“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or…” Am I the first to notice that it says nothing about making laws disrespecting a religious establishment?
Atheists are often queried, in accusatory fashion, about how we can be moral without the god named God to assert its laws. I willingly acknowledge the many atheists who appear to agree with that religious assessment by denying that morality “exists”, but I disagree with that religious assertion. They are looking at the topic a wrong way, the same way as religion.
Morality is simply an innocent name for actions recognized as good behavior, as opposed to ‘immoral’ to reference bad behavior. We can proceed from accepting that simple definition to assert that, since atheists do not believe in a god, moral rules from religion will not be granted credence. Only moral edicts whose effects have been observed and verified are justifiable. Mores, those practices that originate in cultures, should not be considered as part of this—a dangerous error made by too many which has too often killed this topic in discussions.
The next step must be to ask ourselves, “Why ought we to be interested in this possibly boring subject?” The most productive answer may be, “Because, not only do we need to know rules of good behavior so we can get along the best way with people in various situations, we also need a way to recognize when someone is trying to scam us with an illicit rule.”
So far, we have determined that morality is about a set of objectively established rules to govern human behavior and furnish a guide to universally acceptable behavior. I would suggest that the first rule must be, “Learn the mores of cultures you will visit to avoid offending the natives.” Epicurus’ ‘Law of Reciprocity’ bases just acts on mutual uncoerced consent, wherein all parties involved in an action have agreed to their participation, whether a kiss, hug, fistfight, or whatever. The gist is that we must treat others in ways that demonstrate what we wish from them; that honesty, kindness and respect should beget honesty, kindness and respect, and accusation, denigration and lies earn accusation, denigration and lies.
Morality requires choices from each person, religious, pious, pie-eyed, pistoff or pooped out, and assigns the related hedonic penalty or reward via natural processes. It may not be easy to understand how we get our just dues in old age that we earned in our youth, or why someone we think deserves better or worse has been sadly overlooked, but that makes no reason that it can’t be taught, or learned to the point of understanding and then explained to others. Franklin best expressed the only interest a centralized authority, whether government or organized religion, can justify in this. We are rightly lauded or punished for our actions, and wrongly for what we think or say, or believe, or doubt.