When I read Michael Johns, Jr.’s column, I was both hurt and disappointed. Hurt by the implication that I — as an atheist — lack a proper moral framework, and disappointed that in the 21st century there are still those who cling to the belief that organized religion is a necessity for people to have morals. I do not feel a need, as an atheist, to attack the moral foundations of others, and I am quite confident in my morals and what I choose to believe. I do not feel a need to become religious, and yet some will continue to insist that I am, somehow, lost. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut ’44, “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead.” I may not hold the fear of God in my heart, but I am perfectly capable as a human of formulating and understanding my own morals.
Last year I participated in an activity as part of my training to become a peer counselor. All the trainees stood up and answered questions by moving to either the “yes’” side of the room or the “no” side. One of the questions was, “is it okay to have sex with people you don’t care about?” I was one of the few who went to the “no” side. As a follow-up exercise, one person from each side was asked to share the reasoning that led to their answer. The “yes” representative spoke primarily about consequence.
Imagine there are five railroad workers stuck on a track and a train is quickly approaching. You have the chance to save these five people, but you would have to push someone else in front of the train to stop it. Would you do it? In a recent study co-authored by Prof. David Pizarro, psychology, researchers found that people can judge trustworthiness based on answers to a hypothetical moral dilemma like this one. The results of this study were published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General last month.