"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.
Before I continue, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not see religion as inherently bad or useless. Just because I am agnostic, and cannot accept the absolute nature of the underlying beliefs and dogma of any religion, does not mean I am against it, nor do I demean anyone for adopting a religious or spiritual belief system. It is obvious to me, however, that religion (any religion) is not required for moral behavior. In fact, if religion is not viewed through a wide-angle lens and used as a vehicle or template to promote and sustain moral behavior, it can become a twisted, confusing mess that promotes intolerance and violence against those perceived as outside a specific religious belief system. I could cite several examples of how most major religions in the world have been twisted into dysfunctional fanaticism that supports hatred, prejudice, discrimination, murder, terrorism, and war, but they are common knowledge with no need for specific mention. In other words, blind religious clinging can be just as volatile and dangerous as sociopathic behavior, which is anti-social behavior with no regard for the rights or well being of others.
Please understand that I am not slamming people who believe in a higher power; maybe this is what let’s them accept that we live in an imperfect world, which we have little to no control over. I know there is a larger purpose, force, power (whatever term is used) than me, but I also believe that I need to exert my time and energy into controlling my behavior by being empathetic toward both the religious and non-religious. Religion that promotes blind faith and allegiance is not something I want or need in order to be a moral person, nor do I see it as necessary for anyone to behave morally.