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Atheism, Religion, and Morality: A Serious Look at Our Social Values

Updated on December 12, 2014

Mythical Angels

Religious Moral Values

In most societies it is believed that the highest moral standards and values are taught by our religions. We pass religious and moral values down from parent to child, generation after generation. Most people in religious societies firmly believe: Their society would fall apart without good, strong religious guidance. Without religion, we would be engulfed in evil. Without religion, all that is good would end and chaos would follow. Without religion, nothing would stop people from committing crimes, and our very lives would be at risk every moment. Belief in God or Allah is the only thing that keeps us safe.

The implied truth of this has been told to us by our parents, our religious leaders, our religious friends, and our holy books (the Bible, the Koran). Many are so certain that this is true that they won't question the validity of their beliefs. And, those who do question (nonbelievers) are obviously flawed and morally fallen people.

The Moral Landscape

Internal Values

Fear of punishment does stop people from doing wrong, but does it make people more moral?

Story: At the end of the day at a small grocery store about to close a young clerk is counting the money taken in that day, having several thousand dollars sitting on the counter. Just as two strangers walk into the store, the clerk becomes suddenly ill and makes a mad dash to the restroom, leaving all of the money unguarded on the counter.

The first man approaches the counter and sees the cash. He has just lost his job and is in financial trouble. The money on the counter is his for the taking. He thinks of how he can survive a little longer with that money. He sees the security camera, then, decides he won't take any money because he doesn't want to go to jail for stealing and walks away.

The second man approaches the counter and sees the cash. He also has just lost his job and is in financial trouble. The money on the counter is his for the taking. He thinks of how he can survive a little longer with that money. Then, he thinks, he would not like to live in a world where people just take what they want. He likes living in a civilized society where people have a right to keep what they earn without fear. He walks away.

Which man has the better moral compass as illustrated above?

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The first man lacked an internal, moral value system. He didn't steal because of fear of punishment. If the only reason a person chooses not to commit a crime is because he fears going to jail (or to Hell), he has not internalized his moral values. The second man is more moral. Both of the men in the scenario above could have been religious or nonreligious.

Statistics show that the number of criminals in American prisons who profess to be atheist, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (1997), is only .2%. While the number of people in America who claim to be nonreligious is 10-18%. Percentage wise, there are far more religious people in prison than nonreligious. Fear of punishment does stop most people from doing wrong, but it does not make those people more moral.

Westboro Baptist Church

Religion Teaches Morality

My goal, when we moved to a new city, was to have my children connect with other children with high moral standards and values. So, I took them to church and got them involved in all of the church activities. When my olest daughter, age 16, went on a weekend retreat with her youth group, I was shocked to learn that the only teen in the group to sneak in beer was the preacher's son. The preacher and his wife had only two children. How could children raised in a home with two "religiously perfect" parents go against the church's moral teachings to do this?

Shortly after, my second daughter, age 14, was attending a friend's birthday party when a church friend showed up stoned on drugs. His parents were the most religious people I had ever met.

If religion is the best teacher of moral values, then, the most devoutly religious families would raise the most moral children--based on the moral standards and beliefs of their religion. These children, mentioned above, had not internalized their church's moral value system. Still, shouldn't the fear of Hell have been enough to keep them behaving morally?

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Deliver Us From Evil
Deliver Us From Evil

The Moral Loophole

Why isn't the fear of burning in Hell enough fear to keep children from following a church's moral teachings? How can Pastor Ted Haggard preach against homosexuality; then, get caught committing homosexual acts; then, become a preacher again? How can Catholic priests teach morality, then rape children, and still remain Catholic priests? Why isn't fear of Hell enough to keep people moral?

Most religions have moral loopholes. For instance, in Muslim countries it has been documented that men can sign a marriage certificate before entering a house of prostitution, have sex, then, immediately after, get a divorce. In Christian religions people can be absolved of their sins through confession, and sometimes penance. Another way for a "sinner" to avoid Hell is to be 'born again'. Since men dominate and control religions, they have more loopholes available to them than do women. "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." Seneca the Younger, circa 4 BC-65 AD

Bible Passages

Religious believers claim they are guided by the "good book" for moral guidance. There are moral teachings in the Bible and in the Koran. In truth, there are more verses in both books that we, today, would consider to be immoral. Here are some examples from the Bible:

In Judges, 21, God gives instructions on how to rape your [non-Hebrew] enemy’s women.

In Numbers 31 and Deuteronomy 20, God encouraged child rape. There are 613 laws in the Old Testament, and not one prohibits pedophilia

In Deuteronomy 22, God punishes rape of an unattached young [Hebrew] woman with a small payment to her dad, then, requires the victim to marry her rapist. What a loving God!

