As an atheist — really, just as a person — I believe that murder, rape or any harm to another person is wrong. I believe that all people should act with integrity, and that means not lying, cheating or stealing. I believe we should work together for a better world, and that we are all equal and deserving of basic human rights and the necessities of food, water, shelter, security and peace.
My morality is pretty similar to a believer’s morality, without the need to throw in the wrath of a higher power as the reason for behaving properly. That’s not because I’m borrowing some morality from religion, but because morality is part of the human condition. We’ve evolved a moral code that ensures our cooperation and cohesion. Living well together — in tribes, groups, cities, what-have-you — improves our odds of survival. And if we survive, we are more likely to procreate. And if we aren’t running around killing one another’s babies, stealing each other’s food, or otherwise harming one another, our offspring are more likely to survive until the age of reproductive maturity. We just want to pass along our genetic code, and teamwork is one way to make that more likely. Morality makes the team work better together.
Many believers have asked me how I can live my life with morality if I don’t believe in god. Every uncloseted atheist has heard this question and I doubt I’m alone in my exasperation of the small mindedness of it. The Bible is loaded with storie of god sanctioning rape, murder (including infanticide), and slavery, among other atrocities. Many Christians will claim that the Bible was written in a different time, so it must be regarded in that light. If we are to believe Christians’ supposition that the Bible is the source for all morality, this makes no sense. First, this claim illustrates that morality is an ever evolving code. And second, if we are now picking and choosing which parts of the Bible apply to us now, that calls into question the entire text.
I smile to myself when people ask me, “How will you teach your son morals without god?” I think they imagine us burning cats at the stake, having nightly orgies, and going out for rape and pillage jaunts. Folks, I assure you, we’re just as boringly moralistic as most people.