Morality: Not Just for the Religious Anymore

One fact about me that my parents cannot seem to wrap their minds around, is how religion–Christianity specifically–could creep me out. [The entire idea of Big Brother watching us, the fate of your body after death resting on whether or not you believed strongly enough in B.B. to warrant “life” or eternal damnation, being “filled with the spirit”…. All of these things (and then some) make my skin crawl. Personally, I would rather not think about them at all.] To you, this will probably seem normal, as my audience is primarily a reasonable crowd. However, my parents, though I love them dearly, have spent too much time devoted to appeasing the Abrahamic god for them to understand how another way of life could be moral.

A conversation I recently had with my father turned to this topic. His opinion is that without god, there can be no good, but since there is goodness, there is god. You and I are quite familiar with this flawed logic. The truth is, there being a god does not induce goodness, neither does a lack of one negate it. Still, I was unable to express that to him. I am good at writing, once my thoughts have been collected, but, for me, that takes copious amounts of time as I do not gather thoughts swiftly. Sometimes, I mull over a topic for days before understanding what I need to say and even then I might not be able to communicate it effectively. In any case, I have just reached chapters six and seven in “The God Delusion” (since writing the previous statements) and, not surprisingly, Dawkins lays it out much more eloquently and logically than I.

In reply to the frequently posed question “If there is no god, why be good?” Dawkins asks:

“‘Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wire tap in your head, monitoring your every move, even you every base thought…’ It seems to me to require a low self-regard to think that, should belief in God suddenly vanish from the world, we would all become callous and selfish hedonists, with no kindness….”

Now, I have heard this question time and again as evidence for the existence of a creator, even from my own father. Again, as Dawkins clearly stresses, if belief in god is the only thing keeping you from committing heinous acts of violence–I have heard “sometimes, I want to kill someone, but god commands me not to, so I do not.”–you do not need god, you need therapy. It is not god who gives us morality, rather, it is an internal knowledge of how to and not to act. Dawkins gives an example from Kant. I will paraphrase it as follows:

Only act in such a way that if everyone else followed suit, you would not be hurt, harmed, or neglected. Act as though it were “universal law”. Would you want your significant other to have an affair? Probably not. That being the case, do not cheat. Do you enjoy being lied to? No? Then do not lie. This is essentially the Golden Rule, but in layman’s terms.

Going back to the conversation between myself and my father: We both are saddened by each other’s worldview, he because (in his mind) I am going to burn forever, I because that is such a silly (and creepy!) concept that I wish he could for just a moment recognize that. Further along in the discussion, he went on to tell me that I had given up reason; I laughed at the irony. I’ve finally learned to question things but I am the one without reason? During our discussion he brought up irreducible complexity, something I had just been familiarized with. I was still hazy on the details and, again, could not argue my point well. Seems my public speaking class did me no good after all. I’m just as ill-equipped to debate now as I was when I began it last Fall. Curses. Eventually, I will be a voice of reason and not just this little, timid, self conscious girl. Until then, I will continue to educate myself and learn as much as I can, including learning how to speak my mind.

For now, I will write.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s entry. If you have any ideas for a topic, let me know in the comments below.

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