I was wondering how much of religious thought we atheists could agree with. Obviously all the metaphysical claims are right out. But there are some things here and there which are appealing. Its not ALL just awfully, horribly wrong. Perhaps we could start with the Golden Rule. Not sure if it was originally a religious thought, or if it did indeed come from Jesus. Most likely it came before, as with most things. Or something else then. Any thoughts?

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Ah, you have just outlined the very essence of the existential dilemma. The logical conclusion of objective scrutiny of the meaning and purpose of our lives is that there isn't one, which is very de-motivating, which in turn takes away from, rather than adds to, the quality of our experiences, which is the subjective, intuitive meaning and purpose of life. There are two options (and then a third). Pretend that our lives really do have some sort of objective meaning, either just by feeling that it really does or by going a thousand steps further and creating a whole framework of ideas to enable us to continue to operate under this belief (religions), or gradually lose interest in life. The third option is trickier (I'm making it up). You can know that the objective point of life is to subjectively experience it well, and that there are some very specific things you can do in this regard which will have the effect of motivating you quite well.


I like this existential problem. Its fun.

After just listening to Obama talking about faith-based initiatives (and trying not to gag), I just realized that this is exactly the function of faith. Faith puts the lives of believers into perspective, allowing them to believe that they have a meaning and purpose when none really exists. We need to focus on this point as well, since arguing that faith just isn't epistemologically justified doesn't get very far. We need to show that it also isn't necessary from the existential point of view either. We can find meaning and purpose within life and its experiences, we don't need to go outside of reality to find it.

@Marc: I wanted to copy something that I posted in another discussion today. From the way you've defined "memoryplex", I think I may be witnessing in myself something pertinent to the idea. (I suspect Park saw this coming all along =)


This is the page it can be found on


The following is excerpted from one of my posts on that page:



It seems likely to me that obtaining solace during certain trying times through thoughts of an afterlife has become reflexive for me because of years of patterning. So to consciously unearth something that's [so] deep-seated may bring with it a bit of difficulty. This is just a guess --a bit of psychoanalysis on myself =).


But this doesn't address the increase of emotion I feel with certain thoughts. For instance, to use the example of the holocaust again, there was a time in my life where I felt anger, grief and empathy when thinking about it, but I still had the notion that the heinously tortured victims' souls were going to make their way to paradise in the end. Taking that last bit away changed a lot. The degree of anger, grief and empathy shot up, what felt like 50-fold. I mean, it felt completely unbearable.


I'll let you go ahead and pick from that what you find relevant.


I think there's another important note to take here, though. It might be useful to consider illustrating ways an atheist worldview might suggest a _more_ rigorous moral code.


(Very tired. Sorry for fragmentation and incompleteness.)


I think feeling things like "this is it" does give them more immediacy and power. But I just woke up, I'll have to come back to this.


I do think that atheists can be "more moral" than religious people. They do things because it is what should be done, not because it will get them into god's good graces or to avoid hell. I will start a discussion eventually to deal with atheist ethics.

Versions of the Golden Rule are found in religions and life paths far older than Jeebus.

"Do unto others..." Sounds good on paper, but it could be twisted into something very bad. It relies on Moral Relativism. Say you're a Sado-Masochist. Would the Golden Rule apply in all situations?
  • The golden rule asks that someone consider anothers world view~ but if they could really do that, they probably wouldn't be referencing the golden rule to begin with.

No, it doesn't.  "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them," might.  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," has more of a sinister ring to it when you consider that the others might not want the same things you do.

Which reminds me of a little joke from years back:


Masochist: "Hurt me"

Sadist: "No!"


The real humor here is quite subtle - think irony and you'll get it (unless you already did).

I agree, Jim and Joseph, the Golden Rule, when applied to the letter, doesn't ask you to put yourself in the place of others and if applied to the letter in isolation of other moral dictums could indeed be a dangerous rule. This is not to say that it couldn't play a part of a larger moral framework and be seen positively in that light. Nevertheless, your point is true; we need to have a comprehensive moral framework, bits and pieces are not only incomplete but potentially the opposite of moral.


I have no problem with completing a whole moral framework here before we ask which parts of religion could potentially be seen as striving towards the good and which do not. In fact I have already done so personally, whether anyone agrees with it is another story, but the conclusion I have reached is that religions do speak to the ultimate end or highest good which we as humans hold as the essence of all values, and while they do so in incomplete and even dangerous ways they do so often better than atheists do for the simple reason that atheists often take simplistic tacks like 1. moral nihilism, 2. science gives all the answers, etc.


A moral framework has to be at least somewhat complex (as our Golden Rule example illustrates), and has to speak to our deepest motivations and most untrespassable convictions. The main problem with religion (and even with non-religious moralists like Kantians) is that they try to make Goodness something Objective and independent of ourselves as Subjective beings. Morals are necessarily relative to an experiencer, but I think (after some philosophical acrobatics) that morals can also be relative to groups of experiencers, and so they do not have to be completely relativistic, which would otherwise render them impotent. The truth lies somewhere in between relativism and absolutism. Its not a case of either or (which has been the mistake of countless philosophers and theologians throughout human history!).


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