My Rule of Thumb – Sun 29th Apr 07

A Load of Bright’s most recent blog quoted an obnoxious piece of pro-theistic propaganda in response to the Virginia school massacre two weeks ago. Steven Grant, writing here says:

“The shooter at Virginia Tech was a madman. However, he had also been raised on a solid diet of secular humanism which teaches no moral absolutes. “If it feels good, do it,” is one of the many mantras he ingested. Consequently he did what felt good, and innocent people died as a result. Today, we cannot condemn his actions unless we judge what we fed him as a society. What we sow, we also reap. And we will continue to have a bloody harvest until we return to what we know worked to make America great as a nation in the generations before us; the culture, training, and absolute morality of the Christian faith and our Savior Jesus Christ.”

It could be pointed out that the shooter’s family was ultra-Christian. Obviously all the forced indoctrination in the world didn’t stop him becoming a mass murderer.

The above is an example of yet another religious fundamentalist using a tragedy to further their own agenda. It reminds me of the comments Pat Robertson made about America bringing 9/11 on itself because of homosexuality, feminism, abortion etc.

It could also be pointed out, as I have done before, that America was not founded on any religion let alone Christianity, which the founding fathers explicitly stated.

But I don’t want to concentrate on the negatives above. I want to show why an atheist morality is better than a theistic one. I want to address the strawman in the passage above. This is a popular one amongst people who aren’t atheists: ‘do whatever feels good.’

No atheist I know lives by this rule, and I’d bet money that no atheist ever has. The real principle or rule that free-thinkers, humanists, rationalists, naturalists, and atheists tend to live by is: “if it hurts no one, do as you wish.” (Similar to the Wiccan Rede mentioned in my About page.)

“If it hurts one, do as you wish”, or variations on that theme seem so reasonable and straight-forward I would fail to understand what problem anyone might have with it, except that I’ve been a theist, so I do know what the problem is. The problem is that living by such a principle makes you free.

When I was a theist, I was governed by restrictive laws on food, drink, drugs, lifestyle, sex, relationships, friendships etc. The breaking of any of these wouldn’t have hurt anyone; they were the definition of victimless crimes. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ ban on blood, although bible-based, is superstition and silly. It has caused many to die needlessly. If you give or receive blood, who is being harmed? Health issues aside (which are rare), there is no harm, no victim, so no crime. And the religious laws against blood transfusions aren’t based on health reasons anyway! They’re based on a superstition magical notion of blood.

Other religions have similar laws against sex before marriage. Why?

There are religious laws against the use of contraceptives. Why?

According to most religious beliefs, homosexuality is an immoral crime and should be punishable by death (according to holy books). Why?

There are possible positive side-effects are going along with religious laws. For example, if you never sleep around you will probably never catch an STD, although no one is ever completely safe anyway from infection. If you never have blood transfusions you will never contract a disease of infection from somebody else’s blood (although this will do you little good if you die from not receiving a transfusion). If you don’t commit adultery you won’t break anyone’s heart or wreck homes. (So why don’t religious laws just say “don’t wreck homes or break hearts if you can help it”?)

But, and this is where religious hypocrisy is so transparent: these religious rules are not there for the health and safety of humans! Any positive effects that result are really just side-effects of laws made to please a fictional being!

Laws prohibiting pre-marital sex for example, serve no purpose but to control people. Religious laws are always there to oppress and dominate every aspect of human life – to keep people from acting like free moral agents, like adults, and to treat them more like immoral children that can do no right and must have rules and regulations to govern every part of life, as if we’re not responsible enough to decide for ourselves. Perhaps some people enjoy religious laws because it saves them having to think for themselves what is right or not; a book or a man can just give you a quick and easy answer that you don’t have to think about.

And if the religious would answer that pre-marital sex is wrong (for example) because it can result in unwanted pregnancies (as if unwanted pregnancies don’t occur within marriage!) or other negative consequences, then a quick question to them can illuminate their real motives: “what if contraception is used? If contraception and safe-sex education is free and readily available, is pre-marital sex okay then?” Surely the religious would agree then, yes?; their concerns being addressed? No. You’d be sure to get an answer mentioning “immorality” or some other vacuous nonsense, and they’d be hard-pressed to explain exactly why sex outside of marriage is wrong: it hurts no one; it’s between two consenting adults, what’s the problem?

The problem is that religions don’t care about the greater human good; they care about blind obedience and control. The problem is that religion has got to have its claws in you somehow, and if followers were allowed to make their own moral decisions based on the simple principle of “if it hurts no one, do as you wish”, there would be pretty much no need for religion anymore!

This moral rule of thumb can have its grey areas though. For an extreme example, if child pornography was created without real children being involved (CGI or holographic simulation for example) there would be no victims and no one would be hurt. Putting aside the claim that this could actually fuel real-life attacks (which I don’t buy – attackers will attack anyway. What simulated pornography would do is replace illegal material that does harm real children with legal pseudo-material that doesn’t), the person viewing such material, however offensive the idea may be to the rest of us, would not be committing any crime and would have the right to.

Like I say, this is an extreme example and I don’t expect everyone to agree on it. I am demonstrating that we have thought through the principle to one extreme logical possibility.

However, if it could be shown that simulated “harmless” material did have negative effects in real life, the principle would still hold! Because, then “if it hurts no one…” would no longer apply, so the adherent would have to refrain from such actions.

The only other grey area arises because “if it hurts no one” is not always something we can always know. It is not always possible to foresee the outcome of every choice. There is no real solution to this except to make the best possible decision you can. This is because we are moral agents with responsibility for our actions. In truth though, it is not very often that the principle will pose a serious question. For everyday living, the principle is flexible and robust enough to survive anything.

Adherents to this rule recognise that all other people have the right to their own decisions, so the rule is founded on human freedom. It makes people aware that whether you want to wear your hair up or down, dress conservatively or dress extravagantly, prefer Lost to 24 or Scrubs to ER, prefer girls to boys or boys to girls, prefer hip-hop to rock or R&B to real music, it’s your choice. So the rule also teaches liberalism and tolerance.

A simple handy rule that respects difference and freedom, liberalism and tolerance? What religion can claim to have anything that matches that?

This is the real rule that most rationalists and atheists like by. Rather than represent strawmen of us or just outright lies, and rather than continue to live by and control people by superstition laws created thousands of years ago by ignorant cultures, the religious should join the rest of us with this rule in the 21st century. They might just find that it really is a much better place!

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2 Responses to “My Rule of Thumb – Sun 29th Apr 07”

  1. tobe38 Says:

    Perhaps some people enjoy religious laws because it saves them having to think for themselves what is right or not; a book or a man can just give you a quick and easy answer that you don’t have to think about.

    Brilliant point.

  2. My Oh My - Fri 3rd Aug 07 « evanescent Says:

    […] something makes people happy and no one gets hurt, can you think of any possible reason why it is […]


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