I no longer think religion is essential for morality

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #1

I no longer think religion is essential for being moral. No doubt religion can help, but an ethical theory such as that of Aristotle works just as well. We should be good and cultivate virtues so that society flourishes.

That being said, I personally choose the Noachide laws as my foundation, and mix it with some Aristotlean ideas in order to fill in the gaps. This doesn’t mean I see morality the same as Aristotle, I just agree with him that virtues of character are important.



How do you determine which virtues are best for a society to cultivate?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #3

Yes, its almost as if there is some creator figure that specifically made sure that all of his creation (specifically human kind) could bear his image (part of which would include moral/virtue) regardless of where they are born or what books they’ve read.

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #4

Whatever helps to keep order

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

History books tell us about a few dictators who were pretty good at that.

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #6

Is that not a guilt by association fallacy?


It’s hard for me to get very interested in what you currently think, because you are constantly changing your mind.


I also enjoyed Plato’s works, one of which is Socrates’ famous discussion with Euthyphro which informs my basic views on morality. If we don’t have the ability to determine what is moral for ourselves, then how can we say that God is moral? Like you, I tend to lean more towards finding wisdom in religious teachings instead of viewing them as the sole source of morality.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

Yeah … I’m not going to insist that all people who keep order are evil. I’m just pointing out that “whatever helps keep order” can be done in an evil context just as well as a good one.


I think it is safe to say that morality is one of those topics that is very resistant to generalities.

(Richard Wright) #11

Hi Reggie,

You stated that you think that ethical theory from Aristotle works as well as religion for morality. You then stated that you personally choose the Noachide laws as your foundation. Of course, the Torah and Talmud claim that those laws came from God, so it seems that you need God, at least for your chosen morality.

Also, here are the first 2 Noachide Laws:

  1. Do not worship idols.
  2. Do not curse God.

Accordingly, it would seem weird to say that we don’t need God for moral laws that mention or imply God.


Agreed. But do you think God is essential for morality? I mean the existence of God, not necessarily if one believes in him or not, since if God happens to be real, not believing in him would not make him disappear.



(Reggie O'Donoghue) #14

The only Noachide laws in the Bible are ‘don’t murder’ and ‘don’t eat meat torn from a living animal’.

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #15

I continue to believe in God because:

  1. Divine command theory works just as well as a source of morality.
  2. I agree with Aquinas that we cannot say something is good unless there is a objective good from which goodness comes from.
  3. There is evidence for Genesis 6:5, in that the human population decreased dramatically due to violent conflict in the Neolithic period, precisely when John Walton said the flood happened. The Mesopotamians didn’t know this, so how did the Hebrews? See this article.
  4. Religion helps to give a sense of fulfillment, or Eudaimonia.

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #16

I actually support Euthyphro’s first option, that an act is good because God says so. Better a bad morality than no morality at all.

(Mark D.) #17

But isn’t it a fella’s prerogative to change his mind? :wink:

(Mark D.) #18

On the other hand if humankind evolved to live a gregarious, cooperative lifestyle it isn’t unimaginable that prosocial norms would prevail. Of course, though they prevail they are far from universal. But isn’t it often the case where evolution is concerned that the most successful adaption is a dominant strategy for most of the population but with a small subset adopting a minority strategy for a ‘rainy day’.

I’m thinking of how some human populations living where malaria is common will have a small portion of the population with sickle cell anemia; while they don’t thrive under normal conditions they can survive a devastating outbreak of malaria which takes out most of the village, breeding majority sickle cell anemia free, but with a subset inflicted with the disease which can save the day when needed again. Perhaps the amoral person is just nature’s rainy day solution for villages which are too nice for their own good?

I don’t know that morality is a particularly good basis for god belief. In general human morality is mixed at best, whether people believe or not.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

Both of those would be a very bad place to be; but consider these thoughts from C.S. Lewis (as relayed by Clyde Kilby)

The Hebrews seem to have been even more vitriolic than their Pagan neighbors. Lewis thinks this might be based on the principle of “the higher the more in danger,” that is, a man with greatness of soul and an abiding conception of right and wrong is more likely to show fanaticism than a smaller man who is not so much above temptation as below it. Under some circumstances the absence of indignation may be a worse sign than indignation itself. The very elevation of religion is bound to make a religious bad man the worst sort of bad man. Satan himself was once an angel in heaven. Shocking as the cursing Psalms may be, it is clear that their composers were men neither morally indifferent nor willing, like some men today, to reduce wickedness to a neurosis.

There is much to chew on there, and not all of it very flattering to religion by a long shot. And I’m not sure this could be read as Lewis disagreeing with you. What I do ponder, though, is that if I was being persecuted, I think I would rather my torturer be an irreligious man rather than a religious one. But I’m not at all sure about that preference! Because in the end, I don’t think there is such a thing as an irreligious man, and evil can take some of its most insidious forms in the man that may fancy he is irreligious. So in rejecting that category, I may be walking away from much of what Lewis proposes there.

[…at least with the bad religious man, I have some common basis for pleading with him for mercy – some appeal to him that maybe he got some part of his religion wrong; some hope that he may yet see the light (which he thinks it important to see after all!), because he at least imagines that he has already seen it. With the self-styled “irreligious” man, I have no basis for any appeal at all. His cruelty is just a brute fact to be endured. The only reason I waffle the other way (and toward Lewis) on this is that if history is any indicator, religion has been quite the creative motivator and justifier of much cruelty.]

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #20

I was not at all implying that the morality God calls for is bad, only that if it was bad, it’s better to still follow it. I do think the Mosaic law is bad, women shouldn’t be stoned for adultery, parents shouldn’t kill their children for disobeying them, eating pork is no worse than eating beef or chicken, but the God given morality given after the flood (and implied before then) is fine, and broadly agreeable to everyone. Violence is wrong, murder is wrong, humans are the image of God and deserve dignity.