I tend to avoid the topic of religion pretty well everywhere, save a few select online forums. The reason being, I have friends and family of every possible non/belief, from fundamentalist Christian to raging atheist, and I have no desire to offend or argue with any of them. I have my beliefs, they have theirs, and I'm content to leave it at that (unless they try to force their beliefs on me, but that's a separate post unto itself) . I do, however, have a large fucking problem with one particular idea that has come up more and more often over the last few years -- the idea that non-believers have no morals.
To be honest, I don't even know where to begin, here. This is a topic that has long bothered me, long poked its annoying finger into the ribcage of my brain, but I've avoided writing this, as it's a hard topic to broach. See, believers and non-believers often have such vastly different views of the world that it's often hard to find a language common enough to us both to effectively communicate these ideas. Where many believers see morals as coming from God, coming from a definitive, objective source, non-believers tend to see them as general standards of acceptable behavior, based on culture, era, necessity, and the overall benefit of the species, combined with our own developed sense of empathy. Complicated shit. And I think it is exactly that -- the complex foundations of morality -- that make it easy for some believers to doubt the moral standards of non-believers.
I suppose the best place to begin is, well, at the beginning. While it's still a working theory and based largely on speculation and observation, I subscribe to the belief that morals are an evolutionary trait. Studies done on everything from bees to rats to chimpanzees have indicated that social species tend to develop their own brands of morality, for reasons ranging from overall benefit to the species to a sense of empathy that dissuades us from causing another pain. Simply put, it does both ourselves and our species harm to hurt others. Now, this is the point at which a lot of religious folks say "well, that doesn't seem to stop us, so why should I believe that?". To this, I have two replies: one, some people are just dicks. Morality exists, but that does not mean everyone possesses it. Two, religion doesn't seem to stop people from being dicks either. In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty clear that most of us are, by and large, moral beings. Most of us do not steal, do not rape, do not kill. Most of us, while selfish on some level, have no desire to harm one another.
The question then, at least for me, is: why do people feel that, without religion, without belief in a deity, one has no moral foundation? The implications of this belief concern me a little. As if, without your religion, you would have nothing keeping you in line, no reason to behave like a decent human being. That, if the Bible or...whatever...hadn't told you so, you would have no idea that murder and rape were wrong. It frightens me to think that people believe that, without belief in God, without fear of hell or punishment, atrocity would suddenly become acceptable.
All implications and speculation aside, allow me to explain, very simply, how one can have morals without God. I, quite plainly, have no desire to harm another. Because I possess empathy, because I can relate to another's suffering, because I have self-respect, and a general awe and reverence for the universe and existence in general, I long for the survival and growth of us as a species. I long for us to evolve to a point where, rather than fight amongst ourselves, we work together to discover the truths of our existence. Perhaps that's naive, perhaps it's mere wishful thinking, but it is the foundation for my morals. My desire to understand who we are and why we are here is more than enough to prevent me from willingly harming our species. Indeed, it dissuades me from doing any unnecessary harm, both within and outside of our own species. Unless I can somehow justify it as necessary to my own survival, I find doing harm abhorrent. Life is a pretty spectacular thing to be experiencing, and I don't feel it my place to interfere in or cut short the experiences of others.