I love this quote from Penn Jillette and a wonderful interview.
The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don't want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don't want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you. You know what I mean?
Ron Bennington: Now what do you say to people though that say, whether or not there’s an afterlife, it’s still important to have this because it keeps us morally based, it keeps us family based and even at the end of this life, if nothing happens, it’s still good to have these set of rules.
Penn Jillette: Well, you know, God told Abraham to kill his son, and his proof of Abraham’s devotion was his willingness to kill his son. Jesus says very clearly, “abandon your father and mother, abandon your children and come with me.” There’s nothing pro-family about Christianity. That is all layered on. That is all-American. The American Christian church has a great deal of family values, but those aren’t found in the Bible, those aren’t in the root material. We have a lot of evidence, [Christopher] Hitchens, a good friend of mine, we miss him all the time, but Hitchens had a standing offer for a religious person to name a moral thing that was done in the name of religion that had not been done by an atheist. All of your self-sacrifice, all of the help for communities, have all been done by religious people and by atheists. But I’ll tell one story that I just love, I brought a date once, because this is the kind of guy I am, to hear an atheist speaker. We’re sitting there in a college-type atmosphere, probably about 150 people in the audience, and I even forgot who it was speaking because there were a lot of people that day, it might have been [Michael] Shermer, and he speaks and he finished and he opens the floor up to questions. The person on the other side of my date stands up and says, “Well if there’s no God, what’s to stop me from raping and killing everyone around me?” And my date raised her hand and said, “May I change my seat?” [Laughter]
Ron Bennington: But maybe it’s because we distrust each other, we’re so afraid of other humans, that we have that, you know?
Penn Jillette: It’s amazing, and I always bring this up, that religion is for people who kind of at some level don’t like people. And I love people. And I think if you take the 7 billion people on the planet and you round it off, about 7 billion of them are good. To find bad people is really difficult. Not people doing bad things, but really bad people who get up in the morning and say, How can I fuck people up? That’s a really rare thing. Misguided, you know, mistaken, but I just can’t understand how this view of humanity that all we want to do is horrible things to each other and it’s just this belief in something else that stops us. And that that is what you see over and over again through the Bible. There’s reward and punishment but there’s no – I mean, nothing feels better than helping someone out. I mean, there’s nothing better, nothing better in the world than someone whose life was fucked up and you do a little something and now their life isn’t. I mean, you can talk about the joy of sex, hedonistic joys of food, and you can talk about the joy with your children, but man, someone is going through a hard time and you help them out, man you feel good for months.
Read the rest here.
E Gross, excellent point. I've known christians who were exactly like that. Arrogant in their state of forgiveness, lying cheating opportunist back stabbing. But no problem, Jesus loves them. Of course, reading the bible, god doesn't exactly set an example for living as an ethical, moral being either.
Back in the good old days, if you were a Hebrew and you had a betrothed Hebrew female slave (her father needed the cash), and you got the urge to take her, well, you know thats a fine of a Ram. But man, she is cute. "Aw, heck, I got lots of Rams!"
So you were forgiven by killing a male sheep. In Christianity, you get forgiven by an intermediary intervention (depending on your sect), so if you cheated your neighbor, no big deal, tell Father O'mally, then say 2 "Our Father's" ans 3 "Hail Mary's" and your good!
So in either case, since there is forgiveness at the other end, why not do it? The answer is we have evolved beyond that. In the former case, no Jews todays would even consider selling their daughter for a few years for some money, because it is barbaric.
We don't do bad things because we have evolved beyond that.
What's to stop atheists from all kinds of (mis)behavior?
Penn didn't say, nor did anyone else; the sheriff hasn't resigned and surrendered the jailhouse keys.
I've been guilty of saying the same thing when I was younger. The irony of it was I wasn't even xian at the time; I was pagan... but I just assumed someone who was so wholesome and good had to be christian. ...That's what we fight against, even when we're coming out of the fog, those presuppositions take awhile to break and fall away for some of us.
I bought all his books - I got them from Amazon - I hope to have time to read them in the summer.
That last part is very touching and I find it personally to be true. I want to volunteer, more. I was hoping to go with a group to help up in northern Japan, in a couple of weeks, but I won't be able to, unfortunately. The time I did, I was so moved and that moment in my life really affected me. Oddly enough, my mother's church has sent out a team of volunteers to the same city in the area, a few times, after I'd gone. Totally by chance it's the same area... The difference being that those volunteers also have a story to sell. I do think, though, it's more likely that on the Japanese side of things, they did their best to match subsets of the community to the volunteers... It's okay to have religion here or not, but it's very odd to convert. (I've had this discussion with both Japanese friends and foreigners here. People are often confused when they find out not so much that I'm atheist (though a little, since they assume all Americans are christian) but especially so that I come from a christian family, but am not one myelf.)
We don't do bad things because we have evolved beyond that.
Evolved? No, our genes haven't changed.
It's basically because we have law enforcement to keep people civilized.
