I think this is an interesting quote from John Gray, in his book, Seven Types of Atheism:
Atheists attack Christian values because they are changeable and often contradictory. In incessant mawkish debates, they insist that unbelievers can be highly moral people. It does not occur to them to ask which morality an atheist should follow.
To be clear, I think this is a bit of a harsh way to put it. I only mention it because there’s a certain credibility in quoting an atheist’s commentary on atheism. In his book, he carefully traces the many different moral codes that different atheists have proposed in different cultures. For instance:
Modern atheists can be individualists like Rand, socialists like Karl Marx, liberals like John Stuart Mill or fascists like Charles Maurras. They can revere altruism as the embodiment of all that is truly human with Auguste Comte, or revile altruists as thoroughly anti-human with Ayn Rand. Without exception, these atheists have been convinced they were promoting the cause of humanity. In every case, the species whose progress they believed they were advancing was a phantom of their imagination.
In this quote, you see a hint of two other arguments he makes: atheistic morality often borrows from Christianity two ideas:
- That progress is inevitable
- That “humanity” is a real thing - “we” are in “this” together
But, as he sees it, we are all just individual organisms living by different codes. There’s no grand project that we were made for and no reason to believe “we” are making progress now or will do so later.
In this particular case, if we were in conversation with an atheist who did not want to become a Christian out of loyalty to their family, I think it would be a challenging task to help them first see, that their own atheistic beliefs could not consistently ground a commitment to family loyalty. But second, that family loyalty is a good value, and it can find fulfillment and proper limits within the context of loyalty to Jesus.
But perhaps in some situations and relationships, that would be a helpful conversation?