A country of moral atheism

From Kristofer Upjohn, Pine Bluff, AR:

I really must take umbrage at comments by Brad Smissen, Murrieta, CA. His analysis of Anton Chigurh's character might be faithful to McCarthy's intentions -- that I don't know because I've not read the book or any other McCarthy novel -- but it is a disservice to atheists and a shallow view of an important philosophical world view. I am an atheist, but I'm not launching into an attack against Smissen's opinion of atheism simply because my feelings have been hurt or some such nonsense. I'm attempting to correct a common false assertion about atheism, which goes something like this: Without belief in God, there is no motivation to be moral. In his comments on "No Country for Old Men," he expresses it thus: "the natural conclusion of atheism (the recklessly craven positioning of self for purposes of survival)." To suggest that believers have a monopoly on morality is absurd and more than a little inaccurate. The greatest of the world's atrocities have stemmed from some kind of idealism (dogmatic, fervent belief in something, be it a god or a social view, such as communism or fascism, etc.). While it's true that the atheist is free to act in a selfish way, it's important to consider what selfishness is. There are two varieties, one positive and one negative.

Negative selfishness is hurting others to get what you want. Positive selfishness is living your life as you please while allowing others the same right (by the same token, the practitioner of positive selfishness is under no moral obligation to harm himself in the aid of another). But if I, as a selfish (positive variety) atheist, believe in my own moral sovereignty, then I must -- by definition -- respect the same in others. I can only claim my human rights if I regard those of another. I would urge Smissen to cultivate a deeper understanding of non-belief before criticizing it. The world is full of moral atheists. And most of us don't feel compelled to coerce others into accepting our beliefs. How many true believers can say that?

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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