There are many passages within the Bible that express and promote the highest standards of morality; the Golden Rule, the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and many, many more. Yet among all of these oft quoted passages there is one that is almost always overlooked and rarely gets the attention that it deserves. It is a passage that explains why the atheist, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Wiccan, the Jew, the Christian… in fact most of humanity follow moral and ethical codes that have more similarities than differences. It also highlights the fundamental difference between the theist and atheist in regards to morality.
“14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” Romans 2:14-15 NIV
The law, morality and ethics, are written on the heart. I agree with this verse, our sense of morality, our sense of ethics is indeed written on our heart. That is why, no matter the belifes, or lack thereof, the vast majority of humans share similar moralities.
However, this passage is important for both atheists and theists for another reason, it makes so many of the theist’s beliefs about and against atheist morals nothing more than empty words devoid of truth. Morality being written on the heart means that morality is not a matter of cold logic and harsh reason. Making rational and logical moral inferences from a disbelief in an afterlife, a heaven and hell, a being upholding and enforcing the good is an exercise in futility and ultimately meaningless.
Using logic based on what atheists do not believe, showing that atheists should be the worst sort of hedonists, caring only for their own welfare and uncaring about all others, obeying no guide except for “what’s in it for me” is as useful as the old scholastic debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. This is so because morality is not a thing of the head, but of the heart. It is not a matter of pure reason and pristine logic. Instead it is a matter of blood and bone, muscle and sinew; it is a matter of our nature.
Whether rational or not we form intense attachments to others, care for our young, our family, our friends – often beyond the boundaries of reason. We put ourselves at risk for not only our children (logically since we can have more children it makes no sense to risk our lives), but also friends and acquaintance and even strangers. My wife, along with others, rescued a complete stranger from his car after he overturned it – just before it went up in flames. Her story and those with her are not unusual. In fact they are the norm. Reason and logic do not enter into this – the heart does.
We form attachments and loyalties to groups, feeling kinship with people we may not know well at all – the chess club, science fiction fans, our football teams. These extend all the way to our local community, state, and nation. We feel proud when one of these groups does good, bad when they do not – even though most within these communities are complete strangers. We are usually willing to go through discomfort and pain and occasionally willing to endanger our lives for these groups.
We do so not because it is rational or irrational, not because it is logical or illogical, but because it is in our nature and to do otherwise would be the same as trying to not eat when hungry, or to stop breathing. Reason and logic have a role to play, but they are not the primary sources of our morality. Our heart is. On this I agree with the Bible and the theist. Where we disagree is on who created and wrote on the heart. The theist believes God did. I though know it was evolution and society that did the writing. Either way, the writing on the heart is still there and to pretend that we are creatures of logic and reason is to delude ourselves. Reason and logic are useful tools, but they are not us.