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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"You Can't Have Morality Without God"
As an Atheist, I am constantly hearing from Christians that morality would not exist without the word of God instructing us on how to live our lives. Though I’ve found many things in the bible to dispute this claim, I will stick to the most well known set of ground rules in the bible, The Ten Commandment.

Most may not know them all, but everyone knows what they are and what they represent. If morality is truly from God’s own words, then surely it should be in these laws.

Having looked at them all though, only about six of them are even relevant to life and God's chosen people broke all but one of them. Some of the laws were even overlooked by God, because it was prosperous for the chosen people.

Think About This:

The first four commandments:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. - This is just God being a jealous god like we've read so much about. I'm referring to the passages that actually say he is a jealous God even though he is just and fair.

2. Thou shall not make unto thee any graven images. - To me this is the same reason as the first commandment. The Catholic Church is especially known for breaking this commandment. Just look at all the religious art.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy God in vain. - To me this is the same reason as the first commandment.  Also, how would one define "in vain"? Could it be saying God is great while blowing up a plane in his name or simply saying that something should be an abomination unto him?

4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. - This is because God had to rest on the seventh day and so should we. Really that doesn't make sense. Also, Sabbath comes from the Pagan word "Sabbat" which means celebration. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Now we get to the next six. These are the ones that I actually approve of, even if God overlooked them.

5. Honor thy father and thy mother. - It's always a good idea to honor and learn from you're elders, except it doesn't quite work this way. We are supposed to love our parents, but we shouldn't honor everything they say. Look at it this way, what if you're father was the man in Sodom and Gomorrah, he didn't want people to hear of the city's bad reputation, so he offered his own daughters for his enemies to "have their way with". An honorable person wouldn't do this to their own children, but if a dishonorable man DID do this, the child would have to obey or they would be breaking a commandment.

6. Thou shalt not kill. - of course if you are populating the world, you wouldnt wouldnt to kill you'reselves off. Besides, how could a society grow with such chaos? Only thing is, the bible is filled with people who have killed in the name of God.

7. Thou shall not commit adultery. - , but it doesn't make a bit of sense because God obviously didn't mind polygamy.

8. Thou shalt not steal. - stealing brings disorder to society. It causes distrust and contempt. So of course this is a good idea, except that God's chosen people stole not only property, but wives and slaves whenever they conquered a new tribe.

9. Thou shalt not bare false witness. - This one is great. This is one that actually doesn't get broken in the bible very often.

10. Thou shalt not covet. - I think wanting things give you motivation and a purpose in life..I dont really find this comandment nessesary, thier are reasons why it can be bad though. in the bible, God's chosen people coveted land that they were told they would inherit. They also coveted the property, slaves and wives of the men that they conquered. But God obviously didn't care about this transgression. Also, I find it interesting that you can't even THINK about doing something. It commands you to ignore the natural urges of desire.

This leaves us with only six commandments that give us morality. Only six and no where does it cover rape, abuse, slavery, equal rights or anything else that we claim are important. So if God is the reason for morality, wouldn't he add a lot more than six commandments? And what of the ones that God seemed to overlook for his chosen people?

After reading the commandments, it’s obvious that basing morality off of them is a bad idea. People can learn a far better ideal of morality from common sense and their own life experiences.

Morality without religious doctrine is related to culture, upbringing, life experiences, logic and common sense. If you follow only the moral code set forth by a certain religion, there is always going to be something left out.

There are also shades of gray when it comes to morality, not everything is simply "good and evil." If you had the chance to save the life of a complete stranger, but it meant letting someone you loved die, how would you choose? That's sort of an example.

Now I've talked about sharing the same principles as the word of God has taught us, but who's to say that these rules are just in the first place? Is God to say that they are absolutely just when really, we are the ones who are interpreting the word of God?

What of the other things that God let everyone get away with in his name in the old testament? What about treating women as property and what about slavery? In our secular nation, we have found that these are considered immoral and were probably influenced mostly by religion in the first place. Isn't this a good argument for Godless morality?

There were many other commandments that Moses passed onto us and maybe I'll talk about those some other time.

In conclusion, there are certain things that God's word has left out or even included that should be considered as immoral. I also find it interesting that the son of God's teachings could differ so much from our omnipotent creator's teachings. If you think about it, Jesus Christ's teachings were more influential to morality in our modern world then our God's. But even the savior's teachings can be challenged and it still goes to show that a belief in God is not necessary for morality.


