Yawn, morality and atheists again

We hear from a lot of religious people, both whacko, weekend warrior and all points in between, that morality is given to us, bestowed upon us by their god as decrees are handed from king to peon. Every rule and regulation, prize and punishment, every burning cinder of hell and endless pack of Tim-Tams in heaven is part of God’s absolute & universal Moral Code. Without it, we are told by faith-sellers, our species would descend into inescapable moral morass, that we are all hedonistic pyschopaths on a hair-trigger, waiting like thoroughbreds for the gates of restraint to spring open and the little demons on our shoulders to whip us into an orgiastic frenzy of killing & destruction which would make Grand Theft Auto look like Wii Fit; indeed, that would make the Old Testament itself look like The Wiggles.
Of course, this makes me wonder a simple wonderment: is the only thing holding a Christian back from pillaging his neighbours and plundering his office really just the fear of God’s wrath and/or the fervent desire to get into God’s good graces? If it’s either or both, could you even call that morality, or is it just naked self-interest that any god worth the noun could see right through? If it’s neither – for example, if it’s just the thought of someone suffering that drives a Christian to give charity and nothing else – then how is that Christian any better, any more deserving of eternal reward, than an atheist who does the same good deed for the same reason? Is it actually possible, as Christopher Hitchens has famously asked, to name a good deed performed by a Christian that could not have been performed by an atheist?If a good Christian is so because he believes he’s being watched and judged from on high – can he really be called “good” at all? Why should the Golden Rule of “do unto others” be necessarily & inextricably linked to belief in the godhood of Jesus? What happened to a good deed being its own reward? What happened to just helping people because they need help and you can provide it?

And what of atheist humanitarians? Are all the decent godless out there really closet Christians plagiarising, as is a frequent accusation, Christian principles? Are the reasons for being good solely about avoiding Hell or entering Heaven? If so, how is “exist in agony for eternity or exist in bliss for eternity” even a choice?

Naturally, I don’t believe for a second that reasonable, moderate Christians believe themselves, for a second, that only religious people can be good. I don’t believe those same people believe that good atheists go to hell. I didn’t believe it when I was a Christian and I don’t believe it now. In fact, when I counted myself among the chosen it was something I wondered about. Exactly how bad do you have to be to go to hell? Do you need to actually kill & rape & steal or is it enough to not believe Jesus was God’s son? I wondered, even as a child, where God was supposed to draw the line between Adolf Hitler and a simple honest man who fought for his country and took lives in its defence? They both breached “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, a very unambiguous commandment (though, given the example God sets in the same set of books as he lays down the law, it’s not surprising that a few non-accidental deaths have occurred over the years). Do you look at the reasons for their killings? Hitler was convinced he was doing the right thing by Germany by attempting to exterminate the Jews and subjugating Europe. Our honest soldier was equally convinced that stopping Hitler was the most important thing anyone could do, so he killed he who had to to accomplish his mission.

People do good things for bad reasons – like providing charity out of pure self-interest – and bad things for good reasons – like shooting retreating Nazis in the back. What I’m asking (mostly of moderate Christians, as the response from your average fundie on any subject is as predictable as the result of Brick vs Glass) is this: what is it about me that will keep me out of Heaven, if such a place exists? What is it about any decent, law-abiding, charitable, mostly honest atheist that makes him deserving of Hell when his only crime is not believing something he can’t in all honesty accept, given the evidence provided by believers?


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