Look, I am not one of those obnoxious, humorless atheists who goes about trying to rewrite the Pledge of Allegiance and ban nativity displays. My dad is in the Christopher Hitchens camp of 'all religion is idiotic and harmful,' but, while I do like Hitchens quite a bit, I have a lot more respect for religion than he does. Flannery O'Connor is my favorite author. Relapsed Catholic is my favorite blog. I simply do not have a believing temperament, but I am very drawn to the beauty of Christian (usually Catholic) writing and thought.
So I usually stay out of fights about religion, and when I do get involved I almost always attack the atheist side, since many of the most vocal atheists are just plain childish. However, in the wake of Falwell's death, after having sat through hours of talk radio and now a HotAir thread in which countless Christians have gone on about how atheists are not even immoral but literally incapable of morality, I'm a little angry. So, as an atheist who lives pretty much an Amish lifestyle (no drink, drugs, sex, or buttons), who is pro-life and who would love nothing more than to die for his country (no, not Canada, the real country), I would like to try and clear this up.
The Judeo-Christian tradition plays a crucial role in upholding morality (one of my favorite quotations, about the importance of respecting tradition and not placing our egos above the hard-learned lessons of our ancestors, from Chesterton I believe, is "Tradition is the democracy of the dead"). However, morality predates religion. It is innate; religion can preach it and reinforce it, but religion did not beget it.
Take the Ten Commandments (please!). Let's say, "Thou shalt not kill." Is it at all conceivable that God could have commanded to Moses, "Thou shalt kill"? That God, in His omnipotence, could have decreed murder to be moral? Of course not. Because God was simply revealing the preexisting morality to Moses, not creating it. God would be bound by that morality just like anyone else. There is not a single one of the Commandments in which it is possible God could have commanded the opposite - they ruled over Him, not vice-versa. You don't honor your parents because God says so, you do so because it's right, and God just reminds you of it or teaches you about it if you're not sensible enough to figure it out for yourself. That's my take on it, anyway.
Back to Hitchens for a moment. My main problem with the attack on religion is the fact that many people, out of loneliness, fear of death, the desire to belong, or whatever other reason, end up needing to believe in something. And if it's not traditional religion, it'll be the cult of global warming, or some evil totalitarianism, or celebrity worship, or something else really harmful or stupid. I would much rather have all those people as decent Jews and Christians than as annoying wacko greenies. So lay off the faithful, Hitch, because the alternative is very likely a great deal worse.