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Monday, August 2, 2010

Morality and Its Origins

I had a comment on my last blog entry that the reader wished I had dealt with the basis of morality. This was not the subject of the last post and would not have been apropos but I will try to take a stab at it here.

The reason for this even being a subject of discussion is the fact that religion has arrogated to itself the basis for human morality. I primarily pick on Christianity as it is the religious system I am most familiar with, having been raised in it. The assumption is this, the bible teaches us how to be moral and without it as a foundation there is no morality. This is, to steal a phrase from Douglas Adams, a load of foetid dingos kidneys.

Morality is nothing more or less than a set of behaviours that allow us to live together in society. Does this definition tend toward moral relativism and declare no absolutes? No, it does not. There are certain moral rules that are inherent in human societies and if ignored destroy the fabric of society. Taboos against murder, rape, incest and theft are examples. These are not religious rules, they are common sense rules for social animals living in an ordered community. Violating them undermines the security of other members of the community. Violation of these rules also violates what I believe to be the basic foundation of morality - empathy and compassion.

The claim that the bible is the basis of morality is absurd. If you actually read the bible you will come to a few unavoidable conclusions, that god as described in the old testament is a viscous psychopath and that the new testament tries very hard to tip toe around the cruelty and caprice of the old testament god without actually refuting it. In the old testament, god orders his people to commit genocide on numerous occasions, sanctions the taking of sexual slaves as spoils of war, orders women to marry their rapists, demands the killing children and teenagers, sanctions the rape of women to save the dignity of male guests, and personally kills entire populations not only of whole cities but supposedly of the entire world. This just scratches the surface of god's villainy in the old testament and I didn't even get out of the Pentateuch. He called David a man after his own heart after David had multiple wives, committed murder and committed adultery. I suppose for a god that is capable of all the horrible actions attributed to him, a man such as David would be just his sort. See a woman you want, murder her husband and take her; why not, this is mild compared to burning entire cities full of innocent children.

This is the book that we are told is the basis for our morality. This is the book that is held up as the foundation for all right action. No, any morality that is actually claimed by followers of the bible is done in opposition to the bible, by ignoring the sections that urge evil behaviour. If the bible is truly the measure for morality, even for Christians, they would be demanding the legal right to murder witches, stone their own disobedient children, murder anyone that doesn't follow their own sect, demand the right to own slaves and to keep as concubines the virgin daughters of their victims for this is the morality the old testament condones.

The new testament, people will shriek, is a whole new game. The harshness of the old testament was necessary then but Jesus brought in new rules. Hmmm, let's see. Jesus said that he did not come to over turn the law but to fulfil it. He at one point declared that you had to follow the law to the letter plus his new program of poverty and meekness and impossible love for all. He then goes on to tell us that we are to hate our parents and abandon our families and follow him (how this is to be done while obeying the commandment to honour father and mother is utterly beyond rational grasp), and all this before introducing the worst and most vile horror of all, the concept of hell. We now have an eternal torture chamber where, if you take the rules seriously, about 99% of all humanity will be subject to horrors and pain beyond imagining for the crime of not believing in the god that created the hell... but were probably created predestined to this hell anyway so believing doesn't matter...

My point in this rant is to show that the morality supposedly based on the bible is no morality at all. The very god that supposedly is the basis for morality, were his actions and encouraged actions removed form the bible and put before any modern human as a template, would cause revulsion. Our native moral sentiments recoil at the notion of murder and rape and genocide and the abandonment of family and of eternal punishment. Christians impose their own native morality on the bible by ignoring the horrors of it and by constructing theological structures outside of it to rationalize and explain away the evils in it. To then turn around and try to claim that that which has to be mostly ignored is the foundation is absurd at best.

So, where does this leave us? Morality is something that just exists in humans. We have a social sense that evolved in us. Is it absolute in fine detail? No. There are constantly shifting lines of what is and isn't acceptable in a society but the basics remain the static. The big taboos remain and compassion and empathy reign. There will always be those who violate the rules of society. There will always be criminals and sociopaths. We don't need a book of violent and capricious savagery to teach us to be human. All books like the bible do is justify in the minds of criminals and sociopaths their behaviour. The bible makes a great foundation for antisocial behaviour.
Want to burn women at the stake and feel good about it? I got just the book.

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About Me

I am a husband and a father of two. I work as a network administrator. I am interested in religion and philosophy, though mostly from an external perspective.