What keeps an atheist from stealing?

I have a genuine question; I’m not just baiting atheist folks. And I freely admit I’m not up on the ins and outs of atheism.

What keeps an atheist following moral and ethical rules? Is it just the fear of being caught? Why care what happens to others outside of my immediate circle of loved ones? Why would I care about “society” if all I have is my 70 or so years on earth?

Thanks in advance.

My favourite response from an atheist I work with was: “My mother taught me that it was wrong.” :slight_smile:

Atheists like the rules and don’t generally break them because they don’t like chaos. In an ordered society they are provided an environment that nurtures their goals and well being. Secular humanism has taught them that there is a need for values and some standards. For the atheist, laws are to be followed strictly for there practical benefits. True morality is only for the religious and weak minded.

Didn’t God inscribe His law in all of our hearts, even those who choose not to accept Him?

JELane

[quote=Flounder]I have a genuine question; I’m not just baiting atheist folks. And I freely admit I’m not up on the ins and outs of atheism.

What keeps an atheist following moral and ethical rules? Is it just the fear of being caught? Why care what happens to others outside of my immediate circle of loved ones? Why would I care about “society” if all I have is my 70 or so years on earth?

Thanks in advance.
[/quote]

This author puts it quite well:

Your physical existence lives on in your children, the genetic map which defines your material substance is within your progeny, and all subsequent generations. Nature demands that you make sure your offspring grow up to be both mentally and physically healthy enough to perpetuate your genetic legacy; and being that this behaviour is the preeminent instinct, anyone who produces children and then neglects their obligation is by definition, behaving in an aberrant, or unnatural, way.

This is one aspect of your immortality, another is the spiritual. The essence of your individuality; your values, beliefs, and knowledge live on most significantly in your children. Positive influences increase the likelihood of their perpetuating what is/was “you”. If the effect you have upon your offspring leads to their living long and productive lives, then they are more likely to pass on your physical and spiritual legacy; for a negative influence usually results in children who grow up to be maladjusted adults, and are less desirable as mates. As well, the tendency to try and forget the unpleasant conduct of one’s parents means that eventually all that will remain of your existence as an individual will be suppressed memories; and in subsequent generations, will only be kept alive in the psychological problems each generation inflicts upon the next. No person’s effect can be removed from the world, whether good or bad, but it is human nature to try to eliminate the negative.*

REASONED SPIRITUALITY: exploring spirituality, the meaning of life, the concept of God.

By the way, what keeps a theist from caring about pillaging the planet’s resources when they believe they only spend ~70 years here and an eternity in heaven?

Answer: Nothing as they believe they have God-given dominion.

Wildlifer,

Nice dig, you cut me to the quick. But back to the discussion. Thanks for resonding. If I understand the author you quoted, the desire for immortality drives moral conduct so that your children will be good members of society and think well of you, and will sire subsequent generations, and thus your genetic material and values live on. Did I get it?

Is this drive to be good for posterity innate and subconcious or a series of concious decisions? And is the morality that’s followed the prevailing morality of the society you’re in, in order to have your scions well adjusted?

What keeps a Christian from stealing? Their conscience. Our conscious is molded by our subjective view of what society views as good and bad acts. Remember athiests have feelings too. If we do something our conscience says is bad, we will feel bad. The question is, does belief in God allow one to follow their conscience more often than an atheist? Punishment in the afterlife is no hinderence when dealing with a candy bar, I’d say it’s possible that God allows one to be more moral but it seems pretty even across the bar.

As far as where our set of morals come from, they come from everyone else’s. Morals are like etiquette, you pick it up as you live life and see what everybody else is doing. From that you can pick or choose how you want to apply them to your life, as opposed to the ten commandments where they are simply handed to you.

That’s why i like my atheistic morals, I personalized them and created them, as opposed to having them handed to me. But either way it’s easy to be moraled if you love to love.

[quote=Pax]Atheists like the rules and don’t generally break them because they don’t like chaos. In an ordered society they are provided an environment that nurtures their goals and well being. Secular humanism has taught them that there is a need for values and some standards. For the atheist, laws are to be followed strictly for there practical benefits. True morality is only for the religious and weak minded.
[/quote]

This is true. Everyone wants happiness. Everyone wants to live. There’s no sense in breaking the very same rules that protect the individual.

