From the mailbag: Getting away with it

If an individual lives a life of getting away with murder, rape, pillaging, and really anything against a simple human moral code and never gets caught, do you feel that the person just simply got away with it? I’m sure the answer is yes, but I’m curious as to where the barrier of living out our darkest desires and why we would bother with morality if we knew there was some way to simply not get caught for the things we do?

I have a few separate points to make about this. The first is that justice is important to people, which is why we establish laws for people to follow, penalties if they don’t, and a system that is impartial as possible to keep people following those laws. So your question about what would happen if nobody got caught for doing harmful things doesn’t apply in modern society. It’s not a perfect system, but it tends to work pretty well keeping me safe most of the time.

Second, you’d be wrong to assume that fear of punishment is the only thing that keeps people from committing crimes. One thing is empathy for other people. Should I go on a killing spree? Why would I want to? I care about other people, and I would feel bad if they died because of me. It wouldn’t be particularly pleasurable for me, I wouldn’t get any benefit from it, and there’s that pesky human justice system that would make the rest of my life unpleasant.

Third, maybe there is some doctrine out there that promises justice that distinguishes between people’s good and bad actions… but Christianity is not that doctrine. I don’t know what sect you follow, but many of the ones I’m aware of claim that we are saved through faith and not through good works. Most Protestants assert that we are all terrible sinners regardless of what particular things we’ve done, and every single person deserves eternal torture equally. A preacher like Ray Comfort doesn’t draw a distinction between a guy like me, who just doesn’t believe in God, and someone who (as you say) gets away with murder, rape, and pillaging. In fact, according to some preachers, this hypothetical murderer could experience a sincere conversion moments before he died, and he’d go to heaven.

So in promoting Christianity, I think you’re really asking whether I feel bad that I won’t ever experience eternal suffering as the just punishment for my own crime of not believing in your God. And the answer is no.

Can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Another viewer mail worthy of sharing:

I found Atheist Experience on Youtube when browsing on the web. I am writing in reference to the statement in one episode that the journey from theism to atheism can, for some people, be long and painful. It was long for me, about 75 years, but not painful. I just stumbled gradually toward atheism over the years as I read a great deal and thought more about my religion. During my early 30s I left the Lutheran Church for the Unitarians, where I remain, but I gradually changed my belief from the traditional Unitarian position that God is one to that of the agnostic, and eventually to what I understand is a strong agnostic. But, by watching the episodes of Atheist Experience I realized that I was not intellectually consistent to require evidence for either that God exists or does not exist while maintaining that I do not believe in Santa Claus because here is no evidence that he exists. I don’t require evidence that he does not. You provided the final argument to convince me to become an atheist: that it is irrational to believe something for which there is no evidence.

Your program does two marvelous things: (1) It helps people like me, who have a stumbling block in their reasoning, to think more clearly. And (2), and this is most important, it demonstrates that persons such as I was, who are on their journey towards atheism, need not be alone on that journey.

I am approaching my 86th birthday. My only regret is that I do not expect to be here when the atheist position will no longer be detrimental to a person’s social position or employment, nor considered a factor in determining a person’s qualification to hold public office.

My best wishes for you and the ACA.

Positively made my day!