The higher morality of atheism

comte-huxley-clarke2, captioned11


When it comes to competing with religious belief, atheism would appear to have a problem filling out the dance card for hopes and dreams.  Or coming up with answers to the perceived purposeless, and meaningless emptiness, of the philosophy.  At least, according to religious minds.  Those needing a God and an afterlife to add meaning.

The truth is, though, while atheism provides a definition of non-belief, It’s not a philosophy.  For a personal, substantial philosophy to rise up from a clean plate of disbelief – if you will – we first have to ask ourselves just what it is folks think they are giving up, in order to lay aside their storybook caricature of God – and the threat of an afterlife.  (I’ll explain later.)

The first, seemingly ubiquitous charge – we hear from all quarters – is how can you possibly expect people to be ‘good’ without God!?  In order to answer that, we must again question those things about human morality, that religious believer’s would presume to claim exclusive dominion over.  Let’s not forget the words of Arthur C Clarke, inventor of the communications satellite, and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey:

“The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history
may be the hijacking of morality by religion.”
– Arthur C Clarke


I have long maintained a number of moral values are innate to the human condition – and underlie the interactions of people everywhere.  And are what gives center mass to our common humanity.  Regardless of the sock-puppet figure one wishes to assign otherworldly oversight to, at the top.

Organized religion, on the other hand, is nothing more than the codified rules of one particular group’s espoused beliefs, for the sake of political power and control over members, and their extended congregations.  The added salt of sin being immensely useful in assisting the coercive effect of eyes and ears – both internal and external – in maintaining this particularly pervasive and unrelenting form of control, over the hapless saints.

So that, while believers can be kept busy swatting at imaginary flies – their own and each others – they often take some serious hits to their overall sense of human connectedness.  Towards any others who fall outside the locus of their own particular brand of religion.

Wherefore, also arises our biggest problem, in trying to introduce any kind of objective skepticism into the thinking of true believers.  Having convinced themselves of the seminal and uniquely singular nature of their religious experience – and having already bought into the sect’s promise of rewards in an afterlife – they are wont to view any skepticism as a personal crisis of faith.  And – given the marvelously human ability to turn things about – view any such invitation to mere credulousness, with a marked skepticism that itself can only be seen as perverse by most others.

Others’ being equally defined as anyone and everyone espousing either a differing belief – or a disbelief – concerning what are ofttimes meaningless points of superstitious doctrine.  Ones that even a God would surely have to find laughable.

19th Century social philosopher Auguste Comte, who founded the discipline of sociology – and coined the term altruism – offers this remarkable insight:

“As the mind spontaneously stays with what seems true to it,
the irritation of doubt ceases [once] belief is fixed;
what is [left] in need of justification, one might say,
is not the belief – but the doubt.”  – Auguste Comte
(emphasis added)


Until finally, we are left with that unholiest of all human evils.  That all but complete negation of our common humanity, in a cauldron of invented, self-serving anxiety.  If it was Hannah Arendt who coined the phrase ‘the banality of evil,’ in attempting to grasp the psychological rationalizations that found root in the minds of Nazi officers – and led to the atrocities of World War II – it was Aldous Huxley who was able to put his finger on the very mechanism that spawns such inhumanity.

In his analysis of the quasi-religious-political intrigue, that surrounded the historical 17th century French Inquisition of Father Urbain Grandier, commonly referred to by the appellation that became the title for this work – The Devils of Loudun – he observed that:

“The idolatrous transformation – of the relative into the absolute,
and the all-too-human into the divine – makes it possible
for man to indulge his ugliest passion, in the firm belief
that he is working for the highest good.”  – Aldous Huxley


God is NOT great, as Christopher Hitchens was wont to say.  And Satan is not the mechanism of human evil.

What I would have hoped by now – that anyone might see – is that there needs to be a conscious, concerted effort, by both individuals and society.  To free ourselves of the horrible, spiritual, human evil, of organized religions of all kind.  That we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to abandon the false promise of another life – and the miserably defeatist expectation that this world should perish.

