Dave: If they reject the Christian world view and start disbelieving in God or taking an agnostic position towards the question of His existence, then they have to come up with some superior alternative ethical system which isnʼt either arbitrary or unworkable in practice. I maintain that it cannot be done.
Edward: Is that your foremost fear, that your ethics may prove baseless and youʼll walk out of the house one day and just start cursing, stealing or killing at random, or others will simply lose all control and do the same to you?
Have you considered the philosophical fallacies inherent in all attempts to base ethics on a particular authoritarian “world view?”
The Authoritarian Fallacy
Does philosophy really provide explanations? In any philosophy course you will learn that authoritarian explanations, such as claiming that “God made the rules,” explains one unquestionable premise (namely, “the rules”) by invoking an even more unquestionable and more mysterious premise (namely, “God”). So authoritarian explanations do not “explain” things much more coherently than other explanations.
Reminds me of a radio talk show in which the liberal and conservative hosts were taking calls from listeners, and someone called in agreeing with something the conservative host had said, adding, “I agree, Bob! And we must never ever do any wrong, not under any circumstances…” And the conservative host shouts, “Now thereʼs a man taking some sense!” But the called continued his thought, adding, “…or Zondar the Monkey King will come down and bop us with his big banana.”
Even C. S. Lewis was aware of the philosophical dangers of authoritarian-based ethical assumptions.
Apparently having second thoughts about a Supreme Being unrestrained by moral principles, in the year of his death C. S. Lewis wrote: “The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘so thereʼs no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’” Only four months before his death, Lewis wrote in a letter to an American philosopher that there were dangers in judging God by moral standards. However, he maintained that “believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshipping Him, is still greater danger.” Lewis was responding specifically to the question of Joshuaʼs slaughter of the Canaanites by divine decree and Peterʼs striking Ananias and Sapphira dead. Knowing that the evangelical doctrine of the Bibleʼs infallibility required him to approve of “the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua,” Lewis made this surprising concession: “The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.
In short, Lewis came close to saying that the Supreme Might must live up to moral standards if he is to be regarded as God and not as some cosmic sadist unworthy of worship.
In his letter to the philosopher, Lewis expresses the realization that he could not wholly relativize and trivialize the concept of goodness for the Supreme Being he envisioned:
To this some will reply “ah, but we are fallen and donʼt recognize good when we see it.” But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: “Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?” — “What fault hath my people found in me?” And so on. Socratesʼ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockhamʼs, Paleyʼs) leads to an absurdity. If “good” means “what God wills” then to say “God is good” can mean only “God wills what he wills.” Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan. Lewis was not always consistent in his attempt to find a foundation for morality. In some of his earlier books he suggests that Godʼs goodness is incompatible with whatever happens, which, instead of giving theism any advantage over atheism, does little more than make Cosmic Might the personification of moral randomness, of relativism gone out of control.
— Joe Edward Barnhard, “The Relativity of Biblical Ethics,” Biblical v. Secular Ethics: The Conflict, edited by R Joseph Hoffman and Gerald A Larue Buffalo, New York (1988), Prometheus Books
Judging by C. S. Lewisʼ statements above, he might have even given a thumbs up to the following saying by Voltaire, “The silly fanatic repeats to me that it is not for us to judge what is reasonable and just in the divine Being. That His reason is not like our reason, that His justice is not like our justice. Eh? How, you mad demoniac, shall we judge justice and reason otherwise than by the notions we have of them? Do you want us to walk otherwise than with our feet, and speak otherwise than with our mouths?”
Of course philosophers are continually debating what does “explain” things, to little satisfaction of other philosophers, even when the philosophers in question are all theists and/or Christians, as you can read in the latest debate vol. published by the Society of Christian Philosophers: Contemporary Debate in the Philosophy of Religion (Section III. features debates between Christian/theistic philosophers on questions such as “Can Only One Religion Be True?” “Does God Take Risks in Governing the World?” “Does God Respond to Petitionary Prayer?” “Is Eternal Damnation Compatible with the Christian Concept of God?” “Is Morality Based on Godʼs Commands?” “Should a Christian Be a Mind-Body Dualist?” Concerning such questions, none of the Christian/theistic philosophers appear to have been convinced by the othersʼ arguments in their debates.)
