September 04, 2006

Morality Without Religion- A Comment to The Self-Righteous

"But Taurus do have hot tempers.
It takes a lot to get Bulls to see red, but once they
do, you won't forget it!"

I am a very passionate man. Those who believe in Astrology say that the description of a Taurus fits me well. It would be fair to say that right now I am spitting blood and ready to stomp on a few heads. This is why I blog, because it is a safe and peaceful way to vent.

There are a number of issues that have attracted my ire, but I am going to focus on one thing in particular. Some people are under the misinformed and misguided idea that a person cannot live a moral and ethical life without the constraints of religion.

This is quite simply patently false. Unfortunately I have found that many of the BTs and assorted religious folk that I have encountered think otherwise. I have often heard them make self-congratulatory remarks about how prior to seeing the light they engaged in self-destructive behavior that made them feel hollow and morally bankrupt.

Folks, this is similar to the alcoholic claiming that because they cannot control their drinking no one can. I don't need to wear a sweater because you are cold.

It is entirely possible and not unprecedented or unusual for people to be good without religion. One can understand that it is better to live a moral and ethical life because it is the right thing to do. One can do this without fear of eternal punishment or because they desire eternal pleasure.

It is not that hard to recognize that if you are honest and good life it makes life nicer for everyone.

Does that mean that everyone can live without religion and be good? No, it doesn't. Some people require additional structure.

(Here is where I am going to be self-righteous) The reason that my POV is superior to the other I illustrated is because of my POV assigns credit and accountability to people. It provides a foundation in which it is understood that people have the ability to be good without a religious framework and that they will freely choose this.

Look, if religion helps you to be a better person. If you think that being a Torah observant Jew or a Good Catholic keeps you on the straight and narrow, more power to you.

But please remember that not all of us require that.

End o'Rant.

29 comments:

Stacey said...

Wonderful post.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Of course one person's morality is slightly different to extremely different from another person's morality.
Even the definition of morality is different from one person to the next.
I had what I thought was an interesting discussion on my blog some time ago. Here it is.

cruisin-mom said...

Jack: some of the most religious people I know, are the worst people I know, both ethically and morally.
I love your post. Thanks for articulating the way I feel

Jack's Shack said...

Stacey,

Thanks.

Bacon,

I'll check it out.

CM,

I hear you.

Shoshana said...

I agree with cruisin mom - religion doesn't make you a good or bad person. There are many good people who are not "religious" (which you would have to define anyway) and there are many bad people who are. And vice versa. I think it's important that people realize that while religion can be very good, it can also be bad if used in the wrong context.

Irviner Chasid said...

I wonder where the argument got confused to the point where your post makes sense to people.

It is not that you as an indvidual can only be moral with religion, it is that, when I use logic alone and remove all the religious assumptions I make, you can't get a unified concept of morality.

The "Utilitarian" approach, leaves many people with a feeling of "Yuck, thats not ethical or moral".. where did they get that feeling from? Its not inborn, its from the religion of the society around them.

Val said...

Well written, Jack. The religious seem to use their righteousness to make themselves feel superior to others who are not religious.
Live and let live people and treat others as you want to be treated. simple.

Jack's Shack said...

. I think it's important that people realize that while religion can be very good, it can also be bad if used in the wrong context.

Quite true.

I wonder where the argument got confused to the point where your post makes sense to people.

IC,
Your failure to understand the argument doesn't mean that it is false.

Hi Val,

Thanks.

Irviner Chasid said...

Excuse me, I understand the argument perfectly.

However, its based on a fualty assumption that you know how other people think.

I have never heard a religious person argue that they have more morals than person X.

The argument is always, that religion is the BASIS of the morals, and Athiests don't have any -standards-.

This is true as whole. Just because you happen to live in a western country and hold by the standards of the western country (which was based on religious standards) does not mean that you have any universal standard of morality to follow. If you were born in Rhananda, you might be perfectly happy being part of a militia that kills children.


The question is one of society. Not one of individuals.

This is a clasic case of a strawman.

Jack's Shack said...

Excuse me, I understand the argument perfectly.

No, you do not becauase if you did you wouldn't have begun your initial comment with a remark that suggested that people were confused.

However, its based on a fualty assumption that you know how other people think.

Be careful, you are treading on very thin ice here.


I have never heard a religious person argue that they have more morals than person X.


That doesn't mean that it doesn't happen, which is why people within this thread said otherwise. Not to mention that I have experienced this many times.

