Home Discussion Forum Religious and Atheist, are we that different?

Religious and Atheist, are we that different?

Yesterday I made a list of my most important religious beliefs. And then, after reading it I found out that I’m not that different from most of the atheists I know. I have a lot of atheist friends, more than religious friends actually. And they are not morally corrupt, they are just as ethical, civilized and good citizens as anyone else.
I know I’m not an example of a church going religious guy. I was raised a catholic, but now I feel very distant from Vatican’ politics. And I feel as close to Buddha as to Christ. But, still, I see myself as a religious person.
I have seen in YA some people saying that “for atheists, there is only social consequences”, because they don’t believe in hell, and do not expect to be rewarded with Heaven if they are good, they don’t feel obligated to do good. I have to say that this strange way of thinking was a surprise for me. As I grew up, as catholic, no one tried to scare me with hell, no one told me, “the reason to do good is that God will make you go to Heaven”. No, the main reasons to to good are: I will be happy if I am good and being good is the right thing to do.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant, in the 18th century, made the clear distinction between obeying the law because we love the law and believe it is a good law and obeying the law because we are afraid of being punished. And only the first (obeying out of love for the law) is the moral attitude. The second has no moral value.
And that is what happens with these people that say “be good or you will go to hell”, “convert or you will go to hell”. Someone that does something out of fear of going to hell is not making a moral decision. To have morality is to act according to the things we know are good, and to do them regardless of punishment or reward – sometimes the moral, decent and right thing to do will bring you punishment instead of reward.
As for the belief in supernatural. I do believe it. But that belief is not the core of my religious self. The essential is the ethics and the pursue of happiness in a altruistic fashion. And I think that we call supernatural supernatural because we still don’t understand. In the stone age, electricity (perceived in the lightning bolts) was believed to be supernatural. And nowadays telekinesis is no longer looked at as something supernatural, even if we still know so little about it.
And the politics. I am more close to moderated atheists (the ones that do not preach the destruction of all religions and do not see religious institutions as fascist evil empires) than to evangelical Bush-supporting gay-hating “thou whilst accept Jesus Christ as your own personal savior or thou whilst burn in hell”.
So, tell me, are we so different? Here is the list of my religious beliefs:
– suffering is real and you can deal with it
– to be happy and to be good are two sides of the same coin
– other people’s happiness is as important as my own
– love connects me with all other beings, liberates me from my ego and enlightens me
– to love = to be good = to be happy
– awareness is as important as kindness
– the existence / nonexistence of the supernatural is not an essential question, my I am essentially curious
– reason is not an enemy of emotions, it complements emotions, it tunes in emotions
– mental and physical health are the foundations of spiritual health
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant
As for the distinction between doing something because you believe it is good and doing something (regardless of it being good or bad) because you believe it’s what your god wants you to do, see Euthyphro dilemma:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

Ok I accept when some say “those are not religious beliefs”. I think you mean that believing that God has this or that characteristics, that Jesus is or is not God, that the Saints perform or do not perform miracles, that would be religious beliefs. Well, those are not important issues to me – they are not the most important.
The list I made I consider it to my my religious beliefs because of one thing. Although I don’t think that the list is perfect and unchangeable, I believe that those are essential truths, not just a phylosophical point of view, or an opinion conditioned by circunstamces or culture. I believe that the essence of what we are here for, the essence of Good and Happiness, of Human, is in that list. In that way, that list is my creed 😀
JennyWren, as I said:
” As I grew up, as catholic, no one tried to scare me with hell, no one told me, “the reason to do good is that God will make you go to Heaven”. No, the main reasons to to good are: I will be happy if I am good and being good is the right thing to do.”
So I don’t think (and did not experience in my life) that the Catholic Church uses the fear of divine punishment strategy.
Sage, I am a (Buddhism inluenced) Christian. When you use the word christians, do you mean hard-line Evangelicals?
There are 2.1 billion christians in the world. And only a small minority are hard-line evangelicals.
—spelling:
I meant “Buddhism influenced”.

28 COMMENTS

  1. You do not have to be religious to practice good morals and be a good person. You do not have to be anything.
    You’re just … LE GASP … A good person.
    End of the world.

  2. I agree with your list as well…
    The only thing I might take issue with:
    “to be happy and to be good are two sides of the same coin”
    That seems more to be an idea perpetuated by American consumerism. There are some very good people who are not happy at all because they live in poverty… Being happy is not a moral quality.

