Can You Truly Be Moral *With* God?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Can you truly be moral *with* God?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jasper

    The Atheist Experience has had some callers who have made the clam that if they found out there was no god, they’d go on some sprees. Of course, it does seem at times that they wouldn’t REALLY want to, it’s just that, since they invested their world view in this idea that morality necessarily comes from a god, that when faced with this question, they feel that they have to either abandon the faith, or follow the logic to it’s natural conclusion… and this is why one can get the religious to say some fairly abhorrent things.

    • EvolutionKills

      I know what you mean. I remember during one of Seth Andrews’ (the gentleman behind The Thinking Atheist) talks, giving the story of a very impromptu survey he conducted on Facebook. He posited the question that, if God asked you to kill your child, would you do it? The responses varied from the humorous to the terrifying. Some people admitted that they would gladly follow in Abraham’s footsteps, others went so far as to side with Hitchens in telling God to ‘fuck off’.

      *EDIT*

      Here is the YouTube video of Seth Andrew’s talk at Disbelief Discourse 2011. The part about the Facebook survey stars at about 34:00 into the video.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOJSOlPpDuE&feature=share&list=SPCD3333787D8049A3

      • Greg G.

        I had asked that question of a few Christian friends who had previously tried to proselytize me after it was asked of a prominent YouTube Christian. They each found the question abhorrent until they remembered that the correct biblical answer was to say “yes”. I found their answer to be abhorrent.

        • baal

          JT had a debate a few months ago where he got his debate opponent ( a priest or some such) to admit that the he would follow the biblical teaching and kill his son. The other guy later admitted that it was a bad answer and he was rethinking his position.

          • C Peterson

            The thing is, the first answer was the right one. If you believe in the Abrahamic god, and believe that it must be obeyed and that it is always good and right, the only ethical thing you can do when it commands you to kill your child is to do just that. No true believer should have to “rethink” anything!

            What this shows is just how shaky a religion-based ethical system can be. This is what happens when an externally imposed ethical rule runs up against an internal one which is shared by all normal humans. Dissonance. Confusion.

            It also shows how few people have really examined their ethics. Here’s a guy who has to know the story of Abraham, and it’s like this debate is the first time that he’s actually considered its ramifications. He’s lived his whole life accepting an ethical code, mainly it seems because he’s never seriously reflected on it.

            • Castilliano

              Yep, shaky indeed to use religion to prop up your morality, when your morality knows the right answer. “No.”
              What do you answer when a dictator makes such a request of you? “No.”
              A terrorist? “No.”
              A god? “Hell, no!”
              Other than the Bible storybook saying he’s good, why does anybody actually think Yahweh’s good?
              He killed his son for us? Ugh. That’s horrible.
              He made us? So owns us? No, try again.
              Sorry, Yahweh’s a genocidal egomaniac, and this is according to his own PR people.
              Thankfully, he’s fictitious.

              • UWIR

                The thing is, if anyone has some reason for thinking that God is good, then they must have some source of morality other than God. If you have some method of identifying goodness, then you can just follow that method. Introducing God simply adds needless complications.

            • NateW

              I always thought that the Abraham story was abhorrent too, because, like you and many Christians, I saw it as a divine test of sorts rather than a divine statement. Think about it, in that time child sacrifice was a “thing.” It was a known practice and something that some people believed the gods desired. Perhaps this was a dramatic way to illustrate that Yahweh is NOT that kind of God, but is in fact a God who provides rather than demands.

              I’m fairly sure that all of the ancient religious cultures in that area were steeped in sacrificial ritual. The story shows Yahweh not as a greed god who demands more of this, but a how who condescends to work within the understandings of people in their times and move them forward one step at a time.

              • baal

                I read the Abraham story as a authoritarian hoop jumping exercise. I had a boss once a long time ago who gave out tasks merely to see if you’d do them. He’d metaphorically hold up a hoop to see if you’d go through it. It was exactly like a lion tamer in that he’d wave fire or a whip at you if you didn’t and he’d reward you on the other end if you did. Total a-hole reward & punishment training.

                That model is entirely different from a skills assessment (followed up with training) test. And it’s different than making as assessment of work that was already done (another approach to management that doesn’t involve hoop jumping).

              • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                Child sacrifice was a rare “thing” back then. It existed, sure, but it wasn’t at all common and most other cultures in the area thought it was pretty barbaric too. There are far better ways of teaching “don’t kill children for me” than ordering one of your followers to kill his child for you, then popping out and yelling PSYCH! What kind of psychopathic freak does that?

            • UWIR

              More importantly, if you see anything wrong with saying “yes”, you must have some source of morality other than God.

          • Pofarmer

            In the same vein, I really, really, really, wanna aska Catholic. “So, if Jesus were laying there on the floor in front of you, would you cut off a hunk and swallow it? Would you punch his jugular and catch it in a cup and take a swig?”. Because that’s what they profess to beleive happens.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Really? You have never met a fundy Christian who claimed that their morality rests on God? I get that ALL the time and that is why I started talking about how you can’t be moral with God. Of course, in reality no one actually uses God as a basis for morality, but it surprises me that you never heard any Christian claim that they get their morality from their God belief.

    • Free

      God is the moral compass. He is the source of right and wrong and our sense of it. Where we go wrong is seeking to pigeon hole the transcendent into our small universal interpretation of morality. We expect great moral complexities to be unwound so black and white so as to get our hands around it and control it. Sad. God is committed to love not defined by our preference, Hollywood, or any other method we impose. Love allows its object to fail in order to rebuild, suffer to experience joy, lose in order to win and on and on. Death becomes the entrance to ultimate rest of the restless soul. We like to stand judge of Him when it is the other way around. He holds out a simple invitation to come and we deny. With that denial one forfeits their ability to contend. With that denial one choses their destiny. For those that truly come, the immense reality of God, His love, purpose and holiness, consumes them. For those that come, they see Him as He is. They surely get their sense of morality from Him and not empty religion striving to counterfeit the relationship with God. There are spiritual matters on the other side of faith that can not be explained unless you have seen. Otherwise it is only conjecture and fodder for scoffing.

      • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

        See Hemant; I rest my case.

        • baal

          It was nice of them to show up on cue and deliver as stated.

      • getz

        “Otherwise it is only conjecture and fodder for scoffing.”

        Your entire post was conjecture. Including your ” if you have access to the magic information that makes me right, you will see that I am right” reference to the other side of faith.

        That sort of argument is excellent for protecting your own beliefs, as you can reject any criticism by claiming the person doesn’t have access to the magic information. If they claim to have access to that knowledge and their conclusion contradicts your own, you can call them a liar because you know the “true” magic knowledge corroborates your own claims.

        However, despite its usefulness in protecting yourself from criticism, it’s terrible as a persuasive argument. How do you support your claim when another person claims to have access to magic knowledge?You can’t, as they’ll dismiss you as easily as you dismiss them. How do you convince someone who doesn’t believe the magical claims? You can’t, as your argument is structured entirely to protect your own convictions; you’ve sacrificed any attempt at making a compelling argument for why you’re right for the safety of telling anyone who disagrees with you that they’re wrong.

        • Free

          We all have access. We all don’t chose to access. That is the issue. A designer is the most reasonable conclusion to the observations of reality yet we deny that it seems reasonable. Lets define hell. It is simply where God is not. He does not “send” people there. They chose access there by their own free will. He would not in any way be moral if He forced you to accept Him. But you and I can not have it our way even if the King, Burger King says so. If you really wanted access to know God you would show it by your response to His invitation. You seem to not want that so you are free to do so. We hate the reality of consequence but live in the reality of them every day. Choices matter and this is the heart of morality. What will we chose?

      • Jim Jones

        > He is the source of right and wrong and our sense of it.

        So, slavery is OK? Kill your new bride if she isn’t a virgin is OK? Kill your children if they disrespect you is OK? Attack the next village and murder everyone who isn’t a female virgin is OK? Then rape them all – still OK?

        Some “moral code”! I’d hang you for that.

      • blasphemous_kansan

        Yawn.

        Take every two sentences or so separately and you can make about 15 religion-soaked greeting cards with all that fluff.

