urban zennites & taoists in their quest for freedom from wanting, I recently read a very precise sentence in the introduction of _Haita the Shepherd_ by Ambrose Bierce: “From this – for he must be thinking if he would not turn into one of his own sheep – he drew the solemn inference that happiness may come if not sought, but if looked for will never be seen.”

  7. Just to clarify, the reason I posted the quote was as a followup to an earlier post. And it is a quote, they are not my words. I object to atheists being persecuted on spurious grounds. Ann Coulter’s big thing on the Tonight Show seemed to be her astonishment that her targets don’t raise a fuss over being called Godless. She seems to think it’s a bad word. It is the idea held by a lot of people that Godless=amoral (or immoral) that really gets my goat legs.

  8. Understood. Just because one doesn’t subscribe to any organized spiritual group/concept doesn’t mean that they lack a moral compass. Those who are actually familiar with eastern and western religious texts both ancient and modern know that this runs counter to just about everything expressed therein. People always have the capacity to choose right actions, but they often do not for one reason or another.

    To say that enlightenment is impossible for the uninitiated is little more than dogmatic tripe.

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