It was an interesting conversation that I did not start. The other day I was working at my desk when a coworker– a contractor from natively from Canada– probed to see what I believed in and then offered a short dissertation on the impact of Christianity in his hometown.
Basically, he recounted that in Quebec at one time the Roman Catholic Bishop (or whatever head was there) more or less ruled so far as ethics were concerned. Even public officials would go for this man’s blessing. But during the 50s and 60s when both ours and his country started to reject religion, the people of Quebec stopped listening to this man’s guidance, and now the city is rampant with crime and this man attributes this to the wane of religious authority in the town.
He is a self labeled agnostic who claims not to have set foot in a church in over 20 years after rejecting it as a child1 .
Though I’m not presenting hard data (anecdotal at best) it follows along with another statement I was reading just the other day:
We imagine we can ditch Christianity and yet the good things we have inherited in our way of life will continue. They will not. Christianity formed Western civilisation and is so consubstantial with it that if Christianity goes, the lot goes with it. Let TS Eliot, writing in 1934, give us a text to think about this Easter: “Do you need to be told that even such modest attainments as you can boast in the way of polite society will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?”2
You see, one of the main arguments that Atheists advance is that humans have evolved (they have to link their believe in Evolution here) to a point where they’ve moved beyond the need of religion, that they’ve learned enough to “not need the crutch.” However, history does not bear out this assertion.
You see, everywhere that religion has been supplanted for non-religion, it has lead to an eroding of moral values, not an increase of them. America, as it becomes more secular is also becoming more violent. When you ask Muslims what they like and dislike about America, they point at the moral decay this society has. And it’s true. Our society is in decay and just like many great empires before it, it is headed for a fall.
And I addressed the core of a problem in a meeting I had just the other day.
We were trying to decide the best security for sending applications that we build as software developers to the production system which is live on the Internet. Basically, we’re pretty undisciplined at the moment (not unsecure, mind you, we just don’t follow procedures) and we were looking to gain more discipline– more structure.
My response to how to do this was to put into place some software that would force us to follow the process. And my reason why was simple. We, as humans, are pretty good at taking shortcuts and coming up with justifications. Without something keeping us from doing the wrong things, we will tend to go faster than the speed limit, try to take advantage of rules, and seek to do the most we can without going over the line.
Simply put, we’re sinners. Now, in a society derived from God (endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights…) we know that it is not the government by which my rights are given and should be secured, but by God. That means that the Supreme Court is not above God’s law– they can’t take away my freedom of life, liberty and property because it’s not given to us by them. Same thing with the President and Congress.
It is exactly at these times when the government believes that it does have that right, and that rights derive from them that secularism sweeps in and so does situational ethics and we start having debates over the obvious. (i.e. Why is slavery a moral wrong worthy of being banned but not abortion? Who is the moral arbiter? The majority? But the majority does not make right!)
All this to say, atheism is not some utopia, but the exact opposite. It leads to the very “everyone doing that which was right in his own eyes” that got the world judged by the flood, and will get it judged by fire this next time.
24 thoughts on “Morals without Christianity”
Just a quick curious question …
What is it about Christianity, or religion in general, that makes a society behave morally?
Just because morality is given by God doesn’t mean that morality=Christianity.
Christianity is the desire to be like Christ and the actions that follow suit. Morality may influence these actions, but that does not mean that morality and Christianity are synonymous.
Amanda’s last blog post..Pros and Cons
Interesting question. I would think that religion in general has the impact on society of having someone higher than another human being to be accountable to. For example, if I break the law while driving my car by exceeding the speed limit by 5 or 10 miles an hour the odds are in my favor that I will not be pulled over or ticketed. However, if I believe there is a God, and that doing so would be sin, I’m less likely to speed because I know that it doesn’t please God or that I might be punished.
