I am tired of hearing that I am immoral. It’s never said directly, just constantly insinuated by those hoping to frame the discussion as one in which I am always deviant, forever barred from the moral high ground. “Homosexuality is threatening the moral fabric of our society.” “Those liberals with their moral relativism.” “Atheists can’t have morals.”
No, actually, I have a pretty rock-solid moral framework. My atheism and my queerness together inform a morality that is, at its core, based in harm reduction and consent. It’s not relative, it’s not arbitrary and I am willing to bet that a society woven from my moral fabric would be a lot happier and more productive than one that spends its energies trying to deduce how millennia-old instructions should be implemented in modern public policy, contrary to evidence ranging from cognitive science to teen pregnancy rates.
I value evidence over belief because my community has been one of many persecuted by blind belief masquerading as virtuousness. Question: Is a politician who uses her religion to justify policies that have been driving queer high schoolers to commit suicide acting morally? And if you find that the fault lies in her interpretation of her religion, why is your interpretation is better, more correct, more moral? Is it because you perhaps find something objectively wrong with driving teenagers to suicide as a matter of public policy? It’s quite possible to get to the same position without a belief in God, and it’s only with a belief in God that one can tenably hold the position that such a policy is moral.
No, religion is not inherently moral, as victims of witch-burnings, caste systems, stonings, genocide and colonialism should remind us. Religion is dangerously divorced from reality, and observing reality is the only means we have to assess what harms are being done, to whom and in what context. In judging morality through a rational, evidence-based framework, rather than the self-contradictory and mutable frameworks provided by religion, what emerges is the fundamental importance of human dignity.
Respect for human dignity is manifested in our interpersonal relationships as consent. Consent is the cornerstone of any credible morality, and not just in the context of sexuality. More broadly applied, consent implies respecting the autonomy and agency of all people, respecting their right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and judging policies and actions that would limit their autonomy or agency as immoral except when necessary to protect the autonomy and agency of others. These, of course, are some of the fundamental principles on which this country was founded, and unfortunately, they have never been fully realized. And they will continue to be realized only for the most privileged and elite of our society until we fully and completely reject irrational, arbitrary and faith-based moral frameworks in favor of those which protect the dignity of everyone, including those outside of the norm of white heterosexual cis male Christianity.
Both queerness and atheism, as political positions, reflect the process of relentlessly questioning society’s assumptions, and so rejection of the supernatural and of heteronormativity go hand in hand — both are constructs that seek to control human behavior and limit our possibilities. The only limits that are important are those that prevent actual harm to others. Neither my atheism nor my queerness are indicators of a lack of morality — on the contrary, they both affirm that morality is not relative to the instructions given by authority, but absolute: based on consent and the harm done to others. No one basing morality on religion, defined by its lack of evidence, gets to have a discursive monopoly on morality. Slippery slope arguments favored by religious conservatives are meaningless within a framework based on consent. If someone can’t see a bright, clear line between homosexuality and pedophilia, between uninhibited female sexuality and rape culture, it’s their moral framework that needs a checkup, not mine.
Hannah Mogul-Adlin is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .