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Old 04-27-2012, 02:50 AM   #1
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Peaceful Atheist vs. Evil Atheist

In my novel, I do my best to show the good in bad in several groups of people. The main antagonist of my novel tries to persuad the other characters to join the 'dark side'. (the text's execution of it isn't as cheesy as it sounds, hopefully). But I'm running into problems with my main Atheist character.
My MC is young teenager who has a strong sense of moral duty that's shattered by the events in the story. I don't think I have much problem filling out my Antagonist because throughout life I've been confronted with the World-Is-Screwed-So-Forget-Everyone-Else type of people (and many of them claimed to believe in God) I understand this point of view quiet well.

What books do you guys suggest I read (movies are good too) that deal with Good vs Bad Atheist? Sorry if this has already been posted. If anyone can copy and past a link it would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:22 AM   #2
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Kind of tricky. I don't know if anyone's written books with deliberate contrasts of atheistic characters. Since atheism is essentially defined by not being religious, it only tends to show up in characters in contrast to religions rather in contrast to other atheists.

It sounds like the problem you are having is with your good atheist, and grasping his motivations. Is that the difficulty?
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:26 AM   #3
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Yes, and thank you very much for clarifying it. I can get a bit long winded.
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:47 AM   #4
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You might want to have a look at this thread

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=168290

There are a number of different motivations discussed for atheistic morality.

But you might not need something this sophisticated, if your MC is a teenager. He might simply be doing what he was taught was right.

On the other hand if you are exploring different reactions to shattering events then it's pretty reasonable to have such a character struggling with the practicalities and moral concerns.

To me, personally the strongest motivation is the consciousness of shared humanity and the simple question would I wish to be on the receiving end of what I am doing to this person?

It's a restatement of the Golden Rule, but this doesn't require religion. It can be hard to get to, but doesn't require anything more than seeing people as people.
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Old 04-27-2012, 05:29 AM   #5
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I read that thread before I posted. There was some good information, but it seemed to derail a bit. I'll check it out again
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Old 04-27-2012, 05:33 AM   #6
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Most of the books I read don't specify if the character is atheist or not. Any number if them may have been good versus bad atheist, I suppose.
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:05 PM   #7
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Most of the books I read don't specify if the character is atheist or not. Any number if them may have been good versus bad atheist, I suppose.
That is kind of what I was thinking...

Is there something about their specific brands of atheism that pits your two characters against one another? (Are there specific brands of atheism?) Is their conflict defined in terms of their atheism?

I'm afraid I just don't understand the question. If, for instance, you made both characters Christian, would they still be in conflict? If not, I think you need to examine what exactly their conflict is.

Maybe I am just getting hung up on the terms "good and bad atheists". A good atheist to me is basically someone who doesn't believe in an omnipotent god. Is a bad atheist someone who claims to not believe and then secretly prays when no one is looking?
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Old 04-27-2012, 03:43 PM   #8
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The only common point between Atheists is that they don't believe in God. This aside they can be absolutely anything you want. As for reasons for morality, they're multitudinous, but I'd expect most atheists to say that if we lived in a society without morals then there'd be no society all, so it's in everyone's interests to stick to it. There is also the conscience, and I subscribe to Freud's explanation of the id, ego and superego.

However, as above posters have said, people don't live their lives by constantly finding logical reasons or permission to do as they do. They just do it, and some people behave more morally than others. If you want philosophical reasons I can give you plenty, but these actions are typical descriptive rather than prescriptive. These questions come after people have lived their lives for some years and then ask the question "Why do I behave as I do?"
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:01 PM   #9
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In my novel, I do my best to show the good in bad in several groups of people. The main antagonist of my novel tries to persuad the other characters to join the 'dark side'. (the text's execution of it isn't as cheesy as it sounds, hopefully). But I'm running into problems with my main Atheist character.
My MC is young teenager who has a strong sense of moral duty that's shattered by the events in the story. I don't think I have much problem filling out my Antagonist because throughout life I've been confronted with the World-Is-Screwed-So-Forget-Everyone-Else type of people (and many of them claimed to believe in God) I understand this point of view quiet well.

What books do you guys suggest I read (movies are good too) that deal with Good vs Bad Atheist? Sorry if this has already been posted. If anyone can copy and past a link it would be greatly appreciated.
I think for this sort of morally romantic conflict Conrad is the place to go. It's all very late-19th century (a period that seems to be haunting AW lately), duty, honor, integrity, virtue battling it out mano-a-mano. The three Marlow books (Lord Jim being the best I think but Heart of Darkness does the horror the horror and I can't remember the other Marlow book) OR French Symbolism does this kind of thing too. I recall a scene where a man has a choice: either shoot himself or become a monk. I think he shot himself. end of story.
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:29 PM   #10
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Maybe I am just getting hung up on the terms "good and bad atheists". A good atheist to me is basically someone who doesn't believe in an omnipotent god. Is a bad atheist someone who claims to not believe and then secretly prays when no one is looking?
lol. I was trying to stay away from the good and bad, and use Peaceful and Evil (non-peaceful would probably be more appropriate).

