Morality for Atheists

There is a longstanding debate about how atheists are moral.  It shouldn’t be an argument about whether or not atheists are moral, because of course, many atheists follow moral principles to which they are committed.  But there is a standing debate as to why.  As an atheist, you weren’t created for a purpose and you won’t be evaluated in the end.

12657829_963585900401513_4734572524383960592_oThis week, it was revealed that “celebrity atheist” Lawrence Krauss has been accused of sexual misconduct by students.  Krauss was a physics professor who has just resigned.  Of course we can point to any number of clergy and Christian leaders who have done the same if not that which is more shocking.

The issue though is not a matter of whether or not anyone can offend.  The question is whether or not anyone can offend consistently with their own worldview.  A Christian, by definition, is bound to the teachings of Christ, who condemns the exploitation of the vulnerable.  An atheist, conversely, commits herself to a worldview and ethic by choice rather than necessity.  The values to which she commits herself are self-selected and do not answer to an ultimate purpose or judgement.  So an atheist can consistently say that life has no value, whereas a Christian cannot.  An atheist can consistently say that one can establish relations of power with one’s peers in such a way that one’s peers are marginalized, whereas a Christian cannot.

Christians who violate the moral norms of Jesus’ teachings are failures.  The question is whether or not atheists who violate mainstream moral norms are actually failing at anything at all.

3 thoughts on “Morality for Atheists

  1. Let’s call it human nature.

    Despite their best intentions, Christian, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics…etc are all subject to human nature. Some people lie, steal, have times of crisis in their life. Some people do stupid things because they think they can get away with it.

    Morality is subjective. Some Christians may believe that pre-marital sex (or sex without marriage) is a sin but that doesn’t stop many Christians from doing so. On the other hand, there are no laws that state that pre-marital sex is against the law so there is nothing to prevent an atheist from it… unless of course they make that decision themselves.

    Ethics vary from religion to religion and region to region. Morality and laws have evolved over time. You may think the religious are more righteous, and maybe in some cases that is true.

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

    Us atheists are fine, worry about your own please 🙂

    1. Thanks, David. I certainly agree that brokenness is part of human nature. My observation is that Christians have a binding obligation to subdue that nature, which is not subjective. Jesus’ teachings are external to us, and thus objective, and they have not evolved, because they were captured in print almost 2000 years ago.

      An atheist’s moral principles, I would agree, are entirely subjective and can evolve. They are therefore less reliable.

      The reason this is something I can and should comment on as a Christian is that it is an objective matter. It’s ultimately the question “What is real?” not “What do I prefer?” that I am addressing.

      Thanks for the conversation.

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