8/04/2013

Can There Be Morality Without Religion?


Despite religious rhetoric to the contrary, morals, ethics and laws do not necessarily derive from the Bible. In a group, there are selective pressures that tend to keep people in line. If a member of your tribe is killing other members of your tribe, then the tribesmen will not trust him, and will either kill him, or force him to leave the tribe (banishment), thus making it very difficult for the murderer to pass his genetic/ideological values to the next generation. This is just an example, but there are many more. There is no need for God to sit at the ethical bar; society does that for us as an emergent property of living in large groups.

Religion provides ethical laws given by someone else which are followed out of faith. There is nothing wrong with that. Organized religion can be a powerful force for good. One test of a good ethic is to switch the roles of the individuals and see if the situation is still fair. Another important realization is that there are many valid ways people can live and the freedom of choice is extremely important, because people seeking power and profit over others frequently do so by creating fear, anger and unnecessary laws designed to shift power towards a controlling minority. We do need social laws and we do need an ethical code, but as a race we may be in danger of the masses losing their free will as technology gives governments the power to read minds and manipulate thoughts; technology which will be functionally developed within this century.

I know some atheists who are some of the nicest people I know. Morals can be put in place by religion because you feel a need to please your god, but these people have good morals because they see what makes others happy and feel good, and they've learned to respect others.

Penn Jillette said, "The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn't have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine."

I grew up in a very non-religious liberal Jewish household. I didn't go to temple. It wasn't until much later, when I was married to the same woman, a Christian, for 23 years, that I went to church.

But I didn't learn and aquire my set of moral and ethical values from religion at all. I found God through a personal spiritual path of study and meditation. I suppose you could call that religion, but I do not. A part of my moral belief system tells me to respect the religious faith of my friends without being judgemental. Another part tells me that abortion is morally wrong. But I base that on science, not religion. Science tells us that when an ovum is fertilized by a sperm, we have a human life, and I believe that life must be protected. It does not matter if the fetus is six hours old or six months old.

So, in sum, yes - I believe and know that there can be morality and ethics in the absence of religion. Religion can certainly help, but for people who are able to think, it is not required. You of course may disagree, and if you do, that is fine, because it does not diminish my respect for you as a fellow human being in any way.