I felt I had to respond to a post at Atheism Analyzed. The issue is one I blog about frequently, and I will take any opportunity to voice my two cents on the matter.
Below is the comment I left, which nearly suffices for an entire post of its own (as my comments left on the blogs of others so often are... for which I apologize):
This particular atheist is fairly certain of the existence of truth, right, wrong, good, bad, virtue, and evil. Of course, having a clearly defined moral code hasn’t stopped any criminal who was religious. One’s stance on the matter is largely unimportant when it comes to true “morality,” which is little more than a fancy word for decision making.
The most common measure used for comparing the morality of individuals tends to be incarceration rates, which is very flattering for atheism. However, I suspect the fact that atheists tend to have more education and a higher income than the average Christian to be far more important factors than faith (or lack thereof) when it comes to crime.
Your question is flawed, then. It is not “Can an atheist be ‘good’?” The true question is, “Why are atheists good?” This is not to say ALL atheists are good, nor is it to say Christians are not good, or even “as good.” The majority of Christians and atheists are good, and only a few Christians or atheists are truly bad (in this instance, worthy of being locked up).
From a Christian standpoint, an atheist can never be good. In the terms defined by the Christian faith, the first rule has always been predicated on the worship of YHWH. As an atheist, if I were to define “good” as including “must not believe in god,” I would find myself looking down on Christians as morally inferior, even though I have arbitrarily chosen a matter of taste and decided to judge it as a matter of morality.
One final note: you harp on the fact that you find “good” to have no meaning to the atheist because it is “relative.” Yet, I see Christians who argue daily over the meaning of various passages in the Bible, the true nature of God, even the terms by which eternal salvation is attained. Christianity has no more certainty than atheism, it merely encourages believers to act with certainty on whatever their stance might be, misconceptions and all. Add to this the fallacy that a divine presence is guiding them, and if they screw up they can just ask for forgiveness.
Where is the moral accountability? To this atheist, Christianity appears to be moral credit for the intellectually bankrupt.