I often hear it said that without religion there is no basis for morality.
As a proponent of the Secular Constitutional Representative Republic we live in, I have to protest. We are a country with a multitude of people with varying belief systems and backgrounds. To base our society’s moral code on a revelation granted to only one culture is ineffective. It raises the question then, from where should morality and law come?
The Classical thinkers, such as Socrates, labored their minds with, as Plato put it in “The Republic,“ the development of the “more perfect society” or union. That might sound a bit familiar. Socrates argued that justice is more beneficial to society than injustice.
One such example is the rationale that a just man will not wrong another just man, a just man will seek an advantage over an unjust man, and an unjust man will do wrong unto all. A successful society cannot form or be composed of only unjust men. Unjust men may ally so that they might do wrong unto others, but they will also harm one another. Morality must be inherent in us for society to exist. Without morality, the community would never have formed, the division of labor would not have kicked in, and the human species would be destitute if not extinct.
Most estimates put the modern human species at about 250,000 years old, but few scientists say less than a 100,000. I do not even need a 100,000 years to make this point, but let’s run with it.
Are we to believe that man was created or came into existence, and for 98,000 years humans had no moral sense? Under this premise, we murdered one another, we fought bloody turf wars, we fought over women, we raped, we stole, and God looked on indifferently. When finally, 2,000 years ago God said, “Well, that’s enough of that. I should teach them how to behave.”
This doesn’t make any sense.
Morality is necessary for human survival. Mankind could not have survived the wait for someone to teach us morality. Socrates put forth the idea that justice is to do “…what is a man’s, own and belongs to him.” He concluded that a man, “…may neither take what is another’s, nor be deprived of what is his own.” This passage from “The Republic” is particularly interesting.
“Will a just man ever be guilty of sacrilege or theft, or treachery either to his friends or to his country?
Neither will he ever break faith where there have been oaths or agreement?
No one will be less likely to commit adultery, or to dishonor his father and mother, or to fail in his religious duties?
And the reason is that each part of him is doing its own business, whether in ruling or being ruled.”
Morality was defined by the Classics as minding your own business. A man’s personal business that does not affect you physically or fiscally is none of your concern. Further, Socrates said something I find incredibly profound.
“What I mean may be put into the form of a question. Are dogs divided into he’s and she’s, or do they share the work equally in hunting, keeping watch, and in the other duties of dogs? Or do we entrust to males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling of their puppies is labor enough for them?
No. They share alike; the only difference between them is that the male is stronger and the female weaker.
But you can use different animals for the same purpose, unless they are bred and fed in the same way?
Then if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture and education.”
Later in the dialogue…
“And if the male and female sexes appear to differ in their fitness for any pursuit, we should see that such a pursuit or art ought to be assigned to one or the other of them; but if the difference consists only in women bearing and men begetting children, this does not constitute proof that a woman differs from a man in respect of the sort of education she should receive; and we shall therefore continue to maintain that our guardians [armed forces and politicians] and their wives ought to have the same pursuits.”
This is a man 2,500 years ago calling for women to have equal education, labor participation, military service alongside men, and political involvement. This was reasoning that brought a man to the conclusions that have taken those 2,500 years for us to figure out, and we STILL do not do some of them thanks to prejudice. This is prejudice that horrible men will protect unjustly with religion.
Contrary to the assertion I mentioned earlier, morality can be judged using reason and science.
Our reason and knowledge pertaining to economics, biology, psychology, sociology, etc., is essential in defining morality that can apply to all irrespective of religion.
Take the example of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has a per capita GDP of $575. That is lower than the global average in the year 1820. I think all of my readers have the sense to know that the most moral response to this problem is not to throw battery acid in the faces of little girls for the unspeakable crime of learning to read. It is completely rational to claim on the basis of science and secular reasoning that this is immoral. As a matter of fact, we have to say this if we claim to know anything about human wellbeing. An action that deviates from promoting human wellbeing and instead promotes suffering is evil, and this kind of act is unjust. Which, by the Classical definition, is to concern yourself with the business of others, and to attempt to make them conform to your will.
Religion addresses matters about which there are many discrepancies. Matters like who you worship and when, what days you celebrate, when you fast and why, what clothes you can wear, what foods are inedible, what ceremonies you should perform, whom you can have sex with and in what position, what contraceptives if any can be used, societal roles for men and women, and a plethora of other matters. Those who claim their religion is total, are making a rather large claim. I believe it is important to point out the the word “total” is the root word in “totalitarian”.
To base your own morals upon religion is fine, obviously. That is, so long as you do not violate the rights of others. However, the morals or laws of a free society must be based upon what can be deduced by reason alone. Laws set up by religion are bound to be inconsistent. Ask one Christian what God thinks about abortion, and another will disagree. Ask a Muslim what Allah thinks about drugs, and another will disagree. Some will claim that women are subservient, others will claim they are equal. All kinds of discord can be found here. As soon you make the admission that law must be based upon religion, you have to select a religion upon which to base said laws. Naturally, you will select your own, and this is to force your revelation and interpretation on others. That is Theo-fascism, and none of us should stand for it. Freedom of religion can only exist when law does not involve religion. There must be a wall of separation between the church and state. On this matter, I have found a slogan I really like, “Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall.”