A Set of Four

Questions from Hector, in separate emails:
1. Are we just lucky?
Do u believe it was just kind of a fluke thing that the universe, which you believe has always existed, was one that just happened to be such that it would someday become the life existing highly organized one that it is today? Or do you think even the deadest and dumbest of universes would always somehow just eventually end up turning into the live and highly organized one that we have today?

2. Do you give anything higher priority than your self interests? And why?
Is anything more important to you, that is of higher priority to you, than your self interests? If yes, what would that be and why?
And please please, respectfully I ask you to not dodge this question by asking me questions instead or answering the question for nonatheists. They can answer for themselves, thank you. I’m asking strickly about YOU, nobody else. Thank you.

3. Is unselfish love from other(s) something humans feel a need to have?
Can you conceive of being satisfied as a human if you believed that unselfish love from other(s) did not exist and that the best any of us could hope for was for others to treat us kindly only on the condition that we could give them something of value to them? In other words, do you feel unselfish love from other(s) is something humans do long for in order to be completely satisfied?

4.Atheist consensus view of who Jesus was?
Can you tell what is the shared view of most atheists about who they believe Jesus was and who they believe all those closely connected to him (his mother and father and apostles) were? And a second question, do most atheists give serious consideration to the historical question I just asked, I mean just from a historical perspective even if nothing more than that. I’m sure most atheists (assuming they are not historically ignorant) know that historians are in pretty unanimous agreement that he existed, was baptised by John the Baptist and that he was crucified. So assuming that level of education from atheists, I am curious to the concensus views to the above two questions asked. Maybe the consensus view is to just not even ever give any real consideration to those historical questions, I don’t know. You can tell me. Thank you very much.

Answers by SmartLX:
1. It’s a big universe, with a lot of varied chemistry. If life can emerge in one particular way here on Earth from the interaction of chemicals, there are probably many other ways it could emerge on other planets – and indeed in different universes. We don’t know why the properties of the universe are the way they are, but they’re hardly “fine-tuned for life” if life only develops on one precarious world in several light years, and the rest of the universe is empty. As Martin Rees says in Just Six Numbers, the fundamental constants could have been somewhat different and still allowed life anyway. All up, I’d say there was plenty of opportunity, so it’s remarkable that we’re here but not a complete statistical impossibility.

2. The problem with this question is that anything I’m interested in, even if it’s not directly for my benefit, is necessarily a “self-interest” of a sort. It’s always about what I want, even if what I want is for children in Africa not to starve or something like that. Still, this kind of altruistic desire is seen as a positive thing, so I suppose it counts in terms of your question. Here are a few simple examples of why my answer is “yes”:
– I value the safety, health and happiness of my wife far above my own. I love her, so it all comes with the territory.
– I devote time to this site which I could spend doing other things, perhaps making money or pursuing other selfish goals, because I think atheists need there to be more available resources about atheists, more than I think I should have more nice clothes. All the horror stories of prejudice are readily available online.
– I’ve regularly donated blood, which tends to sap one’s energy and at the very least takes a long time to do. Even a stranger’s health is more important to me than whatever I probably would have gone and done that day.

3. I don’t know whether we could get by and be happy solely on the social contract that drives us to behave well towards each other. Fortunately we don’t have to, because unselfish acts of love happen every day. People care about people, for the most part, whether you think this is a God-given property or it’s something which evolved in the social groups of our mammalian ancestors. Love actually is all around.

4. Atheists do generally think Jesus existed, or some itinerant Jewish preacher (or even several) the details of whose life and teachings were used to create the story of Jesus. In fact, atheists who argue that Jesus didn’t exist are often challenged by other atheists, and called “Jesus mythicists” or “Jesus mythers”. Atheists are usually quite comfortable with the existence of a real Jesus, because it doesn’t help the case for any of the supernatural claims about him.


Question from Tim:
I am an honest questioner/agnostic looking for answers. I was born into a Christian denomination, but no longer go to church.

Anyway, here are my questions for you:

1. Assuming evolution is true (and I believe it is), then shouldn’t you allow for the fact that since the Bible was written by human beings, and human beings evolve, so did God in the Bible? In the Old Testament, he was an angry God, but by the New Testament he was a loving God. Why do atheists continue to pick on the Old Testament God who is no longer relavent to our modern day society?

