"You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, then you lack empathy, not religion."
If you are still reading, I want to offer my perspective on what this quote implies. I feel suited for this infamous task because, while I consider myself spiritual in a broad sense, I am agnostic when it comes to religion and its associated dogma.
First, let’s define the key terms: religion, morals, and empathy. ” Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, defines religion as “belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshipped…” The same source defines morals as “good or right in conduct or character.” Continuing with the same source, empathy is “the projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand the person better; ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.
How do we act “good or right in conduct or character”? I believe that we can presume that if we act in self-destructive ways, we are not only harming ourselves, but we are also harming those who love us, look up to us, or depend on us in various ways. Obviously, committing acts that harm others, whether physically or emotionally, shows a lack of morals; however, broadening that perspective to include self-destructive behavior seems valid and logical. So, if we practice empathy (not mere sympathy, which is a measly recognition of and sorrowful feeling toward another’s plight), we are more likely to behave and conduct ourselves in “good or right” ways. Such behavior stems from positive character traits.