Atheist’s moral dilemmas

Atheist’s moral dilemmas
11 comments, Monday, September 3rd, 2012, by Cameron Simek, in Featured, Opinions

By Cameron Simek

Opinions Editor

Atheism is a hard concept for some to understand. The basic definition of Atheism is the theory or belief that God doesn’t exist. It seems like a simple enough definition, but the mere thought of it seems to confuse people. Verifiable facts, and the quest for discovery, both personal and universal, guide those who have decided there is no higher power. Morality, when looked at through the eyes of an Atheist becomes complicated, due simply to the fact that we make decisions without being guided by any ancient Deity.

It has been said that mankind would crumble into the abyss without religion. People need edicts to know how to properly live and what choices to make for the benefit of their fellow man, but these choices can also be made with a small amount of common sense and some reason.

The struggle with morality in the absence of religion is something that Atheists don’t take too lightly. There is no dogma to look to in the decision making process. That isn’t to say there is no consequence for the actions we take. We hold ourselves responsible for our decisions, and the only one that can offer forgiveness for our actions is ourselves. I, for one, am not quick to forgive myself for the poor decisions I have made in my life.

To get into the thick of it, let’s start with a couple of fundamental beliefs of how morality functions in mankind. The first is that we are born with a strong sense of right and wrong, and that our upbringing changes that as one grows and matures. If this is the case then religion has no bearing on one’s moral compass.

Another belief is that we are born as a blank slate. Also known as tabula rasa, this belief states that our upbringing shapes our morality with no other source influencing it at all. This belief would mean that religion may have a strong effect on ones morality.

Both are possible, and religion isn’t something that should be discounted when discussing morality. Religion helps a large amount of people make decisions, whether or not they are being made of their own volition, or as a result of the dogma the religious have been taught their whole life.

The simplest guideline for morality for an Atheist would be Kant’s Categorical Imperative. The most basic explanation of this is to expand your decision to the whole world. If everyone made this decision in this situation would the world be a better place? If no, then that isn’t the best decision to make. That doesn’t help with the smaller moral decisions that are required on a daily basis. Should I open this door for someone, or hold the elevator for this person?

Those decisions can’t be made in a utilitarian sense, or what is best for the highest number of people. If that were the case, everyone on the elevator would wish to get to their floor as quickly as possible and not holding the elevator would be the right choice.

In these moments, I decide what that person would prefer. They would want to get on that elevator and not wait. Putting others before myself is the basis of that moral decision. I should treat my fellow homo sapien with the respect that is due to anyone of my species.

It’s difficult to wrap this all up, but it needs to be done. As an Atheist, I see everyone as my equal and treat them as such. I try to live a life that I can be proud of, and reason and compassion are my guide. I’m not perfect, but I try.

About Cameron Simek

11 comments

  1. Brian
    September 3rd, 2012 5:53

    It’s really not all that complicated.

    Atheist’s Statement:

    1. There is no evidence supporting the existence of a deity.

    2. Therefore, there is no reason to believe in one.

    3. Therefore, I don’t.

    And as for morals, the word comes from the Latin “mores”, which means “societal norms or manners or customs”. So any behaviour which is not outside of the norm for the society you’re in is, by definition, “moral”.

    Reply

  2. Kamisama
    September 3rd, 2012 6:22

    Two authors but written in first person singular? I liked the article but who wrote it? Are you like the trinity?

    Reply

  3. Hans van den Bos
    September 3rd, 2012 6:50

    You wrote:
    The basic definition of Atheism is the theory or belief that God doesn’t exist.

    First: Atheism is not a belief.
    Second: It’s not only the christian god with a capital G, but also all those hundreds of other gods.

    Reply

  4. Brandon
    September 3rd, 2012 9:34

    Applying Kant’s imperative to homosexuality, we find that it is not moral, either by the act that it is against nature or by the second imperative. How then do athiests justify allowing and/or supporting homosexuality since it appears that most do?

