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Thread: Morality Without Religion-- is it Possible?

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    Duty, Honor, Country Mpride's Avatar
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    Morality Without Religion-- is it Possible?

    I have two questions that I will post as two separate threads-- the first--

    The rise of secular progression within American society has crossed in recent years a delicate line between passive tolerance and active resistance. Led principally by Christopher Hitchens, modern-day members of the New Atheists movement have called for active resistence against religion and an outright rejection in a belief in God, crediting varies institutions of religion as the sole source of human suffering for thousands of years. In a 2006 CNN profile of the movement, correspondent Simon Hooper stated, "what the new Atheists share is a belief that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises."

    One of the most principled tenets of New Atheism is the absolute severance of church and state and the eradication of institutional religions. They hold as sacred Article VI and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States because it provides in America a separation of CHURCH and STATE. However, though church and state remain separated (and rightfully so), I believe faith in God is in-severable from the moral foundation of America's conception, a foundation grounded foremost in Christian values.

    There exists no secular substitution for historically (and traditionally) religious principles that will preserve in its original intent the meaning and purpose of the founding documents that constitute America. Furthermore, President George Washington, in his farewell address Sept 17, 1796, said:
    "Of all dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indespensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who would labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens... [L]et us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of the refined education on the minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."



    My question: Can there be MORALITY without RELIGION? Think about the US court system; think rule of law; think the very basic foundations and tenets of a civil society and it's framework-- all of it obviously grounded in religious principle.

    Your thoughts?

  2. #2
    Got the hang of it, here Maxx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mpride View Post
    Your thoughts?
    If you were good Assyrian living in the Assyrian Empire, would you say that moral assessments were ultimately based on the will of the god Ashur?

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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Yes there can. I refute the contrary position thus: I am a moral atheist. In fact I am an atheist largely because many aspects of Christianity seem immoral to me.

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    I've seen worse. SuperModerator ColoradoGuy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mpride View Post
    [FONT=Times New Roman][SIZE=4]I
    My question: Can there be MORALITY without RELIGION? Think about the US court system; think rule of law; think the very basic foundations and tenets of a civil society and it's framework-- all of it obviously grounded in religious principle.

    Your thoughts?
    It's pretty clear to me that we can have morality without religion, and civil society is not at all necessarily "grounded in religious principle."
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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ColoradoGuy View Post
    It's pretty clear to me that we can have morality without religion, and civil society is not at all necessarily "grounded in religious principle."
    "Grounded" is kind of a weasel word I think; principles of civil society may be historically grounded in religious principle, but aren't necessarily conceptually dependent on religion.

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    nurturing tomorrows criminals today PorterStarrByrd's Avatar
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    Even George acknowledged that in the statement you quoted.

    he said religion AND morality

    Not sure if there can be religion without morality but there all regulated behavior fits within the definition of morality. All regulated behavior is not mandated by religion.

    Religion certainly provides a set of morals and our nation was founded largely within the guidelines of Christian behavior. The founding fathers admitted that, and that it was probably not within the strict limits of the constitution. They, at least privately, admitted that slavery was not permittable within the constitution's intent, but agreed to bypass that argument.

    A moral code is not all inclusive, or even neccesarily good, but is what is applied to the behavior within a group so that acceptable actions can be defined. It may be abhored by any religion but is still a moral code.
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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Without a God (in most religions, Someone who serves as a "North Star of Right and Wrong") to tell us what is Right and what is Wrong, then anything labeled Right or Wrong is ultimately an invention of Man.

    In such a non-theistic world, even pedophilia would technically be something somebody somewhere decided was 'bad' and society, for one reason or another, decided "Yes, we agree with so-and-so's judgement...it seems to make sense" (just like burning witches seemed to make sense in the 18th Century). So, society passes laws against it, saying it's "bad", but to the pedofile, his acts may be "good", as he derives pleasure from it.

    In the example above, I think a fair question for an atheist would be "What is your basis for labeling pedophilia as bad?"

    Disclaimer: I'm not saying atheists are incapable of adhering to morals - two of my best friends are atheists and are some of the best, kindest, sharing and selfless people I know...I'm just saying any concept of morality HAS to be based upon a Religious North Star of Morality....otherwise, any moral is really just an invention of man.

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
    Yes there can. I refute the contrary position thus: I am a moral atheist. In fact I am an atheist largely because many aspects of Christianity seem immoral to me.
    I've heard this mentioned before. Are you saying you don't believe in God because you see the folks who believe in God not acting like people who believe in God should act?