Same thing on the positive side. If I believe that God’s love for me made it so that He died a gruesome death for me, I may be more willing to sacrifice my life for the good of others than I would if I just had to be concerned about being better than the next person. Works based religions (like Roman Catholicism, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.) would seem to add to this effect, but they actually detract because they set up a series of comparisons against others rather than comparisons with God. I don’t have to be perfect, just better than the worst guy who’s going to Heaven. But I can see also where a works based religion would tend to make people more moral.
In a society that has no higher authority than one constructed by man, man is at will to change the rules when they don’t work out for them. Just like the child that changes the rules of the game when they’re losing, the society based on the whim of the people will trend to be less moral as each group erases those moral positions that they have problems with. Those that want to be sexually deviant erase the sexual morality. Those that have trouble with the truth change the definitions of words.
This country was based, for that reason, on the concept of a Creator giving rights so that the highest authority rested not with man, but with God. It helped to secure the rights because only the giver of the rights can take them away. Philosophically, God is the only one allowed to take away the rights to life, liberty and property in America, even though the secularists have attacked each one on paper.
Does that answer the question, or make it worse? 🙂
“You see, everywhere that religion has been supplanted for non-religion, it has lead to an eroding of moral values, not an increase of them.”
This is an old Christian canard which has absolutely no factual basis. On the contrary, there is growing evidence to suggest that the opposite is true. See Challenging Religious Myths 1: No Morality without Religion for a more in-depth rebuttal.
Amanda, I don’t believe that I’ve implied equality as much as derivation, except in the specific case of America and how Atheistic morality is derived from Christian morality.
What is morality except a determination of values– what is right and wrong. Christianity provides a framework for those values, and I’m attempting to argue that such a framework does not exist with Atheism by definition. Either that, or the framework is transient, and therefore not a framework since what is right today may be wrong tomorrow.
Robert, although your attempt to label my statement a fallacy is amusing, it doesn’t bear out.
According to the site you reference:
However this does not bear out. It falsely assumes that man is a good being by nature when the opposite is true. Ever researched mob morality? How about the tendency humans have to follow direction regardless of the consequence?
Hitler was able to direct people to the gas chambers, even though if you asked individuals if they would kill someone they would say no. Even more recent, the Milgram experiment proved that people will perform acts that go against their conscience if the appropriate authority figure instructed them to do so.
Humans are very much like sheep– the follow where the leader says to go and they tend to adopt herd morality when in groups.
And then there’s the problem of defining morality where you logic goes completely haywire. If morality is that which is described by following Christianity’s list of right and wrong, and if the new secular list of rules deviates from these rules, then by definition there is an eroding of moral values as defined in the first clause. The only way your statement carries any weight is if moral rules are somehow external to Christian morals, but you have to prove that that is actually the case.
Not as trivial as you would like everyone here to believe.
I’m not saying that there cannot be morality outside of Christianity, but what I am saying is that our society was based on Christian morality, and that Atheism is parasitic of Christianity’s moral code, eliminating only those things that cause difficulty for the individual. Therefore, it is prone to societal decay as might nor numbers make right, but yet it becomes the only way to decide such things without an external source.
Wow, what an ignorant and myopic view of morality and religion. I think we all know plenty of people who are supposedly “good Christians” (something stated as if Christianity = morality and moral supremacy) who consistently do not behave in an ethical or moral way (and do so without guilt or remorse). I also know many agnostics/atheists who consistently act in a moral fashion.
If there is a G-d, the assumption that things are moral because G-d (or, more accurately, the bible) says that thing is moral, or doing the right thing because G-d would not be happy you sinned trivializes morality and ethics. It makes it seem as though right and wrong is based on G-d’s whim as opposed to G-d thinking something is right or wrong for a reason. To be have morally is to try to do the right thing because it is inherently right, not to get some great reward and not just because “G-d said so” without understanding why G-d said so.
ol cranky’s last blog post..Common Sense Prevails in the Midwest
I never actually labeled anything you said a fallacy. What I said is that your assertion
lacked factual basis, and you’ve still have not provided anything to support it.
