Equating atheism with morality

By Butch

It seems many theists are certain that because they claim their own morality comes from their faith alone, then those without faith must inevitably be immoral. The facts, however, show faith is not required for humans to lead moral lives, and sometimes hinder it entirely.

If you examine Americans for the "fruit" of their morality, what you see is striking. As an example, Christians make up about 75 percent of the overall U.S. population and, as expected, about 75 percent of the prison population. Atheists make up between 5 - 12 percent of the population, but only 0.2 percent of the prison population.

If the measure of morality is based on so-called "traditional family values," the facts are equally damning to those trying to promulgate the falsehood that atheism necessarily equals immorality. For instance, 25 percent of Americans have been divorced, but for "born again Christians" it is 27 percent, making it higher than the overall U.S. population. Atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all groups at 21 percent.

The answer to the question, "Where do atheists get their moral code?" is the same place believers get their own: From our own innate consciences. We increase our own fitness, and thereby our offspring's, by creating stable relationships and civil societies. These things are a product of empathy, not faith. How else can one explain the commonality of moral values across almost all societies regardless of religion?

If atheism led to a less moral lifestyle, then surely there would be some evidence of it in our country with some 30 million atheists. Or perhaps in the least religious nations in the world, which happen to have the lowest crime rates and happiest citizens.

One of the verses in the Bible that holds real wisdom is Mathew 7:16. If you examine the fruits of atheists' lives you find them to be exemplary. It is a sad indictment of the person who claims the only reason to lead a moral life is belief in God.

How much more courageous is the atheist who does so without the bribe of heaven or threat of hell? Because we don't spend our too brief lives in preparation for eternal reward, because we don't get a second chance or an appeal to an almighty arbiter, we must strive to do everything we can while we are here to make the world a better place today. In other words, to live as generously moral a life as we can.

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Audie said...

You know, its funny- I'm an athiest, but have never had the slightest urge to sexually molest a child. In truth, the thought sickens me. But priest and ministers seem to have no problem with it, as we see regulary here on X-C.net. So much for the idea that morality comes from faith.

No, the real miracle is that there are actually Xians out there who really are moral, despite thier beliefs.

Christopher Hitchen's, in his book "God is not great", deals with this issue thoroughly. I'm reading it now and highly recommend it.

Ty said...

That's not a fair criticism at all audie. Plenty of teachers and parents (not religious positions) also use their positions to molest children. It has more to do with positions of opportunity (or seeking positions for that opportunity) rather than anything to do with faith.

Many christian beliefs are moral, it's just that the reason they make moral choices is immoral, it's not due to liking it or its outcomes, but out of self-interest for ideal afterlives.

I'm pretty sure atheists have molested children too.

As for 'the slightest urge', I've had that, and I'm an atheist. Of course what I felt like doing I wouldn't call 'molesting' since I hate the idea of abusing positions of authority or manipulation, but still, a lot of sexuality isn't bad you know.

TheJaytheist said...

I think many fundie xtains tend to get their morality from two sources. Their own heads and what the bible says. Sometimes these two can be at odds. For instance, anyone of right mind can know innately that it is wrong to commit murder. Xtian, atheist, they all know it's wrong. But, for the xtian it comes to odds with homosexuality, where the bible god commands homosexuals to be put to death. What is a xtian to do? Usually they do some scriptural cherry picking to get around their own "moral guide". It calls into question their faith and their morals.

And tyciol. Ewww!

TheCapetonian said...


I liked your post. There is un-truth out there that suggests that a life without faith has to be an immoral life. This gets preached from the pulpits and semi-religious people. They spew out the garbage at a constant rate and, to the unsuspecting observer these statements then become a truth that they in turn propagate. Articles such as yours help to clarify matters. Let's get more of these to the general public.

The Capetonian

Audie said...

Tyciol, The point that I was trying to make is not that athiests do not do bad things. We are all human and fuck up from time to time. The point that I was trying to make is that xians can not and do not hold the exclusive rights to morality, especally in that immoral book that they put so much faith in. Thats all. And I was using the whole molestation issue as an example, since in my book that is just below murder on a scale of severity.

But, if you have, or have had, urges to molest children, then for Thor's sake, get some fucking help right away!!!

Spirula said...

The other component to the "fear the immoral atheists" has to do with the government and church propaganda revolving around the cold war.

This was the time that "under god" was inserted into the pledge of allegiance to draw a distinction between the democratic, capitalistic US and the totalitarian communitists (esp. USSR/China/N. Korea and Cuba), whose leaders oppressed religions, which were, along with other organizations, viewed as a threat to their authoritarian system.

