How do you define and determine morality?

7OBThe issue of where we get our morals from is one that comes up often in my conversations with Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. According to them, morality can only come from God by following his laws, therefore non-believers are incapable of morality. I would like to challenge this idea.

Morality is defined as: “Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” It is also defined as “A particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.”
So how do we figure out what’s right and wrong? Here’s a question to start with: Is it wrong to kill another human being?

Christians and non-Christians alike would probably say the same thing: It depends. Is it in self defense? Is it in wartime? Is it the execution of a violent criminal? Both groups generally agree on one thing: Whether or not killing is right or wrong generally depends on the circumstances, and applying the same punishment to everyone without knowing the circumstances would be unjust. Most people would agree that it’s not wrong for me to kill someone who is actively trying to kill me, because that’s self defense. Most people would also agree that a mugger killing his victim is morally unacceptable.
It’s impossible to say that killing another human being is always wrong, because sometimes it’s not. It’s relative to the situation- hence morality is relative.
When we try to apply the same moral answer to every situation, we end up with an unjust system. That’s why we cringe when we hear about starving children being brutally punished for stealing food; sure they did something wrong, but we also take their age and desperation into account. This is also why atheists are horrified at the idea of Hell, because the same brutal punishment is unjustly applied to everyone- good people who simply believed incorrectly are burned right alongside child molesters and genocidal dictators.
So how do we determine whether or not killing another human being is acceptable? Sometimes there is no clear answer, but here are some basic questions to ask.

  1. Are my motives selfish? Am I killing this person for my own personal gain?
  2. Is killing this person necessary? Is there another way to remedy the situation?
  3. What will happen if I don’t kill this person? Will they harm or kill me or someone else?
  4. If everyone killed people for the same reasons I am killing this person, what would our society look like?

Combining these types of questions with general moral principle such as:
Empathy: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” That means I am able to understand the pain and hurt that my actions will have on another human being. Empathy is what causes me to not desire to harm another person.
Social perspective: Humans are social animals, and we’ve learned that some societies are better to live in than others.

We’ve become smart enough to figure out that societies that condone senseless violence are not as pleasant to live in. We also understand the concept of individual rights as it applies to a functioning society. That means that taking someone else’s life intrudes upon their right to live, just as someone taking my life intrudes upon my right to live. I am capable of understanding that since I would not want someone to take my life away from me, I should not take the life of another person. In Christianity this is called the Golden Rule, but it is a concept found in every religion and outside of religion as well.
Of course, we rarely have to sit down and sift through these questions and concepts every time we are faced with a moral dilemma. Most of the time these thought processes happen very quickly and even subconsciously. This is where our conscience comes from- our subconscious understanding of these concepts which we have evolved to understand.
As you can see, we are more than capable of determining what is right or wrong without the Bible’s guidance. But if you’re still not convinced, my other blog goes into more detail. https://lillyblack82888.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/morality-human-trait-or-divine-standard/

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Why so Angry? Here is the Reason- It’s Probably Not What You Think.

Why so Angry? Here is the Reason- It’s Probably Not What You Think.

Why do these feelings of anger arise within my bosom when certain issues are discussed or brought to my attention? I used to think that I was simply argumentative by nature (not actually the case, I actually hate confrontation). So why I do I post publicly about hot topic issues, even when sometimes the responses I receive are hurtful and make my non-confrontational inner person want to run and hide? Why do I get angry and upset over certain issues when they come up? I can sum it up in a single word:

Empathy.

It is empathy that drives me to post about equality issues, because not saying anything means I am allowing the oppressors to continue unchallenged.

It is empathy that drives me to challenge religion, because I have seen and personally experienced the harm and pain it can and does cause on a regular basis.

It is empathy that causes me to encourage others to start thinking critically, because not thinking through our beliefs is detrimental to ourselves and to society, and knowledge empowers us to make better decisions.

It it empathy that causes righteous anger to rise up within me as I read about yet another male politician enacting laws to limit and oppress women in a nation that’s supposed to be so advanced.

It it empathy that puts knots in my stomach as I see young children being indoctrinated with ideas and beliefs that are not only based on fiction, but can also cause harm and unhealthy views of life.

It is empathy that drives me to address our sexuality, because I was raised (by my Christian circles in general) to believe that girls who had sex outside of marriage were broken and used, and when I hit puberty and masturbated I hated myself for it. The needless guilt and shame I felt about my natural sexual urges is something I don’t want other young people to experience.

It is empathy that drives me to support a woman’s right to make her own choices regarding abortion and birth control, and makes me fight to counteract the negative stigma that hurts so many women.

It is empathy that makes the idea of hell repulsive to me, because the idea of burning people alive forever for ANY crime is horrendous and immoral, and using fear tactics to promote a religion is abusive and hurtful.

