An Unbeliever’s Morality


One of the things that atheists, as well as many pagans get from “believers” is the admonition that, if you don’t have faith, then you can’t have morality. In general I look these simpleminded people in the eye and respond,

“If you need a religion in order to have morals then you’re not a very nice person to begin with.”

The point is of course lost on most people. Or they take it as an opportunity to point out that all of us are sinners and only God’s grace can save us. Most of the time when that happens I just smile, nod my head, and back away slowly. It’s like arguing with a pig: no matter what your thesis the pig will win through sheer stubbornness.

It is rare to find someone willing to listen to a rational argument on these grounds. To them the sky is blue, God is good, and anything else smacks of Satan and devil worship. For them morality is a gift from God, something “He” gives to those who follow in his ways, ignoring the fact that people have had morality since before Moses or even Abraham was born.

Judaism was not the first religion to have a code of morality. It is safe to say that every society ever established had moral principles that they tried to live by. It is impossible for people to live together otherwise. Once a people settle down into anything more than family groups, they have to come up with something in order to get along.

Morality is not an act of faith; it is an act of civility. It is one social animal acting so as to live without friction with another. The fear of retribution from some sky daddy is, at best a Pavlovian response, and does not constitute being moral. Morality is acting with regard to each other’s feelings and needs through an inner understanding that it is the proper thing to do, and not because you’re afraid you’ll burn in hell if you steal someone’s cookie.

A truly moral person is reasonable and responsible and doesn’t need threats to do what is proper; they act out of consideration and common sense, which, when it comes down to it, is not as common as most want to believe. It is a tough standard to live up to, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth striving for.

The rest of us will appreciate the effort.

Elle Goff is a disabled writer, starting out on what will be her fifth career change in a long history. From pumping gas to being a machinist to being a technical writer, she has done a bit of everything. She studied Philosophy at Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State, though was unable to complete her degree. After a stroke, she turned to writing essays, short stories, and novels. Her work has appeared Sapphic Voices, a site for lesbian authors to present their work. Her fantasy and science fiction stories usually deal with gay characters and their life experiences in the realms of the fantastic.