Some time ago I was arguing about religion and the bible with a believer. The conversation ended abruptly when I proposed a thought experiment:
Me: “…so, if the bible told you to kill someone, would you?”
Eventually I received the answer: “no.”
Me: “Well you don’t believe the bible then.”
This is a problem for all theists, and if you’re a theist reading this your first mental objection will be “but the bible would never tell me to do that!” Well, we’ll come to that shortly. Let’s restate the question in more explicit terms:
“If your holy book, or god, told you to do something against your conscience, like kill an innocent person, would you?”
It doesn’t matter if you think this is purely hypothetical and would never happen. This is just a thought experiment. (Also, if you think that the question is invalid because god is necessarily good and would never command you to kill, look at the Euthyphro dilemma.)
You see, a believer has only two options: obey their god and kill an innocent person, or disobey their god. But a believer should always obey their god. Refusing to obey your god and holy book is a clear contradiction of belief.
This is the problem! If you are committed to worshipping a god, then you cannot accept the nice commands of god says but ignore his unpleasant orders. You cannot use your own morality to examine the commands of god, because you are then assuming that your sense of morality is greater than your god’s. Therefore, faith requires the suppression of your moral code. It may look wrong, feel wrong, and be wrong, but your faith demands that you must do it.
If you’re a theist reading this, you might not think I’m talking about you. But I am. You might think, ‘he’s only talking about fundamentalists or extremists who would genuinely hurt people’. Once again I want to make clear that I am talking about you! Allow me present another question:
You’ve just defeated an enemy in battle. However, in the city of the enemy you left some people alive: men, women, and children. Your army commander who represents the highest authority possible notices this and commands you to return and wipe them all out: men, women, and children. But, he adds this: if there are any young girls, who are still virgins, keep alive for yourself (for you know what).
Would you obey him?
If you’re a Christian and you answered no, may I suggest a revision of belief, because the above is exactly what Moses commanded the Israelites to do with the Midianites. This is actually recorded in the bible, but even if it wasn’t and I made it up, it wouldn’t stop the very real dilemma theists have. Theists might not believe that god wants them to kill, but some theists do. Theists might not believe that the earth was created in 6 literal days, but some theists do. But it ultimately comes down to faith and since theists are subject to their faith, that means morality comes second.
This cannot be right. And it’s obviously potentially very dangerous!
Atheists don’t have this problem! We have absolutely no belief system to reconcile our morality with. We have no god that we necessarily must obey. If taking an innocent life is wrong, then the correct moral call then is not to take it, no matter what! Even if god exists and he commands me to, I wouldn’t obey. Rape is wrong. I will not rape because I know it is wrong. It is wrong whether god says it is wrong or not. Since I have no god to serve, I am not limited in my actions. I can choose to do what I believe is right. Consider:
Premise 1: God demands total obedience.
Premise 2: Total obedience takes priority over everything else.
Premise 3 (from 1 and 2): Morality is less important than obedience.
Premise 4 (from 1 and 3): Obedience to god potentially compromises morality.
Conclusion: Theism cannot be a sound moral position.
Theists who wouldn’t go against their conscience shouldn’t be theists. If you’re a theist reading this and you agree that, even if theory, you wouldn’t obey an immoral command, then theism isn’t for you! Your morality and intelligence should not be surrendered. And since faith and religion require exactly that (on at least some level), they are inconsistent with morality. The fact that there is even potential for immoral actions proves that faith and religion cannot be valid consistent ways of living. It also means that religion cannot provide a true moral foundation.
The next time someone implies that we need religion for morality, ask them the question above.