Morality Without Religion-- is it Possible?

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PeterD

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The net effect, in a utilitarian sense, might be the same, but intentions are as important as actions. A humanist doesn't kill someone because she knows killing is immoral. A religious man doesn't kill someone because he's afraid of a god's punishment. That difference is everything.

(I'm not saying religious folk are all murderers held back by fear of punishment; the point is to illustrate the difference between a rationalist/humanist morality, and a morality based on fear of supernatural retribution)

And that is a slippery slope.

If you block yourself from nefarious activity because of fear of God, and then determine that God does not exist, then what?
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Haven't read the whole thread, but... Of course, you can have morality without religion. And not all religions believe in a wrathful God, which means our morality is based on: do it right because it's right. Same as for numerous moral atheists.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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Mpride said:
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.

Christopher Hitchens is dead, and so he isn't leading much of anything. Even when he was alive, while many atheists enjoyed reading his books, he wasn't the Leader in the sense that the Pope is the leader of the Catholics. Atheists aren't very centralized.

The 'New Atheists' aren't really saying anything different from the atheists of a hundred years ago. They're just getting better book deals, and more people are reading their works.

'Active resistance against religion?' I don't really see it from many atheists, unless you mean resistance to the idea that laws that govern atheists should mandate a certain set of religious beliefs (for example, that gay people can't marry because God is against it, or that women can't get abortions because God doesn't want them to).

'Outright rejection of a belief in God' is sort of what atheism is. It's a little confusing as an accusation.

Hitchens's book, 'God Is Not Great,' is, I assume, where you get the accusation that "institutions of religion are the sole source of human suffering for thousands of years." But he doesn't say that. He simply says that institutions of religion do more harm than good. Have you read his book? You don't have to agree with him to read and understand it.

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."

Yes. What is special about a religious belief statement that makes it no longer subject to the question, 'Is that accurate? Is it true? Is it supported by evidence? Is it a good idea?' People should not assume that when they say "I believe that God wants liquor stores to be closed on Sundays," the phrase 'I believe' means that they automatically get their way or cannot be questioned.

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.
The United States was founded by people who were trying to create a nation different from the nations governed by religions. They were very aware of what a nation grounded in Christian values looks like, and they carefully avoided creating one. There were people among the founders who wanted to make Christianity the state religion, but they didn't win that argument. Instead, the constitution was written to create something unusual- an explicitly secular nation, governed by laws, not religious tenets. So many people who want America to have a state religion have misrepresented what really happened that many people have inaccurate ideas about history, but it is not difficult to find the real history, and even the original documents. The founders kept pretty much all their letters and papers.

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.

How about the Constitution? A not at all religious document, which makes me wonder what you think the 'founding documents' are.

So, your first part has a large number of factual errors. It makes me wonder where you are getting your information about history. It sounds like you are very sincere in your opinions, but how can you form sound opinions if you are basing them on inaccurate facts? An opinion based on bad information is, inherently, a bad opinion. Why not read what Hitchens said for yourself? Why not read the founders' words for yourself? They're all interesting reading.
 

veinglory

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Secular morality has been around longer than religious morality, it governed our species before our brains were even capable of understanding the idea of God. That is, look after the herd and risk your life for it if necessary.
 

ColoradoGuy

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Christopher Hitchens is dead, and so he isn't leading much of anything. Even when he was alive, while many atheists enjoyed reading his books, he wasn't the Leader in the sense that the Pope is the leader of the Catholics. Atheists aren't very centralized.

The 'New Atheists' aren't really saying anything different from the atheists of a hundred years ago. They're just getting better book deals, and more people are reading their works.

'Active resistance against religion?' I don't really see it from many atheists, unless you mean resistance to the idea that laws that govern atheists should mandate a certain set of religious beliefs (for example, that gay people can't marry because God is against it, or that women can't get abortions because God doesn't want them to).

'Outright rejection of a belief in God' is sort of what atheism is. It's a little confusing as an accusation.

Hitchens's book, 'God Is Not Great,' is, I assume, where you get the accusation that "institutions of religion are the sole source of human suffering for thousands of years." But he doesn't say that. He simply says that institutions of religion do more harm than good. Have you read his book? You don't have to agree with him to read and understand it.



Yes. What is special about a religious belief statement that makes it no longer subject to the question, 'Is that accurate? Is it true? Is it supported by evidence? Is it a good idea?' People should not assume that when they say "I believe that God wants liquor stores to be closed on Sundays," the phrase 'I believe' means that they automatically get their way or cannot be questioned.


