“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
— Christopher Hitchens
As an atheist, I am asked several different adaptations of the same general question: “Where do [my] morals come from?” I am now at a point where I chuckle — and if the setting permits it, light a cigarette — take a deep breath, then explain how morality is not a concept to which Christianity, or any other religion, can claim exclusivity. Morality can be determined merely by the application of common-sense and empathy, stemming primarily from regards to necessary dynamics intrinsic to a society composed of multitudes of people who need to live harmoniously among one another. For example, I believe murder is wrong because I do not see any value in taking someone’s life. Murdering someone does not positively affect anything in my life. I believe rape is wrong because I do not see any value in violating or traumatizing a woman for the sake of temporary sexual satisfaction. Raping someone does not positively affect anything in my life. I believe theft is wrong because I do not see any value in willfully and dishonestly acquiring something in which another person invested their time or money. Theft does not positively affect anything in my life. On the other side of this assessment, acts such those previously mentioned — murder, rape, and theft — and a slew of others, carry negative impacts, such as imprisonment, and in some cases, state-sanctioned murder. These deterrents definitely contribute to my assertion of what is and is not morally justified. But, I do not take anything at face value, not even morality or law. My assertions are my own, crafted from internal assessment, weighing the positives to the negatives, so to speak. I believe very much that there a very few issues and circumstances that are inherently black or white. There are plenty of shades of gray in between.
But, this isn’t to say that I am completely lawfully-oriented myself. There are laws which I find to have little-to-no positive value and other laws that I find to have purely negative value. For example, I believe that provisions in state constitutions that prohibit anyone other than a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman from engaging in matrimonial affairs is morally bankrupt. Furthermore, I strongly detest the rhetoric given by those who support such laws in support of such laws. From my experience, I have heard nothing to legally justify marriage discrimination, merely religious conservative rhetoric, which brings this thought to its most heinous point. I find it socially, and morally, reprehensible to allow religious philosophy to determine the efficacy of laws in an environment that is not entirely composed of men and women who unanimously and completely share that religious philosophy, especially when the law is bigoted and potentially in violation of the civil rights of sovereign American citizens. I do not see any positive value in drug prohibition, not only because of the prohibition of mind-altering substances themselves or the completely backward way in which the prohibition is inconsistent, but also in the precedents that have been set because of the prohibition: a disproportionate non-white inmate population (despite consistent rates of usage among whites and non-whites), mandatory minimum sentencing, and, in what may be the worst effect of drug prohibition, the privatization of the American penal system, where privately-operated prisons enter deals with the states in which they are located that operate with an economic bottom line, and minimum occupancy rates. To me, this is socially, and morally, abominable, especially the latter example, which contributes heavily the prior examples.
The aforementioned issues are only the tip of the iceberg. I have thoughts regarding a wide variety of issues, but I don’t think either you or I have the time to go through all of them right now.
My concept of what is moral and just merely stems from assessing issues without influence. These thoughts are my own, even if they coincide with thoughts others have had before me, have currently, and will have after me. Yet, I am a man without God, who further believes that God is merely an associative concept humans from thousands of years ago created to help them better understand why certain things happen. But to go more in-depth into my lack of belief reveals another obelisk, beyond terrestrial concepts of social justice and morality. I find absolutely no positive value in believing in a God.
That can of worms may be further assessed at another time.