Do atheists believe in ministering to the needs of their fellow man?


#1

Originally Posted by whatever

Believers imagine a reward in a future life and cause themselves much anxiety about infractions that result in an imagined eternal punishment. What’s the point of the earthly life for a believer? To play out a divine charade?

From a Christian perspective the purpose of this life is to know, love and serve God. One of the primary ways we do this is by serving our fellow man by ministering to his physical as well as to his spiritual needs. May I ask what the point of this earthly life is for an atheist? Does service to one’s fellow man play a part at all? Do atheists believe that it enriches one’s life to minister to the needs of the poor and destitute? If so, why? And if atheists do believe in this type of service where are all the atheist based humanitarian organizations? Where are all the Mother Teresa’s of atheism?

The evolutionary origins of altruism aren’t all that hard to explain, either.

I am interested to hear how the theory of evolution can explain why a person would be willing to die to prevent harm coming to another person. Do atheists believe that it is a good thing to be willing to die for the benefit of another person? If this earthly life is the only opportunity for happiness why put that opportunity in jeapordy by even risking, let alone sacrificing, your life for another person?


#2

(actually agnostic, you know the drill)

Quick answer: yes, because I’m a decent human being, not because I think I’ll be rewarded for doing it or punished if I don’t.

What’s the point of life if one does not believe in a deity? Obviously from a strictly animal point of view it’s food, sex, and death; but we’ve got minds, we’re social animals. The meaning of life is whatever we want it to be – including, in many cases, the love of something beyond life. For myself personally, it’s ‘live well and in the service of humanity, enjoy the time I have and depart from it gracefully, and look good doing it’ (ah, vanity, thy name is me…).

Service to one’s fellows is not contingent on theology, and history shows us plenty of examples of theists and non-theists alike ignoring the rest of humanity in favor of themselves. Even ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is not a theological teaching but a social one (it’s also some fine advice). Even dying for others’ sake can be seen as good; it’s just a part of taking that service to others seriously. Non-theists are not necessarily Objectivists; we don’t have to look out for #1 all the time, and we can make sacrifices just as well as any religious can – even the ultimate one. If anything it means more coming from one who does not believe in life after death: the believer dies believing he or she will rise again anyway, while the heathen says goodbye forever.

Does such service enrich one’s life? Not directly. It is not laying up building supplies for our condos in paradise. It just makes this world better for all of us – a rather more selfless goal, isn’t it? Denying the self so that others may benefit, instead of denying the self so you can collect on it after you die, while others benefit as a side effect?

There are plenty of reasons for the lack of non-theist humanitarian organizations (although to hear people here, the various branches of the UN and the ACLU should count…).

First, non-theism is by its very nature disorganized. There are no sacraments, no rites and rituals, no scriptures – only lack of belief in a deity. It’d be like having a Church of People Who Eat Potato Chips. No organization, no infrastructure, no framework upon which to build a unified humanitarian arm in the name of godlessness.

Second, non-theism has really only picked up anything resembling numbers in the last couple hundred years. Religions have had vast numbers of devotees for millennia.

Third, people don’t like non-theists. Atheists are the least trusted minority in America today – below blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Muslims, and homosexuals. People get fired from their jobs for not believing in any deity, or worse. We’ve only just now managed to get a US representative to admit to non-belief in a deity, for crying out loud! There is no belief system, no hierarchy, no infrastructure, only a couple hundred years of anything even beginning to approach acceptance – and you’re asking ‘where is your analogue to a mostly beloved, jet-setting, internationally acclaimed leader and founder of a worldwide institution?’?

Also, whatever’s talking about evolutionary psychology. It’s a young science yet, but an interesting one :slight_smile:


#3

There is certain not too uncommon type of atheist who likes to talk about uniting humanity, usually whilst smoking dope. These people have lost credibility.

I am interested to hear how the theory of evolution can explain why a person would be willing to die to prevent harm coming to another person. Do atheists believe that it is a good thing to be willing to die for the benefit of another person? If this earthly life is the only opportunity for happiness why put that opportunity in jeapordy by even risking, let alone sacrificing, your life for another person?

