Why atheists have no fixed moral points — and why that’s a problem (even if they’re really sweet people)

The Arizona legislature had an atheist “prayer”:

Arizona State Rep. Juan Mendez (D) turned a Tuesday afternoon prayer into something much more.

The Phoenix New Times reports that Mendez, who is an atheist, changed the course of the event held prior to the House of Representatives’ afternoon session. He asked lawmakers to refrain from bowing their heads and instead to view their surroundings.

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said, according to the Phoenix New Times. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

That’s all well and good — cute and “kum-bye-yah” — but it reveals that dangerous moral vacuum at atheism’s center.  Everyone in the room is a moral authority.

Okay, then, I’m a moral authority too.  And by the way, my morality says that I get to take everything in your house and put it in mine.  The reason?  I don’t need to give you a reason.  I’m an extraordinary person who is alive (isn’t that wonderful?) and it will improve my life to have your stuff.  Whoa!  Wait a minute there, buddy.  Are you telling me that your morality says that my life blights yours and that you can only experience the extraordinary wonderfulness of being alive if I’m dead?  Nooooo!

That’s what happens when you have no external fixed moral point.  The Ten Commandments work because they apply to everyone, at all times, in all cultures.  Nor are they ridiculously rigid, to the point that humans lose free will.  Heck, they’re so intelligently nuanced that the Hebrew word that’s mistranslated as “kill” is actually “murder,” because the Commandments recognize that sometimes, killing can be a morally appropriate act — or at least, not an immoral one.  They demand our intelligence, as well as our allegiance to a moral and just force greater than ourselves.  And they also threaten us with consequences that transcend whatever the people around us can mete out.  They matter.

Or we can all sit there staring at our navels and basking in our wonderfulness.