2. A follow-up to #1. The New Testament makes it clear that “God is Love”. Surely, atheists believe in love. Yet, you do not believe in God. Isn’t that a contradiction?

3. Why is it perfectly acceptable for scientists to make and believe in ‘theories’, yet it is not okay to believe in the theory of God, if we may call it that?

4. If atheists believe in ‘nothing’, then isn’t that much the same as believing in God? By that I mean, you cannot prove that ‘nothing’ exists, can you? Show me where ‘nothing’ exists in this world. Isn’t everything made up of something?

5. Why do atheists seem so hostile to even the possibility of God existing? Why can’t God be treated as a possible scientific explanation for the creation of the universe? It seems to me that it is just as hard to believe (if not harder) that there are multiple universes or that this universe was a random mistake that just somehow occured? Until we know the true reasons for the origin of the universe, why not keep God on the table as one possible answer just like any other, since none of the others have been proven yet either?

I may have some more questions for you later, but these are the main ones for now. I would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts and opinions on these matters, and I will consider them seriously.
Thank you for your time.

Answer by SmartLX:
Hi Tim.

1. Whether God is angry or loving only matters if you think God exists, so it’s of far more importance to theists than atheists, but we do tend to use it to challenge the basis of religious morality.

Whether God is more loving in the New Testament is debatable, because the Old Testament has no concept of Hell as currently understood by Christians. God doesn’t start condemning people to eternal punishment until the Gospels, so for those on His bad side, love doesn’t count for much. The whole purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice is morally questionable, as no other scapegoat has ever truly absolved anyone of responsibility for their own actions.

The idea of God evolving undermines the idea of divine morality even further. if God’s ideas of right and wrong can change, humans must live in constant fear that God will change His mind again, and a lifetime of good works will be invalidated or a sinful life suddenly vindicated.

2. Love is a function of the brain. It’s not an ethereal presence which floats around us, it’s an abstract description of an integral part of the human experience. When we talk about love, we’re describing what people do for and feel about each other. What Christian would accept that God is nothing more than bio-electrical activity and an abstract human concept?

No, God as envisioned by Christians (and of course the New Testament) is more than love. He’s an intelligent agent with His own will and powers independent of human beings. When Christians say “God is love” they are giving credit to God for all love, but they’re not limiting him to the scope of love. Love doesn’t literally bring people back from the dead, but a god apparently can. That’s why atheists can quite happily accept the existence of love, but still question the existence of God.

3. The existence of God is a hypothesis, not a theory as understood by scientists. A scientific theory, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” God is a possible explanation for various things, yes, but God has not been confirmed to any extent through observation of and experiments on the natural world. When people deride evolution as “only a theory”, they don’t realise that their alternatives of creationism and “intelligent design” are not even that.

That said, the existence of God could be said to be a scientific hypothesis because it’s either true or it isn’t, and it could in principle be supported or contradicted by physical evidence. That’s no reason to think it’s at all likely, but it’s something.

4. Firstly, atheists don’t believe in “nothing” because there is at least something. We exist, and we live in some kind of a world, even if our senses are completely misguided. That’s something. Atheists also variously believe all kinds of things unrelated to gods, such as that everyone deserves an education, or that hard work pays off, or that ghosts are real, or that 9/11 was an inside job. It depends on the person.

I think what you mean is that atheists believe that there are no gods. Some do, and that’s called “strong atheism”, but most atheists simply lack a belief in any god. A god is a huge thing to believe in, and if there isn’t any apparent evidence for one, why would you? If no god has sufficient evidence to inspire belief in you, what you’re left with is atheism.

5. As I said, God is a possible explanation for the universe. Being an atheist doesn’t mean completely ruling out that possibility, it just means not thinking it’s really the case. There are plenty of agnostic atheists around, including me.

The nice thing about the idea of multiple universes is that there could be any number of them, up to and including an infinite number. If there are anything like that many, with a decent amount of variance between them, then the development of at least one universe with intelligent life in it becomes not just likely but a statistical certainty. That aside, without other universes to compare to this one, we don’t know how likely it is that a universe will have properties that allow life to form somewhere, whether there’s one universe or many. Rather than a random mistake, life-friendly properties might be common or even inevitable, such that life is an expected by-product of universes. Life as a whole does seem like the kind of bloody-minded (so to speak) organism that you’d pick up in your travels and struggle to shake off.

