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Tzaia

Where Do We Get Our Morality?

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Back drop: We had an exchange student back in 2001-02 from Germany. He was "irreligious". However, he was amenable to staying with a "religious" family. Which is what we were, if that is defined by regular church attendance. Several times the concept of morality came up and his assertion [was] that one could be moral without believing in a god. At the time, I was flabbergasted. "Where else does one get a standard of morality?", I asked. The reality is that this young man was a very moral person, who had never had a bit of religious education. Where did his sense of right and wrong spring from?

Can we be moral and never worship a god or have a personal savior? And if so, where does that morality come from?

Edited by Tzaia
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Some tough things to recognize.

1. Morality is not "objective." It's a value, and all values are subjective. To argue as some do that we cannot judge an act as moral or immoral without an objective morality is akin to arguing that you cannot call someone attractive or unattractive without an objective standard for beauty. I can say without hesitation that Jennifer Aniston is more attractive than Aunt Esther from Sanford n Son. But I cannot list objective standards that apply universally to make that so. It's a value judgment, subjective by definition. You can base your morality ON something objective. But that doesn't make the morality itself objective.

2. You CAN get your morality from religion, but that does not prove the morality came from God. This should be obvious. A religion focused on the Sermon on the Mount will be quite moral (although we can nitpick). A religion focused on numerous passages in the Old Testament or the Quran will not. My earlier thread is a direct challenge to the notion that we get our morality from religion. We obviously do not. The hilarious effort to sanitize the Old Testament practice of slavery, pretending the book doesn't say what it says and that it does say what it doesn't, reinforces my position better than I ever could by stating it.

3. Not believing in objective morality is NOT the same thing as saying "anything goes." Moral people don't subscribe to anything goes. That is mere character assassination (such as you will find in the Bible's obnoxious, bigoted description of those of us who say there is no God). We're not the ones who justify a capricious and arbitrary death penalty on the grounds that man is the Potter's clay, and the Potter can do with us as he wills. It takes religion to come up with THAT one. There's nothing moral about it.

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There have been many studies done on this subject. (Harvard, Yale, etc.) The essence of what has been found is that babies are born with a rudimentary, innate sense of "morality". That sense of morality is then developed and fine tuned by parental and societal influences. What evolution has taught us as a species is that it is to our advantage to try to get along with each other and do the right thing rather than simply focusing on our own individual needs. It ensures a better success rate for the species overall. So, in a sense, it's somewhat a matter of preservation, not only of the individual but also of the entire human race.

edit: There are examples of "morality" to be found in non-human species, as well, though it would be difficult to judge them by human standards alone. Clearly, Capuchin monkeys do not subscribe to any sort of religion but they do exhibit a form of morality.

Edited by waysider

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The non-scientific answer is that our morality develops as a people over time. We are an interdependent species. We cannot afford to allow an "anything goes" mentality to survive because it threatens the welfare of everyone else. If I can go and kill anyone I want, you will reasonably perceive me as a threat, and you will kill me to preserve yourself. It becomes very obvious very quickly that it's in both our best interest to protect each other -- to be friends rather than enemies. The Golden Rule comes from this realization, not vice versa.

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I'm "wired" differently than the rest of my family when it comes to morality. Never much of one to judge based on actions and lifestyles that don't affect other people. I don't pay much attention to color; I'm more interested in what one thinks. Even my own mother has commented that I must have alien parents. I simply see the world differently than most of the people I associate with - except for a brief time in 1979-1981. I TRIED to fit in with TWI, but ultimately I could not.

I got my morality from reading. Lots and lots of reading. And mistakes. Lots and lots of mistakes. And living. Lots and lots of living. Intentionally and mindfully after dealing with the folly of being unintentional and not too mindful.

I have started to notice that with every judgmental wave I have experienced, it has been accompanied by an upswing in "faith". Hmmm.

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Playing Devil's Advocate: If religion is the basis for our moral code, why do we continue to see so many examples of immoral behavior from people like Victor Barnyard who have had more religious exposure than any 10 ordinary shmoes?

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Because the religion-based moral code is so conflicted and confused that it helps the conflicted, the confused, and the immoral justify their behaviors. BTW - the father of one of those girls was absolutely typical in his response. I heard the same thing when I found out that Way Corp kids were being groomed with porn.

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It's kind of complicated, I think.

We get some of our morality from religion, to be sure. But where did religion get its morality? [in my view] religion gets its morality from the people who invented the religion. A religion created by a people who saw women as second class citizens and slaves as property will never rise above those practices on their own, but they may indeed harbor principles that would eventually overturn both (people don't have to be without error or contradiction, remember).

