Secular Sunday VIII – No God Does Not Mean No Morals

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How is any of this constitutional?

Why do people continue to assume that all U.S. citizens are Christians, or at the very least, are religious? It amazes me that Alcoholics Anonymous is still the de facto choice for court-appointed help, despite its obvious religious agenda, and the fact that studies have proven it to be as effective as no help at all (I think the success rate for each was around 2%).

Worse still are the people who equate non-belief with amorality.

After all, where do morals come from? How do you measure morality?

Merriam-Webster defines moral as, “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.” We can probably all agree that right and wrong are determined by society based on a number of criteria. I’m not really concerned with what exactly is considered “right” and “wrong” or how they are determined, but for the sake of this argument, let’s assume that religious beliefs are being left out (that is to say, denouncing God would not be considered immoral).

In my opinion, the only way a person can be truly moral is if they choose to do what is “right” and eschew what is “wrong” completely on their own. Although many people will say that morals come from religion, I think the more likely reason that religious people try to be moral is because it’s required for entrance into heaven (and even that isn’t the case, depending on what religious group you belong to). So is it fear of the wrath of God that inspires theists to be good, decent human beings?

Being an atheist, I don’t have a fear of God to guide my moral compass, but I would still consider myself a good person. True, I did go to a religious school for 13 years, but my argument isn’t that religious teaching begets morality; it’s that that fear of God maintains it.

You could argue that fear of going to jail prevents me from a life of crime, but some of my leisure activities are of questionable legality, and although they hurt no one, could potentially land me in jail (the world just isn’t ready for urban exploration). Not that I would enjoy being in jail – I wouldn’t – I’m just saying that the possibility of going to jail is not what determines my behavior.

So why do I strive to be a moral person? I have a saying by which I try to live: “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” It’s not always as simple as that, and choosing the “right” thing to do is often not a binary decision, but we all have the ability to choose between good and evil.

This is by no means a thorough examination on the motivations of what makes us moral or immoral. I simply wanted to point out that for me, as an atheist, God in no way influences my decisions to be a productive member of society. Moreover, I feel it’s wrong and insulting for religious people to claim to be moral simply because they are religious. Or, for that matter, to claim that non-religious people are immoral because they do not believe in God.

Morality, like everything else in life, is a choice. Every day, there are theists who choose to be immoral and atheists who choose to be moral. If everyone thought about the choices they make in their lives and honestly assessed who or what influenced those choices, I think many people would find that free will isn’t really free.

Perhaps an even larger problem is that, often because of religion, people disagree on the line that separates moral from immoral. While I would argue that almost anything that benefits the world (embryonic stem cell research) or extends civil rights (gay marriage) are good, others – particularly those who are religious – would argue that those are bad and would contribute to the downfall of society.

Morality is at best a gray quagmire of differing opinions and beliefs. There is, however, at least one thing on which both sides can agree: hypocrisy is bad. I don’t think anyone from either side would stand up and praise hypocrisy. Yet most religious people are dyed-in-the-wool hypocrites. They don’t want the religious beliefs of others to affect their lives, but they have no problem at all when their religious beliefs affect other peoples’ lives. They’re upset when legislation is passed that flies in the face of their religious beliefs, and are pleased when legislation is passed that supports their religious beliefs.

How is that not being immoral?

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8 Comments

  1. I left this quote on Kris’s blog a while back, but think it’s also appropriate to your post. It’s from Robert Green Ingersoll, who was one of the first prominent agnostic thinkers: “Secularism teaches us to be good here and now. I know of nothing better than goodness. Secularism teaches us to be just here and now. It is impossible to be juster than that. … Secularism has no ‘castles in Spain.’ It has no glorified fog. It depends upon realities, upon demonstrations; and its end and aim is to make this world better every day – to do away with poverty and crime, and to cover the world with happy and contented homes.”

  2. LG

    I think more actions are motivated by the fear of hell than by the desire for heaven (or the equivalent end all, be all). Anyone who has studied motivation before knows positive reinforcement is much more effective.

    [Caution: generalization ahead!] I find it interesting that religious fanatics are so ready and willing to discriminate against those who are supposedly less moralistic. The people I’ve met who have eschewed organized religion or religion altogether are much more accepting of people who think differently.

    Okay, getting off my soapbox now. But I’m curious – as an athiest, does the phrase “Merry Christmas” bother you?

  3. LG

    P.S. I think you are remarkably well-adjusted; I can barely even tell that you are atheist. šŸ™‚

  4. ^ Lol.

    I’m not trying to generalize here, but I do have a pretty heavy-duty Christian in my office that keeps “pretending” to steal things from me. Haha, not funny, put my stuff down.

    I’m an atheist; I don’t have any problem with Merry Christmas. People that tell me that “Jesus is the reason for the season” drive me nuts with their ignorance though.

  5. LG

    I hate ignorant rhymers.

  6. Abraham

    I certainly think the points raise are interesting. Given the fact that I agree with nearly all of the comments made it may surprise some to find out that I myself am a Christian. Religion is not the be all and end all of morality. I made a choice to believe in God in the same way you made a choice not to believe in God. I am open to the possibility that I might be wrong which may also be surprising. I have the deepest respect for you and your good intentions and would like to add that what really drives me to do good is the joy of helping others. One of the many things I regret is not doing as much as I could. To all of you atheists, it is not just what you believe that is important it is also what you do. Thank you for expressing your opinions, very much appreciated. May fortune and prosperity be upon you regardless of belief, race or dicipline.

  7. Abraham

    Sorry spelling mistake it was discipline not dicipline.

  8. Thank you for your open-mindedness! I only wish everyone (Christians and atheists) would be as open and understanding.

    Your point about helping others because it brings joy to yourself touches upon what I believe to be the only true love, and this is self-self (but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post).

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