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Atheists, you need to rethink your morals! How about it?

There seems to be a common misconception among religious people of all kinds that atheists are somehow less moral, and that religion "enriches" one's morals. And so moral and religious discussions are often intersected. I think this is wrong in more ways than one, but for the sake of character limit, I'll save it for now.

The question is how do we separate the two? And this is what the idea is about - we need a new term beside "atheist" to serve (from the viewpoint of religious people) as a middleway between religious (and therefore moral in their view) and atheist (and therefore immoral in their view). This term however must not be exclusive from religion... it needs to be inclusive.

So, without further ado, here's what I believe is the best such term:
Moralist - Anyone who follows the positive and/or negative version of the golden rule, including in cases of conflicts with holy scripture.

The conflict part is critical. Without it, the term can label anyone who's ever heared the golden rule. With it, you label any non-fundamentalist religious person AND the larger part of atheists.

Why the word "moralist"? Regardless of what your faith is, a word like "moralist" can't bring bad associations. Just imagine someone condemning you for being "moral". It would be counter intuitive.

How can this make any difference? If used as an additional label (as opposed to replacement) it can estabilish a common ground between religious people of all kinds (say, Crhistians and Muslims) and atheists, and therefore help reduce religious prejudices and tensions and separate religious from moral discussions.

Assuming you like the idea, how can you support it? Next time you're in a moral conversation, if you follow the golden rule, say you're a moralist, regardless of what your religion is. Don't drag your holy stripture (if any) into the conversation, but do express your opinion as influenced by it. Next time someone asks for your religion, say you're a "moralist [religion]".


Closing Statement from Vasil Rangelov

I'd like to thank everybody who participated in this conversation, and this goes double for theists. The term/label would be of little value if no theist person adopts it, though it would still be a good thing even if only atheists adopt it.

I'd like to reiterate something I had to constantly answer in the conversation for anyone not willing to go over it all:

Being a "Moralist" does NOT mean you follow ONLY the golden rule.

There are many moral questions that can't be answered directly by the golden rule or are simply out of its scope, since the golden rule deals only with personal prevention. You being a moralist only means that if something (holy scripture or ideologies) lead you to do something that is against the golden rule (slavery, rape, genocide, etc.), you claim you would ignore those parts in favor of what the golden rule leads you to... but you'd still follow everything else said something leads you to.

It's not like using the term itself is going to "change the world" or something. No. For the most part, the world is already full of Moralists. They just aren't using the term. But what this can help with is illuminate this very fact, and in the process, tare down most walls of religious prejudices (most visibly so in the atheists vs. theists and Christians vs. Muslims part). Taring down prejudices is not the end goal. It's just the start. The start towards the end goal of having a unified definition of what's moral, and in turn, have a unified society, while still respecting everyone's rituals, deities and opinions on unprovable things.

Also, I'm personally not deeply attached to the word "Moralist". I'd be willing to use any word, as long as it carries the same semantics, which FYI are different than "Humanist".

If anyone has further comments to make to this, you can comment in this conversation
which is basically the same idea, except I'm also suggesting a word for it.

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    Mar 27 2011: @Peter Law
    "Yes the manufacturers instructions is only for those who believe."

    That's sort of the main problem most atheists have with religion... the manufacturers' instructions (again assuming he exists) are for those who believe in the instructions... regardless of whether they believe in the maker himself. As far as morality is concerned, it shouldn't make a difference if people believe in him or not, as long as they follow his instructions (again assuming they're indeed his instructions, and not simply what makes sense for most people).

    "On the Golden Rule. Take the case of Sodom where the men of the town wanted to rape the two strangers. It may well be that the men of the town would be quite happy to be gang raped; as that presumably was commonplace there. The strangers were from out of town, & presumably weren't up for it. The Golden Rule by itself is insufficient to cover all eventualities."

