Recently one of my top bugaboos was presented in a “debate” in a comment section on Facebook (where so much intelligent discourse goes), when someone flat out said that since I don’t believe in god, there is no reason why I should have any reason to be good. So I set down the baby I was eating and decided to respond with a full post about the stupidity of the argument that atheists have no morality.
Right off the bat, I should point out that this is based on things like philosophy, which I know almost nothing about. But this is the internet, and it’s not like any of us let not knowing anything on a subject stop us from pretending to be experts, right? I’m also going to skip arguments based on evolution and whatnot, so expect a lot of big words in inappropriate places while I try to cover up the gaping holes in my knowledge here.
First, I’m curious what the implied difference between religious and non-religious morality is to people like Ken who think this of atheists. Is the problem that atheists don’t have a book written by bronze age goat herders to tell us what not to do? It’s true, we don’t have rules set in stone (but that also means our rules weren’t thrown down when Moses had a hissy fit). And yes, that makes it more difficult to figure out the world. Guess what? Life’s tough, get a helmet. Just because we aren’t spoon-fed our morality doesn’t mean we don’t have any. It means that we have to think for ourselves and make tough decisions. You know those ethical issues the Bible doesn’t talk about? You know, ethical issues that are unique to the world since the Bible was written 1900 years ago? The issues you have to make a judgment call on? Tricky things like abortion and gene therapy and euthanasia and legalizing drugs and affirmative action and Team Edward or Team Jacob? That’s every decision to us.
Even if we had a book, it’s not like that makes one automatically moral or ethical. Just look at Fred Phelps, picketing military funerals. Or Ted Haggard, who cheated on his wife with a gay prostitute for years, all while fueling his meth habit. Or Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind, who is now in prison for using his Bible theme park as a tax shelter.
And it’s not like any two people agree on one interpretation of these holy books. Even something as straightforward as “thou shalt not kill” is hotly debated between biblical scholars, different denominations, and anybody who has an opinion.
So it’s not the Bible itself. Are you afraid of people who are acting without a giant father figure watching over us? I’ve had Christians bring up this argument with me, and I ask them “So if you didn’t believe in god, you’d be going around raping and killing?” What’s really scary is when they answer “yes.” That’s when it’s time for me to get out of the room before he tries to make a lamp shade out of my testicles. What’s scarier than someone who has nobody watching over their decisions? Someone who NEEDS that to be a good person. If the only reason you stay in line is because you’re afraid of retribution and punishment, you’re not actually a good person, you’re a frightened person.
By every objective measure, atheists as a whole are just as moral, and in some cases more so, than the religious. Our divorce rates are lower (or exactly the same, depending on the poll), we have a much smaller proportion of our population in prison, and we have substantially lower rates of domestic violence and child abuse. Do I think these things are BECAUSE we’re atheists? Not really, no. But these facts do show that atheists are moral people.