  3. well atheists are like nope theres no god, i refuse that its even possible to have a god
    but me im like how can you be so sure? im like mabye there is mabye not how can anyone be sure on this planet, even the pope shouldnt be sure god exhists

  4. no, we as people are in fact barely different.
    which is why it’s so AGGRAVATING when creationists abandon their daily logic to beleive a wizard created everything with magical powers

  5. “And that is what happens with these people that say “be good or you will go to hell”, “convert or you will go to hell”. Someone that does something out of fear of going to hell is not making a moral decision. To have morality is to act according to the things we know are good, and to do them regardless of punishment or reward – sometimes the moral, decent and right thing to do will bring you punishment instead of reward.”
    This is very poignant. I find it startling when theists use threats to elicit moral behaviour in people. I fhtey would stop and think for just a second or two, maybe they would realize the folly of their actions.

  6. “- suffering is real and you can deal with it
    – to be happy and to be good are two sides of the same coin
    – other people’s happiness is as important as my own
    – love connects me with all other beings, liberates me from my ego and enlightens me
    – to love = to be good = to be happy
    – awareness is as important as kindness
    – the existence / nonexistence of the supernatural is not an essential question, my I am essentially curious
    – reason is not an enemy of emotions, it complements emotions, it tunes in emotions
    – mental and physical health are the foundations of spiritual health”
    These are not religious beliefs
    They are well placed, rational and admirable human truths
    Nothing to do with god

  7. Yes, of course they are two very different things. It is very important to have a source of comfort and feeling of completeness. Its almost like a child being protected from its guardians. The child can rebel and not like the parents protection because he/she doesnt understand, or can find happiness and goodness from it. It seems you take the time to study the difference, maybee if you took the time to study a religion you would seem to understand so many things you cant understand now. There is a creator behind the creations, nothing happens on its own, and if you like to trace it as back as your mind can go and give scientific theorys, you’ll see everything is linked to something occuring before. Beleive in one and pray for what your heart loves. You will surely find peace and hapiness.

  8. I agree with you.
    There are extremists on both sides, I am tolerant of religious people (I can’t honestly say I accept the ideas of creationists though).
    The best point I think you have made is that the people with true morals have their morals, not through fear, but because they understand what will make them happy.

  9. i pretty much agreed with everything you just said and you put it into better words than i probably could have.
    i think the only real difference when it comes down to the beliefs themselves, that one believes in god the other doesn’t the rest are beliefs on an individual basis.
    i don’t really know if im making much sense in responding to your question seeing as to how i am very tired… but i hope so lol. its good to see thoughtful people such as yourself in this section, i would be here more often if it weren’t such a war zone and there were more thought provoking questions.

  10. You’re going to find that you are like others, but the only thing that prevents them from agreeing is “pride”.
    For some devout believers it is impossible for them to think of themselves on the same level as an atheist, and their scripture actually tells them not to think this way, regardless of the fact that we all are human.
    But then you have the same thing happening with some atheists, who refuse to put themselves on the same level as theists.
    I would agree to your list up to one point: they are not just religious but universal… believers will say one thing to differentuate themselves from atheists if they agree to your list “I believe, I am saved”.
    Of course this is only my opinion.
    Take care 🙂

  11. i think you would agree with me on this, it would be more a definition than an opinion if you ask me but its not like i know every thing
    but we are all the same we think in different ways based on every little thing that made an affect on our life’s or things that didnt and how we interpreted them so in an outside the box sort of view religion is only a word for an assortment of beliefs dealing with some unknown power
    its like asking if surfers and swimmers are different (mentally, dont get lost in misinterpretation) they just veiw the water from different angles wich best benefits there interests
    as to your list
    1. true, it may easily be overcome by the mind
    2.my favorite original philosophy, not one statement on a persons mentality can be identified for a whole, as in, not every one thinks happiness comes from goodness, ex, greed
    3.it was nice to hear that, but what if something happens to your love?
    4.false they do not correspond, they can be separate
    5.i think awareness is an aspect of kindness, for most ppl whom iv noticed are not verry aware tend to be quite rude and have verry lw morals
    6. nothing is an essential question honestly other than our purpose wich is to live, do wut ur doing, ur doin it rite now, as long as u dont kill urself, ur on the right track, well only if u belive in what ur doing, besides killing urself, or another, for you are hurting the greater goodness, tho i do believe in the supernatural and practice it quite often. fun stuff ^^
    7. actually my emotions are hating my reasons rite at this verry moment for ther is a girl that i absolutely love and she loves me too but there’s a reason that pl dont believe in our love and it hold me back
    8.mental and physical are almost the same thing mental is basically spiritual and physical because it is you brain doing things but your spirit is who u are and your consciousness and physical is any thing u can touch obviously, tho i must agree, but i am hesitant due to the un knowledge of the word foundation

  12. the differences are only in the minds of others that beilieve there should be a fine line between whats right and wrong. there wouldnt be so much prejudice if the world could learn to accept everyones opinions and respect them. it doesnt mean they have to believe them but at least respect your peers.

