Morality Without Religion


In the wake of the shooting of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook elementary school yesterday, I have seen a flurry of people in the news and on social media blaming non-religion for the tragedy. Some have said that the existence of moral monsters among us would be solved if everyone were Christian, and others have said that somehow violence wouldn’t happen in a school where organized Christian prayer was required.  It’s showing it’s face right now more than usual, but ever since my childhood, I’ve been aware of a widespread falsehood: that like a unicorn, a chupacabra, or bigfoot, there is no such thing as a person with a strong sense of morality and absolutely no fear of God.

I didn’t come to secularism partway through life after being raised in a religion the way some people do.  My parents gave me a moral education that taught me about right and wrong and cruelty and kindness based on the observable world.  I have never looked to the teachings of any god to know right from wrong, and I’ve never been morally motivated by the fear of hell or aspirations toward eternal life in heaven.  I don’t believe in it, I don’t need it, and it’s hard to imagine being inside the mind of someone who does.

I try to be kind because I don’t want to live in a world where everyone hurts because we hurt each other.  I try to be mindful of the fact that as a middle-class person born in the USA, I have more power in this world than average, and that that comes with a responsibility to act when I’m able to make things better, even a little bit, even for just one person, even for someone far away.  I try to be fair in my own actions toward others and to take responsibility where I can.

It’s especially important to me to do the right thing in this world because I’m not betting on there being another life after this one where divine reckoning somehow rights every wrong.  I can’t pray to a god for forgiveness and be granted a clean moral slate.  I can’t let myself off the hook for making things right by saying “God has a plan” or “they’ll be rewarded in heaven.” I’m just accountable to my own conscience, always.

Being raised how I was, the idea that strict religion is the only possible source of strong morality has always been strange to me.  And it’s strange that it isn’t more obviously false to everyone else.  How can anyone think that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is the only thing standing between an average person and opening fire on a kindergarten class?  How can anyone believe that the same commandment is enough to stop a disturbed person with murderous intent?

So when people declare that public religion could have saved those children and that non-religion is to blame for this monstrous violence, it is not only insulting to people like me, but also obviously, laughably false.   Morality without religion is everywhere.



Progress (Lessons from the 2012 Election)

Here’s what we’ve learned this week:

1) There are real consequences for belittling the horror of rape.  All of the men who said profoundly ignorant stuff on this topic were rejected by the voters:

2) The first presidential candidate to openly support marriage equality wins re-election.  At the same time, every referendum at the state level regarding same-sex marriage comes down on the side of gay rights.

3) When a question about women’s financial equality came up in a presidential debate, one guy said some weird shit about “binders” and women getting home in time to cook dinner, while the other guy provided an answer that demonstrated his genuine belief that women are people.  Outcome: America sides with feminism.

And best of all:

4) We now know that it wasn’t a fluke for the biracial son of a single mother to beat the son of white privilege and money.  This is a thing that happens now in the United States of America.

We’re making progress and it feels as good as sunshine on my face.


A Movie About Male Strippers

This weekend I went to see “Magic Mike” by myself (go ahead, judge me!), and it was an experience chock full of interesting anthropological observations.

First of all, I came away with a whole new slew of data to refute the strangely common belief that women (normal women!) are not driven by simple carnal desire for male bodies.

There were A TON of people there, lined up down the hall and around the corner, including some you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like old people and mother-daughter pairs and at least a dozen Muslim women in conservative dress complete with head-covering.   When you put male strippers in a movie rather than in person to take away the “I might get a strange man’s sweat on me” factor, you find that, in fact, women from all walks of life want to watch barely-clad men gyrating and humping a variety of things.  Lust isn’t just for sluts anymore!

And the men!  The male moviegoers were so rich with angsty hilarity. There were the two guys who went to the concession stand for some nachos, then came back and reported to their wives that they made sure to explain to anyone they interacted with on the way that they ARE NOT GAY (Dude, I’m sure the concession stand girl doesn’t care whether or not you’re gay, but way to be secure about it).

