As I have said in a previous post, we get a lot of comments about how we can’t be moral because we are atheists. So let’s discuss what makes a person moral.
To be clear, neither Withteeth or I would say that we are moral because we are atheists. We are moral for other reasons. To be moral requires more than a set of beliefs: it requires actions as well. Withteeth and I have thought deeply about our moral convictions, and we have gone out of our way to act on those convictions. Anyone who wishes to argue that we are not moral is either willfully ignoring what we have done that makes us moral, or they are under the impression that to be moral you merely have to hold a particular set of beliefs. I believe that most of those who comment on our blog are of the second set. For that reason, I’m going to talk about why being a Christian (since those comments have so far come exclusively from Christians) doesn’t make you moral.
Do you go to church every week, or several times a week? Are you in a Bible study? Do you pray to God? Do you evangelize the word or God? Do you go to all of your churches events? Do you volunteer at your church? Basically, are you the quintessential “good Christian”? That’s wonderful if that’s what you enjoy, but that doesn’t make you a good person. Why? Because being a Christian doesn’t mean being moral. To be a Christian all you have to do is accept certain beliefs. There may be some required actions (ie. baptism) to go along with those beliefs, but the requirements are very basic and do not require morality in order to accept them. You do not need to help the poor in order to accept Jesus Christ as your saviour. You do not need to be kind to others to accept the Bible as true (literally or metaphorically). And you do not need to donate to charity to go through all of the programs and ceremonies offered by your church. There are Christians who are moral, but there are also some who aren’t. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be moral if you’re a Christian, but it does mean that you can be a Christian and be immoral.
Likewise, you do not have to be a Christian to be moral. Many of the comments we get are along the lines of “you don’t think morality is objective, so…” or “you need to believe in God to…” when they say we aren’t moral. It is commonly accepted by these commenters that morality is objective. So lets pretend that it is. If morality is objective, does my belief that it is subjective make any difference at all? It shouldn’t. If morality is objective, then it should be built into the foundation of our existence. It would be expected that we would all share the same moral belief systems. There wouldn’t be different moral systems across different cultures. It would also be expected that living creatures in general would treat each better overall. It wouldn’t matter what I believed about morality, because how I treated people would not change. I’d have this objective morality too deeply ingrained into me to act differently. And freewill wouldn’t change anything because this morality would be a part of my very foundation. I wouldn’t have any freedom to do otherwise. The fact that you believe God gave us the freedom to choose wouldn’t change anything either. If we can choose to be immoral, then morality cannot be ingrained into us, so it cannot be objective. If you believe that I can choose to be moral, then you do not believe that morality is objective.
However, if morality is subjective, then you’d see different cultures with different moral systems. You’d see people within a particular culture disagreeing with certain parts of their cultures moral system. And you’d see people acting immorally. If morality is subjective, then you can have a god who lets us decide whether or not to be moral. And you can have followers of that god disagreeing with one another about what it means to be moral. But this also means that, regardless of whether or not this god exists, you can have people who do not agree with this god behaving morally. This is because we can think about what is moral. We can debate the moral implications of a given action. And we can adjust our moral codes to better fit our reality.
Either way, atheists can be moral and it is not your Christianity that makes you moral.
For further reading on what objective and subjective morality are and what they mean, here are some links: