When discussing the question of God and religion with an atheist, it doesn’t take long before they tell you that Atheists don’t need God or religion in order to be moral.
One’s first response to that might be “well…yeah that’s true” and then go right along with the conversation as to the importance of faithfulness to God anyway.
But while there is some truth to the statement that atheists can behave morally, it’s untrue that they can be moral without God, or that they can maintain moral behavior without religion. There are reasons why atheists can have morals; I’ve known many moral atheists myself. But all of those reasons involve God and religion. And without believing in God or the religion he established—Catholicism—it isn’t long before an individual atheist becomes more morally fractured, and less and less moral in their behavior.
Let’s talk about where an atheist’s morality comes from: I mean right morality.
An atheist’s morality comes first from the human constitution, which is written by God and is disposed naturally to seek the good. Atheists are human persons after all, and God has written right-and-wrong into our human constitution. And so whether believer, or atheist we all have a basic understanding of right and wrong.
We can arrive at correct answers to simple moral questions simply by applying our intellects—another creation of God.
Pain is bad. Giving pain is wrong. Easing pain is right. Deception is bad. Lying is wrong. Being honorable is right, etc. These are very rudimentary moral formulas that any human being with a sound mind, and a balanced emotional faculty can work out on their own. That’s where the conscience comes from, after all. But the intellect, and by extension the emotions, aren’t organs of the human body, they’re faculties of the human soul. They’re spiritual components. That’s where God makes the first call in our moral decisions; he has created us to have a basic understanding of right and wrong. Basic! Moving on.
Another contributor to the moral foundation of Atheists—or even agnostics—is the rise and reign of Christianity…as much as they’d love to deny it.
The human conscience is insufficient by itself for guiding complex, mature moral decisions. Giving pain is bad, but it is always wrong? If it isn’t always wrong, then can we call it good? If it’s good, then must we say it’s right? Mind you, we haven’t even gotten to the moral complexities of life, death, and social issues we’re only talking about pain and already things are getting less simple.
Catholicism provides humanity with divine wisdom and guidance, and directs our minds and hearts toward objective truth. Morality is based on truth, not preference or popularity.
Atheists today make very few correct moral decisions on their own; almost all of those decisions are made with the help of the Catholic Church which brought objective morality to the cultures in which the modern atheist develops. Murder was never widely seen as objectively wrong until the Ten Commandments. Caring for the poor, and the homelesss, education of children, and women, showing kindness to others instead of being indifferent to them; all of these things are Catholic morals that didn’t even exist before the Church. Kindness was optional before Catholicism. Murder wasn’t wrong, it was just rude. Education was seen as practical, when it was necessary, it wasn’t seen as the empowerment of the intellect bestowed on mankind by God.
So when atheists get those issues right, they get them right because they’re imitating good Catholics. They’re adopting the Catholic moral code, which shaped, and nurtured their own moral foundation from the earliest years of their formation.
So, with all of these moral contributors in place, whether or not the person believes in God, why does an a person actually need to believe in God and in Catholicism in order to BE moral?
As I said, these moral contributors enable only a basic moral understanding.
Without the guidance of a moral authority, the moral foundations of atheists and agnostics begins to decay. In the interests of popular opinion, or selfish desire, they begin to trade objective morality for subjective morality. They also fail to see morality as a something whole an indivisible, and begin to see it as fragmented and negotiable. For example, atheists know murder is wrong, but many of them regard abortion as a human right; they don’t see abortion as murder.
Atheists know—on some level—that all human beings have dignity and that dignity should be protected, and respected. Always! But how many of them believe pornography should be banned? I mean pornography is a pretty obvious assault on the dignity of human persons, yet you’d be hard pressed to find a secular so-called “humanist” who believes its wrong.
Atheists seem to believe in free will, but not in free thought: I mean look at how hostile they are toward any expression of Catholic thought. They say they believe in the equality of the genders, but the way they often actualize that ethic is by neutering both genders.
Atheists can behave morally without believing in God; there’s no question about that. But it’s a stretch to say that atheists can BE moral without the moral authority of God, or The Church to inform and guide their consciences. Because morality is based on objective, unchanging truth which comes from God. It is not based on emotions, preference, convenience, popular opinion, or popular demand, which are the determining factors that inform the consciences of atheists today, and will be responsible for the progressive collapse of civilization tomorrow. Because Morality comes from God, not from man’s imagination. Goodness comes from the moral force of Catholicism, not from the selfish, distorted desires of those who reject it.