The folks over at positiveatheism.org just posted one of my articles.
The Good Atheist
By Wm. Hopper
Most atheists have heard some variant of the question: “If you don’t believe in God, what’s to stop you from killing or stealing?”
As simplistic as it sounds, the question goes to the heart of the modern atheist’s dilemma. If you live your life without the constant influence of preternatural beings, what is there to stop you from doing ‘evil’ things? How can anyone be trusted when their lives are not tempered by the hand of the Almighty, and a healthy fear of eternal damnation?
A common response to this question is to point out that religions often fail to stay the hands of their own devout followers. The history books are full of examples of pious men and women who have done horrible things, either for or despite their religious convictions. However, religious folk respond to this defense by explaining that the billions of humans who have not done harm are the true testament of the virtue of a religious life. The ‘evil’ people are the anomaly. We are told that without religion, the travesties of history would have been far, far worse. As this is a subjective claim, there really is no way to argue it. Nor should one try to do so.
The problem with this kind of debate is that it fails to address the question that is actually being posed: How can you be atheist and ‘good’ at the same time? The real answer can not be found by attacking the religious traditions The answer to how atheists can be both unbelievers and decent people is found in the common definition of ‘good’, and our society’s response to it.