So being a good atheist, I’m celebrating Easter by writing a paper for class about why atheists are qualified to hold public office. It’s for a literacy class and I’m supposed to demonstrate public literacy by writing about a public debate and I chose the debate over whether or not atheists should hold office. 50% of Americans say no.
Anyway, for my paper I’ve interviewed a few atheists and theists about their opinions on the issue, and one person in particular really made me chuckle a little. He said that atheists are not entitled to belief in justice, because in order to believe in justice on needs to believe in equality, and the only way to believe that people are “created” equal is to believe in a soul. This raises at least on major question: what exactly is a soul?
According to my theist frienemy, a soul is the root of the intellect, emotion, and creativity. This sounds a whole lot like a mind to me, which is one of the things which has always confused me about souls. If one’s soul is simply one’s mind, what do you say about people who suffer a traumatic brain injury and undergo drastic mental or personality changes afterwards? What about folks with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s? If, however, the soul is not the mind, then what relevance does it have? If we can’t see any evidence of it, how do we know it’s actually always their, or that it’s the same soul we were born (“created”) with? How do we know my soul isn’t currently flying over into my brother’s body on the other side of the room? These are some questions you need to answer if you posit the existence of an immaterial soul.
As for the belief in justice, any good atheist–such as my friend, Tony, whom I interviewed right after this theist–will tell you that what makes people equal is not a soul but our capacity for emotions, empathy, and sensation of pain. Most people are capable of the same basic emotions as everyone else, and everyone has the same basic reactions to some of them: by definition, everyone likes pleasure and no one likes being depressed. Sure, there are rare disorders like anhedonia and congenitive analgesia which prevent people from enjoying (or suffering, in the case of CA) the whole range of human experience, but these folks–particularly folks with anhedonia–are not lesser in any way, because they can still feel other emotions. (Also, anhedonia in particular is usually just a symptom of a larger problem, which can usually be treated, so these people still have the capacity for pleasure.)
So, in a nutshell: souls are silly, and atheists believe in equality. If you doubt that latter fact, just remind yourself that Amnesty International is founded on what is essentially an atheistic philosophy. They don’t appeal to God for the good work they do: they’re just humanists helping humans.