But Surely Atheists Can’t Have Morals (!)

I have just finished The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I found it to be a very fascinating and engaging read. This is the first book that I have by Dawkins and it has definitely got me eager for more. I was already an atheist, so I can’t say that this book changed my beliefs, but what it has done is open up a new need to learn, renewing my thirst for knowledge.

I won’t do a whole book review here. A fellow blogger (Sift Through The Static) has recently written a great review that I don’t feel I could really match. So I’d like to concentrate on what I personally got from the book.

My Study History

Before I left England I had just started working towards a degree in Humanities. As I could not afford to quit work and go to university I decided to study at home through the Open University. I thought that I wanted to study Art History (it was my intention at that time to work towards becoming an art teacher) so I chose the course ‘An Introduction to Humanities’ thinking that only the Art History and the Religious Studies units would actually be of interest to me (I’ve long been interested in religion as a subject to study. In fact, I chose Religious Studies over History and Geography at high school).

What happened during the course surprised me. The Art History, although interesting, didn’t engage me as much as I thought it would and I actually got more enjoyment out of the History of Science (a unit on Darwin!), History of Medicine, Religion and Philosophy units. At the end of the year I had decided to leave Art History alone for the time being and was torn between studying a combination of Religion with either Philosophy or the History of Science or with English Literature. I couldn’t decide, I was completely stuck. Then I got the opportunity to move here. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to do more than just the first year of study, but sometimes you just have to make a decision and go with it. Which is exactly what I did and I do not regret it at all.

Anyway my point with all of this is that I now feel that I can continue a quest for knowledge on my own. Dawkins has so many books in his suggested reading list that I don’t know where to start. I think I’ll read another of his before moving on to other authors and then who knows where my curiosity will take me!

The Why

The part that was most fascinating for me was the chapter on why people are drawn to religion. This is a subject that I had thought on in the past and I was pleased that Dawkins included it in the book. Reading this may help theists to understand why they feel that they NEED to have a god, even when faced with evidence of his/her/its non-existence. I’d happily have read more on that chapter. From the perspective of a non-religious person it seems a very alien concept to me. Why do they need to believe? How can they completely dismiss any and all evidence disproving their beliefs? Why are they so adamant that they are right even without any proof to support their claims? The God Delusion puts forward some very interesting (and, to me, very surprising) theories in answer to questions like these.

Thank Goodness I am Me

Something else that I got from reading The God Delusion is a feeling of great, great relief that I was fortunate enough to have been born where I was and into the family that I was. His examples of the prejudices shown to atheists in the USA were absolutely shocking to me. I was brought up in England, a country where atheism is fast becoming a norm (from my experience and based on the people I know and have known there) and I have never had to deal with any closed-minded bigotry because of my beliefs (or lack thereof). My parents, leading by example, taught me to always look at the evidence before making decisions or pronouncing something to be a truth. If I had turned out to be religious, after examining what evidence we have, they probably would have been somewhat surprised, but I am sure would not have condemned me for it. It seems, from Dawkins’ examples, that many people can not expect to get a similar reaction from friends, family and community if they make the ‘shocking’ decision to make up their own minds on the subject.

Maybe if more atheists ‘come out’ it will be easier for others to follow suit, so I have added the Out Campaign ‘A’ to my footer here. I’m not really ‘coming out’, as I have never really been ‘in’ hiding, but I’d like to add my name to the cause nonetheless.

But Atheists Don’t Have Morals (!)

Finally, I feel that I am now better able to answer people when they ask questions like, ‘But how can you be happy if you’re an atheist?’ and statements like, ‘If you don’t believe in god then you have no moral compass.’ Of course I find these statements completely ridiculous, but I never really known how to counter them other than uttering a spluttered ‘What?!’. Now that I understand better the reasons for them even asking these questions I won’t be afraid to use myself as a model.

I am an atheist.
I am happy.
I am fulfilled in my life.
I consider myself to be good.
I do not need to believe in ultimate good and evil to know that I am good enough.
I abhor all suffering, both of humans and animals.
I am a vegetarian.
I do not believe in killing animals or humans (euthanasia for great illness or pain is another matter).
The knowledge that I am not being ‘watched’ does not give me a desire to commit ‘evil’.
I love the world and I see beauty in it. Is the world any less beautiful to me because I do not believe it was ‘created’? I can’t see through your eyes, but I sincerely doubt it.

‘Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?’ – Douglas Adams

(There are lots of great quotes in the book. I wish I’d thought to make note of them as I was reading)

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Posted on April 30, 2011, in Books, Life in General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I have to get this and read it. I am so glad to read your views on it.

    I agree about the attitudes to atheism – Australia is similar to your experience. The “why” is a big one, isn’t it? Like you, I do not understand it, but I respect it.

    • Sometimes we don’t realise how lucky we are in some respects. I had no idea that atheists were so feared by certain groups. That part really was an eye-opener for me.

  2. midaevalmaiden

    yeah, Ide like to get it as well. Im sure it will give me a lot to think over.

    • I’d definitely recommend it. I know that I’ll be reading it again sometime. It’s a lot to take in and I read it quite fast because I was eager to get to the next point and then the next point all the way through. It’s given me lots to think about, you’re right there. I couldn’t sleep last night, I lay in bed for ages, still thinking about the mind-boggling quantum theory bits from the end of the book.

  3. I’m glad that you liked it, some really nice thoughts you’ve got here. I would definitely suggest Letter to a Christian Nation (Sam Harris), The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins) or The Moral Landscape (Sam Harris), among many others, since you enjoyed The God Delusion.

    • Thank you for the suggestions. I’ve heard good things about Letter to a Christian Nation. I’ll put that on the top of my list. I’ve got River Out Of Eden to read next then I’m going to try some different authors.

      • Oh, cool! I haven’t read that just yet, if I manage to find it at a local book store I’ll try to grab it. Letter to a Christian is pretty direct and precise, only being about 150 pages. Quick read, about 2 1/2 – 3hrs to read with a decent pace. Let me know what you think of River Out of Eden once your done, I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

  4. I am an atheist too and quite happy with it. There is a really simple logic to it. I don’t need a God that I can’t talk to and I have friends that help me through difficult times and that actually give me some good advice. And for morals: I want to lead a comfortable life that I myself feel happy with and to achieve that I need to make friends to help me along the way. Now that might sound cruel and calculating but come on, you all know that having friends also just feels good.

    • No it doesn’t sound cruel, it sounds human. Friends are important for support and companionship, both ways, them for you and you for them.

  5. You might like this too:

    http://capnjammer.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/freethought-cartoon-from-1890/

    Plus read some of his other posts. Very interesting.

  6. I have read The God Delusion as well and I appreciated reading your review of it and your own thoughts on this issue as well. The Douglas Adams quote is so appropriate. Thanks for posting it too.

    • It’s such a wonderful quote – straight to the point but poetic at the same time. It was seeing that quote at the beginning of the book that made me want to read it. It also makes me want to try reading Douglas Adams again. I didn’t really enjoy his books when I was younger but maybe I would apprechiate them more now.

  1. Pingback: Being an Atheist in a Muslim home during Ramadan | Love versus Goliath : A Partner Visa Journey

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