Telling someone that they shouldn’t steal or murder or rape because if they get caught they will go to prison is not teaching morality. Similarly, telling someone that they shouldn’t engage in these same types of behaviors because the will got to hell is not teaching morality either. What it is doing is teaching that these behaviors are bad, not because the are intrinsically immoral, but because there is the risk of negative consequences.
This type of thinking ignores the real effect of immoral actions: that they harm others. That crime, deceit, and violence robs a person of a part of their humanity. It attacks one of the greatest truths ever put forth by the human mind: that we all are created equal, that we “are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1)
True morals should be based on this principle. They should also be based on empathy and love for our fellow Homo sapiens who we share out planet with. By holding up threats of punishment, either in this life or a mythical one beyond it, we dehumanize each other and desensitize ourselves to the humanity within others.
This mindset can lead to disdain of those who are seen as violating some peoples’ personal or religious morals, many of which are inhumane, insensitive, and inhumane.
The same holds for being moral and doing good deeds for others because we empathize with their plight. We should do kind things not expecting anything in return, but because it is intrinsically the right thing to do. To only do good, be it giving to charity, doing a favor for a friend, or giving a blanket to a cold homeless person just because we expect a reward in heaven or to boost our status within our social circles reeks of callousness. These types of people do good not because it is the right thing to do, but because they are greedy for reward. When they give to charity, help at soup kitchens, they are often thinking not of those who benefit from their deeds, but of the benefit to their social status and/or their eternal reward.
Santa Clause, that fictional character of Christmas cheer, summed up the true basis of morality: be good for goodness’ sake.
(1) The Declaration of Independence
are created equal, that they are endowed