Shannon Murphy, a senior at Bryn Mawr college in Pennsylvania, is surprised that students at her (fairly liberal) university would question how atheists could be moral:
In speaking to a fellow atheist friend about the [Deborah] Stone lecture, the topic of morality and religion at Bryn Mawr came up. My friend told me that she had been confronted by another student who knew her to be an atheist. This woman asked my friend, similarly, how she could be both atheist and moral. Where did her moral values come from if not from the Bible? This frightens me. It’s hard for me to imagine that even at a place like Bryn Mawr people could be so uneducated about atheism.
Morality comes from an understanding and respect for mankind and above that for living creatures in general. I know many atheists who are strong supporters of animal rights, human rights, and environmental preservation. It’s an innate preservation of species and respect for the earth that gives us our morality, rather than a book.
Do we consider the religion of an American when we judge their actions? Rarely. It’s only once we know their religion that we judge in comparison. A woman who donates her time every weekend to a homeless shelter is a good citizen, but a Christian woman is a good Christian. An atheist who donates her time every weekend to a homeless shelter is considered unusual. But is she really? Would you be surprised to find out that many Americans consider Atheists to be the least American individuals in the country?
I’ve mentioned the Brown Phenomenon before. It refers to the fact that the most liberal schools in the country — the schools you imagine would be teeming with atheists — are actually the schools where it’s most difficult to form an atheist student organization.
Similarly, I’m not surprised at Shannon’s reaction to her friend’s anecdote. You wouldn’t expect students at a liberal school to question where people get their morality from — which is precisely why it’s important to make sure you are constantly educating people about those things.
Can you be good without God?
What’s the purpose of your life if there is no God?
What happens when we die?
No matter where you go, there will be people who have not heard the answers to those questions.
Do you have an answer for them?