بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
I’ve often heard the argument that atheists are more moral; indeed the only ones who are truly moral. Why you make ask? Well, because religious believers only do good deeds for the sake of heaven or from fear of hell, or otherwise to get something from God, rather than doing good for goodness sake.
The believer looks at the sick person – so the atheist claims – and helps them not out of genuine compassion and love for that person, but rather because God said so.
The believer seeks the beggar and gives, not because they actually care about the person in need, but rather because they want God to give to them, whether it be in this world or the next.
The believer forgives the one they are angry at, not simply because they know that they will hurt the other person, but rather because God has warned them of hellfire which awaits those who indulge their wrath iniquitously.
Furthermore, the atheist argues, even if the believers really do do these things out of compassion and the goodness of their hearts – and surely sometimes they do, as they are human after all – then what difference is there with atheists who do the same? Surely adding God in the picture does nothing to add or subtract from the deed and the compassion itself.
So if anything, atheists are more likely to do good for goodness sake, whereas theists sometimes do good for goodness sake and sometimes have their intentions corrupted by their false beliefs in God and the afterlife. Or so the atheist claims.
What’s Wrong With This?
There are several things wrong with this argument
At the most basic level, even if we were to admit all the premises the atheist claims, the theists overall do more good deeds even if it’s for the wrong reasons. They help the sick more precisely because of their belief in God and the afterlife. One cannot simultaneously claim that the atheist is more moral for acting out of compassion without simultaneously recognizing that the theist is more likely to act even when they lack the feeling of compassion. They are simply more likely to make doing good their mission, precisely because of their so-called false beliefs. You see, theists have every reason to act morally that atheists have and some very powerful extras.
So theists are more habitually good-doers. What I submit to you, is that that in fact inculcates greater compassion over the long term. There is nothing to stop an atheist from being a selfish jerk, cutting off relations with anyone who even mildly annoys him, and spewing forth rage and resentment into the world. Many of them do it. The theist is held down by his moral commitments to God.
Furthermore, atheists fail to recognize that God is the Good. The feeling of compassion that they truly act on – however sparse or frequent that might be – just is the recognition of the Divine Name in the eye of their heart. Despite denying God with the rational mind, many atheists still have a vision of the Good in their heart or in their fitrah. They still perceive God, not as an abstract belief as the Creator of the universe, but as the Good with the eye of their heart.
There are four more problems with this argument. Firstly, it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than it is to do the wrong thing. Suppose a man is having homicidal thoughts and wants to murder his enemy. Suppose then, that this man decides not to go through with this – not because he had a change of heart or thought compassionately about the harm he might be doing both to his enemy and the families involved, but rather because he simply feared hellfire in the hereafter (which according to the atheist is an illegitimate reason.) Is it not morally better for the man to have avoided the moral transgression of murder – even if for the wrong reason – than it would be for him to have gone through with it? I think the answer is obviously yes – in one case the man is a murderer in his heart only, whereas in the latter he is a murderer in practice. Thoughts and intentions are not moral crimes, they are only crimes when we act them out in the world. I could give a hundred such examples which affect us in our daily lives. If we are not to be saints – people who do good with the most pure of intentions – then it is at least better for us not to be devils.
Secondly, atheists have no reason to believe morality exists on their own scientific worldview. If God doesn’t exist, neither does morality. Morality is nothing but an illusion fobbed off on us by evolution. I have yet to hear an atheist who can escape this conclusion while being logically consistent, though I remain open to an argument. If this is the case, the claim that atheists are “just as moral” as theists is entirely meaningless, as morality is nothing but a subjective illusion.
Thirdly, because the atheist lacks belief in God, often times so-called compassion is misdirected and in fact is used for evil. Consider the fact that most atheists consider it “compassionate” to encourage homosexuality, and a significant portion of them (on the Left) also encourage gender-bending. They think it’s “compassionate” for 60 million abortions to have taken place in the US alone, they think its “compassionate” for drag queens to read stories to children. Because they lack the correct metaphysical framework (both rationally and spiritually/phenomenologically), a significant portion of their actions end up being evil, despite their professed good intentions.
Lastly, the atheist fails to realize here that much of religion is a systematic program for transforming one’s experience of consciousness in order to foster and further develop compassion as a mode of being. It transforms your field of experience or Being in the Heideggerian sense. The best way to become more compassionate is to practice compassion with attention to the source of compassion, the All-Compassionate. Without aiming for God, atheists are lost.
وَقَدِمْنَا إِلَىٰ مَا عَمِلُوا مِنْ عَمَلٍ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ هَبَاءً مَّنثُورًا –
And We shall turn to whatever work they have done, and make it scattered dust. (25:23)