Another guy in line in front of me loudly announced “This is the line for The Avengers, right?  Cause there is no way I’m here to watch a bunch of guys strip, HAR-HAR!”  I wanted to tell this guy two things: #1, nobody in this line would have noticed you enough to question your manliness if you hadn’t started shouting and drawing attention to yourself, and #2, given the fact that you let your girlfriend pick the movie and now she’s about to spend 110 minutes looking at Channing Tatum and Matthew MaConaughey’s naked bodies, you’re very likely to get laid tonight.  I don’t know if the same can be said for the guys who are seeing The Avengers.  Man Card restored!

Anti-Abortion Women Who Have Abortions

I have spent 3 years doing patent intake for an abortion provider, and I am amazed by how many women will disclose to me during the scheduling process, unprompted, that they are making this decision despite anti-abortion beliefs.  I’m sure that for every woman who announces to me that she disapproves of everything I stand for, ten others feel that way too, but keep it to themselves while interacting with me.  After all, it’s not the most self-flattering thing to say. It usually goes something like this: “I don’t believe in abortion, but I just really can’t have a baby because…”

Now, the explanation given is always a completely common reason, just like those given by a pro-choice person: I have to finish school, I just had a baby very recently, I am too old/young, I can’t entangle myself with the man involved with the pregnancy, I have a medical condition that makes pregnancy dangerous to my health, I’m uninsured, I just can’t afford it.

I can only speak about my own anecdotes, but there is a great compilation here of other stories from abortion clinic staff about their experience with anti-abortion patients.   It’s called “The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion” and it is well worth your time to read it.

You would expect that a person’s stated beliefs against abortion would strongly reduce one’s likelihood of having an abortion, but it only seems that way because a woman who rails against abortion and lives in an anti-abortion community will have an abortion in secret and take that secret all the way to her grave, allowing her family and community to continue thinking that one of their own would never do such a thing.

My point is: there exists a huge disconnect between what people say or think they will do in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, and what they actually do when the rubber meets the road.  There is also a huge difference in perception that results when one segment of the population is honest about the variety of reproductive choices people make, while another segment hides and shames those same choices.

Computing Gestational Age in Pregnancy (as a Feminist Issue)

It may come as a surprise to many people that (among healthcare providers) length of pregnancy is not dated in terms of months, but rather in terms of weeks.  Even more unusual to a casual observer is the fact that the first week of pregnancy is defined as beginning at the first day of the menstrual cycle and NOT the day on which the sperm was deposited in the vagina. 

The convention for defining the length of a pregnancy starting from the beginning of the menstrual cycle makes sense for a number of reasons.  The aspect that I would consider all reproductive right advocates to consider is this:

Dating pregnancy by the start of the menstrual cycle correctly reflects that pregnancy is, first and foremost, a process of a woman’s body and not something that is caused by sperm magic.  The presence of sperm is necessary for pregnancy, but the uterine enviromnent has to be right for conception to happen, and that is a function of the woman’s menstrual cycle.  The contents of the uterus at the time of conception will continue to be there for the remainder of the pregnancy and will continue to be important throughout the pregnancy process.  Just because it isn’t part of the zygote/embryo/fetus, doesn’t meant it isn’t part of the pregnancy.  The arrival of sperm is not the absolute ground zero of gestation.

When abortion rights are discussed in terms of weeks of gestational age, I am surprised to see reproductive rights advocates choosing to talk about pregnancy in terms of weeks since the arrival of sperm rather than the woman-centric (and medically standard) weeks since the start of the menstrual cycle. The fact that even many feminists think of pregnancy as the result of a man’s ejaculation rather than a result of any of the equally necessary processes of the woman’s body is a result of patriarchy being so pervasive in our cultural understanding of pregnancy that we will defend it just because no different thought has ever occurred to us.  So… let’s stop that, shall we?