But we need to recognize that this break with belief has to be accomplished individually, before they or anyone else can be expected to pick up the shards of genuine morality – based on those human interactions that support our common humanity – and stand ready to carry them over the threshold to a newer and higher morality.

One based on our common humanity and our responsibility towards each other – not God.  To reclaim, for ourselves and for all of the other living plants, animals, and organisms on it, the care and husbandry of this planet.   Which is all any of us can do to pay it  forward, as part of the best hope we can have, for assuring the ongoing survival of our planet, and its Eco-systems.

We can all feel a responsibility – and a solidarity – with being about the honorable work of preserving this earth.  Not just for ourselves, but for the future of mankind.  For those yet destined to live their lives on it.

'13 MAth footer, Bk


14 thoughts on “The higher morality of atheism

  1. The quote you use from Aldous Huxley

    “The idolatrous transformation – of the relative into the absolute, and the all-too-human into the divine – makes it possible for man to indulge his ugliest passion, in the firm belief that he is working for the highest good.”

    take out divine and think in terms of soccer hooligans (I live in the UK, they’re an issue) or gangs or any other numerous “institutions” and the same applies irrespective of religion (most soccer hooligans I’ve encountered would identify as atheist). In the same way that morality isn’t the child of religion neither is this trait. Unfortunately its simply human nature, and if they don’t rally around religion it would be something else. Humans like to believe its black and white, they’re right and those not like them are wrong and of course they believe they are justified in their actions, that it somehow serves a greater purposed. Likewise with the other points you make.

    People who practice religion of any description are in the minority in the UK, yet I see this sort of thinking behavior all the time. Perhaps for you its different, perhaps for you in an area where the majority of people are practicing Christians its easy to believe that Christianity is the route of these things. This is probably confounded by the fact that those who leave the religion and chose atheism are those least likely to fall pray to this sort of attitude/thinking (which is why they leave the religion), it’s sort of self fulfilling. But trust me, for those who can’t see beyond the religion, if it wasn’t the religion it would be something else.


    • sumegoinvicte, It’s not a question of “for those who can’t see beyond the religion.” And, as you – I believe – attempted to indicate, the “idolitrous transformation” is one that occurs in virtually any and all ideologies. (Religious, political, business, social, etc.) The point is, it’s what lies at the root of real evil in the world.


  2. Not sure if your agreeing or disagreeing with me? I think you are agreeing that ‘idolatrous transformation’ can happen in any ideology, whilst furthering that statement to point out that it is “what lies at the root of real evil”. This I would agree with, it is definitely on of those roots. One thing you may want to perhaps give some consideration to, in your writing (maybe not in your actual beliefs) in support of atheism it would appear that you have fallen into this sort of thinking. You claim atheism has the moral high ground, that atheism is the pinnacle of spiritual maturity. Whilst this may be true for some it certainly isn’t for all. Maturity as a concept looks different to different people, cultures, time periods in history, in short its a relative concept not an absolute, yet you often speak as if it is absolute. You elevate atheism above religion and faith in the same way the religious elevate god. And of course you talk about atheism being the only way forward if we are going to save the planet etc so I guess its for the highest good. It’s an easy trap to fall into!


    • sumegoinvicte, Most of my writing is geared toward atheist / agnostic readers, who’ve been previously led to believe that atheists aren’t expected (by believers) to have any moral values of their own, or any kind of ‘higher’ ethos, to hang their hats on. I am here to refute THAT – and NOT any of the ‘believers’ definitions.

      If you were to read my stuff with a more open mind, you’d come to realize I am much more ‘inclusive’ of other ‘slightly differing views,’ than you are of mine. I find many of your views pedantic, at best.


      • You state “Most of my writing is geared toward atheist / agnostic readers, who’ve been previously led to believe that atheists aren’t expected (by believers) to have any moral values of their own, or any kind of ‘higher’ ethos, to hang their hats on. I am here to refute THAT – and NOT any of the ‘believers’ definitions.”

