No Good, No Bad

moralityWhen one is an atheist in small town conservative America, one learns to play things close to the vest. Maybe later, after getting to know someone, the truth may be divulged. But it is known that premature sharing comes with a significant amount of risk. It’s a lovely place where the wrong bumper sticker will get your car keyed.

One company in that small town, named after a biblical location no less, asked about my religious beliefs during a job interview. That was my first clue that the game was afoot.

Later, when applying for another job in that same small town, my due diligence ended up freaking me out. I didn’t particularly get a good feeling from my research and, thanks to the internet, learned the owners of the company were flamboyantly religious. I was on a quest to get out of the frying pan and into the fire, so naturally I didn’t let this slow me down.

Despite shouting his religion for all to see, the man was one of the most unethical business people I’d ever met. And that’s saying a lot. He was no slouch. Yet there he was, up on the high ground, at least in his mind, looking down his nose at everyone else. Compensate much?

When office discourse finally turned to matters of politics and religion, I defiantly let fly with my disclosures. His reaction was one of thoughtfulness and class. “Atheist, eh? I have a question. Why don’t you kill people?”

Although flabbergasted by the audacity, I still think I handled it with style and aplomb, especially considering the source. “You don’t kill people because God forbids it,” I said. “I don’t kill people because I choose not to. It’s my decision.”


Right and wrong. Good and evil. Yin and yang. Night and day. Black and white. Betamax and VHS. DVD and Blue-ray.

But now, after assessing more empirical data, I now think, perhaps, I was a bit hasty. It’s time to bust out with yet another theory. I got a million of ’em.

As an atheist, I’d given the matter some thought. What do we know? The universe is comprised of matter and energy. So, ultimately, I reasoned, there is no such thing as right and wrong and good vs. evil. Everything we know and see is just one collection of atoms interacting with other atoms.

Murder? The taking of another life? That’s just this bunch of matter and energy reacting with that other blob of matter and energy, both of which are transformed into another state of being. Big deal.

But, if that was true, why wasn’t I out killing, too? Something was modifying the limits of my behavior. If it wasn’t a belief in a supreme being, then what?

Eventually I decided that it was humanism based, at least in part, on self interest. Based on what I’d seen, certain courses of action would be detrimental to my welfare and existence. (I call this empathy with the future.) The probabilities of undesirable outcomes from such behavior were exponential. I had decided, through genetic disposition, environment and reasoning that I didn’t like pain (at least while I remain alive) so why would I want to cause pain in others? There was no obvious benefit. I was a secular humanist. It seems logical to me. Life is hard and we’re all in this together. What good can come from running around and deliberately making it worse?

But now, here I am and it’s time to revise my beliefs. Again. It’s time to take it to the next level. And, again, it’s based on empirical data.

I believe if something is true, there’s no use crying about it. Might as well embrace it. To deny a truth would be illogical. And what is true? That there is no such thing as “right” and “wrong.” (Good and evil if you will.) Those, apparently, are nothing more than imaginary human constructs.

How did I come to this conclusion? Simple observation. By far, the vast majority of human behavior falls into the classification that I naively have known as “evil.” But, if that’s true, then the whole good vs. evil thing must be false. There is no “good.” If everyone is doing the same thing, then that’s not the exception. It’s the norm. The average. The way that it is.

Thus, human behavior itself becomes the proof that “good” and “evil” are nebulous and non-existent concepts. All that remains is the way things really are. That’s the only possible conclusion from the singularity of human selfish-based actions.

An aberration like myself, an alien if you will, is an obvious mutation. Perhaps the only purpose of my existence is to compare and contrast. Not that it matters much. With no good or evil, life matters even less than I thought.

13 responses

  1. Cute and squishy athesits… we’re everywhere.


    1. Good company! 🙂


  2. In full disclosure, I’m a Christian (and I say that to give you a frame of reference as to where I’m coming from, not to initiate a discussion about religion; I won’t bring up Jesus if you don’t), and while I don’t subscribe to quite the absolutist view that you encountered, I do believe in good and evil. I think religions (and not just mine) muddy that up a little bit, though. For example, I think most people can agree that murder or slavery are evil (and yes, you could argue that our abhorrence to them is a societal construct, but I believe there is something more fundamental to our revulsion). I think religion is right to concern itself with this sort of evil. But when religion begins to conflate personal choice–homosexuality, drugs, promiscuity–with “evil”–then things start to get a little confused. Myself, I view weed as just one more bit of proof that a loving God exists.

    The way your “Christian” (or at least non-athiest) collegue spoke to you was ridiculous, and I think demonstrates a real lack of awareness of what Christianity is supposed to be all about, which is something–and I get that it’s not for everybody–that really works for me. I get embarassed sometimes when I hear stories like this, or a thousand others just like it, because I know they’re true, but they’re about a million miles from the environment I came up in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, you. I see you lurking all the time. I’m honored that my little gripe moved you to comment. And I appreciate your approach to my insolence. 🙂

      I still believe in good and evil. I’m just making the point in my usual subtle way that evil seems to be winning, at least on this planet, but only by a trillion percent.

      When I meet true Christians I think they are among the nicest people on the planet. Some, like my former boss, hold themselves up as far superior to atheists but it’s only true in their own minds. IMHO. The hypocrisy can be staggering. “You’re immoral because you don’t believe in God. I’m better than you while I break every commandment on the books.” Right.


  3. I resemble that remark about treading carefully. As a Pagan, I get a lot of the “back, foul beast” looks. ND is pretty conservative, and “small-townish”.

    I also agree that good and evil, right and wrong are a localized phenomenon. If the majority says something is good and right, then it must be, right? And if that same majority says something is evil and wrong, well, let’s burn it with fire, amiright?

    But I do also believe in karma. Everything is indeed matter & energy, so what you put out into the universe comes back to you. Whether you or I perceive it to be good or evil, well, it’s all in how you look at it.


    1. I heard from a friend who moved to a small southern town that strangers would walk right up and ask, “What church do you go to?” Answer wrongly and be shunned.

      Yes, much of human behavior is indeed situational (and bizarre). But I’ve come to believe there are universal constants that come into play. It’s just that we ignore the morality of them at every turn. It’s almost like a game where being contrary is deliberate.

      I try to look at it in the worst possible way.


  4. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    I’m as far away from organized religion that a non-atheist can get but I still believe in good vs. evil. These are a priori attributes. No human, other than the sociopath, needs to have previous experience with them to know which is which and how to behave among his or her fellow creatures. It’s innate. And that’s part of the foundation of my faith. I pay little attention to the flawed Christians all around me whose words and actions betray them. Gracious! They’re not models of anything but hypocrisy and shouldn’t be used to denounce faith and belief. But it’s not easy to avoid that, because I go there, too, shoutabyss.


    1. I believe in good and evil, too. But mainly that the system exists as a mechanism for the evil (rule breakers) to prey on the good (suckers who play by the rules). If we were all the same way then things would be more equal and some people can’t abide that.


  5. I like your first answer. Ethical behavior in the absence of G/god is not an aberration, it’s a choice. Ethical behavior is better for all of us as a society.


    1. The next logical thought in that sequence is that unethical behavior offers benefits to the individual.


      1. Well — it’s a value choice, right? The things *I WANT* outweigh any impact they might have on others.


  6. Wait, what? You live in conservative America??? Are you my neighbor?


    1. I used to. A small conservative town in a conservative county. What was I thinking? That place was bonkers. Now I’m in Portland, Oregon. A place where I’m often confused as the conservative. That’s how I keep it weird.


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