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Enlightened Self-Interest

A popular theist argument for religion is “Without religion (god) we would have no morality or ethics.”  So without religion can there be morality?  Morality based upon fear of punishment or seeking rewards isn’t really morality at all.  Perhaps what they are saying is that they would be evil without fear of hell.  Then they project that lack of moral courage upon everyone else.  I say to them, “Don’t judge others by yourself.  Your lack of ethical backbone is not universal.”

People can practice what I term enlightened self-interest.  An individual’s self-interest is best served by doing no harm to others except in defense of themselves or those in their care.  This thinking does not need threats of eternal punishment to follow, It only requires thinking about what will ultimately yield the best results for yourself.  Treating others fairly and generously is always better for yourself, personally, financially, and socially.

Those that co-operate and adapt have always been more successful.  As such, basic ethics has evolved to improve the survival of species.  Indiscriminate killing, sex with close relatives, cannibalism, are a few examples of things that are contrary to survival of the group.  The most cooperative and adaptable species have the best survival rate.  Even animals conform to these “moral issues”.  That religions have attempted to claim these things originated with them and would not exist without religion is not just hypocritical, it is ignoring obvious facts.

There are more complex issues that apply more directly to humans.  For example, robbing a bank may yield temporary wealth, but at the expense of either a prison term or a life of fear, running from the law.  Similarly, cheating others in business dealings may increase profits for a time.  Eventually, your reputation will be so poor that your business may fail.  This is a simple principle that, “It’s always cheaper to make a customer happy than it is to make him angry.”  This same idea can pay dividends in ordinary human relations.  For reasons I don’t understand, few businesses or people appreciate this idea.  Maybe it’s because they operate on deist principles?  Everything is forgiven if you repent before you die. Although that wouldn’t seem to help those you cheated, treated badly, or even murdered.

So should nothing be discouraged?  Should everything be permitted?  Capable, informed individuals could engage in any activity that interests them even if it puts them personally at risk.

An example would be an automobile race.  It is certainly dangerous to drive at racing speeds and it is equally dangerous to stand near the race course to observe or record this event.  Two people may choose to do these things if they understand and accept the risks involved.

One question that arises from this would be, what if one or both of these people have a spouse and children that depend upon them for financial and emotional support?  Should they still do this knowing that if they are injured or killed it will cause some degree of harm to these dependents?  If they choose to do so, does anyone else have the right to prevent them?

Those are ethical questions that can and should be debated, but each person must be free to choose his own answer.  No other person, religion, or government should have the right to make these choices for us.  If you are keeping in mind that humans are often in error and thus prepared for all possible consequences, no matter how remote the possibility, you can do what you think best.

  1. Sharon
    June 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    It’s obvious that you are a very sad and uneducated man. There are several religions besides Christianity, which you seem to have forgotten. Has anyone ever tried to convert you to Judaism? Jainism? Hinduism? Zoroastrianism? Buddhism?

    And what is this about religious freaks making laws for us? Prohibition, in case you haven’t been informed yet, is no longer in effect. What does that have to do with religion? Freedom of religion–I’m sure that’s approved by Christianity. The right to bear arms–what religion preaches the use of weapons over non-violence? Most, though I will not say all, laws are instated for our protection. Yes, some may have religious influence. But you cannot say that drinking alcohol does not have an anti-religious influence. You win some, you lose some.

    No one is saying that some religious ideas aren’t absolutely ludicrous. I personally don’t see the point in making children drink wine in the name of God. But some of the things you’re saying fall into the same category. “But that is the normal tactic of theists, distract, deny, and distort. Then change the rules if they start to look bad.” Do you honestly stereotype all religious peoples into this category? Do you think that all religious people do not have the ability to think for themselves, accept that they are wrong, and be intellectual? Then you, my friend, are mistaken. One of the greatest minds to ever have existed, Einstein, was a devout believer. Look up his quotes. If you dare call him an idiot, you have a problem. Stereotyping only makes you the worst kind of person possible–you are walking, talking, living proof that maybe, just maybe, people without religion also lack morality. And that is an insult to the rest of the atheist community. Once you decide to show some sort of ethical personality, you will again be able to talk without being hypocritical. Until then, I can’t see how anyone believes what you say. You are lying.

    • June 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm

      While we are on the subject of education, learn the uses of commas and “that” vs “which”.

      Why am I sad and uneducated? You don’t know a thing about me and have no intention of learning. You prefer your own version of everything and truth has no place in your world view. Yet, you call me a liar? Calling me “sad” is no more than an insult. You have nothing to support that opinion so you want to say I am a “Sad human being”. You are the one that is a sad excuse for a rational human being. You make statements with no basis in fact and do not attempt to support them with references or citations. Some are clearly lies. Perhaps not directly by you, but you use them anyway. Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.

      So where is your evidence for anything you say? Don’t have any? I am not surprised.

      Yes, I have had many religions pitched to me. Jainism and Buddhism are two of the more rational. But I do not need any artificial props for mental stability.

      Prohibition is the only example you can give? How pathetic. There are Sunday “Blue Laws” still in effect in may places in the USA. Then there is the forced teaching of creationism or it’s code phrase, “Intelligent Design” in public schools.

      Freedom of religion is approved by christianity only as far as it gives the a free ride from taxes and any restrictions upon promoting their religion anywhere, any time, to anyone.

      What religion preaches the use of weapons over non-violence? Well, christianity and islam come to mind first. Read their “holy” books. Both are full of violence and genocide, murder, and hate. The right to bear arms, which I personally support in my piece here about “Guns or No Guns”, is statistically supported more by the religious than the non-believers.

