Do Atheists Get Their Morality From Christianity?
Many atheists criticize the morality derived from the Bible and espoused by Christians; for these atheists, their own morality is far superior to anything Christianity has to offer. However, these atheists usually fail to appreciate just how many of their values are a product of the society and era that they live in. Atheists in other parts of the world (such as members of the communist party in China), or atheists in previous centuries (such as the philosophers of 18th century France), had quite different moral outlooks. These differences cast significant doubt on the confident claims of 21st-century Western atheists to have a superior morality. And this holds true regardless of their commitment to science and reason since neither science nor reason can determine what has value. In fact, many Western atheists often fail to realize just how much of their morality has been shaped by Christianity through its historical influence on the society around them.
Dr. John Gray, Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, criticizes his fellow atheists on this point. In the following quote, he points out how many of the values that Western atheists espouse are actually borrowed from monotheistic religions such as Christianity.
It’s probably just as well that the current generation of atheists seems to know so little of the longer history of atheist movements... None of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science. How could any increase in scientific knowledge validate values such as human equality and personal autonomy? The source of these values is not science. In fact, as the most widely-read atheist thinker of all time argued, these quintessential liberal values have their origins in monotheism... It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. The question is which morality an atheist should serve.
John Gray, “What Scares the New Atheists,” The Guardian, March 3, 2015, sec. World news, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/03/what-scares-the-new-atheists.