Do Atheists Get Their Morality From Religion?

Frank Schaeffer, a former member of the religious right who made waves when he took a share of the blame for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, takes on the question of morality and its origins in a piece at Religion Dispatches:


Few atheists are willing to admit that they’re borrowing ethical and aesthetic cultural traditions from religion while others, like atheist philosopher Richard Rorty and ethicist Peter Singer, have tried to avoid all assumptions of religious moral norms in their writing. Most atheists cop out, as did Sam Harris in his 2004 bestseller The End of Faith, topping his slam on religion with a helping of sophomoric, religious-sounding whine. To paraphrase: I know we all need meaning. So hey, how about we embrace a sort of secularized Eastern mysticism to help get us through the night, you know, being that hard-edged secular Truth is, well, absolutely true and all, but it hurts our feelings, being as it’s sort of like, you know, depressing.

What Harris doesn’t do is reexamine his atheistic ideas based on the fact that if he’s right (and in a raw, pure and absolutist form atheism is unpalatable to most people), then that might be an indication that there is something to all this “religion stuff” besides the temporary emotional analgesic he describes. Maybe, if wanting meaning is the way people are, and we are part of nature, then those feelings -- however they express themselves -- might indicate something true about the reality of nature and the way it actually is, rather than just signaling an emotional need for religious therapy.

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