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Religion and Morals


Rivers

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven. While people without religion do good works because of their conscience. They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

Anybody have a good refutation for this argument?

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven. While people without religion do good works because of their conscience. They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

Anybody have a good refutation for this argument?

Hi Rivers.

I would concede the point. But I'll give you the argument I would use if I were inclined to try to persuade.

So anyway, we're all self-serving. They want peace of conscience? Good. Its still self serving...to avoid feeling guilty. To most people, religious or not, it feels better to be nice, precisely because of the conscience. Nobody does anything unless they hope it will make them happier in some respect. Still, everybody does all manner of things for which they have aversion. Why? Knowing ourselves, most of us are happier getting out of bed in time to make it to work than to sleep late. We are all on a reward and punishment system and are constantly calculating interiorly as to whether present rewards are worth future pains and vice versa.

The non-religious aren't more moral than us. They just don't believe. If they believed, they might hope, and if they hoped it might lead to love of God who is so good and they would do as the religious, and order their lives according to this hope. But we are all motivated by the same thing...a desire for happiness. We just disagree on what makes us happy. If they say they deliberately do things that are good that are contrary to what will make them happy...don't believe them...even if they believe themselves. They're a little deceived at that point. Nobody is so good as to do that which ultimately makes them more miserable.

Do we think that even Jesus was motivated by sheer torment? Did he do His great work for the sake of the blood and bruises and death on the Cross? No. Even of Jesus it is written that, "...for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." ---Heb. 10, 11:1, 12:1 (I forget which chapter...it is the first or second verse of a late chapter)

So if even Jesus was motivated to do HIs good works for joy, how much more must we?

3DOP

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven.

I have no problem with pleasing God. Remember that while God is a person he is also the embodiment of all that is good. Serving him is serving morality in it's highest form (plus much much more of course). Also, I reject the idea that I'm doing this for some heavenly reward. While that is a nice incentive and helps to cope with some disappointments if God were to come and tell you death was the end and that God was dying somehow and could do nothing for you would you really forsake Him at that point? Better to go down on the side of Right I say.

While people without religion do good works because of their conscience.

While I don't have a good refutation they'll accept remember that the conscience is reflected light from Christ. They're like children still being breast-fed and imagining the milk is something they possess, not realizing it's a gift while we are older children who know to thank our parents for the food.

They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

Their ignorance about what conscience is does not make them more moral.

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven. While people without religion do good works because of their conscience. They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

Anybody have a good refutation for this argument?

I'm not saying this is a good refutation, but mine would be: What such an individual might really be referring to is the characteristic of altruism or selflessness, and not morality. Whether a person is religious or not or atheist or not may or may not have a bearing on his altruism or selflessness. These qualities could result from mental illness and naivete as much as from spirituality and advanced emotional intelligence. When one person self-identifies and proclaims himself as more altruistic or selfless than another person by virtue of his position on God’s existence and the erroneous assumption of the other person’s motive, what does that tell you?

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven. While people without religion do good works because of their conscience. They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

Anybody have a good refutation for this argument?

That argument paints all religious people with the same brush. While it's true that many religious folks do things in order to please their god(s), that's not necessarily true of all religious people. Plus, I've seen no evidence that irreligious people are more likely to do good works.

I've also heard religious people claim that religion makes morality possible because God tells them what's right. That would imply that religion is the sole source of morality, which is also baloney, so you get false claims from both sides.

One problem with the "pleasing God" side is what if they think God tells them to do something wrong? They may go ahead and do it because they figure that even though they don't like it, it must be right because said to do it. History is full of examples of deluded people claiming God told them to do things that to us are obviously wrong.

Sometimes I wonder if God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test, to see if Abraham was truly moral, or if he was foolish enough to just "follow orders"--and Abraham failed the test! (But God was merciful anyway, and explained things to him. :D)

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I would say that the only real good comes from genuine love for one's neighbor as well as love that is higher than one's neighbors, just in case your neighbors are Nazis or something. The only way to learn to love one's neighbor is to be profoundly loved yourself, which teaches you how to love and the only infinite source of that is God. All other types of good will toward mankind are corruptible.

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One problem with the "pleasing God" side is what if they think God tells them to do something wrong? They may go ahead and do it because they figure that even though they don't like it, it must be right because said to do it. History is full of examples of deluded people claiming God told them to do things that to us are obviously wrong.

