I’m an atheist. I concluded there was no God when I was 12 years old, and never looked back. Apparently many others have come to the same conclusion in western democratic societies where there is access to diverse opinions on the subject, and where social sanctions and threats of force against atheists are no longer as intimidating as they once were. Belief in traditional religions is gradually diminishing in such societies. However, they have hardly been replaced by “pure reason.” They have merely been replaced by a new form of “spiritualism.” Indeed, I would maintain that most atheists today have as strong a belief in imaginary things as the religious believers they so often despise. They believe in the “ghosts” of good and evil.
Most atheists today may be found on the left of the ideological spectrum. A characteristic trait of leftists today is the assumption that they occupy the moral high ground. That assumption can only be maintained by belief in a delusion, a form of spiritualism, if you will – that there actually is a moral high ground. Ironically, while atheists are typically blind to the fact that they are delusional in this way, it is often perfectly obvious to religious believers. Indeed, this insight has led some of them to draw conclusions about the current moral state of society similar to my own. Perhaps the most obvious conclusion is that atheists have no objective basis for claiming that one thing is “good” and another thing is “evil.” For example, as noted by Tom Trinko at American Thinker in an article entitled “Imagine a World with No Religion,”
Take the Golden Rule, for example. It says, “Do onto others what you’d have them do onto you.” Faithless people often point out that one doesn’t need to believe in God to believe in that rule. That’s true. The problem is that without God, there can’t be any objective moral code.
My reply would be, that’s quite true, and since there is no God, there isn’t any objective moral code, either. However, most atheists, far from being “moral relativists,” are highly moralistic. As a consequence, they are dumbfounded by anything like Trinko’s remark. It pulls the moral rug right out from under their feet. Typically, they try to get around the problem by appealing to moral emotions. For example, they might say something like, “What? Don’t you think it’s really bad to torture puppies to death?”, or, “What? Don’t you believe that Hitler was really evil?” I certainly have a powerful emotional response to Hitler and tortured puppies. However, no matter how powerful those emotions are, I realize that they can’t magically conjure objects into being that exist independently of my subjective mind. Most leftists, and hence, most so-called atheists, actually do believe in the existence of such objects, which they call “good” and “evil,” whether they admit it explicitly or not. Regardless, they speak and act as if the objects were real.
The kinds of speech and actions I’m talking about are ubiquitous and obvious. For example, many of these “atheists” assume a dictatorial right to demand that others conform to novel versions of “good” and “evil” they may have concocted yesterday or the day before. If those others refuse to conform, they exhibit all the now familiar symptoms of outrage and virtuous indignation. Do rational people imagine that they are gods with the right to demand that others obey whatever their latest whims happen to be? Do they assume that their subjective, emotional whims somehow immediately endow them with a legitimate authority to demand that others behave in certain ways and not in others? I certainly hope that no rational person would act that way. However, that is exactly the way that many so-called atheists act. To the extent that we may consider them rational at all, then, we must assume that they actually believe that whatever versions of “good” or “evil” they happen to favor at the moment are “things” that somehow exist on their own, independently of their subjective minds. In other words, they believe in ghosts.
Does this make any difference? I suggest that it makes a huge difference. I personally don’t enjoy being constantly subjected to moralistic bullying. I doubt that many people enjoy jumping through hoops to conform to the whims of others. I submit that it may behoove those of us who don’t like being bullied to finally call out this type of irrational, quasi-religious behavior for what it really is.
It also makes a huge difference because this form of belief in imaginary objects has led us directly into the moral chaos we find ourselves in today. New versions of “absolute morality” are now popping up on an almost daily basis. Obviously, we can’t conform to all of them at once, and must therefore put up with the inconvenience of either keeping our mouths shut or risk being furiously condemned as “evil” by whatever faction we happen to offend. Again, traditional theists are a great deal more clear-sighted than “atheists” about this sort of thing. For example, in an article entitled, “Moral relativism can lead to ethical anarchy,” Christian believer Phil Schurrer, a professor at Bowling Green State University, writes,
…the lack of a uniform standard of what constitutes right and wrong based on Natural Law leads to the moral anarchy we see today.
