I am, I am told, a heathen.
Immoral, directionless, doomed to burn in hell for all eternity.
Because I am a – gasp – atheist.
And the thing we atheists get told by people who, frankly, don’t really know us, is that we simply cannot have morals. I’ve tried calling myself a “secular Christian”, since I do believe in the philosophical teachings of what I believe was a historic figure, Jesus of Nazareth. But that just seems to piss everyone off, and I’ve been told flat-out, if you don’t believe in the divinity, if you don’t believe Christ rose from the dead or that a cracker is a slice of his flesh like it was cut off in the Andes mountains, then nothing else matters.,
It is an attitude I find puzzling, though seems to fit in with some of the more vocal Christians I know or see as public figures – as long as I believe in the divinity, the actual message is secondary. Though it seems to me that we’re losing the real message of the alleged resurrection (I’m sure using “alleged” is going to piss people off, but I’m talking about an event I don’t really believe happened as if it did, so… there we are). It wouldn’t have been the message that Jesus was bringing to the people, it was the underline and exclamation mark, the “See? Kind of a big deal, here, perhaps you should pay attention to what I had to say!”
But while they’ll put the moral code he teaches in a secondary category of importance, they also assume that without it, I must be completely immoral. Which has a certain circular illogic to it – I believe in the moral teaching’s but not the divinity, which means I’m not a true Christian, which means I must not be following the moral code he taught us. How heads don’t literally implode on such sort of reasoning I will never understand.
But I have a moral code. I do not lie; I used to, but found it too troublesome and never worth it – honesty is easier. I do not believe in harming other people; no one should be harming anyone and doing so is wrong. And especially, I don’t believe in killing others.
Now, are there exceptions? Certainly, I do not think any rule or moral holds up in black and white in every single situation. In defending others, doing harm may be necessary, though I believe in quick, contained action to do so.
This is where I tend to get tagged with a “relativistic morality” label, that I can’t hold onto any rule firmly, so I must not have any rules at all. But that is, frankly, a complete load of crap. Because while I have small exceptions to it, the people who chose to judge me tend to have much bigger ones. How many Christian leaders openly have called for military actions in the past decade? How many find excuses to find the death penalty morally correct?
This past weekend, when SNL did a parody of a Toyota commercial of a dad dropping his daughter off at the bus station for college, but it turns out she’s going off with ISIS, many people complained about the immorality of such a joke and those who found it funny. “When so many Chrisitans were just killed over there.” Fair point, I suppose, but in my book, MANY people, mostly Muslim, have been getting killed in that struggle, and my personal outrage over the atrocities that are going on have to do with PEOPLE getting killed; whatever their religion may be is a secondary concern. But that’s the sort of person I’m supposed to be listening to that I don’t have morals? The ones who open the Bible to “Thou shalt not kill” and see a dozen asterisks after it for all the exceptions they’ve imposed?
There is such a thing as a moral fact. Nearly every religion can be boiled down to a simple caveat – “be nice to each other” (even the Church of Bill & Ted). They may differ on who brings us that message, on what their tale of how the universe came to be is, etc. But the underlying moral message is the same, because they are based on truths that we have found as self-evident. But people lose focus on the message, get caught up in tribalism, and act like those who don’t follow THEIR book in the way that THEY think it should be done, there is no way we heathens can have any moral framework.
To quote the comic Rick Reynolds, “Has anyone really flipped through this book, ‘Geez, I wanna fuck my neighbor’s wife, don’t know if I should!’?”
The real key is to be open about the world, and your place in it. If you only see yourself as part of a WASP tribe, that you identify as white, as Anglo-Saxon, as Protestant (or other Christian sect), then suddenly the “rules” you are told to follow suddenly only seem to apply to your group. Other people, since they believe differently than you ((and look and live differently, too), it seems alright to treat them differently.
Even though there is no indication that Jesus ever saw a white person in his corporeal form. Or that his message was for a small group of people to only apply to each other. No, in word, many Christians will say that Jesus’ message was universal, but in their implementation, act like it was very narrow lesson.
There is no need to worry about my morals. I won’t lie to you, cheat on you, steal from you, hit you, kill you. I hold those morals to be self-evident, and I didn’t need a book to tell me that. To those who want to question my morals, you can go ahead – it will be a waste of your time. Perhaps that time would be better spent looking at your own morals, and your book, and questioning if you are really following what you preach.
I am, I am told, a heathen.