Thursday, July 12, 2012

Questions Asked- Jon Asks "What would morality look like without religion?"

What?  My gun helps me think...

A hypothetical question-"In a world where the existance of God was never even considered, would the non-thiest's have developed a moral code and what do you imagine it would look like? Again, hypothetically"

-Jon B.

This was a question posed to me by my oldest and dearest friend. 

A great question, although he still hasn't revealed the reason for asking it, and one that I will take pains to answer as honestly and as fully as possible.

In order to answer this question fully, I will need to do it in two parts.

Firstly I will need to answer about my thoughts on morality with no concept of a god (regardless of religion), and second I will need to answer as to my opinions on morality formed without the existence of the Christian God concept because that is the framework in which most people in our culture operate. (and Jon is a Christian, so it may speak more to his actual question)

In the interest of clarity it needs to be said that it can hardly be argued that morality is objective.  Morality by it's very nature MUST be subjective, or it ceases to be moral and exists solely as obedience.  In any master/slave relationship, it is not morality that is valued but obedience.  The slave has no ability to choose what to do, but must acquiesce only to the desires and values of the master. Morality doesn't work that way. Morality is considered, morality is judged, morality is an attempt to lessen the hard that we do to one another in order to live together in a society.  All societal animals have it on one level or another, and we are no different.

That being said, there are many things that are so important to our collective morality that they can SEEM objective. 





The list could grow to an impressive degree if given much thought, but then we could deconstruct this list by adding circumstance to them as well.  Is murder wrong when it is to purge a country from a despot?  Is theft wrong when it is to feed your family?  Is lying wrong when it is to save yourself or others from harm?

THIS is why morality is subjective, there are no rules for how to decide these questions.  We have to use our rationality, our humanity, our own values and our own experiences in order to find solutions.

And they may not always be solutions with which everyone agrees

ummmm, it's to feed my family?

I make this point because the concept of a god driven morality has ALWAYS been tempered by our subjective interpretation of it.  Even in very fundemental societies.  This is why there are disagreements on what is right and wrong.

Even god driven morality has changed over the centuries. 

Why?  Has the bible changed? 

No, it's message has stayed constant. 


It is only our interpretation of it that changes.  We change how we see biblical morality in order to suit the current societal climate.

Slavery was once ok, and supported by both the church and the Bible but then when the cultural climate changed to one that was more concerned with human rights,  the church was at the tip of the sword fighting for the very rights that they had explicitly denied people for centuries. 

Does this make sense? 

How about when we consider that we know the Bible was written by men?  Does that change the focus of the discussion?  Does that make religious texts merely a carrier for the morality of men at the time? 


But I digress.

The question, irrespective of whether or not religious tomes were written by men, is how would society be different if not for the moral medium of religion.

My belief is that religion has held back morality more often than it promoted it.  Morality has grown with our (and every) culture and usually right there fighting against the flow of change is religion.

One current example of this is the concept of same sex marriage.  It has zero effect on the people who fight against it, and it is only done for the purpose of controlling societal norms and making them adhere to their religious norms with no concern for the people it affects.  If it has no effect on the religious, why do they care?

Because it goes against the rules outlayed in their book.

Mind you so does;

Jesus Tattoo Art (Leviticus 19:28);
Polyster Leisure suits (Leviticus 19:19);
Divorcing abusive spouses (Mark 10:8-9);
Fortune Cookies (Leviticus 19:31);
Football (Leviticus 11:8);
Bowl haircuts (Leviticus 19:27); and
Letting Lance Armstrong into your Church (Deuteronomy 23:1);
Wearing Expensive jewelery (Timothy 2:9);
Eating Yummy Shrimp (Leviticus 11:10);
Your wife defending you by punching your attacker in the junk (Deuteronomy 25:11-12); AND
Pulling out or even masturbating (Genesis 38:9-10).

You could have told me that before.....

Do we care about those particular moral guidelines any longer?  Obviously not.  Society outgrew them and the church in response merely stopped espousing them as religious laws.
The point is that morality changes, and the bible is not the driving force for that change.  Society is.
We leave behind the morals which we deem to be nonsense or no longer applicable according to our current experience and societal needs.  The church usually mirrors that change (after lagging behind for a while in many cases) in order to stay "in touch" and then often even goes so far as to present itself to be the champion of those moralities.

Slavery was a fantastic example of this. 

The bible itself is rife with rules for slavery, selling your children (mostly daughters) into slavery and rules governing their treatment, and even marrying your daughters off to their rapists (slavery in my mind).

Hmmm, I DO like rape, but people frown on that. Wait, I'll just BUY her.  GENIUS!

So after hundreds of years promoting the "right" of slavery, the church realized that value had outlived it's usefulness.

The evolution of morality.

Now.  I recognize that I still haven't answered the question.

How would morality have been developed without religion to guide it?

It would have developed organically, just like it does now.

But without having harmful mandated objective rules given by dogmatically accepted books stifling it.

In short, I think that the world would be far ahead of where it is today and likely with a bit fewer deaths involved.

Without religion would we care about same sex marriage as an issue to fight?
Would we have the stifling sexual guilt and slut shame that is so prevalent?
Would we have genital mutilation (both male and female)?
Would we have millions of people dying of AIDS because of misinformation about birth control?
Would we see obedience as a virtue and skepticism as a flaw?

There are many things that religion has done for us with morality, but everything that was good could have been (and was) achieved by non theist means and the rest has held us back.

So my two part answer is this;

Without ANY religion, morality would have evolved organically (just as it did in non-theistic societies all over the world)
and without the Christian religion trying to mold us into a version of the iron age sheep herders who wrote it, that evolution would have most certainly been at a very accelerated pace.

Are you SURE that I can't eat this?


  1. good stuff. thanks for thinking through and writing about this sort of thing. here's kind of a different perspective. maybe worth the read?

  2. I read your article was well considered article. I see where you are coming from, but I just can't get behind the concept of sin.
    Sin has nothing to do with morality or goodness. It is merely the obedience of god no matter the morality of his wishes. That is slavery and mindless.
    Obedience has nothing to do with morality. Morality is considered, it is affected by the experience of the person and it is perception. It is a grey area that can't be covered by black and white rules. If you are just obeying blindly, you have no way of knowing if what you are doing is moral or not, because moral considerations are not part of the equation. Only obedience to your creed. Do you think it was "moral" for Abraham to agree to kill his son? Do you think that was a moral command?

    Clearly not.

    Morality has to come from the heart.

    Not from the blind dictates of a "higher" power.

    Thanks for the comment.


  3. I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality.

    1. Doctrine is ALWAYS in conflict with morality. Even if it happens to coincide with it, there is no resemblance in motivation. Doctrine expects obedience, and morality expects considered thought for the well being of others.

      They never intersect.

      I get your point though.

      And I agree.