Why Be Good?
From: Nigel A
To: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, May 20, 1998 2:23 AM
Subject: Why Be Good?
A couple of years ago, I was listening in on a conversation among a group of believers. They were discussing good vs. evil, Heaven vs. Hell, and Christians vs. Atheists. I knew almost nobody there, so I didn't want to contribute any of my own opinions to the talk, for a while anyway. When one of the men said something to the effect that there is no reason to be good, without the reward of Heaven and the punishment of Hell, I asked him to elaborate. He said (admitted, actually), that were it not for his Faith, he would have no reason not to give into temptation. I asked if the temptations he spoke of included such things as stealing and murder. He said that it could be so. Most of the rest of the group agreed.
I suggest that if he didn't have to worry about Hell, he might worry about jail. The response was that a smart person could out-wit the law. I told the group that I did not believe in either Heaven or Hell, so, being a smart person myself, what did they think was keeping me from stealing the brand new Volvo that one of them had parked out front.
I didn't get and answer to my question. I was told that I needed to be saved, that I would believe in Hell when I found myself there, that I needed to pray -- the usual stuff. It was then that I started to think a little differently about trying to "convert" people like these.
Do we really want to change the way they think? I mean, you can talk yourself hoarse convincing someone that they need not fear going to Hell, and, if successful, what do you get? You get a jerk that will steal your car, rape your mother, kill you, and anything else that happens to strike his fancy. And if you can't convince them, they will go on calling you an evil, god-less monster. Maybe we should let them go on their happy way, wasting their (not our) time and energy.
I believe that most humanists and atheists are products of both the reasoning power of their own minds, and the absurdity of religious beliefs. The efforts of organizations like yours have a more positive effect in offering support to non-believers than in providing a source of reason to the fanatics. When what seems like the whole world is screaming at you that you have gone terribly wrong, it is good to find out that you are not alone, and that you haven't gone mad. You learn that you are among people who, like yourself, refrain from doing bad things simply because it is wrong to do so, and in contrast to many believers, would prefer help rather than hurt.
As for myself, I cannot say that I am an atheist in so far a believing that there is no God. It's not quite the same thing as not believing in God is it? That would have to be another matter of faith.
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