Post Author: Bill Pratt
Atheists often complain that they experience prejudice directed at them by theists. Theists, they claim, accuse atheists of being immoral because atheists have no transcendent standard of morality. There is a level of distrust, at least for some theists, that exists.
So why do some theists worry about the ethics of atheists? Is this worry warranted?
Recently I finished a book written by Dan Ariely called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. In this book, Ariely chronicles numerous psychological studies intended to discover how human beings react to a wide range of situations (very similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow).
Ariely is very interested in business ethics and he reports on several experiments that shed some light on human dishonesty. Based on these studies, Ariely concludes that “when we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty. But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest.”
He goes on to recommend that the ethical crisis he sees in America can be turned around by people regularly reading the holy books which codify their moral values. This is because his research shows that those people who are reminded of their moral values frequently act more ethically.
There is nothing new here that hasn’t been recommended by great thinkers for thousands of years. Moral virtue is a practice. You don’t just wake up every day and act with high moral integrity. It takes effort.
Herein lies why I think atheists are not trusted. Theists wonder, “When is the atheist reading his holy book?” Never, because he doesn’t believe in holy books. Is the atheist regularly being reminded by a pastor how he is supposed to behave? Is he studying the words and deeds of moral saints? No and no. These things usually happen in religious gatherings which most atheists avoid.
Speaking personally, I don’t go more than a week without reading or hearing about moral duties and virtues because I am reading the Bible and listening to godly men and women teach the moral precepts found in the Bible. I am also watching men and women of great moral character at my church every week. I am soaking it up.
Now, before I get a bunch of nasty comments, let me say that I know many atheists who are decent, law-abiding citizens. I even know some atheists who go above and beyond to help other people. So this is not meant as some kind of blanket indictment.
But, I am asking some hard questions of atheists. If you are an atheist, when are you soaking up moral teaching? How are you learning to be virtuous? Who is challenging you, week after week, to act with the highest integrity and morality? These are important questions for you to answer. The Christian who goes to church and reads her Bible regularly has a real advantage over you.