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.
This 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.