Non-Zero? Are Religion and Atheism Morally Neutral?

Below, agnostic Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God, discusses religion and atheism with atheist John Horgan. Wright has a rather novel view of religion and atheism, seeing both of them as morally neutral, with their “demonic” sides only being activated wherever they are set into zero sum games (as in the Middle East and the Soviet Union in the 1930s), and their “angelic” sides activated when non-zero sum games are at work (as on a university campus where opposing sides are well fed and clothed and can have a respectful discussion). This ecological approach to ideology strikes me as fresh. Wright has also written, by the way, a book on zero and non-zero sum games titled Nonzero, and in bringing zero sum analysis to religion and atheism, I think something is being added. Horgan, however, seems skeptical.

In any event, a good exchange.

Oh, and BloggingHeads TV (from which the clip comes) gets some of its money from the Templeton Foundation. I point this out because it looks to me like BloggingHeads TV is a good project to fund, and it undermines (at least to my mind) the notion that Templeton is a bad grant foundation to work with:

I think that it’s interesting that, by the end of the clip, Wright and Horgan converged on something that they both agree on: non-ironic proselytizing theism and atheism (monotheism and monoatheism) are problematic.

I take from this clip two key ideas:

  • Religion and atheism are probably neutral phenomena that can be activated to evil or moral ends depending on the environment that they are functioning in; and
  • Proselytizing and universalizing impulses (monotheism and monoatheism) are problematic.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Non-Zero? Are Religion and Atheism Morally Neutral?

  1. Jairo Mejia says:

    Atheists and Gnostics are right in most of their thinking

    It has been common among religious believers to look with misgiving to atheists and Gnostics, and to think that they are mistaken; however, in many instances the opposite is the truth; some religious beliefs are not just irrelevant, but baseless. The “God” of main line traditions simply does not exist. I accepted the challenge of finding the One who may be recognized even by Gnostics and atheists: the Existence itself, “All-That-Is.” If something is there, that is God. Look at the book “Christianity Reformed From ist Roots – A life centered in God” ( I am confident that some of your friends will be relieved of the illusion, as I did myself.

    Jairo Mejia, M. Psych., Santa Clara University
    Retired Episcopal Priest
    Carmel Valley, California

  2. stillhere4u says:

    Atheism may well be spurred on by the refusal of religions to engage in self-criticism. I’ve just read on how foreign self-criticism is to religion, and, moreover, how religion misunderstands itself. You might be interested in it.

  3. santitafarella says:


    Atheism is enormously good for religion. I agree with you. Religion is also good for atheism. It’s always good to hear from your “nay bears”. Love your “nay bears.”


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