Clearly, the God of the Bible intends for us to have slaves and instructs us on how to beat them (Lev. 25:44, New Testament: Titus 2:9). A man's daughter can be sold into slavery.

We are told to kill our children if they disobey us--in the Bible (Deut. 21).

Women in all religious books are treated like property (1Corinthians 14).

Religion of Peace

If you read the holy books of the major religions, you will find there is no religion of peace. In fact, more wars have been fought in the name of religion than for any other reason. The Koran is full of passages telling followers to kill in the name of Allah, as is the Bible. Matthew 10:34--Jesus states that he did not come to bring peace. Today, Middle Eastern Muslim countries indoctrinate their school children with hate, teach them to use weapons, and instill a willingness to kill and die.

In Saudi Arabia where the Muslim religious law (Sharia Law) is strictly enforced, gender apartheid is practiced. Women are not safe to walk the streets of their town alone. If a girl is raped, her father feels it's his duty to murder her (honor killing). If a woman breaks a law (like lets hair show in public), she is sometimes buried to her neck, then stoned to death. Women can be attacked, even murdered, by men without any punishment to the men. Boys are raised to lord over their sisters and mother. Sometimes they are taught to beat both. The boys are beaten into submission to behave like Muslim men. Men and boys gather in the town square after prayer to watch beheadings or hangings. They call their religion the Religion of Peace.

Angry Atheists?

If you are from a Muslim family, you would not dare denounce your religion for fear of having a fatwa (death sentence) put on your head. Most of us who come from Christian families have great, great, great grandparents who also feared turning from religion under punishment of death. In Europe, instruments of torture had to be blessed by a priest, and witches were burned. If true freedom of religion and from religion had prevailed over the past 2000 years, many of today's staunchest Christians would not have been born into Christian families. When the government dictates that everyone have a certain religion or death, people become strong believers.

Today, people in many Western cultures are finally free to admit to not having a religion. The fear of saying, "I am an atheist," still lingers. But, because atheists in western societies are finally not at risk of losing their lives for speaking out and are free to speak up about their dislike of religion in all aspects of secular life like school and government, Christians are saying they are under attack. For virtually the first time in recorded history nonbelievers, atheists, can finally step out of the closet and ask for a little respect from their oppressors (Christians, Muslims, Jews), and they are told that they are attacking religion. How absurd!

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Moral Compass

Where do good morals come from if not from religion? The reason that all religious groups have different rules concerning what is and what is not good and moral is that people decide what verses and parts of their holy books they want to represent them. Even within a church or religious sect, you hear, in free societies, things like, "Well, I'm not an Old Testiment Christian," or "I still have wine with dinner even though my church disapproves of drinking." We all have our own moral compass, so we choose a religious group according what it teaches and practices, if we live in a country where we have the opportunity to choose. People who live where there is a separation of church and state have the opportunity to choose where they want to worship, and if they want to worship at all. By doing this, you are choosing the values you want to follow, so you have a moral compass that is guiding you to make this decision. Your morality comes from within: the way you see the world; the way you want to world to be.

"It is only by dispelling the clouds and phantoms of Religion that we shall discover Truth, Reason, and Morality." Baron d'Holbach

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    • Raymond Simmons profile image

      Raymond Simmons 

      2 years ago from Houston Tx

      I for one have never been big on organized religion I suppose the only good thing about religion is that in spite of any prejudices or judgements they may well have provided direction to more personal beliefs - that btw have nothing to do with religion.

      The term Spirituality has nothing to do with religious practices and are about as separate as one can get.

      I know athiests in my life who are far more Spiritual than any born again christians I have met along the way.

      good article Bev, enjoyed reading :-)

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Awesomely well-said! I am, to quote my cousin's turn of phrase, "an unabashed atheist." I truly believe the world would be better off without religions.

      You have said and pointed out many things that I've been saying for years on end. A "Loving God," would not condone such things as are practiced in any of these religions, and in fact, if we, in this United States were to visit any such punishments upon our children, we'd be serving 15 to life for felony child abuse. Yet, it is "acceptable" the "heavenly father" to allow such horrors to happen? If that's your "loving god," thanks, but spare me. I'm doing just fine on my own.

      Voted up, interesting, useful and awesome!

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Very well stated, Beverly. The freedom of religious choice enshrined in our Constitution allows everyone to choose their morality and most people gravitate towards doing good by others. Our moral compass must come from within not from outside of ourselves. Religion can only reinforce this. Wonderful Hub.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      You've made some very good points through a reasoned discussion and for that should be applauded. As a devout atheist I would say I have no anger against any religion or religious person, I sometimes just feel sorry for them all. I was brought up on a slow feed of the old testament and it amazed and shocked me. Still does! Stone the gay person! Stone to death the woman who does wrong!! What!!?? This is all really dangerous stuff.

