I no longer think religion is essential for morality


I don’t even feel it is necessary to look at specific examples. The very idea that we should follow a set of rules like robots seems like the opposite of morality, at least to me. “I was just following orders” is not morality.

(Richard Wright) #42

Yes, or course there is a difference between being moral and obedient. The question is, obedient to whom? If God exists then disobeying Him is immoral. Unless you want to go down the uncomfortable road of holding that God exists but doesn’t have a moral character.

This doesn’t really hold unless there is an objective moral standard. And without God, how can there be one? You then just have, “we all decided what’s right for us”, that is 7 billion sets of morality. In that case we can’t rightfully say an act is moral or not, outside of a few obvious ones that everyone would agree on.

(Randy) #43

I question this. How does one judge not to accept Islam? With this mindset how can one argue that Muhammad was wrong to kill all males of a tribe that had pubic hair? If one accepts something because it is written, what is one’s common ground in speaking with the jihadist who says he must die? George Macdonald said he should not accept anything as holy in God which was unacceptable in his fellow man

We all know the law of Jesus…1st and 2nd greatest commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself and Collins’ and Lewis’ arguments in Mere Christianity, while I think are somewhat incomplete, do acknowledge a common law. I do agree that We need God for forgiveness. But I am afraid of the written word being misinterpreted. Thanks

I want to add…from your notes above you have the purest of motives. You are making me think as well. Thank you

(Randy) #44

Interesting from Lewis…“I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled powers over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since hè dimly knows hè is doing wrong hè may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us indefinitely because hè torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme – whose highest real claim is to rea-sonable prudence – the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.” All of this is to encourage tempering opinions from absolutism. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

(Randy) #45

Dear Mr. Beversluis,

More Lewis…Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.

But of course having said all this, we must apply it with fear and trembling. Some things which seem to us bad may be good. But we must not consult our consciences by trying to feel a thing good when it seems to us totally evil. We can only pray that if there is an invisible goodness hidden in such things, God, in His own good time will enable us to see it. If we need to. For perhaps sometimes God’s answer might be ‘What is that to thee?’ The passage may not be ‘addressed to our (your or my) condition’ at all.

I think we are v. much in agreement, aren’t we?

Yours sincerely, C. S. Lewis


Not if what God commands is immoral.

In my view, morality is subjective because morality makes no sense outside of human experience. Here is a decent blog post on the subject:

"Is it even possible to have an objective morality? I would argue that it is not possible, and even if such existed it would be irrelevant because we could not know about it. Further, there is no compelling evidence that anyone, any group or society, has access to an objective morality.

The notion of an objective morality assumes that morality is something that can make sense apart from the context in which it is used (in our case, human society). Is it objectively wrong, according to some moral law of the universe, to harm another creature? If you try to justify this moral position, then you are actually engaging in moral philosophy – the complex and messy human understanding of morals."

(Richard Wright) #47

Hi Randy,

Thank you for your kind words!

To start, I’m not moved by George MacDonald’s thoughts because he didn’t die on a cross for my sins. And it’s wrong to conflate Islam with Christianity. The Christian faith has 1,500 years of history, writings and prophecies to back up the coming of Christ. We have 3 1st-hand historical accounts of Jesus’ life (the gospels of Mark, Matthew and John) and a collection of 1st hand accounts (Luke) that agree with high accuracy that Jesus Christ did miracles, died on a cross and was raised from the dead on the 3rd day.

Mohammed, on the other hand, murdered innocent merchants to fund his new, “religion”, whose scriptures basically consists of a rewrite of the bible with a few Arabic characters added in. He did no miracles and clearly misunderstood Jesus and the Christian faith. And, despite what Muslim apologists say, there is no historical connection of the bible to Islam. He also took many wives of all ages and ordered the slaughter of 600 innocent Jews. Jesus, according to the New Testament, died without ever even having a sinful thought. So Christians are under no obligation to heed to the commands of a someone who clearly was not inspired by the God of the bible and the Father of Jesus Christ.

Jesus didn’t come to give us commandments, though there are commands we need to obey. He came to save us by inspiring us to live holy lives by sacrificing himself on the cross. Yes, there will be misinterpretations, Satan is actively opposing the faith. But I’m called to give my all to live like Jesus and help others to do so as well, and that includes understanding and teaching proper doctrine.

So, there is a big difference between obeying the God of the bible and obeying Mohammed. In the Old Testament, God never just willy-nilly orders the killing or torturing of anyone. So, from a Christian perspective we trust that what God ordered in the OT was necessary.

Hope that helps!

(Mark D.) #48

We can only hope you never decide God has assigned you Abraham’s task. Following orders can seem like a pretty lame excuse when the act is that heinous.

(Richard Wright) #49

Hello T,

There is one thing in the article that I agree with, and that you agree with, and that is that outside of God there can be no objective morality. The, “problem” of morality (which isn’t a problem for Christians) is caused by the existence of 2 very different worldviews. One instinctively sees that a universe with purpose, love, beauty, good, complexity and order must have a creator. Another thinks that this universe popped into existence from ontological nothingness on its own and that we are a happy accident.

