I’d like you to imagine two hypothetical scenarios.
In the first, a child is suffering. He’s in an extremely disadvantaged part of the third world. He’s six years old, and has depended on his mother all his life for food and nurturing and basic care. She’s now dead of malaria. He’s lost, and tired, and the hunger that’s accompanied him all his life is gnawing at him stronger than ever and there’s nobody to look after him.
In addition, God exists.
That’s scenario the first, okay? Don’t worry about the implications of that last bit, or think anything through in too much detail. A child is starving, as many children truly are, and also there is a god. The Christian one if you prefer, but whatever. Okay? Keep that hypothetical in mind.
Now imagine the same child, same suffering, same anguish and confusion and despair. Another human being in the same desperately miserable situation as described a few moments ago, in the same cruel, uncaring world.
And there is no god.
That’s the second scenario.
Now, you might have an idea as to which of these two pictures paints a bleaker view. That’s an interesting discussion – is it worse knowing there’s no-one to turn to for help, or seeing the one you could turn to allowing this to happen? – but not for today.
Here’s my question: When imagining the plight of the kid in each scenario described above, did you find yourself only giving a shit about one of them?
Did you feel saddened and motivated to help one of the children described above, and feel a strong compassion for him and desire to act morally by him – and find that the other just left you cold and unbothered, with no particular incentive to do anything about it?
Do you, in other words, only care about suffering and want to alleviate it if God exists? Is your compassion for other humans contingent on an all-powerful third party? Does the truth of one particular religion or another have any bearing on whether the plight of such a child sickens you and makes you determined to change it?
I expect your answer is no.
If I’m right, congratulations: you now understand how atheists can have morals.
But if I’m wrong… then, well, you have an odd system of deciding what is and isn’t a moral outrage, and I entirely fail to understand your process of thought.
I’d love to know what it is you’re using to decide whether or not a suffering child is “a bad thing”. For me, and many others, it’s pretty straight-forward, and can be judged largely in isolation. Whether or not we believe in God doesn’t really come into it. We just witness suffering and are moved by it. We want children not to be starving to death, scared and alone in a harsh world. Saving innocents from that fate is a sufficient end in itself.
God might be important to you, but I’m not sure why his opinion is the only one you care about when there are kids suffering and dying right in front of you.
You really are allowed to just love people and care what happens to them, you know. Even if there is no god and no afterlife and it’s all finite and bounded and there’s no ultimate arbiter to reward or punish you for getting it right or wrong.
It’s a pretty feeble kind of love that isn’t worth your effort any more without those conditions.
Yes, I’ve been finding theists to chat with on Twitter again. Some of them continue to baffle me.