Morality Outside of Carrots and Sticks

Facebook reminded me of something that happened a few years ago when a person going door to door to preach in my neighborhood knocked on my door. He asked me if I died today would I have amassed enough good deeds to earn a reward in Heaven. I sighed and said, “You shouldn’t do good things because you’ll be rewarded. You should do good things because they are the right things to do. Merry Christmas.” I then shut the door in his stunned face.

Several things strike me about the exchange. For one, I’ve noticed Christians are real good at manipulating each other with their taking points that they believe are so bullet proof that no one can fight against them, but in doing show are revealing just how privileged they are to never have had their beliefs challenged. And when they do come across someone who challenges them, they are stunned into silence, because the rebuttal is something that completely sidelines them in how unexpected it is. Because most atheists find this carrot and stick view of morality that a lot of Christians embrace to be inherently immoral and dangerous.

To paint this simply, what if the person holding the carrot and the stick is Hitler?

The tragic fact is that people can do the good and right thing and get punished for it by those in authority. And people who do the wrong thing can be rewarded. And now more than ever we need to be aware of this! Last night I saw Allegiance through Fathom Events. It is a musical about a shameful chapter in American history, where we forced Americans of Japanese descent into internment camps during World War II. People were forced from their homes, had to relinquish their property and jobs, and had to live in poorly made camps under armed guard even though they had committed no crime.

The musical does a good job portraying the shades of grey in how to protest such an unjust situation. Yet even though the prisoners used peaceful forms of protest, they were punished.

In more recent events, do I need to bring up Standing Rock? Standing up for clean water and the land rights of the First Americans has resulted in protesters being strip search, left in freezing jail cells, and attacked with cater cannons in freezing temperatures.

Something else that has been on my mind a lot lately is the Stanley Milgram experiment. After the Holocaust people wondered how other people could commit acts of such barbarity. The terrifying thing that Milgram found was all it took was a person in authority telling people that harming someone else was okay and for the greater good for people to use what they believed to be were lethal shocks on another.

It is because of this that I question authority. If the President of the United States tells me it is my duty to administer lethal shocks for the greater good, I am going to protest!

And say a supernatural being, Loki for instance, came down and proved that he had supernatural powers and asked me to bow down before him (yes, this is an Avengers reference) while he harmed others, I would protest!

One thing I’ve heard Christians say in exasperation to atheists is to read the Bible. Well, we have, and we’re horrified by the depiction of a god who orders the murder, rape, and enslavement of people he’s upset with. I remember in high school when the movie, The Prince of Egypt, came out. This was a movie about the Book of Exodus, and I was horrified by the means God used to free the Jews, namely, murdering the firstborn child of everyone in Egypt save the Jews.

For one thing, the Jews were not the only enslaved people in Egypt, and the other enslaved people didn’t deserve to lose their firstborn. On that matter, someone who really cared about the injustice of slavery would free all the people, not just the Jews. Further, the peasants and other Egyptians could not control what the Pharoah does and didn’t deserve to have their firstborn child die. Ancient Egypt was not a democracy people. On that note, not even Pharoah controlled his actions. Exodus says over and over again the God hardened Pharoah’s heart so he wouldn’t let the Jewish people go. And finally, children really aren’t responsible for the Pharoah’s actions, so why should they have to be punished for this?

If I were an all powerful, omnipotent being and someone was holding a group of people in slavery, I would tell them to walk out and I would make it so weapons could not harm them and I would see all their needs are provided until they got to a safe space. No slaughter of firstborns needed.

When I saw the movie, I was horrified, but I wasn’t sure what the movie wanted me to feel. Was this supposed to be some sort of ends justify the means? Or did the people who made the move want people to question the ethics of this? Or, like the other passages about rape and murder, did Christians just not consider the implications of this scene? And given how bent out of shape a lot of them got when Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest of police killings, it defies reason to see how they justify the slaughter of children as a justified form of protest because their god said it was ok.

My basic point? I find the God depicted in the Bible to be extremely immoral and someone who I would never blindly obey. Joss Whedon put it best when he described this god as a “sky bully.” And here’s the other thing Christians don’t get about the Heaven/Hell dynamic. A lot of atheists find that to be extremely troubling.

Put simply, I find condemning people to eternal torture horrific and immoral. I believe torture is wrong, PERIOD. Not debatable. It is wrong to torture a serial killer. It is wrong to torture a rapist. It is wrong to torture a terrorist. And it sounds bizarre that I should even have to point this out, but it is wrong to torture someone who leads a good life and is an atheist/Muslim/Jew/Buddhist, etc.

ANYONE, be it god or human, who would advocate this is not someone I would follow or blindly obey. Eternal torture is wrong, period. It is evil, period. Even if the Christian God was real, if my choices were Heaven or Hell, I would chose Hell and join the rebellion fomenting there against such an evil dictator. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that.

What’s more? This belief Christians have in eternal damnation sure makes my life a living hell, because from my observations it seems that they understand on some level that condemning groups of people to eternal torture for having different beliefs is reprehensible. So to resolve the cognitive dissonance that results they start to think that atheists are immoral and deserve it, despite the fact that most atheists live very moral lives. And further, when people learn I’m an atheist, they don’t just change their mind or believe that I am an exception. They get mad at me for being a moral atheist and challenging that cognitive dissonance and have harassed and shunned me in response.

So in essence, atheists in general aren’t that impressed with Christian morality. I think individual Christians are good people, however, their religion preaches a lot of immoral trash. And going around door to door manipulating people with the carrot of Heaven and the stick of Hell won’t win you converts. It just proves our point.

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