The moral atheist

(I felt like starting this on a new thread.)

The moral, ethical atheist is perhaps the best person to be. Instead of being good because he's told to, or because he fears the personal consequences of being bad (i.e. going to hell), he is good because it is the right thing to be.

I worry about christian morality because so many seem (from my point of view) to believe that God decided what was right and what was wrong--not that those things were inherently right or wrong. And so, so many are "good" for the entirely wrong reasons.

My mormon belief is a bit of a hybrid. The things that are right or wrong are inherintly so, and not even God can change that. In fact, He became God by adhering to those natural laws (as well as the other inherent laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc).

Now I think maybe I've not explained myself well.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes the moral christian believs that the morality to which he subscribes is a divinely created set of rules with no inherent worth...something is right or wrong because God says so. An atheist, on the other hand, believs in the inherent nature of his morality and adheres to it without a motive of personal consequence.

I think, if my simplistic explanation is true, that the atheist is a better person.

I think its true. I think that the things God says are true cos they say so. Its like the potter and the clay...that imagery is used within the bible to describe the motives of God, what he wishes is what is. If he says down is up, thats the way things are, and its right cos as creator he reserves the right to create his own set of rules and standards, and everything below him that he has created would also have to submit and adhere to those standards. To me, it makes sense. I understand what you mean, and you might even be right. But thats what I think.

The Tao and God are inseparable. In other words God is good and God is love. Good is not something he makes up, it is inherent to his nature. That is why fallen man can't have communion with him unless they are covered with righteousness through the blood of Christ.

 Also Christians proper don't believe in a flesh and bones God like you do.  God is a spirit and not contained within the material universe or subject to the laws of physics. He existed before the world was made and is unchanging.  He is also not one among many gods.  That is why the Bible and Book of Mormon do not work together (among other things Jesus clearly said there is no marriage in the next world).

 As far as the ethical atheist thing goes by and large I think atheists are a product of their culture when it comes to morality.  If homosexuality, adultery and divorce are widely accepted then they don't really have any issues with them.  Its certainly much easier to flow with the times you are in when you think morality is man-made and subjective.  I suppose an atheist could live by a moral code as if it was objective and transcendent, but it would be inconsistent with his world view if that was the case.  

The issue in Christianity is not mere morality anyway. It is written that all have fallen short of the glory of God and unless something radical is changed in a human he will never have real communion with God. Christianity starts not when a person acknowledges the law, but rather a failure to live up to the law. An atheist may be a very moral man by human standards and in fact more moral than a Christian, but that doesn't mean he has met the standard or will have a new spiritual life in the next world if he doesn't repent.

Finally, the atheist viewpoint takes all merit out of goodness or badness with the exception of an immediate utilitarian purpose. Since all humans will be extinct sooner than later in the scope of the universe then all human memories will go with that extinction and the deeds of men will have no significance whether good or evil. Beyond that, though, since an atheist must concede that morality is subjective, he really has no authority to judge one man's actions as better than another's except from the utilitarian viewpoint that one action seems to cause happiness and pleasure and the other doesn't. Unfortunately, drug addiction, violent war and genocide were Hitler's particular pleasures and each brought him a great deal of happiness. If you are going to say that Hitler was a bad man, you need an objective standard to judge him by.

joshB, this is what you wrote: "If he says down is up, thats the way things are, and its right cos as creator he reserves the right to create his own set of rules and standards, and everything below him that he has created would also have to submit and adhere to those standards"

Do you really beleive that? So if God decided that gang-raping 12 year olds was good but helping old ladies cross the street was really think it would stick?

Aaron....I think you missed my point entirely.


"Also Christians proper don't believe in a flesh and bones God like you do. God is a spirit and not contained within the material universe or subject to the laws of physics. He existed before the world was made and is unchanging. He is also not one among many gods. That is why the Bible and Book of Mormon do not work together (among other things Jesus clearly said there is no marriage in the next world)."

