This would be a human culture in what I would consider the distant future. Depending on the individual asked, either religious traditions and notions are something a society needs to eventually outgrow (like how an adult man is expected to dismiss the existence of the Easter Bunny) or humanity should be its own master instead of bowing to outside entities, whether those entities truly exist or not.

That said, this same society has rather strict notions on what is acceptable concerning sex and relationships - neither polygamous nor same-sex marriages are recognized by law, and fetishes and practices like sadomasochism are looked down upon as deviant. There's no church to say what is or isn't a sin, so how do I explain these attitudes taking root?

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    $\begingroup$ How do any beliefs take root in your society? That would be the first place I would look for answers. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ Religion by itself does not mean sexual conservatism - consider ancient Rome, it was quite a religious society and yet rather liberal in sexual behaviour. I know A⇒B does not mean B⇒A, but still... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ Stories about rogue emperors aside, Roman sexual morals were not all that wild. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ Where did you get the concept that Morality stems from Religion? The opposite is usually true, in that Morality is what usually creates Religion. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ The USSR and its fraternal socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Red China when it was truly red, were openly atheist societies, and at the same time practiced an extremely conservative form of morality. Same-sex sex was a crime, divorced women were scorned, divorced men had their careers impaired, and as for BDSM, it was considered horrendously antisocial, and, obviously, criminal. So yes, it did happen. Over a very large part of the world, and not in the distant past. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 18:54

17 Answers 17


There exists an argument that the religious tend to use against atheists, that without a belief in God, humans will stop being good and just generally do a lot of terrible sinful things. I guess it's like the Ring of Giges story, where a peasant finds a ring that renders him invisible, and immediately kills the king and steals all his stuff.

Now, as far as I can tell this just isn't true. Being a good person can often be its own reward, and there are a lot of sinful things that even atheists would agree are not right to do. In fact, the more I investigate religion and philosophy, I've found that most of the virtues that religion espouses can also be supported by logical reasoning on what's beneficial to humans.

Let's take, for example, the idea of eugenics. It's a great way to get rid of a lot of humanity's problems, like many diseases and the general inequality that arises from people being born different. But when someone brings up eugenics today, people call them a monster. Why is this? Because most eugenicists were monsters. People like the Nazis were racists, and had a very limited understanding of what makes humans good.

There are a lot of similar cases in history. For instance, the Amish shave their upper lips because when they started out, moustaches were a sign of the military (and the Amish are pacifist). Similarly, the word barbarian supposedly stems from the fact that Romans shaved, while many of their enemies didn't. Back to the Nazis, no one today could pull off a Hitler 'stache without getting dirty looks (or worse).

Thus, all that's needed to make something taboo is to make it something your enemies do, or used to do. In your case, just imagine the Nazis, only they were sexy Nazis, and they sodomized millions of men. That should be more than enough of a black spot on history to keep people from doing anything of the sort for a very long time.

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    $\begingroup$ re barbarian : It actually was imported into Latin from Greek, in which it was derived from an onomatopoeia for non-Greek speech. The modern equivalent would be like "blahblahian". $\endgroup$
    – Compro01
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 7:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Compro01 "blahblahian" sounds like a great new way to call politicians. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ Upvoted for sexy Nazis $\endgroup$
    – neph
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 1:43

Why do you need to believe in god to have weird opinions?

Irrational beliefs are not dependent on each other and are not mutually exclusive. There is no reason that a society could not simultaneously reject the god hypothesis while accepting (what we may view as) irrational views on sex. Humans have an uncanny ability to hold several incompatible beliefs in their minds at once and fail to see the problem. Laws are formed by people, and if they think something (like two men being married) is wrong for whatever reason then they may pass or maintain a law that confirms their belief.

Atheists are no different in this way, they simply do not believe in one idea, the title says nothing about what they do believe in. Nearly everyone is an atheist about one god or another, it's a terribly non-descriptive title to give someone.

