Can Atheists Be Good People Too?

atheists can be good people too cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

:D Get a print of this cartoon shipped to you! Click on this image to shop. :D

I remember in my Baptist, Pentecostal and Vineyard days being taught that atheists were bad people going to hell. Then I met some.

Later in life I became acquainted with my own inner atheist. He’s a fast grower. And he’s a really nice guy.

In the early days though, if we Christians met, say, the unsaved husband of a saved woman and he was really gifted or something, we were taught that deep down he was a Christian in the making, that God had his hand on him and was preparing to save him, that he would be a real asset to the kingdom, that it was just a matter of time before he’d turn.

I read a blogpost yesterday “Yes, Atheists Still Face Censorship” which brought all this flooding back. It’s a good read pointing out the inequalities atheists still experience.

Atheists can be good people. They have a right to exist. They have a right to have a share in the “marketplace of ideas” (Adam Lee). I not only say this on behalf of atheists “out there” and my atheist friends. I say this for myself. Why? Because there is a large part of what I believe, think and draw which is perceived by others as atheist, and I definitely demand the right to express that part of myself. My cartoons yesterday, “Has Your Jesus Disappeared” and “The Progressive Development of My Boxes for God”, both can be interpreted as expressing atheistic ideas. I receive messages all the time from people who wish I would shut up, that people would not see my work, and that I should be removed as a threat. They’re allowed to think that way, but they should not be allowed to have their wishes granted.

I know some nice atheists. I know some not so nice atheists. I know some nice Christians. I know some not so nice Christians. But, in my opinion and experience, the worst not so nice people are the Christian ones because they use their religion to veil and even justify their not so niceness.

There’s nothing uglier than that.

About David Hayward

David Hayward runs the blog nakedpastor as a graffiti artist on the walls of religion where he critiques religion… specifically Christianity and the church. He also runs the online community The Lasting Supper where people can help themselves discover, explore and live in spiritual freedom.

  • Shaun Epperson

    It seems important to point out that not everyone will become Christians and not everyone will become an atheist. (as much as I would love for the latter to happen). So what is the solution. Acceptance that both are semi-legitimate “belief” structures and that both have a duty to respectful debate.

  • Dennis Irwin

    I disagree. I think the ugliest are the militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. I’ll take the ugly Christian over his kind any day.

  • Gary

    You are so right David. A belief system in and of itself is relatively harmless. But over the centuries it has been religious intolerance and abuse that has been responsible for countless millions of slaughtered human beings. And even among believers not actually killing people, many still seem to believe they have some sort of license to abuse others. I have met several atheists I don’t like and some that I do. But at least they are jerks of their own accord and don’t try to pass it off as some sort of divine command to be an ass.

  • Matt McDowall

    “A belief system in and of itself is relatively harmless” – incorrect. Beliefs are not benign. We act in accordance with our beliefs. Some beliefs are good, some bad. We don’t live in a bubble. A belief system can be harmless and dangerous.

  • Matt McDowall

    “Acceptance that both are semi-legitimate “belief” structures and that both have a duty to respectful debate”

    No…both are not semi- legitimate belief structures. Atheism is first of all a lack of belief and not structured…secondly either one can be correct or the other wrong. So they both logically can not be legitimate. One does not meet its burden of proof and demonstrate plausibility….and possibly as we all know does not mean plausibility.

    What you are essentially saying is that someone (and they do BTW) can say the world is flat….and this according to your logic is a semi-legitimate belief…are you joking??

  • Shaun Epperson

    Actually I was joking and was using legitimate as “conforming to established standards of usage, behavior, etc.” We can all agree that Christianity is an established belief system and that while Atheism is considered the “lack” of any belief structure it is still a group of people that share similar views about a particular subject, so I would say that Atheism is becoming very structured. I am not a fan of labels per se, however, I find them useful when trying to convey a set of ideas. If I had to self label then Anti-theist would best describe me.

