Morality: Objective or Subjective

909E2401-3F73-4359-AC70-D4B839CE7F59In my latest provocative question, I asked, “Is morality objective or is it subjective? If you believe it’s objective, what is its source? If you believe it’s subjective, how do you know whose concept of morality is correct?”

Perhaps a better question should be: does objective morality actually exist?

What exactly is “objective morality”? One definition I read said that objective morality is “the idea that a certain system of ethics or set of moral judgments is not just true according to a person’s subjective opinion, but is absolutely and undeniably true for everyone.”

Another definition said that objective morality is “the idea that an act of good or evil is always right or always wrong, regardless of whether one person believes it is right and another believes it is wrong.”

Did you notice that both of these definitions start with the words, “the idea that…”?

And what is an idea? It is an opinion, a perspective, a belief, a thought, a concept, a notion. Interesting that the word “fact” is conspicuously absent from any definition of objective morality.

Back to my original question. “Does objective morality exist?” Is objective morality a set of definitive laws gifted to humanity by God, where God has determined what is “right” and what is “wrong,” and these determinations are deemed to be unimpeachable?

Or is morality subjective? Does it relate more to time, place, and social norms (culture) than to a universal code of conduct attributed to a supernatural deity?

Objective morality exists because God exists

4E1D4FF7-A36A-4BD2-84FB-FDC71FB9CB6FDo you buy that? If morality is an objective set of rules handed to us by God, shouldn’t what God defines as morality be considered the same by every human being across time and in all cultures? Shouldn’t all humans, since we were created in God’s image and we are all God’s children, universally agree upon and accept that which God has told us is objectively moral?

Yet we don’t.

Time, place, and culture

Let me make a few observations about the influence of time, place, and culture on morality.

Hitler had millions of people killed in the 1930s and 40s. Did he consider what he was doing immoral? Or did he believe that he had a moral imperative to cleanse Germany of all but the purest Aryans?

At the time of the Spanish Inquisition, did the Catholic monarchs consider it immoral to require Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or to face expulsion or execution? No. They simply wanted to ensure Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms. What could possibly be immoral about that?

Did the Pope and the nobles of Europe in the Middle Ages see anything immoral about the Crusades? Why would they? Their goals were based upon a command passed down by a higher authority to restore Christianity to holy places like Jerusalem. What was wrong with pillaging the countryside and killing thousands of Jews and Muslims while doing God’s work? Nothing. It was what God wanted.

Our own American genocide of native Americans was excused because of the moral imperative of Manifest Destiny, which was deemed to be the young country’s mission from God. And less than 200 years ago many farmers and plantation owners in the American South owned slaves. Did they consider slavery to be immoral? Of course not. To them, all God-fearing Christians, there was nothing immoral about owning another human being.

Today most people find what Hitler did, what slave owners did, what occurred during the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and even the American West, to be morally wrong.

But for the people at those times, in those circumstances, and within those cultures, they were widely accepted as being society’s norms.

Most of us in Western cultures in the 21st century agree about what is or is not moral. There is a broad consensus across our culture about what is right and what is wrong. And that broad consensus helps us arrive at our communal morality.

Yet not long ago, there was a broad consensus across some parts of our country that interracial marriages were immoral and that homosexuality was immoral. Even today, some people believe both are still immoral. Yet the broad consensus in this country is acceptance of interracial and gay marriage.

Morality, then, is really how individuals interpret a cultural consensus. And since different cultures at different times have had different consensuses on what is moral, then morality must be subjective, relative to time, place, and culture.

What God wants

Those who insist that objective morality can only exist if God exists define objective morality as what people should do or ought to do, regardless of time, place, or culture. But who defined what people should do or ought to do? Was it God? Or was it humans who, based upon their ideas (opinions, beliefs, thoughts, views) of the communal good, decided what people should do and ought to do?

I read somewhere — I can’t remember where, but it stuck with me — that the religious, having invented God in their own image, use objective morality as a way of turning “what I want” into “what God wants.”

Isn’t morality really what people would like to have happen? Isn’t it a human consensus, shaped by the time, place, and culture in which we live, that defines what we should do and how we ought to behave?

I’m a Believer

If you’re reading this because you think this post is about the 1967 song “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees, it’s not. Not even close.

022D0AC0-1820-43FC-91E9-2EF94E30FEDAWhat this post is about is that I was talking to a friend of mine this past weekend. He’s a fairly religious person and he knows that I’m an atheist. He told me that he didn’t understand how anyone could be a “non-believer.” Apparently he believes, like many people, that being an atheist means that you’re a “non-believer.”

Do you tend to call those who don’t believe in God “non-believers”? Well, if you do, your definition of “believer” is way too narrow. You’re thinking that the word “believer” applies only to a belief system, a religious belief system. A belief in a supreme being, a greater intelligence, a supernatural deity. And for most Americans, that means believing in God, Yahweh, Allah, or whatever you call your deity.

As an atheist, I believe that God does not exist. I believe that Christians, Jews, and Muslims made up God in the same way that Greeks and Romans, for example, made up Zeus and Jupiter and all the other gods they believed in.

But just because I don’t believe that God exists doesn’t make me a non-believer. Because that would imply that I don’t believe in anything. I believe in a lot of things.

I believe that we didn’t exist before we were born and that we will cease to exist in any form after we die.

I believe that our universe is almost 14 billion years old and that the planet we live on is 4.5 billion years old. I believe in evolution. And I believe that we are working pretty damn hard to destroy our planet’s ability to sustain human life.