  • $\begingroup$ It seems like you're arguing the validity of the OP's question, instead of giving an answer to the question $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrew No, the OP says "There's no church to say what is or isn't a sin, so how do I explain these attitudes...". I'm quite clearly saying that such things don't require explanation. Even religious beliefs are rarely agreed upon by everyone in the religion, so it's obvious that having a book or institution to point to is not the basis of the belief. People believe what they want to and find reasons to justify those beliefs, independent of religion (though I do believe, for my own reasons, that atheists tend to do this less often than theists). $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ I only leave the comment because the OP is explicitly asking for reasons and you've told him why he doesn't need any. That's all. I think you have an intelligent response and it clearly addresses the issues regarding the ambiguity around values in religious/non-religious groups. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ I do have to take issue with the second paragraph even though I voted the answer up. It is not true that "nearly everyone is an atheist about one god or another"; that's not what atheism means. It means not believing in any gods. Christians are not atheists, full stop, even though they don't believe in Shiva or Zeus or Shinto spirits. $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ @TonDay I won't argue the definition of an atheist, it's why the constraint on the statement is "about one god or another". I'm not saying Christians are atheists, I'm saying they have exactly the same attitude toward other gods as a general atheist has about their God. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 17:20

This behavior could also be influenced by environmental effects. Here are some reasons why this might happen...

Fear of Death via STIs...

the most notably being the presence of STIs. This was one of the biggest factors in cooling off the sexual revolution of the 60's in USA, and curbed sexual appetites again in the 80's with the rise of HIV/AIDs. So, it's possible that your culture has a series of STIs that limit the sexual behavior of the society. And from the practice of avoiding dying by having their fun bits rot off, they began a more extremist approach that included abstinence, or whatever else suits your world and races.

This article shows how STIs have a global impact on societies. It's an informative read.

Fear of Spreading Foreign and/or Damaged Genes...

Perhaps a certain gene was introduced into the human population, either through alien contact or unfortunate evolution at the hands of a viral mechanism, that has an extremely damaging effect on the population by causing certain defects in those with the gene. Possible defects include:

  • Extreme aggression and cannibalism
  • Extreme Listlessness causing passive suicide
  • Mental retardation
  • People become unwitting beacons for alien tracking and communication, like they become meat suits for foreign invaders to take over

Minor Changes in Atmospheric and Soil Chemistry Change Pleasure Receptors...

Environmental factors could produce a variety of changes in our own bodies, since we are breathing in and out the air, water and soil around us.

Fear of Losing Self Control...

Perhaps the future humans had a point in recent history where they devolved into a life of excesses, having a minor epoch as being a pleasure society, where the worst in humanity was brought out from lust. Perhaps this was triggered by a change in environment from the pheromones of old plant species that were recently uncovered by melting ice caps.

Here's an article showing that some plant species have survived 400 years under ice.

Loss of Pleasure Senses...

This could be a possibility due to changing environmental factors. But... I'm not scientist in this area and you'd need a brain keener than mine to explain if this is actually possible and how that would work. I imagine a virus or bacteria could do the trick. Maybe something happens to the symbiotic bacteria that naturally live inside us?

This would be a tough one though because currently, we need affection to survive our early years, and a lack of it has an extreme impact on a human's lifelong intelligence.

Here's an article on the matter. If we were to survive this loss of affection, how different would we as humans appear?

This is tangential, but still related. It's the 30 Million Words Initiative, and it discusses how important communication is to developing a baby's brain.


Some attitudes and beliefs can be regarded as cultural, not just religious. For example, from the Wikipedia article on more or less atheist North Korea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_North_Korea#Media_control_and_censorship

"Captain, sir, homosexuality is how I fulfill myself as a person. Since it does no harm to your esteemed government or esteemed nation, it is unfair for Jonathan and me to be prevented from doing something that is part of our private life."

[The North Korean soldier responds,] "This is the territory of our republic, where people enjoy lives befitting human beings. On this soil none of that sort of activity will be tolerated."

— [short story] "Snowstorm in Pyongyang", 2000


The KCNA's article went on to state that gay marriage "can never be found in the DPRK boasting of the sound mentality and good morals, and homosexuality has become a target of public criticism even in Western countries, too. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay [sic] to sponsor dealing with others' human rights issue."


