Explaining Atheist Morality to a Christian Family

I recently "came out" as an Atheist to my Christian family. They responded well, though they asked a lot of questions about why I decided to leave the church and reject God. I explained my various grievances with the Church which they all agreed were valid points, yet hey were willing to overlook them, something I could not do.


Then my mother threw me a curveball. she said "If you have no God to hold youself accountable to, why bother being a good person, why not lie, steal and cheat?" I tried to explain how the right thing is still the right thing and how I didn't want to only to make the right choice because out of fear of punishment. I wanted to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do.


She then went on to ask me why it was the right thing to do, who said so? I responded with my conscience told me what was right. She asked me what told my conscience that right was right and wrong was wrong.


And this was where I said something along the lines of: "Uhh...buhhh...meh?"


So my question to you all is: Where do you base your morality from, and how do you defend that morality against people who believe that morality can only be based off of a God?

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"why not lie, steal and cheat?"


i'd ask her how would she like to live in a world where people are allowed to cheat, steal, kill, rape, and lie- without repercussions. 


how would you like to raise children in that kind of world? open a business in that kind of world? hope your spouse comes home at night in that kind of world, heck, even leave the house...


you woulden't like it, would you?

we'll neither do atheists....


the reason to be good is to make life in THIS world possible.

Hi Aimee, as a loong time Atheist, I would have mentioned to your mother, I don't believe in an imaginary friend. That the Christian prison population is way over a million felons. Atheists are a SMALL fraction of one percent. Either we are more moral / law abiding, or we,re smarter by far than Xians. I stopped believing in an 'imaginary friend' over 65 years ago. Religion is mostly a matter of geography & parentage. If one is born in the Middle East to Muslim parents, he's a Muslim. If in India to Hindus - he's a Hindu. My congratulations & compliments on your achievement. You are on the right track. You have broken the cycle. Consider reading some Roman history, esp. biographies of Emperor Constantine. He is the REAL founder - & FUNDER of the Catholic church / Christianity, early 4th century. There is nothing new / original in it. The bible is simply a sloppy compilation of hearsay, folklore, mythology & fables. It's gathered from all over that era & location. I'm a lifelong bookworm. Just reading 8 or 10 history books/bios will confirm you in your disbeliefs. I wish you the best of luck.
...i told my mom that if she felt she raised me correctly, she had nothing to worry about.  i prove to her that she taught me correctly what right from wrong was.  she always taught me to put myself in the other persons shoes.  to consider other people.

The bigoted notion that morality has to come from belief in god is the rationalization the religious use to justify persecuting us.






It is religion itself that is evil:



I had an aunt playing a chess match with me once on religion. Growing up we weren't religious, but an infusion of a bride to one of my cousins and the introduction of kids changed the mix. They were going back to religion, and since it was after 9-11 I was staking my ground as an Atheist. I think that before that, we just didn't care about it much.
So anyway, I've mentioned this before, but it went like this. Her, "So where do you get your morals from?" Me, "I don't have Jesus to forgive me for what I do. I have to live with how I've treated people." That was the end of the chess match and while we may disagree on points, it's no longer an attempt to corner me on issues. They even said that I gave a lovely funeral to my father even though it was clearly from and Atheist perspective.
The short is that if you are treating someone contrary to how you would be treated, you should feel guilty for the act, not because Jesus is watching and Heaven is slipping away. In no way does that world view foster altruism or empathy. Empathy is the basis of nearly all universal morality. The morals of the Bible such as don't have sex, don't get drunk, Tattoos, etc are rejected on a societal level because they do no harm to others. So in the end, in addition to the evolutionary argument as a cause for morality, guilt and empathy are the moral motivators.
Good luck on convincing her and getting her to acceptance. It takes time.
Exactly.  It is unnecessary to have someone watching your every move in order to behave in an ethical and moral manner. 
Great post. Good job, well done.

The way that i approached this question when others asked me was to admit that there is a universal nature that corresponds to morals. That is why people in a given country/nation/community will typically respond the same way to most moral decisions. That said i think morals are mostly macro-structurally derived (that each individual impacts socially derived standards, and that those standards then in turn impinge themselves upon us). These then tend to be regulated through other standards, e.i. the media, the law, religious/a religious groups etc. While i know that this view might be more clinical or seem less personal, it does all stem down to the individuals that define the standards. Which is why individuals make different moral decisions. This also explains why different cultures have different social norms.


While this is not as simple as 'God makes moral standards', i do think that it is comprehensive and logical.

Read 'The Moral Landscape' by Sam Harris and you will know exactly where our morality came from. His conjecture is that morality is genetic and pretty much an indirect result of evolution; natural selection.


Think about it this way: those who get along in society and are nice to others tend to be those that make the most social connections and therefore are the most likely to help continue our species. Humans are competitive, but not violent by nature; that's an abnormality, to wish harm on others of your species on a regular basis. The fact is that morality was probably developed out of natural selection.

Well said. Sam Harris also presented a summary of his ideas at TED, for those who want the 20 minute version.

Aimee, you can find that plus other definitions of secular morality by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Dillahunty and a couple others here http://iamgoodwithoutgod.com/good.php

Morality is not merely about what one would voluntarily do or refrain from doing, but feel so strongly about that he/she would be willing to use force, social pressure or physical, to coerce even the unwilling into that behaviour. There are two categories in morality, the things one ought to do and things one ought to refrain from doing, many of the latter often being decreed so wrong that a strong deterrant is put in place in the form of punishment for doing so.

Is it possible to define morality, that one intends to enforce on others, without putting oneself in a special position in relation to others who disagree? If we believe something is objective, like the earth being spheroidal in shape, we will be convinced of its truth regardless of how many disagree with it, because we believe they too would be forced to come to the same conclusions as we do provided they take the time to consider the evidence. Specialists are not bothered about disagreements from non-specialists because they realise a certain degree of specialisation is needed for people to even understand what is being proposed and its objectivity is not suspect merely because some non-specialists do not agree with it nor can they be made to see the truth of the matter merely by presenting some evidence and asking them to consider it. So when we consider something to be objective the special position is accorded to the object and not the subject. A scientist claiming to have discovered a new principle is not considered to be speaking out of arrogance, because the only special position he is claiming is to have discovered it, it having an existence independent of the scientist claiming to have discovered it. However, if something is not objective, as non-religious morality is considered to be, it requires a tremendous degree of arrogance to not only claim that others respect one's preferences for behaviour but also to threaten them with punishment for failing to do so. Advocates of religious morality have no such problem because the only special position they are claiming relative to the rest is like the scientist who discovers a principle, that the dictates are that of an objective external entity and not the person espousing them.

So an atheist who claims to believe in morality is either a megalomaniac, not too critical in thinking, simply dishonest or some combination of them, exactly those qualities that religious people are accused of.

There is certainly a different possibility, but I will wait for some discussion on the above before mentioning it.

I am afraid you need to give this topic a little more thought and research.  There are, in fact, objective criteria regarding morality and studies to prove that these criteria grow out of our nature and environment and have been around for a sufficient length of time to have become universal moral assumptions in the human mind via evolution.


This article below and the one by Stephen Pinker referenced in it are a good place to start:




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