Ethics Alarms Mailbag! Those Pesky Atheists…

Yesterday’s post about the “After School Satan Club,” as expected, quickly prompted a lot of intense commentary. One esteemed commenter, recently maligned stated “No one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain to me why hating one religion makes you a hater but hating all religions makes you an intellectual.” After receiving positive feedback on that statement, the commenter later suggested that Ethics Alarms “provide a little bit more analytical view of things, since [the host] belongs to no religion but is also not hostile to religion generally.”


As a threshold matter, hate is not conducive to ethics. Hate is an emotion, a strong bias, and bias makes you stupid, as we all presumably know, since that is a theme here. Since hate makes you stupid, one cannot say that hating religion, or anything, makes one an “intellectual,” of all things. There are some kinds of human conduct that justify hate: genocide, murder, torture. I would add betrayal, child abuse, totalitarianism, corruption by public servants, bigotry…there are things (and people) that it can be justifiable to hate (though Clarence Darrow’ nostrum to “hate the sin, never the sinner” is an ethical standard worth considering. Whether Darrow believed that, or practiced it, is open to debate. He was also an outspoken atheist, or as he called himself, an agnostic in the sense that there was no way to “know” for certain whether God existed or not. He was pretty sure of “not,” though.)

Taking “hate” out of the argument, there are still good reasons to rationally determine that certain religions, sects of those religions, or the organizations that support them, are unethical, and do more harm than good in the balance. I can think of three right now, but I have neither the time, space or inclination to get into a religion by religion debate. One is a world religion, one is a denomination of a world religion, and one is a scam.

Hating all religions and professing disbelief in God, an afterlife, and all related matters is often adopted by those aspiring to be regarded as intellectuals, on the theory that faith is something that only the dumb, ignorant, gullible and desperate embrace. That theory is demonstrably wrong, and in fact itself is a mark of ignorance. Many of the most brilliant minds ever to enhance civilization and culture were religious, as Darrow discovered to his sorrow and embarrassment when he got his clock metaphorically cleaned by G.K Chesterton in an Oxford debate on the question of whether there is a God.

No, there is nothing intellectual about hating all religions. Nor is it intellectually impressive to deny the value of religion to civilization and culture, which has been massive. Religion establishes morality, and morality is a lot easier to follow than ethics, which is always a moving target. The decline of the influence of religion in the United States is one of many factors, but a large one, in the disintegration of cultural harmony, with the looming threat of making democracy impossible. Religion, ethically practiced by those who do not abuse their position and power, can be, and has been, a great force for good in society—maybe the greatest force.

That does not mean that legitimate arguments about the degree to which governments can and should support it, or particular religious events, works, or icons, are not important to have. They are crucial to have, as long as they can be engaged in fairly, respectfully, with open minds and with a sense of proportion. I know where I would draw the lines in most cases, but that’s not worth going into here.

Deliberate efforts to mock, offend, and undermine those to whom religion is important are unethical.

14 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms Mailbag! Those Pesky Atheists…

  1. I am an atheist. Have been for most of my 77 years, but I am not one to condemn religion since I see the good and evil in it, but the evil is from my view interpretive. I have gone to religious services such as funerals and weddings and participated. Does that make me a hypocrite or well-mannered? I have even said Grace in a non-religious fashion. I am not going to insult my hosts.

    Being an atheist is certainly not easy. There is no spiritual comfort. I have had deaths in my close family including a child. The support and comfort from a religious belief (God) are not present. But what ticks me off is atheists have their own brand of repugnant folks. The same type we see in the landscape of the political spectrum on political and social issues.

    From my study of history, our main Christian religions have grown up. Seems, however, some atheists have adopted their own form of the inquisition regarding believers.

    • “I have gone to religious services such as funerals and weddings and participated. Does that make me a hypocrite or well-mannered? I have even said Grace in a non-religious fashion. I am not going to insult my hosts.”

      There is nothing wrong with attending such events, yet not compromising your own principles, or begging off if you wouldn’t feel comfortable. Now, choosing to take such an occasion as a chance to throw insults, that’s wrong.

      “atheists have their own brand of repugnant folks. The same type we see in the landscape of the political spectrum on political and social issues. ”

      Ya think? It’s not folks like you I have a problem with. It’s the fanatics and those who use their beliefs as a cudgel on other folks that I have a problem with. I looked at one religion-hostile commenter’s fb page, and I was disgusted by what I saw – his cover page was a mockery of the common “coexist” sign spelling out instead “toxic fiction” and his biography consisted only of the statement “all religion is superstitious bullshit!” While it is certainly your right to believe that, I think there are better and more acceptable ways to express it, and, like any beliefs, maybe it’s better not to be “in your face” about it. I have to also say, how is this different than if I was to put up a cover picture of a shot in the face bin Laden or a crusader stabbing an Arab and wrote “Islam is toxic demon worship?” It really isn’t

  2. I want to guess the three mainstream religions that Jack refers to, that one can name off the top of their head that are unethical. For major world religion, I nominate Islam; for world religion denomination, I nominate Jehovah’s Witnesses, and for scam, I nominate Scientology. Honorable mentions for past scams: Jim Jones church, and Rajneesh cult and their village in Oregon.

  3. Don’t forget the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Jack has referenced it numerous times as an unethical “religion” because it simultaneously tries to be taken seriously (in a legal way) while also being an overt satire/criticism of organized religions.

    That’s the one I immediately thought of when he wrote “…and one is a scam.”

    That said, the organization of Hubbard is probably a better choice for that category when the main criterion is to “…do more harm than good in the balance.”

    So I’m gonna go with, in order:
    – Islam
    – Catholicism
    – Scientology
    … as my final answer.


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