Christians like to make the claim that atheists can’t be good moral people because they do not believe in a god or some kind of afterlife reward or punishment. This claim is utterly false. A belief in god is not needed in order to respect the social contract. The social contract is a set of unwritten rules(some of the rules are written in the ten commandments) that members in our society generally follow because it is what’s best for everyone. Things like not stealing, raping (a heinous crime that is suspiciously missing from the ten commandments), or killing people are all part of the social contract. The golden rule of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” sums up the social contract nicely. Religion is not needed to enforce this, in fact religion does little to enforce it.
The threat of eternal damnation or the promise of an eternity in paradise is not an effective way to control human behavior. The reason for this is that it isn’t immediate. When I believed in god I wasn’t worried about it because dealing with god’s anger was something I wouldn’t have to worry about for fifty or sixty years, plus as long as I said “Sorry god, I screwed up”, before I died everything would be okay. If I wanted to I could have gone out and raped and killed thirty-seven eight year old girls and as long as I told Jesus sorry, I would get the eternal reward and no punishment. But here on Earth, I can receive immediate punishment, from my fellow citizens, right now.
If I walk into a building with a gun and open fire, when the police catch me, I will go to jail immediately, not to mention I have to live with the knowledge that I ended other people’s lives. That is more of a deterrent than maybe, possibly, feeling the wrath of god when I die, if I don’t ask for forgiveness beforehand. The human desire for forgiveness is likely why christianity has spread over so much of the world. Feeling like god has forgiven us, allows us to clear our consciences. We are no longer responsible to ourselves or our fellow man, only to an absent authority figure who will forgive us of even the most horrible things. Members of the mafia are famously catholic, these criminals do horrible, horrible things and then go to church and confess and they are forgiven by their god and someday they will get their ultimate prize. They don’t learn their lesson. They aren’t told not to do it again, they walk out of the church and go back to committing the same crimes and repeat the process all over again.
Perhaps, if we were all more concerned with our responsibility to our species and it’s propagation, like every other animal on the planet, we would think twice before doing something that would hurt someone else. Perhaps we would be less likely to send our young people to war, if we didn’t think they would get to go to heaven if they die. Maybe if we all knew that this was our only life, there aren’t any do-overs, and we are only responsible to ourselves and our communities, we would be more inclined to love than to hate, to heal than to hurt, to help than to shun. Maybe, just maybe, we could make the world a better place.