    If it's by mutual consent, it's no longer "gang rape" by definition, but an orgy instead, and at the point of mutual consent, the golden rule is fulfilled, since all involved parties know if what they're about to do would be the way the other wants to be treated. If the citizens of Sodom followed the golden rule, they'd require consent by the people they're about to f**k with. I mean surely, even if orgies were common place, they were still, by definition, with consent, and if gang rapes were common, they were by definition without the consent of raped people.

    If the strangers had a say in the manner (Lot inviting them and then later offering to the people his daughters as substitute isn't exactly letting anyone affected having a say in the manner), explicitly said "No thanks", and were still f**ked (or if the people of Sodom still tried to f**k them), then yeah, we can conclude the people of Sodom were rapists, therefore immoral because they did not followed the golden rule by requiring consent as they'd most likely demand for when someone wants to f**k them.
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      Mar 28 2011: Hi Vasil

      The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim, ethical code, or morality that essentially states either of the following:
      1.One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (positive form)
      2.One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated (negative/prohibitive form, also called the Silver Rule)

      Nothing about mutual consent. Now we have two rules.

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        Mar 29 2011: Guilty as charged. Yes, I used another moral principle (that of mutual consent) to fill in the gap of knowing the other, which is required for the golden rule (well... knowledge or a guess at least), same way you used the bible to fill the gap for the missing definition of "life" in the abortion issue, also (implicitly) required by the word "others" in the golden rule.

        Well, if you have another passage of the bible that can actually explain why the people of Sodom were immoral (and what they should have done differently in order to be considered moral), than bring it on. As long as it's not in conflict with the golden rule, we can agree to have different, equally valid views, as we did on abortion.

        There is no need for the golden rule itself to be the answer to everything. That's what I meant from the start by "inclusive" - all morality sources, like holy scripture or moral principles - are equally valid alternative sources for the term "moralist", both as gap fillers or full answer providers, as long as what they lead to in the end doesn't conflict with the golden rule. If you want to limit yourself with the bible, that's OK.
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          Mar 29 2011: Hi Vasil

          As a 'Bible-Thumper' I am happy to be limited to it. The bible is at the same time very clear and unpopular on the problem of morals, . I will risk the wrath of the site by spelling it out.

          Mankind, left to himself will degenerate morally. Only knowledge of, and obedience to God can prevent this. The history of the Jews is a roller coaster of obedience & rebellion, which is mirrored by God's blessing & cursing.

          Not rocket science, but it seems to be beyond us. Jesus's version of the Golden Rule is equally simple & like yours, 2-part.

          1. Love God.
          2. Love one another.

          That's it pure & simple, & it will cover all eventualities. (I wait to be corrected)

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          Apr 1 2011: Peter,
          You write: "Mankind, left to himself will degenerate morally. Only knowledge of, and obedience to God can prevent this". Are you saying that all those who do not choose to be obedient to a God are degenerates?

          You say "it seems to be beyond us". Isn't there something in the bible that says we are all made in the image and likeness of God? How can it be "beyond us" if we are all created in the image and likeness of God?

          I agree with you that to "love one another" is pure and simple. Does it say in the bible that only those who are obedient to a god are capable of loving each other?
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          Apr 1 2011: Hi Colleen

          "Are you saying that all those who do not choose to be obedient to a God are degenerates?"
          Not at all, but by the standards of God we are all degenerate. It seems to work at the national level. Many countries were founded on Christian principles & thrived morally & fiscally. Then we start to trust more in ourselves & let things slip generation by generation. Our trust in God recedes & we make our own rules. Moral decay sets in, closely followed by fiscal decay, as I believe the West is suffering at the moment.

          We are created in God's image, much the same as a newborn is created in it's parent's image. the newborn is certainly not up to speed, most things are beyond him/her.

          We are all capable of loving one another, but a recent reply to my post equated it with sex, which was missing my point. The bible talks of Agape' Love, which is a selfless concern for the wellbeing of others regardless of cost or reciprocation. I guess we need to understand that before we can attempt it. However I have no doubt that there are many who do well at it without biblical help.

