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, the 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.