Atheists think that atheism is morally better than Christianity. Is it?
It is easy for atheists to attack the morality of Christianity, which claims that:
- We are ruled by an all-powerful dictator who convicts us of thoughtcrime and will torture us if we do not bow before him – like an everlasting Jafar with unlimited wishes.
- God commits or commands ethnic genocide, mass rape, child sacrifice, and baby-killing.
- Women are inferior, gays are evil, critical thinkers are in danger of hellfire, etc.
So, it’s not hard for atheists to think they are morally better than Christians. But are they?
It’s hard to say. There is no such thing as “atheist morality.” Atheists can embrace a variety of moral views. It’s just that none of them will mention gods.
But maybe atheists can point to one moral system that doesn’t include gods and is “better” than Christian morality. In that case, how would they know their system is “better?”
Alonzo Fyfe points out that atheists and Christians come to their moral decisions in exactly the same way:
Moral reasoning is done, then, in about the same way that Luke Skywalker uses the force to read the future. You first clear your mind of all distractions, close your eyes, and concentrate on the act in question. Then, The Force will deliver the answer to you, as to whether the act is right or wrong. If it says ‘wrong’ this doesn’t mean that you don’t like it. This means that it has an intrinsic ought-not-to-be-doneness that applies to all beings.
It is all a bunch of hocus pocus, simple tricks, and nonsense, if you ask me.
Of course, we all point to “evidence” and “reasons” for our moral ideas. Christians point to mystical notions of “divine law,” statistics, and biology. Atheists point to mystical notions of “intrinsic human rights,” statistics, and biology.
But almost nobody bothers to ask whether their notions about morality are grounded1 in anything that actually exists in our universe. We just know what feels right based on our knowledge and biases and experience, and then proclaim that as a universal moral law for everybody. (Unless you’re a relativist, in which case you do not claim to be morally superior to Christianity.) Atheist moral reasoning is primitive, mystical hocus pocus, just like Christian moral reasoning.
The arguments I hear in defense of pro-choice, liberal, or libertarian positions are just as irrational as the ones I hear in defense of a pro-life agenda or prejudice against gays.
The fact is that very few atheists can coherently explain why their morality is better than Christian morality, instead of just different.
Christians and (some) atheists may come to their beliefs in very different ways, and atheists may be more in touch with reality in this area. But Christians and atheists come to their morals in the same way (the Luke Skywalker way). Neither are in touch with reality, here.
Atheists need to take morality seriously. They are using the same moral process as those who defended slavery, racism, sexism, tribal war, and the divine right of kings. We must do better than that. We must not simply attack bigoted religious morality. We need to offer a better alternative. An alternative that, like our beliefs, is grounded in reality, not moral feelings.
Desire utilitarianism is one promising alternative, but it is mostly untested. We need to work together on this, and move beyond Luke Skywalker moral thinking.
- What I’m saying here is that atheist activists do not seem to have studied moral ontology and epistemology like they have studied natural and metaphysical ontology and epistemology. [↩]