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Anyone want to chat about morality without God?

(75 Posts)
MMMarmite Mon 20-Aug-12 21:16:35

Where do you think morality comes from? Are there right actions and wrong actions, or are we all just doing what makes us feel good in the end? Can there be an absolute morality, or can something be right to some people and wrong to others?

I've been an agnostic for years, and am unconvinced by the claims of religions. But it bothers me that although I have quite strong views on many moral issues, eg. I support gay rights, am against most wars, I don't really understand the basis for morality underneath it all.

NicholasTeakozy Mon 20-Aug-12 21:31:39

I have no idea where morality comes from. I just decided that I wanted to be the opposite of my dad and stepmum. She is an emotional and physically abusive bully and he just went with her view. I look at both sides of an argument before taking a view, I don't, won't is more accurate, steal, I can't be bothered to lie, I treat people how I want to be treated, I could go on. I'm an atheist. I have a few real life friends, I don't need an imaginary one.

sashh Tue 21-Aug-12 07:38:03

I think morality is a social construct. It comes from the culture an individual lives in and it is what most people consider the 'right thing'.

It changes with time and with the circumstances, in most cutures it is wrong to kill another human being, but when there is a war the morality changes.

Just look how things have changed in 50 years. Homosexuality was illegal and thought 'morally wrong', now we are on the brink of gay marriage.

We now see it as right to pay people the same amount for their job regardless of skin colour, sex or disabillity. We don't, however think a 16 yearold should be paid as much as an 18 year old.

MMMarmite Tue 21-Aug-12 13:03:18

Nicolas Thanks for the reply. I'm sorry for how you were treated by your dad and stepmum sad Maybe my question is a stupid one, because in some circumstances it's really easy to 'see' whether things are right or wrong, so maybe where morality doesn't matter.

sashh That's interesting. But where do people get their ideas of the 'right thing' from? If they get it from society, then how come morals change over time, how come people challenge the previous moral consensus? Perhaps we're starting off with some basic instinctive rules and gradually extending them to take into account new discoveries and to make them more self-consistent.

ginmakesitallok Tue 21-Aug-12 13:13:02

I don't know where it comes from, but the morality I have certainly doesn't come from the threat of hell if I do something wrong. To me it's wierd that religious people seem to need a god to tel them what's right or wrong.

MMMarmite Tue 21-Aug-12 13:17:51

sorry, I missed some words: Maybe my question is a stupid one, because in some circumstances it's really easy to 'see' whether things are right or wrong, so maybe where morality comes from doesn't matter

MMMarmite Tue 21-Aug-12 13:31:14

I see what you mean in some ways ginmakes.

Also, it doesn't entirely make sense that christians get their morality from the bible (just picking christians as that's the religion I'm most familiar with), because no christian I know follows every instruction in the bible - the follow some bits, but say that other parts (generally the parts that seem gruesome or cruel or inconsequential to the modern eye) are metaphorical, or historical. But from where do they get the guidance to choose which bits to follow literally? I don't think it can be from God, because if God was telling them all directly, there wouldn't be so much disagreement amongst earnest believers over how bits of the bible should be interpreted. I think christians must get some of their morality from the same place as atheists, from society perhaps, or instinct.

AMumInScotland Tue 21-Aug-12 19:54:41

I think most people agree on a basic kind of morality - the idea that you shouldn't harm other people without a good reason. But the idea of what counts as "harm" varies a lot, and "good reason" varies even more. For instance, I wouldn't steal from you just because your house is bigger than mine, but I probably would if it would stop my children from starving. I'd be more likely to steal from a rich person than a poor one, because the amount of harm I'd do them would seem less. And I'd steal to feed my children because that would be a good reason.

I don't think morality comes from religion, religion is just te place where people focus on those sorts of things and write them down. I certainly don't need God to tell me what is right or wrong, despite the fact that I do believe in God.

MMMarmite Tue 21-Aug-12 21:02:10

I think I agree with you MumInScotland.

Perhaps most people agree because we have evolved to feel that way (which would make sense: a small tribe where people don't randomly hurt other people for no good reason, and try to help when they can, would be more likely to survive than one without morality).