        • EvolutionKills

          Hmmmm…

          Fluff…

          *goes makes himself a samich*

          • Tainda

            eeek! I have a marshmallow fluff phobia

            • EvolutionKills

              WHAT!? Aw man, I feel sorry for you. That is not hyperbole, it is genuine lament. Fluff is AMAZING. :D

          • blasphemous_kansan

            Yes!

      • EvolutionKills

        I found myself repeatedly asking one question in my head, over and over again as I read your post. That questions was…

        How do you know?

        How do you know ‘God is the moral compass’?

        How do you know ‘He is the source of right and wrong and our sense of it’?

        How do you know ‘God is committed to love’?

        How do you know ‘He holds out a simple invitation to come and we deny’?

        How do you know ‘With that denial one forfeits their ability to contend’?

        How do you know ‘For those that truly come, the immense reality of God, His love, purpose and holiness, consumes them’?

        How do you know ‘here are spiritual matters on the other side of faith that can not be explained unless you have seen’?

        “Otherwise it is only conjecture and fodder for scoffing.”

        ^^ The only intelligent thing you appear to have said in the entire post, I just get the feeling that you’re entirely oblivious to just how much it says about all of your presumptions. That is the crux of your folly, all you have are unwarranted assertions and presuppositions. I have no reason to believe anything that you said, because you gave me no reason to.

        • Len

          It all boils down to: because god, therefore god.
          In his mind, at least.

          • EvolutionKills

            Agreed, but give credit where it is due. S/he might be presumptuous, long winded, and fail to grasp the basics of logic; but at least s/he wasn’t a jerk about it. I clearly disagree with what s/he is asserting, but s/he didn’t earn a down vote from me because of it.

            • Len

              I agree about not voting down but the airy-fairy-waffly-nothingness of what s/he said is a bit of a waste of space. And there are people who think like that are helping to make laws that force their daftness on the rest of us. That’s worrying.

              • EvolutionKills

                Agreed.

        • Free

          You were right to ask the right questions. It really is about knowing. Knowing Him is the goal, is the issue and provides all the proof, reason and evidence you need. I know Him therefore share what I see. Faith is the key, the bridge and the door. You however will not accept because you can not place such testimony under a microscope. The greatest evidence that I have, that you can observe, is my life and how I live it. I live it under the morality of God by His strength. I live it by faith and bear witness to what exists beyond my control or ability to understand.

          • WillBell

            You being following the rules set by your God doesn’t make the case for God any more rational, it only hopefully makes you a good person, which even more hopefully you would be anyways.

          • EvolutionKills

            Sorry, not good enough. That you don’t notice the absurdity of needing to have faith already before getting evidence, doesn’t speak well of your reasoning abilities.

            If all you can provide for the existence of your god, as for why I should believe you, is your own actions? Like I said, not good enough. I could agree with everything you do, and that would not be proof for a god. It would simply mean that I happen to find your life’s choices in agreement with my own morality. Simple as that, you are the one making unwarranted assumptions.

            And what if someone else acted just like you, and also insisted that their life was proof of their god, but they worshiped a different god from you? Would you find their ‘evidence’ compelling? I wouldn’t, and I don’t think you would either. You have nothing but presupposition and confirmation bias running in overdrive. You are, quite simply, deluded. I have no reason to accept you position, because you given me no compelling reason (evidence) to adopt your position.

            If the best evidence god can provide for his existence is your word soup of pseudo-profundity, he is a sorry god indeed.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Your god is not moral. See, for example, Job. See all the people he had murdered in the Old Testament, whereas Christians are told that even being angry at someone is the same as murdering them, and murder is a “sin.” Creating humanity completely incapable of adhering to his standards, and then holding US accountable for how he created us. Lecturing people that jealousy is wrong, and then admitting in the first commandment that he’s a jealous god. Forcing abortions on women. Forcing women to marry the men who raped them. Generally just not seeing women as real people. Refusing to punish the people who make a mockery of the few good things he actually commanded in his name while harming thousands. Being perfectly okay with slavery.

        Your god is not moral. His commands aren’t moral, he has no sense of justice, and he doesn’t even follow his own rules.

        How you can turn that into “god is the ultimate source of good and evil” I have no idea.

        • Free

          You do not know Him. You seem to look for one dimensional observations of Him to justify your unbelief. You have yet to see a true view of Him.

          Be careful in your understanding of language such as the word Jealousy. In the original language, Hebrew and Greek, there are two different words that have two completely different meanings complete with connotation. English struggles at times to carry the context. Jealousy holds two connotations one positive and one negative and a simply understanding of the texts clears that up. Discrimination is another such word that carries both. In our current culture it holds a predominately negative connotation but that was not always the case as it historically has meant a connotation of prudence and wisdom in discerning.

          You tend to see God as a man. His “anger” or wrath is a manifestation of His holiness. Man is not holy and thus anger in the scriptural reference you use is sin. However, God also says in your anger do not sin, inferring a reasonable place for anger, namely at sin itself.

          You fail to understand the difference between principle and practice. The moral principle that transcends practice and culture is in the character of God. You use Zecharia as an argument to say God condones rape but He is merely stating a prophetic reality not stating his approval of rape – no He did not intervene and control the will of the rapist. Other Old testament references such as God stating will bring calamity and your enemy will take your wives in broad daylight in 2 Samuel is a prophetic word to David that he would reap what he had sown in his family and that his concubine would be taken by Absolam. This is not God clapping joyfully here but allowing a man choices to fall with consequences. And how true it is that our choices effect others A legit reference to rape from God’s heart is captured here.”But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26″But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27″When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her,” (Deut. 22:25-27).
          We were created with choice. We just don’t want to chose Him. That is what He is after. You have life! Rather than thank Him for it, you would rather disbelieve He gave it to you, mock Him say He does not exist. At least you have these years to enjoy your life. What happens in the end is all about choice. Yours. Some would just rather gamble.

          • Baby_Raptor

            Do me a favour. Actually address what I said instead of doing a lot of fake dancing around it. Or cherry-picking verses that support your view. Or pretending that I’m too dumb to get what you’re saying. Just really consider what I’m saying and really answer it.

            You can hide behind long-winded, somewhat topical screeds if you truly have no answer, but you haven’t actually addressed what I said. You’ve just offered the apologetics view. And nobody here (Who, by the way, are a bunch of people who were Christians for a long time and left, so PLEASE ditch the Fucking condescending ” You don’t know god” line) is going to believe your crap until you stop sounding like a textbook and give real, honest replies.

            If you cannot do that, please just stop replying here. You aren’t doing any good anyway.

      • Len

        They surely get their sense of morality from Him and not empty religion striving to counterfeit the relationship with God.

        Anyone who says they get their sense of morality from god is not to be trusted (would I be wrong to guess you mean the god of the bible? And if not him, then who?). If you don’t have your own sense of morality from the society you live in or from the family you grew up in, then getting your morality from that misogynistic, discriminatory, spiteful, untrustworthy, bully* is like getting your stock-market tips from, well, me – because I know nothing about it. But I’ll be happy to take your money.

        As for a relationship: doesn’t that involve two-way communication? When did god ever tell you anything (really, anything) that you didn’t already know or didn’t know was the correct way to handle something? Be honest.

        * If you don’t understand this summation, then I guess you haven’t read the bible. (No, I mean all of it – not just the bits your pastor guides you to)

  • Baby_Raptor

    Morality has nothing to do with god. It has everything to do with the choices you make.

    Some people can be moral and still hold onto god. Most people see god as an excuse to do whatever they want and claim that it’s moral because god said so.

  • Lux (Elly) Pickel

    I actually spoke to someone who said he would probably cave to his violent tendencies if it weren’t for his belief in God and his Catholicism. I was absolutely floored. Point being, it does happen. Just glad you have had the good fortune not to meet any of them….

  • Sample1

    Can you truly be moral with God?

    I recently spent part of a trip traveling with a US Army chaplain. At one point during a long stretch of driving, the topic of whether a husband could truly rape his own wife was discussed–because, you know, that’s such a recurring and unresolved theme in the West.

    As longer and longer, and still longer pauses mounted up while he mentally searched his biblical brain-o-dex for faith-based answers, my brain had figured out a dozen ways to adjust my vacation plans without an extra person.

