Would human life be sacred in an atheist world?

It's disturbingly hard to say so

19 April 2014

9:00 AM

19 April 2014

9:00 AM

What was your reaction recently when it emerged that thousands of unborn foetuses had been burnt by NHS trusts? And that some had been put into ‘waste-to-energy’ incinerators and so used to heat hospitals?

Revulsion, I would imagine. But why? I would hazard that it is either because you are religious or because your customs and beliefs are still downstream from faith, even if you reject it. Because if you grant that an unborn foetus is not a life and that once aborted it could have no further use, there is at least an argument that these bodies might as well be put to use. Why not use unwanted babies to keep a hospital nice and warm?

It isn’t such a ridiculous argument. And it is time that atheists and non-believers began to take such stories — and their follow-on questions — as seriously as believers do. As Jonathan Sacks wrote in this magazine last year, when he was Chief Rabbi, atheists tend to imply that there isn’t much work to do after discarding God. On the contrary, after discarding God, all the work of establishing morals is still before you — just as after demonstrating mankind’s need for ethics, the work of proving a particular religion is true remains before you.

But this greatest challenge in the atheist argument remains the one we hear least about. As Sacks pointed out, it is increasingly clear that, contra most atheists, ethics are self-evidently not self-evident. They vary wildly from era to era, and many Judeo-Christian ethics may well, as T.S. Eliot put it, ‘hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance’.

There is a perfectly good utilitarian argument for putting dead babies into a hospital furnace. And if the foetuses are genuinely unwanted, then burning them instead of fossil fuels means we plunder fewer natural resources of our ailing planet. I cannot see that the action greatly trespasses John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’.

If all this sounds far-fetched, we should look back only a century, when entire schools of very intelligent non-believers could discern no moral objection to eugenics. Religion holds back the religious (even if not always stopping them). But today, despite the moral qualms which the extremes of eugenics posthumously bestowed upon us, there is no reason why atheists should not again go down such paths.

We continuously see the uniqueness of life being whittled away at all ends. With each year that goes by in increasingly post-Christian societies abortion becomes less and less of an issue. Too few atheists make arguments as passionate as those of believers over the aborting of unborn infants if they are of the ‘wrong’ sex, have some birth defect or a harelip. Even in America, which remains a significantly more religious country than ours, initially there was limited outrage at the trial last year of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician discovered to have been carrying out ‘post-birth abortions’ — or child murder, as we might once have called it.

At the other extreme of life, we watch euthanasia become ‘assisted dying’ and the argument tilting in its favour. More and more it is about granting people a ‘humane’ end, rather than focusing on what such a move does to the significance of life as a whole. The treatment of bodies after death is another example. We have never cared less about what happens to our bodies after death. And this unconcern applies retrospectively. When digging up ancient burial yards, the fact that many of the bones being flung around come from people who went to their graves in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection isn’t enough to dampen our appetite for eviction if a property development is at stake. Does an atheist lack of concern for the physical body show a great devil-may-care attitude — or demean the significance of the vessels we spend our lives in?

And so it goes, on and on. Most obvious at the extremities of life, the decline of the Christian concept of the self can be seen everywhere, not least the concept of human love as a quasi-divine thing.

The more atheists think on these things, the more we may have to accept that the concept of the sanctity of human life is a Judeo-Christian notion which might very easily not survive Judeo-Christian civilisation. Those who do not believe in God and who stare over that cliff — which as Theo Hobson points out, very few atheists actually do — may realise that only three options remain open to us.

The first option is to fall into the furnace. Another is to work furiously to nail down an atheist version of the sanctity of the individual. If that does not work, then there is only one other place to go. Which is back to faith, whether we like it or not.

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Show comments
  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Wouldn`t you feel more at home on the “Catholic” Daily Telegraph, Dougie baby?

  • Chris Bond

    We are not in a post christian world. We are actually in the most christian world ever. Take Christianity (Protestantism) take out any responsibility, balance or nod to reality. Remove the anthropomorphic God. Bingo – you have Liberal Progressiveness. How is that not Christianity? no matter how distorted?

    • Cogra Bro

      Quite right. Unfortunately the removal of the divine has let liberalism morph into the monster of rampant individualism, unlimited selfishness and self centredness and the fascism of political correctness,, like once healthy cells which have turned cancerous.

      • Chris Bond

        It’s the worship of the self – humanism. The man becomes God. He is even not subjects to the laws of nature (natural selection and genetic inheritance etc)
        Or to be more precise, God as the unconscious id.

  • JoeDM

    A foetus is not a person, it is a part of the potential mother’s body. Anyway, what else would you do with this material – put it in landfil?

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Hospitals dispose of them in the furnace, allegedly.
      “If he opens his big mouth again it`s lampshade time.”

    • Wil

      Your first sentence shows a lack of basic understanding of biology and genetics. It is human and distinct from conception.

      • JoeDM

        Unscientific tosh.

        • Rocksy

          When does the ‘waste material’ become human with the rights of humans?
          What is the definition of human?
          In the event we can’t answer the above, should we just take the chance that it isn’t human and get rid of the ‘waste material’ and hope for the best?

          • Kitty MLB

            Using the words ‘waste material ‘ was somewhat insensitive of
            Joe. Yet what is to be done. A poor baby nearer its due date
            that’s born dead will be taken home and buried.
            But aborted foetuses are never requested by bereaved mothers or mothers who just never wanted them. They just
            leave the hospital and that is that, without thinking of ‘what happens’. Hospitals treat these foetuses in the same way as
            amputated limbs. What else can they do ?

          • Rocksy

            I’m always confounded that your good intentions completely miss the point.

          • JoeDM

            I don’t see why human remains should not be considered to be waste material. After all, what else is it? It has to be disposed of. Bury it with some sort of ritual if you wish or burn it in an incinerator at a crematorium.

          • Rocksy

            The point of my post was the question, is this just waste material or is it human and at what point in the pregnancy does it become human if not at conception?
            Of course it helps to avoid inconvenient moral and ethical questions if you don’t have the insight to examine them.

          • ilpugliese

            An easy answer to your question would be when it becomes a foetus at about 8 weeks. However I doubt if the religious crowd would approve of terminations even before this time.

          • Rocksy

            ‘An easy answer’ and ‘at about’ aren’t good enough when we’re talking about a human life. If it were possible to give a definitive answer, it would make it a lot easier for the ‘religious crowd’ to accept abortion until that point. I have known atheists, several including a doctor who have been opponents of abortion because of the very real possibility that human life is being destroyed.
            You may not believe it, but it would be easier to be able to believe that killing unborn children was acceptable because they were definitely not human beings.

          • ilpugliese

            I meant the answer was easy.

          • Rocksy

            Interesting that you refer to this biological material as ‘human’.

          • JoeDM

            Why not? That is what it is since it came from a human body.

          • Cogra Bro

            See my remarks about Peter Singer above.

        • Wil

          “After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being. [It] is no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.”

          – Dr. Jerome Lejeune, world-renowned French geneticist

          • Kitty MLB

            This is not about the rights or wrongs of abortion, it is about
            what happens afterwards. A mother to my knowledge has never requested to take a aborted foetus home and have
            the little soul buried.
            Would the mother feel happier if a vicar was present at the abortion or afterwards and said a few words ? Maybe but…

          • Cogra Bro

            According to the philosopher Peter Singer, a baby of less than about three months is not a human person and had no more worth than a cabbage.

            This is because it has no self consciousness and no capacity for forward thinking.

            Because it is not a human person it can be killed at will.

            This is where thinking that foetuses are not human gets you.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            That is the Islamic view in the Quran!
            More precise…2 months and 2-3 weeks after.

          • Cogra Bro

            It doesn’t say much for Islam that it has the same view as atheism, does it ?

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Wrong!You have a religion that is scientific!
            Muslims Knew that 1600 years ago!When did you find out?If honesty is what you chose today?!

          • Bonkim

            Were there Muslims on Earth 1600 years ago? I thought it was 5th Muharram 1436 today unless Mr Muhammad lived over 170 years – everything is possible if Allah wills. And is science religion? What does Mr Allah have to say about that?!

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Why were atheists of old(Hunter Gatherers of today as well),were Never able to lead to a civilization?!
            How could you have the guts to say it will work?