I agree with you that if morality is defined by whatever the Christian says is moral, then, ipso facto, societies which become less Christian also become “less moral”. This of course is playing semantics and has actually little bearing on whether a society is moral or not. The really risible statement you make is
Sorry, but it is YOU who must prove your assertion that there are no moral rules external to Christian morals. Not only have many societies thrived long before Christianity ever arrived on the scene, but many continue to do so absent a dominant Christian ethic. We can easily show that much of the Judeo-Christian ethic existed long before it.
I would suggest that “not providing anything to support it” is actually incorrect. First, in the post itself I provided anecdotal evidence from a “hostile witness”. A self declared agnostic (originally stated he was an atheist, but I corrected his terminology) reported his own observations. Now, I willingly concede that it is not enough to have one person’s perspective, however, I believe that this is telling. Furthermore, I laid the philosophical groundwork necessary to explain how this happens using Millgram’s experiment and basic understanding of the human condition and mob morality.
Do I need to delve into the historical arguments, or how would you suggest we proceed in providing the evidence that will satisfy you? In order to prove or disprove the stated cases, we would need a moral base with which to compare the delta and then we would have to measure trends over time.
We could look at the waning influence of Christianity on the American population and note the increases of murder, divorce, and other immoral behavior. We could look to China’s godless rule and compare its valuing of life and the freedom of expression or religion. We could also ask the question “Has there any culture become both more secular and more moral”– one that would be fascinating to explore because I don’t believe that you will find such a thing.
My comment about moral rules external to Christianity goes to worldview. Certainly, you could produce a lot of Judeo-Christian values outside of Christianity. But you’d have a problem connecting these sources impact to current moral definitions. And then there’s the problem that the Bible states that it is a record from the beginning of time, therefore arguments that something came before something that is from the beginning of time is ludicrous.
Simply put, the Bible’s main point is a discussion of right and wrong from the Garden of Eden to the cross and afterwards. The earliest form or morality being obedience to God, that eventually grew into not killing one another, and then the addition of the Mosiac code and following.
So, I look forward to an interesting discussion, at least.
Your original assertion stated a universal, i.e., it applied “everywhere.” But to extrapolate the opinion of one person in one city to “everywhere” is an extreme generalization.
Your philosophical framework is merely a theory. First, provide evidence that non-religion has increased the erosion of morality, and then perhaps we’ll take your theory seriously as a possible explanation.
I don’t agree that divorce is immoral, but murder certainly is. So is the incidence of murder in America increasing, as you claim?
No, it is not. As Christianity’s influence has waned, so has the murder rate. What’s more, if we look at where murder and divorce rates are highest in America, we find them predominantly in areas of deeper religiosity.
In sum, contrary to your assertion, it appears that Christianity’s waning influence has had a positive effect on morality.
Robert, all you have to do is look to the public school system to see how the *mandated* absence of God has affected morality.
Not to mention, morality is being redefined every second.
Some people consider it moral to put the elderly out of their misery by lethal injection. These types of “mercy killings” were popular during the Nazi regime, when the value of human life was determined by Hitler and backers of his twisted philosophy. If we don’t keep to a golden standard, let’s use the Biblical one for example, who’s to say what is acceptable and what’s not?
If the murder rate is waning, why have school shootings exploded en masse in the past decade? These aren’t crazed “Christian” kids doing the shooting.
Because we Christians strongly believe in right and wrong, according to the Biblical standard, we’re becoming extremely unpopular. I’m not saying Christians are perfect, just that God’s mandates are.
We’ve all been around spoiled brats whose parents allow them to set their own standards for behavior. That’s where I think America is heading, and it’s toward a major disaster. That’s the problem…we’re not just human robots, capable of falling into a reliable set of “virtues”. From our early childhood we stumble and fall into trouble time and time again. If left to our own devices we’re pathetically headed down a dead end road of unhappiness and selfish ambitions. Where’s the morality there? Is it good for society? Doubtful.
