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Trying To Get My Head Around Morality


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OK, I'm fairly new as an unbeliever and I'm still working my way through a lot of it. One of the main things that still has me confused is the morality question but not as it's usually argued. I find a lot of the time the apologists are saying one thing and the atheists are arguing against something else, or at least it seems that way but I guess that's where my confusion lies. 

 

So the atheist arguments are usually to do with either the whole objective/subjective morality question or that there are plenty of atheists doing lots of good works. Fair enough, those arguments make perfect sense to me.

 

However, the argument that I hear apologists make a lot but that I haven't been able to find any answer to is why we as humans seem to have something within us that instinctively wants to define things as good or evil, whatever those things might turn out to be. Usually it's given as a way for the apologist to get out of answering the atheist asking how can a "good" god allow "evil" to happen - atheists shouldn't have this moral instinct beyond, "I prefer not to have tsunamis come and take all my nice belongings away, it's more pleasant when my family don't die." So rather than answering the question the apologist just says, well you shouldn't have any sense of good and evil so why do you care?

 

Anyone want to help out the newbie?

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Guest MadameX

First, congratulations on working your way out of the mind lock. 

 

Second, a piece of advice - abandon the either/or of 'subjective' vs 'objective' morality. In other words, do not let the apologists (professional liars) frame the question. There are very very few things in life that are as uncomplicated as either one way or the other. Not much is so black and white.

 

You might enjoy reading "The Moral Animal'  by Robert Wright. Start there.

 

All the best to you!!

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However, the argument that I hear apologists make a lot but that I haven't been able to find any answer to is why we as humans seem to have something within us that instinctively wants to define things as good or evil, whatever those things might turn out to be. Usually it's given as a way for the apologist to get out of answering the atheist asking how can a "good" god allow "evil" to happen - atheists shouldn't have this moral instinct beyond, "I prefer not to have tsunamis come and take all my nice belongings away, it's more pleasant when my family don't die." So rather than answering the question the apologist just says, well you shouldn't have any sense of good and evil so why do you care?

 

 

From what I can tell, animals and insects reactively (or instinctively) define various forms of stimulus

as threatening or non-threatening.

In a way, it's a loose form of determining "good" and "evil".

For an apologist to argue that an atheist shouldn't have a sense of good and evil seems to ignore something ingrained in many creatures.

Perhaps it comes from their need to feel they're at the top of the "moral" heap.

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Welcome to ex-C!

 

Think about our ancestors.  For millions of years we lived in small groups.  These were small groups - either families or extended families.  Members had to work together in order to survive.  That is where our idea of morality or ethics comes from.  You treat your friends and family right.  You exist because your family supported you.  You support your family so that others may exist.  It's the basis for human interaction.

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Humans aren't the only animal with a sense of morality. We're a social animal, so we're wired to work together, but unlike bees and ants we've also got a strong sense of individuality. A lot of my personal experiences with moral issues (apart from ridiculous ones that christianity tried to force on me) seems to be finding the balace between being a good member of society, not hurting others, and being true to myself, getting what I want and need. All the primates seem to have that going on to some degree. I've also heard stories of cats and dogs who pretty much do what they're told, unless they feel like they've been treated unfairly, in which case they'll go do something they know will make you mad (one dog I knew would poop on the tile if he just couldn't hold it... unless he was mad at you for something, in which case he'd go on the carpet. He knew the difference).

 

Human also have a part of the brain called "mirror neurons". Whenever we do an action, this part of our brain lights up, along with some other parts. When we watch someone else perform the same action, the mirror neurons light up in exactly the same way, but the other parts of the brain don't. This is how we learn from each other, how we mimick each other. But in addition to motions, it works with emotions too. Our brains are wired to feel other people's pain. Your pain is my pain. Doing good things to easy your pain eases my sympathetic pain. Christians are no more altruistic than us.... look at how many heart-wrenching videos of starving orphans they have to spend big production money on in order to get the flock to give money to charities. They're playing off the same brain hardwiring that atheists have.

 

Then there's traffic laws. There is no moral absolute telling me that red means stop. There is merely a consenus that says "if everyone stops at red lights, we're all less likely to die in a car crash" and "if you put up with stopping at red lights, we'll give you your turn at green so you get to your destination in a reasonable amount of time". When, say, one of those stupid triggers for lights changings breaks and I get a really long red light, I get upset. Not because there's anything moral about light colors, but because we had a bargain and the city's failure to uphold their end of the bargain is inconveniencing me. So a lot of morality is more like contract law. Just look at the covenants in the old testament - the bible is full of contract law type morality!