    Finally he said he felt it was wrong to force non-consensual sex but remained silent about whether it was morally wrong despite my asking for moral clarification. I don’t know if for the first time I’m on the cusp of recognizing a sociopath in my midst or just another true believer.

    Mike

    • Tainda

      As someone who experienced that, I would have punched him in the face.

      That’s one of the topics I get heated about though.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Hell, as someone who hasn’t experienced that, I would have really wanted to punch him in the face!

        I wouldn’t have, though. I don’t punch people, even when they really, really deserve it. I’ve been thoroughly taught that punching people is not nice, and I haven’t really wanted to throw off that particular shackle of socialization.

        • Tainda

          lol it’s just a figure of speech I use. I don’t punch people either.

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            Hehe. I know some people who are, um, well they don’t start fights often, but if they do, they win them. And this sort of thing would induce the sort of violent red rage that makes people sort of forget manners for a bit.

  • NateW

    Sure you can be moral without believing in a super-being in the sky, but no, you can’t be consciously moral without a belief regarding what “good” itself is. What is the end that being “moral” acts towards? What am I trying to achieve by being “moral”? This is something that everyone, Christian, atheist, Muslim, etc., has to make a decision about; what IS “good”, what would it look like to achieve that, what is the logical path that leads to this, and am I willing to do that rather?

    Once you’ve answered these questions I suppose that, in a non-religious sense, you already “believe” in a “god” (what is “good”), a heaven (what would it look like for reality to be defined by that “good”) a sacrificial system (what am I willing to give up/do in order to achieve this). I’m not trying to pull the old “atheists just don’t know they believe in God” card, but am just trying to point out that it isn’t really that huge a conceptual leap from “being moral without God” to believing in God and even to religion (systems of practices structured to help you in your endeavor to act together with others towards “good”).

    • Jasper

      The basis of secular morality is minimizing harm and maximizing good. The reason we “want” that, is due to biology programming into us pain/pleasure receptors, a survival instinct, and because we’re a social species, a sense of empathy. The only philosophy required after that, is a question of “what’s the best way of accomplishing those goals?”

      No magic required. No gods required. No supernatural required.

      • rwlawoffice

        You are begging the question. Who gets to determine what is harm and what is good? What one man views as good another will view as harm. So by this test all of secular morality is subjective . That really cannot be the basis for morality.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Christian morality is almost entirely based on the premise “Because God says so”. That is arbitrary. It is the ultimate in subjective morality, because it isn’t backed up by reasoning based in the detectable world or even in philosophy. Secular morality is less arbitrary, because it can be reasoned out.

          The exception is that Christianity incorporates the “Golden Rule”. Guess what? That’s a secular idea that predates Christianity. Furthermore, it doesn’t require Christianity. It’s defensible both emotionally and rationally.

          • rwlawoffice

            You either have a very incorrect understanding of Biblical morality or you are lying. For example, protecting innocent life is Biblical morality and not just simply because God says so, helping the poor is Biblical morality and not just because God says so, fidelity within a marriage is Biblical morality and not just because God says so.

            • b s

              If all of these things are moral even if god doesn’t say so, why does god have anything to do with morality?

            • baal

              “fidelity within a marriage is Biblical morality”
              To all the wives you’re married to?

              I find scant support that that bible is big on protecting innocent life. My memory suggests that at best the NT is about caring for the living (affirmative actions towards betterment, giving food, offering succor). That’s a very different focus than ‘protecting innocents’ (a defensive action, may involve violence).

              • Stev84

                The OT is pretty clear on abortion. If a man punches a woman and she miscarries, he is to pay a fine. If the woman dies, he is to be put to death. Clearly the woman has more value. Which is also consistent with modern Jewish beliefs.

        • Jasper

          It’s not “who”, it’s “what”. It’s objective fact that throwing someone off a cliff harms that person, because we’ve labeled “harm” to identify an objective phenomenon. That person stopped functioning… i.e. didn’t survive. This aligns with secular morality’s basis as harm.

          In this sense, you’re trying to proscribe what harm is, rather than having a word that describes something that exists in reality.

          That’s your problem.

          … whereas I cannot even fathom what the religious notion of morality could be. As far as I can tell, it’s just obedience to an arbitrarily dictated ruleset… where the alignment to reality is irrelevant.

          If you don’t agree that morality is about minimizing harm and maximizing benefit, I’m afraid you’ve distorted the concept of morality beyond recognition.

          • rwlawoffice

            Again you are begging the question. The fact that it is objective that throwing someone off a cliff harms them, doesn’t answer the question of whether doing so is moral. Some people have argued that killing another human being is not wrong even though it harms that person. Abortion, when or if it should be legal is one example where there is disagreement where harming another being is justified or not. Some people believe that the unborn deserve being protected others do not. The harm to that being however is obvious.

            There is a “who” that gets to decide that- is it society at large, is it s governing body, is it an individual choice.

            Your idea of a religious basis for morality is somewhat incorrect. From a Biblical perspective, the morals for living outlined in the Bible are based on wisdom that we believe comes from God but the design is for a healthy, happy, peaceful and enjoyable life here for the individual and society at large. Not simply because they were arbitrarily set out for obedience to God.

            • indorri

              So then morality is predicated on the happiness and well being of humans.

        • EvolutionKills

          Morality is subjective.

          The trick to to agree upon a consensus which can become a basis for judging morality. With secularists, a popular and well argued for position, is to judge actions on how much harm or suffering they cause or alleviate. We can have a debate about whether or not we should use that as a gauge for morality, but we can do that as rational and educated human beings; it need not be dictated by a ‘higher power’ that cannot even be verified to exist.

          Once you have an agreed upon standard for judging morality, you can use that heuristic to help determine what is and is not moral and ethical. This is why most secularists support marriage equality, because not discriminating against homosexuals results in a net positive alleviation in suffering and harm.

          Many proposing an objective morality don’t realize just how fragile an absolute system is, because it easily collapses under the weight of even one contradiction or paradox. Take lying for example. Many who advocate for an objective morality would list lying as objectively wrong; meaning that it is never acceptable to lie under any circumstances ever. Now, we can easily think of dozens of examples in just seconds that would question this. For example, if you where a Jewish sympathizer during the 1940′s in Nazi Germany and you where hiding a Jewish family in your basement and the Gestapo show up. What is the moral thing to do here? The moral thing to do is to lie you ass off, because divulging the location of the family will result in their (and most likely, your own) death, either on the spot or in a concentration camp. And remember, all you need is just one contradiction or paradox to invalidate and absolute concept like ‘objective’ morality.

          So, morality is always subjective. Appealing to an nonexistent higher authority does nothing to advance the debate and move us forward as a species.

          • 3lemenope

            Believe it or not, there are ways that modern deontologists get around the whole “lying-to-project-Jews-in-the-basement” hypo while staying consistent. One such approach is to analyze whether the person asking the question can legitimately demand an answer. If not (for any one of several reasons; my personal favorite and the one that applies easiest here is that the questioner is actively seeking to breach their own duty to a third party [the Jew in the basement] with the asking of the question) then it is not a formal violation of duty to respond falsely to such a question.

            • EvolutionKills

              I’ll admit, that is very interesting. It strikes me as something born of trying to justify the absolutist precepts of the god of classical monotheism. I don’t think the humans who original created and wrote down the stories thought nearly that much into it.

              Would you happen to have a link or suggested resource where I could read more?

              • 3lemenope

                The SEP article on deontology covers a bit of this, esp. under the section “The Weaknesses of Deontological Theories”; the strategy I’m articulating is a flavor of deontology that acknowledges a way to resolve apparent conflicts-of-duties by tracking actual, rather than assumed, obligations.