I guess they would have different brands of Atheism? The main Antagonist does also tempt both the Christian and Muslim characters to a more radical/immoral side. I just wanted to do the same with Atheism.
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:32 PM   #11
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lol. I was trying to stay away from the good and bad, and use Peaceful and Evil (non-peaceful would probably be more appropriate).

I guess they would have different brands of Atheism? The main Antagonist does also tempt both the Christian and Muslim characters to a more radical/immoral side. I just wanted to do the same with Atheism.
So are you after the contrast between the Atheist who tries to live a moral life and an atheist who tries to destroy the faith of others.

Because the latter is a stereotype more than anything else. It's like the Joker in the Dark Knight movie, the destroyer of morality.

It also creates a caricature of the Hitchens/Dawkins combative style atheist who challenges the idea of faith without actually being evil (for a given value of evil).
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:33 PM   #12
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Joseph Conrad! I read Heart of Darkness in highschool, thankyou so much for mentioning it, Maxx. I was wondering if Lord of the Flies would also be a good book to include?
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:39 PM   #13
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Joseph Conrad! I read Heart of Darkness in highschool, thankyou so much for mentioning it, Maxx. I was wondering if Lord of the Flies would also be a good book to include?
There's also Captain Nemo. Again, a nineteenth-century kind of thing. But here's James Mason giving it a try:





And of course in the first draft of 20K L under the Sea, Nemo is Polish like Conrad, rather than an Apostate Muslim Indian as he turns out to be in the Mysterious Island.
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:46 PM   #14
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@RichardGarfinkle, yes! But more Hannible Lector than Joker.(My inspiration came heavily from Manhunter) The Antagonist's true beliefs is never specified. He shifts arguments to deal with each individual character. Yes, I'm aware that its a stereotype, but the purpose of these dialogues between the 3 or 4 MCs and the Antagonist is for readers to see how similiar these characters are even though they have different religions and backgrounds. I'm sure its been done before and I haven't seen the book. It's intended for a YA novel, where I hoped it would feel like a newer concept.
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Old 04-27-2012, 06:49 PM   #15
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@RichardGarfinkle, yes! But more Hannible Lector than Joker.(My inspiration came heavily from Manhunter) The Antagonist's true beliefs is never specified. He shifts arguments to deal with each individual character. Yes, I'm aware that its a stereotype, but the purpose of these dialogues between the 3 or 4 MCs and the Antagonist is for readers to see how similiar these characters are even though they have different religions and backgrounds. I'm sure its been done before and I haven't seen the book. It's intended for a YA novel, where I hoped it would feel like a newer concept.

Oh, I see. So it's not that the Antagonist is an evil atheist, he's playing one to tempt the peaceful atheist, and is presumably playing an evil Christian to tempt the good Christian and so on. Is that it?

If so, that sounds just fine, holding a distorted mirror up to someone and challenging them by the distortion is an effective tool of evil regardless of the target's source of morality.
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Old 04-27-2012, 07:14 PM   #16
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I really don't see how not believing in a deity could be the driving force in someone's morality. I think that may be making the mistake of treating atheism like a religion. A lack of belief does not assert moral obligations. They will come from some other belief/philosophy unit. Or more often from an inarticulate and often illogical set of ingrained expectations, grievances and aspirations.
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Old 04-27-2012, 07:25 PM   #17
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I really don't see how not believing in a deity could be the driving force in someone's morality. I think that may be making the mistake of treating atheism like a religion. A lack of belief does not assert moral obligations. They will come from some other belief/philosophy unit. Or more often from an inarticulate and often illogical set of ingrained expectations, grievances and aspirations.
This. Imagine the same question, but replace atheist with a-astrologist, or a-tarotist.
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:20 PM   #18
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I really don't see how not believing in a deity could be the driving force in someone's morality. I think that may be making the mistake of treating atheism like a religion. A lack of belief does not assert moral obligations. They will come from some other belief/philosophy unit. Or more often from an inarticulate and often illogical set of ingrained expectations, grievances and aspirations.
I suppose, but there seems to be some kind of regression to late-nineteenth century topoi going on lately: science is materialistic, atheists are tormented libertines (rather like vampires -- another late-nineteenth century item). So you get somebody like Captain Nemo (or even Mister Kurtz in the Heart of Darkness) -- characters who are cut off from normal standards and zip off erratically on their own courses. Captain Nemo (ex-Apostate Muslim that he is) tries to be a nice guy, but he just can't help ramming ammo transports and struggling against Imperialism.
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Old 04-27-2012, 08:58 PM   #19
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Not believing in God doesn't cut you off from anything. Social ethics and standards are God-optional. Like any invisible minority, a lot of people have always been atheist, they just generally stayed quiet about it.

