Most believers do not embrace their faith for primarily doctrinal reasons but instead they use “God” as an abstraction to group together several different functions that religion serve in their lives — several different god-modules. For each person, the size/importance of these god-modules vary. Thus when two believers use the word “God”, even when they belong to the same faith and (if pressed) would confess the same doctrines, they use their “God” (their religion) in very different ways.
The morality god-module is large for most people and intimately connected to the tribal god-module. So when discussing religion’s bigotry with believers, it is often helpful to address the morality issue up-front instead of heading right to biblical or theological inconsistencies.
Religion thrives for many reasons — no one simple explanation suffices — and this diagram of a modular god illustrates why. Moral signaling is certainly a large part for why God-talk prospers. Going to church, speaking of God and identifying with a dominant religion is a signal to others that “I am safe, moral and respectable.” Atheists, therefore are viewed with disgust by societies where religion still has large sway (see my post here).
In my past I subconsciously wanted to avoid the prejudgement by believers by cushioning my rejection of accepted religiosity with statements like: “I may not be religious, but I am spiritual”, “I am Buddhist-like” and such. But those attempts at protecting myself from bigotry didn’t work and when my kids started getting attacked in school by Christian kids and Christian lunch supervising adults, I decided to take the gloves were off and fight religious bigotry and ignorance. I decided to stop hiding and at the expense of my reputation, try to counter moral bigotry against nonbelievers.
Most Christians can’t even imagine what a non-believer uses to nurture their moral life. So they see atheists as dangerous – without guidelines, without a conscience, without fear of retribution for their sins. Their mistaken thinking is universal and reflects one of the many defects of the human mind. Only culture can tame that part of the mind and so part of Triangulations is an effort to contribute to the improving of that culture.
Below are strategies (and weaknesses of those strategies) that I have seen used to address reflexive, bigoted repugnation toward atheists include:
- Immoral God
Scriptures condone immoral behavior which amounts to an immoral God. Pointing this out to believers can be eye-opening. After all, most believers don’t really know their own scriptures.
Problems: (a) some believers have apologetics to explain away apparent immoralities. (b) some believers have a liberal view of scriptures that allows them to acknowledge the immoral stories and dictums. But they may dismiss it the problem by saying it was not really God who permitted or demanded immoral behavior.
- Inconsistent Theology
Pointing out obvious philosophical problems may help. For example, the classic Euthyphro dilemma: is something good because God commanded it, or is it good, so God commands it. Both answers have obvious problems. Or obvious problems with morality based on receiving rewards (God’s favor and smiles) or on pleasing a deity to damns others.
Problems: People don’t like philosophy. People will have complex tangled apologetic relies.
- Immoral Believers
Pointing out the immorality and hypocrisy of believers may help many theists to see that their moral model is a lie.
Problems: (a) They will claim that being religious does not guarantee perfection but offers guidelines, forgiveness and opportunity for repentances. They may feel that criticism do not address the religion itself but the weakness of people.
- Evolution of Morality
Educating believers on the evolution of morality can make it clear that morality does not spring from religion.
Problems: (a) Studying this issue takes a lot of work and most people don’t have the time and certainly, few people will seek information to counter their prejudice. (b) Evolutionary models on this issue are still somewhat speculative, even if helpful.
- Moral Atheists
Many theists start deconstructing their religion when they realize that nonbelievers can be as moral or even better people than their fellow believers. I was one such person. So by point out admirable atheist behavior or living an admirable life, cognitive dissonance may wake up theists from their delusional moral models.
Problems: (a) Just as believers can be incredibly immoral, so can atheists. We all make bad decision and act poorly at some time. (b) People will see what they want to see. (c) Many theist expect no different behavior between believers and nonbelievers — well, they may say that, but they probably don’t feel it.
- Naturalistic Moral Models
Share how Atheists think about morality without a god, spirits or demons. Show how moral thinking can happen without fear of eternal damnation or divine revelation. Offer a naturalistic moral model.
Problems: (a) Studies show that moral behavior is far less influenced by a person’s stated moral system than imagined. Nonetheless, I will share my moral thinking in the next post, even though I agree that it is probably post-hoc thinking and not as accurate as my words pretend. 🙂
Question to readers: Can you think of another strategy to change moral bigotry against atheists. Be sure to tell us what you see as the obvious problems with the strategy, even if it is your favorite strategy.
Further reading: See my other Personal Morality posts here.