Tract #4: Why Be Moral?

Download tract #4, Why Be Moral? (PDF). See page #3 for printing instructions.


Why Be Moral?

Some people are moral. These people have a philosophy of what is good and what is bad, and they use it as a guide for their behavior both in public and in private.

Some people are immoral. Some of these people know the difference between what is good and bad but do not concern themselves with such things. Others say that they are moral, but in reality don’t have a good definition of good and bad and just convince themselves that whatever they choose or prefer to do is the right thing to do.

Religious people may be moral or immoral. Atheists may be moral or immoral. To put it simply: people may be moral or immoral.

A religious person might say that moral behavior is required to avoid divine punishment, either in this life or the next. But atheists don’t believe in life after death, reincarnation, karma, eternal damnation, or anything like that, so the threat of this kind of punishment isn’t going to compel an atheist to be moral.

A religious person might say that there is a divine command that humans be moral, but atheists don’t believe in the divine.

So why should an atheist be moral?

There are many reasons to live a moral life that have nothing to do with gods, spirits, or religious beliefs of any kind.

A moral atheist believes that any valid moral philosophy must, at the very least, not contradict itself and not rely on reasoning that we would not want others to use. Whether or not you are an atheist, you can see that this makes sense. And if you agree that it makes sense, then you can easily prove that everyone should be moral.

Here’s how the proof works.

We agree that a moral philosophy must not contradict itself. If my moral philosophy tells me “Doing X is bad,” and my moral philosophy says, “It’s okay to do X,” then my moral philosophy contradicts itself.

We also agree that we should not rely on reasoning that we wouldn’t want others to use. If you think, “Being moral would stop me from doing things I want to do, so I shouldn’t have to be moral,” then you cannot object to other people thinking the same way. And if you cannot object to others thinking that way, then you are giving others permission to do immoral things to you if they want to. You certainly don’t want to do that!

So if you want other people to be moral, you have to be moral. You can’t demand moral behavior from others if you don’t demand it from yourself.

3 Responses

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  1. Written by Fred
    on August 16, 2011 at 10:07 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I like this site – there is an honesty and candor in the discussion. But I don’t understand this argument. It seems like you’re arguing from negation for the motive of morality. There must be a more compelling reason for morality than consistency. Consistency is a secondary criteria for something that is valid but its not a driver for wanting something good. Wouldn’t it be more powerful to say a moral atheist values relationship and connection and morality promotes that?

  2. Written by Margurite Swearegene
    on January 10, 2012 at 11:38 am
    Reply · Permalink

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    Reply · Permalink

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