Atheist Morality

I don’t cheat on my tax forms. That doesn’t make me a person of high moral standing; it could just mean I don’t want to get penalized for breaking the law. So, do I have an atheist morality?

I have been criticized for being a goody two-shoes for declining to enter false information on official forms. I have many reasons for trying to comply with the requirements. Not getting caught in a felony is one, of course. Lack of any substantial benefit is another. Think about it. If I am going to commit a crime that involves a certain amount of risk, I at least want the payoff to be worth it. In for a penny, in for a pound. Why would I risk legal complications for a few dollars?

I also like to think that most people are basically decent, given half a chance. I like to do what I can to promote that decency. Anything I can do to reduce the level of lying and cheating, at least in my neighborhood, is a small step toward the kind of world we all want to live in. It’s not complicated; just basic Golden Rule stuff: I am honest with others because I want them to be honest with me.

This isn’t atheist morality or Christian morality or capitalist morality, it’s just morality. I like to think that when Christians behave well, it’s not because they are afraid of what their god will do to them if they don’t. I tend to think that they are good for the same reasons I am, even if they aren’t fully aware of what those reasons are. After all, if they were good only out of fear of punishment, that’s not good at all. That’s just practical.

Maybe we are all just being practical. It is really only enlightened self-interest for me to do things that I think will make the world a little more the way I like it. There are reasons for everything we do. Does it really matter how “pure” the reasons are, as long as the outcome is a better environment for everyone?

Title image credit: American Humanist Association.
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