Our approach so far has been fairly catechetical – we’re building a foundation of knowledge about morality. Let us apply some of that knowledge, and have a little fun besides.
Generally speaking, atheists break themselves off into a few different groups with respect to morality.*
First, one has the intelligent, reflective atheist – here is one who recognizes that something needs to be said about morality, who further realizes it is not a matter of proving that individual atheists can be good people. He wants to maintain that objective morality is real, and he’s trying to figure out how. For him, I have respect.
Second, one has the intelligent, reflective atheist who concedes there can be no objective morality without God. One finds an example in Nietzsche, among others. The intellectual integrity of such people, I respect; their prescriptions for human behavior cause me to tremble.
Third, you have your atheist who declares that belief in God is not necessary to be good, because…well, look at him, the atheist. He’s a good person! Plus, evolution. Here is one who is confused and proud of it, and we will deal with him later.
Fourth, you have your atheist who both denies objective morality, then tells you how terrible Christians are. And God. God is the worst. But seriously, if Christians would just stop doing X, Y, and Z, they’d be good people, too, and everyone would be better off.
Let’s have fun with the fourth atheist. Bearing in mind our illustration from last time, consider this:
Imagine you are in a dark room with a blind man. You know that you have sight, and you know that light exists, but at the moment you can’t see any.
You come to find out – because he told you so – that this man does not believe in the existence of light. In fact, he used to have vision, but when he realized that light was just an illusion, he blotted out his own eyes, so that he would not get confused about whether there was any light.
This seems rather drastic to you, but he is strangely proud of the fact. So proud that he wants to convince you that there is no such thing as light, too.
Blind man: Well yes, of course there’s no light.
Blind man: Oh, you’ve been duped, too? Not completely your fault; your parents probably taught you there’s such a thing as light. Well, we now know there is no such thing.
You: Why do you think that?
Blind man: Light is an illusion! Go ahead – prove to me that light exists.
You: But you’re blind.
Blind man: No, I see perfectly that there is no light! Can’t prove it, then?
You: Well- I mean, you just see light. That’s how you know it’s there. It’s obvious.
Blind man: Ah, but Science has shown us that this is just an illusion, just as I’ve been telling you. You only think you can see light because you have not been enlightened yet.
You let some time pass. How did you end up in this room, anyway? Maybe there’s a door here somewhere…
Blind man: Excuse me, could you step to the side, please?
You: I’m sorry?
Blind man: Yes, could you step to the side? I can’t see.
Blind man: Well?
You: Listen, that doesn’t even make sense.
Blind man: You’re a Christian, I bet. Still believe in bronze-aged myths and a sky daddy?
You: What does that-
Blind man: Look, your body is opaque, you can’t help that, and for the most part you’ve stayed out of my line of sight. But now your shadows are kinda bothering me. If you would just take one step to the side, I would be grateful, and I think we’d get along splendidly.
You: (Well, what would you say?)
This is just the sort of absurd thing our fourth atheist is doing. He wants to deny there is objective morality (in the story, “light”), and finds some irrelevant way to dismiss it. How could you prove to him that there is objective morality if, when you point to it, he dismisses it as an illusion?
That’s one thing. To say there is no objective morality is to say that there is no moral difference between genocide and mowing the lawn. Some people swallow that pill, and they usually experience bottomless despair as a result.
But our rather stupid fourth atheist goes one further, as he is wont to do.**
He now has the unmitigated temerity to correct your morality, though he denies objective morality. He thinks that if Christians would just give a little ground on, say, abortion, that would be a step in the right direction. Then they would be better people, morally.
This is just absurd, and beyond absurd. It is like denying there is such a thing as light – effectively declaring oneself blind, unable to see because there is nothing to see – and then being critical of someone else’s shadows.
There is no expression of incredulity, not even the Internet classic “WTF?”, which would address this criticism with adequate disdain. One is rightly moved to violence; and rightly restrictive of the impulse. After all, there is such a thing as objective morality.
And don’t forget…he is the enlightened one. Best to leave him alone, in the company of his only intellectual peer.
*This is how I have fun, anyway. Oh, that? Of course one may have fun with atheists!
**If the allusion is missed, it should not be lost. Also, this seems to be a quintessential demonstration of stupidity, and I intend the word precisely, not as mere mud-slinging.