  • Gary

    While I agree that the application of destructive intent to any belief system will strengthen the liberty one may feel in carrying out their destructive desires, it is rarely the belief system alone that is responsible for the harm done, but rather the perversion of the belief to justify harmful intent. Neither a belief in God or a belief in the absence of God, is inherently good or bad.

  • Gary

    Referring to another poster (who I frequently strongly disagree with BTW) as an idiot and a fool is way over the line. I’m not sure which category you consider yourself in…but you have clearly demonstrated with clarity the last sentence in David’s blog.

  • http://supervidoqo.blogspot.com/ Eli

    I agree. I’m an atheist and I consider myself to have a belief structure. It is expansive, as why I believe what I believe informs how I must think about things and I’m always interested in thinking about things in new ways. The specific part of this structure that refers to not believing in God – the atheist part – is almost beside the point. There are a vast number of assumptions, themselves built upon other reasons and assumptions, that get me to the point of being a non-believer.

  • Shaun Epperson

    I think Dawkins like the rest of us are just tired of listening to the “status qou” of Christianity. We are constantly bombarded with God and the illogical ideas that come along with it. I for one am proud that the so called “militant” atheist exist and look forward to the day when they rise up and become the majority.

  • Steelwheels

    Atheist likewise use their religion to veil and even justify their not so niceness. Of course Atheist can be good, the question should be why be good and where does this idea of “good” come from that they want to be?

    What does “inner atheist” mean?

  • Gary

    The answer to the question you ask, “why be good…?” will of course differ between the two camps. Believers (like me) often state that we are created in God’s image and are inherently good by design and evil is a perversion not the norm. Some (not me) advocate goodness as a means to avoid eternal punishment and the possibility of encountering an angry God. But the part of me which is at least partly agnostic believes that goodness is the result of our species learning over millennia that benevolent cooperativeness is beneficial to our survival and, in the immediate sense, provides a much richer and enjoyable experience in life.

  • Al Cruise

    Yes.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    The problem with theists who are nasty, as David says, is that they often cover their nasty behavior or their nasty policies in “god-talk” — sanctimonious blabber to try to shut down dialogue. As a former Christian, and now an Atheist (only because theists call me one), I am very pleasantly surprised to find doctrinal-intentional Christians who are nice and can be a friend without needed to convert me. But those folks are rare – indeed, their theology prevents them. Instead, most of the nice Christians who I meet are cafeteria Christians — with very little doctrinal attachments, or progressive Christians (a minority).

    Finding the world full of superb non-Christians was one of the many influences in helping my deconstruction of my Christianity.

  • Dorfl

    “Of course Atheist can be good, the question should be why be good and where does this idea of ‘good’ come from that they want to be?”

    My answer would be something like this:

    I know it is good when certain things happen to me, and bad when other things happen to me. I do not need any external standard to make that claim. The sensation of breathing fresh air in the autumn is good, and the sensation of something heavy falling on my toes is bad, because I think they are.

    Observationally, it seems very likely that other people also have conscious experiences, and that they are similar to mine in that some are good and others bad. I cannot necessarily assume that which experiences are good and which are bad is the same for someone else as for me. Luckily people seem to be similar enough that it works to start with the null hypothesis that what is true for me is true for others – if I dislike people yelling loudly in my ear, others probably do too – and then update that as they give more information – for example, some people apparently enjoy shamisen music but dislike bagpipes, even though that seems bizarre to me.

    This means I don’t really have any logical reason to value my own interests over others. Good experiences are good, but I have no very sound basis for assuming that they are more good for some people and even less for assuming that I am one of those people. This means that working to let as many people as possible have as many good experiences as possible – as they rate goodness – and a minimum of bad ones, is simply the reasonable thing to do.

    In practise, doing so is going to involve a lot of rules of thumb. Finding the global maximum of the total goodness function is obviously not something we can do in the real world. Some of those rules of thumb will have a number of exceptions we need to keep in mind – such as “don’t kill someone without making sure they’re ok with it first” or “don’t take things that you are not currently considered the owner of”. Some rules of thumb have no exceptions that will ever come up outside of contrived thought-experiments, meaning that we might as well think of them as absolute – such as “don’t commit genocide” or “don’t rape”.

