Monday, February 11, 2013
What Makes a Man Good Part One
I have noticed something in the blogoville recently that sort of tickled me, and I think it is central to understanding how humans perceive themselves. Many of my Conservative cohorts have expressed on more than one occasion that without God, there would be no morality. Polar opposite to that, one of my Liberal cohorts said a week ago, or so, that "the law is all we have," and without it man would not be moral.
Let's explore how the hardcore Christians think. For whatever reason, they think that God is the originator of morality, and that without God, morality would not exist and man would not be moral. That's an interesting thing to ponder, so I'll see your theology and raise you some Plato. In Euthyphro, Plato asks this question that is pretty hard to answer: what makes an action pious? Do the gods love piety because it is inherently pious, or is it pious because the gods say so?
If that was a bit convoluted, let me rephrase: is an action moral simply because God says it is moral, or can certain actions be inherently moral? Some people are going to say that it's moral because God says so. But if you think about it, there's a lot that the Bible, or whatever religious text you like, does not cover. For example, the Bible describes morality between humans, but what about morality between humans and other sapient species?
If aliens showed up one day, would we owe them the same dignity and morality, the same protection of their natural rights as sapient beings that we would owe another human being? And what about slavery? There is no moral condemnation of slavery in the Bible. In fact, the Bible goes to some lengths to describe slavery that is in accordance with God's law. But no one today would argue that slavery is moral.
And what if man one day irrefutably discovered that there is no God? Would all things moral suddenly cease to be moral? Would everyone then be plunged into a binge of debauchery and immorality? Probably not. Trust me, friends, there are plenty of Atheists out there who are more moral than most Christians.
Even if God exists and did indeed create the universe, it was done so in a way that certain things would inherently be moral. If God did not exist, it would still be righteous to do kindness to others. All of our actions would not suddenly become morally neutral. Few people would reason that the murder of children is totally fine. Just because God created the universe does not mean he personally created everything in it, but it means that he created the conditions for certain things to exist.
You wouldn't say that because God created the universe, that means he created automobiles, would you? Just as well, God created a universe in which the conditions allowed for the existence of morality. The automobile only exists in reality insofar as there are people who were able to create the automobile, and as long as automobiles physically exist. The same is true with morality. If sapient beings did not exist, then morality would only exist as an idea--something that has the potential to exist. Because what is morality other than actions committed by human beings that are considered to be pious?
If humans do not exist, then those actions cannot be committed. So like the automobile, morality would only exist as something that has the potential to be actually realized.
I admit that the fear of eternal damnation compelled me to do the right thing for a while. But there came a point in my life where I decided that I truly don't care. I won't be frightened or coerced into doing the right thing on the off chance that doing the wrong thing might land me in a place of eternal suffering and torture. I don't mean to be insulting, but that is childish.
Morality exists without God. Most people know this in their hearts, because they know that if one day God's existence is disproved, they would still not be able to bring themselves to murder and steal and do harm to others. They would not go out and get sloshed every night, or engage in extra-marital, promiscuous sex. They wouldn't do this because they would still have a sense of dignity and personal responsibility.
I'm going to do what I think is right, regardless of what a damn book tells me. I'm going to try to live my life with dignity, personal responsibility, and I'm going to try to do right by my fellow man. I don't want to cause harm or suffering to others, and I want to live a life of general moral piety and ethical righteousness. If God exists and is angry at me for following my personal conscience--the conscience he supposedly gave me--and if my attempt to leave this world a better place than I found it is not pleasing to him, then I will happily march my own "immoral" ass to the gates of Hell.
And if there is no God, I will continue to do the right thing and treat people with the respect and dignity they deserve.
In part two of this three part series, I will talk about the flip side of this grand question: the notion that man only does the right thing because of the law. In part three, I will discuss what I think the actual answer is to this question. Hint: I think it has nothing to do with God or the Law.