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March 14, 2006

Are Atheists More Moral?

zizek.jpgIn his recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Slavoj Zizek argues that a "properly Christian ethical stance survives" today "mostly in atheism."

Three arguments, I think, can be made for the proposition that the irreligious are actually more moral than the religious:

1. That religions have actually encouraged violence because such intensity of conviction can lead to intolerance or crusades. Zizek (playing on the Dostoevsky line): "The lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted."

2. That atheists are more moral because a moral law resides in Nature or Humanity, and the atheist's view of this law is not obscured by ancient texts, rituals, tribal feuds or other forms of religious mumbo jumbo. Zizek alludes to this when he talks positively of "merely human constraints and considerations." It was a major theme when the pro-Atheism argument first showed itself in Europe with Baron d'Holbach and, later, young Shelley: shelley.jpg

There needeth not the hell that bigots frame
To punish those who err; earth in itself
Contains at once the evil and the cure;
And all-sufficing Nature can chastise
Those who transgress her law; she only knows
How justly to proportion to the fault
The punishment it merits.

3. That the religious do good only to cozy up to God (as discussed here). Zizek: "Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do."

These are attractive arguments for nonbelievers. Are they valid? And one more question: Is a "properly Christian ethical stance" what nonbelievers should be after?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at March 14, 2006 2:36 PM


Well, who are athiests trying to impress when they do unseen good deeds?

If your answer is Nature, you can just call Nature God, and you've started a new religion. The key to an atheist nature is that it asks nothing of us.

Posted by: Noah SD at March 15, 2006 1:37 AM

I have always thought that so-called "Christian values" are simply human values that have put on their Sunday clothes. Since I don't hold that a supernatural being gave humanity the Golden Rule, I must conclude that it emerged out of human nature/society, and so no faith system can lay exclusive claim on it. (In fact, I understand that Confucious offered a similar version of this rule 600 or so years before Jesus.)

Posted by: pablo at March 15, 2006 8:26 PM

What Zizek neglected to mention is that atheists, in addition to being more moral, are also more violent. Much, much more violent.

According to Mr. Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, we are now witnessing an increasingly "militant attempt to surgically remove religion from the public square and turn us into an atheistic society." And those atheists, not content with having excised God from biology and the evolution of life (the Thomas More Center made a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save him by defending the Dover, PA school board in the Kitzmiller intelligent design case), are going after Christians, God's helpless and pious adherents, as well. As Thompson points out, "It's almost like a genocide. It's a sophisticated genocide."


Posted by: Tim Kanwar at March 15, 2006 10:48 PM


Bullshit. Pure unadulterated bullshit.

Posted by: No More Mr. Nice Guy! at March 18, 2006 9:17 PM

Clearly, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Kanwar have never opened a dictionary to read that actual definition of "genocide."

Posted by: Dayv at March 21, 2006 1:15 AM

Correction: just Thompson.  Apparently, Tim Kanwar was being facetious, as is much more clear if you follow his link.

Posted by: Dayv at March 21, 2006 1:17 AM

Humanity gives rise to 3 types of morality. The lowest is the morality of means, whereby a person does what is right simply to reap rewards and evade negative consequences. The second is the morality of both means and ends, whereby a person does what is right both because it is right and because he expects to reap rewards/evade negative consequences. The highest and most rare is the morality of ends, whereby a person does what is right solely because it is right, pursuing moral/ethical perfection as an end for its own sake. Regardless of what different atheist or theist philosophies may set as ideal, human beings (both atheist and theist) fall into all three of these groups. To put either atheists or theists exclusively in one group is preposterous, narcissistic, and, dare I say it, bigoted.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 12, 2006 9:56 AM

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