Logic. Moral philosophers, even those in the employ of the Catholic Church, rarely base their arguments on appeal to authority, because you can't convince non-believers to adhere to your code of ethics if the only backing for it is "God said so".

In a future time dominated by atheism, certain actions may still be morally required (or morally forbidden) because of similar logical argument. These logical constructions generally fall into two camps; deontology (an act is inherently good or evil based on its adherence to or divergence from a rule system) and moral relativism (an act is only good or evil relative to the context in which the action occurs, such as the consequences of the action or the scope of the observer). A third, moral nihilism (no act is good or evil for any reason) is not useful to us here.

Let's consider polygamy. From a deontological standpoint, specifically Kantism, polygamy is wrong because it creates a logical contradiction if the practice were made universal. My ethics professor introduced the Kantian model to us using a word I will not repeat as such, but the process is to "Formulate", "Universalize", then "Check" for "Kantradictions" (contradictions).

So, let's formulate the rule: "It is morally acceptable for a man to marry as many wives as he wishes as long as one woman is married to one man" (the traditional definition of polygamy; polyamory is more flexible with regard to the number of men and women in the relationship). Then, we universalize it; every man marries as many women as he wants. Now, we check for contradictions. Well, the human species is roughly 50-50 with regard to gender (it varies regionally due to a number of factors, and globally the average is just slightly male-heavy at 101 men for every 100 women), so if every man got as many women as he wanted, and a woman could only be joined to one man, some men wouldn't get any women. Those men may want multiple women, and should, by the rule, be allowed to, but for practical reasons, they can't because there aren't enough to go around. This maxim making polygamy morally acceptable, then, creates a logical contradiction - if some men get more than one woman, other men who want one or more wives can't have any - and polygamy therefore must be morally unacceptable, instead favoring the more equitable "one woman per man" monogamy rule.

From a relativistic standpoint, such as utilitarianism, polygamy may be acceptable, on a case by case basis. The taking of more than one woman as a wife by a man should not cause more total harm than it does good. There's an "ethical calculus" involved here; we must weigh, for each case of a man wishing to marry an additional wife beyond his first, how it will affect the man's existing wife or wives, how it will affect any current or future suitors, and how it will affect the platonic relationships between this family unit and the rest of society. This calculus is difficult in the general case, but based on knowns, we can predict that we would still run into the "too few women" problem; If a woman is taken as a second or third wife by a man, it reduces the chances of another man in the community finding any wife at all. This would be a considerable long-term negative for the practice that may lead to a similar conclusion from the relativists as the deontologists.

Most other "sexual deviances" that are immoral on religious grounds could be argued against on more practical or purely logical grounds as well. Homosexuality could be discouraged as increasing the potential for disease and as being unable to produce an offspring genetically related to both of the partners. Extramarital sex can be determined to be immoral because it also increases the spread of disease, and produces children whose parents are unwilling or incapable of caring for it, thus increasing the burden on society as a whole. Incest produces undesirable genetic mutation. Sexual abuse of children causes a host of mental and developmental issues.

Virtually all of these logical arguments have a counterargument; in your world, the simplest hand-wave is that society as a whole finds any counterargument unconvincing. This could be due to some revelation between the present day and the future that convinces society as a whole that cis-heteromonogamy is the only way to go. For instance, the AIDS epidemic set gay rights back at least 20 years, and effectively muted the general sexual liberation that came out of the Summer of Love. If a disease even worse than AIDS, maybe some sexually-transmitted ebola-like virus with AIDS' vaccine resistance, were to ravage our near-future society, you might find public support for anything more sexually liberal than serial monogamy vaporizes in short order, as promiscuous people are many times more likely to catch the disease.

