Friday, February 14, 2014

A 10th Grade Approach to Morality

Have you ever had questions like these presented to you by theists:

Can you be a good person without God? What is your moral compass if you don't have a higher power telling you right from wrong? Where do you get your values? Your principles? Why is your morality better than mine or someone else's?

Can you be a good person without God? The answer to the question, of course, is "Yes". But that doesn't take away from Christians, or Muslims, or Jewish people, or any other religious person who can be just as good with their god(s). The issue often arises when individuals are too bought in by their particular brand of faith and proceed to question your morality, going so far as to say that no matter how good a person you are, if you don't accept their god(s) as the true god(s), you are still deserving of condemnation. Growing up, my grandmother would force encourage me to have a bible study with one of the brothers from our local Kingdom Hall. He would proceed to dump the fear mongering and religious guilt on me by the gallons. As far as he was concerned, there was no middle stance; as long as I was not a Jehovah's Witness, the eternal lake of fire awaited me. It was honestly amazing and perplexing to hear about this wonderful, loving god, to be told how good he was, only to then be told what an asshole he was and how I was an even bigger asshole for not fully embracing his assholiness.

What is your moral compass if you don't have a higher power telling you right from wrong? This question reminded me of this video with Steve Harvey calling atheists idiots - which didn't bother me on the surface because I'd call him an idiot just as quick for his nonsensical beliefs - and inquiring about the "moral barometer" of an atheist. First of all, this is just a dumb question when asked in the context that it is. For one, if you have "moral compass" telling you right from wrong, then you don't have a moral compass... you don't even have morality. That is not morality, but blind obedience. The only thing that dictates what is right or wrong for you is what some higher being tells you is right or wrong. And even then, do you question it? You can't... if your morality is divinely-derived, what "moral compass" allows you to say whether or not the actions being commanded are good? Why, that would mean that not only does this divine being tell you right from wrong, he instills in you that what he commands is good. So, at what point do you have control over your own morality, there?

Where do you get your values? Your principles? I could go into some whole spiel about how we as social creatures evolved to share common goals and to help one another for the overall benefit of our species, but I'll keep it narrow. I got my values from my upbringing and my own personal experiences. The first time I hit my cousin, she screamed and wailed, which caused my aunt to come outside, scold me and discipline for doing so, telling me that it was wrong to hurt someone else. I saw the pain that I had caused, the consequences of doing so, and the benefit of not doing the wrong thing: I didn't get my ass whooped. I learned early on that I didn't like experiencing pain and that if I didn't, others didn't either. As we get older, our experiences do define our morality. You'd be surprised how quickly we can rationalize stealing if it benefits us. In the Army, I would take things all of the time because my things would get stolen; this was the mentality of a lot of us. One of the common sayings was "1% of the military personnel are thieves. The other 99% are just getting their stuff back." However, that never translated over in civilian settings. If my phone was stolen, I wouldn't steal someone else's.

Believe it or not, morality can be simplified down to that most basic of sentiments. We weigh our own desires and actions against societal desires and actions, and make choices that help or harm our communities. Besides, if you want to appeal to religion, then I'm going to have to turn the tables on you and question where this god gets its values. How do you know if this god's values are beneficial? And before you answer that, refer to Question #2.

Why is your morality better than mine or someone else's? Often this is the question that is presented when atheists and theists argue between subjective/objective morality. I argue that morality is subjective, and is the result of upbringing, cultural influence, and our own personal experiences (as I mentioned). Theists tend to argue that morality is objective, the result of a divine being that provides us with an built in system of knowing the difference between good and evil. Yeah, that's all nice and dandy, but as someone who has read the bible and uses his own morality to deem some of the scriptures immoral, I can easily explain how my morality can be better than someone else's. I, for one, do not find it moral to kill babies to settle a self-imposed vendetta with an Egyptian pharaoh, nor would I entertain any attempt to explain it away. I do not find it moral when someone uses their personal religion and beliefs to deny me rights as a gay man to impose their beliefs on our laws. My morality gives me the ability to discern between not only what is subjectively right or wrong, but how my actions affect others around me. My morality tells me that what I believe may not be what the person next door believes, but that as long as we work together or can exist in harmony, it doesn't matter. My morality allows me to refrain from inflicting harm on those who wish to harm me, unless that person is trying to take my life. If your morality tells you that you can inflict pain on others with no regard for their personal feelings or well being, you have shitty morality.

Let's not kid ourselves here, theists. If morality was as objective as you claim, there'd be one religion, with one god, and one clearly laid out divine plan. Don't dictate to me about absolute morality when not even you and your ilk can agree on which denomination has the correct definition of this god that none of you can form one working definition of him, or her, or it, or them. Even when I believed in a god, I didn't need to refer to him to know when something was good and something was bad. I will tell you this though: there was many a time reading the bible or hearing about God, that I had to ignore my own "moral compass" (I call it a conscience) in order to wrap my head around the immoral principles within its pages. Believe what you want about your own morality, theist; just don't try imposing it on the rest of us.

How would you answer these questions, if at all? Comment below and tell me how you would address them.

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