Here in the US, this atheist=communitist=not-to-be-trusted fear mongering went on in both the government and churches (I distinctly remember some of the sermons and class lectures-Christian school).

Atheist to this day, still have to deal with this bigotry and ignorance, and the atheist=immoral schtick is just another ignorant, illogical and bigoted argument that continues to be thrown around.

Oddly, most Christians seem to be unaware that there was a Christian Communist movement, and that Christ's teachings are closer to communism than to capitalism.


Spirula said...

Oh, and here's a nice summary of how we got the "under god", "in god we trust", and the anti-communism, anti-atheism connection.


Anonymous said...

That's a good post, Butch. Morality is one of the main arguing points that Christians use against atheists, but to me, their argument makes them look extremely immoral. It's like they're saying that if it weren't for their belief in god, they'd act immoral. They're saying they're bad people but god keeps them in check. I think that's hardly a thing to be proud of!

I think so many Christians mess up routinely where morality is concerned because too much is expected of them. They're still human beings and human beings absolutely hate being told what to do. So, to tell a person that he has to help people, has to tell the truth, has to only have sex with his spouse, etc. causes some pretty bad resentment. Once resentment builds up long enough, the person just reacts to it, usually in the most inappropriate fashion possible.

Atheists don't have that problem. We can choose whether or not we want to do the "moral" thing. Usually, the choice we make is based on whether or not it is beneficial for us. The thing about living in a society, though, is that what is beneficial for one person is usually beneficial for someone else, too, so naturally, the person is compelled to make the "right" choice.

The best example I can give is one from my childhood. My family lived in a neighborhood full of rigid fundamentalists. All the other children had to share their toys. My brother and I didn't. Our parents bought them solely for our benefit and if we didn't want to share them, we didn't have to. The other children often got punished by their parents for refusing to share their toys, but for my brother and me, it was never an issue. We found out early on that if we shared with someone else, that person was more likely to share with us later on. So we always shared. As we grew older, we found we liked the feeling that we got when we shared our belongings with someone else, regardless of whether or not they had anything to give us in return. To this day, my brother and I would give our last two dollars to help a person in need, in exchange for a smile and a "thank you." Both of us are atheists.

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with Christians who claim that there can't be morality without their god. Are they intellectually incapable of deciding for themselves what is right and wrong? And if they aren’t, then how can reading of a moral code possibly help? One has to be able to take this sort of thing to heart, as it were, in order to be of any personal value. If the only reason that Christians do not commit morally incorrect acts is because their god tells them not to then they are just as immoral as a people that do. Being terrified of an ultimate punishment (hell) is not going to make anyone moral, just terrified.

Audie said:
"No, the real miracle is that there are actually Xians out there who really are moral, despite their beliefs." I agree with most of this statement, I just don’t consider it miraculous. I have a very close friend who is a very devout Christian and who is also one of those rare people that EVERYBODY likes. She is just so incredibly nice. She tried the morality argument on me one day and I asked that if her god “fell off the Earth” tomorrow, would she stay the person that she was or would she change into some monster. She admitted that she would stay the same. I then asked her if being a Christian made what she was and her husband, also devout, piped up and said no, that she is the person she is because of who she is. I don’t think that “finding god” changes a person.

If a person is morally reprehensible, then how does reading that an all powerful being does not like this and will punish them for it, change them? It can’t. If they do not “know in their heart” (to use a Christian idiom), that lying, theft or murder are wrong, telling them so will not make a bit of difference. People of this ilk are almost always defiant of authority and bringing them to a god just adds one more authority figure.

If the morality argument of Christians were as valid as they claim, we would not need laws against perjury, fraud and theft, and murder. Of course we would have them anyway so that we could fill the jails with the heretical who, by theological thinking, have no real reason to conduct themselves in a morally and socially upright manner, therefore can’t. But as was pointed out by Butch in his informative and concise post, this is not the case. The prisons are filled with the religious. The Christians have several arguments to cover this, the most ill considered being that “they were all atheists who found god after going to prison”. Wishful thinking at best, ignorant thinking at worst. Another is that the incarcerated had “lost god”. That is one that I have an even bigger problem with. If the morality code of Christianity is so all powerful, then how does one lose it? As an atheist I do not believe that bearing false witness against my neighbor is right and I won’t believe otherwise tomorrow or even next year. If someone is jailed for a crime that is covered by one of the 10 commandments, then they never took the injunction to heart to begin with. (Being weak in faith is a lame excuse.) So it cannot follow that a belief in god makes one morally upright.

