Tag Archives: morality

Poor arguments against atheism, no. 928

Recent increases in the numbers of those who reject traditional theism have spawned a vast army of god-defenders, the quality of whose work, in my estimation, has varied widely.  It seems many of these new apologetic theists, being unused to the role, are not well-versed in the practice of crafting sound, coherent arguments.  Consequently, you often come across some humorous, even silly attempts to “debunk” atheism.  These are actually worthwhile to engage because untangling the intellectual morass can be an interesting challenge.  Besides that, you just might get lucky and get a comment so funny or bizarre, it’s worthy of submission to the Fundies Say the Darndest Things website.

But once in a while, you’ll get someone who is simply not interested in defending their arguments.  You’re response just goes down a black hole, or is rejected for inconsequential reasons.  The latter was the fate of a response to a post titled The Problem of Morality by one Carson Weitnauer, part of his “The Problems with Atheism Series” on his blog Simple Apologetics.  Carson didn’t like the “tone” of my response, though, as you’ll see, I believe it was appropriate for his arguments.  Besides, it was directly only at them, and not at Carson personally.  Because the problem of the disappearing rebuttal is hardly new, I keep a copy for posting on this blog (to his credit, Carson emailed me a copy of my reply as well).  Additionally, while I argue (and I think show) that Carson’s case is ludicrous at best, his bogus claims are not uncommon, and serve only to spread popular myths that deserve debunking wherever they appear.

I recommend you read Carson’s original article first to get the full context of my rebuttal.  Portions of his article that I specifically respond to are in italics.

Upon reading this post, it’s clear to me it contains a number of errors and misunderstandings which fatally undermine your case.  I’d like to spell out why in further detail and look forward to a response.

First, your theistic bias is clearly evident, particularly in the unstated premise that good and evil, as well as moral truths, can only exist if the theistic god exists.  Your arguments make sense only in light of this premise.

Second, the alleged problem you describe is not particularly an atheistic problem, but more properly identified as a problem for non-theists, because your arguments, at least in part, apply to deists and pantheists as well.  They too do not believe in a theistic god.

Third, the following assertions are false:

“atheism…denies that there exist any moral rules”

“atheism affirms that all that exists is matter, energy, and space-time”

“these elements are not enough to support the existence of morality”

Atheism – the lack of belief in god(s) – neither affirms nor denies anything about moral rules.  This is an irrelevant question to atheism.  Does it make sense to say a-unicornists deny the existence of any moral rules?  Absolutely not, unless you believe moral rules come only from unicorns.

In any case, individual atheists do believe in the existence of moral rules; clearly they do because they practice them each day.  What they deny, along with deists and pantheists, is the existence of divine commands.  They obtain these rules from reason, experience, and evolutionary programming.

You confuse atheism with the theory of materialism.  There are atheists, such as animists, who certainly do not think reality can be reduced to the material.

I got a good laugh at your caricature of how non-theists view morality.  Do you really believe we think of it as some kind of physical substance composed of matter, energy or space-time, as you suggested in your thought experiment?  What a ludicrous straw man!  Are you going to charge us with denying, say, philosophy because we also cannot arrange the molecules or “put the pieces together” to re-create it in a lab?

What you have to notice is that all of this “moral discourse” would just be in their heads! There is nothing really wrong with murder or really right about promise-keeping. Instead, it just happens to be the case that those behaviors are viewed as bad or good, respectively, by their humanoid society.

You just described the utilitarian, welfare-promoting aspects of keeping promises and not murdering, and then dismiss them as merely a view?  As if the consequences of those things were wholly absent or irrelevant?

Let’s imagine that, one day, bored in the laboratory, you set up the humanoid society so that murderers find themselves with an extra 10,000 laboratory dollars in their bank accounts. (Imagine a sick version of The Truman Show). This turns out to be enough money to pay for bodyguards, eliminate other genes from the population, and get their own genes passed down in a higher proportion to the next generation far in excess of other humanoids. On it goes for a few generations, and before long, you have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder, and violently opposes anyone who tries to keep murderers from their deserved wealth and social status.