There has to be a standard. I believe that God created us, and that life is precious and should be protected according to His Biblical mandates. If evolution is correct, and we’re all some highly-evolved species of animal, then that same life devaluates pretty quickly according to whoever happens to be calling the shots (Hitler? Stalin? Both atheists and look how their regimes fell).
By all means, blame Christianity.
Mary’s last blog post..Learning from Loss
In order to do as you ask, Robert, we’ll first need to define morality. You’ve already stated some of things that you believe are moral or immoral, but have provided no backing to them. So, let’s start there.
I believe immoral to be any of the crimes on the link that you listed to. In addition, I would include instances of lying, defrauding on contracts and other forms of cheating, substance abuse (be it alcohol, tobacco, narcotics). I’ll leave out the whole idea of attending church for the sake of discussion.
Divorce is immoral in that it is the breaking of a contract. When two people pledge to be together “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, and to love, honor and cherish until death do they part” and then they break the contract, they break their promise, that’s immoral. Unless you’re saying that it’s ok to make promises and not keep them.
According to studies done into your data, the blue areas of red states are where the crimes are taking place. These are the secular and non-Christian areas. Perhaps you should check into that.
And we’re not even going to go into the fact that the Christians giving to charity, or should well?
In sum, I think you’re mistaken about your summation.
Hello, sorry for the double post. WordPress was acting wonky yesterday. I posted my first entry, didn’t see it, and figured it had gone down a black hole. So I re-posted, trying to recreate from memory my original post.
I would like to point out, that still, no support has been provided for the assertion that “everywhere that religion has been supplanted for non-religion, it has lead to an eroding of moral values, not an increase of them.” In fact, I’ve provided evidence for the contrary.
So, as far as I’m concerned, this claim is debunked and should be retracted.
The conversation appears to have evolved beyond the original scope with the latest posts from Mary and MInTheGap. I’ll respond to each in turn.
I found both of your comments in Akismet’s spam catcher and restored them both. If there’s one that is more relevant, I can delete the other one at your direction.
I rebutted your claim in comments stating that as far as murder goes there is more murder in the secular areas than in non secular areas. I also added that there is a 4 to 1 difference in the amount of money given to charities. I’ve also posited that if we take 1900s as more religious and 2000 as more secular, then we can also say there has been more divorce over that period of time. Your statement about the rate of murders as a whole over the time period is also erroneous, since your own data says that the murder rate in 2006 is greater than 1960, with a high point in 1980.
I will agree that neither of us has actually applied any metrics of how God-fearing or God-less America has been over that period. that would be the statistic missing to correctly interpret the data, I would think.
However, the problem even here is that in order to prove that Atheism is a positive move, you’d have to decouple it from the influence of Christianity and religion. Back to the philosophical arguments, there is no reasonable or rational reason to have any moral unless it specifically benefits a person. Right now, I would contend that many atheists uphold Christian morals because it’s in their best interests. However, when there has been opportunity to diverge and not hold these morals, Atheists have chosen to do “whatever’s right in my own eyes.” This explains the killings in Tibet, the one-child policy in China, etc.
Hi Mary, you wrote:
How right you are. Women began to be seen as equals to men. Blacks began to be seen as equals to whites. Witches and “heretics” began to be no longer burned at the stake. And democracy began to be seen as superior to theocracy as a system of government.
You may lament that “morality is being redefined every second,” but I see those as positive moral steps whose redefinition–originally opposed by Christians–created a better, more just society for all.
As should be clear, the Bible is no golden standard for morality. When you see someone working on the Sabbath, do you kill them? (Exodus 31:12-15) Have you stoned your children lately for disobedience or disrespect? (Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Leviticus 20:9) If you’re answer is that we’re in “grace” now and such laws no longer apply, then why respect the Ten Commandments? The fact is, Christians have been redefining morality for as long as the religion has been around.
