Christian morality not good enough?

Sent in by Ricky W.

This is a somewhat concise testimonial about logic and morality, and my journey to atheism from Christianity. Firstly, I should mention that I love animals. I'm a vegetarian, in fact. Now actually - much like with atheists, there is usually a backlash against a person who even mentions that he or she is a vegetarian. As soon as that admission is made, defensive questions like, "So you think I'm immoral?" or "Why do you hate humans so much?" pop up. But I'm sure that people here will be less reactive and merely listen to how my thinking process has unfolded. So let's begin.

The reason I'm writing this is that many Christians and other religious people question people's ability to act morally if they don't have a personal God who hands down rules from on high. They think that if there is no God telling you what is right and wrong, that you will have an "anything goes" attitude, and not care about anyone else. My experience shows that this has no factual basis whatsoever.

Let's go back to my childhood. My family was secular, although my mom had gone to Catholic school and she considered herself to be a Catholic, still. One day, I asked my mom why we didn't go to church, and that was the start of a nightmare that repeated every Sunday morning. My mom, feeling guilty that she hadn't gone to church or taken us to church, decided that from then on, we'd attend church, and I and my brother were to go to Sunday school. (If I could only have those wasted Sundays back...) So we started going to a Catholic Church. I must say that overall I still like the Catholic Church (of today) better than many other Christian sects. See, we just sang hymns for most of mass and didn't really get into much besides that. It was more of a ritual, even though Latin was no longer used. There were no "gays are evil" or "vote for this conservative politician" lectures by the priests, for example. And we never even had to read the Bible. Knowing a few things like "Noah's Arc" was good enough. So, at no point did I become a bigot, even then.

One thing I thought back then, was that my suffering showed that I really cared. During mass, I would never go to sleep, and I got angry because my parents let my brother - who didn't seem to care either way about the church - to sleep through every week's mass. I stayed attentive. I cared. I would pray the same prayers over and over again, every night, perhaps for an hour each night before going to bed. I thought that praying was the least I could do, even though I was slowly developing insomnia. (Even when I finally tried to go to sleep, I became unable to. Thankfully, this ended a few years after praying - around when I got into college.) I started to dread bed time, because I didn't want to pray. On the bus to school, I also prayed, but I felt embarrassed, so I tried to hide my clasped hands and closed eyes (the only true way to pray, right?). At the same time, I felt guilty for trying to hide my faith - for being embarrassed about it in the first place.

I was one of the last kids in the neighborhood to stop believing in Santa Claus, although, again, I felt embarrassed for believing in him and I also felt guilty for not speaking out about his existence despite the embarrassment I would receive. I mean, Christians were eaten by lions and still firmly proclaimed their faith. The least I could do was put up with some embarrassment, I thought, but I couldn't. Now my love of animals starts to come into play. It was Christmas Eve, and my stockings were out, and I noticed another stocking. We had a cat named Ollie (and I thought of her as my sister). So I asked my mom to hang a stocking for Ollie, too. By my mom's subsequent horrified expression, which showed for half a second before she could conceal it, I knew that there was something very wrong. My mom said that Santa didn't have any toys for cats. For some reason, I just became really suspicious, because I seemed to have caught my mom off guard. It seemed like she was caught in a lie. From then on, I became skeptical, and maybe the next Christmas, I just asked, point blank, if Santa was real. The answer was that he wasn't (although he "exists in our hearts" or something like that, supposedly). I don't blame my mom for misleading me. I had many nice Christmases, both before and after my realization, but it got me to thinking more.

