Atheist Morality and the Logic of Jeffrey Dahmer

Jamie Steele wrote a comment about the morality of atheism, and in it quoted the following statement from serial killer and cannibalist, Jeffrey Dahmer: "If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…" [An interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994].

Such statements as these from a known killer are very troubling to me and a source for apologists to berate those of us who are atheists. Let me be perfectly frank here. The logic of Dahmer is sound if I grant him two assumptions that I vehemently reject (anyone wishing to quote this sentence of mine must quote it all, not just the first six words).

What are those two assumptions? First, for Dahmer’s argument to work an atheist must assume that the only reasons to refrain from doing evil are because of the supposed eternal horrible consequences he will suffer when he dies because God will hold him accountable for what he does. By this logic if there are no consequences when he dies then there is nothing to keep him from doing evil.

I vehemently deny this assumption. As I’ve argued elsewhere there are plenty of good solid reasons for doing good, being kind, helpful and generous with people, based solely on the consequences in this life, which is all any of us will ever have, Christians included.

Secondly, there are solid reasons based in the psychology of who we are with our survival instinct that leads us all to think being happy and living life in harmony with others demands that we like ourselves first and foremost. A Freudian death wish is simply unhealthy and counter-productive to what makes for human happiness. So for one reason or another Dahmer first hated himself. He didn’t care what would personally happen to him as he pursued his most base desires; desires that are sick indeed and counter-productive to living life in a crime free society, which is what people who desire happiness want.

Beyond these things, Dahmer was a sick man, a deviant, a sociopath. This just proves to me that anyone can use almost anything to justify his or her actions. If he was a Christian he would’ve said, “God told me to do this,” and we have plenty of examples of that kind of rationale, which is also quite logical, given certain assumptions that most reasonable Christians would likewise reject.