The argument is always, that religion is the BASIS of the morals, and Athiests don't have any -standards-.

It would be nice if that were always true, the reality is otherwise.

Just because you happen to live in a western country and hold by the standards of the western country (which was based on religious standards) does not mean that you have any universal standard of morality to follow.

This is garbled and semi-coherent. Let's clean it up a bit. A person may choose to follow the social mores of the society that they reside in. These can be based upon any number of values but do not have to be based upon religious teachings of any kind.

And even if they do, that alone doesn't suggest that the people following them are doing so because they are adherents of a particular faith.


The question is one of society. Not one of individuals.


The question doesn't have to be based upon society or individuals. it can easily go either way.

This is a clasic case of a strawman.

This is going to sound obnoxious, but don't throw around terms unless you can understand and apply them to the topic because you failed to do so here.

Irviner Chasid said...

If what you are saying is true, than you have experienced, first hand a person comming up to you and saying "Hi, you have no morality"


You have been told this, to you, about you, from somebody else?

Your argument is a strawman because you are projecting onto other people thier opinion about you, based on what someone might say about a catagory of people in theory.

Perhaps in the christian world it is different, but if that is the case than you need to specify which religion you are talking about.

Due to the realities of history, there is no currently functioning moral code that is not based on religion.

Jack's Shack said...

IC,

I am not projecting anything. I and others in this post remarked upon personal experiences.

You still do not understand why your strawman argument is flawed. But ignore that for a moment and return to what I said in the post.

"Unfortunately I have found that many of the BTs and assorted religious folk that I have encountered think otherwise. I have often heard them make self-congratulatory remarks about how prior to seeing the light they engaged in self-destructive behavior that made them feel hollow and morally bankrupt."

Amishav said...

Hey Jack- I think that people can really turn themselves around and if they do so with the help of G-d then so much the better for them. There are pefectly decent people out there who don't have religion, certainly, but having a structure and a tradition is certainly helpful.

PsychoToddler said...

Jack, I understand where you're coming from with this, but I'm going to have to disagree.

Now, I'm not going to disagree on a micro level. I agree that in this day in age, you can have a sense of right and wrong just from the secular society around you. So no, you don't necessarily need the constraints of religion, say the "guilt trips" or promises of heaven, to be good.

But on a macro level, I believe you are wrong. The history of this world has been very sad with regards to Man's ability to tell right from wrong. Your other commenter brought up Africa and I believe that's a good place to look.

"It is not that hard to recognize that if you are honest and good life it makes life nicer for everyone."

It's not hard for YOU to recognize this, because you were brought up in a Western society that has its moral basis in the Judeo/Christian mores.

I guarrantee you that it wasn't so self-evident 3000 years ago.

What was obvious back then was that, if you wanted something, you took it. And if you were strong enough, you did whatever you wanted without fear of retribution. What introduced a sense of being "fair" was the fear of retribution in the world to come.

Sure, you can look at the world post-organized religion and see a lot of suffering and injustice as well. But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. That injustice is contrasted to the laws of right and wrong that were brought to this world by our religion. The anarchy that preceded it was anything but benevolent.

Jack's Shack said...

Amishav,

I am in agreement. If you look at the bottom of the post I spell it out there. I don't have a problem with religion. I don't disagree that it is important for some people to have the structure it provides.

My issue is with people who think that without religion the world would go to hell. I am not convinced of that.

PT,

This is a tough discussion and a tough debate. Certainly religion has really helped people, but otoh it launched the Crusades and the Inquisition.

And certainly there are plenty of other examples of religious crusades that led to major bloodshed.

Off the top of my head I come up with the Code of Hammurabi. I am going to be lazy and not look this up, but I don't remember it being based upon religious principles.

Anyway, as I mentioned above, the issue is not religion but people who wield it as a cudgel of morality.

It is not required and I still maintain that even 5000 years ago there were those who understood that you needn't rely upon force to live in peace with others.

Irviner Chasid said...

>Off the top of my head I come up with the Code of Hammurabi. I am going to be lazy and not look this up, but I don't remember it being based upon religious principles.

You should have looked it up. The opening paragraph states that he has the right to create these laws because Marduk made him the King.

