There’s a huge culture clash regarding all kinds of issues that are often relegated to aspects of morality. Many claim that, without some kind of religious guidance, we simply revert to barbarism and lack of conscience. I will show how this is not only untrue, but that morality is best served outside of religion.
In primitive societies, there are still basic, commonly understood rules even if they don’t have a written code of law. They have no religious text to tell them what to do and no set of commandments from some deity to guide them. They may have theistic beliefs of a primitive nature, but there’s no equivalent to a Bible, Quran, or Talmud.
Yet, primitive tribes did just fine surviving even to modern times, at least those that weren’t wiped out by supposedly more civilized peoples. How would this be possible with no Bible or similar text to guide them? How did they know not to wantonly destroy each other without conscience? How did they understand that it’s best to not kill each other off, steal from each other or abandon all sense of social unity?
Common sense. Human instinct. Natural morality. Our nature is to be sociable, just as it is often in our nature to be selfish and violent at times. Yet, the only times we fall into violent madness that includes wanton destruction of others, the basic social understanding is overridden by some kind of dogmatic beliefs. Whether religious or secular in nature, it is dogma that makes us barbaric. It is a belief of racial or cultural or religious superiority that causes humans to lash out mindlessly.
Left to our own devices without dogma, we seem to get along reasonably well. There’s no inherent natural reason for any culture to view another as inferior or inhuman. Think of it this way: when the pilgrims landed in America, they were treated with gifts and hospitality by a godless, primitive people. It was the religious, “civilized” people that committed genocide, intentional spread of disease and famine, and systematically wiped out all those who would not conform to their culture. Who was more barbaric?
It’s an unfortunate irony that most cultures that have been invaded in this way tend to have the highest percentage of religious people. A dogma that is spread by the sword tends to hang on rather tenaciously.
These people that cut down and eradicated entire cultures were Christians who knew all about the teachings of Jesus and believed they had God on their side. They had religious guidance. This guidance told them that they were meant to have dominion over all the earth and that anyone who stood in their way was expendable.
The native peoples had no such guidance. They had primitive animist religious beliefs, but nothing in their beliefs told them that they had the right to take anything and everything. In fact, their beliefs were quite the opposite. Many of these indigenous cultures had beliefs that included reverence of nature and included a kind of inherent sustainability.
The difference between these beliefs was dogma. So, to be clear, it is not religious or spiritual beliefs or lack thereof that is the problem with regards to morality, it is dogma.
Secular people will bring up the Crusades, Inquisition and other events in order to point the finger at religion, and the religious will bring up Stalin, Pol Pot and other events to point the finger at secularism, however, as we can see, all of those incidents had the same thing in common: dogma.
If we are to find common ground, we must base it on a lack of dogma. If people wish to have dogmatic beliefs as part of their worldview, well, they’re welcome to them as long as they do not take any action that would cause harm to a non-consenting person or their property.
The main reason we can’t use popular religions as the basis for a common morality is because you can find a horrible admonishment to commit atrocities for every admonishment to do something nice. Usually these kindnesses are reserved for believers only. One scripture will say love thy neighbor, and another will say to kill them if they suggest that you worship another god.
Natural morality already includes the positive messages such as the Golden Rule. The reason for this is that these messages were not invented by the religions they tend to be associated with. They’re just common sense with or without any belief in any god(s).
So, we already know that we should not kill, steal, rape, lie, etc. We don’t need any special beliefs to understand these things. Even the most primitive cultures understand this, which is why they survived for thousands of years without the help of dogmatic religion.
Of course, some people will still do these things and they’re generally punished. In a primitive society, there are no legal loopholes to hide behind. The tribe finds you and brings swift retaliation. The survival of the tribe depends on people not adopting some kind of “anything goes” attitude.
For some odd reason, many religious people will say that atheists believe in “anything goes”. They have yet to provide any evidence for this. All of us are human, no matter what religious beliefs we may or may not have. We still have our inherent natural morality which, on balance, is all we really need to get along. We have aberrations, but they are always a scant minority.
We also have the fact that all the good messages in all the religious texts do not prevent people from committing atrocities. When they are riled up, they aren’t remembering the passages that tell them to be kind and hospitable, they are acting on the ones that tell them to kill unbelievers. Without dogma, it’s very hard to get anyone to agree that it’s a good idea to go kill a lot of other people. Even in the military, it’s been shown that many soldiers will aim over the heads of their enemy to avoid killing them.
It basically takes brainwashing, propaganda and indoctrination to convince humans to adopt barbarism, and the basis for all of it is dogma.
How do we differentiate dogmatic beliefs from non-dogmatic ones? Simple. If the belief is simply a version of “do not cause harm” then it is not dogmatic. If it purports any kind of superiority, being “chosen”, or in any other way having something about oneself that other humans don’t have (including beliefs), it is dogmatic.
Consensual crimes are a whole other ball of wax, and the laws against them tend to be based on dogmatic beliefs rather than natural morality. I’ll address those in detail soon.
For now, let’s collectively agree to put to bed the idea that it is religion or secularism themselves that are responsible for the worst atrocities committed by mankind. It isn’t a contest. We know that it’s dogma, and there’s no such thing as a good one.
© 2015 William Suphan
- How I Lost My Spirit and Gained My Self
- On Reason