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. Washing your hands started out as a religious tradition. People didn't even know about germs. Should we stop washing our hands just because we are "more enlightened?" It drives me crazy how people think a practice done for illogical reasons necessarily has no merit, when people have done them for centuries or millenia and those traditions have helped the societies which upheld those traditions to flourish. $\endgroup$
    – Morgan
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Morgan Bingo. Even if the reasoning might be invalid, traditions that last for centuries generally have some practical benefit for society: societies with the most effective/efficient practices tend to be more successful (longer-lasting, larger, more powerful, etc.). Traditions without some positive benefit tend to get weeded out over time as the societies supporting them die out. Evolutionary theory isn't just for biology: it may not be an ideal (or politically correct) representation, but many of the principles of natural selection are applicable to societies and cultures as well. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Commented Dec 26, 2020 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention pure instinctive behavior. Something like a species guarding their eggs is far from even a tradition, let alone a rational choice. Reason alone would see a species die out because they simply have no motivation. In fact they wouldn't even have the motivation to die to avoid suffering, because wanting to avoid suffering is based upon instinct and emotion. $\endgroup$
    – Morgan
    Commented Dec 26, 2020 at 4:05

They view sex as simply the means to an end - procreation.

That's by far the easiest way to hand-wave away same-sex marriages, and has the added benefit of dealing with the fetish side as well - sex is to make babies, not for pleasure.

How did they get this viewpoint? Maybe in the past they had a society that didn't really care about who had sex with who (you did say it was basically a future Earth), but that led to a population explosion and ultimately led to there being more people than were sustainable. So there was a population decline, and people started to not have sex without the goal of reproduction. Alternatively, maybe over time orgasms stopped being a thing, so the fun was lost.

Polygamy is a bit different, but can be sort of explained the same way. If sex is only for reproduction, there's no point in a woman having sex with multiple men. After all, she's only getting pregnant once at a time. That doesn't preclude a man from having sex with multiple women, but maybe they're better at the whole equality thing than we are - a rule that applies to women has to apply to men too, so nobody gets multiple sexual partners.

Another rather far-out option is that there's very little genetic diversity, so once you find someone who is, genetically speaking, different enough from you to be safe, you stick with them because it's rare. Basically Iceland on steroids.


Want a simple approach?

They take obligations very seriously. If they have sex, they are legally committed to financial obligations for any offspring that might eventually result, which includes extended education and finding them a decent first job, say. The work sex represents is considered an obligation to society as a whole or just to family, but people will consider a person who shirks it reprehensible. Supporting the pregnant and nursing mother is part of the deal.

If this is all there was to it, there would be no particular stigma for non-procreative activity, but that could follow the pattern people are arguing here and now: namely, that all such obligations should be the same, irrespective of gender.

Alternately, they could simply have come to believe that the differences twixt sexes actually matter, and the differences should be supported legally. "Science says this is better; We evolved this way, so it makes sense." You don't have to posit that to be true, mind, to posit a society that believes it.


Perhaps the society has had a massive overpopulation crisis, like that in Soylent Green. In this situation, people who are having children would be hated, since they would be worsening the problem. Consequently, the acts that result in people churning out babies would be considered distasteful.

Additionally, perhaps a massive STD outbreak crippled a huge chunk of society several generations previously, and left the rest of society paranoid.

Perhaps being promiscuous is a negative stereotype of one of this culture's enemies. For example, in some parts of the US, people look at India with disgust for their lack of family planning. It could be that depraved sex and childrearing has come to symbolize their enemy.


As Samuel said having conservative values about something and being religious have no direct connection. Technically there is a biological link between the two, or that is the current assumption AFAIK, with the same group of people being likely to both have conservative values and to be religious. But such people would be just as conservative about sexual values without any religion being available as they are with regular visits to the church. The rationale and slogans would differ, of course.

As for what the rationale would be, which I am guessing is what you want to know, there is an argument that deviant sexual practices are habit forming and potentially addictive with all the downsides that come with psychological addiction. I have no idea if it is actually true, but that isn't really important here.

Addictions erode self discipline and our ability to control our lives and actions. So if the society highly valued being responsible for your actions and acting responsible, they would naturally view anything even potentially addictive negatively. This would include not only drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, and gambling, but also things like excessive gaming and sexuality. Deviant or unusual sexuality has been considered as excessive or uncontrolled since ancient times. So such society would be sexually conservative.

