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I recently had a short discussion with an atheist at Lavartus Prodeo. The host thread “Are You Rapture Ready” used the recent highly publicized false ‘rapture’ prophecy of Harold Campling as a vehicle to denigrate God, Jesus, The Bible and believers in the usual atheist fashion.

Ethical Or Merely Rational

The article which introduced the thread alluded to The Problem Of Evil; which got me thinking as to whether or not evil or moral wrong could ever exists under atheism. Googling atheist ethics I came across sites like this one that described atheist ethics of kindness and compassion having supposedly arisen from an evolutionary survival technique of mutual help, so I posed this question:

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that atheists don’t have a system of ethics based on morality, but rather on rational survival strategies ?

To which my atheist responsent (AR) replied:

Atheists can observe that certain ethical behaviours have been empirically shown to result in the one life we have to live being longer, healthier, safer and generally more pleasant for the group as a whole than if those ethical behaviours are not followed.

AR’s use of empirical methods to determine ethics confirmed to me that the fundamental atheist ethic is rationality determined by notions of the common good, which would make sociopathic acts merely irrational as opposed to actually wrong or evil. AR didn’t address this directly. She merely said:

It makes them [sociopathic acts] an unacceptable danger to others.

.. which evades the question I was driving at which is what is the ground or basis of the atheist ethic.

Can Amoral Systems Give Rise To A Satisfactory Human Ethic ?

I pointed out this evasion to AR and underlined the amoral concept of rationality at the heart of her atheist ethic by providing a specific example: If ethics arise from rational self-interest in avoiding anti-social behaviours directed back at oneself then if some bloke should kill a child her atheist response would be ‘That’s irrational. Doesn’t he know that someone could kill his children ?’

AR responded;

I make no value judgements about someone’s behaviour when I describe it as dangerous… Your [child murder] scenario is a community presented with a person of proven dangerous-to-others behaviour. The community’s interest in their mutual safety will lead them to develop guidelines about protecting themselves from dangerous people.

I was stunned to read AR describing child murder in her atheist ethic as merely dangerous as opposed to immoral, evil or wrong and that the label of dangerous was sufficient to cover sociopathic acts considered in general and specifically child murder.

I sought clarification by summarizing AR’s ethical propositions to date: I make no value judgements about someone’s behaviour and observed Perhaps I misunderstand you. The murder of a child is immoral, right [not merely dangerous]?

AR was outraged and told me I was engaging in dishonest cherry-picking,. From that point, being a Moderator on Lavartus Prodeo, she simply banned me from the thread.

Evading Truth

AR showed a strong inclination to evade examination of her atheist ethic. She wanted her statements about how she derived her atheist ethic to stand without examination. When her ethic was critiqued she engaged in a superficial and somewhat deflective conversation and then banned any further inquiry.

Even given the opportunity to clarify or resile from an astoundingly weak ethical judgement on child murder as merely dangerous she would not.

I believe that this is because the discussion had shown in a few short exchanges what is obvious, namely that there is no objective basis for atheist ethics and hence nothing that is recognisable as a grounded morality.

The Limits And Impoverishment Of Atheist Ethics

All that atheists can do in place of an objective morality is appeal to subjective notions such as rational self-interets or the common good, both concepts which are necessarly subjective and can be replaced by any arbitrary statement of value or worth.

An ethic submitted to AR’s atheist committee for approval would need to demonstrate an empirical rational basis for acceptance. Rationality is the basis. The actual ethics are subject to revision at any time.

So unethical behaviour is defined in terms of its irrationality not its intrinsic characteristics. Should killing certain segments of the population improve the common good e.g. by removing defective genes leading to better overall health outcomes, then such killings are ethical.

AR said:

Empathy and compassion arise from rational self-interest

I say that the reduction of empathy and compassion to the impoverished formulation of Classical Economics robs them of their very humanity.

Empathy and compassion are not subject to a Business Case and ethics are not in thrall to Key Performance Indicators.

Suppressing Truth

The Bible says that fallen humanity suppresses moral truth.

Romans 1:18-20

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

AR suppressed truth in the Blog thread under discussion by moderating posts of mine which described a Biblical approach to universal ethics and its rejection of karma or works-based systems of salvation; but AR permitted other posters describing ‘what the Bible says’ incorrectly and by permitting a clearly off-topic post rejecting Jesus’s Ddvinity.

Hilariously inventing the concept of an on-topic thread derail AR moderated and eventually banned my posts to prevent critique of atheist ethics and thereby protect the atheist ethic from a Biblical challenge.

Problems Justifying An Atheist Ethic

While there are many ways of justifying an atheist ethic, it is difficult for atheists to avoid subjective and hence ungrounded ethics, or alternatively a universal ethic based merely on survial or rational self-interest which logically lead to horrific propositions such as Eugenics being morally acceptable.

The Biblical alternative is that morality is grounded in God who alone is Holy and Wise and who thus is uniquely qualified to state what is moral and what is not.

God then graciously communicates those moral truths to us in His Scripture, in creation and in the person of Jesus; more than that, implanted those truths in humanity by creating them in His moral image. The Image Of God in Humanity is now marred and distorted by Original Sin, hence mankind is no longer perfectly able to determine moral outcomes. Nevertheless the residual Image Of God in mankind explains how Universal or near-Universal moral truths can exist.


In our place we don’t do Santa.