The United States was founded by people who were trying to create a nation different from the nations governed by religions. They were very aware of what a nation grounded in Christian values looks like, and they carefully avoided creating one. There were people among the founders who wanted to make Christianity the state religion, but they didn't win that argument. Instead, the constitution was written to create something unusual- an explicitly secular nation, governed by laws, not religious tenets. So many people who want America to have a state religion have misrepresented what really happened that many people have inaccurate ideas about history, but it is not difficult to find the real history, and even the original documents. The founders kept pretty much all their letters and papers.



How about the Constitution? A not at all religious document, which makes me wonder what you think the 'founding documents' are.

So, your first part has a large number of factual errors. It makes me wonder where you are getting your information about history. It sounds like you are very sincere in your opinions, but how can you form sound opinions if you are basing them on inaccurate facts? An opinion based on bad information is, inherently, a bad opinion. Why not read what Hitchens said for yourself? Why not read the founders' words for yourself? They're all interesting reading.

Welcome, and thanks for the thoughtful post.
 

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Just now found this thread and haven't had time to read through it all yet, but has anyone read The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris? It came out last year and is his argument for non-religious morality.

I've read his book, The End of Faith as well as Hitchen's God Is Not Great, but haven't yet had time to check out Moral Landscape. Dawkins' The God Delusion is next on my list after I finish a few other books I'm reading first.

If anyone's read Moral Landscape, I'd be interested in reading about your impressions of it.
 

lorna_w

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When non-theists sit around and discuss 9/11, the violence of and over Israel, The Taliban, Roman Catholic priests systematically raping children, that same church systematically oppressing women and supporting planetary overpopulation, the religious underpinnings of the KKK, the way atheists formulate the question is "is morality possible with religion?"
 

LAgrunion

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I saw this cute, heartwarming (and short - 30 seconds) video last night on Yahoo. Someone saw it on NBC News too. It's a piglet saving a goat from drowning.

hero-pig-saves-baby-goat-drowning-video

I think the pig's action suggests that morality is possible without religion.

First, I assume the pig is not religious.

It's always difficult to avoid anthropomorphism when we look at animal behavior. But it seems likely that the pig was acting on empathy. The pig saw the goat in trouble. The pig did not want the goat to be in trouble, possibly because the pig knew it felt bad to be in trouble. So the pig tried to get the goat out of trouble.

If the pig has empathy, that suggests basic moral behavior. Not morality in the sense that the pig thinks about complex ethics. But morality in the sense that you feel there are some things that are right and wrong. That it's wrong to see suffering in another. That it's right to stop that suffering.

Of course, it could also be instinctual, unthinking behavior on the part of the pig. Although I'm not aware that animals exhibit an instinct to help a different animal that is not an offspring.

My point is not that the pig's action is conclusive proof of morality without religion. I can't read the pig's mind, and I don't want to attribute too much to it (However, pigs are known to be smart). But it might suggest that some animals have an innate empathy that lays the groundwork for moral behavior.
 

ColoradoGuy

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Cute video. But I think I'd call that more altruism than morality as such. Altruism as a positive species survival trait among animals has interested quite a few people (nice review here). Of course your video crosses species, which makes it interesting an other ways.
 

GiantRampagingPencil

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Seems like a pretty easy question to answer.

Empirically, there is no necessary connection between morality and religion. Both religious people and non-religious people act morally and immorally.

Conceptually, there is no necessary connection between morality and religion. Both religious people and non-religious people have moral justifications and theories about proper action and thought.

Bringing God into the picture doesn't help with much. First, we don't know which god or gods are real and; therefore, we don't which divine morality to follow. Second, it doesn't make morality any more transparent to reason. Saying "God said so" explains why something is right, isn't any more a satisfactory than saying "God did it" explains how the universe came into being. Third, one could be a relativist and religious (many gods) or an absolutist and secular. It isn't necessarily connected to the concept of a universally true morality.

I think the only thing gods bring to the morality party is the surety that good is always is rewarded, and evil is always punished. So the real question is whether morality is possible if life is unfair.

The hope for ultimate fairness, like the desire for immortality, seems intrinsic to human nature. I think this is another case where god has humanity's finger-prints all over him or her.
 

RichardGarfinkle

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The question itself is an odd one. Since the aspect of religion being invoked is that of whether one can have morality without recourse to an ultimate moral authority (which not all religions have).

This implies that a morality based on trying to live a good life and figuring out how to do so, is somehow not a real morality. In effect it dismisses trying to do good (and figure out what doing good is) in a morally complex world as implicitly immoral.

Yet many sincerely religious people say that that is what they are trying to do just that. Some phrase it as trying to understand what God wants of them, but it is still the same trial and error, muddling through, trying to find right action amidst the ambiguities of reality that those without an ultimate moral authority have to do.

The thing that gets lost in this is just how much living a moral life is a practical question.
 

