Morality - An Atheist Viewpoint

I want to talk about morals. So I'm gonna

I titled this "An Atheistic Viewpoint" because I don't imagine that every atheist out there is going to agree with Me. This is MY viewpoint, as AN atheist I'll present it, defend it, and modify it if any arguments are presented which contradict it convincingly. This, of course, is quite unlike theistic code of morals which are simply presented, defended with the "because my deity said so" argument, and modified rarely if ever. I'd be astonished, flabbergasted, and taken aback if more than a few atheists actually do agree with Me.

Let's start with the basics. Atheists do not believe in a god. That's kind of the definition of the word in case you didn't know. That means that I do not believe in an ultimate arbiter of "right" and "wrong."  Those terms mean whatever the ... fudgesticks I want them to mean.

Oh wow! There is no god!  So I get to do whatever I damned well want to do!  Actually yeah, that's one of the perks of atheism.

But there is a restriction there. You can do whatever you want to do as long as it falls within the laws of the state or territory in which you reside. Or at least until you get caught. Also, other people can do whatever they want to do, which you may or may not agree with or like.

The Ten Commandments?  Out the window. The Golden Rule?  Similarly discarded. Morality comes down to a preference. How do you think that people "should" act?

Everyone acts in their own interests. Even a god, of whom I do not grant existence, would act in its own interests. What has that to do with Me?  So a god wants Me to do something. Why should I?  What is that to Me?

Those who obey blindly the tenets of any religion are, as defined, blind. That's not even in question. Those who fantasize about some sort of "natural law" are just as wrong. The universe does have laws: the law of gravity, the law of conservation of charge, and so on. But none of them tell you what to do. The laws just tell you what will happen when certain things occur.

There have been attempts to develop an objective moral code that does not depend upon divine revelation. Many people are familiar with utilitarianism (if not by name), a moral philosophy popularized by John Stuart Mill. According to this way of thinking the aim of an action, to be considered moral, ought to be "the greatest good for the greatest number."  Again, though, I must ask: What is that to Me?

For what reason must I prefer the good of several others over the good of Myself?  Is there a minimum number of others?  If I can save a million people by giving up My life, should I do that?  What if I could only save a hundred people?  What if it were only two other people who would be saved and I honestly dislike both of them?

Morality is subjective and malleable.

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Consider a person who owned over a hundred slaves and wanted to forcibly relocate some Native Americans. Is that a good man?  His name was Thomas Jefferson. If a politician today held those values then his political career would be over. Yet I'm sure that in the views of Jefferson those values were correct. And who am I to say that he was wrong?

Who am I to say that he was wrong?  Well I'll tell you. I am Me. There are things that I consider to be unacceptable. Admittedly, those things are a product of My biology, My background, My education, My society and probably many other things. However, they are My values. They may be different from yours, or from that other person's, or from Thomas Jefferson's.

I may argue for My values. I may vote for My values. I may fight for My values. But in the end, that is what they are -- My values.

So, you may ask, what right do I have, does anyone have, to say that another person's values are more or less valid than another's?  I'll tell you: absolutely none. I'll go further. "Rights" are a fiction. There are no animal rights. There are no human rights. Tell me, what colour is a "right," and how much does it weigh?  It is, as Max Stirner put it, a "ghost in the head."

Right or Wrong

Am I suggesting that there is no such thing as right or wrong?  No. I am flat-out saying that.
There are people who do things for others. There are people who put their lives and well-being on the line for others (thinking primarily of the armed services, police and fire brigade, thank you for your service). Do I think that they are stupid, insane, or completely blind?  No. They are doing that because that is what they want to do. It is in line with their own values.

Biologically We are programmed (most of Us, at least) to care a little bit about the people around Us. From an evolutionary perspective, that's quite to be expected. Despite romantic ideas about the "lone wolf" and individualism, humans survive much better in groups. We help others, others help Us, We all benefit.

That leads to what is known as "society."  Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are the best known advocates of the theory of the "social contract."  In its most simple form it's just saying "You don't hurt Me and I won't hurt you."  Society has more or less codified this idea and has an entire network of courts and police to enforce this idea.

This does not mean that it is "right."  The police have guns and, while you may or not have guns, the police have more of them. And likely more bullets. You are welcome at any time to test this on your own.

What is Good?

Doing something to help someone else is genetically advantageous and produces a pleasurable feeling in many instances. There is a story about a man who came across someone who had been in a car accident; he pulled the person out of the wreck and took them to a hospital, which saved their life. Later, the person offered their saviour some money to reward them. The man declined, saying this: "I had no reason to help you, but I did it of my own accord. That gives me a good feeling. If I accepted your money then I would be selling you that feeling. No, it ain't for sale."

There is a T-shirt I've seen lately that says "Good without God."  What that means, in My opinion, is that the person believes themselves to act morally without the instructions of a divine being. That's OK, you believe whatever you want to believe. My question is this: by what standard are you measuring "good?"

Obviously not the Ten Commandments, since this person is violating the first one right off the bat. (Though some may argue the details on that.)  "Good" by society's rationale?  In that case, what differentiates morality from a popularity contest?  By your own standards?  Why cannot yours just say, "Doing whatever I want to do" and be done with it?

Someone once told Me that I did not have ethics, I had aesthetics. That is this atheist's point of view. There are no actions that I think are "right" or "wrong."  There are actions that I prefer over other actions. But that is simply My preference.

Notes:

Photo Credits: Arlington County

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