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Once Again, Believers Have it Wrong: Atheists Don't Just Want Sex, Drugs, and Lack of Morality

As much as religion's defenders would like us to believe otherwise, there is no non-human moral authority.

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This statement is erroneous. I don't believe the universe has intrinsic design or purpose, but that's not because I desire it to be that way. It's because I've concluded that that's what the evidence supports; my desires about the matter are irrelevant.

The bizarre claim that we all believe whatever we most want to be true is easily disproved by a few examples. I would prefer for there to be a supernatural being that's benevolently disposed toward humans and can be persuaded to suspend the laws of physics in our favor. I would prefer for my consciousness to survive the death of my brain. I would prefer for there to be an afterlife where all people are rewarded or punished as their actions deserve. In fact, I would also prefer for there to be a safe and effective cure for cancer, for global warming to be non-existent, and for me personally to be a billionaire. I would prefer all these things to be true, but I don't believe any of them.

Nevertheless, Hitchens is pretty confident that the only reason people become atheists is to follow their desires. In fact, he's confident that he knows what desire it is. In a subsequent comment, he explained:

An atheist in a society still governed by the Christian moral law has great personal advantages. The almost universal idea among the college-educated young, a sort of crude J.S. Mill belief that 'nobody has the right to tell me what to do' is a very powerful force in modern western societies, excusing as it does a great deal of sexual promiscuity and drug-taking which do immense damage and create huge unhappiness.... 

I wish I could say this rhetoric was shocking. In fact, it's the same kind of ugly prejudice that atheists hear far too often, the same accusation that's leveled against every social reform movement: that we're motivated not by honestly held convictions or a desire to right injustices, but a desire to overthrow morality altogether and live lives of mindless hedonism. It's an old silencing tactic, one that was used against the first advocates of interracial marriage, and as this quote shows, it's still going on today. (For the record, I'm happily married and monogamous, and the only intoxicant I've ever used is the occasional drink on social occasions. I have nothing against people who live their lives differently, but to suggest that this is the sole or even the most important motivation for being an atheist is ridiculous.)

Let me point out just the most obvious problem with this: if all we wanted to do was take drugs and have sex, why would we need to be atheists? We could just as easily convert to or make up a religion whose god blesses those activities. (The New Reformed Church of Dionysus, anyone?) The reason we haven't done this is because we see the atheist position as the best-supported by evidence, regardless of how we feel about it.

But Hitchens goes on to compound the insult, telling us not just that we become atheists to indulge our own selfish whims, but that we hypocritically do it while counting on religious people to support our wanton lifestyle:

My conclusion, after dozens of such arguments, is that the atheist can see quite clearly the advantages of his unbelief... But he can also see that if these advantages would pretty rapidly disappear if everyone discovered them and exploited them. atheist in a society in which the postman and the policeman, the doctor, the civil servant, the politician, the banker, and your employer, not to mention your next-door neighbours, are entirely free from universal moral obligations is, ah, more problematic. As we increasingly find out. 

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