A draft Manifesto to promote Ethical Atheism

by Michael Nugent on August 24, 2012

In July, I published an article on why atheist and skeptic groups should be inclusive, caring and supportive, and how to discuss this reasonably. After reading the feedback to that article, I have written this draft manifesto to promote ethical atheism. I will write a revised version based on the feedback to this draft.

The ideas in this draft manifesto are not new. Many atheist activists already promote many or all of them. This manifesto tries to combine the best of our existing ideas into a set of principles and aims that all ethical atheists can promote, regardless of our policy differences on how best to implement them.

Contents

Preamble
1. Promoting reason, critical thinking and science
2. Promoting atheism over supernaturalism
3. Promoting natural compassion and ethics
4. Promoting inclusive, caring atheist groups
5. Promoting fair and just societies
6. Promoting secular government
7. Promoting local, national and global solidarity

Preamble

In real life, atheism means more than mere disbelief in gods, or belief that there are no gods. If you disbelieve in gods, it necessarily follows that you also disbelieve that we get our ideas of truth and morality from gods. This is a significant approach to two central questions about life, in a world where most people believe the opposite.

This is a draft manifesto for ethical atheists who care about both truth and morality, and who want to promote reason, critical thinking and science; atheism over supernaturalism; natural compassion and ethics; inclusive, caring atheist groups; fair and just societies; secular government; and local, national and global solidarity.

Ethical atheism is more useful than dictionary atheism, because it applies the consequences of our atheism to real life. Ethical atheism is more precise than secular humanism, because religious people can be both secular and humanist, and because ethics affects all sentient beings and not just humans.

1. Promoting reason, critical thinking and science

It is important to actively promote reason, critical thinking and science, because they are the best ways to gradually approach the truth about reality.

  • When we apply reason and critical thinking to the apparent evidence of our senses, we can form beliefs that are proportionate to the best currently available evidence.
  • The best method of doing this is the scientific method. It proposes hypotheses about what is happening, then tests those hypotheses against evidence by using repeatable experiments that minimize human bias, then develops theories and predictions based on the outcomes of these tests, while always remaining open to revising these theories and predictions if new evidence becomes available.
  • We should rigorously promote reason, critical thinking and science, and defend them against challenges by those who reject these core approaches to seeking truth.

2. Promoting atheism over supernaturalism

It is important to actively promote atheism over supernaturalism, because ideas about supernatural gods corrupt our search for the truth about reality.

  • When we apply reason to the evidence of our senses, we find that there is no reliable evidence to suggest that supernatural gods exist, and there is a lot of reliable evidence to suggest that humans invented the idea of gods.
  • Atheism can be described as any position on a scale from passive disbelief in supernatural gods, to active belief that there are no supernatural gods. Any of these positions is proportionate to the best available evidence.
  • We should rigorously promote atheism as a core foundation of investigating reality, because once we permit supernatural ideas to corrupt our investigations, we are conceding that literally any claim can be made without the need for evidence to support it.

3. Promoting natural compassion and ethics

It is important to actively promote natural compassion and ethics, because ideas about supernatural gods corrupt our attempts to think and act morally.

  • If you disbelieve in gods, it necessarily follows that you also disbelieve that we get our morality and ethics from gods. This is a significant approach to a central question about life, in a world where most people believe the opposite.
  • Morality and ethics are products of our brains, part of the natural evolution of generations of living together as sentient beings. They are based on natural ideas such as compassion, reciprocity and justice.
  • We should seek to minimize suffering and maximize flourishing of sentient beings, and to treat ourselves and other sentient beings fairly and justly. We should challenge corruptions of natural morality and ethics, that are based on supernatural dogmas.

4. Promoting inclusive, caring atheist groups

When we form groups for any purpose (including but not limited to atheist groups) we should do so in an ethical manner. We should make our groups inclusive, caring and supportive of members and potential members.

  • Our groups should be inclusive, caring and supportive for people of all races, genders, sexualities and abilities. This should include policies on how to help people to feel safe and enjoy themselves at our activities.
  • We should include people of diverse backgrounds on our organizing committees and event panels, so that we gain from the variety of life perspectives that this brings to our decision making and our events.
  • We should communicate with each other respectfully, and work to eradicate harassment and bullying. In discussions, particularly online, we should start by assuming good intent, and respond to the issues rather than attacking the person.

5. Promoting fair and just societies

Religion has corrupted building fair and just societies. As ethical atheists, we should promote fair and just societies. We should each do this as individuals, and some atheist groups may also choose to do so collectively. We can each share this goal while having different specific ideas about how best to pursue it.

  • We should tackle specific injustices that are related to religious dogmas, such reproductive health rights, same sex marriage, blasphemy and apostasy accusations, genital mutilations and ‘honor’ killings.
  • We should build alliances with others who, like atheists, also face prejudice and social discrimination. We should identify and work together on specific issues of mutual interest, and support and empower each other.
  • We should objectively examine the impacts of social discrimination, and identify the best ways to promote fair and just societies, so that we can develop evidence-based arguments that can guide our ethical instincts.
  • We should directly take positive actions to help others through community outreach projects, such as holding charitable events, helping existing charities, visiting people in institutions without preaching to them, and doing new and imaginative activities.