Here is the text:

When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. Hammurabi, the prince, called of Bel am I, making riches and increase, enriching Nippur and Dur-ilu beyond compare, sublime patron of E-kur; who reestablished Eridu and purified the worship of E-apsu; who conquered the four quarters of the world, made great the name of Babylon, rejoiced the heart of Marduk, his lord who daily pays his devotions in Saggil; the royal scion whom Sin made; who enriched Ur; the humble, the reverent, who brings wealth to Gish-shir-gal; the white king, heard of Shamash, the mighty, who again laid the foundations of Sippara; who clothed the gravestones of Malkat with green; who made E-babbar great, which is like the heavens, the warrior who guarded Larsa and renewed E-babbar, with Shamash as his helper; the lord who granted new life to Uruk, who brought plenteous water to its inhabitants, raised the head of E-anna, and perfected the beauty of Anu and Nana; shield of the land, who reunited the scattered inhabitants of Isin; who richly endowed E-gal-mach; the protecting king of the city, brother of the god Zamama; who firmly founded the farms of Kish, crowned E-me-te-ursag with glory, redoubled the great holy treasures of Nana, managed the temple of Harsag-kalama; the grave of the enemy, whose help brought about the victory; who increased the power of Cuthah; made all glorious in E-shidlam, the black steer, who gored the enemy; beloved of the god Nebo, who rejoiced the inhabitants of Borsippa, the Sublime; who is indefatigable for E-zida; the divine king of the city; the White, Wise; who broadened the fields of Dilbat, who heaped up the harvests for Urash; the Mighty, the lord to whom come scepter and crown, with which he clothes himself; the Elect of Ma-ma; who fixed the temple bounds of Kesh, who made rich the holy feasts of Nin-tu; the provident, solicitous, who provided food and drink for Lagash and Girsu, who provided large sacrificial offerings for the temple of Ningirsu; who captured the enemy, the Elect of the oracle who fulfilled the prediction of Hallab, who rejoiced the heart of Anunit; the pure prince, whose prayer is accepted by Adad; who satisfied the heart of Adad, the warrior, in Karkar, who restored the vessels for worship in E-ud-gal-gal; the king who granted life to the city of Adab; the guide of E-mach; the princely king of the city, the irresistible warrior, who granted life to the inhabitants of Mashkanshabri, and brought abundance to the temple of Shidlam; the White, Potent, who penetrated the secret cave of the bandits, saved the inhabitants of Malka from misfortune, and fixed their home fast in wealth; who established pure sacrificial gifts for Ea and Dam-gal-nun-na, who made his kingdom everlastingly great; the princely king of the city, who subjected the districts on the Ud-kib-nun-na Canal to the sway of Dagon, his Creator; who spared the inhabitants of Mera and Tutul; the sublime prince, who makes the face of Ninni shine; who presents holy meals to the divinity of Nin-a-zu, who cared for its inhabitants in their need, provided a portion for them in Babylon in peace; the shepherd of the oppressed and of the slaves; whose deeds find favor before Anunit, who provided for Anunit in the temple of Dumash in the suburb of Agade; who recognizes the right, who rules by law; who gave back to the city of Ashur its protecting god; who let the name of Ishtar of Nineveh remain in E-mish-mish; the Sublime, who humbles himself before the great gods; successor of Sumula-il; the mighty son of Sin-muballit; the royal scion of Eternity; the mighty monarch, the sun of Babylon, whose rays shed light over the land of Sumer and Akkad; the king, obeyed by the four quarters of the world; Beloved of Ninni, am I. When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in . . . , and brought about the well-being of the oppressed.

Here is the link, it is really worth reading completely. The epilogue is also interesting to comment on this discussion.


http://www.unesco.org/delegates/iraq/hamurabi.htm

PsychoToddler said...

Holy CRAP!

I'm going to stick with my position on this. As you can see from the Code of Hammurabi, the reason for the strong not taking advantage of the weak came not from some wishy-washy sense of justice, but because E-Babbar (the Elephant King, I believe), told Hammurabi to to say this, and not because Hammurabi would come and kick the butt of misbehavers (because honestly, he can't get EVERYBODY), but because there would be Hell to pay in the next world, which nobody could verify (but nobody could discount).

Bill said...

Though I am not an atheist, I believe the argument that some theists use against atheists as being Immoral is false. I am hesitant once again to bring history into the argument but it is needed here. Over 2000 years ago Plato demonstrated in The Euthyphro that no God is required for morality.
In the Euthyphro Socrates on charges of atheism and corrupting the young,.challenges Euthyphro's claim that ethics should be based on religion. Socrates argues if God wills what God knows to be moral, then God is following some independent standard of morality. God is, then, not the ground of morality but simply another interpreter of morality. Now I am not about to go through The Euthyphro to demonstrate how this is so, but it does show that Jack’s assumption that the religious have been accusing atheists of being immoral for many years.