    I then use the phrase “being good” as a shorthand for “acting in a way that maximises our total goodness”. I’m not sure how closely that matches your use – it is very possible that you mean something that I don’t actually want to be.

  • Dennis Irwin

    I’ve been to many countries over the years on mission trips…..Cuba, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Romania, Hungary, Trinidad, and Mexico. I find myself asking the question….why are we different? My opinion? An attitude that I’ve not found anywhere I’ve been…..”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–” Everywhere else….they are endowed by their government. You have no idea the consequences of your opinion.

  • Dennis Irwin

    Sorry…being a greedy capitalist today and working to make some money. Did someone dog me and Gary come to my defense?

  • klhayes

    I agree, particularly with your last paragraph….I cannot believe the things Christians say to non-Christians thinking that will save them. It’s embarrassing and Christians have to remember how they are supposed to live so they can be an example.

  • klhayes

    Shouldn’t “ugly Christian” be an oxymoron?

  • klhayes

    Regardless of the statement that we are endowed by our Creator with rights, it is us, the govt, that gives people rights. The United States had to free the slaves, give women the right to vote, allow interracial marriage through laws. If they were inherent, they would have already been in practice. Initially, the Creator only gave inalienable rights to others in the minds of those in power.

  • klhayes

    I think a lot of that comes from fear of worrying that their faith cannot withstand being challenged. They are in a sense “protecting” their own beliefs. Validating oneself by belittling others is a common tactic.

  • Gary

    It should be yes. I wish it was.

  • Dennis Irwin

    Wow. Because we were endowed by our Creator it created the attitude by individuals to fight against our government to free slaves and give women the right to vote. See how government works doing this in countries like Saudi Arabia.

  • Dennis Irwin

    Regardless….really?

  • Dennis Irwin

    If you don’t know what “Christian” means….I guess. Being a believer is no different than being a human…..just with the knowledge of why we are here. Ugly is the beautiful part of the journey. Just ask David, Job, Peter, Paul, Adam, Samson, Moses, Noah,…..need I really go on?

  • Gary

    Really curious as to what draws you here to David’s blog Dennis. If you are in denial of the abuse so prevalent in organized religion…it seems you would not want to hang out in a place which openly points it out and challenges it. And as for what “Christian” means…I am pretty sure you don’t have the corner on the market of understanding. lol

  • Shaun Epperson

    It is obvious that the founding fathers were using the line “their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” to apply to whatever “creator” you wish to evoke. God, Allah, Yahweh, Evolution…etc. We think therefore we have the ability to make a fundamental moral choice for rights that are common sense. It is the religious who contend that God has told them something is ok. (i.e. slavery, murder, rape, etc…) and then hundreds of years later say “well those laws only applied to those people from that time” as if God suddenly decided that the above atrocities were not wrong.

  • Sven2547

    What makes Dawkins “militant”? Because he writes books and has opinions?

  • BobaFuct

    Wonderful quote from the Declaration of Independence. Now what does the Constitution, you know that document that actually forms the legal framework of our society, have to say about it?

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    Unless “we the people…establish” secretly means “the god of the bible…establishes” I’d say your argument fails.

  • sane37

    Any belief system whose adherents are “saved” but others are not is destructive to everyone.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    “Thanks! Deep down you must be a Christian” implies that only Christians or people with a little Christian in them can be good. This comes from a belief that people are intrinsically bad or fallen and that only through a relationship with Jesus can people do good things. It is also believed by some that Jesus can work inside someone that is not currently accepting Jesus as their Lord and savior. This would account for any acts of goodness by non-Christians. Most believers believe in an absolute good. Some believers think that God defines (or creates) good to be what God wants. Others think that good comes first and it is within God’s nature to be good – God does what is good.

