“Atheists can’t live a moral life” is one of those old saws like, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Christians often say these things to prove their moral superiority to atheists. But before handing out any awards for superiority, some Christians need to reexamine their meaning of “moral”.
First, there ARE atheists in foxholes, lots of them. Pat Tillman and his brother for example. Atheists aren’t closet Christians cowering and waiting to “come clean” to God and abandon their beliefs in times of danger. To say otherwise is insulting and the height of arrogance.
And explaining to an atheist that Christians are superior because of their belief in God is silly. See, atheists don’t believe in God. We don’t see the superiority endowed by a creator that isn’t there in much the same way we do not believe a book like the Bible because we don’t believe it is the word of God.
A False Moral Equivalency
But the most ludicrous of the many God vs. Godless bon mots is that atheists cannot lead a moral life. There is zero evidence that praying and reading the Bible makes you moral. Morality exists wherever a person chooses to apply it. In fact, if you need the Bible to tell you what is moral it doesn’t speak well for your God’s ability to create sentient beings much less beings created in his image.
Take the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen in South Carolina. The nice folks at the kitchen took up the admirable challenge to feed the needy in Spartanburg. There is nothing more moral than helping your fellow man. But it seems the soup kitchen’s charity comes with strings attached.
Enter the Upstate Atheists, an organization that volunteers for charitable causes like Habitat for Humanity. They wanted to help the soup kitchen with donations of time, money, and supplies — something they do once a month.The atheists felt, as did the soup kitchen, that feeding needy people was a good and moral thing to do.
But when the atheists offered to volunteer at the kitchen, Lou Landrum, the executive director decided that turning down a clearly moral offer to feed people was the moral thing to do.
Why? Let’s let Landrum speak.
“We accept volunteer groups of all kinds,” Landrum said. “But partnering with a volunteer group whose mission is counter to the mission of the soup kitchen is something I cannot tolerate. This is from within my heart. Our ministry is to edify God and feed those that are hungry. This is a ministry to serve God… We stand on the principles of God.”
But the Godly principle of feeding poor people wasn’t the principle Landrum had in mind. She justified her rejection because she thought the atheists were “doing this for the publicity” and she made that quite clear to the erstwhile volunteers.
If an Atheist Came to a Soup Kitchen…
“The first thing she (Landrum) said is, ‘I don’t want you coming in with your atheist T-shirts and ulterior motives,’” said Eve Brannon, president of Upstate Atheists. “I said, ‘We don’t have to wear T-shirts or tell people what we’re about.’ She just wasn’t going to have it.”
In the end, the atheists held their own event and passed out 300 care packages for National Make a Difference Day, yet Landrum was still unsatisfied, “They can have the devil there with them, but they better not come across the street.”
The atheists came seeking fellowship with Christians whose beliefs they don’t share, but respect. They agreed to the kitchen’s request that they not wear T-shirts identifying their organization. When someone harassed Landrum for her stance the atheists posted on Facebook saying, “If you see anyone harassing the director of the soup kitchen, please ask them to stop. That isn’t going to solve anything.” And for their trouble, someone hacked the atheists’ website.
The atheists subscribed to the universal moral act of feeding the poor. A moral act that they and the soup kitchen agreed was important. They did this despite being rebuffed without needing the Bible to tell them to do so.
On the other hand, the soup kitchen elected to withhold help from the poor and not take a righteous, purely moral path toward their religion’s core principles. They predicated their “morality” on not just feeding the poor, but also on rejecting help because others held different beliefs, a conceit that takes some of the luster off their “moral superiority”.
In the end, the poor got their food and their care packages and that is a good day in anyone’s book. Good was done, but only in the face of opposition and fear from a group that claims to represent the benevolence of a God they believe created us and which they claim to serve.
I haven’t practiced Christianity in many years, but I have read the Bible cover-to-cover several times. I must have missed the part that says doing good is somehow conditional on who is doing the good. I hope there isn’t a part about receiving good being conditional on who the receiver is. If so, lots of poor people will go hungry.
“If an atheist came to a soup kitchen in search of a meal and God was around to hear him, would he walk away with a full belly?”
- This is How the Upstate Atheists Bounced Back After Being Banned from Volunteering at a Christian Soup Kitchen (patheos.com)
- Soup Kitchen Invites Everyone to Volunteer… Unless You’re an Atheist (mediaite.com)
- Atheists Barred From Volunteering In South Carolina Soup Kitchen (classwarfareexists.com)
- Christianity makes monsters of people, part two: atheists banned from help the homeless. (freethinker.co.uk)
- ‘Jesus Would Be So Pissed Off’: Soup Kitchen’s Atheist Ban Sparks Controversy (theblaze.com)
- Atheists (americastrong.wordpress.com)