Here’s an excellent article by Peter Schwartz outlining the reasons why we can be moral people without claiming religion as the reason. He makes good arguments about the weaknesses of both the left and right’s arguments for morality:
Does morality depend upon religion? Most people believe it does, which is a major reason behind the appeal of the religious right. People believe that without faith in a supernatural authority, we can have no moral values–no moral absolutes, no black-and-white distinctions, no firm demarcation between good and evil–in life or in politics. This is the assumption underlying Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent assertion that “government derives its authority from God,” since only religious faith can supposedly provide moral constraints on human action.
And what draws people to this bizarre premise–the premise that there is no rational basis for refraining from murder, rape or anarchism? The left’s persistent assault on moral values.
That is, liberals characteristically renounce moral absolutes in favor of moral grayness. They insist, for example, that criminals should not be reviled, but should be seen as tragic products of their “social environment”–that teenage mothers are just as entitled to welfare checks as wage-earners are to their paychecks, and that to deny welfare benefits for a child born into a family already receiving welfare is, as the ACLU declares, to “unconstitutionally coerce women’s reproductive decisions”–that America is morally equivalent to its enemies, with our own policies having provoked the Sept. 11 attacks and our “unilateralist” actions in Iraq being no different from any forcible occupation of one nation by another.
Repulsed by such egalitarian, anti-“judgmental” absurdities, many people disavow what they regard as leftism’s essence: secularism, and turn to religion for their values.
I’m with Schwartz. There’s no rational reason for the left/right extremists to provide such unreasonable either/or alternatives to moral questions. Believe it or not there is such a thing as a rational MIDDLE position without going all mushy “gray.” Our life is our primary value and our moral concepts come from the preservation of our lives. While most of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is too hardline for me, she is absolutely right in saying that there is virtue in selfishness.