Is it right that I don't feel guilt?

I used to be religious, and the only thing holding me back from living as I pleased were so-called moral teachings. Now that I don’t believe in God no more, I feel very free – free from all moral constraints – since I now realise that there is no “objective” meaning to anything, that all morals and ethics are man-made and therefore subjective. in other words, I’m losing a sense of guilt for doing “wrong” or “bad” things. the only negative ramification from doing something wrong, bad or illegal, is getting caught! but – and this is key – i sense no guilt, no internal anguish for violating some eternal objective moral code. so my question is – is this the right way to feel as an atheist? is this the superman Nietzsche spoke of?

Posted: April 4th 2009

George Ricker www

I, too, have a hard time taking this seriously.

There is no validity to the notion that the only moral choices for human beings are between the absolute edicts of an absolute being or the whims and wishes of individuals.

Morality is an essential part of human nature, and it comes to us through our own biological and cultural evolution. Apart from a few sociopaths who genuinely feel no moral constraints, all humans make choices about what is right and what is wrong. Those choices are contingent upon and informed by their own biology and the nature of the societies in which they are raised.

The moral codes followed by various human cultures always have been relative. They never have been fixed and permanent rules that applied to all people for all time. Whether religious or non religious, they always have changed over time. Actions and attitudes toward things like slavery and the oppression of women have changed in some societies (and in some religions to varying degrees) so that what once was regarded as moral is now regarded as barbaric and reprehensible.

Anyone who has a genuine interest in the subject might want to read “The Science of Good & Evil” by Michael Schermer as a starting point. It’s a good introduction to the subject.

Posted: April 6th 2009

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Sorry, that I could not provide an answer much earlier as my atheist husband and I were busy roasting a live baby. The feasting and related debauchery went on for days. And we felt no guilt at all, whatsoever.

Lol, this question has to be either a silly religiot doing a lying-for-Jebus pretend atheist or an atheist doing a Poe of a lying-for-Jebus pretend atheist.

I don’t think socio/psychopaths would be this concerned or thoughtful about not having any guilt.

Posted: April 6th 2009

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Dave Hitt www

This is not a legitimate question. It is either a religious person doing a very poor imitation of their perception of an atheist, or a sociopath.

Since true sociopaths are pretty rare, odds are this question is an inept prank from a religious extremist. I can only advise that they learn more about their subject matter before attempting something like this again – this is far too ham-handed to fool anyone.

Posted: April 5th 2009

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flagellant www

Believing in God gives people membership of a like-minded group; it gives one a sense of 'belonging’ to something. If one goes to church, this further enhances the sense of membership and belonging. Humans are social animals and belief in God, and associating with fellow believers, fulfils this social need.

However, religions set themselves up as moral and ethical arbiters. The principal way of ensuring compliance is 'God will punish you if you misbehave and you won’t get to heaven/paradise or wherever.’ This message, combining carrot and stick, depends both on the certainty of divine punishment and the possibility of life after death. Each is highly improbable – the more we know, the more unlikely they seem – and the whole system depends on unprovable premises, associated with feelings of fear. People used to believe that storms, earthquakes, and disease were punishments from God (this makes 'God’ an arbitrary, unfair, and capricious character); now, because we know much more, only the least rational believers promulgate this, other than rhetorically: there is little sincere belief in 'heaven’s revenge’.

Now that you have managed to dispense with a set of supernatural beliefs and explanations, is it really likely that you have dispensed with morality or guilt feelings if you behave 'wrongly’? The concepts of morality and ethics are universally found in non-religious societies. They existed before the advent of the Abrahamic religions. Ancient Greek philosophy was notably concerned with ethical matters. That religion has arrogated morality for itself is unjustified. Morality does not spring from God, religion, or Pontiffs; it has a more pragmatic explanation: the effect on others and/or the intrinsic rightness of an action.

You might read something of The Golden Rule . Again, this is a moral concept to be found in Greek philosophy and our legal systems are loosely based on it. 'Do unto others as you would be done by!’ as Charles Kingsley put it in The Water
, a book that tends to make a deep and lasting impression on all children who come across it. All human progress relies on co-operation and getting on with each other, and we learn this from an early age and add nuances as we get older, including the notion of being apprehended: our policing seems to be based on 'Obey the law or you’ll get caught!’, as you observe.

As situations change, and society develops, so too can morality: that is its strength. Morality based on society as it was thousands of years ago cannot be relevant, except in the most general sense, to people living in the 21st century. A more realistic and pragmatic approach is necessary.

Ethics is a fascinating philosophical subject, once one escapes religious doctrine and you might be interested to read more. You could look beyond Nietzsche, at people like Kant, whose thinking was central to The Enlightenment ,when modern, non-superstitious thinking began in the West.

