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.
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. 🙂