This, of course, is a different topic, and one I'm always willing to discuss.

It does just crack me up when I am contrasted to "christians proper." I guess that I'm just not good enough to be a REAL christian.

But...back on track. It is a significant differenct that Mormons believe God is a physical being and that we are literal offspring that can become like Him (and, by extension, that He attained Godhood through similar circumstances). To me that is the most beautiful doctrine of God, and it does have a lot to do with the discussion here.

So: do electrons spin around protons because God said so, or because that's their nature?

Is it wrong to gang-rape 12-year-olds because God said so, or because it's inherently wrong?

Many christians believe that God created nature, science, and morality as if it were a whim. The Mormon view (or, as you would say, heretical, not-proper-christian view) is that one becomes like God by learning and adhering to the laws of the universe, whether they be physical or moral.

I'm not asking you to convert, but I am interested in your view of that philosophy.

My use of the word "proper" was not meant to mean "the correct way" but rather the main body of people calling themselves Christian in terms of numbers and history. All I meant by it was that the Mormon view on the nature of God is unique compared to most people who consider themselves Christian. I should have picked a better word.

   In terms of the moral law I already said that God is one with the Tao.  I use the term Tao to refer to the transcendent and objective and preexistent goodness that is the foundation of the universe.  It may be that God makes special rules for us based on our finite limitations, but they are always in line with the Tao.  I do not agree with those Christians who think that God just calls one thing good on a whim and it is good.  That is why when I see something in God that appears horrible I have to trust that from my perspective and limited view and even fallen state it may appear horrible but because God is good then what he does is good period.  

     A non-believer or atheist might scoff at this viewpoint as blind faith in an imaginary cosmic sadist or despot but that is because A. they don't really believe in God or they would not set themselves up to judge him and B. they don't really think anything is wrong with themselves in terms of a fallen state so they trust that their view is right.  In that respect a lot of what God appears to do or actually does will always seem horrible to them.

      In terms of the natural laws of the universe (which are not the same as moral laws) I am not 100% sure, but I believe that God made the laws of the universe at the creation of the universe and so matter and energy obey those laws.  The definition of miracle would seem to be a temporary suspension or speeding up of those laws which could only be done if God was transcendent in terms of the material universe.  I believe God's creation is like a sculptor's work or a playwright's work.  You can see him in it but he is not his sculpture and he is not his play (pantheism).  I also don't believe that he wrote himself into the universe and is subject to its natural laws but of course that is where Mormons and other Christians disagree.  Put another way if the universe collapsed God would still be there and goodness would still be their unchanged and eternal.

The moral, ethical atheist is perhaps the best person to be. Instead of being good because he's told to, or because he fears the personal consequences of being bad (i.e. going to hell), he is good because it is the right thing to be.

That is a great point.

Personally,  I live by a moral code because I think it is the right thing to do, not because I fear God. 

All this gibberish about morals being subjective for atheists is nonsense.  Morals are subjective for everyone.  Religious or not.

 If you don't believe me just walk into a Presbyterian church on a Sunday and ask people what their view on the death penalty is. 

Tulkas-since you are being so open about your mormonism let me ask you a question. How do mormons explain the Book of Mormon. Supposedly Joseph Smith translated it one letter at a time by God allowing him to interpret the "reformed egyptian" writing using the seer stones and all that. With this being the case and given the fact that Joseph Smith is qouted as saying it is the "most correct book ever written". How do Mormons explain the over 4,000 documented changes and revisions the book has gone through since 1830? Given the letter by letter translationa and all.


You made me realize something I take for granted. I thought that people realized that if something was right or wrong objectively that has nothing to do with whether or not people actually live up to a moral standard or even that any human has a perfect understanding of right and wrong.  I thought that was a given here but now I see people don't always differentiate between fact, belief and behavior.

 I believe it is a fact that God is good and that he is the source of all goodness in the universe.  I do not believe a human is capable of making a new virtue up or of coming up with a new code of morality.