          • Bonkim

            Because they had already created their civilization. It has worked.

          • Bonkim

            Watch what you say to Al Sherif – or you are for the Chop!

          • Rocksy

            Thank you. I already accept this premise of the beginning of human life. My post was written in the faint hope that it might inspire some thinking on the part of Joe and others like him.

          • JoeDM

            Dr. Jerome Lejeune had a strong Catholic agenda so statements like that would be expected.

          • Wil

            Accusations are just that.

            The great hing about science is that it couldn’t give a rip about your religion. Thus it is interesting to note:

            Jérôme Lejeune received many distinctions during his lifetime. He was a member of:

            the French Institute’s Academy of Moral and Political Sciences
            the French Academy of Medicine
            the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
            the Lyncean Academy in Rome
            the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
            the Royal Swedish Academy
            the National Academy of Medicine in Argentina
            the University of Santiago, Chile
            Dr. Lejeune held honorary doctorates from:

            University of Düsseldorf, Germany
            University of Pamplona, Spain
            University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
            Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
            His international positions included:

            World Health Organization (WHO)
            Consulting expert on human genetics (1962)

            International Commission on Radiological Protection
            Committee member (1963)

            United Nations
            French expert to the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation

    • Terry Field

      No, it is an incipient baby, and it is being fed by the mother – who in more sane times loved it – via the umbilical cord.
      Your post is a lie, and evil since it mis-states a profound truth important to both mother and baby. New LAbour type lying. Plain evil. YOu are an insult to truth when write such nonsense.You are plainly mentally ill, and in need of treatment.

      • JoeDM

        Meaningless mumbo-jumbo.

        • Terry Field

          No, real and important truths, lost on a valueless sadistic cretin like you.

          • JoeDM

            Oh dear. That just says it all !!!

      • manonthebus

        You should have stopped at paragraph 1.

        • Terry Field

          I felt live a few ripe insults. It deserved to be abused.

      • transponder

        Every mother ‘loved’ her incipient baby? Man, are you naive!

        • Terry Field

          I did not write that.
          Plainly you are poorly educated, cannot read and understand a sentence, and are probably the product of a bog-standard comprehensive.
          ‘Nuf sed, guv.

      • JoeDM

        Usual unthinking religious rant.

        The feotus is part of the mother untill it can survive outside the womb.

        • Terry Field

          Arrogant, didactic and wrong. The foetus has its own genetic construction distinct from the mothers; it has its own developing potential that it continues to have as a living individual. No religious element at all. Just cold hard reality.
          If you applied your argument to the dysfunctional african countries that since independence have clearly shown their complete inability to prosper independently of the mother country, you could only conclude that the Empire should be re-instated. As I am sure you agree.

          • Rocksy

            God forbid.

        • Mike G

          At what point can a baby survive with no mother or other assistance? It is thinking like this which has spurred the idea of post birth abortions.

          • Cogra Bro

            Otherwise known as murder.

        • Fergus Pickering

          That is an opinion not a fact. A baby cannot survive on its own. It will die. Nevertheless, it is human.

        • Terry Field

          There was no element of religion in my note, you thick evil bigot. The foetus is biologically and genetically distinct form the mother. It is not a potential waste product except in the mind of a perverted desperate creature. ‘Survival’ dependence should engender ultimate responsibility and compassion and tenderness in the mother, not the psychopathic response a Mengele-type creature like you is capable of.

        • Cogra Bro

          Even when it can survive outside the mother, it can still be killed according to our laws. Or haven’t you read the stories of aborted babies expiring on dishes in hospital sluice rooms?

      • Marie Louise Noonan

        New Labour? It sounds like a quote from Ayn Rand.

        • Terry Field

          Thank you. She was magnificent.

  • transponder

    Again, missing the point, Douglas (as the McDonagh article did). The decision about the fetus was made by the parent or parents: and that done — in accordance with law — we are confronted with biological waste. That’s what I shall be when I die: biological waste. One or two people may be saddened by my decease, but the practical problem of how to dispose of my body remains. And my body MUST be disposed of. (Please do read the excellent and empirical investigation of bodies, burial, and the inadvertent failure of same by Paul Barber: it’s a real eye-opener.)

    So the waste put in the incinerator — the safest means of disposal — included this that and the other. We get upset by this but blink at Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female genital torture, being repudiated by an American university that supposedly champions liberty, to say nothing of decency?

    • Cogra Bro

      The Enlightenment was actually a product of Christianity; it developed thanks, not just to Greek critical enquiry, but to Christianity’s faith in reason. (Note ‘faith’). This is a key feature of Western Christian civilisation which arose thanks to the Christian view of God as loving, law giving and capable of being understood through the study of the meaning of Christ’s story as revealed in the Scriptures.

      Christianity’s idea of God was also the key to the development of modern science in the West and nowhere else. God, the mefieval scholars thought, could and should be understood in his good, rational creation, Nature.

      • Swanky

        How did they know he was good? And would they worship him if they thought he wasn’t good (just god)? That’s not a daft question: there is a major religion whose god is demonstrably evil by any decent notion or measure. Also, how did they know he was a he, and what if he isn’t?

        • Cogra Bro

          They knew he was good because he taught love and love is good intuitively.

          He taught the value of each individual as an equally loved child of God. This was revolutionary, It flew in the face of the value of individuals at his time, which was predicated on the possession of power, or the lack of it.

          As the grip of Christianity wains in Britain, we are reverting to a society where a person’s worth is judged by power, as measured by wealth & / or influence.( including fame – celebrity worship).

          They worshipped him because they saw him, ‘full of grace and truth’ and his life story including his Death and Resurrection.

          I assume your remark about ‘he’ is frivolous.

  • I don’t think atheists do really believe that there is no work to do after discarding the concept of God. Most Atheists I’ve met tend to lean heavily towards scientific reasoning. They accept that current thinking can and will change based on new knowledge obtained and the context we find ourselves in.

    I while not strictly an atheist, believe strongly in Darwinian principles when it comes to general behaviours such as our concept of morality and ethics. Add 60 to 100,000 years of living in groups and I think it’s easy to see where our concepts of looking after each other stem from. As a species we have benefited extremely well from adopting complex group behaviours. 60,000 years ago they were predominantly survival techniques, today those behaviours are so entrenched in our DNA they appear as if they are from a divine source.

    I think the main assumption of the article is wrong. Human life is not being devalued due to the erosion of faith. Like a simple single cell organism evolved into much more complex biology, so to do behaviours.

    To say that ethics and morality has or is being lost ignores the evolved complexity of humans and their behaviour. It assumes no further progress can or will happen despite knowing that nothing in nature remains constant.

    • transponder

      Mating, and fending for oneself against predators, and seeking food and shelter DO remain constant. As does the burning of the sun, until such time as it blows up, in which case there will be nothing more to argue over….

      • Well, not quite. I think you’ll find that we’ve changed our defences from spears to antivirus packages recently. So similar but evolved based on context.

        As for the sun, it’s not a constant either, on a micro or macro timescale. But yes, ultimately there’s nothing left to argue about…it’s just about getting the best view, from the best deck chair as the ship sinks

        • transponder

          Right, so we can quibble about details and refinements but my point stands.

          • Your point is ambiguous. Are you referring to your point about nature having constants or the point about nothing mattering at the end of days? If the former, then no, if the latter then yes.

      • anncalba

        Matting, and defending against predators, and seeking food and shelter are constant for all animal life. I have never been able to see why “human” animals are sacred, unless you believe God created man his own image.

        • transponder

          Perhaps the answer is that man is sacred to… himself.

    • Bonkim

      Religions are interpreted differently through the ages.

      • Thanks for the comment, but I’m not sure what part of my post you are referring to. Can you elaborate?

        • Bonkim

          Scientist – ” They accept that current thinking can and will change based on new knowledge obtained and the context we find ourselves in.”

          This applies equally to followers of faith. Human beings are influenced by the external environment and others in the group that set out fundamental axioms reinterpreted through the ages. Christianity or Islam or any other – means different concepts to different people/locations/ages – all have gone through benign periods and also through bigoted and strained times.

          Atheists don’t need to define their beliefs – they don’t have any. Whereas those with faith have to constantly justify their present beliefs and also defend their past.

          • Not true, atheists reject faith but the majority I know do not reject science. that is a belief system just as valid as any religion.

          • Bonkim

            Science is not a fixed belief system – it is a process of analysing cause and effect from observations and builds on previous hypotheses, experimentation and acquired knowledge. Ready to change and adapt as new evidence comes to light.

            Religion by definition is God-given wisdom and direction and not for humans to interpret. The reality however is that religion in re-interpreted by succeeding generations – in reality re-inventing religion to suit themselves. This is the antithesis of true belief – in God not man, as such religions are man-made.

          • The fact that you use the word ‘process’ implies a belief system as far as I can see. A belief that if you apply this process you can learn greater truth. I fail to see why this is not just as valuable a belief system as any religion?

            I agree with your point about current day religions. They are an interpretation and focus heavily on everything but the true essence of faith.

          • Bonkim

            Religious faith may have rituals but no logical process – you do something because you have been told to do so – not a process – just a routine. Scientific process is a logic based process – examining evidence by a logical process, testing repeatability, and cause and effect analysis. Quite different from believing something given to you on a plate or out of fear of the unknown.

            Faith by definition does not require proof. That is the true essence of faith – but changes depending on who is the believer and when/ where the belief system prevails. Heavily influenced by those around you – more a social and cultural phenomenon.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            You for yourself, can Not test Everything you Learn! You Must learn to BELIEVE!If you are not able to believe,you are not human.I know and understand why you would not get offended.Hypocritical.But what ethical foundation should I hold you to?!

          • Bonkim

            You need not take the trouble to hold any ethical foundation for me. My ethics are for me not others.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            That’s why atheist’ hunter gatherers were Never able to Create a Useful Anything,as in a Civilization!
            Your pet;is more important(To your ethics) than All Humanity combined!!
            Loving folks?!lol

          • Bonkim

            The earth is overpopulated and resources running out fast – and Allah is blessing Muslims with 10 to 20 children per couple and more with multiple wives – so not long for mankind to come to an end on earth – hope there is enough space in Paradise – housing shortage there too I guess with all the people rushing to depart. So long my friend – see you on the other side.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            “The earth is overpopulated and resources running out fast” Not a fact!I trust and Believe in Humanity to figure out that problem!
            You did Not specify if the Arabs of concern;are Poor Or Rich!If they are Rich and can afford to raise Children,why enforce your”Ethics”?!
            And how can you tell the future?!
            again,you can lie and make up stuff,I can not hold you to any Ethical codes!If no one can Prove it,kill,steal or cheat!Proof?ONLY .2% of atheists in the US are stupid Enough to go jail!
            There was Never a Civilization without a Higher Power!Makes your likes Unscientific animal like beings!

          • Bonkim

            Different tracks – I don’t think in your language. Are you an Alien from Mars?

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            My mind begins with Right!Your’s begins with Left!
            Which one is more correct?!

          • Bonkim

            Good question – depends on which side of the mirror you are standing – inside it or outside. If you don’t know assume Right Pillock!

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Glad to see a switch in behavior,sarcasm,from lying.. whichever you think will get your folks out of the Jungle.

          • Bonkim

            Don’t worry, stay in the desert and enjoy your God. You have your human rights to stay ignorant and backward.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Exactly My Point !Thanks!
            Why did atheists Stay as hunter gatherers?!
            Where were your folks from civilization?!
            You do not have Any reasons to get Humanity together for Anything to get us Where Religion did!
            Your stance is unscientific still!

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            I do not think I will ever see you.And If I were you,I would not WISH anything!Stick to your Definition! Don’t pick and chose!Same as the WORD “Believe”,you should Never use it again!

          • Bonkim

            I will use what word I want.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Sure,go ahead!Why not be a lying hypocrite?!
            After all I can not prove it!And there is no punishment Yet!In your society of Civil Hunters!Does not make you civil,to Only mate with animals!Just use a condom please!Or not!Just keep it in your family.

          • Bonkim

            A Liar does not have to be a hypocrite and a hypocrite may not be a liar. Are you inventing a dastardly punishment for atheists? Is a Camel an animal or a man’s best friend where you are? Can you get condoms in your parts of the world? I thought otherwise given the population explosion. Sleep well on the Camel’s back and dream up that dastardly punishment.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            It is not my first language,but from your age,it sounds like you have not practiced sarcasm enough!
            You lied about having “Ethics” and a Hypocrite for not following what you call your Ethics;unless Lying is in your ethics?!
            Did you think by “Animals” I meant farm animals?!What do you call Humans?If you “again” want to switch to being Honest?!
            I’m not in the middle East,even though they were a British colony,they never picked any of your “atheist” habits!It is Sin Moron!Keep it in your barn Please.
            Have a nice Life(not like what the atheists Don’t Mean)

          • Bonkim

            Struggling with your brain. Don’t try to think too hard – will tire easily. Hope you keep well.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            I don’t mind your sarcasm;but to lie about wishing me well, Again,just shows how UNETHICAL you are!Who are talking to WHOM EXACTLY with your wish?A deity that pops up when you deal with Believers?Be Honest Please!
            But then Again,WHY would you?!No one can catch you!Smart being!

          • Bonkim

            Good luck Sherif – but of coursegood muslims should not believe in magic and luck. All the same best wishes and may Allah go with you.

          • Bonkim

            Allahu may be Akbar – But my God is better and stronger than yours.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Aren’t you an atheist?!
            Lying may be OK with your likes today?!
            Disrespecting humanity!Shame on your ancestors,no wonder your likes don’t go to jail,you lack Integrity!Civilization Seized under your fellow “Retards”!Stuck in time Still!lol

          • Bonkim

            My ancestors are long gone and will not be shamed. not just Jail but I suppose decapitation under your laws. You write lovely English – did your Madrasa teach you that?

          • Cogra Bro

            The Christian scriptures were written by people who were trying to understand the meaning of Christ’s story and identify who he was in the light of his life, death and resurrection.

            That endeavour still continues.

          • Cogra Bro

            Atheists do not reject faith. They have faith in reason and science as the explanatory tool for everything.

            They also very often have faith in some substitute religion, such as the Cukt of Equality. See above.

          • Atheism is the opposite of believing in a god….nothing more. So yes, by definition they reject faith.

          • cuspernicus

            Atheism is simply a non-belief in all deities… Its only a rejection if you are a butthurt Australian douchebag…

          • oh dear that’s going to be embarrassing for you. Correcting what I said with exactly what I said. The fact you can’t work out the basic ‘aNolanesque’ next logic step just tells me you’re a) not a very intelligent troll or b) …actually, just that…not a very intelligent troll….:)

          • cuspernicus

            Loser Aussie… Eat you pablum… eat your lame garbage popular culture… eat it up…

          • cuspernicus

            you are pathetic… You heritage is pathetic… You are born of criminal firmament… Australians are pigs…

          • I’m not Australian btw….but I have lived there and I must say, I don’t agree with your assessment.Quite nice people and very aware of worldly matters. Are you perhaps a disgruntled male actor who can’t get parts in US movies because Australian males come across as far more manly and genuine than you do?

          • cuspernicus

            Wow another pathetic post. Projecting much? I bet your the actor… I bet you even have a fake Aussie accent… Yeah? Sheila?

          • cuspernicus

            Incoherent nonsense. No schools in the outback?

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            Having faith in something,equates “Believing”!
            When was believing in anything;considered factual?!
            You see, the necessity of Being together,was introduced by religion(not agriculture).To label it a New idea of equality is to “believe” you have something New for humanity!If so,Hunter Gatherers would have joined the religious-civilized world.
            There Nothing New here,It is part of the definition of religion “Unity”,you are Again,thousands of years Behind.

          • Cogra Bro

            Not according to the nihilistic philosophy which is the basis of much modern atheism.

            That argues that science is just as much an illusion as is religion. It also argues (correctly – it is Christian in origin) that faith in reason is a Western Cultural construct. It then argues that it had no more validity than any other cultural construct.

            Moden nihilism has no certainties or absolutes.

            Except in itself, naturally.

          • The majority of atheists I know come to the ‘lack of theist’ belief system mostly from their internal reasoning. Nothing at all to do with other people’s philosophies. I think you might be confusing the needs of most theists with how most of us atheist come to our belief systems.

