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Austin Cline

Without Religion, Jeff Allen Would Murder All Atheists, Liberals

By May 26, 2009

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It's common for Christians to try to argue that morality is dependent on theism and maybe even their religion in particular. Some take this argument so far as to claim that without religious theism and preferably Christianity people would resort to extreme sorts of immoral and criminal behavior. The fact that atheists don't actually do this, and may even be on average more law-abiding than theists, doesn't seem to faze them. Just to be clear about this: the facts don't matter to them, only what their ideology tells them.

One final step, not taken by all the religious theists making this argument, is that they themselves are only moral and law-abiding because of their religion. Put another way, they sincerely claim that without their belief in their god and without their religion, they would go on a spree of theft, rape, murder, and who knows what. Just how often do we get people admitting so forthrightly to being untrustworthy sociopaths?

Jeff Allen tweeted:

Dear liberals and athiests, My religion is the only thing that keeps me from killing you, are you sure you want me to give it up? #tcot

It's nice for Jeff Allen to admit to having sociopathic inclinations, I guess. If one of my neighbors had sincere inclinations or motivations to murder me and everyone else in the area, I think I'd want to know it so I could stay away from them. Such a person really can't be trusted to any extent whatsoever and I wouldn't want to make the mistake of treating them like a psychologically healthy, normal adult.

If the only thing preventing Jeff Allen from going on a psychotic killing spree is his religion, then perhaps everyone else is better off if he keeps his religion. Contrary to what Allen might imagine, though, he's hardly offering a positive argument in defense of religion.

After all, he's not offering the implicit argument that one should accept his religion because it's true, but rather only because it keeps people around him from dying horrible, unexpected deaths regardless of whether it's true or not. If the best argument in defense of Christianity is "it keeps sociopathic killers like me in line," that's not much of a defense at all. I'd argue that we find something better to control the sociopaths than some slender thread of fantasy.

The problem is probably even worse than this, though. When people claim something akin to what Jeff Allen wrote, what they are referring to is their obedience to the commands of their god. In other words, they are "moral" and not killing their neighbors because the think their god commands them to.

This isn't a foundation for good behavior which I would want to rely upon, though, because as soon as they think they get different marching orders they'll go do something different. Obedience to orders isn't morality, it's just being a good automaton. This is why genuine morality depends on things like empathy, experience, and reason they aren't perfect, but they are more reliable than teaching people to just follow the commands of some authority figure.

It's ironic that when so many religious theists are trying to accuse atheists of lacking any reason to be moral, they are in the process giving strong reasons to suspect that they themselves don't acknowledge any good reasons for morality outside of the threats of punishment and promises of reward supposedly offered by their deity. If that's all they have, then what they have isn't morality or any sorts of recognizable moral system. Far from an argument for why their religion is better, it's actually an argument for why their religion should be immediately rejected in favor of more mature reason.

May 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm
(1) Ron says:

(Dear liberals and athiests, My religion is the only thing that keeps me from killing you, are you sure you want me to give it up? #tcot)
If Jeff were not religious, wouldn’t that mean that he’s one of us?

May 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm
(2) gevaudan says:

Would he then have to kill himself?

May 27, 2009 at 1:37 am
(3) MikeC says:

RE: above messages

Hehe, didn’t Captain Kirk solve a few problems that way?

May 27, 2009 at 1:42 am
(4) Heidi says:

@Ron: Sheep-speak doesn’t have to actually make sense. They’re not allowed to think.

May 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm
(5) David Munn says:

There is another possibility you are not considering and that is that only individuals who are relatively undamaged emotionally have the mental freedom to become athiests. The more funadamentalist, i.e. rigid, a person’s religious beliefs are the more they are needed to keep that person functioning without imploding in despair or exploding in violence. Those of us who have not been there can only try to imagine our way into what it must be like. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in virgin births and resurrections, but I have struggled with the despair and the rage and I’ve seen enough in my own heart to learn to feel compassion for those who need to cling to faith as an alternative to suicide, because those are the options for many. Of course some people have replaced religion with communism which fulfills the same needs – forced morality, social inclusion and a sense of purpose – but lacks the comfort of belief in an afterlife. And some have given up all residence in the real world and joined the New Age movement with its belief in magic and reincarnation. In a way the latter too options might be preferable since the individual doesn’t have to be honest in the sense of admitting to being in the grip of sin (i.e. the lusts, greeds and aggressive feelings arising from having been deeply hurt emotionally). It’s all about transcendence. A person who is not hurt needs no transcendence so they can live in the real world and acknowledge its meaning. A person who is more hurt, therefore unavoidably more selfish, needs to deny that the real world has a meaning that selfishness would appear to be in conflict with so he becomes an athiest. Someone who is even more hurt emotionally can no longer restrain his selfishness on his own so religion allows him to use the threat of hell and promise of heaven to restrain his destructive, anti-social behaviours and also to believe that the meaning of the real world is a loving father to him. But if a person is even more hurt they can’t stand the criticism involved in religious belief, they are hurting really badly and the last thing they want is to be told all the time that they are sinful so they transcend once more with something like communism where they sacrifice the life after death but get the comforting lack of freedom they want. And those who are even more hurt than that escape off into New Age beliefs were everything is comforting and there is no contact with reality or they take up a very specific form of idealism which matches their psychological needs, for instance someone who was hurt as a child may become a radical animal rights activist, identifying emotionally with the hurt animals and trying to make people feel guilty about harming them as a psychodrama into which they can channel their hurt. The journey of humanity has a been a tiring one. When we began we were strong and didn’t need religion. We invented it when we needed it. Now the accumulated hurt of mankind, from our 2 million year struggle to find understanding of who we are and why we are here, is enormous and religion is collapsing under its weight.
The challenge for those of us lucky enough to think clearly is to concentrate on the issue of psychological rehabilitation. Trying to attack religion with reason is kind of pointless. The people who are in it aren’t in it for reason. We can sit around and go “Look aren’t those Creationists silly for believing humans and dinosaurs coexisted” but it is kind of like kicking a retarded person.