I believe that a person is good because that person has strength and that a person is bad because they are weak. Having or finding a god does not change that. If a Christian claims that “god gives them strength” then they were weak to begin with and still are.

Please forgive me if this seems a little disjointed. I am new to blogging and new to discussing atheism vs Christianity, because like a lot of colleagues here, I was indifferent to it. But with the push for political power by fundies who want legislate their beliefs and the politicians who cater to them, I have become much less indifferent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments and thanks for posting the article. I only get 500 words per column and it’s damn hard to introduce a topic, flesh out a few points, provide supporting facts, and conclude in that much space. For me anyway.

Bill B said...

David Mills author of "Atheist Universe" has a very short moral code that works in every situation.


Personally one of the main reasons I do the right thing is because I want to be liked by others. What a strange concept I know.

I have a wonderful marriage and I don't fuck around on my wife because(get this) I wouldn't want her fucking around on me.

And I have never had the urge to rape anyone after I abandoned my God belief. Call my crazy if you will, but I've always really liked a mutual consenting exchage during sex.

I actually had a Christian(whom I exchanged emails) tell me that without God and the Bible, rape is just something a woman doesn't like. Imagine that.

Anonymous said...

Bill wrote:
"I actually had a Christian(whom I exchanged emails) tell me that without God and the Bible, rape is just something a woman doesn't like."

Was he trying to tell you that with god, she would enjoy it? Or at least cooperate as part of her Christian duty?

Anonymous said...

Hey Butch! Off topic here; why only 500 words? It seems to me that I get much more mileage.

Anonymous said...

You all are a waste of life. Christians and ex-christians alike.

webmdave said...

Huey, the 500 word limit he mentioned is the requirements of the newspaper where he is being published. There is no limit on this website.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it’s the limit for the newspaper. Sorry about the confusion.

Baconeater said...

This blog may be of interest to those who post here.

Brennan seems to be a reasonable theist, so far, at least.

Anonymous said...

Hi Butch
I enjoyed reading your post and I have been deep in thought about it. Of course, atheists have morals. I'm not sure this is the point. The problem is thus: how do we decide on which morals to promote? For example, take the agenda of NAMBLA which is being defended by the ACLU which is taking the beliefs of the members of this organization to the courts.
They believe that male children and male adults should be able to have consensual sex. In fact, some of their literature seems to suggest that this sort of thing is good. (I think these guys should be csatrated)! Now, how do we agree on laws of this nature which has a subjective connotation. You know the line- your moality is not my morality. Do we decide this merely on votes? Is their an atheist organization which is putting together agreed upon values? Or, is that pretty hard to do?

Anonymous said...

Dee, I know bashing the ACLU is popular among fundies and other right-wingers who don't respect the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, but their criticism of this organization is undeserved.

I wouldn't be opposed to anyone who acted on NAMBLA's "philosophy" being castrated, as you put it, or at least prosecuted to the fullest extent of the laws against child abuse and exploitation. But, I don't fault ACLU at all; ACLU is defending the Constitutional right to free speech, not the criminal act of adults having sex with minor children.

Freedom of expression pertains to ALL opinions and ideas, even gross ones, not just those values that most of us hold dear. It wouldn't be worth much otherwise. After all, without that Constitutional guarantee, some faction that assumes power in the future could very well decide that expressing ideas about religion on the Internet must be banned and I'm sure none of us would want that to happen.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"You all are a waste of life. Christians and ex-christians alike."

Covers yourself as well. Who or what are you anyway?

TheJaytheist said...

Huey, I think he's a troll. A hit-n-runner perhaps. Don't feed the trolls.

Jamie said...

If they do not “know in their heart” (to use a Christian idiom), that lying, theft or murder are wrong, telling them so will not make a bit of difference.

I think the reason they want everyone to "look to God" for morality is because their moral code includes not only lying, theft, or murder, but morally neutral things such as keeping the sabbath, not being gay, baptism, and not dancing, drinking, or eating certain foods. These things aren't part of our innate moral fibre. We don't believe these things without being told there is an external authority that commands them.

Anonymous said...

Hey Butch

Great Post! I think one thing that makes Christians behave so badly is the idea of "Once Saved Always Saved". Christians can cheat on their spouses, embezzle money, molest children, etc. and not lose their Salvation. The idea of Martyrdom makes Muslims behave badly. They believe that if they kill in the name od God then they will be rewarded in Heaven. It shows us how ignorant religious people really are.

Anonymous said...

Slavery, subjugation of women, and homophobia are traditional values. It's only the weakening of christianity that allowed these human failings to be addressed.

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