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Virtue has its roots in the contemplation of what is good and in accord with the laws of nature. As plants respond to the sun’s rays and raindrops falling from the sky, virtue blossoms individually, as in community, when love for oneself and others is the compost.

What is good for me is good for another. What is harmful for me is harmful for another.

I would argue that atheism is a surer path to leading a virtuous life than the paths followed by those following traditional religious dogmas. There is a natural freedom in not being bound to required beliefs. Understanding is the source of all morality. It’s our actions, not our beliefs, which matter.

Common sense and our experiences have long held that we should note what one does, not what one says, to understand the man.

The distractions of bias and discrimination toward those who did not accept their particular beliefs and dogmas have historically bound religious believers. Minus the distractions of having to defend and proclaim a particular set of beliefs, a person is truly free to study, observe and make decisions based on an objective examination of nature’s ways. This freedom is universal in that it allows for changing and modifying one’s conclusions as the state of science and learning advances before us.

I would be remiss to paint with too wide a brush. Not all believers in a God react toward those who see the world differently in a negative way. There are those who have a universal mindset and see belief to be the province of the believer or nonbeliever. This said, our history suggests that this form of liberal religiosity has more often than not, been absent.

The conservative Christians who proclaim our nation’s founders established a government based on Christian values is an obvious contemporary example. The leading men in our fight for our independence from Great Britain were not Christians, but rather products of the historical period known as the enlightenment. They were deists or atheists — believers in nature and nature’s god — and, to them, nature and God were synonymous.

The majority of our founders rejected the Protestant doctrines of the virgin birth, original sin, miracles of Scripture, and the resurrection and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Their disdain for the priesthood and the shadow it cast over the common citizen is obvious throughout the primary sources available to the current historian. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others of significance in our founding documents were not Christians.

Reason is essential in learning and knowledge and, as such, is the basis of morality. The opposite of reason is faith. When faced with reason disagreeing with faith, the person of faith is bound to his faith. This self-delusion is the foundation of all religion in its popular manifestations. Theocracy is the opposite of democracy.

Jefferson argued that secularism spreads as the natural consequence of freedom of thought in a free society. Secularism is inevitable in the modern free world. Our social, moral and political experiences bring deeper understanding and this knowledge, along with the advances of science, foreshadows increasing secularism.

Secularism is spreading throughout the world. Europe, the cradle of Christianity, is largely a secular society today. The grand cathedrals and remnants of a time when Christianity ruled are now merely works of art considered through the window of history.

The United States has been an outlier in the overwhelming move toward secularism. This is rapidly changing, and the younger generations are less and less religious in any traditional sense. More than two-thirds of the those younger than 30 are non-churchgoers, and their number are ever increasing.

Education and the increase in scientific advances will be the death knell of traditional religious practices and beliefs. They are simply not compatible with an educated and knowledgeable populace.

The virtuous atheist is a free agent, free to find meaning and purpose in life, free to understand the deepest meanings of the golden rule, and free from the myths and superstitions that often enslave the mind.

The virtuous atheist, liberated from all forms of tyranny over the human mind, is arguably the freest in the land of the free.

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Mike Dishnow is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society.

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(15) comments

Monteee

Freeing one's self from ancient myths and superstitions is definitely a good thing. However, that intellectual freedom is no guarantee that one will become a virtuous and moral person. Likewise, being a religious person brings no guarantee, either.

The source of anyone's virtue is his selflessness and respect for others.
The source of anyone's evil is his selfishness and contempt for others.

One's worldview - religious or non-religious - is merely window dressing. Remove our personal curtains, and what will we see in each other? That is the real question.....

MidwestAtheist

Redwall- actually, the Jewish sabbath is on Saturday, get it right. And frankly, the rest of us don't give a whit about whose sabbath is on what day. Do you fast during Ramadan out of respect of the Muslims? You are aware that every day of the week is named after a past god, except SUNday and MOONday?

Bill, I can say the freethinkers I have heard from are happy with Mike's article. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that atheists are good people, and that all too frequently, we find religion interfering with believers' ability to be moral people.

Redwall

Of course you don't "give a whit" (as if you had any to give).

Since I am not Muslim, I do not fast during their observance...nor to I show them disrespect as you show christians in the article. Its really hilarious how you gutless wonders always pick on christians.