If your brother or your sister had been murdered and the perpetrator got away with it, you become more inclined to do "bad things" - just as people throughout history have done.
Humanity is becoming less violent. because law enforcement puts violent people in jail - enacting a punishment. The Authorities do the retaliation for us.
If you live in a society that is reasonably fair to you - you don't need to be violent. If people expect fairness, they are happy to reciprocate - except for a few very disturbed people, who may have been the targets of violence themselves.
Palestinian terrorists in jail, tell of terrible experiences in their past, family members killed.
Religion is like an older attempt at law enforcement. It seeks to prohibit people from stealing, raping someone else's wife, killing someone (except in accepted ways like war or execution).
Also we have less trauma from infant mortality. Before antibiotics, a lot of children died young. A lot of people had several brothers and sisters who didn't survive!
That probably also did bad things to people's minds, which we don't understand now because it hasn't happened to us.
If you had grown up in a society where your brother or sister was murdered, this was NOT unusual and the perpetrator wasn't far away, and other brothers and sisters had died, and this also was not unusual - where if you were a woman, sex could well mean your death because you could die in childbirth - then, you also would become a potential murderer. We all have it in us - the key is in changing the circumstances that cause people to become violent.
You can see this also among the people who deprived in affluent societies like the USA. They are much more likely to be violent - they have themselves been the targets of violence, they have seen violence around them, they have little trust of The Authorities.
If you want a kind society, arrange for social justice! And good medical care.
I agree with much of what you said. But I do think that we have changed, though that change has been more rapid than could be described genetically. We have changed memetically, and it is our evolved (or not) cultures that inform us. This was once and for some still is the role of religion. I can legitimately deride values espoused in the bible, but they reflected people way back then trying to cobble up some sort of workable social contract. It apparently worked well enough to survive until now, but it seems a shame to grant it any current relevance.
I don't think that top-down enforcement is what guides most of us, though it's still unfortunately necessary in cases more limited than in how it's applied. My family has Native American roots -- one of the groups most egregiously oppressed. Most of them glommed-on to Christianity as means to forgive and be forgiven. It lets them push the failed past away and start with at least some sort of moral template, however flawed. Something similar can be seen in the African-American community that gave us such brights as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I think that religion works best for those unable to develop a personal sense of morality, though that's what they're doing anyway by picking & choosing which scriptures to follow. It's probably comfortable to believe that the morality you choose has some historical (or not) bonafides. Most people are 'good', and so are most cultures. That part is genetically encoded in all social species, whether termites, wolves or humans. It does change, but very slowly from our fourscore perspective. Memes mutate very quickly and probably describe most of our moral stance at any time.
people way back then trying to cobble up some sort of workable social contract.
Sure, and for religious people it still is. The religion functions as a kind of law enforcement in people's heads when there aren't the social structures to do it thoroughly in the outside world.
I don't think that top-down enforcement is what guides most of us
It's extremely important for people to feel there is justice, even if imperfect. It's crucial for our peace of mind that if someone hurts them or someone they care about, there's a justice system to do something about it. Both civil and criminal.
If we didn't have that, we would quickly lose our decency to each other because we would want to enact vengeance. Personal vengeance inspires more vengeance, and it would quickly spiral into savagery.
I read some about the causes of terrorism. One thing mentioned was that people without rights or power in their society, without democracy, are more likely to become terrorists.
Most people are happy to be decent to each other as long as we aren't being hurt too much. It feels better, it makes us happy when we can like another person and show that to them.
If we are hurt a lot and do feel like hurting someone, most of us know that criminal behavior, real cruelty, could fuck up our own lives permanently. That helps restrain people from acting out their rage. I know about being hurt a lot and about the rage that results, and I also know about being careful not to do anything with the rage that would bring down awful consequences on my head. There was a time when I felt like being one of those people who goes onto the roof of a building and starts shooting. I was that angry, and in the middle of rage the consequences are what is meaningful - goodness is abstract.
Government, social structures like the justice system and law enforcement are a crucial part of the social contract. Religion is partly an attempt at creating government, creating the social contract - and enforcing the government, the social contract that is already there.
I think we mostly agree. I tend to think that we monkeys are more 'wired' to do good rather than bad, and that authoritarian enforcement of contrived mores is a side issue, perhaps necessary in a functioning society. I think that basic morality is genetically derived as a function of sociality, and that we generally do what works for our genes, whether or not it turns out well for any individual. But we've jumped the shark from genes to memes (and maybe now to temes (technically moderated memes) and find ourselves in a moral landscape in which things change rapidly and what religion once prescribed is no longer relevant.
We can sit here and look back and say with authority that those old values of misogyny, slavery and such were just plain wrong because it's clear from our perspective that they were. But they survived for whatever reason and drew with them a culture that we see today that includes some of those worst ideas but is evolving into one that rejects them, just as it always has for any social species that survives.
Enforcement of mores is a deeply conservative impulse, and necessary. It's necessary in the way that brakes are necessary to a car. Without brakes we'd be in deep shit, but they are not what moves us forward.
thank Ted - great reply