No, before long, you wouldn’t have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder; you’d have no society at all.  Leaving aside the comical question why 10,000 “lab dollars” induces people to kill others, you’ve assumed that the murderers would not murder fellow murderers, or even their own bodyguards.  However, this assumption makes no sense in light of the condition that I emphasized above.  Your theoretical exercise is so illogical and incoherent, you should blush that you even suggested it could ever apply to the real world.

If you want to be a consistent atheist, then every time you go from “here are the facts” to “here is the proper moral rule for evaluating these facts” you should stop yourself. Then remind yourself: these rules are just a social illusion.

You’ve failed to demonstrate how moral rules are “just a social illusion”.  Your case, so far, is built on risible straw men that in no way approximate reality or the way morality is understood.

What this means is that there is no way to call evil “evil.”

Certainly there is, if you subscribe to certain moral tenets which dictate that it’s evil, say, to inflict involuntary suffering on others, with only limited exceptions.  Because someone else may hold to a contrary moral tenet in no way impinges on this ability.  It is irrelevant.

To summarize: under atheism, there are no such things or categories as good or evil. And second, any perception to the contrary is completely illusory and is merely a byproduct of non-moral, socio-biological forces.

Your claims are based on nothing more than caricatures which rely on theistic assumptions.  One could just as easily build a similar case why under theism there are no such things or categories as good or evil because it denies the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Keep religious morals private

While theists on the political right have been regular contenders in battles over public policy, those on the political left have recently flexed their muscles.  First, there was the letter from progressive Catholics chastising fellow Catholic and Congressman John Boehner for pushing a budget that would cut some social welfare programs. And later, some liberal Christians decried fellow Christian and Congressman Paul Ryan for drawing inspiration from atheist pro-capitalist Ayn Rand.  These Christians on the left argued that Boehner and Ryan were abandoning Jesus’s teachings on protecting the poor and the weak.  The infighting has recalled to the fore a question that had been floating around in my head for a while now: how do theists decide which of their alleged objective moral duties and commands to make public policy, i.e., to impose on everyone?

On one level, it’s strange there’s even a question about this in the first place.   Shouldn’t every alleged divine dictate, no matter how trivial, automatically be a civil or criminal law?  They are, after all, supposed to be objective rules, adherence to which is not limited merely to believers, but mandatory for everyone.  Instead, theists pick and choose, seemingly at random: 

Gay marriage?  No way!  Divorce?  No problem. 

Abortion? Life is sacrosanct!  Adultery? Live and let live. 

Theft? God’s Word prohibits it!  Keeping the Sabbath? God’s Word..! Uhhh..oh, nevermind…

Source: Wikipedia

To make matters even more confusing, theists consistently revise what commands they think should be codified in law.  What was once vigorously outlawed by theists as an unforgiveable affront to God’s Holy Word, punishable by such tortuous means as tongue impalement with a hot iron, is today not only legal but routinely engaged in by theists to boot.  

The historical contingency of what’s supposed to be timeless morality is slightly less bizarre than the unresolved disagreement over just what that timeless morality is in the first place.  Can you use contraception?  Some say yes, some say no.  Drink alcohol?  Some say yes, some say no.  Have multiple wives? Again, some say yes, some say no.  Never in the entire history of theism has there been agreement on what is moral and what is not.  And what agreement there is has often been achieved through overwhelming force rather than voluntary acquiescence.

With all this persistent moral divisiveness and befuddlement, you’d think the reasonable thing for theists to do is keep their morality out of the public sphere altogether, or at least with only deep reluctance turn to scriptures when promoting it in public policy.  But “reason” and “theism” are like oil and water – ne’er the twain shall meet – so instead many shamelessly continue to insist on the primacy of whatever divine command they’ve happened to pull out of the scriptural hat.

I once had a conversation with a Christian who saw no problem with this practice.  Christians, he said, oppose murder and theft based on biblical dictates, and no one has a problem with that. So why should anyone have a problem when they oppose, say, gay marriage on the same grounds?  Objections to promoting one’s religious convictions in the public sphere are really a red herring; religion isn’t really the issue.
As I explained to this Christian (in a post which he deleted), things like theft and murder are violations of liberty, which is independent of religion.  Because one’s religious views happen to align with the preservation of liberty in this or that case does not make them synonymous, nor does it mean one’s religion is the font of rights and responsibilities applicable to all.  Such positions subvert liberty, and that’s what’s being objected to.

