“…atheists are among the most disliked groups in the U.S.” according to Robert Putnam and David Campbell who compiled their studies into a new book,“American Grace. Polls show that the general attitude among churchgoers is that atheists commit most crimes. The general opinion of believers is that non-believers “don’t fear God… [and] do not have the same moral obligation to others.” (“The Rise of Atheism,” a review of “American Grace” in “The Week,” 4/20/12)
This equation of religion with morality has long been a puzzle to me. To assume people can only be good if they fear God, places too dim a view on human nature. What’s more one doesn’t have to look far to put a lie to that connection. Sometimes bad things are done in God’s name. It’s called religious zealotry. And what about all those people who lived before the birth of Christianity? Was Socrates a bad man? Or Plato, Diogenes or Hippocrates?
I am no scholar, but I suspect human beings invent codes of law and morality in order to make cooperation possible. Moses may have carried 10 commandments down from the mountain, but those same commandments can be found in most cohesive societies, ancient, heathen or otherwise. A community cannot survive without justice. Fairness for the benefit of all is the essence of the social contract, society based upon survival of the fittest breeds little loyalty and soon falls apart.
Philosophers of many persuasions have argued whether or not the core of human nature is good or evil. If I had to choose, I’d side with good, otherwise there would be no societies.