A Question of Morality

Christians often infer that without God people would do all sorts of horrible things. This is meant to be levelled at atheists, suggesting that they are bad people. But I find this suggestion more revealing than accusatory. When I talk to atheists they don’t strike me as overly concerned that they’re all of a sudden going to go out and start raping and killing people. Indeed, the atheists that I know have a grounded sense of morality. When someone suggests that without a Big Brother force watching over us every moment of the day that we would act in an outrageously terrible way, it actually reveals more of a lack of internal control and self-belief on behalf of the claimant. It suggests what they would do. Or at least what they think they would do. In one sense I suppose this misguided idea comes from a lack of faith in our established secular laws and social conventions. But it perhaps reveals that Christians and other religious folk need some kind of external guiding force in order to contain their own subversive natures. However, I would have to say that on leaving Christianity I don’t consider myself to be any less moral than I ever was previously. In fact, I would consider myself to be more moral, because the morality that I have belongs to me. It is my own morality based upon humanistic principles that I adhere to out of social and internal conscience as well as the laws of the land, not because I fear that some supernatural being will punish me if I don’t. Certainly, there are some people who will break the law any chance they get and who revel in misbehaving, but perhaps they are just bad people with heavily flawed DNA. No god concept is going to prevent them from doing wrong.

Religious people often want to treat morality as though it is an absolute truth, however while absolute truths exist, morality is relative. Morality is relative to human beings. We are the only creatures that have our own morality, and our morality was constructed over tens of thousands of years of social development. Everybody knows that killing is wrong. But if morality was absolute then killing would always be wrong. And we know that it is not. If someone tries to kill you and you kill them, then killing is not wrong. If you go to war and kill someone, killing is not wrong. If you were leaning over a cliff holding onto a person with each hand but you knew that you didn’t have the strength to pull both of them up so you had to let one go in order to save the other then you would not be wrong. So we can see that killing is wrong, except when it isn’t. The other important thing to remember is that absolute truths are true for all creatures, but morality is not true for all creatures. When an animal kills another animal it does not have a lack of morality. Animals kill each other all the time for food, for territory and for mating rights. These animals are not bad, they are just acting in accordance to their survival instinct. Animals also steal and rape, but we don’t consider them to be evil for doing so. But these animals are still subject to absolute truths. Gravity still applies 100% of the time for animals as well as humans. This is the distinctive difference between an absolute truth, or a scientific law, and a moral value which is relative to species. But as social creatures we have developed a way of getting on and a set of rules that allow us to organise ourselves into societies. For our purposes these moralities are “true,” but they are not real truths, they are true only in relation to human beings. And only because we have formulated them over time and mutually agree to consent to them. It is not always convenient for us to not murder or steal, but the laws of the land are constructed based upon our ancient humanistic principles in order to hold us to these values.

Christians will often talk about natural moral law, an idea that God has placed an understanding of morality inside human beings so that every person knows right from wrong. No real evidence exists for a natural moral law, but even if it did it would only suggest that human beings carry a genetic predisposition towards the sociological behaviour that has been pounded into us over generations. For this reason I don’t take particular issue with the idea of natural moral law, just with its origins. The idea of natural moral law is just another example of religious people putting the cart before the horse. All religions like to identify their own deity as being the source of human morality. But indeed, if religions were constructed by humans, and I believe they were, then it is fair to say that the religions were simply injected with the morality of humanity. This was then passed off as originating from their favourite deity. Morality originated with humanity as we developed into social groups, it was necessary for our survival. In order for social groups to function properly there must be trust, and morality, a way of acting and treating one another, provides that trust. Over time these practices became more and more ingrained not only in our social groups but in our thinking. We developed laws around these morals, fixing them into our societies. The morals also became more refined and detailed, in order to deal with the massive variety of moral based issues that arose. And morality has not stopped developing either. As we create genetically engineered crops, cloning technology and soon artificial intelligence, we must also develop a morality around their use. Morality is an ever evolving facet of human society. We created it and we will continue to refine it ad infinitum. The development of morality will only stop once all scientific knowledge is attained and all human progress and evolution has been expired.

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