  13. I really agree with most of what you say. Just a note though, Catholicism preaches that you must do the right thing according to your conscience, AS WELL AS the consequences. So I think the church must be given that credit first. But other than that, I have often wondered the same things. Watch the movie “Heaven and Earth” it is absolutely beautiful. This movie has premium cinematography and mentions the concept of karma (more specifically how bad things happen to good people, and what we can do if this happens to us…learn or resent?)
    I really wonder the same things as you sometimes, and I too am a Catholic raised, yet open minded person. xx

  14. In metaphysical terms, like most western contemporary philosophers, my beliefs pertaining to religion are a bit of a splodge, clear to me but taking a lot of words to express clearly. I’ll go through your beliefs one by one:
    – suffering is real and you can deal with it.
    Yes, my answer being basically through Stoicism, with some reservations about suffering being an essential part of human being and the emotional response being an important part of a balanced life.
    – to be happy and to be good are two sides of the same coin.
    Yes, Stoicism again. Virtue is perfected prudence and the highest forms of happiness are not based on materialism. Maslow and all that, you know?
    – other people’s happiness is as important as my own.
    Concerning the higher states of happiness, yes. Altruism is to the other as prudence is to the future.
    – love connects me with all other beings, liberates me from my ego and enlightens me.
    See above.
    – to love = to be good = to be happy.
    To an extent, but love can be selfish unless it’s for all of creation. This may amount in practical terms to love merely for the whole human race because of the homoeostatic nature of the biosphere – that’s a religious belief on my part.
    – awareness is as important as kindness.
    Yes, because awareness helps empathy to develop, and because bad stuff can be going on about which i know nothing. It’s my duty as a citizen of the cosmos to stay reliably informed.
    – the existence / nonexistence of the supernatural is not an essential question, my I am essentially curious
    Actually, i don’t agree. I think science is influenced by social and political forces. I’m an ex-academic and i’ve experienced academic groupthink and career pressures at first hand. It isn’t insulated from human behaviour. Consequently, certain phenomena are rejected out of hand when they clearly exist without being examined rigorously, and some of these could be vital to making the world a better place. For instance, i strongly suspect that the power of prayer is an emergent supernatural property of religious communities rather than theistic in nature, and this could be harnessed to the benefit of society. Without a rigorous approach to this, however, it gets sidetracked into vague and waffly New Age thought, which is disorganised and discredited.
    – reason is not an enemy of emotions, it complements emotions, it tunes in emotions.
    The emotions determine the nature of reasoning. There are suspiciously close parallels between Kantian categories and Freudian ego defences, for example. There is no rationality, only rationalisation, if you want a slogan. People subconsciously choose to believe what justifies their social situations and this is inescapable. The closest you can get to objectivity is to acknowledge your own emotional bias.
    – mental and physical health are the foundations of spiritual health
    Not quite. Suffering can lead to wisdom and ill-health can be socially defined, for instance with mental “illness”. If someone has a digestive problem due to lactose intolerance, their body is rejecting inappropriate and harmful components in their diet, so they aren’t so much ill as not listening to their bodies. Then again, there is a symbolism in some illness. I have IBS because i push my emotions into my guts and reject them as diarrhoea. If i acknowledge my emotional discomfort, the symptoms disappear, so my “illness” is a learning experience for me. However, it’s important not to take this too far because there’s a danger of blaming people for their poor health.

  15. Just one huge difference!!
    Atheists and all the other religions get on together, do not force their beliefs on others and respect in most cases human rights.
    Sadly christians try to force their religion on others and abuse their human rights to freedom of religion and from religion!!
    So the big difference is really that christians seem to have taken up terrible human emotions and abandoned the loving god to persecute others!!!

