Atheists: Do you believe that such a thing as ‘obligation’ exists?

Question by Sam: Atheists: Do you believe that such a thing as ‘obligation’ exists?
I’ve been pondering the matter of obligation given theistic and atheistic perspectives lately… and I have concluded that within atheism, there is no room for such a thing as obligation. You are never ‘obligated’ to do anything or obligated to not do something. Would you agree? If not, can you rationally justify the existence of some form of obligation?

The way I see it, there is room for the employment of “should” in ‘atheistic vocabulary'(:P)… “You should listen to your parents.” But only with an implied ‘if’: “If you want to receive the benefit of their instruction.” And “Should… if…”s can’t be considered obligation. A ‘should’ can only be considered obligation if there is no implied ‘if’: “You should not murder.” Why? Simply because you should not; it is wrong.

And in conclusion, you are never ‘obligated’ to not do anything… You are never obligated to keep your community’s laws or to keep promises… You are never obligated to do what humanity considers to be the most despicable of acts: rape, commit genocide, torture humans to death…

Sure, these actions may have consequences, but consequence does not imply obligation. You aren’t obligated to not hurt yourself or get punished…

I’m really not arguing for the existence of God here. I’m just curious, would you agree with these conclusions I have drawn? Or can you *rationally* justify some sort of obligation?

Thanks,
~Sam
I don’t think obligation can be any better explained than something of the nature of existence/being… I think we all understand what obligation is, and this understanding is what I’m referring to.
@Feathered Serpent!

You bring up a good point. However, with God, obligation can be explained as simply something He created to reside in us. And this is exactly what ‘moral law’ is: obligation. We are obligated to act a certain way simply because God ‘created’ this innate obligation in us.
Some of you are pointing out obligations. But that’s only half of what I ask you to do. Can you justify these obligations? Why *should* you help your friends and family?
Many of you seem to be pointing out that theists have no obligation either… Again, I’ll emphasize that, given the theistic perspective, we *do* have obligation. We have an innate obligation *created by* God. It can’t be explained any other way; we are simply obligated to act in certain ways *because* God made it so.

And if you’re going to insist that this is a “cheap cop-out”, I’ll ask you… why?
@science:

Very interesting and well thought out… But you seem to assume, “Anything which if done to us we would not like is ‘wrong’.” Why do you assume so?
Many of you are confusing ‘what you do’ with ‘what you *should* do.’ The fact that you are obligated to take a certain action is irrelevant to whether you take that action.

Thus I’m not “insinuating that because you lack a belief in any god, not just mine, that you’re some sort of lawless criminal.” I’m saying that because you believe there is no God, you have no grounds to believing in *obligation*. As “me” said, “Motivation for action is another topic”. And, Kc and others, the topic of ‘actual action’ much more deals with motivation rather than obligation.
@JacqD

It’s not about what you believe, though. It’s about reality. If Christianity is true, then regardless of whether you believe in it or not… you have innate obligation.
But perhaps I misunderstand what you are saying. Or perhaps I’m simply wrong. So, what say you? Just how is it that ‘nature’ can impose obligation on us?
@Brayden:

Wow, very thorough…

To start things off, in your second paragraph you say that nature has imposed obligation on us. I suppose that’s what I don’t understand and can’t come to grips with: how can something other than what we understand to be God impose obligation on us?

It seems that you are using a very similar argument to the one I used to demonstrate that theists(or at least Christians) have obligation: the only difference is that you attribute the ‘creator of obligation’ to ‘nature’ rather than God.

In order to impose obligation on man, nature would have to be able to act beyond solely using the laws of nature; it would have to be able to create laws such as that of nature. How could nature act beyond its capabilities? And how could ‘nature’ create such an abstract, universal principle such as obligation at all?

The way I see it, laws such ‘moral law’ could only be created by something supernatural; something above ‘natural laws.’