                In this case, the categorical imperative is the duty to not cause innocents to be killed. The seeming categorical imperative to never tell lies is revealed to be incomplete in light of the other imperative, and as formulated is really only a situational imperative. The actual categorical imperative is to always respond truthfully to questions that demand an answer. A question that violates the categorical imperative to never cause innocents to be killed cannot be a question that demands an answer. One might go one step further and say that the questioner (knowing his/her own intent in asking diverges sharply from duties suggested by the imperative), by asking the question, is voluntarily relinquishing the right to demand a correct answer, which side-steps the problems of the respondent determining whether a person is “worth” responding to according to the duties he or she would normally have towards the questioner (this problem is the problem of convenience, or “avoision”; a person can, with minimal creativity, reconceive pretty much any duty as contingent so long as they appeal to another duty to do so).
                —————–

                You are right that religiously-based ethical systems never quite get here. They are often assumed to be deontic in nature, but that is a miscategorization; Kant started his project by explicitly attempting to articulate a secular basis for morality, by interpreting moral choices as being responsive to duties that would obtain between humans regardless of the existence or identity of any deity. The fundamental duty he thought all other duties could be derived from is the postulate that a person should always be treated as an end-in-itself, rather than a means to someone else’s end. Most of the arguing since then has been about what exactly it means to treat a person as a means or as an end, and whether duties derived from that categorical statement could conflict with one another.

        • baal

          RW, as I’m sure you’re aware, morality is super easy most of the time and it’s only the edge cases of carefully constructed facts that cause anyone a problem.

          Would it be moral for me to assault and batter you? no? Do you really need god to tell you that?

          Ok, let’s move onto the usual list of big crimes…murder, felony theft, etc. It’s not hard at all to see who is getting hurt in these cases is it?

          Let’s move to smaller crimes…(rinse, repeat).

          I don’t find this exercise hard to do and I don’t need to be caressed by the many arms of Shiva to get through the majority of conceivable acts to do it.

          Do folks differ in some of the details? Yes, yes they do. If they didn’t, politics would be a lot easier. My little thought experiment runs into trouble with those cases where entire populations of people disagree about what is a harm or what counts as maximal flourishing but the majority of morality (what is wrongful) is super dooper easy.

          • baal

            TLDR of myself. I don’t think subjective vs objective morality is a useful distinction and in fact distracts from the proper mode of determining what’s moral or not. I affirm ‘bottom up’ analysis on each instance as it arises as the proper approach. I suspect the ‘what’s moral’ has substantial overlap in either the ‘subjective or objective’ mode (further eroding the usefulness of that distinction).

        • Baby_Raptor

          You’ve asked this question and gotten a myriad of answers to it several times before. The answer hasn’t changed simply because you think you can score points by pretending to not remember.

          There’s actual harm in the world. Actual, provable harm. For example, murder. Actually killing a person is harm. And yet the bible says that someone thinking angry thoughts at another is guilty of murder. And yet…Where is the *actual harm* in thinking angry thoughts at a person? I can sit here and think angry thoughts at you for the next hour and you won’t even know, muchless be harmed. Nor will I be harmed; I’ll just be bored.

          Another example. The first commandment claims that nobody should worship any gods more than the Christian god. Doing so is immoral, a “sin.” And yet…Where is the harm in doing so? What provable harm comes from someone deciding that they don’t believe in the Christian god, they worship Zeus?

          These things aren’t subjective. They’re based on actual proof of harm being done. A lot of things Christianity condemns do not produce actual harm, just supposed “offense against god.”

        • indorri

          You’re absconding without actually trying to think of it.

          It is, by all reasonable measurements, objectively true that raping a person causes them harm, and egregious long-term harm at that.

          By comparison, it is also not been established as objectively true that having sex before marriage causes long term harm (it may not be good for some, although the study which indicates that has a lot of issues [bias not being the least problematic], but that’s not the same as being harmful).

          This is not a “everyone has their own opinion about what is good or bad”, this is about the capabilities of objectively determining, through science, what causes long-term harm and dysfunction in people. So yes, secular morality is objective.

          • Ryan P

            Do you see just how much assuming that you just did, yet you have shown no real basis for objective, and maybe even relative, morality? I say this as politely as possibly, you’re not digging deep enough. You also deified science, which is a process and study that has nothing to do with morality. Science can tell me what happens physically and chemically when a 12 year old girl is raped by a 40 year old man, but it can not object to it morally in any way; anymore than it could give me it’s standard for or against 2 virgins on their wedding night. Do you see that you’re making a standard through science? Deifying science in order to justify your own relative beliefs?

            • Free

              Great point Ryan! What is it? Science? Or are we now going to take all the unknowable, intangible, emotional realities of our nature and experience and try to make them fit. Seems like Scientific Circular Reasoning and Intellectual Hypocrisy. What we do not “know” still effects our reality.

            • Stev84

              Just replace “science” with “observation”, which is more accurate in this case. Science or no science, we can determine the harm caused by certain actions and draw conclusions from it.

            • indorri

              That’s because you make the same mistake as others that object to my point.

              If I instead said “science can tell us if this is a whale”, and you went around saying “science can tell us whether it has a blowhole and has fused neck vertebrae, but it can’t actually gives us the standard to call it a whale”, the problem with your objection would be laid bare.

              I am not interested in debating definitions of words. If you prefer to call it “splorg”, that’s find by me, because what I’m actually talking about is “harm/happiness of humans”. That’s it. I’ve no emotional attachment to the word “morality” that I want to ask “what morality, Truly™, Truly™ is”.

              So if it helps you, replace the word with “contribution to harm and happiness of humans” or a similar term.

              • Ryan P

                So you’re honestly telling me that the evolutionary process ends with some sort of general consensus “live, laugh, love”? One where noone harms anyone and we as a species find away to live in some eutopia where noone steps on another’s toes. Oh, yeah and all violent crimes disappear? I don’t mean to be a smart aleck, but that’s not even realistice without absolute truth and the entire race striving for it. Unfortunately, the atheist’s worldview doesn’t allow for the type of thinking. Also, post-modernity renders vocabularies useless because words really have no meaning anyways and scientifically speaking there just physically processes in material beings which are the result of chemicals in the brain. Yeah, I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about…high school graduate. Much love, you guys and gals have a great week. Thanks for chatting. Romans 3:9-10 + Ephesians 2:4-10 + Romans 5:8-10

                • indorri

                  The first three sentences don’t have anything to do with what I said. In fact, it’s the opposite. There are those who seek to harm others through perverse motivation.

                  You’re confusing motivation with the effect of actions. I’m motivated to seek the wellbeing of humans. I can use science (as well as lesser, but less involved forms of reasoning/prediction, same as everyday life) to determine whether something contributes to the wellbeing or illbeing of humans. If people are motivated to try define morality as something other than that, it’s as irrelevant to me as someone trying to define what taste purple has.

        • Edmond

          So what you do is, find OUT from the other man what he considers “harm”, and then strive to avoid causing him any. Among the many, many, MANY improvements that mankind has made over the “morality” of the Bible, is the replacement of the Golden Rule with the Platinum Rule. “Do unto others as they WOULD HAVE YOU do unto them”.
          Morality IS subjective, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Morality is nothing but rules. Just like rules for a game, which are decided upon by the players, depending on what they want the goal of the game to be. Morality is rules for the “game” of building a society. The people in the society get together and decide what the goal of their society will be (usually to be peaceful, cooperative, and productive). The rules they establish are their morality. Different societies will have different moralities. We can label a different society as “immoral”, but it will only be based on our own decisions and perceptions.
          What other way IS there to do it? Are you seriously suggesting that we base our morality on this “God” character in the Bible? What about all the millions of people, all of them Christians, who hold contradictory interpretations of this material? What about all the horrible barbarism supported by the Bible? Does the “morality” of the Bible tell us how to properly treat gay people? Should we be insisting that citizens obey the Ten Commandments rather than the Constitution? Can we get God to step in and settle disagreements over his morality?

          This is not a viable system for establishing morality, or laws, or a functioning state. The Bible is confusing, contradictory, violent and frequently xenophobic. It’s morality is highly questionable, and does not serve our modern society. That REALLY cannot be the basis for morality. We have to rely on each other.

          • NateW

            “Do unto others as they WOULD HAVE YOU do unto them”

            I can see the wisdom in this, forcing us each to empathize with the other person, seeing from their perspective what they would want us to do. So, that makes sense, but what then determines the course we take when it is clear that someone we love would rather us leave them alone than intervene for their own good? How many drug or alcohol addicts would want their family to stage an intervention? How many are later deeply grateful when they do?

