Thursday, November 13, 2008

Be Good for Goodness Sake

The American Humanist Association unveiled a provocative holiday ad campaign that asks "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake", and will appear on buses in Washington DC. A spokesman for the group explains the reasons:

"... there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion."

For those who argue for more religious freedom in the public square, this should be a welcome addition. After all, it's a very positive message: be good for its own sake, you shouldn't need a reason. Indeed, to many of us, this falls on already practicing ears. Yet that is decidedly not the reaction coming from some religious groups like the American Family Association:

"It's a stupid ad," AFA president Tim Wildmon said. "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."

Earth to Wildmon. Millions of people all over the planet define good and bad and right and wrong just fine without referencing the Bible. That's because we are not just random assemblages of atoms with completely random desires. Human beings have a lot of common ground, with similar abilities and desires: wanting a long life, avoiding pain, and loving our families, are but a few of the literally thousands of cultural universals among human beings. Just like it doesn't take a divine decree for a group of dogs to decide on dog food for dinner, we humans are very capable of coming up with moral codes all on our own.

Take a look at the world around you once in a while, instead of assuming that little fantasy world in your head bears any resemblance to the genuine article. You might notice that the flip side of your argument also has a problem. Those who define "good" according to the Bible are far from harmonious. Despite your claims of an absolute moral code, your moral codes vary enough to cause many a war. Your world is every bit as crazy as ours, if not more so.

But as bad as that reaction was, that's nothing compared to the response of Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group.

"It's the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ," said Mathew Staver, the group's chairman and dean of the Liberty University School of Law. "Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want but this is insulting."

Ah yes, of course. We have a right to express our beliefs, but because they differ with Mr. Staver's, they are insulting. What, might we ask, about the reverse argument? Since millions of Americans do not believe there was ever a birth of a Christ to celebrate, why is not Mr. Staver's view just as insulting? This is yet another question for which people like Staver have no answer. They just pretend those who disagree with them are an insignificant minority, as if that would matter even if it wasn't so ridiculously inaccurate. Their real view is clear: you have the right to your religious views, so long as they don't conflict with ours.

Merry Christmas guys. Be good for goodness' sake. Why do you Christians need more justification? We atheists don't.

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