Prof. Schurrer is right about the fact that we live in a world of moral anarchy. I also happen to agree with him that most of us would find it useful and beneficial if we could come up with a “uniform standard of what constitutes right and wrong.” Where I differ with him is on the rationality of attempting to base that standard on “Natural Law,” because there is no such thing. For religious believers, “Natural Law” is law passed down by God, and since there is no God, there can be no “Natural Law,” either. How, then, can we come up with such a uniform moral code?
I certainly can’t suggest a standard based on what is “really good” or “really bad” because I don’t believe in the existence of such objects. I can only tell you what I would personally consider expedient. It would be a standard that takes into account what I consider to be some essential facts. These are as follows.
- What we refer to as morality is an artifact of “human nature,” or, in other words, innate predispositions that affect our behavior.
- These predispositions exist because they evolved by natural selection.
- They evolved by natural selection because they happened to improve the odds that the genes responsible for their existence would survive and reproduce at the time and in the environment in which they evolved.
- We are now living at a different time, and in a different environment, and it cannot be assumed that blindly responding to the predispositions in question will have the same outcome now as it did when those predispositions evolved. Indeed, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that such behavior can be extremely dangerous.
- Outcomes of these predispositions include a tendency to judge the behavior of others as “good” or “evil.” These categories are typically deemed to be absolute, and to exist independently of the conscious minds that imagine them.
- Human morality is dual in nature. Others are perceived in terms of ingroups and outgroups, with different standards applying to what is deemed “good” or “evil” behavior towards those others depending on the category to which they are imagined to belong.
I could certainly expand on this list, but the above are certainly some of the most salient and essential facts about human morality. If they are true, then it is possible to make at least some preliminary suggestions about how a “uniform standard” might look. It would be as simple as possible. It would be derived to minimize the dangers referred to above, with particular attention to the dangers arising from ingroup/outgroup behavior. It would be limited in scope to interactions between individuals and small groups in cases where the rational analysis of alternatives is impractical due to time constraints, etc. It would be in harmony with innate human behavioral traits, or “human nature.” It is our nature to perceive good and evil as real objective things, even though they are not. This implies there would be no “moral relativism.” Once in place, the moral code would be treated as an absolute standard, in conformity with the way in which moral standards are usually perceived. One might think of it as a “moral constitution.” As with political constitutions, there would necessarily be some means of amending it if necessary. However, it would not be open to arbitrary innovations spawned by the emotional whims of noisy minorities.
How would such a system be implemented? It’s certainly unlikely that any state will attempt it any time in the foreseeable future. Perhaps it might happen gradually, just as changes to the “moral landscape” have usually happened in the past. For that to happen, however, it would be necessary for significant numbers of people to finally understand what morality is, and why it exists. And that is where, as an atheist, I must part company with Mr. Trinko, Prof. Schurrer, and the rest of the religious right. Progress towards a uniform morality that most of us would find a great deal more useful and beneficial than the versions currently on tap, regardless of what goals or purposes we happen to be pursuing in life, cannot be based on the illusion that a “natural law” exists that has been handed down by an imaginary God, any more than it can be based on the emotional whims of leftist bullies. It must be based on a realistic understanding of what kind of animals we are, and how we came to be. However, such self knowledge will remain inaccessible until we shed the shackles of religion. Perhaps, as they witness many of the traditional churches increasingly becoming leftist political clubs before their eyes, people on the right of the political spectrum will begin to find it less difficult to free themselves from those shackles. I hope so. I think that an Ansatz based on simple, traditional moral rules, such as the Ten Commandments, is more likely to lead to a rational morality than one based on furious rants over who should be allowed to use what bathrooms. In other words, I am more optimistic that a useful reform of morality will come from the right rather than the left of the ideological spectrum, as it now stands. Most leftists today are much too heavily invested in indulging their moral emotions to escape from the world of illusion they live in. To all appearances they seriously believe that blindly responding to these emotions will somehow magically result in “moral progress” and “human flourishing.” Conservatives, on the other hand, are unlikely to accomplish anything useful in terms of a rational morality until they free themselves of the “God delusion.” It would seem, then, that for such a moral “revolution” to happen, it will be necessary for those on both the left and the right to shed their belief in “spirits.”