  • $\begingroup$ “Technically there is a biological link between the two, or that is the current assumption AFAIK, with the same group of people being likely to both have conservative values and to be religious.” Do you just mean there’s a correlation? I’ve not heard of any suggestion that there’s a biological link of any kind. In any case be careful with that word technically — it very rarely contributes anything to a sentence. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine Right about the "technically" in general. Here it simply means that while such link is presumed, in practice it only creates a statistical correlation (Just as you said) between the two and isn't terribly significant. And yes, it specifically does mark a sentence you can safely ignore, just as in xkcd. As for the nature of the link it is roughly genes -> hormones -> personality -> correlation. So technically it exists, maybe.. I probably should have used "indirect" or something. Then again it is a "safe to ignore" marker and used properly for that purpose here. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 12:14

People who have no irrational beliefs in supernatural can still have strong feelings on what's "right"! Whether it's how many dots to use to indicate omitted text, whether this shirt goes with that belt, how to prepare an omelet, what counts as "music", the most rational-minded STEM-career people among us can still have strong feelings to the point of there being a "right" thing.

A global society or species that doesn't have our own pitfalls with superstition (an adaptive advantage of finding false-positive patterns) might have some other psychology instead. Maybe "reason" and Science flourished because they are good at following formal sets of rules. So maybe they don't have conspiracy theories, but they have inherent problems with change to procedures even though they are capable of figuring out the world around them quite well.

If traditions had a purpose (in the sense of a relative adaptive advantage to those tribes that adopted it) or just accidentally hit on something in their history, they might have a real psychological problem with changing it. Even if "modern" society has gotten past that with science providing higher-level rules in the form of the scientific method (you are still following that higher law when you change the way physics is understood or adopt a new improved industrial process), things that are not hard science will fall back to old ways of thinking without the escape hatch.


Why do humans consider anything immoral? That's a complex question that has been debated by philosophers for thousands of years.

Why do religious people, specifically, say that something is immoral? Well, because the Bible or whatever sacred book they believe in says so. But why does this book say so? Did God just make up some totally arbitrary rules for no apparent reason?

As a Christian, I'd say no. I'd say that God gave us these rules because he created us and therefore he knows what's best for us. I'm reminded of a lecture I heard once where the speaker talked about how he had just bought a new printer for his computer, and it came with this instruction book with all sorts of rules that they expected him to follow! You must plug the network cable into this hole and you must put the ink cartridges in with the arrow pointing up and so on. Well, he said, this is MY printer. What gives them the right to tell me what I can do with MY printer? They're just trying to take away my fun. Etc.

Even if you don't believe in God -- as I assume from the phrasing of your question you don't -- religious people for thousands of years have been presenting logical arguments why various moral rules are good for people. There's no reason why an atheist could not find those logical arguments convincing. Even if you find some particular argument unconvincing, another atheist might find it convincing.

As to specific rules, I could easily rattle off reasons why so-called "traditional sexual morality" is a good idea. YOU may or may not find any of these convincing, but there are people who do.

No polygamy: As KeithS discusses, if a man can have more than one wife, than given biological realities, this means that some men will get no wife, creating sexually frustrated men. Women have to share a husband, meaning some will be neglected. Similarly if a woman can have more than one husband.

No homosexuality: It spreads AIDS. Generally, the biological purpose of sex organs is for the male to combine with the female. Any other practice is mis-using these organs, and thus inherently unproductive and dangerous. Like trying to walk on your hands: it may be appropriate in some odd cases (like if your legs are injured), but it's foolish to do it if you don't have to.

No BDSM: This is disrespectful and demeaning to the subject. Society should treat all people with dignity. It encourages thinking of others as toys for our amusement rather than as human beings worthy of respect.

No pornography: Society should encourage people to have real relationships with real human beings rather than sterile fantasies.