I started thinking about Ollie and if she would go to heaven. My mom said that Ollie would be in heaven because I would get whatever I wanted in heaven, and if I wanted to be with Ollie, I could. But this didn't satisfy me. What about all of the other animals? What about the un-loved ones? The ones without a human "sponsor" to heaven. Before, I'd questioned why bad things happen to good people, and the answer was that life is infinitely small compared to the time we'd spend in heaven. Thus, even someone with the most miserable life on earth would be eternally rewarded, so the previous misery would seem like just the prick in the arm of a vaccination shot (which I still hate, by the way). BUT WHAT ABOUT ANIMALS? So many animals suffer. I witnessed some of it firsthand. Psychotic children in my neighborhood found toads and threw them into a campfire to see how long they would live, for example. Such things scarred me for life. The Bible is very explicit in that it says that only humans (and only Christians at that) will get into heaven. If that's the case, then God is being unfair to the vast majority of his creation - the animals (and, if you are hardcore, every person who is not in your religious sect). Animals with brains and nervous systems - animals that can feel. Animals that were only used for meat - nothing more... Baby cows used for veal that would never be able to walk, lest their meat get tough... Battery hens in a factory farm with their beaks seared off, their feet hideously deformed by growing into a cage, like a tree grows into a pole, their wings never able to be spread because of the tiny size of their enclosures... These creatures would not have any salvation, yet they would have to face unimaginable suffering. There had to be something in the Bible that would give them justice. But no. Although even to this day, I haven't read the entire Bible, I did start to learn more about it. It turns out that humans have dominion over nature. Animal slaughter pleased God (at least in the "good old days"). Jesus, himself, most likely ate fish, and the most holy people of Christianity were fishermen. If I were God, and I were going to come to earth to spread the Truth, wouldn't I firmly state that these animals, that could suffer but couldn't go to heaven for their justice, were not to be killed? Instead, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible aimed at trying to ease animal suffering. They (even moreso than women and children and slaves) are only property, and are at the mercy of the rest of us. And the funny thing is, a person could torture animals just for fun and still go straight to heaven, supposedly.

I realized that someone who didn't even have the compassion that I had towards animals couldn't be God. God is supposed to be the most compassionate being around, yet I was "out-compassioning" him (with regards to both animals and non-Christian humans). How could that be if he were God? And then, how could a Christian say that an atheist needed religion to care about others if I realized my compassion towards animals didn't come from any religious source that I knew of, but instead just came from the fact that I can see when others suffer, and that I don't like suffering, and thus I don't want others to suffer. It's as simple as that.

It seems, I'm "too compassionate". It's fine to have a certain degree of compassion, but when you go overboard - when you start to care too much about the environment and non-human animals - that's going too far. Don't have that much compassion, please! You're coming off as a bleeding-heart liberal! But like an atheist couldn't give up their reason, even if they were "forced" to at the end of a sword, I can't give up my "extra" compassion, even when others criticize me.

For a while, I started looking into other religions. I learned of the Jains. And although I'm an atheist, I still love them to this day. Their beliefs, condensed, are thus: 1) There is no God (although an afterlife exists). 2) We should not harm any sentient creature. 3) "Anekantavada", or "non-absolutism" means that non-Jains may be right with their own beliefs, or lack thereof, and that dogma that leads to hate between groups is more harmful than learning from other points of view. What a world, it would be, if all religions were such. Hinduism isn't so bad either. Take this, for instance. Throughout history, Jains have claimed that their religion is not part of Hinduism, but certain Hindus have said that Jainism and Buddhism can be considered branches of Hinduism. How amazing! Throughout history (and even now to some extent), Christians and Muslims have tried to murder members of "heretical" sects. Of course, there is only one Truth (with a capital "T") and the difference between if you think that Mary was a virgin for her entire life or if she was only a virgin when she had Jesus could have meant the difference between life and a gruesome death. With Hinduism however, they're like, "Hey, we believe in thousands of gods and you don't believe in any gods, but really, I still consider you guys Hindus." Does that attitude show some religious chauvinism? Maybe. Does that attitude vilify and attempt to exterminate all dissenting views? Not in the least.

Later, I sort of thought of God as love, and our closeness to God as the same as our closeness to love. But finally, I came to call "love" by the name it's already known by - "love" - and came to the conclusion that there really is no God. I am now an atheist. Of course, I also used logic during my "fall from grace". I can continue with ten more paragraphs about how religion is completely illogical. But that's been done already, and it's easy to find elsewhere. Instead, with this, I just wanted to show how my own morality, far from being formed by Christianity, was actually damning proof against Christianity.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow, i didn't know about jainism until now. it reflects my personal beliefs very much. I believe in no absolute truth, that there is no god but some sort of afterlife thing, and i am totally ok with anybody else's point of view. i used to be a hardcore christian fundie but i now have my own sort of gradient non-absolute sort of beliefs.

Telmi said...

Ricky,

That was impressive. A story of discovery and of being rational.

