Good without God

There is a new campaign in NYC subways. Various atheist and humanist groups have decided to give a “call out” to the others like themselves. The ads feature a serenely blue sky and the words, “Are you good without God? Millions are.”

I’d like to think I count among those millions so I am answering that call. Being godless can affect people in different ways, but we have some strong tendencies in common. We tend to be independent thinkers; an atheist’s values are not inherited; they are hard won and carefully evaluated. Having a conceptual view of the world that differs fairly radically from the norm tends to encourage creative thinking about all things, not just morals. Next to scientists, artists are probably the biggest group of non-believers.

I work at the Dactyl Foundation in NYC whose mission it is “to bring the sciences back into the arts.” But you could say that most of what I do involves promoting atheist aesthetics. I’m just finishing up a book about the work that I’ve done at the foundation over the past ten years and it’s called “Nature is a Work of Art.” It presents an understanding of natural processes as “self-organizing” (not supernaturally created) and not at all unlike the kind of process that most of us artists rely upon, which is to say hardly a mechanistic process at all, but a very sloppy one, rich in fortunate mistakes and brimming with poetic logic.

My novels have tended to reflect my atheism.  I don’t really mean to but I have a knack for finding morally controversial subjects.  My first novel Smoking Hopes is about a young woman who has recently “lost her faith” and must rethink the world from the ground up. Everything gets explored and scrutinized, from love and meaning to illicitness and social taboos. In Naked Singularity I took on euthanasia. On each of these topics I come down—not at all with the sort of decadence and disregard for human dignity one sees in so many fundamentalist preachers—but with a very tempered view, not quite moralistic but certainly well considered and fairly disciplined at the end of the day.

Life without God can be good. It is often richer, more interesting and more human.

17 thoughts on “Good without God

  1. Kevin Ratzlaff

    Hey awesome!!! I am happy to see people without god and damn happy without that farce we call Christianity. I have to say I want one of your books and will try to buy one sometime. You are one brave woman and hang in there things are getting better for us atheists.


    1. torialexander Post author

      Thanks Kevin. That link you gave didn’t show up on the site, but here it is

  2. Shala Dendler

    I hope Good without god catches on! I’m very interested to read your work as I am a recovering Christian myself, eight years sober. It’s funny how religion can truly be that opiate for the masses, it’s hard stuff to get off of and most never do.

    1. torialexander Post author

      I see you capitalize Good rather than god. That makes so much more sense. Good luck with your recovery!

  3. Robin

    I just saw a note for your site on Facebook. Interesting, to say the least. My biggest difficulty with atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc. is not that they don’t believe. That’s fine. Carry on. It’s this unmitigated tendency to behave as though people who do believe in God are simple minded. Go ahead, say they are, all of you out there thinking it and nodding. I am, perhaps, different from many believers in that I don’t try to ram my belief set on anyone who isn’t interested, and while I consider myself deeply spiritual, being called a Christian these days is fraught with ridicule. I consider myself a follower of Christ. It is nearly impossible to criticize his work or his doctrine. His ultimate desire was for people to treat each other well, and have compassion for your fellow man. Good WITH God. And while I do believe it is possible to do good without God, I take exception to your premise that life ‘is richer, more interesting and more human.’ Have you a perspective from ‘the other side, so to speak? Not being critical, just wondering.

    1. torialexander Post author

      Thanks Robin for speaking up. I actually have an ongoing intellectual argument with Richard Dawkins over Darwinism. I work in a different area of evolution (involving self-organization) and some of the things he says really get me angry. I also don’t like the implication that a-theism means “against god.” I also agree with many of Jesus’ teachings. As you say, you can’t really argue with something like the golden rule. Most of my friends and all of my family believe in god and I of course don’t think they are simple minded. I think they want to believe. If you look at my comment again, instead of saying “life is” richer, more human etc without God, I now say “life is often.” Thanks for the correction.

  4. Donovan Duncan

    I appreciate the work you do here. It is not often enough that atheists work at promoting their belief. This is one of the biggest problems with atheism. The other is trying to convince people that the rejection of traditional god views is not simply the denial of god, it is the adherence to a different belief set. Atheism is a belief, not the absence thereof. I too would agree that most of Christ’s teachings are substantial, not unlike Ghandii. I, however, will depart myself from atheists that allow the religious to convince us to have our beliefs and leave them alone. Even if they are not personally perpetuating a system of ignorance. By not being outraged, they are accepting the guilt and fear machine to continue. At any rate, keep up the good work.

