A reason that people often give when asked why they don’t trust atheists is that we don’t believe in the threat of Divine Punishment. The argument goes: “If atheists don’t believe that there is an invisible but all-seeing, all-powerful entity who knows our every thought, word and deed and holds every human being accountable for their actions, what’s to stop them from doing all manner of terrible things? You can’t trust them because they don’t believe that God will judge them for their actions after they die.”
Please give me a moment to explain, as best as I can, why this is nonsense.
This weekend, in Stone Mountain, Georgia, the graduation ceremony for TNT Academy was ruined when the Principal and Founder of the school, Nancy Gordeuk, mistakenly dismissed the event – which took place in a church – before the final speech. By the time she began calling people to return to their seats, many of those in attendance were already in the parking lot and walking to their cars. She began scolding everyone in attendance for not remaining seated and quiet for the final speech, saying, “I think y’all owe this young man an apology … y’all are the rudest people I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” She then demanded that the exit doors be closed and locked.
Then it starts.
“You people are being so rude to not listen to this speech! It was my fault that we missed it in the program.”
Then she drops the bomb.
“Look who’s leaving, all the black people!”
The clip pretty much speaks for itself.
So, the Founder and Principal of the school – in a church, mind you – has just exposed her own racism, out loud, to a sanctuary filled with many black students, their families and their friends – and disgraced every single young person in attendance who worked hard to earn their diploma and their right to cherish this rite-of-passage moment in their lives.
I think that you and I can both agree that there is no excuse, no justification whatsoever, for what Nancy Gordeuk did that evening. The only responsible thing for her to do would be to accept complete responsibility for her actions, attempt an apology, and accept that fact that many people in attendance would not accept her apology.
Instead, she blamed Satan. “The Devil was in the house and came out of my mouth.”
A grown-ass adult – the Principal of an educational institution – blamed Lucifer for the racist words that came out of her mouth that night.
“The Devil was in the house.” Who’s house? Oh, that’s right – God’s house.
This is where “Biblical Morality” falls flat on its face. It allows believers who do wrong to point the finger at an Imaginary Enemy, which leaves them with nothing on their conscience except for “being weak” and “giving Satan a foothold” in their lives at that moment. After that, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to praying for forgiveness, saying “Amen,” and then declaring to the world that nobody else can judge them since God has forgiven them.
It’s the Ultimate Weasel, and it gets used – and excused – all of the time. Believers never question such behavior, and those who do are accused of being divisive sheep in the fold. It’s why every single disgraced televangelist who has skulked out of the limelight has returned to “the ministry” at some point. Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Larson, Mike Warnke, and even old Ted Haggard have all returned like dogs to their own vomit, to quote a particularly colorful Bible verse.
This is what frustrates me, and I’m positive it frustrates most atheists. We cast aside the easy forgiveness and scapegoating that religion provides, and we stand on our own reputation, and yet we’re the ones that nobody trusts. We’re placed at the bottom of The List, beneath everyone – except Scientologists.
What’s the point of having an Objective Moral Basis for Morality if all you have to do when you run afoul of it is blame it on a demon, fold your hands, say a few words, and you’re absolved, as far as your fellow believers – aka “The Majority” – are concerned? Where’s the genuine accountability? Where’s the motivation to evaluate and modify your behavior? What’s the point in genuinely striving to be a good person, if you’re a Christian?
I often say that the proof of my morality as an atheist is that, with my background and experience as a former Christian and devoted Bible Student, that I know I could start a church and gain followers and bilk them out of ten percent of their income if I really wanted to. If I really wanted to, I could convince a whole lot of gullible people to trust me with their lives and their money. With a little bit of effort, I could potentially be every bit as successful, profitable, and tax-exempt as any mid-to-large-sized megachurch in the South. Trust me, I could do it – as I suspect a good number of televangelists do.
But I wouldn’t and I won’t. Because as much as I disagree with the faith, I can’t bring myself to take advantage of gullible people. I don’t need a threat of eternal punishment to bring me to that conclusion. I know that it’s wrong, I know that I’d be defrauding them, and I would not want to have that on my conscience. Trust me, my conscience judges me just fine on its own.
So, if you’re a religious person, please take a moment to consider that there is an entire group of people whom you are told to despise, merely because they choose to be Good for Goodness’ Sake.
It bothers me when an atheist has to say, “I’m an atheist, but I’m a good person.” No non-believer should, nor should ever feel obligated to utter these words. We don’t believe in the words of books compiled by the oral teachings of ancient people who had no idea where the sun went at night, and we don’t believe that our wrongdoing is whisked away with an abracadabra and an “Amen.”
UPDATE: It looks as though “Satan” caught Ms. Gordeuk’s son in a “moment of weakness” as well: