Morality Without Deity
never a jw - "How about bombing to oblivion a town where a new, lethal and highly contagious disease has overwhelmed the population. The greater good is to prevent the spreading of the disease to the world. The amount of lives saved by bombing the town can easily be much greater than the lives killed in that town. What does absolute morality dictate to do?"
You found the need of the big picture that others don't see.
I'm not saying that I can see what is the big picture. Actually it's very hard to see it. The problem of evil is the hardest theological problem.
I'm saying that I believe there is a big picture. Based in analogous experiences.
Why do you have to ruin my dramatization?? Now I have to add..."in a town where quarantine is ineffective"
Wait... no need. The disease is going to kill everyone in that town anyways. The end result is the same, except that quarantine is a delayed death sentence that creates added risk for the rest of the world
Brad Pitt will save us.
Interesting dilemma never a jw.
I wonder what a panel of christian ethicists would make of it. It's always tempting to change the terms of a thought experiment to escape the dilemma but that misses the point doesn't it? Would it be a moral good - or less of a moral ill - to kill humans who, through no fault of their own, posed a threat to a large number of others? Would theists and secularists really approach the problem any differently once we get behind the rhetoric? I'm really not sure.
Objective facts about the consequences are a tool that should be used to help us make good ethical decisions. But that doesn't mean there are always easy answers. Sam Harris points out the difference between ethical answers in theory and in practice. How many birds are there in flight around the world right this moment? The answer does exist but there is no way to reliably access it.
There is a great deal of low-hanging fruit that a secular morality could help us with. Other parts of the moral landscape might be far more challenging to access.
According to Judaism, one can be a good Jew while doubting God’s existence, so long as one acts in accordance with Jewish law. But the converse does not hold true, for a Jew who believes in God but acts contrary to Jewish law cannot be considered a good Jew.--The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, (Simon & Shuster, New York, 1981), p. 18.
It is of great help to society when the thinking atheist asks questions to so many of us who have settled into our religions by means of unthinking reactions produced by chance, mistake, or pure emotion. Not enough people question their own motives to make their current actions mean anything significant.
But if religions like Christianity and Islam can be traced to the religion of the Hebrews, it is quite a stray that has been made if many believers in the God of Abraham see the existence of morality impossible without deity. When this happens, the opposite also occurs: people think they can also have deity without morality.
When a person demands a connection between justice and God, one can mistake belief in God for the performance of the other, even an exemption from morality. This has happened far too often in history. The mental assent to the existence of God becomes enough for some, excusing themselves from being moral and even granting one’s self absolution. "Since I believe in God," many say, "I therefore have merit that excuses my behavior where it fails."
If God is love and the epitome of what is truly good, then one can also reason that all love and good is in essence God. When one brings birth to acts of love and justice, when one cares for the poor and welcomes the disenfranchised, when one does what truly is good, then by such a definition we have God in the world. It takes no belief in deity, it requires no religion, and such a “theophany of morality” can be brought about even by the atheist. God is not exclusive to the mind of believers; God comes from acts of the heart bequeathed by any hand. A God that requires belief isn’t much of a God at all.
This is not to say that the atheist must bow to such a definition either. One does not have to agree or even cease from debating such an explanation to remain a font of objective morality. It exists in the world, whether God does or not. If God truly loves the pious, then the pious must be something external of God.
But it can be hard to argue against the fact that when those who claim a requisite connection between God and morality fail in their morals, something of God disappears. Again if God is love and all that is good, isn't God stolen from the world when those who claim belief in God fail to act with love and in goodness? While morality does not require religion to exist, religion cannot exist without it being the product of its adherents.
In Judaism it is our tradition to question God’s existence from top to bottom, and we don’t necessarily stop praying or serving our neighbor or lighting menorahs because we have doubt or even have no faith in the concept of God. It is odd to see how religion has dissolved into merely being issues of belief, and it saddens me that it has become this to so many who claim a connection to us. As one rabbi stated: “God doesn’t care whether you believe in him or not. All that he cares is that you do the right thing.”
Thank you for a very thoughtful post David Jay. A lot to think about there.
I have a sincere question that might surprise some in view of my anti-theist position.
Do you think that the sort of morality that David_Jay writes about which is inspired by a religious sense has something to contribute that a purely secular objective morality lacks?
If God is love and the epitome of what is truly good, then one can also reason that all love and good is in essence God.
That seems to reduce god to a metaphor, but even if that is so, does it still add something to the human quest for morality? That isn't a trick question I am genuinely wrestling with the question of whether anchoring ethics to an ultimate source is a useful thing even if it is not objectively true?
Does it still resonate with human nature in a way that purely secular ethics do not? Or does it belong to the infancy of our species? Can it safely be discarded?
I can accept that God is love, afterall, isn't love 'divine'? We have all known, felt, and given love. That is where it should end.
But inevitably, the pronoun 'He' (or 'She' as some do) is attributed to 'God' at some point by believers and this alters the metaphor, bringing gender and therefore some sort of personhood or 'being' into the definition. At some point, original sin/'you are a sinner', judgment, and punishment enters the fold. I particularly find this occurs when believers aren't winning a non-believer over to their delusional faith argument and they begin to get annoyed or angry.
The Bible defines God as more than love. It defines God as male, warrior, creator of light, dark, peace, and evil, creating things in an incorrect/impossible physical order, 'Heavenly Father', misogynist, abuser, mass murderer including baby killer, condoning slavery, and exhibiting parental favouritism to name a few traits. Whatever the Jewish faith defines as God, its Torah includes some of what I just listed.
If we define God as love, why is the Bible or any other holy book required? Why is religion needed? I don't see these as requirements to have love. I actually find them to be a detriment in a lot of cases ... and not just JW ones either.
The idea that God is a "he" is not a Jewish invention. In Hebrew the only reason a male pronoun for God is used is that there is no neuter pronoun available in Hebrew. This has been changed in the English language now and even altered the Western world in the process.
At times the term "he" might still be used in English by a few Jews, but these days it has become less and less. The real reason? In Judaism it is forbidden to attribute a gender to God. If you haven't noticed yet, I almost never use any pronoun for God. Judaism was at the forefront of the inclusive language movement in English-speaking countries at the end of the 20th century where things from Bible translations to Siddurs and the Haggadah were revised to remove all gender references to God that had actually been caused in English by Christians and their formal-equivalence translations of Scripture.
Also neither Judaism nor the original historical Christian religions taught that the Bible was required for religion. Christianity was without a Bible until the heresy of Marcion of Sinope, and that canon was developed mainly in response to his heretical ideas that began spreading. Judaism did not originally have a canon as the concept is a Gentile one. The "official" text of Judaism became the Masoretic text developed between the 6th and 8th centuries CE. The New Testament's canon was not closed until the 4th century CE.
Thus the idea that the Scriptures are even a requisite for our religion let alone morality cannot be substantiated as we have done without the Bible for centuries, for most of our religion's history. The Second Temple was far gone for at least six hundred years before the Masoretes began their work and it would almost four hundred years after Christ that Eusebius and Athanasius would finalize the New Testament. The Bible is only the center of religious revelation in religions like the Jehovah's Witnesses promote.
Far more can be said to reply to Heaven's statements which seem molded due to exposure to the Watchtower and other anti-Jewish teachings. Judaism even helped introduced the inclusive-language movement over the last 50 years that changed such everyday terms such as "fireman" to "fire fighter" and "mailman" to "mail carrier" due to Judaism's need to alter English Jewish Bible translations to better resemble the original Hebrew. So yes, there is even more in response to those common mistakes about 'killing babies' and 'promoting slavery' that Heaven obviously also missed while English, Heaven's own language, was altered due to a movement we Jews helped inititate. If a person missed that and failed to bother how that happened to their own language, it is no wonder why they stick to such fraudulent ideas about Jewish religion.
The problem with these arguments is that they have their root in uneducated and often anti-Jewish stereotypes that some never bother to investigate but do not mind to perpetuate. In the end consider, how would any of these things change the Jewish view that I previously wrote of in my former post? If the Tanakh is 'so filled' with these horrible ideas, where did Judaism get these others? The problem is not Judaism but the failure of people to be logical in their assessments by too often defining Judaism by Christian and anti-Judaism lenses.
Regardless of what you or anyone wishes to mistakenly believe about Judaism, the fact remains that Judaism does not teach that morality is an exclusive facet of religion, belief in God, or Scripture.
Post script: "Heavenly Father" is a Christian term as is referring to God as "she" the invention of Christian movements like Metropolitan Community Church. There is no such thing as "original sin" in Judaism, and the term does not appear in Scripture. And the idea that you are subject to judgment because "we are failing to convert you" cannot be applied here as Jews don't prosleytize, neither is belief in an afterlife universal (thus no judgment of punishment). It appears that one can misdirect their distaste for religion so much that it is possible to unjustly and inaccurately project and argue things that are inapplicable.