When I read the theist opinions about morality and its ties to religion I can’t help asking the question – do they ever really think about what morality is? The example that pops up most frequently is how a person would know it is wrong to kill someone if they didn’t base their morality on religion. While this is a most extreme example it is hardly a good one. I mean really, if anyone needs religion to tell you it is immoral to take a life, then there is no hope for the world. So while that example remains valid in terms of order in society, it is the other, more subtle nuances of morality that needs to be examined more closely.
I think the problem with the definitions of morality is that it is very personal and relative. It is also very simple if you really think about it, and it would be great if, for once, the theists could just think about a subject without rejecting it straight away because an antitheist says it. I won’t hold my breath though.
I can understand that theists and believers can’t separate their morality from their religion; it is in the whole concept of sin and the idea that an omni-present God is watching their every move. I can’t personally base my ideas of right and wrong on these principles, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any. Atheists seem to base their morality more on the idea of do unto others as you want done onto you, a concept for which you don’t need religion. And here the arguments start, but does it really matter who is right?
In modern, Western society people actually pretty much agree on the “big things.” Your average, church going Christian, as well as the majority of atheists I spoke to about the subject, all agree that murder is wrong, cheating in a relationship is wrong, theft, betrayal and committing crimes like fraud, assault, rape, child molestation, and domestic violence are wrong. So my question to theists who say you need religion to tell you what is wrong, is – how do you know some of these things are wrong? How do you know child molestation, rape, assault and domestic violence are wrong? It is not in the Bible; not part of the ten commandments; it is not based on religion, and yet you know it is wrong – even if it still happens, among atheists and people of all religions, the knowledge is at least there.
I guess you just know, because it causes harm to others. Hopefully you don’t need the Bible or the dominee (and especially not the Pope!) to tell you that it is wrong. In the same way, atheists also just know, but many believers reject the possibility that anyone could know without religion. However, if you really think about it, it is simple. If it is harmful to someone, and in your power and within reason not to do it and you do, it is wrong. It is all about kindness, empathy, tolerance and respect. This is exactly why we as a society don’t base human rights on a religion. Which religion would we base it on anyway? In Christianity many people will see nothing wrong with discrimination; for instance, against atheists, people of other religions, gays etc. (And that is without really going into biblical morality!) In other religions domestic violence and emotional abuse of women are not frowned upon. In some Islamic states the honour killings of adulterous women is an example of good morals – to most non-Muslims, and even non-extreme Muslims, this is immoral and wrong. This is why we base general human rights on the rights every person has to live a life where the things that universally hurt us are against the law, or at least against generally accepted principles, and that no–one actually has the right to go around randomly hurting, harming and causing suffering to others.
To be continued in part two.
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