Personal responsibility and why the right should consider losing their faith
Common wisdom tells us that republicans and libertarians put a lot of stock into the virtue of personal responsibility. For instance, most would agree that the recent housing market crash was a glaring example of the ills of irresponsibility. I would venture to guess that, if given the chance, most would gladly go back in time and warn of the terrible toll our country’s financial irresponsibility would take (In fact, one need not go back in time to see this kind of warning taking place; it does currently by many on the right). This is because personal irresponsibility when compounded by many becomes collective irresponsibility, which is corrosive and dangerous. If you happen to agree with the previous statements, congratulations: You may already have an atheist mindset. How are these seemingly disparate concepts intertwined?
I’ll start by saying that we atheists tend to get a bad rap. The most common ending to a theological debate is where the theist concedes that most religious beliefs are a bit far-fetched, but “that’s why it’s called faith and hey, if it makes people happy to believe it, what’s the harm? Why would you want to rain on their parade?”
Well let’s think about some other far-fetched ideas that make people happy to believe. How about the idea that they can afford a house that is, in fact, outside their price range? I imagine it is a nice feeling for them to believe that they have the money and can afford a nice place, and who are you to rain on their parade?
See, when taken individually, little suspensions of reason don’t seem that troublesome. What’s the harm in one person believing they can afford a house they actually cannot or one person following religious dogma based on claims that are a bit far-fetched? Very little, I suppose, but when compounded by many, these little suspensions of reason become collective irresponsibility, and as we agreed earlier, that is corrosive, dangerous and precisely “the harm”.
And if you’re religious and reading this, I know what you’re thinking: “Irresponsibility? Is that how you’re choosing to characterize those of religious faith? As irresponsible?” I would argue it is the exact correct word to use. Religion trades in absolving their followers from personal responsibility.
Most Christians believe that sins can be wiped clean through prayer and belief in Jesus. This is the quintessential example of absolution of responsibility for one’s actions. Also, gay marriage is not allowed in most states because many believe God doesn’t approve of it. It’s not up to us! We’re not responsible. The big guy upstairs is, and he doesn’t like it! Those who target and kill doctors who provide abortions do so because they believe they are on a mission from God, that they are simply the messengers (as were the 9/11 hijackers). They are also not responsible; they were just following God’s orders. People have and will continually absolve themselves of responsibility if they believe they have divine permission.
But what’s really the harm?
With financial irresponsibility, we know how bad it can get. When collective financial irresponsibility became corrosive to the point that the bottom fell out in 2008, people lost a lot of money and many lost their homes.
When it comes to religion, we have yet to truly find out. Though when considering the idea that most religions believe that the afterlife is more splendid than our earthly life, it paints a very dangerous picture in a world with nuclear weapons.
So consider forgetting God, religion, and every other little suspension of reason and live exercising complete personal responsibility. After all, if you warn of the dangers of irresponsibility when potential loss of money is at hand, how about when the stakes are higher?