[quote=Flounder]Wildlifer,

Nice dig, you cut me to the quick. But back to the discussion. Thanks for resonding. If I understand the author you quoted, the desire for immortality drives moral conduct so that your children will be good members of society and think well of you, and will sire subsequent generations, and thus your genetic material and values live on. Did I get it?
[/quote]

Close enough for my current state of mind.

Is this drive to be good for posterity innate and subconcious or a series of concious decisions?

I would say both subconcious and concious decisions.

And is the morality that’s followed the prevailing morality of the society you’re in, in order to have your scions well adjusted?

Nope. Surely you can see these concepts would clash with a variety of societal “types.”

good night ------>

[quote=Flounder]I have a genuine question; I’m not just baiting atheist folks. And I freely admit I’m not up on the ins and outs of atheism.

What keeps an atheist following moral and ethical rules? Is it just the fear of being caught? Why care what happens to others outside of my immediate circle of loved ones? Why would I care about “society” if all I have is my 70 or so years on earth?

Thanks in advance.
[/quote]

A close personal friend is an athiest/agnostic. She is one of the more moral people I know. She was not raised in a religious home (her father is a rabid athiest). I personally think it’s Grace working in her life, unknown to her. Many of her close friends are believers.

SV

When I was an atheist, the law (or fear of consequences) as well as a reasonable acceptance of social norms both kept me from criminal actions. No moral law, but a recognition that SOME kind of commonly-agreed-upon set of behaviors is needed for civilization to work.

I may be having trouble trying to project into an atheist view. And the few atheists I’ve known were all for the most part regular trustworthy folks. Having said that –

I can understand caring about certain individuals; I can understand being willing to die for them. But I don’t understand caring about a greater society. It seems if I found a wallet with a $100 in it, why would I return it? Because I would want them to? But they don’t have my wallet. Because it’s the “right” thing to do? Seems right would be taking care of me and mine. Because if everyone didn’t follow the rules we’d have chaos? Doesn’t apply, I’m only one person. Why would I care if everyone else is happy (family/friends excepted) if I’m happy?

Dredgetone’s personalized set of morals I can understand, depending on what underlying premise he uses to derive them.

Remember, I’m not saying atheists think this way, I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t.

[quote=Flounder]I can understand caring about certain individuals; I can understand being willing to die for them. But I don’t understand caring about a greater society. It seems if I found a wallet with a $100 in it, why would I return it? Because I would want them to? But they don’t have my wallet. Because it’s the “right” thing to do? Seems right would be taking care of me and mine. Because if everyone didn’t follow the rules we’d have chaos? Doesn’t apply, I’m only one person. Why would I care if everyone else is happy (family/friends excepted) if I’m happy?
[/quote]

It’s a fair question. And, for a good statement of it, I would direct you to GK Chesterton’s poem entitled “The Song of the Strange Aesetic.”

I am not an atheist, but I don’t believe that a personal God exists who will judge me for my actions. I would return the wallet because of: (1) habit – that’s how I was raised; (2) compassion – I’ve been the guy who lost the wallet and had a stranger bring it back; and (3) duty – society doesn’t function if people don’t behave decently to each other.

[quote=Flounder]Why would I care about “society” if all I have is my 70 or so years on earth?

Thanks in advance.
[/quote]

Because if you didn’t care, you would have a lot less than 70 years and that would really suck!:wink:

[quote=wildlifer]…

By the way, what keeps a theist from caring about pillaging the planet’s resources when they believe they only spend ~70 years here and an eternity in heaven?

Answer: Nothing as they believe they have God-given dominion.
[/quote]

Potentially true of some theists, but I think that the Catholic position is that the “planet” has been entrusted to our care and we have an obligation to care for it. So, Catholics should have MORE reason to care about the planet’s resources than atheists (since it could be a “grave sin” not to).