            Morality may well be subjective, but one has to be willing to risk a relationship with a person by knowingly offending them, in order to truly love them. In these times it becomes obvious that love is a higher law than morality. If the goal is simply to be moral then tolerance is the greatest good. Help those who want to be helped and take care to avoid offending the pride of those who don’t. Tolerance, though, in the end, is a stunted perversion of true love. It only loves people to the extent that they are willing to love themselves.

            Don’t get me wrong, love cannot force itself on a person who is unwilling to accept it (else it becomes other than love), but it can give and give and give of itself even to it’s own harm, believing that it’s own sacrifice will soften the pride of the loved one.

            • baal

              Don’t get me wrong, love cannot force itself on a person who is unwilling to accept it (else it becomes other than love), but it can give and give and give of itself even to it’s own harm, believing that it’s own sacrifice will soften the pride of the loved one.

              Your final paragraph is creepy. Potentially hurting yourself to ‘soften pride’ (emotionally wear down) is like asking for abuse. It’s a lot more healthy to act transparently and with honesty to describe to the person what your problem is with what they are doing and then leaving it up to them at that point.

              • NateW

                I’m not talking about emotionally wearing people down by nagging them doggedly, I’m talking about continuing to try to do what is truly best for someone even when they tell you to fuck off or actively try to set up walls that allow them to continue down a self destructive path. What is best for them may well be to leave them alone, or it may not be, but that decision has to be based on some kind of objective definition of “good” not on whether they think they need help or not. Does that make sense?

                • baal

                  I agree until you get to the part about needing an objective good. A relative good is enough. If at a small cost to you you can stop a big harm, then, it’s better to intervene. If at a big cost to you you can stop a big harm, then it might be a bad idea to intervene. I don’t want to imply that cost/benefit is always nice and clear cut (it isn’t) but the various factors are weighable on a per issue (per instance) basis. That type of analysis does not require checking against a list of objective goods or adherence to a principle of principled interference. The only ‘goods’ needed are a desire for your fellow human to not suffer unnecessarily and appropriately valuing your own health (or other costs).

      • NateW

        [edit: just realized how long this became. Sorry! If it seems blowhard-esque just don't read it. : ) ]

        Hi Jasper (and others) Thanks for your input. Jasper, if you will kindly take a look back at my comment above you’ll see that I wasn’t arguing that anything “magic” or “supernatural” is necessary to know what is right and what is wrong. Any person who is not entirely blinded by his/her own fear and shame can look into the eyes of a child—hell, of ANY person who has an ounce of hope or joy left—and know intuitively that any word or action that deadens that spark of exuberant hope is reprehensible. I have no interest in the origins of this spark of hope, or the empathy that allows us to recognize our own vestiges of hope in the eyes of a child. Whether this original joy and hope is simply “evolutionarily beneficial” or the implanted “image of God,” honestly doesn’t concern me.

        What does concern me thought is, as we seem to agree, is determining the way forward in good faith. If “do no harm” is in fact an atheist ideal, then christians and atheists have a lot of common ground to work from. (Romans 13:10 “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”)

        Where I see many people (of all creeds, including myself) fail is in believing that this ideal (a society where no harm is done to one’s neighbor) is too much to hope for and settling for a limp attempt to be subjectively “moral.” The ideal of harming no one seems impossible to achieve without sacrificing our own tribe’s welfare so we look to logic and rationality to decide who and what to sacrifice.

        I believe that the bible’s portrayal of Jesus Christ presents him as teaching (and, more importantly, living out) the idea that the oppressed are to be shielded from their oppressors by those who have the courage to offer themselves up, to sacrifice themselves, rather than acting out in violence against the oppressors. I DON’T believe that this truth is limited to those who are religious Christians, nor do I believe that professing the Christian religion means that any individual has any claim to it. This ideal is a knife that cuts down the middle of every religion, tribe, and people, not between them. To believe and to act as if this is true, as if self-sacrificial love is the only power in the world that can conquer violence and harm is something that both atheists and Christians can do whether or not they believe that “God” exists as a Zeus style super-being. All that is needed to do this, to walk the difficult, maybe even impossible, life-long path of self-sacrifice is to recognize the deep in-dwelling (or, if you prefer, “genetic”) inner desire to do so, and to decide that you want to listen to it. I think that this is a lot harder than it sounds though, because the desire to listen to that natural pull towards empathy and self-giving sacrifice, though naturally present, can be beaten out of us over time by violence, hatred, fear, and shame experienced at the hands of others. Not only that, but there are a lot of times when that perfectly natural tendency towards empathy and love puts us at odds with our equally strong and also perfectly natural desire for individual survival and flourishing. When these two things come together (violence and shame at the hands of others and our own natural desire for individual prosperity) it becomes very easy to ignore that other part of our natural humanity that desires to love and to give ourselves up for others.

        All it takes though, to become able to “want” to choose Love in any given moment rather than Self, is to remember one instance of pure self-giving, one clear example of unconditional, sacrificial love from one other person to myself. By entire faith in another’s love for us, that childlike innocence can be reawakened, enabling us to escape from the victimhood cast upon us by our own oppressors and maybe even to empathize with our oppressors as ones who, perhaps, do not share the benefit of a similar memory.

        I want to be that instance of unconditional love for every person I meet, whether friend or enemy. No magic, no superstition, no flying spaghetti monsters; just faith that active human love conquers hate, fear, and shame. Faith that the deeply seated impulse towards selfless, unconditional Love is more natural to my humanity than the part of me that needs to ensure my own happiness at any cost. Not faith in some cosmic being that promises me heaven or virgins, or whatever, in the future, but simply faith in love itself and in the human capacity to give itself away. Not a religious faith that turns its nose up at the earth and, staring into the sky, begs to be rescued, but a faith that love itself can, in any given moment, usher a moment of “heaven” into the present. It’s a faith of the kind that is evidenced by action, but does not stem from an anxious need to act, but as a natural reaction to an open awareness of the Love shown by another who has had faith in me.

    • baal

      Natew, your remapping everything to a religious framework is weird and unnecessary.

      • NateW

        “Weird and unnecessary” Haha, I like that you got right to the point : )

        I’m honestly not trying to “remap” but to say that atheists and christians are very often both looking at the same map, but with different street names. I’m just trying to point out that if we’d both just take a few moments to learn the other side’s town and street names we’d realize pretty quickly that arguing about which name is correct is absurd.

        What Christ calls “The Kingdom of God” (aka “heaven” which was often used in Jewish society as a euphemism for “God”) and what atheists and philosophers might call something like “the good society” really aren’t that different conceptually. Most of our disagreements come about because we refuse to accept the other side’s language and wouldn’t be caught dead taking their map seriously. I am trying to be a voice that does take both maps seriously and was simply trying to point out some bridges between concepts that we (all humans) share in common.

        • baal

          Still weird but I now appreciate the effort to map the language usage as an effort to improve understanding.

          • NateW

            : )

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      “… you already “believe” in a “god” (what is “good”), a heaven (what would
      it look like for reality to be defined by that “good”) a sacrificial
      system (what am I willing to give up/do in order to achieve this).”

      Sure… as long as you don’t mind entirely redefining the terms “god” “heaven” and “sacrifical system.” Heck, I’ve got a pencil on my desk here and if we relabel it “god” then I guess that makes me a theist.

      • NateW

        I’m not redefining terms, I’m asking people (on both sides) to be willing to look past the words themselves and to focus on the ideas, the forms, the roles that they play for the other and to recognize that we all know other things by other names that play the same roles for us.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          The word ‘God’ to most people means “a personal being who is the creator and supreme ruler of the universe.” You are asking them to ‘look past’ that and take it to mean nothing more than “that which is good.” That is a change in definition (aka: redefining)

          If you want people to focus on “that which is good” then use a word that means “that which is good” to the majority of the population (for example, the word “virtue” seems to work well for that.) Otherwise your communication will be very unclear.

  • Rationalist1

    I often get asked the opposite, namely how can one be moral without God. Often my final comment after a bit of discussion is to urge the person to keep their faith until they realize they can be moral without God.

    I think Hermant’s comment about the person’s morals and “God’s morals” coinciding is apt. With the variety of religions and denominations one can pretty well choose one the affirms their moral beliefs.

