"So where do you get your ethics then?"

United States
February 14, 2007 9:47am CST
CNN thought it would be a great idea last week to run a piece on Atheists being discriminated against--something that certainly happens, especially here in a state that has been described politically as "somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan." I won't belabor the video contents. Go to You Tube and look for Paula Zahn and Atheism, and you'll find the videos I'm talking about. What I would actually like to address is a question raised by a preacher that a great number of people ask of atheists: "If you don't believe in God, where do you get your morals and ethics?" The first problem with this question is that it implies that because one believes in a deity, that they are automatically imbued with all the "morals and ethics" ascribed to said deity. Clearly, that is not the case, and I doubt any believer would argue that it is. Because if it is true that it is God that somehow literally controls the actions of the faithful, then God also controls the actions of the faithfully militant--the KKKs, David Koreshes, Talibans, etc. The Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Confuscious's Analects--these are all guidelines by which the faithful live by; they read, they digest, they assimilate. Why should Atheists be any different? Many of us read widely, and I won't speak for my fellows, but in my own personal quests I've read the aforementioned tomes, along with most of the great works in philosophy and mythology, etc. All of these books have commentary on morality and ethics. And when you burn away all the cultural and semantic differences, what are you left with to live by? Treat others as you wish to be treated. Can't you really stop there? "Thou shalt not steal?" Would you want someone to steal from you? "An it harm none." Would you want someone to harm you? "Abstain from exchanging harsh words with your brother, for he will rise and smite you." Would you like it if I bandied about with harsh words or hit you? Like most other areas of our lives, we try to live logically. I suppose it is as if we have taken the idea of karma and stripped away much of its mystical quality--the way I behave towards others, in that same way they will behave towards me. To be a militant anything is a bad thing. Being a militant Atheist included. The goal here is not to spark more Atheist/Believer bashing--there's enough of that already. The piece on CNN just bothered me, and I may not can change much, but I can at least do this. Be blessed, folks.
7 people like this
16 responses
@Denmarkguy (1845)
• United States
15 Feb 07
Very interesting discussion. I used to live somewhere in that Big State down there, in a county where we tongue in cheek added the words "By God" between Williamson and County. But I digress. There is a disturbing subtext in our society (or is it modern society, in general?), that sortof echoes the "war on terrorism," in that "if you're not WITH us, you must be AGAINST us." I am not really an -ist of any kind, and I was frequently categorized as "heathen" (which I am not) and "without morals," during the time I spent down south. But what are morals and ethics, but an application of common sense guidelines for living? I follow a life philosophy, patched together from a variety of sources... and I feel quite confident that you could go through the Bible and the Quran and find some of the rules for living I apply to myself. Others may have their origins in Earth religions, and some I may just have made up as I went along. I belong to the local "Conversation Cafe" here in Port Townsend (www.conversationcafe.org), and an interesting point was recently raised, about how writing affects how we perceive what is "true" in the world. In the beginning, lessons for life were passed down through an oral tradition of story telling. Members of tribes and societies would relate to the sagas through comparison to their personal experience. Then came writing. Writing was seen as a way to preserve the traditions-- but a strange thing happened: The written word-- although it purely represented what had been spoken-- somehow became "more true" than the same words, when spoken. This lead to people starting to dismiss the "reality" of their personal experience and observation, and instead deferring to the writing. 1000's of years later, we seem to have arrived at a point where society supports those who take their cues from written doctrine, yet acts suspiciously towards those who think for themselves and draw their conclusions from actual observation and personal learning. Hence questions like "where do you get your morals and ethics?" And, indeed, it does make a thinking person feel a bit uneasy. Namaste, Peter
@Tetchie (2933)
• Australia
15 Feb 07
Namaste Peter and Daniel Dismissing the reality of personal experience and observation. Not believing what we see, so we no longer can see what was once non-questionable as it was personal experience and many could see it. Now humanity is pushing it up hill and we may never collectively get this knowing back. Instead we will endure our own apocalypse.