I believe in a woman’s rights to choose. I believe in free speech, in freedom of (or from) religion, in equal rights for gays, and in gun control. I also believe in the separation of church and state.

But wait, there’s more that I believe. I believe that humans are fallible and that we all make mistakes. Some more than others. I believe that most people are good, decent, and moral, regardless of their religious beliefs — or lack thereof. And I believe in my country. Just not in “God and country.”

Yeah, I know. You’re thinking that these beliefs make me a liberal, which is the next worst label a person can have after atheist, right?

You’re also thinking that these are not beliefs. These are philosophies. These are ideologies. And you’re thinking that I’m expressing political opinions, not, you know, beliefs.

Sorry, I don’t believe that. Yes, these are philosophical beliefs. They are ideological and even political beliefs. But they are, nevertheless, beliefs. Other than from a very narrow religious perspective, just because I don’t believe in God, doesn’t make me a non-believer. I have a whole host of beliefs. Because I am a human being and I am alive.

There is not one of us — unless you’re dead — who doesn’t believe in something.

And now, for those of you who took the time to read my 520-word post, here’s a reward for your effort.

Gods and Ghosts and Angels and Aliens

5AB8C8F1-E5E9-4DB7-8CFF-2CF30E83D251A blogger who I follow, like, and respect, Paula Light, over Light Motifs II, responded to this question yesterday in her Share Your World post: “What, in your opinion, makes people believe absurd conspiracy theories?”

Paula answered that it’s fear that makes people believe in conspiracy theories. She said, “People are scared of the unknown, of things they can’t control ~ natural disasters, crime, death, etc. ~ so they latch onto comforting explanations. Without this comfort, many people would not be able to function because life is fucking terrifying.”

Okay, I can understand latching on to “comforting explanations” and how a belief in God and in those comforting explanations that various religions offer can help people cope. I’m not sure I get the link between comforting explanations and absurd conspiracy theories, but that’s okay.

But it was what Paula wrote next that got my attention. She wrote:

“And for the atheists who like to mock those who believe in the supernatural, I have news for you: you also believe in bullshit, just different bullshit. Consider this. At any moment, you could die and die horribly, but you don’t think about that because you wouldn’t be able to get through the day. And what’s more, every time you leave the house, you trust that crazy medicated (or unmedicated!) other humans in their monster vehicles are going to obey the traffic laws. These are the same people who believe in gods and ghosts and angels and aliens. But you believe they’ll stop at the red lights. That’s nuts! But you believe it or you couldn’t leave the house.”

I’m sorry, Paula, but I have no idea what point you were trying to make with your tales about dying horribly or getting killed by a crazy, medicated or unmedicated driver who runs a red light. What does any of that have to do with absurd conspiracy theories or being an atheist?

I am an atheist, so let me explain something to those who don’t really know what an atheist is. Atheists don’t hate God or hate people who choose to believe in God. Also, being an atheist does not mean that we don’t believe in anything. We believe in a lot of things and a lot of different things.

Please understand that there is no “good book” that atheists embrace, no common mythology that atheists accept, no specific dogma to which atheists adhere. There is but one thing that all atheists have in common, and that is that we don’t believe that God exists. We believe that God is a human construct, and serves as that “comfortable explanation” that a lot of people use to help get them through their lives.

And personally speaking, I bear no ill will toward those who choose to believe in God. Well, except for those “believers” who tell me that I can’t be a moral person if I don’t believe in God, that I can’t distinguish between good and evil or right and wrong, and that I’m condemned to eternal damnation in hell — which I also don’t believe exists — if I don’t accept Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior.

I bear a lot of ill will toward those who tell me such things.

Second Thought

3A26712D-DC37-410F-898F-8DF737009622I started writing an entirely different post earlier today. It began this way:

The United States is a tapestry of religious beliefs among its 325 million or so inhabitants. But atheists are still considered to be an anathema to many, if not most, Americans.

But then I got hung up watching the Kavanaugh hearing on TV and had some second thoughts, so I decided to shelve my somewhat circuitous rant about religion, at least for the time being.

Things are already controversial enough right now and there’s no way that our highly partisan senators will be able to reach a consensus when it comes to Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee. What else is new, right?

So I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the energy to watch those self-serving politicians wrangle over whether or not Brett Kavanaugh would make a good Supreme Court Justice. (He would not.)

Maybe when my blood pressure has settled down and I’m ready to temp fate and stir things up, I’ll finish up my rant about the American religious tapestry.


Written for today’s Word of the Day Challenge, the Ragtag Daily Prompt, Your Daily Word Prompt, Fandango’s One-Word Challenge, Daily Addictions, and Scotts Daily Prompt. 

Reblog: Give me that old-time delusion, it’s good enough for me

It’s Sunday, so how could I resist reblogging this?

THE SHINBONE STAR

Donald Trump warned of violence in America’s streets if his Trumplican Party candidates aren’t elected in the November midterms.

“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable. Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you and for me and for my family, but I’ve done them,“ a very Delusional Donald told evangelical leaders gathered last week in a closed-door White House meeting.

However, his pronouncements were secretly recorded and leaked to NBC-TV.

“This Nov. 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion, it’s a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment,” he postulated.

As always, Trump made the event about “ME.”

He warned evangelicals that there would be “violence” if Republicans lose the House in the November midterm elections.

“You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got,” he told his…

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