6. Promoting secular government

Religion has corrupted secular government. We should actively promote separation of church and state, based on the principles in the Dublin Declaration on Secularism, adopted at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin in 2011.

  • Personal Freedoms: Freedom of conscience, religion and belief are private and unlimited. Freedom to practice religion should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. All people should be free to participate equally in the democratic process. Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right ‘not to be offended’ in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.
  • Secular Democracy: The sovereignty of the state is derived from the people and not from any god or gods. The state should be based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Public policy should be formed by applying reason, and not religious faith, to evidence. The state should be strictly neutral in matters of religion and its absence, favoring none and discriminating against none. Religions should have no special financial consideration in public life, such as tax-free status for religious activities, or grants to promote religion or run faith schools. Membership of a religion should not be a basis for appointing a person to any State position. The law should neither grant nor refuse any right, privilege, power or immunity, on the basis of faith or religion or the absence of either.
  • Secular Education: State education should be secular. Religious education, if it happens, should be limited to education about religion and its absence. Children should be taught about the diversity of religious and nonreligious philosophical beliefs in an objective manner, with no faith formation in school hours. Children should be educated in critical thinking and the distinction between faith and reason as a guide to knowledge. Science should be taught free from religious interference.
  • One Law for All: There should be one secular law for all, democratically decided and evenly enforced, with no jurisdiction for religious courts to settle civil matters or family disputes. The law should not criminalise private conduct because the doctrine of any religion deems such conduct to be immoral. Employers or social service providers with religious beliefs should not be allowed to discriminate on any grounds not essential to the job in question.

7. Promoting local, national and global solidarity

We should promote the above values and aims at local, national and global levels. And we should recognize that our personal experiences are not the same as the personal experiences of other people with whom we interact.

  • At a local level, we should work together to build strong atheist groups and host interesting events, where we can enjoy interacting with like-minded people, while helping to advance reason and secularism in wider society.
  • At a national level, we should lobby politicians to change laws that discriminate against people based on religion, and we should seek to promote our views in the national media and with other national organizations.
  • At a global level, we should work to help others who are more directly harmed by religion than we are. For example, we should highlight the injustices faced by women, gay people and members of minority religions in Islamic and third world countries.
Summary

This is a follow-up to my article last month on why atheist and skeptic groups should be inclusive, caring and supportive, and how to discuss this reasonably.

It tries to combine the best of our existing ideas into a set of principles and aims that all ethical atheists can promote, regardless of our policy differences on how best to implement them.

Please let me know what you think.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon Pierson August 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Excellent. Perhaps AAI could take this on board and ask for affiliated groups to agree to embody the principles in their own constitutions.

Also, perhaps there could be some sort of mechanism to included sceptic groups so that a united front of non-believers could subscribe to these principles.

2 Venie Martin August 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I think this is the best statement I have seen and I commend Michael for drafting it. It is moving beyond atheism and starts to outline the type of society we envisage. I also agree with Jon’s point ^ about considering ways to disseminate the document to other groups.

3 Everleigh August 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm

2. bullet 3: “We should rigorously promote atheism as a core foundation of investigating reality, because once we permit supernatural ideas to corrupt our investigations, we are conceding that literally any claim can be made without the need for evidence to support it.”

This is going to always be the wall a reason debater will have to climb over to debate theists. They will say the well is poisoned at outset.

I appreciate 4 very much.

4 Ophelia Benson August 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm

The last item under 7 – “For example, we should highlight the injustices faced by women, gay people and members of minority religions in Islamic and third world countries.” You could add non-believers after members of minority religions.

5 Beachbum August 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I like where you are going with this, but one must consider the propaganda aspects of your choice of words. Ethical Atheism leads those so inclined to the notion that there is an unethical atheism. Obviously, atheism is neither. This is why I like Atheism Plus that has recently emerged. Because, quite simply, we are all atheists plus many other things: some obvious and some not so much. Also, you mention arbitrary segregations of humanity, i.e. nationalism, which I disagree with entirely. Like science we should be atheists without borders in my view. Not that I don’t love culture, especially a culture as colorful as the Irish, but it should not be a plank in a political platform, a consideration in situational ethics, or even a check-able item on a list of considerations generally.

(Note: I am not a fan of multiculturalism either. I see it as creating enclaves of emotionally charged disagreements of opinion which inevitably lead to conflicts much like religious groups have done throughout history. When a group migrates into the domain of a previously existing group the migrating group has left their culture regardless of their intentions. What should be promoted is the best of both cultures as far as objective observation evidentiarily supports the view, with an eye on preserving the indigenous culture.)

But again, I like where you are going with this: count me in! Even though I hail from another very green Isle, Hawaii; from a very culture-centric peoples, we have mastered diversity very well (though it’s not uncommon to use phrases from 4 or 5 languages during a typical visit to the grocer). This movement — not atheism per se, which is merely the rejection of the vacuous claims of theists — but the societies that form from the various organizations that populate the Venn diagrams from freethinkers and humanists to secularists and at its core we atheists should be the power behind the further evolution of the human condition. Rejecting the primitive mindset of our evolutionary adolescence and maturing to take the responsibility of our station among the sentient life of this planet. Really, it is one thing to be something, but it is something much more to do something with it. Let’s take the next step, let’s grow.

