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.


Stacey said...

Wonderful post.

Baconeater 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 Steiner said...




I'll check it out.


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.

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 Steiner 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.

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

Hi Val,


Jack Steiner 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.

Jack Steiner said...


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."

Anonymous 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 Steiner said...


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.


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.

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 Steiner 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 Steiner said...


Good questions.

Anonymous 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 Steiner said...

Send over the link.

Holy Hyrax said...

OK, Im here.

What did I miss?

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