As I have previously said, this blog helps me sort out my thoughts. I think of an issue that bothers me, write about it and solicit help from the commenter in answering any question that plague me. If I come up with answers myself I like them to be warranted, not simply made up. An issue that came up recently was a quote from Richard Wurmbrand I found while reading.
“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil that is in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture infl[i]cted on prisoners.” – Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, 34
At face value, the central claim that atheism affords one no reason to avoid evil is obviously false. Atheism can afford good reasons to avoid evil – fear of punishment by the government, lack of interest or just plain distaste. What is true is that in the situation Wurmbrand describes, when the evil is sponsored by the government, one is hard pressed to find any coercive reasons to avoid evil. Things like disinterest and distaste are good for those who have them, but for those who do wish to be evil, the absence of coercive reasons to avoid it translates to what was seen in the quote.
This spurred something of a conversation in the comment section when I posted it. I wanted to know what reason one has to act morally in such a situation. I really wanted to know – it is one of the major problems I have with atheism.
The conversation really upset me because most of the time, Rautakyy didn’t really seem to understand me. To be fair, I’m not the greatest writer, but I would expect that it’s pretty easy to see where I’m coming from. I got the impression that he believed I was arguing that atheism promotes evil, and that we cannot act morally unless we are being threatened with punishment. I, on the other hand, believed I was asking a question. We can act morally on atheism even if we are not being threatened with punishment, but why should we? Whether he understood me or not, Rautakyy offered some answers to my question.
1. We want to live in a good society and following moral laws will improve the society and make it conducive for all of our lives.
2. Doing evil hurts us and our conscience and diminishes our self-image.
3. We should have compassion on the victims of evil.
I dismissed the third answer quickly. If doing the right thing means having compassion, it makes little sense to say we should have compassion because we should have compassion.The other two answers amount to ‘because it’s good for you’. I thought about his other answers and offered a scenario.
“Take Carlos, for instance. He runs an international sex trafficking ring. He makes tons of money from it. He’s also spent most of his life committing every imaginable crime – rising from petty theft in his teens to burglary, armed robber, rape and working as a hired assassin for some time before becoming his own boss. Whatever you think of this, he’s definitely not dying of guilt. His actions have given him what he wants – money and a comfortable life. However, one morning he experiences the odd thought that he ought to turn himself in and pay for his crimes. This is the right thing to do. However, his punishment is definitely not going to be light. I’m almost completely certain that Carlos would pick a diminished self-image over the gas chamber. It would definitely hurt him less and he’ll get to enjoy the fruit of his labors even longer.”
Carlos, in this example, is going to be hurt more by doing the right thing than by doing the wrong thing. Rautakyy replied that Carlos is not obligated to do anything except by the “commonly accepted rules of his respective culture”. His reply amounted to an admission that Carlos is neither obligated to do the right thing (except in some relativistic way), nor does he have reason to, but the rest of us have reason to force him to do it. All good for Carlos, because we can’t force him to turn himself in when we don’t even know what he’s guilty of. Rautakyy did explain ethics (or what he thinks ethics is) to me one more time, talk about how things can be right or wrong without God, argue that atheism does not lead to violence and advise me to get back to evaluating Christianity (even taking shots at the Bible on the way), but none of those things were the topic at hand and so, were of little use to me.
Rautakyy’s response saddened me. In particular, to say that no one is under any moral obligations besides those of their culture sounds wrong and sad. All that writing and still no answer. In situations like this, I start to think that I’m not getting any answers because there is no answer. Atheism really doesn’t deal with this. But before I close the book, I’m throwing the question out there. If atheism is true, why should Carlos turn himself in? I would appreciate a straightforward answer. Else, I will assume there is none and move on.