Morality & Politics

Atheist Morality: The Humanist Moral Code

"Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith ... We need believing people."- Adolf Hitler, in a speech on April 26, 1933, during negotiations towards the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of 1933. Quote taken from the Hitler page at Freethought-Web.

A popular fundamentalist misconception is that humanists have no moral code. This is simply untrue; humanism has a moral code, and that code should be obvious from its very name: humanist morality is based on human rights and the good of humanity. Fundamentalists will also argue that their moral code is universal while the humanist moral code is not. However, it's actually the opposite: the Christian moral code is specific to one religion and is therefore not universal, while the humanist moral code applies equally to everyone. This means that it cuts across lines of nationality, race, sex, and religion; something which can't be said for any moral code which requires adherence to a particular faith or set of customs.

"I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. But freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion, there is a better way."- Al Gore, speaking in Atlanta, Georgia on May, 1999. Quoted from AA News #808. Apparently, he agrees with Adolf Hitler about the profound need for "believing people".

It is ironic that Christian fundamentalism is so strong in America, since the original American Declaration of Independence was a bold step away from traditional church and state doctrine. Look at its founding documents, in which "we the people" hold certain truths to be "self evident". Traditional European governments had no such sentiments; their laws were "In accordance with God's laws", and authority flowed from God to the state and from the state to the people. The American founding fathers, on the other hand, envisioned power flowing from the people to the government, with God having no relevance in the affairs of the state. The Declaration of Independence mentions "Nature's God" rather than the Christian God, and John Adams spoke of founding the government on the laws of nature rather than divine inspiration. America was founded as a secular humanist state, not a Christian state.

"John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote that our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people."- Senator Joseph Lieberman, speaking at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit on Aug. 27, 2000 while running for Vice President. Quoted from AA News #808.

John Adams' real words, not the ones Senator Lieberman puts in his mouth: "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature ... [In] the formation of the American governments ... it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven ... These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."- John Adams, second President of the United States, quoted from A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788.

More of John Adams' real sentiments on religion: "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"- John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.

The foresight and courage of the American founding fathers is actually all the more impressive when you consider the socio-political environment in which they operated. At the time, it was simply unwise to publicly admit anything other than Christian faith (even more so than it is today), so all of them had to publicly pay lip service to the overwhelmingly bigoted, Christian population while quietly communicating amongst themselves about their true feelings about organized religion, and carefully designing laws which would stop the "know-nothings" (as Lincoln would later call them) from turning the country into a Christian theocracy. You can see this in the contrast between their public speeches and the private letters they wrote to one another (not to mention the statutes they enacted). Christians are often fond of bringing up quotes from public speeches in order to "prove" that they were Christians, but these men were politicians, and anyone who knows politics will know that a politician's public speeches are simply means to an end; they do not reveal anything about his true intentions or beliefs. It is his private activities that reveal his true attitudes, and the private letters of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, etc. all reveal a profound contempt for organized religion, and skepticism of the Christian belief system.

One might ask where these ideas came from after nearly two thousand years of monarchism and state religion, and most Euro-centric scholars speak of the legacy of Athens and the European Renaissance, with writers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke being given the credit. However, in reality, the American government was designed in imitation of the native "Indians", not the ancient Greeks. The Iroquois League had a democratic system of initiative, referendum, and recall in 1400 AD, hundreds of years before the US Constitution was ever drafted. It also had equal representation for member nations, or states, much like the modern American Congress. The word "caucus" is actually an Algonquin word, and they had separate leaders for war and peace; an idea which is crucial for freedom, but which was considered revolutionary at the time. These ideas were absorbed by certain liberal-minded early European settlers, who reported their findings back to Europe where they were popularized by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke (who were credited for inventing them, just as Guttenberg is given credit for the printing press which he copied from the Chinese).