The question is what great philosophical system doesnʼt indulge in a tautological form of reasoning in order to explain our “reactions?” For instance, what advantage is it to know that the nature of being consists in the “will to live,” in the “idea,” or in the whim of “God” or of “chemistry?” A mere proliferation of words, subtle displacements of meanings. “What is” loathes the verbal embrace, and our inmost experience reveals us nothing beyond the privileged and inexpressible moment.
“We have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries; it is only when we set out to discover ‘the secret of God’ that our difficulties disappear.” - Mark Twain
“It is truly extravagant to define God, angels, and minds… when we do not know why we move our arms at will. Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” - Voltaire
“I believe in Someone Out There - call Him God, since other names, like Festus or Darrin, do not seem to fit - but I am not entirely certain that He is all that mindful of what goes on down here. Example: Recently a tornado destroyed a town in Texas and dropped a church roof on a batch of worshipers. One of the few things left standing were two plaster statues, one of Jesus, the other of Joseph. The townspeople, according to the news, ‘looked at the statues’ survival as a sign of Godʼs love.’ Hold the phone. This sounds like the he-beats-me-because-he-loves-me line of thought. If the Lord in his infinite wisdom drops a concrete roof on the true believers but spares two hunks of modeling compound, it is time to question the big Fellaʼs priorities. If I have to be made up of plaster to command attention in this universe, something is amiss.”
— James Lileks, “God Has Call-Waiting,” Notes of a Nervous Man
I know that you have trust in a particular Biblical Catholic “God” and in your particular beliefs about “God.” And like the worshipers in the church above who were killed, regardless of what happens, you will continue to believe as you believe, trusting everything will turn out right and have some “explanation” in the end. Perhaps what you donʼt recognize is that I too have my own sense of trust as well. Lots of people do. People have been trusting and even praying for ages on this planet without joining any particular church or religion. Itʼs true that I did let go of the rock of my former beliefs, but I still have faith, hope, and love. Faith for me is more of a swimming thing than clinging to a particular sectarian or denominational or religious rock, and this whole cosmos swims in a sea of infinite space. And no, I donʼt seek converts to my view, only people willing to read books, including “holy books” as they would any other book, and ask the same types of questions as they would of any other book they read, and also admit that when it comes to things they donʼt know, then they just donʼt know them. I think we also both agree that when it comes to a person communing with a Higher Power, both of us probably have some skepticism concerning all the “middle men” in the field of “organized religion.”
“All great religions in order to escape absurdity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism. It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel broadcast, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely.” - H. L. Mencken
On “Relativity” in the Realm of Ethics
Speaking of “relativity” in the realm of ethics, Calvin actually called the decrees of God “horrible,” and Luther admitted that he had trouble with the “acme of faith” by which so many people were condemned to hell simply by decree. And in the Bible you cannot find any verses that say polygamy, concubinage, slavery, or genocide are always and everywhere “sins.” In fact, according to the Bible such practices are perfectly acceptable to “God,” even praiseworthy — depending on the circumstances.
I shall make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one anotherʼs flesh in the siege… A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lordʼs work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed. You are My war-club… with you I shatter old man and youth. young man and virgin.
— Jeremiah 19:9; 48:10; 51:20,22
The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah and he made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will make it so that I can slaughter the sons of Ammon, then whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return, it shall be Yours as a burnt offering.” [Jephthahʼs daughter came out of the house.] And he did to her according to his vow.
— Judges 11
The children of Israel stoned Achan and his daughters… burned them with fire… raised over them a heap of stones. And the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger… The Lord hardened their hearts to meet Israel in battle in order that He might destroy them utterly, that they might receive no mercy.
— Joshua 7:24-26; 11:20
Moses said, “Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who is not a virgin. But all the virgins save for yourselves.”
— Numbers 31 (How could the Israelites be sure which were virgins and which were not? Were the privates of each female probed to see if they had an unruptured hymen? — Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth)
The Lord said, “[Because] she has rebelled against her God… [Samarian] infants shall be dashed to pieces and women with child ripped open.”
— Hosea 13:16
The Lord said, “Slay man and woman, infant and suckling.”
— 1st Samuel 15:3
You shall fear (no other gods) only Yahweh… for He is a jealous God. Otherwise His anger will be kindled against you and He will wipe you off the face of the earth… In the cities He gives you leave alive nothing that breathes… utterly destroy them… show them no mercy… or Yahweh will destroy you utterly… The Lord delivered them before us… we… utterly destroyed the men… women, and the little ones of every city… If your brother, son, daughter, wife, or your friend who is your own soul, entice you away secretly, saying, “Let us go serve other gods”…you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death… These curses shall come on you… because you would not obey the Lord… you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters… I [the Lord] will make mine arrows drunk with blood.