          • Cogra Bro

            The growth of atheism in the West is a reflection of Continental nihilist philosophising which has created a climate of opinion. One reason for the influence of this philosophising is that it is the product of a marxoid mindset which is fashionable in the academic circles which influence the young. It is the mindset which produces the philosophy rather than the other way around,

            Whatever, the result is the same. If you are an atheist, you are a nihilist. You believe that the universe and everything in it, is an accident.

            Nothing we do or think has any ultimate meaning or purpose. There is no basis for morality of any kind. There is no reason why we should adhere to any rules of behaviour if we don’t feel like it and think we can get away with it.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            So incest is OK with you,if you use a condom?!
            Rape is also OK using a condom?!
            Of course;IF NO ONE CAN CATCH YOU!
            Atheists are too smart to go to jail!

          • Cogra Bro

            Everything and anything is OK, including incest and killing your granny. As Dostoievsky said, if God does not exist, then ‘everything is permitted’.

            This doesn’t mean that society will allow it necessarily, although it will Increasingly tend that way.

            It means that you can do what you feel like if you think you can get away with it, without any feelings of guilt.

            Incest and other such taboos are mostly the result of evolution and will still be felt by most, most of the time. But if they don’t happen to feel these tendencies, there is nothing to stop them going ahead.

          • Sherif El-Shandidi

            That means,you are certain to be Uncertain?!

            Which leads to:
            “Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.”


          • Cogra Bro

            Absolutely right, Sherif. Nietzsche argued that decline in the grip of Christianity in the West would lead to ‘Wars such as have never been seen’ in the 20th century. He was spot – on correct there.

            He said that there would be an attempt to create a new morality, but that this would fail. Again he was correct. That morality is political correctness. We await its failure , inevitable because it is based on nothing, with trepidation and curiosity.

            He then said that wars in the 21st century would be even worse, with ‘bands of brothers’ at each other”s throats,

            i don’t think Nietzsche foresaw the rise of Islam and the third world countries like China and India. All the same, even if his prophecies are restricted to Europe, on the basis of their accuracy in the past, they might well be correct. In which case the outlook is grim indeed.

          • Cogra Bro

            Atheists tend to believe in a substitute religion. In the West at present, this is the Cult of Equality. There is a good deal more evidence for the existence of God than there is in for the extreme form of Equslity believed in by the devotees of this Cult.

            Then there is Progressivism, with which belief in Equality in its modern perverse form generally but not always goes hand in hand.

            This belief, which takes in Marxism, Frankfurt School Cultural Marxism and allied faiths such as Libertarianism and promises a future Utopia based on materialism is actually a perversion of Christianity.

            It is derived from the Christian doctrine of the coming Kingdom of God.

          • Bonkim

            Good – we don’t want alien cultures and religions coming in and destroying what was achieved in the latter half of the 20th century.

    • NeanderthalDNA

      Religiously I’m something of a (skeptical) modern Gnostic Cathar, a theology I stumbled onto through exposure and respect for both Christianity and Buddhism.

      My God I generally refer to as “Truth”, a quality that I think resembles “God” enough to go with it, you know? I don’t pretend to understand this “Truth” thing completely, nor even to have the capacity to. I do have great faith in the ideal of the scientific method, the best way designed by man to separate wheat from chaff, so to speak, in this wicked and imperfectable world.

      I think of our system as “messianic democratic totalitarianism”, a combination of crass consumerism and crypto-Marxism, which requires a near total buy-in by all citizens in order to avoid being accused of “thoughtcrime”. Once a leftist myself, I’ve come to see a very nasty side to this system – many actually.

      I’m reminded of that John Lennon tune, “Imagine”, and how this so succinctly sums up the quasi-religious mysticism of messianic atheism, an inextricable cornerstone of MDT (messianic democratic totalitarianism). For the true devotees, the goal seems to be the establishment of some kind of heaven on earth, sans God, the devil, or even a sometimes not-so-benevolent and sometimes brutally unfairly Nature. All problems must be blamed on someone or on some group of people, who must be held responsible.

      This creates the ironic kabuki theater of the secular witch hunt mentality, where self righteous, self filtered, MDT ideologues and those who credit them, must ever find scapegoats upon whom to blame the failure of this world to adhere to their ideological beliefs/mandates.

      The “witch hunt” serves a useful purpose, I suppose, in human society. Guess I just find it funny emanating from Godless “progressivism”, how I’m sure they would never think of themselves as no better than benighted superstitious religious types.

  • Nwg2000

    Just picking out a few of the many absurdities in this article:

    The use of the phrase “after discarding God” is exceptionally insidious – it sets up a (false) notion that all non-theists were believers in the first place as God is the default position from which they have strayed.

    “Religion holds back the religious (even if not always stopping them).”. What a hilarious statement! So basically, it doesn’t hold them back then. Hence why the so called ‘morals of religion’ have brought such death and suffering throughout the history of humankind.

    “The more atheists think on these things, the more we may have to accept
    that the concept of the sanctity of human life is a Judeo-Christian
    notion which might very easily not survive Judeo-Christian civilisation.”. Utter rubbish. Go and read the Bible and keep a list of every murder perpetrated or encouraged by God. It’ll be a rather long list. Let’s take an obvious example – the worldwide flood in Genesis. Please do explain how such an action promotes the “sanctity of human life”?

    In summary, the article is a land grab for theists who are trying to claim a monopoly on certain morals. An old, and desperate, argument proven invalid by the ‘pick and mix’ approach to which morals are chosen as well as the ability of the non-religious to act equally as morally.

    • Baron

      Sorry, Nwg2000, you have fallen into the same trap others, who point to the past atrocities committed in the name of God, have, you look at the past through the prism of today’s morality, not the one that prevailed when the killings took place.

      You familiar with the fall of Masada during the 2nd uprising by the Jews against Rome? Before the final push by the Romans, the defenders elected ten most able amongst them to slaughter the rest, then slaughter each other, the last one surviving the self imposed slaughter committed suicide?

      If Josephus is to be believed, they did so after Eleazar, the man in charge, spoke to them: ‘Ever since primitive man began to think … the words of our ancestors…. impressed on us that life is the calamity for man, not death. Death gives freedom to our souls and lets them depart to their own pure home where they will know nothing of any calamity. While they are confined within a mortal body and share its miseries, in strict truth they are dead ….. (more to it, google if you want to get the lot).

      If religious people regarded their own life on earth to be easily disposable because a better one awaited in God’s presence, would they have treated the life of an enemy any better? More to the point, did non religious people in that age (say) the Romans regard life of an enemy any better?

      • Cogra Bro

        A very good post which is Intelligent and informative. Such a contrast to the pig- ignorant Atheistical bigotry so evident on this stream.

      • gleno

        Baron, you skipped Nwg2000’s main point. It wasn’t about acts committed in the *name* of God, but *by* God Himself. According to the Bible, God murdered countless men, women, children and babies, many times, sometimes by His own hand, other times by ordering men to do it for him. As Neg2000 said: “Let’s take an obvious example – the worldwide flood in Genesis. Please
        do explain how such an action promotes the ‘sanctity of human life’?” We could just as easily take any of the other horrific, cruel examples. Often it’s because God feels the people he wants killed are “bad.” But that sounds suspiciously human, doesn’t it. But unlike us, God is supposed to be omnipotent. So why does He behave as if life were *not* sacred? Being omnipotent, God knew how those people would behave even before He created them. So He created life only to destroy it, knowing He would. Why not create life He wouldn’t destroy? And even allowing for the odd notion that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity would create bad people, surely you and I can think of better ways to handle it. Why not just erase their memories, or change their personalities, or do any of a billion other humane things other than murder them all? How can an deity who kills and orders men to kill innocent children be considered the source of morality? I know many do, so I am curious how. A common answer, “God works in mysterious ways,” isn’t an answer, but a dodge.

    • Holly

      God considers our lives to be sacred because He created us in His image (see Gen. 1:27 and Gen. 9:6). He told US not to kill (Exodus 20:13). God destroyed man whom He created (with a world-wide flood) because “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, KJV). God killed everyone (except Noah and his family) with a flood because not only were they wicked, but every single one of their thoughts were wicked also.