If you have related questions, feel free to comment here and carry on the discussion, otherwise go ahead and post unrelated questions as a new entry.

Morality Recap

Question from Sam:
Where do humans get their moral standards and conscience from?

Answer by SmartLX:
The short answer is, from each other, from their own instincts and from a long line of social ancestors.

My earlier piece on right and wrong answers your question in much greater detail. There’s also a short piece on the foundations of morality.

The question, and where you’re asking it, implies that God’s instructions via some sacred text would be the usual answer. Well, every sacred text has a lot of instructions even most religious people don’t use anymore, like killing people for eating shellfish or working on the wrong day. Those who use these texts as a moral guide are choosing which parts to use – but that means they’re judging the text based on some independent moral standard. Therefore, even believers are getting at least some of their ethics from the simple experience of being a human among humans.

Living Without God

Question from Sophia:
I don’t know how many atheists have been Christians before, but I have questions as a Christian. The idea that a God is there for forgiveness, mercy, and justice is very comforting to me. There are certain things humans are unable to do. For instance, law enforcement may fail, but our free will brings it’s own consequences and has its own justice. Let me make it clear now that I don’t believe in hell. Humans make their own hell. We live in one already, full of war and hate, but our responsibilities include keeping the beautiful things alive.

Moving on… I have specific questions. Feel free to answer any or all of these questions.

1. When someone fails you, like a parent, spouse, or even yourself, what gives you comfort?

2. I’m sure most atheists think that “doing the right thing” is important, but why are some things right and others wrong if these precedents aren’t set by a higher authority, but by our own twisted judgment?

3. If you were once part of a different religion and then turned to atheism, why? Please go further than saying that “Christians still do bad things, what’s the point.” (I get that too often. If that’s your viewpoint, that’s fine, just explain further.)

Answer by SmartLX:
At least half of all atheists in the Western world were once members of a religion, and many still are in an official sense even though their faith is gone. I was raised as a Catholic myself.

Law enforcement may well fail to punish the guilty for their crimes. Human nature endows us with empathy and therefore usually a measure of guilt for our malicious actions, regardless of whether we’re caught, but it’s still a fact that some crimes and awful deeds go completely unpunished. It does not follow that there must be an afterlife and an ultimate judge in order to catch those who escape justice. Justice is an ideal we strive for, not a necessary physical component of the universe. If there’s no judgement after death, it’s up to us humans to give as many people their just deserts while they’re alive, because no one else will, and that’s that. A thing is not made true simply because it would be better if it were true, or bad or unthinkable if it were false. (Few things described as “unthinkable” really are unthinkable; most of them are just unpleasant.)

To your specific questions, then.

1. Sometimes the same person who’s “failed me” or caused me trouble or harm is the one who gives me comfort afterwards; that’s what it means to apologise, and to atone. Aside from that, I’m not a complete misanthrope, because the entire human race never lets me down all at once. There’s always some good in someone somewhere.

2. Our collective sense of right and wrong has changed over time. Slavery has been declared more and more unambiguously wrong, for instance, while different forms of personal freedom have gradually achieved the status of universal human rights. That alone is a very good indicator that right and wrong are not determined by some ultimate authority and then irreversibly fixed. That said, our judgement as a society has had a very long time to un-twist itself, as we constantly strive for ethical and legal standards with the greatest benefit. What we call “right” and “wrong” is relatively stable these days and helps us get along pretty well, though they’re still making changes to laws and so on. If we don’t assume our morality is absolute, we can always improve it.

3. I didn’t declare myself an atheist because I thought Christians were bad. I realised that I didn’t believe in any gods anymore, let alone the Christian one. It was that simple. (Incidentally, while bad Christians don’t indicate the lack of a god, neither do good Christians indicate the presence of one.)

Approaches to Morality

Question from V:
Well, obviously you reject God.
As such i must assume you reject god-given moralities, and moral rules.
As such i would like to ask what are the moral rules you accept and your rational justification for them.

Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
I would say that I reject the idea that a God exists, rather than God himself. Rejecting God directly would require the assumption that there is a God to reject.

