Hearing what you want to hear.


In a very rare moment away from work, I looked through my emails and saw a rather silly article posted by a student who insists not only that religion is necessary for morality, but that Christopher Hitchens said so. Talk about hearing what you want to hear. Most of the comments to his article obviously haven’t been very nice. As someone who now is charged with educating people of his age, I feel compelled to try and educate while correcting. Will he listen? Probably not. Hell, not all of my students listen either, but that’s their problem.


Josh, you clearly misheard what Christopher Hitchens was saying then. Have you never heard his comments regarding the Good Samaritan story? That story, in the heart of the Christian bible, shows that not only isn’t religion required for good morals, but that having religion is no guarantee of good morals either.

Atheism is a response to a proposal, the proposal that there’s a god. As that is all it is, obviously there’s no moral code to atheism. That doesn’t mean either that atheism is immoral or that it requires religious morals. It’s not a belief system or philosophy, but rather a response prompted by a belief system or philosophy, and there’s no one belief system or philosophy required in order to be an atheist. If it helps, let’s use vegetarians as an example. To be a vegetarian is to have a response to the proposal of eating meat. What prompts that response? Well it could be a religious belief, it could be a health concern, or it could simply be acute sensitivity to the idea of having to take the life of an animal. Likewise, one could be an atheist for religious reasons (ie – Buddhists, Raellians, etc), emotional reasons or for the purely logical reason that there doesn’t appear to be any evidence for the existence of a god. “True unadulterated atheism” is simply a non sequitur, Josh.

So atheists require a moral code. Well all of us humans do, and we all work it out one way or another. Perhaps it all started from basic reciprocity, otherwise known as the Golden Rule (which not only didn’t suddenly appear thanks to Christianity, but the Christian variant of it discourages human empathy). The origins are not really important. What’s important is what we have now and assessing if they work. That’s the role of society, and it’s been society’s perpetual tweaking of morality that has allowed for the progresses of today. It’s been society’s pressure which has dragged religious morality forward, against its will. It’s the influence of society’s morals which color interpretations of so-called holy texts so that what once called for oppression of others can now be spun the opposite way.

You suggest that somehow todays morality is built on the foundation of religion, and as a foundation, it can’t be removed. I would say instead that there was a foundation in place prior to any religion, and perhaps some have added to it or tried to refine what was there (as in the flawed Christian retooling of the Golden Rule) but largely they’ve provided a false foundation, one upon which anything built is flawed and thus a hazard. Sadly we have too numerous a list of examples of that. Crusades, genocides, Inquisitions and even one way flights into tall buildings. Anyway, if there exists good in any religion’s morals, then it’s wise to adopt them. I’ll have to assume that’s what you heard at Hitchens’ lecture. Again, where an idea came from is irrelevant, what’s relevant is its efficacy so we’re wise to take the best from wherever, just as religions have whether they wanted to or not throughout history.

Imagine if most churches in the US still called for slavery and holding women down as 2nd class citizens? They wouldn’t be very popular, would they be? In fact, that’s what many are finding out now as they maintain unpopular positions such as opposing equal rights for gays. They’re losing members in droves, especially from the key demographic, the young. Eventually their morals will evolve or they will die due to the pressure of society’s morals.

So no, Josh, religion is not necessary for morals and no, Christopher Hitchens doesn’t believe they are, either.

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21 Responses to “Hearing what you want to hear.”

  1. The Good Samaritan story is a perfect example of how Judaism promotes racism….it was, after all, the Jewish laws that said the Samaritans were unclean and not to be helped, right?

  2. ….imagine trying to call that story "The Good Black Person" or "The Good Mexican" instead of calling it "The Good Samaritan" and I think you see my point. The religion was the one making the statement that all Samaritans were evil, and then obviously it took a new religion to say "there are some exceptions to the rule that all Samaritans are evil".

  3. Oh my, Monty Python beats me to the punchline once again….[youtube OIVB3DdRgqU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIVB3DdRgqU youtube]

  4. Here is the Standard Jewish Operating Procedure of the day towards the Samaritans — Hosea 13:16 Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.

    The hatred of the Samaritans and the Gentiles goes on into the New Testament too — Matthew 10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

  5. QF:

    Great clip.

    Nice answer to a piece that didn't deserve such a thoughtful response. Where the hell did this kid get the idea that Hitchens says that religion is necessary for morality? Is he smoking something funny?