          I have to practice it by making dinner for my wife; catch you later.

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          Apr 1 2011: Peter,
          That is one of the reasons I abandoned religion many moons ago...because I was told that I was born a sinner...a degenerate. Even as a small child that didn't make sense to me.

          Trusting in myself did not cause things to "slip". It caused me to be more aware of myself, everyone and everything around me. I made a choice to make my own decisions, rather than believe in a dogma that felt unnatural to me. I agree with you that "there are many who do well at it without biblical help":>)

          And I think you're missing my point Peter. You write: "Mankind, left to himself, will degenerate morally. Only knowledge of and obedience to god can prevent this". That feels like a judgment of anyone who does not believe what you believe Peter.
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          Apr 2 2011: Hi Colleen

          It is normal to have to teach infants how to behave. Left to themselves they would trash the joint. We do not have to teach them to tell lies, we do not have to tell them to be selfish, or have a tantrum, all this comes naturally to them. This is how we are, unless taught otherwise.

          I guess the other point is what is moral ? Everybody has their own ideas on this, even me. However, if God truly is our parent, then what he says goes. If he is the creator of the universe, then he has earned respect. If not; then anything goes, we are all moral in our own eyes. And as we know, the one thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history. Perhaps I do judge you by what I believe, & no doubt you judge me by what you believe. Not really a way round that.

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          Apr 2 2011: No Peter, telling lies, being selfish, having tantrums and trashing the joint are not natural for children. Children come into this world as joyous, curious, accepting loving beings. You certainly don't seem to have a very good perception of children, do you?

          Imagine how our world could be if all children were encouraged to continue to use the natural qualities of curiosity, acceptance, and love? Imagine what it might be like if children were encouraged to think, feel and make decisions for themselves, rather than be stuck with the belief that "what he says goes"?

          I do not judge you Peter, because there certainly is a "way around that". Judging someone is a choice.
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          Apr 2 2011: Well Colleen I can't say I've met many children like that. Not my own, not our Sunday School, not the youth club I helped with, not my nephews & nieces. I'll keep looking though.
          In our generation biblical morality is largely forgotten, so maybe utopia is just around the corner.

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          Apr 2 2011: Peter,
          Sorry you have not seen the beauty, curiosity, joy and love that children offer us. That is all I've seen in children including my own, and all children I've encountered throughout life. Do you suppose children may live up to our expectations?

          "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" (Marcel Proust) Keep looking Peter:>)
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          Apr 4 2011: Peter,
          I just watched a documentary about cults, and the recent attraction of teenagers to cults. I thought of you because one of the statements that came up over and over again, was "we will do whatever "he" tells us to do...we will be obedient to him" (the leader of the cult). Most of these young people who were interviewed were from good christian homes, in which they were taught to be obedient to their god and do whatever their god wanted of them. Do you think that a certain programming in youth, may sometimes cause young people to give up their freedom of choice?
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          Apr 4 2011: Hi Colleen

          There is a hunger among people, most intense among the young, for a 'something' they instinctively know is out there. This can make people susceptible to all sorts of things. I think David Coresh started out as a regular pastor until he started to drink his own bath water.
          If the bible is to be believed, these false religions & cults are designed to fill a need & at the same time lead people away from God. Jesus never manipulates anyone, but many use his name to manipulate others & that is despicable.

          We have to ask why are all these religions out there. If we do not accept that there is a real God then what is the explanation for all the false ones ? If there was no real money, then why would the counterfeiters bother ?

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          Apr 4 2011: Hi Peter,
          I agree that there is a "hunger among people", and perhaps many people are looking "out there", which, in my perception is looking in all the wrong places. When people are looking "out there", of course they are susceptable to "all sorts of things". The cult that was investigated in the documentary I watched, was based on the bible and teachings of Jesus Christ.

