October 07, 2014

Atheist Morality: I do think morality comes from a higher power...but that doesn't have to be a god

There are some topics that just make me go "yawn" when I see them anymore. I've only been blogging for about five months, but there are a handful that pop up over and over...and the new iterations aren't even unique. They don't make new arguments.

One is the idea that all morality comes from God. We've talked about this before.

Today I have for you a letter to the editor that reads:

Is it not interesting to hear atheists/agnostics speak of morality? 
They speak about that which they do not subscribe, as if they even know about that which they speak. The arrogance of it is a marvel. 
We are told, “[t]he very thought that there are no moral absolutes, in spite of what many religious leaders and others claim, is anathema to them.” I wonder if this is an absolute? 
As has been said many times previous, morality comes from man, or not man. 
These are the only two options available for intelligible conversation. If morality originated within man, then subjectivity is the rule. 
Consequently, Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, and others did nothing morally wrong, since their own moral code originated from within their subjective minds. If one asserts that they did wrong, or evil, by what standard will the judgment be made? 
If morality comes from “not man,” what is the source? Since atheists and agnostics have no source outside their personal “I think,” they are then unable to ascertain a source that can have any objectivity, and thereby benefit man. 
Would they offer rocks and dirt as the source, or the beasts of the field? Perhaps they would offer us the moon and the stars as a source! 
Atheism, as an ideology, is devoid of a moral code that can, or will, benefit man. 
All the atheist can do is adopt the Christian moral code, and then ridicule the source of that code (and others for their adoption of it). But, then, should we be surprised by such an empty ideology?

There is plenty here to talk about, but we're going to focus on just a few points.

Let's start with the concept of God as objective morality. We've covered this topic before...a time or two.

Our letter writer says that there are only two options. LW says that a morality that originates with man must be subjective, which means we have to conclude that morality that originates with God is objective, in this LW's opinion. An objective morality would imply that it does not change. What was wrong in the very early history of the Judeo-Christian tradition should be wrong today, and what was right (or sanctioned) then should be right today. I think this is fairly sound logic, considering the connotations and definitions of objective and subjective.

And yet consider the Ten Commandments:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

It's not a bad list. But how about don't rape? Rape is something we can all agree is wrong, yes?

Here is Judges 5:30, which describes the song of Deborah:

‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
    a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
    colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
    all this as plunder?’

We can all agree--at least, I hope we can--that women should not be treated as "plunder" and "spoils". And yet, the Bible has several passages that actively describe the Israelites taking women as war spoils.

I know, I know--this doesn't follow the New-Covenant Model, which says that the Old Testament is fulfilled. We are no longer under the law. But why would an objective morality change? It seems that morality should be the same throughout.

 So objective source of morality God is not.

What then can be an objective source of morality?

To me, the answer is simple. We are a social species. We are cooperative. While we have our spurts of aggression when we consider ourselves pitted against "others", we are capable of reasoning and accepting a wide variety of people into our "group". To make this possible, we have incredible reasoning and deductive qualities. We also have a capacity for compassion and empathy.

These make a great source for morality. A respect for humanity isn't a god, but it is, in my opinion, a higher power than ourselves.

Will you have people that can't do so? Of course you will--just as you have people that can't or won't follow the moral code laid down by Christianity (all that loving your neighbor and helping the poor and such nonsense is, after all, thoroughly rejected by several varieties of politicians who will gladly flash their Christian badge to get votes).

It certainly doesn't give a pass to Stalin or Khan or Hitler...or to the inquisitors or crusaders of the Middle Ages, for that record.

Rather, it requires us to acknowledge our own kindredness with a wider world. Instead of looking for the Christian badge that identifies someone as a member of our group or as a target for evangelism, we look at them as a person.

It's a radical notion, a mind-blowing idea...but I think it just might work.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with "borrowing" from the moral code of an ancient religion.


I suppose I don't really have to include this as an update, since I found it after the prior post was typed but before it was published, but I can't think of a better way to work it in.

An epic response to the letter above was published today, and I really want to give the author a standing ovation. She took a different track than I did, but it is beautifully composed. Check it out here.

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