Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Archive for the ‘Liberal Christians’ Category

Compassion easier without belief

Posted by Ann on August 27, 2011

“If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist?…Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”–Thomas Jefferson

One of my peeves is believers who argue their beliefs by asking nonsense questions that really don’t make sense, and for which there is no answer to convince them from their firmly entrenched beliefs. It’s like some kind of game they like to play I think. I don’t like this game. Ask me a real question but not these play questions. They irritate me, because then I feel sucked into the game by answering, or rude for not, and I know when I do answer they will simply write me off in their heads even though I know my answer is better than anything they think is true in their heads…For instance the questioning of my morality, “If you don’t believe in God, then where do you think morality comes from?” My first thought when hearing this questions is “This has got to be one of the stupidest questions.” At least for me, it really is dumb. Of course I don’t tell the person they are being a dumb ass, but I sure am thinking this is gonna be another one of those dumb interactions where they listen politely to my answer and then politely write me off. And yes, I have already written them off, that is why I don’t ask them why morality has to come from God. That would be a dumb ass thing to do, lol! The answer: Of course there is no cosmic code we live by, morality is in the mind, the same place as our reason. There is no police officer in the sky…

Anyway, I picked up Godless again today and opened it by chance to chapter twelve, “For Goodness Sake”. Once again Barker is inside my mind. I wish I was as articulate in expressing my thoughts as him, but then why not let his writing help me express myself? Some do it a hell of a lot better than others, so here’s a selection from the chapter that gets me down to a T. So theists, next time you ask me the dumb ass question about my morality, read this and then let’s move on to more jovial interactions like hanging out, knowing we have serious differences of thoughts.

“How does an atheist account for the existence of objective moral values?” is a question I often hear. “If you don’t believe in God, then what is your basis for morality?” To me the question is obvious: we atheists find our basis for morality in nature. Where else would we look?

Most atheists think moral values are real, but that does not mean they are “objective.” They can’t be. A value is not a “thing”—it is a function of the mind (which is itself a function). To be objective is to exist independently of a mind. So, an “objective value” is an oxymoron; the existence in the mind of something that is independent of the mind.

Most atheists think that values, though not objective things in themselves, can be objectively justified by reference to the real world. Our actions have consequences, and those consequences can be objectively measured.

Although most atheists accept the importance of morality, this is not conceding that morality exists in the universe—that it is a cosmic object waiting to be discovered. The word “morality” is just a label for a concept, and concepts exist only in minds. If no minds existed no morality would exist.

There is no big mystery to morality. Morality is simply acting with the intention to minimize harm. Since harm is natural its avoidance is a material exercise. Organisms suffer as they bump into their environment and each other, and as rational animals with some ability to anticipate the future, we humans have some choice about how this happens. If we try to minimize harm and enhance the quality of life, we are moral. If we don’t, we are immoral or amoral, depending on our intentions. Even if we make a mistake, we can still be called moral or ethical if it is truly our intention to minimize harm. And the way to avoid making a mistake is to try to be as informed as possible about the likely consequences of the actions being considered. To be moral atheists have access to the simple tools of reason and kindness. There is no cosmic code book directing our actions.

Of course, relative to humanity, certain general actions can be deemed almost uniformly right or wrong. Without the Ten Commandments would it never have dawned on the human race that there is a problem with killing? Prohibitions against homicide and theft existed millennia before the Israelite story of Moses coming down from Sinai.

The way to be moral is to first learn what causes harm and how to avoid it. This means investigating nature—especially human nature, who we are, what we need, where we live, how we function, and why we behave the way we do.

Why should I treat my neighbor nicely? Because we are all connected. We are part of the same species, genetically linked. Since I value myself and my species, and the other species to which we are related, I recognize that when someone is hurting, my natural family is suffering. By nature, those of us who are mentally healthy recoil from pain and wish to see it ended.

Of course, we often act in positive ways to stop the pain of others. This is compassion. Although I don’t think there is a “moral imperative” nor a “compassion imperative:–you can be considered moral if you are passively not causing unnecessary harm—I do think most human beings who are mentally healthy will empathize with the sufferings of others and will naturally want to reach out. Atheists can perhaps express compassion more easily than believers because we are not confused by:

  • Fatalism: “Whatever happens is God’s will.”
  • Pessimism: “We deserve to suffer.”
  • Salvation: “Death is not the end.”
  • Retribution: “Justice will prevail in the afterlife.”
  • Magic: “Pray for help.”
  • Holy war: “Kill for God.”
  • Forgiveness: “I won’t be held responsible for my mistakes.”
  • Glory: “Suffering with Christ is an honor.”

Since this is the only life we atheists have, each decision is crucial and we are accountable for our actions right now.

Yet notice how leading theists deal with the real world: “Ye have the poor with you always,” said the “loving” Jesus, who never lifted a finger to eradicate poverty, wasting precious ointment on his own luxury rather than selling it to feed the hungry (Matthew 26:6-11). “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ,” Mother Teresa added. “I think the world is much helped by the suffering of poor people.” So much for theistic compassion!

Jefferson may have been wrong to call compassion an “instinct” because many appear not to have it—it seems optional. Or perhaps he was right and the “compassion gene” (to oversimplify) varies across the population like any other human feature (height, intelligence, musical ability, etc.), and some of us have more of the instinct than others have. But it is fortunate that there are enough of us who love life to protect ourselves from those who don’t. We have systems of law, enforcement, justice and defense. We encourage kind, ethical actions through moral education and critical thinking. And though there is no cosmic moral imperative, all of us who value life and consider ourselves moral—atheists and believers alike—can choose to actively exhort others to join us in expressing our innate feelings of altruism and compassion.

