10 “Unanswerable” questions #5

Question #5, from TodayChristian’s list of 10 “unanswerable” questions, finally creates an interesting problem. Not because it’s particularly hard to answer, but because it’s essentially a re-phrasing of question #4.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

This is the real problem with superstition-based moral systems like Christianity. Because TodayChristian’s faith wants to make God the only reason why people do anything, he or she has completely failed to understand what the real-world constraints are on our behavior. And in fact, TodayChristian has it completely backwards, in some ways. People who have a God are often more likely to feel free to do what they want, up to and including murder and rape. It’s the atheists, who understand that actions have material consequences, who have the best basis for consistent good behavior.

Just taking a quick look through the Bible, we find ample cases where somebody’s God coincidentally tells them they ought to invade a neighboring tribe, murder them, keep the young girls as sex slaves, and settle on the stolen property of their victims. A Biblical “morality” system has no problem condoning such behavior because, hey, God said to do it, and therefore it must be ok. And how do we know God said it? Well, the murders told us so. And if you can’t trust a murderer, who can you trust, eh?

This is the problem with superstition-based morality. If you say that “God” defines right and wrong just by saying “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” then nothing is really wrong in and of itself. It’s only wrong when God says it’s wrong, and therefore you’re free to murder, rape, steal, lie, or whatever, as long as you sincerely believe that God is telling you it’s ok right now. And by a very remarkable coincidence, God very often wants you to do things that will give you free reign to take what you want, to stomp on people you don’t like, and generally be a dick, even to this very day. Funny how that works.

Meanwhile, real-world morality acknowledges that actions have material consequences, and the morality of those actions depends on the good or harm done by those consequences. That by itself gives secular morality a measure of objectivity that superstition-based morality, with its inner sense of “what God is telling me,” cannot obtain. The atheist, whose morality is based on objective, material consequences, is far better equipped to know that murder and rape are wrong even when God says it’s ok, than the believer who thinks that God can change morality whenever He likes.

And as for the believer who knows God can’t change morality whenever He likes, that’s an admission that God’s morality is subject to a higher law—materialistic morality—that believers find it difficult or impossible to acknowledge. And if they can’t even acknowledge its existence, how are they ever going to understand it well enough to apply it fairly?

As for good deeds that go unrewarded, is that the only reason you do good deeds? Because you expect a reward? Not out of compassion, or empathy, or simple generosity? Atheists, who know the true limits of life, understand the true value of such virtues better than those who think they’re off the hook because some some celestial sugar daddy will take care of handing out the pie in the sky bye-and-bye. That’s bogus. Do good now, while you live, because you will never have another chance.

So, despite the slight wrinkle posed by the fact that Question #5 is just a re-run of Question #4, we are 5 for 5 in “unanswerable” questions that are really no trouble at all. And the next one isn’t going to be any harder:

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

Here’s a quick preview: all meaning, including Christian meaning, comes directly or indirectly from material reality. Surprised?


  1. Menyambal says

    Yes, we can do what we want. And so can other people. So if we hurt them, they hurt us back. And after a while we work out a society with guidelines for mutual survival. Honestly, any kindergartner is familiar with the concept – “He hit me first!” Only religious people have to have a Golden Rule delivered by a god.

    After a while, we want to help other people. At first because they are family, then because they are our friends, then because they are humans, too. We become what Jesus was trying to get the religious fanatics of his day to see was possible. What religious people want is often very bad.

    So yes, you are free to murder and rape. If that’s what you want, if that’s what your god tells you to do, if that’s what you’d be doing if your god wasn’t stopping you. And I am free to defend myself and my fellow humans, through logic, through laws, and through the power of the guns so many religious people insist are necessary for self defense. In brief, if you rape, I murder. Deal?

    Can we not write questions without sentence fragments? It really chaps my chitlins that people who live by a book cannot read or write for squat.

    Yes, good deeds may go unrewarded. As they do now. If the only reason a Christian does a good deed is for the Heavenly reward, they are not good people.

    Here’s a story: I used to help with bike-a-thons. I’d take my bicycle tools and tyre pump, and I’d show up and start fixing the kids’s bicycles. (They all needed something.) I’d also teach safe riding techniques, and then help with anything else that was needed. It was fun, it was helpful, and I just did it. One day, at one bike-a-thon, there was a young lady helping with registration, and she seemed friendly. I didn’t feel this was my reward from Heaven, but I thought she was a good person to get further acquainted with. Well, it turned out she was only there to earn community-service points for some beauty pageant she wanted to enter.

    There is no moral to that story, nor is there a moral to life. It is just what we are doing. If you are only living in hopes of a reward in an afterlife, you’d better hope you are right.

    • Menyambal says

      Follow-up to my own self …

      Look at all the games we humans have made up. Look at the rules we have developed for driving, eating, food safety, dancing, and fighting. Look at all the technology we make using the rules of the physical world. Look at the physics we have worked out the laws of, so well that some folk insist there was a lawmaker.

      Look at how few of those rules came from your particular holy book, and how
      few of them even pretend to involve any supernatural thing at all. Look at all we do without your god.

      Now tell me again how we cannot possibly have developed rules for living without asking you.

      • Menyambal says

        Me again.

        Remember Moses? He was living as an Egyptian, and he killed an Egyptian overseer. He had to get out of Egypt, because those ungodly Egyptians had rules against killing – Pharaoh, the worst person in the Bible, had laws about murder. Did Yahweh give him those laws?

        Then, a few years later, Moses is up on the mountain, putting laws on stone tablets like any Egyptian could have done. One of the commandments he chisels in is “Thou shalt not kill.” Can you think of anything besides divine inspiration that might have led him to that one?

        (And, incidentally, he came down with a bunch of other rules, that included the big ten as an undifferentiated part of the pack. And few Christians give a darn about all those rules – catfish, shrimp, divorce; those are all fine.)

  2. jh says

    I like Penn Jillette’s answer –

    “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don’t want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don’t want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you.”

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