      God is God. He told us not to kill each other. He didn’t give that command to Himself; He gave that command to us. We are His creation. The world operates according to His direction. He can do what He wants with His creation. Bow down and show some respect for the Creator. The people before the flood didn’t. Look at where that got them. I beg you, please LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES! Their testimony is for our example.

      About the use of babies to heat hospitals, that is very inhumane to say the least. When your mother dies, why don’t you chop her up and use her to heat your own house? BECAUSE IT WOULD BE SICK to do something like that. The same goes for these poor babies. I’m ashamed to be human because we do stuff like this. God have mercy please! Wake up humanity. We need You.

      While God is the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25), He is also very merciful. He always provides a way to escape His judgement, but He doesn’t force anyone to take it. It is a personal choice for each individual to accept God’s way of escape. Will you bow the knee? Will you submit to His will? His will is that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Saved means to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus died on a cross over 2000 years ago (about 2014 years ago to be more exact), was buried, and rose again 3 days later (we just celebrated Easter, that’s why we have Easter: to remember Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection).

      God’s wrath is severe, but His love is greater. He gave His only begotten Son. Oh, if you knew how to love your child (or any baby, including the unborn), you might have an ounce of understanding of God’s love for us! For some people, their child is the most precious thing to them on this earth! Imagine how precious Jesus is to God! But God gave Jesus for our sins. Jesus’ shed blood on the cross is the only thing that God will accept as our payment, not only to get out of Hell, but also to be allowed into Heaven. Are you trying to do good works to get yourself into Heaven? You cannot work your way to Heaven. Pleading the blood of Jesus Christ is the only way we can get to Heaven.

      I encourage you to accept this truth today. Accept that you can do nothing to escape God’s wrath. Jesus’ blood is the only thing good enough to settle the debt of sin you have with God. Jesus’ blood is the only method of payment that He accepts. Nothing else.

      • John Doeman

        God considers our lives to be sacred because He created us in His image

        religious myth to ignore.
        gods and religions are created in the imaginations of man.

  • Tom Tom

    Most Non-Christian cultures have little conception of Individual Rights over Group Rights and Duties. The Tribe owns the Individual

    • Cogra Bro

      That’s because our idea of the worth if the individual is the product of Christian doctrine.

  • Kaine

    There is that old discussion as to at exactly which point does grave-robbing become archaeology…

    However what is often lost in this discussion is that the current brand of soft, community-driven Christianity is not where we started. It is the result of the Church being smashed over the head with the oak branch of the Enlightenment and social progress until it came to heel. We only have to go back to the thirties to see Steinbeck and Orwell writing about Christian organisations making people crawl and beg for the food to feed their children.

    One only has to look at the denouncements of Pope Frankie coming out of the Evangelical movement in the USA to see there is an active discussion about what exactly Christian values are.

    • Cogra Bro

      At least they did feed them. A Roman Emperor complained that the priests of the old Religion fed no one and the Jews fed their own poor but the Christians fed everyone.

      If people had a hard time getting charity, I have no doubt that it was because there was none to give and because Christianity believes it should be reserved for the deserving.

      The idea, which you convey, that Christian organisations were deliberately stingy with charity, even that they enjoyed humiliating people , is just plain nasty.

      • Kaine

        It is a nasty idea. Unfortunately the primary sources indicate it was true.

        • Cogra Bro

          And what might they be? Are you suggesting that officials dispensing state largesse , ie tax payers money, are invariably full of ( might I say ) Christian Charity?

          • Kaine

            If you read anyone writing at the time, for example Orwell, Tressell, Steinbeck in the USA, they all point out the simple fact that these charities were always more concerned with evangelism and enforcing their own moral code than actually helping anyone. The food was just bait for the fishers of men.

            Hamas do a great deal of social work feeding the hungry and housing the desperate in the Palestinian territories. What do you think their motivation is?

            Yes, I think helping the poor through the democratic will of the people is superior to relying upon the whims of the rich.

          • Cassandra

            ‘Anyone writing’ appears to be leftist. Of course charities were concerned with evangelism. But exhibiting Christian charity in a practical way is part of that.

          • Kaine

            Always good to have a conservative admit Orwell belongs to the socialist tradition.

            The churches were not friends of the poor, but friends of poverty. Mother Teresa would be a modern day example, campaigning against birth control in Calcutta while founding orders to her own glory.

            Again, should we give Hamas credit for feeding the hungry of Gaza? Or do we view it for the recruiting tool it is?

  • mariandavid

    How anyone can believe that human life was previously sacred in a Christian World betrays a staggering and blinkered ignorance of the endless ruination of life that took placed in the previous ‘Christian’ centuries. At least in a semi-atheistic world religion is not allowed to kill, maim or persecute for the sake of religion,

    • Baron

      Quite, what kills now is not religion, but atheism, and thanks God for it.

    • Cogra Bro

      See my posts on Nietzsche and Progress as a function of Christian doctrine, without which we would no doubt still be butchering and enslaving each other like the Romans or the Mongols.

      In an atheist world there is no hindrance whatsoever to killing people, because human life has no worth. Nothing has worth in a meaningless universe and where life is just the result of an accidental Union of molecules.

      Nietzsche thought that, thanks to the decline in the grip of Christianity, the twentieth century would see ‘wars such as have never been seen’. He was spot – on accurate.

      He also predicted that, when the last shreds of Christian morality had disappeared in this present century, there would be wars which would be even worse.

      It is you who is ignorant.

      • mariandavid

        I grant you that Nietzsche inspired Richard Strauss to compose a particularly fine piece of music but otherwise his philosophy managed to continue the strain of Christian murderousness when his words became the inspiration for that other fine product of Catholic education – Adolf Hitler. Not that this was new – he was simply following the fine precedents established as far back as the eradication of the Cathar, perfected during the Wars of Religion and exported with murderous zeal in the name of God to the Americas. Since atheists are, on balance, believers in the rational rather than in propagandized faith I tend to hope that they preserve greater morality in practice than so called Christians did in the past and are therefore less likely to engage in organized slaughter. Although alas another atheist Stalin may disprove my points – though on the other hand a Christian Putin may soon prove them.

        • Cogra Bro


  • tjjteacher

    This is one of two articles in this week’s Spectator suggesting that religious people have a monopoly on morality. Yet religious people themselves can’t agree on many areas of morality and there are numerous grey areas where the the Holy books seem silent or ambiguous (or just plain odd!)

    I agree that the fact that I (we all?) feel that there are some immutable rights and wrongs that hold for all time and in all contexts begs the question for atheists as to where such ‘feelings’ come from, but I have yet to be convinced that religion holds any better answers to the origin/source of morality. As per my post here: http://tjj.postach.io/being-good-without-god

    • Cogra Bro

      I don’t agree that there are immutable rights and wrongs. In our own society, we can see how age old morality is disappearing down the plug hole to be replaced with…what?

      • tjjteacher

        Surely in whatever time, or culture killing someone is always wrong, raping someone is always wrong etc.? I’m no bible basher but without any immutable rights and wrongs how does anyone have the authority to tell me (or anyone else for that matter) what I can and can’t do?

  • Bonkim

    Silly question. The term sacred has religious connotations. In an atheist world such terms will be defunct. That does not mean human beings will not be cared for. Equally an atheist world will put quality over quantity. The world is grossly overpopulated. Vast numbers are born with no hope of surviving or living meaningful lives. Procreating and banning contraception/abortion in the name of religious beliefs is idiotic. People should have choice and in the ultimate people should only procreate if they can look after the results. Having ten or twenty children and expecting the rest of the world to care for them is criminal. Nothing sacred in this world – reality hits you before you are born. At the rate populations are exploding and resources running out – the question would be meaningless soon – give or take a century or two if not decades, man’s tenure on earth is close to its end.

  • mikewaller

    Have people like Murray, Hobson and the most of those who contribute to the BBC’s “Beyond Belief” any conception of the fools recent developments in neuroscience and experimental psychology are making of them. For those who keep up with it, we are now being taken way beyond the question of “Is there a God?” and deep into very strong doubts as to (a) whether there is an “us”, and (b) whether “free will” has any real meaning. What I mean by this is that the sense of self (aka “consciousness”) – so long venerated by the human race and through which we have believed ourselves to have engaged with god(s) and controlled our lives – is proving to be no more than what post-Darwinian commonsense has always suggested it is: a late evolutionary “bolt-on” which, although essential for our kind of opportunistic problem-solving, left the subconscious control mechanisms which manage our existence as much in charge as they always have been.

