An Atheist's Values critique of religious faith

Richard Robinson, An Atheist's Values, 1964.

Richard Robinson wrote An Atheist’s Values which is a wonderful criticism of many secular and religious myths.

QUOTE: “The main irrationality of religion is preferring comfort to truth; and it is this that makes religion a very harmful thing on balance, a sort of endemic disease that has so far prevented human life from reaching its full stature…faith is not a virtue but a positive vice. More precisely, there is, indeed, a virtue often called faith but that is not the faith which the Christians make much of. The true virtue of faith is faith as opposed to faithlessness, that is, keeping faith and promises and being loyal.”

COMMENT: In examinations of religious faith it is forgotten that faith is not just trust in a God who reveals himself but is also keeping faith. Faith involves a promise to commit to God as he reveals himself. If the person cannot believe but keeps trying to that is still a person of faith in the sense of trying to live out the promises of faith. Catholics who are baptised and confirmed receive these sacraments which involve and are based on a promise to support what God has said about himself according to the Church. Failing to keep faith then as cherry-picking cafeteria Catholics do is totally uncatholic. If they are Catholic then their Catholic nature does not matter.  Being Catholic is not enough or not much when you don't live it.  The gospels praise the efforts of Jesus's doubters to live out faith.  The idea is that if you act as one who trusts what God has said then even if you don't then you have faith deep down.  You are being tested.

QUOTE: “Even when a person is aware that faith is belief without regard to evidence, he may be led to hold faith respectable by the consideration that we sometimes think it good for a man to believe in his friend's honesty in spite of strong evidence to the contrary, or for a woman to believe in her son's innocence in spite of strong evidence to the contrary. But, while we admire and love the love that leads the friend or parent to this view, we do not adopt or admire his conclusion unless we believe that he has private evidence of his own, gained by his long and intimate association, to outweigh the public evidence on the other side. Usually we suppose that his love has led him into an error of judgement, which both love and hate are prone to do.”

QUOTE: He points out with religion which is based on reports about the gods, “All of these reports have the remarkable feature that they tell us that the gods are experienced and yet not perceived. One may, it is said, sometimes perceive manifestations of the gods, visions, miracles, and, of course, images. One may also perceive a man and infer from the miracles he does that he is also a god. But one cannot perceive the god directly with eyes or ears. And yet one experiences him. Experience without perception is, of course, usually a mark of the subjective; what I experience without the aid of perception is primarily my own inner life, my thoughts and imaginations and moods and so on. But we are told that there is also experience without perception of at least one kind of objective reality, namely god or the gods.”

COMMENT: My comment is that it is not experience but your interpretation.  It is what you want to think about the experience. You make yourself the real God for you are the one deciding that it is your opinion alone that matters.  Who is God if you care about your opinion not his?  In practical terms you are God!

QUOTE: He writes, “Another phenomenon from which people infer the existence of an unperceived god is the multitude of convinced and sincere testifiers. 'How could all those intelligent and honest men be mistaken?' This inference is also worthless. If we took the existence of a multitude of convinced and sincere testifiers as good evidence for a belief, we should have to believe not in one religion but in all the conflicting religions that have obtained”.

COMMENT: You cannot make a God out of popular opinion for many people say they believe what they do not and most people can be wrong. The number of people holding an idea only popularises the idea but has nothing to do with showing the idea is really credible or true. The argument however that most people believing in God is evidence that there may be a God is probably at the back of everybody’s mind and the fundamental reason why the belief seems to be so persistent. You can see the potential for bullying in such an attitude.

“Everybody believes in God so you must be wrong not to believe” is not a logical argument. It does not follow that there is a God just because most believe. Maybe too many of them only think they believe. People can be wrong in what they think they believe and that they think they believe. But religion turns it into a logical argument: “God inspires all people to look for him so most believing is a sign from him that he exists and loves us.” Logic is iron and merciless. Here the problem is that they assume God is inspiring people and then decide then that indicates that there is a God! They are abusing logic. Remember logic is iron and you cannot avoid it and you do violence to yourself and potential violence by trying to defy and corrupt it. So see the aggression in the abuse. It is trying to create a fake reality and that shows no real concern for people.  People may be all for themselves and not be letting God in so there is something arrogant about boasting that your faith is an argument for God!  The argument that so many good and smart people believe Jesus was good or God is similarly worthless.  It usually presupposes that God is prompting you to believe in Jesus.

QUOTE THAT HELPS US THINK ABOUT THE TEACHING THAT THOSE WHO SAY MORALITY IS NOT REAL UNLESS GOD IS REAL FOR GOD COMMANDS IT: “It has been made perfectly clear that there can be no entailing reason for a moral law except another moral law. Probably the first person to point this out unmistakably was H. A. Prichard in his article in Mind for 1911, 'Does Moral Philosophy rest on a Mistake?' (reprinted in his Moral Obligation). A sentence beginning 'thou shalt' or 'thou shalt not', or containing the words 'ought' or 'ought not' or 'right' or 'wrong', can be entailed only by a sentence also containing one of these expressions. For example, the sentence 'thou shalt not kill' is not entailed by any of the following: 'there is a god who hates killing', 'there is a god who punishes killing with eternal fire', and 'there is a god who is our father and commands us not to kill'. None of these is an entailing reason for the law that 'thou shalt not kill'. The following, however, is an entailing reason for this law: God commands us not to kill and thou shalt do whatever God commands.' This is an entailing reason because it contains a 'thou shalt', and therefore is itself a moral law. A moral law can be entailed by a sentence about a god only if that sentence is itself a moral law. It cannot be entailed by a sentence which merely informs us that there is a god, and what his commands are. The moral laws as a whole are not and never will be entailed by anything. In other words, there is a good sense in which ethics has no basis and cannot have a basis. There is a good sense in which there is no such thing as 'the foundations of morality'. Mr. Hare stated this point very clearly, with special reference to Christian thought, in Philosophy for 1950, p. 376.

COMMENT: If morality has no ultimate basis then it should not have. It does not need it. So to try to base it on God is immoral. Saying God commands that you must not commit adultery is saying you must believe in God and that he commands and that he commanded this.  So you have several commands in one!  It all boils down to people saying they have verified a message from God that they have that you must obey.  They are doing the commanding.  The command of God comes from and through their authority so if it is really from God that does not really matter.  It is them you are depending on. 

QUOTE: “One cannot abase oneself before a perfectly moral person, because a perfectly moral person treats one as an equal and as having a right to one's way of life.”

COMMENT: God does not make you an equal.  Devotion to God is immoral and undignified or believers secretly think they are equal to God!

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