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Feature Article of Friday, 14 September 2012

Columnist: Knight, Graham

The Fallacy that Non-Believers are Immoral

In Ghana, religious belief is something that is almost instinctive in the way one might put on a pair of underpants. Like pants, it is rarely questioned whether the item should be worn or whether the correct version has been purchased beyond how fashionable one’s brand looks to one’s peers. It is assumed that the sheer holding of religious belief must be normal and correct.

However, despite this complete lack of thought, need for intellectual rigour or consideration of deep philosophical questions, the believer is automatically assumed to be moral merely for holding the belief. Not only that, it is considered a prerequisite for morality.

It cannot be conceived that someone who does not hold religious belief can possibly be moral. Even if one has never met the non-believer, knows nothing about their world-view or behaviour, it is automatically assumed they *cannot* be a good person.

Unlike the religious, the non-believer has had to critically evaluate their belief system and to think philosophically about moral issues, consciously pondering the notion of right and wrong, to understand the reasons why we behave in moral ways. Unlike the believer, who acts because they are told to, the non-believer evaluates a situation and thinks of the most appropriate moral response based on respect for the other human being.

When acting immorally, the believer will, perhaps, think an evil force made them do it, and imagine themselves talking to their god, expecting forgiveness. The non-believer, however, will take personal responsibility for their action and feel compelled to practically rectify the situation. They understand that any forgiveness has to come from the person they have wronged not from somebody else.

Not expecting any reward, the non-believer acts morally because it is right *in itself*. This is a superior moral position than the believer who acts out of self-preservation (fear and the threat of punishment) or the enticement of a reward.

Part of the problem is that if you are not seen to be "for god" you must be for the devil. It cannot be envisaged there is any other position to adopt or even the possibility that both god and devil may be fictitious.

We have surely reached the age for Ghanaian society to be more open and less judgmental about its growing community of non-believers and not to pretend that morality is the sole preserve of the religious.

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