    For this science-based perspective, imagining the existence of a god(s) is merely one adaptive means of dealing with an unavoidable byproduct of our large problem-solving brains: the cosmic insignificance of our own existence. How much nicer then to think that there is a nice guy in the sky who has big plans for us as long as we are good.

    Mindful of Douglas Adam’s wonderful illustration of the consequences of getting things fully into perspective – the individual so enabled had her mind, literally, blown away – it could be argued that folks such as Murray would be better left with their delusions. However, I am sufficient of an idealist as to hope that it just might be possible to say that whilst recognising all of the above, “doing unto others…” [not an idea unique to Jesus] is a very useful yardstick against which to appraise our behaviour. It may be logically inconsistent with the evolved reality, but it could make for a much nicer world.

    • Baron

      Pray, tell us something about the mechanism through which the bolt on’ got bolted on, will you, you genius.

      Whilst you are at it, explain why the ‘subconscious control mechanism’, the autopilot that fully ‘manages our existence’ failed so spectacularly in case of (say) the Japanese kamikaze who, more often than not, consciously ignored the stuff you say controls us, finished themselves and the ‘subconscious control mechanism’ off.

      • mikewaller

        Its actually called random mutation which works in combination with natural selection. A sense of self has now been detected in not only some of our ape kin but also in some members of the crow family of which Wikipeadia has this to say:

        “Recent research has found some crow species capable of not only tool use but also tool construction[2] and meta-tool use. Crows are now considered to be among the world’s most intelligent animals[3] with an encephalization quotient approaching that of some apes”.

        The common factor is that they like us are opportunistic problem solvers i.e. we all have the skills necessary to exploit environmental opportunities in novel ways. To do that you have to have the cerebral capacity to conceptualise the potential opportunity and the surrounding environment in terms of “How can I exploit this situation to my advantage?” To do that you have to have some concept of “self” and that, I think, is about all there is to it. Probably in the context of major environmental changes, those who had the first vestiges of this skill reproduced more successfully than those who didn’t, not least because they secured more resources and thus became more attractive (in the broadest sense) mates. This led on to usual evolutionary runaway success, with sexual selection ensuring that bigger brains producing yet bigger brains. Amongst humans, this process is usually known as “the great encephalization”.

        As to what impels kamikaze pilots, hunger strikers or winners of posthumous V.Cs. to sacrifice their lives, we have to distinguish between the proximate cause and the ultimate cause. The former covers the multiplicity of thoughts that might be passing through the individuals mind at the time. However to the evolutionist, the ultimate question is why this kind of behaviour has not been eliminated by natural selection as, clearly, those who act in such a way, by so doing, destroy their capacity to pass the genes ultimately responsible on to the next generation.

        If you put “Family stigma, sexual selection and the evolutionary origins of severe depression’s physiological consequences” into Google you will find a peer reviewed paper of mine which, I believe, gives the answer. Put at its simplest, I believe that any society that accords high honour to such behaviour – honour which permeates throughout the family of the self-sacrificer – creates a situation which in terms of reproductive output at the level of the family (i.e.inclusive fitness) actually enhances that family’s evolutionary success. Put even more succinctly, the sisters of a posthumous recipient of a V.C. will find their marriageability very significantly enhanced. Quite the reverse happened to the sisters of those “shot at dawn”.

        • Baron

          Thank you very much for replying, mikewaller.

          Without any grounding in this field, merely an interest in cell self-replication, genes, the stuff Behe, Denton, others write about, Baron finds the proposition that the use of tools by some animals (honey badgers?), birds is an evolutionary step towards self consciousness (or a part of it) rather unconvincing. Not all crows can do it, how come those that cannot have also survived. More to the point, if one were to take humans as the example of evolutionary tool use then some of the crows would be making tools rather than using what they can find, combining what they find.

          If anything, it would seem logically more consistent to see the obtaining of sustenance, the preservation of one’s existence for all species, to be a part of the subconscious control mechanism, it must have been such if you were to argue that consciousness, followed by self consciousness were the result of Darwinian evolution. Also, are there not humans who, because of some genetic predisposition, are totally incapable of using tools, not even their hands, to feed themselves, yet are fully self conscious, enjoy looking in the mirror, a touch by another human?

          The explanation of man’s altruistic self sacrifice, the voluntary over ruling of the in-built control mechanism you offer seems logically tighter. Baron takes it you have statistical evidence to back it. He will look it up, whether he will be able to follow it is another matter, but thanks again.

          • mikewaller

            IMHO, you continue to make far too much of intelligence per se. Think of it as just another attribute like the beaks of Darwin’s finches. If some subspecies of crow gravitate to the routine exploitation of plentiful food supplies using a standardised technique, they don’t need to develop a sense of self. On the other hand, if another group is to succeed by developing techniques such as first dropping hard-shelled foodstuff on roads for vehicles to crush and then tweaking that by dropping them on pedestrian crossings so that they can collect the results when the traffic has to stop, you do need a sense of self.

            Beyond that there is the small matter of having to fly which means that there are very clear limits to brain size. Indeed we, too, are limited by the birth canal and the need to move around without our necks breaking or being easy pray to predators.

            As for all individuals evolving to maximize their personal reproductive possibilities, the great breakthrough in neo-Darwinism comes from the realisation that kin share many genes and, as a result, reproductively self-sacrificial behaviours can be selected for PROVIDED their overall effect – on average – is to increase the gene throughput across the family group as a whole. If you want another human example, consider a celibate priest who comes from a large family. As long as having a priest in the family confers significant additional status that is reflected in greater marital eligibility, the reproductive losses incurred by the son can be more than off-set by the improved prospects of his kin.

            As to individuals who don’t have the necessary skill for opportunistic environmental exploitation, in the natural world, they would have to copy the techniques developed by the successful, find some useful support role appreciated by the problem-solvers or go to the wall. My “all on a T-shirt” summary is “Compete, complement, deviate or die” where deviate means coming up with another novel method of environmental exploitation.

          • Baron

            Absorbing points, mikewaller, new angles, it’s not often one learns new stuff blogging, thanks.

          • mikewaller

            I heard “Thought for the Day” this morning on which a lady of one or another Christian sect argued that the widespread revulsion at the behaviour of the captain and crew of Korean ferry “proved” that Dawkins’ notion of the selfish gene could never be more than a partial explanation for human nature. I had to suppress the urge to shout at my radio: Au contraire, what chance now for their kids making good marriages? Nor would rejecting an otherwise attractive potential mate because his or her father had behaved so badly be evolutionarily illogical. “Like father like son”, “bred in the bone”, “chip of the old block” all reveal a longstanding awareness that parents can offer valuable insights into the merits of their progeny. So in the Korean case, individuals who have shown such a cavalier attitude to their professional duty of care have inadvertently given out a clear message with regard their and their off-springs’ questionable value as co-raisers of children.

            BTW, I have been told by several people whose opinions I greatly value that the difficulty my ideas in this area have in gaining traction is not a result of any inherent defect but because they make very uncomfortable reading for the human race. As I believe that fully understanding why we behave as we do is our one best hope of behaving better, I keep on pushing. If you are sufficiently interested, you too might care to give them a bit of a shove! [:-)]

  • Jethro Asquith

    I used to like the spectator but it really seems to have turned into some religious mumbo jumbo propaganda machine.

  • Simon Fay

    Reading the comments below I can’t escape the sense that nothing is sacred to the atheist-abortionist nexus, except their intellectual pride.

    • Croquet_Player

      Well, you must admit it makes a pleasing contrast to those who take pride in their rampant ignorance.

  • Hans Olo

    To preserve morality, liberty, and prosperity, the leaden threads of centralized state power must be confined to the fewest possible seams.

  • Tony Quintus

    You think that human life is sacred in faith based societies?

    • Cogra Bro

      They certainly weren’t in societies founded on ‘reason’

      • Croquet_Player

        Same old frightful four, eh? But you know the list of devoutly religious despots is in the thousands by any minimal count, and the list of their victims is endless. (By the way, Hitler was a Catholic and preached a bizarre sort of Christian theology. Sorry, but he’s one of yours.)