Let’s promote, by and insisting on, rationality in ethics, rationality in our governments, and rationality in all our interactions to the best of our ability. Thanks.

6 Anton Kozlik August 25, 2012 at 2:16 am

Having been attempting to deal with this “identity” problem for five decades, I found that it all boils down to this point.

Any identifiable movement needs to satisfy a social need in that an 8-year-old child would want to be “one”. That 8-year-old will have trouble identifying as an “Ethical Atheist”, especially if they don’t hold picnics or social events. I have given up “herding cats” because the intellectual discussion continues as it did 50 years ago, and is best consumed with appropriate liquid refreshments. Unfortunately, I don’t drink.

I have found that when getting atheists together, it is important not to appear “church like” while the observers fail to recognize that the churches fulfill a social need first and most of the members don’t give a damn about the “spiritual” aspect.

I do congratulate you on your endeavors and, as always, I look forward to your blog. Perhaps my website may be of interest to you or your readers (milesians.net). I am keeping it “up” until the end of the year.

7 T-Shirt August 25, 2012 at 3:04 am

uh oh.. here we go..

8 JohnnyOptions August 25, 2012 at 3:13 am

Ophelia – the other side are the “non-believers”….. In reality, reason, logic, science, common sense, etc.

9 Anna B McCabe August 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

Thank you Michael for a very concise and comprehensive atheist manifesto.
In 6. Secular education (my pet subject being a retired teacher,) you say.- ‘Religious education, if it happens…..’ I believe it should happen. And you go on to say so in your next sentence. So I suggest the ‘if it happens’ could be omitted .
Also I agree with Ophelia Benson that non-believers suffer injustices in third world Islamic countries as elsewhere, eg. in the US

10 Michael Nugent August 25, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Thanks for the feedback so far.

I don’t want to comment on the feedback yet, because I first want to see what people think of it in its current form.

But I will be responding to all of the points that you are making.

Thanks again.

11 Ant August 25, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I’m broadly in agreement, but I think this is a false contrast: 2. Promoting atheism over supernaturalism

As the Brights note, atheists can be supernaturalists. It’d be better, I think, to promote naturalism over supernaturalism. Atheism is a natural consequence of that, but naturalism isn’t always what lies behind someone’s atheism.

It is important to actively promote naturalism atheism over supernaturalism, because ideas about the supernatural gods corrupt our search for the truth about reality.

When we apply reason to the evidence of our senses, we find that there is no reliable evidence to suggest that the supernatural gods exists, and there is a lot of reliable evidence to suggest that humans invented the idea of gods.
[This doesn’t really fit here now!] Atheism can be described as any position on a scale from passive disbelief in supernatural gods, to active belief that there are no supernatural gods. Any of these positions is proportionate to the best available evidence. Furthermore, there is a lot of reliable evidence to suggest that humans invented the idea of gods.
We should rigorously promote atheism naturalism as a core foundation of investigating reality, because once we permit supernatural ideas to corrupt our investigations, we are conceding that literally any claim can be made without the need for evidence to support it.

This maybe should be 1., and “science, &c.” 2.

/@

12 Ant August 25, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Oops! The first para. should read: It is important to actively promote naturalism atheism over supernaturalism, because ideas about the supernatural gods corrupt our search for the truth about reality.

/@

13 Ant August 25, 2012 at 8:53 pm

And the bullets didn’t work…

/@

14 David Scanlon August 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Can’t you simply summarise quite a lot of the above by saying, “I’m atheist, and a secular humanist as well”? :)

I always liked the vision/mission statement put forward by the Brights (and describe myself as one on my Twitter profile, @dscanlon), I think it captures a lot of what you’re trying to do here Mick. Would disagree with @Ant above though: in my opinion Brights/atheists can’t be supernaturalists.

15 Ant August 27, 2012 at 8:10 am

I’m afraid you’re mistaken, David. While Brights cannot be supernaturalists (by definition), other atheists certainly can be.

Note that this chart from the Brights’ website includes amongst Supers “atheists who believe in such supernatural entities such as ghosts, ESP, psychic powers, divination, etc.”

/@ (@antallan)

16 Eoin O'Mahony August 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Good work Michael. Hoping to provide some constructive criticism later in the week.

17 David Scanlon August 27, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Thanks Ant.

May have to refine my sentence above to read, “I’m a naturalistic worldview atheist, and a secular humanist as well” :) Just trips off the tongue.

Must admit that I’ve never met an atheist who held other supernatural beliefs – a rare breed!

18 DanDare August 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Fantastic Michael.

Can we add lateral thinking in with critical thinking though? Neither works as well without the other.

19 JS Tweedie August 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I have some substantive comments but can’t carve out time til a few days hence.

But certainly thought-provoking.

20 jonesey August 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Very well put! I like how encompassing it is, but I also like the name. Never liked “Brights”, and didn’t like “Secular Humanism” for the same reasons you discussed. “Ethical Atheist” sounds nice and gives a hint of our intentions.

I have to agree with Ant. I’d like to think that most atheists or at least skeptics would dismiss ghosts and ESP and such, but sadly this isn’t the case. More distinctly narrowing it down to naturalism would go a long ways towards clarification and would distinguish us from those “skeptics”.