The following can be found at vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/homilies/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19990612_zamosc_en.html

[left]***"***“all man’s activity, as the activity of a responsible agent, has a moral dimension. Destruction of the environment harms the good of creation given to man by God the Creator as something indispensable for his life and his development. We have a duty to make good use of this gift in a spirit of gratitude and respect. The realization that this gift is destined for all men, that it is a common good, also gives rise to a corresponding duty with regard to others. We therefore need to realize that every action which ignores God’s rights over his world, as well as the rights of man bestowed upon him by the Creator, is in conflict with the commandment of love . . . We need to realize therefore that there can be a grave sin against the natural environment, one which weighs on our consciences, and which calls for grave responsibility towards God the Creator” (2 May 1989)."[/left]
[left] [/left]
[left] [/left]
[left]Kieron[/left]

[quote=Flounder]I have a genuine question; I’m not just baiting atheist folks. And I freely admit I’m not up on the ins and outs of atheism.
[/quote]

If there is an atheistic scripture, then I must have missed the memo. I’d say every single atheist is unique, just like the theists.

What keeps an atheist following moral and ethical rules? Is it just the fear of being caught?

Every person has their own moral and ethical standards, much like theists. While theists also have an externally imposed benchmark to meet (that may or may not be at odds with personal morals), simply embracing a religious faith doesn’t imply that theists are automatically law-abiding and morally impeccable individuals, does it?

The shorter answer is: Because it’s the right thing to do.

I don’t know how much of a deterrent fear of getting caught really is – never mind the ethical deficiency of such reasoning. People that are morally depraved either accept punishment as the cost of “doing business” or consider themselves as too smart of getting caught.

Why care what happens to others outside of my immediate circle of loved ones? Why would I care about “society” if all I have is my 70 or so years on earth?

I’m not aware that caring for your fellow human beings was an exclusive domain of theists. Just to give an example, my understanding is that it was primarily atheists and freethinkers that successfully worked towards the abolishment of slavery. Again, just because atheists reject any claim of moral authority from the established churches doesn’t imply that their ethical and moral standards are inferior to theist’s, nor necessarily incompatible.

I have never tried to verify the numbers, but I have read that theist’s are ten times more likely to be imprisoned. If these numbers are correct, they put an entirely different complexion on this line of questioning.

If some 70-odd years is all you’ve got, you better make it count.

By the way, who is to say that there isn’t a non-theistic afterlife?

I figure this way, if I was a true blue atheist and didn’t believe in any Divine justice,I would be having a blast here on earth.Reason being is because this is your only shot and after this- NOTHING.Why should i struggle and be honest and just get by with peanuts when all the rich folks and crooks are living it up.Remember,we are an accident and there is no purpose in life so who cares what people think of you because when you check out of here it doesn’t matter.You can be a Hitler or a Mother Theresa and be equal at death.What is law? Who made it? Who cares? Being an accident who has the right to tell me what to do? People will say because it is needed for an orderly society.Why? We are accidents here by chance and can leave into nothingness at any time.Why be faithful? Why do anything? Just get what you can get no matter how you do it, you have nothing to face after death.All the people who ever existed that murdered and tortured there fellow humans and got away with it have nothing to worry about-No Divine justice.Mother Theresa and her likes wasted their time and was stupid for giving up luxury to live in slums and Hitler and his likes did their thing and will face nothing.Hmmm. Don’t sound right to me.I stay on the straight and narrow because EVERYONE will have to give an account for their actions.Don’t think when you die it’s all over,you will be held responsible and that’s what keeps me straight.So struggling ain’t too bad because one day there will be ultimate justice.Believe it or not.

Hi SCTA-1

Why would material possessions make an atheist happier than love, respect, the enjoyment of natural beauty, etc.? There’s more to life than having a better car, bigger house … even if those good things only last for a little while.

squirt (a former atheist who liked life even when she was poor and thought life was finite)

[quote=SCTA-1]I figure this way, if I was a true blue atheist and didn’t believe in any Divine justice,I would be having a blast here on earth.Reason being…
[/quote]

Good grief.

Atheism is compatible with a non-theistic afterlife, but that’s not a commonly held view. Lacking belief in any form of divine justice is an undeniable “advantage” of the atheistic worldview, but to conclude that such disbelief divorces atheists from any kind of ethical and moral obligations is a bit of a stretch – to put it mildly.

Please let me ask you this: Can you conceive of anything you would not do, given assurance from whatever religious authority you accept that it would not be counted against you in the afterlife?

More: Can you conceive of anything you would not do, even though whatever religious authority you accept informs you that to refuse would mean a ticket to hell?

These are not trick questions and you are under no obligation to answer them, of course.

The Golden rule. I treat people the way I wish to be treated.

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