Moral behavior is not necessarily the result of religious beliefs

To the Editor:

As Steven Starr notes in his editorial (“Religion has role for good of modern masses,” 1/22), religion is an essential part of human life. But so is secularism, and to imply that those of us who choose not to follow a particular religious faith lack moral and ethical credibility is deeply offensive. Starr brings up the example of a New York woman struck by three hit-and-run drivers, and implies that had these drivers been religious, they would have been more likely to “do the right thing.” Starr explicitly states that nonreligious persons feel accountable only to “human authorities,” denying that we can possess moral obligation to ourselves and others independent of religion.

While I admire and even sometimes envy the faith exhibited by my friends and family, I resent Starr’s implication that religiously based ethics can be valued over non-religious ethical systems.

There are plenty of secular ethical codes for an individual to follow — utilitarianism is one example. Many people may not identify themselves with a religion or philosophical system, yet nonetheless base moral decisions on a conception of common human decency that derives from neither God nor philosopher.

Each of these methods for making moral choices is problematic — which is precisely why we should never say a practitioner of a particular one is “far more likely to do the right thing” in a given situation. It’s difficult to determine the right thing and each of us can only do our (fallible and human) best.



Jennifer Paton ’07

January 22, 2004

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