Etc. Let me repeat that my point here isn't to say that these arguments are irrefutable, and if we get off into a debate in the comments about their validity I'm sure the moderators will rush in to delete it. My point is simply to say that there are arguments for rules of sexual morality that are not inherently "religious", but are based on logic, human nature, biology, and so on.

  • $\begingroup$ You really just see women as chattel which should be assigned to men - no individual agency allowed for them, and all men should be given a woman. Your grossly ignorant concept linking homosexuality and AIDS is abhorrent, likewise your apparent rejection of the concept that sex could be enjoyed or had for reasons other than procreation. And of course your assumption that BDSM is degrading is likewise unfounded ignorance. The question is why atheists might object to these things, not why an extremely bigoted fundamentalist christian society would. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi "women as chattel" Umm, no. I said that men are unhappy if they can't find wives. Men are unhappy if they can't get jobs. That doesn't make an employer a chattel to the employee. I also pointed out that women tend to not like polygamy because they then do not get the full attention of a husband. "grossly ignorant linking homosexuality and AIDS" I think this is pretty much established medical fact. Are you really going to argue that AIDS is NOT spread by homosexual contact? "BDSM is degrading" Actually I don't think it is. I was just giving examples of non-religious arguments. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ rather than making their own choices, you are suggesting that women should be rationed for the benefit of men - that is hardly treating them like human beings. Do you propose banning homosexuality for the same reason? Women are not fundamentally opposed to polyamory by nature of their gender. As far as AIDS goes, it is not a homosexual specific disease - I'm saddened that in the modern age there are still people pushing that blatantly homophobic misinformation. it infects everyone, no matter their orientation, and is transmitted through heterosexual sex too. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2014 63% of new AIDS cases were homosexual males, 8% were IV drug users, and 3% were both homosexuals and IV drug users. 25% acquired AIDS through heterosexual contact. cdc.gov/hiv/basics/statistics.html The majority of the heterosexual cases are women who have sex with bisexual males. ... $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ ... As homosexuals are less than 3% of the population ( washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/07/15/…), the risk factor for homosexuals is over 20 times that for heterosexuals. If you want to argue that the CDC is lying or mistaken, please show me the contrary evidence. Otherwise, this sounds like another battle in the War on Science. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 18:36

Societal pressures shape society. Religion is only one such pressure.

Most people who call themselves Christian don't practice Levirate marriage even though their holy book has this as one of its laws. Christianity preaches that the poor, the downtrodden, the socially outcast, they are just as important as everyone else - and Christian society for a very long time found ways to use Christianity to justify oppressing these people anyway.

If you actually look at ALL the passages in any religious text, you will find that most followers don't 100% agree with all of it. They don't 100% follow all of the precepts either. Which precepts tend to be followed is heavily influenced by other outside cultural pressures.

In other words, large parts of the world don't exile people for homosexuality anymore. Both because they don't exile people anymore, and because they don't think homosexuality is wrong at all. And even most places that still think homosexuality IS wrong don't execute people for it either.

Not even the most ultra-orthodox Jewish synagogues actually execute people for working on the Sabbath anymore.

So why are these attitudes pervasive in our world

So, if society tends to be pious only to the extent it feels like it's getting something useful out of the arrangement, and tends to find reasons to avoid doing the stuff it would rather not ... Where did these attitudes actually come from?

Social pressures. Monogamy brings big benefits. It stems the spread of STI's. It smooths over one of the big causes of interpersonal conflict. It makes questionable paternity easy to resolve: an "illegitimate" child is simply disinherited, so if the Queen's child isn't also the King's (or there's even a reasonable chance it might not be), the one who claims to be the real father can't start a war of succession. It keeps birth rates high; women simply aren't allowed to do most other things, so of course they're going to start families.

If you dig hard enough, it's not hard to find examples of people falling back on arguments like these when they're losing the one about morality to people who say 'mind your own business'. Like the platform of the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League (1908-1918) - their arguments, recited in "Aims", talk almost exclusively about practical considerations.


