I consider myself to be a non-theist, but my wife is a theist and is upset with my 'atheism'. What can I do to "still the waters" ?

I consider myself to be a non-theist, but embrace the good that could be accomplished within the sphere of “secular or humanist 'Christianity’” and could be considered a 'liberal’ or progressive. My wife leans toward a conservative theistic religious world view, and when I expressed my view with the statement that I did not believe in a corporeal, anthropomorphic entity (God) as is promulgated by nearly every “Christian” organization she acted as if and stated that I had no moral or ethical basis for living. I personally try to live in a way that is echoed by words written by Albert Schweitzer: “Everyone in his own environment must strive to practice true humanity towards others. The future of the world depends on it.” I also have enjoyed the statements of Deitrich Bonhoeffer that “...miracles and the ascension of Christ 'mythological conceptions…’” and that he believed that the true Christian was the confessing believer who totally immersed his life in the secular world, becoming a secular Christian, that “that the concept of God as a “supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness,” was a “spurious conception of transcendence,” and that “God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, and science … should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated”

Posted: June 14th 2007

Russell Blackford www

Several points should be made here.

First: No one can possibly give marital advice in a forum like this. It would be arrogant of me to pretend to know what would “still the waters” in any such case, and I won’t attempt this. I’ll focus on the more abstract question of foundations for morality.

Second: You should be aware, whether or not this is a tactful point to make to a loved one, that the divine command theory of morality is not a good, or even coherent, theory. At a minimum, your wife is no better off than you are.

Third: What is the actual source of morality? It must have something to do with our evolved capacity for sympathy towards others (as David Hume believed, back in the eighteenth century, though he was writing well before Darwin and did not see it as evolved, just as part of our nature.) However, trying to nail down the precise sources of morality has long been a difficult question for philosophers, psychologists, biologists, and everyone else with an interest. It seems to me that morality is not just one thing, and does not have just one source. There are various elements of sympathy, enlightened self-interest, and collective rationality (if societies are going to survive), and maybe other things.

Fourth: Whatever the precise sources and justifications of morality, most of us get by well enough with a degree of sympathy for others and a degree of rationality in how we apply it – e.g., you wouldn’t refuse to take a child to the doctor for a vaccination with a needle, no matter how sympathetic you were to the child’s fear of needles. You look at longer term goals, and how to achieve them, as well as acting on immediate sympathetic impulses. So, as shorthand, you can say that morality is based on sympathy, or compassion, plus reason.

Fifth: Bear in mind, though, that some religious morality really can’t be justified outside a religious context. E.g., there is no secular justification for the idea that piety is a virtue. That is not a reason to support religion. It is a reason to face the fact that some of our inherited morality really can’t be rationally justified and stands in need of revision. That may not be a comfortable insight – some kind of recognition of this may be part of the reason that atheists attract so much fear and distrust from people who combine traditional religious beliefs with a lot of traditional moral values – but it is not something that should be hidden. Your religious beliefs, or the lack of them, really do have consequences – some consequences – for what you view as morally good and bad.

Posted: June 16th 2007

See all questions answered by Russell Blackford


Morality is derived from evolution—in order to survive people developed the ability to empathize with others, a prime factor in morality. If we are able to identify pain and suffering in others and feel for them, we can then act in ways that promote happiness and well being. This base for morality is the same, no matter if you are a practicing believer or a non-believer.

Rather than harping on this aspect, by constantly stating that we all get our morality from the same place, instead, continue to act in a moral way, while not professing a belief in a personal God. Let your consistent actions speak louder than your words.

Posted: June 16th 2007

See all questions answered by logicel


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