HOW CAN I BE MORAL IF I DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD?
Let's just get this out in the open now: I do not have any faith or belief in any personal deity--one that dispenses grace, goodness, and/or miracles according to its 'will'. I do not acknowledge any ‘supernatural’ agent or agency that intentionally intervenes in human affairs (like say, one that chooses sides in a war), or selectively answers peoples' prayers. I do not and can not abide any willful deity that plays with tornados and trailer parks. I do not support or espouse any formal, organized religious notion or expression of any such 'god'.
I acknowledge only a creative principle at work in the Universe. I also acknowledge a ...view middle of the document...
To the pious, to be without religious belief, is to be 'immoral'. Science itself is held up as an example of an activity devoid of god, and therefore devoid of morality. This viewpoint is illustrated best by a discussion I had with a Christian acquaintance many years ago. At some point in our conversation, perhaps in exasperation, I confessed that I did not believe in any 'god', as previously described. He took a moment to digest this information, and then asked me in all sincerity:
"Well, how can you be moral if you don't believe in God?"
His question, I believed, was not meant as an exclusively Christian question. To my acquaintance, it seemed that any religion's god would be preferable to no god at all. Only this belief made me morally redeemable in his eyes. Despite feeling a bit insulted by this naïve interrogative, my acquaintance had in fact touched upon a significant issue in my 'existential quest'. For, it was indeed a question that I had been quietly asking myself since that day I walked out of church when I was seventeen years old.
What follows then, after much time to reflect, is my response to this question:
The answer, my theistic comrade, lies within the very religion you embrace. In the gospel of Matthew, the person calling himself 'The Son of Man' enjoins his followers to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Biblical scholars sometimes refer to this as the 'law of reciprocity'. Common folk know it as The Golden Rule. Whichever, it embodies the fundamental basis of moral conduct: reciprocal beneficence. Without any reference to 'god', the golden rule instructs us to treat others the way we wish to be treated, that is, in kind. A young child easily understands the meaning of this law: don't poke Tommy in the eye, or steal his toys, because you wouldn't want Tommy to do this to you. It is a remarkably objective, humanistic dictate.
A religious scholar might point out that the Law of Reciprocity as expressed by Jesus is merely an expanded recapitulation of the second commandment: love thy neighbor as thyself, and that the first commands us to worship (i.e., 'love') the one God. True, and yes, of course, we should expect a ‘high priest' (in this case, Moses) of any religion to put his god out there first, demanding absolute faithfulness, otherwise, they’re ‘out of business’, so to speak. But the second commandment is none the less a separate commandment and it stands on its own.
I will ask at this point, apart from the belief in god itself, what moral behavior is not covered by this reciprocal rule? Is god--any god--required for the understanding and practice of reciprocal beneficence?
A religious moralist, might protest this by asserting the origin of this reciprocity rule to be the Christian religion--a belief system preached by Jesus of Nazareth, whom some called the Christ. Such a person might question the validity of embracing the message, but denying/rejecting the...