A Question of Ethics

After the ECG talk on Tuesday, a little, middle-aged Christian lady in a wheelchair came up to me and asked me a few questions, which I obliged to answer. First of all was the usual one about how I became an atheist. I explained my story (which can be found… 2 posts ago here I think), and she replied with “oh, so you were basically angry at God after he didn’t answer your questions and your friend died”. I found this quite patronizing, actually, but I didn’t want to offend her, so I refrained from replying “well, actually I just realised it’s a load of bullshit”, and opted for the more diplomatic “it was more of a general disillusionment than that”. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask her how she became a Christian, which I suspect would have been quite illuminating.

Anyway the next question was the good old classic, “so where do you get your morality from?” Again, I didn’t want to offend her, so I didn’t use Roger’s favourite question “so, if God wasn’t watching your every move, would you be out there stealing, raping and killing people?”, instead I said “well how come you know that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is something good in the Bible that you should follow, but that stoning homosexuals is a bad commandment and you shouldn’t follow it?”

She really didn’t answer my question, instead deciding to tell me that homosexuality is a perversion. My favourite part of this discourse was when she told me she’s got nothing against homosexuals, she was about to say “I know some homosexual people”, but corrected herself to say “I’ve met some homosexual people”, as if knowing them would be too sinful.

Anyway she didn’t answer the question so I approached it a different way and said “do you not think it’s possible for me to be moral without being a Christian?”, and she replied that it was possible for me but only because there are vestiges of Christianity remaining in me from my parents’ influence. She went on to say that the world is getting more immoral because people are more selfish, and this is because they’re turning away from Christianity. Now people put themselves first instead of God first and themselves second, so we’re all getting more selfish.

During that entire discourse she seemed to use ‘Christianity’ as a synonym for ‘religion’, so I asked her the old classic, “so there are so many other religions out there, what makes Christianity the true religion?” She said that in other religions, their God hasn’t come down to us in human form, and in other religions their God doesn’t love them like the Christian God does. “Well,” I said “that’s what makes Christianity different from other religions, but it doesn’t make it any more legitimate or true than the other religions, does it?”

– Stumped.

“And do you not realise that if you were living in another part of the world, you would be saying the exact same thing about another religion, giving me other reasons why Islam, for example, is the true religion.” She waffled on for a couple of minutes about how other religions can be partly moral too because they have some things in common with Christianity, which of course wasn’t the question I asked.

“And do you not think the ancient Athenians, for example, had at least some morals, centuries before Christianity even existed? So that’s proof that our morals don’t really come from the Christian Bible.”

– Stumped.

And my final question was “don’t you think it’s better that people think about their actions, and their consequences for other people, and make their morals that way, rather than just read their morals in a book and simply do things because God says so?” Her reply was “ah, but you have to remember that God made those rules, laws and commandments with the consequences for other people in mind.”

Our conversation was interrupted there, but I’d like to discuss that here for a little while. I’m aware this post is already quite extensive, so I won’t go on for too long. One of the most common secular ways of assessing whether something is moral or not is to decide if it causes the least suffering possible to the least amount of people. Now generally speaking the morals of Christianity do that, but there are exception, mainly to do with sexual immorality.

Why is it ok to kill homosexuals, or even just to judge them, when all it is is two people who love each other? Surely judging them inflicts more suffering on more people than the ‘sin’ itself does? On abortion, scientists go to a lot of effort to make sure that feotuses aren’t aborted once they’ve reached an age where they would suffer physically by it, but having the baby born could inflict a lot of pain on the mother in many different ways which I’m sure you’re all aware of. Stem cell research could alleviate suffering for countless thousands of people in the future, but the Church opposes it because it involves chopping up a human blastocyst (or very very young embryo). Now blastocysts are little clumps of about 150 cells. They don’t even have any specialised cells, never mind brains or anything as complex as that, so we can be relatively sure that they do not suffer. To quote Sam Harris, we should be more troubled by people swatting flies than we are about the suffering of blastocysts in stem cell research.

So if God really does make these laws with the consequences for other people in mind, then he’s made some pretty grave errors here, for an omniscient God. To quote the late George Carlin, “mistakes like these do not belong on the resume of a supreme being”.

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One Response to A Question of Ethics

  1. Elio PENEASY says:

    Interesting!
    When I’m engaged in conversations like these I like to ask:
    Assumed that god oversees the entire humanity how is (why) that he sent his son (Jesus) in Palestine leaving behind all other continents?

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