In any case, your question is an age-old one of philosophers and ethicists. Some have posited an objective morality, while others suggest a morality based on “common decencies“.
Hitler was not an atheist, and Stalin’s regime was based on communist ideology, not atheism.
In any case, the irony of your statement is stunning. You worship a deity who’s committed mass genocide and who sends the majority of humanity to eternal torture. The OT is replete with capital punishment for the most innocuous offenses. Yes, when God is calling the shots, life devalues “pretty quickly.”
First off, this comment has no relation to her statement:
Girls were allowed into school systems, integration happened, and witches ceased to be burned at the stake long before prayer and Bible reading was kicked out of schools.
The problem with the morality question, Robert, is how you choose to define it. Is it an absolute or isn’t it? If it’s not, I don’t know how you ever do any trend analysis because its definition can change.
The Bible does hold a moral standard, but like you quoted, there are also a set of laws created for the Israelite people. And there are multiple tangents we could go from here. We could go down the “is God just to demand life for any specific act” or “why respect the Ten Commandments” or even “how does the moral code in the Bible jive with morality for today”. All of these worthwhile pursuits that are currently off topic.
But back to the point, Christians have not changed what’s right and wrong even according to your quotes… Just the punishments. Grace and mercy have wrapped in them the idea that we all know that we sin all the time, and yet we can be forgiven– the entire Christian message. It says that although God commanded the Israelites to rest on the Saabath, if their ox was in the ditch, or they messed up, we can now have that forgiven. If a child disrespects their parents, they don’t have to stone them, even if it is still wrong.
The moral code does not dictate punishments– all sin deserves death. The moral code simply says what is right or wrong. It’s a moral standard. When you start to use a sliding standard of morality, everything becomes right given the time or place.
For an illustration, with a sliding standard of morality, genital mutilation could be morally right in one place, but morally wrong in another. Which is it? What is the Atheist moral standard here, and can it change?
I would argue that Hitler was not a Christian either, in the normal sense of the word. In fact, for purposes of this argument he is very similar to modern Atheism, he just chose to add and subtract different things from the moral system. He added the idea of the perfect race by erasing the idea of equality under God.
As for your last statement, we worship a Diety who is the Creator and Owner of all things, and who is just. All people must die, but that does not have to be the end. Since Jesus rose from the dead, so we all may be able to do likewise. We all deserve the death sentence for our sin, but praise be to God for giving us a way that we can have grace and mercy shown on us!
MIntheGap, you wrote,
What sort of backing do you need?
Of course, it depends on how the contract was written. The way you stated it is not how all marriage vows are uttered. Also, if two parties agree to end the contract, then how is that immoral? Are you suggesting that contracts, even marriage contracts, are binding for life even though no such provision is in the contract?
Also, the author conflates “a John Kerry voter” with “godless,” but offers no support for this supposition. Unfortunately for him, we do know how the religious and non-religious voted in the 2004 election. While those unaffiliated with any religion (these can include atheists, but they can also include theists of some stripe) chose Kerry by 4 to 1 over Bush, Latino Catholics, Jews, Black Protestants, and “other faiths” overwhelmingly voted for Kerry. So we can see that voting patterns are a poor indicator of religious belief.
When researchers examine actual religious belief and immoral behavior, they find a correlation, as the study I linked to demonstrated.
Well, we can play this game endlessly:
“Atheist doctors more likely to care for the poor than religious ones”
Secularists least like to approve of torture
When I say backing, I’m saying governing philosophy. Why is murder wrong? Why is it wrong to steal? What makes something right or wrong?
So, if the couple does pledge “until death do us part” or only one of the two want a divorce, then it’s possible that it can be wrong? Are we quibbling over the grounds for the morality, and who says what the marriage contract consists of. If the standard definition is a bond for life, is it right to terminate it before the time is up?
