Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does...

I pondered that line from Forrest Gump for months. What the heck does that mean I wondered. Then one day it hit me. Labeling someone doesn't really define who they are. Action, behavior over a long period of time, does a far better job of defining a person then a label. Labels are helpful in giving someone a stereotype laden snapshot of a person. Often the label is self imposed in an effort to positively effect a strangers perception of who we are. I'm a Republican. I'm a Volunteer. I'm a Doctor.

Labels are stereotyping. Stereotyping is what we do to quickly assess risk and keep ourselves and loved ones safe. It is also misused constantly. It is an intellectually lazy behavior that keeps us from having to do the hard work of discovering who that other person really is.

So where am I going with this? I touched on this issue in a previous blog entitled "The Real Bible". In it, I talked about the struggle that I have thinking that I have turned my back on GOOD:

"A part of me still clings to this idea that what I turned my back on is actually goodness. Deep inside me I still accept the premise that to reject this system of belief is to throw my lot in with the contemptible, the unsavory. To reject Christ is to turn to the dark side.

That's not to say that I deliberately, willfully made the choice with that in mind. It's more subtle then that, but still just as powerful. I've even argued with my mouth that my choice is not a choice against good and for evil, rather a choice to abandon mythology for rational thought."

But I still worry. So I've given this a lot of contemplation. We are born into the belief system of our parents or guardians. This system includes ideas of good and bad, right and wrong. For many of us in the West the notion of good and evil is inextricably bound to the notion of Yahweh -vs- Satan. There is little discussion or consideration of a middle ground. You either align yourself with Good (god) or Evil (Satan). I know these are generalizations, but I think they speak to the issue I have.

So if you're going to choose good, you really have no choice but to choose god. That's the default good position in our world. If you even pretend to raise the notion of evil, words like Satan, Witchcraft, Idolatry and Atheism are quickly brought to mind. It's what we are taught to believe. Most folks don't have the time or inclination to question these ideas. If you say you're an Atheist, you might as well say you are anti-good or pro-Satan because that is EXACTLY what people hear.

But what is the truth? Or, at least, what is closer to reality? Atheists simply reject the idea that goodness has to be bound to a god. I don't know, nor have I ever read of, a single person who would call themselves atheist as a way to renounce good. It is simply not true. Atheists deny the notion of a god. They embrace the notion of good and evil. They embrace the majority of social ideals of good and evil. To a person, they accept and live by some version of the Golden Rule. They just don't give credit for the Rule to a god.

I recently read an article by Steven Pinker. His paper was written in response to a question put forth by the Templeton Foundation: Does science make belief in God obsolete? Early on he explains:

"Traditionally, a belief in God was attractive because it promised to explain the deepest puzzles about origins. Where did the world come from? What is the basis of life? How can the mind arise from the body? Why should anyone be moral?"

He has much to say about each of this questions but what really struck me was his argument about the origin or basis of morality:

"This leaves morality itself - the benchmarks that allow us to criticize and improve our moral intuitions. It is true that science in the narrow sense cannot show what is right or wrong. But neither can appeals to God. It's not just that the traditional Judeo-Christian God endorsed genocide, slavery, rape, and the death penalty for trivial insults. It's that morality cannot be grounded in divine decree, not even in principle. Why did God deem some acts moral and others immoral? If he had no reason but divine whim, why should we take his commandments seriously? If he did have reasons, then why not appeal to those reasons directly?"

I believe that each of us has to stop and think about this issue when we hear the word Atheist. Rather then take the lazy route and dismiss the person as lost or evil or morally bankrupt, take the time to consider the merits of this argument. People can be, and have been, moral and good without god. To embrace atheism IS NOT to embrace the dark side. Conversely, to embrace god is not necessarily to embrace good. It comes down to deeds.

It is no wonder that there is such animosity so often between atheists and religious folk. But there need not be. Consider the complete person, their body of deeds before deciding if they are stupid, good, or evil.

Stupid is as stupid does...

Good is as good does...

Evil is as evil does...


Blogger Eddie Offermann said...

Richard Joyce, Marc Hauser and others have theorized that our concept of morality is innate - that as part of our evolution as a social/pack animal, certain behaviors are selected because they support group survival which in turn supports individual survival.

The theory runs along similar lines as Noam Chomsky's concept of language structure being determined by brain structure.

But basically: good and evil aren't something we decide, we don't rationally come to those conclusions, nor do we receive a mandate from heaven - we use rational thought (or religion) to justify what our biology tells us to do. Thusly, notions like the Golden Rule are present across cultures, prohibitions on murder or theft transcend religion. We rarely marry our sisters but also rarely marry far outside our tribe. In fact, until we start trying to appease an angry god or improve the yield of our crops, our concept of "right behavior" is unchanged whether we worship Jesus or Quetzalcoatl.

