The Source of Morality

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Many people claim that one cannot be moral without some kind of religious texts or spiritual beliefs guiding them. Yet, are not religious and spiritual beliefs created by humans? Therefore, morality itself is a human invention.

 

In fact, it could be argued that those whose morality comes from a belief that they will be punished by eternity in hell are not actually moral. They are acting only out of self preservation. Those who treat others well without such beliefs and fears look far more altruistic in comparison. Who appears more trustworthy and has more integrity, the person who treats you well because they believe that if they don’t they’ll go to hell, or the one who lacks such beliefs and treats you well without an agenda?

 

Wherever our morality comes from, it certainly doesn’t come from the Bible. For instance, in America, only two of the Ten Commandments are reflected in our laws. Let’s review:

 

1st: You shall have no other Gods before me.

We have freedom of religion and have no laws stating that one must only worship the Christian god (thankfully). In fact, our Constitution directly contradicts this commandment as does our general sense of freedom.

 

2nd: You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

 

We have all kinds of such images and there is no law, nor any general sense in society against such things. Certainly not part of our general societal moral framework.

 

3rd: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

 

No law against that either and we do it all the god damn time.

 

4th: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

 

Not illegal to work weekends. Many people do so to make ends meet. Not part of our general moral sense at all.

 

5th: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

 

No laws about this, and there is a general sense in our society that if one’s parents are abusive, you can not only not honor and respect them, but you can have them arrested.

 

6th: You shall not murder.

 

This is one of the two that we have in our law, and it certainly has been a part of human societies far predating the Bible. This is a general human sense that most people have that we shouldn’t go around killing each other and requires no religious or spiritual beliefs. This, like the other commandment reflected in our laws is just that: reflected in law. It is not based upon these commandments, but upon general common sense for getting along with each other.

 

7th: You shall not commit adultery.

 

Not illegal, and people do it constantly. We have a general sense that it’s wrong to lie and break commitments with each other, but again, that stems not from religion, but a natural human desire to not be lied to or cheated on.

 

8th: You shall not steal.

 

This is the only other commandment which is reflected in our laws. As with the other one, it’s common sense and requires no religion to come up with it.

 

9th: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

 

Ever spend time in a courtroom? Case closed.

 

10th: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

 

There’s a heck of a lot of coveting going on. In fact, capitalism is all about coveting. Not only is this not a part of our general morality, but we reject it out of hand, unless we are the rare ascetic type.

 

So much of our current morality directly contradicts so much of what the Bible supports. Logic and reason make most of the things touted in the Bible look cruel and abhorrent in today’s standards. We don’t go around stoning people for petty offenses. We don’t keep slaves. We don’t (usually) go around destroying cities full of people for simply having another god.

 

I would argue that morality, such as it is, stems from basic logic and human experience and has no actual basis in religion. I think people have been brainwashed into accepting the idea that one who is not religious must somehow be immoral, yet this is obviously and patently false. In fact, many who are outright atheists have done a great deal of good and they did so without any religion, spirituality or faith of any kind.

 

Some examples of outright atheists who have done great good:

 

Christopher Reeve raised millions of dollars for research into treating paralysis.

Susan B. Anthony dedicated her life to equal rights for women and was at the forefront of getting them the right to vote.

Warren Buffet has donated 37 billion dollars to charity.

Bill Gates, though monopolistic in business, has donated over 30 billion dollars to charity.

Albert Einstein gave us a much greater understanding of the universe than we had prior to his research.

Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

Angelina Jolie is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency and has spent millions of dollars and years of personal effort to help alleviate the suffering of the impoverished.

 

Each one of these people gave and helped without any basis in spiritual or religious morality. They simply helped people out of kindness rather than the fear of god. In fact, it seems that the more religious many people get, the more intolerant they become. Not only that, intolerance is written right into the very foundation of many religions. Adherents of some religions, like Christianity and Islam, are instructed not only to eschew anything that is not of their religion, but even to kill those who do not believe. Thankfully, most of them aren’t taking those specific admonishments to heart.

 

By not taking those admonishments to heart, these people are cherry picking the doctrines from their own religions, choosing what to accept as part of their morality and what to reject. They are obviously basing their inherent morality not on what their religions want, but instead what they inherently think is right. So, the religious moderates are obviously not using their religion as the basis for their morality, but as more of a supportive framework for an inherent human morality.

 

This leads us to the realization that all religious texts were written by humans, who already had a basic sense of right and wrong as far as not doing harm to another and simply added a lot of dogma on top of it.

 

There is an inherent human morality that is created by the simple act of living among other humans. Even at the most simple, tribal level, we know that if you hit someone with a stick, they may retaliate. Furthermore, his loved ones may retaliate. Plus, people will know you as they guy who hits people with sticks and will shun you, making life much more difficult for you.

 

Same thing if you steal from or lie to people. You will not be trusted and will be attacked or outcast. Humans naturally want to be included and loved and helped. It’s only common sense. It simply makes sense to treat others as you would like to be treated by them. This idea existed long before the Bible was written. It wasn’t invented in the Bible or any other religious text. It can’t be more obvious that our morality comes from basic common sense and natural, inherent desires rather than any mystical source.

 

If one chooses to believe in a religion or in some kind of spirituality, that’s fine. But let’s end the myth that it is any kind of requirement for or basis of morality. If one feels that they have been a bad person and are turning to religion to atone somehow, they’d do more good simply volunteering their time and/or money however they can to better the lives of others more directly, rather than funneling their hard earned money and their sweat through an organization with a religious agenda.

 

Help without dogma is far more helpful than help on the condition of accepting dogma.

© 2015 William Suphan

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