Freethought Today · April 2015

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

An atheist view of the golden rule by Amy LaValle Hansmann

This op-ed was originally published March 12 in the Brainerd, Minn., Dispatch and is reprinted with the author's permission.

By Amy LaValle Hansmann

I recently read a guest opinion piece that seemed to make the case for religion as a necessary tool for moral behavior.

As an atheist, I often hear that there can be no morality without the absolutes of the Bible (or any other holy book). However, I've found that morality can be quite easily boiled down to one simple piece of guidance, which is commonly referred to as "the golden rule."

While the phrase "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be found in some form in the Bible, I'm confident that we as a species could have figured this one out on our own. It's really quite simple. Why, as an atheist, don't I run around murdering people? Because I have no desire to do so, and even if I did, I am equipped with empathy and can understand how that action would hurt someone else. Why don't I go around driving my car at 100 miles per hour when I feel like it? Because I'm aware of the danger that puts not only myself in, but my fellow humans as well should I happen to crash.

I have had no trouble raising children without the mandates of any religion. They are simply taught to use the empathy and compassion they were born with to treat other people with respect and kindness. If they wouldn't like someone hitting them with a stick, then why would they go around hitting someone else with one? It's not a terribly difficult concept to understand, even for children. In fact, when I look around at the world today, I see a direct correlation between the people committing the worst atrocities against humanity, and religion.

I get together regularly with a group of atheists, agnostics, and "freethinkers" as some people prefer to call themselves, and they are some of the kindest, most generous people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. And the interesting thing is, they aren't "good" because they are trying to earn their way to heaven, or win favor with a deity. They are good because they genuinely care about their fellow human beings, and want what's best for everyone. We have evolved as a species to care about each other. It's the only way we can survive. If we didn't have that sense of built in empathy, we would have become extinct long ago.

I think it's far nobler a pursuit to really wrestle together with questions of ethics than to evade our responsibility and just parrot edicts that were written down thousands of years ago. It's too easy to not have to really think about the consequences of our actions when we can just point to a book and say "but God said so."

In no other realm of understanding is faith seen as a good way of knowing anything about the universe. We don't understand math because we take it on faith. So why should we stop wondering at the many mysteries the universe still has for us to find answers to?

Leaving it to faith is giving up, and deciding that we don't need to seek any further understanding of our lives. In my opinion, that stance does not get us any further as a species. It only leaves us standing still; unable to progress and make life better for everyone.

Amy LaValle Hansmann founded the Brainerd Area Atheists & Freethinkers four years ago "to help connect all the freethinkers in my small town who are feeling isolated because of their lack of belief." In her blog "Liberal House on the Prairie," she describes herself as a progressive mom living in the "real America" and adds, "I do have a job, but it's not an interesting one (smiley face).

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