I am almost finished reading Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay which I have mentioned before. The author makes several novel points (the existence of God debate is over, they lost) and is urging us to shift the focus of anti-theism onto addressing how to naturally meet the needs of god-fearers which are now being met by “god,” that is meeting those needs via nature.
My intent was to write a proper review when I finished but I don’t thing that is possible as there is way too much meat on this bone to gnaw off in one sitting, so I am going to have to treat the various psychosocial needs that religion addresses one at a time. This time I will address “morality.”
The linchpin of this discussion is a question so often asked by theists, namely, “How can you have morality without God?” The author points out the word “God” does not refer to a system of morals described in scripture, which would be problematic at best. The word “God” in this question is actually a stand-in for “morals.” What they are really asking is “How can you have morality without morals?” In the theistic mind, morals and God are synonymous. So, a godless atheist is automatically amoral and because theists aren’t accepting of their biological natures, they assume atheists are ravening animals without restrictions like bars or at least a leash.
Having this equivalence as part of your makeup is a great shortcut. One doesn’t have to have ever thought about morality and how one should act in society. If one is a god-fearer, that is all that is needed. One is automatically a moral person and everyone else in the “club” has been screened and pre-qualified for the same criterion. The fact that most people are fairly moral helps to sustain this delusion. The fact that our prisons are crammed full of theists doesn’t undermine it because, well, they are not “true” theists.
Atheists pointing out that scriptures are riddled with examples of bad behavior by gods, ranging from the petty to the obscene does no good whatsoever, because “God” has all of this cover created for “Him:” God is all-good, good is all-knowing, god is all-benevolent, and if you get in my face, God is all-powerful and will kick your ass (at a bare minimum kick your ass into Hell after you die). On top of that, theists are taught that they (and so you) cannot question God, so there!
There are consequences to these approaches to morality. The obvious ones are shown in scripture. In Jewish and Christian scripture, Yahweh commands his people not to “kill” then goes about ordering the deaths of millions upon millions of people by his people. Careful inspection of the scriptures indicates that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is really “Thou shalt not commit murder” and that is qualified as “Thou shalt not commit murder of a Yahweh believer.” Whether you quibble or not, the net result is it is okay to kill as long as Yahweh says it is okay. As I have mentioned, this is why we always claim that “God is on our side” whenever we go to war.
Morally, most people would say that killing was most repugnant and would only be acceptable in cases in which one is defending one’s own life or the life of a close family member. Most would prefer that criminals be captured rather than killed at the site of their crime. But once “God” has endorsed a certain kind of killing (by a cleric blessing the troops or a Fatwa being issued), look out.
Part of the psychosocial need on display in most theists, and most people for that matter, is the desire for an absolute morality. And the only absolute morality is one dictated by a god, because otherwise we are limited to human agreements which are changeable. (There is a phrase “You can’t legislate morality” which points mostly to the futility of the effort but also to the underlying feeling that morals need something with more heft to back them up (God!).)
Philosophers have struggled to define or describe an absolute morality and have failed miserably because apparently no such thing exists … except in the minds of theists. For theists “God = morals” and “God is absolute” and voila.
Since theists equate God with morals, if you are without God, you are without morals. This is tough spot for an atheist to be in. The problem here is that too many are looking at morality as being a state or condition. I, on the other hand, rather look at morality as a journey rather than a destination. To be a moral person, there is a process that you must hew to and that is before you take action you evaluate how you feel about the effects of your actions using your moral senses, whatever the heck those are.
Most of us couldn’t define our own morality if our life depended upon it. Most would mumble some version of the Golden Rule: do not do unto others what you would not have done to you. This is a common guideline to morality that has arisen in various cultures over most of human history. It is also vastly incomplete, but as a rule of thumb it works for a great many situations. (As an aside, I prefer this statement over the “Do unto others what you would have done unto you” which is an even worse guideline. If I wanted a massage, should I go out and grab people and start massaging them, to communicate my desire for the same treatment?)
But as people we all have feelings and if we consult them (the morality ones) when we act and act accordingly, then we are behaving as a moral person and hence, we are a moral person. Sure, if you are a psychopath, you may think it is perfectly moral to chop up your mailman and store his pieces in your freezer, and you may think that is okay. But morals are completely unnecessary without a society, so in society we interact and offer corrections to one another regarding our shared morals. Parents teach their children. Adults interact in ways from which they can learn things like “maybe I shouldn’t have let my dog dig up the neighbor’s lawn.” These interactions involve quiet conversations and fist fights and everything in between. The morals that really count are the shared ones. If you think it is immoral to wear clothing made of more than one fiber, you are welcome to that belief. It is harmless for you to enforce that upon yourself. If you try to enforce it upon others, though, you are going to be met with resistance . . . and laughter, and ridicule, and a manifold of other social cues as to bad behavior. If you think it is moral to torture puppies and stake their flayed carcasses out on your front lawn, you are going to find out rather quickly that your neighbors do not share that moral but that they do own pitchforks and torches.
It does no good to have an absolute morality (even if one did exist) if you do not consult and follow it. And since basic morality seems to be shared by almost all around the globe (most people think theft and murder are immoral), scripture is not needed to define it. What is needed is interaction. We are currently undergoing global societal interactions over things like female circumcision and honor killing and rape and sex slavery. In some cultures these are considered acceptable. I suspect as those cultures become more immersed in the global society, those practices will be diminished as being archaic and unacceptable. You need only look at the global standing of women in all cultures to see that change, driven by moral feelings, is possible.
What to do to shift the psychosocial needs of theists off of their religion and onto something natural, I haven’t gotten to quite yet. The author insists, wisely, that he is just starting a conversation (actually steering a pre-existing one) and not trying to solve all of its associated problems. More is coming.