Why do people think this makes sense?
Michael Gerson pontificates in the WaPo about atheists:
So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.
Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”
It is a little amusing to see people longing for the comfort of cosmic totalitarianism, but that’s not really what I think is funny.
Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests — a fear of bad consequences — will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.
This bugs the crap out of me. What objective basis does Gerson have? In his opinion, there’s a god who will punish those who disobey certain laws. What are these laws? Gerson again has an opinion about where they come from, which has almost no objective evidence behind it. How does Gerson know a god exists? At best, philosophical arguments with gaping holes in them. In fact, both opinions are probably based on faith, which is a particularly ungrounded and subjective opinion. This is an objective way to judge other people? It’s a completely absurd way to judge other people.
Plus, why is this god worthy of having his standard be the one by which we must judge other people? Because he created us and can punish us? My parents created me and I’m not required to live by their moral standards. The government can punish me, but I am not required to accept their laws as moral. If you obey a god because you think he wants you to, how can you judge anyone who thinks differently? You only have your subjective opinions to ground your beliefs. This is better than atheism? It’s an absurd lie.
We all have the exact same method of judging other people: our opinions. The best we can do is ground them in the most objective and practical manner possible. It’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be like proving a mathematical theorem. We can and will be wrong, so we must have a little humility about the process. Anyone thinking they have more is living in a dream world.