The ironic thing is, this is the same defense most theists employ against the imposition of other theists’ supposed divine dictates.  But such opposition is hypocritical.  If you grant yourself the right to impose your religion on others, in a democracy, you’ve granted it to all – and abdicated any grounds to object.

My advice to theists is to keep your religious morality to yourself.  Your efforts at imposing them are wildly inconsistent, which undermines both their authority and alleged objectivity.  If that isn’t sufficient reason, then remember: the sword you wield to force others to follow your morality can just as easily be wielded by someone else to force you to follow theirs.

When the natural law condemns the lawgiver

Professor Matt McCormick provides an excellent exposition on the dilemma facing theists regarding the morality of God’s actions – and inactions.  He asks, “If a human did what God is allegedly doing right now, would we consider that a morally good action?”  He briefly touches on one implication of his argument for the “natural law” – an implication I would like to delve into further.

The “natural law”, in case you’re not aware, is the term used by some theists to describe an alleged objective moral standard instilled in our hearts by God.  We all appeal to this standard, they say, when judging the goodness of others’ actions or our own.  But a problem arises when God’s own behavior violates the natural law.  Genocide – whether committed or ignored by God – is perhaps the example that comes most readily to mind.

What are we to make of these divine violations that transgress our moral sense?  Believers rationalize them away by claiming there must be a higher moral good behind them, but what this higher moral good is, they cannot say, for God never provides or demonstrates one.  Prima facie, they are moral violations, and should be considered such until we’re given compelling reasons to believe otherwise.  When someone commits murder, we don’t let them go scot free when their lawyer proclaims, “There was a higher moral purpose behind my client’s actions, and you’ll just have to trust him on that.”  Even those who say God told them to murder are still locked up (one way or another).

Even if we grant the proposition that God is a morally perfect being who can never commit a moral transgression, it still leaves us with what to make of the sense of moral violation.  Why do we still have it?  The natural law is seemingly producing false positives.  Essentially, theists tell us to ignore our sense of moral outrage whenever divine action seems to violate the law, but what about divine inactions, which can just as strongly trigger moral outrage?  Are we to ignore those too?  But that would entail ignoring our moral sense altogether, since we never know – absent being provided a compelling rationale – whether any moral transgression served some higher moral good.

For instance, returning to the example of genocide, how do we know the Holocaust wasn’t a critical piece in God’s overall plan?  Wouldn’t moral condemnation of the Holocaust be at best premature and at worse mistaken?  Given the theistic supposition that God chooses to intervene or not intervene in human affairs – invisibly, unpredictably, inscrutably – there is literally no event in which God’s involvement positively can be ruled in or out, and thus no moral outrage we can be confident of.  The natural law thus becomes neutered as a moral guide.

Some theists might argue that “sin” affects our ability to discern the natural law.  Since we’re said to all be living under it, the question becomes, to what extent does “sin” impact discernment?  They never say.  And if “sin” is muddying the waters, so to speak, how can we really even trust our moral sense as an intuitive guide?  An objective law capable of divergent interpretations is little different than no law at all.

When it comes down to it, the choices are pretty stark for the theist: abandon divine moral goodness, or abandon the natural law.  Both cannot existence concurrently, unless the latter doesn’t derive from the former, in which case theism itself must be abandoned.

Theistic absolute morality + invisible god = horrible relative morality

Believers of theistic religions all regard themselves in possession of a moral code that is perfect and absolute (applicable to all times and places, without exception).  These believers often further claim this moral code can only be found in their holy books.

It’s well-known that the moral codes of these believers conflict, not just across religions, but even within religions themselves, and not just in the present day within these religions, but across time as well.  That is, on almost any moral question, a different answer will be given depending on the religion you query.  And even if you inquire within the same religion, you’ll likely get a different answer.  There’s even a good chance you’ll get a different answer if you asked a believer from the same religious sect today verses one 50 or a hundred years ago.  These facts alone justify reasonable doubt in the claims of a theistic absolute morality.

Nonetheless, let’s assume for a moment there is an absolute morality as conveyed by an omnibenevolent, omniscient creator, and that one of the present religions is in possession of it.  Is this progress?  No!

