Is morality safer in the hands of atheists or theists? I’ve been contemplating this for some time and just want to share a few thoughts for consideration.
I’ve noticed that atheists rejoice when some prominent Christian takes a nose dive into sin. It is a “See, I told you all along that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites,” moment. A blog I subscribe to is very adept at this. It is an opportunity to gleefully point out that Christian claims to strong moral standards are bogus. This same blog and others of its stripe often deride and mock people of faith as being deceivers and deceived. Believers are all painted with the same brush: ignorant, superstitious, unintelligent, uninformed, unscientific, etc. Unfortunately, I am sure this is an accurate description of all too many theists. An interesting article along these lines can be found here.
It is to the shame of Christianity that there is so little difference in the conduct of professed believers and professed atheists. According to solid research, professed believers fornicate, lie, cheat and steal only slightly less than professed atheists.
The truth is that all humans are sinners (Romans 3). The difference between theists and atheists is not so much in the quantity or quality of sin but in the struggle against it (Romans 7). Personally speaking, I have several areas that I struggle with…sometimes winning…sometimes losing. In the struggle I am always aware of most of my sins (Psalm 51:3). As a Christian I know that as long as I genuinely struggle against sin I am somehow forgiven (Romans 7:24-8:4; 1 John 1:5-10). This is not to excuse the conduct of those who profess belief. There is no excuse.
The atheist, on the other hand, needs no forgiveness for there is no God from whom to seek forgiveness. Atheistic moral standards are built upon human values. Those values are ambiguous, imprecise and undefined. For the most part, they are culturally and socially determined and a matter of self-preservation. When transgressed, there may or may not be consequences.
It is no surprise then that most atheist bloggers I read are in favor of the open practice of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion. And while empathy and altruism are by no means limited to Christians, actions and attitudes defined in Scripture as “sinful” may have no counterpart in morality as defined by an atheist.
I have learned a lot about atheistic moral standards by reading atheist blogs and subsequent comments. I have been stung and challenged by the perceptions and truths revealed there. But I have also been sickened and disgusted.
One particularly obnoxious blog design features a naked female nailed to a cross as part of the design of the site. Previously, designed obviously to shock, it depicted a full-frontal female nude in the place of Christ in a version of the “Last Supper” painting. I used to read this generally civil and rational blog. I can simply no longer stomach his immoral choice of artistic expression.
And, speaking of comments, some of the language is anything but moral. Since most of the commentators are fellow-travelers obscenities are spewed-forth with abandon. And why not? Most standards of civility and acceptable speech valued by Christians are derived from Scripture. Since there is no written code for atheists, as social ethics decline (as is most certainly the case), standards of acceptable speech also decline.
But back to the question: Is morality safer in the hands of atheists or theists? My answer is the latter…but apparently only slightly so. This answer is completely unacceptable. And who is to blame? I always think of the line from the Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” With too few exceptions (but there are, thankfully, exceptions), Christianity throughout the “Western World” has become more like a social club. Tremendous energy and resources are dedicated to ourselves: our buildings, our comfort, our social acceptance. We meet and talk and talk some more then meet some more. We even hire people to talk to us in our meetings as a profession! No wonder we are not taken seriously! We are so concerned with matters completely foreign to the concerns of Christ that we have become something markedly different to what He intended. As an appalling consequence, our actions and attitudes offer little difference to that of our atheist neighbors. Until that fact changes, the answer to our question will remain the same.