Welcome to the club.

Ricky said...

Thanks for the nice comments so far!

-Ricky W.

stronger now said...

Well Ricky, I can't fault anyone for living their life on their own terms when it doesn't hurt anyone(any being?) else.

And, you made me think about my own compassion and morals(and diet) without being mean about it. Always a good thing.

Well done.

xyz3 said...

In fairness to Christianity, only some sects sects would put an emphasis on dominion of creation meaning we can do whatever we want to animals. There are plenty of Christians who are vegetarians and animal rights activists, and plenty of Christian theologies (particularly in the reformed and episcopalian traditions) that view the last days as a restoration for all creation, including animals, and therefore place a premium on good stewardship of the environment and of other creatures in the hear-and-now, as part of being the kingdom of god on earth.

Jim Wallis once cut every verse in the bible dealing with responsible care for creation out of the bible, and didn't have much left.

I know concepts like that are foreign to a lot of people on these boards, since most of you seem to have come from pretty fundamentalist churches originally, but a pretty significant proportion of Christianity would at least agree in theory that their theology and understanding of the bible would lead them to care about the environment and animals.

I'm not really a Christian anymore myself, but I just want to make sure we aren't painting them with an inaccurate brush.

Other than that, I really enjoyed your article. I'm trying to move to a more vegetarian diet, and likewise find Jainism quite interesting.

djjazzyjess said...

Wow! I really enjoyed reading your post. It's probably the one I can relate to the most out of any I've ever read on this site, having been vegan for the past year as of tomorrow.

I lost my faith within a month of becoming vegan, not exactly as a direct cause of being vegan but I'm sure it had a hand in it due to the same cruel quotes that you read in a supposedly "compassionate" bible.

Thanks so much for this post and for giving me something to relate to since I'm an agnostic vegan living in the heart of the bible belt in Mississippi. Neither of which are the norm, especially down here...

chris said...

Hi Ricky,

I had always loved animals, too, and when I was young I was totally into nature.

Shortly after I became a christian, I also started deer hunting with my uncle. I hunted for years.

Then when I left christianity, I went hunting one last time. I killed a deer, and a wave of sickness came over me. All I could ask myself was "why did I do that? Why?" That was it. I realized that I now had more respect for life than I ever did as a jesus-freak fundy. I can't even squash a bug now. I use cups to catch spiders in my house. I slide a folded paper towel under the cup and carry the spiders outside and let them go.

Funny, I was also raised Catholic, and like you, I never experienced the political campaigning from the pulpit or the "gays are evil" thing until I joined up with the fundy churches, who also said that Catholics are wrong and are going to hell.

Thank you for speaking on behalf of all the non-human critters!

chris

Anonymous said...

Ricky,

Welcome to the club...vegetarian exchristians that is.

I have been vegetarian for 41 years for many of the same reasons you have stated that you are.

I also have found much to agree with as far as Ahimsa (non-harming) values of Jaines and Buddhists.

I've been a Tibetan Buddhist for the past decade, before that I was a (mainly eastern) wisdom seeker. I have found much to explore and much to help me unshackle myself from harmful belief system residue.

Metta,
Swabby

Anonymous said...

Excellent story Rick !

I am now a proud out of the closet atheist. I wear a No/God pin every day. You'd be surprised how many atheists you can meet this way.
Have a great godless day!
David M. Mandell

Meat Lover said...

Don't mean to offend anyone on here, but how can you people not like meat?

I love meat! It is my favorite part of every single meal.

I am a "Meat loving Ex-Christian" and nothing will ever change my love for meat. Especially beef!

stronger now said...

I don't think anyone is trying to "change your love for meat" on this thred.(though I could be wrong) Seems to me they are explaining their own thoughts about their own decision to go vegan. So don't get your panties in a twist.

"you people"?

I enjoy my omnivorous diet as well, but I respect a persons right to feel differently.

twincats said...

One of the reasons I stayed Lutheran for so long was that they never tried to say that animals don't go to heaven. Since the wholly babble says nothing about critters in the afterlife, neither do the Lutherans. Later in life, I found out how many sects maintain that animals don't make it into heaven. Who needs heaven with no animals?

I have no problem with vegetarians if they have no problem with me. I have cut down on meat, but my husband is a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore, so it's difficult.