 

Though there's some problematic concepts behind using evolution to explain the behaviours of modern humans, you can point out that we're incredibly soft squishy animals. No teeth, no claws, thin hide... but we're still alive. Some of that is due to tool use and intelligence, but quite a lot of that is due to sticking together in groups. So evolution "designed" us to get along as a survival strategy. There is therefore nothing inconsistent about an atheist wanting to play well with others. Just look at how many other animals live in packs and play somewhat nice - wolves and lions share their kills with the group, birds bring food back to the nest instead of eating it all themselves, etc.

 

You might also want to look into the different categories of morality. Human ideas about morality varies quite a bit across cultures, so people have tried to figure out what is the same for all of us. One guy came up with five categories that seem fairly universal, that include justice, caring, loyality, purity. Liberals, in the USA sense, were found to on average place less value on loyality (at least loyalty to authority; maybe it the word was something more like obedience) and purity than the conservatives. Then I started looking at the fundies I grew up with, and realized that they're horribly obsessed with purity. Sex is impure unless it's within marriage, therefore gays and abortion and even birth control must be outlawed. Thinking bad things about god is impure, therefore you must limit all your reading to things from a christian worldview or you might become corrupted. Now, in the past, purity was often a good thing to value - we still have some mild taboos surrounding leaving food out of the fridge for too long and washing your hands after using the restroom. Yucky things can make you sick! The nicer versions of christians will counter the fundies with the story in Acts about the dream about the sheet full of unclean animals - god was telling a good kosher-keeping jew to "take and eat" and he'd freak out and god would say "what I have made clean, let no man call unclean" and as soon as he woke up, there was a dirty gentile at the door asking to hear the gospel. It seems that even a lot of non-christian religions go nuts about the purity thing - the idea of the "sacred" vs "profane" is a purity thing.

 

As for why humans like to put things into categories - it's not just good and evil that we have an "innate sense" of; we over categorise so many other things! Then we forget that our categories are man-made and start thinking they're an absolute feature of reality. We really like our labels. Look at how we classify living things in a big fancy heirarchy, then fight over which things go into what categories. We even have non-serious fights over whether you're drinking a can of "soda" or "pop". We call things that we'd prefer to happen "good" and things we don't like "bad", then fight over which actions should get called which. There's nothing unique about morality.

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OK, I'm fairly new as an unbeliever and I'm still working my way through a lot of it. One of the main things that still has me confused is the morality question but not as it's usually argued. I find a lot of the time the apologists are saying one thing and the atheists are arguing against something else, or at least it seems that way but I guess that's where my confusion lies. 

 

So the atheist arguments are usually to do with either the whole objective/subjective morality question or that there are plenty of atheists doing lots of good works. Fair enough, those arguments make perfect sense to me.

 

However, the argument that I hear apologists make a lot but that I haven't been able to find any answer to is why we as humans seem to have something within us that instinctively wants to define things as good or evil, whatever those things might turn out to be. Usually it's given as a way for the apologist to get out of answering the atheist asking how can a "good" god allow "evil" to happen - atheists shouldn't have this moral instinct beyond, "I prefer not to have tsunamis come and take all my nice belongings away, it's more pleasant when my family don't die." So rather than answering the question the apologist just says, well you shouldn't have any sense of good and evil so why do you care?

 

Anyone want to help out the newbie?

 

Not sure it is always "instinctive" that we label something good or evil. May be more about upbringing. Parents tell you all the things they think are good and bad and you sort of take over as an adult. Another thing our parents burn into our minds is how important it is to stay alive so naturally we think about good things that will help us survive  as well as watch out for evil that might harm us.

 

I think some Christians might tend to assume that if you are an atheist you cannot possibly have any compassion, caring or empathy for your fellow human as if those qualities are reserved only for those who love Jesus. An intelligent person who is not afraid to use his/her brain will know that this is not the case.

 

Morality is relative to you. There is no absolute good or evil. And whether or not some thought or action offends someone's god or holy book is of zero value. Morality involves helping or hurting people and other critters that may suffer.

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I would like to suggest that you get at the root of what Christians are trying to accomplish.  At the end of the day, their objective isn't to get you to believe in absolute morality or even the existence of a deity.  They want you to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died for your sins, and that you need to believe in him to avoid the fires of hell.

 

Here's a fairly obvious question: what if there is a God, and it's not Jesus?  I think this is a very reasonable question.  There is absolutely no reason to believe in Jesus over any of the other Gods available out there.  Indeed the plethora of apparently immoral statements by Jesus, the bad works produced by Christianity, and the moral contradictions in the Bible (I'm not even talking about historical inaccuracies or internal narriative inconsistencies) should tell you that it is highly unlikely that Jesus is God.