I would lay down m life for two brothers or eight cousins (Haldane). The genes are selfish. This usually means that the organism they are in is selfish, but not always. The obvious exception is direct offspring, but there are also more subtle ways. Al Capone knew what he was doing when he threw dollars to the homeless.


#4

FYI - I do not perform based on punishment either, the church is finally understanding a love based relationship

What’s the point of life if one does not believe in a deity? Obviously from a strictly animal point of view it’s food, sex, and death; but we’ve got minds, we’re social animals. The meaning of life is whatever we want it to be – including, in many cases, the love of something beyond life.

Yes but this side stepping. When, how did the animal “turn off” and "love"evolve?

For myself personally, it’s ‘live well and in the service of humanity, enjoy the time I have and depart from it gracefully, and look good doing it’ (ah, vanity, thy name is me…).

Service to one’s fellows is not contingent on theology, and history shows us plenty of examples of theists and non-theists alike ignoring the rest of humanity in favor of themselves. Even ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ is not a theological teaching but a social one (it’s also some fine advice).

Actually loving thy brother as thy self is religious based. It is rooted in humans being a creation of God, thus we are all children of God and thus our neighbor is our brother.

Even dying for others’ sake can be seen as good; it’s just a part of taking that service to others seriously.

Again a side step, when, why, how did the animal “turn off”? How can a true atheist value any thing above his personal life?

Non-theists are not necessarily Objectivists; we don’t have to look out for #1 all the time, and we can make sacrifices just as well as any religious can – even the ultimate one. If anything it means more coming from one who does not believe in life after death: the believer dies believing he or she will rise again anyway, while the heathen says goodbye forever.

Why? why would your heathen select to die for others? what is or could be his driving motivation. The key word above is “can”, as in physically can, we are looking for “will” Why will he make that choice.

Does such service enrich one’s life? Not directly. It is not laying up building supplies for our condos in paradise. It just makes this world better for all of us – a rather more selfless goal, isn’t it? Denying the self so that others may benefit, instead of denying the self so you can collect on it after you die, while others benefit as a side effect?

There are plenty of reasons for the lack of non-theist humanitarian organizations (although to hear people here, the various branches of the UN and the ACLU should count…).

Maybe the only reason for non-theist humanitraian organizations is there are no true atheist? Maybe the religous teachings on Natural Law explain why renown atheist must deny Natural Law coming from their very heart. So they often comply with Natural Law yet on the surface wish to deny the reason for their sacrafice?

First, non-theism is by its very nature disorganized. There are no sacraments, no rites and rituals, no scriptures – only lack of belief in a deity. It’d be like having a Church of People Who Eat Potato Chips. No organization, no infrastructure, no framework upon which to build a unified humanitarian arm in the name of godlessness.

And this will lay the footing for what you write below

Second, non-theism has really only picked up anything resembling numbers in the last couple hundred years. Religions have had vast numbers of devotees for millennia.

Odds are this condition reverses on and off through history, however even when isolated people have been contacted through out history they already have a religion, when we find them. Interesting no?

Third, people don’t like non-theists. Atheists are the least trusted minority in America today – below blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Muslims, and homosexuals. People get fired from their jobs for not believing in any deity, or worse. We’ve only just now managed to get a US representative to admit to non-belief in a deity, for crying out loud! There is no belief system, no hierarchy, no infrastructure, only a couple hundred years of anything even beginning to approach acceptance -

Maybe it comes from 1) believing an atheist must put themselves first, 2) they are denying the Natural Law within themselves (moral compass), and 3)they are not ready for trust (this do to their own decisions of denial)

  • and you’re asking ‘where is your analogue to a mostly beloved, jet-setting, internationally acclaimed leader and founder of a worldwide institution?’?

sorry I do not understand this reference

Also, whatever’s talking about evolutionary psychology. It’s a young science yet, but an interesting one :slight_smile:


#5

[quote="Malcolm Maclean]There is certain not too uncommon type of atheist who likes to talk about uniting humanity, usually whilst smoking dope. These people have lost credibility.
[/quote]

Much as there is a certain type of theist who likes to talk about doing good on the internet instead of actually doing it.

