Anyone who’s been an atheist for more than a few weeks has heard the accusation that without religion, there’s no basis for morality. Therefore, we’re told, we can run around like crazed hedonists, raping, stealing, and killing to our hearts’ content. We know it’s nonsense and generally speaking, the person who makes the accusation must know it’s nonsense, too, because it’s just not happening.
What I find ironic is that religion provides the biggest license to sin that any self-respecting, lascivious, lusting hedonist could possibly wish for. Atheism, having no dogma (since it’s not a religion and is purely the lack of belief in a deity), gives no free pass. Because of that, atheists must maintain a much higher interest in practicing moral behavior than religious folks do.
How so? I’ll discuss Christians for the purpose of this example. Their Bible teaches that God sent his son, Jesus, to die for their sins in order that they may have eternal life (Romans 6:23, John 3:16, etc.). They believe Jesus already died for their sins so what they need to do is believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and it’s all forgiven (1 John 1:9). Of course, it has to be sincere. There are plenty of Bible verses that talk about sin, repentance, and forgiveness. So using these rules, a Christian can spend his entire life committing all kinds of heinous acts, but in the end, if he asks for forgiveness and sincerely repents of his sins, all is forgiven and he gets into Heaven. That is what the Bible says.
If, however, we have no religious figures to grant us redemption from our sins, it becomes critically important that we live a good, moral life. Why? Because the only forgiveness we can rely on is the forgiveness of friends and family. Good, ethical behavior is critical in maintaining those relationships. The better they are maintained and cultivated, the better our lives and the happier we are. Doing good, helping others, being a friend, creating lifetime bonds… that’s important stuff. If we fail, we become alienated. If we wrong someone, no forgiveness counts but the forgiveness of the person we wronged. No absolution is granted by a third party.
Everyone in this world depends on social connections and on society in general. What we do affects those connections. Circles of influence grow and overlap on a global scale and interactions matter not just on a personal level, but on a societal level… and a global one. Living a good, ethical life benefits us not only personally, but it benefits our family, our friends, our community, our country, and our world.
There’s no need for religion to be involved. Frankly, I don’t want a free pass for forgiveness. If I wrong someone, it’s up to me to fix it. I want to take personal responsibility for my actions and for the repercussions of those actions. Religion cheapens that and absolves people of personal responsibility.
That’s certainly not what this world needs.