I covered the basics of atheist morality in a piece I wrote a few months ago. Read that if you like, but the main point I like to make is that you and I have two choices:
1. The heuristic approach: use the common qualities and shared experience of all (or most) humans to create ethical standards which are applicable in as many situations as possible. Constantly verify that adherence to the standards is beneficial to people, and revise the standards if it isn’t.
2. The absolutist approach: declare that one specific set of rules applies to everything, everywhere, and is supported by the authority of an all-powerful being – despite a complete lack of evidence for that being, or that if the being exists he/she/it actually endorses these rules.

It might be great if we all had a set of absolute, unchallengeable rules that guaranteed a good life and afterlife. It might also be a nightmare, as it is in various theocracies (Iran) and pseudo-theocracies (North Korea), but it would at least give a feeling of security. Unfortunately, until the absolute authority and eternal protective power of a deity is certain, nothing about such a system is truly absolute. Better to work with what we know we have.

So how do you differentiate between right and wrong?

Question from Meg:…well, see title. That was the whole question.

Answer by SmartLX:
In much the same way as you do from day to day, Meg. I have various ways of identifying events or actions which match my broad, generally unspoken definitions of “right” and “wrong”. I can use different objective criteria to analyse them intellectually, or it could be subconscious; I might just get a feeling and “know” when something is right or wrong. What you’re really asking is where all of this comes from, and the full answer is too big to cover in a short piece.

The intellectual aspects of moral judgement come from all over the place – lifelong cultivated ideas about fairness and justice, almost universally agreed-upon precepts such as that harm is to be minimised and people protected, ancient bits of philosophy such as the Golden Rule and ad hoc decisions when nothing else seems to apply.

The emotional side of morality, the conscience if you like, is partly instilled into us as soon as we gain the capacity to socialise with other people. We see what other people judge to be right and wrong, and we internalise some of those judgements. There’s also the simple human instinct of empathy, which has fairly clear roots in the human race’s long prehistory of precarious survival in close-knit tribes, where people really did help themselves by looking after others. (It reaches even farther back than that, to the earlier social primates from which we evolved, but I don’t know what you think about evolution so the tribe idea will suffice.) On an instinctual level, we see all other humans as our tribesmen and women even if we’ll never see them again, so the urge to help often extends beyond its pragmatic uses.

Christians tend to see it all differently. Not all of them subscribe to all of the following ideas, but they’re all widely accepted or at least known.
– Morals are absolute entities baked into the universe by God, and exist independently of human beings. What’s wrong is wrong, and nothing can change it.
– What we know about them was taught to us directly by God through the concept of sin, then the Ten Commandments (and the 600-odd other commandments that make up the Mosaic Law) and finally Jesus.
– Our own consciences are God himself telling us what’s right and wrong.

All three are entirely dependent on the existence of God. Now, when Christians try to comprehend atheism, unfortunately they often end up simply visualising a Christian worldview with a God-shaped hole cut out of it. Without God, of course, the whole thing collapses and they wonder how we manage to think about anything.

It can take them a while to understand that there are objective, earthly rationales for morality. Without belief in any godlike entity there’s no basis for thinking there are moral absolutes, but robust moral systems can be and have been created using very small, very simple assumptions that the whole human race can live with (even if philosophers like to argue over them).

This isn’t the whole answer, like I said, but I’ve already written a lot on the subject because the same basic question keeps coming up. Just put “morality” into the site’s search field in the top corner, and you’ll have a lot more to read.

The Foundations of Morality

Question from Matthew:
Hi there! In the “About” section of this site, one of the first things that’s mentioned is morality (and, later: “right from wrong”). Clearly, an atheist wouldn’t believe that morality is granted to us from on high. But, on the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that moral traditions as social norms are frequently rooted in the more religious past. Unless you’d suggest that religion was necessary at some point to establish a cultural moral foundation (which I hope you don’t!), I must ask: where do you think morality “comes from”?

I’m an atheist myself, but I’ve always found that making a rational inquiry from atheism towards universal morality doesn’t work. I know Sam Harris has some ideas on thinking about morality as a set of rules for optimizing social interactions, but I don’t feel that the way he approaches is addresses the issue in a practical way. What do you think? Why do you act morally? How and why do you think you would act morally if, ceteris paribus, religion had never existed?

Answer by SmartLX:
Morality comes from us, plain and simple. Appeals to universal or absolute morality always fall flat because even if there are absolute morals woven into the fabric of the universe, we have no way to know what they are. So we agree upon morals between ourselves, adjust them from time to time (Richard Dawkins calls it the shifting moral zeitgeist) and generally just run with them.