 

So perhaps a good question to ask the evangelicals is: if there is an absolute morality, why doesn't Jesus satisfy it?  I'd advise you to not go down the hole through which evangelicals would lead you.

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Thank you all for your answers, I think the sense I'm getting is that it's really just language, evil and good are concepts that we have put these names on and elevated them to something beyond ourselves, which in itself is a way of making sure we stick to them. Thanks for the book recommendation Madame X I have been reading everything I can get my hands on.

 

 

I would like to suggest that you get at the root of what Christians are trying to accomplish.  At the end of the day, their objective isn't to get you to believe in absolute morality or even the existence of a deity.  They want you to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died for your sins, and that you need to believe in him to avoid the fires of hell.

 

Here's a fairly obvious question: what if there is a God, and it's not Jesus?  I think this is a very reasonable question.  There is absolutely no reason to believe in Jesus over any of the other Gods available out there.  Indeed the plethora of apparently immoral statements by Jesus, the bad works produced by Christianity, and the moral contradictions in the Bible (I'm not even talking about historical inaccuracies or internal narriative inconsistencies) should tell you that it is highly unlikely that Jesus is God.

 

So perhaps a good question to ask the evangelicals is: if there is an absolute morality, why doesn't Jesus satisfy it?  I'd advise you to not go down the hole through which evangelicals would lead you.

 

Yes, good advice, I'm starting to see that they're just evading the question, saying I'm not able to ask it, which leads me to believe that they're not confident enough in their own position. If it's true they shouldn't need all these evasion maneuvers.

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Claireann, my suggestion is that you stop reading apologist. I firmly believe education is necessary in order to deconvert or in reality be deprogrammed. I encourage you to read religious historians not apologist. The information you will encounter is shocking but also necessary to fully grasp the level of your particular indoctrination and to release your mind from that kind of thinking.

 

 

Authors I'd recommend would include Karen Armstrong and her book The History of God. I think that is a must read for everyone going through the deconversion process. Also Bart Ehrman will provide valid evidence why the Bible isn't true in any literal, historic, or factual sense. Elaine Pagels is also a good author to read. Robert M Price is, IMO, one of the great bible historians of our time. Anything he's written is worth reading.

 

 

Although I recommend a person going through the deconversion process should not read apologists there are two liberal apologists that will confirm the bible isn't literally true. Marcus Borg's book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally is a good transitional book. Anything written by Dr. John Shelby Spong would also likely be beneficial for a person in the process of deconverting.

 

IMO, it isn't enough too simply attempt to stop believing. A person with doubts needs to know why they Bible isn't literally true and why all religions are manmade institutions. And there is an abundance of evidence that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Christianity is a completely man made religion, but few Christians are aware of its existence.

 

I’d like to add a comment to my reply. I realize your question had to do with morality, but IMO, personal morality is often linked to religious beliefs. Such as the idea or belief that homosexuality is evil because it offends God. A person who is, or who has been religiously indoctrinated, often struggles with what is or is not moral and this struggle is often linked to religious concepts and beliefs they have been exposed to.

 

If a person has a religious background and is struggling with morality issues now I think it’s important to deal with the religious issues first and that often clarifies the moral questions and issues the individual is struggling with because the belief in God and all the baggage that comes with that belief is removed from the scenario. Reading this and other posts you’ve made lead me to believe you are still going through the deconversion process.

 

 

 

I wish you all the best in your journey.

 

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Claireann, my suggestion is that you stop reading apologist. I firmly believe education is necessary in order to deconvert or in reality be deprogrammed. I encourage you to read religious historians not apologist. The information you will encounter is shocking but also necessary to fully grasp the level of your particular indoctrination and to release your mind from that kind of thinking.

 

 

Authors I'd recommend would include Karen Armstrong and her book The History of God. I think that is a must read for everyone going through the deconversion process. Also Bart Ehrman will provide valid evidence why the Bible isn't true in any literal, historic, or factual sense. Elaine Pagels is also a good author to read. Robert M Price is, IMO, one of the great bible historians of our time. Anything he's written is worth reading.

 

 

Although I recommend a person going through the deconversion process should not read apologists there are two liberal apologists that will confirm the bible isn't literally true. Marcus Borg's book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally is a good transitional book. Anything written by Dr. John Shelby Spong would also likely be beneficial for a person in the process of deconverting.

 

IMO, it isn't enough too simply attempt to stop believing. A person with doubts needs to know why they Bible isn't literally true and why all religions are manmade institutions. And there is an abundance of evidence that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Christianity is a completely man made religion, but few Christians are aware of its existence.

 

I’d like to add a comment to my reply. I realize your question had to do with morality, but IMO, personal morality is often linked to religious beliefs. Such as the idea or belief that homosexuality is evil because it offends God. A person who is, or who has been religiously indoctrinated, often struggles with what is or is not moral and this struggle is often linked to religious concepts and beliefs they have been exposed to.

 

If a person has a religious background and is struggling with morality issues now I think it’s important to deal with the religious issues first and that often clarifies the moral questions and issues the individual is struggling with because the belief in God and all the baggage that comes with that belief is removed from the scenario. Reading this and other posts you’ve made lead me to believe you are still going through the deconversion process.

 

 

 

I wish you all the best in your journey.

 

Thanks for the advice Geezer, it's hard to break the habits of a lifetime I guess, I've been listening to apologetics for so long. I agree though, I think I would be better off leaving them alone for now if for no other reason than to lower my blood pressure! It was actually listening to them that contributed to my deconverting funnily enough, I realised how empty all their arguments are and saw the ridiculous hoops and loopholes they had to dance through to try to keep the scaffolding around their beliefs from falling down around them.

 

My first reaction to your assertion that I'm still deconverting was to disagree but on further reflection I think you have a point. I most definitely no longer believe in Christianity, Jesus, god or gods and there's no way I'm going back there, that bell has been rung. That's really just a first step though isn't it? There are a lot of moral issues that I haven't even thought of yet that I've held because of Christianity that I'm going to have to hold up and examine afresh. Is this what you mean when you see you think I'm still going through the process? If so, I think you may be right, much as it pains me to admit it!

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Hello and welcome.

 

Short answer: evolution.

 

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Humans like patterns. Most humans like things that are easy to understand. Dichotomies like "good" and "evil" are easy to understand. Think of how you explain something to a 3-year-old: nice, neat, black and white. It seems like many humans (including most Christians) don't want to develop past the nice, simple, 3-year-old's way of thinking. For many (think of the stereotype of the angry young adult) the next step is to opt out of thinking about it at all. 

 

Binaries: "It's really very simple: stealing is bad. Don't ever steal." (By association, giving is good. Always give.)

 

Opting out: "Everyone steals from everyone. It's not even worth arguing about or trying to figure it out. I mean, the government steals from us all the time, so since everyone's stealing from everyone, I'm going to steal too instead of thinking about all the reasons why I shouldn't"

 

Saying "you shouldn't have any real sense of good and evil" is a total cop-out. It's like the people who say "We should have an open marriage because you shouldn't have any feelings of jealousy if you really love someone." It's just the antithesis of the human condition.

 

(I also haven't had much sleep and may not be making any sense.)

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Claireann said, My first reaction to your assertion that I'm still deconverting was to disagree but on further reflection I think you have a point. I most definitely no longer believe in Christianity, Jesus, god or gods and there's no way I'm going back there, that bell has been rung. That's really just a first step though isn't it? There are a lot of moral issues that I haven't even thought of yet that I've held because of Christianity that I'm going to have to hold up and examine afresh. Is this what you mean when you see you think I'm still going through the process? If so, I think you may be right, much as it pains me to admit it!

 

 

 

Just an observation from an old guy who has been around the block more than a few times. Deconverting is a process not an event. We were all indoctrinated and it is no small task to reverse that process. It is quite normal for the deconversion or deprogramming to take years, not months, and certainly not weeks or days. I am ten years into the process now and I still sense that I'm not completely there yet.

 

I recently read a book written by a college professor that admits it took her 35 years to fully deconvert from her religious indoctrination. I am convinced that education is the key to being deprogrammed. I've read a small library of books written by religious historians in the past eight years. I found it impossible to simply say I don't believe the bible anymore. I had to have proof that the bible wasn't true and I found out there is huge amount of scholarship that addresses that issue. Most of the religious historians were involved in varying degrees with Christian fundamentalism at some point in their life. Many of them were fundamentalist preachers. Now they are mostly atheist or agnostic.

 

I am convinced the first step in being deprogrammed is for the prospect to recognize the problems with the bible for them self. If they don't see the flaws, contradictions, and inconsistencies on their own there are not prospects for deconversion. You have confirmed that you are aware of those problems and that initiated the journey you are on now. Don't get discouraged, I guarantee you there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the journey is well worth the effort

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Look into the studies on feral children. It has been shown that children raised among animals or children abused so badly that they are denied human contact of any kind have no sence of moral values. Therefor morality is a learned trait.

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