Morality Without God?

Can people who don’t believe in God still be moral? I’ve read many Christian books that say “No”… For example, in “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Frank Turek and Norman L. Geisler, the authors write:

“… if the atheists are right, then we might as well lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want because this life is all there is, and there are no consequences in eternity.” (p.68)

If that were true, then this world would be pretty unpleasant. Why would atheists waste their one life by acting like savages? We wouldn’t. In fact, those words go against everything I have seen among atheists. Most of us go out of our way to be honest and kind because that’s the kind of world we want to be a part of.

The Institute for Humanist Studies asked the readers of its newsletter to submit their own stories of “Morality without God.” Their (very interesting) replies can be found here. One excerpt:

I was in the checkout line at my neighborhood supermarket, and the guy in front of me was obviously in a hurry. He didn’t notice that when he pulled out his wallet something had fluttered to the floor, landing in a pile of discarded coupons and register receipts. It looked like money to me. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him, “I think you dropped something.” Somewhat irritated that I was slowing up his transaction, he bent down and snatched up a piece of register tape. As he disturbed the pile, I could now see that the item he had dropped was a $100 bill. He was about to leave when I called him back and said, “No, I meant that,” pointing again at the floor. He picked up the $100 bill looking very surprised and thanked me profusely.

I had not one but two chances to take the money he was about to leave behind. I didn’t need the fear of some fictitious deity to tell me not to.

If you have stories to share on either side of the issue, please comment!

[tags]Turek, Geisler, atheist, atheism, morals, Institute for Humanist Studies, IHS[/tags]

  • Devika

    I don’t have a specific story, but something that happens over and over again to me is that Christians often assume I am Christian, too. And not just in that religiocentric kind of way. They really do seem to think that I am Christian in their specific way: Evangelical, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc.

    They are shocked to find out that I’m a humanist. I can only guess that the reason why people mistake me for a fellow (insert type of Christian here) is that I typically:

    1. Don’t judge them.
    2. Support their right to be religious & raise their families that way.
    3. Understand their Bible references (because of my interest in literature).
    4. Have shown that I live by a strong moral code (which for me, boils down to common decency and proactive kindness).

  • Laura

    You can have morals and not be a Christian, Buddist or what have you. Morals are given to you by how your parents raised you and to some degree society (but morals in society as a whole in the U.S. these days has gone downward- different topic).

    I digress – your parents taught you right from wrong and as you grew older you learn and decide what choices you make.

    Just because you are an Atheiest doesn’t mean you have horns on your head and a pitch-fork in your hand. Is that what most people think? It is a title that identifies your belief system, isn’t it? Kind of like when some one identifies their sexual orientation.

    And when it comes right down to it – how important is it for me to know what your belief system is or your sexual orientation or fill in the blank? I don’t form my opinions of a person on these things. Shouldn’t I get to know that person as the person and not these “labels”? That would be judgemental and closed-minded if I did. Would you agree?

  • Hemant

    Laura– I agree. Some people say their label as if it should explain everything about them, but I’ve met very few people who are Christians in name (or what have you) and believe in the exact same things all the time. Same goes for atheists. The label tells us only one bit (albeit an important one) about a person.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • David

    One word: Nietzsche. Every atheist, in order to be intellecutally honest, has to grapple with the thought of Nietzsche, particularly in Beyond Good and Evil. As a committed atheist (though not a “friendly” one!), Nietzsche argued passionately that those who think they can live out humanist ideals while rejecting God are deluding themselves. He has nothing but disdain for Christians, but he had even more disdain for secular humanists. Any atheist may live out great humanist ideals, but I seriously doubt they have good reasons to back them up. The only philosophy a secular humanist has at his or her disposal is pragmatism or consequentialism: things just work out better this way. But that’s not a reason, only an inductive observation.

  • Siamang

    Well, either you’re wrong in your understanding of Nietzsche or he was wrong.

    Plenty of reasons for living for high ideals.

    Why is positive consequenses not a reason, for example? It seems to be a good reason to me.

    What do the words “inductive observation” mean? I’m not well-versed in the kind of jargon shorthand of philosophy students, so help me here.

    Why isn’t “things work out better when you’re good” a good reason to do good?

  • freethinker

    In my opinion Christians do not automatically have morals. Being scared of everlasting torture has nothing to do with morals. Being anxious to please a benevolent deity also does not equate to morals: It means you’re a good dog. Religion belittles the character of Christians who do have morals.

  • Matthew Tenney

    Society erects restraints against those who would do mischief. Those barriers are threats of punishment as the stick and promises of rewards as the carrot. For those who require those restraints in order to do the right thing, it is simply self-delusion for them to believe that they are living a life of high ideals. The good moral person does the right thing without regard for reward or punishment.

    A central Christian idea is that true love is fundamentally different from reward or punishment. Our search for the love of God is our motivation and not fear of hell or reward of heaven. The reward for finding God is God. Heaven is just a place where that happens.