Finally, though, I wonder to what extent this question is serious. The implication that, as an atheist, you now 'feel free from moral constraints’ because, previously, only a belief in God made you a moral person sounds just the sort of assertion one of the died-in the-wool religiosi would make, tongue in cheek…

Posted: April 5th 2009

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brian thomson www

If I take this question at face value: you don’t say which church you used to belong to, but whenever I hear the word “guilt”, I immediately think of the Catholic Church. “Guilt” is one of their major weapons, starting with “original sin”: they want you to feel guilty for that and for the Jesus legend, so that you will go to church etc. as a way of making you (the sinner) feel less guilty about being alive. So it’s quite sensible to shake that off, but it doesn’t release you from the need to behave ethically, as a member of society.

As an atheist, you may read articles etc. accusing you of having no morals, just because you dropped the explicit moral framework offered by the Church in question. If that’s what you’ve been told (as implied by the wording of your question), don’t worry about it: it’s a classic “straw man” tactic, designed to scare people away from thinking about these matters for themselves. (“Thinking is dangerous! We have all the answers you need, right here in this book!”) My answer to that starts with a bit of wordplay, emphasising the differences between Ethics and Morals that dictionaries don’t explain very well:


  • top-down
  • fixed in time
  • “thou shalt (not)”
  • perfect
  • do not question, just obey
  • religious teachings and scripture


  • bottom-up
  • evolving
  • “first do no harm”
  • can be improved
  • you can argue and contribute
  • laws and codes of conduct

“First do no harm” may be familiar as part of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take upon qualification (or used to – not sure). It’s not perfect, but it encapsulated the essential features of an ethical code. At the same time, it binds doctors in to a community with shared values, but these are not moral values in the sense I described above. For example, a doctor, behaving according to their code of conduct, will treat any patient he or she encounters, without any quibbles over who they are or what they have done. The code of conduct is generally solid (after thousands of years), but still being worked on.

In the sense I’ve used, I’ve replaced Morals with Ethics in my personal behaviour. The main society I (currently) belong to is society in general, which has, as its code of conduct, the “laws of the land”. I have a say in those laws and how they’re enforced, albeit a small one as a voter, but I could go in to politics if I chose to be more directly involved. If you are going to be a member of the society of people, you will obey the law; however, to be an ethical person, I think you need more than just that.

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve actively thought about such matters, but I seem to have cultivated a sense of “social impact”. You might call it the societal equivalent of “environmental impact”: if it’s going to damage the fabric of society, even in the tiniest of ways, avoid it. This can be applied to major acts, such as crimes, or even the smallest, such as how loudly you close a door. A good way of putting it is the Confucian form of the “Golden Rule”: “What you do not want others to do to you, do not do unto others”. “First do no harm” is a more concise way of putting it.

In other words: as an atheist, I might not be a Moral person, but I work to be an Ethical person. This is how societies are made, by people thinking about how their behaviour impacts upon others, and evolving (!) a code that makes the whole thing work smoothly. You don’t need Morals to know that hurting other people is a bad thing, M’Kay?

Posted: April 5th 2009

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Paula Kirby www

Forgive me, but I’m finding it hard to believe this question is genuine. It sounds more like a Christian pretending to be an atheist to me! It is one of the sillier Christian claims that, without God, people would feel just as you claim to feel – but I haven’t met a single atheist who DOES actually feel that way. So I’m sorry, but I’m sceptical.

However, taking your question at face value for now – are you really saying that, without a belief in God, there is nothing to stop you, say, burgling your neighbour’s house or mugging an old lady?

If you are, I’m afraid you’re a bit of a sociopath and I just hope you don’t live near me.

But I don’t think you can be saying that, really – normal, healthy human beings feel empathy with others: it’s hardwired into us. It’s even been shown to be hardwired into a range of other animals. We have a very strong urge to avoid suffering ourselves – and evolution has built into us the knowledge that the best way to avoid unnecessary suffering is not to inflict it on others. (There’s nothing airy-fairy about this: your chances of survival are greatly reduced if you make a habit of attacking your neighbours, because your neighbours will simply get rid of you.)

Humans have been around in their current form for the best part of 150,000 years. Judaism got started round about 4000 years ago. How do you suppose humans ever managed to survive so long prior to the invention of the Abrahamic god if they needed belief in God to give them a sense of how to live together in their communities? If there wasn’t a strong sense of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour? The simple fact is that humans are social animals and our societies break down in the absence of certain basic norms of behaviour – our chances of survival are greatly enhanced when we abide by those norms. That is more than enough reason for a basic understanding and acceptance of those norms to be hardwired into us.

Posted: April 5th 2009

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