A question often asked by the religious to atheists is, “what keeps you from just going around killing people?” To which the snarky reply is usually, “so are you saying that your religion is the only thing keeping you from killing people?” What I fear is that question is actually not that snarky, but actually cuts a tad too close to the truth. The infamous “fear of god” may well be effective to keep people in line, but what happens if someone applies the same approach to finding an excuse to kill as they use to find excuses to get out of the myriad of other rules in their holy books they don’t like? Now it may seem unfathomable that someone might use the same tricks to get away with murder as they do to get away with wearing clothes of mixed fabrics or to eat shellfish, but when morality is taught simply as rules to abide to rather than with an explanation for why one should behave in a certain way, then it becomes far less difficult to fathom such a thing.

Case in point, theĀ shooting of three women at a PA health club. The gunman claimed he interpreted the rules of his Christianity, through his pastor, in such a way that assured him he’d still go to heaven even after such an act. Naturally the pastor denies implying such an interpretation, and what follows from the church is the standard, ‘he was doing it wrong’ reply which believers of all religions use when one of their own does something bad. They always have to distance themselves from the person, and protect the faith from any fallout from the incident. Now true, this guy could have been nuts and there’s not much you can do about that, but I want to argue that no matter what, the religion is likely responsible because it simply doesn’t teach its morals, regardless of what they are, correctly.

Personally, I find empathy as being the cornerstone of morality. Without the ability to understand and relate to other humans, any attempt at morality will be a futile exercise. In fact, this lack of empathy is recognized as a mental disorder and such people lacking empathy are referred to as sociopaths. Quite simply, if you can’t empathize with another human being, then how can you have any understanding of what it could mean to them or anyone who cares about them if you kill them? You can’t. The mistake most religions make is never addressing this at all, but rather tell you that killing is wrong and then tell you what will happen to you if you violate that rule. Now perhaps for some, that’ll keep them from killing, but then you have the George Sodinis. Hell, many holy books contain tales of murder which are considered just fine because the Big Boss said it was ok.

Now I’ve been told by the religious before that they value human life because humans are allegedly creations of their god, so as such, they must be valued, and then I’m asked how, as an atheist, I could possibly value another human being. Quite simply, because I have empathy. I value human life and other humans because, at the very least, there but by some chance goes I. To me, if you believe humans have value only because they may be divine creations, then you really don’t value human life. You’re merely worshiping your god, and other humans are the instruments for your worship. It reminds me of a line Henry Rollins once wrote about an ex-lover, “I wasn’t loving you, I was loving myself with your body.”

“There’s absolutely no guilt on the part of anyone in this ministry,” Matone said.

Oh you better believe there is, for any religion or other system of morality which doesn’t explain why their beliefs should be adhered to, other than through threats of dire consequences should you not adhere to them, will inevitably yield monsters. The only question is what damage they may wrought.

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23 Responses to “How about valuing human life as a fellow human?”

  1. Fuck empathy! I've developed an equation for morality based on the sound principles of survival vs demise. First off, I'd like you to know that demise is the status quo, nature is constantly trying to kill us and it ultimately gets every one of us too. Morality, in that sense, is fighting the odds against demise. This is why morality is a trait of evolution, and physics which teaches us that actions have real world consequences. The status quo in my equation is fighting for oneself, then fighting for one's group, and as technology improves the game sort of changes to fighting for the most efficient use of resources and to make sure the species and the global ecosystem survives and thrives too. Morality isn't about being nice to people or offering them free lunches, it's really about reducing the greatest amount of entropy possible which is why constantly improving the efficiency of technology while keeping a stable and thriving economy (or simply living within one's means which is a few social steps down from running a business) is the moral thing to do.

  2. Note: Well, empathy is okay too, but not everybody has it. The tiger that's about to eat your arm off, for instance, doesn't have very much empathy. Actually, the amount of empathy somebody has is all in the amount of grey matter in that emotion area of the brain, it might actually be possible to increase somebody's levels of empathy via stem cell injections into their brain, but clearly empathy isn't a necessity for survival, nor is intelligence (grey matter in the linear thinking parts of the brain), fish for instance have very low empathy and very low intelligence and yet they have survived for millions of years. Unfortunately for the fish, however, the fish will never have the capacity to invent and create things like the much more intelligent human and ape brains, etc etc.

  3. … if you believe humans have value only because they may be divine creations, then you really don’t value human life. You’re merely worshiping your god, and other humans are the instruments for your worship.

    I think that's the problem with "loving people for Jesus' sake." Empathy has to come from within, it can't be generated because it's what one is supposed to do.

  4. Tell the numbnuts here.

  5. @Phillychief: Just as an FYI, I'm not trying to hijack and derail your posts, just trying to bring a different viewpoint. If I'm wrong then feel free to tear that to shreds. However, the reason I brought that up is that I feel like there is a loose ground upon the whole "morality" issue and that unless there is a solid and rigorous objective framework for what morality actually is then it just becomes pitfall. The same I feel with empathy, it's better to have an objective and quantifiable explanation for what it is and isn't.

  6. Balls, I just realized the blockquote got fucked up for you. I have no idea why that happened, but it gives me a clue about ID integration into this blog. It seems it disregards any margin or padding settings (which is why these comments go clear to the side edges).

    Until I get this sorted, perhaps we should refrain from using blockquotes in the comments. Sorry for theinconvenience.

  7. Frankly, I'm never quite sure when you're being serious and when you're just fucking around. I took your prior comments on this as the latter. If the former, then I don't know exactly how to address them because they're full of naked assertions and a sort of stream of consciousness of points where it's unclear how one necessitated the ones following it.

    Your opinions may not be wrong, and it may be impossible, at least for now, to determine an objective wrong for moral positions, but what I will say is wrong is your presentation, based on the things I listed above.

  8. <a href="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qZGouBqZeg8/Slzy8Ph9SjI/AAAAAAAABPs/7ADexteb7Sw/s1600-h/Morality+Checklist.JPG">Morality Checklist is based on the premise that immorality leads to demise and that morality leads to survival. Each one people should put either a 1 or a -1 (or a 0 for "not technologically savy enough") and then each level of saviness is worth 20^n points whereby "n" denotes the level of technological saviness.

  9. I disagree with the foundational premise that it's never necessary to sacrifice things in order to save other things.

  10. A work in progress I suppose. You're probably right about that, but it's still stupid to, say, get yourself killed or something.

  11. Unless you have a good reason

  12. Indeed

  13. [...] How about valuing human life as a fellow human? posted at You Made Me Say It!. [...]

  14. Valuing people just because they're fellow humans? Only immoral, godless slime would come up with a radical concept like that.

  15. SOOO radical. OMG!

  16. Those Telestai people were fulla crap. Christians believe they *are* their brother's keepers–or they're fond of espousing that belief. In which case, the brother they let drift for five years went apeshit on a gym full of people, and no one wants to say "the buck stops here, I could have been a better pastor/deacon/friend/co-congregant".

    Religion, even the so-called nondenominational kind, is bullshit.

    Oh, and hiya, Philly. Rockin' new site :)

  17. Well when your beliefs can never be wrong, you have no choice but to make two assertions:
    1) Believing will make everything right
    2) If things go wrong, you weren't really a believer (or you were doing it wrong)

    Glad to see you back on the scene.

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  23. amen to that brother

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