ColoradoGuy

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Yet many sincerely religious people say that that is what they are trying to do just that. Some phrase it as trying to understand what God wants of them,
That is largely view we Quakers hold
but it is still the same trial and error, muddling through, trying to find right action amidst the ambiguities of reality that those without an ultimate moral authority have to do.
I wouldn't quite characterize us Quakers as muddling through, but then I'm biased I suppose.
The thing that gets lost in this is just how much living a moral life is a practical question.
This is definitely the Quaker view.
 

Ayliea

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This thread is about a really interesting topic and is pertinent to what I am writing about.

Quote:
Originally Posted by froley
The net effect, in a utilitarian sense, might be the same, but intentions are as important as actions. A humanist doesn't kill someone because she knows killing is immoral. A religious man doesn't kill someone because he's afraid of a god's punishment. That difference is everything.

(I'm not saying religious folk are all murderers held back by fear of punishment; the point is to illustrate the difference between a rationalist/humanist morality, and a morality based on fear of supernatural retribution)
And that is a slippery slope.

If you block yourself from nefarious activity because of fear of God, and then determine that God does not exist, then what?
Coming from a religious background (I was raised in a Baptist family) and having "lost" my religious beliefs for many reasons - I still consider myself a very moral person. I don't believe that a person should do good out of fear - whether for religious beliefs or not, they should do "good" because it is the right thing to do.

Morality can be interpreted differently by different persons - but if you mix religion into it, judgment based on a particular religion's beliefs is more likely to take place, than if there is no religious belief about a certain subject.

For example, the choice of human "euthanasia" - most religions strictly believe that to commit suicide, for any reason, is a sin. Yet personally, having watched my very loved mother-in-law wither and die from ALS, I would have given anything to prevent her from suffering at the end. So would her family. She chose not to be intubated and therefore when she could no longer swallow or breathe on her own, she died - but it took two days of suffering before she finally passed. She made her peace and chose to let herself die. We - as her family - could have eased her passing, but could not legally do so - whether our religious belief allowed for it or not.

Yet almost any one of us would NOT allow our own pets to die horribly in this fashion. We do the "humane" thing and we euthanize our pets, yet when a human is in that kind of a position, if we intervene, it's considered murder. It's a fine line, and yes, a very slippery slope.
 

Nekko

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My husband and I raised our boys on the moral basis of 'this is what nice caring people do.' We never told them they had to do 'such and such', or not do 'this and that' because God said so, or God would be angry, or they would be sinners, go to hell, whatever.

We just kept repeating "nice caring people..."
...don't use their words as weapons, don't hit puppies even when the puppy accidentally scratches them, turn found toys into the lost and found because that is what you would hope others would do if they found your toys, care about others who are less fortunate than you, treat everyone with respect and dignity no matter how different they are from you ('cause the world's an amazing place)

Morals are built on how to make the world we live in a place we want to be through our actions.

Our sons don't rob old ladies, kick homeless people, slap around girlfriends, molest young children or have sex with goats (even though they both strongly support gay marriage - imagine that)

They don't see themselves as somehow better, more favored, or more 'chosen' than anyone else (smarter maybe, they're young - they have egos, but not better.)

So yes, you can have morality without religion
 

Gareth JJ

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It all depends...

My question: Can there be MORALITY without RELIGION?


I think it all depends upon what one means by “Religion” and “Morality”.

Every religion in history has had its own set of moral codes. That's what makes it a religion. Without a moral code, a religion can have no rules - and every religion needs rules and taboos in order to define itself. The same goes for most modern-day non-religious movements, too, which in many cases I believe are quasi-religious. Throughout history, the different religions, through the moral codes contained in them, have been automatically opposed to each other. In many cases it's the same today.

So with that in mind, do we mean MY OWN religion, or ANY religion? Do we mean MY OWN moral code, or ANY moral code?

What’s moral for one person may be automatically immoral for another - but does that mean it’s inherently wrong? I suppose, in practical terms, it all depends upon the viewpoint of the majority where the moral or immoral act has taken place. If no one there complains, if they believe it’s for the greater good, then it’s moral for them. But if we are talking about a set of UNIVERSAL morals, then I’d first like to see evidence that there is any kind of universal mind, separate from the culture in which it has developed.

I think the only people without ANY moral code are sociopaths. Those are the dangerous ones who screw it up for the rest. And they are everywhere. But when a sociopath belongs to a certain religion or movement, one cannot automatically blame that religion or movement for his/her actions. The worst moments in history have been caused by sociopaths who’ve risen to positions of power - either within an established organization, or by starting up religious or quasi-religious movements of their own. When that happens, then ALL moral codes are thrown out the door.


 
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