It’s the question that I think every atheist has encountered at some point, if not the most popular one: “Well, if you don’t believe in God, where do you get your morals from?” I guess this is a valid question, but one that has been answered over and over again and they still don’t get it. Most Christians seem to have the idea that their faith is the only thing stopping them from going out and raping and murdering innocent people. I’ve even heard some go so far off the deep end to defend the infallibility of scripture that they say that if the Bible says that slavery is moral than it must be or that if God told them to kill their child they would do it because he has a plan and knows best. Seriously, these people should be locked up. I know most Christians are not like this and when really pressed they will realize that they have decided their own morals as well. They will tell you that certain things like slavery, rape and killing innocent women and children is wrong and are surprised to discover that their holy book not only condones these activities but teaches when they are appropriate. Religious people seem to have a problem reconciling how an atheist can possibly be a good moral person despite his unbelief.

So, back to the question; where do I get my morals? I can’t speak for all atheists since atheism itself is just a position on the singular issue of the existence of any gods and does not have a holy book, creeds or organized structure. Though unbelief does cause one to self-reflect and work these issues out for themselves. The first key to where I derive my morals is empathy which is the capacity to share or recognize emotions expressed by another sentiment of fictional being. Because most humans have this ability they tend to treat others as they would prefer to be treated. Second, through basic evaluation and reasoning, one can foresee the consequences of his actions; whether good or bad. This is known as consequentialism. Consequentialists “start not with moral rules, but with goals. They assess actions by the extent to which they further those goals.”¹ From this standpoint, a morally right act or omission is one that will produce a good outcome. Third, since we live together in a social setting, we have certain responsibilities to one another and certain actions or states are more beneficial to us than others. For example, generally life is more preferable than death, freedom is more preferable than slavery and treating others with respect is more preferable than not.

Morality without faith is really quite simple: Think of the consequences before you act or speak. Morality does not require a religion or a set of rules. Albert Einstein once said “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.”²

Michael Greenslade – Editor, becomingatheist.org

¹Singer, Peter (2010). Practical Ethics (Second ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43971-8.

² Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” New York Times Magazine, 1930

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