Chapter 13, “Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality”, is written by David Eller. According to Eller, “the characteristic feature of religion is the claim that there are nonhuman and superhuman agents in the world, lacking some of the ‘qualia’ of humans (like bodies or mortality) but possessing the most important one — mind or personality or intention. This ‘religious perspective,’ if you will, humanizes the world or, more critically, socializes the world, because these nonhuman religious agents (like a god) not only can be spoken with but also must be spoken with. They are understood by members of the religion to be a real and inescapable part of their social world” (p. 350). Eller’s definition of morality is more difficult to pin down. It appears to be something like the following: morality is a social process of behavioral appraisal that guides the conduct and alters the behavior or attitudes of members of a social group. Morality refers back to a set of rules and may differ from group to group. Eller makes the obvious point that different social groups have their own moral opinions. He also notes that some non-human species have some precursors to morality.
I patiently waited as I read through the chapter for the author to make an interesting pro-atheism or anti-Christianity point. Unfortunately, his main point seems to be nothing more than that Christianity is not the only basis for morality. He comes across as a moral relativist and thus seems completely uninterested in what makes something good or why we should be moral. In other words, he confirms the fears of many a theist who believes that atheists have no objective foundation for their moral beliefs (personally, I think it is possible for an atheist to hold that objective morality exists). On the last page of the chapter Eller states that human morality would be better off without religion. What he means by “better off” is anyone’s guess. Anyone trying to make atheism palatable, especially to people who believe in objective morality, should present a secular objective ethical theory. I suspect many theists who read this chapter, whether Christian or not, will come away thinking atheism looks worse than it did before they started reading the chapter.