There's even some ideas to the effect that religion and government are sides of the same coin, devised by societies when the size of the group becomes so large that it's difficult for the society to automatically police itself. If you and I live with 50 other people on a mountain, and I steal your sister's food - nobody else is going to let me around their food... Everyone will know and I will be censured by our tribe. If we live with 500 other people in a village, I can just hang out with other people who aren't so careful and steal *their* food until they catch on. So maybe we decide as a society that I should be put in jail, whipped, have my hand cut off, be branded a pirate, be threatened with hellfire or have my picture hung up on the wall of the post office: all as ways of ensuring I don't just wander off somewhere else to subvert the survival and success of the group.

February 7, 2010 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger everettattebury said...

Nate, have you read about Kohlberg's stages of moral development?


I read about this idea in my teens in a book by Jean Piaget, and it gave me a lot of insight about my childhood.

"It is no wonder that there is such animosity so often between atheists and religious folk. But there need not be. Consider the complete person, their body of deeds before deciding if they are stupid, good, or evil."

There are religious people who will never be able to break free from their conception of atheists as evil pawns of Satan. The kind of people who think that no matter how good a person you are, you still deserve to burn in Hell forever if you don't accept Jesus as your Savior. It's a level of crazy that is just unreachable through reason. That's why the moral judgments of these people are irrelevant.

Discussing ideas with other people is part of our reality-checking, to see how our ideas line up with other people's. It's not helpful to compare notes with schizophrenics - or Christians.

February 18, 2010 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger Princess Jo said...

Well said.

Glad to see you have joined the ever-growing number of former fundamentalists blogging about their experiences...

Have you found No Longer Quivering yet? Many of the experiences expressed on that forum have similar tones of abusive behaviours.


March 2, 2010 at 12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heard of the book, When God Becomes a Drug, by Father Leo Booth? Good reading, and helped me thru a lot of pain.

March 27, 2010 at 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Delere said...

My companion is atheist and I agnostic leaning atheist. I mentioned this to a friend of several years and she was stunned. Since then she sends me emails laced with references to Jesus or god. Although she has always been a "talker," she now rarely lets me talk especially if others are around. It's sad. I don't know what it's like to be gay and fear being outed, but I know what it's like to loose family and friends because I am not a Christian. It's like they forget every decent thing about you when the word "atheist" is uttered.

I try to be a good person because I think it's the best thing to do not because I fear some fiery afterlife. I apologize directly to anyone I have wronged if at all possible because I know what it feels like to be wronged and have no apology and worse have it treated as if it didn't happen a few days or weeks later. It seems some people who call themselves Christians will go to church to ask for forgiveness instead of asking it from the person wronged. It seems like an easy way out.

March 30, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And so the Lord says, "These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.

August 20, 2010 at 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh thank goodness. Not being familiar with your blog, I thought you were going to start hammering on atheists (I personally don't capitalize it, just like I wouldn't capitalize non-believer, since it's not a religion) based on the first paragraphs of this post.

The saddest thing is, there would be no rational basis for you to get from what you said in the first few paragraphs to a rant such as that, but I'm so used to the non sequitur rants in the religious community that I didn't conceive there would be anything else.

September 5, 2010 at 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Margye said...

Is it just me? I'm a former christian now atheist. I have not received this animosity from christians. Perhaps its because I haven't really gone public. My next-door neighbor and I are technically members of the same church, although, in all the years I went I never saw him there. Now that I no longer go I guess he never noticed since he never went either. I guess I just don't broadcast it to any people I know it will cause a problem with. After all, my main reason for breaking with faith was the fact that I was seeing more evil in the name of christianity than in anything else. My brother, who is a Jehovahs Witness once said to me, well, you're making up your own religion (this is while I was still technically a christian but having many doubts). My reaction to that was (in my own head) well, aren't all versions of christianity "made-up"? Don't all churches tell their followers this and only this is the way to heaven? I became an atheist because it became completely apparent to me that man is completely capable of all manner of evil. No devil needed. I am the same mostly good person I was before I rejected the notion of god. I still retain what I always believed were the "good" part of christianity: kindness, charity, forgiveness, hope and love while rejecting the judgemental, self-righteous, selfish aspects of believing you alone have a special relationship with THEE deity.

January 14, 2011 at 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Nate, I am sure you'll find this a fascinating read.

December 19, 2012 at 4:37 PM  

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