    As a raised and, at one time very earnest Catholic, I often perplex many conservative Catholics by explaining their Church’s teaching on social justice to them. They think as an atheist I’m lying to them and I point them to the relevant link at vatican.va. If this current pope keeps up the social justice theme (however weak) it will be interesting to see how many conservative Catholics selectively embrace their Church’s moral teaching.

    • Michaela Samuels

      This is the most fascinating part of dependency on a god for a moral code. It is impossible to wholly accept most all interpretations of god because of the clearly immoral behavior condoned in the god’s history. People absolutely refuse to acknowledge that!

      • Rationalist1

        If many of the stories in the Bibles were put into any other religion Christians would find them, justifiably, barbaric.

        • Michaela Samuels

          Interestingly enough, similar stories from similar time periods in other religions are considered barbaric and/or totally and obviously mythical. Somehow, Christianity is exempt from scrutiny.

          • Rationalist1

            But all religions are internally exempt from their own stories. Take any religion, transpose its stories to another and the adherents for call the stories barbaric. But if its within their own, its acceptable.

            • Michaela Samuels

              Perhaps the fundamental flaw.

  • viaten

    “Their beliefs and God’s beliefs probably just coincide”
    There’s no coincidence about it. (And God has beliefs?)

    • Ryan P

      He has attributes and a will. :o) Beliefs and may be negated (or better yet rendered non essential) in His attributes. “Beliefs” imply options, omniscience means He knows all. Therefore He knows, not requiring a “belief”. Was that your point?

      • viaten

        I’m quoting Hemant. Peoples beliefs “coincide” with God’s beliefs (to be more precise, God’s decrees or else biblically stated morals people already know to be good) to the extent that people pick and choose what is good and moral from the Bible. There’s really no coincidence there.

        I know what Hemant intends with “God’s beliefs”, but the idea that God has beliefs sounds odd for a being who supposedly knows all. Believing, particularly religious believing, is what one does when they can’t know something with as much certainly as they would like.

        • Ryan P

          Agreed, thanks for clarifying.

          • viaten

            Looking at my original comment, “There’s no coincidence about it”, I see now how it could be taken in quite different, almost opposite, ways. “It’s all God’s doing.” versus “It’s all man’s doing.”

  • viaten

    I get the feeling some Christians think, “I’d be good under any circumstances anyway. Everyone else needs the threat of hell at some point.”

  • GubbaBumpkin
  • Art_Vandelay

    Hemant, I don’t know how you can say that it’s not a fair question. If Christians are going to reap all of the social advantages of being this majority and claim to have some sort of moral edge over us just by virtue of thinking some Canaanite Jew rose from the dead…it’s a completely fair question.

  • C Peterson

    I think that most people are mostly good most of the time. The interesting question to me is what goes wrong when a mostly good person does something that isn’t good? The likelihood of this happening isn’t so much dependent on the actual moral code a person has, but on the strength of that code, on the depth to which a person respects that code.

    In my view, a moral code derived from deliberate, rational reflection will be stronger than one which is externally imposed, dependent on the threat of punishment. One particular weakness of many religious moral codes is that they ask people to treat as wrong things that few people actually see as wrong. Normal people will comfortably violate those kinds of restrictions with little guilt. But once you are comfortable breaking one rule, you are more open to breaking others… some of which really do involve poor ethical choices.

    Of course, most people manage to be moral with God. But I think that people without God have, on the whole, stronger moral codes. They are more likely to actually practice ethical behavior- especially in situations where they are tempted to do otherwise.

    • 3lemenope

      One particular weakness of many religious moral codes is that they ask people to treat as wrong things that few people actually see as wrong. Normal people will comfortably violate those kinds of restrictions with little guilt. But once you are comfortable breaking one rule, you are more open to breaking others… some of which really do involve poor ethical choices.

      This is a very insightful point, one that philosophers of law have pointed out as being a problem with any externally granted code of behavior, but especially those that try to be extremely regulatory over picayune or otherwise adiaphoric matters. If a code of behavior says that obviously harmless behaviors are wrong, pretty soon a sizable segment of people will ignore the rule and encourage others to do so simply through non-compliance. This scofflaw attitude then percolates up to the actual important matters that the code of behavior attempts to address. Witness, for example, in the US attitudes towards speed limits on roads. Pretty much everyone speeds at least a bit, and so it becomes more difficult to focus social approbation on truly dangerous driving speeds and other bad driving habits.

      • C Peterson

        I generally feel that the test of a good secular law is whether it is really needed. That is, a good law is one that codifies behavior that people would generally follow anyway. If you need a law to prevent most people from doing something, that’s an indicator that you have a poor law, and an issue that needs to be addressed in a different way.

        • baal

          Too many folks don’t understand that you can take an empirical approach to determining if a rule is a good one. High levels of non-compliance are one sign that a rule is bad (though it may be the only rule available in some edge cases).

    • Michaela Samuels

      I think you’re right in your assessment of the effect of god on morality. People become dependent on “god” and fail to search beyond that holy code for practical, rationale responses to the modern day moral issues. This, instead of encouraging reflection, discourages the very thing humanity necessitates to maintain its curve towards justice and morality in the world.

    • Joe_JP

      If there was a God, I would hope that said God would support “deliberate, rational reflection” as the means to determine what “good” entails.

  • sware73

    What an interesting question to pose. I all too often see it stated in the opposite
    manner. Short answer to me would be “yes.” I’ve spent more of my life as a believer in god than as an atheist so I’ll share this example.

    My immediate family left the Catholic church when I was 4 years old. My oldest sister at that time was 17 and had just given birth to my nephew and as tradition would go, she expected to have him baptized. The church refused on the grounds that he, this brand new baby, was a bastard. My family was angry enough at this to say, “enough”. He may not have been planned, or born within wedlock, but regardless the circumstances of his birth, we all accepted him and loved him as we would any other family member. We left the church at this time, but didn’t abandon faith. We’d attend a few other churches as I grew up but never quite with the same regularity as we did as Catholics. Distant relatives went on being Catholics yet didn’t shun us for our departure with only the exception of my grandfather who was visibly ashamed of my nephew and it was years before he could truly look at him without clear disdain on his face. We had faith, yet we stood on our own moral ground when it came to the love of our family in spite of what the church commanded. For us, that would have been a much bigger crime to turn our backs on an infant and his mother, our family. This is a huge instance in my life that I reflected on when I was finally losing my god beliefs as an adult. The church was considered the authority on this matter, yet somehow we knew this great authority to be wrong. Our morality in loving this child regardless of his birth circumstances and expecting him to have fair treatment in life obviously did not come from the church. So where else could it have derived if not from ourselves?

    This quote to me says it best. “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong then you lack empathy, not religion.”

  • Ryan P

    Hello Hemant,

    I think the problem here is the same predicament as always with trying
    to reconcile moral terms with secular thought. “Good” is based on a moral
    premise, so it implies there is a standard. That’s a huge problem when there’s
    no designer. This creates a world of moral relativity, in which the idea of a
    standard explodes. One attempt that I see is, is the deification of the
    evolutionary process. When individualsclaim that emotions, philosophy, and even
    social constructs are progressing, but began with a basic common morality. Some
    will never says this but assume it. The first problem there is the allegiance
    and worship issue, they deify evolution. Secondly they still are exposing
    their “have my cake and eat it too” mentality. THERE’S NO DESIGN, THAT’S ABSURD!
    While they also want to impose some a type of non-living universal standard that
    was deposited in our species somewhere through the evolutionary process. Lastly,
    I don’t think most people understand (or care to understand) biblical
    hermeneutics and/or the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Here’s my suggestion when
    questioning a Christian stance on whether people are “good” (before or after
    conversion), consider the 1st century rabbi Sha’ul (Paul). The man was more moral than you or I would
    (or probably could) ever be, yet he was exposed as an enemy of God. Think about
    the life of a religiously devout first century Jew living in a Pagan land. Can
    you imagine how superior he felt in his devotions in contrast with the orgies,
    human sacrifice, and gluttony taking place in the Pagan temples? Now read
    Romans. :0) Does Paul think people are good? From the Torah memorizing Pharisee
    who was also drenched in the practical applications of the Talmud in contrast to
    the Pagan whose deities required worshippers to indulge in ridiculously
    perverted pleasures and heinous acts against other people. I assume you might
    now run back to the Old Testament “Israelite killers and their tyrant god” for a
    typical “I found a loophole” diversion tactic. Before you do may I
    suggest considering some basic biblical hermeneutics and the Gospel, as it is
    presented through the whole (entire) Bible. If you’re still not pleased, then go
    ahead and borrow from the Decalouge, “thou shalt now kill” and throw it back at
    God and the crazy Christians.