Before our ancestors had the capacity to decide on “social norms”, a certain amount of what we call morality had evolved naturally. There are regular articles about apes and monkeys showing a sense of fairness, gratitude, discipline and so forth, in controlled experiments and on their own time. This stuff tends to emerge because it’s beneficial to a group for everyone to be “good” to each other. To put it simply, morality as applied by modern humans has at least a partial evolutionary basis. (Of course, explaining that to very religious people may only antagonise them further.) So that – and simple empathy – is effectively my answer to the question of where morality “came from”. The specifics might be different without our society’s religious history, but the same core principles would still be there.

Pure Human

“This leads me to believe that everyone is a mix of angel or asshole, the ratios are determined by a variety of factors.”

Question from Edward:
First of all I am an atheist as well, but what I can’t figure out is: is a pure human selfish, or generous? I mean some people are asses some are good. My theory is every pure human is actually an evil selfish bastard, but conscience and ego makes most people good. I mean since we don’t have a feeling that bugs us when we do something good, conscience bugs us when we act like an ass. I’d like to know your thoughts about this.

Answer by Andrea:
Hi Edward,
That’s a really good question, and I recently found out the answer since I’ve been researching evolutionary biology, which also encompasses the science of human behavior.
Apparently, there are genes that guide just about everything, including our behaviors, and compassion, fear, ambiguity, moods, etc., can all be traced to genetics. This is not to say you are a victim of your DNA, but it is to say that you may be geared to behave in a certain way, so that the environment during your formative years can help wire your brain and help produce the chemical processes that activate certain genes. For example, mothers who were distant with their infants were more apt to produce children who lacked impulse control and empathy, since the nurturing from moms that form these connections in the frontal lobe were absent. And the environment theory blends in with my own experience. My mom raised me to be (too) empathetic, so I lose sleep nights or get depressed thinking about marine oil spills or the plight of circus animals.

I think it’s evolutionarily conducive to be selfish, and we’re programmed to be as such — to an extent — but since we are social beings, it’s also conducive to cooperate with one another.

This leads me to believe that everyone is a mix of angel or asshole, the ratios are determined by a variety of factors. And as an atheist, I just try to set a good example so I can represent atheists accurately. Counter to all the negative stereotypes, atheists actually have the lowest peer capita rates of imprisonment as well as divorce. In “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions” (Sociology Compass, 2009), Phil Zuckerman compares the values and beliefs of religious people with those of the secular, and the latter were markedly less prejudiced, anti-Semitic, racist, dogmatic closed-minded and authoritarian. They were are also less supportive of the death penalty, less likely to favor harsh sentencing and the least supportive of torture.

I hope that helps, otherwise, I might lose sleep over my failing to answer your question properly. 😉

Moral Statements

“The commenter succeeds in ruling out an absolutism in non-theistic morality which shouldn’t be there anyway. That’s not a huge achievement.”

Question from C.L.H.:
I copied the following excerpt from a reader comments section of an online column titled “Is Atheism Livable?”

I was curious if you could respond concerning the the moral scenario described below…

So the actual question is “do moral statements constitute propositions that can be true or false”. The naturalists answer is that they do not, but rather codify behaviors which increase our ability to survive. For example, the statement “it is wrong to kill innocent people” is not an objectively moral statement, but rather stems from the scientific fact that human society crumbles when people can murder others at will, thus making it difficult for us to survive. Morality, to the naturalist, is redefined to mean nothing more than “what we do to survive”. So to use a less ambiguous language, the naturalist is actually saying that “it is a fact that we won’t survive if we allow murder, and because we have an impulse to survive, we should all agree not to murder”. This type of thought cannot be legitimately be called “morality” because it doesn’t contain within itself any actual standard of what is “good” or “right” – just what is preferred by most of us. Typically the naturalist is okay with this.

The theist, on the other hand, is more of a realist about morality – he maintains that the moral statement “it is wrong to kill innocent people” not only has the propositional/scientific factual content the naturalist maintains, but also that it stems from a deeper, transcendent law that is tied into the nature of the universe itself. In other words, killing innocent people is not wrong *merely* because society will collapse otherwise, but because killing people is simply *wrong*.