— Deuteronomy. 2:34; 5:9; 6:13,15; 7:2,4; 13:6-9; 20:16,17; 28:45,47,53; 32:42
Such verses bring to mind a question: Is “heaven” going to be a vacation paradise for obedient child slaughterers? I can just hear the pool-side chat, “We killed everyone in the city as God commanded . or thought we had. Then I spotted a heap of blankets rustling in an alleyway and yanked them aside, and there was a trembling young girl and her pregnant Mom. You should have seen the look on their faces as I raised my sword and . Hey waiter, can I get another Bloody Mary? Boy, I just love this place!”
And compare Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful” with the following verses:
“Leave alive nothing that breathes. show them no mercy.” (Deut. 7:2)
“The Lord hardened their hearts… that they might receive no mercy.”
Not to mention questions raised by other laws and their interpretations in the Bible: The Pentateuch teaches, “Worship Yaweh, or die if you try to tempt others to worship other gods.” But the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes more sense to me, “Freedom of religion.”
How about the commandment, “Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy?” Under Constantine “Sunday” was “made holy” instead of the Hebrew “Sabbath” day. Neither do Christians refrain from working on Sunday, it has been reinterpreted to just mean not working at a job you get formally paid to do.
As for adultery, I donʼt know anyone who needs to read the Bible to understand that sleeping with another partner displeases the one youʼre with. Also, Born Again Christians have the same divorce rate as everyone else (as the Evangelical pollster, George Barna, admitted after his organization had conducted extensive polls over the past decade or two). Often the Born Again Christian is taught to wait until they are married in order to have sex, so they tend to get married at an earlier age than the rest of the population, and perhaps are less prepared financially and emotionally as a result. But even back in the days of the Puritans, their young teens had sex with each other, sometimes because of the practice of “bundling,” i.e., your kids sleeping with the neighborsʼ kids, or with visitorʼs kids, during cold winter nights just to keep warm, or young teen experimentation took place with the provision only that if the girl got pregnant, the two of them would get married. There are in fact figures of how many Puritan brides were pregnant on their wedding day, though I donʼt recall the exact percentage.
As for lying, there is a little command hidden in Leviticus against it, but in the Ten commandments the term used refers to “bearing false witness,” a legal term, not lying in general. And in fact the Hebrews employed a double standard for themselves and their neighbors. They could lie if it affected their chances in battle, be devious. They could sell foreigners animals that had died of sickness, and, slaves that the Hebrews bought from the lands around them (foreign slaves) were slaves for life, never released during Jubilee.
Concerning Accusations of “Selfish Autonomy”
We each learn throughout life, and each make plenty of our own decisions, what food to eat, who to date, what to drive, what occupations to pursue. We each are autonomous to an enormous degree.
Also, tell me what “self-LESS” reason is there to want to ensure your own personal “eternal life” in a land of “glory?”
Also, tell me how “self-LESS” the act of spreading oneʼs memes is? Everyone gets a thrill out of sharing their ideas with others and finding that the other person shares your own ideas. That goes for religious as well as political evangelists. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw that depicts two door-to-door evangelists: KNOCK! KNOCK! “Hello, Sir! May we blatantly disregard your privacy for a few minutes in order to further our own personal goals?”
Iʼm not judging except in the sense of drawing broader comparisons concerning the question of “selfishness” and “autonomy.”
“I have often remarked that the Christian in his treatment of the Freethinker passes through three distinct stages. In the first instance he depicts the heretic as someone almost incredibly vile. There is a good reason for this, since in order to justify his suppression, he must be loaded with moral opprobrium and the social censure used to enforce the religious condemnation. So to the orthodox imagination unbelief becomes a mere cloak to cover incredible scoundrelism. A catalogue of vices is drawn up of which the Freethinker ought to be guilty, and the heretic of religious fiction is made to live up to the program. The next stage is when the Freethinker is better known, and the Christian assumes a pitying attitude. The heretic may be a decent sort of a fellow, although he is terribly mistaken in his view, but — and the “but” is altogether fatal. Then, as Freethinkers become better known, he is promoted to almost the level of the Christian himself. Sometimes we are told that he may be as good as a Christian, a degree of excellence which to a visitor from another planet would hardly appear to mark an incredible degree of moral development.
