Religion's illegitimate claim of authority on sex and morality

Religious leaders claim humans can't make good decisions about morality on their own - specifically ethical decisions about personal sexuality. Christian minister and evangelist Ray Comfort claimed, "Today, atheists are pushing Darwin's little theory and it has opened the floodgates to abortion, fornication, pornography, homosexuality and adultery. If there is no God and we are just primates, then there's no ultimate right and wrong. Anything goes as long as it gets society's smile."

The accusation of atheists' love for sin and their unwillingness to submit to god, as well as being likened to simple primates is a relatively common one. Never mind that atheists don't believe in a theistic understanding of "sin" and certainly aren't worried about submitting to a god in whom they don't believe. This comment is essentially a way of assessing and judging the perceived lack of morality and general hedonism and nihilistic behavior of atheists who are very often dealt the "morality card" by theists of all ilks.

Theists often suggest that humans can have no sense of ethics or morals without a higher power's internal and external guidance. This moral accusation extends beyond murder or stealing, into personal ethics, including personal decisions regarding sex. As society progresses, religious leaders have an ever growing list of do's and don't's. Secular societies generally consider it acceptable for consenting adults to make their own decisions about sex as long as it doesn't victimize anyone. Religious leaders however, seem to find it important to create prohibitions on all manner of sexual behaviors. This likely got started with the need to control and manipulate women within strongly patriarchal cultures but it has become something even more far-reaching and in many ways, more insidious by spreading fear and shame, starting in childhood.

Even if there is disagreement among atheists about what the boundaries should be on personal ethics or about how those ethics should be communicated, we attempt to figure it out on a personal and societal level by public engagement and wrestling with all the factors at play. We use cost-benefit analysis, scientific studies and reports related to sociology, psychology, etc. We analyze history and how personal decisions affect society and we make educated decisions. Because we don't embrace a concept of sin and its absolution, we realize there are personal and societal consequences in this life, for their is no eternal glory, or punishment.

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In an attempt to demonstrate how personal ethics surrounding sex might be established differently than those of a religious person, Dean Van Drasek wrote "Why Sex Can Be Better for Atheists", in which he discusses why common "sins" are actually permissible for atheists and why they're not "bad" and can even make atheist sexual experiences better than those of theists. He addresses masturbation, pornography, prostitution and sexual orientation and also talks about why virginity isn't special and why it doesn't need to be protected. While Dean's post was very popular, it wasn't enthusiastically embraced by everyone; however, atheists view the absence of an absolute moral authority and the willingness to disagree with each other a strength.

Dean closes by sharing that atheism is about making informed adult choices that take others into consideration but do not require guidance from a deity or a holy book. "[...]being atheist means not having guilt about sex coming from any religious teachings about an essential biological function."

How has being an atheist affected your personal morality? How do you decide what is "right" and "wrong" in areas related to your personal ethics? Tell us by replying to this email.

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