The question ‘why do people choose atheism?’ was put forward by Does God Exist Today?, and I thought it may be an interesting post to address. The post, written by one Robert Earnst, offers some interesting material to discuss.
I think it is safe to say that some choose atheism because they don’t want to follow the moral standards of Christianity. By rejecting God, they can reject His moral standards without pangs of conscience. Living immorally becomes easier when we can pretend that there is no higher authority who sets standards of moral conduct. According to Pew Research, less than half (42%) of Americans believe that it is necessary to believe in God to have good moral values. But that is much higher than in France, where only 15% think that belief in God is essential for good morals. Interestingly, in some Muslim-dominated countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia, 98% to 99% say that a person must believe in God to be moral.
Is morality the exclusive dominion of the religious? Is a belief in a deity a must if one is to lead a moral life? Are the moral standards of God ones worth following?
If we look at this from a Christian perspective (since Mr Earnst appears to be Christian, based on his post), then I will refer to a previous post of mine: Religion, History, Violence and Hitler. Back then, I confronted the idea that atheists lack morality:
This is digressing, but it is important to establish that Christianity cannot claim superior moral standards to anything else. In fact, the moral standards displayed by God might well be a factor behind why so many people are turning away from Christianity…
These are but some of the commands that God ordered in the Old Testament, and it would not take long to expand that list. Again I must wonder, if someone heard those commands coming from a human being, would they accept them, or baulk at the brutality?
It is no small wonder that with greater awareness of the savage instructions of the OT (to say nothing of the conduct of supposedly pious Christians in various public arenas), people are not so inclined to regard the Christian life as morally superior.
Atheists not only refuse to believe in God, but they also think that faith is a negative factor in society. In the U.S., 71% of atheists say that the decline in religious influence in public life is a good thing. About the same amount (70%) say that churches and other religious institutions do more harm than good. They overlook how many hospitals, orphanages, and charitable organizations have been founded and are supported by Christians. Many Western European countries, such as Belgium, France, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, have high rates of atheism (14-16%). That contrasts with the percentage of atheists in many Eastern European countries, including Romania, Ukraine, Bosnia, Poland, and Lithuania (1-2%). Even in Russia, only 4% of the population claims atheism. Could that be because the people of those countries lived for years under atheism, and they understand its consequences?
Does Mr Earnst think no atheist has ever contributed to charities, or the construction of hospitals?
As to the percentages, here we see (yet again) that classic conflation of atheism and communism. The two are not one and the same, yet opponents of atheism repeatedly use the terms interchangeably. Communism is a political system, and atheism is merely the absence of belief in deities.
Would this reasoning be considered fair if it were applied in the opposite direction? Churches in the USA rather infamously do not pay tax. Individuals can be exemption from taxation on religious grounds. Many of these organisations speak of charity, yet their followers (who are often closely aligned to the conservative political right) are not interested in taking steps to address the tremendous financial inequality that has come to characterise America. The slightest suggestion of a better minimum wage leads to intense hand-wringing, ironically from people who speak of charity. It is often the religious right that claim to be pro-life, yet show absolutely zero interest in doing anything for the quality of people’s lives. When these forces conspire to maintain the status quo (which helps no one beyond those who, like Churches, horde wealth), is it any wonder that more and more people turn their backs on that system?
In the end, might the argument for why more and more people are choosing not to believe be found in the less-than grand examples set by the religious right?