An atheist’s moral code

I am devoutly atheist. Growing up in suburban Texas, I made a lot of religious friends, a few of which sometimes encouraged me to try Christianity on for a size.

It did not work, but I gained a huge appreciation for religion. As flawed as it is, religion is admirable for being humankind’s attempt at tackling big questions of our existence: why are we here? What should we do?

In particular, I find it of utmost importance to consider one’s moral code, and to discuss it with other people. In my 23 years of life, these are the points I believe in most so far.

  1. Suffering is physical or mental pain that can be taken away only by a change of circumstance, not merely by an intentional shift of mood or perspective. The opposite of suffering is peace. It is worthwhile to constantly look for peace – despite it being impossible to keep it forever once obtained because the constant change of oneself and one’s environment. To lessen someone’s suffering is to bring them closer to peace.
  2. Non-existence cannot be said to be better, the same or worse than existence. There is neither peace nor suffering in non-existence, and therefore it can neither be good nor bad. However, the welfare of future generations of people has real weight if they are assured to come into existence. It is simply undetermined at the present what one’s actions will be on them in the future.
  3. A person’s moral character should be judged based solely on the conscious decisions they make to affect the suffering of other people. If the decisions a person makes don’t have any bearing on the suffering of other people, than they are morally insignificant, and it doesn’t matter what they choose. Furthermore, they cannot be judged by the actions they do unwittingly or involuntarily, but they can be judged by what they decide to do given what they know about the things they do unwittingly or involuntarily. 
  4. It should be considered better to intentionally inflict less suffering on other people than more; even better is to prevent suffering rather to cause it. This is weighed against a person’s right to self-preservation and minimizing their own suffering; to choose oneself over another person is not inherently worse, but to choose someone else’s great suffering rather than your own minor suffering is.
  5. It is tyranny to choose more control over other’s people suffering than less, for having little control over the circumstances of your own suffering is its own kind of torture. Being a kind dictator is less ideal than not being a dictator at all, since having a dictator is less ideal than having no dictator.
  6. The potential for suffering and the potential for peace are compared the same way as realized suffering and peace. People must be judged by whether they chose to reduce or increase risk of harm, rather than the realized outcome of their decision.
  7. Typically, the well-being of others – first one’s loved ones, immediate communities, political groups and society at large – matters to oneself. If this instinct exists in a person, then the most fulfilling thing one can do beyond self-preservation and minimizing one’s own suffering is tend to others. Namely, lessening their suffering, or equivalently, helping them towards peace.