1 person likes this
@Thomas73 (1467)
• Switzerland
14 Feb 07
Aren't ethics essentially based on common sense? Believing or not doesn't make you a lesser or better person, but gives you some basic social rules. An Atheist gets the same basic social rules through using his/her brain and common sense. There's really no need for a god to do that. Now, only religious people can have this self-righteous 'holier than thou' attitude. Most of them don't, but those who do are extremely arrogant -- not to mention annoying! Ethics based on religion were probably alright some 2,000 years ago, I suppose. But now we're lucky to have come out of the Dark Ages and we should do our utmost not to go back into such an ignorant period of Mankind.
2 people like this
• United States
14 Feb 07
Yeah, you would like to hope common sense would prevail, but I hardly have to remind you that they don't. Sad, isn't it?
1 person likes this
• United States
14 Feb 07
Your ethics and morals come from many different places. They come from how you are raised, what you read, what you experience in life and many other things. Just because someone follows a certain religous doctrine, does not mean that their morals are right or better than anyone elses. As a Christian I find it beyind common sense that anyone would judge someone elses moral values or ethics. This goes against one of my beliefs that you should not judge, lest you be judged by others. I am not going to judge anyone else morals, ethics or beliefs because it is not my place. I will share my morals and ethics if its appropriate, but not to force them on others.
2 people like this
@sonnet (165)
• South Korea
15 Feb 07
What an excellent discussion you've raised. We are all responsible for our morality and ethics which we develop within ourselves and often influenced by the culture and society we grow up in. Religion does not give us a "get out of jail free card" when addressing moral issues in our communities. I despise a self-righteous attitude in anyone and I despise people who claim a higher authority over any action that harms or hurts another. Hitler wrote many times of his belief that God condoned the path he chose. I don't think Religion as a concept is evil, it is a source of inspiration and fulfills a need for many people, offering hope and joy and a safty-net of sorts. But we have to remember that our values come from inside of us and we are responsible for them. If we believe in a God we want to operate within what we believe is His framework or guidance. However it is much harder to self-determine what is Right and what is Wrong. In many ways Religion can be the easy and soft option. Personal responsibilty in life is always a difficult task. Religion is often about getting to know one's God. Atheism could be stated as really getting to know one's Self.
1 person likes this
• United States
15 Feb 07
Those last two sentences are absolutely spot on. Very empowering lines they are, too.
1 person likes this
@zimmie (41)
• Canada
20 Feb 07
Actually, I believe religion is a way to get to know one's self, through God
@rosie_123 (6118)
14 Feb 07
What a very interesting discusson topic. Well, from my point of view, I am an Atheist, and proud of it, and I certainly don't feel I have any lesser morals, and ethics than anyone who goes to Church, or whatever place of worship they choose, every week. In my view, morals and ethics are just common sense. "Do as you would be done by" if you want to put it that way. As you say, you do not steal, or hurt, or kill, because you respect other people, and you want them to respect you back, and I wouldn't like it happening to me. I don't need to go to a Church every week to treat my fellow human beings (and animals, and other living creatures) with respect, and care. Thanks for all the points raised.
@jricbt (1455)
• Brazil
14 Feb 07
Agree with you, nothing else to add. (I am an atheist also). Very nice discussion indeed.
1 person likes this
• United States
14 Feb 07
Like you, I don't feel my ethics are any less because I don't go to Church. Of course, to our friends out in the rest of the world, they can't wrap their brains around this concept. Who relaly knows why, other than they don't realy want to because of the ramifications it has for themselves.
2 people like this
• United States
14 Feb 07
Excellent discussion. I'm a lifelong atheist. I learned my ethics from my parents and my early reading, since much of my reading contained moral and ethical issues. Even if I hadn't had that basis, observing other humans tells me that we all suffer in the same ways, have the same basic needs, and the same rights to be treated with dignity. My own sense of empathy (something that all humans start out with) means that I understand pain in others, whether it's physical or psychological pain. Understanding it, I try not to cause it in others, and to relieve it when I can, when it already exists.