Optimalist Thinker said...

If God did not intend that we should eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?

Meat Junkie said...

I have to say I like meat. In my opinion, all animals including humans, reach a stage at which they become truly concious. For people, this age is probably around 2 or 3, since we can hardly remember anything before then. Animals are probably similar, but it is not clear when the reach "conciousness". I still wonder if it is acceptable to kill something that is not concious, but I have always eaten meat (most meals were planned around the meat), so I do not see much of a reason to change.

whateverlolawants said...

Yay, another ex-Christian vegetarian!

There's a lot I could say in defense of vegetarianism, but that's not the point here, so I won't respond to the pro-meat folks here. I'm not mad at you guys, though. :)

I would have become a vegetarian either way, I believe. The church where I went didn't encourage going veg, though- it was totally silent on the topic. I imagine most folks at my old church would say animals go to heaven- I never thought any differently, even when I was a Christian. I felt that no way could a loving god not let animals into heaven. Furthermore, I wouldn't want to go to a heaven without animals.

Anyway, it makes a lot of sense how leaving Christianity and going veg go hand in hand. They didn't for me, but your story, Ricky, really was a great illustration. It was a good read, too, and thank you for sharing!

Meat Lover said...

I don't have a problem with Vegetarians. I know some myself, I just couldn't imagine not eating meat again.

Different strokes for different folks. :)

eel_shepherd said...

Add me to the list of vegetarian non-Christians. It will be 30 years this December since I've eaten meat or fish. (And definitely no eels...)

I know what the person means about being confronted by meat eaters who conclude, "So that means it's wrong for me to eat meat?" I usually just say, no it means it would be wrong for _me_ to eat meat. But of course something that fundamental wouldn't be wrong for one person and right for another, so in a way I suppose they have drawn the correct conclusion. Jews especially become defensive when I (jokingly) refer to their unclean eating habits.

Whatever; the wise general chooses his or her battles, and this is not one of the ones I've, uh, chosen to choose.

Ricky said...

Thanks again for all of the nice comments!

-Ricky W.

Ricky said...

Oh yeah, and to Chris, I also catch bugs and spiders and put them outside.

-Ricky W.

Astreja said...

Good work, Ricky! I'm another person who would much rather evict a bug than kill it. My favourite technique is to shoo the little guy or gal into a large manila envelope, close the flap, and release the wee beastie in the closest garden patch or vacant lot.

Not currently vegetarian, although I spent about ten years as one and would consider going that way again someday. (The aroma of barbecued chicken did me in...)

The Exterminator said...

I'm proud to say that I kill bugs anytime I see one crawling around on the floor. I'm not one bit ashamed to take my foot and smash the little buggers.

Surely you guys don't save the life of a cockroach. Those things spread diseases, and so do rats.

And I thought some christians were kind of extreme.

chris said...

Thankfully have never had to deal with an infestation, but if I ever do, I suppose I will do what is necessary. In nature, living things kill other living things all the time, and it's pretty gruesome. (ever seen a pack of wolves rip a coyote to pieces?) I just don't believe in killing if I don't have to, and 99.9999999% of the time, I don't have to.

So, the little spiders at my house get transported out to the yard!

chris

Country Atheist & Cattle Farmer said...

"I just don't believe in killing if I don't have to, and 99.9999999% of the time, I don't have to"

Sometimes you have to, especially if a dog or another animal tries to harm you or one of your pets.

I have lived in the country for the biggest part of my life, and we have always raised our own cattle and taken several animals to the slaughter house to put in the freezer. I don't see what the big deal is really. I'm not saying that it's wrong to be a Vegetarian, however when people strive to protect insects I just think that's a bit ridiculous IMO.

Of course I understand that most people who live in "Modern Day" America really wouldn't know how to survive if these luxuries and technologies that we take for granted were all taken away at once. It seems that most people who live in today's world live sheltered lives, and are out of touch with things that really matter. I'm not talking about religion just so some of you know. I am not a christian just for the record.

Being in the cattle business, anytime a dog or a wolf tries to kill your livestock you have to kill the dog or animal. I lost 9 calves one year because of some coyotes. There is no way I will allow a pack of wild dogs to kill my animals.