We have informed the children that Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’s birthday and that Santa is a way people have of remembering the very nice man St Nicholas of Patara who would give presents to poor children for Jesus’s birthday because they had no one to give them presents.

Just The Facts

Objectively this is a factually historically sound precis of the identities of the major personages associated with Christmas and far closer to the truth than the western secular culturally approved Christmas story which is that Christmas is a day when the entirely mythical Santa Claus pilots a team of magic reindeer around the planet and distributes presents to children on the basis of good behaviour, completing his global mission in one night assisted by a team of magical elves.

So on a factual basis my family explanation of ‘Why Christmas?’ beats the objectivity index of the major alternative explanation by about 100-NIL.

Even if you think that Jesus is a myth Himself it is nevertheless true that Christmas Day came into being a celebration of Jesus’s birthday. Yes, yes I know, the actual day was appropriated from a pagan midwinter festival but it wasn’t called Christmas then.

Name That Stereotype

Now if you’re a hard core atheist you despise myths of all kinds so you wouldn’t be wanting to be feeding the children’s minds up with Santa nonsense. You’ll be telling them that Christmas (without the deliberate mis-spelling with ‘X’) is a celebration of a mythical person called Jesus’ birthday ’cause that’s factual, but that in your family Christmas is just about whatever you want to do at Christmas.

And if you’re an agnostic you’ll have no objection to Jesus as a putative historical personage or even putatively as God, so you would have at least no objection to be going with the basic facts about ‘Why Christmas?’, but you might decide to go with the Santa story because its fun for kids to play make-believe.

I guess the ‘Christmas is about Santa’ story would also be adopted to easy-going or less dogmatic atheists like Julia Gillard, Prime Minister Of Australia, who don’t believe in God but who don’t share the relentless atheist insistence on eliminating Jesus from public consciousness associated with, say, Richard Dawkins, and just like to see the kids get entranced in ‘the magic of Christmas’.

And from observation it would also apply to the general Australian public for whom neither Jesus nor atheism nor agnosticism registers at any meaningful resonance.

As far those who believe Jesus is God, such as myself, we obviously want to emphasize that Christmas is about Jesus’s birthday. Some Christian families also integrate Santa into their Christmas Family narrative but in my opinion this makes Christmas worse, not better.

Why Santa makes Christmas Worse

When our kids get a Christmas present they know that Mummy and Daddy have bought it for them, not Santa. So this is tangible evidence that M&D love giving them great stuff, and the greatest stuff that kids get, materially speaking, comes on Christmas Day. Pooh-pooh it if you like but gift-giving is a practical demonstration of love. Why should my kids think that Santa loves them more than M&D ? I think that its a positive for the children that they know that M&D bought them the big shiny bike or the Hot Wheels Trick Tracks Mega-Dino Challenge or the Dora The Explorer magnetic toothbrush with built in compass.

Secondly, the kids express their joy for the gift directly back to M&D and it goes like this WOW! THANKS DAD! THAT IS AWESOOOOMMME! Sorry Santa, you don’t deserve that gratitude since you don’t even exist anyway and I’m sure as eggs not letting you have it. So the M&D’s get to express the full volume of their children’s delight at the Christmas gifts, instead of vicariously filtered via Santa.

Third, we as M&D give Christmas presents to our children because we love them, not on the basis of whether or not they have been good. Our children get validated for who they are, not on the basis of their transitory behaviour. Our children know they do not have to earn the love of M&D unlike that fickle impostor Santa whose favour can at any time evaporate like summer mist.

Fourth, the children get facts not fiction. No matter how you slice it, Santa is made up. A truthful explanation of Why Do We Give Presents At Christmas must include some reference to Jesus, even if He is relegated to myth. Face it, Santa entered the Christmas narrative at some point many centuries after Jesus and doubly so the magic reindeer and elves.

Much as many hate it Jesus IS the ORIGINAL reason for the season and the reason why Christmas exists. Here’s a theoretical question your child may ask:

Child: ‘Mummy, Why DO people go around saying ‘Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill to all men’ ?
Incorrect Answer A: Because Christmas is a time when we get together as a family.
Correct Answer B: Its because that’s what the Angels said to the shepherds on Jesus’s birthday.

Quite simply, an integrated understanding of Christmas requires reference to Jesus.

Fifth, for those who are Jesus-friendly, awarding Christmas to Santa robs Jesus of richly deserved recognition. Americans have a thing called Martin Luther King Day. Contrary to current popular preferential meaning, this does not commemorate the day when Santa led a Freedom march on Washington DC to eloquently demand equal rights for African-Americans assisted by a team of magical elves. I think you get what I mean. Even if you think Jesus is just a man or even just a myth, why not let the kids admire and learn from His example ?

Santa Is Not All Bad

Ejecting Santa from Christmas is not without cost. My kids do miss out on the awestruck wonder of waiting for Santa to visit and some really great make-believe. And yes, my kids are almost the only ones at school who don’t think Santa is real, which can make them seem like Alien Life-Forms to the others who have been fed the 100% guaranteed Santa myth. Ironic that, but it doesn’t seem to lead to teasing.

But even without Jesus, Christmas is better without Santa (see reasons one, two and three above). Of course WITH Jesus there is another kind of awestuck wonder which happens to be based in historical truth, but even if you really wish to persist with Jesus is A Myth, at least you can tell tell the myth that is related to the actual origins of Christmas rather than the one that originated with Coca-Cola Inc.