Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are You Gonna Eat That?

I imagined a fictional conversation the other day between all the religions of the world. After Christianity, Islam and Judaism managed to get all the others to leave in a huff, a strange set of bedfellows emerged. Islam and Judaism ganged up on Christianity. While it was initially over the worship of multiple deities, it came around to diet.

Then it struck me…

How do Christians know not to eat dirt, or poison, or feces?

This seems like a stupid question, but in Christian logic, it makes perfect sense.

As an atheist, I am confronted with the same comments, criticisms, hate mail, and bumper stickers as other atheists. I think my fellow non-believers will agree with me that Christians seem to think that atheists are (or that atheism will make one) immoral, or have no basis for ethics, or perhaps some variant of the notion that we’re just irreligious/angry at God because there’s something we want to do and can’t give up to become Christian.

I’m straight and faithfully married. I don’t steal. I don’t hurt anyone. I don’t kill. I don’t even read Harry Potter books. There is literally nothing keeping me from becoming a Christian, besides the fact that I feel absolutely nothing for the divine.

And while I hate to state it again, it is true that atheists are less likely to be convicted of crimes. Clearly being atheist isn’t making people do bad things.

So how is an atheist guided?

Well, how does a Christian know what to eat? The New Testament may hint that fish, bread and wine are acceptable, but what’s stopping Christians from sprinkling hemlock on it?

Just as many independent factors have an impact on a Christian’s diet, many independent factors have an impact on an atheist’s ethical system (if you even believe in such a thing).

So what’s keeping Jews and Muslims from publicly condemning and ridiculing the obese West for its foolhardy eating habits? Perhaps they are saying such things amongst themselves, but they seem reasonable enough not to make such a hyperbolic statement publicly. Or maybe they just realize a Christian’s diet is based off of parental habits, advertising, school options, general geographic location, personal preferences… many things, just not their holy book.

This kind of confounds me, because just as most holy books do not define every minute detail of one’s diet, a religion’s holy book does not provide the whole of one’s moral code. There are always ancillary traditions to be upheld, as well as gray areas open to interpretation, and one cannot underestimate one’s upbringing.

The bottom line: religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and for that I think we can all thank the gods.

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