Even now when most people can be open about is do you seriously see any different between atheists and theists in basic morality? I don't. Atheists just leave off the 'because God said so' part

Honeslty you can just have good and bad people of different types. I think connecting the type to the goodness and badness, even if done diversely, has the opposite message to what is probably intended. It suggests that being in a beleif group a certain way makes you good and/or bad (or whatever euphemism). People will pick up on one character more than the other and see it as a stereotype.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:04 AM   #20
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Not believing in God doesn't cut you off from anything.
I don't think Maxx was referring to all Atheist, just the characters in the mentioned stories.
And I never considered not believing in God as a source for Atheists' morality. I feel like I'm missing something here.
Is Atheism not a belief?


I'll rephrase my question.

Does anyone know at least two opposing views on the purpose of life and the best way to live it that Atheists hold?
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:22 AM   #21
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Atheism is the absence of a belief. Thus it does not prevent your characters from having any possible outlook on life. But most of them will not involve life having an externally imposed purpose.

So basically they may want to help people, get money, save the planet, raise a family, gain power... the normal human stuff.

You can't make not having a religion fill the role of having a religion. It is just something that character doesn't do.

Consider: what does a single person have instead of a spouse? The question immediately implies it is normal to have a spouse and lacking one must replace it (with a pet, robot etc). It is a spouse-centric approach.

(See also: What does an asexual have instead of sex?)

What does an atheist base their belief system on without religion? Um, not being an ass and getting stuff they want, like everyone else. Other than not referring to God there is nothing unique and distinctive about atheist beliefs. We don't add anything to make up for not having a God.

Every ethical system atheists use (humanism, utilitarianism etc) are equally used by theists because they are God-optional not God-replacing. God doesn't need to be replaced because it is not compulsory, normal or default to be theist.

If your conflicting atheists disagree it will not be based on atheist dogma, it will be based on general purpose dogma accessible to all. Like, I want to make money, versus I want to prevent suffering (etc).
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:28 AM   #22
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Atheism is the absence of a belief. Thus it does not prevent your characters from having any possible outlook on life. But most of them will not involve life having an externally imposed purpose.

So basically they may want to help people, get money, save the planet, raise a family, gain power... the normal human stuff.
Wow, I thought Atheism was an absence of the belief of God, not belief period. I need to go back and reread all the other threads on the definition of Atheism. Thanks for pointing that out.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:28 AM   #23
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I don't think Maxx was referring to all Atheist, just the characters in the mentioned stories.
And I never considered not believing in God as a source for Atheists' morality. I feel like I'm missing something here.
Is Atheism not a belief?


I'll rephrase my question.

Does anyone know at least two opposing views on the purpose of life and the best way to live it that Atheists hold?
Atheism is not a belief. Although if you look at some older threads you'll find a lot of argument on that point.

No one can speak for all atheists, but I think I can say that to a lot of atheists, most of what theists consider important matters of faith or practice are irrelevant.

Another way to say this is that atheism is rarely the root of an atheist's world view and/or moral compass.

To a lot of atheists their atheism is simply a contrast necessarily marked out because they are surrounded by theists defining the universe of discourse.

Paraphrase from someone else on another thread: It's kind of like being a vegetarian surrounded by people who are always talking about their favorite type of meat.

If you need characters who have come to atheism, consider that Atheism is more often a consequence then a cause. To get different atheists you need different causes of atheism.

Some come from rejection of a particular religion, some come from a humanistic perspective, some from a scientific and so on. But a lot simply don't see theism as relevant to their lives.

As for evil atheists. The most common form of evil is Mary Sue self-centered I get to do what I want. But the theist and atheist versions of that are the same in action.
Atheist: I get to do what I want.
Theist: God loves me, so I get to do what I want.
Ultimately most evil people regardless of attitude just try to do what they feel like.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:35 AM   #24
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About the only belief I would meaningfully link to atheism would be whether you should actively try and get other people to be atheist in order to make the world better--which a minority of atheists do support (Dawkin etc)--but most don't care about at all. But even this is not a uniquely atheist issue as religions have it to--e.g. Evangelicals say you must, Quakers say you shouldn't etc.
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Old 04-28-2012, 12:58 AM   #25
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Just came back from the is the Is Atheism a Belief thread and my head is spinning. Honestly, I'm gonna put this novel on hold, there's a lot I need to think about and a lot of questions I need answers to. I don't want to change the character but Atheism is proving to be far more complicated than I thought. I might be PM some of you guys with questions, if you don't mind.
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