"I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of Their Highnesses. We shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command. And we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their Lord and resist and contradict Him. And we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us."- the requiremento, or Spanish Requirement that was read aloud (in Spanish) by Christopher Columbus and other conquistadors whenever they encountered another native community (formalized into law in 1513). Quoted from NativeWeb. This was the result of the Papal Bull of January 8, 1455, in which Catholics were urged to "invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue" all pagans, and to "reduce their persons to perpetual slavery". Catholics still uphold the doctrine of "papal inerrancy" to this day, despite such monstrosities, and Americans still celebrate Columbus Day in spite of his legacy as an inveterate racist, unrepentant Crusader, and genocidal mass murderer; we might as well wonder why the Germans don't celebrate Hitler Day)

Of course, the fact that the American Founding Fathers copied native government systems rather than European systems is not surprising, since Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and John Adams were all either deists or atheists, fiercely opposed to the continuation of the old ways (and they openly acknowledged their profound debt to the native peoples for their egalitarian model of government). Their emulation of the native system was actually a pale imitation in some ways; while the natives gave women equal political participation, the American Founding Fathers' European patriarchal mindset was too strong to be challenged thusly, so women were not given the right to vote until the early 20th century. And while native leaders were expected to give away all their possessions to ensure that they would not abuse the office for personal gain, the European assumption that leaders should have extravagantly luxurious surroundings seems impossible to shake, even to this day.

Unfortunately, the Americans' debt of inspiration to the natives has been effectively erased from most history books, so that most Americans assume that the American improvements upon ancient, simplistic Greco-Roman republic models were entirely original. An element of racism also comes into play; many early Americans were loathe to acknowledge any sort of debt to the natives, and so suppressed the knowledge of their contribution. Indeed, many Americans today assume that the country was "founded on Christian beliefs". Nothing could be further from the truth, but Christian right-wing political figures have been abusing their power to foster that belief.

George WashingtonAbraham Lincoln "Washington and Lincoln were un-Christian and their names are unworthy of being brought before the public."- Rev. Romaine F. Bateman, the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Milburn, New Jersey, on Feb. 18, 1932. Reported by the New York Herald Tribune. It's true that as politicians, they paid lip service to Christians but did not join them in their faith. It's true that Washington never prayed or worshipped, and that Lincoln accompanied his wife to church but never accepted its belief system (much as I did before my wife's conversion to deism). It's true that both men had to have their piety "invented" for them by Christian biographers after their deaths, but does this somehow invalidate their accomplishments? Strangely enough, Washington and Lincoln are still held in high esteem by most Americans despite their lack of faith. In Lincoln's case, he actively opposed Southerners who claimed that Biblical condonement of slavery overrode Lincoln's idea of morality.

For example, the American Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 and it read as follows: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Did you notice anything different? That's right; it read: "one nation, indivisible" instead of "one nation, under God." Congress changed it in 1954, as part of the "improvements" wrought by McCarthyism. But that's not all. The famous inscription: "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins is also a recent development. It was first proposed by Rev. Watkinson in 1861, and it was slowly adopted on various coins until it was made mandatory on all coins as an act of Congress in ... 1955. Yes, that's right; just one year after "improving" the Pledge of Allegiance. Was the United States founded on Christian values? No, but fundamentalist bigots have been attempting to subvert it into a Christian theocracy ever since its creation, and they continue to undermine religious freedom in America to this day.

It's hard to believe, but by upholding their Constitution and their Declaration of Independence (both of which speak of human rights rather than divine rules), millions of American Christians accept the validity of humanist morality and don't even realize it (except for the fundamentalists, of course, who don't really accept all those annoying parts about freedom of religion and speech). In the rest of the world, we may have our own Constitutions (Canada has one), or we may have other articles of law which uphold similar concepts, or at the very least, our nations may be expected to respect the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Humanist morality is much more pervasive and universal than fundamentalists are willing to admit, and more importantly, they are unable to find anything wrong with it, hence the fact that so many Christians have either knowingly or unknowingly incorporated concepts such as "human rights" into their ethical framework.

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