  6. Not Monty Python, but still funny.

  7. Nitpick: Not Monty Python. It was That Mitchell and Webb Look TV show. Same kind of humor though.

  8. Yes, the Good Samaritan story is racist of course, but the whole bible is, isn't it? Everybody else is a bunch of wankers who need to be killed, their babies dashed upon the rocks and the unborn ripped from their mother's stomachs. Great source of morality there, but hey, if God says it's ok, then it's ok, right?

    Like I said Chaplain, I can't get out of teacher mode. I'm fucking stuck, and no break in sight in the near future.

  9. It’s not a belief system or philosophy…

    Right. It's a lack of belief. ;)

    I swear I didn't read this before my last post.

  10. I didn't know that Christians thought that people were moral in the first place, I thought they believed that all people are fundamentally immoral and thereby in need of the murderous snuffing of the only moral person.

    On a different note, I believe that every animal is moral in an evolutionary survivalist sense.

  11. I can't get out of teacher mode

    The Indubitable Nick Lowe will help you.

  12. Is that Rob's dad?

  13. They don't. They think we're all filthy, awful things who would be even worse, if not all dead, if it weren't for the moral laws handed down from their god for us all to obey. Of course those laws are tough to live up to, but thankfully Jesus let himself be tortured for awhile and "die" (he got better) which somehow makes it ok if you fall short of the moral laws, provided you apologize to Jesus*. Praise Jesus for being able to wear polyester and eat shrimp cocktails.

    * – Does not apply to engaging in gay sex.

  14. I doubt it. He's British.

  15. Maybe we should judge religions by what they allow people to do and disallow them to do. I hear Islam allows people to have multiple wives and to beat them to death. Eh, it's an option on the table, right? On the other hand, if you're Christian then you are allowed to eat bacon strips and drink alcoholic beverages. It seems that the Jewish religion is actually the most restrictive one as far as the rules go. Hinduism is probably the most leniant religon, they smoke pot and do mushrooms and stuff while they're meditating and hallucinating all manner of "gods" in their minds.

    Actually, none of those is appealing to me. I don't look at it as a question of morality so much as a question of where it gets you in life. None of those lead down a path of being healthy and successful, rather they lead to mental demise.

  16. I think people already look at such pros and cons, only in this country it's been pretty taboo to completely jump ship. Instead they do one of two things, either switch churches (like going to a different end or deck of the same ship) or come up with their own interpretations of the rules (I can't decide if that would be sitting in your own boat that's tied to the back of the big Christian boat, or simply staying in your cabin and pretending it's the Lido deck).

    Some quick corrections – The Hindu thing is all well and good IF you're born of the correct caste (ie – the whiter the better, kind of like here in the US). Christians have rules like the Jews (most of the same, as a matter of fact) but they just choose to ignore them. Most Jews ignore their rules altogether and just go through the ritual motions, like most Catholics.

    Frankly I'm amazed that any religion which forbids a properly smoked pork shoulder could attract members. Perhaps they don't know how to bbq correctly in the Middle East, because there's no WAY you'd say no to such a thing if you even smelled it, let alone tried it.

  17. Yeah, but the Muslims are definitely correct as far as alcohol and pork being unhealthy though. I would love to consume that stuff on a daily basis but I've got a complete Edsel of a digestive system I've randomly been dealt in life. Oh yeah, I've singlehandedly finished off kegs before, perhaps my excessive drinking has made my shit even worse though. Maybe that applies to all people too?

  18. Praise Jesus for being able to wear polyester and eat shrimp cocktails.

    The merits of polyester are debatable, but shrimp cocktails are definitely a good thing. Should we thank Jesus for bacon too?

  19. Well silk undies under your jeans or cotton skirt would be forbidden if not for Jesus' sacrifice. Christians should be thankful he was willing to have a REALLY bad 3 day weekend so that they could wear things from Victoria's Secret.

    True story: my first college fencing match was at Yeshiva University. My coach made a point of enjoying his ham sandwich during the match. I'll never forget that day, from the Jews running with their little airbrakes flipping up on their heads to a pot-bellied Frenchman tearing into a ham sandwich grunting, "mmmm, ham with mayo on white bread! MMMMrrrrmmmmmmm!"

  20. So, if we Christians kill Jesus on his second cumming then does that mean we get to eat escargo too?

  21. ^joking

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