The reason is because this creator is invisible and interacts with us in no discriminating way.  We are thus at a loss to know whose believer’s absolute morality is the real one among all the pretenders.  Every believer’s justification to elevate their own moral system over that of their competitors is either 1) question-begging or 2) non-discerning.

A common example of (1) is “Only my religion fully values the sanctity of human life.”  But the believer is assuming the sanctity of human life is an inherent feature of the creator’s absolute morality, when in fact it may very well not be.  To better understand this fallacy, let me rephrase the example: “Only my religion fully values the sanctity of cows.”  The person is arguing for the objective superiority of their religious moral code by making reference to their religious moral code.  It’s circular and shows nothing.

Similarly, someone may denigrate the moral code of another religion as a way to prove it cannot be divinely originated, pointing to, say, death by stoning for adultery.  Same fallacy as before, but it’s also a fallacious appeal to emotion.

The other tact, an example of (2), is to stress the utilitarian results of their morality.  “Look at all the clinics, shelters, and free kitchens we run,” a believer might say. While noble, altruistic action is observed in practically every religious tradition.  It’s also observed among the non-religious, and even among non-humans.  The Islamic terrorist organization Hamas provides a vast number of social services, so does that therefore mean Islam possesses the perfect moral code we all should follow?

Holy books, revered prophets, tradition, miracles, a radically changed life—all “proofs” the Divine Author allegedly employed to definitively mark the supernatural source of a believer’s morality.  Except that, again, these are standard fare among the various theistic religions.  To paraphrase a line from a great film, “When every morality is supernatural, none is.”

Believers who claim their particular religious morality reflects the will of some divine creator are thus caught in an intractable bind.  Nothing they do or say can irrefutably, or even reasonably, prove their claim.  This is evident in two ways: first, by the protracted failure to establish a single moral framework not just among religions, but even within a particular religion; second, by ever-shifting theistic views about just what is moral and immoral.

A divine creator who wanted us to follow an Absolute Moral Law could have easily avoided this situation.  He could have poofed into existence an indestructible written codex containing all the moral knowledge we’d ever need.  Heck, he could have simply inscribed the instructions into our genetic code, such that everyone, everywhere would know, for example, never to eat shellfish or pork without it having it to be drilled into their heads by other humans.  A divine creator could do these things…or any number of other actions.  But he hasn’t…

Instead, we have a situation that reflects the worst of all possible worlds.  On the one hand, millions of people believe they’re following divine moral commands to which they stubbornly cling.  On the other, there are significant disagreements among these moral commands, with no method or means given whatsoever to establish which originate from a divine source.

The tragic consequence is that moral advancement among such individuals occurs very grudgingly, and usually after they’ve inflicted much needless suffering.  Slavery is perhaps the most infamous example.  Long was this barbaric institution upheld by the very same believers who would later repudiate it, but not before millions of lives were ground up in its brutal grip, and wars which consumed many others were fought over it.  One would think the sad lesson of slavery would teach believers to temper their uncompromising moral attitudes, but they make the same mistake with depressing regularity.

What if a believer just happens to have access to the genuine moral dictates of the creator?  They’re not much better off.  Since we’re imperfect beings – a fact believers readily admit to – moral belief and action cannot be guaranteed to reflect moral dictates.  And life doesn’t present us with easy, black-and-white moral dilemmas.  If a believer had to lie to save someone’s life, most (but, frighteningly, not all!) wouldn’t give it a second thought, despite lying being specifically prohibited in most theistic absolute moral systems.  The bottom line is that such believers have no way to know whether they’ve interpreted the dictates perfectly, particularly in morally ambiguous situations, and every reason to doubt it.

Whether they care to admit it, theists are de facto moral relativists; as history has amply proved, their morality is contingent on time, circumstance, interpretation, or context.  But since they refuse to acknowledge this truth, correcting a false or harmful moral view is nearly impossible to them.  Until the creator of the Real Absolute Morality stands up and unmistakably presents it to us the presently living, believers with their conflicting moral absolutist codes will continue to be a drag on moral progress. Our only viable course is to apply our own human reason to discovering and establishing moral codes like secular humanism in ways that mimic how we uncover scientific truth.  We’ll make mistakes, but acknowledging mistakes are possible makes swift remedies probable.

Absolute morality and the Tiller murder

Kudos to B.T. Murtagh at the quarkscrew blog for this excellent framing of George Tiller’s murder within theistic absolute morality.  The money quote:

If your notion of absolute moral values is that you absolutely follow someone else’s decisions as to what is moral, or worse yet someone else’s unsupported claim as to what a third party has decided is moral, then your only absolute moral decision is an abdication of moral responsibility.

His deconstruction of the moral implications of God’s order to Abraham to kill Isaac is simply top-notch.  Well worth a read.

My question to theists: what if it emerges that Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, claims that God commanded him to kill Tiller?  By your own belief, Roeder should be exalted and praised, should he not?

Christians persecuted for baptizing children…

…is undoubtedly how some Christianists will spin it, but everyone else will be rightfully appalled by the practice of a church in Colorado Springs baptizing children without parental permission.  It gets freakier than that, believe it or not, for the same church tried to lure a seventh-grader into one of its vans.  Many Christians complain how practices and views which are contrary to traditional Christian teachings are being “forced down their throats,” which is in reality their way of objecting to the mere existence of such things, yet it appears that Christians are the ones truly doing the forcing.

h/t Austin’s Atheism Blog

When Christians fail at debate

I’m finding it increasingly common to have my posts at Christian blogs removed.  It seems proprietors are simply unable to respond.  This is not to say my arguments are particularly good (though they may be); rather, I think many Christians lack critical thinking skills, preferring diatribe over debate.  They’ve been told what to think, and now they’re going to tell you what to think.  Like their faithfully held beliefs, they entertain no possibility they could be wrong, and must work assiduously to maintain that appearance.

The latest example comes from the Possessing the Treasure blog.  It’s proprietor, Mike Ratliff, recently fulminated against the growing acceptance of homosexuality in Christianity and society, a practice, he reminds us, is a “sin,” “abomination,” and “sexual perversion”.

Now, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see Christians working themselves up over issues like this, primarily because they’re quite literally shooting themselves in the foot and contributing to their faith’s demise among the next generation.  Many wonder, as I do, what is the Christian’s prurient fascination with homosexuality, when Biblical morality covers so much more.  This is the question I put to Mike.  In his response, Mike dodged the question, but not before alluding to my lack of god-logic for failing to understand.  So here’s what I wrote back, which Mike refused to publish:

Mike: I do not expect you to understand what I am going to tell you since you are an atheist. You are not regenerate. You do not have the Holy Spirit.

Me: Yes, I lack the required special gnosis which supersedes normal reason and logic, apparently.

Mike: To answer your “thought” about why we are focusing on homosexuality like this is that it is clearly an issue of morality. It is sin and not the same thing as race or whatever. It is a sexual perversion whose advocates insist it is not. It demands protection and acceptance in our society. It is immoral as I said and, therefore, should not be given that sort of recognition.

Unfortunately, your “reply” doesn’t answer my objection. How is homosexuality any worse than, say, adultery?  Or blasphemy?  Or working on the sabbath?  Aren’t these “issues of morality” just as serious?  Christians aren’t clamoring to place restrictions on them, or reverse their acceptance.  Why?

It matters little to me, as a non-Christian (and heterosexual, by the way), what Christians accept or don’t accept within their own religion.  What bothers me is your attempt to force Biblical morality on the rest of society.  As you may not be aware, the Bible is not a part of the U.S. legal code.  When it is, then by all means outlaw homosexuality (and adultery, and worshipping other gods, and working on the Sabbath), but for now, you would do well to keep your morality to yourselves.

Mike: As far as your poor logic concerning God’s Law, the moral parts of the Law are still very much in affect and are contained in our faith. On the other hand, those dietary and ceremonial parts of the Law were fulfilled and done away with at Christ’s crucifixion.

Me: Good news to slave-owning Christians who wish to increase their holdings from pagan nations! (Lev. 25:44)

Further down in the comments, a person named Jackie wrote, “[G]ays are actually helping to fulfill this same worldwide “sign” (and making the Bible even more believable!) and thus hurrying up the return of the Judge! They are accomplishing what many preachers haven’t accomplished!… Thanks, gays, for figuring out how to bring back our resurrected Saviour even quicker!”

Jackie’s reasoning is sound (and something I’ve previously blogged about), but of course it wholly undermines Mike the Christian’s rationale to keep “sexual perversion” at an absolute minimum.  Unsurprisingly, a reply pointing this out did not make an appearance either.

