Uncommon Sense

April 21, 2021

Where Morals Really Come From

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:16 am
Tags: , ,

Gee, the argument about objective vs. subjective morals rolls on! (I wonder who keeps bringing up the obviously impossible idea of objective morality?) Can’t we put this discussion to bed, instead of it living on as a zombie discussion for more millennia? Because for millennia, human beings argued and negotiated standards of behavior, and then when organized religion came along, it hijacked the topic. Here is how morals actually grow in each of us.

If you consider a child’s typical experience in the U.S. (I know typical does not mean all), you can see where a child gets its morals. When newly born, babies are never corrected. If they poop their pants or throw up on Grandma, well “isn’t that cute.” Once the baby reaches the toddler stage (crawling, walking), that is can locomote on its own, corrections begin. Why? Because they can get into trouble on their own. If they pick up an electrical cord and try to bite it, they are corrected. If they reach up to touch the stove, they are corrected. If they try to bite their sister, they are corrected. This is done by mother, father, older siblings, grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles, sometimes the parents of other children do, too. (It takes a village, indeed.)

Children are taught how to behave, what is acceptable, and what is not. Children are taught table manners (We don’t throw food, child!). Once the child enters day care or school, additional lessons are taught. No, not just the three R’s, but how to get along with other children and adults not your parents. If two children get into a dispute, say as to which gets to play with a particular toy right now, they are taught dispute resolution. Each gets to tell their story and the judge (parent, child care worker, teacher) decides on how to proceed. They learn that they don’t have to like a decision, but they do have to abide by it.

Children are taught these lessons in various ways. When I was a child, corporal punishment was still in vogue. Now it is tantamount to child abuse.

If their family is church going and they attend Sunday school, children may learn more. The story of Noah’s Ark teaches them that there is this powerful Superparent that once killed almost all of the people and almost all of the animals. They may even learn that if they are not obedient, they may die and end up in a cave full of fire. They are taught to love them the Baby Jesus but the only one they can see is being tortured on the wall.

So, where do children learn how to behave rightly? At home and in day care and in kindergarten. Where do they continue to learn moral lessons? At home and in school and on playgrounds.

So, are the lessons taught by parents, et. al. learned from the Bible? Lessons like don’t bite your sister, don’t stick your fingers in electrical sockets, don’t pull on the cat’s tails, share your toys with your friends, don’t hit others, don’t run out into the street, don’t take candy from strangers, be kind to others, help those in need, etc. While some of these may be reinforced by church activities (winter clothing drives, food drives, toy drives for those less well off) I suggest the basic lessons were already learned. So, when do they receive their moral instruction from “The Bible?”

1 Comment »

  1. Good post. I am interested in your question at the end of this post.
    Well, every “don’t” that is taught to children is basically instilling rules according to the norms that is considered true in a culture. There are certain cultures that justify early marriage, while in other cultures the parents will say “don’t get married before 17”. There is an ancient culture where blood is paid by blood, life is paid by life. Or justify killing the perpetrator who has killed one of the family members, while in other places it is not justified (don’t do that). The moral teachings of humans can depend on the norms that apply to certain societies

    So, when do they receive their moral instruction from “The Bible?” (as your question above).
    When they were told of the two great commandments:
    1) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
    2) You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    Personally, I understand it as the law of LOVE. At this point we can reach the level of WISDOM (no longer MERELY about “don’t” and “can” or “yes” and “no”). That’s what religion is for. To fill the religious side of humans in order to achieve a balance of life. And a good religion is a religion that makes you a better person.


    Comment by Tikno — April 22, 2021 @ 5:12 am | Reply

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