By Cameron Simek
Atheism is a hard concept for some to understand. The basic definition of Atheism is the theory or belief that God doesn’t exist. It seems like a simple enough definition, but the mere thought of it seems to confuse people. Verifiable facts, and the quest for discovery, both personal and universal, guide those who have decided there is no higher power. Morality, when looked at through the eyes of an Atheist becomes complicated, due simply to the fact that we make decisions without being guided by any ancient Deity.
It has been said that mankind would crumble into the abyss without religion. People need edicts to know how to properly live and what choices to make for the benefit of their fellow man, but these choices can also be made with a small amount of common sense and some reason.
The struggle with morality in the absence of religion is something that Atheists don’t take too lightly. There is no dogma to look to in the decision making process. That isn’t to say there is no consequence for the actions we take. We hold ourselves responsible for our decisions, and the only one that can offer forgiveness for our actions is ourselves. I, for one, am not quick to forgive myself for the poor decisions I have made in my life.
To get into the thick of it, let’s start with a couple of fundamental beliefs of how morality functions in mankind. The first is that we are born with a strong sense of right and wrong, and that our upbringing changes that as one grows and matures. If this is the case then religion has no bearing on one’s moral compass.
Another belief is that we are born as a blank slate. Also known as tabula rasa, this belief states that our upbringing shapes our morality with no other source influencing it at all. This belief would mean that religion may have a strong effect on ones morality.
Both are possible, and religion isn’t something that should be discounted when discussing morality. Religion helps a large amount of people make decisions, whether or not they are being made of their own volition, or as a result of the dogma the religious have been taught their whole life.
The simplest guideline for morality for an Atheist would be Kant’s Categorical Imperative. The most basic explanation of this is to expand your decision to the whole world. If everyone made this decision in this situation would the world be a better place? If no, then that isn’t the best decision to make. That doesn’t help with the smaller moral decisions that are required on a daily basis. Should I open this door for someone, or hold the elevator for this person?
Those decisions can’t be made in a utilitarian sense, or what is best for the highest number of people. If that were the case, everyone on the elevator would wish to get to their floor as quickly as possible and not holding the elevator would be the right choice.
In these moments, I decide what that person would prefer. They would want to get on that elevator and not wait. Putting others before myself is the basis of that moral decision. I should treat my fellow homo sapien with the respect that is due to anyone of my species.
It’s difficult to wrap this all up, but it needs to be done. As an Atheist, I see everyone as my equal and treat them as such. I try to live a life that I can be proud of, and reason and compassion are my guide. I’m not perfect, but I try.