“Professor Drummond used to address his class, “I knew a student, an avowed Atheist. He roomed with a man who contracted typhus. What do you think the Atheist did? He neglected his classes to nurse his chum, who after a severe struggle, recovered. What of the nurse? He contracted the disease and died. The Atheist died and went to heaven and received the ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” Drummond thought it worthwhile to point out that an Atheist did what hundreds, probably thousands of people are doing every week in some form or another. Of course, in the majority of cases it is not advertised. Men and women help each other, nurse each other, take risks for each other, and sometimes pay the cost of the risks they run. It is only advertised when it happens to be done in the name of Christ, while the larger number of cases are known only to an immediate circle of friends. Clearly, if Christians had lied less about their opponents, if they had slandered them less, if they had been brought up with a healthier appreciation of the qualities and capabilities of normal human nature, Professor Drummond would not have needed to inform his class that an Atheist might be a decent human being.
“The author from whom I have taken the Drummond anecdote tells the story as illustrating the latterʼs liberality of mind. It is quite clear that had his hearers really understood the nature of morality, had they been taught that morality springs from, and has sole regard to the social relationships, there would have been no point in the story and no need for its telling. The Atheist does not need an anecdote to inform him that a Christian may act in a human manner. He knows that human nature, like murder, will out, and the moral promptings which are expressions of so many thousands of generations of associated life cannot be prevented expressing themselves by the most anti-social religious teachings.”
— Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking
“The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates… Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order. When social animals are involved… antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human.”
- Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates
On Reactions Toward Death, Human Beings Are Not The Only Species That Does So
Living things react to death. Iʼve read about parrots (perhaps the most intelligent of bird species and highly sociable in the wild, even sending out scouts before descending on a farmerʼs crops) reacting to one of their own that had been shot by a farmer, and elephants coming upon the bones of one of their own, and handling them and reacting. You and I react to both psychological and physical pains and fears. Words and punches can hurt either of us. That doesnʼt make us either nihilists or theists, that just means weʼre human.
And knowing how I myself react to pain, makes me recognize signs of pain in other animals, and makes me think about the pains of animals that live off of eating other animals (or that parasitize other animals and drain them of life and health without killing them). But that doesnʼt mean that nature is all “red in tooth and claw,” since many creatures die from genetic defects, excessive cold or heat, lack of the leaves or grass or seeds that a species usually eats, or lack of enough to nourish every new youngster born, or lack of water, or natural disasters, or a plant crowding out the light so the plant lying beneath it does not receive enough to sprout and bloom, or bacteria reproducing so quickly and crowding so near one another that they drown in their own waste products. Likewise if a bat hanging from the roof of a cave falls to the floor, it gets caught in acidic toxic bat guano and soon dies. Some animals die from overexertion during migration, or soon afer mating (salmon come to mind in the later case, involving both migration and mating). I mention such cases because they donʼt involve one animal literally preying on another, “red in tooth and claw.”
The “non-red, non-toothed, non-clawed” side also include bacteria that live by breaking down minerals in rocks, and bacteria, beetles, worms, vultures and crows and other animals that simply live off the carcasses of already dead animals. And there are plenty of animals that simply live off of plants. As well as bacteria that live inside termite stomachs and cow stomachs and in our own intestines, and microscopic organisms on our skin that are helpful, or keep out worse bacteria and other microscopic organisms from taking up residence in those areas. So itʼs not all “red in tooth and claw.”
The type of behavior that is “red in tooth and claw” is true only of carnivorous species and the most damaging of microbes and parasites. Most other types get along. (See Kropotkinʼs book above, Mutual Aid.) And most conflicts between members of the same species are usually over mates, and may involve some head bashing as in rams (but they are built for that), or it may involve song and/or plumage competitions as in birds! The vast majority of such contests, such as aggression between wolves in the same pack, does not end with one wolf killing the other, but it ends with a “display of submission,” such as one wolf lying down and offering the other wolf his undefended neck, which the “winner” then does not bite. However, there is inter-pack aggression among primates, one pack of chimps or gorillas fighting another pack of chimps in territorial conflicts. And also one dolphin pack has been seen waging war against another dolphin pack. And sometimes animals can die in such pack behavior. Also, when a lion takes over another lionʼs pride, the winner kills the loser, and even eats the loserʼs cubs, which immediately forces the females in the pride to go into estrous after which the winning male lion mates with them all. Yes, that does sound like a process for lions that is indeed “red in tooth and claw.” I could give more examples like that, but they are examples within carnivorous species, and there are far fewer carnivorous animals overall than there are herbivorous ones on the planet. Sadly, pan chimpanzees will sometimes attack, kill and even eat another chimpʼs baby. Though bonobo chimpanzees (the species of chimp that may be nearest to humans DNA-wise), are not nearly as aggressive as the pan chimps — bonobo aggressive impulses seem to have been sublimated via increased attention to reconciliation behaviors and shared sexual stimulation of a wide variety.