        • Cogra Bro

          Hitler hated ‘Jewish’ Christianity and would have destroyed Christianity in Germany if he had had the time,

          In no sense was he a Christian, any more than are Muslims who also have a bizarre idea of Jesus and Christianity.

          The nazis incidentally admired Islam for its anti semitism and warlike qualities. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem ( Yasser Arafat’s Great Uncle ) lived in Berlin during the war years.

          • Croquet_Player

            I think we can agree Hitler was certainly monstrous. But he wasn’t an atheist. And you have given a perfect example of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Plenty of ordinary religious people, Christians, Muslims, what have you, have committed horrible acts, and used their religions to justify them. Religious belief is no impediment to bad behavior.

          • Cogra Bro

            I disagree. Christian belief is certainly an impediment to bad behaviour. Without Christian belief, torturing people in amphitheatres like the Romans did for centuries would still be thought if as quite normal and no different from going to the cinemas nowadays

          • Croquet_Player

            Well if that were true then torture would have ended in Christian societies. And that’s certainly not the case. Witness the Inquisition, witchhunts, etc. Perfectly justified according to the Christian theologians.

          • Cogra Bro

            I point you in the direction of my remarks elsewhere about the Christian invention of the idea of Progress.

          • Croquet_Player

            Thank you, I don’t take direction from self-confessed religious bigots.

          • Cogra Bro

            No true Scotsman would wear knickers?

          • Croquet_Player

            Look it up.

  • ilpugliese

    Usual arguments from the tireless Judeo-Christian advocate, and these two faiths have always gone hand in hand, have they not? We need to keep being reminded about how ghastly it all was before Judaism and Christianity, and how perfect it was until the sixties, when it all went downhill, until all but a few squeaky voices remained.

    • Cogra Bro

      Pretty much the truth actually. George Orwell could write at the height of the Second World War, that the chief characteristic of English civilisation was its gentleness, ‘You notice it the moment you step on English soil’ he wrote in ‘England, your England’

      That certainly isn’t true today.

  • rtj1211

    Well, it certainly isn’t in a US-UK world and absolutely never in a US multinational corporation world.

    Deal with the real world rather than childish fantasies.

    Go tell the CEO of Cargill to get his arse out of Ukraine.

    Go tell John Kerry to stop being the world’s most moronic politician right now.

    Go tell that devout Christian William Jefferson Clinton about his more bloodthirsty escapades whilst President.

    Go tell the devout Christians of the neo-conservative founders of the Project for a New American Century that they don’t hold life too sacred……

    Go on, stick up for your principles without favour nor the consequences to your own employability.

    But do stop writing drivel that everyone laughs at to try and prop up Institutions that died long ago due to no longer being fit for purpose.

    • Cogra Bro

      The founders of the Neo Con doctrines were / are largely Jewish, not Christian.

  • Peter Stroud

    I thought that human life would be sacred in a Humanist society.

    • Cogra Bro

      Why? If it wasn’t in a civilisation whose key figure taught love and forgiveness

      • Croquet_Player

        So, are you saying that every society in history which didn’t share your particular society’s popular god has “no basis for its morality”? Because that is patently untrue. Morals and ethics are developed by all societies, based on the fact that the humans who comprise those societies have innate altruism.

        • Cogra Bro

          There is always a system of ethics, which are rules for living together. This doesn’t imply altruism.

          Without divine sanction, they have no ultimate basis, which is why in our own society our own ethics as expressed in the laws are I increasingly ignored if people think they can get away with it. Morality is what is practiced when one can get away with it.

          People may have altruistic feelings, but then again they may not. In the absence of divine command, as in the Sermon on the Mount, who is to say that the preferences of an altruistic person are superior to those of a psychopathic personality?

          • Croquet_Player

            “In the absence of divine command, as in the Sermon on the Mount, who is
            to say that the preferences of an altruistic person are superior to
            those of a psychopathic personality?”

            Anyone with even the slightest bit of common sense. What an absolutely ridiculous suggestion. I need no religious text to inform me that it would be wrong for me to stab your grandmother to death. And frankly it’s worrisome to think that without a religious text some could possibly consider that act to be in any way morally unclear.

            You may consider yourself under”divine command” to behave well, but plenty of people use the excuse of “divine command” to commit atrocious acts. Religion, yours or anyone’s, doesn’t get to claim any moral high ground.

          • Cogra Bro

            Unfortunately, there have been umpteen civilisations where stabbing grandmothers to death was not just routine but de rigeuer.

            Just think of the centuries of torture for public entertainment in the Amphitheatres of Rome, for example.

            It does not seem to have occurred to the Romans that disembowelling g people might not have been decent behaviour.

          • Croquet_Player

            But you misread the hierarchy of Roman society. Free citizens of Rome couldn’t just walk into each other’s houses and stab grandmothers to death without penalty. Captured foreigners, slaves, prisoners – they did not enjoy the same rights.

          • Cogra Bro

            As I recall, certain Emperors tried to murder their mothers. Nero was one of them.

            But you are right. Rome was a society where human worth was predicated on power.

            Powerless individuals like slaves had no power and so had no legal personhood.

            They were given certain rights at a later stage.

            Christianity overturned this view of humanity, asserting that all had worth as equally loved children of God.

            The idea of Progress was introduced into Western Civilisation thanks to the Christian doctrine of the coming Kingdom of God. This idea was absent from every other civilisation and philosophy.

            Because of the idea of Progress innumerable social advances

          • Croquet_Player

            …in fact that’s what this author is trying to do – suggest that those who don’t share his faith are somehow “less than”, and are therefore a suspect class. Essentially “They don’t believe the things that I do, and so they’re more likely to be bad people, and we should treat them with suspicion”. It’s a disgraceful suggestion, and should be met with vigorous opposition by more fair-minded people.

          • Cogra Bro

            Yes I am suggesting that actually. But bear in mind that it us Christianity which has given the West its conscience.

            If one does not have such a conscience, then what you think is right and what is wrong is your affair.

          • Croquet_Player

            “Yes I am suggesting that actually.” Well it’s a disgusting suggestion, and shame on you. How DARE you suggest that atheists like myself are to be suspected of valuing human life less than you simply because we see no evidence for any supernatural deities. It’s an appalling, bigoted thing to say, and patently false, not to mention outrageously unfair – to every human who doesn’t share your faith, atheist or not. Congratulations – you’re a bigot, and you justify it with your faith. Utterly revolting.

          • Cogra Bro

            If you read my post about Nietzsche which started this particular discussion, you will see why I say what I do.

          • Croquet_Player

            Terrific. You’re a Nietzsche-quoting bigot. Makes no difference, and you’re both wrong – obviously so, too. If atheists were less moral than others than we would see a correlation in crime statistics. Atheists are underrepresented in prison populations – dramatically so – compared to their numbers in the general public. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/16/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-its-a-lot-smaller-than-we-ever-imagined/

  • Cogra Bro

    Nietzsche wrote of the English, ‘They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality… In England, one must rehabilitate oneself after every little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritable awe -inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there’.

    He also said. ‘By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole; nothing remains of it.’

    Without faith in Christ / God the rug is pulled from under Christian morality. It stands on nothing.

    He foretold that an attempt would be made to invent a new morality, but that too would fail. That new morality is surely Political Correctness.

    Nietzsche prophesised very correctly that the twentieth Century would be riven by wars ‘such as have never been seen’ thanks to the decline in the grip of Christianity.

    However he also said that the 21st Century would see wars which were even worse, with ‘bands of brothers’ at each other’s throats, because the last shreds of Christian morality would have disappeared.

    Those who cheer the disappearance of Christianity from Britain ‘know not what they do’. But they will find out in due course.

  • SmirkinJudas

    I am an atheist, and I believe human life is sacred. And God has nothing to do with it.

    • Cogra Bro

      Sacred means ‘holy’. One cannot be an atheist and believe that something is holy

  • cartimandua

    It wasn’t revulsion. We have recently had my Mother cremated. It is only bizarre sentimentalists who ascribe to a dead foetus “some special meaning”.
    By doing that they torture grieving parents.
    And as far as abortion goes. Western societies have fewest of them. Hypocritical “it doesn’t happen here” places have far far more of them.
    What needs to be protected is an idea of protection for conscious thinking human beings.
    The dead really don’t care.