If morality is a system of moral principles or conduct, and moral pertains to concerned with the principle of right and wrong, and the capacity of understanding the difference between right and wrong. (Drawn from both the academic and OED definitions of Moral and morality) then there is no implied connection between morality and religion besides the fact that a given faith may have a system of morality which is possible for any living being or group of beings.

Also to claim that “The argument is always, that religion is the BASIS of the morals, and Atheists don't have any -standards-.” is a false assumption.

Here are a few quotes from the popular media and theists which demonstrate Jacks point;

1. "Morality as we know it cannot be maintained without Judeo-Christian religion."- Daniel P. Moloney, Associate Editor of First Things, the Journal of Religion and Public Life

2. “Still, even the most admirable of atheists is nothing more than a moral parasite, living his life based on borrowed ethics” .Pastor, Vox Day

3."You bet a Muslim (who practices faith) will not be a thief or liar. The same cannot be said for a devout atheist who will work only for his material interest." Mr. K Rahman Khan an elected Member of the Indian Parliament.

His intention is clear - "Atheist people are immoral" and "Believers are obviously moral".

4. “The general run of Americans assumes that atheists are immoral or amoral, or at least likely to be. The majority of Americans wouldn't elect a homosexual to be president. But the fraction who would vote for a homosexual is much larger than the fraction who would vote for an atheist..Dr. Paul R. Wilson, University of Texas (Wilson was not claiming that atheists were immoral but that they were perceived as such)

I could go on but I won’t unless requested and then I could go on for hours.

Shall we say that while the thinking argument is that “religion is the BASIS of the morals, and Atheists don't have any -standards-“ as Dr Wilson states ”The general run of Americans assumes that atheists are immoral or amoral, or at least likely to be.”

Any assumption otherwise is incorrect and a strawman which takes us away from the point that morality can be maintained away from religion. Against popular rhetoric it is hard to say the argument does not exist.

Stacey said...

Great analysis, Bill. I quite agree with you.

Some of the most decent people I have ever met have been atheists.

Down here in Texas, however, atheists are equated to devil worshipers. What a joke.

Fact is, many people don't need religion to keep them on the straight and narrow. And there are many who would argue that religion has done more harm than good is this world.

MC Aryeh said...

Religion can be a very positive thing, but has also brought untold destruction to the world. I think that has more to do with people who co-oipt religion to their own ends than religion itself. I agree, Jack, you do not need to be religious to live a moral and ethical life. It is harder, though, without a framework, to keep morality from being arbitrary.

Anonymous said...

Most atheists I know take a humanist approach to Morality which removes some of the possible arbitrariness of an atheists morality.

Jack's Shack said...

It is harder, though, without a framework, to keep morality from being arbitrary.

True to an extent- some of the morals we are offered by religion are served up arbitrarily with little to no explanation.

Anonymous said...

I was raised as a Christian and this issue has always been on my mind. I used to look around me and see people who didn't attend church were sometimes more moral than the people who did. And what about all those tele-evangelists who are always in the news. They are no example and so I began to question the ways of man and wondered if we really needed a god to be moral? I believe that morality and religion are separate. Some morals are universal but depending on where you live in the world, your morals could be different from those of others. Who's to say what's really right from wrong? I believe that we are all spiritual beings in a physical body and that we only use a limited amount of our powers. Morality is sort of like a guiding light for us.

Jack's Shack said...

VB,

Good questions.

DngloZ said...

Great post, check out my view of hell

Anonymous said...

Let me ask you all this. Do you have control over your tears? Over your happiness? Why do you get sad when you see something terrible?

Everyone know when they see something wrong. It isn't based on religion or even society. Morals are something that we are born with.

When kids are growing up we teach them what we think is right and wrong. All we are teaching them are rules. It doesnt mean that they are right or wrong. Our judgement of right and wrong comes naturally.

Don't tell me that when you see something wrong you relate it to a law or religious standards. If we see someone being beat up, it is our natural instinct to feel that it is wrong.

Don't tell me that whenever you feel you did a good deed you relate it to a law or religious standards. You know it was right because you can feel it.

Stop fooling yourselves when you say morals are based on religious standards. Our laws that protect people from being pissed off at other people are based on religion.

Deadman said...

As an atheist Jew, I would like to say thank you for this post, Jack. And see my latest post...

Jack said...

Send over the link.

Holy Hyrax said...

OK, Im here.

What did I miss?