    The atheist, though, takes a pragmatic approach to the notion of good. Some atheists do believe there is an absolute good that should be strived towards. Other atheists don’t believe in an absolute good – they think good is a social contract that is relative to the players involved. Most atheists, though, think that we have no choice but to work towards a better world by negotiating and renegotiating the social contract since we don’t have any other way to determine the good (even if there is an absolute good). Some religious people believe this as well. Atheists get frustrated when religious people take the stance that the social contract has already been laid out in the bible and things should not change. In the atheist mind, this resistance to change impedes social progress towards a better world; it thwarts good. The bible-believing Christian who believes the social contract has already been laid out in the bible thinks that any change diminishes good and disappoints (or angers) God. It is tough to reconcile the two viewpoints.

  • Sven2547

    Take note that it says “their creator” (as opposed to “our creator” or “the creator”). It means everyone has rights, regardless of their religious beliefs. I, for one, was created by my parents. It doesn’t even put a religious requirement on it.

  • Steelwheels

    You wrote, “species learning over millennia that benevolent cooperativeness is beneficial to our survival and, in the immediate sense, provides a much richer and enjoyable experience in life.” This is an appeal to adaptive behavior but has no justification in saying what is true. It just says if X behavior works then it is good.

  • Steelwheels

    I would ask you which culture decides morality? Your position of cultural relativism in saying, “let as many people as possible have as many good experiences as possible – as they rate goodness” has an epistemic problem. Cultural Relativism leads to individual relativism, like you said in your quote, “as they rate goodness” and the autonomous ‘self’ becomes the authority. What is ‘good’ becomes a discussion about liking vanilla ice cream better than chocolate, subjective with the ‘self’ being supreme. It’s a facade to claim commonly accepted social values, what it really is is Nihilism. Nihilism denies any objective value of any kind. Max Stirner affirmed your position in his book ‘The Ego and Its Own’ when he wrote, “I decide whether it is the right thing in me; there is no right outside me.” Moral Relavitism leads to Nihilism.

    Here’s a syllogism to test:
    P1) Relativism leads to nihilism
    P2) Nihilism is morally unacceptable
    C1) Therefore, (a) relativism is morally unacceptable
    C2) Therefore, (b) we need another moral theory to support objective morality

  • Dennis Irwin

    Great question. I’m not sure I know the answer. But I’m kinda having fun. Are trying to get banned already?

    “…I am pretty sure you don’t have the corner on the market of understanding” You’re right……but I know Him who does.

  • Dennis Irwin

    You’re all over the place. I never mentioned religion. And I think you’re correct…..they used the word Creator on purpose. It still means someone who made us, is bigger than us or any government we make. Therefore nobody can take our “rights” away, except the Creator. But…..we can let somebody or something take them away. That’s why I responded to you. If atheist become the majority……..where will our rights come from? You have no idea what you’re wishing on yourself. As far as the “religious who contend that God has told them something is ok. (i.e. slavery, murder, rape, etc…)” Maybe some crazy individual……but the Bible doesn’t teach any of that stuff is ok.

  • Dennis Irwin
  • Dennis Irwin

    Ignorance can be a pain in the butt. The DOI is the foundation of thought behind the creation of the country. I never mentioned “the god of the bible” It’s extremely important for our freedom that we get our rights from the Creator. If not for that, we’ll have to get them from somebody else…..like the government! If you remove the Creator as the source of our rights……we’re screwed.

  • Shaun Epperson

    “where will our rights come from?”

    They come from the consitution of the United States. Atheist or Christian that is the law we live by.

    “the Bible doesn’t teach any of that stuff is ok.”

    Not sure if you have read the bible or not, but last time I checked the Old Testament was Full of it. Most sanctioned by God.

  • Dennis Irwin

    Good luck getting your rights from the Constitution……it can be changed.
    As far as God sanctioning murder, slavery etc……prove it.