I wrote about blue counties in red states as a reply to your comment
You then provided a link to a site that listed things by states. So, you didn’t produce anything that would differentiate who is predominately godless or who is god-fearing.
If you look at the site you quoted you see the following data: Bush won Evangelical Christians 79 to 21, Other Christians 67 to 33, Latino Protestants 60 to 40, Non-Latino 57 to 43, Mainline Protestants 54 to 46. Of the categories of Christianity listed in your poll, Bush won the majority of all the bigger groups of Christians, where Kerry won the smaller groups. The numbers are even more interesting when you look at those who attend services regularly vs. those that do not. Bush carried a huge majority of those that attended.
But all that any of this points to is that (1) it’s ineffective to use polling data to generalize a given area’s “religion quotient” and (2) that we have yet to devise a standard with which to prove the validity of the statement of yours that I’ve quoted above. Indeed, we’re back where we started in terms of that line of thought.
And that means we’re back to the question of a moral standard, and that one needs to be determined in order to calculate whether or not secularism is eroding away at moral standards. Indeed, as we said in the first two comments, if the moral standard is the Christian one then the answer is obvious.
As for whether Atheist doctors are more willing to care for the poor than religious ones, this does not explain the rationality behind this endeavor. Certainly, I could see a “this is all we’ve got” but it doesn’t explain why we should “waste” what we’ve got serving the poor, when survival of the fittest suggests that the weakest among us must make way for the strongest. Simply put, this is great, but can you find the same passion for helping the poor in countries that don’t carry a Western/Judeo-Christian moral compass? Can you find this in Russia? China?
Same thing with torture. In order to prove your case you need to prove that this flows from an intrinsic, philosophical Atheist base. Right now, you’re confirming a previous post that Atheists are more influenced by herd mentality and following the society than they are in holding a standard or constructing a moral framework.
I’m short on time, and as MInTheGap has addressed your statements on Hitler and equal rights being in effect way before God and prayer were removed from the schools, I just have one thing left to add…
“You worship a deity who’s committed mass genocide and who sends the majority of humanity to eternal torture.”
He doesn’t send the majority of humanity to eternal torture. He’s very clear in the Bible, in the New Testament, (thought I better clarify that since you seem most familiar with the Old Testament)that the only unforgivable sin is the sin of unbelief. He also says that He is not willing that ANY should perish. If any of us, for instance, were to end up in hell, that would be our choice, a result of our unbelief in God.
Mary’s last blog post..Defining Godless Morality
MInTheGap, you wrote,
You can delete the first one, thanks.
This was not my claim…What I said was “What’s more, if we look at where murder and divorce rates are highest in America, we find them predominantly in areas of deeper religiosity.” I’ve seen no refutation on this.
No. Your claim was that murder rates have been increasing, when the data clearly show they’ve been declining. Are you now claiming that the country has become more and more Christian since 1980?
Then you have no basis to claim that an increase in non-religion has led to an erosion of moral values. Recant the claim until you actually produce the metrics.
I make no claims as to whether “atheism is a positive move”. I only note that where religiosity is declining, many negative social dysfunctions are also declining.
No reasonable or rational reason that you know of, but this only demonstrates your lack of knowledge of philosophical ethics. In my reply to Mary above, I linked to some articles on such secular ethics.
How does upholding Christian morals benefit an atheist? Why not Muslim morals? Or Jewish morals?
Please list examples of specifically Christian morals which atheists uphold.
Good job, MIn.
Robert, I’m not intentionally trying to ignore you. I’m taking some time to do some reading and research so that I can better answer your questions. I believe that I’ve been responding too quickly to some of your statements (as is easy to do in this medium). Instead of properly laying the framework to this discussion, I believe that I’ve tried to refute arguments that in some cases were of my own extrapolation from your comments.
Again, bear with me as I attempt to reform, clarify and properly express my position.
MInTheGap, I look forward to your reply.