    That’s one thing I’ll probably never
    understand or get an atheist to admit, they have to borrow from another person’s
    rocks to throw because their worldview’s absolute end, says rocks aren’t real.
    You can use the scientific method to potentially answer “how”, but never “why”.
    Doesn’t that pain you at all? Are you too mature and pretentious to ask “why”?
    Can you surpress it forever? No, you can’t that’s why so many atheist
    spend wrangle their whole lives trying to have purpose and meaning, they seek
    justice and love, and on and on while their core belief is that life is useless
    and emotions are absurd.

    So, finally, are Christians “good”? Nope,
    not any that I know. Christianity is the polar opposite of humanism. That’s why
    Jesus came (volunteered), was “good”, and suffered the punishment the “bad”
    deserved. God exercised justice and mercy, perfectly, who else has ever done
    that? :0) “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good but to make dead people
    live!” -Ravi Zacharias

    • Castilliano

      You really missed the point, didn’t you?
      If an outside concept and the threats/rewards tied to that concept are a person’s reasons for being moral (rather than just being moral because it’s the right thing to do), can that person truly be moral?

      If you say ‘no’ (as you seem to be), then you are saying Christians (and perhaps other theists) would lose their morality without Yahweh.

      Really? Yahweh was a brutal overlord at best.

      You also state humans can never be ‘good’, and hence never be moral.

      That’s horrible, and feeds into the cult mentality of Christianity. (Break them down, then prop them up with need for belief.)
      It also implies those with no god concept (or a wrong concept) cannot be moral because they are not basing it on the ‘actual’ (singular) source of morals.
      Ridiculous.

      Hemant says ‘yes’ because he understands morality can come from many sources, and feels he witnesses it in all types of people. He also feels no Christian actually believes they are only moral due to Yahweh, and would go do immoral deeds without Yahweh.
      Your answer implies Christians would run amok and be immoral without him. They’re really just leashed?
      (I have met Christians who have stated this BTW, so I depart from Hemant there, though I doubt they’d actually follow through.)

      Oddly, Hemant is giving Christians the benefit of the doubt.
      You, funnily enough, aren’t.

      As for your side points:

      Paul was less virtuous than many people I know, so I don’t know why you go there, as if he’s some paragon. He might be ‘holy’ but many of his assertions lack ethical or moral merit. If you take him literally, and attribute all the Pauline books to him, he’s a sexist, homophobic prick.
      But godly. :P

      Nobody deifies evolution. Look up the word.
      Just because we attribute evolution as the cause of many things you give Yahweh credit for, doesn’t make evolution a deity to anybody. It’s an observation based on evidence, leading to a theory which predicts and is supported by further evidence. LOTS of evidence.
      It’s a useful tool, based on reality rather than theistic revelations (which have led nowhere).
      Tools aren’t deities to anybody.
      (Though I suppose Thor’s hammer’s pretty important. :P)

      Something can be universal without being supernatural or objective.
      Morality can be consistent among humanity because moral behavior (as most define it) leads to strong social systems and immoral behavior leads to weaker social systems. Social systems which flourish tend to expand, while the weaker ones die out.
      It’s not a 100% swing between objective, god(s)/inhuman sources, and subjective, individuals. Most of humanity shares a common…humanity. Huh…imagine that.
      Morality has developed and improved over time (by humanity’s standards, not any god’s), leaving the morality of ancient texts behind.
      Just because we as a species have constructed morality doesn’t make it less important, but rather makes our contributions to its development even more important.

      Also note, enforcing biblical morality would take us backward.
      Slavery? Death penalty? Misogyny?
      No thank you.

      Jesus, while often disobeying the Law, also fully supported the importance of the Law.
      And hated fig trees.
      Again, no thank you. I like me some Newtons. :)

      Has Christianity contributed to the marketplace of ideas?
      Arguably yes. (And arguably everything worthwhile predates Judeo-Christian writings and/or was developed independently elsewhere)
      Are most Christians moral people?
      Yes, but that’s because they filter out biblical flaws.

      Is pure biblical Christianity moral?
      No.
      In that sense, a true follower of the Bible cannot be moral, and would likely be locked up for multiple felonies.

      Cheers, JMK

      • Ryan P

        I
        really do your not questioning deep enough. I know I’m presumptious, I must
        admit that. Unfortunately, you are too…and I think your presumptions shoot way
        past mine. You operate off of this illogical idea of relative morality that you
        cannot explain a basis for. It’s the same Hitchens routine…I loved the guy
        and admired his passion but he hated objective morality, yet borrowed from it
        all day long. Oh yeah, that reminds me, for an alternative to secular humanism
        (Theism – a deity), watch a youtube video called “Calling the Humanists
        Bluff.” The speakers much more intelligent than me and articulates the
        point very well. Back to the matter at hand, moral relativity…You simply assume
        it:

        “It also implies those with no god concept (or a wrong concept) cannot be
        moral because they are not basing it on the ‘actual’ (singular) source of
        morals.”

        Please explain this to me? Please? You just pull the idea of morality out of
        nowhere with no explaination and splatter it here and there and say the
        majority wins amongst people groups. The problem it you’re working with
        material that has no design, no purpose and no trajectory. It’s as valid to say
        that we’re intended to evolve into some super race as it is to say we’re
        intended to become a savage sociiety that self implodes. The fact of the matter
        is the thought that we’re “intended” to do anything absurd and mythical. I
        often laugh at atheists who are activists. I wonder if they realize they are
        walking talking oxymoron. I would life to verbally hear an atheist state, “My
        life’s purpose is to proclaim to all that life has no purpose”. You all are
        playing a game that you insist does not exists. Why can’t you admit that?
        Seriously? Please just say it. This is why atheism has no say so in
        morality…following me? You’re worldview is void of morals, right? Please admit
        it, honestly…? From pedophilia to pornography to philanthropy to proseletyzing
        to parenting to pampering…these are all neutral things and actions in a
        universe of random chance. You’re forced to admit this if you truly want to
        hold to your claims. Otherwise you have to say that evolution gives meaning and
        morality, as it were a moral designer. I’m sure you won’t go for that.

        “Morality
        can be consistent among humanity because moral behavior (as most define

        it) leads to strong social systems and immoral behavior leads to weaker social

        systems. Social systems which flourish tend to expand, while the weaker ones
        die

        out.”

        So
        Yahweh is a foul Tyrant for rooting immorality out of society (and eternity).
        However, when it’s a natural process, iyou state it like it’s a good thing.
        This is fine as long as your “moral” or “good”,
        unfortunately Yahweh’s standards are far too high and you can’t meet them. So
        then the idea of rooting out evil is tyrannical…? The problem is the Bible
        smashes people’s self-righteousness and we hate that. Everyone from the
        hypocrite in the church, mosque, synagouge, temple, non-profit, or university
        to the inmate on death row. All criminals hate the legal system. All
        “good” people feel moral superiority in contrast to the pedophile. What
        happens when the Judge of all the Earth finds them guilty of being a liar, a
        hypocrite, and one who perverts the purpose of the mjority of gifts,
        priveledges, and responsibilities given to them in life? What if you’re
        completely foul in His universe like we see the Areil Castro’s of our day? Is
        He aloud to give life to those who flourish and let the other wither under His
        judgement? I know you don’t like that, who does? Read Romans…again. Roman 3
        and beyond will tell you how to flourish. :0)

        So, I thank you so much for responding to my comment. Noone ever does
        (seriously). I honestly can’t say that I feel like you’re grasping the point or
        either you’re not being completely honest about it, but you at least
        acknowledged it…so thanks. I’m a simple guy with little education post high
        school so maybe I don’t communicate the point that well. Let me know if
        analogies will help.

    • WingedBeast

      If there is no objective morality without a designer, then the designer cannot objectively have the authority to define morality.

      • Ryan P

        Does that statement include 2 proposals? Can you elaborate further?

