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Question of the Day: Morality 6 June 2007

Posted by SA'ILA in Philosophy, SA'ILA.
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Can there be morality without belief in God?

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1. The Imugi - 7 June 2007

It seems to me that there can indeed be morality without belief in God. “Morality”, it seems to me, is simply a standard that lays out acceptable external behavior in a community. A moral person lives in such a way as to cause a minimum amount of strife with the self and the community. Morality does need to be based on certain principles, but God does not have to be one of those principles.

Having said that, I see morality as rather superficial. It has little to do with the inward states which accompany outward actions; it is concerned mostly with *what* we do, not *why* we do it. For the most part it does not consider that the human heart is the root of all actions; that the inner world conditions the outer world. Morality, it seems to me, tries to force something that cannot be forced. At best you’ll get an external appearance of “good conduct”, but within the heart, nothing has really changed.

Somebody who is genuinely concerned with the “inner world”, the transformation of the human heart, is, I think, ultimately drawn to the Divine. Morality doesn’t require a belief in God, but if we are to go past mere morality I think it has to be through God.

2. talib - 13 June 2007

defining morality is the hardest part of this question. i think the definition that assumes the least is: to act morally is to avoid the intentional breaking of a law. law can be any standard of behavior (and perhaps emotion and thought as well) required by an authority e.g., God, state laws, a commitment to natural rights, etc.

there are interesting consequences of such a broad definition. jaywalking would be deemed an immoral act, for example. it should be noted that an important distinction between the law of western states and religious edicts is that the former mostly requires citizens to refrain from action while the latter often requires believers not only to refrain from certain actions, but to also to engage in certain actions. in other words, to be a morally upright citizen as defined here, one mostly has to refrain from certain acts that are illegal while to be a moral muslim, one must refrain from illegal acts as deemed by the shari`a as well as engage in many obligatory acts of worship and human interaction.

so, going back to the question, i think that there can be morality as defined here without belief in *the God*. but there cannot be morality without subscription to authority, whether it be the secular law of the land, some notion of the natural rights of all human beings, allegiance to another human, etc. in other words, humans create gods for themselves other than the God.

one might object that this answer is true simply by my definition of morality. but i can’t think of any other definition that would fare better because: “being moral” understood in the most general sense means compliance with some set of regulations of human behavior. unless one is the originator of the set of human behavior in question, to be moral, one must comply with someone else’s regulations, sometimes against one’s will. compliance against one’s will is compliance to authority (though no physical coercion need be involved, though often it is with state laws). thus being moral requires subscription to authority. and so the only question that remains is, what authority?

as for the person who believes he is moral because he acts and refrains according to his own moral standard of his creation and his standard alone, i don’t think there is any way we would think of this as “morality.” if there was, then the word has no meaning we can agree upon in the first place. as for those who believe they can act morally while only acting according to the requirements of their personal conscience, they are still acting according to an authority because, since acting according to one’s conscience often forces one to act against one’s will, one is acting according to authority, as this is the definition of authority.

separate from their conscious selves.


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