This was originally written in 2006, to a website that no longer exists.
A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. ~ Albert Einstein.
I think this is an interesting question. It is true, in that mankind should not turn to religion as some sort of reason for being a good person; one should do that anyway. But Einstein seems to assume in this quote that mankind is not restrained by fear of hell, and I think that is untrue, both because there are people who firmly believe their vile actions are sanctioned by God, and that there are people who refrain from various actions they want to engage in because they DO fear God’s wrath without any other reason.
Only yesterday, one of my Christian friends said that if she were an atheists she would feel free to lie as much as she wanted, and that it was her belief system which kept her morals in check. That is terrible! She should want to refrain from lying because it hurts other people, not because God’ll bitchslap her when she dies! And I think everyone knows about Jihadist martyrs…
So, I think the question of whether religion does indeed restrain people is an open question; and if it does, whether that is healthy. Look at Gene Robinson’s trainwreck of a marriage. But I think, to look at atheists, many of them are far more moral than the religious they are reviled by: Einstein himself being an agnostic, he probably had this in mind when he wrote the quote.
Therefore, to all those religious people out there, consider why you act the way you do: for God, or because it is simply right? For the non-religious, what is right? The Golden Rule?