Practical Implications

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If you accept the fact that there are no gods, then you will also have to face the fact that it doesn't matter what a person believes in: the only thing that matters is what this person does (or doesn't) as a result of his or her belief. All that matters are the tangible results, that is, the practical implications of the belief. What matters are actions, results, and effects; but the belief itself—well, who needs to care about that, except the believers?

Sure, there are very good reasons to investigate beliefs, which are used to justify atrocities all over the world. But it's the atrocities, not the beliefs, that are the cause of concern. If the beliefs implied no harm or good, would you bother to care?

Give me one good reason for caring about the belief itself, except as an explanation for—you guessed it: the practical implications. Give me one good reason why you, as an atheist, need to bother or make judgments about what others think, except to the extent that it affects their actions in a way that ultimate affects you. I bet you can't, lest you admit simply want to play thought police.

You care about their beliefs because the believers act in certain ways, based on values and morals that apparently they perpetuate through their belief systems.

I'm all with you on that.

Similarly, it doesn't matter what you don't believe in; all that matters is that you act in a certain way as a result of your non-belief. Your actions matter, not your opinions or thoughts. (Well, not unless you think your thoughts by some cosmic rule have higher value than those of other people, but I hope you don't suffer from that kind of delusions.)

I'm still with you.

Hopefully you're also still with me, agreeing that the only thing you really care about are the practical implications of beliefs and non-beliefs.

But now think of what this means. If all that matters is how you act, if you could somehow look at people, watching how their values and morals prompt them to a certain behavior; that is, if you could apply a behavioristic model, would you then recognize who nurtured beliefs and who were without? Or stated more brutally: can you distinguish believers from non-believers based on actions that count?

If there are any differences between believers and non-believers that have practical implications, then you can make such a distinction.

Some shared values are inevitable; we're members of the same species and many of our behaviors cannot be traced to beliefs. The desire for peaceful existence, although often attained through conflict, is also universal and not attributable to religion (even if each religion seems to believe that it represents the only way to secured peace). Smoking also does not seem to be prompted by beliefs.

But some practical behavior would be recognizable as based on beliefs... right?

If not, then by our original agreement, who cares? If you are an atheist and your choices are virtually identical to those of a believer, then for all practical purposes it doesn't matter that you're an atheist and the other person is a believer; it is only something you imagine. If your ethical stand and your values prompt you to the same actions as a believer, then for all practical purposes there's no difference.

Perhaps all it boils down to is that the only difference between you and the believers is that the believers pray every now and then and waste a few hours in church per month. Better make a web site about that and spend hours complaining about the believers in your favorite atheist forum then.

But maybe you do have values that prompt you to do things that are notably different from the believers. You may not fall for the same moral panics as they do (does the fear of terrorism ring a bell?). Or you may not accept arguments that appeal strongly to morals (which are common in the US but frowned upon in the highly atheist Scandinavia, for example). You may not blindly measure human worth by their standards. You may not be trying to show yourself as a "good" person according to their definition.

Maybe you live differently, according to different rules of behavior, and maybe you make different choices, according to different values. If this is the case, then you're distinguishable from the religious people. Then you have your own values, your own morals, your own guiding principles.

Beliefs systems include certain values and exclude others. In contrast, atheism does not include or exclude any specific morals or values. This means that if you're an atheist, you either get your morals from other people (and I hardly need to tell you which religion they got them from), or you make them up on your own, preferably in consensus with people that you prefer to socialize with. They weren't handed to you by your atheism, because unlike belief systems, atheism doesn't mandate any.

In fact, that was the key message in my text, Atheists Have No Morals, and although I had said explicitly that: "The other option is to consider morals as created by human hands, that is, to rely on, e.g., secular humanism or adopt ideas from, say, objectivism," atheists have been pissed off by that article because they thought I said they could not have any morals, or that they had to choose completely opposite morals of the prevalent religion in their area. But maybe those atheists can't read. I prefer that option, because other options are even less flattering, and would refer to their demands about certain morals that "one must" have. I've been raised as an atheist even by the standards of my country, which currently ranks third among the least religious countries in the world, and I do recognize non-atheist behavior when I see it.

As an atheist, ask yourself: "barring church visits and prayers, do I generally make different choices throughout my life than the believers?" If the answer is no, then for all practical purposes they are so much like yourself that you really have nothing to complain about.

We also have nothing to talk about, because I don't feel like talking to those other people that share your values either. I don't want to talk with believers, and I don't want to talk with atheists who are identical to the believers in every aspect but professed belief either. If you want to talk about your morals, perhaps you should consider joining those people in church instead, because chances are you've already talked with them and found ample common moral grounds on the aforementioned atheist web forum, or perhaps even on their forums that you like to visit. The rest is just words and beliefs that have no practical implications.
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Godless Dude said:

I am an atheist and i don't believe in morals. Morals are a false construct, in my opinion. I live my life ethically, but by no means morally. There is a difference between morals and ethics. Morals are based on judgments about right and wrong, or good and evil (I also don't believe in evil) - whereas ethics are based on very clear definitions that are based in fairness and equality.

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This page contains a single entry by Ole Wolf published on October 29, 2007 5:25 PM.

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