At its core, atheism is the understanding that there are no deities in the universe, or at least that documented history has yet to record any credible objective evidence that deities exist. Atheism is a “belief” in the sense that atheists have convictions about truth, but unlike deistic systems (e.g., Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism), there is no widely held organizational structure for people who consider themselves atheists.

As a free thinker, an atheist may borrow pieces of other ideologies to construct an internally consistent ethos. In America, many atheists probably adopt a “religious light” ethos that embraces ethical positions about murder, religious freedom, etc. that are shared with different religions. Some atheists, like myself, gravitate towards secular humanism, which is a philosophy that embraces secular ethics, philosophical naturalism and human reason. Secular humanists reject the idea that religious dogma and superstition should be used as a basis of morality or decision making.

Secular ethics relies on logic, empathy, reason and moral intuition to make decisions. Religious detractors will holler that this is moral relativism, which is an anathema to their claims of immutable truth bequeathed to them from a higher authority. But religious belief relies as much on moral relativism as secular ethics because moral guidance from religion is relative to the religion and sect, and relative to the authority that is translating the revelations that underlie such systems. What really matters are the details of the moral framework. For example, secular ethics is informed by moral intuition about the universal value of the “Golden Rule” without the need for religious authority.

Recommended for you