If I had to guess, I’d say we started getting really romantic about the time we developed speech. With direct communication, it’s easy to realize ‘hey, these people are just like me, and maybe we’ll be better off helping each other out’.

However, animals are quite capable of love; haven’t you ever had a pet? They’re not just in it for the food or the dominance games. They may not write sonnets, but that’s more a question of lacking opposable thumbs.

How can a true atheist value any thing above his personal life?

I wouldn’t know, I’m agnostic – but my guess is ‘pretty easily’. People don’t have to be religious to hold things important.

Why? why would your heathen select to die for others? what is or could be his driving motivation. The key word above is “can”, as in physically can, we are looking for “will” Why will he make that choice.

Or considering something simply more important and more deserving to continue than his own life. Much like your own Christ did. He didn’t do that for a reward, he did it for humanity and for the message he was trying to get out.

Maybe the only reason for non-theist humanitraian organizations is there are no true atheist?

The reasons I gave are all pretty good. That isn’t one of them. There are loads of secular humanitarian organizations, though – starting with the Red Cross; they’re not doing things ‘in the name of godlessness’ because it’s beside the point. They’re not there to make converts, they’re there to help people, an admirable goal more theist organizations would do well to remember comes first.

Maybe the religous teachings on Natural Law explain why renown atheist must deny Natural Law coming from their very heart. So they often comply with Natural Law yet on the surface wish to deny the reason for their sacrafice?

Or maybe they’re just good people who have no need for the carrot and stick, and no interest in subscribing to the agenda that this so-called ‘natural’ law promotes? Natural law is a strictly Christian conceit, and the most common use of it by those who are not good and devout followers of the Christ’s spirit is to prop up their various bigotries against the poor, women, gays, everybody they’re not.

Odds are this condition reverses on and off through history, however even when isolated people have been contacted through out history they already have a religion, when we find them. Interesting no?

It’s no secret that non-theism is an urban phenomenon.

Maybe it comes from 1) believing an atheist must put themselves first

Untrue.

  1. they are denying the Natural Law within themselves (moral compass)

What natural law? My moral compass is just fine without it, and many believers in a ‘natural law’ seem severely lacking in the moral department; all they have is inchoate hatred and a desire to be right whether or not they are correct.

3)they are not ready for trust (this do to their own decisions of denial)

Denial is no part of it. I had to decide to accept myself, my surroundings, other people, even rabid theists.

So, does this make the prevailing dislike and distrust of non-theists a good thing in your eyes?


#6

How could saving someone from physical or emotional pain be more important than the only opportunity you will ever have to experience happiness? If they suffer a little bit, what is the big deal? The species will survive.


#7

Why assume that there is a point to life? Life is what you make of it. There is no one reason for life that everyone can follow, but individuals can find their own reason.

That depends on the atheist.

We really do not see the need to go out there and convert people to atheism, so make up a humanitarian organization with that purpose is useless. Many atheists that I know join either a secular or a religious based humanitarian organization instead.

Propagation of genes? You often find this in nature, many animals will die in order for their offspring or the rest of their clan to continue living. If the sacrifice of one saves more, then it is evolutionary beneficial and the trait will be passed down.

Yes, there are people that I would die for. I have even put my life on the line for those that I do not know or do not care about. Why? Because I enjoy live and I have a high regard for it. If my actions can help or save another, then why not?

Well, when I am dead then I will not know the difference anyway. Truthfully though, do you ever think “well, I might be able to save this person, but there is a chance I will risk dying myself so I will let them perish”? No, you try to do all that you can to help them.


#8

So if life is just what you make of it, it would be acceptable in your eyes if someone devoted their entire lives to the slaughtering of as many people as possible? If someone truly felt that such actions gave their life meaning their life would indeed be just as meaningful as someone’s who has devoted all their time and energy to helping those in need?