  I do of course believe that different cultures and different individuals have varying degrees of understanding of what is right and wrong and that they have varying degrees of actually behaving in accordance with those standards.  I don't think any human has a perfect idea about right and wrong.  I do think that when one person is closer in understanding to that objective moral law and practices it then he can rightly judge another person who does not.  That is why we as a culture could judge the Nazi's as evil or a person who doesn't force women to have sex with him can judge a rapist as wrong.  

 Furthermore, what may appear to be subjectivism is actually a gradation or hierarchy of morality.  For example, it has been widely held that patriotism is superior to your love for your family (this is why we honor veterans) if the two come into conflict but universal charity is superior to patriotism.  This happens all the time in human experience.  Its better that two men get along but if they will not it would be better for them to have a boxing match and get it over with than to backbite and hate each other the rest of their lives.  

  Another point of confusion may be the Christian differentiation between acts and thoughts and the effect those acts and thoughts have on a man's soul or heart.  In the Christian view there are not only common immoral acts like murder or stealing which all people can agree with as being bad, but there are spiritual sins like pride.  In this respect it may be worse for a man to hate another man his whole life than for another man to murder man in a moment of passion.  You have to believe that souls are eternal, though, for this to have significance.

    So to go back to your example of the Presbyterian Church and the death penalty I agree that people, and even good people who are really seeking the truth, may disagree on points of morality like the death penalty, but I disagree that the right thing to do is subjective.  Either the death penalty is a just punishment for murder objectively or it is not.  Its not a hard question for God but it may be for us.  

      Now if you believe that right and wrong comes from God then it is different from believing that right and wrong are merely human constructs.  That is the point I am trying to make.  That is why a religious person will talk about sin but it is a pointless word for an atheist.  You can't sin against man's law but you can sin against God's.  I don't think it is gibberish, I think it is of monumental importance.

Anyone here ever read "The Anti-Christ" by Frederick Nietzsche? Interesting view on Christianity, its roots, its evolution and on morality. It is rather extreem, but those who can handle that kind of critisism I sugest you read. A good athiestic view of Christianity and the Jewish born religions. I didn't read the entire work, maybe 85%.
Tell me what you think.

Ridgeback, you are a very eloquent and open person. sorry I quipped at you earlier. I appreciate your viewpoint and your ability to discuss both of our points of view.

2mmafreaks: that's an excellent question and one that I wish more Mormons would ask. also, if you ever feel like ruining a mormon missionary's day, just get some old version of the Book of Mormon and show him that the text has changed over will blow his 19-year-old mind and maybe take him down a peg or two (not all of them need to come down a peg or two....but most of them do.) : )

Mormon historians differ greatly in how the nuts and bolts of the translation process worked. but the obvious fact is that Joseph Smith's personal vocabulary and grammar played an enormous part (which is what one should expect from any translator). As such, the book has a shockingly small vocabulary, has horrible grammar, and shows attempts to use King James English. J.S. was attempting to translate it in a manner that was consistent with what scripture sounds like...or in other words, what the KJV of the Bible reads like. Also, he was almost entirely uneducated and some of the only reading he had ever done was from the KJV. He therefore somewhat clumsily worded his translation within the confines of his own grasp of English while trying to keep the language in line with what he thought scripture should sound like (we all do this in different ways; when we speak in church or give a presentation before the board, we adjust our diction, vocab, etc to sound appropriate).

Well, after the translation was published, he went back through it several times during his life to reword his translation as a clarification. In 99.9 percent of the cases these were small, nonsignificant adjustments, but a few were significant. He first used the word "white" as an adjective for purity, but later changed it to "pure" (and unfortunately that correction was not found until 1981, by which time generations of mormons had gotten hung up on a literal interpretation of the adjective "white"). Etc.

Also, an original translation manuscript was uncovered a couple of decades ago scores of transcription errors from that manuscript to the printers block were found and corrected. The church translating office also ammended J.S.'s overuse of phrases like "and it came to pass" where they added no meaning.

