Who’s more moral? Atheists or religious people?
Maybe you think that can’t be measured since what “counts” as moral is subjective to begin with, but there are some areas where the moral thing to do ought to be obvious. Should you try to save lives during a deadly pandemic? Of course you should. Should you care for the environment? Yes! Why wouldn’t you?
And yet some of the most vocal, conservative, church-going, religious voices on those issues are on the wrong sides of them.
Writing for Salon, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College and author of What It Means to Be Moral: Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life, writes that atheists (not “Nones,” but atheists) are undoubtedly coming out ahead on the question of morality.
Just consider the pandemic:
COVID-19 is a potentially deadly virus that has caused — and continues to cause — dire woe. Surely, to be moral in the face of such a dangerous disease is to do everything one can — within one’s limited power — to thwart it. No moral person would want to willfully spread it, bolster it, or prolong its existence. And yet, when it comes to the battle against COVID-19, it is the most secular of Americans who are doing what they can to wipe it out, while it is the most faithful among us, especially nationalistic white Evangelicals, who are keeping it alive and well. Taking the vaccine saves lives and thwarts the spread of the virus. So, too, does sheltering in place as directed and wearing protective face masks. And yet, here in the U.S., it is generally the most religious among us who refuse to adhere to such life-saving practices, while it is the most secular who most willingly comply. For example, a recent Pew study found that while only 10% of atheists said that they would definitely or probably not get vaccinated, 45% of white Evangelicals took such a position.
You could say the same thing, Zuckerman argues, about so many other issues facing Americans — and there’s data to back it up.
In terms of who supports helping refugees, affordable health care for all, accurate sex education, death with dignity, gay rights, transgender rights, animal rights; and as to who opposes militarism, the governmental use of torture, the death penalty, corporal punishment, and so on — the correlation remains: The most secular Americans exhibit the most care for the suffering of others, while the most religious exhibit the highest levels of indifference.
To put that another way, the things white evangelicals usually claim as evidence of their morality don’t actually show anything of the sort.
Sexual morality, for example, manifests as bigotry against LGBTQ people, ineffective abstinence-only sex education, and harmful Purity Culture.
Caring for the “unborn”? At the very least, that leads to punishing doctors who are providing basic health care, further harming victims of rape, and forcing some women to give birth to non-viable babies. The people who call themselves “pro-life” are the same ones rejecting mask mandates, opposing universal childcare and healthcare, hurting the environment, and creating a society where school shootings are more rampant.
The point isn’t that Christians are immoral (or that atheists are moral). It’s that being Christian doesn’t guarantee morality. In some cases, especially with white evangelicals in the U.S., it actively makes things worse. In so many areas that deal with decency, empathy, and kindness, the data is clear: People who reject religion make the world a better place.
The people who go to church really need to get back that Jesus-shaped hole in their hearts. They filled it up and everything went downhill from there.
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