Perhaps it’s merely a reflection of my personal taste in reading material, but I have to say I have rarely had the privilege of witnessing such a lurid display of paranoid hysteria as Chapter 4 of The Irrational Atheist. It starts out reasonably enough, pointing out that public opinion of atheists may have declined slightly since some of them started rocking the boat. But it quickly goes downhill from there. Vox has apparently convinced himself that the Enlightenment is some kind of secret conspiracy to undermine public morals and, I don’t know, pervert justice and destroy all that is good and right and holy, etc. etc.
On the other hand, hmmm… Enlightenment…enlighten…illuminate…ILLUMINATI!!!!1!1 (Cue the Home Alone kid in 3…2…1…)
Vox seems to have been listening to Christian slanders against atheists for so long that he is no longer able to distinguish them from the truth. Take politics, for example.
Most Americans wisely distrust politicians on principle; after all, the country was founded upon the basic principle of limiting the power of those who have been successful in obtaining office.
Regardless of what one thinks of a politician’s religion, the mere fact that he has one offers the voter essential information about where his moral and ethical lines are theoretically drawn. This doesn’t mean that he is actually bound by them in any way, but at least the voter has some idea of where his limits should be.
In other words, religion makes it easier for politicians to gain the voters’ confidence under false pretenses. And Vox sees this as a good thing, a point in religion’s favor, as opposed to those dastardly, sneaky atheists.
In the case of the atheist politician, however, the voter not only has no information, he has no easy means of obtaining that information.
What? Atheists aren’t telling us what their moral values are? How suspicious is that? There can only be one explanation: it’s all a vast, secret conspiracy!! Whenever anybody expects voters to put any effort at all into researching a candidate’s record and position statements, instead of just picking candidates based on their superficial religious affiliation, you just know they can’t be up to anything good!
But that’s just a hint of the anti-atheist paranoia to come. For example, did you know that atheists are “moral parasites”? Oh yes, they’re so evil that even when they’re good, they’re only stealing someone else’s goodness.
Most atheists abide by the morality of the culture that they inhabit, not because they have taken the effort to reason from first principles and miraculously reached conclusions that bear a remarkable similarity to the moral system of those around them, but because lacking any moral system of their own, they parasitically latch onto the system of their societal host.
That’s right, this evil atheist conspiracy, led by the clandestine Enlightenmenati, has latched on to society like a tapeworm and is attempting to suck away all the moral virtue! They’re not just evil and secretive, they’re invasive! Feel violated, America! Feel very violated.
Vox is apparently laboring under the misconception that morality isn’t a matter of doing right and refusing to do wrong, but rather is a matter of somebody writing down an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts that other people can point to and say “That’s morality.” Christians have a list they call the Ten Commandments, so they’re “moral,” but atheists don’t even have a Scripture, much less a divinely-appointed list of do’s and don’ts, and therefore they are parasites, stealing their morality from the surrounding Christians.
In the real world, of course, all morality is based on the desirability or undesirability of the expected consequences. If someone lies all the time, people will cease to trust them, causing the liar more harm than good; lying is therefore bad. If someone practices hard work and self-discipline, people will come to respect them, and their status and opportunities will rise accordingly; hard work and self-discipline are therefore good. If you wear a green tie with your white shirt, few people will care much one way or another; the consequences are neither beneficial nor harmful and therefore wearing a green tie is morally neutral, neither good nor bad.
This explains why, with minor superstitious exceptions, morality is pretty much the same everywhere. Murder was bad long before the Bible was written (or the Vedas, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, etc.). Christianity came along, adopted the same moral standards as everyone else, and then gave itself credit for having invented them. And Vox calls atheists “moral parasites” for embracing the same secular moral standards as everyone does, regardless of religion? Please.
But Vox rants on:
[A]theists in Christian cultures behave according to an individual morality that has more in common with the surrounding Christians than with Hindu atheists or Islamic atheists with whom they theoretically have more in common. In practice, this tends to work out as the dominant local moral system minus the proscribed behavior in which the individual really wants to engage, which is usually something involving sex or money.
*cough*larrycraig*cough*tedhaggard*cough*jimbakker*cough*jimmyswaggert*cough*richardroberts*cough* Sorry, I must have choked on something. But seriously, what are these so-called “moral differences” between atheists and “Hindu atheists” or “Islamic atheists”? He says that atheists have more in common with Christian morality than with other forms of atheism (whatever he means by that). So what are these moral differences which are so much greater between different atheists than between atheists and Christians? Seems to me that most people share a common view of right and wrong, regardless of religion or lack of religion. The points of variation are largely to do with the superstitious objections that believers have to things for which secularists can find no objective evidence of net negative effect (e.g. working on Saturdays, or allowing gay marriage).
So, while atheists indubitably possess morals, it is the inability to know which specific morals they personally subscribe to and which they reject that renders them rightly suspect. The problem is rooted in the fact that no atheist possesses a universally applicable morality, since one cannot be derived from either his atheism or from science.
There’s that darn conspiracy again. Yes, atheists are deliberately hiding their moral standards. It’s all a big plot. They don’t have a Holy List of Do and Don’t, so you just can’t trust them. They’re “rightly suspect.” After all, who wouldn’t be suspicious when faced with such an obviously secretive and nefarious bunch of infiltrators?
Well let me bust this case wide open. That’s right, I’m going to spill the beans and reveal the secret moral code that every atheist swears a blood oath never to reveal. Ready? Atheists have the same morals as everyone else, minus the superstitious demands and prohibitions intended to satisfy the arbitrary desires of the Invisible Guy in the Sky.
Yep. That’s all there is to it. If Vox weren’t so blinded by centuries of Christian slanders against non-believers, he could very easily discover that, for example, atheists regard lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, murder, assault, torture, and violations of human rights, as wrong. And honesty, integrity, fidelity, fairness, and so on, as good. Cause and effect, Vox. Cause and effect. If the consequences are beneficial, the thing is good; if they’re detrimental, it’s bad. Everybody knows this.
But that’s too easy. Of course an evil conspiracy would pretend to embrace real morals. What they’re really after is “disgusting dog-torturing and corpse-carving.” Yada yada yada. (Sigh.)
Well, this post is getting long, so we’ll break here. Next time, we’ll continue in Chapter 4 with a look at the evil leadership of this vast, secret conspiracy. Stay tuned.