Atheist Morality

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.

What about the parts of the Bible that are immoral? We know slavery is wrong. But how do we know that? The Bible never comes out and says that slavery is bad. In fact, part of Leviticus 45 is dedicated to teaching you how to buy and sell slaves. We know slavery is wrong based on our non-Biblical sense of good and evil. Now where do we get that? Is it from culture, our upbringing, maybe some biological hard wiring? I have no idea, but I know where it doesn’t come from: an old ass book.

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.

 So why are atheists moral? We don’t have a book or a cleric telling us what to do. We don’t need to worry about eternal punishment, so we’re not being blackmailed into being nice. My guess: like pretty much every group, we’re mostly good people who care about the well-being of other people. It’s that simple.
For a much more learned point of view on this topic, I highly recommend Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism by Richard Carrier. One of the best books on atheism in general I would ever recommend.
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You should read the shit out of this book.
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~ by kriskodisko on August 7, 2013.

15 Responses to “Atheist Morality”

  1. As a person who has given my life to Jesus completely, I actually agree with this post. Especially the bit about only believing and being good to avoid punishment. Those types of Christians bug the crap out of me, lol.

    • That used to be a gigantic part of why I was a Christian, but maybe that’s because my religious upbringing focused very much on the afterlife.

  2. Whatever anyone thinks God is, they’re wrong. Whatever anyone thinks good is, let them live it, so long as it hurts no one else.

    • If religion never ever harmed anybody, it would be a topic of interesting debate, on par with discussing the origins of the Civil War. As it is, I think religion is easily manipulated to make decent people do very indecent things.

  3. “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only through fear of the law.”

  4. The little comics made me laugh! 🙂

    That said, christ. I hate that people tie morality to religious believes or lack thereof. People are good or bad despite their beliefs, not because of them. I don’t understand why that is such a hard concept for everyone to understand.

  5. I’ve found that morality is based on a person’s upbringing like education and exposure to diversity. I knew a guy who was kind of an asshole when he was Catholic and then an even bigger asshole when he became Atheist. I got disgusted with my volunteer group at the church because of their craziness and love my non-religious affiliated volunteer group made up of plenty of non-theists.

    • Well said. I think that one’s actual religion matters less than the type of people found in their church, mostly regardless of how fire and brimstone the sermons might have been

  6. Reblogged this on live free or die trying and commented:
    Finally, exactly how I feel.

  7. It is pathetic to need a book of words to inform you of the difference between right and wrong. I can’t imagine desiring to have a greater force to do your thinking for you.

    • Yeah, you kinda need your parents for a bit, but once you hit your late teens you should ween off needing something like that.

      • Precisely. I can understand spirituality and why people feel they need it. I do not understand needing someone to tell you what to do or right from wrong or anything else religion does.

  8. I wonder how we evolved as a civilization, let along a race (meaning humans) without god and his book telling those prehistoric and ancient people what was moral? It appears that Neanderthals cared for their infirm and elderly and buried them with grave goods—before the god of Abraham entered the picture. It’s love and all other normal human emotions that have always made us do what we do.
    We only have to look at human history to know that we don’t need supernatural forces to keep us from doing the worst.

    • True, but every civilization we know much about has gods of some kind. However, most of these gods concerned themselves with ruling nature and being appeased by humans, not so much with doling out rules on how people should treat other people.

  9. Since when has any God been the basis of human morality? What total bullshit!!
    Morality is a human condition and has been so long before any “gods” were conceived of.

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