Once again, listening to atheist podcasts, this time Ardent Atheist ( http://ardentatheist.com ). Ardent Atheist is a very freewheeling podcast, the kind ITunes labels as explicit, because it is–well–explicit. And Ardent Atheist is ardent. Most of the guests are stand up comics of one level or another; as the hosts tell us, we know them from “show biz,” except I don’t. You may well be on your way to religious skepticism of one degree or another if you aren’t offended by Ardent Atheist, or can laugh at the hosts’ and guests’ jokes without feeling guilty.
Not everyone on the podcast is atheist. They usually have one theist or believer in the supernatural on as fresh meat. Given how ardent Emery Emery and Heather Henderson (the hosts) are, they are pretty respectful of the guests as people. One gets the sense that they are all good friends who can discuss pretty much anything and come away with no hard feelings. At least the disrespect is ritualized, or directed toward what they see as bad ideas, rather than the people who hold them.
Anyhoo… I bring them up because of something said by the believer of the week in either this or last week’s podcast. Something that could offend me, if I were easily offended. It goes like this:
Atheists can hold Christians or Muslims (the two groups he specifically mentioned) to a higher standard, because they have a rule book, the Bible or Quran. Atheists have no such book, so therefore they make up their morality on the fly, and you can’t hold them to any standard. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I’m trying to be fair.
What’s wrong with this… So much that I hardly know where to begin. But let’s start with the Bible as a rulebook. Is it up to this task? Was it even meant to be? I find this concept of scriptural authority to be most widely held by people who believe in the Bible the most, and actually read the sucker the least. I would challenge anybody to tell me just what biblical morality or ethics are. Personally, I think most of the rules in the Bible are actually subethical, primarily concerned with ritual purity and worship rather than with the issues of minimizing harm and establishing fairness and justice that most modern people regard as ethical issues. And I’m not even bothering to drag out the passages about when it’s okay to rape a virgin, etc. So is his rulebook the “nice” Bible, or the “nasty” Bible? I don’t know! How can I trust him?
Then there is the whole concept of a rulebook. Do you really need a rulebook to process everyday–or even unusual–decisions and situations, and to do the right thing? Or to know what the right things are? Do we need a rulebook to tell us baby rape is not optimal? Even in religion soaked American society, most ethical decisions or judgments–by Christians or whomever– are indeed made on the fly, and they’re usually the right ones. Madoff is a thief with or without the ten commandments, for example. And as I stated in an earlier post, every immoral action you can conceive of can be justified by the holy book or creed of your choice.
All that being said, not all the responses of the atheists on the show were adequate. One of them brought up a statistic showing that most convicted felons were believers. Ummm…. You don’t think there might be a small socioeconomic bias there, do you? This might not be the sort of thing that makes people think atheism is strictly a white, male, university educated thing, would it?