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    The Surreal Thing AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    As a long-time atheist, I'm mildly insulted that you believe I cannot behave as a moral person without a religious belief as the basis for my morality.

    It doesn't take a belief system for me to see that taking what is not mine is wrong, that deliberately hurting killing other people is wrong, that ensuring the well-being of those who cannot care for themselves is the right thing to do, and so on. Morality thrives in every thinking person who's socially normalized.

    Maryn, highly moral
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    Got the hang of it, here Maxx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    I'm just saying any concept of morality HAS to be based upon a Religious North Star of Morality....otherwise, any moral is really just an invention of man.
    I'm just saying the Religious North Star is the invention of man as well.

    There's nothing particularly moral about religious morality.

    For example, if you were a religious Aztec, you'd think human sacrifice was the best thing ever for purely religious reasons.

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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    In the example above, I think a fair question for an atheist would be "What is your basis for labeling pedophilia as bad?"
    All kinds of reasons. Empathy and reciprocity, mainly.

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    As a long-time atheist, I'm mildly insulted that you believe I cannot behave as a moral person without a religious belief as the basis for my morality.

    It doesn't take a belief system for me to see that taking what is not mine is wrong, that deliberately hurting killing other people is wrong, that ensuring the well-being of those who cannot care for themselves is the right thing to do, and so on. Morality thrives in every thinking person who's socially normalized.

    Maryn, highly moral
    Hi Maryn,
    I couldn't tell if your response was to me or Mpride. If it was me, I have no doubt you are a highly moral person. My statement was directed at the 'basis' of morality for a nontheistic person. Without a God or Religion to define morality, I maintain that any concept of morality is an invention of man. This said, well knowing that to atheists, God and Religion are also inventions of man.

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxx View Post
    I'm just saying the Religious North Star is the invention of man as well.

    There's nothing particularly moral about religious morality.

    For example, if you were a religious Aztec, you'd think human sacrifice was the best thing ever for purely religious reasons.
    EXACTLY, MAX!

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
    All kinds of reasons. Empathy and reciprocity, mainly.
    True...but those things vary from person to person and society to society.

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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    I've heard this mentioned before. Are you saying you don't believe in God because you see the folks who believe in God not acting like people who believe in God should act?
    Nope; I understand that people are hypocrites/fallible. It's because according to the holy texts of various religions, God does not act morally. Any religion that includes a concept of Hell, for example, posits a God who is insufferably wicked and tyrannical.

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    Duty, Honor, Country Mpride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    As a long-time atheist, I'm mildly insulted that you believe I cannot behave as a moral person without a religious belief as the basis for my morality.

    It doesn't take a belief system for me to see that taking what is not mine is wrong, that deliberately hurting killing other people is wrong, that ensuring the well-being of those who cannot care for themselves is the right thing to do, and so on. Morality thrives in every thinking person who's socially normalized.

    Maryn, highly moral
    Maryn-- certainly it is not my intent to insult or insinuate you are not a moral person. I only meant to suggest that perhaps you benefit from a civil society that is premised on the moral code derived out of religious institutions over the course of human history. The fact that you adhere secularly to principles traditionally religious is not to suggest that you are truly immoral at heart-- that certainly would be an insult and is not at all my argument.

    I know this is all philosophical and therefore all basically unprovable, but I hope one would find the debate at least mildly interesting.

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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    True...but those things vary from person to person and society to society.
    To an extent they do; go back a few hundred years and it's fine to marry 13-year-old girls (and fine for priests to perform the ceremony.) The interpretation of religion varies in line with the cultural norms; I think it's a fallacy to think that religious morality has remained unchanging.

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
    Nope; I understand that people are hypocrites/fallible. It's because according to the holy texts of various religions, God does not act morally. Any religion that includes a concept of Hell, for example, posits a God who is insufferably wicked and tyrannical.
    I cannot, for one, comment on God's morality, but you hit upon the other critical factor, Torgo: Interpretation. Even if there is a God (and I think there is, tho I can't prove it) and even if he gave us a moral code to which to adhere (and I think He did), every single person on this earth who ever lives (and thinks for him/herself) looks through a fallible lens of discernment and interprets that moral code differently.

    In short, if there's a religious moral code, we're basically screwed if we want to hit a bullseye, and if there's not, then any concept of what's moral and what isn't is just as valid as the next...until you introduce peer pressure, that is.