          If we empower children to look in themselves for answers, rather than be obedient to another person or entity, perhaps they would stop looking "out there" for something and realize that the power and strength is in knowing ourselves and what is "in there". It is that strength and "knowing" that supports us with our own decisions and prevents dependence on others for our beliefs.

          Telling children thay are degenerate sinners, they need to be obedient to another entity and "what he says goes", believing that it is natural for kids to lie, be selfish, trash the joint and have tantrums, is disempowering to kids Peter, I sincerely hope you will re-evaluate some of your beliefs about children you are interacting with.
        • Apr 5 2011: Hi Peter.
          This is a little late in the reply chain but i would like to ask you a question. I would also like to apologize in advance if you addressed any of my concerns in the numerous replies between my reply and the particular statements that I am replying to. I read the aforementioned statement and felt and urge to immediately reply.

          You previously stated "Mankind, left to himself will degenerate morally. Only knowledge of, and obedience to God can prevent this." My question to you is; how are you able to prove this statement? More specifically; how is it that knowledge of, and obedience to any other God (assuming you believe in a Judeo-Christian God) such as Zeus or Allah for instance, is any less correct than having knowledge of and obedience to your God.

          As Sam Harris stated in this video "Who are we to say, that the proud denizens of an ancient culture, are wrong to force their wives and daughters to live in cloth bags? ... and more so "Who are we not to say this?" I suppose what i'm trying to get at is; how are you so sure that you have the answer to morality?

          Which sort of leads to my next question.

          I would like to make a quick comment on another of your statements.
          "1. Love God.
          2. Love one another."
          You seem to imply that both statements are necessary, but how are you able to claim that only the second is not sufficient. It seems to me that if we were to follow the second statement, and the second statement alone, our civilization would be morally guided towards "good."

          Let me know what you think please. Regards.
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          Apr 5 2011: Hi Colleen

          Many cults are based on Jesus. There are three reasons for this :-
          1. If you mix truth with lies, it makes the lies more believable.
          2. Jesus personally has a lot of admirers, Christian & otherwise.
          3. It fulfills prophecy for the 'End times'.

          Do you honestly think I would call a child a 'degenerate sinner' ? When I asked my parents where I came from & what I was doing here; they couldn't answer. They had spent their whole life & the thought never entered their heads. Very frustrating for a child.
          So I have a choice with children, & I want to be honest with them.

          1. You are a freak of nature, closely related to monkeys.
          2. You are a special child of God & He loves you very much.

          As I do not believe 1. myself, I am only left with 2. The kids seem to be quite happy too. They are quite free to change their minds later on.

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          Apr 5 2011: Hi Jackson

          "Mankind, left to himself will degenerate morally. Only knowledge of, and obedience to God can prevent this." My question to you is; how are you able to prove this statement?

          The truth of the statement lies on whether the God of the bible is real or not. I cannot prove this to you, only God himself can. He has promised to reward those who diligently seek Him, if He doesn't then we have a problem, but He has changed the life of millions. In my humble opinion Zeus & Allah don't exist, but you need to check these things out for yourself. The bible is credible in history, archeology, & science; it can be falsified.

          "I would like to make a quick comment on another of your statements.
          1. Love God.
          2. Love one another."

          Again it depends on the reality of God, or Jesus if you prefer. (same guy)
          How we love people will very much depend on what our conception of good & evil are. If for instance we think sleeping around is ok. We would encourage our children to try before you buy; After all it makes good sense.
          If, on the other hand, you believe the bible which says that when we have intercourse the two become one for life, and that separation will damage us, then our advice would be different. Societal norms change with each generation, so without a good foundation, we are going to flounder.

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          Apr 5 2011: Peter,
          You have stated clearly above that we are all born degenerates, as well as other unattractive falsehoods about children. Every interaction you have with a child carries the energy of your belief. I don't ever recall hearing an evolutionist stating, as you have, that "you are a freak of nature, closely related to monkeys".