May 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm
(6) Jeff Allen says:

I am only commenting to say that whoever tweeted that is not me. I am a Christ follower who couldn’t disagree with the tweeter in this article more. May God have mercy on his soul. Blessings to all you skeptics.

May 29, 2009 at 5:55 pm
(7) Drew says:

David’s point above is important. When theists ask me why I’m an atheist, my answer usually includes four major points, roughly in importance:

1. SOCIETY: I live in a society where atheists, although still treated with bigotry and some discrimination from a minority of religious beleivers, are able to express their religious non-beliefs largely without overt persecution and negative personal social consequences. This situation isn’t perfect, but is improving, and is certainly good relative to other countries (I’m Canadian) and previous generations.

2. FAMILY: My parents did not indoctrinate me with any religion before I was old enough to effectively employ rational thinking, and conduct critically skeptical evaluation of ideas. As a result I was able to evaluate religious beliefs in an unbiased manner, a situation which only a minority of people are allowed.

3. EDUCATION: I was exposed to a broad selection of religious mythology from a diverse group of cultures; took an interest in studying human history in considerable depth; possess a level education and intelligence which is above average; and studied history and some anthropology at the university level.

4. MENTAL/EMOTIONAL STATE: I have a good social and family network I can rely upon in times of emotional need, and have no emotional issues or traumatic life events which I have had to deal with which have made me emotionally vulnerable.

These four elements, in combination, pretty much ensured that I am an atheist, like my parents and both siblings, who also both married atheists. These four elements, if they remain constant, will also ensure that none of my three children (or three niece/nephews) are anything but atheists. Sure, they could marry a nice Hindu girl . . . but I’d expect to see the other party “lapse” into just pleasing the in-laws rather than any actual religious belief from any of our kids.

May 30, 2009 at 12:00 pm
(8) GNSS says:

Mr. Munn,
What a load of hog wash. I really don’t care if you are an atheist or not. It is strictly your choice and I respect it. To spout such inaccurate crud just shows that atheists can be as wrong as a person of any religion. I don’t believe in a supernatural god, but I do believe there are hidden treasures in the metaphors of religions. I don’t believe in a virgin birth either, but I realize that it may be a metaphor for something esoteric. You show little respect for magic. Isn’t magic just things that you don’t understand. Once you know how a magic trick works, it isn’t supernatural. It was just beyond your previous knowledge. I take atheists as individuals. Some worth knowing and learning about. Write about atheists all you want. Writing about why and what others believe is apparently beyond your ability! You opinions are as wrong as any religious dogma. For the record, I believe that Jesus was a man. An extraordinary man, but just a man. He is supposed to have said “you can do all I have done and more”. That leads me to believe he was just a man. No supernatural talents required.

May 30, 2009 at 4:22 pm
(9) Joseph says:

GNSS said: “You show little respect for magic.”

What, and that’s a bad thing? They say those who are the least likely to believe in magic are the professional magicians. Houdini, arguably the most famous magician of all time, was a strong critic of mediums and fortune tellers. Penn & Teller, also professional magicians, have a popular series on Showtime that debunks all manner of spiritual beliefs ranging from creationism to yoga.

May 31, 2009 at 12:37 pm
(10) Joan says:

What I want to know is: Why do some theists want to kill atheists? Are we raining on their parade? I don’t care if someone believes in a bunch of fairy tale crap if they think it makes their life better, I just want them to keep it to themselves. I love celebrating Santa, but I don’t fashion my entire existence around him. I fail to see how anyone can swallow the whole religion/god thing if they objectively look at it all. And, what some people do in the name of religion is very disturbing. I would really like to have a theist honestly answer why they are so hostile to atheists. I just don’t think they would give a truly honest answer as it would ultimately sound very childish and silly.

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