When I was nineteen years old, I freed myself of my faith after a long intellectual journey that began with me attempting to prove that the Christian god exists. That journey caused me to read the Bible twenty-seven times, as well as sacred texts from other religious traditions. I did not know any out-of-the-closet atheists personally, so I had to figure out for myself what was moral and what wasn't--but I found out that it was pretty easy, because I possessed a tool that almost everyone on the planet also possesses: empathy.
The ability to put oneself into others' situations makes it easy to understand what will do harm and what will do good, and we may act accordingly. In most cases, we will not even have to think about the other person's situation, because we instinctively act in a way that does not harm other people, if left to our own devices. It's power, it's politics, it's ideology that causes us to do harm to others.
Your Bible is full of things I would consider immoral.
- The genocide in the land of Canaan
- The advocacy of slavery in the laws of Leviticus and the stories in Genesis (rules about circumcising slaves exist in Genesis, as well as stories about Abraham using slave soldiers)
- The offer of Lot's daughters to the people of Sodom to rape
- The fact that every law involving the treatment of men and women in Leviticus and Deuteronomy has women worth half of what men are
- The practice of forcing women to marry their rapists, written to look like it's a punishment to the rapists to force them to marry their victims
- Corporal punishment for children
- The practice of enslaving virgin girls from conquered cities
- The idea that one must shun one's family if they don't believe
- Death sentences for addiction, homosexuality, non-belief, adultery, and the completely fabricated accusation of witchcraft
- The flooding of the entire planet (which, of course, didn't happen, but it's in your myth)
The list goes on.
My morality does not come from the book you hold sacred. My morality comes from empathy, life experiences, and the examples of others in real-life situations. I do not have to be commanded to be moral. Do you know why? It's because we evolved to be moral beings.
It's hard to imagine in a world where we are at war so much, where there's so much murder, rape, theft, greed, and everything else we consider a harm, but we did evolve to band together in tribal units and defend the tribe. In hunter-gatherer cultures, the tribe cooperates to find food and water, to build shelter, and to raise children.
In a secular, industrialized society--like the United States is set up to be--we have set up laws and a justice system to enforce them. Those laws come from the collective morality of the people, which I would rather see come from empathy than from religious edict. Rule of law provides consequences for actions like the one you described in your horrific rape and murder story involving an atheist family.
As the father and husband in an atheist family, I found your story to be a disgusting misrepresentation of how atheists view morality and how we live our lives. We love our spouses and our children every bit as much as you love yours, and we would do everything we could to protect them from harm, because we can empathize with their feelings and pain when bad things happen to them. Evolution has hard-wired us to do it.
Greg Reich, an atheist with a family
This letter is in response to this article on Raw Story: