The idea that if you don’t believe in a God that you have no right to express your thoughts on right or wrong because you’re merely a composition of chemicals is an annoying one. Religion continues to push the idea that we need moral absolutes (or objective morals) that were passed on from deity to human. This means there is a right and wrong answer and some religious people will argue that everyone knows this (because it’s written on our hearts or some such nonsense) but it only takes a quick scan of the internet to see that morally speaking, each region of the world operates very differently. In some places, whipping is a good way to punish someone. In other parts, people consider the death penalty a good form of deterrence.
Everywhere you look, you see the reality: no deity handed down anything. We as a species decide what is right and wrong and only we enforce it. That may be a scary thought for some, but I find it comforting. After all, secular morality outstrips religious morality at every turn.
It’s as if some people can’t understand why rape is not a good idea. They can’t consider what the victim would feel like. Do they want to live in a society where being raped is okay? Do they really think that the best way for our species to flourish is to run around raping people? Do they not have any compassion for other people? Can they not read and take in information on what rape does to other people both physically and mentally, and come to the conclusion that rape isn’t good for individuals, neighborhoods or societies?
That doesn’t mean there won’t be grades of ‘good’. There may be more than one answer to a moral question and as time goes by and we gather more data, we may find better ways to deal with certain situations.
For example, for a long time (and even today) we have thought that incarcerating and shaming people who are addicted (or even use) to drugs was the best way to deal with drug abuse.
However, we are currently analyzing data from Portugal that shows decriminalizing all drugs may be a far more effective way of handling the drug issue. Fourteen years ago, Portugal decriminalized drugs and they have seen drug use drop ever since.
I saw a video the other day from Grappling Ignorance, and in his video he says:
US congress arrived at its current legislation by evaluating practical needs, benefits and potential harms of its citizens. It decided that the practical way to live would be to offer the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to as many people as it can, provided that their efforts in doing so do not infringe on the rights of others to do so- and not a word of that practical policy was derived from holy scripture. People want to live in a society where other people don’t steal from them, or have the ability to murder them without deterrent or consequence. The people collectively demand it, the government deems it practical by discussion and debate, and it becomes law. No need for divinity.
We’ve been taught that subjective morality is a dirty thing, but I think it’s the best way to describe an ever-changing ethical code that has nothing to do with a deity and everything to do with us. We determine right from wrong and while some answers are easier than others, there can clearly be right ways of promoting human flourishing and wrong ways.
Another neat talk I saw about this subject a while ago was given by Sam Harris. I’ll post both videos at the bottom. I hope you’ll watch them.
I seriously think we need to get past the idea that we need objective morality and embrace the idea that reason, empathy, and compassion and our desire to promote happiness is a far better marker for creating ethical codes that actually work.