Morality is not something innate or something that evolution programmed into us.
Morality, ethics, values – are ever changing based on the culture of the society. It is never set.
We had slaves. Slaves are now bad.
Japanese used to kill themselves in the face of dishonor. Suicide is now bad.
Fighting for control of land was widespread. Now needless aggression is bad.
Even take another extreme: Ancient Romans and Arab societies used to rape young children. Now we call that pedophilia.
It’s clearly apparent that evolution did not change us in such a short time – so morality is clearly not something that is set in stone. It is easily editable depending on the society and the culture engulfing it.
Even in the U.S., the culture has changed the moral views very drastically in just the past 50 years.
So, the question. Why be a good person if you are atheist?
At the end of the day, we have two main potentials here:
- There is a God
- There is not a God
If there is a God, there is an afterlife. Thus, there is an incentive to be a good person.
People are innately selfish. It’s called the selfish gene for a reason. Humans act based on incentives.
Even being good for the sake of being good is a personal incentive. It makes you feel good to help other people, which is why you do it. If it did not, you would not have an incentive, and would not sacrifice your happiness to help others.
But if you get enjoyment out of helping others, it’s not a sacrifice to do it. It’s an incentive, to increase your own happiness.
Which is why we see floods of people helping people when it is incentive-convenient for them, but not in other times.
So, under the first option:
There is a God
We have a clear reason why people would “be good”. (If your definition of being good is following a religious text – regardless of religion in question. I’m not debating if one religion is good or not, but it does provide a benchmark).
They have set moral codes, which are clearly not innate (as discussed above ~ think sex: everyone innately desires it, whereas religious people fight against promiscuity). And they have a clear incentive to be good/better for their God.
Now, under the second option:
There is not a God
Under this possibility, there is no clear reason to “be good”.
Since moral codes are easily changed over time culturally, the ethics and values of people that are without a set moral code (non-religious/non-pagan/etc) also are easily changed over time.
Secularism is typically the answer to this question, which is pretty much a “Build Your Own Morality” workshop.
So the question again: Why be good as an atheist?
You have a clear incentive to do the opposite. By doing “unethical” things (as generally agreed upon culturally), you could increase your own standing, get more money, or generally be more successful in this life. Which is all you have. Life is all there is.
So your objective should be to increase your happiness to the maximum during this life. That is the incentive.
And morality is clearly negotiable. Something one person finds ethical may not be ethical for the next, as secularism indicates.
So, why not just throw the morals/ethics completely out the window?
In a way, an atheist following a moral code is much like a religious man following God.
Atheists claim that religious people make up a God in their head. Yet, atheists are making up morality in their head, too.
Both groups are closer to each other than they think. It’s a coping mechanism of life. We all need something to hold onto.
An atheist can, and many do, choose to be moral/ethical people. But… why? That indicates to me they may not be thinking about this topic too deeply.
Swipe a phone, do something unethical. Make a better life for yourself. That’s literally your incentive. Change your morals if you need too – they’re negotiable anyway. After all, you just make them up in your head and find ways to justify them based on life experiences or cultural pressures. They are not innate in our species or in nature. It’s chosen based on your feelings. Change your feelings, and then the moral code can be made malleable.
Well, now I’m telling people to become horrible people, so let’s negate that and focus just on the question: why be a good person as an atheist?
I guess it’s just not to be a douchebag. That’s about the only true reason I can think of.
Which is a decent reason, I suppose. I’ll give you that.
Any atheists care to chime in and help me understand this one?
So I appreciate and got mad respect for the atheists that choose to be good. But I still can’t help but to think they’re idiots for doing it.