      I am not looking at the laws for our own protection, I am looking at laws passed to make religious practices mandatory. You named one, prohibition. Even though that “Great Experiment” failed and made the USA the laughingstock of the world, much as the creationists are doing today.

      Drinking alcohol has an anti-religious influence? How? Then why is wine served in communion services? You ask about that yourself. You can’t have it both ways, you know.

      Yes, I have personally seen how religions refuse to change even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Look at the pope’s stand on using condoms even in the face of an AIDS epidemic. So, a few hundred thousand Africans will have to die a miserable, painful death. What’s that to maintaining the faith?

      Einstein was NOT a devout believer. By his own statements, he was an atheist. He also stated that those that said differently were either mistaken or liars. Here’s a quote from him:
      “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
……….Albert Einstein

      Attributing untrue things doesn’t make you look any better or be more creditable. Did you seriously think I had not looked up people like Einstein? He has always been one of my heroes and I had a framed picture of him on my wall when I was a child.

      I have no morality? Did you even read this piece? It was all about morality. You call me a liar because you are projecting your own failings on others. You lied about Einstein and you lie about atheists. You lie about education while revealing that very little of what education you may have has made any impression upon you.

      You certainly do not make a good case for theists being moral, intelligent or well-informed.

      • December 31, 2011 at 9:16 pm

        Einstein was a devout Atheist. Period end of story. No amount of religious reconstruction of history will change that fact.

      • December 31, 2011 at 9:27 pm

        Thanks for that input. You are correct about the attempted reconstruction of history and changing facts.

        That’s an inconvenient thing about facts. no matter who many believe or disbelieve them or who likes or dislikes them, they stubbornly remain facts. 😀

    • Keith Pinster
      March 16, 2012 at 5:12 am

      @Sharon – WOW! You actually pulled the Einstein card? You’re more of an idiot than I originally thought when I started reading your post. Einstein was FAR from a “devout believer”. And yes, the OP might have focused on the xian delusion. Why do you think that would be? Maybe because xians are trying to shove their delusional superstition down our throats day after day? You don’t think that the controversy about abortion and contraception these days are xian based? You don’t think trying to force creationism into schools as though it were a real science isn’t religion based? You don’t think the president of the United States calling those of us who put our lives on the line for this country, yet don’t buy into his delusional superstition, unpatriotic and non-citizens a religious remark? Yes, I would call Santorum, Perry, Romney, every single one “religious freaks”.

      The problem is that, since there is no evidence supporting your delusional superstition and yet there is mountains of evidence DISPROVING it, it’s really hard for you to justify anything you say. Do I need to be “respectful” of your religion? Why? If I don’t need to be “respectful” of someone who believes in fairies, goblins, little red riding hood, or Santa, why would I need to respect your particular delusion?

      • March 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

        @Keith Thanks for the input. It was all very well expressed and factual. Of course, Sharon will never read it. She’s a “drive-by” theist. She leaps in, takes poorly-aimed pot shots at random targets, and gets out before anyone holds her accountable for her actions.

        I’m not surprised, though. That’s a typically cowardly action of people that, deep down, know they are wrong, liars, and hypocrites.

      • Keith Pinster
        March 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm

        @slrman – Oh ya, I know. I just won’t let someone spew that sort of nonsense and then not respond. I think if we let people get away with that, other xians that read these sort of comments are encouraged to voice their distorted opinion as though it were fact, too.

        I’m on another atheist board where we are having a discussion about how to treat xians when they come on our boards. My philosophy is this: if they come on asking questions or at least being reasonable and appear to be somewhat open-minded, they should be welcomed and conversed with in a respectful manner. There are some people that say that we should never mock anyone for their beliefs. I believe that when they start out disrespectful, arrogant, and distorting what is being said, they deserve nothing but to be mocked. If they are past reasonable, rational conversation, what’s the point in trying to be reasonable and rational with them? Even when the offender doesn’t read it, like our offender “Sharon” here, I think it is valuable that others who think that it is acceptable to do such a thing understand that if they decided to come in and try to bash atheists, they, too, will be mocked and made to look like idiots. Those are the people we need to shut down. Not the rational xians that are open to discussion and reasonable debate, but the drive-by morons that think that, just because they believe in a sky-fairy demon-king, the rest of us must bow our heads in respect.

      • March 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm

        I have to think that often, these people don;t know that what they are saying isn’t, couldn’t be true. They’re just repeating what they have been told and have been conditioned to never question or doubt anything that supports the stance of their religion. Some of them are clearly deliberate liars. They are the ones responsible for the others repeating the nonsense.

        I generally agree with you about how to treat theists. I have some friends that are somewhat devout and they are honest, loyal people. Mostly, we have agreed not to discuss religious issues as they know very well where I stand and that I have an annoying tendency to use verifiable facts. 🙂

        I have a YouTube page that I mostly use to post things for friends. I also have a few atheist items. On one, I have recently received some very nice comments and some very ugly ones. I don’t pretend that all skeptics agree with all I have to say, but they have always been reasonable and polite. The really vicious, obscene comments have all come from theists.

        My theist friends almost always respond with some version of, “They’re not a real christian.” Of course the others would say the same of them. 😀

  2. January 6, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I received this request from a reader in The Netherlands. I agreed to include it for others.

    Dear Mr. Smith

    To promote skepticism/critical thinking I wrote some questions for the Christian believer. Are you able to put the link to these questions at your blog.

    Thank you very much,

    Piet – Rotterdam – Netherlands.

    The original questions

    The translation

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