But perhaps I misunderstand what you are saying. Or perhaps I’m simply wrong. So, what say you? Just how is it that ‘nature’ can impose obligation on us?
Or perhaps the underlying problem is what we mean by ‘obligation’. In my understanding of obligation…

Obligation requires no reason other than itself(if a man is obligated to do something, he is obligated not for a reason, but rather simply because he is obligated). Like I said before, obligation can be understood as a “should” without an implied ‘if’. This is why I say that its cause must be beyond nature(supernatural); since obligation’s effects have no cause beyond itself, it can be considered an abstract, universal truth. And the way I understand it, universal, abstract truths cannot be created through natural processes(non-supernatural processes.)

So would you agree with this understanding of obligation?

Best answer:

Answer by Fluffy Boy 😀
What does obligation mean?

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22 thoughts on “Atheists: Do you believe that such a thing as ‘obligation’ exists?”

  1. I’m obligated to my fellow human race to make this world a better place than it was when I entered it.

    But thanks for insinuating that because I lack a belief in any god, not just yours, that I’m some sort of lawless criminal. How narrow-minded and ignorant.

  2. I personally do not see any obligation. Though I do believe there are things I should do, such as respect the dead, and Honor my mother and father, etc. Though i don’t think i really need to do them.

  3. Obligation to the race as a whole and your children yes to fictional sky fairies no .

    A Christians only obligation according to universal doctrine for that mythology is to be “saved” before you die murder, rape, looting or whatever will be forgiven at that point and you sneak into heaven on a technicality .

  4. Obligation is a funny word.

    Obli obli obligation.

    I don’t see how having a god gives you an obligation either, its still just consequence.

  5. You are absolutely correct no one is obligated to do anything expect die. but if you don’t want to die then you are kind of obligated to eat and drink to survive.

  6. Sure. Moral values are subjective, and men are free to do basically whatever they want.

    But we do have moral values. Even if there’s no obligation, most of us are rational and sane and humane, so we won’t do things that will cause harm to others.

    I fail to see much of a point to this question. Theists have no obligation either. Unless you put in fear of God, which makes the entire thing pretty pathetic. ”I am obliged not to steal because then i will be thrown to a pit of fire for eternity”.

  7. Well I suppose you could say that, but you could also say that one is obligated to fulfill his or her needs and motivated to fulfill his or her wants and comforts. For instance, if I want to live I am obligated to eat. If I wan to live a good life, I am obligated to keep in mind the consequences of my actions. It all boils down to what you want and what you are motivated to do. If you fail to keep up with these obligations, it’s your loss and no one elses. Therefore, you aren’t obligated by any sort of higher power but you have an obligation to your self.

  8. Dictionary time.
    Religion or no religion, obligation is a word that has little to do with religion or moral behaviour.
    As an atheist, I don’t need gods to be good.
    I know not to hurt others and try to live the golden rule as hard as it is.

  9. Our common humanity obligates us to respect one another’s rights. If I believe that it’s acceptable for me to harm others, how can I possibly object to people treating me the same way? Self-interest is the basis of such thinking; it is applicable with or without a God.

  10. Yes, I do accept obligations. To myself, my family, my friends my community and to the world… even to you to some degree… and I need no god to force me to do or accept them…

    Your ‘understanding’ of atheists is sorely lacking… have you actually ever sat down and talked with any? We have mmorals and obligations just as anyone else. We are not anarchists. You probably count as friends several that you don’t know are atheists….

    BTW, as in MANY times before, and for the LEARNING impared… atheism is a non acceptance of gods… period…

  11. based on you’re arguments, nobody (atheist or not) is obligated to do anything. what makes christians obligated? heaven and hell? because you said “Sure, these actions may have consequences, but consequence does not imply obligation”. that means christians arent obligated either. also, based on you’re argument, you should follow the bible if you want to get into heaven is the same concept

  12. Nothing you are basing your assumptions on is accurate or objective. It’s totally subjective and biased.

    The crime rates are much lower in predominantly atheistic areas. The level of education and critical thinking is far superior. Atheist parents take raising and protecting their children more seriously than religious people. They certainly don’t torture and bash the spirit out of their kids with spiteful stories of burning in hell for all eternity for some stupid misnomer. Kids have very creative imaginations, why do religious people hate their children to destroy them.