I never have been able to understand the logic of being afraid to kill a spider or another animal. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe it's right to kill an animal just to be killing it for the heck of it, and I do believe that animal cruelty is wrong, however if you kill an animal to protect yourself, or your animals from being killed, then that's what you have to do. Plus people have been eating meat for centuries.

That's the way people like myself who have lived out in the country and and on the farm have always done things. I would assume that most of you live in the city, or are from the city or suburban areas. I don't know of very many country people who are afraid to kill an insect or an animal.

Ricky said...

Country Atheist & Cattle Farmer:
"Don't get me wrong, I don't believe it's right to kill an animal just to be killing it for the heck of it, and I do believe that animal cruelty is wrong, however if you kill an animal to protect yourself, or your animals from being killed, then that's what you have to do. Plus people have been eating meat for centuries."

I think that although most people have understood, there are still some that feel a need to be defensive. I don't think that anybody, including myself, has said that you can't kill an animal to protect yourself or "your" animals from being killed. If you can find anything even approximating that, let me know. For that matter, I wouldn't mind killing a person, if that person was trying to kill me. Fortunately, we're not talking about a situation even remotely like that.

You then say that people have been eating meat for centuries. You also say that you're not a Christian. But there have been Christians for centuries...even millennia. I'm sure that most of our ancestors going back more than a thousand years were Christians. So I think you can understand if I don't take that to mean that I HAVE to be a Christian, or that I HAVE to eat meat.

By the way, thanks for being honest, at least with your name. If you are a Toyota salesman, you're probably not going to support those who prefer Fords, and if you say up front that you're a cattle farmer, well, I guess I didn't even need to read your comment.

-Ricky W.

Country Atheist & Cattle Farmer said...

Ricky,
My post wasn't directed at you in particular. My post was directed at several people. What got me baffled was the statements about not wanting to kill bugs.

I am not trying to sell meat just so you know, since you compared me to a "Car Salesman". I take it that you think that anyone who raises cattle does it only to murder them all in the end. If that's what you think, then how sadly wrong you are Ricky. I would say that only 5 percent of my animals end up in my freezer, and I do not sell the meat. I keep it for myself and the rest of my family. I sell most of my cattle for breeding purposes.

There is a lot more to raising cattle than killing them for beef alone. I have also participated in showing animals at the local fairs, and the genetic improvement of certain cattle breeds. I take it that you probably don't know much about cattle genetics and the farm life based on your reaction to my last post.

I'm not telling you or anyone else to eat meat, and I understand that there are many people who choose not to eat meat for various reasons, however the thing like I mentioned earlier is that I just can't understand why so many people are so worried about killing a few bugs. They are only "Bugs", not humans for goodness sakes!!!!

Let me ask you and some of these "Animal/Insect Rights Activists" a question. If bugs destroy my crops, should I stop killing them just so the bugs can live? Is it more important that these bugs live than my crops are that feed other people? Are some of you saying that the life of a bug is more important than feeding the lives of other humans?

I don't think most people realize just what an important role that the farmer plays in our society. Most people in this modern day America are too busy playing on the internet, and playing their video games in their city and suburban homes to really understand what goes on in the Agricultural community.

It also seems that a lot of people today don't have a whole lot of what I call, "Good Ol' Fashion Common Sense" anymore.

I have to agree that anyone who is so worried about killing a bug is a lot like an extremist christian. It's almost like a bug's life is just as important to some people as Jesus is to these christians. Some of you (who think like that) are just as bad as these christian screw jobs are.

I'm sure these christians would think it was sad that Atheists have more respect for a bug than they do for their loving Jesus who they worship all of the time. I can hear these christians saying that now.

Some of you kind of make yourselves look just about as nuts as these christians do when it comes to worrying about the life of an insect. People who worry so much about killing an insect are just as much of an extremist as these christians are.

I gave some of you way too much credit it would seem.

Just like they don't want to drill up in Alaska for oil because of silly reasons such as "The Spotted Owl", yet many people are willing to pay ridiculous prices at the gas pump.

I tell you what. When the fuel prices get so high that nobody can hardly afford to drive their vehicle anymore, maybe some of you can gather up some of these feathers from the "Spotted Owl" and use them for fuel instead.

Country Atheist & Cattle Farmer said...