  • TCC

    I’m an atheist who is frequently critical of Dawkins (and I’ve been publicly critical of the specific statement you mention), but that doesn’t make him “militant.” Who would you consider to be a “militant Christian”? Is it only people like Scott Roeder (the assassin of George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider) or would you include people like, for instance, Jerry Falwell? If “militant” simply means “outspoken” or “controversial,” then your wide net should be scooping up lots of other people as well. (I would still object to your use, but it would at least be consistent then.)

  • Sven2547

    You are not refuting my point with this link. He expressed an opinion. That’s exactly what I said. Are you touched in the head?

    Militant Christians drag homosexuals behind trucks.
    Militant Islamists blow themselves up in market squares.
    Militant Buddhists burn down villages.
    “Militant” atheists… write columns and books.

  • TCC

    Where does culture come into this equation? You’re the one who started rambling on about moral relativism.

  • Dorfl

    “I would ask you which culture decides morality? Your position of cultural relativism in saying, ‘let as many people as possible have as many good experiences as possible – as they rate goodness’ has an epistemic problem.”

    I’m not really sure why you bring up cultural relativism, since I haven’t discussed culture at all, and it doesn’t really follow from what I have said. A culture ends up being more or less good depending on how effective it is at letting people have experiences they find good, just like any other tool.

    “Cultural Relativism leads to individual relativism, like you said in your quote, ‘as they rate goodness’ and the autonomous ‘self’ becomes the authority.”

    If you want to figure out whether dyeing someone’s hair blue is an acceptable thing to do, you have to ask that person. There are no criteria external to that person you can consult. If that is what you mean by ‘individual relativism’, then I am an individual relativist.

    “What is ‘good’ becomes a discussion about liking vanilla ice cream better than chocolate, subjective with the ‘self’ being supreme.”

    When figuring out the correct way to act towards other people, other people’s selves are supreme, yes.

    How the person you’re interacting with feels about the matter is the only thing that makes the difference between a gift and theft, sex and rape, euthanasia and murder. Gods, natural law, plain abstract metaphysical principles or anything else outside of that person simply have no say in the matter.

    “It’s a facade to claim commonly accepted social values, what it really is is Nihilism. Nihilism denies any objective value of any kind.”

    If I show you a dummy full of straw and say “This is really you. I know you think you’re standing over there, but trust me – you’re really this straw-filled dummy”, how do you respond?

    “Max Stirner affirmed your position in his book ‘The Ego and Its Own’ when he wrote, ‘I decide whether it is the right thing in me; there is no right outside me.’ ”

    That isn’t my position. There is right outside me – inside other people.

    If we look at a pile of rocks, then no arrangement of rocks is going to be morally superior to any other. The concept of morality is only meaningful when dealing with subjects that actually have any preferences about what happens to them.

    “Here’s a syllogism to test:”

    P(1) is false.

  • Gary

    Who said anything about saying what is “true”.

  • Gary

    Really? While I disagree with the belief that only a select group will be “saved”, without harmful action on the part of such a believer, stating that the belief is “destructive to everyone” is false. It certainly can be…with action. (Admittedly such action is often present) But for actual “destructive” consequences to take place, the belief must in some way impact another for it to be destructive to them. One person’s belief that others are going to hell is not destructive to them if there is in fact no hell.

  • Gary

    Funny…I believe I do to. And He told me your beliefs are a crock of shit. (Poignant sarcasm to make a point)

  • Gary

    Seriously? Personally I do not believe He does. But you have declared that the bible is your truth…and all one needs to do is open its pages to find MANY examples of God (supposedly) sanctioning it, and at times actually commanding it. Dennis you seem to spend a lot of time talking yourself into indefensible corners.

  • Dennis Irwin

    God is sovereign over all of life and can take it whenever He sees fit. Is that murder when He does? I do know of these 10 commandments which includes …..”you shall not murder”. You claim “MANY” examples…..but show none.

  • Alice

    There’s a lot of that, and the black-and-white thinking is so deeply ingrained. They think they are living in a war zone, so getting them to come out in the open and put down their weapons is very difficult.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X