A similar problem exists for nonreligious if their morality is based on whatever their personal standard is. What if they personally perceive something to be right that is wrong?

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Hm. Where to start.

There is the long answer that takes explanation and has nuance. But I'm sure you'd like an answer that makes sense in one or two sentences.

The fact is . . . and this is what I say whenever I hear people start claiming they have the corner market for any reason on righteousness . . .

People who are willing to do good, do it. People who are willing to do evil, do it. It's a choice of human willingness and has very little to do with religion per se.

We live in a world of voices (information). Religious systems serve many functions, but they serve as a voice or set of information. Hopefully religions can be trusted to be a voice of good and when they do that, thank goodness for their existence.

God, or the spirit of God, is in the earth. The spirit is being poured out, and that means it lands everywhere and if it gets nourished in good soil, it bears fruit. Thus a single human being may "hear" it, and live it. Any religion or portion of that religion may "hear" it, and dispense it and live it.

But in the end, it's a human choice. A human being who is willing to do evil (or only learned this), will access whatever belief systems are at hand (religious or otherwise) to justify that choice. A human being who is willing to do good (or has been blessed with light to see the good), will access whatever belief systems are at hand to justify that choice.

We are independent agents. It may not be "religious" all the time, but it is the plan of our Heavenly Father as he set in motion and sent us here to this CAH-RAAAY-ZEE place.

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Hm. Where to start.

There is the long answer that takes explanation and has nuance. But I'm sure you'd like an answer that makes sense in one or two sentences.

The fact is . . . and this is what I say whenever I hear people start claiming they have the corner market for any reason on righteousness . . .

People who are willing to do good, do it. People who are willing to do evil, do it. It's a choice of human willingness and has very little to do with religion per se.

We live in a world of voices (information). Religious systems serve many functions, but they serve as a voice or set of information. Hopefully religions can be trusted to be a voice of good and when they do that, thank goodness for their existence.

God, or the spirit of God, is in the earth. The spirit is being poured out, and that means it lands everywhere and if it gets nourished in good soil, it bears fruit. Thus a single human being may "hear" it, and live it. Any religion or portion of that religion may "hear" it, and dispense it and live it.

But in the end, it's a human choice. A human being who is willing to do evil (or only learned this), will access whatever belief systems are at hand (religious or otherwise) to justify that choice. A human being who is willing to do good (or has been blessed with light to see the good), will access whatever belief systems are at hand to justify that choice.

We are independent agents. It may not be "religious" all the time, but it is the plan of our Heavenly Father as he set in motion and sent us here to this CAH-RAAAY-ZEE place.

I like this answer.

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven. While people without religion do good works because of their conscience. They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

Anybody have a good refutation for this argument?

I dunno if it is a good refutation, but I think a person who says they are really being moral and they don't believe in God is in a bit of trouble with the internal consistency of such a statement.

If they believe God does not exist, then there is no real moral standard of comparison. In the absence of God, morality is whatever you want it to be. In short, the non believer can only make an appeal to moral relativism.

For such a person to claim their morality is better than a religious persons morality, well that is nonsense, because there standard of morality is simply what they want it to be. Anyone else's morality would be just as good to themselves as this persons morality is to themselves.

For a nonbeliever to actually say their morality is better... well they have to appeal to some objective standard to push the argument through. However, by their unbelief, they have rejected the objective standard God provides... and to make such a claim, they are actually appealing to something they can't really agree with I think.

Hope that was clear... but I don't know how articulated my response was.

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I dunno if it is a good refutation, but I think a person who says they are really being moral and they don't believe in God is in a bit of trouble with the internal consistency of such a statement.

If they believe God does not exist, then there is no real moral standard of comparison. In the absence of God, morality is whatever you want it to be. In short, the non believer can only make an appeal to moral relativism.

For such a person to claim their morality is better than a religious persons morality, well that is nonsense, because there standard of morality is simply what they want it to be. Anyone else's morality would be just as good to themselves as this persons morality is to themselves.

For a nonbeliever to actually say their morality is better... well they have to appeal to some objective standard to push the argument through. However, by their unbelief, they have rejected the objective standard God provides... and to make such a claim, they are actually appealing to something they can't really agree with I think.

