By Camille McGregor
Earlier today, I was riding in the car with my boyfriend to go and get something to eat. As he was driving, we passed by a car that had come to a full stop right in the middle of a lane. The driver had the hazard lights on. While my boyfriend had continued to drive past the car, I mentioned that I felt bad for the woman in the car because she appeared to be having car trouble. At this point, I was starving but my boyfriend decided to pull around and go back to offer the woman assistance.
We pulled up behind the woman’s car. My boyfriend exited the car and went over to the woman’s car. As I sat in the car, I saw the exchange he had with her. After speaking to her for what seemed like a half an hour (because I was so hungry) but in reality was only about ten minutes, he pushed her car off of the busy road and onto the side of the street so that she could wait in a safer location for a tow truck. A few minutes later, the woman and my boyfriend walked back across the street to where I was seated in the car. I opened the door to speak with her. Before I could introduce myself, she belted out, “thank you guys so much for all of your help!” She thanked me for bringing it to my boyfriend’s attention that she seemed as if she may need some help and told me that she was insisting on giving my boyfriend some money for helping her, but he kept refusing to accept it. “So many people drove around me and kept driving. No one offered to help,” she said. She asked for my number and I told her to give me a call and let us know that everything worked out. My boyfriend helped her to cross the busy road, she thanked him again and he returned to the car.
I am an atheist and so is my boyfriend. One may ask how we were able to bring ourselves to help another human being and be kind to her in her time of need when both of us are void of religion. My answer; religion is not synonymous with morality. One does not need religion to know right from wrong or to have the ability to empathize with others. There are way more believers in the world than non-believers. I am certain the majority of people that saw this woman in a bind and continued to move on without offering any assistance, were believers. However, it took two little non-believers to stop and offer assistance to their fellow human being. Why? Because at the core of who we are, we are good people. I was able to feel for that woman because I imagined how I would feel if I were in her position. My boyfriend decided to go back and help her because he could see that I felt for that woman and he himself is a helpful person at his core. These traits and feelings come from shared humanity, not shared religion.
Many of us as atheists have experienced people assuming or questioning our morality or moral standards because we are not believers. They can not understand and refuse to believe that you can have a good moral compass if you are devoid of religion. This assumption has never seized to not piss me off. I do not need religion to guide me, be my moral compass or to teach me how to be a good person. The universal understanding of humanity is to treat folks how you want to be treated and that is exactly what I do. That is common sense to human beings born with intrinsic moral compasses. As a child, I didn’t turnover another’s kid’s chair so that he or she would fall because I knew if someone did that to me I would be embarrassed. I knew this and understood this before setting foot in anyone’s church or being spoken to about any sort of religious belief. If you ask me, if you need a religious text or someone to tell you to be kind, not hurt others or treat others well in order for you to do so, you are the one with the problem.
I believe that most people are innately good. They do not need man-made entities or belief systems to make them be good. On the contrary, religion has had an overwhelming influence of presenting people with the opportunity to be bad. It has presented people with the opportunity to unfairly judge others, to treat others poorly, to separate themselves from others, to use scare and fear tactics to get people to submit and obey. All in the name of religion. So much bad has been washed away and swept under the rug because it occurred in the name of religion. At the end of the day, my own humanity and my ability to sympathize and empathize with the humanity of others makes me good. In fact, if we look at the history of religion and its present we will see that there are millions of people with religion that have been capable of tremendous bad. The presence of religion does not ensure goodness any more than the absence of religion ensures badness.