Evolving Ethics in an Atheist World

With Bentham's words in mind, I've delved into the subject of factory farming and the way pigs, cows, and chickens are raised for their meat; and I've concluded that the consumption of animals is a morally indefensible life choice if one has other dietary options. I've come to realize that one can be as healthy, or even healthier, eating only vegetables. I made the decision to become a vegetarian a few years ago, and have remained so ever since. It was not a terribly hard step, since I had grown up in the Hindu tradition of abstaining from red meat; and being of Indian origin, I also have had plenty of dietary options, since Indian cuisine is abundant in its use of vegetables. I am currently on the path to becoming a vegan, which has proven to be a harder dietary transition, yet the motivation to live a healthy life while reducing the suffering of other sentient animals motivates me to keep trying.

I've also grown more conscious of humanity's impact on the environment, and I've realized that there is not just a moral reason but also a self-interested reason to end the practice of factory farming. The rearing of animals on a gigantic scale has become one of the greatest contributors of environmental degradation, producing the greatest emissions of methane and nitrous oxide and leading inevitably to intensified global warming. Among the reasons we have to change our life choices, human extinction may well be the most compelling one.

Along my pathway toward becoming an ethical atheist, I have seen that perhaps the most valuable tool we have for doing good in the world is a feeling of empathy. Empathy has enabled us to attain ever higher states of pleasure in harmony with others. Putting oneself in another's position, regardless of whether it is of a starving child in Africa or an animal in a slaughterhouse, brings us to recognize the horrors of moral ineptitude. And this understanding breeds motivation, which ultimately leads to action in the service of change. As atheists, I hope we continue to employ our humanism, scientific thinking, and secular ethics to succeed not just in the intellectual sphere, but in the moral one as well.

10/16/2012 4:00:00 AM