Particularly, I saw red flags when I read this line: “We should rigorously promote atheism as a core foundation of investigating reality”. This presents a few problems in my mind. Science and its practitioners aren’t necessarily atheistic. While a majority of scientists may be atheists, this isn’t a requisite. A theist or a deist can perform naturalistic science because their science has to remain silent about god. Science isn’t atheistic it just doesn’t even bring the notion of gods into the picture – i.e. naturalism.

This wording will also give fodder to the creationists. They love to claim that teaching evolution in schools is equivalent to promoting atheism. It’s not, because teaching evolution is just teaching all the available evidence without regard to gods. This is supposed to be a statement that we as individuals accept. But worded as it is, it gives the creationists the “atheists want to convert your children through the public schools” propaganda angle.

Just a few thoughts. Overall, I love it. Thanks.

21 Michael Nugent August 29, 2012 at 12:24 am

Thanks again for the feedback to date. I will be responding to all of the comments fairly soon. This is still at a very early stage and remains open to change based on feedback.

22 Kaylakaze August 29, 2012 at 2:09 am

I like it. The problem I see goes along with where you said “It tries to combine the best of our existing ideas into a set of principles and aims that all ethical atheists can promote, regardless of our policy differences on how best to implement them.” Frankly, I don’t know of anyone who’d disagree with this (on a broad scale, the minor semantic issues discussed in the comments aside), and I didn’t even see anything the Randians would oppose. That said, that changes the landscape from 2 warring factions (A+ers vs rational people) into a single “bubble” that has 2 warring sides. It all comes down to that “our policy differences on how best to implement them” that seem to be at issue. That and one side sees a horror on par with the holocaust while the other side sees a tshirt. One side sees a predatory objectifying rapist while the other side sees an awkward guy in an elevator with someone he admires making an ass of himself. One side sees a hoard of ravenous atheist murders and rapists and homophobes while the other side sees your standard, run-of-the-mill internet troll whose religious affiliation has no way of being determined. One side sees women and people of color excluded (while at the same time they are always being asked to speak places specifically because they are women and/or people of color) while the other side sees plenty of space and welcome for them, all they have to do is claim it. Until these sorts of issues can be resolved, we can agree on “ethical atheism” but it doesn’t really solve anything.

23 nohellbelowus August 29, 2012 at 8:02 am

Nice job Michael, but I have to agree in principle with Kaylakaze.

It’s hard to see where all this is headed, aside from being a branding exercise. A new round of book-publishing perhaps, where all the A+ scribes can now use A+ in their book titles, and then spend chapters 3 thru 10 describing all the good things they are now, in addition to being mere atheists, as opposed to one slim year ago, when they were just unappreciated pawns in a privileged, backwards, old, musty, misogynist white man’s world?

Join us, people of faith, because just look at our beautiful new brand?

Madison Avenue would be proud!

24 Al B. Quirky August 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I agree with a lot of this, but: ‘Morality and ethics are products of our brains, part of the natural evolution of generations of living together as sentient beings. They are based on natural ideas such as compassion, reciprocity and justice.’
Civilizations throughout history have been guided by the values that inform it, i.e. religions, and laws that go with the belief-system. How can that be ‘natural evolution’? And/or: if ideas such as ‘compassion, reciprocity and justice’ are the result of a natural process, surely their opposites (hate, unco-operativeness and injustice) are also the result of a natural process?

25 David September 10, 2012 at 12:08 am

Good, rational ideas. There’s one thing that always bothers me: the term ‘atheist.’

We don’t call someone who doesn’t believes in Santa Claus an a-Claus-ist. I’m not an a-toothfairy-ist, either. I’m a rational thinker. The term ‘atheism’ seems to presuppose a god in the first place, and one that we don’t believe in. So basically, we need a new term. I guess secularist, rationalist, or even ‘moralist’ would do for me.

26 Anna B McCabe September 10, 2012 at 1:14 am

Perhaps the reason we use the word ‘atheist’ is because there are so many people in the world who believe in a god, always have been. And lets face it how many of us at one time or other believed in a god? Adults do not as a rule believe in Santa Clause or the tooth fairy!
I think one could be secular and still believe in god. Nor do I think ‘rationalist’ or ‘moralist’ quite fits the bill.

27 Anton Kozlik September 10, 2012 at 2:16 am

The ongoing debate about use of the word “atheist” is getting pretty tiring. In fact its getting kind of stupid. I will forever maintain that you first pick a name and then give it meaning. For example, we could use the word “orange” and see if we could do as good a job as Steve Jobs did with “apple”. Personally, too many “intellectuals” who can’t plan a picnic seem to think they can come up with a master plan . . . and name . . . for a cause. Kids would do better than most of what I have been seeing in the past decade. Come on gang, get off your ivory towers and get with it.

28 TimN September 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Thanks, Michael for bringing this together. It is a noble effort. At my first read, i see few references to the role of media and our obligations to correct media when they misstate or misrepresent our points of view, or, indeed, show the usual bias (or lazy reportage) toward religious perspectives. I wonder, therefore, if expanding section 7 might be in order. Or, indeed, an entire section on the media. We need to be interacting with media more, pointing out errors, poor reporting, bias, and etc. It seems there is an entire ethical stance toward media that might be useful to explore and / or include. For instance, many newspapers have a section devoted to Religion. How do we approach this on a broader social level? And etc. Thanks.

