Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.
-H. L. Mencken
Fear of God is a barrier to real morality, not a path to it.
-St. Brian the Godless
I’ve heard so often from Christians “We get our morality from God.” In fact, it’s common to hear them say that atheists have no real morality since they (we) do not believe in God. They say that we atheists do not have consequences so we have no reason to be moral. That we believe in evolution, survival of the fittest, which they interpret as “nature red in tooth and claw” and so they assume that our atheist morality is based on survival and killing off the competition. They believe that they get their morals straight from God, and that we get ours from the animals. This allows them to see atheists in a bad light, as inferior to their clearly superior and God-Inspired system of morality. Which, of course, is how they wish to see us. Seeing atheists as posessing real morality is antithetical to their deeply-held belief that they are morally superior to us for their belief in God. And they need that belief. It’s what keeps their egos inflated properly.
Atheists argue that morality evolved as a necessary trait when we “went social” in a big way. When we started to live in tribes and communities and cities. We always displayed “moral” behavior toward our children and families as do many lesser creatures, but now it has evolved to also extend to complete strangers due to the necessity of living in close quarters to said strangers.
Perhaps. I mean, we certainly developed empathy as a survival factor, caring about others, being able to imagine being the other person, imagining looking through their eyes at their problems and situation. It’s an extension of caring for ourselves and our children. And if you’re truly empathetic, morality follows, unless you are unable for some reason to empathize with all others. For instance, if something blocks you, such as a belief that says that others are clearly inferior to you, are evil, or are otherwise lacking in goodness and rectitude.
Someone, a Christian, recently asked me “So where do you get your morality from?” and without hesitation I replied “From my empathy and my imagination. I look around me and see the problems that confront us and separate us and I feel the loss, the sadness, of all of us not being able to get along, and then I imagine a perfect world somewhere in the future where such problems do not exist anymore. Then I work backwards from there to here again and can thus see what is serving us now and what is not. For that perfect world to occur, we have to learn to love all others, accept all others, and empathize with all others without reservations. Period. It’s obviously the answer. So, there’s my morality.”
My morality is thus based in my empathy and my imaginative ability to see what we need to do and how we need to act, in order for the world to ever be at peace. I may have evolved my ability to empathize and my imagination, but my morality wasn’t so much selected for directly as it was a necessary result of those two things being a part of me already. My morality exists because I can empathize with all others and can imagine a perfect future where we all do, and cannot see any other way to get to that future but to start working toward it now. And I can see that it’s the only correct path. So could Jesus. Not so much many of His present-day followers, unfortunately. Since they believe that their morality comes from God, an outside source, they often cannot see any need to develop it within their own hearts. For them, the fear of hell is their morality. And fear-based morality is not morality at all. It’s obedience under duress. Not a fertile source for the love necessary to really be moral. But an excellent source for the egotism necessary to look down on all others and find them lacking. And that’s no way to Love Thy Neighbor, in my opinion.