During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: “Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God.” Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.
Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God’s will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God’s favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.
It’s a nice little reversal of the usual take on atheism; presenting a moral analog to religion that is not dependant on the mythology to derive it’s moral weight but possessing an equivalency none the less. He goes on to make a point I’ve been trying to verbalise for some time: that if Theists want to be taken seriously as rational individuals they need to take responsibility for the fundamentalists in their midst just as we atheists need to treat all Theists as, “serious adults responsible for their beliefs.”
Responsable adults take full credit for their actions, good or bad. They don’t blame the Devil for their own selfishness (as it creates complacency in the face of genuine, human evil) or defer to some ambivalent deity in the sky the windfall of good timing and reasonable actions.
Or, as Hume said: to show true respect for God by acting morally while ignoring God’s existence.