Yes, there are people that I would die for. I have even put my life on the line for those that I do not know or do not care about. Why? Because I enjoy live and I have a high regard for it. If my actions can help or save another, then why not?

Why do you have a high regard for life? Does life have intrinsic value? If so why does it have this value? Or do you value your life because it is the only chance you have to experience happiness? And if that is the case then I ask again: why would you be willing to throw away that opportunity?


#9

I wish I could grasp your answers, I appreciate your attempts. The conversation always seem to go the same way which is Atheist/Agnostic" I am moral and ethical, I have a good moral compass" The theist “On what is your moral compass based, on what could it be based?” Atheist/Agnostic “Theists are dangerous” Theist " How could or did evolution develop conscious and Natural Law?" Atheist/Agnostic “Theists commit crimes” Theist " How could an Atheist/Agnostic justify anything being more important than their personal life, and happiness?" Atheist/Agnostic “Let me site some Theists crimes or immoral actions…”


#10

There are numerous non-sectarian NGOs that do good works.
and I suppose it could be argued that the social programs of civil governments (which are also nominally non-sectarian) fall into this category too

Since atheist are by definition not organized I don’t see them specifically coming together to form an exclusively atheist charity.

As a Christian I see no reason to boast about my faith by putting the other guy down.

Cooperative behavior is clearly a survival advantage. Especially in animals like humans with long gestation and development periods.
From a biological point of view we spent most of our existence as a species living in small groups so the people you would endanger yourself to save would likely share many of your genes.
From a social point of view there is plain old enlightened self interest. The person I help today may help me tomorrow.

This seems consistent with what the Church teaches regarding natural law and knowing God through Creation. We were literally made to be altruistic.


#11

Cute, but no, it is not the same. I believe that your rights end where another persons life begins. So if you must spend your life suffering so that other people can continue living, then so be it.

Mainly because I enjoy my life and wish for other people to be able to derive the same enjoyment out of theirs.

Depends on what you mean. I believe it is well within your rights to terminate your own life if you so choose, but not end another persons.

There is more to life than experiencing happiness.

If I were to ask you to make a list that describes you, where would Christian/Catholic be on that list? Probably pretty high if you consider that “purpose of this life is to know, love and serve God”. If I make the same list for myself, being an atheist will be very low on the list, if it even makes it on. Atheism is simply not a defining characteristic of my life. I suspect that being a Christian plays a major role in the decisions that you make everyday, right? Unlike with you, being an atheist does not play a major role in my life or in my decisions. That is why I am willing to give up my life for someone else without a second thought.

Also, I take issue with the conclusion that I would be throwing away my life to save someone else. Yes, my life would cease to exist, but is my sacrifice worthless? No, that person will continue to live, their future actions could impact just as many as mine.


#12

But why do you believe this way? What is it about human life that makes it so valuable that someone should not be allowed to unjustly destroy it?

There is more to life than experiencing happiness.

Such as?


#13

Unlike with you, being an atheist does not play a major role in my life or in my decisions. That is why I am willing to give up my life for someone else without a second thought.

Aren’t you in effect saying here that though you are in fact an atheist that you do not really live your life that way, and that is how you are able to justify sacrificing your life for another, because if you truly lived out your atheism such an act would be illogical?


#14

And just how is an atheist supposed to live? Every Atheist is different because the only thing that makes an atheist is the disbelief in god. There is no set of rules or even guidelines for us to follow. Just because we don’t believe in god doesn’t make sacrificing our lives for anothers illogical…its all about the bonds people have to one another and the compassion we feel as human beings towards one another. It has nothing at all to do with god or religion.


#15

Maybe it’s like Christmas & Easter. Lots of non-believers celebrate something at these times, even using names for traditions like “Christmas gifts” and “Easter eggs”. It’s like the imprint of a formerly religious culture, which is still retained in some aspects. Maybe “doing good” is another one of these religious traditions that is maintained even by people who are otherwise not religious.


#16

If people were allowed to unjustly destroy life, then our species would shortly come to an end. It is also a selfish reason, I want to continue living, so I do not think that anyone should have the right to kill me without my permission.