But once something becomes codified in a religion, it becomes very difficult to break beyond that religion's moral code. That's why, hundreds of years later, the religious folk could bring a woman taken in adultery to Jesus' feet with the perfectly Biblically accurate intention to stone her to death. The story is an interpolation, but the plausibility of the story remains intact because the law of Moses does indeed teach that she should have been put to death. In the story, Jesus doesn't say, "killing someone over adultery is immoral." That would be calling the Old Testament law immoral. So he finds another escape route. A clever one, it must be admitted.

But today, if I were to propose a law identical to the Old Testament law on adultery, we would call such a law immoral. Not that adultery is cool. We have simply evolved in our morality to the point that we do not consider it a capital offense. The writers of the Old Testament had a different moral code, a stricter one. A less moral one, according to our values today. According to even Christian and Jewish values today. We elevate love, compassion and forgiveness as positive values, never admitting that in doing so, we are simultaneously denouncing the Old Testament law as immoral by our standards.

We DO get some of our morality from our religion, but our religion got its morality from the people who invented it. Barbaric people? Barbaric morality. Less barbaric but still unenlightened people? Less barbaric but still unenlightened morality.

It's only if you insist that religion's morality is absolute and objectively moral because it comes from God that you run into the trouble we';re exploring in the other thread: an absolutely objectively moral God would not impose laws we all agree would be immoral.

But that's an exploration of where we DON'T get our morality.

Where DO we get it from?

We get it, ultimately, from reason.

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. . .

But today, if I were to propose a law identical to the Old Testament law on adultery, we would call such a law immoral. Not that adultery is cool. We have simply evolved in our morality to the point that we do not consider it a capital offense. The writers of the Old Testament had a different moral code, a stricter one. A less moral one, according to our values today. According to even Christian and Jewish values today. We elevate love, compassion and forgiveness as positive values, never admitting that in doing so, we are simultaneously denouncing the Old Testament law as immoral by our standards.

. . .

They lived in a different world than today. Codes were generally stricter back then because consequences of behavior had different outcomes. They didn't have the benefits of technologies we have today. I wouldn't judge the strictness as less moral.

There have been many studies done on this subject. (Harvard, Yale, etc.) The essence of what has been found is that babies are born with a rudimentary, innate sense of "morality". That sense of morality is then developed and fine tuned by parental and societal influences. What evolution has taught us as a species is that it is to our advantage to try to get along with each other and do the right thing rather than simply focusing on our own individual needs. It ensures a better success rate for the species overall. So, in a sense, it's somewhat a matter of preservation, not only of the individual but also of the entire human race.

edit: There are examples of "morality" to be found in non-human species, as well, though it would be difficult to judge them by human standards alone. Clearly, Capuchin monkeys do not subscribe to any sort of religion but they do exhibit a form of morality.

I would add evolution only "cares" about passing on genes. In some situations, selfishness is best for survival of the species. In other situations, selflessness is best.

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So because they lived in a different world, we're supposed to gloss over the fact that God ordered a BRUTAL death sentence for sabbath breaking? if that's not what you're trying to say, what is?

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Back drop: We had an exchange student back in 2001-02 from Germany. He was "irreligious". However, he was amenable to staying with a "religious" family. Which is what we were, if that is defined by regular church attendance. Several times the concept of morality came up and his assertion [was] that one could be moral without believing in a god. At the time, I was flabbergasted. "Where else does one get a standard of morality?", I asked. The reality is that this young man was a very moral person, who had never had a bit of religious education. Where did his sense of right and wrong spring from?

Can we be moral and never worship a god or have a personal savior? And if so, where does that morality come from?

Throw out all ideas about gods and religion. If you want to be around other people, if you like other people, if you want to work with other people, what behaviors would you choose to develop?

One could argue religion gets in the way of morality. It puts minds in ruts.

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No, I'm pretty sure we live in the same world they did. We do live in a different culture, but I think the important question is WHY the culture is so different.

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So because they lived in a different world, we're supposed to gloss over the fact that God ordered a BRUTAL death sentence for sabbath breaking? if that's not what you're trying to say, what is?

I'm saying their survival in a harsh environment likely depended on being BRUTAL, if that's the word we're using.

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So their survival depended on God ordering sabbath breakers to be stoned to death?

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I don't mean to be a pain, but we are absolutely more moral than anyone who would stone a sabbath breaker to death in any era. That shouldn't even have to be argued. Different time? Yes! But if God is moral, the morality of his law should transcend time, not surrender to it!

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So their survival depended on God ordering sabbath breakers to be stoned to death?

I don't know what any god has said or not.

I do know maintaining social order, particularly where resources are scarce, generally leads to harsher forms of correction. I'm fairly sure that was true in many cultures throughout the same region of the Old Testament days.