I tell people I like to live by the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and that usually shuts them up. I know it is a very simplistic cliche but it does the trick.

Beautiful !   Succinct & effective. And the golden rule, or variations of it existed all over the world for millenia before the late J.C.

Ganapati said:  "As I already mentioned, if morality as you mentioned is objective, so is immorality, religion or no religion. It too can be observed.


What exactly is that supposed to prove?"


Your position initially, if I understood correctly, is that morality is entirely subjective.  This is simply not true.  There are definitely subjective judgments to be made--and the field will always lack any sort of scientific precision--but there are objectively observable themes and parameters as well.  And, that is my point.  I am most definitely not trying to argue that morality is completely objective.





You explicitly stated earlier that morality is objective like evolution is objective. If somewhere along the line you changed your position, I missed it until now.


Morality is not about what 'is', but what 'ought to be'. If 'morality' for you is each individual's personal preferences some of which are found to be common across many in a group, then we are using entirely different definitions of the word. A preference for coffee over tea or vice-versa regardless of how wide-spread it is in a particular group doesn't contitute part of 'morality', unless one preference is declared 'wrong' and engaging in it attracting some kind of force, from those who consider it wrong, to dissuade from such actions.


If you believe a deterrant should be placed against a certain kind of behaviour, that forms part of your morality, otherwise it doesn't. But the moment you do that, the question arises on what grounds do you declare that wrong, without claiming some special status for yourself.


What I stated was that there are no objective (as in outside of the proponent and not under his/her control) grounds for an atheist to claim one thing is wrong and another right regarding behaviour.

The objectivity of morality and evolution are similar but not precisely analogous.  In both cases, there is objective evidence that they exist and objective evidence of their parameters.  The details are the difference.  There is disagreement regarding the details of both.  In the case of evolution, however, the details will probably be worked out with a great deal of objectivity.  In the case of morality, the details will probably always contain significant subjective elements.  I don't see how it could be otherwise because the details will be based on value judgments.


Frankly, you've gone back to your straw man here.  You seem to be making no effort to understand what I am saying.  To you, any subjectivity means total subjectivity--but you don't even state your position that clearly.  Instead, you revert to asserting the extremes without articulating that middle step.  This is known as black and white thinking and is both a bad sign and a bad habit.


I don't have to be in a special position to assert the broad parameters of morality.  They are fairly obvious and have been demonstrated objectively.  For example, "killing other humans is wrong" is one of the parameters.  But, the devil is in the details.  What if the other human is trying to kill you?  Or someone you love?  What if he already has killed members of your society?  If he has committed 1 unprovoked murder, is it permissible to put him to death?  What if he has committed 50?  How much of a burden will it place on society to prevent him from murdering in the future compared to the risk that he will do so?  If the circumstances indicate he will very likely kill again, and the cost of keeping him incarcerated is huge, is it then permissible to put him to death?  Is it the "right" thing to do?


Just because people disagree on the details doesn't mean that the original premise ("killing other humans is wrong") is subjective. 

The "Good Atheist Arguments" are extremely immature and highly emotional with little logic or reason.


For examplle in the first link the person states that he/she values peace and freedom for everyone (within limits necessary for operating an effective criminal justice system). Guess what? That is exactly what every society that ever has been is! The difference is in what is considered crime.


An example in the second link "Atheists would never kill people because of their genetic background because atheists have no rational reason to believe that there is a supreme ruler of the universe who wants certain groups to rule the world as his highest form of creation." Atheists can easily cite "statistics/history/progress" to show how one group was superior to another and declare that an extermination or subjugation of the inferior ones is necessary for the "good of mankind". There is an atheist right on this forum who is making a similar argument on a different thread right on this forum, declaring that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were "good" and calling for an invasion of Iran.


The arguments are so mindbogglingly bad, I doubt I can expect any rational discourse on this forum.



I think about the consequences of my actions. I do not want to harm others. You know, treating others the way you would like to be treated. Because life is an amazing thing (without religion) and we should make the most of it while we're here. :)

In my opinion basic morality comes from evolution and the psychology of group behavior and how it pertained to survival for basic human social groups.

Then through empathy, logic and the evolution of society as a whole humanity has been able to fine tune and ultimately choose the morals which are believed to be right and wrong.


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