Here’s something I got told this week:
I fear your embrace of compassion is fleeting and ungrounded.
This was a pertinent comment in the context of a discussion about morality and religion, not just a weird, out-of-the-blue attack. The surrounding discussion was about God’s involvement in questions of moral behaviour, and what constitutes “good”.
In particular, it was being questioned how atheists can have any motivation to do good things, and proposed that, even if I seem to hold compassion for other people as a value for now, it’s a shaky and unreliable kind of morality if it’s not grounded in something.
Like belief in God, somehow.
No, I’m as confused as you are.
If you’re after a cast-iron, completely unmalleable, 100% guarantee that I am absolutely never going to have a change of heart that sends me on a rampage of cruelty and violence, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. But what bizarre inhuman logic makes you think religion allows anyone to make such a claim?
The idea that people who believe in a god, and believe that this god wants them to behave in a particular way, are people who can be unerringly relied upon to follow this god’s edicts to the letter, never letting let this semblance of moral behaviour waver for a moment, is simply not borne out by even a cursory glance at the history of the planet.
People who read the Bible and take it seriously also kill, steal, lie, covet, and adulter…ise? Adulterate? They do some adultery, whatever the word is for that. They know they shouldn’t, and they know it’s not what God wants, but it happens all the time. Otherwise asking forgiveness wouldn’t ever be necessary within Christianity, let alone one of its central foundations.
Sometimes religious people do these bad things because they’re twisting the teachings of their holy book to suit their own ends. Sometimes they’re just human, and fallible, and not always completely frightened into compliance by any given set of divine instructions.
And other times, people do adhere perfectly to their understanding of how God wants them to behave – but this behaviour is harmful and damaging and cruel to their fellow humans, and completely detached from anything a reasonable person with a shred of basic humanism or decency would recognise as “moral”.
My morality might not be absolute, but it’s based on compassion and a desire to do good for other people; a genuine consideration for conscious creatures and their well-being. Looking at the comparative rates at which religious and non-religious people do bad things, I don’t see any reason to suppose that “grounding” your morality in obedience to God is in any way superior to letting compassion and love themselves be the fundamental, grounding factors.
I’d be much more comfortable around someone who feels compelled to do good for its own sake, than someone whose entire concept of right and wrong is dictated to them by some external force – particularly an external force which they themselves proudly assert is beyond human understanding.