Saturday, June 18, 2011

Godless Morality

I am somewhat bored of the question of whether there is a God or not. It's something that concerned me when I was younger and growing up Catholic, but nowadays I find it to be an irrelevant question. Whether there is a God or not does not mean anything to me.

I once had someone put the argument to me that without God, there is no source of morality, which leads to chaos and lawlessness. To me this is entirely backwards. For one, the laws of man and the punishments for breaking them are enough to keep most of us in line without some sort of otherworldly intervention. For another, the choice of whether to commit any act has nothing to do with God and everything to do with individual choice and perception.

Let's say a particular man is a deeply devout Christian. One day an angel appears to this man and tells him to kill his family (this is similar to what God supposedly did with Abraham, so, while unusual, this is not something entirely out of character for the Christian God). The man must now weigh his choices and decide which is more moral - following God's will or keeping his family safe. His action at that point dictates morality, not God. The fact that he can come to the conclusion that only an evil god would make such a request shows that morality cannot lie with God. It is, rather, something that exists within the individual.

I generally try to be as good as I can to people, and I think most people who know me think I'm a nice guy. Why am I nice, when sometimes it's not necessarily to my advantage, if there is no threat of punishment or promise of reward? Because there are punishments and rewards; they just aren't handed down by any God. If I'm cruel to someone, that makes me feel terrible. I can't help it. This is part of how I am. When I am nice to someone, it makes me feel good. Sometimes being nice is inconvenient, but I will do it anyway because I want to feel like I am a nice person. And why do I want that? Because it feels good (ascribe this to the various chemical reactions in the body if you wish). This is the same line of thinking people use to argue that true altruism does not exist, since everything we do is to reap some reward or avoid some punishment (my views on that are not quite so straightforward, but that's for another post).

A religious person makes a personal choice to follow a particular religion. In most cases, this is simply following in the footsteps of his or her parents or social circle. But it is a choice, and it is a moral choice. Any religion can be followed or not followed. Any rule can be obeyed or broken. We ultimately judge the moral systems presented to us against our own inner morality and find them worthy or unworthy. That in itself is a moral judgment that trumps any god's moral code.

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