    Reply

    • Rob
      September 3rd, 2012 15:11

      Homosexuality is not against nature, it is quite common in social animals. It is no more unnatural than altruism is. Altruism can cost an individual the chance to pass on genes. Yet altruism is also quite common in a wide variety of species. Even suicide, which should be the ultimate no-no in nature, is observed in several species.

      Reply

  5. John
    September 3rd, 2012 11:23

    Brandon, In short, most atheists are not Kantians when it comes to ethics, but rather, the majority opinion seems to favor some sort of consequentialist ethics. That said, it is not at all clear that the categorical imperative suggests that homosexuality is immoral, and so even if many non-theists were believers in Kant’s version of ethics, that thus would not suggest in any way that one is obligated to oppose homosexuality.

    Reply

  6. Dacey
    September 3rd, 2012 19:32

    Put philosophical issues aside and look at basic scientific facts. Religious people think atheists are the egotists because they believe ‘there’s nothing greater than them’ while theists (notably western religion) depict God as looking like humans and loving us SO much that He gave us His ONLY son, even though we’re not anywhere important, instead all the way on the outskirts of a galaxy, powered by a dwarf sun, living on a 4.5 billion year old planet that humans have only been on for a few hundred thousand. Oh yeah and forget anything discovered and proven by biology and astrophysics because apparently it’s all just Satan trying to sway you from the light. Makes a lot of sense right?!
    Old habits die hard I guess.

    Reply

  7. Buzz
    September 4th, 2012 8:08

    As to the homosexual discussion, you are all missing the issue. It doesn’t matter what anyone “believes” marriage is, or what their favored supernatural entity “says”, since mythical “beings” exist only in the minds of those who choose to believe in them. The question at hand is this simple: By what authority does ANYONE seek to deny a right they enjoy to a fellow citizen? The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment is simple. “……all persons within a jurisdiction will be afforded equal treatment under the law.” What this means is that if a jurisdiction requires a license to do something it will be available to all citizens of qualifying age and ability to consent. Period. It doesn’t allow any special “requirements”, or exclusions. It is clear. ALL citizens are guaranteed equal treatment under the law. Period. Godfigures do not trump the Constitution,…

    Reply

  8. Gary
    September 4th, 2012 18:33

    LOL! I love how the dude in the red shirt is holding up a Book of Moron, err….I mean Mormon. I would rather be an atheist than believe in a false Jesus and a false gospel. Thank God I am neither of those!

    Reply

  9. Buzz Daly
    September 4th, 2012 22:24

    Although my earlier post may be rightly seen as anti-God and anti-Religion by some folks, I do not think Mormons are Morons by any stretch, and I hold no animosity toward believers.

    The First Amendment is all about folks believing what they wish without being bothered.

    Believing in something doesn’t make one a Moron.

    I have recently arrived in Utah from the Monterey Bay in California, to spend some time with an old friend.

    I’ve seen many instances of the goodness and social caring of she and her friends and family to others.

    We’d be better off if more Americans conducted themselves as Mormons do.

    Unfortunately, the Mormon Church is very wrong in their opposition to marriage equality. The issue is about Freedom for ALL, not religious definitions of this or that.

    Why not honor ALL our fellow citizens, and let them live Free?

    That’s what this great…

    Reply

  10. Fernando Aguilar
    September 5th, 2012 16:26

    If theism is a belief in a higher power, a mysterious being that cannot be wholly understood by the believer, then god is an Atheist!
    – Note that Atheism is not “a belief that god does not exist,” but is instead a lack of belief in a god, or higher power.

    Kant’s catagorical imperative does not establish a universal moral code, but does allow you to establish your moral code subject to the condition that the actions you undertake are rationally considered. “ Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end. ”

    But Kant is certainly not the only basis for morality, and as Sam Harris points out, rational application of the scientific method could provide better authority over moral issues than a personal consideration of a moral problem.

    Reply

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