          I believe that if there is a God, he/she/it is responsible for creating everything, including the wonder of evolution. There is absolutely nothing freaky about how our world and people have evolved, and it is very sad that you believe that.

          I'm sorry you were frustrated as a child Peter, and I absolutely agree with you that "without a good foundation, we are going to flounder".
        • Apr 5 2011: Hi! Peter, with all my respect for your faith, I really don't mean to hurt you, but have you ever contemplated on the possibility to be born in Arab country and geographically and culturally being a muslim, would you be then a wasted child for your " the only God" ?
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          Apr 5 2011: Good question Natasha,

          All children are precious, and should be nurtured to believe in themselves no matter what other beliefs or cultures they are born into.

          During 12 years of catholic schooling, the catholic church tried to teach me that we were the "chosen" ones, and everyone else was going to hell. Thankfully, my devout catholic mother saw through the hypocrisy of that belief. She actually did "love one another" as equals and I'm grateful that I learned at a young age to do the same:>)
        • Apr 5 2011: Thank you, Colleen, I always ask the believers of "named" God, whatever the name, how they can be comfortable with their God, being so selective. For me, it contradicts the idea of the overwhelming love that God inspires.
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          Apr 5 2011: Hi Colleen

          Your Catholic background has done a good job of immunising you; I can understand that. My description of evolution was a bit tongue in cheek after your "degenerate sinners" description. How would you paraphrase the evolutionist position then ? We are supposed to be related to apes, so would accident of nature be kinder ?

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          Apr 5 2011: Hi Natasha
          Things may well be different if I was born Muslim. I may well question why the need to kill any of my friends who converted to Christianity. Why is this necessary if we are all just playing church ? Christians have a long history of being killed for their faith, it certainly upsets someone.
          I personally don't always agree with the way God has organised things, but I appreciate that He knows a bit better than me what's going on. It would be a bit like my goldfish questioning our household budget; what does he know ?
        • Apr 5 2011: Peter," God doesn't play dice" I believe so. It's not God who "organised things" , it's us. And we should do it better. First step is to stop fighting, to recognise the truth that we are one.
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          Apr 5 2011: Peter, in response to the god of the bible being real because of HIS influence in the world, I believe you can argue Bob Marley, Ghandi and Mark Zuckerburg are also God. They have changed the course of history just as much as Jesus has.
          You're right though; morals change with every generation. But the "foundation" you speak of also changes. You can't use the Bible's set of morals today because no one fears the wrath of God if they make mistakes anymore. The Bible God can't exist in a world where an iPhone lets me access thousands of ideas and thoughts in seconds in order for me to form beliefs. Morals will keep changing as the world gets more connected. Ideas are flowing and merging too fast for archaic beliefs.
          It wasn't too long ago that kids saying they are smarter than their parents would be morally wrong. Now, Zuckerburg connects the world drunk from his dorm room at age 19. #Awesome
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        Mar 29 2011: Those people of Sodom sure loooved those angels (in this sexy, yet non contradicting to Jesus' version of the golden rule kind of way), and considering they lived along just fine before the angels came, I'm willing to assume they also loved one another too... probably in more ways than one, as you suggest.

        If Jesus' version of the golden rule alone is sufficient, then... you're saying they would've been moral, as long as they also believed in God (and still behaved in the EXACT same non golden rule conflicting way)? And God destroyed them for being good only because they didn't believed in him while being good? You're suggesting God kills good people?
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          Mar 30 2011: Hi Vasil
          If the wind changes with your tongue in your cheek, you'll stay like that.
          I don't know how Lot fared before this time. However, according to the narrative, his two daughters were still virgins, so maybe he had an agreement, or maybe these guys had no interest in girls. Don't know !
          Our language has devolved a bit since this time; love can mean all sorts of stuff. Ancient Greek had 4 or 5 words for love. The one Jesus used was Agape'. This basically means an unconditional concern for another's well-being regardless of the cost, or reciprocation. This is the form of love that He showed for mankind by dying on the cross. I don't think it applies to the Sodomites, who just wanted to fulfill selfish lust, regardless of the cost to the recipients. There is a similar story in the bible where the woman died during such treatment.
          We can see parallels in our liberal society. Maybe it's just me; but isn't there also an increase in wars & natural disasters ? Could it be someone is trying to tell us something.

