As atheists we sometimes overestimate the inherent goodness of human beings. It seems we suggest that if only religion were eliminated that a kind of utopia could be established. What we need to recognize is that though the concept of goodness may be within humans, humans do not inherently possess the quality.
In fact, that concept itself may not be in total agreement between groups of people. For example… for some, the Death Penalty is a barbaric holdover from ignorant times. For others it represents justice. How can we establish a good and moral society if we cannot agree on what is good and moral?
The book I am reading “Atheist Overreach” by Christian Smith asserts that many atheist authors assume a naïve notion about human goodness. These authors express a “faith” in human goodness that is unwarranted. I agree with this assessment.
How can we live good lives if we hold to the assumption that though we possess the concept, we do not possess the quality? The only way I can imagine is that we should hold that concept in the front of our minds and measure everything we do by it.
Christians have that bothersome god hovering about their heads, to reinforce their religion. It doesn’t always work, many of them still act as if no one is looking as they commit horrendous acts of treachery. Nevertheless, many also profess to striving to “live in the spirit”. They attempt to keep their focus on their religion measuring everything they do by that standard. Granted that the Bible is not exactly something that contains concepts that would all pass muster as good today. Yet, that is how many live their day.
Atheists must also strive to establish their concept of “goodness”. Fundamental ideas about right and wrong. Many are doing so. As in the way of the Christian atheists should strive to keep those ideas forefront in the mind and measure what they do by them. In my opinion, atheists would have no problem establishing ethics that infinitely better, more moral, than any in that barbaric tome, the Bible. How do atheists do it? It won’t be easy establishing rules of behavior when so many disagree between what is good and what is bad. Even a majority would leave the individual wondering, just as there are many cults of Christianity, there would develop many groups of atheists that hold to different standards.
Seems an impossible feat. Yet… should we not aspire to improve ourselves? We can only try.