This is what leads proponents of objective morality to the conclusion that objective morals require a lawgiver (actually, I think they work backward from their desire to prove a lawgiver, but that is a separate point).

Novella has got it completely wrong here. People don’t believe in God because they want or need an, “objective morality” and don’t use the argument to, “prove a lawgiver”. The vast majority of believers simply recognize God instinctively from the earliest of ages and understand that God decides what is right or wrong, not flawed, earthbound sinners.

This leads to Euthyprho’s dilemma – are the morals of God right because God says so or does God say so because they are objectively right? Of course, it can be both, but that does not really solve anything.

It’s only a dilemma if you don’t accept God.

One might argue that we should not worry our little primate brains about such problems and just listen to God, but this is unsatisfactory. This reduces all of morality down to one rule – do whatever God says.

Novella completely understands Christianity! It’s not, “do whatever God says”. It’s, “I’m inspired to live like Jesus because he volunteered to be tortured and murdered for my sins”. There are really few rules in the Christian faith, it’s more guiding principles, the first of which is that we’re not God, and God is.

In fact, different societies have all had their prophets claiming such access, and dispensing moral codes that are suspiciously primitive and derivative of their time and culture, and also incompatible with the moral codes dispensed by other prophets.

It’s only his opinion that moral codes are suspiciously primitive. He seems to be conflating moral laws with ancient cosmologies. And yes, there are real differences between faiths. Everyone has faith in something. I put my faith in Jesus because the message of the cross woke me up from my deistic slumber and showed me what God is really all about.

The only possible basis for preferring one set of “revealed” rules over another is faith. There is no way to resolve differences of such faith-based moral codes – it’s just faith vs faith. Any attempt to argue that one set of faith-based rules is superior to another again resorts to moral philosophy.

The real argument is whether God exists or not. And this reveals another Dawkinsesque misunderstanding of faith and frustratingly false and deceptive reduction of faith to, “revealed rules”. People come to faith understanding God exists. The Christian worldview, unlike the Muslim worldview, is that God is a personal, loving God and people come to Jesus with a desire to connect with their creator. Noone (almost literally) is going around comparing different faith commands. Buddha rejected God and Hinduism has many Gods, none of them a personal creator. So there are significant, objective differences in the worldviews of faiths, and that’s what draws people to one or the other.

None of this, the objective moralist will argue, proves that there is no god or that there is no objective morality, but this is irrelevant (a non sequitur). The point is, even if there were, humans have no way to know about it in any verifiable way that can be universalized. This necessarily leads us to tribal warring over whose beliefs are correct?

Why does it have to be universalized? Does the world agree on anything? Most people in history have recognized a spiritual reality. Jesus taught that there is an opposing force to God. It’s assumed that (Jesus teaches this) there will be false prophets and different faiths. It comes down to our faith, including Novella’s that there is no god.

Further, any tradition about what God’s morality is, is just that – a tradition.

Wrong! If God exists then it is quite reasonable that He will communicate to man. That doesn’t give us a tradition, it gives us revealed truth.

Adhering to such traditions can be nothing but an argument from authority, which further locks in whatever moral code is in the tradition to the time it was codified.

That’s only true if the tradition isn’t from God.

This prevents any progress or evolution of human moral thinking. I guess the best we can do is wait for the invisible lawgiver in the sky to update us.

He has updated us, Steve, you just have refused to accept His updates. And it’s hard to believe he can’t see that, “human moral thinking”, at least in the West, is based significantly, of not mostly, on Jesus (of course he changes his tune in the conclusion).


Moral philosophy is the only workable option for a human moral system.

Again, that’s only if there is no God.

Philosophers have been thinking about and arguing about such moral systems since Aristotle, and have come quite far in working out how such systems can work. This is far preferable to a system based upon conflicting traditions about what an unprovable lawgiver allegedly told members of a primitive agrarian society about how he wants people to behave.

Look at all the logical fallacies here. You can have a working system within a faith, it matters not that it conflicts with others. And why is it preferable to have philosophers work out systems? Aristotle believed in God, just in a distant, unknowable God. That’s why God introduced himself to Abraham, so men could know God. And lastly and again, his whole thesis rests on the assumption that there is no God and no revealed truth. God may be unprovable, but so is God’s non-existence so it comes down to faith, including his. And, in accordance with this article, he has no objective criteria for rejecting the Christian faith.

Having said that, however, I do think there is much wisdom to be had in the religious traditions of the world. Many moral philosophers did their thinking within a religious belief system, and we should not reject the fruits of their wisdom because they are couched in religious terms.

Did their wisdom come from God, like they claimed?

Neither should we accept them. They should be evaluated on their own merits according to the best moral philosophy we have so far developed.