29 TimN September 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

OK, at second reading another thought. I wonder how strong the statements should be. For instance, sentences frequently start with “We should” and “It is important to”. I would support a more declarative statement of fact, as i also see in parts of the text, “We believe…”, “We are committed to…”. In section 5 in the bullets, for instance, perhaps a stronger statement to “We should..” would be “We tackle…” “We objectively examine…” etc. The statement of fact stands firmly in a position of strength of thought. Suggestions only….

30 Michael O'Brien September 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm

“It is important to actively promote atheism over supernaturalism, because ideas about supernatural gods corrupt our search for the truth about reality.” Have to agree with Ant, atheism while a defendable position cannot be promoted in this way as it does not actually deal with all types of supernaturalism by definition, only the subset of the existence of gods. Naturalism works better.

“We should rigorously promote atheism as a core foundation of investigating reality..” Not sure if atheism is a foundation here either, as once again it only addresses a subset of supernatural claims. Methodological naturalism might work better here.

31 RichardB September 12, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I suppose I’m an eavesdropper more than a supporter, a nontheist rather than atheist, also a [very] liberal Christian. But here’s my twopenn’orth anyway.

I’m no longer sure that “is there a God?” is the central question it clearly was a century ago; I’m more interested to explore whether there’s anything in Christianity that can help us become better humanists. I think there is, and the values I derive from my reading of the New Testament overlap with much of what is said here. In terms of this manifesto’s content there isn’t much I’d take issue with: what concerns me more is something about its tone.

One of institutional Christianity’s many problems is its appalling self-righteousness, but if atheism isn’t careful it will fall into the same trap. Take for example “Religion has corrupted building fair and just societies. As ethical atheists, we should promote fair and just societies.” Well, while organised religion is certainly a corrupting influence, societies become cruel and unjust for reasons that have nothing to do with religion; indeed, religious people can sometimes be found alongside ethical atheists in their campaigns for justice.

If the racism of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa makes me feel ashamed to call myself any sort of Christian, the heroism of many activists on the Christian Left (Mandela himself is a Methodist) gives me some heart. The ideology driving the nuclear arms race wasn’t religious, but CND’s leader for many years was Bruce Kent, an ordained Catholic priest of course. Did Christianity inspire the greed and recklessness of the bankers who caused the present financial crisis? Are the Murdochs and Dacres of this world, destroyers of decent journalism, noted for their piety?

Let’s build a fairer society. Let’s bring the humanity back into economics. As a Christian I’m up for that, as ethical atheists will be too, but isn’t that commitment more fundamental than our metaphysical hunches? In other parts of the manifesto it’s relevant to point to the harm done by organised religion and to protest against the privileges to which it feels entitled, but here I think it’s tendentious. Not all injustice is down to religion, not everything wrong with British society is the fault of the Church and some atheists are absolute bastards (whether that makes them a disgrace to their belief system is not for me to say.) If section 5 shed its first sentence and began “As ethical atheists, we should promote fair and just societies, in partnership with others who share our values”, that would acknowledge that not even ethical atheism, admirable though it is, doesn’t have all the answers. It’s only fundamentalists, religious or otherwise, who think that.

I’ll be interested to see how the manifesto evolves.

32 Steve Chinn September 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Excellent thinking. Perhaps you’d like to come and speak at our Conference in Glasgow on 21 April 2013?
I’ll be in touch.
Steve Chinn
Secretary
Humanist Society Scotland

33 John Ware September 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Having come from a long line of non-believers, I felt that I had to take my philosophy a step further in that I don’t want anyone – and I mean ANYONE – dictating, or even suggesting, to me what needs to be done to become better, to take a stand, whatever. At the peril of being labeled a nihilist or something vaguely similar, causes do not move me. The great George Carlin once said that he “liked people individually,” but when they joined together, “they lost their ability to think and reason.” The mere premise that, as an “atheist,” or “non-theist,” or any mantle or ruse I would describe myself as (or would be ascribed to me) would necessarily preclude that I was against anything “theists” or believers would want or think. Personally, I do not care, for the simple reason that to label oneself or to pick a side would give credence to the other side’s values and positions. Allowing theists and/or believers of any ilk a platform, as if irrationality, mythology and absence of clear thought deserved one, is not something I would like to do. Bottom line: as long as no one tells me what to do, takes money or earnings out of my pocket to pay for their cause, or affects my actions one way or the other, under the banner of religion or irreligion, then I am a happy man. And I can be a good man with or without a dogma, manifesto or constitution of any kind.

34 Jon Pierson September 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm

This response is to John Ware. I do think the thread has drifted slightly off-topic but you have said a couple of things that I think may be geographically based. That is to say, it depends upon where you live.

To be honest, I am with you all the way. Unfortunately, however, I live in Ireland and so your “bottom line” comes into play.

In Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church has been telling successive governments what to do and, by extension, Irish citizens what to do, since the creation of the Irish State. Churches are permitted to trade freely with no taxation imposed. They receive c.€8.6bn per annum of taxpayers’ money to fund their schools, in which they are permitted to religiously indoctrinate children from the age of four – there are no State schools. Whilst I am certain that there other payments or allowances, the only additional one I have certain knowledge of is that €9m of taxpayers’ money is given to the churches to pay their employees to be “chaplains” in schools and hospitals.

