This is one of the questions atheists get asked all the time. Some people seem to think that without a divine authority to spell out a moral code, there's nothing to keep atheists from deciding it's morally acceptable to do anything they think they can get away with. Perhaps it would even be true if atheists, like children, acted without thinking about consequences. We are not, as a rule though, thoughtless people. We are aware of the consequences of our choice in a society that often looks down on those who do not profess a theistic faith and most of the folks I know who became atheists did so only after a lot of thought and, for want of a better word, soul-searching. We tend to put a lot of thought into our ideas about morality too. That's why you'll find the numbers of atheists in prison to be proportionally far below our representation in the general population...
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Know where I could get a larger version of that picture? I'd like to use it as my background.
Just type "godless atheists threaten Christian civilization" on Google's image search engine.
Excellent article. Thanks for posting, Hugh.

Even when I did believe in a god (though always somewhat skeptically), I didn't attend church. I remember my wife sharing with me how some of her friends would express to her at church that they still thought that I would go to heaven because I was a good person--that being a good person was more important than being religious. I would hazard a guess that many liberal Christians or self-described "spiritual" people feel the same way and that they understand that people are good and choose to do good things often because that's who they want to be. For a long time, especially in college when I tried attending a couple of churches for a while, I thought a person had to be "spiritual" to be good. That seemed to be the attitude of everyone around me, so I tried mightily to be "spiritual", to have a connection to God, to try to "hear" God as others said they had heard him. There were even times when I did feel a connection to something: the universe, nature, God, whatever I may have interpreted it to be at the time. It's pretty easy to see that I felt the way I wanted to feel because I desired it, and it also became plain to see that I had always made up my own mind about what was right and wrong, good or evil, and that I trusted my own judgment much more than I trusted any religious person's viewpoint. My BS indicator always ran into the red when I listened to those making outrageous supernatural claims and when they were expressing their opinions as if those opinions were facts.

I realize I just pretty much rambled on here and didn't stick to topic, but, hey, it's what I felt like writing. ;-)
It's not rambling. Besides, there's a fascinating discussion lurking in there: do you have to be religious to be spiritual? It depends, of course, on how you define "spiritual". I know plenty of atheists who claim to be spiritual as well. I seem to recall that even Sam Harris said something on the subject as it relates to meditation (which he practices).
Tom Flynn recently had an article on this. He thinks the word should be done away with because it just means emotional. I personally don't agree with that but, he seems to be Super Atheist. If it has any ties to religion of any kind he wants nothing to do with.
On the matter of Sam Harris. I enjoyed his books, and I like a lot of what he says in the debates I have seen him participate in, however I am uneasy with his forays into Mysticism.

Given everything else he says, it just seems weird that he has this metaphysical inclination.
Maybe I'm just naive but, I think you can meditate without the mysticism.
Yes Meditation can stand apart from Mysticism, but Sam makes some other statements along the lines of Mysticism. I just cannot recall what he said in one of his books in this vein because I read a lot, and it was a while ago, but it was quasi mystical and off putting.

Now as I recall he has not ever expound at length on his potentially metaphysical beliefs, so perhaps I am uneasy about nothing much at all, but there seems to be something in his philosophy in that regard which eludes me.

Perhaps this is a result of my limited understanding of what he is getting at, or merely a result of him not fully explicating his position on it.

Thanks for posting this thoughtful article.

It's probably been asked before, but is it possible for a theist to be moral?

I would say that, giving up deities and the systems built to support them, frees the atheist to think for him/her self. Doing so encourages a true moral code, as opposed to parsing and interpreting documented rantings of so-called prophets, fictional accounts of conversations with fictional gods, and the rule-making by priests and kings of another era. Moral codes that are built upon fictional theocracy are flawed from the ground up. Systems that enforce those codes try to restrict critical thinking, and therefore prevent the individual from developing a moral code.

The theists have 'owned' the conversation, asking 'where' the atheists' moral code comes from. I would rather take ownership, and assert that morality depends on critical thinking, and that theism is an immoral force, that stunts development of individual morality.
That's a great idea, inverting the question so it's the theist who has to defend his position. I published a debate on that I had with a Methodist minister in which he kept saying that morality had to have an absolute basis to be valid and that absolute value was provided by God. When I pointed out all the nasty, immoral sh*t God does or orders done in the Bible, his defense was that since God was perfect and thus perfectly moral, then whatever God does or orders done is, ipso facto, perfectly moral too... no matter what it is! There's a particular name for this teleological argument which escapes me at the moment, but it's a real conversation-stopper; a totally insane, carved in stone, conversation-stopper!
Since I wasn't there, and even if I was I have far better hindsight than foresight, I would say to your Methodist Minister friend that (1) just because he states that morality needs an absolute basis, doesn't mean that it is true. What is the evidence for that? and (2) If there is an absolute basis for morality, it is the optimization of well being for living creatures, with minimization of suffering and waste. The followers of the fictional Yahweh's fictional pronouncements have caused untold suffering, death, torture, waste, and possibly laid the seeds of destruction fot civilization and many types of life on earth, therefore the Yahweh-based morality is perverse and flawed. (3) Why do we have to accept that Yahweh is perfect? Despite the fact that he's the creation of an ancient and violent civilization, he's a very cruel, childish, narcissistic, impetuous character.

The Methodist Minister has a childish form of morality that requires suppression of independent thought, in favor of arbitrary 'truths' handed down by humans with various agendas. His statements demonstrated my point, which is that theism makes it difficult to be a moral person.


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