Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Atheism, morality, and Newt Gingrich

In the Republican debate Tuesday night, Newt Gingrich made clear his views that an atheist does not belong in a position of public trust.

"How can you have judgment if you have no faith?" he said.  "How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?  The notion that you are endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America."  On other occasions, he has stated that he fears a "secular atheist America," dominated by people for whom "morality means nothing," and who have "no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

My response:  How dare you question my morality, you smug, self-righteous, holier-than-thou, sanctimonious prick.

The charge that atheists have no moral compass is one I hear levied all too often.  If you don't acknowledge a deity, what's stopping you from lying, stealing, cheating on your significant other?  Your morals must be arbitrary, a thing of convenience that will slip the first time they're pressed hard.

In point of fact, there's no such correlation.  I defy you to show evidence that atheists are any more likely to act immorally or unethically than the religious.  And actually, if you look at the last few years' worth of American political scandals, nearly all of the culprits have been amongst self-professed Christians.  (Of course, that may be because the distrust the general public has for atheists makes it damn near impossible for people to get elected unless they espouse some form of theism, so I'll admit that it's a skewed sample.)

You have to wonder, given that we don't think there's Somebody watching us, keeping track of every time we transgress, why we atheists aren't running around, wreaking havoc, committing immoral acts right and left.  I can't answer for anyone but myself, but for me, it's because correct moral action is what gives society cohesiveness.  I act morally because it makes my family life run happily, and it gives my children a role model for growing up to act the same way.  It makes me a valued part of my community.  It gives me pleasure to be known as someone who is ethical, who considers others' needs and desires as equivalent to my own.

Far from devaluing my morals, my lack of belief in an invisible supreme authority makes them nobler.  I act morally because I choose to, because it's the right thing to do -- not because I'm under threat from some all-powerful Cosmic Gatekeeper.

And what about you, Newt?  Where has your high-flung, god-given morality gotten you?  Oh, yeah, I believe you're the one who is on his third wife, after having cheated on the first two (cheating on the first one while she was undergoing chemotherapy, as I recall?).  And when the facts of the matter became public, you admitted it -- and then said, "There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

So, let me get this straight; you cheated on your wife because you were passionate about America?  You were sitting there in your office one day, and thought, "Man, I've been working hard to keep the country that I love functioning.  I think I'll run right out and have an affair!"

So, I'll reiterate; until you can demonstrate that your ethical standards are superior to my own, don't try to claim that we atheists are destroying the moral fiber of America.  You smug, self-righteous, holier-than-thou, sanctimonious prick.

Oh, yeah, and "arrogant."  I forgot "arrogant."


  1. Much as I agree with you about Newt, I hate to see that stupid prison study cited yet again. Please read

  2. Tyler -- thanks for the comment, and the better source material. I stand corrected, and may revise this post because of it. I don't want to be responsible for disseminating poor data!



  3. Yet another way in which you differ from Newt.