In arguing that atheists don’t need to believe in some sky ogre to be morally upstanding citizens, Zuckerman shows himself to be the ethical version of the trust-fund brat. “For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule,” he states, seemingly oblivious that the Golden Rule originated from the mouth of Jesus. “Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs.”
But Zuckerman is missing one important caveat in his assertion that atheists are just as capable of living morally, that caveat being “if they live in a house built by religious hands.” So no, an atheist doesn’t need to believe in God to recognize that it’s wrong to take the lives of people who are weaker or seemingly less significant than he is. In fact, the Bible itself actually makes this point in Romans 2.
But history is littered with societies that haven’t drawn this same conclusion, so why isn’t the average atheist arguing that we should chuck our sickly infants off a cliff, Spartan-style? Because his conscience has been formed by Western laws and societal expectations that have been born of a Christian worldview on the sanctity and equality of life. Does an atheist need to believe in Christ to insist that slavery is indefensible? No, but considering how prevalent slavery still is in the world, why do American unbelievers oppose it? Because, just like American believers, their views on slavery have been formed by the Christian conscience that drove the abolition movement and still dominates our culture today.