Mormons believe strongly (or should) that nothing touched by human hands is infallible---not even scripture. Joseph meant that doctrinally the Book of Mormon was "the most correct book" because it had only passed through a few infallible hands instead of hundreds of transcribers and translators. I don't think he meant for his statement to become such a mantra (which is what the church has made it) and early Mormons really didn't even use the book as much as they used the Bible (now most mormons underuse the bible, unfortunately).

Anyway, it should be no surprise to a Mormon that Joseph Smith's vocabulary sucked, that there were transcription errors, or whatever. It certainly doesn't keep me up at night, and its exactly the same way that I treat the incongruencies I find in the Bible.

NOW......the non-mormon view will normally be that Joseph Smith (alone or with others) concocted the Book of Mormon and made changes to it for various plausible reasons. That's a good argument against the foundation of my church, it's just not one that I agree with.

Hope that helps and sorry I"m so long winded.

Also, BYU is sponsoring an extensive project where all the original transcripts along with all the versions are carefully examined (as well as early use of B.o.M quotes) to try to determine the most accurate version possible. So in a decade or so we'll probably revamp the book again. makes me laugh my ass off because so many mormons claim that the book was essentially dictated letter for letter without a single mistake (which is possibly what someone told you). It just shows me that ignorance is everywhere, even among my own ranks.

So if God decided that gang-raping 12 year olds was good but helping old ladies cross the street was really think it would stick?

Well Yes, I suppose Tulkas, that it would stick, but I dont think thats the character of our God or what he wanted to have us to to serve his purpose. However, whatever he wants to use to acompolish his purpose is his business. I suppose I wouldn't really know the difference, because chances are it would be morally acceptable behavior if that were the case. Since it not I think we can safely assume that its not alright....Gods law however is set by him. I dont' think that it would server his purpose to tell people to rape 12 year olds....I would think that would be against his purpose. But again, its his purpose that it is about.....look he is the one that makes things. Without God there is no good or bad, so as the creator of all Things, I would think that he would be default be the one that would define what is "good" and what is "bad" and why/how those things work out, being that its his system.

I work for a software company. If I make a piece of software , it acts in a manner that it has been programmed to act in(even when it crashes and becomes a huge pain for people). Anyway, the developers are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the way that the product works. They defined the parameters that the program uses, what it should and should not do, and how it should be used. God similarly as the programmer of the universe has done the same thing with us, only on a much bigger scale.

Joshua, first let me say that I respect you immensely, and so I'm only debating you for the intellectual stimulation, not to argue vindictively or try to prove that I'm right and you're going to hell. I hope you already knew that.


"Without God there is no good or bad"

This is the exact philosophy that I disagree with and that I can't accept intelectually. Even though you are supporting it, I still sense some hesitation in an extreme example like raping a 12 year old. When you say "dont think thats the character of our God" you're suggesting that he's accountable to some kind of standard that's above Him...that he has a good character based on some innate quality rather than according to a measurement that he divised.

I think that your example of creating software is a good argument, but I still don't accept your conclusion.

If you trully believe that God decides good and evil (as oposed to those things being inherent) then it would have been possible for God to create a world where it is "good" to kill 6 million Jews in concentration camps.

At the end of the day, assigning the creation of good and bad (and yes, I realize those are simplified qualities....I'm leaving them that way here for the sake of argument) to God's whim reduces their meaning.

It means that to be good is just to do what god wants, instead of meaning that god wants you to do what is good.

It also means that the statement "God is good" is perfectly synonymous with "God does what he wants."

p.s. I'm gone for a few days. I'll respond when I get back.


Thanks man, I appreciate it....and I know its just for stimulations sake so no worries about stepping on my toes. You said I was suggesting that the Almighty is accountable to some kind of standard that's above Him....

I dont think thats right. I think that the standard comes from him. Its a quality of his. The Measurement that he devised comes from his nature. Thats where these very concepts of Good and Evil actually come from, IMHO.