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        Mar 31 2011: "I don't think it applies to the Sodomites, who just wanted to fulfill selfish lust, regardless of the cost to the recipients."
        But it being "regardless of the cost to the recipients" is your implication. The bible doesn't clarify it, which is why I introduced consent as a variable that, if clarified by the bible, would deem them moral or immoral. With consent, there is a concern for the cost to the recipients. "Selfish lust", yes, but with consent, at least it's not "regardless of the cost to the recipients".

        But the bible doesn't go to that... it's like even with consent, it's immoral. Why? We don't know. Concern for the cost of the recipient is clearly not it if consent doesn't play a role. Lack of belief in God? Maybe that's a reason to wipe them (from the bible's viewpoint, same way as radical Muslims want to kill the infidels), but not a reason for them being immoral.

        Suppose the reason is the "selfish lust" part, which would also explain why consent isn't introduced (i.e. the whole idea of "selfish lust" is immoral, even if consent is involved)... why is it immoral? What's your guess? Another bible passage to justify it? Is it immoral enough to warrant God wiping them out, as opposed to sending them to hell when they die, like he normally does for sinful people?
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          Apr 1 2011: Hi Vasil

          Romans 1v27
          "and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

          It's immoral because God says it's immoral. However if you listen to medical folk it is also a disaster waiting to happen. It almost always ends in medical problems; not to mention mental & emotional problems. God wants what's best for us.

          The Sodomites will be there in Hell with the rest. No-one can escape eternity, we are all immortal.

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        Apr 4 2011: "It's immoral because God says it's immoral"
        It's like you just set on fire the bridge I thought we had built.

        I thought we agreed to override the bible whenever it conflicts with the golden rule, and accept it as valid when it doesn't.

        By the golden rule, if you fancied men, you'd want the right to fancy men (i.e. be gay). From the viewpoint of the gay, if one is not gay, as is the case by default in nature (or if you prefer, according to the word of God), then one should have the right to not be gay. There's nothing inherently wrong in either preference by the golden rule, but the bible sees it as wrong, so we can override that, same way we can override slavery.

        What IS immoral indeed is either side taking away that right out of the other side, same way as by the golden rule, they wouldn't want that right taken away from them. A homosexual having sex with a heterosexual (and inherently, taking away his/her right to be heterosexual) is immoral. In the same way, a heterosexual condemning someone for being homosexual (and inherently taking away his right to be homosexual) is immoral.

        If the Sodomites were killed only because they were gay, then they were inherently killed for nothing.

        "However if you listen to medical folk it is also a disaster waiting to happen. It almost always ends in medical problems; not to mention mental & emotional problems."
        There's these things called "condoms" as far as the medical problems are concerned. Regardless of sexuality, without them, you're exposed to the same kind of venereal diseases. OK, so maybe for gays, the chances are higher, but still. And I'm not sure about the mental and emotional problems you're talking about... haven't heard any data about that (links please?). Yet I'm pretty sure that whatever the case, the same mental and emotional problems can be found in people of any sexuality, even if indeed, the percentage is higher among gays.
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        Apr 5 2011: In response to your question about paraphrasing the evolutionary explanation, I've always liked "You are the result of millions of years of ever changing life". It's somewhat neutral, but it can easily be twisted into a positive direction with something like "You are special, because of all other possible life that could have happened throughout those millions of years, you happened".

        To me at least, that sounds more beautiful than "God (a.k.a. An invisible father of all life on earth) created you". That explanation is very short and can be just as easy to shut a kid up with it in the same fashion the stork can be used as an alternative answer to "where do babies come from" or as Santa can be used as a motivator for being good.

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