The atheist letters: The sociopath
by Don Hartness
Some of you are going to find this post disturbing. It is also a bit long, because some points can’t be introduced in a few hundred words. I can only beg your indulgence; I think you’ll find it worth it…
The accusation that atheism leads to immorality is a silly argument. I never understood this one. Every civilization, presently or historically, has some semblance of morality, even if there is disagreement in the specifics. Otherwise, there is no civilization: just a murderous band of thieves whose only justification for existence is their power. Hence, when atheists point out that a lack of belief does not lead to immorality, I agree.
What atheists miss is that a lack of belief does not necessarily lead to morality either. How do I know? Because I know myself. Do you know what I would be if I was not a Christian?
Of course, this begs a couple of questions. The first is whether a person can actually choose to be a sociopath. After all, one does not choose a recognized psychological illness like one fills out a job application. But let’s suppose for a moment that it is possible for someone to choose “extreme antisocial behavior”, combined with a “lack of conscience”. Since I am already an insane genius, I shouldn’t sell myself short – hard-work and determination is all I need.
The second question is: “Why?” After all, just because one does not believe in God does not mean that one cannot have a fruitful and productive life, complete with family, friends, and personal fulfillment. And yet, simply standing up for morality and what was right is precisely the thing that cost me family, friends, personal fulfillment and a productive life (at least in terms of career and financial success). Although I could rebuild these things, there are other things that, if my own little selfish heart were to rule the day, I would want more.
In short, I have nothing to lose. If my beliefs were proven void, then I see little point in continuing to stand up for morality while suffering the consequences for such a stance. So what is left when one is not living for a higher purpose?
In my opinion, Carpe Diem.
The concept Carpe Diem can mean many things to many people. My particular vision of Carpe Diem involves the lifestyles you see on television: the fancy cars, the luxurious houses, and the extravagant vacations. Especially the travel: I want to be able to go wherever I want, arrive in style, and not be concerned with the cost for whatever I want to do when I get there.
Looks like I’m going to need money. Lots of money. A metric butt-ton of money.
Now, if I had realized earlier in life that I was following a mythology (as atheists like to claim), then maybe I could have done this the right way…you know, become a respectable corporate raider, or a noble politician, or something similar. But it is what it is, which means I wasted half of my life, along with the chance for obtaining this kind of lifestyle illegally. This means I need to resort to more nefarious methods to get what I want…drug dealing, for instance…
Regardless of the method I choose, a few things become clear. First, there are many in this country who still believe that morality is a universal truth (or are lying to themselves about their lack of morality, since the brutal truth about who we really are assaults the psyche).
Secondly, the wealthy are overwhelmingly represented by those who make every attempt to seem good and noble, all while secretly breaking a few rules and cutting a few corners to get ahead (open narcissistic and/or sociopathic behavior is resisted by all and, thus, to be avoided in appearance).
Lastly, one rarely achieves power without help – in other words, a small army of zombies willing to do my bidding.
Therefore, regardless of the method I choose, I must take great pains to appear like a good person…
…while recognizing the opportunity for breaking the rules (i.e., when those opportunities outweigh the risk for damaging my public appearance)…
…all while balancing this in such a way as to recruit as many people as possible for my own self-serving purposes. This also involves keeping them under the illusion that they are doing some sort of good (for themselves or others) by serving me or, if they have no such compunction, that serving me will further their own ends.
Since we live in a highly competitive global economy, I must also be willing to go to any lengths to achieve these goals, since there are no points for compassion (outside of any gains in public perception).
In other words, I must become a sociopath.
Lucky for me, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel on this one. Besides having many examples to draw from in today’s society, I also have the same initial source: Machiavelli. Machiavelli is often not understood because the masses don’t have the big picture. Once you understand the true nature of people, along with what motivates them (vanity, pride, greed, and so on), Machiavelli not only becomes understandable, but easily executed.
All I have to do is remove my pesky conscience. And since some have already pointed out that my Christian morality is nothing more than a culturally inbred perspective on the world, then failing to remove my conscience would simply be laziness on my part.
Oh, and one more thing. As for the matter of my currently held religious beliefs, I would continue the facade, since this helps my public appearance.
After all, can you name the last atheist president?
* * * * *
Disconcerting, isn’t it?
Not to fear (at least not from me): I’m simply describing a horizon. I haven’t taken a single step in that direction (nor do I intend too) and my reasons for believing are not contained in what follows (although “love”, which I will discuss in a moment, is my departure point).
I’m simply making a point that is often overlooked by atheism. That point is sumarized in this famous quote:
“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” – Voltaire
Is it better to be loved or feared? The answer, as Sonny points out, is “both”, but this is also difficult, since people seem to fall on one side or the other of this conundrum. Among the masses, religion has traditionally served both purposes.
The majority of adherents fall into the “fear” category. They are the “brute beasts” illustrated by Hobbes, unable to understand the case for morality by reason. Their only restraint is fear: either in political authority, and/or the belief in a God that punishes for evil deeds (either in this life or the next). Although this belief in God does not restrain all the brutish masses all the time, it has functionally served to restrain most of the masses most of the time, with the power of political authority (hopefully) catching most of the rest.
This, then, is religion’s only purpose for many observers. However, a peculiar thing happens among selected adherents: they fall into the “love” category. For these, the existence of God becomes a reality (instead of pious playacting), and the motivation changes from “fear” to “love”, extended to one’s neighbor out of reverence and love for God. From society’s standpoint, this motivation is even better: an ever-increasing love results in ever-increasing restraint from evil deeds. Hence, why Sonny says it is better to be “loved”, since the act is volitional, not compulsory.
This is all heady stuff for some of my readers, which brings me to my point. If the basis of morality does not involve either a “fear” or “love” of God, then universal morality (law) can only be based on philosophical reasoning and/or mutually agreed principles.
However, this doesn’t work in the long-term. For many, the phrase “philosophical reasoning” is not a part of their vocabulary; hence, setting forth a systematic argument does not work. The only recourse is to convince using other means (such as emotive appeals, not logical).
Now, if I disagree (because your belief system infringes on my narcissistic pursuit of Carpe Diem, for instance), you can’t prove me wrong. What authority are you going to appeal to? No matter what you may try to use, I can come up with a counter-example as a rationale for what I want to do, simply by using this wonderful tool called “Google”. I don’t even have to understand what I’m saying – I can simply link to it.
In fact, I don’t even need a rationale. I can believe whatever I want. Your only recourse is to try to stop me (provided you have majority opinion on your side). And if I’m smarter and more cunning than you (or my evil is not worth society’s best efforts), then there is nothing you can do to stop me.
Notice I am only talking about me: a solitary man. The law only works in a democracy with the consent of the governed. If the majority do not agree with your reasoning, then your only solution is a cop on every corner and household.
Good luck with that.
The astute reader will say, “A-HA! So the answer is to present an alternative to religion!”
Which is true, except for one problem: atheism doesn’t have an alternative. This will be the subject of my next post.