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Atheism: the default ethical position of humanity

By David Nicholls - posted Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Atheism is not another religion. There is no head atheist, chain of command or a supernatural component. It is a private philosophical stance, which unapologetically places ultimate value on the primacy of reason.

Atheism does not have churches or celebration days. Atheists are individuals who pay their taxes, donate to charities, and are volunteers in society to the same extent as everyone else. Atheists have family, friends, acquaintances, careers, pets, hobbies, and so on, and although popular rumour has it that atheists have cranial horns and sacrifice babies, this is untrue. Their essential distinction is that atheists have no invisible means of support.

Some people are under the common misconception that atheism equates with Stalinism, Nazism, communism and so on. This is, of course, mischievous nonsense designed or used as propaganda for consumption by easy ears. Dictatorial social and political systems result from the tyrannical desires of deranged individuals and accommodating circumstances. Religious and non-religious people alike rightfully despise them and any mayhem these ideologies create.


Freely chosen atheism in democracies is the antitheses of forced compliance with narrow political agendas. In fact, atheism promotes informed decision making as the best possible way of governance. This ensures that to the highest extent achievable in human affairs, there is an assurance of equality, compassion and justice before the law.

Where societies do not rely on well-informed choice, as in authoritarian regimens like fascism, suffering is unavoidable. It is also the case that faith-driven doctrines cause similar predicaments. One needs only to watch the international and national nightly news on television to be convinced.

Reliance on ancient literature as a guide to establishing mores is problematical. There are a number of creeds and creeds within creeds, all containing conflicting messages with numerous interpretations inevitably leading to divisiveness, injustice and conflict.

On the other hand, atheism does not endorse acts of violence, encourage others to do so, or attempt to subvert those in disagreement. The explanation is simple. Reasoned argument and not belligerence is the hallmark of atheism. Atheism is the default ethical position of humanity. It does not slavishly follow a set of immutable “sacred” rules among the many on offer.

We are all born atheists, with a percentage indoctrinated personally or culturally by one of the thousands of religions, which exist or have existed. The brand of religion thus adhered to is overwhelmingly dependant on specific location and tradition.

Atheists have no wish to override properly constructed democracy by aggression, by unrepresented interference in politics or by using pre-existing notions. Atheism considers that the only method to secure positive outcomes is to have full regard for all the available evidence, and not just that in favour of a particular ideology.


This does not mean that atheism is a state of perfection or an infallible inoculation against idiocy. But its majority consensus favours reaching better conclusions more so than by inflexible adherence to fashionable dogma. Unfortunately, it is here where the harm of religion overshadows any good or perceived benefit.

A regrettable product of religion is intolerance of different outlooks, particularly where they do not fit a demanding preordained worldview. Religions tend to compel or attempt to implement their opinions onto whole populations to the detriment of arbitrarily selected groups. It is all very well to have “respect” for alleged revelation, but it is not acceptable to expect others who do not, to live by its dictates.

A study of freely chosen atheism in educated secularised nations demonstrates it to be the mechanism encouraging and nurturing happiness, prosperity, equality, compassion and justice. In contrast, those places on the planet where religion is inseparable from politics or where antiquated religious ideals form the basis for behaviour, the same is not true. Western Europe exemplifies this point very decisively.

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About the Author

David Nicholls is the president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Nicholls

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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