"Would you do it?": An open question to believers
One of my favorite podcasts on secular issues is the Atheist Community of Austin's broadcast The Atheist Experience (also a cable access TV show). Good topics, live listener call-ins, and hosts who really know their stuff; I highly recommend that you listen in. (I wish more of those callers would regularly listen; they might learn to 1. Turn down the TV when calling!; and 2. Quit asking "So, you're atheist; that means you don't believe in anything, right?", again and again and again.)
I have a question about how one particularly loony Christian conceit fares in debates. I don't get much chance to talk to rabid believers, so thought I'd ask the debating pros at The Atheist Experience about their experience. The reply is an eye-opener. Here's my email first:
I've been an atheist for quite a while, though only recently an "active" atheist with a keen interest in related issues. I'd welcome questions and objections from believers, but for better or worse I have little opportunity - I live in Japan, where only around 1% of the population is Christian. (If I'm not mistaken, that's less than the percentage of people here with graduate degrees.) What does pass for religion around here is, as in much of the non-monotheistic world, more a matter of harmless social customs and traditions, not denial of reality or forcing beliefs on others. It's not really fodder for debate.
I've been listening to The Atheist Experience via podcast, and have a question addressing your extensive experience in debating believers. As I can't call in, I'll outline it below; if you find it interesting, I'd love to hear it taken up in a future episode.
One of the most baffling claims put forth by Christians is "the Bible is the source of morality". (The double-talking Dinesh D'Souza's debate routine comes to mind.) One problem is immediate: How, then, to explain morality in non-Christian lands where people know essentially nothing of the Bible? (Obvious example: crime statistics are far lower in Japan than in the US.) The even bigger problem: How do we get "morality" from a God who orders his followers again and again to execute people for things we don't even consider crimes (homosexuality, adultery, disrespect to parents, etc.); to slaughter cities full of people including women, children, and infants (except for virgin girls, who are to be saved for rape); to keep slaves; etc. etc.? How can the believers claim "Biblical morality", when they themselves knowingly *refuse* to follow such commandments?
I think the common response will be, "Well, that was the Old Testament; it was appropriate for those people then, but doesn't apply to us. Jesus changed all that... (yadda yadda)". In your experience, is that the usual response?
If so, here's what I'd love to ask in reply:
We may not be living under Old Testament law, but let's say we were. If you were one of the "chosen people" back in Old Testament days, and God commanded you to butcher the women and children of the neighboring city, and rape the tribe's virgins, and burn alive the priests of another god, and slit your firstborn's throat as a test of faith.... would you do those things?
It's not a purely imagined question. A challenge like "Would you start nuclear war if God told you to?" could be brushed off as unrealistic: "God would never ask such a thing". But not the above atrocities; according to the believers, God *did* demand those very things! And with his ways all mysterious and unknowable, he could surprise us all and demand them again - maybe even tomorrow. Either way, I ask the believers: Would you do it?
I'm really curious as to how they'd respond, as any answer is a loser. To say "No, I wouldn't do it" is to utterly reject "Biblical morality"; it's to admit that God's commandments are themselves immoral. Whereas to say "Yes, I'd do it" is to reveal one's self as a despicable monster with no claim to any morality whatsoever. (Meanwhile, the atheist easily stands on moral bedrock with a reply of "God or no God, of course I'd never do it!".)
So that's my question: Have you ever posed the above "Would you do it?" question about Biblical atrocities, to those making the "source of all morality" argument? If so: what the heck did they say?
I got a very quick reply from Don Rhoades at the organization:
"Have you ever posed the above ...Would you do it?"
I have. Back in the spring, I had the opportunity to speak to a local high school class, and I actually got a young football player to admit that he would murder children if he believed he would be obeying God's will. Opened a few eyes, I think...
I assume you remember when Pat Robertson ran for president. One reason he wanted to run was that he felt the end times were near, and that a US president would need to push the button as part of God's plan, and he felt he was the man for the job. Staggering...
You are on the right track. Keep it up!
Think about that football player's response. It so perfectly – and sadly – highlights the secularist claim that good people will always do good, but it takes religion to make good people do evil. Can't this fellow see that his willingness to kill for "belief" makes him no different from the Islamic terrorists that – I'm willing to bet – he and his community rail against? It should be an obvious realization – yet shutting down the rational ability to see obvious truths is what this fellow's religion (like most religion) excels at. Sigh.
This kid could even go on to become a "leader" in America. Just like Pat Robertson became a leader to many (and took a shot at becoming leader of the country).
All the more reason to listen to the good folks at The Atheist Experience, who battle against this danger. (Sure wish I could attend their dinners; they sound like a smart and fun group.)
Incidentally, back to the "Would you do it?" question above: I've seen Dinesh D'Souza spouting his "source of all morality" lies in a few debates online, but I don't recall that I've seen anyone pose that question to him. Would love to hear how he tries to weasel out of that challenge. (Or just watch him expose his true colors with a "yes" or "no"; either answer would damn him.)