  16. Peace and blessings be upon you.
    “To have morality is to act according to the things we know are good, and to do them regardless of punishment or reward – sometimes the moral, decent and right thing to do will bring you punishment instead of reward”…….this is the most part i liked in your discussion.
    By the nature or the instinct we know what is the right and what is the wrong ,and all beliefs say this word, Do the right and don’t do the wrong..
    But the man who do the right and this bring punishment to him in his life ,and if he have no idea about presence of God or (justice as we define the God),will feel that something wrong about him .
    and who do the wrong and find the reward for that ,will never stop..and for this cause the God say :”Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warning”..
    And if there is no punishment and reward the Justice will not be acheived.
    Who own the hell and the heaven is the God: So believing in him is the most important step, i see that not logic to deny the God and ask for the heaven.
    Supernature ,or supernatural Power.. None of us know what is the Self divine ,how it is …but we can say ,he is not a human being or an idol ..
    The Important that we believe the Power who Control this world by its Creatures:plants ,galaxies and everything in it.
    The last Prophet Mohammed didn’t make a separate religion but came to say that all religions are one Religion ,all prophets and messengers wanted us to worship the God :
    Surah 2:[62] Those who believe (in the Qur-an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
    Atheists to believe or not ;it is their matter .
    The God when created this world ,have determined who in the heaven and who in the Hell ,and even said to the prophet mohammed that “even you can’t force people to belive”.
    Surah 10:99 :If it had been thy Lord’s Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!
    Surah 2:256 :Let there be no compulsion in religion.
    It is not a fight between of us ,believers and unbelievers ,We can be together one hand in the life:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSq8LoIy7QY
    The God said :
    42:20 : To any that desires the tilth of the Hereafter, We give increase in his tilth; and to any that desires the tilth of this world, We grant somewhat thereof, but he has no share or lot in the Hereafter.
    i think this is just enough.

  17. Would we need laws if people always did good?
    Unfortunately many people are always looking for the loophole which leads to more and more laws. For awhile part of initiation into gangs was murder because for minors, if they were even caught, the consequence was just juvenile hall till 18 or the very worse, 21.
    And I think that spanking a child just teaches the child to not get caught, to hide what they really do from the parents. They become really good at sneaking.
    Personally I love the simplicity of the Golden Rule which has been discovered in nearly all cultures regardless of religion (or lack of one):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethic_of_reciprocity
    Your particular beliefs as detailed are admirable (and lovely) but are they religious based or are they attributed to your religion because that’s so much a part of you?
    http://www.primatesworld.com/Shadows.html
    Does creed have to be religion based or does religion co-opt more than just holidays? 😉
    Theists often have a hard time divorcing themselves from their own beliefs — which are socially enforced — to understand those beliefs don’t apply to those who don’t believe them. Threats of he** if one doesn’t believe are a perfect example. I’ve also heard atheists asked why they love the devil.
    Even “belief” is an abstract built around theism so to ascribe non-belief to atheists is to assign a theistic view.
    One thing I’ve notice is many atheists feel Christians will commit all sorts of atrocities on the belief they need only ask for forgiveness to be absolved.
    Religion is very shame-based in the US, even the Catholic Church for instance refusing Kerry and later Obama voters communion:
    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/182820_bishop20.html
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-11-13-priest-obama_N.htm
    Jehovah Witnesses in particular struck me as having a very vengeful God.
    But then there’s Santa morals… naughty or nice, one will selfishly receive if s/he *is* good (interestingly not *does* good).
    Doing the correct thing can often be harder than doing wrong, in fact usually is… since it’s harder to work for a wage than it is to just steal for instance.
    What if good was enough? Would we need charity, would we have corporations, would we still have wars & suffering?
    Punishment certainly works to suppress good such as during the holocaust, the Sudan, slavery, and so much of this last US presidential regime as some of the big ones that flourished because of countless everyday good that did not happen because of the social consequences.
    But yeah, doing good is being happy because it brings a deeper sense of peace and often requires releasing selfish desires which is very freeing. A lot of people feel very spiritual about it.
    Personally I flirted with the idea of atheist not realizing there didn’t have to be an either/or (the limits of language on our understanding). It took me a while to find that which is spiritual to me or even what that could mean. But I also can’t wrap myself around the idea that we just stop being, no longer exist when our bodies fail. There seems to be an energy which I believe is the life force, spirit, soul though I do wish I understood why we hold on to the physical so hard.
    There’s a lot more to say about that subject in particular… 🙂
    Regarding the subject of your question, people have a lot more in common than not… and maybe that’s why we notice the differences more. What I’ve noticed is whether we get along or not may hinge on what we can see in common rather than that which is not, that which makes us different. Yet differences are what makes us interesting and fun and exciting. But it is being different that causes a lot of insecurity too which gathers other negative emotions…
    But, the vast majority of us are… average (on the whole). That’s why there is average, bell curves, means, middle ground, centers. With average though comes extremes, standard deviations, the “unusual” and because they can be so flamboyant, stick out so much those are the ones that get noticed. Those who shout from rooftops, tilt at windmills, may get noticed but also ironically dismissed and ignored. Those who spout on the internet may not be representative at all since the majority are probably busy just living their lives.
    Given all that one might ask you why you are Christian. What is it that makes you believe? 🙂
    .

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