Contrary to what some people may believe, not all "Atheists" are bleeding heart, "Animal/Insect Rights" activists.

Ricky said...

To Country Atheist & Cattle Farmer:

You say that only 5% of your animals end up in your freezer, and the rest are sold as breeding animals, and thus - it seems you want me to conclude - you somehow have no affiliation to the meat industry. Now, it's true - I'm a city slicker, so I don't know the ultimate fate of the animals you sell, but I doubt the purpose of breeding cattle is so that we can admire their herding behavior. So you are still making money in the cattle industry, and thus have a stake in it. So my premise remains valid.

You say that people who don't kill bugs are strange, but I think that the strange people are those who get so enraged that we don't kill them. Now, do I eat 100% organic food that wasn't sprayed with pesticides? No. On the other hand, if there is just a random spider that I can easily catch with a cup and take outside - all within a scant 30 seconds - yeah, I'll do that. Why not? Here's a better question - Why get bent out of shape about it if someone does.

Do I worship spiders? Do I think that when I die, I will be judged by spiders and moths? Do I go to bug-worship service every week? Do bugs bend scientific laws? Again, No. Will I spare a bug's life if it isn't doing me any harm at all? Well, sure.

By the way, the spotted owl doesn't live in Alaska. Look it up. Now, if you want to get into a debate with me about oil, you're sure to lose. I'm a regular at TheOilDrum.com, and unless you know what MTOE and EROEI mean, don't get started with me. The short answer is that we are going to use ANWR, and the environmentalists keeping our greedy hands off it for this long has been a saving grace, because maybe we will have some energy left to start on a renewable energy program. Then again, maybe not. If, say, (and this is unrealistic) the U.S. exploited this domestic source of oil located in ANWR to get us off foreign oil, it would last for only 2 years before becoming completely depleted. It's not a silver bullet, and conservation can do much more. I'm pretty sure you haven't heard about "Peak Oil". Go to Wikipedia if you want. Maybe I'm crazy. At any rate, get back to me in 10 years and we'll see who's right.

But none of this deals with the matters I've been discussing. I've just responded to your off-topic rant.

Again, Country Atheist & Cattle Farmer, name one person on this thread who said that all atheists are bleeding heart animal rights activists.

I'm sorry that my personal story has upset you so much that you make up things that you want to have read, instead of things that you actually read here.

If you ever want to have a real conversation, first tell me who here
1) said that it is wrong to kill animals that are attacking you and
2) said that all atheists are animal-rights activists

Until then, I must say that I have no respect for people who make false, baseless claims (especially in the pursuit of trying to win an argument).

Sharon said...

Thank you, Ricky W. I could relate to wishing I could have the lost Sundays back but did not dare think such a thought on my own. Your reference to bigot ("So, at no point did I become a bigot...") reminded me of my own past bigotry which I still have a hard time thinking of as bigotry but it really was. Thank you for "my suffering showed that I really cared." That was a big theme during my days with the cult, too. And, "the answer was that life is infinitely small compared to the time we'd spend in heaven," resonated with me, too. I'm still affected by that doctrine. (Though I left the faith long ago, it hasn't left me.)And, in response to, "But like an atheist couldn't give up their reason, even if they were 'forced' to at the end of a sword, I can't give up my 'extra' compassion, even when others criticize me," I say: Go, Ricky W.! Stick to your convictions, and thank you for making me think about my own moral beliefs around eating meat. FYI, there is one Bible reference I know of aimed at "trying to ease animal suffering." It is found in the tenth verse of the twelfth chapter of Proverbs. "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." Just one reference isn't very redeeming, is it? But I thought you would be interested to know. Thanks again for making me think.

Ricky said...

Thanks a lot for your comment, Sharon!

-Ricky W.

rickyusvi said...

I don’t kill spiders. Anything that eats mosquitoes is a friend of mine. The cobwebs got to go, though.

Geckos and anoles live, but i much prefer them outside the house.

Ants live as long as they stay out of my food.

Roaches, it depends on whether my belligerence outweighs my laziness at 3 in the morning. Moths live until they fly into my face or onto the computer screen. Then they get the electric tennis racket.

Rats, mosquitoes, and termites die. No appeal.

N.B. AFAIK, there are no dangerous spiders (e.g., brown recluse) in my neighborhood.

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