The Ten Commandments and the Question of the Origin of Ethics
In 1997 Henry Jordan, a “born again” Christian on the State Board of Education in South Carolina, tried to get a copy of the Ten Commandments hung in every classroom in the state. When it was pointed out to him that members of other religions might not appreciate having only the Judeo-Christian teachings on display, he replied, “Screw the Buddhists and Kill the Muslims.”
Screw and Kill? Lot of good knowing the commandments did for him.
In the same year and the same state as the above incident the Charleston County Council of South Carolina unanimously passed a motion to post the Ten Commandments on a plaque outside the council chambers. Oddly enough, when a local reporter for the Post and Courier asked the nine council members to name the Ten Commandments, none could recall all ten. Two members refused to even try. Snapped Councilman Barrett Lawrimore, “I donʼt have time for this pop quiz.”
-Church and State
Letʼs Compare the U.S. Congress with the Ten Commandments
Beginning with “Do not bear false witness,” donʼt all Congresspeople “stretch the truth,” depending on which group of constituents or special interests or foreign dignitaries they are trying to woo or impress?
I also suspect thereʼs some “Sabbath-breakers” and “adulterers” in Congress.
Does Congress agree with the command, “Do not kill?”
How many Congresspeople have “used the Lordʼs name in vain” after discovering that their prize bill (say a bill to display the Ten Commandments) did not receive enough votes to become a law?
I donʼt suppose Congress will vote to display the “penalties” that go along with the Ten Commandments, since “death” is mentioned so often, even for “Sabbath-breakers.”
Lastly, I wonder how Congress will address the difference between the ancient Hebrewʼs “First Commandment” and our First Amendment? According to the “First Commandment” in the Bible “ye shall have no other gods before me” under penalty of death. While our First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion.
Preacher Pete: Without the Ten Commandments to lead them, people will wind up doing whatever they like.
Secular Sally: Most of us already do, but we like being liked, and hate being hated. In other words, most of us would sooner make friends than fill our freezers with heads, which, coincidentally, is a way to make enemies.
“Thou shalt not kill” is as old as life itself. And for this reason a large majority of people in all countries have objected to being murdered.
How many people have to flip through the Bible, going, “Jeez, I want to screw my neighborʼs wife—donʼt know if I should?”
-Rick Reynolds, Only the Truth is Funny
I do not believe that ethics “without the Bible” are “completely relative.” People with no Bible to guide them still feel similar pains when stolen from, slapped, or called a stinging name. People with no Bible to guide them also feel similar pleasures when hugged, given a gift, or verbally petted. In other words, “ethical authority” resides in our bodies and brains, and in the multitude of lessons learned during lives of interaction with our fellow human beings. Neither is it easy for a person to turn to anti-social behavior if they have been taught from childhood to view other peopleʼs feelings and needs through the inner lens of their own. People also recognize (regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof) that “joys shared are doubled, while sorrows shared are halved.” Such recognitions even form the basis for wanting to “double” societyʼs joys, and “halve” societyʼs sorrows.
Of course not everyone learns morality in the manner described above. Some are raised to “fear hell” and memorize lists of “holy commandments.” Such people are liable to “fear what they (and others) might become” once such “external” holy threats and commands are called into question. Ironically, in nearly all cases, such a “hell” does not exist to promote universal ethical behavior, but to promote belief in the truth of that personʼs particular theology/denomination as opposed to rival theologies/denominations. So if you do not share their particular theology nor belong to their particular denomination, then they are convinced you are going to hell regardless of whatever kindnesses you share with them or society at large. So the threat of “hell” only helps promote good behavior in those who accept that particular theology/denomination that preaches “hell;” and such people can only understand the idea of a “moral” nation as one that consists solely of “fellow believers” in their particular theology/denomination. Of course any morality that tries to base itself (and impose itself on others) upon purely “external” religious threats and commands will break down once the religion supporting it is called into question.
