Evil is the violation of the moral code expressed in the New Testament. Since atheist have no such source, I am assuming that they base their morality on whim. Or for those atheists who are more systematic and see themselves at their highest state as simply a functionary of Nature, they might try to map evolutionary theory into their moral behavior. Or maybe it is just a mystery. (Neo, October 22)
Theists have a foundation for their morality that has to do with (a) god. Atheists have a foundation that is essentially whim. .. The type of theist, whether Christian or Muslim or whatever, has nothing to do with this. Whether or not the god of the theists is credible does not have anything to do with this. Whether this or that sacred writing can be believed or not has nothing to do with this. The question is... how do atheist(s) figure out what is evil? (Neo, October 23)Usually I prefer not to "have a dog in this fight" between sincere Christians and equally genuine atheists. Much heat, little light, and nobody comes away convinced otherwise. But maybe a couple of points could be made.
The devil isn't so much in the detail as in the interpretation. Mennonite scholar Willard Swartley's Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women is a classic text on this issue. All too often when it comes to building just societies it is Christians who have been left in the embarrassing position of having to run to catch up with their secular peers.
Then there's the issue of the possibility of morality in places beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. Could you have lived a moral life in Persia, India, China or Angkor Wat? It seems outrageous to even ask.
2. The subsequent comment broadens things out and detaches the New Testament in favour of a more amorphous theism. Your god (of whatever stripe) is your lodestone. Again, problems. Non-theistic religions exist such as certain strands of Buddhism. Are Buddhists - by and large - moral people? What about the followers of Confucius?
"Atheists have a foundation that is essentially whim." I don't pretend to speak for atheists, but I've certainly known a few who are happy to adopt that badge. I haven't met any sociopaths among them yet. Most tend to humanism, and are every bit as compassionate as their theistic neighbours. The focus of their concern tends to be a little different, not so obsessed with issues of individual guilt as with the welfare of communities, but this is also the position of liberal and progressive Christians, both Protestant and Catholic.
The bigger question is whether morality can be externally validated. Does the fact that Jesus taught non-violence (assuming that he did) therefore make non-violence right; or is non-violence the preferable path regardless, and the fact that Jesus taught it simply an indicator that he was teaching something true? (How do you know it's true? If you have to ask then you probably haven't started thinking about what morality really is.)
Ethics is a fascinating field, and exists outside Christian discourse (or any other theistic community). Specifically Christian ethics are ethics informed by Christian discourse. A good example of this can be found in Daniel Maguire's A Moral Creed for All Christians. That certainly doesn't mean though that everything beyond the boundaries of Christianity - or one of the other theistic faiths - is based on whim, or that love, mercy and compassion are restricted to believers.
I appreciate the comments that have been provided. In engaging with them we all should be challenged to clarify our own thinking, whether we end up agreeing or not. As is invariably the case though, the easy solutions are generally the most dubious.