Why Aren’t All Atheists Hedonists?

Have you ever heard the term “moral atheist”? Someone who doesn’t believe in God, but has a moral code that they follow. I mean a code that most of us would consider moral: nice, decent people who don’t lie or cheat or steal.

I’ve often wondered about someone who appears to be a decent person, but doesn’t believe God exists; to what do they ascribe their morality? What is the difference between the moral atheist who picks the code I mention above and one who is the opposite? If we aren’t comparing the behavior of each to some higher standard, then how can we say one is right and one wrong?

If you google “moral atheist” you’ll find all kinds of articles where people try to defend their non-Christian (positive) morality. They claim that it “is just the right thing to do” or that “it is built into people” or that “they are moral because having a moral society is ultimately good for them”.

While I’d certainly rather share society with the moral atheist than the amoral (or immoral) one, their logic makes no sense to me. C.S. Lewis just shreds this kind of thinking in Mere Christianity, but if you don’t have time to read that at the moment, consider this:

I once heard a someone joke that if he didn’t believe in God, why not “head straight for Las Vegas and the hookers?” His point was that his sense of morality flows from God and that if that wasn’t true, then pretty much anything goes, and what would be wrong with that or anything else? How would you condemn something (or anything) I’ve done without using God’s words? Wouldn’t anything I do be as valid as anything you do? How could you be right and me wrong…unless we’ve got some standard to which to compare our behavior?

I’ve heard Christian apologists argue that if our morality is relative, and one decided to murder a group of small children, how exactly would you condemn them for that? I think the honest relativist would agree that he couldn’t.

As logical as that is, why don’t we see more people agreeing with it? Because it just isn’t right. Relativism outside of anarchy makes no sense to me – it just boils down to “my personal values are the right ones.”

I don’t think we can trust our personal values – the only ones that can be trusted are God’s.

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3 Responses to “Why Aren’t All Atheists Hedonists?”

  1. Makarios Says:

    “I mean a code that most of us would consider moral: nice, decent people who don’t lie or cheat or steal.”

    Of course such people only exist in theory.

    What could be said is that someone who lies infrequently might see himself as an honest person just as someone who screws around on his wife “just a little” might allow him to think of himself as a faithful husband.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    We arrive at morals and life codes through experience and through learning from those around us .

    For instance many tribes that still live today have no gods yet it cannot be said they have no morals .As many of them have far more morals when it comes to things such as preserving nature food and things for their needs , verses full slather for personal gain .

    These things are passed on from parent to children having been learnt in the past often from learning from experiences of bad experiences from obvious bad decisions having been made .

    People learn from these things .

    The suggestion that is trying to be pushed by many religious folk specially at the present time that people with no godly beliefs are somehow void of morals , holds about as much likely hood of holding truths as the suggestion that those with godly beliefs somehow can do no wrong .

  3. Keith Lowe Says:

    I agree that people learn from those things, but surely you’ll agree that what they learn is relative? I mean, some people become more decent with experience, and some become more abusive, corrupt, etc.

    That’s my point – without an objective standard, why is the person who learns to be better different than the one who just learns how to better take advantage of people?

    And if you believe that Christians see themselves as being able to do no wrong (I agree some do), I suggest you haven’t met many “real Christians”.

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