In addition, the previous government made an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church (2011 income from ‘Peter’s Pence’ €69.7bn [http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/05/vatican-earnings-idINL6E8I57YJ20120705]) that its liability in respect the many victims of Roman Catholic clerical child abuse would be “capped” with the State, i.e. the taxpayers, making up the difference. To date, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church (Ireland) subsidiary of Roman Catholic Church (Vatican) Inc. has been unable to find its share of the money and, at the moment, it’s looking like Irish taxpayers will be paying between €1.5-€2.0bn to victims.

The fact that there is no freedom of choice for women, the fact that one cannot be president without swearing a Christian (arguably Roman Catholic) oath, the fact that one cannot be a judge without swearing a Christian (arguably Roman Catholic) oath and the fact that one cannot be a member of the presidential Council of State without swearing a Christian (arguably Roman Catholic) oath, either singly or collectively personally adversely affect me, or adversely affect people close to me.

In my experience, the only common attribute in atheist organisations is a lack of belief in gods. It is my personal opinion that the only reason that such organisations exist is to achieve a situation where “no one tells [us] what to do, takes money or earnings out of [our] pocket[s] to pay for their cause, or affects [our] actions one way or the other, under the banner of religion”.

I joined the atheist organisation that I belong to because I want to live in a secular State where there is proper education of our children without religious indoctrination during school hours and where churches pay their own way for their own activities, pay proper taxes and, of course, carry their own burden for any wrongdoing. I want to live in a State where, just because someone is an employee of a church, they cannot avoid charges for failing to report criminal offences because they were told about the offences in a “special” little wooden box or because their CEO and MD in Rome told them that their religion’s “laws” are superior to State laws. I want to live in a State where appointment to any public office is open to all those qualified to do the job and not only those who will swear a religious oath. I also want to live in a State where public representatives in the legislature will make decisions in the best interests of the citizens and are not influenced by the “laws” of any religion that require them to legislate in a way that follows that religion’s arbitrary beliefs.

Please do not take this as a criticism. I can only assume, from what you say, that, where you live, the State has none of the adverse attributes of the Irish State, a few of which I have outlined, above, and that there is no immediate danger of such a situation occurring.

I do hope that you will understand that the very “bottom line” which you describe is what many atheist/secularist organisations have developed to fight for. Bottom line? It seems to me that we are fighting to achieve what you already enjoy.

By the way, I’m not entirely certain which definition of nihilist you fear being branded with but, in my own opinion, you don’t appear to fit any of them. Not wishing to join an organisation just because it is there does not appear to me to be nihilism. On the other hand, were you to live in Ireland – or any other similarly afflicted State – perhaps you would believe it beneficial, to achieve your bottom line, to become part of a group with precisely the same objectives.

35 John Ware September 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm

This is a response to Jon Pierson. Hola, Jon. Thanks for your keen, well-delivered response to me. Yes, I am very aware of the Irish discrimination, excessive taxation and state-sponsored hypocrisy in Ireland. I worked there for awhile and spent many a late nite with my Irish friends while they recounted the s*** your govt does in the name of religion. I live in Indiana currently in the states, almost the center of the noted “bible belt” of the US (I think we are the “buckle.” lol) and, while our government isn’t quite as demeaning with respect to religion as the Irish one, US citizens still face the hypocrisy of religion every day. We have to take oaths if we want to be elected to any office, join the military, and so on. And our churches and other places of worship receive state-sponsored stipends and tax considerations that make many of our clergy very wealthy and, in extreme cases, free from prosecution (You’ve probably heard of that douchebag rev. Jones from Florida who burns Korans for a living and who indirectly was responsible for the movie that precipitated the violence against our embassy in Libya this week.)

In essence, I do agree with you that perhaps you need to raise the flag of something – anything – to fight the non-secularity you citizens face in Ireland. If I were in your shoes, I probably would declare my atheism too. Perhaps the greater irony of all this is why, in one of the relatively “most free” countries in the world, why 80% of US citizens declare themselves religious, when they have obvious and more rational choices. I suppose one could make a case that I have “made a choice” to not be religious, but I subscribe to the theory that, since my parents and most everyone else I respected while growing up didn’t bring up the case for embracing Christianity, I really acted as no religion had ever existed (although it was swirling around me like a maelstrom) – hence the lack of “choice.”

On the subject of nihilism. Although I didn’t give you that much to go on, I believe I am getting really close to it, at least in the classic Nietschkean fashion. I really don’t subscribe to anything beyond the self and live pretty much for myself and my fellow man in the present. Many atheists will tell you that, although they don’t believe in theism, they can’t prove that there isn’t a god either, so they more or less leave that door open. I, on the other hand, close it completely due to the fact that nothing needs to be proven. For example, I could tell you that there are actually purple unicorns in County Derry. And, if I were persuasive enough, had the requisite authority, and was able to get my narrative into the lore of Ireland, then most sane people would try to disprove my story. But my “take” on this concept is that man is not obligated to disprove what someone has said just because he said it, whether the lore has become so engrained in culture as to even belong as a story in the bible. Scientific perogative, I suppose.

