Many people are of the belief that religion is a key component, if not the key component in the formation of morals within society as a whole and without it we would have no framework to tell right from wrong. I myself take the opposing position and feel that we, as a species, do not need some form of celestial guidebook for navigating through life and are in fact innately moral creatures whose morality has managed to survive in spite of religion.
I actually feel that religion offers more of a barrier to the development of “true morality” than many realise. What I mean by this is, one can never be one hundred percent certain when considering the motives for religious peoples actions, good actions in particular.
Consider the following example and comparison, an atheist walking down the street sees a hungry homeless man and goes to the nearest cafe and buys the man a cool drink and a pie. A religious man on the other side of town is also walking home, he too spots a hungry homeless man and decides to buy the man a cool drink and a pie. Both men have done a good deed and the outcome of each man’s actions has benefited a less fortunate man, but only the religious mans morality is open to speculation. Did the religious man help only to strengthen his standing with which ever god he believes in or did he do it out of the goodness of his heart (true morality)? Such a question need not be asked regarding the atheist’s actions.
More disturbing than the above example, is the man who knowingly endangers those around him, by basing his decisions on his religious morality. An example being, pope Benedict’s rejection of the use of condoms to quell the spread of aids, due to this idea being in opposition to catholic morality. Clearly this type of decision making leaves humanity open to even greater dangers than a world without religion ever would.
Allow me to take the next few paragraphs to “head my critics off at the pass” so to speak, as I know there will be those who read this article and immediately try to point out that if one was to trace any atheist’s ancestry, one would find some form of religious base. These people would have you believe that this religious foundation has filtered down through the generations and still provides a moral compass even for the atheists of today. That may have some merit if it weren’t for two very important points.
Firstly, man as a species has inhabited the earth for hundreds of thousands of years and of that time religious based morals have played a role for only six thousand years (that may be a generous number as some believe it to be less). How then did we manage to survive so long without religion and the “morality” it teaches? Could it be that we instinctively know right from wrong and wish for our species as well as other species to survive and share the earth? I think so and this particular point is raised time and time again by many atheists and free thinkers opposed to the idea that we cannot survive without religion.
The second point that begs emphasis is, how do other species that inhabit this earth survive having no religious influences to guide them? Examples being, the experiments conducted on capuchin monkeys, which highlight their willingness to share food with one another and the numerous instances of animals aiding each other in survival, such as the famous video of the hippo’s rescue and attempted revival of a baby buck. I find it insulting how the religious would have us believe that we require some form of divine guidance while nature thrives regardless. But more than insulting, it’s embarrassing to think there are still people perpetuating the belief that religion is the basis for human morality. If this were to be true, then we must be so inferior to these other species, which themselves do not require any moral assistance.
Imagine a world resting on a knife edge, where every man woman and child bases his morality on some form of religion. Now think of the chaos that would ensue should that religious base suddenly be removed. Without the threat of eternal damnation or the promise of eternal bliss, why would there be any reason for the people of this world to act decently. Seems like a pretty dangerous and precarious world to live in.
Besides all the above mentioned discrepancies one has to ask how anyone can set their moral compass by teachings which promote and condone slavery, sexism, homophobia and general bigotry. The answer is, they can’t and they often don’t , they pick the bits they deem moral and explain away or flat out ignore the bits that are blatantly immoral and they do this thanks to their innate morality whether they want to admit it or not.
Many people are tired of the monopoly the various religions of the world think they have, on morality, especially when it is so obvious how questionable this morality really is. I suppose some will never truly trust themselves and never outgrow their need for some form of supervision and until these religious men can prove they acted out of the goodness of their hearts and not under threat of divine penalty, atheists will hold the “true moral” high ground, alone.