Moral Atheists Anonymous: (in unison) “Hi there Joe”
Joe: “I’ve been a moral atheist for 18 years now – that’s ever since I was born”
(appreciation and applause)
James Earl Jones Voice: (off screen) But it only begets the question: How could this have happened?
That’s a damn good question. I’ve been a moral person all my life and I’m not actually called Joe. But where does my morality stem from, if not from religion?
Here’s my humble theory, formed in this blog post between study sessions in the middle of exam season.
Religion is not the basis for morality.
First of all, the fancy postulation of a universe where religion is the source of morality is a dark and dreary place indeed. Sinners are stoned to death mercilessly. Women have no rights. Economies are a shadow of even Albanian capitalism as usurpers are punished brutally.
Monkeys who cannot swim drown in zoo moats to save their fellow beings, and I seriously doubt they love Jesus or the Prophet.
But more specifically, and more in a situation to blow off steam, I like to consider myself a moral atheist. I have no need of the God hypothesis. I have rejected organised religion further than my family heritage and certain Eastern Orthodox celebrations which involve a lot of alcohol. Yet I’m honest. I’m loyal. I don’t kill. I don’t steal. I’m far from perfect, but I’m not in jail.
At any rate, if there’s one population which is grossly underrepresented in prisons, that is the atheist population.
Religion appropriates from morality, picking bits and pieces which could benefit it ultimately. As a scientific naturalist, it is quite clear from the evidence in the animal kingdom that morality is a biological feature common to many species.
Ah yes, but God gave every one of His creations the same morality!
In the case that this conjecture were anywhere near the truth, then it denies the need for confession, sin, Hell and any other manifestation of guilt such as organised religion. It is also clearly false, because otherwise there would be no need for prison. If morality is a God induced gift, then there’s no point in trying to redeem your sins – once you’ve sinned you’ve fulfilled the requirements of the morality God gave you, thereby excluding you from Heaven (unless you want to try and swim upstream against God’s omnipotence).
A religious abider (of any Abrahamic denomination) will try to not break the rules of the house. This is not as much for the sake of morality, however, but because of the fear of breaking the rules of the house. Hell is a, well, hellish torment. It’s definitely someplace you do not want to go to.
Prison, on the other hand, is something tangible. You can touch the punishment. In all honesty, for a criminal, prison isn’t half bad. The citizens a criminal tried to abuse will end up supporting the roof over his head and the food he eats.
Hell, however, is as dangerous as anything which is unknown. Well, people know Hell, but nobody’s been back to tell the tale. It’s one of the Big Unknowns and that’s what makes it all the scarier.
A naturalist atheist will have none of this superstition, however. He will not live with the impending threat of doom and destruction over his head. He will not need to fear the consequences of adultery or working on a Sunday beyond petty mortal quarrels.
Yet a naturalist atheist is moral all the same. Hence reason has led me to conclude that a moral atheist is far more noble and moral than a God fearing moral person.
To me, morality is inextricably tied to my personality. I would be moral as a Hindu, as a Shinto or a Mormon, and very probably my morality would come into conflict with the personalised morality of any religion.
Joe: Just yesterday I helped a blind lady cross the street. I was tempted to relapse into just crossing the street…
Joe: but I didn’t. I helped her.
James Earl Jones Voice: (off screen) But whyyyy?
Joe: Because I know the Selfish Gene loves me