One more thing I’ll say: I’ve noticed quite a few vehement, and sometimes very nasty testimonials about having the need for a manifesto or dogma, or not. A lot of infighting amongst the throng of atheists and agnostics out there, no? I really hate to see logical, rational and free-thinking people getting down in the mud against each other, as if being the most vitriolic one can be will assure that your voice will be heard above the others. I guess that’s the price we have to pay to get to the next level, whatever that is. My grandfather was good friends with Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper, and he used to regale me with stories about how they used to discourse about similar subjects. Quelle difference!

36 Jon Pierson September 17, 2012 at 11:23 pm

For John Ware:

I really don’t want to take up this thread with what seems to be a sort of personal debate about atheism in general rather than the “manifesto or dogma” it is really about.

I have no problem at all carrying on this discussion but I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be that brilliant at starting things off anywhere.

It would be great if you would set up a new thread, somewhere, and we can copy these first three posts we’ve made between us there and than I’ll reply to what you have said in your latest post in which, by the way, you said a few things that I very much agree with. If you do set up a new thread, please let me know jonpiersoneircomnet

(Sorry for the delay in replying, by the way. I have just got home after visiting my parents in the UK. I use Apple mail and I only took my iPad, not my MacBook. For reasons that I do not understand, whilst I can set up all three of my email accounts on my MacBook, I cannot set up my “main” account [the one shown above] on my iPad. Bizarre.)

37 Kelley McNeill September 20, 2012 at 12:02 am

I agree with a lot of your points, but I have a problem with the moniker “Ethical Atheism”. Please correct me because I must be wrong here. It sounds as if you’re implying that just “Atheism” is morally ambiguous. We all know that there are ethical and unethical theists, but why do we Atheists have to defend our moral stature as if most people assume we are inherently evil? It is true that many uneducated and close-minded people think atheism equates to satanism, evil, etc. but I think they are too ignorant to be significant. I’d prefer we insist on presenting Atheist and Atheism as simply the antitheses of Theist and Theism and not feel the need to defend our ethics to those who don’t get it to begin with.

38 finance jobs November 15, 2012 at 7:31 am

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39 Burl Barer January 26, 2013 at 2:16 am

“Atheism is God’s first line of defense against superstition.”

It is my firm belief that the “culprit” is not “religion,” but superstition. I have spent over forty years studying the worlds religions and have come to agree with Sir Abbas Effendi’s statement: That which does not conform to science and reason is not religion, but superstition.”
Rather than decry religion, which historically has been a wellspring of ethics. morality and inspiration, unite with all people who share our common goal of the positive transformation of society by the elimination of superstition and the application of ethical principles

40 Emmanuel Sanchez February 16, 2013 at 8:17 am

Well, there are some very important and complex ethical issues around this. First, I think we must define a position about if we want to define an ethical code for the atheist (the “must-be” of the atheists) or a secular ethical code for society. And there is a moral dilemma when we come to this. More than a dogmatic “atheist” (the one who affirms to have the certainty of something to which he can’t) I’m skeptical and as one, I must be impartial enough (brave?) to take into consideration the possibility that I can be wrong (however, this doesn’t involve either that the religious people are right, moreover they use to claim a certainty that they really can’t have). Accepting this facts involves realizing of that the real enemies are intolerance, arrogance and fanaticism rather than religion itself (I know everything gets really complicated here as many atheists can’t stand the own existence of religions, but if we become intolerant we would be hypocrite. We must ask for broad-minded people and the rejection of all kinds of extremism). At this point, we have to decide if we want to make an universal secular ethical code or an ethical code for atheists. It appears the second would be easier, but the way this is written makes me think it has more the second purpose. Given that situation, what me must claim for is a secular creed for human development and the realization of human potential and talent expression. Although I’m against religion and believe that to find a real answer to our problems must think in not-dogmatic ways we also must be tolerant and realistic but his doesn’t involve to be silent against abuses, discrimination and extremism.

I hope you get my idea. Besides that there are some important aspects that in my opinion must get clearer in the manifesto. First, as I said (and actually is a thought taken from Amartya Kunar Sen) we must demand that the ethical end of the society (and specifically of the economic system) must be the realization and flowering of human potential and talent. Also, we must fight for people to understand that there is not real separation between the personal benefit and the collective benefit, as there cannot be a real personal well-being without a society well-being and vice versa (thinking the opposite is not only an illusion, it’s dangerous). Finally, I would add that me must seek the end of human existence in the search of the social progress through the prosecution of the human development in the intellectual, physical and moral aspects. To achieve this goal we must also remark an interest in the protection of environment and a sustainable economy (at this point I think we must demand a change in the route the civilization is taking).

I think the former points can make a secular ethical manifesto acceptable for people of different beliefs. Actually this could lead to an entire book but we can also define some brief basic principles. Thanks to all the ones who read this comment.

41 Sturla Þórðarson May 2, 2013 at 8:57 am

Take care to be not revolted by wealth. Think this is a big mis.

42 J May 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm

There should be no shoulds in atheism.

