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Austin Cline

Responses to South African Atheist-Bashing

By July 6, 2004

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A few days ago I wrote about an atheist-bashing letter from John Rowland in Randburg, South Africa and published in The Star. I wasn’t the only one to notice just how many misconceptions, myths, and falsehoods he repeated about atheism and atheists. Recently, The Star published a number of other responses.

Z Mbhele writes:

Atheism only denies the existence of God. It does not imply the absence of a basis for morality. Jainism, Theravada Buddhism and Confucianism are some atheistic religions which contain moral doctrines without including a God/dess who must be worshipped. These religions, especially Jainism, are even stricter than most theistic religions on the morality of killing: even the accidental crushing of an insect is heavily avoided.
I am also a secularist, which means that I advocate the separation of church and state. ... Secularism is the driving inspiration for the debate on the relevance of marriage because secularism, unlike most religions, is willing to re-evaluate its values, beliefs and doctrines as social contexts change. Theistic religions are not superior to, nor are they better able to inspire morally good behaviour than atheism, as evidenced by the Crusades, Inquisition, religious wars of 16th and 17th century Europe and the global jihad currently waged by Islamic extremists.

Bob Broom writes

Rowland shows little more than total contempt for atheists, yet magnanimously acknowledges that he "knows some of great integrity, but that they are inconsistent with their creed"! ... As is so typical of religious fanatics, they steadfastly refuse to concede that their prescriptive dogma is not the only way to live one's life. If I choose to behave in a certain manner and treat others in a particular way, it has absolutely nothing to do with some religious norms and biblically inspired codes of conduct forced on children by their terrified and misguided parents.
I behave as I do because I believe it is the right thing to do: it has absolutely nothing to do with being "God-fearing". Why do the likes of Rowland always allude to the displeasure of their God if certain ideals are not followed, yet in almost the same breath, they speak of a loving and forgiving God? Is this the same God to whom Rowland (and the "Rowlandites") owe their allegiance and blind compliance? I do not want to feel that I need to "fear" any being, especially when I am told that the "creator" I am meant to fear the most, actually loves me and everyone else.
The Rowlands of this world desperately need to cling on to some form of fanciful and ethereal belief (like religion) to give their lives meaning and, at the same time, they have the temerity to judge others. Rowland, when you presume to preach to "the great unwashed", you enter a world in which you are apparently ill-equipped to cope, as it is one founded on logic, fact and evidence; not on the convenient psychological and spiritual props you need to justify your own narrow-minded naiveté.

Len Anderson writes:

To assume that morality has anything to do with the fear of a god displays a simple lack of logic on Rowland's part. It is possible that this is what motivates Rowland and his fellow Christians, but in no way does that describe, define or indicate any form of morality in their action.
Indeed, their actions can be described as fear of God, rather than moral actions. If someone murders people in the name of God, is that person moral? If someone prevents a loved one from seeking medical attention because it is against their religious beliefs, are they moral? If someone owns a slave in following biblical precepts, is that person moral? Is discriminating against a human being on the basis of their race or sexual orientation an indication of moral superiority?
Rowland tells us that Christians are moral not by choice, not because it the right thing to do, not because it was something they were raised with, but as a response to the fear of God. He makes it sound bad that atheists are moral because they choose to be. If that is what the Bible teaches, then I am certainly delighted to be moral of my own accord, rather than being forced to be so by something I do not know.

I don’t agree with absolutely everything that the letter-writers say (quoted or unquoted), but what they write is not only very interesting but also shows a great deal more thought and depth on this topic than what John Rowland tried to say.

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