Sure, if God wanted to he could. Look at the book of Joshua, he did it to other tribes that were there. But our creator didn't choose them to be his people. He chose them to teach us a lesson today. The book is basically filled with God mandating the destruction of other tribes completely. Again, Im not saying that Genocide is a good thing.....but I think that when God decrees something will happen divinely it certainly has a positive aspect for those who have faith in God.

Gods will is what keeps us all going. Without the active will of our creator we would not be able to be sustained for even a millisecond. His participation may be subtle at times, or maybe its just so all over we forget to notice it. Either way yeah Gods will is synonymous with God does what he wants. Because we as his stewards are to determine his will and act upon it.

We can throw all kinds of scenarios out there, and come up with some horrible sounding arguements, but God didnt mandate that we rape children....he mandated we protect them. I dunno....just some brief thoughts. Im going for the weekend too. I'll check the thread monday. Hope you have a good weekend.

I appreciate you taking the time to write that out for me. While I see the logic I dont see how the view matches with JS actual account of the transcribing. He is documented to say that he peered into the hat and that the correct letter appeared, then he would say it to the scribe. Then the scribe would call the letter back for verification. If they got it correct, the letter would dissapear. If it was incorrect, the letter would stay there until the correct letter was written-then dissapear. If this painstaking process of letter by letter is true-then even ONE single "correction" would be impossible. If this account of the translation is not true-then it gives little credibility to Smith himself which is a major problem also.

2mmafreak: as far as I have been able to find, J.S. himself never described the process. People who assisted him described it, but I am 99% sure that he never did. Although their descriptions were second hand, they also all differ on some details.

If the process were that spoon-fed, it would not be translation at all, it would be transcription.

My opinion is that he was able to understand the text by aid of the stones and then worded the translation according to his own language. I think that the second hand descriptions of the nuts and bults are just best guesses, and I don't accept them.

the only really feasible alternative to that theory is that the whole story is made up...that J.S. wrote the book and fabricated the story of its origin. Otherwise, it would mean that God has really bad grammar and a pretty limited vocabulary. It would also mean that J.S. felt at liberty to toy around with revelation that came word-for-word. It would also fly in the face of a lot of other pretty important LDS doctrine.

Anyway, it's a fascinating topic as a believing Mormon and I wish more Mormons would take an interest in it. People who publish pamphlets against us tend to harp on this matter a bit, and most of us don't even know how to have a dialogue about the issue because so few of us have taken any time to find out the history.

Well there certainly is alot of speculation that he "made it up" as you say. Some of the basis for that is the similarities in the BOM and the writings of Solomon Spaulding, a retired minster and fiction writer. In fact, Solomons wife and brother accused JS of plagerism. An early revision of a Solomon manuscript recovered in 1884 had more than 75 similarities to the BOM.
Furthermore-how can you explain the extensive quotations from the KJV Bible? The KJV translators inserted "italics" words into their translation that admittedly were not in the text, but were added to help understanding. There are more than 27,000 direct quotes from the KJV including the italics words in the BOM. How can this be since the KJV was made in 1611 and the BOM was suppossedly written 12 centuries prior?
As for the translation process. 2 of the 3 "witnesses" gave detailed accounts including Whitmer and Huntington. Feb 25, 1881 Huntington qoutes Smith as saying "every letter was given to him by the gift and power of God". It also significant that the three "witnesses" all later deserted and were called apostates-leaving JS as only witness to the tablets. BTW-where are the tablets? No one else has seen them. Compare that to the 20,000 manuscripts of the Bible that we have-though it was written years earlier. Also, compare these desertions to the 12 apostles who suffered death without recanting what they knew was true. Thanks

Ridgeback wrote:

--" I believe it is a fact that God is good and that he is the source of all goodness in the universe.

Do you mind my asking: How did you establish the "fact" that God is good and is the source of all goodness in the universe? (Or have you simply defined him so?).