        Then do just that, there is no need to criticise religion or elevate atheism above religion in order to do that. I think the reason you find me so pedantic is because I continue to point out that you are using exactly the same arguments and methods of persuasion as the religion you claim to have left behind.

        You are mistaken, I have no issue with your views, only the arguments that you use to defend and define them. What about being inclusive of religious views that are extremely different to yours?


        • From our “About” page: “The main purpose of this site is not to debate or argue points of view with proponents of any of the various belief-systems out there.”

          Please ‘take from it what you can,’ and leave off finding cause for angst – that everyone else does not see and understand the world as you do. (I believe that’s called “you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine,” in the common vernacular.) Fair enough?


  3. One final question,If we only discuss matters with people who agree with us, who confirm our beliefs and arguments, who fail to challenge our misconceptions etc how can we expect to learn? We learn far more about ourselves, our beliefs etc when we discuss matters with those who disagree with us. That applies equally to both of us.

    I will continue my reply to your post on my blog unless you tell me not to. You’re welcome to join me there for discussion. As you wish it I will leave your blog in peace.


  4. When I commented yesterday to your previous post of Aug.16 (“How I came to know – there is no God”), I hadn’t yet read this post and comments. Now that I have, I am all the more impressed by sumegoinvicle’s reasonableness and reasoning. I say this, not to “argue points of view with proponents of any of the various belief systems,” but simply to state my reaction to what has been put up for consideration. If I have anything to put up for consideration, it is but to repeat this from my comment yesterday: Certainty in what one believes does not make that belief certain.

    Doubt is good (re the unknowable).


    • mistermuse, I thank you again, for what I feel is an intellectually honest response to our discussion here.

      My apparent disinclination to ‘discuss’ these religious views, is due to the fact that, as evidenced, most people are slap-happy in their previously held beliefs. And any attempts at ‘discussion’ inevitably devolve into plain argument. Which is good for nothing more than honing one’s argumentative skills, against a perceived worthy opponent. I get tired of being cast in the roll of errant opponent – and find it utterly unproductive.

      Religious believers are wont to challenge non believers to “read the Bible,” among other things. “Come to Jesus … and He will enter into you.” ( I think that’s about got it – right?)

      The fact is, I offer my writings and insights for the express aid of those folks who are, likewise, already looking for answers. Just not for the same answers sumegoinvicte is peddling.

      But speaking of sumegoinvicte, she is a special case. Being not so much traditional Christian, as simply lost in that vast realm of spiritual metaphysics. And, while it’s a bit like watching an errant child – frolicking in the roadway – the onus is not on me to “save her.” We can, only hopefully, save ourselves in this life. And but point to those touchstones that have led to our own understanding. And I refuse to be made a pull-toy, for someone else – already lost in their own reverie.


  5. I am partial to writings concerned with morality and your first quote by Clarke, I found to be quite tasteful. It had never occurred to me that religion “hijacked” our sense of morality but it seems so obvious that I now feel, quite frankly, embarrassed for not having noticed it until now. I don’t suppose your much of an advocate of hobbesian philosophy given your writing?

    At any rate, your article is preaching to the choir but I just thought I might chime in real quick and thank you for that golden nugget of revelation.


        • Done, as well. And I was understandably impressed with your own breadth of understanding.

          Strictly on a personal note, I feel compelled to point out that the opacity level, of your theme’s graphics, seriously detracts from the sites readability.

          Bear in mind that I’m an old man. But I had to copy and past the text of your Response into another app, before I was able to read and enjoy the fruit of your efforts. And I can’t help but feel you’re probably missing out on engaging much of your target audience. Strictly due to the inconvenience and eye strain, of trying to parse the text from the background. Just a thought. (y)


        • Ah, I was aware that it was a bit difficult to read the text on my site due to the background graphic but I wasn’t too sure about how distracting it was.

          Thank you for bringing it up, though. I’ve adjusted the image a bit so that others might read my blog’s content with greater ease moving forward.

          And thanks for the kind words of course 🙂


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