When I was 15 I was a gawky Camden, Maine high school sophomore who was a swim geek, theater geek, and D&D geek...the trifecta of high school social doom. I was also the new kid on the block, having arrived in state from the United States Virgin Islands just the previous year. All of which culminated in a young man in a strange, and cold, environment desperate for friends.
I tell you all of this to stress just how cool and important my first new friend in Camden was to me. Thom was 2 years ahead, a senior for heaven's sake, who was a model, theater program star, ladies man, and nationally ranked high school athlete in track and field. In other words, he was on the exact opposite end of the recognized social structure that I was on. Why did he befriend me? Why did he let me sit with the cool seniors at lunch? Why did he stand up for me when kids teased me for my Virgin Islands accent? At the time I had absolutely no idea. What I did know, without a shadow of a doubt, is Thom was my hero. I idolized that dude! I know for a fact my parents were completely fed up with hearing about how cool Thom was...how awesome Thom was. I even added choir geek to my resume just so I could hang out with my idol just a little bit more. Oh yeah, did I not mention he also had a stunning baritone singing voice?
So, knowing all of this, imagine my flabbergasted surprise when one early morning before school, in the library, Thom said to me, "I can't believe you are an atheist. You're such a good person. I would be so bad if I didn't believe in God". I sat in the tiny orange plastic library chair in stunned silence. One, I had never related the qualities of moral people to their religious beliefs. Two, here was Thom, my hero, my idol basically admitting that he would be a bad person if he did not have the shadow of spiritual doom hanging over him. I wasn't sure what to say or where even to start. After getting myself together I related to him that I wasn't "good" out of fear or some sense of obligation to be so. I behaved the way I did for two reasons. One, I had been raised to do so by my Mom. Two, and much more importantly, it just felt right. It was who I was at my core. I didn't need any reminders or "benchmarks" to keep me reigned in. I provided those for myself. He answered, in totally awesome Thom fashion, "well I would be really bad", gave me a grin, and walked out the library door to his first class of the day.
What are the qualities of moral people and where do they come from is an age old question and debate. Many religions are at least partially formed on the concept that humans are born bad, are sinners, and thus must have some kind of standardized, regulated structure keep them on the right path. Of course, each religion has its own "true" method and system as what exactly that path is. I maintain to this day, as I did with Thom all of those years ago, each person has there own individual, unique moral compass. Part of it is derived from their environment, both current and past. The rest of it however comes directly from them, from their own being....from their soul. Does it feel right? Do you feel compelled to behave in a certain manner?
We are all human and breathe and hurt and laugh and cry. We are also all completely unique and individual. A substantial element of this individuality is our moral compass.