I wish that morality was like maths or physics- where right and wrong are something objectively true in the universe, and we just have to find it out through reason or experiment, and then we can in principle all agree on what we should do in any situation. But without god or the supernatural, that doesn't make much sense. It seems like morality is more of a feeling, like the appreciation of beauty - almost all humans have some sense of what is beautiful, and there are similarities between what most people consider beautiful, but also personal differences, and differences picked up from the ideas of the culture that you're in.

AMumInScotland Tue 21-Aug-12 21:14:37

The thing is, it depends so much on the context - pretty much everyone would agree that murder is wrong, but killing in the context of self-defence or a "just war" may be less wrong than the alternative.

And the whole concept of the evolution of things like this is complicated, because evolution works on the individual and their genes - if one person "cheats" because their genes say its ok to steal, so they survive and pass on their genes to more children, then that behaviour will increase even if it is in the best interests of the group for everyone to be "good".

sciencelover Tue 21-Aug-12 21:16:50

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

pommedechocolat Tue 21-Aug-12 21:16:56

This is one of the parts of religion I struggle with most (I am without faith). Morality based on a 'reward' versus living a good life when you believe in decomposing bodies only. Surely 'good' people of no faith are more moral?

JugglingWithFiveRings Tue 21-Aug-12 21:33:42

Perhaps morality can simply come from empathy with others.

Thus, I'm against war as I know it would just be my boy killing another mother's son (God forbid) Or the other way round. I have great sympathy for the young people of this world who are so often directed into violent conflict with one another by their elders and betters Such energy and passion that could be directed so much more wisely to make the world a better place, like building schools and hospitals and wells etc. etc.

I wouldn't steal as I know and/or can imagine what it is like to have your possessions taken away by others.

I am kind to others as I value when they are kind to me.

Simples ! grin

garlicnuts Tue 21-Aug-12 21:49:38

Thanks for staring this thread, MMM ... though I wish you hadn't! I have so much to say on the matter, I might never stop.
Consider place marked smile

garlicnuts Tue 21-Aug-12 21:50:38

* staring this thread -> Exactly what I'm trying to avoid!

Juule Tue 21-Aug-12 21:56:54

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris discusses this issue.

Excerpt from the description:

" Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a “moral landscape.” Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of “morality”; in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible."

MMMarmite Tue 21-Aug-12 22:02:11

That looks fascinating Juule. Have you read it?

Redbindy Tue 21-Aug-12 22:08:59

I can't be bothered to research it at this time of night, but I think evolutionists would argue that morality confers certain advantages. I find it appalling that religious people claim that you need a god to behave responsibly, that says more about them than anything else.

SrirachaGirl Tue 21-Aug-12 22:11:28

I think lots of religions have valuable lessons when it comes to morality but I really do believe that "what goes around comes around"; if you put bad things out into the universe, they'll come back to you eventually.

Redbindy Tue 21-Aug-12 22:12:25

And another thing, those ten commandments seem a bit short on actual morality lots about worshipping an uptight god, nothing about slavery, rape, drug abuse, greed, evading tax etc.

JugglingWithFiveRings Tue 21-Aug-12 22:13:27

I think they're just calling God their "still, small voice of calm"
- I don't think it's appalling that they/we call our anchor God, but it can be terribly arrogant when it's suggested that others therefore do not have a moral compass.

MooncupGoddess Tue 21-Aug-12 22:14:32

Some form of communal morality is necessary to form a human community, isn't it - if people could just kill/rape/steal whenever they felt like it, it would be impossible to have a group of people living and working together successfully.

crescentmoon Tue 21-Aug-12 22:16:34

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

JugglingWithFiveRings Tue 21-Aug-12 22:18:38

Very true MooncupGoddess but I don't think atheists and agnostics should give up any of the moral high-ground either - That they/we behave morally and kindly to others because it is the right thing to do.

dreamofwhitehorses Tue 21-Aug-12 22:18:39

My morality comes from empathy for others but mainly from the desire to live in a moral society, and the understanding that my behaviour forms part of that.

As a non believer, can I get away with the moral choice, that as long as I don't actively add to pain and suffering in the world, I don't have bother to take any responsibility for anything beyond this? And if I became a Christian would I then be under a greater obligation to work actively to prevent suffering, not because I want to go to heaven, but simply because that is what god has asked people to do.

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