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Humanist Essays from Young People Series 2009-2010

“People can be good without God. Discuss."

by Zachary Subran-Ganesh, aged 14,

Ever since the concept of a modern God has existed, the majority of humans have believed that to be moral, one must have faith in such a God. However, there are many examples of non-believers who can be considered moral and successful. If we look at it from a different perspective it is obvious that an immense number of those who call themselves “believers” are immoral. Many religious scriptures, including the Christian Bible as well the Koran contain accounts of killing and other evil acts, often performed by the supreme beings themselves. The fact that people can be good without a God, supreme being, or religion can be observed in everyday life.

In most religions, God is regarded as omnibenevolent. However, the problems of evil and hell raise concerns over the accuracy of this belief. The question is: Why would a loving, kind God allow evil to occur and cause distress and harm to His faithful followers, if He is in control? In the Christian bible alone, God himself has killed almost 35 million persons, hurt and injured many more, and condoned the sacrifice of animals. Every day, millions of persons are hurt in some way. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), around 1.02 billion people in the world are hungry or undernourished as of 2009. An all-powerful, all-loving God should provide assistance to these innocent people. One sixth of the world’s population suffers from hunger alone, many more suffer from poverty and disease. Many religious persons worldwide pray almost every day for an end to these ills of society. However, these problems only seem to be getting worse every year. God does not seem to be listening. Their prayers are not being answered, yet they continue praying.

Religious defences to the problem of evil include the argument of free will and mankind’s limited knowledge. The free will argument states that if God were to eliminate all evil, the free will of persons would be diminished. However, religion already takes away the free will of persons for rather trivial reasons, which do not seem to be causing harm to others. Good examples of this include the many ways in which women are treated as inferior to men in religious scriptures. To quote 4:34 of the Koran: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other.” In the Hebrew bible, unmarried women were not allowed to leave the home of their father. Likewise, married women were not allowed to leave the home of their husband. Women were not allowed to talk to strangers and could not testify in court, among other restrictions to their free will. They were considered the property of men. Religion and religious scriptures are a major obstacle to women and their rights.

In the bible, a well known story is that of Noah and the Ark: God instructed Noah and his family to construct an ark to save himself, his family and a pair of each species of animal from a great flood. In the story, God chooses Noah because He considers him to be “just and righteous.” However, years after the flood, Noah is discovered by his youngest son, Ham, inside a tent, drunk and naked. His other sons cover him up, while looking away from him. As he turns sober, he curses Ham’s son, Canaan, because Ham saw him naked. Canaan did absolutely nothing wrong, nor did Ham for accidentally seeing Noah. This shows that even the man God considered to be the only person righteous enough to be saved, was not very righteous after all.

Contrary to what most persons believe, certain religious practices can cause unnecessary harm, discomfort or death to others, as well as to oneself. According to Exodus 21:15 in the Hebrew bible: “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.” This means that a child who hits or curses his parents must be killed. In modern times, such punishment is considered overly harsh. The bible also condoned the sacrifice of animals, as well as unfair treatment of women, among other cruel behaviour. Genesis 15:9 is a good example of animal cruelty solicited by God: “And he said unto him [Abram], Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Therefore, according to the bible, the slaying of animals is not only allowed, it is encouraged as a sacrifice to God; animal sacrifice is a good deed.

God also approved of and encouraged slavery, according to the Hebrew bible and to some extent, the Koran. 1 Peter 2:18 states: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” Today, slavery is considered absolutely unacceptable in most civilizations. Any person owning or enslaving persons is looked down upon or is punished by law. Many persons who have been considered to be religious or have a strong religious affiliation are also guilty of wrongdoings. A major example of this is the prevalence of Catholic teen and child sex abuse cases by Catholic priests and bishops. 81% of the cases involved male victims, despite the fact that Catholics consider homosexual acts in general to be sinful. The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 have been shown to be religiously motivated. Most religions support inequality and violence, and to be good, one does not need to associate with such a religion.

Although many persons have the view that atheists and non-believers cannot be considered good or righteous, there are examples of atheists and agnostics who have contributed positively to others, or who have been very successful in life. Three of the five wealthiest persons in the world as of the end of 2009 are not believers in God or in religion: William “Bill” Gates (agnostic), Warren Buffet (atheist) and Larry Ellison (atheist). Many famous persons, including but not limited to: Richard Branson, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Isaac Asimov, Albert Einstein, Arthur C. Clarke, Vincent Van Gogh and Douglas Adams have all been or are atheists, and have made significant literary and scientific contributions to the world. There are innumerable other examples of successful atheists. They can be considered to be good, although they did not believe in a supreme being, and most even considered the concept of religion and God to be absurd and ridiculous.

Religion and God have been used as ways to encourage good values and morals among human beings. For thousands of years, humans have had the belief that if one did not follow the teachings of one’s religion, one would not be able to make the right choices and be doomed to spend eternity in Hell, or experience other forms of extreme punishment. But the aforementioned examples of famous atheists who can be considered “good” live successfully without God or religious practices. Would it not be considered unfair for these persons who have made such positive changes in the world to spend eternity in Hell? Many religions claim their Gods to be merciful. For example, in the Koran (2:143): “Allah is Full of Pity, Merciful toward mankind,” and the bible (Exodus 34:6): “The LORD God, merciful and gracious.” If God were truly merciful, He would spare persons from going to Hell. In fact, there would be almost no reason for the existence of Hell. However, these scriptures describe instances in which humans are sent to Hell by God, which would effectively make the them unmerciful. This is just one of the countless contradictions existing in the scriptures.

While atheists may not associate with a supernatural being or religion, this does not mean that they do not care for others, themselves or the environment. Because each atheist may have a different stance on many aspects of life, there is no one organized group or gathering of atheists. There are, however, groups of those who share similar beliefs and stances. An example of such a movement is Humanism which advocates reasoning and ethics as opposed to belief in unreasonable supernatural and superstitious claims, such as religious miracles and the belief in an afterlife. Humanism supports gender equality, human rights, justice and secularism, all of which are not possible by following religious scriptures. Instead of focusing on pleasing a God, or the fear of being sent to Hell, Humanism concentrates on the ethical values related to the human.

From the point of view of the Humanist as well as most atheists, society is a necessary and beneficial agreement between all its members to protect us from abuse, and provides well-being and development, rather than imposing arbitrary restrictions on us. Humans are responsible for the wellbeing of themselves and of those around them. Conventionally, people have always relied on God for help and justice. Due to this reliance, people seldom get any fulfilment to their requests. If we realise that through rejection of religious dogma and teachings, and focus on natural values through reasoning, rational thinking and inquiry, we would be able to move toward a world of peace, knowledge, prosperity and freedom beyond what we experience today.

Zachary Subran-Ganesh

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