      Morality is learnt within the household and early surroundings from parents according to genetic and other environmental factors.

      Votes and a share.

    • Beverly Stevens profile imageAUTHOR

      Beverly Stevens 

      5 years ago from College Station

      I'm glad you read and enjoyed the article, Kathryn. I did put a little effort into it.

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      5 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      Wow, this was a fantastic hub! I almost didn't read it, because I thought it was going to go in the opposite direction. It seems like you put a lot of thought into it, and it is very rational. Sometimes it's hard to step back and look at something without letting your emotions get in the way, especially when it has to do with religion.

      I am so glad I live in a country that allows freedom of religion: to worship wherever we want, or not at all. I'm also glad I live in a place that doesn't approve of men making women submit to them. We have come a long way with equality, although we still have a ways to go.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that morality doesn't come from the Bible. When I was younger I was encouraged to study the Bible, and was always confused with all of the inconsistencies, and the terrible events and teachings in it (especially from the Old Testament"). Preachers seem to "cherry-pick" the information they want to use to bring their message out. Even if they tried to explain some of what is in the book, there would be no rational explanation.

      That being said, I think beliefs are very personal things, and that everyone has their own "moral compass" that they get from society, and from different sources in their life.

    • Beverly Stevens profile imageAUTHOR

      Beverly Stevens 

      6 years ago from College Station

      Thanks, Trish. Feel free to link it.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 

      6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Very good!

      I find it frustrating, to say the least, that the Bible is held up as an example of morality, considering just how much immorality it contains. I don't think that many people actually read the bits that don't suit them.

      I've linked this to my latest offering ~ hope that's ok? :)

    • Beverly Stevens profile imageAUTHOR

      Beverly Stevens 

      6 years ago from College Station

      Thank you, Franto. It's nice to hear from like-minded people.

    • f_hruz profile image


      6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Dear Beverly,

      I like to congratulate you to a great hub!

      I simply love the way you support rational, not religious morality - a number of your videos are so good and make it quite clear how brain dead and intellectually limiting religiosity of any kind really is ...

      Your presentation of facts, makes it easily one of the best hubs to point to in any discussion with religionoid types.

      Franto in Toronto

    • jojokaya profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      interesting and excellent hub

    • profile image

      Hanson Anderson 

      6 years ago

      This absolutely knocked my socks off Beverly. Congratulations on winning a monetary prize for this article. Make sure that you review this on StumbleUpon as everyone needs to see it.

      Your fan.


    • Beverly Stevens profile imageAUTHOR

      Beverly Stevens 

      6 years ago from College Station

      Sorry to hear about your eye problems, kashmir56. I agree with your new comment, that parents should teach by example.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Beverly, so sorry i left a bad comment on your hub . I just got back from vacation and had many hubs to read and comment on and tried to do them all in one day, but right now i have been told by my doctor not to spend hours reading on line because i need surgery on one of my eyes that has a cataract in it and making my good eye work harder.I think by the time i got to your hub i was already suffering from eye fatigue and miss read your hub.Again i am very sorry for leaving a bad comment.

      I think kids will more likely have good morals by what their parents show then and not tell them to do, but there is no guarantee that this alone will keep kids good moral people.

    • Beverly Stevens profile imageAUTHOR

      Beverly Stevens 

      6 years ago from College Station

      Kashmir56--I don't at all think that religion brings about morality. Are you sure you read the article?

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Very interesting and well written hub, and i agree with you that religion brings about morality .

      Awesome and vote up !!!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Very interesting, Beverly Stevens! I enjoyed reading this... and I agree that it's not religion that brings about morality- it really is something that comes from within, though good influences help a lot, and some religious influence can be splendidly helpful, even if one is not very involved.

      Somewhat unrelated in nature- congrats! This Hub won the Day 28 Daily Drawing Prize for the Share and Share a Like contest!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 years ago

      This is a very interesting hub that gives you some things to think about as these are questions people struggle with in their lives. I liked your moral compass analogy.

      I don't know if you have voted in the Tug of War contest but if not one is my hub on guidelines on caring for your elderly parent in your home which is becoming so common. If you think it is worthy and haven't voted the link is:

      Thank you for your consideration.

    • profile image

      Sophia Angelique 

      6 years ago

      Bev, this is an excellent hub. I think it should win a price for asking not only relevant questions, but the right questions!


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