Atheism Which Leans That Way To Begin With

NOTE: The following is based strictly off an athiestic viewpoint that might answer the question. I'm not trying to start/cause some meta argument about atheism, and I'm not saying atheism MUST somehow lead to this. Nor are my comments about homosexuals/polygamists/cis people/etc to be taken as anything but "in universe" opinion

Your society (per your question) either flat-out doesn't believe in god, or are resolute in their desire to Do Their Own Thing Regardless. But there still needs to be a PURPOSE in life. What is that purpose?

Well, without god/higher powers/afterlife you really only have science to look at for meaning. Looking at a human, we're really just a clump of cells trying to pass our DNA on to the next generation. Great. An atheistic society can work with that. Make Society Better For Your Offspring is a pretty standard overarching goal of society after all!

So your society has taken that "procreate and be successful for your offspring's sake" logic to it's maximum. Can't have polygamous relationships. Not enough men/women to go around, and you need both parents to raise kids, it's why humans are monogamous We evolved that way after all! Anyone NOT interested in a polygamous relationship (homosexual/asexual/what have you) obviously has some problem with their genetics/mental faculties, because it's a base desire of all right-thinking beings to pass on their genes. Likewise most of the "kinks" are products of people with psycological/genetic problems, because obviously wanting to cause/suffer pain or have sex with a person pretending to be an animal or cause/experience psychological torment of any kind (even something as "mild" as "that hooker taking her sweet time undressing") isn't something a right-functioning human would ever want to experience.

Now there are Obvious and Glaring problems with the above, but if ALL your basing your moral code on is "how to make sure as many people as possible achieve the goal of passing there genes successfully as possible to the next generation" your society gets warped real quick. As pointed out in the comments this is actually a MUCH more common problem in avowed atheist societies than free or religious ones. In the sense that literally every avowed atheist society (USSR, Communist China, et al) has had rather severe restrictions on non-traditional-family lifestyles. ( see [THIS] link on the subject in the USSR.1 Meanwhile your religious-based nations and your "free practice of religion" nations are very much a mixed bag. Granted we've had a much smaller sample set of atheistic societies, but at the least it shows your concept is more likely to be the rule rather than the exception.


Perhaps consider Teleology in the sexual realm? Teleology is the study of purposes of things. What is the end or purpose of sex? If you look at what bodies are designed for and follow that you'd come up with a fairly conservative outlook on sexual norms.

For instance, all the biological systems (respiratory, digestive, neurological, circulatory) are complete within a single human body EXCEPT the sexual reproductive system. That is incomplete and requires another body- but not just any other body; but a complimentary body. Therefore, you can argue that from a purpose driven standpoint, sex is designed to between a man and a woman.

Also, what is the purpose of that system? The fullest result of the completion of the system is a baby; hence you could argue that the only correct, non-deviant sexual act is that which has the possibility of children. (That doesn't mean that every act must have that as its goal, but rather you have to have the two pieces of the reproductive system complimenting and completing one another.

While one could argue that sex can be used for other things (pleasure, bonding), even those other aims are actually parts of the reproductive system that are geared towards having children: The pleasure to entice us to engage in something that could require great sacrifice; and the bonding to mold two people into a formidable team that can raise the young.

Here you could suggest monogamy as the norm by the bonding and raising of children.

Since science has yet to find any other genders; and we know that those who watch porn actually alter their brains (neuroplasticity) so that they come to want, and desire, to act out what they watch; you could use those ideas to argue that they are part of the source of deviancy.

This would be possible to get to by looking at the natural law and the natural world. Instances in nature that suggest other deviant acts as ok may actually just be instances of perversity or depravity in nature. the 'appeal to nature' is actually a fallacy in philosophy; but you can look at the order that nature has set up.

Note* You may have to enshrine this idea of not going against the design and nature of something into your culture as atheism may have a tendency to believe there is no good or bad and thus there is a temptation to tinker.. You'll have to find a way to get around that.