Can you truly appreciate the good in life if you have never had anything bad happen to you? I doubt it.

Cute, but no, I am not saying that. How am I supposed to live as an atheist? I have yet to state that the purpose of my life is to live as long as possible, and truthfully, I do not want that. I am sorry that your reasons for helping other people are selfish, but that does not change the fact that I will help them for reasons beyond my disbelief in your God. If sacrificing myself can save others or make the world a better place for those that I love, then why would I chose any other way? As I have said, once I am dead, I am dead. There will be no ‘me’ to regret the life I lived or the shortness of it. In fact, I will have died knowing that I saved someone or made the world a better place, who would not chose that to be their dying thought?


#17

Personally, I think they think they do, but from my interactions with atheists/agnostics/non-deists/newest-pc-term (of which there have been many), most of the social philosophy boils down to liberation theology, without all the messy interpretation of squaring it with religion, the idea being that if everyone is peachy living in split-level centrally-heated homes with full stomachs, good scotch and a plasma tv then they won’t need what they see as at best an absentee father figure or at worst a total conspiratorial fabrication.

Of course the notion of creature comforts dulling the wits and souls of men is not a new idea; the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is example enough of the damage that sensual contentment can wreak on the health of the soul. Though “creature comforts” is a telling phrase in that it demystifies the divine spark in man, reducing him to merely a more advanced and fashionable model of his animal brethren.


#18

I don’t care about the species. I care about other people. If by dying I can make other people that much happier or better off, I will consider myself to have done my best by them and go off to my demise utterly content in that knowledge.

[quote=Texas Roofer]I wish I could grasp your answers, I appreciate your attempts. The conversation always seem to go the same way which is Atheist/Agnostic" I am moral and ethical, I have a good moral compass" The theist “On what is your moral compass based, on what could it be based?” Atheist/Agnostic “Theists are dangerous” Theist " How could or did evolution develop conscious and Natural Law?" Atheist/Agnostic “Theists commit crimes” Theist " How could an Atheist/Agnostic justify anything being more important than their personal life, and happiness?" Atheist/Agnostic “Let me site some Theists crimes or immoral actions…”
[/quote]

Theists are dangerous, non-theists are dangerous. It’s a moot point – everyone is prone to error and misdeed no matter what they believe. Yeah, religion has a checkered-at-best past; but that’s true for all of us. There’s no lack for proponents of non-theism who’ve committed various horrifying crimes. Your sins and mine may not be that horrifying, but I’ll bet we both go over the speed limit on occasion :wink:

I don’t need to justify anything being more important than my own life; if putting it on the line is called for, I’ll just do it. Do theists think that way? Most of them seem to. Why do they even need the carrot and stick?


#19

I found this article and discussion and I thought I would link it here because it seems to be relevant to what we are discussing. Make sure to read the comments after the article, there is a person there called J.K. Jones who is much more adept than I at explaining some of the philosophical arguments for God’s existence. He also links some stuff in his comments that I didn’t really look into too throroughly, but is probably worth looking into if you still aren’t sure God exists :wink:

please beware that there is a picture of a woman immodestly dressed on the banner at the top of the page

The Best Arguments for God’s Existence…and Why They Fail: The Argument from Morality

Please, I am very aware of my mental limitations especially in regards to philosophy and apologetics, so if you have specific questions or comments it is probably best to direct them to Jones personally or someone on this board who is more proficient in these areas than I. I just get the sense that I am not nearly doing justice to the proof’s for God’s existence, so I figure I should probably stop before I do more damage.


#20

“sins” can you have sins? What can be the base of your sin? Second you put your life on the line without reason? Of course not but what is your reason? This is the fundamental problem I have with atheism; it appears complete based in religion. In religion there is a moral base, Atheist claim the same yet they can not show any moral base at all. What does it mean to be moral if moral has no meaning? Then it means nothing, to be moral it seems to me you have to have a religious base. So are these moral atheist really atheist, I think not.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.