This type of moral realism is the default. The other completely flies in the face of our intuition about morality. For example, the statement “it is wrong to rape and murder young children” is wrong in all cases (I hope we all agree on that). The naturalist would argue that if we allow people to rape and murder young children at will, society will collapse and we won’t survive.

But one can certainly make up a situation in which this isn’t the case. Put the adult and the child on an island with no hope of rescue, the child is in a vegetative state with no sensation and no hope of waking up, and the adult will simply live out his days until he dies. Obviously should the adult rape and murder the child in this context, no society is damaged, and ultimately his action will have no negative consequence.
The naturalist is then forced to acknowledge that there is nothing immoral (by his definition) about the adults action in this situation. I have met one naturalist in my life who will concede this and affirm that nothing immoral has been done in this situation, and that one person is not something who I would say manages to function well on a day to day basis.

In any case, are any of the naturalists here willing to either
1) acknowledge that such an action is not immoral (if so I apologize but you are sick), or
2) explain why it is immoral using a naturalistic definition of morality (without resorting to something silly like “well he may be rescued later” – the situation is defined as described above)?

As I said, moral realism is the default position based on intuition and the obviousness of our collective everyday human experience. The burden of proof lies heavily on the one who claims that moral propositions don’t constitute true or false propositions. And the fact that a biological/evolutionary basis for moral behavior does not accomplish this task. All this does is affirm that the universe is such that moral behavior promotes life, and therefore affirms that life is good.

Answer by SmartLX:
Atheists have already answered below the comment itself, but here goes.

In answer to (1), the action he describes is not immoral in the absolute sense he’s looking for, according to the usual non-supernatural view, but then nothing is. It’s immoral according to almost any objective basis you care to apply to it, but none of those count in his reckoning.

Thing is, if you go around saying that such a deed is wrong, the only people who would bother to contradict you are those who object to the absolutism in the statement, not people who actually think the deed is right. It doesn’t actually matter in a practical sense whether or not the universe has an inbuilt moral code which says it’s wrong.

Which is good, because even if it did we’ve got no way of knowing what that code is. Holy texts and philosophical works set rules and guidelines we all seem to agree on, but is that necessarily because they’re deliberately and explicitly instilled in all of us before birth? No, it’s probably just because we’re all human, we were all brought up in roughly the same society and we have many of the same values instilled in us by other people. Not all, of course, because we differ widely on thorny issues like abortion. Intuition only takes us so far.

The commenter succeeds in ruling out an absolutism in non-theistic morality which doesn’t rely on absolutism anyway. That’s not a huge achievement.

Why not be a bad’un?

“If the only reason you currently act “moral” were because you’ll go to heaven if you do and hell if you don’t, you would resent God for forcing you into this behaviour.”

Question from Darron:
If there is no God, and there is no judgment. Why would anyone want to follow any kind of moral code of conduct.
I know if we didn’t of course, everything would fall apart. But most of us barley live to see 90. If your not born well off, why bother with hard work to get to the top. Why not lie, cheat, steal, kill, or sleep your way to the top.

Because lying, cheating and stealing doesn’t usually work in the long term, and because most people don’t actually like to do these things.

God’s isn’t the only judgement you need to worry about. If there isn’t a God or an afterlife, you have just this one short life available to you, and getting a reputation as a crook (let alone being convicted as one) can ruin that life and snuff out your potential. That’s a considerable risk you’re taking if you abandon ethics altogether.

You have an unspoken contract with those around you. Keep to the morals of your society as laid out and agreed upon, and others are expected to respect your moral fibre and be nice to you. People can’t see into your very being and determine what kind of man you are; your words and your actions are all they have to go on. If you genuinely behave like a “good person”, it makes no practical difference whether you really are one or not. And the world likes “good people”.

Another reason you want to follow a code of conduct is that you actually want to help people and make them happy. If the only reason you currently act “moral” were because you’ll go to heaven if you do and hell if you don’t, you would resent that God pushes you into this behaviour by way of a carrot and a stick. But you don’t, do you? It’s gratifying to treat people right, isn’t it?

This is something moral absolutists don’t often consider: human nature, however it may have formed, actually tends toward what we think of as moral behaviour a great deal of the time without any coercion whatsoever. So the religious are happy that God commands them to behave the way they prefer to behave anyway.