Morality and God

The concept of ethics and morality being equated with a god is not unfamiliar and it actually ties in very well with some thoughts on the origin of gods, rather than the origin of ethics and morality. I consider gods to be just one of a number of cultural constructs used to reinforce behavioural guidelines and rules that are a requirement of any structured society.

Ethics and morality are the learned human mechanisms by which social structure is maintained. Other organisms have different mechanisms for maintaining social structure – ants, for example, have a range of simple inherent behavioural responses to a variety of biochemical stimuli, but the basis of morality can be observed in other primates, so there is little difficulty identifying that morality is a behavioural adaptation to social living that has evolved with us as a species.

Since morality is rewarded by society, it is good to be moral. There may be advantages available from behaving in an amoral or immoral way, but those advantages tend to be offset, since other members of a society will punish such behaviour. Of course, the behaviour can only be punished if it is witnessed, which brings us to the point where we invoke an omniscient god. Such an entity simultaneously assuages our anger at the thought of others getting away with immoral behaviour (since they will be found out) and it keeps us thinking that our own actions are being watched, which keeps us in check. A God also provides us with a mechanism by which we can earn a reward for our good behaviour and be punished for bad behaviour. As adults, we invoke the same rationale when we tell children that Santa Claus will bring them toys if they are good, but not if they are bad. Santa Claus is as real to a child as God is to many adults and he fulfills the same moral and ethical role, but with less dire consequences. The difference is that people are expected to grow out of a belief in Santa, whereas they are considered amoral or worse if they grow out of their belief in God.

The fear and hatred that some religious people feel toward atheists or members of other religions may well link back into the system of moral control. If someone does not believe in an omniscient god, they have no fear of reprimand by them. The uncomfortable fact that atheists can often be very moral people is often simply disregarded on the basis that morals are determined by God. Yet, we atheists don’t need the threat or will of a higher power to stop us from behaving badly – we can understand how it damages our society and ultimately ourselves.
Moreover, we do not need a supernatural reward for being good – the act of doing good provides us with all the reward we need at a personal level.

The omniscient god method of behavioural control would be less irksome to us atheists if it had not been formulated by people with agendas beyond the functioning of society. It is those agendas that need to be challenged. Homosexuality, for example, may be abhorrent in the eyes of God, but it is perfectly natural in most higher social animals and it is no more socially harmful than heterosexuality. Indeed, in these days of overpopulation homosexuality seems to be more socially responsible than heterosexuality, yet it remains despised by religious groups who want more children ripe for indoctrination. Here lie the major problems with religion – the inability to change and the reliance on dogma over logic.

This is reproduced from my blog at Secular Thought for the Day

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