Like many of those who equate religion with morality, Jeff Jacoby, in his column “Where does compassion come from?” (Op-ed, Sept. 4), misses what is, to the nonbeliever, an obvious and critical point. If people are taught to behave well because they are being watched — by a supernatural being or by other people — then that is likely to remain their only motivation for being good.
But we are better than that. Humans can, and do, learn that honesty, kindness, generosity, responsibility, and integrity are infinitely precious components of a happy and satisfying life. The good nonbeliever is good because he or she knowingly chooses goodness as the best way to be, and actually wants to be good, not because of anyone’s “surveillance.”