The Morality of an Atheist
Posted by Jerry on July 9, 2006
[Edited and modified from an earlier post]
Assume the following: God exists. This is an objective (mind-independent) fact.
The religious all believe and have faith that God exists.
The atheists live their lives believing fully and truly that there is no God.
My contention is that a good and moral atheist holds a higher level of morality than a good and moral religious believer.
A fully moral person who is religious and believes in the existence of God is still lacking in a complete sense of morality and falls below the level of righteousness than the person who is also fully moral and righteous but is an atheist.
A person who believes in God believes that only God is truly, fully, and perfectly moral. It is only possible to God to be consistently and perfectly and omniciently moral at all times. Such a totality of morality is not possible to any mortal human being, and therefore (a religious person believes), one can only strive to come close to that perfection in existential morality, though one will never attain it.
Hence, a religious believer sees God as his standard of morality and all his sense of right and wrong is derived from his sense of what would be the will of God–in modern parlance, the phenomena is well-known as “What would Jesus do?”
In other words, for the believer, morality is derived ultimately from God. They view themselves, mortal human beings, as incapable of originating an immaculate sense of perfect morality and righteousness. All good and all judgments of good come from their inspiration to be God-like, to act God-like, to choose and will like God would wish, to exist in manners consistent with the wishes and morality of God.
Thus, their entire locus and source of morality is outside of themselves and exists within their idea of God.
On the other hand, an objectively righteous and moral atheist has no supernatural or other-worldly reason to be moral and righteous. He is moral because he chose to be moral out of his own free will. The entire locus of morality is situated within his own self and arises from within himself.
Moral atheists do not view humans as mere mortals incapable of originating any sense of right and wrong or good and bad. A moral atheist reveres the power and clarity of the human rational intellect that fortifies his decision-making ability with well-guided reasons and evidence. He views himself as a volitional being fully able to engage in moral or immoral activities, make good or bad choices, and is always cognizant of the fact that responsibility of his actions sit squarely on his own lap.
Thus, the responsibility to lead a moral life, to an atheist is a strict necessity because an atheist cannot share the burden of the consequences of his actions with any other entity (supernatural or not), but must always face up to the reality of life as it presents itself to him. An atheist has to construct a system of morality and principles of morality fully and completely from the rationality of their own intellect. He cannot resort to the excuse that his “religious leader” guided him down the wrong path, or he was merely being obedient to the wishes of what he thought God wanted. Those are the excuses available to the religious believer to escape the responsibility of their actions. An atheist has to face his choices head-on and confront the consequences.
A moral atheist view himself as competent, efficacious, rational, and intellectual power-houses fully capable of producing a system of morals that rational individuals can live with and follow and achieve great emotional and intellectual happiness.
The atheist is committed to acknowledging the dignity and nature of each human being as rational beings because there is no other source (supernatural or otherwise) by which humans can derive their sense of dignity, rationality, or morality. These have to stem from within–with a conscious commitment to nurturing these values.
Since the entire locus of morality exists within an atheist, they are truly and fully complete in their moral worth than any religious person.
In conclusion, an atheist is moral for his own sake, for the sake of living a moral life. An atheist is moral because he sees the immense value and rational logic of living a moral life, which he realizes is in his own best interest — without any anticipation of reward or fear of punishment from a supernatural Being. The motivation to be moral springs from within himself.
A religious person is moral primarily because they believe they have to be moral — it is a condition forced upon them, and the condition is if they desire to share in the love of their supernatural entity and reside in some mystical abode, they must live according to the morality prescribed to them from above.
For a religious person, reward of a blissful afterlife in exchange for their morality or fear of punishment in eternity are strong external motivations to lead a moral life. Morality does not spring from themselves, but is derived upon from their idea of perfect morality in God.
In light of the above, we return to what I began this essay with: Assuming that God exists, who will He judge as the person with the greater commitment to morality–the atheist or the religious believer? Indeed, given the scenario and my argument above, God’s own moral character will be revealed in the kind of judgment he makes.