Note: If you are going to read this, please read all of it. Only reading part of it will only lead to a misunderstanding about what I want to say.

I believe that the moral rules that most religions have are just based on common sense. Almost all religions have the same moral rules, and that fact leads me to this conclusion. The morality codes that are used in most world religions are based on the consequences of certain actions. I believe that people who are not religious have incentives to be moral because of these consequences. The myth that non-religious people, agnostics, pagans, or athiests are not moral is just that, a myth. Actions have consequences and are not totally based on the fear of punishment by a god or gods. I compare moralily to common sense because the same rationale applies. Allow me to provide some examples.

Most moral rules in religion are based on the statement "do unto others as you would have them do unto you.." or something along those lines. That is just common sense. If someone hits you in the head, the first thing you will want to do is inflict an equal amount of harm upon them. Whether you actually do this or fear takes over is not my point. My point is that 90% of other religious rules are all based on this one, which is not in fact tied specifically into one religion. The statement "do unto others..." is based on the consequences that you will face from your peers, not nessessarily from a god. I believe that Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal are also based on this rule.

The rule "thou shalt not commit adultery" even is common sense, even if it is more for biological and economic reasons. I am simply applying this using the rationale that the person could get pregnant or impregnate someone else. If you mate with someone you are not exclusively with, you can get diseases, spread diseases, or end up with mouths to that you cannot afford to feed. There are also many other factors, like age affecting the dangers of giving birth if the person is young (or old). Even besides that, I believe that humans are inherently territorial, jealousy and insecurity are bound to ensue. Sex as a sign of affection rather than caving in to carnal desire seems to be more healthy psychologically and sociologically, from what I've experienced and seen in others' cases.

My point is not that a religion is wrong for promoting these values. I am just saying that the rules are not uniquely theirs to claim. My point is that it is illogical for people of different religions to disrespect each other because they, in fact, believe alot of the same things. The only things that are different are the names of the omnipotent powers they are worshipping and the circumstances under which that power exists. Non-religious people, athiests, and agnostics, are capable of being just as moral as people who have a religion.

I understand that some religions require its followers to preach the word of its god, or to try and convert people to worship its god. For those who feel obligated to do that, keep in mind that it is more important to spread the peaceful teachings of that god, and remember that a god may have different names, or no name at all. Before trying to convert someone, see if they believe alot of the same things you do to begin with. People may not believe in god, or are unsure. This does not mean they are evil, it just means that they don't have the same belief system as you. There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus that are bad people, just as there are many that are great people. The same holds true for Athiests, Agnostics, and people with no affiliation. People hurt each other in the name of religion... and basically because their god has a different name and face than another one.

I have no religious affiliation, and I respect all people people as long as they don't take advantage of me or anyone else. That is my basis for assessing whether someone is a good person. Their motives don't matter. It doesn't matter if they are a good people because they fear a god or do it in the name of a god, or do it because they feel like it, the actions are still the same.

The idea that only religious people have any interest in moral behavior is completely wrong-headed. It's quite easy -- for someone who bothers to reason it out -- to come to the conclusion that moral behavior is in your own self interest. In other words, it's pretty easy to argue that moral behavior optimizes your own world experience. Read the following carefully, it's simple, but requires thought.

Here we go:

No man is an island (well, no person is, but why mangle the quote). There are only a few general sources of pleasure in our lives. We have the pleasure of our own thoughts, the pleasure of interacting with our friends and families, and the pleasure we take in experiencing the material world (skiing, listening to music, playing a game, watching movies, taking walks in the park - whatever your thing is). My experience is that my own thoughts are easier to live with if I've followed the straight and narrow, but perhaps there are people who enjoy being bad, so we'll assume that, within your mind, you can enjoy yourself whether you're a good person or not. If you're an immoral jerk, however, you aren't likely to have a pleasant time with your friends and family. If you're immoral enough, they probably won't want to have anything to do with you. Similarly, the pleasures of the material world are highly dependent on the good works of others. No one makes soccer balls, you can't play soccer. No pizza place, no pizza. No grocery store, bummer, you get only the food you can scrounge on your own. No one feels like making music, you can't play any CD's. No one invents the air conditioner, you sweat. In other words, any pleasure you're going to take out of your interaction with the material world is heavily dependent on the rest of humanity doing their thing as effectively as possible.

So, big chunks of the pleasure you can experience in life are dependent on the people around you. If you want to optimize the pleasure you take out of life in a totally selfish way, your best bet is to make sure that you aren't a jerk to the people around you and that you do everything you can to make them as productive as possible; because the fruits of their productivity are all potential sources of fun for you. The better the rest of the humans in the world are at making good music, writing good books, producing good food, thinking up neat things to do and generally enhancing the world, the better your life will be. The one thing that you personally can do to make them more happy and productive is to make sure they're safe from all forms of attack: from harsh words or financial cheating to adultry or murder.

This doesn't mean you should give all your belongings to the poor. You can, of course, and it might do some good, but what really makes people feel good (at least in my experience) is to be given the chance to go out and do their own good stuff and find their comfortable niche in the world. They want to make their own contribution to the big picture. This means supporting governments and society that promote freedom and the rule of law.

"Ah", I hear you say, "surely I can cheat a few people. No one will know if I just steal a little from people who won't miss it or fool around with just one other person's spouse. I don't have to be moral all the time." My answer would be, yes, you do; if you really want to optimize your life. Sure, you might steal a candy bar the next time you're at the store and no one might notice it. But what if they do? The minor pleasure that you might get out of that candy bar is offset by the minor chance that you're either caught (and pay a penalty) or that you cause someone else to catch hell for not stopping more shoplifting or that the actions of many people like yourself put the store out of business. Your small pleasure will contribute in a small way to events that might cause you to have less pleasure in the future. Think about those neighborhoods where shoplifting is so bad that no stores will come there or the ones that do charge a lot more: no one may have taken a LOT, but collectively their immoral behavior has made their lives less pleasant.

So, even if your motives are completely selfish (the opposite of the roots of religious morality), your best move for optimizing your experience in the world is to live a moral life. QED.

This problem is easily resolved if we take a look at what it would mean if morality did depend on religion.

The Divine Command Theory states that what is morally acceptable is so because God has commanded it. But what, exactly, does this imply? It would help us to look at Plato's Euthyphro dialogue, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is conduct right because the gods command it, or do the gods command it because it is right?"

Let us look at the first proposition. If conduct is right only because the gods command it, then the gods just as easily could have made lying, cheating, and murdering right. This implies that the gods' will is arbitrary, and to say that "God is good" would be meaningless. If "Z is good" means "Z is commanded by God," then "God's commands are good" means "God's commands are commanded by God." This is clearly ridiculous.

What about the second option? If the gods can somehow see what is right and then tell us, it holds that there is a standard of right and wrong independent of the gods' will. We would then have to ask, "Why does God command it?" To accept this option, we must abandon the theological conception of right and wrong.

The point is, morality does not depend on religion. Anyone who claims that it does, as noted above, has only a tenuous understanding of logic and religion.

Source: Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York. Mcgraw-Hill. 2003.

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