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A sociologist in Las Vegas on atheism and morality

A sociologist in Las Vegas on atheism and morality

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Sociologist Lori Fazzino was interviewed by Valerie Tarico for Alternet about her graduate work in sociology, exploring religion conversion and deconversion. Fazzino was inspired by the contradictions of “Sin City”, where 77% of the population identifies as religious, primarily Christian.

Fazzino asserts that morality and ethics are completely disconnected from any religion or religious thinking, but doesn’t provide the proof; her work seems more focused on politically-conservative Evangelical Christians, which she attributes to her own lived experience and personal history.

From the article:

I was raised Catholic and got saved at an Evangelical mega-church at age 16. But in 2007, I was excommunicated, well as much as you can get excommunicated from a Protestant church. I was living just south of Seattle, very involved in a church called Real Life. I also was in a very bad marriage with a man who lied to get me down the aisle. About a year in, I learned that we were deeply in debt to the point that we almost lost our house.

Well, I’m a survivor. I used to dance at a club when I was 18, and so I decided to go to Alaska and dance. On the way, I got in a very bad car accident; I was hanging upside down in my car. After they got me out, my husband called our pastor. When the pastor learned why I was on the road, he basically said, “Lori is nothing but a whore, and if she comes around here we will have her arrested.” He didn’t want me tainting the church teenagers.

Distressingly, Fazzino has faced discrimination both as a ‘sinful’ Christian and as an atheist, and recounts being passed over for job opportunities by discriminatory employers. Part of her critique of the idea that faith provides morality is directly drawn from these experiences. Fazzino documents and critiques the discrimination that many atheists, agnostics, and other secularists face.

Do you see any problems with Fazzino’s theories on ethics and morality? Do you think that any one has a convincing ethical system that doesn’t owe an intellectual debt to early religious moral codes? Are there any viable ethical or moral systems that pre-date organized religion and may have influenced early religious moral thinking?

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George Nagle

Writing in the Guardian, the atheist John Gray argues that atheism by itself doesn't engender values.

He writes: "None of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science. How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time [Nietzsche] argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism."

The article is at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/03/what-scares-the-new-atheists

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JC Fisher

"Just be good for goodness sake"

I would NEVER argue that one can't be "good" apart from a systematic belief-system (which we may call "religious", whether theistic or non-theistic). However, in my interactions (mostly online), w/ the strongly non-theistic (as in the billboard above), the concept of "good/goodness" seems mostly assumed, rather than explored/defined.

I've heard many anti-theists reject the very idea of "sin" (or that rather like "he who smelt it, dealt it!"; i.e., only those who talk about sin are actually doing it---talking about it is to deflect from one's own sins). Yet Evil is readily identified: "What Christians do" (they're usually correct in their examples, IMO).

To me, it's a moral blindspot, to not have (searching, life-long) discussions of what constitutes The Good, and searching oneself for behaviors ("things done and left undone") that are Evil. (But are theists any better at doing that? Really?)

I wish I could ask the person(s) who put up the bus sign "What does 'be good for goodness' sake' look like? As a way of life?" [But would they be interested in talking to me, who DOES center my belief-system around the Dreaded G-word? ;-/]

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Margaret Ellsworth

The Cafe editor seems to emphasize a slant in the article that I didn't really see - the "complete disconnect" between morality and religion. Fazzino's work seems to focus more on the cultural dynamics of contemporary atheism, not the moral/ethical rationale.

I'm not sure why it should matter whether or not Fazzino's secular ethics can be traced back to some "pure" secular origin, or whether or not they owe a debt to my own tradition's past (and doesn't Christian ethics owe a debt to various other non-Christian systems of morality, as well?) As a Christian committed to interfaith conversation, I can listen to and learn from Buddhists, Muslims, etc, and recognize their moral frameworks even if I don't share their beliefs. Why should Christian dialogue with atheists be any different?

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