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Thread: Moral behavior and religious belief

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Moral behavior and religious belief

    Do you think it's necessary to have religious belief in order to have moral sense? In other words, to believe there is a "right" and "wrong" - and to accept the argument that one should always try to "do the right thing"?

    Some religious people say religious belief is essential to moral conduct.

    I disagree.

    For one, it seems to me that religious people follow a course of conduct not because they have freely chosen it or freely believe it is the "right" course - but rather because they've been told "do this, or else." In other words, they are acting out of fear of punishment ("sin," "hell," etc.) and deference to authority - or the expectation of a reward for doing whatever "the Lord" demands; e.g., "grace," or "heaven."

    This isn't a moral sense anymore than a dog not doing its business on the rug is behaving morally because it has been trained to fear the punishment it will receive if it does.

    Religious morality comes down to "obeying the law," in a technical sense, rather than making a free decision to do "x" rather than "y" because the individual has weighed the issue and has reasoned it out that "x" is the right course of action rather than "y."

    But can a person behave morally/decently - have a sense of right and wrong and a functioning internal compass that points to "right" - without having religious belief?

    Well, we know that at least some people can because we know of specific people who have little or no religious belief whose conduct and actions toward others have been exemplary. (Just as we all know of horrible people who are extremely religious.)

    This alone proves that it is possible to be a "good person" without any religious belief (as well as for people to be awful, even evil, despite their religious beliefs).

    But the big question is: Why behave morally if you don't "fear the Lord" (and implicitly, expect either punishment or reward based on your actions)?

    I think the most straightforward answer is because it's in your best interests to do so. Man is a social animal whose very life (and happiness) depends on peaceful, cooperative interaction with others. This requires the trust and good feeling of one's associates toward you - which in turn requires mutual fair dealing and honest conduct. Those who lie, steal and otherwise prove themselves to be untrustworthy (or dangerous) are rightly shunned while those who don't and aren't enjoy the benefits of civilization.

    And, by nature, we feel affection toward our families and friends; we want them to be happy and do well. Exploiting each other would create chaos and ultimately, ruin. Therefore, cheating, lying, violence, etc. can easily be seen as "wrong" while their opposites are "right."

    Holy injunctions are not necessary (though they may serve as a rough proxy when people are not capable of behaving decently on their own, absent a stick over their heads in the form of punishment delivered by an all-seeing "god").

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by Eric; 08-03-2009 at 08:18 AM.

  2. #2
    Administrator Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Do you think it's necessary to have religious belief in order to have moral sense? In other words, to believe there is a "right" and "wrong" - and to accept the argument that one should always try to "do the right thing"?

    Some religious people say religious belief is essential to moral conduct.

    I disagree.

    For one, it seems to me that religious people follow a course of conduct not because they have freely chosen it or freely believe it is the "right" course - but rather because they've been told "do this, or else." In other words, they are acting out of fear of punishment ("sin," "hell," etc.) and deference to authority - or the expectation of a reward for doing whatever "the Lord" demands; e.g., "grace," or "heaven."

    This isn't a moral sense anymore than a dog not doing its business on the rug is behaving morally because it has been trained to fear the punishment it will receive if it does.

    Religious morality comes down to "obeying the law," in a technical sense, rather than making a free decision to do "x" rather than "y" because the individual has weighed the issue and has reasoned it out that "x" is the right course of action rather than "y."

    But can a person behave morally/decently - have a sense of right and wrong and a functioning internal compass that points to "right" - without having religious belief?

    Well, we know that at least some people can because we know of specific people who have little or no religious belief whose conduct and actions toward others have been exemplary. (Just as we all know of horrible people who are extremely religious.)

    This alone proves that it is possible to be a "good person" without any religious belief (as well as for people to be awful, even evil, despite their religious beliefs).

    But the big question is: Why behave morally if you don't "fear the Lord" (and implicitly, expect either punishment or reward based on your actions)?

    I think the most straightforward answer is because it's in your best interests to do so. Man is a social animal whose very life (and happiness) depends on peaceful, cooperative interaction with others. This requires the trust and good feeling of one's associates toward you - which in turn requires mutual fair dealing and honest conduct. Those who lie, steal and otherwise prove themselves to be untrustworthy (or dangerous) are rightly shunned while those who don't and aren't enjoy the benefits of civilization.