Amateur Christian theologians like Mike aren’t the only ones running away.  Over at the Debunking Christianity blog, John W. Loftus (whose book, Why I Became an Atheist, I’m currently enjoying) has issued a debate challenge to his former mentor, William Lane Craig.  The latter has so far demurred, saying he refuses to debate former students.  That’s odd.  In his book, Reasonable Faith (p. 21), Craig wrote, “Again and again I find that while most of [anti-Christian college professors] are pretty good at beating up intellectually on an eighteen-year-old in one of their classes, they can’t even hold their own when it comes to going toe-to-toe with one of their peers.”  Is it Craig who’s afraid he can’t hold his own against one of his peers?

A difficult question

I visited a Christian blog recently in which the author, Bill Muehlenberg, castigated Dr. Richard Dawkins for allegedly telling lies.  He framed this allegation by quoting Dostoevsky’s all-too-familiar canard which states, essentially, that absent God-belief, anything goes.  As Bill wrote,

Without God and immortality, the case for an objective, transcendent moral order is awfully hard to make. And therefore the case for moral obligation is difficult to sustain as well. If life is simply about survival, and the replication of genes, then things like morality in general and truth-telling in particular seem quite out of place.

I replied with a simple question:

You link Dr. Dawkins’ alleged lying with his lack of belief in God (citing the fiction writer Dostoevsky as an authority).  When theists lie, deliberately set out to misinform, and deceive, what is the cause?

Like most Christian blogs, the owner has comment moderation turned on (blog owner approval is required before a comment appears to everyone).  But despite a number of allowed comments posted later from others, mine remains “awaiting moderation.”

It’s not difficult to see why Bill has failed so far to open my reply to general viewing.  It places him in a quandary.  He cannot deny theists lie, deliberately set out to misinform, and deceive; they do that all the time.  He’d look extremely foolish, or a liar himself, doing so.  But if he identifies a cause for theistic immorality, it’s unlikely it wouldn’t apply to atheists as well.  He’d then have to acknowledge that non-belief is an insufficient explanation for immorality, which defeats the point of his post.

Not to mention a long-standing prejudice.

Why, as an atheist, am I moral?

I think one of the major reasons atheists are so distrusted or reviled is due to the widespread impression that we are “amoral.”  Theists are so used to having morality dictated to them that they cannot conceive how a person can be moral absent divine decrees.  This explains why they get themselves worked into such a fuss over displays of the Ten Commandments.

Copious evolutionary and sociological evidence that contradicts this impression seems ineffectual in changing it.  It appears to simply be an article of faith, immune to reason and rational analysis.

Pondering why this is so, it occurred to me that perhaps one reason why atheists have failed to make significant headway in dispelling the myth is because we don’t speak often enough of morality in personal terms, in ways that theists can relate due to our shared humanity.  Our arguments may be too abstract, too detached, and thus easily dismissed.

Consequently, I will explain some of the reasons why I, an atheist, act the way I do.  I only speak for myself, but it seems the reasons are actually widely shared, even among theists.  After all, millions of atheists go about their lives virtually indistinguishable from believers, who are alleged to possess the only logical foundation for their actions.  This is an anomaly which theists have a hard time accounting for within the framework of their theology.

Mostly, my actions boil down to application of the ethic of reciprocity, aka the Golden Rule, which is one of the oldest ethical principals known to man.  Its utility is obvious and elementary.  Our personal growth and enhancement typically depend on the cooperation of our fellow human beings.  Treating others as we like to be treated significantly increases the odds for successful cooperation.  Since I can’t predict when and where I’ll need such cooperation, it’s in my best interest to apply the ethic as widely as possible.  The ethic seems so essential for our well-being and advancement as a species, it appears to have evolutionary origins, as demonstrated by the fact that it’s been observed among chimps and even canines.

While the ethic of reciprocity encourages me to do good, empathy discourages me from doing ill, even when it appears advantageous to do so.  It’s difficult for me to even imagine inflicting pain on someone who’s done no harm to me.  I can no more do it than I can cut off my arm.  Once again, empathy is an emotion widely shared among different species.  Injuring those within a community has never been a successful method for promoting its long-term health and potential. 

