By: Gittan Alicia | Contributing AOJ Journalist
Although there are those out there who will deny it, religion has a huge impact on people’s morals. By specifying what people are and are not to do in order to comply with their religion, religion is defining what is believed to be right or wrong for its followers and thus, developing its followers’ morals. In some religions not following a specific demand of the religion can bring about horrible consequences, such as death, exile from one’s family, or the eternity of one’s afterlife spent in torture. This helps strengthen an individual’s perspective on morals because he/she doesn’t want to suffer the consequences. That being said, not all morals brought about from a religion are necessarily good and some people choose not to follow certain parts of their religion that they believe are outdated, misinterpreted or wrong.
This is why you can see super religious people committing some serious crimes and believing they’re justified in doing so because of their religion and you can see some other super religious people of the same religion who would never dream of committing such crimes based on their religion. A perfect example of this is the religion of Islam. Some followers of the Islam religion follow the teachings of the Qur’an in quite a literal way while other followers interpret the teachings in an internal spiritual kind of way. Those that interpret the Qur’an in a quite literal way are one’s like those in ISIS. These people believe that their God, “Allah”, wants them to seize, and kill any nonbelievers of their faith, unless the nonbeliever converts to Islam. Whereas those who interpret the Qur’an in an internal spiritual kind of way, believe that by fight the nonbelievers, their God, “Allah”, wants them to simply do their best in converting nonbelievers to believers in a spiritual non-violent way. These people also believe that any calls to violence in the Qur’an are based on historical events where the Islamic people were under attack and had to act out in defense and therefore violence is only necessary in such circumstances. However, while it’s true that some Muslims believe in a nonviolence interpretation of the Qur’an, it’s because of the literal interpretations of the Qur’an that some Muslims think it’s justified and moral for them to go around killing non-believers, meaning the religion of Islam is promoting the bad morals of these people.
Just like religion can promote bad morals, it can also promote good morals. Christianity, for example, contains multiple verses in the bible which promote the goodness and well-being of all humanity. Take Romans 13:9, “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This verse is promoting the idea of loving all people as one would love oneself and not partaking in any activities that harm others. This is promoting good morals for people who follow the religion of Christianity.
All this being said about religion promoting good and bad morals doesn’t explain the morals of atheists, because if atheists have no religion, what is it that’s promoting their morals. Well, there are a variety of reasons why people decide to be atheists, some atheists do not follow any religion because they desire to do something forbidden by their original religion or they wish to follow their own path of morals and be independent. But really these people are not independent and they are not thinking on their own, rather, they are following the morals presented to them by other things in society, this is true for all atheists regardless of if they are seeking independent morality or not. For example, today’s pop culture promotes many things as being morally right that most religions would object to. Pop culture promotes reckless behavior such as drinking, drugs, violence, and happiness based on material wealth, which most religions do not support, but many atheists would consider perfectly fine.
Atheists base their morals on societies standards, such as laws and cultural guidelines, more than on whether or not their actions are beneficial for others and themselves. This causes atheists to develop morals that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of themselves and others. For example, society views it as normal to base happiness on material wealth. This is not beneficial for anyone, money is a simple means to purchase items, and items aren’t what provide happiness, rather experiences, good relationships, and helping others promotes happiness, along with pursuing a career one enjoys. So, when one pursues material wealth for happiness and discovers it makes them no happier, it can lead to depression and possibly even suicide. Imagine what it’d be like spending your entire life pursuing material wealth for happiness and being no happier once you achieve your goal.
To sum things up, religion develops peoples morals by determining what is to be considered right or wrong, religion can promote good or bad morals, and atheists develop their morals based on societies standards. This being said, the morals promoted by a religion are dependent on an individual’s interpretation of their religious teachings and atheists may not have necessarily good morals based on society because society can promote morals and ideas that are misleading, or not necessarily true.