Benjamin Boles, atheist, checks his moral compass

A study by the Department of Psychology at University of British Columbia helped me understand some of the strange and.


A study by the Department of Psychology at University of British Columbia helped me understand some of the strange and cruel ways religious adults treated me as an atheist/agnostic child.

Appearing just before a holiday season that many faiths celebrate and that traditionally puts questions of spirituality further in the foreground than usual, the study seems particularly timely.

Essentially, it reveals that religious people of all denominations dislike non-believers because they don’t trust us. Believers feel that, without guidance from a holy book, humans have no moral compass.

For someone who grew up without a god to turn to but saw countless pious types using their faith as a negative social force, it seems an absurd premise. From my perspective, humans are not naturally evil. Our capacity for making bonds with other humans through love and the resulting social cooperation have fuelled our species’ success. We are social animals – more like bees than lone wolves – and our evolutionary advantage is our ability to work together, enabled by our capacity for empathy.

It appears to us outsiders that all major religions share these cooperative values, and yet it’s the opposite tendencies of xenophobia and hate that appear to dominate the conversation. Paradoxically, it’s my secular faith in human nature that helps me believe religion needn’t be a tool for oppression and that its real usefulness could be as a counterweight to the cannibalistic hunger of late capitalism.

So I turn to the believers around me and plead that they reread their sacred texts while reciting the mantra “God is love” to help separate the true significance of their faith from the baggage attached to it by those who act out of distrust, fear and the hate that both help feed.

Would any of your Gods really condemn good people who manage to be good despite the absence of the Good Word in their lives? And if He/She/It wouldn’t, why would you?

benjaminb@nowtoronto.com

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