Not if there is a God and revealed truth.

(Richard Wright) #50

Hello Mark,

The text has God directly speaking to Abraham, so I’m guessing that is why he unhesitatingly obeyed, because the creator of the universe told him to do something. Of course, God in the end told him not to sacrifice his son, you left that part out.

(Mark D.) #51

Yes the order was rescinded. But my real point is that in every case a fallible human has to determine when they are speaking to the genuine creator of the universe.


Actually, I don’t agree with that. What I and the article are arguing is that even if there was an objective morality we couldn’t know what it is. Therefore, we have no way of knowing if the morality given to us by any deity is an objective morality or simply the whims of that deity.

Having a creator does not mean that there is an objective morality, nor does it mean that the commands given by the creator are moral. My parents created me, but I don’t assume that they are moral in all they do simply because they created me. I don’t see how creating a universe makes you incapable of immorality.

It is only your opinion that what God commands is moral. I think that is the point in the end. All of morality is based on our opinion of how the world should be based on what it is to be human.

The larger point being made is that multiple cultures claim that a creator gave them an objective moral code, and those codes disagree with one another. This leads to the situation of a supposedly objective moral code being the product of your opinion on which deity really exists.

In my view, philosophers who work out a moral system based on what it means to be human and the human experience will result in a much better moral system. Morality is how humans treat and affect other humans, so that is what we should focus on.

(Randy) #53

Very well put. Might does not make right. Similar to Lewis’ letter to Beversluis.

(Randy) #54

@T_aquaticus @Richard_Wright1

That’s an interesting question about where we get morals from. Frequently, it seems to come from our own projections on to God from our own experiences… I remember having a very good conversation with a Muslim Imam in Niger, who agreed with me that God is like our father. In fact, he said it’s not just like our father, but he is our father. Tulip Calvinists could be argued to be (as in Jonathan Edwards) terrified of a God who will nilly throws whomever he wants it to hell, just for his own Glory. In contrast, the sufis of Islam and some branches of Hinduism, regard God as being loving and close. Sufis, for example, are very much like the Pentecostals and look for the emotional connection to God. There are many poems written by sufis which sound like loving Christians Responding to their father God. I think we can certainly pick things up as we have environment and in our growing up. Sometimes, I think we carry over a distant relationship from our family life, and extend it to our religious life. In fact, one can contrast a Sufi Muslim God who accepts people who seek him out, or a Jewish God who accepts people in Micah 7:18, as being more Christ like than the strict Calvinists’ one like that of Jonathan Edwards. your comments are welcome.

(Randy) #55

@T_aquaticus @Richard_Wright1 addendum, that’s not to say that our belief system doesn’t affect us. In fact, I think it does very much. Certainly, we can get an extremely legalistic and fearsome deity in Islam. there is much in both the Old Testament and the Koran which are frightening and to me unjust. I think that Christ is the ultimate example of God coming down to us. his example, which is to have us give ourselves for each other as he did, should be our model for Morality, shouldn’t it? @Mervin_Bitikofer I wanted to call you in this so that you could see it, as I see you are responding. I realized my last comment was quite narrow. Sorry.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #56

Coming from within your atheistic world view, this seems philosophically correct to me. Since the only deities you tend to have in mind are the mischievous demiurges whose whims may or may not line up with any actual objective goodness, you naturally appeal to something higher or more objectively beyond them. Since the Christian God is by definition the highest, most fundamental thing that can be appealed to, any objectively existing actual goodness is (also by definition) grounded in that God. It would be part of who God is. So there is no teasing apart the “is it good” or is it “what God said” in the Christian view. If “God” shows up tomorrow and tells me to kill a bunch of people, it will cause me to question the apparent communication before me because I know that a good God (as revealed in Christ) would never order me to do that.
[with edits]

One thing you did bring up earlier that really intrigues me, @T_aquaticus, is whether or not blind obedience can be considered morality. I think that is a really good question. It may boil down to who you trust. A child who doesn’t know what to do may ask their mom or dad, trusting that the advice they give will be better than what they could have come up with on their own. And the child chooses to obey. If the parent’s advice was good, is that moral “success” wholly the parent’s or does the child inherit some of it?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #57

Not a problem … was there something specific in the posts above you wanted me to see? I don’t always read every post above and so may have missed your point of interest.

(Richard Wright) #58

So we could think that we’re talking with God and be mistaken? Outside of psychiatric cases, how could that be possible?

(Mark D.) #59

Unless we are able to borrow some of God’s infallibility it would seem we can always be mistaken.

Of course I myself can’t possibly imagine what it would be like to think I was talking to God. So if I was hearing a voice I couldn’t trace to anyone present I would definitely have to consider the possibility I was having some sort of aberrant experience.

Is it common for Christians to think God is talking to them? I’m aware that Christians address themselves to God but I just don’t know if hearing a reply is a standard part of the experience.

(Randy) #60

sorry, no. Thanks for your comment.