    I think you are mistaking people who are grown ups, with people living in the draconian la la land of ‘go forth and kill the infidel’, ie religious people.

    Practicing Shaman…quantum physics rocks

  13. Why do you need the threat of hell from an angry god to make you live a moral life? I need no god to know what is the right and decent thing to do.

  14. You could do the same thing with religion by replacing parents/community/society with God. So I don’t see how this applies only to atheists, but regardless, such an argument is merely semantic hair-splitting. What’s the point of hand wringing over “should” vs. “obligation”?

  15. Just from a quick thought, it would seem that the theistic “should” is also followed by an “if”, but the difference is that the theistic “if” reason tends to be a single thing (if you want to please your deity) while the atheistic “if” is directly related to the positive/negative consequences of the “should”. In other words, the theistic moral system is weak because it depends on an external force and definition, while the atheistic morality is based on personal accountability and the consequences.

    Edit:
    As a side note, I don’t think that this is “obligation”. I tend to look at obligation as a debt or a commitment, rather than a general approach to following morals. Morality is a fiber or glue for social interaction, rather than an commitment.

  16. That is wrong. There are obligations. Those obligations come from within, from your own desire to want to do something for others. Not because you are afraid of going to hell? How is that morality?

    It amazes me that so many believers think they are moral because they stop doing things out of fear. You should do things just because. Not because you think it’s what your church, god, or clergy would want. I would never rape, torture, or kill someone. I’m atheist. I’ve never done drugs, I don’t even smoke cigarettes! Frankly, my life is very dull compared to what christians that I know do.

    An atheist helps others like Warren Buffer (atheist) donating about $ 80 billion of his own fortune to charity just because he wanted to. Not because he thought he was going to get a place in heaven. That is not true morality. That is looking out for yourself.

    Every action has consequences, this is not confined to religion only. If you study you pass. If you don’t, you fail. So you are only nice to get a place in heaven? Uggh, that is disgusting. How is that being moral?

    We all have obligations because it’s what makes society works. It’s common sense, if people do not keep their obligations society would fall apart.

    And if memory serves me right wasn’t Abraham owner of slaves? His slave Hagar who bore his son, Ishamel was a slave. But that didn’t bother god did it? So where is the morality here?

    Doing right is doing right for its own sake. It has nothing to do with fear, that is not being moral. Helping others to help yourself is callous and selfish.

  17. Your fundamental error is assuming that god is at the bottom of all things, all good behavior. Since everything we know was invented by humans (including religion), secular morality exists and is legitimate independent from faith based morality. If anything, yours is the lesser morality because you are pre-forgiven for your transgressions, and thus have no real incentive to do the right thing. This is why believers fall into recidivism again and again, the lack of perceived consequences when you know that you can do no wrong, because already forgiven.

  18. Obligation is part of every agreement. As a citizen you are obligated to your country to perform certain duties (including following it’s laws). As a member of society you are obligated to refrain from antisocial behaviors. As a partner in a business deal (or marriage) you are obligated as well.
    Man alone has no need of obligation… but who is an island?

  19. No, I agree. Ought implies can but the choice to act is up to the individual. Motivation for action is another topic.

    And you’re right to imply that God has nothing on morale.

    If God wills it because it is good, God is arbitrary, merely acknowledging the good. If it is good because God wills it, no human responsibility, no human moral. Which we know is not accurate; moral is a human concept. The idea that anything (one believes) God wills is good, is a dangerous one; if God wills murder is murder good? (Genesis through Deuteronomy was a blood bath……)

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