atheism, atheist, Christianity, christians, confession, conversion, deconvert, denouncing faith, divinity, forgiveness, god, hell, morality, morals, nonbeliever, prayer, punishments, religion, transgressions
So after a two day hiatus I am happy to be back writing again. It was my birthday Tuesday and I have been celebrating since Monday night. It’s not every day that you turn 25, right? I just spent the last three days drinking and my liver is ready to take a break.
Today I’ve been thinking a lot about where morals come from. I made a decision yesterday that was morally reprehensible to me. At the time I was behaving immorally, I felt a sense of wrongness. This particular act is generally accepted as immoral and most people would think of me as a “bad” person for committing it.
But there are people who do this every day. Someone I’m very close to (who happens to be an atheist) commits this act a couple of times a week. I’ve never understood how he could do something that most people disagree with, on purpose, all the time and never lose any sleep over it.
This particular behavior is not illegal. It doesn’t (physically) hurt anyone in the strictest sense. If you knew me personally, you would know that I even believe there is an evolutionary predisposition to do this thing. So why is it morally wrong? Why do I think it is wrong and my friend does not? Why would I commit this act if I’m against it so strongly?
I have never attributed my morality to God or other supernatural circumstances; even when I was a believer, very few things made me afraid of eternal damnation. But the idea that you can make a mistake and a higher power beyond your comprehension can forgive you for it is… comforting. I was taught as a Christian that once you ask for forgiveness, what’s done is done. God doesn’t have man’s memory and he doesn’t hold a grudge. That’s very comforting. If anything, religion had a negative impact on my morality. If I could be divinely forgiven no matter how bad my sin was, then as long as I asked to be forgiven I could continue to sin. It also added the benefit of “confession” through prayer.
So my first major moral transgression since I renounced my faith has just proven to me that I have a major guilty conscious when I don’t have a god to forgive me. I think this revelation will keep me more morally upstanding in the future.
So maybe my morality was created by my understanding for social expectations and my anticipated punishments if I didn’t adhere to those standards. My friend may have a different anticipated punishment for his deeds than I do. The idea of hell might have had a little more say in the development of my morality than I care to admit (whereas he’s always been atheist). I don’t think you need to fear hell to be moral though. I just think that the “forgiveness” of God relieved some of the burden of guilt for me.
Now I am fully aware of the ramifications of my immoral actions to my own self-esteem. I always assumed that morality was connected to society and that morals exist as a framework or reference for how we interact with others. I’m starting to think that morals are bigger than that and are references for how we imagine would should act under all circumstances. Living up to my own moral code makes me feel accomplished, and falling short makes me feel awful, even if nobody got hurt and nothing has changed for anyone else.
I’m pretty sure that being an atheist strengthens my moral boundaries overall. Without God I lack a confidant and a divine exoneration with each incorrect decision I make. This just makes me more careful to think things through because I carry the full burden of guilt now. My moral compass has not deteriorated in my change of faith but my lack of faith reinforces the “punishments” I expect to receive. No god means no faith that things will magically work in my favor when I mess up like this. That’s a huge cross to bear.
P.S.- sorry readers if this was hard to understand. I really am quite worked up about my mistake and have found myself detached from my writing today, distracted. Things will be okay in the long run and my writings will sense again before too long 🙂