  5. torialexander Post author

    Donovan: It’s interesting that people are willing to promote their political views but not their views of reality–how the universe has come to be–what causes things to happen the way they do. Certainly these issues can be argued and are not merely a matter of personal taste. Science, as the atheist’s alternative to religion, involves belief, but it is also a kind of belief that is continually open to correction and modification. I can say these sort of things in my own books and to people whom I know won’t be offended, but I am more careful generally and don’t try to get into arguments with people I only know superficially. One thing I do do sometimes, however, is when someone says, “God Bless” or mentions God in conversation in a way that assumes I believe too, I say, “Thanks but I’m not religious.” People are surprised and often don’t know what to say. They usually aren’t offended though because my response it’s not unlike the Jewish person’s who continually has to say to well-meaning friends, “Thanks but I don’t celebrate Christmas, I’m Jewish.” It’s a small thing we atheists can do just to let others know we exist.

  6. torialexander Post author

    There is another slogan in this campaign which I don’t particularly care for. “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” First, these are the word of an agnostic, not an atheist. Second, atheists are not out to simply have a good time, and the campaign would seem to suggest that we are. I would also say that many if not most Christians don’t think of their God as an abusive narcissistic father, though that’s certainly as he seems in the Old Testament. (I won’t let my five-year-old son read the OT because it’s just too violent.) Rather Christians seem to think of God as a doting mother capable of unconditional love and understanding and perhaps even compliance. The worst criminals never fail to stop believing in God’s love. Criminals may admit that what they have done done is wrong, but they also think God understands “why” they did it. God serves to help the believer justify and excuse all behaviors; whereas, atheists have to bear responsibility alone.

  7. James Sheffield U.K

    Brilliant. Another voice to the chorus of disbelief in a world crying out for it. Glad to here Dawkins’ name appear as well…In my opinion he’s almost the fundamentalists best friend, they recognise their own in him I think. He does equally well in polarising people as the religions do. He’s arrogant, egotistical and narrowminded – a terrible advert for atheism. Although he has taught me a lot about science. It’s funny though, through reading people like Dawkins and other atheist scholars, I’ve re read the teachings of various “religious figures” and found them to contain some very humanist concepts that I’d otherwise missed while they seemed to me to be wrapped in supernatural meaning.

  8. PG

    Went and saw Kenvin Spacey in “Inherit The Wind” last night in London – a good antidote to the militants on either side of the divide. For mind I think it comes down to the ability and right for critical and independent thinking. It certainly countered the phrenology model I came across earlier that had morality and religiosity occupying the same largest part on top of the crown!

  9. Steve

    Tori, I like what you have to say, and have put your work on my ‘to read’ list.

    I appreciate your gentle self-expression. I agree with you that that golden rule is a basic underlying value, which Jesus supposedly promoted, and which can be found somewhere in many of the major religions. But while for these other religions it is an element, I think that for Humanism it is core, central, and essential.

    BTW, I was in a production of “Inherit the Wind” earlier this year. It was put on in honor of Darwin’s 200th year, and 150th of The Origin of Species. What a powerful and important play!

    BTW, unlike some of the other commentors, I really like Dawkins’ God Delusion, as he gives voice to the conclusions I reached while in high school, long ago.

  10. Geoff

    I feel I must defend Richard Dawkins here. I know from personal experience the kind of flack (and poison) that is directed at him by religious people. He is not merely upset in an academic way at others’ beliefs – he is honestly, desperately upset at how religion interferes with children’s minds, more and more, in the classroom. He talks to Muslim science teachers who dismiss evolution and go on teaching their pupils that the Koran supersedes science. Dawkins is, by nature, slightly abrasive, but he is also the target of huge amounts of religious garbage, that would make YOU or I respond in abrasive ways too. He is provocative, but he has lifted the debate into the public consciousness because of that. And don’t let your reasonable scientific disagreement with him sway you too much. He would respect you highly for disagreeing with him (on the basis of evidence).


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