IRC’s an atheist. Not an easy nut to crack and he refuses to let God exit a conversation or enter his heart. He is a good guy… about as good as an atheist can possibly get!
When I told him that, I had in fact meant that as half a compliment, but IRC didn’t like the sound of it. He let it pass that afternoon but later in the evening, he sent me a text, “…..and by the way, I think atheists have stronger morals than those who are religious.”
At the time, I was knee deep in work and should have either ignored the message and waited to send in a response later or I could have just sent in an appropriate emoticon to let him know what I thought of his valued opinion. But I did neither…. Instead, I shook a hornet’s nest loose, stuck my face right in it and got into the debate… Blackberry messages went screaming through the airwaves, collided, crashed, picked themselves up and then squirmed their way into our respective phones in an effort to buy up acres of mindscape before the opposing thought process could intervene…
By the end of our conversation, I had, what we both thought was a rather interesting debate. I have reproduced it here for your perusal… hope you find it worth its space on this page. Be kind… do keep in mind we were debating and we are both bound to have our biases and so would manipulate facts a wee bit to make a stronger case…
Disclaimer: We are both rather young(really!) and within the context of the discussion, you might even consider us immature. But what the heck, gotta start someday…
IRC: …..and by the way…. I think atheists have stronger morals….!
PB: Of course you would. Every gambler says he is braver than those who don’t gamble. I’m a believer and I wouldn’t mind standing up to a moral inquisition so how do we settle that, good sir? In fact, on the contrary, non-believers have no foundation for moral behaviour. All they have is ‘accepted social behaviour’. In the absence of God, or goodness, every act is merely ‘as per fashion of the times’, since there can’t be a universal sense of right or wrong. Morality, therefore, isn’t a factor in the world of non believers. It’s pure fiction good sir. Lucky you!
IRC: Non believers have no foundation but in fiction. True (moral) foundation lies in humanity and human values. Thus, it is not an imposed sense of morality but one which helps to uplift humanity as a whole. It is unselfish as well as grand. And religious texts or God present a sense of morality where one has to pick and choose the good bits and leave out ‘stoning’ and other such barbaric acts which are supposedly “moral”.
PB: But who is to say what is humane and what uplift s humanity without a sense of divine purpose to give it a context. There is nothing humane about humanity without recognizing this divinity in man.. Going by ‘human values’ as dictated by evolution alone, Adolf Hitler, Attila, Timur Lang, Nadir Shah and all the other despots who follow their lead, believed in survival of the fittest, subjugation of the weakest and annihilation of every dissenting voice were the alpha males we should have been praying to, for both mercy and inspiration.
Religion, an institution that we both love to despise, is what we owe the seeds of ‘humanity’ as we know it to -’…for it is wrong to kill a fellow Christian for God hath made him by his hand just as he hath carved me and so he is a brother to me just like the one by my own mother’.
Otherwise the driving human values, before religion, before learning to recognise the “divinity” in each other, were about getting as many wives one could; beat up as many as needed so I could lead my tribe, by show of force and wit; attack other tribes, take their wealth, rape their women by right and decree, kill their sons, enslave their daughters and consume their flesh... something lions and chimps and many other species practice to this day – unaffected by ‘morality’, yet perfectly in tune with nature’s values. And unencumbered by a sense of mutual and universal divinity, we too are but mere animals, unhindered by moral compunctions and your version of ‘human values’..
What you call ‘the greater good of humanity’ is a philosophy steeped in morality whose foundation is the assumption that even without might, you have a right, because you are my equal ‘for the Lord God created us all’. We are slowly extending this right to animals and one day it will be illegal to kill them too. Seriously! But our laws, our civilization and our society of agnostics, atheists and fanatics, all build on that basic assumption. Our morality, your sense of human values, and our sense of honesty, integrity etc. are all built on that premise..
Nature on the other hand, rewards deception, rape and war. That is why there are fewer bonobos in this world than there are chimpanzees... So believe it or not, if you believe in human values, equal rights, human rights, animal rights, non violence, non cruelty, honesty and integrity, then you are a believer too. I didn’t add commitment to that list because nature rewards commitment, whether to a tribe or to a partner.
IRC: Seriously?! Are you saying that before we had religion and (a sense of) God, we didn’t have laws? Of course we did. And those laws came from understanding, science and learning - something which religion has always eschewed at least from the times of Galileo. Just because we can judge right or wrong for ourselves is the very reason we don’t need a foundation for morality.
People like Hitler have always been there even after religion spread and we treated them like gods. It’s only with education and ‘humanity’ that we finally know that selfish behaviour is wrong. That came with the advent of science and understanding our place in the universe.
PB: No, we never knew right from wrong before organized religion because religion is merely organized spirituality.. It went wrong because it became dogmatic. But science never gave us a sense of right and wrong. Science merely recognizes cause and effect. The position of the sun or the shape of the earth does not decide whether it is right or wrong to kill, pillage or rape. According to science our place is merely at the top of the food chain and Idi Amin’s at the top our own little food and mating rights chain. Why are they wrong in the eyes of science? Marshalling forces, mobilising resources, reserving first right of use to all property and people and ruthlessly quelling opposition - every species practices that to this day. Why would science say that’s wrong? So irrespective of whether God exists or not, his idea has given us both humanity and civilization. There’s no morality or a sense of right or wrong in nature. It is purely a function of acknowledged mutual and universal divinity.
IRC: Morality in fact is steeped in science. For one, evolution makes it mandatory for humans to live in harmony. Secondly experiments have shown that there are certain hard wired moral values in us. Killing each other is bad. Having sex with one’s mother is wrong. People like Hitler and Amin are the exception. It is human to be good. We are animals yes, but a different kind of animal. The reason our brain grew to this humongous size was because of living in a community and sharing. So the side effect of our increased intelligence is this moral sense, an emotional connection with life and the universe.
PB: Evolution makes it mandatory for us to live in harmony? You can’t possibly be serious. Harmony has always been limited at best to a tribal concept before religion... And even after that, it struggles to stay in place. We are the most violent species on the planet.. We fight everywhere and kill far more often despite being governed by laws unlike other creatures. Animals don’t fight all the time either and they definitely don’t fight to the death over issues as petty as crossing the road first. And not having sex with one’s mother is true in all of nature. And while animals don’t fantasize about incest, our ‘hard’ wiring doesn’t stop us from committing incest more often per capita than any other species.
Our tribal peace isn’t a patch on wolf, elephant or even rather violent lion and chimp societies.. Chimps and lions aren’t hanged for killing and yet they don’t kill if another lion or even a jackal steals a morsel, crosses their path, roars a little too loudly or stares at their female... Nor do they accept rape as normal interaction between the sexes. Yet humans had collectively sanctioned rape of ‘other women’ before religion and God made an appearance. Even today, war zones, zones without fear of God or law due to hate and differences in faith or ethnicity (like in the Balkans, Sudan and even pockets right here at home) still see rape being exchanged more often than currency.. And don’t even get me started on murder and genocide…”
And so we rolled with the tide as it would ebb and flow... Matters remain unresolved for now but what it has done is gotten us thinking. Hope it sets a little lump of snow rolling in your head too. And now that we’re done, let’s say ‘Thank God!’ to that... Yeah IRC, you too!