        • WingedBeast

          It’s an extrapolation of the Euthyphro dilemma.

          From whence does God gain the authority to define morality (or to have his nature define it)? He cannot get it from outside himself, otherwise he’s not the ultimate. He cannot grant it to himself because that would require the very authority he needs.

          So, either objective morality is impossible even with God or objective morality is possible and does not necessitate God.

          Where the goal is obtaining objective morality, God is either unnecessary or useless to that goal.

      • Ryan P

        Christians call it “imago dei.” His nature and attributes are built into His creation. Read Romans 1, fully…after Genesis 1,2, and 3.

        • WingedBeast

          By that do you mean that he built creation with a moral code written in? If so, then you don’t have objective morality but the morality as preferred by God.
          If, on the other hand, you mean that God exists with the authority to define morality written into his nature uncaused, then you have platonic morality, which does not require God.

  • Frank

    God defines morality and as his creation that morality is part of our makeup. One does not have to believe in God to have Gods created moral standards.

    • Roy Gamsgrø

      “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”

      This is your moral guideline?

      • Frank

        Once again someone quoting the bible with zero understanding of it.

        Where are the intelligent atheist? They must be out there right?

        • baal

          Frank, the context to that snippet doesn’t help your side in this point. It’s talking about what to do when you win a war or need to punish your enemies. The OT YHWH was a mofo when it comes to the other team.

          • Frank

            God cannot be fully understood but if we only focus on either the OT or NT we get a fallacious definition of who God is.

            • baal

              Ok, Mr. splitpersonality god from the OT doesn’t agree with NT god and even if you magically merge them, Roy’s point about the merged god stands. He’s a jerk or at least a-ok with shocking levels of violence.

        • Roy Gamsgrø

          Now I’m curious…

          Could you please explain what is good and moral about a god that orders the murders of children and the rape of women? Do you have moral genocides?

          If the Bible is true, then you need to take the good with the bad. If the Bible isn’t true, then what better use it to use as a moral guideline than, say, An Introduction to Trainspotting?

          The point here is that using the biblical God as a moral guideline is, pardon my French, fucked up beyond belief. I could cite countless passages from the Bible, but I think one of the genocides will do.

          Please. Justify genocide for me.

          • Frank

            I cannot but God gave life and he has the right to take it away for his purposes.

            • WingedBeast

              “I cannot but God gave life and he has the right to take it away for his purposes.”

              Frank, be clear on what you’re arguing with this line and what you are not.

              You are not, in that line, arguing that God is of superior moral character to anybody, at all… ever.

              You *are* arguing, in that line, that God is of superior position. In other words, it’s not that God’s a better person, it’s that the rules just don’t apply.

              That’s not arguing the superiority of Godly morality, that’s arguing the bankruptcy of Godly morality.

    • Spuddie

      So you have no moral agency outside of what is explained to you in the Bible. So you have no morality to speak of, just blind deference to authority. A psychopath on a leash.

      • Frank

        I am glad you understand who you are.

        • Spuddie

          I’m rubber you’re glue, bounces off me, stick to you. =)

  • Michaela Samuels

    I think a god provides people with an invisible accountability partner – someone or thing that consciously or subconsciously encourages determination to stay moral and upright.

    If we didn’t have the threat of a law enforcer on the streets to catch law breakers, there would surely be more people willing to test the boundaries; but because there is a chance of being caught, people attempt to break those rules less often.

    • baal

      Bullshit. (sorry for the rude, it’s a technical term)

      We don’t need ghosts or angels sitting on our shoulders to provide accountability. We have brain scans and people with specific mental difficiences that map to certain brain regions that control behavior. this means biology (psychology) has an actual explanation for ‘accountability’.

      Criminal psychology studies also show limited impact from increased sentences on criminal behavior. If someone knows they are breaking the law, the sentence turns out to not matter as much as other factors like social influences or need. In a similar vein, certainty of getting caught is a huge deterrent but the average offender offends many times before being caught. For these and similar reasons, your “would surely” and “because” are non-starters.

      • Michaela Samuels

        Oh, I certainly did NOT say that we *NEED* “ghosts and angels” sitting on our shoulder to provide accountability, nor do I even remotely believe people have to have this to attain morality.

        Perhaps I should have clarified that my stance was not generalizing the entire population of our world, but my own understanding of the very design of a god in the first place (an unnecessary creation, at that).

        I also don’t think we can use perfection as a starting point, as it is entirely unrealistic. So yeah, you kind of proved my own point by acknowledging the deterrent of cops in speed traps.

        Thanks for generalizing my statements and offering such advanced technical terms, though!

        • baal

          I’m still not following. Are you saying that for yourself, you are both moral and believe in god since you feel that god would catch you being bad (sinful?) so you don’t do that bad act (sin)?

          • Michaela Samuels

            I am attempting to explain *why* people cling to god across the expanse of time and change. I don’t think believing in a god automatically disconnects them from morality. I also don’t think belief in a god is at all necessary to be moral.

            Are you saying that a person who is generally viewed as behaving morally is, in actuality, NOT moral if they do so because of negative or positive motivation? I think this underestimates the intent of the person who does find personal strength in a god figure.

            • baal

              I agree with all parts in paragraph 1. In paragraph 2, I’m somewhat less concerned about the why of someones behavior than what it is that they do. That said, as others have pointed out, if god belief is the only reason someone behaves, that’s a problem.

              I don’t think it’s helpful for folks to cling to a god notion as the model for their morality and hope that the internets increased exposure for this blog and others successfully provides a replacement model for morality.

              @madison, I agree with your 2nd paragraph and said as much above.

          • Madison

            I think she’s saying that, although she doesn’t believe in god, people throughout history utilize these ‘gods’ or supernatural concepts to maintain reason for themselves. I would call that my own moral compass, not anything other than that.

            Also, longer sentences is different than a sentence at all. The level of severity may not change the amount of crime, but it being enforced/decriminalized/legal certainly changes the numbers.

  • WingedBeast

    1. A lot of Christians do, in fact, “say that”. They “say that” openly and as though that provides weight to their position that an atheist that isn’t, say, going around murdering kittens and molesting livestock must be “borrowing from theism”.

    2. There’s a corollary issue, though. If you honestly believe that God A. exists, B. is omnipotent and omniscient, and C. issues commands with eternal consequences for disobedience, does your worldview allow you to grow and mature your own moral conscience?

    Think about Christians who support and defend the morality of Hell Theology, the story of God commanding Abraham to kill Isaac, the genocides against the Canaanites, the 2 bears incident.

    Listen to William Lane Craig’s defense of the genocide of the old testament. He starts out with good old fashioned blood libel but, when it gets to the command to kill children and infants, he’s reduced to saying that God has the authority to take life. He, then, sweetens that a bit with the idea that children are granted salvation, but that’s presented as a bit after the bit. The only real defense is “God has the authority”.

    When you have that kind of belief, is it possible to be good as opposed to simply obedient? Is it possible to grow and stretch your mind to imagine the moral quandaries as true quandaries and not as a set of rules to be obeyed to the best of one’s ability or else?

    Does that kind of world view, in fact, allow one to be good?

  • maddogdelta

    Short answer: No
    Long answer NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

  • Ryan Hite

    People are inherently good. The way we raise our children will make them into who they are.

  • Joe_JP

    I guess basically I’m not sure how much it matters — now, who am I to know, but from my vantage point, if there was a God, the path of determining good would be by rational contemplation of what that would entail, and in whatever way, including by giving me the power to so contemplate, God in some (it seems to me, flawed) way helps me out. Maybe, w/o “God,” it might have been harder. I don’t think in life being good just because “god says so” helps much. Even believers of God tend to try to show that what “God said” works. They use reason.

    I realize “God” usually supposes certain attributes, but that supposition tends to be wrong anyhow and the question would be of limited value w/o spelling them out.

  • Betty

    Hi Hemant, I LOVE the series….thanks so much for making it available. I have a question. As an atheist, I struggle with whether its appropriate to use the general term “I’m thankful that…..” Or “I’m grateful that….” when there’s no particular being to which I’m grateful/thankful. Can we express general gratitude, and if so, to whom/what are we grateful?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Great question — we’ll add it to our list!


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