Before I can get in to the topic of this week’s article, I want to thank my very good friend Reverend Alex Moreschi for giving me this week’s topic. Do atheists have morals? That is a question many atheists are asked by Christians. Most Christians, notice I said MOST not ALL, feel that atheists cannot have morals without a belief in a God. What does it mean to be moral? What is morality and who is to say what is morally right or wrong? When I think of morals, I think of the many terms that I don’t understand being tossed around during conversations between believers and nonbelievers.
For the purpose of this article I want to present some of these terms with the hope that not only will I learn something by it but so will others by reading it. I will be relying on philosophybasics.com for the definition of the following terms:
Morals (or ethics): is concerned with questions of how people ought to act, and the search for a definition of right conduct (identified as the one causing the greatest good) and the good life (in the sense of a life worth living or a life that is satisfying or happy).
Moral Relativism: the position that moral propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.
Moral Absolute: is the ethical belief that there are absolute standards against which moral questions can be judged, and that certain actions are right or wrong, regardless of the context of the act. Thus, actions are inherently moral or immoral, regardless of the beliefs and goals of the individual, society or culture that engages in the actions. It holds that morals are inherent in the laws of the universe, the nature of humanity, the will of God or some other fundamental source.
Moral Universalism: The position that there is a universal ethic which applies to all people, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality or other distinguishing feature, and all the time.
I realize these aren’t the only terms used for morality but they are the ones most commonly used when having a discussion with a believer. When I look at the above terms and make a final decision about what I think about morality, I find myself leaning toward calling myself a moral relativist. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is of no importance to me at the moment. What is important is my understanding that the way I perceive morality will dictate the standards of how I will live my life and how I treat others.
Now to the original topic; Do atheists have morals? Absolutely Yes! As an atheist I do not anchor my morality to any specific deity or holy book. My morality comes from my community, my family and friends, my sense of empathy for my fellow human beings and Consequentialism (those moral theories which hold that the consequences of one’s conduct are the true basis for any judgment about the morality of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence).
I resist hurting others because I know how it feels to be hurt by someone else. My morality stems from my desire to do the least amount of harm to other human beings. It goes much farther than living according to the Golden Rule presented in the Bible, which I find to be absolutely ridiculous. The concept of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31) falls short on many levels. What if I am a masochist – someone who enjoys pain? Am I expected to cause pain to others simply because I enjoy experiencing pain? Isn’t that essentially what the Golden Rule is implying?
I would rather present something I like to call the Platinum Rule – treat others the way THEY wish to be treated. Living according to this simple rule significantly decreases physical, psychological and verbal abuse, racism and discrimination between races, genders and sexes. If we were to live according to this rule we would not see the horrific house bills being passed all over the country discriminating against the transgender community. We would not see racially motivated hate groups forming in many communities in our country. We would see a decrease in the nationwide murder and suicide rate. I’m aware that what I am describing can be seen as a utopia but without the hatred we see throughout humanity wouldn’t we live in a more peaceful world? A world free of religion based wars? Wouldn’t we start to see humanity take a turn towards love, respect and compassion for our fellow man? Sounds great doesn’t it? Is it possible? I suppose anything is possible but is it doable? That is the ultimate question.
So can atheists have morals? You damn right we can and we did it without a God.