  • cartimandua

    There ought to be a human animal altruism which would seek to protect weaker group members so the group and species can survive.
    On the Korean Ferry some adults passed a child over their heads to safety and then those adults died.
    On the other hand the Captain and crew left 100s of children to die. Part of that problem was “obedience” to authority. Few it seems were able to say the eck with this
    and move the kids before it was too late. It took an hour to capsize.
    So religions and societies need to value human individuals and they need them to be able to “disobey” and have agency.

  • Ross

    The oceans of blood spilt in the name of religion suggest that life is rather less than sacred in a theistic world.

    Which version of Christian morality does Douglas hold to? That of the Old Testament perhaps, or is his Christian morality of the a la carte variety? And that’s surely the point. People who call themselves Christians adhere to the moral lessons they agree with, and disregard those they find objectionable. Thus the moral framework is of a individual’s own creation, with the palatable parts of the religious tradition to which they adhere taken onboard and the rest entirely disregarded.

    Douglas should be very relieved this is the case. The mercies of most religious traditions are not particularly tender in the treatment they proscribe for homosexuals

    • Cogra Bro

      A gross misrepresentation, if I may say so.

  • The Roadster

    Since it can be hard to understand how moral standards, virtues, and learned traditions enable civilization, such standards and practices tend to be deeply despised.

    • Bonkim

      Did civilization come before moral standards and virtues or did mankind get civilized as we thought and learned morality, and ethical standards.

  • This is one of the more absurd articles I have ever read. Even if the assertions were true it does not follow that worshiping a god make things any better. Many gods don’t seem to value human life much either.

    • Cogra Bro

      It rather depends on which god! doesn’t it? The Christian God values each human being equally, as one of his loved children.

      Atheism values nothing, because if believes in nothing, ie in the meaningless of the universe.

      If one believes in nothing, then nothing has any value and that includes human life.

      • Bonkim

        The Christian God knows each one of us by name – Oops – not mine though, I am not a Christian – am I missing out on eternal life?

        • Cogra Bro

          If you behave like a Christian should, including loving all human life in imitation of the God you don’t believe in, then the answer is No.

    • Bonkim

      Not all that shout Lord Lord will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. nThere is only one God and that is mine – all powerful. All others fake.

  • Debwoolsey

    Something to understand is that the trial of Kermit Gosnell received little if any mention in the media other than prolife or Christian media. The national media basically ignored it. That is why it was so ignored by the people of the US.

  • Jenson Phaedor

    We used to run around throwing sticks and rocks at things, and then eating them raw. Life has always been about survivors. The danger is that we are a nothing more than a collection of sensory organs that form the illusion of a single consciousness. All we can do is make it up as we go along, I suppose.

  • John Lev

    As an atheist, I for one have to admit that I don’t think life is scared. At least not in the religious sense. Reproduction is a well understood process and given that there’s nearly 7 billion of us on this planet, I don’t see why human life should be considered as such. I certainly do not value the life of a child molesting criminal over that of a cancer curing doctor. For all their talk about how precious human life is, most christians I know (in the US) vehemently support the death penalty and the right to carry concealed in which they claim they’re all too happy to use it.

    I do support the right of people to decide to end their lives in the event of terminal illness to end suffering. What kind of immoral monster would WANT people to continue to suffer without hope of recovery? Hell, most of us recognize this and bestow this right to our pets for crying out loud but yet we want people to continue
    to suffer for Jesus. What gives you that right to determine someone else’s fate?

    And I’ll confess, I’m not a fan of abortion but I do support policies that are effective in reducing it which is the exact opposite of what most christians do. This dumbfounds me to no-end. A good number I know would not support the expansion of welfare to help care for these children, they don’t want people to have access to contraception and they sure don’t want to teach teens how to protect themselves during sex.

    Then as far as being a great moral system, in the US the highest rates of rape, assaults, property theft, obesity, teen pregnancy, repeat teen pregnancy, illiteracy, poverty, etc … pretty much every indicator of poor quality of life is mostly within the bible belt region.

    So I have to ask…if christianity is such a great fracking moral system, then why does it continuously fail?

    • Bonkim

      The earth is overpopulated and resources running out – wait a little and mankind’s tenure on earth will come to a close – may be a century or two if not decades.

  • Jo

    Foetuses in a furnace? Honestly, what else did you expect? Should hospitals take care of countless burials? They wouldn’t have much time or money to do anything else. Or maybe parents should do that? Trust me, not the best idea ever. Once I read an article about a woman that had a miscarriage. She grieved her loss, but the doctor tried to console her by saying that the foetus was too small to be a baby, that it didn’t even develop a brain at that time. She felt a little better. Unfortunately some bureaucratic morons told her to give them baby’s name for official records, because it needs to be buried. She was shocked because she didn’t even know the sex yet and she just wanted it to be over. Morons were more and more judgemental and aggresive when saying “it was your child and you don’t even want to name and bury it? What kind of a person are you?”. So instead of leaving her alone they made her suffering so much worse. Honestly, it’s not worth it, after we die it’s just random atoms. We give it too much thought already.

  • Perseus Slade

    Come to think of it, life is not sacrosanct in a religious world.
    Never has been.

    Take the Christians for instance. From the start, the different movements were killing each other: Trintarians against Arians etc. And this has continued to the present, as in the Gerry Adams business. Under the Abrahamic religions, progroms, jihad and crusades etc. have never stopped.

    What is there to like about belief in the supernatural?

    Morality is part and parcel of the human condition.
    Tying it to religious belief only undermines it.

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      ‘And this has continued to the present, as in the Gerry Adams business.’

      Gerry Adams is a self-declared atheist. As well as a socialist. (which makes support for him in the American Republican Party funny in a really, really sick way!)

  • So Nee

    Although technological advance consists of learning and applying knowledge we did not know before, by no means will we always enjoy its effects or be satisfied with its results.

  • JabbaTheCat

    “What was your reaction recently when it emerged that thousands of unborn foetuses had been burnt by NHS trusts?”

    Probably like most of the population indifference…

    • Terry Field

      The vox pop was always like opening a sewer manhole.

  • Croquet_Player

    My lack of belief in gods and goddesses has nothing to do with my morals and/or ethics. I might just as easily question the author’s morals and ethics in light of the fact that he fails to worship Odin and Thor, and it would be equally meaningless and silly. What is worrisome however is the insidious bias against atheists – I don’t believe in your god, so therefore I automatically must have lower ethical standards, (or even none at all.) This is an excellent way to fan suspicion and hatred of those who don’t worship, or those who worship differently from you. Don’t believe me? Ask the Jews. The author owes all atheists an apology, and owes everyone who doesn’t worship his particular god an apology as well. Disgraceful article.

    • Cogra Bro

      See my post about Nietzsche below

  • @Mike-uk2011

    I find it rather sad that this author assumes that the sanctity of life is a Judeo-Christian concept. The Golden Rule can be found in practically every culture ever studied. Including isolated cultures and cultures that pre-date the Judeo-Christian mythology.
    I value life on the individual basis, because its unique, sentient and suffers, thus precious for that reason.
    If you read the bible, particularly the OT, but the NT too, you would think that human life is anything but precious. So many killed for ridiculous reasons. Many times on order from the main character, Yahweh. The Qur’an is no different either.
    I don’t know enough about eastern religions to comment on them.

  • James Cotter

    There’s always Humanism which takes into account the sanctity of the individual. You’re challenged to live life to the best of your abilities while treating and seeing other in your most sympathetic and generous manner.
    There’s also the point (of which I may be completely wrong), but I wouldn’t be sure that we’re not already living in a world, at least in the west, where god doesn’t exist, at least not in any significant way, for the vast majority of people. I don’t imagine the vast majority of people ever wonder “what would god do” in any situation that they find themselves in.

  • veggiedude

    I’ve been atheist since age 13 (’73). Vegetarian since age 17 (’77). I stopped eating animals out of ethical and moral reasons. I see the Abrahamic religions as out-of-date and increasingly irrelevant on issues of ethics and morality, especially so with the cause of animal rights. Why? Because they are spoon-fed their ethics from a book, and one that does not value life like I do.