Taking any religion's sabbath as an opportunity to show disrespect...is well...in true form for atheists, after all, what else is there to atheism.

Bill Payer

Ummm Michael, I think you need to look up what it means to be an atheist.
"Virtues" and morals cannot exist. The universe, you, me and everything in it is simply a coincidence of time, matter and chance.

As the famous atheist biologist Richard Dawkins said:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Sure puts a smile on your face to read that doesn't it?
And no self respecting atheist would ever write this...
The virtuous atheist is a free agent, free to find meaning and purpose in life

"Virtous atheist"? Might as well call yourself a "God fearing atheist".
"Meaning and purpose"? Mike, I think the boys at the next Freethinkers club meeting might want to have a little talk with you and perhaps revoke your membership card.

Redwall

Does this idiot not understand the difference between secularism and atheism?

How tiresome this surfeit of atheists is and how loathsome is the Tribune for printing this hate on the christian and jewish sabbath.

Bagger Vance

So I guess we can credit secularism with the rise of suicides and horrific crimes and behaviors among teens right? If your secularism is on the rise, then it is to blame for the ever-increasing evil in the world.

Your ramblings don't even come close to showing how secularism promotes virtuous behavior. That would be an impossible connection to make for anyone lucid and not taking psychotropic meds.

Buggs Raplin

Ramblings? Idiot Bagger Vance. This is a thoughtful, intelligent commentary. Our decline as a nation has NOTHING to do with religious beliefs. But you're too stupid to realize it.-Chip DeNure

elocs

Christians would be shocked to learn how many people they know who they take to be nonreligious, leading simple, quiet, and virtuous lives, are in reality atheists.

Machiavelli

I suspect we'll see several comments here about Hitler and Stalin as 'atheists gone wild,' as it were. But a closer examination of these two characters shows a deep religious connection: think of these nut cases as a pair of voucher school students, heavily brainwashed with religion and mysticism:

Stalin: Inside the Terror

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIzApqzlP3Q

"This is a BBC2 documentary from 2003 and probably one of the best on Stalin. The archive footage is very good and it draws upon some excellent evidence from close witnesses, including Stalin's own family."

Also, see:

"A Great Myth about Atheism: Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot = Atheism = Atrocity"

"Hitler (a baptised Catholic who was never ex-communicated) flirted with assorted deistic paganistic ideas of Christianity and religion, all of which basically amounts to not being an atheist in any recognisable way."

http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2014/03/03/a-great-myth-about-atheism-hitlerstalinpol-pot-atheism-atrocity/

Buggs Raplin

Christianity is a ridiculous religion. I sympathize, however, with individual Christians. They are the victims of indoctrination as children with the fear of the devil and eternal torture embedded in their minds from their parents, who themselves were the victims of the same indoctrination. A fear-based religion, as is Islam. But as Mike points out, Christianity is on the decline. Oh, it'll always be around, but I suspect many of today's churches will become apartment buildings as the number of the faithful decline. I'm a deist, not an atheist, but in the end, it really doesn't matter what you believe. Having a belief in re-incarnation just re-enforces the idea it's how you act in your life that really matters.

Bagger Vance

Reincarnation (it's one word, not hyphenated) is far more ridiculous than Christianity.

Buggs Raplin

Thanks for the grammar tip. Reincarnation, as I understand it, means you either advance or regress in your next life based on what kind of life you've lead in this life. There's justice in it. There's no justice in Christianity rendering it ridiculous. Hitler, on his death bed, could have confessed his sins and asked Jesus for forgiveness, and according to Christian theology, he'd be in heaven today

scrutiny

I am all for free thought and believe that people should be free to accept religion or not. I'd like to think there is a creator and an afterlife but no one can prove it for a certainty or disprove it for that matter. I don't think belief in God matters all that much for morality if one follows the golden rule or what Christ said about loving your neighbor as yourself. If people just followed those precepts we'd all live in a better world in the here and now and probably earn a place in heaven if your faith dictates one.

easy

scrutiny, I left organized religion many years ago, and I think exactly as you. I don't pray to any god, and don't support any religion, but have no fear at all on meeting him/her/whatever when the time comes.

Bagger Vance

That's moronic.

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