|Theists think that atheism is all about partying on.|
Before leaving my home early this morning for work, I met my wife at the front door and remarked how beautiful our two daughters were. The two girls, 8 and 5 years old, were sitting together on the sofa watching TV. A few minutes earlier, I had come upon my three-year-old son playing nicely by himself. He invited me to join him, but unfortunately I had to decline (although I would have liked to play for a few minutes).
This house of mine is full of love...and goodness.
And so I get annoyed when self-proclaimed arbiters of morality deign to point out the moral difference between theists and atheists:
It’s not so much that atheists are immoral, but that immoral people are often atheists. That is, the guy who kicks cats anyway, and fears divine retribution, may resolve his problem by deciding that there is no God and therefore no divine retribution.Assertion 1: Immoral people are often atheists.
Then he goes back to kicking cats in peace. Other atheists don’t like him but what can they do?
Response: The writer refers to no specific immoral people here, but do we need to go any farther than the definitely-theist Anders Breivik to wonder whether we have any real data to suggest that immoral people--however defined--are more likely to be atheist than theist? Would knowing whether prison inmates are by and large theist or atheist be useful in addressing the question? It bears mentioning that to a theist of the Abrahamic sort, sin and immorality were not brought into the world by atheists. Theists may therefore wish to exercise a bit more humility and shame.
Hypothetical 1: That is, the guy who kicks cats anyway, and fears divine retribution, may resolve his problem by deciding that there is no God and therefore no divine retribution.
Response: The logic is awry. If the guy kicks cats "anyway," he would seem not to care about "deciding that there is no God." Besides, wouldn't such a person prefer to decide that God exists to allow for confession of sins, acting sincerely contrite, and then going back to the cat-kicking? The writer also seems to think that people "decide" that God doesn't exist in order to overcome fear of divine retribution. This reasoning seems akin to deciding that one's mother and father don't exist in order to overcome fear of disappointing them: mom and dad either exist or they don't, regardless of one's decision. God's existence, on the other hand, is not only unsupported but possibly unsupportable.
Rhetorical flourish 1: Then he goes back to kicking cats in peace. Other atheists don’t like him but what can they do?
Response: What can they do? They can call the police. They can alert PETA and the SPCA. They can confront him in person or write him a nasty letter. They can mobilize to keep neighborhood cats away from the person. Seems to me atheists have plenty of useful options. The writer displays a profound lack of imagination.
* * * * *
The writer above obviously means to argue that atheism does not stipulate a principle from which one could condemn the actions of a cat-kicker. This argument is correct and completely banal. People construct their principles from several sources: parents, teachers, friends, books, political philosophy, and so on. Being an atheist does not at all prevent one from condemning the cat-kicker.
Equally important is the realization that being a theist does not at all permit one to condemn the cat-kicker. The theist's source of morality is exactly the same as the atheist's: parents, teachers, friends, books, political philosophy, and so on.
What's more, in the real world, where moral choices are expressed in and through activity, cultural institutions are designed to guide ethical behavior. We have laws. We have penal codes. We have informal enforcement: as a kid, did you ever have someone's mother scowl at you for acting too wild? In the real world, immoral behavior can have any number of retributive consequences.
Ans that's why I started this with the lovely picture of my family. I don't fear divine retribution, but I do wish for my family to view me favorably. I do want to be seen as good and fair in their eyes. I do want them to be kind, courteous, brave, and humble.
Those who think atheists are immoral or that immoral people are atheists completely ignore that atheists have actual families and loved ones. They forget that atheists live and work in the real world, subject to the same basic rules of conduct.