My boyfriend Dylan is an atheist and a skeptic. Since those words define a big part of his life, when I try to describe him those are some of the first words I use. However, I've started to recognize a pattern in the responses of others when they hear those (to me) innocuous words; when I say “atheist”, they often hear “person without morals”. The first few times I heard a response indicating this concern (to one degree or another), I was pretty much just baffled and wanted to defend him... but after hearing it a few times I started to really think about it.
To me, it just seemed kind of jerky and religiocentric at first glance. But the implications are chilling. The fact that this association is so common says something – something bad – about our ability, as a culture, to take personal responsibility. Instead of being willing to make their own decisions, to really think through their actions and be ready to explain or defend them (or make amends) should the need arise, a great many people are content to simply do as they are told. Not only are they content to do so, but they consider it morally superior. While I can intellectually understand that this is based on the belief that God is morally superior to human beings, I think it is an incredibly slippery slope. If people are consciously seeking an outside source for moral correctness, one which they consider infallible (as God is supposed to be, by his very nature), then they are:
a) not practicing small decisions about morality – the results of which inform bigger, more important decisions, and
b) giving up all personal responsibility for their actions.
This means that those people are actively promoting a culture in which individuals are less able to make morally correct decisions, more able to place blame, and more willing to accept the dictates of an authority figure without first judging the merits of said dictates. A strong leader could very easily take that culture and bring ordinary people to do incredibly immoral things under the guise of being moral. They wouldn't know how to judge for themselves.
Is that not terrifying? Especially when you think of how that has played out historically.
I guess the best thing to hope for is that those people are only making logical errors instead of projecting their own flaws on others. If that is the case, then most of them should be able to think for themselves in any extraordinary event, and behave in a moral way... but history doesn't support that hope.
I suppose I have been guilty of believing that our society is more morally advanced than ever before, when the more likely explanation is that technological advances and a strong government have caused our moral decisions to be fewer and easier than they could be.