The assumption among the majority of people is that atheists, and, by extension, all non-theists, are immoral. A basic search on the Web will turn up lots of support for that statement, including an article by Robert N. McCauley, PhD, posted on March 22, 2012 to PsychologyToday.com entitled ďAre Religious People More Moral Than Atheists?Ē, and a study authored by Robb Willer and Laura Saslow in the July 2012 journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Of course, to judge morality, one must first know what morality is. But before even that, we have to explore the necessity to judge.
Why? How many times in the past month have you either said or heard ďDonít judge me?Ē The phrase is usually uttered by a person who is aware that what he or she is saying or doing is wrong, or, at least, questionable, but doesnít want to be made to feel guilty about it. For example, a married woman confessing to her friend that she is having an affair.
Judgment is a critical function of humanity, in fact, the case can be made that it is a primary function of humanity. That, to be fully human, one must engage in judging oneís surroundings and behaviors without ceasing. We must judge, for example, whether itís safe to cross the street. We must judge whether weíve had too much alcohol to drive a car (BTW, if you have to ask the question at all, you probably shouldnít drive). We have to judge if the group of young men walking towards us is hostile or not, and do it while we still have time to alter the course of events. We judge whether accessories match the outfit, if we have enough time to squeak through the yellow light, if the pain in our chest is heartburn or heart attack, and whether a mysterious lump under the skin is worth a visit to the doctor.
Judgment also plays a part in invention. For example, it gets pretty hot in Florida, so itís little wonder that the principles of modern air conditioning were first cobbled together into a working unit in the Sunshine State. Dr. John Gorrie built the first working ice maker (patent number 8080) in order to feed the first attempt at a room air conditioner. Rather than rely on the same old treatments for yellow fever, he hypothesized that cooling a sick room would be beneficial and set about inventing and improving modern refrigeration devices. He judged the work of two previous attempts to be worthwhile and then further used his judgment to choose materials and develop the schematics for his ice machine.
Finally, it isnít even judgment that the person begging not to be judged is fearing. Itís condemnation, or being judged to be in the wrong, which is altogether silly because, by opening a conversation in that manner, that person has already admitted to herself that sheís in the wrong. She just wants someone to say itís okay, to prop up her flagging self-esteem. Thereís nothing wrong with that, per se, but asking someone to avoid a basic human necessity like judgment is, in fact, wrong. If you did something worth condemning, then you should be condemned by your friend or family member. Afterward, you correct your behavior and you both move on.
I know thatís a radical notion in an age where anything goes, but as we shall see, correcting behavior is a central aspect of morality. And, in order to correct oneís behavior, one must be able to identify it as needing correction.
Judgment is a basic human need. Judging well keeps us alive and safe. Judging poorly can have some pretty serious consequences. Judgment is also at the root of morality, which, as non-theists, we have to think out for ourselves, and which weíll get to shortly.