  • $\begingroup$ There is an idea that goes all the way back to aristotle that you actually come to desire what you think about; and the more you think about it and do it, the more GOOD it appears. neuroplasticity actually backs this up. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Teleology, as the term is currently used, is ultimately a religious argument; the arguments generally come to the conclusion that the reason for the design of things has more than random chance and survivor bias behind it. Whatever additional force exists to influence the design of the universe must, by most definitions, be God. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ I see your point; but whether God made the design or not, one can see a pattern, a "what its for"ness in things, and in sex in particular. I don't see a reason why it is impossible or unreasonable to have an Atheist worldview that accepts this idea. Nature designed something, whether by blind chance or intelligence, and it makes sense to go with the flow and not against the grain. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ As a note, I was previously unaware that Teleology was considered by definition to be religious in nature; I was under the impression it was purely in the philosophical realm. I still think you could hold to the pattern of thought described in my answer without coming to the conclusion that God must exist. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ This is quite a giant leap for anyone who is not a creationist arguing that the nuclear family is proclaimed by god. There is much more to sexual activity than procreation, and nothing about procreation which requires monogamy, and even then nothing in monogamy which precludes enjoying sex. You are presuming a strong anti-sex creationist view is unquestionably true, and then reasoning from there. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 20:06

Similar to those mentioned above, have diseases be a reason for sexual conservatism to take root even without belief in God. The coronavirus can be found in sexual fluids like semen, so the disease from our current pandemic can be spread by intercourse. This conservative attitude could come if you have multiple diseases with a similar level of lethality as COVID-19 that can spread through sexual contact (and even basic physical contact). Basically, having illnesses that can spread from sex and even basic physical contact that regularly evolve to be lethal to the point that not practicing safe sex and doing sexual contact as much as possible could lead to a lot of death/hospitalization.


Open mindedness and religion are not necessarily antagonists. It may seem so because many vocal religious people antagonize LGBT people and vice-versa. This is something that comes and goes in human history, in different places and times. Sadly it has been too common (and too bloody) for millennia, but consider that some religions other than Christianity often embrace transexuality or same-sex relationships. Also consider that LGBT people have been victims of atheists sometimes, depending on their ideals - in Cuba under Castro, LGBT were sent to correctional labor camps!

People who have hatred in their hearts will hate no matter what. Religion is a common way for them to rationalize their hatred now, but take that away and they will find another excuse why they must hate whomever it is that they hate.

I hope that the world one day will do as Ozzy suggests in Crazy Train: "maybe it's not too late / to learn how to love / and forget how to hate". As for your fictional world, the TL;DR explanation is haters gonna hate.


Atheism runs into some basic problems:

  1. Are humans qualitatively different than other creatures? Why? Against what ultimate, unappealable, unchallengeable absolute do you justify this? Whether you realize it or not, that absolute is part of your religion.

If humans are not qualitatively different than other creatures, then whatever occurs among other animals should be considered any different if done by homo sapiens, including killing.

  1. What is morality? How do you determine whether anything has non-zero morality? Again, against what absolute do you justify how you make such a determination? And again, therein one finds your religion.

KeithS proposes deontology -- but who has the authority to set up a "rule system" that binds anyone else involuntarily? And then "relativism" -- but relative to what absolute? Why is whatever it is relative to worthy of consideration in and of itself?

Whether you like it or not. you have two choices: the moral absolute exists or it doesn't. Science cannot provide a moral absolute; its moral dimension is 0. Thus atheism is in the quandary not only that morality does not exist, but that it cannot exist. You may like or not like something, but that does not make it "right" or "wrong" or "good" or "evil."

When people think they outgrow God, they become god.

Even apart from all that, we can consider the following:

Marriage would still be male + female for the most basic of reasons: the pattern of the biological unit of sexual reproduction. (Even Albania in its officially atheist time under Hoxha still had this limit.) Not that every union must result in reproduction, but that is the pattern. Apart from that pattern, there is no reason to limit marriage to any number. If marriage can be any number, then what does it really mean? This is an issue that, in twenty years of asking this question, not one defender of same-sex marriage has even answered.

Multiple sexual partners: I could give a long list of the benefits to society if sex were within marriage only, including reducing STDs dramatically, reducing poverty (single parenthood has a much higher correlation to poverty than race), and raising better-behaved kids.


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