@lucy02 (5017)
• United States
14 Feb 07
Ethics and Christianity are two different things. Of course a Christian should have ethics but that's not what its about. Christianity is about a personal relationship with Jesus. Some Christians are not very ethical and some atheists are. I am a Christian but do not believe in oppressing atheists. This was not what Christ said to do.
@Fargale (760)
• Brazil
1 Mar 07
What a great discussion. More often than not I've felt overwhelmed by the tsunami of ignorance and irrationality that abounds here, but discussions like this remind me why I still remain in MyLot. And I'm surprised - though on second thought I realize I shouldn't be - to see how exactly your beliefs mirror my own, and arrived at throught the same line of reasoning. A "non-mystical karma" is indeed the motto I live my life by, and the one point where I can at least give some credit to christians is when I find those that realize that the most important thing they could ever get from their religion is the golden rule of "treat others as you would like to be treated". I wish more people would arrive at the same conclusion, and I also wish they would realize that no god or religion is necessary to reach that same conclusion - but in the meantime, as long as they keep that motto in their hearts, I'm happy.
• United States
1 Mar 07
Won't it be fun if our friend from the Creationist drivel conversation joins us over here too?
@Fargale (760)
• Brazil
2 Mar 07
Funny, well... maybe, in kind of a masochistic way. =P
• United States
22 Feb 07
I get my ethics from thinking about how my words, actions, etc. affect others and the world around me. That's it. I can see that cooperationa nd compromise are far more rewarding in the long term and in many more ways than stealing, lying, conning, controlling, attacking, or otherwise doing harm to others. In fact, I find that the more I try to help others, the more it is reciprocated. Building trust and community in a benevolent, reasonable, rational way is what drives my "morality" and ethical sensibilities. Sure, it could be called selfish, but it's not purely so, as it does take others into account. I don't see how one white of religion or fear of god is necessary for such a set of ethics.
• Singapore
21 Feb 07
Excellent post! One does not have to be religious to have one's own concept of ethics and morality. Many seem to think atheists/agnostics are bad people who are likely to commit crimes.... so interestingly, I watched a video on YouTube recently and it quoted a 1997 Federal Bureau of Prisons report that stated that though atheists/agnostics form 10% of the US population, they only form 0.2% of the US prison population! So the 90% of the population who are religious form 99.8% of the prison population. That means that if you're an atheist or agnostic you're some 50 times LESS likely to end up in prison! Cheers! Andre www.theultimatesuccessmanual.com
• Philippines
21 Feb 07
I agree that one could surely find other sources of morality other than religion. However, there is a certain issue regarding atheistic morality, and that is the absence of a divine arbiter. As Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky put it, without God, everything is permitted. Without an absolute being to eternally reward the just and eternally damn the wrongdoer, everything is permitted, so long as one can get away with it. The concept of right of wrong becomes somewhat relative. Of course such an issue does not invalidate atheistic morality entirely, but it does invalidate it as an objective morality. By the way, I'm an agnostic.
@zimmie (41)
• Canada
20 Feb 07
Love this topic, by the way. I beleive that no matter what religion or faith one follows everyone should be equally respected as long as he/she is a decent & caring person. Religion really shouldn't be used to judge others. (Oh & Christian, by the way :P )
• Portugal
15 Feb 07
I agree with you! Very good discussion ;)
• United States
15 Feb 07
Excellent points! I am glad I missed the CNN piece because it just would have teed me off. But I appreciate your points. Thank you.
15 Feb 07
I try to treat other people as I would wish to be treated. I try to respect others and hope they will respect me. Regardless of nationality, religion, or colour, we all live on this planet.
@renagades (342)
• India
15 Feb 07
i got my real ethical behaviour only in my office . i studied the ethics in college but not able to follow there . i just under stood the meaning of the ethics only in my organisation.