To avoid such “breakdowns” it makes more sense for a nation, culture, or family to emphasize “internal” rather than “external” morality/ethics, just as it makes more sense to raise children to think and act in terms of how “they would feel if what they did was done back to them,” rather than depending on rote memorization of lists to promote ethical understanding in all circumstances and among all people. All the worldʼs religions enshrine the principle, “Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself,” and, “Do to others what you would want done to yourself,” which assume in both cases that “you” already possess an “internal” recognition of what you should and shouldnʼt do. So, there need not be any overt conflict between “internal” and “external” morality and ethics. However, stressing the “internal” variety seems to have a far greater chance of drawing society together, rather than tearing it apart.
“Internal” ethical recognitions preceded the composition of humanityʼs earliest law codes such as those of King Hammurabi, or the moral injunctions found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the later but more famous, “Ten Commandments.” Such “internal” recognitions inspired the creation of laws, and still do, and remind us that laws are but dust when people neglect to seek out what is best within themselves and each other.
A manʼs ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
Darwin proposed that creatures like us who, by their nature, are riven by strong emotional conflicts, and who have also the intelligence to be aware of those conflicts, absolutely need to develop a morality because they need a priority system by which to resolve them. The need for morality is a corollary of conflicts plus intellect:
“Man, from the activity of his mental faculties, cannot avoid reflection. Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or anything like as well-developed as in man.” (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man)
That, Darwin said, is why we have within us the rudiments of such a priority system and why we have also an intense need to develop those rudiments. We try to shape our moralities in accordance with our deepest wishes so that we can in some degree harmonize our muddled and conflict-ridden emotional constitution, thus finding ourselves a way of life that suits it so far as is possible.
These systems are, therefore, something far deeper than mere social contracts made for convenience. They are not optional. They are a profound attempt—though of course usually an unsuccessful one—to shape our conflict-ridden life in a way that gives priority to the things that we care about most.
If this is right, then we are creatures whose evolved nature absolutely requires that we develop a morality. We need it in order to find our way in the world. The idea that we could live without any distinction between right and wrong is as strange as the idea that we—being creatures subject to gravitation—could live without any idea of up and down. That at least is Darwinʼs idea and it seems to me to be one that deserves attention.
Mary Midgley, “Wickedness: An Open Debate,” The Philosopherʼs Magazine, No. 14, Spring 2001
Commandments from Other Religions
(Just to show how evil and depraved the souls of Non-Christians are)
Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you,
Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.
-Akkadian Councils of Wisdom (from the ancient Babylonian civilization that existed two millennia before Jesus was born)
May I be no manʼs enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.
May I never devise evil against any man; if any devise evil against me,
may I escape without the need of hurting him.
May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good.
May I wish for all menʼs happiness and envy none.
When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends.
May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are wroth with one another.
May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to all who are in want.
May I never fail a friend in danger.
May I respect myself.
May I always keep tame that which rages within me.
May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.
-The Prayer of Eusebius, written by a 1st-century pagan, as quoted in Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion. (Incorrectly attributed on the web to a 3rd-century Christian also named “Eusebius,” but this was a 1st-century pagan philosopherʼs prayer. See Professor Murrayʼs book.)
I will be as careful for you as I should be for myself in the same need.
-Calypso, to Odysseus, in Homer, The Odyssey, Book 5, verses 184-91.
(Roughly late 8th century BCE.)
Shame on him who strikes, greater shame on him who strikes back. Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth. Do not hurt others in ways that would be hurtful to yourself.
-Buddhist wisdom (written centuries before Jesus was born)
More Buddhist Wisdom
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
Return love for hatred. Otherwise, when a great hatred is reconciled, some of it will surely remain. How can this end in goodness? Therefore the sage holds to the left hand of an agreement but does not expect what the other holder ought to do. Regard your neighborʼs gain as your own and your neighborʼs loss as your own loss. Whoever is self-centered cannot have the love of others.
-Taoist wisdom (written centuries before Jesus was born)
That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.
-Islamic holy teaching (Sukhanan-i-Muhammad, 63)
People were Christian before Christ ever existed. People were humanistic before humanism was ever organized. People were loving before LSD was ever discovered.
-Timothy Leary, as quoted by Paul Krassner, “The Cynic Route from Crazy SANE to Loving Haight,” The Realist, 1967
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