Forgot your password?

Atheism and a rational morality

By Edited Apr 14, 2014 1 3

Atheists are often accused of having no solid foundation on which to base their moral or ethical codes and are therefore assumed to be, by necessity, moral relativists. I disagree. I'm not going to argue that most atheists are actually moral absolutists because I honestly have no idea and I doubt a poll has ever been done on the subject. My argument is rather that morality does appear to be relative (that is, culturally and time specific) to an extent but that that doesn't mean moral relativism ought to be espoused. In fact, we have the ability to rationally motivate the choice of a given ethical paradigm over a variety of others. Furthermore I hold that religious tradition is a terribly unstable foundation for an ethical code and that our knowledge of facts of nature can provide a far better one.

Commandments special offer

Religions are no sufficient standard. I have always thought that if you embrace an all-encompassing metaphysical "reality," you can only ever be as good as the god(s) or, more generally, the entities that supposedly inhabit it. And vice versa. Considering how most deities ever conjured into existence - figuratively - by human imagination have all shared the one feature of displaying the basest of human drives and behaviours, it is not surprising how most of our history has not been particularly praiseworthy in moral terms. That has set an interesting phenomenon in motion, by which divine laws would last only as long as the god(s) that issued them (and the particular social customs of the specific population), only to be replaced over time by updated divine whims and new customs altogether. This absurd situation has made the apologists' work a living nightmare, as they attempt to reconcile unreconcilable moral tenets, all the while maintaining that their deity's word is immutable and that moral relativism is a devilry. Take the Mosaic covenant as an example, most of which is dispensed with in the New Testament on the grounds of changed cultural and social circumstances - a textbook definition of divine moral relativism. So, you see, your average modern Christian apologist, meddling and interfering with modern policy-making, is in the uncomfortable position of having to decry a "certain dominant moral relativism" while actually acknowledging that their deity once sanctioned practices that would consensually be considered as immoral and unethical by most modern standards, simply because allegedly required at one time to keep god's chosen people at bay. All this obviously doesn't even begin to address the issue of which particular religious code among the hundreds or thousands in existence should actually be considered the true one, and the primacy of one (or three) of them over the rest appears entirely arbitrary. There you have it. No religious creed can coherently form the basis of a functional social contract capable of supporting the evolution of our civilisation. Religious creeds can only communicate to us - or impose on us - the demands of this or that deity but they will always fail to provide a rational justification for the dos and don'ts necessary for social living. Not to mention that they're too unreliable, just like said deities, and prone to the very social relativism they wish to condemn.

Right and Wrong can be rationally explained.

Right or wrong?

Now, here's the problem. Once god(s) have lost their moral high ground, such a change leaves a noticeable hole in our justification for morality, at least according to some. That is, the social contracts used to manage our society become meaningless to some people - or so they like to claim - unless we can find a definition for the "good" that social contracts aspire to. Apparently something cannot be "good" if not by divine decree. Fortunately for us, that's ridiculous. We have pretty good ways to support a definition of "good" and "right" without resorting to the metaphysical. We could easily define as "good" all those actions and behaviours that can help us maximise well-being for the highest number of people. Some might argue that the very definition of "well-being" needs to be stated and agreed upon, but that is just being captious. Artists and philosophers have been writing about happiness for millennia, and most of us experience happiness to varying degrees frequently enough to create a consensus as to what constitutes "well-being." It then becomes obvious that some of the most important ethical tenets forcibly upheld by religions under pain of eternal torture and because "god says so," become simply self-evident. A society in which murder, theft and lying are routinely practised by the majority of people would simply be a short-lived one. A society in which one's belongings and one's well-being are constantly at risk is a society with no cohesion and social bonding, and it's bound to break down. A society in which the normal exchange of accurate and reliable information is made impossible by consistently lying to each other all the time would meet the same fate. Additionally, a successful society is one in which poverty is minimised as much as possible; loneliness is reduced in favour of social cohesion, a sense of belonging and purpose. When the focus is shifted from whatever personal relationship with the metaphysical to the individual well-being as a function of the collective well-being, we finally have a rationally-motivated notion of "good" to pursue. No metaphysical religious belief can offer that.



Nov 13, 2012 2:23pm
Very interesting and thought provoking.
Nov 14, 2012 9:03am
Thanks, I tried my best :)
Dec 11, 2013 1:24pm
I'll begin with the Mosaic code statement that you made. I must question if you have studied the Bible in depth? I see that you have put a lot of thought into this article, and it is well written. But without a proper knowledge of the Bible and the law, then you musn't argue against it. This is my point: The law was not given to "keep His chosen people at bay", it was given to show that people on their own cannot be righteous. You can see by reading the Old Testament that no one was able to keep the law. You can also see that before Moses, every one still sinned but God wasn't holding it against them because in truth how can one be rightfully punished for breaking rules that aren 19t set in place? So, before God gave the law to Moses people still knew what was right and wrong but they were not being punished. With law comes punishment, and so God gave the strictest law with the harshest punishment to show the people of the time that without God they could simply not be "good" or righteous and to show that they needed one perfect sacrifice to take care of their sins forever. When God sent His son Jesus who lived a perfect and sinless life, He didn't change the laws based "on the grounds of changed cultural and social circumstances" but He simply came to teach that with love the law is fulfilled and because of His sacrifice we are no longer condemned for not being able to be perfect, while at the same time proving that no one is perfect other than God Himself. He didn't get rid of the law, and most simply we don't have to follow those laws because they were given to the Isrealites not to everyone else (the religious Jews still follow them). It talks about this multiple times in the Bible. By completing the final and everlasting sacrifice for all mankind He "wiped away the hand writing of requirements that was against us" which wasn't the law but was the charges against us. He set us free out of love. I guess it requires an all encompassing knowledge of the Bible and seeing the interwoven message throughout in order to capture my point here but hopefully I'm doing an okay job of articulating my thoughts to you. If not then feel free to message me on the topic.
Secondly, you've only "rationally explained" morality by taking it outside of yourself. Right and wrong is an issue of the heart and is an objective thing. That conscience you have telling you what is right and wrong is not the voice of the world telling you what is best for the highest number of people, it is the truth. We all know the difference in right and wrong because God Himself has told us. He has written it on our hearts and that is your conscience. I admit that there are some people who say that they have no conviction over certain things, and that is because they have refused to listen to their conscience for so long that it pretty much quit talking. You've got to realize that while logic is necessary and good, it must be accompanied by God otherwise you will rationalize just about anything. Moral objectivity cannot be explained outside of an objective being, and I certainl don't know any other than God. Anyway, like I said before, feel free to message me on the subject. I hope I've done a decent job of getting my thoughts on screen. If you have the time and are interested I have an article written on the subject that may do a better job of laying it out ontologically. It 19s titled 1CWhat Is This Moral Objectivity That You Speak Of? 1D and can be found on my profile page.
Add a new comment - No HTML
You must be logged in and verified to post a comment. Please log in or sign up to comment.

Explore InfoBarrel

Auto Business & Money Entertainment Environment Health History Home & Garden InfoBarrel University Lifestyle Sports Technology Travel & Places
© Copyright 2008 - 2016 by Hinzie Media Inc. Terms of Service Privacy Policy XML Sitemap

Follow IB Lifestyle