43 Gael Murphy June 10, 2013 at 9:00 am

How wonderfully refreshing! Thank you! It was encouraging to read the statement under Natural Compassion and Atheism: “We should seek to minimize suffering and maximize flourishing of sentient beings, and to treat ourselves and other sentient beings fairly and justly. We should challenge corruptions of natural morality and ethics, that are based on supernatural dogmas.” I share this point of view and have been mocked and maligned as religious, because of it. It is the lack of this clearly stated principle that prevents me from identifying myself as a “Humanist”. I think that many atheists reject those god belief based ideas that belittle us as humans, but happily retain those religious ideas that grant humans ownership of the earth and all its other inhabitants, and that accept exploiting the earth and the other animals however we wish. I very much hope that this Manifesto catches on.

44 J June 11, 2013 at 4:30 am

In the spirit of improvement by debate, and since you asked for feedback: I don’t doubt the need nor discredit the desire to protect yourselves, atheists, from Religious domineering. And I get the term ‘promote secularism.’ But I wonder have you thought concretely about what you mean by ‘rigorously promote atheism.’ What would this entail and what would it look like on the ground level? “Should” atheists, in your opinion and manifesto, in group form go door to door as some religious groups do? Would a constant atheist “voice” consist of prominent or would-be prominent newspapers and television stations, that is, ‘alternative’ open-bias news sources, in countries across the globe? “Should” atheism have this constant “voice?” And must the “promotion” of atheism always and only entail antidote or anti-religion? “Should” atheism, in effect (your manifesto seems to imply), create an organizational structure in some ways equivalent to or counterbalanced to or even covalent to religious structures, most notably and most obviously the Catholic Church? Should atheism adopt in the first place, as your manifesto blatantly asserts, the tenor of dogmatism and proselytizing to match that of Western Religions generally? Are you seeking to become arguably a form of religious anti-religion with its base only in anti-theism or non theos?

I’m also curious about your ideas on ethics. I applaud where you are attempting to go with this, but skeptical of where you call foundation. This is most important by implication. You call it “natural compassion and ethics.” In study of ancient societies, I am hard pressed to find either. You believe that both are derived from cohabitation among “sentient beings.” But there is no evidence for this. You may be able to put together sketchy presumptive or fanciful animal behavior examples, but I assure you there is none in human behavior. Also, please study heavily in animal behavior studies and theory as well as human behavior and cognitive psychology before making generalizations, because popular false presumption is rampant regarding both animal and human behavior. Again, this is important by implication. You cannot presume to go where you are going, which I personally fear smacks of fascistic direction, when coming from a false foundation of miscomprehension of behavior, what it is and what is implied by it.

Atheism is at heart simply another way of handling or averting natural existential uncertainty to keep it from becoming fear and/or anxiety. Likely, this is Religion’s basis and origin as well. Do you ever red flag that you are following the same path regarding Atheism as theists once did in creating Religion? A clearer distinction needs to be made and maintained between Atheism and Secularism, Theism and Religion, before good can come from this debate, study, train of thought, or whatever you are calling your efforts.

45 Christopher Lowe July 8, 2013 at 2:37 am

Where do I sign up? Prevention of harm should be in every ethics based manifesto. So should not allowing harm to be done.

46 J July 9, 2013 at 1:27 am

That is to say, lack of concreteness and specificity debreeds and undermines purposeful action.

47 Christopher Lowe July 9, 2013 at 2:50 am

Manifestos and their addendi are by their nature generalizations which are driven towards policy and action. Go back to whatever thoughtless-tank you came from if those that were stupid enough to hire you would have you back.

48 J9 September 21, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Barer is probably correct in asserting that the “culprit” is superstition; though he is wrong in assuming that religion is not a culprit also. That is, superstition is not the basis of religion which poisons the soup. It is not the only poison therein. Can you promote atheism without bashing religion generally and other than its many excesses? Promote ethics & secularism and defend against superstition without attacking theism, which is a foundation for many if not most of the world’s ethical systems and probably its ethics? Salient conundrum. You may be on the right track yet still get off on the wrong foot, otherwise.

49 Gael R Murphy September 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm

@ J9, You suggest that we, “Promote ethics & secularism and defend against superstition without attacking theism, which is a foundation for many if not most of the world’s ethical systems and probably its ethics?” I don’t see that religion is the basis of ethics, not even those few ethical principals listed in the Ten Commandments. Most of which are simply commands to bow and scrape before a tyrant. Tyranny is itself unethical.

50 J9 September 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Gael, Of course tyranny is unethical, and beyond that is anti-ethics. But you are confusing Theism with Religion. If you study the ancient world, you can see how the Commandments you despise may be seen as a call to create within one tribal population, from nearly thin air, the conception of the value of life (as opposed to mere survival of self). I said that Theism, not Religion, is a (not the) foundation for much of the world’s ethical systems (which many of the world’s religions try to be at least in part) and probably its ethics. Ethics may have also come from human cohabitation separately, as Michael has proposed, but there is no evidence for it.
At any rate, the reason I recommend the removal of bashing religion explicit to a manifesto of atheism is that bashing is reactive. What Michael is attempting to do with his manifesto and his elementary school curriculum is to be pro-active. I applaud those efforts because pro-active rational efforts have a chance to create real & lasting change in the heart and mind. Railing against religion’s tyrannies and excesses is one thing, a full time job. But building a foundation for freedom with respect for atheism and theism alike is a better bigger goal, I believe.

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