Fallacies occur often in everyday speech, especially when one is caught off guard. "One of the first questions atheists are asked by true believers and doubters alike is, 'If you don't believe in God, there's nothing to prevent you from committing crimes. Without fear of hell-fire and eternal damnation, you can do anything you like.'" The obvious response is "Of course not," but the fear behind the question is quite real and deserves consideration.
In this essay, I will analyze the above statement and discuss the main fallacies of false alternative. I will offer an alternative argument that says belief in God is not necessary to live morally and, in fact, may undermine true morality. I will then discuss several examples that support my claim.
Explicit in this statement is a fallacy of false alternative. This statement offers an either-or proposition: Either a person believes in God and lives a moral life, or they do not believe in God and are not able of living a moral life. Limiting the possible outcomes that extend from a belief or non-belief in God is not logical.
In a letter to the Romans, the great Apostle Paul wrote about living a moral life. "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I do." He is referring to the sin nature that Christians believe to be born into all humans. It is this sin nature that causes them to sin and not to live morally.
In addition, the Bible has a story of a non-believer who acts in a moral way when the religious leaders have turned away from a fellow believer. Many people are familiar with this story as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Without the teachings of God and attending religious services, the Samaritan knew that the moral behavior was to help a man in need.
Belief in God is not necessary to live morally and, in fact, may undermine true morality. This is an incredibly bold statement that atheists are presenting and needs to be examined carefully. Not only have many Christians lived complete lives of depravity, but Christianity itself is based on immoral premises.
As to the first point, the Old Testament is full of stories of rape, genocide, child sacrifice, and war all done in the name of God. The New Testament does not fare much better with God striking down Ananias and Sapphira , and the constant threat of Hell. The Crusades have recently been examined in a different light, not as a great and holy movement, but an attack of fear and intolerance. Even in the present day, the Catholic Church is making reparations to the thousands of children molested by priests.
As to the second point, the immoral premises of Christianity follow:
• presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
• the doctrine of blood sacrifice
• the doctrine of atonement
• the doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
• the imposition of impossible tasks and rules
Christians are pushing their creation myth into schools under the guise of "Intelligent Design" while attacking evolution, which is more plausible based on scientific research to date. Refusing to let creationism be a rich myth, Christians are attempting to take the story literally, despite inconsistencies in the book of Genesis. The origin of humanity is important because it shapes our understanding of our place and purpose in this world. To twist that message for Christianity's gain is unethical.
The premise of blood sacrifice, whether it involves an animal, a man, a woman, or a child, is immoral. Life is sacred and should not be offered up to spirits in the sky. One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible describes the great patriarch Abraham tying his son Isaac up, placing him on an altar of wood, and raising a knife to kill his son according to the commandment from God. Luckily, an angel stops Abraham from going through with this act and commends him on his faith. This story is evidence of the sadistic mind behind the Christian's God.
Blood sacrifice is inextricably linked to atonement. The original sacrifice for the sins of the Jews is once and for all paid with Jesus Christ becoming the sacrifice for all humankind; he becomes the scapegoat for humanity. It is one thing to take the place of another in their punishment; this theme is common enough in literature, theater, ballet, and other dramas. It is quite another thing to absolve a person the responsibility of their actions. Without a sense of responsibility and consequence, chaos will reign unchecked.
As to the last two points, they are interrelated as well. At the end of time, God acts as Judge and rewards and/or punishes humanity based on their behavior and faith. This is a judgment that extends for eternity because Christians believe in the eternal soul. These rules and tasks that God demands of his followers are impossible to fulfill. It is not just actions that are considered sin, it is the thought behind the action that is punishable as though the actual sin were committed. "The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey. The resulting tyranny is even more impressive if it can be enforced by a privileged caste or party which is highly zealous in the detection of error."
Taken together, these premises create a totalitarian regime that seemingly establishes unattainable rules and tasks, then punishes its followers for not performing adequately. The guilt and the shame that go along with this kind of situation, along with the terrorism that is practiced in the name of God, makes the very premises of Christianity immoral.
Atheists do not need belief in the Christian God to know right from wrong. It is an utter fallacy to state that atheists must live immoral lives without Christian teaching. It is Christianity itself that is flawed, not atheism.
Acts 5:1-11. The Holy Bible. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
Hitchens, Christopher. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2007.
Luke 10:25-37. The Holy Bible. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.
Morality. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/, 07/17/07
Romans 7:19. The Holy Bible. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999
Zindler, Frank R. The Probing Mind, February 1985. http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/ethics.html