Hope that was clear... but I don't know how articulated my response was.

A good response.

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If they believe God does not exist, then there is no real moral standard of comparison. In the absence of God, morality is whatever you want it to be. In short, the non believer can only make an appeal to moral relativism.

I agree. That is the appropriate response to the question. Until we obtain vast cosmic powers and can order the universes as we wish, we cannot be our own standard for morality.

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If they believe God does not exist, then there is no real moral standard of comparison. In the absence of God, morality is whatever you want it to be. In short, the non believer can only make an appeal to moral relativism.

This isn't philosophically true, nor is it observably true when you even look at the community of non-believers. Moral philosophy is almost ALWAYS written without appealing to religion or god. All the arguments are written to work without appealing to deity or religion, because you will only convince those with your same religious beliefs. So a non-believer could prescribe to:

Moral relativism

Natural rights

Virtue ethics

And lastly, utilitarianism, which I find to be most popular, thanks to Sam Harris.

There is nothing arbitrary about my morals. Are you telling me that if you had a dream where god ordered you to strangle a baby, you would do it, and we should find you perfectly moral? Is the only thing that keeps you from committing adultery, murder, and stealing simply because you believe in god?

Well in that case, I really hope you live nowhere close to me. It's funny that you only ever hear this argument (about non-believers) from those that DO believe in god. I have never heard a non-believer say "well, now that I don't believe in god, I have no reason to be moral. After all, morality is whatever I want it to be?"

Moral behavior, in many cases, is built into our brains. Take incest for example. Very few humans think incest is permissible. Even if you explain that protection would be used, both were consenting adults, and both thought the experience was perfectly normal and constructive- the majority of people would be against it. Well it's not clear to me reading the bible that incest is morally wrong in the eyes of god- so why are so many religious and non-religious people naturally morally opposed?

I would argue that many behaviors that you call morally permissible- I too call morally permissible. I don't need the bible to tell me that murder is morally wrong. I don't think you do either. I don't need D&C to tell me that excessive alcohol, meat, smoking etc. are not good for me. I am convinced by the evidence and abstain.

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There is nothing arbitrary about my morals. Are you telling me that if you had a dream where god ordered you to strangle a baby, you would do it, and we should find you perfectly moral? Is the only thing that keeps you from committing adultery, murder, and stealing simply because you believe in god?

I would not do it unless I had a Nephi and Laban style discussion with the Spirit over why first. No, belief in God is not the sole reason I would find that act abhorrent.

Well in that case, I really hope you live nowhere close to me. It's funny that you only ever hear this argument (about non-believers) from those that DO believe in god. I have never heard a non-believer say "well, now that I don't believe in god, I have no reason to be moral. After all, morality is whatever I want it to be?"

Of course they don't do that. However, the discussion is about non-religious people holding themselves superior because they choose to be moral as opposed to the religious who need a God. I think you are refuting that yourself.

Moral behavior, in many cases, is built into our brains. Take incest for example. Very few humans think incest is permissible. Even if you explain that protection would be used, both were consenting adults, and both thought the experience was perfectly normal and constructive- the majority of people would be against it. Well it's not clear to me reading the bible that incest is morally wrong in the eyes of god- so why are so many religious and non-religious people naturally morally opposed?

Agreed, and I think this further denigrates the idea that the non-religious are morally superior.

The argument Mudcat made (correct me if I'm wrong Mudcat) was that the non-religious who use this silly argument are saying they are better because they choose to follow the moral code for better reasons. Mudcat was pointing out how silly it was that they chose this moral code for some 'higher' reason. Unless the non-believer accepts that we choose our moral code for some reason other then it's 'better' this argument has no meaning. Mudcat was showing the absurdity of their arguments. At least if I read him right.

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For me, arguing that people are good just to please God is a very poor argument.

That's not a very good refutation, but motivations to do right or wrong are not based on reason anyway, so you will never find a "logical argument" for why we choose to do what we do. There ARE logical arguments for doing the right thing, but that is not what you are asking.

Everyone has a drive to "be all you can be", or otherwise that military recruiting slogan would never have worked.

When I was an atheist, I wanted to maximize my potential as a human being to be completely fulfilled and a "self actualized" person.