 

When I was a Christian, I wanted to be a missionary because I had been taught that this was the most empathetic thing I could do- save lost souls from the torments of hell. Now I try to save people from the torments of the real world.

This is where my empathy now takes me.

Morality: Human Trait or Divine Standard?

Morality: Human Trait or Divine Standard?

Morality: Human Trait or Divine Standard?

“…the morality of atheists is in a sense more noble by definition than the morality of theists. While theists believe that god will punish them for immoral acts and reward them for moral acts, atheists have no motivation to be moral other than their own innate sense of morality. It is morality for its own sake, not out of fear for punishment or desire for reward.” (http://www.askanatheist.org/morals.html)

I often hear Christians talk about how morality comes from God. Supposedly, without God, there is no morality; the world would descend into chaos and corruption if people stopped serving him. Without this unchanging moral standard called the Bible, there would be no justice or kindness. Here are a few assumptions about morality that I would like to address.

“Christians have an unchanging moral standard.”

This is not true- not by a long shot. If it was, then what was wrong 300 years ago should still be considered wrong today- but the opposite is true. If you look back through history, you can see dramatic changes in what Christians deem “moral”. For example, Christians in the past century believed that slavery and repression of women’s rights was not only ok, it was God’s natural order. In the Middle Ages, the Crusades and Inquisitions ravaged their part of the world- torture, murder, and suppression of other ideas was the norm. And it was accepted by the majority of Christians at the time as “moral”. Even today we can see major differences in how Christians interpret the Bible: in many African countries today, Christians are oppressing and murdering gay people and conducting genital mutilation in the name of God, Christians in the US refuse to grant gay people equal rights (which causes a lot of harm), and modern modesty standards range from Amish clothes to Brazil’s racy skin-tight garb. There is very little that is the same across the board for Christians; even major doctrines are debated, with scripture being used by all of them.

Now, you might say that these cannot be “true Christians”, that they must not truly understand God’s heart because they don’t follow Christianity the way you do. But one has only to read the Old Testament and the description of hell to see how easily these horrible actions could be justified by believers. You can’t say that anyone who doesn’t follow this book like you do is not a “true” believer, because how do you really know? All of these people firmly believe that they are following God’s wishes; who knows for sure which group has it right?

Ironically, Christians have an incredibly diverse range of “morality standards” throughout history and even today. You can easily see how morality has evolved for humans in general, Christians as well as atheists. Saying that they have a single, unchanging moral standard is not only not true, it’s a bit ridiculous and rather insulting to any intelligent person!

“Atheists have no morality.”

Again, given the range of moral standards Christians have, this is very insulting. Atheists most certainly have morals. In fact, it could be argued that atheists actually have a better moral standard than Christians:

Christians do good because they’re hoping for reward in Heaven or because they’re afraid of Hell. Atheists do good simply for the sake of doing good. Christians rely on an ancient text that has been interpreted hundreds of different ways over centuries; atheists use logic, reason, and empathy to determine their actions and beliefs.

For example: If I asked you whether killing a child was right or wrong, most people would say it’s wrong. But what if God told you to kill that child? Most Christians respond with “Well, he is just and kind so he wouldn’t ask me to do something wrong like that.” You say this because you know that killing a child is wrong, even if he told you to do it. But according to the Bible, he HAS asked people to kill innocent children- more than once. Abraham was asked to kill his son, the Hebrews were commanded to wipe out nations including children, disobedient children were executed, and so on. If this bothers you, and you still would not kill a child, then you have your own inner morality that contradicts your religion. If you think you would kill that child if God told you to, then you have no business saying that your morality is better!!

“If a country is not governed by God’s laws, it will revert into chaos.”

Our world today shows the exact opposite. Countries that are highly religious rank much lower on the scale of the best places to live, while countries that are less religious top the lists in good education, economy, healthcare, and low crime and pregnancy mortality rates. Even in the US you can see the difference: the states in the “Bible Belt” aren’t doing as well as the states that are less religious.

This doesn’t mean that religion is bad, nor that atheism automatically means a nation will succeed. However, it very effectively destroys the myth that a country (or people) cannot function properly without God. When a country is built upon equality and promotes knowledge and kindness, that society will succeed whether it’s religious or not. When religious values are valued above those things, a society will suffer.

Conclusion:

There are good and bad people on both sides. There are wonderful Christians and wonderful atheists, horrible atheists and horrible Christians. Morality does not come from religion, it comes from within human beings. Now you can say that perhaps god created us with this inner morality, and that could be true; but either way, I do not need to follow your religion to be a kind, good person.  Saying so is very arrogant and hurtful to those of us who live our lives to help others, with no religious motivation.

Thanks for listening to my rant. This is a major peeve of mine, sorry it’s long! If you want to read more on this subject, here’s a great resource: http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismmyths/p/AtheistsMorals.htm

-Lilly