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torgo View Post
    To an extent they do; go back a few hundred years and it's fine to marry 13-year-old girls (and fine for priests to perform the ceremony.) The interpretation of religion varies in line with the cultural norms; I think it's a fallacy to think that religious morality has remained unchanging.
    You just hit another nail on the head. Even in non-religious societies, why is it okay to marry a pre-teen in one society and it's not okay in the other?

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mpride View Post
    Maryn-- certainly it is not my intent to insult or insinuate you are not a moral person. I only meant to suggest that perhaps you benefit from a civil society that is premised on the moral code derived out of religious institutions over the course of human history. The fact that you adhere secularly to principles traditionally religious is not to suggest that you are truly immoral at heart-- that certainly would be an insult and is not at all my argument.

    I know this is all philosophical and therefore all basically unprovable, but I hope one would find the debate at least mildly interesting.
    And to further Mpride's comment....I think it's far more honorable for an Atheist to do the "right" thing on his/her own volition and honor than for a religious person to do the "right" thing merely because he/she has been told it's the right thing. Hopefully that came out right.

    Sorry if I've come out of nowhere to splash posts all over this thread but I'm a lover of critical thinking when it comes to matters of faith and this topic just gets me all giddy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mpride
    Maryn-- certainly it is not my intent to insult or insinuate you are not a moral person. I only meant to suggest that perhaps you benefit from a civil society that is premised on the moral code derived out of religious institutions over the course of human history
    And no religion comes out of nowhere. Religions are influenced by the societies that they come into contact with.

    For example: Early christianity was sort of communistic, as described in the book of acts. When it became the official religion of the roman empire, this sort of thing was relegated to monastic communities, while the clergy transformed to resemble the roman clergy, even to the point of adopting the same dress and titles.

    As more and more christians came from non-jewish roots, certain jewish customs were dropped. Such as circumcision and dietary regulations, which came to resemble the norm of Roman society.

    It is futile to say that religion remains unchanging, and that there is only a one-way route of influence between religion and society.

    No matter what religion you are from, people knew the difference between right and wrong long before it was invented.

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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    I cannot, for one, comment on God's morality, but you hit upon the other critical factor, Torgo: Interpretation. Even if there is a God (and I think there is, tho I can't prove it) and even if he gave us a moral code to which to adhere (and I think He did), every single person on this earth who ever lives (and thinks for him/herself) looks through a fallible lens of discernment and interprets that moral code differently.

    In short, if there's a religious moral code, we're basically screwed if we want to hit a bullseye, and if there's not, then any concept of what's moral and what isn't is just as valid as the next...until you introduce peer pressure, that is.
    It seems pretty capricious of God, then, to make so much ride on morality. Given that He won't come right out and tell us what the rules are, all that anyone seems to be able to agree on is that the stakes are infinite. That in itself doesn't seem to be morally comprehensible behaviour.

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    Got the hang of it, here Maxx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    Hi Maryn,
    Without a God or Religion to define morality, I maintain that any concept of morality is an invention of man. This said, well knowing that to atheists, God and Religion are also inventions of man.
    Then morality is what people want it to be and religion is no more moral than any other conventional activity.

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    practical experience, FTW rwam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sarpedon View Post
    And no religion comes out of nowhere. Religions are influenced by the societies that they come into contact with.

    For example: Early christianity was sort of communistic, as described in the book of acts. When it became the official religion of the roman empire, this sort of thing was relegated to monastic communities, while the clergy transformed to resemble the roman clergy, even to the point of adopting the same dress and titles.

    As more and more christians came from non-jewish roots, certain jewish customs were dropped. Such as circumcision and dietary regulations, which came to resemble the norm of Roman society.

    It is futile to say that religion remains unchanging, and that there is only a one-way route of influence between religion and society.

    No matter what religion you are from, people knew the difference between right and wrong long before it was invented.
    I agree, Sarpedon....except if I were to say the last sentence, I'd replace "the difference between right and wrong" with "what was socially acceptable".

    Glad I popped in....this has been very thought provoking.

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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwam View Post
    You just hit another nail on the head. Even in non-religious societies, why is it okay to marry a pre-teen in one society and it's not okay in the other?
    I think generally the more democratic and open a society becomes, the more the rights of the individual are protected, and the less culturally acceptable it becomes for men to impose themselves on young girls. Exactly where you draw the consent-line is, of course, still an inexact science; here in the UK it's 16, whereas over in Sweden where some of my family live (a similar society in many ways) it's 15.

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