Atheism and Roleplaying

I have been asked a time or two how I, as an atheist, can play fantasy roleplaying games that involve gods, clerics, and divine magic. The first part of the answer is very simple: its a game. If I can imagine myself as an all power wizard casting fireball, pretending to a believer isn’t much of a stretch.

There is also the fact that generally RPG gods have real physical effects on the world. The gods empower people with actual magic, actively participate in the workings of their churches, and even physically appear in the world (see Fitzban). Even different faiths acknowledge the existence of other gods; it is well established that all the gods exist. Disbelieving in a god when faced with that kind of evidence would be intellectually bankrupt.

The world of Athas of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting is an interesting study in religion. Mostly because it is a world with no gods, no true divine magic. Religion in the world takes two forms. The first is elemental worship, where people turn to the natural world for an illusion of control over the world. The second is the worship of the immortal sorcerer-kings. These corrupt rulers are men and women, merely pretending to be divine. This setup appears like a commentary on both modern organized religion (sorcerer-king = pope anyone?) and more ancient nature worship.

More importantly, Athas is a roleplaying world where atheists are the default. Most characters exist without any sort of belief system. Pragmatism is the rule of the day. The brutal world leaves no room for idealistic hopes of a divine savior. It’s a refreshing sort of honesty that is lacking in most roleplaying settings.  I like it.

-That is all.

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Absolute Moral Truth

I do not believe that there is a single absolute moral standard that which everyone must ascribe to. Morals are a personal issue, that each individual and societies must determine for themselves.

Morals are not determined in a vacuum. There is a strong genetic component. Your genes make you nature predisposed to helping those who share your genes: your family. There are cultural forces as well. Living in the USA, one is taught that certain behaviors (like polygamy) are immoral while that same behavior is socially acceptable for someone living in Saudi Arabia. Similarly, one’s religious and ethical background impacts the morals one holds. Opinions on the morality of premarital sex and homosexual marriage are very tied to one’s religion.

This diverse tapestry of morals is one key piece of evidence of my belief that there is no moral absolute truth. Much like a single religious truth, a moral truth would require a single correct answer, implying that every other answer is wrong. Condemning entire cultures as moral deviants would require some serious evidence.

The evidence for an absolute moral truth? Well, there isn’t any. Lots of philosophers, from Plato to Thoreau, have proposed the idea. But these merely philosophical arguments, based in rhetoric rather than evidence based. For every absolute proposed, there are always exceptions somewhere.

The evidence in the world is that of diversity. The world is full of diverse cultures and peoples who built productive, fulfilling societies, each with its own set of morals. These moral codes work for them, regardless of being incompatible with the codes of those around them.

This is the crux of the issue. Not having an absolute morality has not caused the world’s civilizations to collapse. It does not imply a lack of morality. Morals that are socially chosen can hold just as much weight as ones imposed from some external source. A moral person is moral, regardless of the source of those morals.

-That is all.