My Values

What are my values, and where do I get them? I get questions from theists stopping by our atheist booth at the Kentucky State Fair at times wanting to know from where we atheists get our values. There seems to be this sense, for so many people, that once one discards belief in a god, all desire for that person to live in harmonious relationships with other humans goes out the window. This leads me to think that most theists who ask these questions have not really thought much about what they are asking. As I told one visitor with whom I was discussing the values on which America was founded, the things that he was referring to as “Judeo-Christian values” are nothing more than human values.

For an example, consider Japan. (Many other societies could also be used.) Japan is not, in any sense of the word, a Christian nation yet consider the values that are supported there. From what I have heard of Japanese culture, things like family, hard work, honesty, integrity, and loyalty are highly prized. Yet these values obviously didn’t come from a “Judeo-Christian” framework. So clearly, neither Christianity nor Judaism can claim any ownership rights at all for these values. They are not values that belong to Christianity or to any religion. They are the sort of human values which arise anywhere that humans need to live together in harmony in society.

Another point to be made is that at the founding of the United States of America, we were breaking free from Christian Britain and Christian Europe. Why would it be that American Christian values are so different from the old European Christian values? The divine right of kings is a Christian value after all, and is supported by the Bible. Who where the founding fathers of the United States to rebel against the king God had appointed to rule over them? (For reference, see Romans 13) The Bible also commands slaves to obey their masters. (Ephesians 6:5) Don’t get me started on the value of freedom of religion when the kings in the Bible who most pleased God were the ones who tore down the shrines of rival religions and killed their priests and followers.(One example of many: 2 Chronicles 34) When did this “Judeo-Christian” God start smiling on religious tolerance? For that matter where in the Bible is there any mention at all of democracy or of human rights? I challenge you to find any, and feel free to post in the comments if you do.

Thinking about my own personal values, I have brainstormed a short list below of the first things that came to my mind. This isn’t comprehensive of course. I gathered these values from a mix of my innate nature, some from my parents and adults I knew growing up, maybe some others from society at large. They have everything to do with human relationships and harmony, and with living a good life, and nothing to so with the supernatural or with God.

Fairness
Justice
Autonomy
Independence
Love
Discovery
Beauty
Compassion
Personal Growth
Rationality
Truth

I remember some Gospel song I heard once that stated in the lyrics that if all the claims of Christianity were false and there were no heaven or hell the singer would still live by the same values because they are good. That is a paraphrase of the song since I can barely remember it at all, but the very idea made an impression on me. It is probably the most true and honest things I ever heard in a Gospel song. If you have any idea what song I am talking about, please mention it in the comments as well. :)

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4 thoughts on “My Values

  1. Good writing Mikel, I think I mostly agree that any civil society must form values regardless of who or what their god is. I’m not sure you can say that values cannot or do not come from god though. If god does exist and you know that I believe she does, the reason tells me that god would include some basic values in the design of any being with the intelligence to socialize beyond mere instinct.

    Also not sure you can say that because Japan is not Judeo-Christian, it did not get it’s values from religion. If god exists, he/she/it/they is/are certainly not confined to manifesting themselves into one narrow interpretation of his nature.

    I think perhaps the real question is: Were values designed or built or evolved into humans, or did humans of necessity invent values as a survival mechanism? I believe that at some point in the evolution of humans, they began to understand the difference between good and evil. At that same point, values began to evolve as well. Was that an intervention of god? Was it just a naturally occurring phenomenon? Either way I think it was initiated by god. I also think that it is rather well illustrated by the allegory of Adam and Eve and the whole Garden of Eden scene.

    • I don’t claim to know exactly how values were developed, but my thought is that they developed naturally out of human need. We are relatively vulnerable to predator attack and such, and needed to stick together for protection and support. In order to stick together well, there had to be some sort of system to keep people getting along to some degree at least. Maybe groups that didn’t get along well didn’t reproduce, or their children were not as well protected–that is a bit of speculation on my part but there is plenty of study being carried out in this area.

      As far as Japan goes, I was not addressing the notion that values come from God but rather the idea that the good American values belong to the ‘Judeo-Christian’ religion, as one of our visitors to the fair was claiming. Other societies have most of the same basic values, so it makes no sense to say these things are specific to Christianity (or Judaism for that matter–I’m not sure exactly what “Judeo-Christian” is supposed to mean since these two religions are really quite different from one another. But that is another blog post for another time. :) )

  2. As always, I enjoy reading your blogs. They always make me think and thinking forces me to evaluate my belief systems. On occasion, the arguments are so compelling that I am forced to modify those beliefs. For me that’s what makes life interesting. To stop seeking is to begin stagnating.

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