    And, by nature, we feel affection toward our families and friends; we want them to be happy and do well. Exploiting each other would create chaos and ultimately, ruin. Therefore, cheating, lying, violence, etc. can easily be seen as "wrong" while their opposites are "right."

    Holy injunctions are not necessary (though they may serve as a rough proxy when people are not capable of behaving decently on their own, absent a stick over their heads in the form of punishment delivered by an all-seeing "god").

    Thoughts?
    As one who worships neither god, beast, man nor devil, I totally agree that for the purposes of social living religion is completely unnecessary. Suffice it to say that if everyone lived by my tenets the world would be a better and far nicer place - but still far from perfect.

    Ken.
    Die dulci fruimini!
    Ken.
    Wolds Bikers, Lincolnshire, England.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    As one who worships neither god, beast, man nor devil, I totally agree that for the purposes of social living religion is completely unnecessary. Suffice it to say that if everyone lived by my tenets the world would be a better and far nicer place - but still far from perfect.

    Ken.
    I would describe myself as a deist-agnostic. I don't dismiss the possibility that there may be something beyond our ken while at the same time violently objecting to the assertion that any of us "know" a thing when it comes to whether there is a god (let alone what this being, if he exists, wants of us).

    This position strikes me as reasonable - and defensible. Two things most organized religions are not!

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    Administrator Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I would describe myself as a deist-agnostic. I don't dismiss the possibility that there may be something beyond our ken while at the same time violently objecting to the assertion that any of us "know" a thing when it comes to whether there is a god (let alone what this being, if he exists, wants of us).

    This position strikes me as reasonable - and defensible. Two things most organized religions are not!
    True, I don't think that anyone can deny the possible existence of a higher intelligence. But, assuming there is such an intellect, why worship it? Seems crazy to me.

    Ken.
    Die dulci fruimini!
    Ken.
    Wolds Bikers, Lincolnshire, England.

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    True, I don't think that anyone can deny the possible existence of a higher intelligence. But, assuming there is such an intellect, why worship it? Seems crazy to me.

    Ken.
    Obsequious "worship" turns me off, too.

    I am awed by the magnificence of the natural world and all that is in it; by the working of the laws that govern it.

  6. #6
    Eric:

    Do you think it's necessary to have religious belief in order to have moral sense? In other words, to believe there is a "right" and "wrong" - and to accept the argument that one should always try to "do the right thing"?

    Some religious people say religious belief is essential to moral conduct.

    I disagree.
    And I agree with you. I have atheist/agnostic friends and acquaintances who are very ethical people. On the other hand, historically there have probably been more atrocities perpetrated by 'believers' than non-believers.

    Religion and/or religious belief is not of itself necessary to create a civilized society. (...and don't get me started on the claim that the U.S. is a "Christian nation" founded on Christian principles...)

  7. #7
    Administrator Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KentAZ View Post
    Eric:

    On the other hand, historically there have probably been more atrocities perpetrated by 'believers' than non-believers.
    Indeed, the world would be a far better and safer place without religion. Remove politics as well and we might even find we could live in peace with our enemies.

    Ken.
    Die dulci fruimini!
    Ken.
    Wolds Bikers, Lincolnshire, England.

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KentAZ View Post
    Eric:



    And I agree with you. I have atheist/agnostic friends and acquaintances who are very ethical people. On the other hand, historically there have probably been more atrocities perpetrated by 'believers' than non-believers.

    Religion and/or religious belief is not of itself necessary to create a civilized society. (...and don't get me started on the claim that the U.S. is a "Christian nation" founded on Christian principles...)
    I have no particular religious belief (although I am open to the idea that there may be more to existence than my limited intelligence/perceptions tell me). But I try to behave decently, even though I don't "fear the Lord" or subscribe to any particular religious doctrine. I don't take what's not mine; I try to be nice/treat people decently - etc.

    I do these things because I have empathy for others - and understand that society would fall apart if we all (or even most of us) behaved otherwise.

    But I think most people - or many people - have never consciously thought about it and religion provides a kind of automatic morality.

    Perhaps the masses need this. Napoleon certainly thought so!

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    Indeed, the world would be a far better and safer place without religion. Remove politics as well and we might even find we could live in peace with our enemies.

    Ken.
    It's the blind faith part (and the righteous zeal that often accompanies it) that gets humanity into deep trouble!

    What was it Voltaire said?

    Convince people of absurdities and it's easy to get them to commit atrocities... or something along those lines.

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