Self-actualization is a term that has been used in various psychology theories, often in slightly different ways. The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one's full potential. In his view, it is the organism's master motive, the only real motive: 'the tendency to actualize itself as fully as possible is the basic drive...the drive of self-actualization'.[1] Carl Rogers similarly wrote of 'the curative force in psychotherapy - man's tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities...to express and activate all the capacities of the organism'.[2] However, the concept was brought most fully to prominence in Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are fulfilled and the "actualization" of the full personal potential takes place.

We all want to "use the Force" or Star Wars wouldn't have worked; we all want to be Harry Potter with magic powers, we all want to be Gandalf, we all want to be Rambo, John Wayne, Wonder Woman (wow- hard to come up with female examples- our sisters have a good argument there!), even Fonzie.

Being fully developed, actualized and "cool" is a basic human drive. None of these heros or heroines are immoral. They all stick up for the oppressed. They all fight the "Bad guys"- but there is never a mention of being religious in any of these examples.

Now that I am LDS, I still want to be a "self-actualized" person, except here we have different models who were also even beyond the definition of being self actualized- Christ, and our Father.

There are no better imaginable models than those! I am not "good" because I want a reward- I try to be good so I can be like them- beyond "self actualized".

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Oddly, I find myself siding with the atheists on this one.

There are perfectly good moral codes which do not require the existence of God at all. One can believe for example that morals "evolved" because they promote behavior which has survival value.

If one thinks about it, oddly or not, all behaviors which we as religious people find to be morally "good" also promote the survival of the species. There is another thread going on abortion. I don't want to go down that road here as a derail, but that is a perfect example of how religious moral values actually promote the survival of the species. The birth rate of Europeans, who are notoriously secular, is way down.

"Everybody knows" that "Mormons and Catholics have a lot of kids". (no stats to back it up- probably not necessary!)

If you read the Didache- a first century text which arguably should have been in today's New Testament- it promotes seeing morality as "Two Ways"- which are the "way of life" and the "Way of death".

So in that instance you have a religious text promoting what are essentially values based on what could be termed "the survival of the species".

Any way you choose to see it, morality has survival value. You can say it "evolved" Godlessly, you can say that God used evolution to have morality develop, or you can say that it has survival value because God wanted us to live that way without any thought of "evolution"

All three of those statements have the same consequences in the real world, so arguing about it doesn't amount to a hill of beans. That is the way it is.

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These are some quotes from the Didache.

Read these in terms of what promotes survival of the species and what does not.

Chapter 1. The Two Ways; The First Commandment

There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbour as yourself; and all things whatsoever you would should not occur to you, do not also do to another. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes away your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one that asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he that gives according to the commandment; for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receives; for if one having need receives, he is guiltless; but he that receives not having need, shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what, and, coming into straits (confinement), he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape thence until he pay back the last farthing. Matthew 5:26 But also now concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.

A society without something very much like the Ten Commandments would not survive long.

Chapter 5. The Way of Death

And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not labouring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.

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A common argument I've heard from non-religious people is this: Religious people don't have true morals because they do good works to please God and go to heaven. While people without religion do good works because of their conscience. They claim that this makes them more moral than religious people.

I think all moral behavior is ultimately selfish, even if we don't realize it. Those of us who don't expect to go to heaven act morally because people expect us to, or because it makes us feel good, or because we believe moral behavior will be reciprocated by other people.

A more salient difference between religious and secular moralities is their level of rigidity. Whereas religious morality is often framed as a system of unalterable divine "laws" with dire consequences for disobedience, secular morality is usually framed as a set of pragmatic behaviors open to rational revision. This difference makes religious morality more compelling, but also more regressive. That is to say, religious people will be more strongly committed to their moral principles, but some of those principles may be irrational or even unjust by pragmatic standards.

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I think all moral behavior is ultimately selfish, even if we don't realize it. Those of us who don't expect to go to heaven act morally because people expect us to, or because it makes us feel good, or because we believe moral behavior will be reciprocated by other people.

You sound like a

. ;)

Edited to add link.

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Joseph Smith said that some people entirely denounce the principle of self-aggrandizement as wrong. 'It is a correct principle,' he said, 'and may be indulged [in] upon only one rule or plan--and that is to elevate, benefit and bless others first. If you will elevate others, the very work itself will exalt you. Upon no other plan can a man justly and permanently aggrandize himself' (quoted in Andrus and Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet, pg. 61).

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