No Morality Without God?

Got into a religious debate with an old friend a few nights ago.  It’s been a long time since I talked to a christian who actually gave a reasonable debate about their faith.  He wasn’t using circular arguments that made no sense, he wasn’t throwing irrelevant bible verses in my face, and he wasn’t threatening me with hell, a lake of fire, eternal damnation, or any of those charming ideas, and let me tell you, it was a nice change of pace.  Neither of us were changing each other’s minds, and we both knew it, but it was still interesting to talk through everything and see what someone else is saying.

I tell you that so that I can bring up one of the things he mentioned in his statements that I honestly still can’t wrap my head around.  
“Without God, there’s no morality.  There’s no right and wrong.  There’s no standard for human decency.  We get to decide what’s right and wrong.  That’s not the world we live in.”
I’ve heard this argument before, and I’m sure I’ll hear it again, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand how someone can come to that conclusion.  To justify this reasoning, you then have to look me in the eye and honestly tell me that you would not see any problem with murder, theft, rape, etc. if a book hadn’t told you that those things are wrong.  Without this one book that, I might add, is not even remotely prevalent in many countries and cultures, the whole world would have erupted in chaos long ago.  
I am well aware that there are plenty of bad people in the world, and there are good people who do bad things, and basically, there’s just a lot of bad shit out there, but there’s also plenty of good to counter that, and it’s not just coming from christians who follow the bible.  Crossing all lines of religion and culture, there is love, beauty, kindness, generosity, the list could go on and on.  If you insist on saying that without God and the bible, there would be no morality or right and wrong, I just have to ask you: Do you really have such little faith in your fellow men?  Do you really have such little faith in yourself?  
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
~Anne Frank

6 thoughts on “No Morality Without God?

  1. William says:

    Hi. Nice blog.

    I think I’m a marginally more liberal Christian than your friend. I wouldn’t necessarily claim that there would be no morality without God. However, please consider the following claims.

    1. I am obligated to be a moral person because it’s the right thing to do.
    2. I am obligated to be a moral person because God wants me to be a moral person, and obeying God’s will is the right thing to do.

    If atheism is true, then only 1 is true, and we only have the obligations to be good that flow from 1. On the other hand, if theism is true, then both 1 and 2 are true, and we have both the obligations that flow from 1 and the obligations that flow from 2.

    So, the moral life will be significantly *more obligatory* for us if God exists than if he doesn’t.


    • wordofwoz says:

      Thank you for the feedback from the other side of the perspective.

      I am very much in favor of “1. I am obligated to be a moral person because it’s the right thing to do,” and I hope that there are more who believe that knowing the difference between right and wrong, to an extent, is something you know for yourself and not just something someone told you. If you also want to live your life by “2. I am obligated to be a moral person because God wants me to be a moral person, and obeying God’s will is the right thing to do,” then by all means, go right ahead. In that way, it is merely means to an end, and you and anyone else are free to live your life in that respect.

      If you are living a good, moral life because you respect and honor God and want to live the way he wants you to, go for it. If you are doing it because he told you to and you are blindly following, that leads into a gray area of morality. Are you really being a good and moral person at that point, or are you just doing what you’re told? Yes, the end result is basically the same, but you then have to consider, are you actually the moral person you think you are, and would you be living the same way if you didn’t have a deity to follow, which brings us back to the first claim, which, as you can hopefully understand, I put much higher on my list.

      • Good point, wordofwoz. I would add that, judging by the behavior of Christians relative to that of atheists and humanists, in practice #2 doesn’t seem to be a very effective motivator for humane behavior. If anything, it seems more likely to distract people with ‘boundary marker’ issues that are good for fundraising and politics, but which have little if anything to do with solving actual injustices or improving other people’s quality of life.

      • wordofwoz says:

        Pretentious Ape, I definitely see what you’re saying and I do agree with that problem to an extent. I just urge you not to generalize and say that all Christians are doing that. Unfortunately, the ones who do seem to be the more outspoken, but I still see quite a few Christians who are still fighting for human equality and fighting against the social injustice. They, unfortunately, are not the ones who are constantly shouting and spitting their opinions and starting rallies to keep people they don’t agree with down.

  2. Oh, no, I didn’t mean to imply that all Christians are doing that, only that if we’re going to talk about a sense of God’s will as a motivator for good behavior, we should also consider its potential to motivate bad (or least misguided) behavior.

    Also, my point about comparing Christians to atheists and humanists isn’t meant to put anyone down; I’m just thinking of people I love and care about on both sides, and I don’t see that the Christians are behaving better than the others. In other words, you take two groups of (mostly) good people who share a sense of basic human empathy, and adding belief in God to one group doesn’t seem to me to raise their behavior to a level of goodness above their secular counterparts.

    So from what I can see, William’s argument that the existence of God makes morality more obligatory doesn’t seem to make much positive difference in practice. What matters is caring about others, regardless of what you believe about the supernatural.

  3. […] about this, the more it just blows me away.  Much of it goes back to my previous post entitled No Morality Without God? as this seems to be one of the main reasons for the discrimination.  It shocks me that so many […]

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