Questionable Motives

January 15, 2010

What is an Other-directed-life?

Atheists are often charged with having no morality based on the assumption that one derives morality from some religious belief set. This lie is a very handy advertising gimmick to reassure believers that they hold the moral high ground over the atheist as if by default. The truth is that atheists are at least as moral as any believer and there is some very good evidence that the less religious a society or nationality is, the more moral is the overall behaviour. I attribute this positive correlation between atheism and a higher moral standard to ownership of that morality and an acceptance of personal responsibility for associated behaviours. I have mentioned on previous posts and comments that one of the benefits to being an atheist is owning one’s own morality rather than borrowing bits and pieces from some religious belief set and thinking that one’s cherry-picked moral jigsaw is therefore pre-approved and then bestowed only through faith from some supernatural critter.

So what do I mean by owning one’s morals?

In this interview between Maia Caron and Udo Schuklenk, co-editor with Russell Blackford of 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Atheists, this idea is called an Other-directed-life:

MAIA: In your introduction you also write, “It is high time we took charge of, and responsibility for, our own destinies without God, or God’s priestly interpreters, coming between us and our decision-making.” It’s a theme that Ophelia Benson picks up in her essay when she writes: “I refuse to consider a God ‘good’ that expects us to ignore our own best judgment and reasoning faculties.” Do you see more people taking responsibility for their own destinies? And what is the danger when they do not?

UDO: The fact that the number of people clearly affiliated with mainstream religions has been decreasing in the West for more than a decade by now indicates that more and more people have begun thinking for themselves. I suspect, ironically, this is even true for many religious people who confronted the atheist challenge, and on reflection decided to remain with their God. Reflecting on these issues is a good thing. We can only truly live our own lives if we make a considered choice as to the values (and basis of those values) that guide our lives. If we don’t, if we follow religious (or other authority) blindly, we live an other-directed life, and in that sense we don’t actually live our own lives. The ongoing public exchanges between non-religious people and people believing in some kind of higher being actually serve that purpose.


The article contains many other important topics and the points raised well worth your consideration.

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