Compassion is, after all, a characteristic of being human. When someone commits a horrible act, what do we say? “That was an inhuman thing to do!” We assume that the natural “human” attitude is nonviolent and peaceful. We are not corrupt, evil creatures. A few of us are off to the side of “saintliness” (to borrow a word), and a few of us are off to the other side, the side of mental disease, with sociopaths and criminals. On the bell curve of morality and compassion, however, most of us fall somewhere in the large middle area.

Many believers, including Christians who are ordered to “bring into captivity every thought unto the obedience of Christ,” have an underlying distrust of human reasoning. Yearning for absolutes, they perceive relativism—the recognition that actions must be judged in context—as something dangerous when it is the only way we can be truly moral.

Theists are afraid people will think for themselves; atheists are afraid they won’t.

It is interesting the irrationality of compassionate, kind people who yearn for world peace, who understand the value in humanity, yet internally still believe God is necessary for morality to prevail in the world…

Posted in Liberal Christians, thoughts | 4 Comments »

Godfather of the Adult Missionary Kid Bastards?

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on March 23, 2011

Giving Xians an offer they can't refuse

Despite the fact that most of my friends on Facebook are adult missionary kids (AMKs), for the most part, I am out of the loop when it comes to the Evangelical, fundamentalist missionary community. This makes sense, since I myself would likely be a topic of missionary circle gossip, being a lapsed Christian. Still, I have always found it hard to imagine that folks would find me an interesting topic for a conversation (or gossip, as the case may be). Sure, I find myself interesting, but what person with a (semi)healthy ego doesn’t? I don’t find the vast majority of my AMK friends in the least bit interesting. In fact, almost all of them are the most boring people I have ever encountered: most of them don’t care about literature, art or any music other than the kind that serves the utilitarian purpose of worshiping their god. Most of them pathologically read their Bibles and parrot verses and platitudes as a way of life. They are all the same–they have become sheep for the shepherd.

I had always assumed the feeling was mutual on the other side, that I would be seen as uninteresting due to my difference, so it came as a big surprise when I recently discovered I had been discussed in a missionary circle by someone I didn’t even know. What was said about me was not something I was expecting. If I had to imagine what Christian AMKs would say about me it would go something like this:

Sheep One: “Have you heard about Clamence?”
Sheep Two: “No, what about him?”
Sheep One: “Well, he’s turned his back on God and is this really arrogant atheist, and he even has this website where he talks about everything that’s wrong with God and Christians.”
Sheep Two: “Oh my goodness, that’s terrible!”
Sheep One: “I know! He was always so funny and friendly. It just goes to show how much energy Satan will put into attacking the children of those who carry out God’s most important work.”
Sheep Two: “Amen! So tell me more of the evil things he does…”

Since some variation of the above dialogue is what I expected, I steeled myself for this when a Christian AMK friend of mine (currently living in Africa) offhandedly mentioned that I had been a topic of conversation. Instead of reporting what I expected, he told me a Christian missionary had expressed admiration at “how you’ve taken all the ICA bastards under your wing,” and have “become the godfather for all those who have finally escaped fundamentalism and were rejected by their own families.” I received these thought-provoking comments a few months back, and I really didn’t know what to make of them. Here is what I said in response back then:

That’s interesting what you said about my being the Godfather of the fugitives. Haha! It’s interesting to hear about me when things trickle down the missionary grapevine. From my perspective, I’m just a guy who is shameless and outspoken about my worldview. Most MK non-believers I have observed have decided to simply extricate themselves from missionary and MK circles–they seem a little cowed into silence, from my perspective. I have always thought I have just as much of a right to hang out with MKs and missionaries as anyone else. The non-believing minority of MKs shouldn’t have to feel like they are social pariahs because they aren’t passing the missionary circle’s litmus test. I do realize some missionary circles will never be welcoming to a secular minority, but that just helps to emphasize their lack of tolerance. I don’t know about the accuracy of the mother hen metaphor; I don’t really know too many non-believing MKs, and I haven’t ever felt like their leader, or anything like that. I’m also not aware of anyone I know who was rejected by his family (unless “rejection” is meant in a less severe manner than I am imagining).

I think some of my confusion, resulting from all the “Godfather” and “ICA bastards” talk, was due to why this person (a missionary) who had admired the role I was supposedly playing had seen it in such a positive light. It took me awhile to figure out that this person is self-identifying as a moderate, non-fundamentalist Christian. In other words, this missionary is agreeing with me that fundamentalism is a negative thing, and he thinks that his form of belief is non-fundamentalist and (therefore) healthy. It was difficult for me to recognize that he was implying this, since I make little differentiation between types of Christians. To me, if you’re a Christian, the very root of your paradigm is absurd; any house built upon the sand of a falsehood will result in a way of interpreting the world that will collapse at the faintest wind of reason. The only real difference I see between a liberal Christian and a fundamentalist Christian is that the liberal ones have more of a live and let live attitude (and they’ll drink a beer with you); the fundies, on the other hand, have much more of a Hitler complex: they know the way the world should be, and they are damned sure going to try their hardest to force others to share that vision. To summarize: 1) Liberal Christians=enjoyable to hang out with, but preposterous ideas about upward-sky floating zombies and invisible creatures, 2) Fundie Christians=assholes.

Posted in Essays on Belief, Liberal Christians | 16 Comments »

My first and final Facebook discussion on religion

Posted by Ann on September 5, 2010

A couple of days ago I had my first discussion on Facebook with “liberal Christians” about their religious beliefs. Somehow I had developed a belief that liberal Christians would actually be able to see through the irrationality of fundamentalism in a way fundamentalists can’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Dialogues, Faith vs. Evidence, Liberal Christians, Reflections & Memories, Science, Testimonies | 10 Comments »