There are a few individuals who have had an especially poignant impact on my life.  They’re people who’ve either been with me for much of my life’s journey or have touched it in a special and unique way.  These are people I love, and for them I’ll go any length to please or protect.  This is a pretty universal human behavior, existing long before any bronze-age books commanded them to do it.

Another motivation is hard to categorize, but it seems to be a timeless trait, one specific to humans alone.  Where it comes from, I don’t know, but it’s probably one of the most powerful forces we share.  I don’t know of any religion that celebrates it, however.  What am I talking about? The desire to advance the human cause.  Yes, there’s no agreement how to go about this; instead, we do what seems most reasonable to us as individuals.  For some, it may involve obtaining an advanced education and applying their considerable intellectual talents toward scientific, medical, artistic, or philosophical pursuits.  For others, it may involve raising children, who, it is hoped, exceed their parents.  Still others focus on improving the human condition, so that succeeding generations are better off than the ones before.

There’s really nothing special about any of the above.  Pretty much everyone on the planet can identify with most or all of them, and probably have a few more of their own.  While some may amenable to logical calculation, it is not a necessity to be a motivator.  So see?  There are plenty of sound reasons one is good without God.

How do Christians explain their higher incidences of sin?

The news that conservative states tend to be the biggest consumers of online porn (with heavily Mormon Utah occupying the top spot) is but the latest in a string of moral embarrassments that have left Christians red-faced.  Earlier research showed that the highest incidences of teenage pregnancy are there too, in spite of popular chastity movements like “True Love Waits” intended to reduce teenage sexual activity.  And that’s not all.  In the so-called Bible Belt, rates of murder, divorce, and domestic violence tend to be among the highest in America, as well.

Christian apologists rationalize these facts by explaining that “we are all sinners, Christians included”, but this misses the point.  The issue is not that Christians do bad things in the first place, but why they do many of them more frequently than their non-religious counterparts.  This is an anomaly; a deviation from the expected state of affairs, where Christians “ruled by God” should be “convicted of their sin” and do less of it than those governed by more secular (read: inferior) ethics.  So, why the worse behavior?  While Christians scramble for an answer, allow me to venture a few of my own.

I think the main reason is that Christianity discourages the development of a strong sense of moral intuition.  Adherents are taught moral commands, but are rarely given substantive, practical, or rational reasons for their basis.  In other words, they know what they shouldn’t do, they just don’t understand why very well, other than “because God said it”.  Unfortunately, a pragmatic approach to moral issues is out of the question for Christians, because it would open the door to questioning a broad range of moral commandments, and thus undermine the entire basis of moral absolutism.  The downside of such a system is seen most dramatically when the adherent believes that they have divine sanction for their behavior, which removes that sole, divine constraint.  In contrast, humanist ethical systems place more emphasis on the practical consequences of a breach.  Avoid gluttony not because God says it’s a sin, but because the health consequences are diabetes, higher medical costs, and lower life expectancy.  These ethical systems are also adaptable, able to respond to new information, experience, technology, and realities.

Another possible reason for the higher incidences is that since many commands lack a negative or immediate consequence for disobedience (which is odd given God’s alleged omnipotence and omnipresence), disrespect for all commands is fostered.  By way of example, think of a country like Mexico where laws and regulations are many, but enforcement is lax or non-existent.  Such a situation tends to breed increased lawlessness overall, particularly when prohibitions are viewed as improper, irrelevant, or counter-productive.  Many militant Christians understand this problem, which is why they’re often so eager to establish a link between sin and calamity, however tenuous. (But have you noticed that such calamity is rarely, if ever, blamed on the infidelity of their own communities? Hmm…)

A final possible reason is that Christians are actually morally confused, mostly due to the moral schizophrenia of the Bible and the behavior of their prominent leaders.  If you’re a Christian, mixed messages abound.  For example, the Bible proscribes killing (Exodus 20:13), except when it prescribes it (Exodus 22:18 and 31:15).  Slavery, polygamy, and violence can all be justified there, or they can be condemned.  Among popes, pastors, and preachers can be found the most truly reprobate behaviors.  What’s a little porn compared to gay hookers and meth?

I know Christianity helps some people behave better, but at least in some ways, it makes them act worse.  Mr. Apologist, why is that?