The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Morals From?

First of all, holy crap, I haven't written anything in a long long time. There kept being these stories in the news from all over the world that I thought, "Man, I should blog about that...", then my kid would take a poop in the living room and priorities would change and it'd be two weeks later and there'd be a new Pope and I'd think, "Man, I should blog about that...."

Yes, I meant to put "poop" and "pope" in close juxtaposition.

Secondly, the Amanda Berry story is terrifying and disgusting and, thankfully, in possession of a happy ending. I really try not to be a death penalty guy, but goddamn is it hard sometimes.

Ok, on to what I actually want to write about. I get asked quite often while engaging in theological debates/discussions about morality. We see it all the time in debates online when the religious side bring up morals and asks, usually pointedly, some version of, "Well where do you get your morals from, if not from the Bible/Koran/Torah/Special Holy Book That Means So Much To So Many Of Us?"

Usually their argument boils down to: your morality *has* to come from somewhere, and it *can't* come from you, so my book has these really great ideas that you use in your life, therefore you got your morality from my book/God(s)!

A lot of the time, "moral relativism" is brought up as the evil of all evils that you MUST be on board with if you don't subscribe to biblical/religious morality. What this line of thought lacks, in my experience, is the knowledge that pretty much all religious morality is a hodge-podge of adapted and updated religious ideas. In fact, A.J. Jacobs wrote a book called, The Year of Living Biblically which, in its quirky and flity way, shows that you *can't* live by all the rules in the bible. It's impossible in modern society...or even way back when the thing was written.

The explanation that I use for modern secular morality comes from our roads. When I say, "our roads", I mean the roads all over the planet made by people. If you go to any country (particularly with automobiles) you'll see that they have rules for driving. Some on the left, some on the right; speed limits vary; merging, signalling, and stopping at intersections all have their rules. How did we come to have these agreed upon rules?

We talked about it. A bunch of people sat down and thought about what makes sense. These rules have changed over time and continue to be adapted and re-written, but they all come from people. They are, on the whole, coherent and make sense when explained in the context of the culture and society they came from. Talking about issues is how we solve problems.

Morality is no different, really. We are social animals who live together in groups. We then have rules for behaviour that make life with each other more pleasant and productive. You can't let someone go around stealing, killing, and raping (no "Commandment" against that last one, by the way) and still remain part of the group. So what do we do? We sit together and hash out some basic rules for how to get along. It really isn't that hard to see how morality (or driving laws, or rules for flying planes...) got its groundwork laid.

So there. I'll try to write again before the next major meteor shower happens...but don't hold me to it. There's always some poop to deal with.

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1 Barbaric Yawps:

At 9/5/13 7:22 pm, Anonymous L.Long said...

Morality does not really exit as an absolute, all are relative. I get my atheist morals from the exact same place any theist gets theirs, by the common consent of the social structure and thru MOSTLY intelligent discourse and agreement.
If some fanatic bomber does his thing it is completely moral TO HIM, but as the atheist on the receiving end of the bomb is is a disgusting immoral thing to do!
It is all relative.


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