I don't mean to be a pain, but we are absolutely more moral than anyone who would stone a sabbath breaker to death in any era. That shouldn't even have to be argued. Different time? Yes! But if God is moral, the morality of his law should transcend time, not surrender to it!

I think you're mixing our morality and Gods. Our morality can change, depending on circumstances especially. I won't argue for any gods.

We are not more moral. We have options our ancestors did not.

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I disagree. I think we are absolutely more moral than anyone who thinks stoning is an appropriate punishment for Sabbath breaking. However, I understand your point a little better now. Thank you.

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I disagree. I think we are absolutely more moral than anyone who thinks stoning is an appropriate punishment for Sabbath breaking. However, I understand your point a little better now. Thank you.

Well I think another point, or maybe rephrase, Raf, is that stoning was Law, as far as I know. I don't think it's uncommon to follow laws we find immoral.

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. . .

Can we be moral and never worship a god or have a personal savior? And if so, where does that morality come from?

See post #11. You have to be willing to look through a different lens.

Your question, and I mean this to explain, is similar to, "Can we be moral if we never went to kindergarten?"

I think morality is different for everyone, and is a mixture of many things, but mainly chosen.

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The question of whether we are more moral than an earlier culture is interesting, but not the thread topic. I apologize for the derail.

I think we ultimately derive morals from reason, which need not be an overly sophisticated concept. Seeing morality in the animal kingdom indicates that animals have some capacity to reason. Less sophisticated than our capacity, but present nonetheless.

The more reasonable we become as a people, the more our morals develop.

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Yes, I think religion stifles the development of morality by taking a snapshot of morality at a particular time and asserting that it is objectively moral (which in my view is an oxymoron). Thus, religion teaches us that stoning a non virgin is ordained of God, and God is always right, so stoning a non virgin is right. Suddenly, I cannot argue that stoning a non virgin is wrong unless I question the second premise, that God is always right. If you're unwilling to entertain the thought that God can be wrong, you have no basis for saying it's wrong to stone a woman to death for the crime of not being a virgin on her wedding night. But you KNOW it's wrong because you're reasonable. The morality thread I started tackles that issue head on. Our morality IS more developed than Yahweh's.

So yes, you can be moral without believing in a god. In fact, believing in a god gives you a firm foundation for condoning actions and laws that reason would lead you to believe are IMMORAL. The other thread proves that point. (I'm expressing an opinion, not declaring victory).

Edited by Raf

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On 3/12/2015 at 0:36 PM, Raf said:

It's kind of complicated, I think.

We get some of our morality from religion, to be sure. But where did religion get its morality? [in my view] religion gets its morality from the people who invented the religion. A religion created by a people who saw women as second class citizens and slaves as property will never rise above those practices on their own, but they may indeed harbor principles that would eventually overturn both (people don't have to be without error or contradiction, remember).

But once something becomes codified in a religion, it becomes very difficult to break beyond that religion's moral code. That's why, hundreds of years later, the religious folk could bring a woman taken in adultery to Jesus' feet with the perfectly Biblically accurate intention to stone her to death. The story is an interpolation, but the plausibility of the story remains intact because the law of Moses does indeed teach that she should have been put to death. In the story, Jesus doesn't say, "killing someone over adultery is immoral." That would be calling the Old Testament law immoral. So he finds another escape route. A clever one, it must be admitted.

But today, if I were to propose a law identical to the Old Testament law on adultery, we would call such a law immoral. Not that adultery is cool. We have simply evolved in our morality to the point that we do not consider it a capital offense. The writers of the Old Testament had a different moral code, a stricter one. A less moral one, according to our values today. According to even Christian and Jewish values today. We elevate love, compassion and forgiveness as positive values, never admitting that in doing so, we are simultaneously denouncing the Old Testament law as immoral by our standards.

We DO get some of our morality from our religion, but our religion got its morality from the people who invented it. Barbaric people? Barbaric morality. Less barbaric but still unenlightened people? Less barbaric but still unenlightened morality.

It's only if you insist that religion's morality is absolute and objectively moral because it comes from God that you run into the trouble we';re exploring in the other thread: an absolutely objectively moral God would not impose laws we all agree would be immoral.

But that's an exploration of where we DON'T get our morality.

Where DO we get it from?

We get it, ultimately, from reason.

I saw this thread just now.  Apparently a past form of you and I were discussing this.  So I know my views are very different and I assume yours have changed some as well.

It's already stated that animals have a form of morality.  Do they Reason it out?  Probably not.  So I disagree with that last sentence.  Not that we don't reason out morality.  It's just not the SOURCE.

You also refer to religion as invented by people.  I disagree with that.  VPW invented something.  That's considered a cult.  Religion (and God) comes from the same place as our morality, from what I can tell.  

 

 

 

 

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